The WWE Championship is arguably the biggest prize in professional wrestling. Since it’s inception in the ‘60s, we’ve seen it change hands multiple times. It has made your average wrestlers into household names with the likes of John Cena and Randy Orton holding it. With so many wrestlers being champion, which ones had the best WWE championship runs?
Looking at how the WWE operates, some wrestlers held it for a few minutes while others lasted years. Several “Money in the Bank” winners have robbed some champions as soon as they got crowned. Others proved to be too tenacious and went on runs that won’t be challenged for decades to come.
The wrestlers on this list didn’t just have the best WWE championship runs, they accomplished much during their run as well. The number of successful title defenses and overall fan reaction to their reign was also another factor to consider. Excluded titles include Universal Championship, Intercontinental, United States, NXT, and Women’s Titles.
That being said, there are a couple of honorable mentions who didn’t make it: JBL (279 days), Seth Rollins (219 days), and The Rock (118 days).
Ladies and gentlemen, the following contest is scheduled for one fall. Without further delay, here are the best WWE championship runs ever.
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin
- Date Won & Lost: April 1, 2001 – September 23, 2001
- Duration: 175 days
Chair shot after chair shot wasn’t enough to put away The Rock in a No Disqualification match at WrestleMania 17. It was a bloody affair between the two full of stolen finishers and near falls. The one deciding factor: Vincent Kennedy McMahon.
Midway through the match, Mr. McMahon introduced a steel chair Austin used to assault The Rock. Even with the odds in their favor, The Rock still managed to get his shoulder up every time. Nevertheless, there is only so much punishment The People’s Champion could take and after multiple hits in a row, Austin won by pinfall.
Austin would go on and lose to Kurt Angle by submission tapping out to the ankle lock at Unforgiven. The Texas Rattlesnake slithered his way to one of the best WWE Championship runs ever. Of course, that’s the bottom line ‘cause Stone Cold said so!
- Date Won & Lost: October 7, 2007 – April 27, 2008
- Duration: 202 days
Orton’s first championship reign was short-lived after he lost it to Triple H in the opening match of No Mercy. An invoked rematch clause earned him a rematch that same night in a Last Man Standing match.
Orton went to work early attacking Triple H’s injured ribs from a fight earlier against Umaga. The match quickly spilled out the ring with both wrestlers using everything from steel steps to ring posts. A brutal chair shot to the head almost cost Orton the win, but a surprise RKO on the announcer’s table incapacitated Triple H long enough for him to emerge victoriously.
After successful title defenses against Shawn Michaels and Jeff Hardy, Randy Orton lost to Triple H in a fatal four-way at Backlash. The Viper struck and had one of the best WWE Championship runs in history.
- Date Won & Lost: April 27, 2008 – November 23, 2008
- Duration: 209 days
The rivalry between Randy Orton and Triple H resulted in the WWE Championship changing hands multiple times between the two. After losing it to Orton at WrestleMania XXIV in a triple threat match, Triple H took on Orton again at Backlash this time in a fatal four-way between him, John Bradshaw Layfield “JBL”, and John Cena.
An STFU from Cena eliminated JBL, but a Punt Kick from Orton was enough to eliminate Cena as well. An RKO alone wasn’t enough to defeat Triple H. Orton’s punt attempt failed, and Triple H’s Pedigree put him away earning him the WWE Championship.
In his title match against Vladimir Kozlov, Vickie Guerrero announced the match would be a triple threat with Edge as the third contestant. A stray chair shot from an interfering Hardy and a successful pin by Edge ended Triple H’s reign at Survivor Series.
The Game hammered his way to one of the best WWE Championship runs ever.
- Date Won & Lost: August 17, 2014 – March 29, 2015
- Duration: 223 days
Fresh off of ending The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania XXX, Brock Lesnar challenged Cena at SummerSlam for the title. Things escalated quickly when Lesnar hit the F-5 on Cena barely two minutes into the match. From there on out, Lesnar continued to punish Cena with suplex after suplex.
Cena had bursts of fight left in him and even performed an Attitude Adjustment to Lesnar, but that wasn’t enough. Lesnar mockingly rose up like The Undertaker and sneered at a worn-out Cena lying in the corner. He easily brushed off a final STF attempt from Cena ending the contest with another F-5 and successful pin.
