The WWE Championship is the most prestigious prize for any pro-wrestler in the industry. The title has been active since the 1960s, with over a dozen WWE Hall of Famers holding the gold. The blood and sweat put in by the wrestlers to earn the WWE Championship have added to its value through the years. The title has been defended across RAW and SmackDown, in different countries and on different continents as well.
The storylines related to the WWE Championship have been the main-event plot for the majority of the WWE shows to date and whoever held the belt, got catapulted the top of the main roster. But as the saying goes in WWE, the title doesn’t make the man, the man makes the title.
Today we take a look at some of those top-tier WWE Superstars who made sure that the WWE Championships maintains its prestige in the 21st century.
#5 Jinder Mahal
Jinder Mahal winning the WWE Championship once again showed the fans how unpredictable WWE can be. Someone who lacked a significant main roster run as a singles wrestler was all of a sudden a No.1 contender for the title and a month later, would go on to defeat Randy Orton for the coveted Championship.
When WWE put their most important title on Jinder Mahal, the man was assigned with a very tough task; he not only needed him to prove to the WWE Universe that he deserved the gold but also maintain the performance as long as he kept the championship. The fans thought that Mahal would-be champion for a short while, an intermediate champion so to speak, but he retained the title for a good six months.
During his reign as the WWE Champion, Jinder Mahal attracted the casual Indian audience while also garnering attention from fans in the USA. His persona brought back the heel heat that the main roster wrestlers were lacking for some time. Mahal defeated Randy Orton, Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, and many other elite wrestlers of the SmackDown roster. He was also set to collide with Brock Lesnar in a WWE Champion vs Universal Champion at Survivor Series 2017 but he lost the title to AJ Styles before the pay-per-view.
Jinder Mahal was supposed to be the first WWE Champion of Indian descent to defend the title in India but later that was changed to him face Triple H. Nonetheless, he went on to win the United States Championship at WrestleMania 34 before getting sidelined with an injury.
Why did he make it into this list? Jinder Mahal is a classic example of how someone evolves when he gets a run with the WWE Championship. Even after he lost the belt, Mahal was never the same athlete he used to be but someone who was considered as a legit threat by any main roster Superstar.
#4 Chris Jericho
Chris Jericho enjoyed a brief reign as the WWE Champion and a more significant run as the World Heavyweight Champion. However, his time as the WWE Champion played a pivotal role during the Invasion days and to kick off the Ruthless Aggression Era. Chris Jericho, who never won the top title in his tenure in World Championship Wrestling, started his WWE career in a segment with The Rock. He would then face Chyna, Jeff Jarrett, Kurt Angle, and others for the Intercontinental Championship before moving into the world title feuds.
As Vince McMahon bought WCW, the aim was to unify the WWE and WCW World Championships. At Vengeance 2001, Chris Jericho defeated The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin on the same night to unify the WWE Championship and the WCW World Championship into the Undisputed WWE Championship. Jericho’s victory skyrocketed him to the top of a roster that was undergoing major changes to fit in talents from both the promotions.
Unfortunately, he lost the title to Triple H at the following WrestleMania. Some fans may argue that Chris Jericho didn’t have that memorable run as the WWE Champion and to some extent, it is acceptable but we also must not forget how his victory helped him in his future storylines. Y2J always seemed to be the guy to deal with as he was the only one who could boast of beating The Rock and Stone Cold back-to-back.
#3 Roman Reigns
As his nickname suggests, Roman Reigns has always been The Big Dog since his debut in the WWE main roster. Reigns have evolved to be someone who no longer requires the WWE Championship or the WWE Universal Championship to showcase his dominance on the main roster.
He has been a three-time WWE Champion over the years with none of his reigns lasting more than three months. His initial run as the WWE Champion ended almost immediately with Sheamus successfully cashing in his Money in the Bank contract, he lost his second WWE Championship to Triple H when he defended it in a Royal Rumble match and his third reign came to an end in nearly two months as he lost to Seth Rollins.
However, for Roman Reigns, it was never about having a long run as the WWE Champion. He has been around the title picture for most of his main roster tenure and when he held the gold, it was something to look out for. Roman Reigns’ case showcases how even the top talent of the promotion can lose the title quickly, while someone like Jinder Mahal and John Bradshaw Layfield, who the fans don’t expect to experience a lengthy title reign, held onto the WWE Championship longer than The Big Dog did.
#2 John Bradshaw Layfield
Much like Jinder Mahal’s reign as the WWE Champion in 2017, JBL also had an unexpectedly good title reign during 2004-05. As The Modern Day maharajas ascend to the top came all of a sudden, JBL earned his spot on the apex of the main roster out of the blue.
Owing to the absence of his tag partner from APA, Farooq, Bradshaw completely renovated his gimmick and re-debuted as John Bradshaw Layfield. Within a few months, he defeated Eddie Guerrero and won the WWE Championship. JBL went on to hold the title for 280 days, which would make him the longest-reigning WWE Champion in SmackDown history, next to AJ Styles. With the likes of Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, Big Show being absent on the roster, JBL snatched the opportunity to attain the top spot in the brand. Throughout his run, as the WWE Champion, he had matches with numerous top-tier Superstars like Eddie Guerrero, The Undertaker, Kurt Angle, and Booker T and somehow managed to come out on top every time. He ultimately lost the title to John Cena at WrestleMania 21 but in the following months, fought with him multiple times in an attempt to regain the WWE Championship. John Bradshaw Layfield’s title reign was one of the lengthiest runs in several years, bringing stability to the WWE Championship and credibility to JBL.
#1 Seth Rollins
As the SHIELD disbanded, Seth Rollins was backed by Triple H to win the big one. With some help from Kane, Rollins won the Money in the Bank contract in 2014 and held on to that briefcase till WrestleMania 31. At the grandest stage of sports entertainment in 2015, The Architect cashed in during the main event match between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship and pinned The Big Dog to win the title.
Seth Rollins winning the WWE Championship attracted the attention of the hardcore pro-wrestling fans who had been longing for an “indy guy” to hold the title since the reigns of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. During his run as the title-holder, Seth Rollins not only took on Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton, John Cena and other Superstars of the modern era but also defended against the legends like Kane and Sting. Every time, he stepped into the squared circle, The Architect made sure that he stole the show. His feud with John Cena for the WWE Championship and the US Title was one of the most loved storylines of 2015 as well.
Rollins had to vacate the title due to his knee injury in October but the unfortunate incident can’t change the fact that he delivered a really entertaining WWE Championship run.