The significance behind the WWE World Championship has changed over the years. Winning it isn’t quite as much of a big deal as it used to be, (see all the 10-time plus world champions now). However, it still rings true that the company crowns a champion when they feel that particular individual is ready for it. Ready to take the ball and run with it. Ready for the burden and responsibilities of carrying the company. Ready to main event every show and ready to be looked at as the best in the business. Some are never ready, some take time, but some are prodigies that don’t need to wait long at all. Many have risen to the top fairly early in their careers. Winning the world title before the age of 30 is an incredible accomplishment, usually reserved for those rare special talents. Here are the 10 youngest World Champions in WWE history.
10) Pedro Morales (28 years, 3 months, 17 days)
The Puerto Rican born Morales was extremely popular at the time he joined the World Wide Wrestling Federation. He first won a tournament for the vacant United States title, then went on to bigger goals.
Ivan Koloff was the most hated man in wrestling. He had just ended fan favourite Bruno Sammartino’s historic eight-year title reign, and fans were crushed. Just 21 days after Koloff’s win, Pedro Morales got a shot at the title.
The business model at the time was babyface champions getting long title reigns, while heels were basically transition champions, only taking the title to pass it off to the next good guy who was set to lead the company. In this case, it was Morales.
After about a 15-minute match, Koloff delivered a german suplex to Morales. Both men’s shoulders were being counted down, but Morales got his shoulder up after two, scored the pin and began a three-year reign at the top of the WWWF. He would hold the title for over three years, eventually losing it to Stan Stasiak.
9) Ivan Koloff (28 years, 4 months, 24 days)
The reaction you saw from the crowd at this year’s WrestleMania when Brock Lesnar broke the streak may have brought back memories for the really old school wrestling fans. When Ivan Koloff defeated Bruno Sammartino for the title, Madison Square Garden was in stunned silence. Riots nearly escalated following the show, as Sammartino meant so much to the New York crowd.
The Russian Bear became a champion at 28 years old, and had done what so many challengers couldn’t do. A Russian leg drop saw him beat Sammartino.
Unfortunately, as was the trend for the New York promotion at the time, Koloff didn’t get much time to build on his heat as the new champion. He lost it to Morales three weeks later.
8) John Cena (27 years, 11 months, 11 days)
WrestleMania 21 was all about a changing of the guard. John Cena and Batista each won their first World titles, signalling them as the torch bearers for the generation at the time. However, who would’ve thought that 27-year-old rapper, wrestling in jorts would now hold 15 world titles to his name?
Cena had really gotten over with the fans, initially playing a heel, but WWE went with the cheers he was getting, turning him babyface and he quickly saw himself working his way up the card on SmackDown. JBL had enjoyed a nine-month reign as champion, and Cena won a title shot at WrestleMania by winning a no.1 contender’s tournament on SmackDown.
While the match itself wasn’t all that memorable (their I Quit Match at Judgement Day a month later was) it was the start of a dynasty in WWE. Cena remains on top of the wrestling business to this day.
7) Big Show (27 years, 9 months, 6 days)
His first WWE title win came nine months after his debut and it wasn’t supposed to go down the way it did.
The original main event for Survivor Series 1999 was Triple H vs. The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin. It was being billed as the biggest main event of the era but Austin’s lingering neck problems forced him out of action for 10 months. The WWE ran the angle of Austin being run over by a car to write him off TV.
Vince McMahon, who was feuding with Triple H, promised to find a replacement for Stone Cold and out came the Big Show at main event time. With the help of McMahon, the Big Show pinned the Game to win his first WWE championship.
He would only hold it for a month, losing it back to Triple H.
6) Bruno Sammartino (27 years, 7 months, 11 days)
Nature Boy Buddy Rogers was the first WWE World Champion in history. He held the belt at the age of 42, already an established legend in the wrestling business at the time. Along came a 27-year-old strongman by the name of Bruno Sammartino.
Rogers lost to Sammartino in convincing fashion, with the Italian defeating him in just 48 seconds. The WWE (WWWF at the time) had found the face of their promotion. They would ride that horse for years, as Sammartino began an unmatchable title reign of eight years.
