The WWE Championship is the premier championship in the WWE. It was first introduced in 1963 when Vince McMahon Sr. seceded from the NWA, after the NWA Board of Directors decided that Lou Thesz would be NWA World Heavyweight Championship over Word Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) wrestler Buddy Rogers. A phony story was concocted where Buddy Rogers won the newly-created WWWF World Heavyweight Championship in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, defeating Antonio Rocca in the finals on April 29, 1963.
Bruno Sammartino defeated Rogers a month later. Sammartino held the WWWF Championship from May 17, 1963 until January 18, 1971, nearly EIGHT YEARS, the longest World Title reign for any World champion in professional wrestling. The WWWF re-joined the NWA in 1971, and the title was re-dubbed the WWWF Heavyweight Championship.
When the WWWF was re-dubbed the "World Wrestling Federation" in 1979, the WWWF Heavyweight Championship followed suit and became the WWF Heavyweight Championship.
There were a couple title controversies in 1979 and 1981 that have been stricken from the record books. Antonio Inoki defeated Bob Backlund on November 30, 1979, in Tokushima, Japan. The title was then vacated by WWF President Hisashi Shinma when Backlund pinned Inoki on December 6th in Tokyo due to outside interference by Tiger Jeet Singh. Bob Backlund regained the title on December 12th by defeating Bobby Duncum in New York, NY. Similarly, on October 19, 1981, the referee accidentally awarded the WWF Championship to Greg Valentine in New York after he was defeated by Bob Backlund. A rematch occurred on November 23, 1981, where Backlund pinned Valentine to re-claim his championship in New York (the controversy was not reflected in other cities during the time). According to the WWE today, Backlund's reign officially lasted from February 20, 1978 until December 26, 1983, un-interrupted.
Backlund lost the championship to the Iron Sheik on December 26, 1983, when his manager Arnold Skaaland threw in the ring towel while Backlund was locked in the Camel Clutch, which the referee accepted as a submission on Backlund's behalf.
Hulk Hogan defeated the Iron Sheik on January 23, 1984, and he held the title until he was defeated by Andre The Giant on February 5, 1988. However, because Andre immediately forfeited the championship to The Million Dollar Man as he was paid to do, WWF President Jack Tunney nullified DiBiase's championship reign, and the belt was vacated because when a wrestler forfeits the title, he cannot have it back.
At Wrestlemania IV, a tournament was held to determine who would be the Undisputed WWF World Heavyweight Champion. Randy Macho Man Savage defeated Ted DiBiase in the finals to win his first WWF Championship.
Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, and Sgt. Slaughter traded the title throughout 1990 and 1991, until Hogan was defeated by Undertaker at the 1991 Survivor Series, thanks to outside interference from Ric Flair. Six days later, Hogan won the title back, also due to outside interference from Flair. The next day, Jack Tunney vacated the championship due to the controversy in both previous title changes.
The vacancy turned the 1992 Royal Rumble into an especially interesting contest because, for the first time in WWF history, the Royal Rumble match had the WWF Championship at stake, which also marked the first time that the Rumble had a prize to the winner. Thirty men competed for the title, but it was ultimately won by Ric Flair.
In 1994, Bob Backlund challenged Bret "Hit Man" Hart to a match, which Bret won with relative ease. After offering to shake Backlund's hand in a show of sportsmanship, Backlund snapped and locked Hart in his patented Cross-face chicken wing. Backlund began to claim that he had never lost the WWF Championship because Backlund himself never submitted (a long-standing controversy in the WWF). This dispute led to a submission match between Backlund and Hart at the 1994 Survivor Series, in which both men had an assigned cornerman to throw in a towel for his submission. Backlund agreed to have Bret's estranged brother Owen Hart in his corner and Bret had his brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith, holding his pink-and-black towel. During the match, Bulldog was rendered unconscious, and Owen manipulated his parents, Stu & Helen Hart into throwing in Bret's towel, causing Backlund to win the championship.
Three days later, Diesel defeated Backlund for the title in a record 8 seconds, the shortest WWF Championship match in history. Diesel held the title for almost a year before losing it to Bret Hart at the 1995 Survivor Series.
Bret held the belt until WrestleMania XII, when he wrestled Shawn Michaels in an Iron Man Match. The bout lasted for the full 60 minutes without either competitor scoring a victory. WWF President Gorilla Monsoon declared that "There must be a winner" and ordered a sudden-death overtime. Michaels hit Hart with Sweet Chin Music twice in OT to win his first WWF World title.
Sycho Sid beat Shawn for the title in November 1996, but Shawn regained it in January 1997, before forfeiting the championship on February 17, 1997, due to a knee injury. Three days later, Bret Hart beat Stone Cold Steve Austin, Undertaker, and The Man They Call Vader to win the title for a fourth time at WWF Final Four. The next night on Monday Night Raw, Bret defended against Sid (who was originally scheduled to challenge Shawn on the night he forfeited the belt), and Austin hit Hart on the head with a steel chair, allowing Sid to get the victory. This was the first time the championship changed hands on Monday Night Raw.