Lesnar would go on to lose to Money In The Bank winner, Seth Rollins, in a triple threat match at WrestleMania 31. The Mayor of Suplex City slammed everyone in his way as he had one of the best WWE Championship runs ever.
- Date Won & Lost: March 31, 1996 – November 17, 1996
- Duration: 230 days
A second consecutive Royal Rumble win earned Shawn Michaels a match in the main event at WrestleMania XII against long-time rival, Bret Hart. The sixty-minute Iron Man match was supposed to end tied after time expired, but the match was ordered sudden death.
An already celebrating Hart walked back to the ring and continued to dish out the punishment. Michaels refused to give up. He raised himself above Hart in the corner and delivered some Sweet Chin Music when Hart turned around. With both men visibly exhausted, Michaels crawled to the corner to set up his finisher once more. His second kick connected and this time, he secured the win via pinfall.
Shawn Michaels went on to lose the WWF Championship title to Sycho Sid at Survivor Series. In spite of this, The Heartbreak Kid danced his way to one of the best WWE Championship runs ever.
- Date Won & Lost: March 20, 1994 – November 23, 1994
- Duration: 247 days
After a double elimination in the 1994 Royal Rumble, Bret Hart and Lex Luger both earned title shots at WrestleMania X. Hart had to fight his brother, Owen, first before facing the current champion, Yokozuna. Despite losing to Owen earlier, Hart went into his title fight full of confidence.
Yokozuna, not to be outdone, took the fight to Hart as Roddy Piper officiated the match between the two. A belly-to-belly suplex set up Yokozuna to finish Hart off, but a misstep on the ropes sent him tumbling back. Hart quickly took advantage and pinned the groggy Yokozuna winning the WWF Championship.
Hart went on to lose the title to Bob Backlund in a submission match at Survivor Series. The Hitman tapped out dozens as he had one of the best WWE Championship runs in history.
The Ultimate Warrior
- Date Won & Lost: April 1, 1990 – January 19, 1991
- Duration: 292 days
The Ultimate Warrior gave us plenty to smile about during his time wrestling. The 1990s saw him steadily rise to become one of the fan favorites. Following the events of the 1990 Royal Rumble, The Ultimate Warrior ended up challenging Hulk Hogan for the WWF Championship at WrestleMania VI.
Both Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior came into this match as WWF Champion and Intercontinental Champion respectively. Warrior performed his signature Gorilla Press Drop and Running Splash to a crowd of over 60,000, but Hogan kicked out. A missed leg drop by Hogan followed by another splash by Warrior ended up winning him the title.
The Ultimate Warrior went on to lose the title to Sgt. Slaughter following the interference of Sensational Sherri and Randy Savage. His exploits earned him one of the best WWE Championship runs ever.
- Date Won & Lost: November 26, 1994 – November 19, 1995
- Duration: 357 days
Out of all the names on this list, Diesel’s match lasted the shortest. As soon as the bell rung, Diesel kicked Bob Backlund and performed the Jackknife on him winning in less than 10 seconds.
He defended his title successfully against at Shawn Michaels, Sycho Sid, and Mabel. After almost a year as champion, Bret Hart returned to challenge him at Survivor Series. A sneaky Hart played possum and stole a pin on Diesel winning the WWF Championship.
While Big Daddy Cool may have been part of a down era in WWE history, making him one of the worst “top guys” in history, he was never a bad performer. He had several amazing matches, mostly due to how athletic he was at such a huge size. His reign is impressive, making him someone we had to add to our list of the best WWE Championship runs ever.
- Date Won & Lost: November 7, 2017 – November 13, 2018
- Duration: 371 days
AJ Styles’s return to WWE saw him capture the WWE Championship multiple times. The most memorable one being when he took on Jinder Mahal on Smackdown Live. Jinder Mahal’s strength proved challenging, but the high-flying AJ Styles was willing to go to any lengths to win.
A 450 from Styles could’ve put Jinder away, but the Singh brothers dragged him out the ring. A determined Styles chased them down and took them both out. With Jinder now back on his feet, Styles broke the Khallas and hit him with the Phenomenal Forearm winning the match.
AJ Styles’ reign ended to Daniel Bryan on SmackDown Live after a low blow.
- Date Won & Lost: September 17, 2006 – October 2, 2007
- Duration: 380 days
John Cena’s feud with Edge, then WWE Champion, culminated in a title match of Edge’s choosing. Edge chose to defend the title at Unforgiven in a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match in his hometown of Toronto.
