With 2019 wrapping up, so too ends the decade that was the 2010’s. We’ll have to let the dust settle on the 10’s for a while to understand the era’s true legacy, but that doesn’t keep us from looking back at the last ten years now to try and make some sense out of it.
WWE had three major championships in the 2010’s – for the men. In fact, writing that women would hold championships in WWE equal in value to the WWE Title would have seemed ludicrous in 2009. But things happen. That’s all they ever do.
Of the three major men’s championship, you had the now-defunct World Heavyweight Title, which was unified with the WWE Title at the end of 2013. You also have the Universal Title, which made its debut in 2016.
Finally, you have the WWE Title, whose legacy dates back to the 1960’s. Since the WWE Title was sitting on top of the mountain (or close) for the entirety of the past decade, it seems only appropriate to view its lineage throughout the 2010’s as a microcosm of the WWE itself.
So not only is this a ranking of the men to hold the WWE Championship over the last ten years, it’s nearly a look at just who ruled the WWE and all of the wrestling world. Let’s get to it.
#19 – REY MYSTERIO
If you blinked, you may have missed the fact that Rey Mysterio ever held the WWE Title. It happened on Raw, fallout from the infamous John Cena/CM Punk Money In The Bank ’11 match that saw Punk leave WWE with its top prize.
With Punk gone and Cena fired for dropping the ball, a tournament was held to crown a new WWE Champion. In the finals, Rey Mysterio defeated The Miz to capture the belt for the first (and only) time in his career. It’d be a nice story, but Rey was forced to defend the title on the same episode of Raw against a reinstated John Cena. He lost.
Since his single WWE Title reign didn’t even last a full episode of Raw, and CM Punk technically still held the title anyway, it’s not hard to call Rey Mysterio the most forgettable WWE champion of the 2010’s (and maybe of all time).
#18 – BATISTA
Batista’s WWE Championship win was a major surprise. After John Cena managed to win his 6th WWE Title at Elimination Chamber 2010, Mr. McMahon showed up with The Animal to rain on John’s parade. In a total dick move, Cena was forced to defend his newly won WWE Title just minutes after his Chamber match. It didn’t go well.
Batista would hold the championship only until the next PPV – Wrestlemania XXVI, where Cena managed to put the Animal down and re-capture the belt.
The Animal would fail to even the score in a series of rematches and ended up quitting the company, only to return (in blue trunks) a few years later.
#17 – BRAY WYATT
Before his Fiendish makeover, The Eater of Worlds had a brief but memorable run with the WWE Championship. Bray became WWE Champion after a grueling Elimination Chamber match that involved Baron Corbin, The Miz, AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose, and defending champion John Cena. Shocking the wrestling world, Bray Wyatt walked out with the belt.
Unfortunately, Wyatt’s rule wasn’t long for this world. A feud with ex-Wyatt Family member Randy Orton culminated in a match at Wrestlemania 33. In spite of some, ahem, trickery by Bray that involved worms projected on the ring mat, Orton walked out of Mania as the WWE Champ.
Bray’s title run may not have been memorable, but his feud with Orton – which included Orton burning down Bray’s lair and a House of Horrors match – was spot on. All of this set the table for The Fiend’s current terrifying run with the Universal Championship.
#16 – DEAN AMBROSE
Dean Ambrose won the Money In The Bank contract in 2016 and cashed that sucker in on the same night. Dirty Deeds, 1-2-3, Ambrose is your new WWE Champion.
The Summer of Ambrose included some hot title defenses against his former Shield brethren and a very game Dolph Ziggler at Summerslam. Unfortunately, when Backlash came that September, so did the ascension of AJ Styles on Smackdown.
Ambrose was a hot commodity during his 3-month WWE Title reign, but the reintroduction of the Brand Split and the unveiling of the Universal Title over on Raw poured some cold water on the Lunatic Fringe’s run.
#15 – TRIPLE H
Ah, remember The Authority? Only in my nightmares.
At the dawn of 2016, The Authority vs. Roman Reigns angle was in full effect. Triple H and the McMahons forced WWE World Heavyweight Champion Roman Reigns to defend his championship in the 30-Man Royal Rumble Match – the first time a champion had ever had to face that kind of odds.
