In the world of professional wrestling, being a “fighting champion” is something revered and debated, by fans and wrestlers alike. Brock Lesnar, the reigning WWE Universal Champion, is usually the target of multiple jabs for defending his title so little, while others defend on a greater scale. But do they? While New Japan’s record reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada appears at every NJPW event throughout the year, he appears in more mixed tag matches than he does actual title defences. Appearances are great for publicity, but if they aren’t defending the World title that they possess, does an appearance still count towards their legacy? There are many World champions in the industry today – perhaps the most there’s been since the height of the territory days (albeit, not all are of the same level of prestige) – but who has been the fightingest champion of them all? We’ve entered the data into our World Champions-O-Phonic Computer at Last Word on Pro Wrestling HQ and the results may shock you. But here’s the ten most fighting World Champions in Pro Wrestling in the last year of 2017.
#1. CODY RHODES, Ring of Honor World Champion, 16 Defences in 6 months (2.7 per month, 10 Televised)
Opponents: Christopher Daniels (x2), Willie Mack, Michael Elgin, SANADA, Frankie Kazarian, Minoru Suzuki, Cheeseburger, Scorpio Sky, KUSHIDA, Ryan Nova, Rocky Romero, Michael Richard Blais, Jay Lethal, Dalton Castle
Record: 14 Wins, 1 Time Limit Draw, 1 Loss by Pinfall
The Grandson of a Plumber made good on his first World Championship, with an impressive 175 day reign as the Ring of Honor World Champion. He won it from Christopher Daniels at ROH Best of the World ’17 and went on to lead the pack of World Champions by putting it up 16 times in his 6 month reign as champion. He finally lost it in his 16th defence to Dalton Castle at ROH Final Battle ’17. In between, he defended it on ROH TV to the likes of Christopher Daniels, Scorpio Sky, Frankie Kazarian and Cheeseburger, on ROH PPV to Daniels (again) and Minoru Suzuki, ROH Live Events to Rocky Romero, NJPW cross-promotions to KUSHIDA and SANADA, and out of promotions, such as versus Michael Elgin in Glory Pro, Willie Mack at All Pro Wrestling, Jay Lethal at RevPro in the UK and to a time limit draw in a Champion vs Champion match at Prairie Wrestling Alliance (PWA) in Calgary against PWA Champ Michael Richard Blais.
#2. ELI DRAKE, Impact Global Champion, 11 Defences in 4 months (2.75 per month, 8 Televised)
Opponents: Johnny Impact (x4), Alberto El Patron (x2), Matt Sydal, Mascara de Bronce, Cody Hall, A1, Monteega Seeka, Petey Williams, Jack Swagger
Record: 11 Wins
Back in August, after Alberto El Patron was stripped of the Impact Global Championship, Eli Drake won a 20-man gauntlet battle royal to become the 41st man to wear Impact’s top title. Since then, Drake has gone on to prove that when it comes to being a fighting champion, he’s no dummy. He’s defended the belt in the Impact Zone against the likes of Johnny Impact (aka Johnny Mundo and John Morrison), Alberto El Patron, Matt Sydal and “The Canadian Destroyer” Petey Williams, but he’s also taken advantage of Impact’s indie alliances, and defended the title around the world, including defences in Japan’s Pro Wrestling NOAH and Mexico’s AAA, not to mention North American indies like Border City Wrestling (BCW) in Canada, and WrestleCade, Wrestle Pro and Imperial Wrestling Revolution (IWR) in the States. Pushing close to three defences a month in his short reign, Drake has put his money where his mouth is on a monthly basis.
#3. JINDER MAHAL, WWE Champion, 11 Defences in 6 months (1.83 per month, 6 Televised)
Opponents: Randy Orton (x5), Shinsuke Nakamura (x2), John Cena, Baron Corbin, Bobby Roode, Dolph Ziggler, AJ Styles
Record: 6 Wins, 4 Loss By Disqualification, 1 Loss by Pinfall
Jinder Mahal shocked the entire wrestling industry when he ended Randy Orton‘s 9th reign as WWE Champion in the Viper’s first title defence and then going on a 170-day reign as WWE Champion. He battled Orton a lot early on, in dark matches, Live Events and PPVs, picking up as many DQ losses as he did wins, with his Bollywood entourage The Singh Brothers interfering on his behalf. One of his defences was a 6 second squash on Baron Corbin cashing in his Money In The Bank briefcase, but he had two solid defences against former IWGP Heavyweight and NXT Champion Shinsuke Nakamura, but AJ Styles ended his run unexpectedly in November.
#4. ZACK SABRE JR., EVOLVE Champion, 11 Defences in 10 months (1.1 per month, 11 Televised)
Opponents: Lio Rush (2x), Jaka (2x), ACH, Mark Haskins, “All Ego” Ethan Page, Timothy Thatcher, Fred Yehi, Keith Lee, “Hot Stuff” Tracy Williams
Record: 11 Wins
It was a huge shock when Zack Sabre Jr. ended Timothy Thatcher‘s monstrous 596-day reign as EVOLVE Champion this past February, but so far ZSJ shows no sign of slowing down himself. He’s defended his title eleven times on EVOLVE iPPVs this year, from high flyers like Lio Rush and ACH to brutes like Jaka and Keith Lee and come out on top every time. During this streak he’s also defended RevPro‘s top title, British Heavyweight Championship, five times (against Penta El 0M, KUSHIDA, Chris Brookes, Will Ospreay and Matt Riddle) since winning it from Katsuyori Shibata in March.
