In the WWE, title changes have always been a central part of storytelling and can often spark excitement, debate, or even disappointment among fans. Throughout its entire history, WWE themselves have seen its fair share of controversial championship changes that have either paid off for the promotion and elevated the status of the belt and performers fighting for it or have backfired and left fans questioning the creative team’s decisions.
Ranging from unexpected title changes on free television to main events of the biggest shows of the year, WWE’s history is littered with triumphant success stories and a few regrettable missteps in the realm of championships reigns. Let’s explore a few instances where these decisions yielded both remarkable success and unfortunate setbacks.
10 Did Not – Carmella
While Carmella has definitely improved in the ring and shown that she can be a good champion if ever needed, the circumstances of the first women’s Money in the Bank ladder match and her following cash-in left a bitter taste in some fans’ mouths.
It would be succeeded by a few title defenses against superstars that most fans don’t believe Carmella should have had clean victories over, such as Charlotte Flair and Asuka. Her reign would end at the hands of Charlotte, the same person she cashed in on, at SummerSlam in 2018.
9 Worked – Rusev
The United States Championship wasn’t in the best place prior to Rusev capturing the belt for his first reign. The two most recent champions at that point were Dean Ambrose, who held it for 351 days with very few title defenses, and Sheamus who captured it in a battle royal on Raw.
Rusev beat Sheamus in a non-televised match for Raw Backstage Pass on the WWE Network. The reign started just like Ambrose and Sheamus’ proceeding reigns but would eventually lead to John Cena fighting for the belt and his incredible reign and open challenges.
8 Did Not – Braun Strowman & Nicholas
WrestleMania 34 saw a program between Braun Strowman and The Bar (Cesaro & Sheamus) over the Raw Tag Team Championship. During the build-up, Strowman wouldn’t have a partner and decided to pick one out of the crowd at WrestleMania, turning out to be referee John Cone’s 10-year-old son Nicholas.
The two captured the belt for a cute little moment at the show, but would soon have to vacate the belts leading to Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy facing The Bar at the Greatest Royal Rumble, a show where Strowman won the titular match and moved on from the tag team division.
7 Worked – Chyna
Chyna was a trailblazer for women in professional wrestling as she tended to compete for men’s titles instead of the Women’s Championship. No Mercy 1999 saw her beat Jeff Jarrett to capture the Intercontinental Championship, a reign that saw her become the first and so far only woman to hold the belt.
She held it for the same amount of time Jarrett did prior to her and longer than many other reigns surrounding hers. The moment also showed that women could compete on the same level as men and even better.
6 Did Not – AJ Lee & Paige
Toward the end of the Divas Championships tenure, AJ Lee and Paige started a pretty heated feud for the belt. Starting with Paige debuting on Raw after WrestleMania 30 and capturing the title from AJ ending her 295-day reign.
The feud then would start to do more damage to the belt as Paige would drop it back to AJ 84 days later followed by two more title changes between the women within the year before Nikki Bella got the belt from AJ Lee in November 2014. AJ & Paige would swap the title 4 times between April and September.
5 Worked – Ivan Koloff
The man who would beat Bruno Sammartino after his incredible 2803-day reign as WWE Champion, Ivan Koloff held the belt for 21 days before losing to Pedro Morales. A change that was insanely controversial at the time with fans genuinely freaking out and being blown away that anyone could beat Sammartino.
Koloff’s victory would also help make Morales a credible star in the promotion as he beat the man that beat Sammartino. The following title changes featuring Stan Stasiak, Sammartino, and Billy Graham wouldn’t have the same effect since Bruno had already been beaten at that point.
4 Did Not – The Rock
Another lengthy title reign seeing its inevitable demise was CM Punk losing the WWE Championship to The Rock at the Royal Rumble in 2013. Punk held the belt for 434 days before losing to The Rock and fans were far from happy once they realized what was coming next.
John Cena would win the Rumble match itself just before the WWE Championship main event and fans realized that WrestleMania 29 was going to be a rematch between The Rock and Cena from their WrestleMania 28 bout, a match that was promoted as a once-in-a-lifetime event happening just the next year.
3 Worked – Roman Reigns
Roman Reigns made his return to the WWE at SummerSlam 2020 attacking Universal Champion Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman after their match. The following PPV, Payback, saw Reigns capture the Universal Championship for the second time.
While it was obvious that Reigns was undergoing a complete character change, fans were hesitant at first because of how Reigns’ previous World Championships reigns were received. Looking back now, as Reigns is easily one of the biggest names in the sport currently, shows that this worked for the better.
2 Did Not – Jinder Mahal
The unexpected WWE Championship reign of Jinder Mahal came out of nowhere and did a fair amount of damage to the belt’s reputation at the time. Mahal was jobbing out to everyone just a few weeks prior to winning a six-pack challenge.
During Mahal’s reign, he would only main event one of the multiple PPVs where he defended the belt before dropping it to AJ Styles on SmackDown. Fans also noticed Mahal winning the belt around the same time WWE was making a push to become a bigger deal to Indian audiences.
1 Worked – Stephanie McMahon
Stephanie McMahon captured the WWE Women’s Championship from Jacqueline on SmackDown in 2000. In any other situation, a McMahon capturing a belt for the promotion that they own doesn’t tend to work, but Stephanie was the sole exception.
She was absolutely hated by the crowd and had a prominent role on television, something most women at the time sadly didn’t have. Stephanie’s reign got more eyes and focus on the belt than most did previously and also ended with a rare women’s Raw main event when Lita beat Stephanie on the August 21st, 2000 episode.