This is going to be a really controversial list.
For beginners, you may notice that the title is Top 50 WWE World Champions. Technically speaking, that's a championship that was only around for a few years, so there's no way that we could have seen 50 different champions in that time.
So for this week's Top 50 list, we are including any championship belt that signifies you are the company's top champion at any point in the 50 year-history of the WWWF, WWF or WWE. To be clear, we are including anyone who has captured one or more of the following titles:
WWWF World Heavyweight Championship
WWF World Heavyweight Championship
World Heavyweight Championship
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWE Universal Championship
In selecting the Top 50 WWE World Champions, Wrestling Merchandise and Memories looked at the following criteria:
How many times the held a version of the above championships
How long they held said championships
How they performed WHILE wearing the championship
The quality of competition that they faced
How they are remembered historically while World Champion in WWE
Whether you agree or disagree in any of the picks, leave a comment below or find us on Twitter @CanadianBulldog using the hashtag #Top50
Ready? Here we go!
Andre The Giant
WWE Hall of Famer Andre The Giant managed the seemingly impossible in 1988 - defeating Hulk Hogan to end his four-year WWF World Title run. Unfortunately, the finish was sketchy and he held the belt for all of about three minutes before surrendering it.
No one was a bigger heel in wrestling than WWE Hall of Famer Sgt. Slaughter at the height of the Gulf War, so it made perfect sense he would win the WWF World Championship in January 1991. However, he dropped it Hulk Hogan two months later and mostly defended the belt against enhancement talent on television.
Despite having several close calls in recent years, Braun Strowman captured his first world championship in 2020, defeating Goldberg to win the WWE Universal Championship at WrestleMania XXXVI. Since winning the title, he's defended it against Bray Wyatt, The Miz and John Morrison, among others.
Much like Braun Strowman, Drew McIntyre captured his first world championship at WrestleMania XXXVI. The Scottish Psychopath defeated Brock Lesnar to capture the gold and has since defended it against the likes of Bobby Lashley, Dolph Ziggler and Seth Rollins.
While WWE Hall of Famer Buddy Rogers only held the WWWF Championship for about a month in 1963, and he didn't have any title defenses until he lost the belt in 48 seconds to Bruno Sammartino... he was the very first champion in WWWF/WWF/WWE history and in the era he held the belt, that meant something.
Kane's first (and only) WWF World Championship reign in June 1998 lasted roughly 24 hours as he traded the strap back and forth with Stone Cold Steve Austin. However, Kane would win the World Championship in July 2010 and held it until December, holding back the challenges of Edge and The Undertaker.
Jeff Hardy captured the WWE Championship in 2008, defeating Edge and Triple H. While he would only that belt for about a month, Hardy also captured the World Heavyweight Championship twice in 2009, trading the belt back and forth with CM Punk over a brief period of time.
Sheamus had three runs with the WWE Championship between 2009 and 2015, toppling John Cena and Roman Reigns to win the gold. He also defeated Daniel Bryan for the World Heavyweight Title in 2012 and held on to it for most of the year before dropping it to The Big Show in October.
Alberto Del Rio
Alberto Del Rio was only in WWE for five years but made a major impact, holding the World Heavyweight Title twice for a combined 223 days (the fourth-longest reign for that belt). On top of that, he captured the WWE Title twice and held it for a combined 84 days, going over the likes of John Cena and CM Punk.
Despite being known as a 16-time World Champion, WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair has only held two of those within the confines of the WWE Universe. He captured the WWF World Championship twice in 1992 - once in a Royal Rumble, and once from Randy "Macho Man" Savage.
A bit painful to talk about now, sure, but the fact remains that Chris Benoit won the World Heavyweight Title at WrestleMania XX, in Madison Square Garden, and not only was it in a Triple Threat Match, but he got Triple H to tap out in the middle of the ring! Benoit held the championship until that year's SummerSlam.
WWE Hall of Famer Eddie Guerrero's lone run with the WWE Championship began in February 2004 when he pulled off the upset and defeated Brock Lesnar. The title reign included a successful title defense against Kurt Angle at WrestleMania XX before he dropped the belt to JBL in June of that year.
AJ Styles has captured the WWE Championship twice in his career. Most famously, he held the championship for over a year, defeating Jinder Mahal in November 2017 to win the gold and held it for just over a year before dropping the title to Daniel Bryan.
In 2001, Chris Jericho became the first Undisputed WWF Champion, defeating The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin in the same night (you may have heard him mention it). In addition, he had three runs with the World Championship between 2008-2010 when he was The Best In The World At What He Does.
