Nothing says a pro wrestler has made it quite like winning their first major championship in WWE. World Wrestling Entertainment has been the pinnacle of the sports entertainment industry for decades, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. Wrestlers are happy to win small regional titles while training to become superstars, but the first glory achieved in WWE can feel like the true beginning of their careers. Naturally, there are certain factors that can go into a championship victory that can make it sweeter for a superstar to earn the belt, and one of those factors can be earning the belt at a younger age than anyone else.
It has been said that age ain’t nothing but a number, and that might be true, but it’s still impressive to achieve a major accomplishment faster than anybody else in history. The wrestlers on this list all accomplished great feats in their championship victories, and many are in the record books as the youngest champions to win their respective belts. Others are in the record books for plenty of other reasons, and their early championship success was merely the first step in a legendary career that has already landed a few in the Hall of Fame. At least half of the names on the list are superstars from the modern era, showing that the trend of younger superstars becoming major names in WWE is only increasing, and before long, the following superstars might not even look that impressive. They certainly do now, though, so keep reading if you want to be impressed by 15 WWE superstars you forgot won titles at extremely young ages.
15. Rick Martel – World Tag Team Champion at 24
Rick Martel is a name often forgotten in the pantheon of the greatest wrestlers during the 1980s, but his championship success in both WWE and AWA speak for itself. Martel started wrestling for WWE in 1980, and quickly formed a tag team with Tony Garea. Garea would later become recognized as one of Vince McMahon’s most loyal employees, but at the time was better known as a multi time tag team champion with previous partners Haystacks Calhoun, Dean Ho, and Larry Zbyszko. Garea’s role was the veteran partner teaming with the youngster with boundless potential, and Martel’s later career would prove he was the right person for the job.
Martel’s first championship success came when he was only 24, after he and Garea defeated The Wild Samoans for the WWE World Tag Team titles. The duo would lose and regain the belts over the next year, after which Martel left WWE to arguably achieve a greater accomplishment. Martel held the AWA World Heavyweight Championship for 19 months, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact Martel was still under the age of 30. Part of the reason fans are quick to forget Martel was so successful so young was that his accomplishments continued until the very end of his career. The success only came to an end when Martel was forced into retirement after suffering an injury during a match in which he was supposed to retain the WCW World Television Championship.
14. Randy Orton – World Heavyweight Champion at 24
Randy Orton has been along WWE for long enough he’s part of the institution, so it might be hard for fans to remember when he was a young blue chipper prepared to take on the wrestling world. Orton debuted on WWE television shortly after his 22nd birthday, and due in part to his status as a third generation wrestler, it was no time at all before Orton was starting to show signs that he could be a major player in WWE for a long time to come. Orton’s first championship came when he won the WWE Intercontinental Championship at age 23, and only one year later he one-upped his own accomplishment by becoming the youngest World Heavyweight Champion in company history while only 24.
Orton has since gone on to win many more WWE World Heavyweight Championships, but it could be argued his first was his most historic thanks largely to the young age at which he earned the gold. Orton defeated Chris Benoit at SummerSlam 2004 to win his first World Championship, and though Benoit is now considered persona non grata, the victory came at a time Benoit was still highly respected in the industry, giving Orton an additional rub by way of defeating a great. Orton only held the title for one month the first time around, but it definitely predicted the heights his career would be reaching right from the start.
13. Rockin’ Robin – Women’s Champion at 23
Rockin’ Robin’s family consists of several legends within the wrestling industry, but unfortunately for her, that fact is directly connected to the fact she had one of the most tragic upbringing’s of anyone who would go on to make a name for themselves in sports entertainment. Her father, Grizzly Smith, sexually abused her for years before she finally escaped him. Robin’s brother, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, has equal disdain for his father without having gone into the details. Robin somehow overcome her terrible childhood to become a champion days before she turned 24, although in all fairness, her title reign was memorable for more negative than positive reasons.
Robin defeated Sensational Sherri Martel for the WWE Women’s Championship in 1988, and went on to hold the title until she left WWE two years later while still champion. Robin didn’t have many memorable opponents, and to give an idea of how important the Women’s Championship was during her era, it wasn’t even defended at WrestleMania V. Instead, Robin was chosen to sing “America The Beautiful,” not exactly a role that displayed her wrestling acumen.
