WWE has maintained several professional wrestling world championships since Capitol Wrestling Corporation seceded from the National Wrestling Alliance in 1963 to become the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), which was later subjected to various name changes, including World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)—in April 2011, the company ceased using its full name and has since just been referred to as WWE. Whenever the WWE brand extension has been implemented, separate world championships have been created or allocated for each brand.
|1||WWE Championship||1963 – present|
|2||WCW World Championship||1991 – 2001 (became WWF property in 2001)|
|3||ECW Championship||1992 – 2001, 2006 – 2010 (became WWE property in 2003)|
|4||World Heavyweight Championship||2002 – 2013|
|5||WWE Universal Championship||2016 – present|
In the 1950s, Capitol Wrestling Corporation (CWC) was a member of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) and by 1963, its executives held a controlling stake over NWA operations. During this time, Buddy Rogers held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship until January 24, when Lou Thesz defeated Rogers for the championship in a one fall match. Claiming the championship can only be contested in a traditional two out of three falls match, the promotion disputed the change, and thus seceded from the NWA and became the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF). The WWWF World Heavyweight Championship was then established and awarded to Buddy Rogers with the explanation that he won a fictional tournament in Rio de Janeiro, supposedly defeating Antonino Rocca in the finals. After several years, the WWWF became affiliated with the NWA once again, and "World" was dropped from the championship's name. In 1979, the WWWF was renamed World Wrestling Federation (WWF), and then after conclusively ending its affiliation with the NWA in 1983, the championship became known as the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. Although the full name appeared on the belt until 1998, the name was often abbreviated to WWF Championship, which became its official name in 1998.
In 1991, World Championship Wrestling (WCW), a member of the NWA, established the WCW World Heavyweight Championship to replace the NWA's world championship. That same year, reigning and inaugural WCW Champion Ric Flair left WCW with the Big Gold Belt, which had represented the championship, and joined the WWF. Flair then began appearing on WWF television with the Big Gold Belt, calling himself "The Real World Champion"; however, this was never officially recognized as a world championship in WWF. In 1993, WCW seceded from the NWA and grew to become a rival promotion to the WWF. Both organizations grew into mainstream prominence and were eventually involved in a television ratings war, dubbed the Monday Night Wars. Near the end of the ratings war, WCW began a financial decline, which culminated in WWF purchasing WCW in March 2001. As a result of the purchase, the WWF acquired, among other assets, WCW's championships. Thus, there were two world championships in the WWF: the original WWF Championship and the WCW Championship, which was eventually renamed the "World Championship".
In December 2001, the two championships were unified at Vengeance. At the event, Stone Cold Steve Austin defeated Kurt Angle to retain the WWF Championship, while Chris Jericho defeated The Rock for the World Championship. After this, Jericho then defeated Austin, unifying the WWF and World Championships, and becoming the first Undisputed WWF Champion; the Undisputed championship retained the lineage of the WWF Championship and the World Championship was retired. The Undisputed Championship continued up through the beginning of the first brand extension, which saw wrestlers being drafted to the company's main television programs, Raw and SmackDown, each show representing the brand of the same name, with championships assigned to and authority figures appointed for each brand. The holder of the Undisputed Championship was the only male wrestler allowed to appear on both shows.
In May 2002, the WWF was renamed World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and the championships were renamed accordingly. At first, the Undisputed Championship remained unaffiliated with either brand as wrestlers from both brands could challenge the champion. Following the appointment of Eric Bischoff and Stephanie McMahon as General Managers of Raw and SmackDown, respectively, Stephanie McMahon convinced then-Undisputed Champion Brock Lesnar to become exclusive to the SmackDown brand, leaving the Raw brand without a world championship. In response, on September 2, Bischoff disputed Lesnar's status as champion, stating Lesnar was refusing to defend against the designated No. 1 contender, Triple H, and awarded the latter with the newly created World Heavyweight Championship. Immediately afterwards, Lesnar's championship dropped the epithet "Undisputed" and became known as the WWE Championship.
