Ric Flair said it best when he proclaimed the WWE Championship “is the only title in the wrestling world that makes you number one. When you are the king of the WWF, you rule the world.” No title is more coveted, and no belt symbolizes success more.
Many wrestlers spend years grinding it out to prove they have what it takes for WWE to put them front and center on the marquee. Bret Hart thought he’d never win the title. Eight years, one month, and fourteen days later, “The Hitman” hoisted the title up high.
However, an elect few made such an impression in a short time; tenure and inexperience were ignored to serve the bottom line. We’re going to look at the 12 wrestlers who won their first WWE Championship in the fastest time since Vincent Kennedy McMahon went all in on Hulkamania in 1984.
Bob Backlund won his first WWE Championship four months after he started working for the company exclusively under Vincent J. McMahon. The now-retired McMahon inherited Backlund when he bought the company from his father in 1982 and therefore did not make our list.
Universal and World Heavyweight Championships are not on the menu here. It’s all about the most coveted prize in the industry.
The fairest way to chart the list is to start when the wrestler made their in-ring/television debut in a match or angle. Many debut matches were filmed days, weeks, and months before they aired on television. To the audience, a character is only in play once they’re on TV.
The Undertaker: In 1990, WCW booker Ole Anderson told Mark Calaway no one would ever pay to see him wrestle. That same year, Vince McMahon was unimpressed after watching him wrestle and told the 6′10″ Calaway he had nothing for him.
4 ½ months later, McMahon changed his mind, and the rest is history.
Death Valley’s favorite son debuted at Survivor Series as The Million Dollar Team’s mystery partner. After pinning Dusty Rhodes clean in his first match, one year and six days later, Undertaker beat Hulk Hogan to win his first WWE Championship.
At 26 years old, the Deadman became the youngest WWE champion in history at the time. It was a massive moment for the young superstar. Then, Hogan claimed Taker hurt him with the Tombstone, even though his head missed the canvas by a mile.
Six days later, after one house show title defense against the British Bulldog, he dropped the belt back to Hogan. Undertaker’s first WWE Title might not have been the sweetest, but it was a tremendous accomplishment.
Alberto Del Rio: DESTINY of becoming the next Latin superstar was WWE’s plan for the Mexican aristocrat. In his debut, Alberto Del Rio’s toppling of Rey Mysterio made it clear that success would come quickly.
In 11 months and 26 days, Del Rio won the 40-Man Royal Rumble, wrestled for the world title at WrestleMania, and captured Money in the Bank. Del Rio ended the “Summer of Punk,” cashing in on CM Punk to win his first WWE Title. Del Rio won several titles during his two runs in WWE.
Kurt Angle: It’s True! It’s True! The Olympic gold medalist was on the fast track to superstardom from the moment he premiered at the 1999 Survivor Series in Detroit, Michigan, pinning Shawn Stasiak.
Angle’s first 11 months and 9 days as a WWE superstar included winning the I.C. Title, European Title, and King of the Ring tournament before beating The Rock at No Mercy 2000 to win the big one.
A month later, Angle made his first title defense against The Undertaker at Survivor Series 2000. The event served as Angle’s first anniversary in WWE versus Undertaker’s tenth anniversary.
Big Show: Paul Wight’s nine-month trek toward his first WWE Championship was full of twists and turns. After finishing up in WCW, Wight debuted a month later at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre as the newest member of Vince McMahon’s heel stable, The Corporation.
36 days later, the shine began to wear off after losing to ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin on the go-home episode of Raw before WrestleMania 15. Constant heel and babyface turns, which became a theme of his career, knocked him down the card.
To give the “world’s largest athlete” a fresh coat of paint, Show filled the vacancy left by Steve Austin’s neck injury as the mystery entrant in the Triple Threat main event at the 1999 Survivor Series.
In a moment that no one saw coming at the beginning of the night, Big Show beat The Rock and Triple H to win the title, becoming the fifth person to win the WCW and WWE Championship.
Kane: “THAT’S GOTTA BE KANE,” who took 8 months and 24 days to win his first and only WWE Championship. After making one of the most memorable debuts in WWE history at Badd Blood, Kane won the title in a First Blood Match at the 1998 King of the Ring against Steve Austin.
24 hours later, Kane was goaded into a rematch and dropped the title back to Austin on Raw.
Kane virtually mirrored his big brother, beating the biggest star in the business for the title after a short time in the company. While Glenn Jacobs, who portrayed Kane had two prior runs in the company as Issac Yakem and fake Diesel, Kane was the character he propelled to superstardom.
AJ Styles: It’s amazing that “The Phenomenal One” is even on this list since. At one time, some considered him the “flippy-highspots guy” who couldn’t work. However, others considered him the best wrestler outside of WWE.
Styles was the crown jewel of the New Japan exodus in 2016 and finally signed with WWE. Styles had one of the most memorable WWE debuts as the surprise third entrant in the 2016 Royal Rumble, vying for the WWE Title in his inaugural match.
Stellar bouts with Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, The New Day, and John Cena over 7 months with the company brought him to Backlash. Styles headlined SmackDown’s first brand-exclusive pay-per-view and dethroned Dean Ambrose to win his first WWE Championship.
Sheamus is the oddity of the list because, at the time, no one expected him to be fast-tracked to the title. “The Celtic Warrior” debuted on the main roster for ECW and moved to Raw three months later.
Sheamus won the “Breakthrough Battle Royal” for those who had never won a world title and beat John Cena in a Tables Match at TLC to become the first Irish-born WWE Champion. 5 months and 14 days to win the title faster than anyone in the brand split era.
