Surprise Championship Reigns.

Many consider JBL to be the most surprising main event champion of all time, but what about Bret Hart’s first WWF championship stint? Yea, he was a multi-time tag team and IC champion, but were fans really clamoring for him to be in the main event? He didn’t draw very much as champion (but to be fair, no one else did, either.) Who else would you consider to be surprising champions (wrestlers only, so we can avoid the obvious David Arquette and Vince Mcmahon answers)?

​I was pretty surprised they went all the way with both Great Khali and Rey Mysterio (talk about two opposite ends of the spectrum) although both ended up being transitional champs anyway. Still, Khali got the belt well past the point when his push would be considered effective, and Rey’s shortcomings are obvious. I’d also go with Sheamus, since no one was thinking he’d walk out of whatever show that was (TLC?) with the title against Cena in his first PPV main event.

  • Got Luger’d

    The most surprising championship reign other than David Arquette is easily The Miz.

    • TheConvictor

      I’d agree. I was convinced when they put the “Money in the Bank” briefcase on Miz, it was just so he’d be the first person to cash in and lose.

      • RawisStoned

        I recently saw the video of him backstage after he won the title. Was a really nice moment, knowing that he was a lifelong fan and his dream had just come true.

        • PatJames387

          Where can I find this?

      • brak_attack

        I think people look back at Miz with tainted glasses. The guy was on fire during that time. At one point he held the US, Raw and Smackdown tag team championships (I don’t recall if that coincided with his Money in the Bank win). Not only did he seem like the favorite to win the briefcase, I thought it was a sure thing he’d win the title.

        • Converge241

          People were hot for him then. I’d argue his use as a doomsday level heel in Awesome Truth was way more overreaching than him cashing in on Orton. (It was Orton right?)

  • Fat, Ugly Inner-City Sweathog

    Bret’s rise to the title should have been a build, rather than spontaneous house show win. Macho can get the title back from Flair. Then Let him win the Rumble against all odds and challenge Savage for the belt at WM9.

  • Jordan

    Ron Simmons seemed particularly out of nowhere when it happened. Diesel in 1994, for the timing more than anything.

    How about Mankind’s first run? He seemed like a stop-gap challenger to the Rock and ended up getting a couple of reigns out of it.

    Booker T in 2000 was a mid-carder that just randomly got a title shot.

    • RawisStoned

      Booker T sucks.

      • PatJames387


    • MyronB

      Booker T was literally a case of everyone was gone and he was the only guy who was somewhat credible that was left.

      • Jordan

        Very true, but they had been building up Jeff Jarrett as their top guy. Heck, the show where Booker won the belt was built around Hogan/Jarrett.

  • Before I read the meat of the email, I assumed it was a clever attempt at talking about Roman Reigns. Glad to see it isn’t.

    I’d give the nod to Sid in 96. Yeah, he looked awesome, but was proven time and time again to be a huge flake that couldn’t be counted on.

    • The Gambler

      Sid destroying Michaels at MSG was SOOOOO awesome.

      • TheConvictor

        Still one of my favorite matches.

      • Mr. P

        Especially with the crowd that was massively Pro-Sid.

      • squiremarr_

        Also worth it for that young HBK fan collapsing in tears after the pin.

  • I was sort of surprised when they threw the belt on Orton so quickly. He was chugging along nicely in the upper midcard as IC Champion, gaining some steam, and then BOOM! Within a month he dropped the IC Title, was elevated to the main event, and won the belt from Benoit. I mean, you knew they saw Orton as a future World Champion, but the way they abruptly and suddenly pulled the trigger out of nowhere was jarring.

    • I thought it was a way to erase Brock as the youngest world champion, or maybe I was looking to deep into things in 2004. Still misguided.

      • I think that was at least part of the motivation, but yeah… still very short-sighted and impulsive.

