Is Roman Reigns the Greatest Champion of All Time?

On August 30th, 2020, Roman Reigns defeated Bray Wyatt to become the Universal Champion.

On April 3rd, 2022, Roman Reigns defeated Brock Lesnar to also become the WWE champion, which also made him the undisputed champion in WWE.

Then, on April 7th, 2024, Roman Reigns championship reign came to an end.

Over 1316 days, the title reign of the Tribal Chief has been unlike anything anyone has seen since the days of Hulk Hogan. In that time, Roman Reigns has become what many call the greatest WWE champion of all time.

There’s no denying that Roman Reigns is great. He is the Tribal Chief.

He’s proven over his entire time in WWE that he is not only one of the greatest champions of World Wrestling Entertainment, but one of the greatest period. Along with his world title reigns, he’s also captured the United States championship, the Intercontinental championship, he’s been a tag team champion, and he is a Royal Rumble winner. His accomplishments and what he’s been a part of are undeniable.

All of that said, I believe Roman Reigns missed an immense opportunity to establish himself as the greatest champion of all time. Before I explain myself, I need to cover some of the great champions of the past.

The Italian Strongman who would later be dubbed the Living Legend, Bruno Sammartino, is who many claim is the greatest champion of all time due to the length of his reign. For nearly three thousand days, 2803 to be exact, Sammartino was the reigning and defending WWWF champion through the majority of the 1960s. Some would have you believe that Sammartino didn’t defend his championship very often. The truth of the matter is, Bruno Sammartino defended his title week in and week out. In fact, the very first month Sammartino defeated Buddy Rogers—in 48 seconds no less—Bruno Sammartino went on to battle and defeat Tommy O’Toole, The Shadow (twice) and The Magnificent Maurice, just to name a few.

Year in and year out, Bruno Sammartino would go on to battle wrestler after a wrestler. His dominance in the ring was not only displayed by who he faced, but how many wrestlers he pinned. The aspects of his career have only made the myth of The Living Legend Bruno Sammartino grow over the years. During his longest title reign, he won the title in 1963, in which he wrestled 187 times. Granted, Sammartino only became champion halfway through 1963. The year in which he wrestled the most matches as a champion was 1965, when he fought in 164 matches.

Bob Backlund is credited with the second longest title reign, but for some reason Bob Backlund isn’t offered the grandiose flattery of lengthy title reigns like the other men on this list. Whether that is because of Backlund’s lack of charisma, when compared to the likes of Sammartino or Hulk Hogan, or it was during a time in pro wrestling where the popularity for pro wrestling was waning before the resurgence and boom of the 80s. Regardless, Backlund’s first championship reign lasted from Feb. 20th, 1978, until Dec. 26th, 1983. During that time, he wrestled the most matches in any one year in 1982, with 195 matches.

Then there’s the Immortal Hulk Hogan. Possibly not only the most popular champion in WWE, but maybe the most popular pro wrestler of all-time, there are many ups and downs when it comes to Hogan’s title reigns. Whether that be when Jack Tunney stripped Hogan after defeating the Undertaker at This Tuesday In Texas, or his sudden appearance at WrestleMania 9, defeating Yokozuna. But Hogan’s longest title reign was between 1984 and 1988. The year he wrestled in the most matches was 1985, with 149 matches.

I bring up these past champions and their title reigns because of the “Wise Man,” Paul Heyman. He has likened Roman’s title reign to a spectacle to see. Something that doesn’t happen every week, like the past champions. Instead, pointing to champions like Bruno Sammartino, whose title defenses were like special events.

But as it’s been pointed out, that’s not exactly true. That aside, maybe the Wise Man is trying to offer something special. A kind of supply and demand for the champion. People have said champions of the past were must-see in the same way. But that’s only because the television appearances weren’t as frequent. The internet wasn’t even born yet.

But in this day and age, TV can be watched in the palm of your hand. The internet is everywhere. Facebook and YouTube have changed the game for not only the mainstream promotions of the likes of WWE and AEW, but the other smaller wrestling promotions and the dozens and dozens of independent promotions.

Being on television every week doesn’t lessen or cheapen a champion and his title. Quite the opposite. In this day and age, where fame is abundant and cameras are everywhere, a champion can present themselves to the public in any which way they choose.

No matter the frequency of those appearances, the champion controls what the viewer sees. And if fans are given only a brief glimpse of their champion, they can still value that glimpse. But when the champion isn’t present, then who presides as the uncrowned champion for the not only the other wrestlers but the company itself?