John Bradshaw Layfield
John Bradshaw Layfield only had one run as WWE Champion, but he made it count. A 280-day run made him the longest-reigning champion in SmackDown history and he defended it against the likes of Eddie Guerrero, Booker T, The Big Show and The Undertaker.
CM Punk had three runs as World Heavyweight Champion between 2008 and 2009, about four months in total. But what stood out were his two reigns as WWE Champion beginning in 2011, which of course included Punk's historic 434-day title reign, the longest single reign of the past 21 years!
Superstar Billy Graham
WWE Hall of Famer Superstar Billy Graham defeated Bruno Sammartino in April 1977, ending Bruno's final run with the WWWF Championship. Graham defended the belt against a wide variety of challengers for nearly a year before dropping it to Bob Backlund in 1978.
The Ultimate Warrior
WWE Hall of Famer The Ultimate Warrior's lone WWF Heavyweight Championship run began in April 1990 when he cleanly pinned Hulk Hogan and became the first person in that era to do so. He defended the belt against the likes of Rick Rude, Ted DiBiase and Randy Savage before dropping it to Sgt. Slaughter in January 1991.
The Rock is an eight-time WWF/E Champion, beginning back with his first reign in November 1998 right near the peak of the business. Along the way, Rock defeated the likes of Mankind, Triple H, Kurt Angle and CM Punk to capture his belts, which he held for roughly one year when combined.
WWE Hall of Famer Yokozuna's first run with the WWF World Championship began at WrestleMania IX, when he defeated Bret Hart for the belt. He lost it a few minutes later when he accepted the impromptu challenge of Hulk Hogan. His next run was much more impressive, holding the championship for the better part of a year.
WWE Hall of Famer Bob Backlund's first WWWF Title run began in February 1978 and lasted all the way until December 1983. Backlund returned in 1994, when he defeated Bret Hart for the championship in a tainted submission match. Unfortunately for Backlund, his second run only lasted three days when he ran into Diesel.
Randy Orton was, at the time, the youngest person to win the World Heavyweight Championship at SummerSlam 2004. Not only did he capture that title three additional times, he's also held the WWE Championship nine times.
WWE Hall of Famer Randy "Macho Man" Savage held the WWF World Championship twice. His first reign, which began in April 1988, was significant because he was essentially groomed to take Hulk Hogan's spot. His second reign began in April 1992 when he upset Ric Flair for the belt.
WWE Hall of Famer Triple H held the WWF/E World Championship nine times between 1999 and 2016 for a combined 609 days on top. He's also a five-time World Champion, becoming the first titleholder in 2002 and holding that belt for 616 days combined -- a record for that particular championship.
WWE Hall of Famer Hulk Hogan is a six-time WWF World Champion, dominating the company from 1984 to 1993 and returning for a month-long title reign in 2002. In total, Hogan had 2,185 days on top - the second-longest in company history behind only Bruno Sammartino and in an era where the WWF was an international promotional juggernaut.
Despite holding numerous championships in his WWE career so far, Kevin Owens has only captured one World Championship. Owens captured the WWE Universal Championship in 2016 and held onto it for nearly six months before dropping the title to Goldberg.
Jinder Mahal had been with WWE off and on for several years when he surprisingly upset Randy Orton to win the WWE Championship at Backlash 2017. Even more surprisingly, Mahal held the gold for 170 days against a number of top challenges before dropping the title to AJ Styles.
In 2017, Bray Wyatt won an Elimination Chamber Match to win the WWE Championship before dropping it to Randy Orton a couple of months later. Then as The Fiend, he defeated Seth Rollins for the WWE Universal Championship in October 2019 and lost it to Goldberg three months later.
After spending several years within WWE, Kofi Kingston captured his first world championship at WrestleMania XXXV, defeating Daniel Bryan to capture the WWE Championship. While Kingston only held the gold for 180 days, his victory was a true WrestleMania moment.
The Iron Sheik
Another short-lived but meaningful champion was WWE Hall of Famer The Iron Sheik, who captured the WWF World Championship from Bob Backlund in December 1983 and lost it a month later to Hulk Hogan. But given Sheik was literally the bridge between two eras in wrestling and managed to hold the title, it's a major accomplishment.
WWE Hall of Famer Mark Henry only held a world championship once during his memorable 20-plus year career in WWE; a World Heavyweight Championship victory over Randy Orton in 2011. Still, the win was well received and Henry was booked as a dominant champion during that time.
While none of Mankind's (a/k/a WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley) three WWF Championship reigns were particularly lengthy (combined, they're less than two months total), Mrs. Foley's Baby Boy defeated The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin in 1998 and 1999, considered the absolute peak of The Attitude Era.
