MVP wore the stars and bars around his waist as naturally as he did the ice dangling from his neck, claiming it in the first place by winning one of the toughest bouts around — a 2-out-of-3 Falls Match. From there, the man known as Montel Vontavious Porter established one of the longest, and most entertaining, reigns ever as he fought to keep the title away from his fellow WWE Tag Team Champion, Matt Hardy. Hardy would, ultimately, get what he wanted, but MVP eventually notched a second reign.
Dare we say “ballin’”? Of course we do. Ballin’! — ANTHONY BENIGNO
#9 Greg Valentine
Whether competing in regional territories at the first NWA Starrcade, or on The Grandest Stage of Them All, WrestleMania, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine never changed his hard-nosed style of wrestling.
That methodical and merciless approach served Valentine well as he won more championships than we can list here — none more notable than his pair of NWA United States Championships. The son of the legendary Johnny Valentine claimed those titles the hard way, beating the tough-as-nails Wahoo McDaniel first and then upending perhaps his greatest rival, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, for his second.
However, Valentine’s most memorable bout involving the championship was the one in which he lost it back to Piper in the still-talked-about Dog Collar Match at the first Starrcade in 1983. — JOEY STYLES
Before black and white became his signature colors, Sting was as American as they came, and painted the red, white and blue across his face on multiple occasions.
It’s only fitting, then, that The Icon is remembered as one of the most celebrated United States Champions of all time. Nearly four years after winning his first star-spangled prize by defeating future WWE Hall of Famer “Stunning” Steve Austin, Sting recaptured the illustrious title by besting the imposing Meng at 1995’s Great American Bash, and would hold it for an impressive 148 days.
Whenever Sting strode to the ring with the stars and stripes around his waist, opponents and spectators alike knew it was “showtime.” — JAMES WORTMAN
#7 “Rowdy” Roddy Pipe
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper will always be known as the villain of WWE’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection years. However, a few years before Hot Rod was a WWE main eventer, he was an up-and-coming hero in the NWA’s Mid-Atlantic territory.
At that point in his career, Piper winning the prestigious United States Championship was his greatest victory. The man he defeated for the title went on to become, arguably, the greatest of all time, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Piper won the title twice more before leaving the NWA for WWE, the final time in a still infamous Dog Collar Match at the first Starrcade against Greg “The Hammer” Valentine in 1983. — JOEY STYLES
#6 Ricky Steamboat
Ricky Steamboat’s reputation as one of the hardest-working Superstars of all time is well deserved and never disputed. So it only makes sense that his efforts would reward him with championship gold along the way.
Yet the U.S. Championship claims a special place on Steamboat’s resume because of how it bookends his storied career. The WWE Hall of Famer made a name for himself in sports-entertainment by kicking off his first two reigns at the expense of his greatest rival, Ric Flair. Then, nearly a decade after he bested Dick Slater to become a three-time titleholder, Steamboat secured his fourth reign against an up-and-coming competitor and future WWE Hall of Famer named Steve Austin. Shortly after that fourth tour of duty as U.S. Champion came to a close, Steamboat retired from the ring.
Though he lacked the bombast of Flair and the swagger of Austin, Steamboat’s legacy is secure thanks to his many accomplishments in the ring. That some of his finest moments came in his chase of the U.S. Championship only helps elevate the title’s prestige. — MATTHEW ARTUS
#5 Bret Hart
Pundits have described Bret Hart’s tenure in WCW as a major disappointment. The “Hit Man” never did ascend to the levels of success he achieved in WWE. However, often overlooked are his impressive reigns with the United States Championship while in the land of the “Big Boys.”
Having memorable bouts with the likes of Diamond Dallas Page, Roddy Piper and everyone in between, Hart compiled four reigns as the WCW U.S. Champion, injecting the pink and black attack into some of the company’s most crucial television segments as the Monday Night War raged on.
After Bobo Brazil, Booker was only the second African-American, and the first in 24 years, to hold the coveted title. That honor was earned when Booker defeated Rick Steiner on March 18, 2001, at WCW’s final pay-per-view event, Greed. He would eventually capture the title three additional times in WWE, reigning as U.S. Champion for a total of 271 days. His impressive U.S. Title achievements not only continue to endure, they also bolstered Booker’s entire career and helped land him a place in the hallowed WWE Hall of Fame’s class of 2013.
Now, can you dig that, suckaaaaa?! — GREG ADKINS
#3 Lex Luger
523 days. That’s how long Lex Luger’s third reign as U.S. Champion lasted.
No one who came after him in WWE, WCW or ECW has held any championship as long as Luger did during his third tenure with the U.S. Title. It’s a number that was inconceivable in sports-entertainment when Luger was doing it, and appears unreachable even now. Again, that was just his third tour of duty as U.S. Champion. He actually achieved five overall.
Just as WCW was stepping onto the national stage, Luger became an ambassador for the star-spangled title by virtue of his historic reign and how it catapulted him into an unlikely battle with of WCW World Champion Ric Flair. Luger's record-setting run gave gravitas to the title, all the while redefining how U.S. Championship success can bolster a competitor’s legacy. Add in the various challengers crushed during his tenure, such as Brian Pillman and Ricky Steamboat, and you’ve got The Total Package. — MATTHEW ARTUS
#2 John Cena
John Cena’s held the U.S. Title more times than anyone since the championship was absorbed by WWE, but it’s his last two runs with the title that have really cemented his legacy as one of the greatest U.S. Champs ever (though beating Big Show, Booker T and Carlito for reigns one, two and three ain’t nothin’ to sniff at).
As part of his campaign to restore prestige to Old Glory, Cena’s “Open Challenge” policy has led to marquee performances from rising stars like Cesaro, Neville and Sami Zayn, and weekly career highlights from The Champ himself. Cena is still nigh-infallible with gold around his waist, but the level of competition is world-class and legitimately unpredictable. Suddenly, everyone wants a shot at the title and, unlike the red-tape bound WWE World Heavyweight Championship, they can get it. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
#1 Ric Flair
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.
Ric Flair’s oft-quoted adage is the key ingredient in any recipe for success in the squared circle. And it’s one that the “Nature Boy” has refined since the early period of his career, a time marked by Flair’s conquests in the U.S. Championship picture. Before Flair was a 16-time World Champion, he was a five-time U.S. Champion. Until he attained his quintet of U.S. Title reigns, he wasn’t “the man.”
Flair defeated a veritable “who’s who” of opponents to secure his U.S. Championship status, from WWE Hall of Famers Bobo Brazil, Greg Valentine and Ricky Steamboat to WCW stalwarts like Mr. Wrestling and Konnan. This stylin', profilin', limousine riding, jet flying, kiss-stealing, wheelin' n' dealin' son of a gun always showed the title the respect it deserves, and, as a result, demonstrated the respect that’s due to anyone who can clinch one of the most storied prizes in sports-entertainment. — MATTHEW ARTUS.