Ranking the Greatest WWE Champions of All Time

Will J BakerCorrespondent IIIAugust 3, 2011

Ranking the Greatest WWE Champions of All Time

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    Michael Cole described it as the "Holy Grail" of the WWE, it has defined the career of so many wrestling legends, and there are so many more greats that go their whole career without winning it.

    This championship has an illustrious 48 year history dating back to 1963 when Buddy Rogers was crowned the first ever WWWF World Heavyweight Champion.

    In the years since, the title has been won by 42 different men, some whose title reigns defined an era, and others whose time as Champion will be quickly forgotten.

    The current storyline that has captivated the imagination so many wrestling fans revolves around the WWE title and the potential that CM Punk could leave the company in possession of it.

    But who will go down as the greatest WWE Champion in history?

    Which Champion will be most revered in the annals of wrestling history?

    The following is a slideshow in which I count down the greatest WWE Champions in the history of the wrestling business.

42. Vince McMahon

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    The only non-wrestler to ever win the most prestigious prize in World Wrestling Entertainment, Vince McMahon would vacate the title the following Monday on Raw.

    He won it from Triple H thanks to interference from Stone Cold Steve Austin on an episode of Smackdown in 1999.

    It was a strange booking decision that more resembled something from WCW where both David Arquette and Vince Russo won the World Heavyweight title.

    This may have been a way for Vince, who had always dreamed of becoming a wrestler, to finally fulfill his dreams.

    But not only was it one of the shortest reigns in WWE history, it was also the least inspiring and the only purpose it served was to further the feud between the Chairman and his son-in-law.

41. Rey Mysterio

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    Rey Mysterio has had a long and successful career in the WWE where he has become one of the only Cruiserweight wrestlers to become a World Heavyweight title contender.

    He has spent most of his career on Smackdown where he has won the World Heavyweight Championship on two separate occasions.

    But Mysterio was booked to win the recent tournament to crown a new WWE Champion following Punk's departure.

    Rey would defeat the Miz to the win the coveted prize for the first time in his career only to lose it on the same show to John Cena.

    This felt like a token gesture on the part of WWE in giving one of their longest-serving superstars the chance to briefly hold the premier title belt in the company.

40. Andre the Giant

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    Andre the Giant will go down as one of the greatest of all time and his tragic death brought about the introduction of the WWE Hall of Fame in 1993.

    But his one WWF title reign was not one of the highlights of his career and there are many more moments for which he will be remembered.

    Andre won the title in a mockery of a match with Hulk Hogan where he played the role of Ted Dibiase's stooge.

    Dibiase had paid Andre to win the title for him and he had also paid a man to have plastic surgery so that he would look exactly like referee, Dave Hebner.

    This man was actually Dave's twin brother, Earl, and he would make the three-count even though Hogan's shoulders were clearly off the mat.

    Andre sold the title to Dibiase but this was declared illegal by Jack Tunney and the Championship was vacated. 

39. Kane

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    The "Big Red Machine" was involved in several of the hottest angles of the "Attitude Era" and competed in and around the main event with the likes of Austin, Rock and Undertaker.

    But before his recent run on Smackdown, his singular World title reign came in the form of a victory over Steve Austin for the WWF title.

    Kane's reign with the title would last one day as Austin would regain the Championship the following night on Raw.

    This was at a time when Austin came across as almost unbeatable and the WWF used Kane's victory as a swerve for the sake of a swerve.

    It was completely unexpected and his short title reign made it obvious that it was a ploy from the creative team to keep the fans on their toes.

38. Stan Stasiak

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    Stan Stasiak was told in the dressing room hours before his match with the then-champion Pedro Morales that he would be going over.

    His reign would only last 9 days as he became a transitional champion whose reign was intended to allow Bruno Sammartino to win the Championship back.

    Stasiak was given the title to avoid a babyface versus babyface contest between Morales and Sammartino.

37. Ivan Koloff

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    Koloff's reign as Champion was very similar to Stasiak's in that he was needed to make the transition from face to face.

    Koloff portrayed a Ukrainian villain that played on the Cold War tensions that plagued America at the time of his victory in 1976.

    He was only Champion for 21 days after losing the title to Pedro Morales but he would go on to have a fairly successful wrestling career with the NWA.

36. The Iron Sheik

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    The Iron Sheik's legendary status as a Hall of Famer came about due to his success as a heel that used the xenophobia of the time to get over.

    He even received death threats for his anti-American stance but he only won the WWF Championship on one occasion.

    He was another transitional champion and he would go on to drop the belt to the man that Vince McMahon had chosen to be the next face of the company, Hulk Hogan.

    The Iron Sheik would defeat Bob Backlund and he enjoyed several successful title defences against the likes of Pat Patterson, Chief Jay Strongbow and Tito Santana before Hogan ended his four week reign. 