Sycho Sid held the WWF Heavyweight Title twice between 1996 and 1997. True, his combined title reigns were less than 100 days total, but let's not forget that The Master And Ruler Of The World defeated Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart - two of the best wrestlers of the 1990s - to win his championships.
Seth Rollins captured his first WWE Championship at WrestleMania XXXI, cashing in a Money In The Bank contract to close the event (he also held the belt for less than a day the following year). In 2019, The Architect captured the WWE Universal Championship twice, winning it at WrestleMania and SummerSlam.
WWE Hall of Famer Bill Goldberg is a three-time champion in WWE. He captured the World Heavyweight Title in 2003 from Triple H and did so again from The Fiend Bray Wyatt in 2020. In between those, he also defeated Kevin Owens in 2017 to capture the WWE Universal Championship.
Rey Mysterio's World Championship win at WrestleMania XXII in 2006 was the stuff of legend, even if his 112-day title reign was poorly booked. About four years later, Mysterio recaptured the belt in June 2010 and held on to it until the following month's pay-per-view when he dropped the title to Kane.
Daniel Bryan is a five-time world champion in WWE. His first reign as World Heavyweight Champion was in December 2011. He's also captured the WWE, WWE World Heavyweight and WWE Universal Championships since then, including a career-defining moment to close out WrestleMania XXX.
WWE Hall of Famer Kurt Angle captured the WWF/E Championship four times between 2000-2003, besting The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Brock Lesnar and The Big Show. He also captured the vacant World Title in January 2006, winning a battle royal.
Batista dominated the World Heavyweight Championship between 2005 and 2008, defeating Triple H at WrestleMania XXI and overcoming King Booker and Chris Jericho during four reigns on top. His combined 507 days make him the second-longest reigning World Champion. He's also held the WWE Title twice.
Diesel's (a/k/a WWE Hall of Famer Kevin Nash) lone run as WWF World Champion in 1994 was an impressive one. Not only did he defeat Bob Backlund in eight seconds, but he held on to that title for almost an entire year, withstanding Shawn Michaels and others.
The Undertaker enjoyed four runs as WWF/E Champion between 1991 and 2002, defeating the likes of Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin. He also had three runs as World Champion, with title victories over CM Punk, Edge and Batista. All told, his seven reigns amount to 445 days as champion combined.
WWE Hall of Famer Edge had four reigns as WWE Champion between 2006 and 2009, defending against the likes of Jeff Hardy and John Cena. But he's also captured the World Heavyweight Championship a record nine days, with combined reigns spanning 400+ days.
WWE Hall of Famer Pedro Morales isn't a name many fans associate with WWE's main championship, which is why it's surprising that after he defeated Ivan Koloff in February 1971, he held the belt for over 1,000 days! Morales eventually lost the championship to Stan Stasiak in December 1973 - Stasiak himself only held the belt for 9 days.
Roman Reigns is a four-time world champion in WWE. He first captured the WWE Championship in 2015 from Dean Ambrose, losing it minutes later. He captured the title twice more and also captured the WWE Universal Championship in 2018, defeating Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam.
WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels is a three-time WWF/E Champion, capturing the belt in 1996 and 1997 and holding the belt for a combined 396 days. The Heartbreak Kid also won the World Championship upon his WWE return in 2002, winning it in the first Elimination Chamber match and holding it for about a month.
Stone Cold Steve Austin
WWE Hall of Famer Stone Cold Steve Austin's run with the WWF World Title began in 1998 and continued off and on until 2001. Austin would go on to have five addition runs, which equals 529 days. Along the way, he opened up a can of whoop ass on the likes of The Undertaker, The Rock, Triple H, Kurt Angle and Mick Foley.
WWE Hall of Famer Bret Hart held the WWF World Championship five times between 1992 and 1997, but what was interesting is that all but one of his reigns were longer than three months. That gave the Hit Man a reputation as a fighting champion, taking on all comers.
Brock Lesnar captured his first world championship at SummerSlam 2002, amidst an incredibly successful rookie year. To date, he's captured the WWE Championship five times and the WWE Universal Title three times, making him one of the most successful champions in recent history.
WWE Hall of Famer Bruno Sammartino dominated the WWWF Championship between 1963 and 1973, holding the title only twice but for 4,040 days. So why is he not # 1 on this list? The WWWF was a regional promotion for most of his reign and not in an era of television and pay-per-view demands.
We warned you this would be a controversial list. John Cena held the WWE/WWE World Heavyweight Championship an unprecedented 13 times between 2005 and 2014 for 1,254 days combined, or roughly three and a half years as champion, defending it against the likes of Kurt Angle, Randy Orton, Triple H and many others. On top of that, he's had three runs as World Champion for 154 days combined, making Cena the most frequent WWE World Champion ever when you add in the various titles.