The 20 Greatest WWE Champions of ALL Time

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- For decades the WWE Championship has been the top prize in the world of professional wrestling. Every wrestler, or "superstar," as the company prefers to call them, dreams of attaining the coveted belt. It's an honor that only a few who train their entire lives get to have.

Trying to make a list of the top wrestlers in the history of the company is difficult, and there's always a few that get left behind. This list of 20 lists some of the best, though there are many others who deserve to be called the best. Some of the wrestlers on this list made history with their historic title reigns, others are known for other accomplishments in the ring, and still others stand out for everything they've done outside the ring. No matter the reason, there's a case to be made for all of these men to be named one of the best.

Note: while WWE used to be the WWF, the company has switched to using "WWE" in all references to the past, so we will do the same.

Eddie Guerrero

Eddie Guerrero is the best known wrestler in the Guerrero family, and one of the most talented wrestlers in the history of the WWE. Guerrero held a total of 23 championships throughout his career, though he only held the WWE Championship once.

Guerrero won the championship from Brock Lesnar at No Way Out 2004, and successfully defended the title against Kurt Angle at WrestleMania XX. Guerrero would then continue to feud with Angle who took over as General Manager of SmackDown, while feuding with John "Bradshaw" Layfield for the title.

Since his championship reign wasn't terribly long, Guerrero's time with the WWE is best defined by his Latino Heat gimmick and his "I lie! I cheat! I steal!" catchphrase. Despite playing the bad guy Guerrero proved popular with fans. How could you hate someone who came out to the ring in a ridiculous low-rider all the time?

Brock Lesnar

A former NCAA champion and UFC World Heavyweight champion, Brock Lesnar is one of the most dominant wrestlers in the WWE. He's held the WWE Championship three times and, in case you haven't heard, he's the "one" in 21-and-1. Perhaps Lesnar's advocate can say it better.

Yeah, Paul Heyman pretty much summed up everything you need to know right there.

Must read: The 10 MOST Extreme WWE Matches of ALL Time

Kurt Angle

Kurt Angle is perhaps one of the best technical wrestlers in the history of the WWE. An Olympic gold medalist, Angle brought a knowledge of amateur wrestling to the ring that few others do. During his time with the WWE Angle won six world championships, capturing the WWE Championship four times, the World Heavyweight Championship once, and the WCW Championship once.

Angle was a key figure during the Invasion storyline of 2001 and 2002 when WCW and ECW "invaded" the WWE as "The Alliance." Angle was one the biggest stars fighting for the WWE against The Alliance, feuding with the turncoat Stone Cold Steve Austin. Angle would eventually join The Alliance, and switch back to the WWE to help break up the group.

The Olympic gold medalist also had memorable some feuds with Brock Lesnar and Eddie Guerrero in his time with the WWE. His match with Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania XIX is particularly memorable as one of the best matches from either wrestler.

Must read: The 10 MOST Extreme WWE Matches of ALL Time

Randy Savage

"The Macho Man" Randy Savage is one of the most memorable wrestlers in the history of the WWE, even if many only know him by his over-the-top persona, "Ooooh yeah!" catchphrase, and Slim Jim commercials. Savage is a six-time world champion, having held the WWE Championship twice, and the WCW World Heavyweight Championship four times.

While he held several world championships in his career, Savage is perhaps best known for Intercontinental Championship matches. Specifically, his match at WrestleMania III against Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, which is largely considered the best match of that show. That match is still talked about to this day as an example of a "five-star match."

Macho Man's other defining moment in the WWE was his marriage to Miss Elizabeth in the middle of the ring. The couple helped begin the popular wrestling trope, though unlike many wrestling marriages, Savage and Miss Elizabeth were actually married outside the storyline. With Miss Elizabeth at his side Savage's many accomplishments became that much more interesting.

