This struggle parallels a number WWE Champions who have reigned as both a hero and a villain in an effort to prove their might. WWE.com looks at eight of these unique individuals and question which end of the spectrum was more effective, presented by “I, Frankenstein” in theaters Jan. 24.
1.) CM Punk
While CM Punk has certainly proven himself to be an extremely formidable WWE Champion, his greatest reign took place when he was absolutely despised.
Case in point, The Best in The World carried out the majority of his historic 434 days WWE Title reign as the “bad guy,” surviving in feverish contests that included Triple Threat, Steel Cage and Tables, Ladder & Chairs Matches. He would never have been able to maintain his epic supremacy as long as he did — amid such extreme circumstances — if he hadn’t been willing to fracture the occasional rule along the way.
And Punk’s greatness during this time would go far beyond the win/loss column, as the revolutionary titleholder also battled “disrespect” by attacking The Rock and also verbally put beloved WWE Hall of Famers like Jerry Lawler and Bret Hart in their place. And in the midst of all this, he created an extremely powerful partnership with universally loathed advocate Paul Heyman. Could he have done any of these things if he had cared about staying in the narrow confines of doing what his fans wanted him to?
2.) Triple H
During his astonishing, era-defining 13 World Title reigns, the incomparable Triple H battled both for and against the WWE system, habitually sparked controversy and conquered a who’s-who of in-ring icons.
As a World Champion, The Cerebral Assassin furthered the causes of both good and evil. From his controversial, Corporation-aided first WWE Championship in 1999, to his epic return and Undisputed Championship victory over Chris Jericho in 2002, the sure-fire future WWE Hall of Famer has given the WWE Universe plenty of reasons to both boo and cheer throughout his legendary career.
Although The Game has often been a beloved WWE fan favorite, his most memorable title reigns saw him at his vicious, unrestrained, butt-kicking best. Full of swagger, intensity and attitude, Triple H was one of the most bad-ass World Champions in WWE history, and it speaks to his sweeping career that titles are only part of his impressive — and growing — legacy.
3.) "Stone Cold" Steve Austin
"Stone Cold” Steve Austin was an incredibly complex man. He rose to superstardom as WWE’s everyman — the blue collar hero battling WWE Chairman Mr. McMahon for his piece of the pie. The Texas Rattlesnake was, quite literally, living the working man’s dream as he captured the WWE Championship at WrestleMania XIV.
But the power that comes with being WWE’s marquee Superstar can corrupt even the most righteous man. By 2001, Austin was desperate to regain the WWE Title and hold onto it for as long as possible. He desired the title so much that he partnered up with Mr. McMahon to regain it at WrestleMania X-Seven.
He descended into paranoia, snapping at anyone who looked at his title the wrong way. Though Austin’s manic state gave birth to one of his more popular catchprases — “WHAT?” — it was The Bionic Redneck’s time as a hero that enamored a generation of wrestling fans, who still beg Austin for one more match.
When Batista claimed his first World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 21 by defeating Triple H, he had dumped The Game and Evolution to the delight of the WWE Universe. Cheered for his intensity and successful title defenses against The Game, Batista was a beloved champion. Forging alliances with Superstars like Rey Mysterio and engaging in a long and acclaimed rivalry with The Undertaker, The Animal’s popularity reached astronomical levels.
However, a handful of injuries sidelined The Animal in 2007 and 2008 and he was never able to reclaim the World Heavyweight Championship. After turning his back on Rey Mysterio, The Animal seized an opportunity provided by Mr. McMahon and defeated John Cena for the WWE Championship following The Cenation leader’s success in a grueling Elimination Chamber Match.
As WWE Champion, Batista’s ego inflated as he believed he was meant to be the face of WWE — not Cena. Unfortunately for The Animal, he lost the title at WrestleMania and failed to reclaim it against at Extreme Rules and WWE Over the Limit. Following his second defeat, Batista left WWE for nearly four years. Given the stark contrast between his World Title and WWE Title reigns, Batista does much better with the support of the WWE Universe.