35. The Big Show

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    The Big Show's first reign as WWF Champion was tainted by an angle with the Big Bossman that hit too close to the heart for many fans' liking.

    It was based on the fact that the Big Show's father had just passed away (in actuality this had happened many years before) and the Bossman took insensitivity to a new level.

    He interrupted the funeral, destroyed the coffin and made many insults to the Big Show's father's memory.

    It happened at a time when the WWE would do anything to be controversial but this was unnecessary and at times ridiculous.

    The Big Show would successfully defend the title against Bossman before losing it to Triple H on Raw.

    His second reign came after he defeated Brock Lesnar with help from Paul Heyman in a match that turned Lesnar babyface.

    His second reign however would be even more short-lived than the first as he lost to Kurt Angle a month later.

34. Sergeant Slaughter

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    Sergeant Slaughter could have drawn real money in the 1980's as a top babyface were it not for a disagreement with the WWF management.

    His initial patriotic stance saw the fans get behind him in a heated feud with the Iron Sheik but the WWE refused to allow him to become a part of the G.I Joe action figure range.

    He returned to the company for a second stint in 1990 turning heel by becoming an Iraqi sympathizer.

    This led to his first and only reign as WWF Champion when he defeated the Ultimate Warrior at the Royal Rumble in 1991.

    Hulk Hogan emerged as the contender for his Championship and at WrestleMania VII, the anti-patriot and the All-American hero clashed.

    The match was sub-par and it will not be remembered as one of the great pay-per-views. It also was the beginning of the end for Slaughter as an active wrestler as Hogan won the belt back. 

33. Psycho Sid

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    Psycho Sid's potential in the wrestling business was curtailed by injuries and the fact that he struggled to draw money as Champion.

    Sid won the title twice during a transitional period for the WWF when they were trying to compete with WCW that was about to turn white-hot.

    McMahon was trying to find his next face of the company to fill the shoes of Hogan and Sid was one man that tried to fill the void.

    Sid first won the title off Shawn Michaels but his reign was met with almost zero reaction so the belt was given back to HBK.

    After Michaels "lost his smile", the title was vacated and the WWF gave Sid one last chance with the belt but it was another short reign that culminated at WrestleMania against the Undertaker. 

32. Rob Van Dam

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    Rob Van Dam had the opportunity to become a red-hot champion that represented the cult of ECW fans.

    These ECW fans resented the corporate wrestling philosophy that saw men with limited wrestling ability like John Cena pushed to the moon.

    So when RVD cashed in his Money in the Bank title shot against Cena at the One Night Stand pay-per-view, the fans were red-hot and even more anti-Cena than the recent Chicago crowd.

    The electric atmosphere reached fever pitch when ECW founder Paul Heyman ran down the ramp to count Van Dam to victory.

    He became the first ever man to hold both the ECW title and the WWE title simultaneously and his reign could have been so much greater.

    However he was found by the police in possession of drugs and the company had no choice but to strip the title from RVD while he served his mandatory suspension.

    Edge won the title from RVD in a triple threat match that also involved Cena, cutting off what could have been a defining period in Van Dam's career.

31. Jeff Hardy

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    Jeff Hardy had a rare emotional connection with the fans who were desperate to see him succeed in everything he attempted.

    His willingness to sacrifice his body for a great moment made him one of the most popular superstars in recent WWE history.

    His successful career as a tag team wrestler set up his run as a singles star that saw him come so close to the World title on so many occasions.

    But the WWE could not afford to risk giving Hardy a full green light push as he had a tendency to self-destruct in his personal life.

    But Hardy kept coming back against all odds and when he finally won the title at Armageddon in 2008, the fans erupted.

    Hardy's one reign as WWE Champion was short-lived and not as memorable as his two stints with the World Heavyweight Championship.

    Jeff lost the title to Edge at the Royal Rumble due to interference from Matt that set up the family clash at WrestleMania.   

30. Batista

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    Batista is another recent WWE star that will be remembered more as a World Heavyweight Champion than for his two reigns as WWE Champion.

    The "Animal" would win the title from his former Evolution cohort Randy Orton in 2009 but would have to vacate the Championship due to injury.

    When he returned on Smackdown, he would turn heel and enjoy the best spell of his career in the minds of many fans.

    He began to excel on the mic and finally started to show some character development that he had lacked before.

    He would then move back to Raw where he would win the WWE title again from John Cena after Vince McMahon gifted him a title shot.

    This was Batista's final feud with the company and he really made it work with Cena as they went on to have several good matches.

    Predictably however, Batista lost the title at WrestleMania 26 as the WWE continued to pander to John Cena's "Superman" image.

29. Chris Jericho

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    Chris Jericho is a true great of the wrestling business and he will be remembered as one of the most electric promo men of all time.

