WWE's 15 best World Heavyweight Champions

The title affectionately called the “Big Gold Championship” made its official WWE debut in September 2002, but its true lineage dates to the formation of the National Wrestling Alliance in 1948. Hoping to raise its prestige, the young organization named an NWA World Heavyweight Champion to reign over its member territories. By the 1980s, the title became synonymous with the NWA’s largest territory, Jim Crockett Promotions. When JCP morphed into WCW after Ted Turner purchased the company in 1988, the NWA World Heavyweight Championship likewise transformed into the WCW Championship.

Chris Jericho unified the WCW Championship with the WWE Championship in 2001 to become the Undisputed WWE Championship, seemingly retiring the championship held by legends like Lou Thesz, Jack Brisco, Harley Race and Ricky Steamboat. But when that new WWE Title became exclusive to SmackDown, Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff revived the only championship respectable enough to lead the flagship program. Bischoff revealed WWE’s version of the “Big Gold Championship” Sept. 2, 2002.

In celebration of the title’s 11-year anniversary with WWE, WWE.com ranks the 15 best champions to claim the World Heavyweight Title in WWE. (PHOTOS PLAYLIST | VOTE DREAM OPPONENT FOR SHEAMUS)