5.) The Rock
When The Rock won his first WWE Championship at Survivor Series 1998, it was partially due to Mr. McMahon double-crossing Mankind. Joining The Corporation, The Rock was reviled by the WWE Universe as he talked down to audiences and repeatedly screwed Mick Foley out of the WWE Title.
Ultimately, The Rock lost the championship to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin at WrestleMania XV. However, with each interview, The Rock’s gift for gab led to WWE fans cheering him and The Corporation turning their back on him.
With the WWE Universe now chanting his name, The Rock was a more effective WWE Champion. He rarely needed an assist to ensure victory and won the WWE Title an additional four times. In addition, The Rock claimed the WCW Championship twice before going on hiatus from the ring. In 2013, The Great One challenged the longest reigning WWE Champion in modern history — CM Punk — at the Royal Rumble and, with the WWE Universe in his corner, won his eighth WWE Championship.
There is no doubt that when the millions — and millions — of his fans chant his name, The Rock is truly The People’s Champ.
6.) Shawn Michaels
One thing is for certain about the career of WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels — controversy is always looming. When Michaels won his first WWE Championship at WrestleMania XII, he realized his boyhood dream and the WWE Universe shared in Michaels’ elation.
However, with the formation of D-Generation X and the infamous events of The Montreal Screwjob, HBK’s arrogance became more prominent and hewas willing to do anything to be WWE Champion. With DX cohorts Triple H and Chyna ensuring his reign remain intact, Michaels managed to deter the likes of Ken Shamrock and The Undertaker to remain champion. Eventually, the rise of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin led many fans to turn their backs completely on HBK and the original incarnation of DX, ending in The Texas Rattlesnake’s WWE Championship victory against Michaels at WrestleMania XIV.
7.) Kurt Angle
When Kurt Angle won an Olympic Gold Medal at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, he did it with a broken neck, proving he knew what it takes to be a champion. Joining WWE in 1998, Angle had a great deal of success winning the European and Intercontinental Championships before setting his sights on the WWE Title. Described as a “wrestling machine,” The Olympic Hero always brought out the best in his opponents, but was also the first to tout his ability much to the chagrin of the WWE Universe. Angle’s success was certainly fueled by his confidence in his abilities and he was never humble about it.
When WCW and ECW invaded in 2001, Angle became a crusader for WWE and won the WCW Championship. But Angle’s “good side” was short-lived as he eventually turned on WWE and joined The Alliance. Reclaiming the WWE Championship at Armageddon 2002 from Big Show, The Olympic Hero was back on top as he forged an alliance with Brock Lesnar. However, The Beast’s Royal Rumble Match victory led to a lengthy and heated rivalry between the two Superstars with Angle reminding the WWE Universe — and Lesnar — of his ability.
It’s definitely safe to say that the ego and skill of Kurt Angle — not the support of the WWE Universe — is what made him a truly great champion.
8.) Bob Backlund
As American as apple pie, Bob Backlund quickly became a fan favorite as he won the WWE Championship by defeating “Superstar” Billy Graham in Madison Square Garden on Feb. 20, 1978. The Princeton, Minn., native had the rare combination of pure strength, respectability and technical skill, but by the mid-1980s, WWE had changed. The cherub-faced champion lost the title to The Iron Sheik and quietly departed the organization during the rise of Hulkamania.
After a decade away, the collegiate wrestling standout made an unexpected return in 1992, but Backlund’s boy-next-door appeal wasn’t enough this time. The former champion snapped and became Mr. Backlund, a bowtie-wearing, dictionary-toting madman who enraged the WWE Universe and assaulted the roster with the agonizing Crossface Chickenwing. At Survivor Series 1994, he defeated Bret Hart to regain the same title he had lost 11 years prior. He might have been more “eat your broccoli” than apple pie, but Mr. Backlund was once again the champ