    Jericho won the World Heavyweight Championship on five separate occasions and his Championship rivalries were always memorable.

    But his one reign as WWE Undisputed Champion was poorly booked and led to much criticism with Jericho himself admitting that it was poorly done.

    Y2J was booked as the underdog and never looked like a strong Champion eventually losing the belt to Triple H.

    It seemed that the WWE were trying to be unpredictable in booking Jericho to beat the Rock and Austin in the same night to become the first ever Undisputed Champion.

    Jericho's character at this point, while entertaining, was not fully developed and he may not have been ready for this kind of mainstream exposure.

    Jericho would go on to prove the kind of World Champion that he could be in the years to come when he dropped the Y2J gimmick.

28. The Miz

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    The Miz's story in wrestling is nothing less than inspirational as he went from reality TV star to WWE Champion.

    People have been very critical of the Miz's reign of "awesomeness" but the "most must-see WWE Champion of all time" certainly caused a stir on the late-night talk show circuit.

    The Miz cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase on Randy Orton and then would go on to scrape through two pay-per-views retaining the title through questionable means.

    Interference from Alex Riley and CM Punk allowed him to keep his title until the Elimination Chamber where he would beat Jerry Lawler.

    Then the Rock was announced as the host of WrestleMania and all hell broke loose between the "Great One" and the No.1 Contender, John Cena.

    Although Miz was somewhat overshadowed in the weeks that followed, in my opinion, we saw some of his best work in the build-up to WrestleMania with some memorable segments.

    He then became the first heel to go over John Cena at WrestleMania after an assist from the Rock, before losing the title at Extreme Rules.

    It was one of the longest title reigns in recent memory and to many, the Miz represents the only true success of the WWE Youth Movement. 

27. Sheamus

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    Sheamus was brought on to Raw in late 2009 as a monster heel destined for a big push to the main event scene.

    But no-one expected him to win the WWE title so quickly after finally being elevated to the main roster.

    Sheamus shockingly put John Cena through a table at TLC to create a huge buzz in the world of wrestling.

    Sheamus showed himself to be impressive on the mic during his reign as Champion and really established himself as a big-time player.

    He lost the title at the Elimination Chamber after being pinned by Triple H in a move that set up a WrestleMania match between the "Game" and the "Celtic Warrior".

    But Sheamus would surprisingly become a two time WWE Champion at Fatal Four Way after interference from Nexus.

    Although the Nexus versus Cena angle dominated Raw for the majority of the year, Sheamus was a solid Champion throughout the summer months.

    He feuded with Randy Orton through Summerslam and the "Viper" would win the title at Night of Champions.

    Sheamus has shown in his two title reigns that he can hold his own in the main event and it is unlikely that his experience with the belt will be limited to two title victories.

26. Diesel

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    Diesel was brought into the WWF as Shawn Michaels' bodyguard and Vince McMahon saw some money to be made in his 6 ft 11 frame.

    "Big Daddy Cool" was truly a monster and he had the charisma to make up for his limited moveset in the ring.

    Diesel squashed Bob Backlund in eight seconds to win the title for the first time and would go on to work with Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels.

    HBK as the heel challenged his former bodyguard at WrestleMania outshining him in the match despite his eventual loss.

    Nash enjoyed a long title reign that saw him reunite with Michaels, successfully defend the belt against Sid, before losing out to Bret Hart at Survivor Series.

    He would go on to enjoy the run of his career in WCW as one of the founding members of the NWO, a run in which he truly cemented his legacy in the wrestling business.

25. Ric Flair

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    Ric Flair made his name thanks to his legendary title reigns as World Heavyweight Champion in the old NWA and in WCW.

    He only had one run with the Vince McMahon's company in his prime and that saw him become a two time WWF Champion.

    The "Nature Boy" turned the wrestling world upside down with his controversial debut in the WWF, declaring himself the "real World Heavyweight Champion" and carrying the NWA World title.

    Flair, supported by Bobby Heenan and Mr Perfect, would enter the 1992 Royal Rumble for the vacant WWF title at No. 3.

    Flair would endure a stiff competition, breaking the record for most time spent in the ring in a single Rumble match, to add the WWF title to his already impressive list of accolades.

    "The Macho Flair Affair" was the title of WrestleMania VIII and it was based on Flair's much-anticipated title bout between Flair and Randy Savage.

    Flair and Savage worked a classic match that saw the "Macho Man" win the title for the second time.

    His second reign saw him exploit Savage's knee injury to win the title later that same year, but he dropped the title a month later to Bret Hart before returning to WCW. 

24. Yokozuna

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    Yokozuna first won the title at the infamous WrestleMania IX pay-per-view, where he defeated Bret Hart after the "Hitman" was blinded by salt thrown by Mr Fuji.

    In one of the worst angles of all time, Hulk Hogan would come out to protest only to be given an on-the-spot title shot.

