The WWE Championship belt has always been the most valuable prize in the company. The person wearing the title is typically the face of the franchise and it is meant to signify being the top star in the wrestling world. WWE has been responsible for a few poor decisions over the years, but most of their world champions were absolute stars and future Hall of Famers. The 90s was arguably the best and most relevant decade in WWE history. We saw the end of the golden era and saw WWE moving into the mainstream.
WWE transitioned from the muscle-heads of the 80s into the new generation of more athletic wrestlers with the ability to have great matches. The Attitude Era later came to take WWE to new heights as the most successful time period in wrestling history. WWE became a household name and that was due to the star power. Every wrestler to hold the WWE Title in the decade had an interesting story behind them.
We will take a look at their journeys from the top of the wrestling world to the next chapters. Some stories ended up in depressing fashion, but others triumphed to continue thriving today. We’ll find out what happened to each former WWE World Champion of the 90s and where they are today.
19. Hulk Hogan: Retired
The 90s started with Hulk Hogan continuing his dominance in WWE. Hogan was essentially the face of WWE from 1984 into the early 90s there. Wrestling fans still idolized Hogan, but you could feel the tide turning a little. Hogan did manage to sell out most venues and deliver more success to the growth of WWE. Vince McMahon’s steroid trial and the time running out saw Hogan leave WWE in 1993 to become part of WCW.
Hogan has been in and out of WWE since WCW ended, with lots of controversy attached to his career. WWE brought him back in 2014 with the expectations to make him part of the family for the rest of his life. Hogan’s racist rant being revealed in a sex tape leak exposed him in multiple negative lights to the mainstream media. WWE fired him to stay away from the negative press, but Hogan managed to win a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Gawker for leaking the tape. Hogan is living off of the lawsuit money hoping to return to WWE for one more run.
18. The Ultimate Warrior: Deceased
You can count the number of times Hulk Hogan lost cleanly during his prime on one hand. A rare occasion of someone defeating Hogan through their own merits in the match was The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania 6. Warrior won the WWE Championship for the first and only time in a moment that was meant to symbolize the passing of the torch. Hogan did the job and Warrior received his chance to be the guy leading the company.
Warrior struggled to replace Hogan in the role of the WWE Champion. Bret Hart cited in his autobiography that Warrior couldn’t live up the pressure of the champion position and didn’t represent the company well. WWE would part ways with him shortly after due to Warrior’s attitude problems. After another few flopped runs, Warrior became an enemy of WWE for almost two decades. WWE made peace with Warrior at the 2014 Hall of Fame, giving us all a great moment of closure. Sadly, Warrior passed away two days later, but lives on with “The Warrior Award” being given out by WWE to those showing strong spirit every year.
17. Sgt. Slaughter: Retired WWE Ambassador
One of the less iconic names on the list will be Sgt. Slaughter. The retired wrestler is clearly a legend and important figure in wrestling history, but he never came off as a top level star at any point in his career. Still, Slaughter was selected to be the man that defeated Ultimate Warrior to win the WWE Championship heading into WrestleMania 7 as the title holder.
The main reason Slaughter won was because he played an anti-American heel sympathizing with Iran after turning his back on the country. Hulk Hogan was able to use the patriotism to get the story made for the big show. The American prevailed to end Slaughter’s short reign. Slaughter won in the long run by holding a WWE backstage role for many years after becoming a trusted member of the company. Today, Slaughter is a WWE ambassador, appearing for the company whenever they need him to make media appearances or appear on television for nostalgia purposes.
16. The Undertaker: Active WWE Star
The legend of The Undertaker took off right away in the WWE. Undertaker won the WWE World Championship within his first year of debuting by defeating Hulk Hogan with the help of Ric Flair. The title reign only lasted six days, but the fact that Undertaker held a world title victory over Hogan that quickly into his career showed how much WWE believed in his talent.