12. Alicia Fox – Divas Champion at 23
Alicia Fox made her WWE debut as a wedding planner, and spent her first several years in the company inexorably linked with a string of men that prevented her from shining on her own as a wrestler. Fox met with championship success almost immediately after she decided to ditch the guys and start competing for the WWE Divas Championship, winning the belt for the first time at Fatal Four Way 2010 only 10 days before her 24th birthday. Fox also became the first African American to win the title in her victory.
Alicia held the Divas Championship for nearly two months before dropping it to Melina at SummerSlam. She made various efforts at regaining her championship glory at the time, but has since fallen into a role as a side character who merely supports the perhaps more talented wrestlers amongst the current female roster. Still, given the fact Fox was so young when she achieved her earliest championship success, it’s always possible that she could wow the world by making a serious comeback now that she has some experience in the ring.
11. Stephanie McMahon – Women’s Champion at 23
Anyone who achieves success young is going to be accused only being able to do so thanks to some form of favoritism, especially if nepotism is a possibility. There’s really no question of nepotism when it comes to Stephanie McMahon, as it’s plain as day she would never have been WWE Women’s Champion at all, let alone at such a young age, were it not for the fact her father Vince McMahon is the owner of the company. Another thing that helped Stephanie win the gold was her then nascent marriage to Triple H, still several years away in real life, but only months removed from the storyline in January of 2000 when Stephanie defeated Jacqueline to win the title.
Stephanie’s title win made her and Triple H to be the only married couple to ever simultaneously hold the WWE World and Women’s Championships, a feat that would be pretty difficult for any other pair of superstars to ever accomplish again. Steph’s young age didn’t hold her back against the far more experienced Jacqueline in the slightest, thanks to her executive power and already solid skills at making people hate her justify the victory regardless of her age.
10. Davey Boy Smith – World Tag Team Champion at 23
Before Davey Boy Smith was The British Bulldog, he was only half of the team that went by the same name, along side his partner The Dynamite Kid. Though they would later end up hating each other for personal and professional reasons, Davey and Dynamite were close friends some far ago time, despite the fact Dynamite was several years older than his real life cousin Davey Boy. Smith was still the powerhouse of the team, and they gelled to quickly create one of the most successful tag teams of the 1980s. The team reached the heights of their success at WrestleMania II, when they defeated The Dream Team of Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake for the WWE World Tag Team Championships with Ozzy Osbourne in their corner.
Davey Boy Smith would go on to become one of the most storied and accomplished British superstars ever to wrestle in WWE, and his success started early as he was only a few months removed from his 23rd birthday when he won the belts with Dynamite. Unfortunately for the entire wrestling world, The Dynamite Kid suffered a back injury while defending the belts. The injury would contribute to the early demise of Dynamite’s career not long after, but more importantly at the time, lead to the Bulldogs losing the belts to The Hart Foundation in January of 1987.
9. Wendi Richter – Women’s Champion at 22
Wendi Richter was finally inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2010, but it could still be argued the company doesn’t quite recognize just how important she was to professional wrestling history. Richter was at the forefront of the Rock and Wrestling Connection in the 1980s that lead to WWE events first being broadcast on MTV. In fact, the first such event was headlined by Richter winning the WWE Women’s Championship from The Fabulous Moolah. Of course, the rock part of the equation was supplied by Richter’s manager Cyndi Lauper, and it was the energy and chemistry between Lauper and her client that helped get fans so interest in the event.
While Lauper was the real selling point of the event, another part of Richter’s charm was her own youthful charisma. Richter may not have had the same qualities today’s female WWE superstars hold, but she wasn’t without her charms that helped fans connect with her and revel in her victory despite only a short tenure in the sport. Vince McMahon has more than once attempted to stain Wendi’s legacy in strange and petty ways, but he can’t take away the fact she was a huge success early in her career.