In 1994, Eastern Championship Wrestling seceded from the NWA and became Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) and established the ECW World Heavyweight Championship. In 2001, the ECW promotion folded due to bankruptcy and WWE bought the assets of ECW in 2003. In June 2006, WWE established a third brand dubbed ECW on which stars from the former promotion and newer talent competed. When ECW's Rob Van Dam won the WWE Championship at ECW One Night Stand, the ECW Championship was subsequently reactivated as the world championship of the ECW brand (and the third concurrently active world championship in WWE) and was awarded to Van Dam, who held both until he lost the WWE Championship to Raw's Edge the following month. The three world championships at one point or another switched brands over the course of the brand extension, usually as a result of the annual draft. The ECW brand was disbanded in 2010, subsequently deactivating the ECW Championship. The first brand extension ended in August 2011; earlier that year in April, the promotion ceased using its full name with "WWE" becoming an orphaned initialism.
Following the end of the first brand extension, both the WWE Champion and World Heavyweight Champion could appear on both Raw and SmackDown. In November 2013, the night after Survivor Series, then-World Heavyweight Champion John Cena made a challenge to then-WWE Champion Randy Orton to determine an undisputed WWE world champion. Orton defeated Cena in a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match at the TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs pay-per-view on December 15, 2013, to unify the championship. Subsequently, the unified championship was renamed WWE World Heavyweight Championship and retained the lineage of the WWE Championship; the World Heavyweight Championship was retired.
After Dean Ambrose became champion in June 2016, the title's name reverted to "WWE Championship". In light of the return of the WWE brand extension the following month, Ambrose was drafted to SmackDown and retained his title at Battleground on July 24 against Raw draftees Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns, making it exclusive to SmackDown. On the July 25 episode of Raw, to address the lack of a world championship for the brand, the WWE Universal Championship was created; Finn Bálor became the inaugural champion at SummerSlam. After the unveiling of the Universal Championship, the WWE Championship was renamed WWE World Championship, but reverted to WWE Championship in December 2016 during AJ Styles' first reign.
The following list shows the ten longest world championship reigns in WWE history.
|1||Bruno Sammartino||WWE Championship||1||2,803||During this reign, the title was known as the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship.|
|2||Hulk Hogan||WWE Championship||1||1,474||During this reign, the title was known as the WWF World Heavyweight Championship.|
|3||Bruno Sammartino||WWE Championship||2||1,237||During this reign, the title was known as the WWWF Heavyweight Championship.|
|4||Pedro Morales||WWE Championship||1||1,027||During this reign, the title was known as the WWWF Heavyweight Championship.|
|5||Roman Reigns||WWE Universal Championship||2||717+||This reign is ongoing.|
|6||Bob Backlund||WWE Championship||1||648||Backlund first won the title as the WWWF Heavyweight Championship. During this reign, it was renamed to WWF Heavyweight Championship when the WWWF was renamed to WWF. WWE recognizes this reign as lasting 2,135 days as they do not recognize Antonio Inoki's reign or the subsequent vacations of the title that followed, and thus recognize this period as one continuous reign for Backlund.|
|7||Brock Lesnar||WWE Universal Championship||1||504||WWE recognizes this reign as lasting 504 days.|
|8||Hulk Hogan||WCW World Heavyweight Championship||1||469|
|9||CM Punk||WWE Championship||2||434|
|10||Shane Douglas||ECW World Heavyweight Championship||4||406|
The following list shows the longest reigning champion for each world championship created and/or promoted by WWE.