Reigns entered at #1 and was able to last nearly the entire match. Nearly. Triple H, who entered at #30, was able to dump both the Big Dog and Dean Ambrose to become just the second man in history to win the WWE Title in a Rumble. What a prick.
Hunter successfully defended the championship against Ambrose at the poorly named WWE Network event Roadblock, but lost the belt back to Reigns at Wrestlemania 32 in Dallas. It’d be (hopefully) H’s final run with the WWE Title.
#14 – THE ROCK
The Rock’s last WWE Title reign is similar to Hunter’s and only slightly less hateable.
After Rocky defeated John Cena at Wrestlemania XXVIII, The Brahma Bull announced that he was back in WWE for good and planned on capturing the WWE Championship. Of course, “back for good” really meant “I’ll see you MF’ers come Mania season.”
At Royal Rumble 2013, The Rock ended the record-breaking WWE Title reign of CM Punk, much to the chagrin of Punk fans (re: wrestling fans) everywhere. With Cena winning the Rumble match itself, it became clear that the Once In A Lifetime matchup between Rock and Cena would be…I don’t know, like, we have a second lifetime, because it’s happening again at WM29.
After defeating Punk one more time for good measure, The Rock fell in his rematch to Cena and split for Hollywood again.
#13 – ALBERTO DEL RIO
Even as a 2-time WWE Champion, Alberto Del Rio will always seem like a missed opportunity. A Latin star with a penchant for real heel heat, Del Rio had it all. Perhaps he was just a victim of being around at the wrong time.
At Summerslam 2011, following a career-defining win over John Cena for CM Punk, Del Rio cashed in his Money In The Bank contract to defeat CM Punk (with help from everybody’s darling Kevin Nash) and become the new WWE Champion.
With Punk occupied by Nash and Triple H, Del Rio would defend his WWE Title against John Cena at the following PPV – Night Of Champions. Alberto was no match for Big Match John. Del Rio and Punk would both get their rematches the next month at Hell In A Cell. Somehow, ADR overcame the odds to become a 2-time champion.
Alberto was able to fight off John Cena in a Last Man Standing Match at the Vengeance PPV, but came up short against Punk, who would kick off his longest title reign at Survivor Series ’13.
All in all, you can’t argue that Del Rio is a 2-time WWE Champion, but it just seems like he could have done more than play spoiler to Cena and Punk.
#12 – JINDER MAHAL
As unlikely a champion as Jinder Mahal was, he’s the first person on this ranking to have a substantial run with the WWE Title.
The Modern Day Maharajah became the first Indian-born WWE Champion when he defeated Randy Orton at Backlash 2017. This was to the shock of many, as Mahal had only months before been part of the lower card 3MB stable. What a difference some muscle tone makes.
While many figured the Mahal win was, at best, a stunt to pull in more Indian WWE Network subscribers, Jinder went on to hold the championship for nearly half a year. Mahal rose to the occasion with his awesome entrance music, heel alliance with the Singh Brothers, and some really good title defenses against Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura.
Mahal dropped the title to AJ Styles on Smackdown Live, just days before he would’ve faced Universal Champion Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series ’17. Mahal may have arguably held the “B” championship during his unlikely reign, but it was during the time of brand-specific PPV’s, which means WWE showed a lot of faith in his star power as top guy.
#11 – ROMAN REIGNS
No one can deny that the Big Dog ruled the latter half of the decade in the WWE. But as WWE Champion, Roman often fell flat. Reigns has won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship on three different occasions, but he never held on to if for very long.
Roman Reigns first scored the title at Survivor Series 2015 in a tournament finals match against his Shield-mate Dean Ambrose. That reign lasted all of five minutes before Sheamus cashed in his Money In The Bank contract and walked out with the belt.
The next month on Raw, Reigns put his career on the line in a rematch with The Celtic Warrior. The gamble paid off, and Reigns seemed to finally be ready to wear the WWE’s top crown.
But not so fast – see, Roman was on the wrong side of The Authority (Triple H and The McMahons), and in 2015, that just wouldn’t do. The Evil Empire forced Reigns to defend his WWE Title in the 30-Man Royal Rumble match that January. And he had to do it entering at #1. It didn’t end well for the Big Dog. Triple H tossed Reigns right out of his yard and walked out the new champ.