Imagine winning a title at 27 and holding it into your mid 30s! Heck, one of the only reasons Sammartino lost it, was he needed a break from the rigours of carrying the championship and the promotion, for so long.
5) Undertaker (26 years, 8 months, 3 days)
The Undertaker was still relatively green when he came into the World Wrestling Federation at the age of 25. However after a year of dominating the rest of the roster, he received a shot at Hulk Hogan‘s title. Hogan’s reign on top was slowly coming to an end and the company was looking to build new stars.
After Hogan’s rival Ric Flair slid a steel chair in the ring, the Undertaker delivered a Tombstone Piledriver onto it, defeating Hogan and becoming the youngest world champion in WWE history to that day.
The reign only lasted six days though, as Taker would lose it back to Hogan at This Tuesday in Texas.
The Undertaker wouldn’t hold the title for another five years, finally winning it against Sycho Sid at WrestleMania 13, in what started a long overdue run on top for the Phenom.
4) The Rock (26 years, 6 months, 13 days)
The Rock had emerged as the WWF’s most popular superstar, after Stone Cold, by the end of 1998. He had a crack at his first world title in the Deadly Game Survivor Series tournament, a tournament to crown a champion for the vacated title.
The Rock kept progressing in the tournament in bizarre fashion, defeating the Big Bossman in four seconds, beating Ken Shamrock with the unintended aid of Bossman’s nightstick and with the help of Kane getting the Undertaker disqualified in the semifinals.
The Great One found himself in the final against corporate Mankind, who had just eliminated Austin. The crowd was firmly behind who they thought would be the People’s Champion. However, when The Rock clamped on the sharpshooter, Vince McMahon ordered the timekeeper to ring the bell, displaying shades of the Montreal Screwjob a year earlier. The Rock embraced Vince and Shane McMahon, revealing it to be a conspiracy all along, in a plan to crown The Rock the “Corporate Champion.”
The Rock went on to greatness, as he would win a total of eight WWE titles in his career and become one of the biggest stars of all time.
3) Yokozuna (26 years, 6 months, 2 days)
Yes, it was one of the worst main events in WrestleMania history, but Yokozuna did in fact break the Undertaker‘s record, becoming the youngest champion in history at the time.
After winning the 1993 Royal Rumble, Yokozuna earned a shot at Bret Hart‘s championship at WrestleMania IX. With some help from Mr Fuji’s salt, Yoko pinned Hart. His reign lasted just minutes though, as he would defend it against Hogan moments later, quickly losing it and making us forget all about this particular reign. He would win it back from the Hulkster at King of the Ring a few months later.
2) Brock Lesnar (25 years, 1 month, 13 days)
With Stone Cold leaving the company and The Rock transitioning to a movie career, the WWE was in need of “The Next Big Thing” to lead the company. They found a freakish athlete by the name of Brock Lesnar to fit the bill.
The main event set for SummerSlam 2002 was Rock vs. Brock for the WWE Championship. Lesnar had torn through the roster to that point and all that stood in front of him was The Great One.
Lesnar would defeat The Rock with the F-5 and was a made man in wrestling. At 25 years old, Lesnar was crowned the youngest WWE champion in history.
1) Randy Orton (24 years, 4 months, 14 days)
While he’s wasn’t the youngest WWE champion in history, this was a time when the WWE had two World Titles and at SummerSlam 2004, Randy Orton became the youngest World Champion in WWE history, defeating Chris Benoit in the main event.
At just 24 years old, Randy Orton was picked by the WWE to be the torchbearer for the company. What unfolded following the win, was Orton shaking his opponent’s hand and earning resentment and jealousy from Triple H, the leader of Evolution, who turned on Orton the following night for taking “his” title.
Unfortunately, in real life, it was perhaps a little too early for Orton. Plans for Orton as champion were quickly dropped as the Orton’s immaturity and poor attitude convinced WWE to have him drop the title to Triple H. It was the WWE equivalent of a child losing their favourite toy until they behave long enough to get it back.
It would take Orton three years to regain a world championship. It serves as a warning to never jump the gun too early on someone.