#5. CHRISTOPHER DANIELS, Ring of Honor World Champion, 9 Defences in 4 months (2.25 per month, 5 Televised)
Opponents: Cody Rhodes (2x), Jay Lethal (2x), Adam Cole, Zack Sabre Jr., El Ligero, Dalton Castle, Andrew Carter, Matt Taven, Jay White, Punisher Martinez
Record: 8 Wins, 1 Loss
He was just weeks shy of his 47th birthday when 24-year veteran Christopher Daniels finally captured the Ring of Honor World Championship from Adam Cole. He only held the belt for three months before losing it to Cody Rhodes, but he was a fighting champion until he went down swinging. His first two defences didn’t even take place in Ring of Honor – he immediately headed to the United Kingdom and defended his new belt in WCPW against Adam Cole and Zack Sabre Jr. in a Triple Threat and then against El Ligero the following night. He also took the belt on a tour of Australia, defending it against Jay Lethal and NWA Australia Champion Andrew Carter. He fought off several big challenges from Dalton Castle, Jay White, and Punisher Martinez, but Cody finally dethroned him in June at ROH Best In The World ’17.
#6. BOBBY LASHLEY, Impact Global Champion, 9 Defences in 6 months (1.5 per month, 9 Televised)
Opponents: Eddie Edwards (2x), Alberto El Patron (2x), Moose (2x), ‘Brother Nero’ Jeff Hardy, Josh Barnett, ‘Cowboy’ James Storm
Record: 7 Wins, 2 Losses
Bobby Lashley’s fourth reign as Impact World Champion was his longest yet, at 175 days, and he got in nine defences – although he lost twice to Alberto El Patron. The first time was on Alberto’s debut night in a controversial finish that saw Patron win the title, but it was relinquished and handed back to Lashley by the next week. But Lashley still held off challenges from Brother Nero (Jeff Hardy), ‘Cowboy’ James Storm, former Champion Eddie Edwards, and a couple of attempts from Moose before Patron finally won it for good at Slammiversary XV in July.
#7. AJ STYLES, WWE Champion, 7 Defences in 3 months (2.33 per month, 2 Televised)
Opponents: Jinder Mahal (x4), John Cena (x3)
Record: 4 Wins, 2 Losses by Disqualification, 1 Loss
AJ Styles is the only man on the list who held his respective World title twice in the same year. He was the WWE Champion for the first month of 2017, where he lost three times to Cena (twice by DQ), and then regained it in November, and fought off Jinder Mahal four times before moving on to his next challengers.
#8. PETE DUNNE, PROGRESS World Champion, 7 Defences in 8 months (0.88 per month, 7 Televised)
Opponents: Jimmy Havoc (2x), Mark Haskins (2x), Mark Andrews (2x), ACH, Jeff Cobb, Travis Banks, Ringkampf (WALTER, Axel Dieter Jr., Timothy Thatcher)
Record: 5 Wins, 1 Loss By Disqualification, 1 Loss
One of the many belts he held between his teeth in 2017, “The Bruiserweight” Pete Dunne won his first PROGRESS World title in November of 2016. He had a lot of battles this year protecting that gold, fighting off perennial rivals Mark Haskins, Mark Andrews and Jimmy Havoc, as well as North American challengers from ACH and Jeff Cobb. In the most unique title defence, he teamed with his British Strong Style faction members Trent Seven and Tyler Bate (who were PROGRESS Tag Team Champions) in a match against RINGKAMPF (Axel Dieter Jr., WALTER and Timothy Thatcher) with the rules that if any of the RINGKAMPF members pinned Dunne, they would win his PROGRESS title. While he didn’t lose it there, it was New Zealand’s magical Travis Banks who finally solved the riddle of the Bruiserweight, at PROGRESS Chapter 55: Chase the Sun this past September.
#9. BROCK LESNAR, WWE Universal Champion, 7 Defences in 8 months (0.88 per month, 3 Televised)
Opponents: Samoa Joe (5x), Braun Strowman (2x), Roman Reigns, Sheamus
Record: 7 Wins
Brock Lesnar’s fifth World title reign in the WWE has been the subject of scorn from many WWE fans due to his lack of appearances and title defences, but he’s actually defended his title seven times in eight months as champion. Unfortunately, four of those were non-televised affairs, including three brutal slugfests against Samoa Joe over the summer and one against Sheamus at the end of September in Canada.
#10. KAZUCHIKA OKADA, IWGP Heavyweight Champion, 7 Defences in 12 months (0.58 per month, 7 Televised)
Opponents: Kenny Omega (2x), Minoru Suzuki, Katsuyori Shibata, Bad Luck Fale, Cody Rhodes, EVIL
While Okada has the lowest title defences per month ratio of the ten on the list, at least his seven defences over the year were all televised. And while he may not have defended the IWGP Heavyweight title with much frequency, he was by no means idle – he wrestled 139 matches for NJPW in 2017 in the faction wars as part of CHAOS. And while he had a few “lesser” defences against Bad Luck Fale and EVIL, he also had some absolute classics against Shibata (in sadly his final match) and the legendary 6-star affairs with Kenny Omega.