The Undertaker defeated Sid at WrestleMania 13, and successfully defended the championship until SummerSlam '97 when guest referee Shawn Michaels attempted to hit challenger Bret Hart with a chair, but accidentally kayoed Taker instead. Because Michaels was told that if he showed favoritism either way, he was forced to make the three count when Bret pinned the Undertaker after Shawn's mistake. This set the stage for the most controversial WWF Championship match of all time, known today as the Montreal Screwjob.
The Attitude EraEdit
At Survivor Series 1997, Bret Hart defended the WWF Championship against Shawn Michaels. With tempers flaring as high as they were, WWF owner Vince McMahon stood at ringside. During the match, Michaels knocked down referee Earl Hebner. Moments later, Shawn locked Bret in his own patented Sharpshooter, mocking his opponent. As Bret attempted to reverse the hold, Hebner got to his feet and immediately ordered for the bell. Simultaneously, McMahon ordered the time keeper to "RING THE DAMN BELL!" Shawn Michaels was awarded the title, and Bret Hart was confused, having clearly never given up. Behind the controversy, Bret had verbally agreed to sign with WCW, the WWF's main competition. The planned ending to the match was for Shawn to put Bret in the Sharpshooter and Bret reverse the hold, and then Triple H, Rick Rude and Chyna, the members of D-Generation X would storm the ring. Then, Bret's family, the Hart Foundation would storm the ring, and the match would be declared a no-contest, and Bret would forfeit the title the next night. Except, because former WWF Women's Champion Alundra Blayze threw the belt in a trashcan live on Monday Nitro earlier in the year, Vince feared risking the chance of Bret doing the same thing. McMahon, Hebner, Shawn, and Gerald Brisco concocted a plan to make sure Bret didn't leave the arena as champion. After the match, Bret punched Vince backstage, breaking one of his own fingers.
Shawn Michaels retained the WWF Championship until WrestleMania XIV, when he lost the belt to Stone Cold Steve Austin. The next night, Vince McMahon awarded Austin with a newly-redesigned WWF Championship belt (see 1998 design above).
Over the summer, Austin began sporting yet another belt with a Smoking Skull design and a snake skin pattern on the back (see right). The "Smoking Skull Belt," as it became known, was temporarily retired after Austin was pinned by both The Undertaker and Kane at In Your House: Break Down in a triple-threat match. It was replaced by a black-strapped version of the previous design, containing the WWF's new "scratch" logo on the top. The championship was declared vacant since neither Undertaker nor Kane alone beat Austin, and Austin was named as guest referee for a match to determine the new champion at the next In Your House event. Austin declared the match a draw after hitting both men with the Stone Cold Stunner.
Therefore, 1998 Survivor Series featured a championship tournament to determine the new champion. In the finals, The Rock defeated Mankind with the Sharpshooter, though Mankind never submitted, in a re-enactment of the previous year's Montreal Screwjob.
Throughout 1999, Stone Cold, Undertaker, Mankind, The Rock, and HHH won the championship at various times until the September 16, 1999 episode of Smackdown! (taped on Sept. 14) when HHH lost the title to Vince McMahon himself. The following week on Raw, McMahon vacated the championship and a "Six-Pack Challenge" match was scheduled for that Sunday's In Your House: Unforgiven.
Hunter defeated The Rock, Mankind, Big Show, British Bulldog, and Kane to win his second WWF Championship. He kept the title for two months before losing it to Big Show at the 1999 Survivor Series in a triple threat match with The Rock. Big Show was a replacement for the scheduled Stone Cold Steve Austin, who had been hit by a car earlier in the evening.
Over the course of 2000 and 2001, HHH, Rock, Kurt Angle, and Austin won the championship a couple times each.
On December 9, 2001, Chris Jericho defeated The Rock (WCW Champion) and Stone Cold (WWF Champion) to unify the two title belts. The unified championship was renamed the Undisputed WWF Championship. After Triple H defeated Jericho at WrestleMania X8, he was awarded a newly-designed Undisputed Championship belt (see 2002 design above).
In May 2002, the World Wrestling Federation became World Wrestling Entertainment, after settling a lawsuit with the World Wildlife Fund (also called the WWF). Subsequently, the Undisputed WWF Championship became the Undisputed WWE Championship.
On August 25, 2002, newly-crowned Undisputed WWE Champion Brock Lesnar signed an exclusive deal to Smackdown!, and the title became known as the WWE Championship. The next week on Raw, Eric Bischoff awarded the new WWE World Heavyweight Championship to HHH (who was scheduled to challenge Brock Lesnar at the next pay-per-view, before Stephanie McMahon brokered his exclusive deal to keep the title on Smackdown!).
