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Acknowledge him: Roman Reigns climbs another rung on history’s ladder

The Tribal Chief inches closer to immortality.

Fans acknowledge Roman Reigns on his path to greatness.

A week before he defends his Undisputed WWE Universal Championship in a fatal four-way match at the Royal Rumble, Roman Reigns continues to etch his name into the annals of wrestling history.

On Saturday (Jan. 20), the Tribal Chief claimed the fourth-longest world title run in WWE history, surpassing Bruno Sammartino’s 1,237-day reign set by the Italian Strongman in his second run as WWE Champion. Reigns now sits behind Hulk Hogan, Bob Backlund, and Sammartino again, whose first run as the WWE Champion lasted a record 2,803 days.

Reigns, whose campaign as the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion now stands at 1,238 days, has inched closer to overtaking Sammartino completely in the record books. However, he still has a long way to go. To do so, Reigns must retain his title through May 4, 2028.

While that is a tall order, what is reasonably close to Reigns’ reach is Hulk Hogan and Hogan’s 1,474 days atop WWE as world champion. If he can overtake the Hulkster, Reigns will become the longest-running world champion of the last 40 years and arguably its greatest.

Reigns began his run as the Universal Champion after defeating then-champion Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman in a triple-threat match to claim the crown at Payback on Aug. 30, 2020. He later unified the title with the WWE Championship after beating Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 38, making him the Undisputed Universal Champion.

Long considered the face of WWE after John Cena began transitioning to a career in Hollywood, WWE has seen unprecedented success under Reigns, experiencing incredible financial growth in 2020, 2021, and 2022. In 2023, as fans expressed outrage over the company’s decision to keep the title on Reigns over stars like Cody Rhodes and Jey Uso, WWE was having its biggest year ever.

While much of the company’s success stems from its television deals and its partnership with Saudi Arabia, a case can be made for Reigns and his star power as contributing factors.

Reportedly, the villainous Reigns was among the top merch movers in WWE for 2023. After headlining his third consecutive WrestleMania as champion, WWE acknowledged WrestleMania 39 as the most successful WrestleMania in history. And ratings for SmackDown continue to improve with each appearance by the Head of the Table.

However, Reigns’ authority hasn’t been without controversy.

Most of his victories have come with the aid of the Bloodline. While such shenanigans are commonplace for heel champions, the frequency with which they happen has left many fans upset and dissatisfied.

Yet it’s the infrequency of Reigns’ title defenses that has pushed audiences to the brink.

In 2023, Reigns defended the Undisputed Universal Championship nine times. While the rarity of these defenses has made Reigns’ matches more meaningful, it’s left a section of the fan base furious, as they demand an ever-present champion. It has also sparked a debate about whether the emphasis should be on the quality or quantity of a champion’s title defenses.

Regardless of where fans stand on the debate and despite the controversial aspects of his run, there is no denying the impact of Roman’s reign on the industry. And whether fans like him, love him, or hate him, today, they must acknowledge him as one of the longest-reigning world champions in WWE history.

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