At Wresltemania 32 in Dallas, Reigns finally got over on Hunter, winning his third and most recent WWE Championship. With The Authority finally vanquished, Roman would move on to a hot feud with AJ Styles. Reigns was able to best Styles on multiple occassions, but at Money In The Bank 2016, he dropped the belt to former friend Seth Rollins.
As much as Roman Reigns was clearly the face of WWE for many years in the 2010’s, for some reason, he was always more of a title chaser than a title holder. Even his run with the Universal Title last year only lasted a couple of months until he was forced to tap out to leukemia. As we all know, Roman did the old Superman Punch/Spear combo to cancer, so his best days as WWE Champion could still be in his future.
#10 – KOFI KINGSTON
There are very few championship reigns in history that conveyed the pure emotion of Kofi Kingston’s 2019 run with the WWE Title. Kofi was always an upper midcard guy. Sure, he got title shots now and then, but they were in Eliminiation Chambers or Six Pack Challenges. He was never supposed to actually win.
Kofi Kingston was nowhere near the main event scene when he was tapped to replace the injured Mustafa Ali in a WWE Championship Elimination Chamber match in February. Kofi’s last minute insertion and an inspiring performance in an hour long gauntlet match sparked something in fans that they may have only subconsciously realized over the last eleven years – KOFI IS BELOVED.
Kingston came up short at Elimination Chamber, getting pinned last by champion Daniel Bryan. But the fans had already made up their mind – #KofiMania was born.
Kofi overcame obstacle after obstacle thrown at him by Bryan and a dickish Vince McMahon, and at Wrestlemania 35, he captured the WWE Title for the first time in his career. The sight of the New Day lifting him onto their shoulders is right up there with Benoit and Eddie at the end of WMXX.
Kofi took on all comers and proved he wasn’t a fluke champion, holding on to the belt for nearly half a year. Kingston turned away challenges from Kevin Owens, Dolph Ziggler, Samoa Joe, and Randy Orton, before dropping the belt in stunning fashion to Brock Lesnar on Smackdown’s Fox premiere.
#9 – THE MIZ
Today, The Miz is seen as a good in-ring worker and a sort of goofy guy who chased hard to achieve his childhood dream. But there was a time when literally everyone hated him. Perhaps his somewhat premature championship reign fueled that hate.
The Miz won the Raw Money In The Bank contract at the very first MITB PPV back in 2010. The future A-Lister would hold on to the briefcase for months, waiting on an opportune time to cash in and win WWE’s ultimate prize. During this time, WWE fans’ stomachs collectively lurched at the thought of Miz winning the gold.
The opportunity came in November 2010 on an episode of Raw, after WWE Champion Randy Orton had been brutalized by The Nexus. Unthinkably, the loud-mouthed Miz became your new WWE Champion.
With help from his henchman Alex Riley, Miz would cheat his way to victories over Randy Orton and a geriatric Jerry Lawler (with help from Michael Cole no less), before scoring his ultimate win over John Cena in the Wrestlemania XXVII main event. With help from The Rock. Do you see why people hated this guy?
Miz’s 160-day reign would end at Extreme Rules 2011, where he’d drop the title to John Cena in a Triple Threat Steel Cage Match.
#8 – SHEAMUS
The Celtic Warrior was actually WWE Champion as this new decade dawned. Sheamus – just months removed from his WWE debut – shockingly defeated the unbeatable John Cena in a Tables Match at TLC 2019. After dropping the title back to Cena at Elimination Chamber 2010, he’d go on to win the title twice more.
Sheamus’ second WWE Title win was just months later at the Fatal 4-Way PPV. That reign was marked by big wins over both Cena and Randy Orton, but the Celtic Warrior would go down to Orton in a Six-Pack Challenge at Night Of Champions 2010.
For the next four years, Sheamus would find continued success by winning the Royal Rumble and King of the Ring, as well as the World Heavyweight and United States Titles. He’d go out with an injury in late 2014 and return with a makeover that included a mohawk and braided beard. The “You Look Stupid” chant was born.
Sheamus formed the ill-fated heel stable The League of Nations and went on to win the Money In The Bank contract at MITB 2015. At Survivor Series, he would cash in on new WWE Champion Roman Reigns to win his third WWE Title. Who looks stupid now? Well, Sheamus still, but he was also WWE Champion.
As champion, Sheamus’s alliance with The Authority helped him fight off Roman Reigns in a TLC match, but he lost the championship in a Raw rematch.