The WWE Championship became the primier championship on Smackdown, where it went from Lesnar to Big Show in November 2002, to Kurt Angle in December 2002, back to Brock in March 2003, back to Angle in July 2003, again back to Brock in September 2003, to Eddie Guerrero in February 2004, to JBL in July 2004.
On April 11, 2005, John Cena debuted a re-designed Championship belt with a spinning "WWE" logo in the center, after beating John Bradshaw Layfield for the belt at that month's WrestleMania 21. On June 6, 2005, Cena was drafted to Raw, and the title became Raw-exclusive.
On June 11, 2006, Cena was defeated by Rob Van Dam. RVD was awarded the newly-recreated ECW Championship, and the WWE Championship became the property of ECW, until Edge beat RVD on July 3rd, returning the title to Raw. Over the summer, Edge debuted his own version of the Spinner title, adorned with his own "Rated R Superstar" logo in the center (see above/right). When Cena won the title back on September 17, the "Rated R" title was retired.
The WWE Championship was vacated on October 2, 2007, for the first time since 1998, when John Cena suffered a torn pectoral tendon in a match with Mr. Kennedy. On that Sunday's WWE No Mercy event, Vince McMahon awarded the title to Randy Orton. Triple H immediately challenged Orton to a championship match and won. He then defended the title against Umaga later in the evening in their originally scheduled match, and then he was forced to defend the title again against Orton in a Last Man Standing match, which Orton won for his second WWE Championship.
Randy Orton retained the championship through WrestleMania XXIV before he lost the title to HHH in April 2008, and Hunter was drafted to Friday Night Smackdown, bringing the championship went back to the blue brand.
At the 2008 Survivor Series, Edge replaced Jeff Hardy in a triple threat match also involving Vladimir Kozlov and HHH after Jardy had been (in-storyline) taken to a hospital. Edge won the match and became a four-time WWE Champion. Edge lost the title to Jardy at Armageddon the following month, only to rgain it the 2009 Royal Rumble and then lose it again the following month in an Elimination Chamber, which HHH won.
Although Triple H successfully defended the title against Randy Orton in the main event of WrestleMania XXV, he lost the title later that month to Orton, who dropped it to Batista in a cage match in June 2009.
Just two days after winning his first WWE Championship, Batista was forfeitted the title due to a torn left biceps muscle. Randy Orton won the title in a four-way match involving Triple H, John Cena, and Big Show. Cena defeated Orton at WWE Breaking Point in an "I Quit" match for his fourth title. Orton defeated Cena at WWE Hell In A Cell to begin his fifth title reign, putting him alongside Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Steve Austin, The Rock, and Triple H as one of few men to hold the championship five times or more (albeit, Orton only won four of those titles since one of them was awarded to him).
John Cena beat Randy Orton in an hour-long Iron Man match to regain the WWE Championship at WWE Bragging Rights, but he lost the title to Sheamus in a Tables match at WWE TLC. Sheamus was the fastest-winning WWE Champion, having won the title a mere five months, 13 days after his debut.
Batista beat John Cena, just after Cena won an Elimination Chamber match for his sixth WWE Championship, but Cena beat Batista at WrestleMania XXVI via submission. Sheamus regained the title at WWE Fatal 4-Way in June 2010, before Randy Orton regained the title at WWE Night of Champions in September 2010.
On November 22, 2010, The Miz cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase against a battered Orton and reversed the RKO into the Skull-Crushing Finale, becoming the 40th WWE Champion. Miz lost the title to John Cena in May 2011, and then CM Punk beat Cena in July 2011 for the championship on his last night with the company. As a result of Punk's departure, an eight-man tournament was held to declare a new champion, which Rey Mysterio won and then defended the title against John Cena later in the night, leading to Cena's record-breaking ninth championship reign. However, CM Punk returned immediately after the match with his championship belt in tow, thus making the entire tournament and the crowning of two new champions somewhat unnecessary. Punk won a match against Cena at SummerSlam 2011 to become "undisputed" champion, but Alberto Del Rio immediately cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase to beat Punk, and then he and John Cena swapped the title at the next two pay-per-view events.
CM Punk defeated Alberto Del Rio at Survivor Series 2011 to win his third WWE Championship, and successfully defended the title for 434 days, finally losing to The Rock at Royal Rumble 2013. The Rock successfully defended the title in his rematch with CM Punk at Elimination Chamber 2013.
Through February 2013, there have been 43 different champions (44 if Antonio Inoki is counted), with a combined total of 114 reigns. John Cena has the record for most title reigns (10) by surpassing HHH's eight reigns on July 25, 2011. Bruno Sammartino has the longest single title reign (2,803 days), and Sammartino also has the most days as champion (4,040 days, 2803+1237).