This week Seth Rollins’ WWE Title reign will surpass 200 days and is currently the 22nd longest title reign in WWE/F history. It is also, the 6th longest title reign since the turn of the century. It is a trend we have seen since CM Punk won the title back in 2011. Since then the title has changed hands 10 times, which sounds like a lot, but in reality over the past 4 years, 3 of those title reigns (Cena, Orton and Lesnar) lasted between 4 and 7 months. One other thing to keep in mind is that Rollins and Lesnar have held the title in the past 420 days! So this begs the question, is it more impressive how many times you win the title or is the length of a title run more of the measuring stick?
Personally, I like the longer title reigns. I think the constant championship changes cause for confusion amongst the fans. Also, in the case of John Cena, yes he is the 12 time champion (he’s a 15 time World Champion if you include the World Heavyweight Championship wins), but that also means he’s lost the title 11 times! Cena’s title reigns average about 3.5 months per run. Let’s delve a little deeper to see how impressive those numbers are.
In November 1995 Diesel, who had held the belt 7 days shy of a year, lost to Bret Hart. From that day through Punk’s victory in July 2011, only six men held the title for at least six months and only one of them (John Cena’s 3rd reign) for over a year. On the flip side the two title runs of Bruno Sammartino along with the initial reigns of Hulk Hogan, Bob Backlund and Pedro Morales encompass over a total of 8,676 days. That’s over 23 years!
In the first 31 years of the WWF (1963 – 1994) there were a grand total of 28 title reigns. Over the course of the next 21 years there has been a whopping 92 reigns! The bulk of these exchanges took place in between an eleven year time span. The first rapid fire shuffling of the title was between November 1996 and June of 2004, where the title changed hands 44 times, almost 6 times a year! Then the next burst came between November 2008 and the beginning of Punk’s run in November 2011. The title flipped 23 times in that three year stretch, for an average of almost 8 times per year!
For some strange reason there seemed to be a philosophy change where some genius in Stamford thought the best way to build up a star was to throw a title on him. This is where we began to see the quick title changes become the norm. That especially became the case with the once prestigious Intercontinental Championship. In my opinion there couldn’t be a worse way to give a push or credibility to an up and comer. Make them earn the belt! Two names that jump out at me in this regard are Sheamus and The Miz, who is the equivalent to being the WWE World Heavyweight Champion as Koko B. Ware is to being a WWE Hall of Famer.
Brock Lesnar won his first WWE championship in August of 2002. Only 13 months later he had already won the title a third time. In between it was also held by Kurt Angle (twice) and the Big Show. When Brock left on not so good terms with WWE after his infamous match with Goldberg at Wrestlemania XX, WWE wanted to quickly erase any memory of Lesnar’s dominance, thus ushering in the era of Randy Orton and John Cena.
In mid 2005 John Cena won his first WWE Championship, with Orton winning his first in 2007. Combined, the duo have held the WWE belt 20 times, for a grand total of 1,849 days. This doesn’t include their combined 7 World Heavyweight Championships, prior to the belts being combined in December of 2013. That’s 27 combined heavyweight titles for these guys in a little over 10 years. A tad much I’d say, would you agree?
I realize that when Bruno was the champion kayfabe was at its peak, but the length of Bruno’s run leant to the mystique and credibility of the business. Back in the day, the boxing heavyweight champion of the world was the most prestigious title in all of sports. Due to the length of their championship reigns, the world knew who Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali were. The same thing could also be said in wrestling when the world became familiar with Bruno and Hulk due to their long time champion status.
Over time, it seems that as the shine has been taken off of the boxing championship, the same could be said for the WWE title as well. With all due respect to the likes of Edge, Jeff Hardy, JBL, Rob Van Dam, Batista and Sheamus, can their impact on the business and their title runs even compare to the likes of Randy Savage, Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, Kurt Angle or The Rock, let alone the Bruno, Backlund and Hulk’s of the wrestling world?
When Randy Savage won the heavyweight title the crowd adored him as the heir of Hulk’s reign as the company baby face. A year later we saw Savage as the ultimate heel as he put the belt on the line against Hogan. It had been a long time since Savage, but we got to relive the same type of intrigue with Punk during his title run. He basically fought every top challenger the company had. Why, because just like Savage, due to the length of his run, he was given the opportunity to change his character over time. If you remember Punk was for all intents and purposes the new Steve Austin when he won the title from Alberto Del Rio. By the time he lost to The Rock, he transformed himself into a legendary heel. We can see we are heading down this path with Rollins as well. We’ve seen the gradual old school way of slowly changing a character from heel to baby face in change of his attire from black to white, as well as the eventual rebellion against the corporation.
I know I may be in the minority, but to me it comes down to length of the title reign, not how often you win it. As great as Stone Cold’s run in WWF was, how much more memorable would Austin’s time as champion have been if instead of winning the belt six times, the 529 days he spent as champ were spread out over two long runs.
Will the champ hold on to the belt tonight? How will he find the will to win? In what despicable fashion or what dastardly thing will he do in order to keep the strap? These were always questions we used to ask ourselves only to be stunned when the champ was FINALLY beat! If the champ loses the belt tonight, only to win it back in 30 days, then he drops it again 2 months later, how strong of a champion are you?