|1||Bruno Sammartino||WWE Championship||1||May 17, 1963 – January 18, 1971||2,803||During this reign, the title was known as the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship.|
|2||Roman Reigns||WWE Universal Championship||2||August 30, 2020 – present||717+|
|3||Hulk Hogan||WCW World Heavyweight Championship||1||July 17, 1994 – October 29, 1995||469|
|4||Shane Douglas||ECW World Heavyweight Championship||4||November 30, 1997 – January 10, 1999||406|
|5||Batista||World Heavyweight Championship||1||April 3, 2005 – January 10, 2006||282|
The following list shows the wrestlers with the most reigns for each world championship created and/or promoted by WWE.
|No.||Champion||Title||No. of reigns||Notes|
|1||John Cena||WWE Championship||13||During Cena's 12th reign, the title was known as the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.|
|2||Edge||World Heavyweight Championship||7|
|3||Ric Flair||WCW World Heavyweight Championship||6||In WCW, Flair was recognized as an eight-time champion but WWE only recognizes 6, counting his first reign as one of his 8 NWA title reigns and ignoring a title vacancy that occurred in 1994 and instead viewing that as one continuous reign.|
|4||The Sandman||ECW World Heavyweight Championship||5|
|5||Brock Lesnar||WWE Universal Championship||3|
The following list shows the wrestlers who have the most world championship reigns in total, combining all titles they have held as recognized by WWE. This list also shows the titles that they won to achieve this record (minimum five world championship reigns).
|No.||Champion||Titles||No. of Reigns||Notes|
|1||Ric Flair||16||WWE officially recognizes that Flair is a 16-time world champion, with other promotions also recognizing this number. However, his actual number of world championships exceeds that, with Flair himself stating 21 world titles. Depending on recognition, Flair is variously recognized as a 16-time world champion (8 NWA, 6 WCW, and 2 WWF), 18-time world champion (8 NWA, 8 WCW, and 2 WWF), and 20-time world champion (8 NWA, 8 WCW, 2 WWF, and 2 WCW International), with the number of NWA titles varying between 8 and 13, the WCW titles between 6 and 8,whether his two WCW International World Championship reigns are recognized. In the NWA, Flair is recognized as holding that title 10 times but WWE only recognizes 8. In WCW, Flair was recognized as an eight-time champion but WWE only recognizes 6, counting his first reign as one of his 8 NWA title reigns and ignoring a title vacancy that occurred in 1994 and instead viewing that as one continuous reign. WWE also does not recognize his two WCW International World Championship reigns, recognizing the first reign as an NWA title reign, and not counting the second, which he won via a title unification match. During his two reigns as WWE Champion, the title was known as the WWF World Heavyweight Championship.|
|John Cena||During his twelfth reign as WWE Champion, the title was known as the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.|
|3||Triple H||14||During his first four reigns as WWE Champion, the title was known as the WWF Championship. During his fifth reign, the title was known as the Undisputed WWF Championship. During his ninth reign, the title was known as the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Triple H was the inaugural World Heavyweight Champion, which subsequently made him the first wrestler to hold the World Heavyweight Championship and the WWE Championship.|
|Randy Orton||Orton was the youngest holder of the World Heavyweight Championship at 24, which also makes him the youngest world champion in WWE history. Orton is also the final holder of the title when he unified the World Heavyweight Championship and the WWE Championship to become the WWE World Heavyweight Championship; this occurred during Orton's eighth reign as WWE Champion. By the time of his ninth reign, the title reverted to being called the WWE Championship.|
|5||Hulk Hogan||12||During his first five reigns as WWE Champion, the title was known as the WWF World Heavyweight Championship, although often abbreviated to WWF Championship. During his sixth reign, the title had three names, and he won it as the Undisputed WWF Championship but was shortly after renamed to Undisputed WWE Championship (due to the company being renamed from WWF to WWE) before being renamed again to WWE Undisputed Championship. Hogan is a 13-time world champion, but WWE does not recognize his reign with the original version of New Japan Pro-Wrestling's IWGP Heavyweight Championship.|
