Last updated on May 8th, 2022 at 11:57 am
The WWE Championship is a world heavyweight championship widely recognized as the most historic championship in WWE. It is one of the WWE’s three world titles, others being the Universal Championship and the NXT Championship.
This title dates back to 1963, when it was established by the then World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) as the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship. The WWE Championship was first awarded to Buddy Rogers, who defeated Antonino Rocca.
The WWE Championship is the oldest championship currently active in WWE. It is the promotion’s most prestigious title, with many matches for the title, and has been the headliner for several pay-per-view events.
Since that time, the biggest names in the business have held the title, including Bruno Sammartino, Andre the Giant, Bret Hart, Hulk Hogan, The Rock, John Cena, Daniel Bryan, and many others.
We run through a list of the 10 longest reigning WWE Champions in the order of length of their reigns.
10. Superstar Billy Graham-296 days
Eldridge Wayne Coleman, also known by his stage name Superstar Billy Graham, is the 10th longest reigning WWE Champion. Billy is a flamboyant and charismatic revolutionary, notable for his colorful interviews and personality. Professional wrestling for him began in 1969, but he signed to WWE in 1975.
After a brief hiatus from the WWE, Billy returned in April 1977 and defeated Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF Championship. For over nine months, he was undefeated and retained the title against Sammartino, Dusty Rhodes, Pedro Morales, and Mil Mascaras.
Eventually, Bob Backlund defeated him on the 20th of February 1978, after Vince McMahon Sr. rejected making Graham a fan favorite. Graham disliked having to fight someone he considered so bland, and in protest, he left behind his usual tie-dye and wore plain white for the loss.
Graham set attendance records in the Boston Garden and the Philadelphia Spectrum and sold out 19 of 20 Madison Square Garden main events.
9. Diesel-358 days
While Kevin Nash has only held the WWE Championship once, his reign as WWE Champion lasted for nearly a year. Diesel’s impressive reign started in November 1994, three days after Bob Backlund defeated Bret Hart for the WWE Championship at Survivor Series.
Diesel picked up a shocking eight-second victory over the veteran at the Madison Square Garden to start his 358-day reign with the title. Diesel retained the WWE Championship at WrestleMania against the first man who won the Rumble from entry no. 1 and against former running mate, Shawn Michaels.
He kept his title against Owen Hart, Bret Hart, Jeff Jarrett, Shawn Michaels, Bam Bam Bigelow, Sycho Sid, King Mabel, and The British Bulldog over 12 months before eventually losing to Bret in a No Disqualification match in November 1995 at Survivor Series.
The match received wide viewing as it was one of the few matches which allowed No Disqualification rules meaning that it allowed the use of weapons generously in the contest, a true rarity for the time.
8. AJ Styles-371 days
Allen Neal Jones first appeared in the World Wrestling Federation in 2002. He did not sign with the WWE until much later in 2016. Styles defeated Dean Ambrose in September 2016 to win the WWE Championship for the first time, but his reign lasted for just 140 days.
On November 7, however, he won the WWE Championship for the second time defeating Jinder Mahal. Several competitors, such as Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, John Cena, Dolph Ziggler, and Samoa Joe, attempted to get the WWE Championship, but they were unsuccessful.
He became the 8th man to have held the WWE Championship for over one year. Eventually, Daniel Bryan defeated him at SmackDown Live on November 13. There was a rematch for the Championship at Tables, Ladders & Chairs (TLC), but Bryan was again victorious.
Not much else is to be said about AJ Styles and the impact he had on SmackDown Live than he is the longest-reigning WWE Champion in the history of SmackDown, surpassing the record of 280 days set by John “Bradshaw” Layfield (JBL).
His impressive reign of 280 days saw him go into the history books as one of the longest reigning WWE champions.
7. Randy Savage-371 days
In 7th position, is Randy Savage tied with AJ Styles, having held the WWE Championship belt for 371 days. His reign started in March 1988, when he won the vacant WWE Championship that was contested in a 14-man tournament at WrestleMania IV.
He defeated Butch Reed, Greg Valentine, One Man Gang, Ted DiBiase, and the Macho Man left Atlantic City as the new champion. Savage defended his title against several competitors, such as Andre The Giant, One Man Gang, Bad News Brown, and Virgil.
However, his reign centered around Hulk Hogan, who became his teammate in their team known as the Mega Powers, but who showed more attention to his wife, Elizabeth. The duo faced off at Wrestlemania V, and he could not keep the WWE Championship, thus having started and ended his reign at the Wrestlemania main events.
6. John Cena-381 days
A 16-time world champion in WWE John Cena ties with Ric Flair for the most world championship reigns in professional wrestling history. In his third stint as WWE Champion, he held the title for 381 days after defeating Edge, whom he had spent most of the year feuding with in front of his partisan native crowd in Toronto.
