The 10 longest-reigning WWE Champions of all time
Prior to losing his WWE Championship to Daniel Bryan in a SmackDown LIVE shocker, AJ Styles joined a very exclusive club. No, not that one.
The Phenomenal One's second reign as WWE Champion lasted 371 days, enough to surpass the reign of one WWE Hall of Famer, tie him with another and place his stint atop the mountain comfortably among the 10 longest reigns in WWE history. As stunning as his defeat was, Styles nonetheless etched his name into the record books in a manner that won't be soon forgotten ... or surpassed. Take a look at the standings to see where Styles stacks up against the greats who share the rarified air he now occupies.
Hulk Hogan (364 days)
The second-longest single recorded case of Hulkamania lasted one day short of a year. Hulk Hogan held the WWE Championship from WrestleMania V, where he won it off Randy Savage (more on him momentarily), until WrestleMania VI and the fateful Champion vs. Champion Match against The Ultimate Warrior.
“Macho Man” Randy Savage (371 days — TIE)
When WWE Hall of Famer Randy Savage won a tournament to become WWE Champion at WrestleMania IV, he made sure his moment in the big time was longer than a cup of coffee: The “Macho Man” was champion for 371 days, during which he was also a member of The Mega Powers with Hogan. Their dissolution would ultimately lead to a title match at the subsequent Showcase of the Immortals, where Hogan would snap Savage’s reign and begin a lengthy one of his own.
AJ Styles (371 days — TIE)
There’s not much else to say about AJ Styles, what he means to SmackDown LIVE, or how he has upended every baffling assumption that he wouldn’t fit in as a WWE Superstar. So we’ll just stick to what happened: The Phenomenal One began his second reign a year ago when he defeated Jinder Mahal and never looked back, holding off challenges from world-traveled competitors, such as Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe as well as insurgent young talent like Rusev. It used to be that a Superstar like AJ Styles would point to their work in the ring to quantify their skills. At this point, it might be better to let the calendar do the talking.
John Cena (381 days)
At one time, John Cena was so dominant that the only person who could beat him was himself. To wit: The WWE Title reign that The Cenation Leader began in late 2006 (his third) only ended by pure happenstance, as Cena was forced to vacate the championship due to injury. Given Cena’s momentum at the time, it’s not much of a stretch to say he’d be much higher on this list had fate not intervened.
CM Punk (434 days)
Styles’ forbear in many ways, CM Punk was the kind of Superstar a lot of prognosticators wrote off as a guy whose physical gifts might not translate to sustained success in WWE. Well, 434 days with the WWE Title later — the longest World Championship reign in modern history until this year — they finally stopped writing.
Pedro Morales (1,027 days)
The super-exclusive thousand-days club begins with WWE Hall of Famer Pedro Morales, who held the prize from early 1971 to late 1973. Try this fun bit of trivia: The Superstar who defeated Morales for the title was Stan Stasiak, father of former WWE Superstar Shawn. He held the championship for 21 days.
Bruno Sammartino (1,237 days)
The first of two Herculean reigns on this list, The Italian Superman defeated Stasiak in New York City to begin a stint as champion that lasted a whopping four years. That seems singularly remarkable in and of itself, at least until you consider these two facts: This it was actually Sammartino’s second run as champion, and the first one was even longer.
Hulk Hogan (1,474 days)
The longest single-recorded case of Hulkamania was also the first. After Hogan defeated The Iron Sheik at Madison Square Garden and began his legend in earnest, he embarked on a four-year reign that ended, much like Cena’s, due to weird happenstance — in this case, a fluky loss to Andre the Giant that was almost immediately voided by Jack Tunney because the ref (who’d been bought by Ted DiBiase) counted the three even though Hogan had raised his shoulder to break the pinfall.
Bob Backlund (2,135 days)
Here’s a fun, true story: Bob Backlund used to swing by the WWE.com offices once in a while, and several members of the team had the opportunity to shake his hand. (Editor’s Note: And get critiqued for poor posture.) This doesn’t really apply to anything that happened in the ring, suffice it to say that Mr. Backlund’s an unassuming fellow and we understand how some younger members of the WWE Universe might look at him and wonder how he was WWE Champion for 2,000-plus days. But take it from us: When you feel his grip, you stop wondering.
Bruno Sammartino (2,803 days)
There was a reason Bruno Sammartino sold out Madison Square Garden all those times, and there’s a reason why pretty much every Italian-American of a certain age speaks glowingly of seeing him compete in The World’s Most Famous Arena: He was a superhero in the last age when you could conceivably believe such things were real. Maybe the modern era is more your thing and, hey, that’s fine too. But between his in-ring exploits, real-life history and quiet philanthropic ventures, there was magic in Bruno that couldn’t be explained. It’s our job to quantify his greatness, so we point to the fact that he was WWE Champion for 2,803 days. That certainly isn’t nothing. But it says a lot about Bruno Sammartino that it still doesn’t seem to do him justice.
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