Editors’ Choice: Who is the greatest WWE World Champion ever?
Sometimes amid all the drama over what’s “best for business,” Superstars lose sight of what matters most in the WWE Universe — becoming the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. It’s the top prize in all of sports-entertainment, signifying the best in the business. The prestigious honor was first achieved by Buddy Rogers all the way back in 1963 when he defeated Antonino Rocca in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Since then, a who’s who of squared-circle legends have been able to call themselves a WWE World Heavyweight Champion. But, which of these competitors was the greatest champion?
See which Superstars our editors think deserve to be called the best ever and tell us who you feel is the greatest WWE World Heavyweight Champion ever in the comments below.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin
WWE Hall of Famer “Stone Cold” Steve Austin is hands down the greatest WWE World Heavyweight Champion of all time, not only because he held that title six times, but because his rebellious, anti-hero persona brought the WWE to unprecedented heights as he led the charge through The Attitude Era.
The Texas Rattlesnake did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and captivated a generation of fans who lived vicariously through the rule-breaker. He smashed countless rivals with his finishing maneuver, the “Stone Cold” Stunner; knew how to use any number of automobiles to make a point; and raised hell in an epic rivalry against the boss, Mr. McMahon.
In fact, I'd be willing to wager that most of the other selections on this list might call Austin the greatest WWE World Heavyweight Champion of all time, as well. He is the ultimate example of what a champion should be. And that’s the bottom line, ’cause “Stone Cold” said so! — MICHAEL BURDICK
The WWE underwent a transitional period during the mid-’90s. A “New Generation” of talent was slowly beginning to emerge as the Monday Night War with WCW went nuclear. When Shawn Michaels became WWE World Heavyweight Champion at WrestleMania XII in 1996 (his first of four career World Championship reigns), WWE needed a soldier who they could put out on the front line to protect their turf. The Heartbreak Kid was that man.
Pundits have attempted to diminish the historical significance of Michaels’ ’96 reign as the years have passed, but the facts cannot be disputed. During an era when the WWE needed a savior, The Showstopper moved to the front of the pack and carried the torch through some incredibly dark days, fueling the fire with his work rate and passion.
HBK may have been removed from the battlefield by the time the war was ultimately won, but his tenure as champion was undoubtedly the reason the soldiers who followed him had the opportunity to fight at all. — RYAN PAPPOLLA
In the early 1990s, when WWE started migrating away from Superstars being tall, lumbering bodybuilders, Bret Hart led the revolution for smaller, more agile athletes. Winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship from Ric Flair at a non-televised event in his home country of Canada, the “Hit Man” went on to vanquish larger opponents like Yokozuna, Diesel and The Undertaker, while also having some of the best matches in history against his greatest rival, Shawn Michaels. In fact, Hart was so good, it took Michaels, referee Earl Hebner and WWE Chairman Mr. McMahon to end his final WWE World Heavyweight Championship reign via the infamous Montreal Screwjob on Nov. 9, 1997 — a day that will forever live in infamy. — JOEY STYLES
The WWE Universe might not necessarily be in agreement on this, but let’s be honest: Seth Rollins isn’t just blowing smoke when he calls himself “The Future of WWE.” Handpicked by The Authority to usher in a new era of sports-entertainment, The Architect shocked the world when he rushed the ring in the middle of WrestleMania 31’s main event to cash in his Money in the Bank contract and defeat both Roman Reigns and defending champion Brock Lesnar on The Grandest Stage of Them All.
Since that career-defining accomplishment, Rollins has turned back challenges from Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and Randy Orton, survived a one-on-one encounter with The Beast Incarnate with his title reign intact and captured John Cena’s United States Championship, becoming the first Superstar in history to hold the U.S. and WWE World Heavyweight Titles simultaneously. Before the age of 30, this incredible athlete has accomplished what it takes some competitors a lifetime to achieve. Forget potential: The future is now. — JAMES WORTMAN
Records are meant to be broken … except Bruno Sammartino’s.