Must read: The 10 MOST Extreme WWE Matches of ALL Time

Ric Flair

Before he was the crazy old man who comes to the ring to tell his old buddies in Evolution that he thinks they're not as great as the new guys in The Shield, Ric Flair was one of the greatest world champions of all time. Flair is a 25-time world champion, though he is perhaps best known as an NWA Champion. "The Nature Boy" held the NWA Championship ten times, the WCW Championship eight times, and the WWE Championship twice (he also held titles in All Star Pro Wrestling, All Japan Pro Wrestling , and Central States Wrestling).

Flair is the only person who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame twice, once for his personal accomplishments, and again as a member of The Four Horsemen. Flair was a founding member of the faction along with Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson, and Tully Blanchard. The team was one of the most dominant in the wrestling business, and helped pave the way for future factions.

Those who weren't around for Flair's career in the 70's and 80's will know him best as a member of Evolution where he served as the veteran mentor for the then-new Randy Orton and Batista (while Triple H played the role of the current star). Flair's last run with the WWE ended with an emotional retirement match with Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXIV. Even after his retirement, fans continue to yell "WOOOOO" along with Flair whenever he comes to the ring, and every time any wrestler chops another across the chest like Flair used to.

Must read: The 10 MOST Extreme WWE Matches of ALL Time

Edge

One half of one of the best tag teams in the history of the WWE, Edge went through many nick names from "Rated R Superstar" to the "Ultimate Opportunist," and shined through all of them. An 11-time champion Edge held the WWE Championship four times and the World Heavyweight Championship a record seven times.

Edge's first championship reign came nearly a year after he won the first Money in the Bank ladder match. Edge cashed in his Money in the Bank contract on John Cena, who had just defended the WWE Championship in an Elimination Chamber match, at New Year's Revolution 2006. That first reign only lasted three weeks, but helped elevate Edge to a level where he could receive many more opportunities.

Even without the singles championship reigns Edge would stand out as a 14-time world tag team champion, most with his childhood friend Christian, and later with Randy Orton. Teaming with Christian, Edge participated in the first, and arguably best, Tables Ladders and Chairs matches at WrestleMania X-Seven. Feuding with The Dudley Boyz and the Hardy Boyz, Edge and Christian led one of the most exciting time periods for WWE tag team wrestling.

Must read: The 10 MOST Extreme WWE Matches of ALL Time

Bob Backlund

For many WWE fans now Bob Backlund is that guy who used to wrestle and now appears on TV in a bowtie and/or suspenders to make funny faces. When he was still wrestling, however, Buckland was one of the best in the business. A two-time WWE Champion, Backlund holds the record for being the second longest-reigning champion in the history of the company behind Bruno Sammartino and ahead of Hulk Hogan.

Backlund's first title reign started in 1978 when he defeated "Superstar" Billy Graham for the championship. He would go on to officially hold the title for 2,135 days before losing the title to The Iron Sheik in 1983. Backlund's second title reign lasted only three days. Backlund defeated Bret Hart for the title in Survivor Series 1994, only to lose it to Diesel a few days later.

In addition to his incredibly long reign as champion, Backlund is credited with the innovation of the crossface chickenwing, a submission he used for much of his career. Backlund would later go on to teach the move to another submission specialist, Kurt Angle.

Must read: The 10 MOST Extreme WWE Matches of ALL Time

Bret Hart

It's hard to argue against a man who's regularly called "the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be." Bret Hart is one of the best wrestlers to ever step foot in a ring with a total of seven world championships to his name. Hart held the WWE Championship five times, and the WCW World Heavyweight Championship twice.

Hart is known for his legendary feud with HBK Shawn Michaels that eventually ended with Hart leaving the WWE. Before that, however, Hart wrestled Michaels in a 60-minute Iron Man match at WrestleMania XII. The match is regarded as one of the best matches in the history of the event, even though neither man won a pinfall or submission in the entire 60 minutes. Michaels would eventually win in sudden death overtime with a superkick.