8. Paige – Divas Champion at 21
Paige comes from a family of British wrestling promoters and was stepping inside the ring when she was only 13 years old, so perhaps it isn’t too surprising she would win her first major championship at an equally impressive age. Not only are her parents wrestling promoters, but Ricky Knight and Sweet Saraya are wrestlers themselves, as well, so Paige was truly born into the business and spent her entire life preparing for her big break in the industry. Paige signed with WWE and began working for the developmental territory Florida Championship Wrestling when she was only 19, and barreled her way through FCW’s women’s division. As FCW morphed into NXT, Paige’s dominance would continue, and then it would exponentially explode after she made her main roster debut.
Paige debuted on the main WWE roster the night after WrestleMania XXX to insult and attack then Divas Champion AJ Lee. The insults lead to a match, which Paige won, thus making her the youngest WWE Divas Champion in history at only 21 years old. Paige and AJ would trade the belt several times, and it has now been several years since Paige has seen any gold. One setback of winning a championship young can be burning out early, but there’s still plenty of time for Paige to start winning titles again and proving the world she wasn’t just a wunderkind.
7. Hornswoggle – Cruiserweight Champion at 21
Plenty of wrestlers who won titles at young ages received criticism for doing so. The most common critique is obviously that they are too inexperienced to receive the honor of winning a prestigious title in the wrestling world, but the truth is, it’s extremely rare for a superstar to have destroyed a belt simply by winning it before they were ready. In fact, even in the case we’re talking about right now, the problem wasn’t that the superstar was too inexperienced in the slightest. Hornswoggle had certain other physical qualities that made him winning any title feel like an immediate joke.
Hornswoggle is the youngest wrestler to win the WWE Cruiserweight Championship, but more importantly, he was the shortest and lightest, as well. And it wasn’t by any means a significant margin on those latter qualifications. The championship itself would disappear shortly after Hornswoggle won, as there really wasn’t any point to a title for smaller wrestlers when the idea was stretched that far to its extremes. Nonetheless, there is still something at least a little bit impressive about the fact Hornswoggle was able to destroy the cruiserweight division so succinctly at such a young age.
6. Essa Rios – Light Heavyweight Champion at 21
Essa Rios is best remembered in WWE as the answer to several surprising trivia questions. Namely, he was the superstar to introduce Lita to the WWE Universe, and he was also one of the youngest performers in WrestleMania history in 1998 while performing as Águila. Águila is also the name he’s better known as around the world, but in WWE, fans remember the high-flying superstar as the bright red former Light Heavyweight Champion Essa Rios.
Rios came short when he challenged Taka Michinoku for the Light Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XIV when he was only 19. Luckily for him, part of the thrill of being able to historically challenge for a title at such a young age is the fact everyone knows there’s a big chance that superstar will get another shot down the line when they have more experience. It also helps if the title switched hands a few times in the interim, considering Essa Rios won the title from Gillberg. Essa faded away from WWE shortly after his brief run as champion, with Lita ultimately creating a legacy that outlasted both the man she entered the company with and the title that made them all instantly famous.
5. The 1-2-3 Kid – World Tag Team Champion at 21
These days, Sean Waltman is known as one of the members of The Kliq and therefore a close friend of Triple H. Fans can claim The Kid benefits from his friend in whatever way he wants, but there’s no real way to claim he earned his first title on anything other than his own merits. Waltman debuted in WWE when he was only 20 years old, wrestling as The Kamikaze Kid and changing names to The 1-2-3 Kid after he defeated Razor Ramon. The Kid formed a loose respect based union with Razor after the victory, and more importantly to his championship goals, he formed an “ultimate underdog” tag team with Marty Jannetty.
The Kid and Jannetty quickly rose their way through the tag team ranks and challenged The Quebecers for the WWE World Tag Team Championships. The underdog tag team won the titles at the 1994 Royal Rumble, when The Kid was still only 21. They only held the belts for one week before losing them back to the French Canadians, but it stood as the first major success in Waltman’s career. Although he was the youngest member of The Kliq, wins like this proved he was as ambitious and prepared for politics as the other members of his famous crew.