Sheamus’s runs with the WWE Title were short, but to be a 3-time champion during the decade, with reigns almost 5 years apart, is an impressive feat.
#7 – DANIEL BRYAN
Daniel Bryan’s ascension to the WWE Title is surprisingly similar to Roman Reigns. Bryan won a career-affirming Summerslam 2013 main event over John Cena to win his first WWE Title. That reign was cut short quickly by a Triple H pedigree and a Money In The Bank cash-in by Randy Orton.
Bryan would get his revenge at Night Of Champions 2013, defeating Orton for his second WWE Title. Or did he? The next night on Raw, Triple H and the McMahons stripped Bryan of the title, claiming the referee performed a fast-count in the match.
All of these stops and starts only strengthened Bryan’s fan support. Rumor has it that Bryan was scheduled to face Triple H in a Wrestlemania XXX grudge match, but the WWE Universe was so hard behind The Yes Movement that Daniel got a shot at the main event title match instead. The image of Bryan holding up the WWE and World Heavyweight Titles to close WMXXX is one of WWE’s most iconic.
Sadly, a neck injury would force Bryan to vacate the title just two months later, and by the next year, his career was seemingly over.
Miraculously, prior to Wrestlemania 34, Bryan got the all-clear to return after a near 3-year absence from the ring. Just before Survivor Series 2018, Daniel would defeat AJ Styles (thanks to a low blow) to win his 4th WWE Championship. The heel turn and championship reign breathed new life in Daniel Bryan, and his 4-month reign as WWE, nay, The Planet’s Champion (complete with wood-and-hemp belt) was some of his best work in the company.
It would be Daniel Bryan who would drop the WWE Title to the massively fan supported Kofi Kingston at WM35, and the wheel just keeps on spinning.
#6 – SETH ROLLINS
At this point, we’ve written about a lot of Money In The Bank cash-in’s, but Seth Rollins’ cash-in to win the WWE World Heavyweight Title in the Wrestlemania 31 main event may be the most famous of all. Taking out Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns, the surprise victory forever put Rollins’ name on the map.
With help from The Authority and his J&J Security cronies, Rollins was the heel champion you loved to hate. At one point, he even held the United States Title, too.
Unfortunately, Rollins’ reign was ended abruptly by a knee injury. When The Architect returned 6-months later, he set his sights on reclaiming the gold. At Money In The Bank 2016, Seth defeated Roman Reigns to get his title back. Only to have Dean Ambrose cash-in his own Money In The Bank contract and take the title moments later. Doesn’t feel very nice, does it?
Rollins may not have had the longest title run, but he was dominant for over 200 days. Considering his 2019 run with the Universal Title as well, it’s hard to argue The Beast Slayer isn’t one of 2010’s biggest stars.
#5 – RANDY ORTON
You don’t get to be a 13x Champion without, well, winning the championship a bunch, an that’s what Randy Orton did in the 2010’s.
Orton captured the World Heavyweight Title three times in the last ten years, but managed to snag the WWE Title four times. A babyface Randy won a fatal four-way match at the Fatal 4-Way PPV to capture his 6th WWE Title in 2010.
Orton’s first reign of the decade would be marred by loads of interference from Wade Barrett and The Nexus. In spite of turning back Barrett’s challenges for the title, it would be a Nexus beatdown that would lead to The Miz cashing in his Money In The Bank contract and cutting Orton’s 6th title reign to a couple of months.
The Viper would flip the script at Summerslam 2013, aligning with Triple H and the Authority to cash-in his own Money In The Bank contract on newly minted WWE Champion Daniel Bryan. Bryan would win the title back a month later at Night Of Champions, but shenanigans caused him to be stripped. Orton would seemingly end the back-and-forth with Daniel Bryan by winning back the vacant title in Hell In A Cell.
With Triple H and the McMahons by his side, Orton’s 8th WWE Title reign would be one of his most infamous. At TLC 2013, Randy unified the WWE and World Heavyweight Titles in a match with John Cena. Wins over Cena and The Big Show cemented the Orton reign, and at Elimination Chamber 2014, he successfully defended the WWE World Heavyweight Title in the chamber match itself.
Of course, not even The Apex Predator could halt the ascent of Daniel Bryan. Orton lost the belt to Bryan in a historic Wrestlemania XXX Triple Threat main event.