Undertaker went on to become one of the most successful wrestlers in WWE history. The 26 year career of Undertaker is still going strong today as the very popular attraction act. We usually only see Undertaker wrestle a handful of times per year at his older age, however. The yearly WrestleMania match for Taker is a huge deal with it usually being the biggest selling point for the show. There are rumors of Undertaker retiring in 2017 but, for now, he’s still a legendary member of the WWE roster.
15. Ric Flair: Podcast Host
Ric Flair coming to WWE for the first time in 1991 provided excitement and expectations for a huge run. The dream match was to be Flair facing Hulk Hogan. Flair came into WWE with the big gold belt after leaving WCW as the unbeaten world champion. Everyone wanted to see WWE’s champion face off against WCW’s champion but it wasn’t meant to be. Flair won the WWE Championship in the legendary 1992 Royal Rumble match for the vacated title.
The WWE tenure of Flair went down as a disappointment despite winning the WWE Championship twice. Flair was never used to the best of his abilities and returned to WCW in less than two years. WWE brought him back following the death of WWE and added new memories to his career. Flair is a retired legend these days and the only current two-time WWE Hall of Famer. The legend still makes appearances on WWE television involving his daughter Charlotte Flair and hosts a podcast on the side.
14. Randy Savage: Deceased
The first WWE Champion reign of Randy Savage took place in the 80s, but he won the top prize in the company in 1992. Savage defeated Ric Flair for the title at WrestleMania 8 in a great match. WWE started to enter a transition period where the top stars were all getting too old. Savage lost the title after a few months back to Flair and would quickly move into a broadcasting role.
WWE occasionally had Savage wrestle but they definitely wanted him to enter the retirement stage. Savage decided to leave to continue his career as a main-eventer in WCW. There were rumors of a huge falling out with Vince McMahon that blackballed Savage from the WWE sadly for the rest of his life. Savage passed away at the age of 58 in 2011 when suffering a heart attack while driving. Savage was retired at the time of his passing and we never got see him celebrated for his legacy in the WWE.
13. Bret Hart: Runs Loan Company
Bret Hart defeating Ric Flair to win his first WWE Championship in 1992 was one of the more surprising title changes of the time. WWE truly started to change their philosophy of what was needed out of a top star. Hart lacked the bodybuilding physique and larger than life persona of prior champions. The strong point of Bret’s work was the in-ring action improving the work rate that would later become associated with the champion.
Hart also took the responsibility of being champion very seriously, giving a lot of his time back to the fans in an attempt to be an ambassador to the company. We all remember the Montreal Screwjob ending his time in WWE and making him an enemy of the company for over a decade. Bret finally returned in 2010 to make amends. We got to witness Hart defeat Vince McMahon in a match at WrestleMania 26 and made many more appearances, becoming a part of the WWE family again. He currently helps run a loan company with his sons in Canada to help small businesses.
12. Yokozuna: Deceased
WWE started to change their approach to top stars around the mid-90s, but it was a slow process. Vince McMahon still believed in the monster characters with larger sizes being at the top of the company. Yokozuna found his way into the WWE Championship picture by playing an anti-American heel character using a sumo wrestling background and pride for Japan. The big man held the title on two occasions, with main event spots in WrestleMania 9 and WrestleMania 10.
Yokozuna’s weight started to hamper him, with his size growing over the years. At a point, he regressed from being a monster heel to someone struggling to move around the ring. Yokozuna unfortunately died at a young age, passing away at 34 years old in 2000. The weight of Yokozuna towards the end of his life reached 580 pounds and he suffered from various health issues. WWE inducted him into the 2012 Hall of Fame class.
11. Bob Backlund: Active WWE Personality
Bob Backlund has two WWE Championship title reigns on his resume, with the longest time period ever in between them. The first reign of Backlund came all the way back in 1978 and he held it for almost two years. Backlund represented the 70s era of wrestling but WWE decided to bring him back in the 90s. The shocking moment of his return featured him defeating Bret Hart to win the WWE Championship in 1994 in controversial fashion, when Owen Hart threw in his brother’s towel to end the I Quit Match.