    In a last desperate bid to reignite the magic of "Hulkamania", the WWE booked a five minute title reign for Yokozuna.

    Hogan would then put over Yokozuna at King of the Ring 1993 in his last match with the company before jumping ship to WCW.

    Yokozuna's second run with the title was the highlight of his wrestling career as he would survive with the title after a lengthy program with the Undertaker.

    After Lex Luger and Bret Hart co-won the Royal Rumble, Yokozuna was forced to defend his title twice in one night.

    He would shrug off the challenge of Luger only to tap put to the Sharpshooter later in the night in the first ever match-up to headline two successive WrestleManias.

    Yokozuna's second title reign lasted 280 days and, by beating Luger, he became the first heel to successfully defend at 'Mania.

23. Buddy Rogers

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    Buddy Rogers revolutionized wrestling in so many different ways.

    Not only did he establish the character that Ric Flair took inspiration from, but he also developed the in-ring psychology that has since been used by the top heels of every era.

    He was also the first wrestler to draw considerable heat through interviews.

    He came across as a smug and arrogant person on the microphone, and his different mannerisms and catchphrases established his reputation as a top heel.

    It was for these reasons that he was crowned the first ever WWWF Champion after an imaginary tournament in Rio de Janeiro.

    Roger's title reign was cut short due to a heart attack that severely weakened him physically, forcing him to drop the belt to Bruno Sammartino.

    But during his brief reign, he set the standards for how a Champion should carry himself and paved the way for all future heel champions.

    His immortal status as the first ever WWE Champion mean that the name of Buddy Rogers will never be forgotten in wrestling.

22. CM Punk

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    Some people will argue that because CM Punk has only been WWE Champion for a couple of weeks, he does not deserve to hold such a high position on this list.

    But the fact of the matter is that Punk has created more controversy and more buzz than most Champions did throughout their entire reign.

    The "Second City Saint" has ushered in a new era for professional wrestling and his storyline with John Cena has made the WWE more socially relevant than it has been in years.

    CM Punk started to set the wrestling world ablaze with a series of scorching promos that pushed the envelope and became a trending topic worldwide.

    Punk documented his reasons for his impending departure and did it in his usual controversial fashion.

    The subsequent angle with Cena saw one of the greatest pay-per-view matches of the modern era, with Punk winning and then leaving through the crowd.

    Punk has since returned to the company and it is inevitable that he will continue to create controversy and memorable moments on WWE TV as he writes himself in the history books as one of the greatest WWE Champions in history.

21. Eddie Guerrero

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    Guerrero was talented, popular and charismatic. The fans loved to cheer for him and he played an integral part in the initial success of SmackDown.

    His in-ring talent and natural ability to make people happy contributed to his popularity and his success.

    But his long and illustrious wrestling career finally reached the top of the mountain when he defeated Brock Lesnar to become the WWF Champion.

    His long and winding career path had taken him to Japan and Mexico, to ECW and WCW, and all of the personal problems and the pain were finally worth it when he held the WWE title aloft.

    He had truly paid his dues in the wrestling business and his one and only reign as Champion was entertaining as people had come to expect from Guerrero.

    His successful defense at WrestleMania against Kurt Angle was a classic match that also led to a classic moment. where Eddie would escape from the ankle lock by loosening his boot.

    He would then embrace his best friend, Chris Benoit, who had become World Heavyweight Champion for the first time on the same night.

    The embrace between two friends, who had been down the road together so many times, finally standing at the pinnacle of the wrestling world will go down as one of the most emotional moments in WrestleMania history.

    Guerrero would go on to engage in an epic feud with JBL that saw Eddie lose the title to one of his fiercest rivals.

    It was not a long Championship reign, but it provided so many classic moments and Eddie Guerrero wore the belt so proudly that he will always be remembered as a great WWE Champion. 

20. The Ultimate Warrior

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    The Ultimate Warrior was given the ball to run with as Vince McMahon's big superstar after Hulk Hogan's star faded.

    He won the WWF title off Hogan in the main event at WrestleMania VI which was effectively a passing of the torch.

    Warrior was incredibly popular with the fans despite his limited in-ring style and one-dimensional promo skills.

    His intensity and his the colorful nature of his character got him over to the point where the fans went wild at the sound of his entrance music.

    His title reign lasted almost a year and he saw off challenges from Haku, Rick Rude, Ted Dibiase and Mr Perfect in that time.

    He entered into a program with Randy Savage that led to a WrestleMania match after the "Macho King" cost him the title in a match with Sergeant Slaughter.

    If Warrior had not had a monumental falling out with Vince McMahon, there is no doubt that he would have won the belt on countless more occasions.

19. JBL

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    John Bradshaw Layfield was a heel for the majority of his WWE career with the exception of a tag team babyface run with Ron Simmons as the APA.