4. Jeff Hardy – World Tag Team Champion at 21
Jeff Hardy has gone through many stages in his professional wrestling career, from a lowly jobber who wasn’t allowed to use his own name all the way up to a multiple time World Champion, back down to a confusing joke certain fans would prefer stayed away from WWE. Even diehard Hardy fans tend to forget his first few appearances in WWE were as enhancement talent during the early years of Monday Night Raw, performing under the name Keith Davis to lose to Razor Ramon in 1994. Hardy was only 16 at the time, having lied about his age, but the company must not have held the indiscretion against him considering the success he’d achieve shortly after turning 20.
Along with his brother Matt, Jeff signed a longer term contract with WWE as an actual performer in 1998, when he was only 20 years old. The next year, The Hardy Boyz would win their first WWE World Tag Team Championships by earning an upset victory over The Acolytes. The Hardyz only held the belts for one week, before losing them back to Faarooq and Bradshaw, but Jeff went on to yet another impressive title victory at a young age only a few years later. In addition to being one of the youngest WWE Tag Team Champions in history, Jeff Hardy is also the youngest WWE Intercontinental Champion in history, having won that belt from Triple H in 2001 when he was only 23.
3. Velvet McIntyre – Women’s Tag Team Champion at 20
Don’t feel too bad if the most shocking part of this entry is the fact the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships ever existed. The company hasn’t referenced the belts in the better part of the last three decades, and even if similar titles were ever to be reinstated in lieu of the female wrestling revolution, there’s little change the original titles would get mentioned. This is a shame, since there were actually plenty of great matches contended over the belts contested by great champions, including the first two women ever to hold the belts, Velvet McIntyre and Princess Victoria.
Velvet McIntyre went on to become a fairly notable name in the solo women’s division in WWE, as well, unsuccessfully challenging The Fabulous Moolah for the Women’s Championship at WrestleMania 2. McIntyre defeated Moolah later in the year for that title, as well, but it was her earlier years in the tag team division where she truly shined. McIntyre and Victoria actually entered WWE as Women’s Tag Team Champions, having inherited the belts from their reign as NWA Women’s Tag Team Champions. Obviously already wrestling world travelers at a young age, McIntyre was only 20 years old when they won the titles, and Princess Victoria was only slightly older at 21.
2. Kenny Dykstra – World Tag Team Champion at 20
Kenny Dykstra isn’t a wrestler who gets mentioned much these days, and a large part of that has to due with comments one-fifth of the Spirit Squad went on to make about several top WWE talents. Most importantly, Dykstra has long accused John Cena of cheating on his wife with Dykstra’s then-girlfriend Mickie James, first doing so in poorly received messages relayed to the Internet. It’s too bad Dykstra decided to implode publically like that, because not long before then it seemed like he could have a somewhat promising career ahead of him, already holding an early title win and major angle to his name by the time he was 20 years old.
Granted, Kenny’s title win and major angle were at least a little dubious, in that they came as a member of the male cheerleading Spirit Squad. However, given the fact another one of the cheerleaders turned into Dolph Ziggler, Kenny definitely could’ve used his youthful advantage to take just a little bit of time off and come back better than ever, and with the experience of a champion, to boot. Regardless of how Dykstra chose to destroy his chances in the industry, his championship win still remains historic, for both good and bad reasons.
1. René Duprée – World Tag Team Champion at 19
Fans probably don’t realize René Duprée was actually a second generation superstar with a fairly important father, as he was the son of Canadian wrestling promoter Emile Duprée. The reason so few fans know this is likely because Emile’s promotional efforts haven’t achieved anywhere near the success of Vince McMahon, but nonetheless his business endeavors did allow the young René his first chances at succeeding in the business from an early age. René Duprée debuted as a wrestler for his father when he was only 14, and less than five years later, he would make WWE history that stands to this day.
Duprée debuted in WWE as one half of the French-Canadian nationalist tag team, La Résistance. With Sylvain Grenier as his partner, Duprée instantly engaged in feuds with top wrestlers of the era over their patriotism, quickly earning shots at the WWE World Tag Team Championships. La Résistance defeated Kane and Rob Van Dam for the belts at Bad Blood 2003, which made the 19-year-old Duprée the youngest superstar ever to win a title in the company. As this list would imply, Duprée is also the only superstar ever to achieve WWE championship gold while still in his teens.