On the 24th April episode of Monday Night Raw, Triple H unveiled a new WWE World Heavyweight Championship belt, aiming to crown a top champion for weekly television.
The illusive golden title, unified in 2013, has a long, illustrious history that stretches beyond the company.
While the championship’s origin goes back to the 1980s, it was re-introduced in WWE by Eric Bischoff in 2002. And over the years, before it became the harmonious accolade, there have been some fantastic reigns that added prestige to the belt.
Here is our take on the best World Heavyweight Champions in WWE history.
7. Chris Jericho
When he does finally hang up his boots, one will probably give Chris Jericho the flowers he truly deserves.
Jericho is not exactly underrated by the term’s accepted usage. However, such is his ability to mould himself into the characters as per the storyline that he flourishes in every role.
His three reigns as the World Heavyweight Champion was no different.
Jericho’s understanding of how to work for a crowd as a champion was always a highlight. In one of his reigns, Jericho ditched his flashy attires for suits and adopted a tedious speech delivery pattern to garner heel heat.
Even the opponents he beat to win his final two World Heavyweight Championships form elite reading – Batista and The Undertaker, respectively.
It’s a shame his reigns did not last long.
6. CM Punk
CM Punk had three shots as the World Heavyweight Champion – and all of them came before that promo he cut which has since become among the most popular in wrestling history.
The first two reigns of Punk came via cashing in his Money in the Bank contract. And his third was part of a continuing storyline with Jeff Hardy where he had previously won via the cash-in before Jeff took the title back.
Punk’s time at the top with the belt was short but his feud with Hardy – a smashing exchange – places him among the best World Heavyweight Champions in WWE.
Punk was always a master at storytelling, combining his in-ring ability and prowess on the microphone, and being polar opposites as one could be from Jeff elevated their feud.
While the two men’s exchanges could exist w ithout the belt and would hold equally well, having the championship was a reflection of how WWE rated them at the time.
5. Randy Orion
A four-time World Heavyweight champion, Randy Orton is among the most decorated to have held the belt in WWE.
As a natural heel, the “Viper” ascended to the top of the company in 2004 as a babyface – thanks to his iconic finishing move, the RKO. In the process, he became the youngest world champion in WWE history.
Orton’s feud with the faction ‘Evolution’ was a noteworthy start. However, his best work, we believe, came during his later reigns as a heel, which took some time coming.
Randy’s second reign took seven years to materialise and over his ensuing time as champion before retiring the belt in 2013, he extracted very entertaining matches from other underrated WWE superstars like Christian.
4. The Undertaker
The Undertaker is perhaps the most intimidating World Heavyweight champion of all.
A three-time title holder, ‘The Deadman’ held the belt for over 200 days and his association with it enhanced the prestige of the championship.
Undertaker’s feuds with the World Heavyweight Championship in the fray, while few, always delivered high-quality viewing.
For his first two reigns, Undertaker beat Batista and Edge, respectively, to win the world title and both matches were excellent.
While the win against CM Punk to win his third World Heavyweight Championship was less inspiring in terms of match quality, the end was quite scintillating, a precursor to something legendary.
Elimination Chamber. Shawn Michaels. And that WrestleMania Career vs Streak match.
3. Triple H
There is little debate that Triple H is one of the most influential men to have tied a pair of wrestling boots.
And his contribution towards associating pride and legitimacy with the World Heavyweight Championship is telling.
As the first holder of the then-big gold belt in WWE, Triple H engaged in excellent feuds. The same holds for his four subsequent reigns, battling with the likes of Shawn Michaels, Rob Van Dam, Chris Benoit, and Batista.
His heel work as champion was top-notch, lending more emotion and believability to the babyfaces who defeated him. The wins of Batista and Benoit are cases in point.
Triple H also holds the record for the combined longest days as World Heavyweight champion, standing at 616.
Batista was WWE’s big project in the mid-2000s. And, along with John Cena, he was to be the leading representative of the company.
It is fair to say that the Guardians of the Galaxy actor lived up to his potential before switching to the movies.
Before winning his first title at WrestleMania 21, Batista promised to hold onto the World Heavyweight Championship for the longest duration.
And he made good on that promise, bearing the title for 282 days before a tricep injury forced him to vacate the title.
The backbone of Batista’s reign was excellent matches. He did not have a fancy gimmick, and he did not need it either. Batista was presented as he physically was – dominant and intimidating.
‘The Ultimate Opportunist’ is also the best World Heavyweight Champion in WWE.
Despite being third on the list of most days with the title, the visual recall of it is perhaps most with Edge. A large part of that is his 7 reigns as a World Heavyweight Champion.
And the thing with Edge was that he always made things so much fun.
That run with the Money in the Bank briefcase, lending excitement and surprise to the concept was exquisite. Losing one world title earlier in the night and then inserting himself into another match at the end of the night. Challenging for and winning the Money in the Bank contract in a singles match. Edge seemed to exist beyond the realms of the agreed norm.
Furthermore, Edge was a fantastic in-ring storyteller. He had unmissable chemistry with almost every major opponent. The WWE Hall of Famer had grand matches with Cena, Undertaker, and Jeff Hardy.
He was also extremely dislikable as a heel, making him one of the greatest WWE wrestlers to hold the World Heavyweight Championship.