10 Longest WWE Championship Reigns of All Time
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the 10 longest WWE title runs of all time. (This article written before CM Punk's 434 day title reign)
Billy Graham – 296 Days
“Superstar” Billy Graham was unlike anything the world of professional wrestling had ever seen before, and although underrated and often unrecognized, he is one of the most influential personalities in the history of the sport.
After cutting his teeth in Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling, Graham joined the WWWF (World Wide Wrestling Federation) in 1975 and almost instantly catapulted to the top of the company. Managed by The Grand Wizard, Graham stunned the world when he upset long reigning heavyweight champion Bruno Sammartino on April 30, 1977. Graham reigned nearly an entire year before losing the world championship to Bob Backlund on February 20, 1978.
So what made Graham special you asked? Other than ending Sammartino’s four year championship run, Graham added a pizazz to professional wrestling than previously was non-existent. He modernized a sport that for too long had been archaic and old-fashioned. His tie-dye clothes and over the top personality enraged fans. Graham also was the first heel (bad guy) world champion to act as more than a transitional champion. His reign had many title defenses across the world and featured many stellar matches. To this day, no heel world champion has reigned longer than the original bad guy, Billy Graham.
Diesel – 358 Days
From the moment Diesel made his debut as the biker-thug manager of Shawn Michaels, you knew he would be a major star in the sport. The athletic former college basketball star was never a technician on the mats, but his mammoth size and intimidating look made her the perfect addition to Vince McMahon’s 1990’s WWF roster.
Although many may have seen a bright future for the Michigan native, few saw “Big Daddy Cool” defeating then world champion Bob Backlund in an astonishing 7 seconds at a Madison Square Garden house show coming. We were not far removed from 75 minute broadways in Shea Stadium, but this was the new world of professional wrestling. Match quality and technical skills were put on the backburner for looks and personality.
Diesel and Bret Hard had many entertaining clashes throughout 1995, but it wasn’t until the 1995 Survivor Series that Hart was able to capture the world title back. Shortly thereafter, Diesel skipped town and headed for the greener pastures of WCW, and the rest as they say is history.
Hulk Hogan – 364 Days
We’ll get to Hulk Hogan’s initial reign later in the list, but first we have to talk about Hogan’s second title reign. In perhaps Hogan’s finest hour, he and Randy Savage faced off in an epic clash of “The Mega Powers” at WrestleMania 5.
Savage had won the world championship in a tournament at the previous WrestleMania and the relationship between him and Hogan had gone sour over the intermittent year. When they finally met, the two put on an epic performance not soon to be forgotten. In the end, Hogan walked away with his second world championship.
Hogan lost the title in a match that, by all assumptions, should have been a stinker. Neither The Ultimate Warrior nor Hulk Hogan were known for their technical prowess between the ropes. Both were impressive personalities that had captured the wrestling public.
The two put on an incredible performance inside Toronto’s Skydome in front of one of the largest and most electric crowds in pro wrestling history. Hogan handing the WWE Championship to the Ultimate Warrior signified a new era in professional wrestling.
Randy Savage – 371 Days
There are many different ways you can choose to remember “The Macho Man.” You can remember his “Macho King” days, his over the top promos, his ultra-protective relationship with Elizabeth, or his phenomenal clash with Ricky Steamboat at WrestleMania III. When I think of Savage however, it’s the WrestleMania IV tournament final against Ted Dibiase that comes to mind.
It was the beginning of a well-deserved and emotional reign as world champion for one of the greatest performers pro wrestling ever saw. With the deck stacked against him, Savage overcame the odds to become WWE Champion on a night that seemed to be heading in Dibiase’s favour throughout. Savage was at the top of his game when he landed the flying elbow on Dibiase and was hoisted on Hogan’s shoulders.
As previously mentioned, the relationship between Savage and Hogan quickly went sour. Jealousy issues tore “The Mega Powers” apart and resulted in their bout at Wrestlemania V.
John Cena – 380 Days
Whether you love him or hate him, few create more drama than John Cena.