Maybe? More on that later.
Brock Lesnar: It was evident from the moment we first laid eyes on Brock Lesnar that he was indeed the next big thing. The former NCAA champ burst onto the scene in a destructive manner that left an indelible impression over 5 months and 8 days.
Lesnar passed every test with flying colors, skipping the natural progression of a steady climb through the ranks. The dude beat Jeff Hardy via ref stoppage and kicked out of the Swanton Bomb in his official debut match.
Lesnar won King of the Ring, setting the stage for SummerSlam. At 25 years old, Lesnar pinned The Rock clean in the middle of the ring to become the youngest WWE Champion in history.
While Lesnar’s first was officially the Undisputed Title, it was the company’s sole world title until his exclusivity to SmackDown forced Raw to revitalize the former WCW World Heavyweight Championship.
Yokozuna: Rodney Anoa’i’s time in WWE was the first time the everlasting tropes of pro wrestling became clear to me. The massive heel foreigner who was too hard to knockdown, much less beat, would be the top dog sooner than later. Yokozuna won the 1993 Royal Rumble, the first time the main event of WrestleMania was on the line.
Five months and five days from his debut, Yokozuna beat Bret Hart at WrestleMania 9 to become the WWE Championship. While he’s number three on this list, Yoko, unfortunately, holds the distinction of having the shortest title reign when he lost the belt 2 minutes and 22 seconds later to Hulk Hogan.
All was made right a couple of months later as the master of the Banzi Drop got a dominant 9 month run with the title.
FOLKS, WE HAVE A TIE IN THE NUMBER 2 SPOT!
Sgt. Slaughter and Ric Flair won their first WWE Championship in 4 months and 11 days. They both made their WWE debut on September 9 and won the title on January 19 at the Royal Rumble (1991 & 1992).
Want some more trivia? The two legendary Hall of Famers wrestled Jim Powers of The Young Stallions in their WWE in-ring debut.
There is a caveat to Slaughter and Flair’s placement on this list.
Slaughter’s first match was taped 32 days before it aired on September 9, while Flair debuted live a year later on Prime Time Wrestling.
Sgt. Slaughter: Wrestling is no stranger to using political and wartime strife as a vehicle for in-ring conflict. The Sgt. Slaughter, who returned to WWE, no longer bled red, white, blue, and G.I. Joe. He proclaimed America had gone soft due to fans cheering Nikolai Volkoff for his soviet defection.
Soon afterward, Slaughter transformed into an Iraqi sympathizer, just in time for The Gulf War. Despite the controversial aspect of the character, Slaughter did a tremendous job convincing fans he hated America and hearted Saddam Hussein.
Slaughter challenged the Ultimate Warrior for the WWE Title at the 1991 Royal Rumble. An assist from the Macho King Randy Savage and Earl Hebner’s slow and dramatic three count ushered in Slaughter’s sole WWE Championship.
Ric Flair: One of wrestling’s landmark moments occurred in 1991 when the face of WCW, “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair, jumped ship to the squared circle of WWE. Bobby Heenan set the stage with an opening salvo by brandishing WCW’s big gold belt, signaling the arrival of the “real world’s champion.”
Flanked by Mr. Perfect, Flair dogged Hulk Hogan at every turn while wearing WCW’s top prize, which was eventually video-distorted on television due to legal issues. At the same time, a deluge of Flair/Hogan dream matches headlined house shows across the country.
Hogan and the Undertaker traded the WWE Title back and forth over six days, thanks to Ric Flair. The shenanigans of it all forced WWE President Jack Tunney to vacate the title and proclaimed the winner of the Royal Rumble would be the undisputed champion.
Albany’s Knickerbocker Arena was the sight of the greatest Royal Royal performance. Flair, who entered at #3, made a star-studded field of 18 Hall of Famers look like a million dollars for over an hour. Bobby Heenan’s hilarious pro-Flair commentary was brilliant.
Sid Justice eliminated Hulk Hogan, to a surprising pop from the live crowd that WWE edited on the home video release. Flair eliminated an unsuspecting Sid earning an even bigger pop, and won the Rumble, becoming the first person to win the WCW and WWE World Title.
And, of course, with a tear in his eye. who can forget Flair’s post-match promo?
Hulk Hogan: Vince McMahon bought WWF from his father in 1982, but the company as we know it today didn’t begin until Tuesday, December 27, 1983. McMahon envisioned his national expansion with several poached stars from different territories. However, the crown jewel was Verne Gagne’s top drawing card, Hulk Hogan.
Along with a financial dispute over merchandise royalties, Gagne’s traditional sensibilities kept him from putting the AWA World Title on Hogan due to his lack of wrestling acumen. Vince McMahon would not make the same mistake. On December 27, Hogan was supposed to wrestle Nick Bockwinkel on an AWA show in Pheonix, AZ.
Instead, the Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis, MO, saw Hulk Hogan’s first match working for the younger McMahon, making short work of Bill Dixon. The night before, the Iron Shiek dethroned long-time champion, Bob Backlund. Both matches signaled the winds of change.
After Hogan’s 12/27 match aired on New Year’s Day, he’d only see action twice before his legendary night. Hogan teamed with Bob Backlund to defeat Mr. Fuji & Tiger Chung Lee and made short work of Gil Guerrero in singles action.
23 days after his TV debut, WWF’s incarnation of Hulkamania was born in front of a capacity crowd in Madison Square Garden. Hulk Hogan pinned The Iron Shiek to win his first of six WWF Championships to kick off a historic 4-year reign and become the biggest star in the industry.