Michaels was also involved in the Montreal Screwjob, one of the most memorable moments in WWE history. At the Survivor Series pay-per view Hart lost to Michaels after Michaels applied Hart's signature Sharpshooter submission, despite Hart never actually submitting. Hart was about to jump ship to WCW, but was still holding the WWE Championship at the time, so Vince McMahon changed the outcome of the match without Hart's knowledge. The event can overshadow some of Hart's accomplishments, but it can't erase them, and certainly didn't lessen his popularity.

Must read: The 10 MOST Extreme WWE Matches of ALL Time

Chris Jericho

No list of the greatest WWE wrestlers would be complete without "The Ayatollah of Rock 'n' Rollah," for he is the best in the world at everything he does. Catchphrases aside, Chris Jericho is one of the most entertaining wrestlers in the WWE when he's not too busy with his metal band Fozzy.

Jericho is a six-time world champion, having held the WWE Championship once, the WCW World Championship twice, and the World Heavyweight Championship three times. He also became the first Undisputed WWE Champion when he defeated The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin in the same night in 2001.

Because he has so many other interests and projects, Jericho never seems to stay around long enough for WWE fans to get their fill, but his time with the company is always memorable. In 2011 Jericho feuded with CM Punk, saying that Punk was trying to imitate him by using the "Best in the World" moniker, leading to a memorable match at WrestleMania XXVIII. In his more recent run Jericho was a surprise entrant in the 2013 Royal Rumble. Jericho went on to work with Fandango, and while he lost the match at WrestleMania, he still made it entertaining.

Must read: The 10 MOST Extreme WWE Matches of ALL Time

Daniel Bryan

Compared to many of the others on this list Daniel Bryan hasn't spent much time in the WWE, but he's had one of the most impressive runs of anyone in recent memory. Bryan went from losing The World Heavyweight Championship to Sheamus in 18 second in 2012 to winning two matches in WrestleMania XXX to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Along the way he became one of the most popular wrestlers in the industry.

Bryan's character is all about being the everyman, he lacks the physique of some of the other top wrestlers in the WWE, but he more than makes up for it with his in-ring ability. There are very few people who are as exciting as Daniel Bryan when he's jumping around the ring dropkicking his opponents, endlessly kicking them in the chest, or diving at them through the ropes.

His first significant title reign since losing the World Heavyweight Championship in 2012 was cut short, but there's huge potential there for Bryan to have a great run as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion if/when he returns from surgery.

Must read: The 10 MOST Extreme WWE Matches of ALL Time

Randy Orton

The son of "Cowboy" Bob Orton, Randy Orton is one of the top wrestlers in the WWE today. Orton is a 12-time champion, holding the WWE Championship eight times, and the World Heavyweight Championship four times. Orton is the youngest-ever World Heavyweight Champion, capturing the title at age 24, and, more recently, is the first-ever WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

Orton won his first world championship when he was part of the Evolution faction with Triple H, Ric Flair, and Batista. His championship reign lost his a spot in the faction, leading to a feud with Triple H and Flair. Orton would later go on to have memorable feuds with The Undertaker, Edge, and John Cena.

Recently Orton was involved in a months-long feud with Daniel Bryan, during which time Orton unified the WWE Championship and World Heavyweight Champion belts before ultimately losing the unified title to Bryan.

Bruno Sammartino

Back when the WWE was known as the WWWF Bruno Sammartino was the wrestler to beat. He's the longest-reigning WWE Champion, holding the belt only twice for more than 11 years, or 4040 days, to be exact.

To capture the belt then known as the WWWF Championship Sammartino defeated "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers in only 48 seconds at Madison Square Garden in 1963. Sammartino would go on to carry the belt until 1971 when he lost to Ivan Koloff.

Sammartino held the belt again from 1973 until 1977 before retiring for the first time in 1981. After a four-year stint with the company from 1984 to 1988, Sammartino retired a second time. After years of not being involved with the company Sammartino was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013, an honor that was long overdue for the record-setting champion.