It was his third reign as WWE Champion that seemingly began the separation between Cena’s fans and haters. Perhaps defeating Edge in his hometown for the WWE championship was a poor way to start, or perhaps today’s fans do not have the attention span for long world title reigns. Either way, Cena’s 380 day world title reign in 2006-2007 left few satisfied.
When Cena finally vacated the WWE Championship on October 2007, it was a breath of fresh air for many fans in search of a new face of the WWE.
Pedro Morales – 1,027 Days
Many could see that Morales was on the fast track to the main event early on in his WWWF run. His dashing good looks combined with his size and wrestling skill made him a natural heavyweight contender, and with Ivan Koloff knocking off Bruno Sammartino, the cards were in his favour.
Only three weeks after capturing the WWF Championship, Koloff was defeated by the emerging Pedro Morales. The Puerto-Rican star reigned for nearly three years, feuding with Larry Hennig and Stan Stasiak as well as taking part in the infamous 75 minute draw with Sammartino in 1972. Morales eventually lost the WWF Championship to Stasiak on December 1, 1973.
Bruno Sammartino – 1,237 Days
Bruno Sammartino seems to be a name forgotten by pro wrestling history. Whether you want to blame Sammartino’s stubbornness or Vince McMahon’s holding of a grudge is beside the point; Sammartino was a great two-time WWF Champion and one of the greatest of all time.
Sammartino’s second reign lasted 1,237 days. Although longer than most, it paled in comparison with his initial title run (we’ll get to that later).
Sammartino defeated Stan Stasiak to begin his second reign, only nine days after Stasiak captured the world title from Pedro Morales. He reigned until April 30, 1977 when the previously mentioned Billy Graham defeated the heralded champion.
Hulk Hogan – 1,474 Days
Perhaps the most recognizable name in the history of professional wrestling, Hulk Hogan will forever be remembered for bringing wrestling to the masses. Instead of a fringe entertainment act that drew sports fans, pro wrestling became a phenomenon in the last 1980’s. Hogan was everywhere; movies, televisions shows and the like.
On January 23, 1984 everything changed for pro wrestling. It was the night Hulk Hogan defeated the Iron Shiek in the middle of the ring. It’s a clip you’ve likely seen 100 times. It was the night Hulkamania was born.
Hogan reigned until a controversial ending with his encounter with Andre The Giant rendered the WWE Championship vacant.
Bob Backlund – 2,135 Days
Bob Backlund is a puzzling figure in the world of pro wrestling. Despite having all the raw, natural athleticism and talent one could ask for, he never seemed to be able to grab the crowd’s attention.
Although many modern wrestling fans will remember Backlund for his bizarre comeback in 1993-1995, it was his initial run in the late 1970’s where he captured the WWF Championship.
After having multiple entertaining matches with the flashy “Superstar” Eddie Graham, Backlund finally captured the championship on February 20, 1978 in a classic between the two. Backlund’s title run featured many interesting matches, including a draw with NWA World Champion Harley Race, matches in Japan with Antonio Inoki as the height of his popularity, and matches with catch wrestling icon Billy Robinson.
Backlund’s world title reign ended in dramatic fashion as The Iron Shiek locked in the camel clutch and, refusing to quit, manager Arnold Skaaland was forced to throw in the towel.
Bruno Sammartino – 2,803
We told you his second title reign paled in comparison. Sammartino’s nearly 3000 day run as world champion is the longest in history and if we had to guess, we’d say it’s a record that will never come close to being broken.
It took Sammartino only 48 seconds to defeat “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers on May 17, 1963. It was a shocking affair to see the title change hands in quick fashion, but it truly displayed how dominant and talented Sammartino really was. He was charismatic, technically sound and loved by the fans, everything a promoter could ask for.
Sammartino fought and conquered all of the biggest heels of his day. Killer Kowalski, Giant Baba, Gorilla Monsoon and Gene Kiniski are just some of the names Sammartino dominated during his run. One name he couldn’t get through, however, was Ivan Koloff, as “The Russian Bear” dropped a big knee off the top rope, ending a nearly eight year world title reign.