wrestling / Columns

The Top 7 United States Champions

July 17, 2020 | Posted by Steve Cook
John Cena United States Champion

The United States Championship has quite an illustrious history. Harley Race was the first champion, winning a tournament final against Johnny Weaver on January 1, 1975. The championship became a focal point of Jim Crockett Promotions, which would become the mothership of the National Wrestling Alliance during the 1980s. The championship remained active throughout the existence of World Championship Wrestling, and after a brief period of inactivity was revived by WWE in July 2003.

Many of the greatest stars of the NWA, WCW & WWE have the US Championship as part of their resume. Here are the seven that I think did the most magnificent job as champion.

7. Greg Valentine

The Hammer was a staple of the US Championship scene during the early 1980s, feuding with Ric Flair & Wahoo McDaniel over the title. It was a feud with Roddy Piper that involved lots of blood, ear damage & a dog collar that would lead to one of the top selling points of the very first Starrcade event. Greg & Roddy didn’t stick around the NWA too long after Starrcade, but their violent match at the big event helped the promotion stand apart from what Vince McMahon & the WWF would be presenting for the next several years. Valentine was a great secondary champion, as he would go on to be one of the most memorable Intercontinental Champions in the WWF.

6. Steve Austin

Stunning Steve had already established himself as a top competitor in WCW. He’d held the Television Championship multiple times & was part of a successful tag team championship team with Brian Pillman. His victory over Dustin Rhodes at Starrcade 1993 continued his singles push after the split with Pillman, and his run as champion showed most observers that big things were in his future. One that didn’t see it? Eric Bischoff, who thought that Austin was too bland to be a marketable top star. It was for the best, honestly.

5. MVP

MVP’s main run with the US Championship came during a time in pro wrestling history most of us would like to forget. He defeated Chris Benoit for the title on May 20, 2007, just over a month before Benoit’s murder/suicide shook the wrestling world and made people like me a lot less interested in watching. For those that stuck with it, MVP was very good in his role as US Champion, holding on to the strap for 343 days. A memorable feud with Matt Hardy eventually led to MVP’s title defeat at Backlash 2008. This title run, along with the prior feud with Benoit, took MVP from a guy a lot of people thought was overhyped, to a well-respected performer.

4. Rick Rude

The first US Champion I remember. Ravishing Rick was a classic secondary champion. Somebody who could have the best match on any show he was on and never had any trouble getting heat. There’s no doubt he could have been more, but his reigns with whatever championship he held were memorable. Also memorable: the time he stole the US strap from Dustin Rhodes and claimed he was the actual champion. After all, possession is nine-tenths of the law.

3. John Cena

The United States Championship was Cena’s first title held in WWE, and it’s a championship that’s always meant a lot to him. As much as I didn’t care for the WWE Championship spinner belt, I always had a fondness for the US Championship spinner belt. It just looked cool. Cena’s stints with the title in 2004 helped build him up towards the WWE Championship in 2005. He would become US Champion again in 2015, instituting the John Cena Open Challenge in order to further raise the prestige of the championship. A lot of people wanted to beat John Cena for that title.

2. Ric Flair

Obviously, we don’t think of the Nature Boy as a US Champion. He’s recognized as the sixteen time world heavyweight champion, and if you ask him he’s like a twenty-four time world champion or something like that. Flair’s association with the US Championship shouldn’t be overlooked. It was his time as US Champion in the Mid-Atlantic territory that got him ready to be NWA World Champion. Flair held the championship multiple times in the late 1970s & feuded with a number of veterans & top wrestlers. Ricky Steamboat, Roddy Piper & Greg Valentine were among the top challengers.

Flair would win the US Championship one more time in WCW, but for the most part, the rest of his career after 1981 was focused around the World Championship. That springboard worked pretty well.

1. Lex Luger

For many years, Lex Luger’s career was considered a massive disappointment by IWC experts. I assume most of the old heads still think so, mostly because Luger was so hyped as a rookie. He was going to be the next Hulk Hogan. Promoters threw tons of money his way due to this promise. Luger never reached the Hulkster’s level, this is true. Could he have accomplished more during various stages of his career? Probably. Would he have reached higher heights if he had a better win-loss record in PPV main events? Sure. I still compare wrestlers that constantly come up short in big time situations to Luger.

The Total Package still had a solid career though. He may have come up short against Ric Flair on multiple occaisons, but he was able to win the United States Championship on five separate occasions, including a reign of 523 days from May 22, 1989 to October 27, 1990 that still stands as the record today. His total of 950 days as US champ is still a record as well. Matches with the likes of Ricky Steamboat, Brian Pillman, Stan Hansen & others still hold up as classics today.

Another reason the old heads didn’t like Luger: reports of his ego. It only makes sense that the best US Champion would have a gigantic ego, doesn’t it?

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