At the WWE Royal Rumble, John Cena defeated AJ Styles to become the WWE Champion. This ties the most world championships of all time, held by Ric Flair. For Flair’s 16 reigns, it all commenced in 1981, when he defeated Dusty Rhodes on September 17 in Kansas City, Missouri. He would hold the championship for nearly two years before officially losing it to Harley Race in the summer of 1983.
One of Flair’s most memorable reigns was his second, on November 24, 1983 at Starrcade. As the heroic challenger, Flair was able to outlast Harley Race in a brawl to commence his second reign as world champion. Flair’s reigns in both 1986, 1987, and 1989 lasted over a year.
Flair would have a short, but memorable, stint in the WWE. In 1992, Flair was able to win the Royal Rumble match, winning the WWE Championship. Flair stated regarding the win, “with a tear in my eye, this is the greatest moment of my life.” He would win the title on a second occasion by defeating the “Macho Man” Randy Savage before losing to Bret Hart.
Flair would return to WCW and win the World Heavyweight Championship from Barry Windham at Beach Blast in 1993. He would win the title numerous times before his last reign in 2000. In that year, Flair was stripped the title from Vince Russo, then handed the title back by Kevin Nash a couple of weeks later after Nash won it on the previous episode of Thunder. Flair would only keep it for a very short time, losing it to Jeff Jarrett on the same night he was awarded the title.
This accounts for a 19-year span for Flair’s 16 title reigns.
John Cena won his first world title at WrestleMania21 after defeating John “Bradshaw” Layfield. He would lose the championship to Edge after the Elimination Chamber at the 2006 New Year’s Revolution pay-per-view, before gaining it back weeks later at the Royal Rumble. During this time, Cena started to get boos from the crowd, who were not buying into him being the resident hero. Additional title wins against Randy Orton, Sheamus, Batista, The Miz, Alberto Del Rio, and The Rock led him to being at the cusp of tying Flair’s record.
Regarding Cena achieving this feat, Flair had these words to say during an interview with Busted Open Radio (via Comicbook).
“Sixteen’s not the real number anyway. They just plain won’t recognize two of them, so that’s 18, and then there were three more. No, but, I think the world of John [Cena] and I would have no problem with that happening.”
Two of these added reigns from flair are attributed to him winning the WCW International Championship. This title was created during World Championship Wrestling’s withdrawal from the National Wrestling Alliance. This became the top title for WCW from July of 1993 until its abandonment in June of 1994. During this time, Flair’s win against Windham at Beach Blast was the first run as WCW International Champion, and his second run was when he became the last champion by defeating Sting in a unified match with the WCW World Championship at Clash of the Champions.
At the Royal Rumble, Cena defeated AJ Styles to win his 16th world championship. Compared to Flair’s 19-year span, it took Cena less than 12.
— WWE (@WWE) January 30, 2017
The debate now is geared towards who had a better career between Flair and Cena. Flair spent nearly 20 years as a top guy for NWA, WWE, and WCW, while Cena has been on the top of the list for nearly a dozen. It certainly creates a compelling roundtable discussion of arguments for either side regarding who is the best.
[Featured Image by WWE]