Must read: The 10 MOST Extreme WWE Matches of ALL Time

Hulk Hogan

"The Immortal" Hulk Hogan defined not just the WWE, but wrestling in the 1980's. With 12 championship reigns, six WWE Championships and six WCW World Heavyweight Championships, Hogan is the third-longest combined reigning champion behind Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund.

Hogan helped define wrestling for many fans, and was in the main event for the first few WrestleMania shows. In the first WrestleMania Hogan teamed up with Mr. T to battle Rowdy Roddy Piper and Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff. In WrestleMania III Hogan managed to body slam Andre the Giant to defend his championship in a moment that WWE loves to remind its fans of at every possible moment.

More recently Hulk Hogan returned to WWE to host WrestleMania XXX. He hasn't performed in a WWE ring in years, but the fact that he still gets raucous ovations is a testament to how much he contributed to wrestling.

Must read: The 10 MOST Extreme WWE Matches of ALL Time

Shawn Michaels

Known as The Heart Break Kid and Mr. WrestleMania, Shawn Michaels is a four-time world champion, and the first-ever Grand Slam Champion. Michaels held the WWE Championship three times, and the World Heavyweight Championship once. He was the first wrestler in the history of the company to win the European, Intercontinental, Tag Team, and Heavyweight championships.

Michaels participated in a number of firsts in the WWE. He was part of the company's first ladder match against Razor Ramon, and the first Hell in a Cell match against The Undertaker.

After an injury in 1998 Michaels retired from wrestling, only to come back in 2002 with a memorable feud with Chris Jericho leading to WrestleMania XIX. Michaels ended his career in 2010 after losing to The Undertaker at WrestleMania twice in two of the most memorable matches in the history of the company.

Must read: The 10 MOST Extreme WWE Matches of ALL Time

Stone Cold Steve Austin

Stone Cold Steve Austin is one of the key figures of the Attitude Era, perhaps best known for his feuds with WWE CEO Vince McMahon. Austin spent a lot of time in the main event, whether he was champion or not. Throughout his time with the company Austin won the WWE Championship a total of six times.

Known for his foul language and tendency to drink more than few beers while on the job Stone Cold Steve Austin was the ultimate power fantasy for wrestling fans. He was the one guy who could flip his boss, spray him with beer from a fire hose, then proceed to beat him up.

As champion Austin had memorable feuds with The Rock, The Undertaker, Triple H, and Kane. He even had a run-in with Mike Tyson until Tyson turned on then-champion Shawn Michaels to help Austin win the championship at WrestleMania XIV.

Must read: The 10 MOST Extreme WWE Matches of ALL Time

CM Punk

Before he unceremoniously left the WWE CM Punk was one of the top wrestlers in the business. In his last title reign Punk held on to the WWE Championship for a total of 434 days, longer than anyone else in years. Punk held the WWE Championship twice, and the World Heavyweight Championship three times. He also held WWE's ECW Championship once.

Before becoming the longest-running WWE champion in the modern era CM Punk was perhaps best known for threatening to leave the company with the WWE Championship. In one of the most memorable storylines of recent years Punk aired his grievances with the WWE on stage, vowing to win the championship the night his contract expired at Money in the Bank 2011. In his hometown of Chicago Punk defeated John Cena to win the belt before leaving the company.

Punk's title reigns were not without their issues. Despite his great matches against wrestlers like Chris Jericho, Punk was often not as prominently featured in pay-per views as others like John Cena. That doesn't make him any less impressive, however.

Must read: The 10 MOST Extreme WWE Matches of ALL Time

Triple H

In his current incarnation Triple H is the corporate executive who also happens to be one of the best wrestlers on the roster. While sometimes it seems like his legacy is embellished to make him seem more important than he really was in The Attitude Era, there's no denying The King of Kings is one of the top champions of the modern era.