Backlund winning the title felt ridiculous, considering no one cared about him, but he lost it just a few days later to Diesel. It was arguably the worst title reign in WWE history. Backlund has made sporadic appearances over the years and started to become known for his unpredictable personality leading to wacky tirades. WWE currently employs him as Darren Young’s manager, but there’s no success there.
10. Diesel: Semi-Retired WWE Ambassador
As mentioned earlier, Kevin Nash won the WWE Championship under the Diesel moniker when defeating Bob Backlund. The most surprising thing about Diesel’s sole title reign is how he won it. Diesel got the victory over Backlund in just 8 seconds at a house show in Madison Square. Fans at the venue were stunned to see the unexpected title change. It was the final time the WWE Championship changed hands at a house show.
Diesel went on to have a horrible title reign. The numbers showed Diesel was the least successful WWE Champion since the company grew into the mainstream. Ratings and attendance numbers suffered from the poor title reign. Nash eventually left WWE a few months after his title reign ended and went on to achieve even more success in WCW. The big man is currently a WWE ambassador and Hall of Famer that appears every year for the WrestleMania weekend festivities.
9. Shawn Michaels: WWE Trainer
The memorable moment of Shawn Michaels winning his first WWE Championship came in the best of scenarios. Michaels defeated rival Bret Hart in a classic Iron Man Match in the main event of WrestleMania 12 with Vince McMahon’s commentary alerting us that “the boyhood dream has come true.” The stature of Michaels made him one of the smaller wrestlers WWE had trusted with the championship at the time.
Michaels proved the company right with some of the best matches you’ll ever see. Most longtime wrestling fans, fellow wrestlers and wrestling journalists name Michaels as the greatest in-ring performer of all time. The legend retired at WrestleMania 26 and he stayed true to his word in not returning to the ring. Michaels still does make appearances for WWE whenever they reach an agreement, however. The relationship is growing, with the Hall of Famer taking a coaching job at the Performance Center to help teach the stars of tomorrow.
8. Sycho Sid: Retired
Another surprising name on the list would have to be Sycho Sid. Despite the fact that WWE never discusses him in any documentaries or WWE Network content, Sid quietly had one of the most successful tenures in the company. Sid only spent a few years in WWE over his multiple stints, but found his way in the main event of two WrestleMania events. The big man had two WWE Championship reigns, defeating legends Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart to win the strap twice.
Sid lost the title twice in a short time period of two months. Following the title loss, he quickly transitioned into a smaller role before leaving WWE. The people in charge loved him, but Sid lacked the passion to give his all to wrestling. Following a severe leg injury in WCW, Sid returned to occasionally wrestle on the independent circuit, but he’s now unofficially retired. Sid spends his days hanging out with family, playing softball and appearing at conventions.
7. Steve Austin: Podcast Host
The biggest title win in WWE history could very well be Steve Austin defeating Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 14. Austin was organically the most popular star in the company and WWE perfectly waited until the right moment to make him the champion. Business went up with Austin as the champion. According to wrestling pundit Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, the numbers show Austin was a bigger draw as the champion than anyone else in WWE history.
Austin went on to have six WWE Championship reigns throughout his career and was synonymous with the title for many years. There’s no doubt Austin was the most successful WWE Champion of the 90s. A neck injury forced Austin’s retirement from the ring in 2003. Austin has stayed busy with various jobs in acting, reality show hosting and the podcasting business. Most wrestling fans enjoy Austin’s current work hosting The Steve Austin Podcast.
6. Kane: Active WWE Wrestler
A shocking title change that led to a disappointing reign featured Kane defeating Steve Austin at King of the Ring 1998 in a First Blood Match. Kane was able to get the WWE Championship win without pinning Austin. The momentum of Kane was red hot with his monster heel character being one of the top heel acts in the company. Austin getting his title win back just one night later hurt Kane, however. WWE could have at least waited until the next PPV, but the one night title run is one of the shortest in history.
Kane still managed to have a great career, remaining a part of the WWE roster over eighteen years without ever leaving once. The big man would never win the WWE Championship again, but had a couple of World Championship reigns during the brand split when WWE had two main titles. Kane is still an active member of the Smackdown Live roster at the age of 49.