Three years later, at Wrestlemania 33, Randy Orton would capture his 9th WWE Title in a match with the maniacal Bray Wyatt. Though that reign was less than 50 days, it’s clear that you couldn’t stop RKO from winning world championships in the 2010’s.
#4 – AJ STYLES
In 2016, Smackdown finally started broadcasting live. To mark this historic era, WWE desperately needed a champion to pick the brand up on his shoulders. And thus you have the House That AJ Styles Built.
A heel AJ Styles defeated Dean Ambrose at Backlash 2016 to win his first WWE Title. Styles would spend his reign beating back challenges from both Ambrose and John Cena. His feud with Cena would cement him as a main event player. At Royal Rumble, AJ lost the belt to Cena in what many consider the 2017 Match of the Year.
Just before Survivor Series 2017, AJ would win the title for a second time in a Smackdown Live match with Jinder Mahal. That win would kick off a year-long title reign, an unheard of length in the modern era.
Styles’ reign would include multiple victories over the likes of Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Shinsuke Nakamura, Rusev, and Samoa Joe. Simply put, for most of 2018, AJ Styles was the Face That Ran The Place.
#3 – JOHN CENA
Eight times. EIGHT TIMES. John Cena won the WWE Title eight times in the last decade. And that’s not counting the time he won the World Heavyweight Title.
Cena is basically synonymous with the WWE Title. As the decade dawned, the belt had practically been designed just for him.
John Cena won the WWE Title twice in 2010, three times in 2011, once in 2013 (when he defeated The Rock at WM29), once in 2014, and once in 2015. Not to mention, defeating John Cena MADE other guys on this list – AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan, Sheamus, The Miz, and yes, even Brock Lesnar.
If Cena hadn’t had to let his foot off the gas over the last few years, there’s no doubt he’d be #1 on this list. As it stands, John Cena was the WWE Title’s gatekeeper of the decade, and he made sure only the best got through the gate.
#2 – BROCK LESNAR
When Brock Lesnar made his shocking return to WWE in 2012, many believed he’d be around for a few matches and hit the road. That was 8 years ago now, and he’s the current WWE Champion (though that “few matches” thing is pretty on point).
Brock did the unthinkable in 2014 when he broke The Undertaker’s streak at Wrestlemania XXX. His encore was absolutely brutalizing John Cena at Summerslam to capture the WWE World Heavyweight Title, his first run with the championship in over ten years.
As champ, Brock would rarely defend the title, making each of his appearances a must see. The WWE Universe grew to disdain Lesnar, but that only seemed to fuel the Beast. At Wrestlemania 31, Lesnar was set to defend against Roman Reigns in the main event. That night, Seth Rollins cashed in his Money In The Bank contract and pinned Reigns. We had a new champ, but the Beast was far from conquered.
From 2017 forward, Brock would basically take the Universal Title hostage, holding the belt for a combined 686 days and rarely defending it. And each time he would lose the title and fans thought he was finally headed back to UFC, he’d pop up a few months later and, well, Suplex City bitch.
In October, on the FOX premiere of Smackdown, Lesnar defeated WWE Champion Kofi Kingston in seconds to score his 5th WWE Title. Only an idiot would bet that this won’t be another long reign.
#1 – CM PUNK
In 2011, CM Punk dropped a pipe bomb. He appeared on Raw and announced that his contract with WWE was about to expire. Not only that, but he planned on defeating WWE Champion John Cena on his last night with the company and leaving with the title.
Amazingly, that’s just what he did. At Money In The Bank 2011 in his hometown of Chicago, CM Punk defeated the company’s franchise player and kissed the WWE goodbye.
Of course, money solves everything. Punk returned and faced John Cena at Summerslam to determine the undisputed WWE Champion. Punk defeated Cena, soldifying his new turn as a top star.
But then here comes Alberto Del Rio to piss on everything like a perro who isn’t house trained. ADR cashed in his Money In The Bank contract and defeated Punk for the title with help from Kevin Nash.
This wouldn’t be the end of Punk’s championship story though. Punk defeated ADR at Survivor Series ’11, kicking off a 462-day WWE Championship reign – the longest of the modern era.
Punk’s run with the WWE Title marked a turning point in the WWE, opening the door for future stars like Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles. In a word, CM Punk helped redefine what a WWE Champion looked like in this decade.