Michael Cole is on record of calling John Cena the greatest of all time. Cena himself has sixteen world championship reigns. Throughout Cena’s time in WWE, when he was working full time, he worked tirelessly. It’s well known of the Make-A-Wish visits he provided. Even when Cena didn’t have a title, he acted like a champion. Which is something Cody Rhodes recently said. After his WrestleMania 39 loss, Rhodes is on the record of confiding in Cena about the loss and it’s reported that Cena told Rhodes to “be the champion without the title.”

With all of that said, and other great champions of the past notwithstanding, this information is not to dissuade any from thinking the Tribal Chief isn’t a phenomenal champion. His title reign speaks for itself.

But I feel like I would be remiss if I did not make the case that Roman Reigns, no matter how amazing and great he is presently, and how unbelievable his WWE Universal Championship reign has been; would he be an even greater champion to go down in the history books if he had been defending his championship more than he has?

What if Roman Reigns defended his Universal Title at every Premium Live Event since winning?

What if Roman Reigns had defended his championship on Smackdown? Or on Raw?

The feeling that Roman Reigns, as great as he is, didn’t defend the championship enough is rebuked by some saying that past champions didn’t defend their title week after week. As I’ve already covered, Bruno Sammartino, one of the greatest champions of all time, did just that.

But let’s say that past champions didn’t defend their titles very much. I’d argue that any current champion in today’s time would only benefit from defending their title every week.

Allow me for just a moment to imagine a world where Roman Reigns defended his championship every week on Smackdown or Raw. In addition to his PLE victories over the likes of Edge, Daniel Bryan, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, and so many others, what if Roman Reigns came out on Smackdown and said there was no one worthy in the Smackdown locker room to face him? As soon as he uttered those words, a challenger may present themselves to try to prove him wrong.

Of course, no sooner that the challenger would come out, Reigns, being levels above all challengers, would easily dispatch with the unworthy competitor.

Remember win John Cena became the United States champion? At the time, there were some wrestling fans that thought it would amount to nothing more than a short title reign, where John Cena may wrestle a few superstars and then finally lose the championship somewhere down the road.

What ended up happening is what some wrestling fans call one of the best championship reigns, no matter the title. The John Cena U.S. Open Challenge. Week after week, John Cena would come down to the ring in whatever city WWE was in that week and issue an open challenge to anyone in the locker room. During that open challenge, wrestling fans got to see matches with the likes of Neville, Cesaro, Zayn, and more.

In the case of the U.S. championship, the wrestling matches helped boost the reputation of the wrestlers taking on Cena. But what it also did was enhance John Cena and his title. The U.S. Championship meant more than it had in years prior.

I’m of the mind that this is truly a different era of professional wrestling. Gone are the days of a single powerhouse promotion being surrounded by small territories. WWE is still the 5000-pound gorilla in the room of professional wrestling, but there are numerous other wrestling promotions out there. Whether that be All Elite Wrestling, National Wrestling Alliance, Total Nonstop Action, or New Japan Pro Wrestling. And that doesn’t include the other independent wrestling promotions out there. Pro wrestling fans have a plethora of wrestling to partake of.

With that in mind, the world champion in the biggest wrestling promotion on the planet, I believe, should be there. Always. Not because he owes it to anyone, but because that champion is, arguably, the face of wrestling.

Men, women, and children are there to see the champion who runs the place, and the more that champion is there, the more eyeballs land on that champion. The more eyes on the champion mean the more recognized that champion becomes. The more recognized that champion becomes, the more the reputation and legend of that champion grows. The bigger that legend grows, the more cemented their place in history is established.

The length of time of Roman Reigns championship is extraordinary. It is the fourth longest title reigning in history. That is nothing to sneeze at. His name is etched alongside Bruno Sammartino, Bob Backlund, and Hulk Hogan. When one scribes their name next to giants like that, it means they’ve done something right.

The reason so many people look at a champion like Ric Flair as one of the greatest of all time isn’t because he held the World’s Championship for one enormous length of time. It’s because even if he lost the title, it would always come back to him. Because Ric Flair is Ric Flair.

As the old saying goes, you couldn’t stop him, you could only hope to contain him. Wrestlers contained Flair by defeating him, but they couldn’t stop him because he would always come back to claim what was his.

The fact that Roman Reigns only fought 52 times in 2022 or 11 times in 2023 doesn’t take away from his accomplishments. It doesn’t prove that his championship reign isn’t great. But I do think it kept him from becoming the greatest of all time in certain fans’ minds.


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