5. The Rock: Huge Movie Star
The Rock was one of the biggest talking points of the Attitude Era and is up there with Steve Austin when talking about the biggest stars of the 90s. WWE struggled to push him in his first year until he turned heel. The charisma of Rock was shown and fans started to embrace him. Rock tricked the fans into believing he was their new hero, before aligning with The Corporation to screw Austin in the finals of the Survivor Series 1998 tournament to win his first WWE Championship.
Rock went on to have a total of eight WWE Title reigns over his career and is one of the most successful champions in wrestling history. The success of Rock in wrestling transferred into Hollywood, where he started to receive leading acting roles following the end of the Attitude Era. Rock made the right move heading to the big screen. 2016 saw Rock become the highest paid actor in the world and arguably the biggest star. WWE still convinces him to make occasional appearances, which typically come at WrestleMania.
4. Mick Foley: Raw GM
The improbable journey of Mick Foley saw him become the WWE Champion three times in the 90s. Foley worked under the monikers of Mankind, Dude Love and Cactus Jack throughout his WWE career before just using his real name. It made sense considering the fans rallied behind him most as an underdog rather than the characters he portrayed. Foley participated in tremendous feuds with The Rock and Triple H, leading to him trading titles with them.
One of the best Monday Night Raw moments of all time featured Foley defeating Rock to win his first WWE Championship. Foley retired a few times, coming in and out of the ring through the years. Today, he serves as the Raw General Manager following the brand split. Foley is a fixture on Monday nights and back in the WWE family. The legend also does lots of great work for various charities and gives back his time.
3. Triple H: WWE Vice President/Part-Time Wrestler
If you think about Triple H’s wrestling career in retrospect, you have to envision him holding a world championship of some sort. Triple H always showed great potential and started to find his voice when joining D-Generation X. Despite being a huge star with the group, he knew he would have to be on his own to get to the top of the mountain. Triple H became the top heel in the company and won his first WWE Championship in 1999.
The total WWE Championship reigns of Triple H reached 9 and goes all the way up to 14 if you count the World Championship during the brand split. Triple H became synonymous with the WWE Championship belt as he ascended to the top of the company. The relationship with Stephanie McMahon led to marriage, children and a spot running the future of WWE. Triple H runs NXT, is the Vice President of Talent finding all of the new stars and a part-time wrestler on bigger shows.
2. Vince McMahon: WWE Majority Owner
The least athletic person on the list is definitely Vince McMahon. Despite being the person most responsible for the WWE’s success, McMahon struggled to look competent in the wrestling ring. McMahon did have great character skills that made him a huge part of the on-screen product, however. It culminated in him actually winning the WWE Championship on an episode of Smackdown by defeating Triple H. McMahon vacated the championship a week later, citing the title should be held by an actual wrestler.
WWE going for the moment and not following through with him actually losing the title back set a poor precedent. A non-wrestler winning the title is bad enough, but there’s usually the payoff of a wrestler destroying them to get back the win. McMahon didn’t even lose the title and just vacated it. It was his company so he got to call the shots. McMahon is still the majority owner, chairman and CEO of WWE. At the end of the day, Vince is also still the one responsible for the creative we watch unfold on television.
1. Big Show: Active WWE Wrestler
No one would have predicted Big Show as the man to close out the millennium as the WWE Champion, but life is strange like that. Show won the title at Survivor Series 1999 by replacing the injured Steve Austin in a triple threat and defeating Triple H and The Rock. Not only was Show a disappointing name to win the WWE Championship, but he won it by being the person to break up a dream match between the three biggest stars in the company.
Show flopped as the champ and lost it back to Triple H just a couple of months later in the first week of 2000. WWE continued to employ Show over the years with many ups and downs, however. Show may have never been a great world champion, but he did have a Hall of Fame worthy career. The lovable giant is still wrestling today for the Raw brand and has stated he is planning to retire in the near future. Many believe we will witness his final big match at WrestleMania 33 against Shaquille O’Neal.