At midnight tonight, your reigning, defending WWE Champion, CM Punk, will have been the top dog for 381 consecutive days. He will surpass John Cena’s 380-day title run from 2006/2007 to become the 6th longest reigning champion in the history of the illustrious WWE title.
Despite only moving into 6th place on the list of longest reigns, and still a long time away from Bruno Sammartino’s unbelievable 2803-day reign in the 60s, CM Punk has forged, arguably, the single most impressive WWE title run in history.
Back in the days of Bruno Sammartino, Pedro Morales, and Bob Backlund, there were no massive national TV deals or PPVs. The way to draw money was through ticket sales at live events, and people came to see the hero of their region defend their title. In those days, it would not have made much sense to move the title around at a rapid pace or put the belt on a local heel for much longer than a few weeks. Essentially, it was a different sport in a different time.
When Vince McMahon took WWE national in the mid-80s, the thousand day title reigns came to an end with Hulk Hogan’s eventual loss to Andre the Giant in 1988 at The Main Event I. The late 80s saw the typical title run last just over 350 days before moving into the 150-250 day range in the early-to-mid 1990s.
As WWE moved into the Attitude Era, the average reign dropped well below 100 days as a huge influx of top talent made it impossible to keep the belt on one superstar without being a detriment to some of the other top guys. The average ballooned to a 3-to-6 month average from 2003-2008 before speeding back up to an Attitude Era-esque rate leading up to Punk’s current reign.
CM Punk’s 380-day (and counting) reign is an anomaly. His current run is something straight out of the days of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, something that cannot be ignored. We are truly witnessing a very special occurrence that, in my opinion, is the single greatest reign of the modern era.
Once his reign hits that 381-day mark, Punk will have set the benchmark for the longest WWE title reign contained fully in the Wrestlemania Era. In fact, only Randy Savage and the Honky Tonk Man have held any singles title longer than Punk has held the WWE title within the Wrestlemania Era (both held the Intercontinental title for over 400 days). Hogan’s 1474-day run is the only reign longer than Punk’s in the national TV era of wrestling.
Only 24 of the 89 WWE title reigns since 1992 have lasted longer than 100 days and only 10 of the 89 have lasted over 200 days. Punk, Cena, and Diesel are the only champions to have surpassed the 300-day mark within the past 20 years.
I also cannot stress how out of the ordinary a title run as long as Punk’s is in the modern day. Following Triple H’s 210 day reign in mid-2008, only The Miz has held the WWE title for more than 100 days consecutively with his 160 day run in late 2010/early 2011. Punk has more than doubled that.
Within his run, Punk has successfully defended his title against nine former world champions (The Miz, Alberto del Rio, Dolph Ziggler, Chris Jericho, Mark Henry, Daniel Bryan, Kane, John Cena, and Big Show) in matches ranging from a TLC match, to the Elimination Chamber, to a street fight, four triple threat matches, and a Hell in a Cell match. Throughout this time period, the five other titles in WWE have changed hands a total of 19 times.
Perhaps the most impressive trait of Punk’s reign comes down to a pure entertainment aspect above all of the statistics. Punk enjoyed a successful run as a top babyface before becoming the top heel in the company without ever dropping the title. He utilized his long reign to tell a story of moral corruption and what the stress of maintaining a top spot can do to an athlete’s psyche and persona. Above all else, he has kept his long run extremely fresh in a day and age where people tire easily and oppose stagnancy more than anything.
Enjoy the ride folks; it may all be coming to an end as we inch closer to the impending Punk vs. The Rock* matchup at Royal Rumble.
*Ironically, The Rock’s 7 WWE title reigns don’t even add up to 300 days.