The title hung precariously above as Cena and Edge smashed each other through multiple tables. At one moment Lita interfered, but Cena dealt with her quickly. As Cena climbed the ladder, Edge burst into the ring and the two traded blows at the top. Unfortunately for Edge, Cena proved too strong and performed an FU on him through two tables and retrieved the belt.
Cena would go on to defend the title against Umaga, Shawn Michaels, The Great Khali, and Randy Orton. A torn pectoralis muscle forced him to vacate the title.
The Doctor of Thugonomics and Leader of Cenation adjusted attitudes and made sure none of his opponents could see him on his way to one of the best WWE Championship runs ever.
- Date Won & Lost: November 20, 2011 – January 27, 2013
- Duration: 434 days
Through a “little” persuasion, CM Punk got Alberto Del Rio to grant him a title match at Survivor Series. As the match went on, Del Rio constantly attacked Punk’s left arm. Just when it looked bleak for Punk, he reversed Del Rio’s hold and delivered a kick to his head. Punk ended up winning by pinfall.
In the following months, Punk would successfully defend his title up until he faced The Rock. Even with The Shield’s help, Punk lost the title ending his reign at 434 days. Despite his issues with the WWE, Punk had arguably one of the best title reigns in the “modern era” of WWE.
The Straight Edge Superstar made all his opponents go to sleep on his way to one of the best WWE Championship runs ever.
- Date Won & Lost: February 8, 1971 – December 1, 1973
- Duration: 1,027 days
Pedro Morales is one of only four superstars to have a championship reign last over 1,000 days. His warm approach to the fans made him loved by all. To top it off, he was the first superstar to achieve the Triple Crown.
Pedro faced off against then-champion, Ivan Koloff, at a sold-out Madison Square Garden. The match began slowly with Koloff backing off multiple times. Later on, Morales broke free of a bear hug midway in the match and countered with his own scoop body slam. Koloff then tried to suplex him in the corner, but Morales pushed off the turnbuckle landing on top of him for a three-count winning the match.
Morales lost the WWWF Championship to Stasiak more than two years later.
- Date Won & Lost: January 23, 1984 – February 5, 1988
- Duration: 1,474 days
Hulkamania first began when Hulk Hogan challenged The Iron Sheik for WWF Championship in 1984. The Iron Sheik barely had any time to take off his robe when Hogan attacked. Sheik somehow rebounded midway through and managed to lock Hogan in the Camel Clutch. However, Hogan didn’t give in. He got up and backed Sheik into the corner setting him up for an atomic leg drop and a successful pin.
The 1980s proved to be one of the best times for Hogan fans as they watched him dominate the WWF time and again. Hogan ended up being “the main event guy” taking over for Andre the Giant whom he also fought and defeated. After four years as champion, Hogan eventually lost to Andre the Giant on The Main Event I.
Hulkamania ran wild for years, allowing Hogan to have one of the best WWE Championship runs in history.
- Date Won & Lost: February 20, 1978 – December 26, 1983
- Duration: 2,135 days
Bob Backlund and Superstar Billy Graham faced off multiple times in the late seventies, but Backlund always lost. In front of a raucous crowd at Madison Square Garden, the two waged battle one more time.
At some point, it looked like Graham would win with Backlund strapped in a bear hug, but Backlund countered with a bear hug of his own. Graham eventually escaped the hold. However, with his back turned, Backlund executed the atomic drop on him and pinned him. Despite Graham’s leg being on the bottom rope, Backlund was given the win.
Backlund would go on to lose to the Iron Sheik via submission.
- Date Won & Lost: May 17, 1963 – January 18, 1971
- Duration: 2,803 days
Bruno Sammartino’s record may never be broken after spending more than seven years as the WWE Champion. Sammartino was known for his strength and devastating bear hug. This very move allowed him to capture the title in 1963 from inaugural champion Buddy Rogers, winning in 55 seconds.
After claiming the WWWF championship, Sammartino faced Ivan Koloff at Madison Square Garden in 1971. Bruno fought hard but so did Koloff. A scoop slam followed by a diving leg drop put Sammartino away, and Koloff emerged the winner to the shock of everyone.
The Living Legend’s 2,803 days earns him the top spot for best WWE Championship runs. Funny enough, he had another run with the title after his initial run with it. That reign?
Oh nothing special, only a measly 1,237-day reign. How did he live with himself?