    Bradshaw was a beer-swilling, card-playing, bar-frequenting big man who was not expected to ever break out of tag team wrestling and ever draw money as a singles star.

    But when he became the arrogant, superior and self-satisfied millionaire, JBL, his career transformed and he became the longest-reigning WWE Champion in SmackDown history.

    He had just the look and the personality and the mannerisms to make the crowd hate him.

    Even his drawling voice made him into a hated figure that memorably feuded with Eddie Guerrero, John Cena and Rey Mysterio.

    He became a classic heel champion that carried SmackDown for months at a time when the WWE was short of big stars.

    JBL will always claim to have been one of the greatest WWE Champions of all time, and the "Wrestling God" could make a good case to back this up.

18. Brock Lesnar

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    Brock Lesnar was brought in from developmental as the "Next Big Thing" managed by Paul Heyman.

    His subsequent push saw one of the most meteoric rises in WWE history that saw him become the youngest WWE Champion in history at the age of 25.

    He was one of only a few Undisputed Champions in the WWE and he won the title in exciting fashion defeating the Rock at Summerslam.

    Lesnar's contract kayfabe decreed that he was only required to perform on Smackdown leading to the return of the WWE Championship as opposed to the Undisputed title.

    His main title defenses were against the Undertaker and an epic Hell in a Cell match was the highlight of this reign.

    The recent rumors of Lesnar's WWE return that would lead to a WrestleMania match with Undertaker were more exciting to the fans that had witnessed the in-ring chemistry these two men had.

    Heyman lost the title to Big Show after Heyman betrayed his protégé and this led to a face turn for Lesnar.

    His Royal Rumble victory set up one of the most eagerly anticipated WrestleMania matches in history with Kurt Angle.

    The match did not disappoint and had devastating consequences for both men in terms of injuries.

    Lesnar would win back the title and go on to dominate Smackdown with feuds against a young John Cena and a new program with Big Show.

    Kurt Angle took the title back off Brock at Vengeance but Lesnar would become a three time Champion in one of the best matches in Smackdown history.

    A 60 minute Iron Man match with Kurt Angle truly cemented the fact that these two could tear the house down in front of any crowd.

    Brock could have been in John Cena's shoes right now but he could not cope with life on the road and left to become a big UFC star.

17. Mankind

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    Mick Foley was one of the faces of the "Attitude Era" and while he could never quite eclipse Austin or the Rock, he was still immensely popular.

    The night that he first won the WWF title from the Rock will go down as one of the greatest moments in Raw history.

    Chaos ensued at ringside as DX brawled with the Corporation when the glass broke and Austin returned to assist Mankind in his first title victory.

    Foley dedicated the win to his two children after the match in heartwarming fashion.

    Many people have cited Foley's title win as the beginning of the end for Eric Bischoff and WCW.

    Bischoff's tactic of revealing the result backfired as, when the game was given away by Tony Schiavone, millions of fans changed the channel.

    It was a fantastic moment in the career of a wrestling legend, but it was also a hugely important victory for the WWF.

    Mankind would go on to win the WWF title twice more defending the belt against the main fixtures of the era.

16. Kurt Angle

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    Kurt Angle was a star that successfully made the transition out of the "Attitude Era" demonstrating his versatility and adaptability.

    I have already documented Angle's legendary program with Brock Lesnar that accounted for two of his four WWE championship reigns.

    When Angle left the company for TNA, he was the hottest property in the wrestling business due to his superb in-ring talent and above-average mic skills.

    This was what made him into the perfect man to take the ball from Austin and Rock as their careers wound down.

    After Angle initially won the title from the Rock, he was given a one year reign with the belt in which he worked with the likes of Undertaker, Triple H and Austin.

    He then became the face of the WWF during the "Invasion" after Austin's defection, beating Austin for the his second title reign during this period.

15. Randy Orton

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    Randy Orton is a six time WWE Champion and is currently the second biggest star in the company alongside John Cena.

    Orton's recent title run as a babyface WWE Champion did not bring out the best in the "Viper" as I do not feel he has the charisma to pull this off as a babyface.

    But as a heel, he has feuded mainly with Triple H and John Cena and he has a great chemistry with both men that has made for many entertaining programs.

    Orton was extremely adept at portraying the narcissistic "Legend Killer" and the cold and calculating "Viper" which led to a whole host of babyfaces challenging him for the title.

    His shocking triple threat victory at WrestleMania 24 over Cena and Triple H will go down as one of the highlights of his title reigns.

    But his work in 2009 with both the "Game" and Cena really brought out the best in the third-generation wrestler.

    His feud with Triple H was personal and hit hard while his rivalry with Cena was the Austin versus Rock of the PG era.