Triple H is a 13-time world champion, holding the WWE Championship belt eight times, and the World Heavyweight Championship five times. That includes one of the shortest WWE Championship reigns in WWE history when he beat Randy Orton for the title at No Mercy 2007 and defended the belt against Umaga later in the show, before ultimately losing the belt that same night in a Last Man Standing match against Randy Orton. Triple H's other title reigns were more impressive, however, and included clashes with Chris Jericho, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and The Rock.

Perhaps Triple H's biggest contribution, however, is as a founding member of D-Generation X with Shawn Michaels. The faction helped define WWE when the company was competing against WCW. The faction is arguably one of the most influential in the history of the company.

Must read: The 10 MOST Extreme WWE Matches of ALL Time

The Rock

The Great One is best known, at times, as the wrestler who left to become a movie star, only to come back for a few high-profile matches. In his most recent run in the WWE The Rock managed to end CM Punk's historically long reign as WWE Champion, only to lose the title a few months later in a rematch of the "once in a lifetime" match with John Cena. Before that, though, The Rock accomplished more than most other wrestlers.

The Rock is a ten-time world champion, holding the WWE championship eight times, and the World Heavyweight Championship twice. During those title reigns he feuded with the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, Mankind, The Undertaker, and Brock Lesnar.

With his numerous catchphrases The Rock was one of the key figures of The Attitude Era, when the WWE enjoyed a lot of popularity. He was involved in many of the most memorable moments of that time period, including the main event of WrestleMania X-Seven, which is largely considered one of, if not the, best pay-per views the WWE ever produced. He lost that match to Stone Cold Steve Austin, but that doesn't make it any less memorable, or The Rock's career any less impressive.

Must read: The 10 MOST Extreme WWE Matches of ALL Time

The Undertaker

In recent years The Undertaker has only wrestled a few matches a year, and sometimes only one a year, at WrestleMania. But long before Paul Hayman's client Brock Lesnar broke the Undertaker's undefeated streak at WrestleMania XXX, The Deadman was just like every other wrestler on the roster, wrestling year-round. Through his various incarnations from an undead undertaker to an America-loving biker, The Undertaker has held the WWE championship four times, and the World Heavyweight Championship three times, making him a seven-time champion.

Since debuting in 1990 The Undertaker feuded with many of the biggest names in the WWE including Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Randy Orton, and Edge. He's come up against the best the roster has to offer, and beat most of them.

While The Undertaker is one of the most memorable wrestlers in WWE history his legacy stands on its own outside of his championship reigns. In fact, most of his most memorable matches had no championship gold at stake. At King of The Ring 1998 The Undertaker threw Mankind from the top of the Hell in a Cell in one of the most memorable wrestling moments of all time. And his back-to-back WrestleMania matches with Shawn Michaels are simply spectacular.

Must read: The 10 MOST Extreme WWE Matches of ALL Time

John Cena

It's no secret that John Cena isn't exactly the most well-liked person on the WWE roster. Don't worry, if the crowd doesn't tell you how much the hate him, Cena himself will make it a point to mention it every so often. The fact that many older fans hate him doesn't detract from his accomplishments, however.

Since debuting in the WWE in 2002 John Cena has held a world championship belt a total of 15 times. He's an 11-time WWE Champion and a three-time World Heavyweight Champion, and a one-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Cena has beaten just about everyone on the current roster at least once, and if he hasn't beaten them, it's probably because they were never in the ring together. Even when he isn't champion he's the wrestler everyone has to go through before they can truly be someone, or at least that's what he says.

What truly sets Cena apart, though, is what he does outside of the ring. While it's easy to dislike John Cena the character for overcoming the odds so often that it's expected of him, it's very hard to hate John Cena the person. Cena holds the record for granting the most wishes through the Make-A-Wish Foundation with more than 400 wishes granted. There's no way anyone like that is going to be much lower on this list, no matter how predictable and frustrating his character can be at times.

Must read: The 10 MOST Extreme WWE Matches of ALL Time

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