The Living Legend held the WWE World Heavyweight Championship twice, for a combined 3,830 days. His first reign — which began when he beat inaugural champion Buddy Rogers in less than a minute— lasted nearly eight years. CM Punk may have boasted about being the longest-reigning championof the modern era, but nobody can touch Sammartino’s tenure.
One might argue that competition is stiffer today, and that’s why reigns don’t last as long. And sure, when Bruno was king, there were no briefcases to be cashed in at a moment’s notice against a fatigued opponent. But there were also no authority figures bent on stacking the deck in favor of a chosen champion. Everything was earned and lost in the ring, mano a mano. Sammartino’s legacy isn’t just about numbers, either. It’s also about the droves of loyal fans who lived and died with the exploits of their heroic, if boundlessly relatable, champion — the best ever. — JOHN CLAPP
"Macho Man" Randy Savage
“I’m too hot to handle, too cold to hold.”
“Sky’s the limit, and space is the place.”
“Tower of power, too sweet to be sour.”
“Macho Man” Randy Savage’s interviews have grown so ingrained in popular culture, so legendary, that they’ve threatened to become folklore. In fact, Savage’s passionate, notoriously quotable lines are so rich, the sin of forgetting he was a two-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion borders on the nearly forgivable.
Yet let us not forget. In the ring, “Macho Man” captured his first of two WWE World Heavyweight Championships on March 27, 1988, at WrestleMania IV when he defeated “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. His second WWE Title would have to wait four years until he bested Ric Flair at WrestleMania VIII.
Savage’s accomplishments both in and out of the ring were officially recognized earlier this year when he was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.Oooohhh, yeeeeaaahhh!!!— GREG ADKINS
Kurt Angle’s first championship reign is legendary. Not only did he ward off interference by Rikishi to defeat The Rock for a championship within his rookie year, but Angle also successfully defended his reign in a Six-Man Hell in a Cell Match.
Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund never had to worry about putting their title up for grabs inside the Cell — with five challengers eying it. It wasn’t an elimination match, either. Angle didn’t need to be pinned or made to submit to lose the title. But he maneuvered between the carnage to crawl to a win — like all clutch competitors do.
He captured three more titles by submitting “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, slamming Big Show, and pinning Brock Lesnar. None of those are a small feat.
A gold medalist from Pittsburgh, Angle more than lived up to his hometown’s “City of Champions” nickname. — JEFF LABOON
Triple H’s “King of Kings” moniker is rather fitting, because he truly is the best of the best. We might as well call him the “Champion of Champions.” Yes, there are Superstars with more WWE World Heavyweight Championship victories and longer title reigns, but you’re not going to find another titleholder in WWE history that was as consistently great as The Game.
You could argue there were other World Champions who had more star power, but no one was as reliable a force atop WWE as the Greenwich, Conn., native. You could always count on The Cerebral Assassin to live up to the prestige that comes with holding WWE’s top prize. And let’s not forget that a handful of Triple H’s 13-total World Title victories came during arguably WWE’s most competitive time period, The Attitude Era. Simply put, Triple H knew how to be a great World Champion, and he was damn good at it. In fact, he was the greatest. — SCOTT TAYLOR
Let’s face it: There is no one in WWE history like John Cena. No Superstar has rocketed to the top of WWE like he has. More importantly, no other competitor has cemented his place in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship picture like the Cenation leader.
Cena captured his first WWE Championship at WrestleMania 21 and never looked back. In the decade since, he’s won the title on 11 more occasions, setting a record that doesn’t look like it will be broken anytime soon. Throwing in his three reigns as World Heavyweight Champion puts Cena at 15 total World Championships, just one away from tying “Nature Boy” Ric Flair’s legendary total. He’s become so entwined with the WWE World Heavyweight Title that the WWE Universe is stunned when a worthy challenger rises up to dethrone him. Yet, they realize that Cena’s “Never Give Up” mentality means that it’s only a matter of time before he recaptures the title that catapulted him into Superstardom.
While many other champions have slowed down before reaching a decade of dominance, Cena isn’t showing any signs of winding down. Reaching the mountaintop 15 times is a monumental accomplishment, but John Cena most certainly plans on adding a few more to his legendary resume. — BOBBY MELOK