While Friday night’s premiere of SmackDown on FOX saw the end of Kofi Kingston‘s reign as WWE Champion, it was definitely a run for the history books. At 180 days, Kofi Kingston set a new record for the longest reigning African-American WWE World Champion, he also surpassed Bobby Lashley‘s IMPACT World title reign to become the second longest reigning African-American World Champion amongst the major world titles. Only Jay Lethal has had longer reigns than Kofi. Here’s a look at the 10 longest reigns by African-Americans as major World Champions.
#1. Jay Lethal, 427 days, ROH
At Ring of Honor Best in the World in June of 2015, then-ROH World Television Champion Jay Lethal put his title on the line in a title vs. title match against ROH World Champion Jay Briscoe. At the end of the title, Lethal became double champion and won his first World title. The former 6x IMPACT X-Division Champion held the World title an astounding 427-days, defending it against the likes of Roderick Strong, Kyle O’Reilly, AJ Styles, Mark Haskins, Lance Storm, and more, before eventually losing it to Adam Cole at Death Before Dishonor in August of 2016. His reign smashed the record for longest World title reign by an African-American in the majors.
#2. Jay Lethal, 280 days, ROH
Not satisfied with just the #1 position, Lethal’s second reign as ROH World Champion set the record for the second longest reign by an African-American as World Champion. He regained the World title on ROH TV in a Four Corner Survival match, defeating champion Dalton Castle, Cody Rhodes & Matt Taven. He would defend his title against Jonathan Gresham, Will Ospreay, Flip Gordon, Chris Sabin, Cody Rhodes, and Dalton Castle, before losing it to Matt Taven in a triple threat at the ROH/NJPW G1 Supercard at Madison Square Gardens this past spring.
#3. Kofi Kingston, 180 days, WWE
The 11-year journey of Kofi Kingston from dependable mid-card star – 4x WWE Intercontinental Champion and 3x WWE United States Champion – to tag team specialist (6x WWE Tag Team Champion) finally saw Kofi Kingston pull off the biggest victory of his career by capturing the WWE Championship from Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania 35 this year. Kofi Kingston surprised everyone with a lengthy reign that saw him defend his title against the likes of AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Randy Orton and Dolph Ziggler. Kofi Kingston and his 180-day reign is the longest World title by an African-American in WWE history.
#4. Bobby Lashley, 175 days, IMPACT
Bobby Lashley had huge success in the past decade, with his best years as part of IMPACT Wrestling. A 4x IMPACT/TNA World Heavyweight Champion, his fourth and final reign was his longest at 175 days, for the first seven months of 2017. He defeated Eddie Edwards 3 pins to 2 in an Iron Man Match at TNA Genesis in January, defending the gold against the likes of Jeff Hardy, Josh Barnett, James Storm and Moose, before losing it to Alberto El Patron at IMPACT Slammiversary X that July.
#5. Ron Simmons, 150 days, WCW
It was one of the most shocking world title changes in WCW history, when Ron Simmons – fresh off his tag team run in Doom – defeated Vader for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship on the Great American Bash tour in 1992. It was no fluke and Simmons went on to hold the title for 150 days, fending off challenges from Cactus Jack, Vader, Bobby Eaton, and “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, before losing it back to Vader than December.
#6. Bobby Lashley, 147 days, ECW
Long before NXT officially became WWE’s third brand, they dabbled with another third brand when they revived ECW from 2006 to 2010. One of the focal points of the early days of the WWECW was a young Bobby Lashley, who beat The Big Show for the ECW World Championship at December to Dismember in 2006. He would hold the ECW strap for 147 days, defending it against Rob Van Dam, Mr. Kennedy, Test, Hardcore Holly, and Umaga. It was at Backlash 2007 that he would lose the title to Vince McMahon in a handicap match that saw Vince, Shane McMahon and Umage beat down the champion.
#7. Booker T, 126 days, WHC
After winning the 2006 King of the Ring Tournament, the newly crowned King Booker continued his hot year by capturing the World Heavyweight Championship, defeating Rey Mysterio at The Great American Bash. For 126 days, Booker T reigned over his court as World Champion, defeating challengers such as Batista, Bobby Lashley, John Cena, The Big Show, and The Undertaker. Batista finally ended Booker’s kingly reign at Survivor Series later that fall.
#8. Booker T, 120 days, WCW
Surprisingly, Booker T’s longest reign as the WCW World Heavyweight Champion was booked by WWE following their acquisition of WCW in 2001. On the final episode of Monday Nitro, Booker T defeated “Big Poppa Pump” Scott Steiner for his 4th reign as WCW Champion (his previous highest reign was only 58 days). It wasn’t long before Booker T debuted in the WWE as part of the WCW Invasion, where he defended the WCW title against Buff Bagwell, Diamond Dallas Page, Kurt Angle, and Chris Jericho during his 120-day reign. Kurt Angle finally toppled Booker T on a July episode of SmackDown.
#9. The Rock, 119 days, WWE
Despite being an 8x WWE World Champion, The Rock has actually had surprisingly short title reigns – 44, 2, 41, 21, 35, 34 and 70 day reigns in seven of his eight reigns. But when he defeated Triple H for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship at King of the Ring in 2000, he would go on a reign of 119 days, his longest reign as World Champion by far. He held onto the title during some huge matches against the likes of Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle, Kane, The Undertaker, and Christian, before losing to Angle at No Mercy in October.
#10. Bearcat Wright, 115 days, WWA
He was the first African-American to win a World Championship in 1963, when he defeated Freddie Blassie for the World Wrestling Alliance (WWA) World Heavyweight Championship. The WWA was a major promotion on the West Coast who rebuffed the NWA and maintained its own autonomy. Bearcat Wright would go on to hold the title for 115 days, defending against the likes of Blassie, Don Leo Jonathan, and Eduoard Carpentier, although Carpentier would finally get the big win, defeating Wright in December of that year.
New Japan Pro Wrestling has had one African-American capture the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, former MMA fighter Bob Sapp, who won the belt in 2004. His reign only lasted 66 days, however, as he was stripped for losing his K-1 Fight to Kazuyuji Fujita, on June 2, 2004. Major League Wrestling (MLW) has also had one African-American World Champion, when Shane “Swerve” Strickland (now Isaiah Scott in NXT) held the title for 91 days in 2018.
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