14. Undertaker

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    The Undertaker's breathtaking gimmick and incredibly well-crafted back story always meant that he would have a successful career in the World Wrestling Federation.

    Vince McMahon showed his high hopes for the "Dead Man" early on in his career, booking him a short-lived title reign that saw him dethrone Hulk Hogan.

    The Undertaker's main strength as Champion was that he was able to sell tickets no matter what era he wrestled in.

    He engaged in many classic matches with the likes of Hart, Michaels and Sid and never left the title scene throughout this transitional period for the WWF.

    He defeated Sid for the title at WrestleMania 13 eventually dropping the belt to HBK in the first ever Hell in a Cell match that also saw the debut of Kane.

    He won the title on two more occasions in the Attitude Era working with Stone Cold Steve Austin, Rock and Mankind to produce some of the most compelling rivalries of this period.

13. Shawn Michaels

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    Shawn Michaels' run as the biggest star of the company in the mid nineties is perhaps overshadowed by his real-life feud with Bret Hart.

    He first won the WWF title in dramatic circumstances at WrestleMania XII by superkicking Bret Hart in overtime of their 60 minute Iron Man match.

    Vince McMahon's commentary put over the fact that Michaels had finally achieved what he had been striving for all his adult life.

    He would hold the title for the rest of the year after Hall and Nash left for WCW feuding with Hart, Sid and the Undertaker.

    After a brief reign from Sid, HBK would win the title back at the following Royal Rumble but then he vacated the belt with his now infamous "I've lost my smile speech".

    Michaels still claims to this day that his knee injury was legitimate although most are of the opinion that he was unwilling to put Hart over in a WrestleMania rematch.

    He would return from injury to rekindle his feud with Bret Hart by becoming Champion for the third time.

    This would lead to the "Montreal Screwjob" which is widely attributed as the start of the Attitude Era, and it was certainly the end of an era for Bret Hart and the WWF.

    Hart was on his way to WCW and wanted to leave the company with a victory in his home country.

    Vince McMahon had other plans however and called for the bell to be rung with Hart in the Sharpshooter.

    It led to the reign of Shawn Michaels as WWF champion where his comedy skits with DX truly began the Era of Attitude in pro wrestling.

    This controversially memorable reign of HBK would end at WrestleMania 14 as Mike Tyson knocked Michaels out to assist Stone Cold Steve Austin to the victory.

12. Edge

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    Edge was pushed as the next big thing on Smackdown feuding with the likes of Kurt Angle before a serious injury curtailed his babyface push.

    Edge may never have broken out of the mid card without winning the inaugural Money in the Bank ladder match at WrestleMania.

    He would go on to shockingly cash in the briefcase on John Cena after a brutal Elimination Chamber match to win his first ever WWE title.

    His "Live Sex Celebration" the following night would become one of the highest rated segments in Raw history.

    The "Rated R Superstar" would continue his controversial title reign becoming one of the most hated heels of recent times.

    His feud with John Cena was one of the best post-Attitude Era rivalries and it cemented both their careers in the main event.

    He would go on to become a three time WWE Champion in the course of his feud with Cena and there was never a dull moment when Edge was Champion.

    He would win his fourth and final WWE title by pinning Triple H at Survivor Series 2008, losing it inside the Elimination Chamber.

    Edge is recognised as a record 7 time World Heavyweight Champion but it was his spells as WWE Champion that really set his career on fire.

11. Pedro Morales

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    Pedro Morales was a popular Puerto Rican wrestler who was chosen to replace Bruno Sammartino as the WWWF's long-term babyface champion.

    After a transitional reign from Ivan Koloff, Morales would win the "Holy Grail" in Madison Square Garden in 1971.

    Morales reigned as Champion for three years and he engendered a huge amount of support from the Puerto Rican community of New York.

    He was well-known for his technical and scientific wrestling style but when riled he could explode with his fierce temper coming into play on several occasions.

    The highlights of his title reign were a 75 minute babyface match with Sammartino and long-term feuds with Larry Hennig and Freddie Blassie.

    When he eventually lost the title to Stan Stasiak, the title was put back on Sammartino who would reign for a further 3 years.

10. Randy "Macho Man" Savage

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    While Hulk Hogan was the face of the company and Vince McMahon's golden boy for the majority of the 1980's, Randy Savage was not far behind in popularity.

    Savage, like Hogan, became a pop culture icon and this was the main reason his tragic death was met with such sorrow from personalities outside the wrestling community.

    His two reigns as WWF Champion captured the hearts of so many wrestling fans and the sight of him raising Miss Elizabeth aloft with the World title is iconic.

    Savage would enter the 14 man tournament for the vacant WWF Championship at WrestleMania IV, successfully advancing against Butch Reed, Greg Valentine and One Man Gang.

    This meant he reached the final where he would face the crooked "Million Dollar Man" who had also enlisted the services of Andre the Giant.