Cena got off to a shaky start, losing the Champion vs. Champion vs. Champion match on Cyber Sunday. However, he soon got so dominant, defeating every challenger, including ending the undefeated streak of Umaga to keep his title, overcoming the legendary Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania, and defeating the Great Khali.
He would continue to fend off competitors like Edge, Randy Orton, and Bobby Lashley on his way to the first WWE Championship reign in over 15 years to last more than a year.
Cena vacated his championship prematurely in October 2007due to a torn right pectoral tendon. His reign lasted for 381 days, making him one of the longest reigning WWE champions in the history of the promotion.
5. CM Punk-434 days
CM Punk won the WWE Championship title for the second time in his career when he defeated Alberto Del Rio via submission at Survivor Series in November. This reign proved to be his longest and lasted for one year and 69 days.
In his first win at Money in the Bank 2011, in front of his passionate hometown crowd, CM Punk won the WWE Championship the night his contract with the WWE was due to end. A month later, he won a match against John Cena to crown him the true WWE Champion, but Mr. Money in the Bank, Alberto Del Rio, screwed him over.
Punk won the championship back at Survivor Series and held the championship for well over a year against contenders such as The Miz, Chris Jericho, Daniel Bryan, Big Show, Ryback, Kane, and many others. Punk eventually lost the title to The Rock in January 2013 at the Royal Rumble. However, he is the longest-reigning WWE Champion in the last 25 years
4. Pedro Morales-1027 days
Pedro Morales is the first name in the over one thousand-days club. He is the 4th longest reigning champion in the WWE history. The WWE Hall of Famer Pedro Morales held the prize from early 1971 to late 1973. His reign started in February 1971, when he ended Ivan Koloff’s 21-day reign as champion at MSG to begin his legendary 1,027-day tenure with the title.
He won the WWE Championship from Ivan Koloff one month after winning his first singles championship with the company, the United States Championship, which had to be given up after winning the WWE Championship.
His reign lasted for almost three years, in turn making him one of the longest reigning WWE champions. However, Stan Stasiak eventually defeated him at a Philadelphia house show in December 1973.
Morales was a big hero to the people of Puerto Rico and represented them not only as the most successful WWE superstar from the island, but one of the longest reigning WWE champions ever.
3. Hulk Hogan-1474 days
Terry Gene Bollea (Hulk Hogan) is an American professional wrestler who is a widely recognized wrestling star worldwide and was a household name in the 1980s. He signed to the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in 1983 and was a regular feature. He won the Heavyweight Championship in 1994 before winning it again in 1996.
In his first reign, which was the third-longest in WWE history, Hulk Hogan defeated the Iron Sheikh at MSG in January 1984 to end the Iron Sheik’s reign that lasted just 28 days. Hogan kept his championship over four years against Superstars, including King Kong Bundy, Paul Orndorff, and Andre the Giant.
His reign brought celebrities to the WWE, both in the audience and taking part, and brought a lot of credibility to pro wrestling when he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He lost the title to Andre the Giant at The Main Event I in February 1988.
2. Bob Backlund-2135 days
Robert Louis Backlund is an American professional wrestler who signed to the WWWF in 1976, left and returned thrice, and retired. His first Championship reign, in which he defeated Superstar Billy Graham in February 1978.
The impressive reign saw him become one of the longest reigning WWE champions reign in the history of the WWE.
Although he lost his Championship a year and a half into the reign to Antonio Inoki in Japan, he won it back. However, the WWWF match commissioner declared the rematch a no-contest because of external interference. Inoki refused to have the belt handed to him, and thus it was vacant. Backlund soon regained the championship.
As a result of the controversies overseas, WWE chose not to acknowledge Inoki’s reign as WWE champion. After a four-year reign as champion, Backlund lost the title to The Iron Shiek at MSG in December 1983 when his manager, Arnold Skaaland, threw in the towel to stop Shiek from applying any more pressure with his camel clutch submission.
1. Bruno Sammartino-2803 days
With a title reign that spans for almost one decade, Bruno Sammartino is the longest reigning WWE champion of all time. One of the greatest WWE champions of all time, Sammartino was an Italian-American wrestler who has a combined 11 years as WWE Champion over his two reigns.
The first, which is his longest and is still the longest reign as WWE Champion, lasted for 2803 days, seven years, and a day over eight months. Sammartino defeated the first-ever WWE Champion Buddy Rogers to become the second WWE Champion. The two ever never rematched as Rogers retired soon after.
Ivan Koloff defeated Sammartino to end his reign at the MSG in January 1971, but his second victory started in December 1973 with a win over Stan Stasiak. He retired in 1981 but was soon back in the WWF for his second stint.
Randy Savage was his biggest feud in his second stint, and he also took part in a big feud with the legendary Gorilla Monsoon.
Sammartino is a legend who continually sold out MSG, an idol of Italian-Americans of a certain age which saw him compete in MSG.