|6||Brock Lesnar||11||Lesnar first won the WWE Championship when it was called the WWE Undisputed Championship; during that same reign, it was renamed to WWE Championship. During his fourth reign, it was known as the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Lesnar holds the record for being the youngest wrestler to hold the WWE Championship at 25. With the WWE Universal Championship, Lesnar holds the record for most reigns, and he was also the first wrestler to hold the WWE Championship and the WWE Universal Championship. Lesnar is a 12-time world champion, but WWE does not recognize his Inoki Genome Federation's IWGP Heavyweight Championship reigns.|
|8||Sting||10||Sting is a 15-time world champion, but WWE does not recognize his four TNA World Heavyweight Championship reigns and his one WWA World Heavyweight Championship.|
|The Rock||During his first six reigns as WWE Champion, the title was known as the WWF Championship. During his seventh reign, it was known as the WWE Undisputed Championship. During his first reign as WCW World Champion, the title was known as the WCW Championship. During his second reign, it was known simply as the World Championship.|
|11||Bret Hart||7||During his five reigns as WWE Champion, the title was known as the WWF World Heavyweight Championship.|
|The Undertaker||During his first two reigns as WWE Champion, the title was known as the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. During his third reign, it was known as the WWF Championship. During his fourth reign, it was known as the WWE Undisputed Championship.|
|Big Show||During his first reign as WWE Champion, the title was known as the WWF Championship. During his reign as ECW Champion, the title was known as the ECW World Championship. Big Show is the only wrestler to have held all of these championships.|
|14||Kurt Angle||6||During his first two reigns as WWE Champion, the title was known as the WWF Championship.|
During his sole reign as WCW World Heavyweight Champion, the title was known as the WCW Championship. Angle is a 13-time world champion, but WWE does not recognize his one IWGP Heavyweight Championship (Inoki Genome Federation version) reign and his six TNA World Heavyweight Championship reigns.
|Roman Reigns||During his first three reigns as WWE Champion, the title was known as the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.|
|Randy Savage||During his two reigns as WWE Champion, the title was known as the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. Savage is an 10-time world champion, but WWE does not recognize his three ICW Heavyweight Championship reigns and his one USWA Unified World Heavyweight Championship reign.|
|"Stone Cold" Steve Austin||
||During all six of his reigns, the title was known as the WWF Championship.|
|Kevin Nash||During his reign as WWE Champion, the title was known as the WWF World Heavyweight Championship.|
|Chris Jericho||During his first reign as WCW World Champion, the title was known as the WCW Championship. During his second reign, it was known simply as the World Championship. Jericho was also the final holder of the WCW title as he unified it with the then-WWF Championship to become the Undisputed WWF Champion (his only reign of what is now the WWE Championship). Jericho is currently signed to All Elite Wrestling and has since won one further world championship, the AEW World Championship, but this is not recognized by WWE.|
|CM Punk||During his reign as ECW World Heavyweight Champion, the title was known as the ECW Championship. CM Punk is a 8-time world champion, but WWE does not recognize his one ROH World Championship reign and one AEW World Championship reign.|
|26||Daniel Bryan||5||During his third reign as WWE Champion, the title was known as the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Bryan is an 11-time world champion, but WWE does not recognize his one FIP World Heavyweight Championship reign, his two PWG World Championship reigns, his one ROH World Championship reign, his one WSW World Heavyweight Championship reign, and his one wXw World Heavyweight Championship reign.|
||Despite WWE not recognizing any ECW Championship reigns before 1994, Sandman is described as a 5-time ECW Champion.|
After the July 22nd episode of Raw, Lesnar defected to Stephanie McMahon's SmackDown. Lesnar decided to remain exclusively on SmackDown, forcing Eric Bischoff's Raw brand to create its own World Championship.
The entire WWE roster was broken up into two separate camps, yahoo, with some rivalry (especially between future General Managers Eric Bischoff and Stephanie McMahon) occurring.
Fact be known, it's 21 times. 16, I'll take credit for.