    With Hulk Hogan and Miss Elizabeth in his corner, Savage would win his first Heavyweight title sending the crowd wild with emotion.

    Savage's subsequent title reign would last for over the year during which he formed the "Mega Powers" with Hulk Hogan and defended against Andre and One Man Gang.

    But it was the problems between Savage and Hogan that led to one of the most eagerly anticipated feuds of all time.

    The two most popular superstars of the time started to turn on one another and eventually Savage abandone Hogan leading to a dream main event at WrestleMania V.

    The explosion of the "Megapowers" led to the end of Savage's title run and his subsequent heel turn.

    After a brief hiatus, Savage returned as a face and set his sights on the WWF Championship held by Ric Flair.

    Savage's second title victory at WrestleMania was met with just as much joy as his first as he defeated the "Nature Boy" practically on one leg.

    Savage would shortly drop the title back to Flair but his legacy as Champion will never be forgotten.

9. Superstar Billy Graham

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    Superstar Billy Graham became the first ever long-term heel champion of the WWWF, reigning supreme for nine and a half months.

    This remains the longest single WWE Championship reign by a heel with JBL and Yokozuna tied for second place.

    Graham defended the title around the world with a series of matches in Japan and he faced a whole host of legendary opponents including Mil Mascaras, Dusty Rhodes and Pedro Morales.

    Graham was also the first heel to receive major cheers from the fans and a face turn would have been on the cards were it not for a handshake agreement that made Vince Sr. elect to run with Bob Backlund as his next babyface champion.

    Superstar Billy Graham had only one reign as champion but it was groundbreaking in so many ways and Graham's bodybuilder physique would pave the way for the likes of Hulk Hogan to become stars. 

8. Bob Backlund

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    Bob Backlund became the third man, after Bruno Sammartino and Pedro Morales, to be chosen as a long-term champion by Vince McMahon Senior.

    Backlund struggled for weeks to beat Superstar Billy Graham and eventually pinned the Champion's shoulders to the mat to become the seventh WWWF Heavyweight Champion.

    Backlund took part in an epic match with the NWA World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race that brought about a 60 minute time-limit draw.

    Baclund's reign was famed for title defences against other champions including Ric Flair and Nick Bockwinkel of the AWA.

    His scientific wrestling style allowed him to have long and technical wrestling matches that drew the crowd in and he could always make people believe that his title was under threat.

    Backlund was given one more short reign as champion on his return in the early 1990's as he made Bret Hart submit with the Chicken Wing submission hold.

7. The Rock

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    For a man that was only in the wrestling business full-time for seven years, the Rock's accomplishments are even more impressive as he would win the WWF title on seven separate occasions.

    During these reigns he portrayed several different personas, face or heel, from the arrogant and narcissistic "Corporate Champion" to the ultra-popular "People's Champion".

    The Rock's incredible mic skills as well as his in-ring talent made him the company's perfect front man and his feuds were always laced with drama.

    He headlined WrestleMania three times with Steve Austin and the WWF title was often an issue at the heart of their feud.

    The Rock also feuded with the Undertaker, Mankind and Triple H for the biggest prize in sports entertainment and he was groomed as the next face of the company.

    If he had not chosen a career in the acting business, there is no telling how high up this list he might have climbed or how many World titles he may have won.

6. Triple H

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    Triple H often comes under a great deal of criticism for having held down the roster and hogged the main event scene but there is a reason that the "Game" is an eight time WWE Champion.

    The current WWE COO first won the "big one" after turning heel and joining the "Corporation" in 1999.

    He would go on to feud with the likes of Mankind, Big Show and Stone Cold Steve Austin before "kayfabe" marrying Stephanie McMahon.

    This added fuel to the fire of Hunter's ongoing rivalry with Vince and the "McMahon-Helmsley Faction" would run for 17 months cementing Triple H as a multiple time heel champion.

    He had many memorable matches with Austin, Rock and Jericho and became the face of the company in that period with the impending retirement of Stone Cold.

    But a sudden and career-threatening injury brought an abrupt halt to Triple H's momentum and he would not appear for eight months.

    However Triple H returned as a face at Madison Square Garden, won the Royal Rumble and defeated Chris Jericho at WrestleMania to become the second Undisputed Champion.

    Triple H has proved in his career that he has the rare talent of being a convincing champion whether as a face or a heel.

    His immense popularity and legendary status made it easy for him to make his  

5. John Cena

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     Cena is an 9-time WWE Champion and, whether you like him or not, he is the name and face of the company right now.

     He has headlined countless WrestleManias and been involved in many high-profile feuds including his current war with the CM Punk.

    He is the perfect frontman for a PG-based productand the sight of Cena confronting the odds time and again is good for business.

    While it may not be interesting viewing for the long-term wrestling fans, nobody can deny that it is good business for a company that is watched by so many children.

    But while many criticize Cena for consistently taking the spotlight, he has also shown that his feuds can be entertaining.

    His legendary rivalry with Randy Orton sold pay-per-views for the majority of 2009 and he has also worked great title matches with JBL, Batista, Shawn Michaels and Triple H.

    But it was his long-term rivalry with Edge that really put John Cena on the map as a great WWE Champion.

    The two engaged in every type of gimmick match and headlined countless pay-per-views together, creating two stars out of themselves in the process.

    There is a long way to go for John Cena in the WWE and many expect him to surpass Ric Flair's record 17 reigns as World Champion before his career is over. 

4. Bret "the Hitman" Hart

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    Bret Hart was chosen as the man to lead the WWF into a new era in which steroids were no longer of paramount importance.

    Hart had already chiselled a reputation for himself as the best worker in the company and a man zho could have a good match with anyone.

    He was able to get the likes of Yokozuna, Diesel and Steve Austin over as legitimate title contenders when he was champion and brought a new credibility to the belt.

    Hart always felt that he was the go-to man for Vince while he was trying to find his new Hulk Hogan and the "Hitman" never felt like he was given a long run with the belt.

    Despite this, he was a five time WWF Champion and he played a vital role in increasing the company's popularity in Europe where crowds would rush the barrier to get close to their hero.

    Bret headlined two consecutive WrestleManias with Yokozuna and his legendary feud with Shawn Michaels produced some of the greatest matches of all time including a 60 minute Iron Man Match.

    Although his WWF career ended in ignominious circumstances with the "Montreal Screwjob", Hart played an important part in bringing the company out of the dark and into a period that would make history.

     

3. Bruno Sammartino

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    The sheer longevity of Bruno Sammartino's two reigns as WWWF Champion is enough to earn him a place in the history books.

    Sammartino was on top of the wrestling world for a total of 11 years including a eight year singular title reign.

    He won the title in controversial circumstances from Buddy Rogers who was allegedly forced to compete after a legitimate heart attack.

    The success that Sammartino enjoyed and the high regard in which he was held led to the rival NWA suggesting a Unification match between Sammartino and Lou Thesz.

    They were willing to let Sammartino win their World Heavyweight Championship but the Italian-American giant refused for fear of a heavier work schedule.

    Sammartino's greatest rival was Gorilla Monsoon and the two clashed many times for wrestling's greatest prize.

2. Stone Cold Steve Austin

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    Stone Cold Steve Austin is the only man in wrestling that can claim to have rivaled Hulk Hogan in mainstream popularity.

    The "Austin years" saw the highest television ratings and pay-per-view buy rates in wrestling history as the WWF decided to promote an edgier product.

    Austin was the perfect face of the "Attitude Era" and his feud with Mr McMahon made for some of the most compelling television ever broadcast by the WWF.

    He represented the working-class man rebelling against the establishment and his popularity as a beer-swilling foul-mouthed antihero rocketed sky-high.

    McMahon would constantly try to screw him out of the title using corporate stooges like Pat Patterson and Jerry Brisco as Special Guest Referees.

    He would even hire the services of the Rock whose feuds with Austin for the WWF title would define an era in wrestling.

    Stone Cold would upset the odds time and again and he became a 6 time WWF Champion during one wrestling's hottest periods.

    Austin would redesign the championship creating the "Smoky Skull Belt" that would become one of Stone Cold's many trademarks.

    With Austin as Champion, the WWF finally saw off the challenge of WCW and the popularity of "Austin 3:16" was a huge factor in determining the outcome of the "Monday Night Wars".

1. Hulk Hogan

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    "Hulkamania" was a real presence in the 1980s, as millions of children bought into the real life superhero-like persona of the "Hulkster."

    Hogan's "golden boy" looks and obvious marketability led to Vince McMahon putting the WWF title on him for the long haul.

    He was the ideal face for the newly branded "Rock 'N Wrestling" era that the WWF was broadcasting and he was also the ideal face for the fans to cheer.

    He was perfect at portraying the All-American hero that would do battle with the foreign villains such as the Iron Sheik or the anti-patriotic Sergeant Slaughter.

    Hulk Hogan drew more money than anyone in the history of the business and only Stone Cold Steve Austin has ever come close to the mainstream popularity that Hogan enjoyed.

    His main event match with Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III and his epic bouts with Randy Savage epitomized wrestling at the time.

    Wrestling has never been more popular than at the height of "Hulkamania," when Hogan drew the crowds and the entire roster benefited from the huge payoffs.

    In his final spell with the company, Hogan won the WWE Undisputed Championship but it could not compare to the magic of his earlier runs.

    No one before or since has brought more credibility to the WWE Championship belt which is why Hulk Hogan will be remembered as the greatest champion ever.