    • Converge241

      And Orton the babyface after as well. Ugh. Hate those “I’m a face by no choice of mine but rather my ex heelmates”

      See Rollins turn as well

  • Kenola

    I don’t really count any brand split era reigns since by that point the WHC was basically the equivalent of what the IC title used to be.

    Sheamus actually beating Cena his Rookie year was pretty shocking admittedly however.

  • nwa88

    I’m really curious what plans Vince had for Warrior in 1992 and when they changed.

    The somewhat less Anabolic Warrior was obviously slated for the Hogan spot after WM 8. Not sure if there was any truth to a Warrior heel turn over the summer. The Savage to Flair title change seemed to set up Warrior/Flair which made some sense, but instead Bret gets the title and the WWFs relationship with Warrior quickly falls apart.

    I really doubt there was a serious plan for Bret/Warrior but I do wonder when Vince decided Warrior 2.0 was not going to be the guy as the top babyface.

    • RawisStoned

      He was replaced the HGHtimate Warrior.

    • Jordan

      They were running Warrior/Flair matches on house shows that fall and were presumably building to that match at Royal Rumble 1993 or WMIX (with Bret later saying he was taking that spot against Warrior). I’m thinking plans changed when Warrior got popped for steroids (or whatever happened that led to his firing/quitting).

  • Dino Bravo Sucks

    Regarding the Seamus win – didn’t he win the opportunity in the “Glass Ceiling Battle Royal”, where the participants were people who hadn’t ever held a world title? And the winner of the match got the title shot against Cena?

    They ABSOLUTELY need to bring that one back. I loved that idea.

    • Matt Johnson

      Yep. That was the episode of RAW where Jesse Ventura was the guest host.

    • Stuart_Chartock

      “Breakthrough Battle Royal”, yup.

      I was actually at that “Raw”. I can’t remember anything else from the show.

  • RawisStoned

    Simmons had been hinted at, (he faced Luger the Luger the year before at Havoc, had challenged the winner of Sting/Vader at the bash) but it still came as a suprise when he actually won

  • Buster Abbott

    Ah, to be a kid again, tuning into Wrestling Challenge or Superstars over the weekend and hearing a rare Mean Gene news update about a house show title change. Ten-year-old me was FLOORED to hear that Bret Hart was the world champion, it seemed to come out of nowhere.

    • RawisStoned

      I remember that. The surprise factor made it really exciting

      • Paul Moseley

        I found it out in the first (and possibly only) WWF magazine I bought!

    • Alan

      I was flipping channels at a hotel and couldn’t stop to watch wrestling. Spotted Bret with the belt, tried to watch more later to confirm but was utterly confused.

  • DynamiteBoySmith

    Jack Swagger. I was shocked when he won the MitB, and even more shocked with how fast they put the title on him.

    Also, Edge’s first reign. They had been teasing him in the main event for so long, but never pulled the trigger. But the way they did it was absolutely perfect and made Edge a main eventer.

    • Boomska316 .

      Edge’s first win was executed perfectly. That was before cashing in the briefcase became a cliche instead of something truly unexpected.

  • Chris Jericho as the first undisputed champion. Never in a million years did I think they’d put him over Rocky & Austin in the same night and give him the belt til WrestleMania.

    Didnt draw because of the other nonsense, specifically HHHH’s awful return, but the fact he even got that shot was a surprise with the other talent at the time.

    • justicegris

      I loved the story where he’s walking by Vince and UT and Vince looks at him, smiles, and says “you know business is in the toilet when we’re making *Jericho* the champion!”. =)

      • BODConscience

        I love shoot comments that are shoot comments.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Ronnie F’ing Garvin, of course.

    Khali’s a good one. Still can’t believe they did that.

    Hopefully, we won’t think of Balor this way in five years.

  • markn95

    Bret Hart was a pretty big shock. Sure, he had just “main evented” Summerslam, but he lost what to that point was the biggest match of his career. Meanwhile, the WWF did nothing on television to prepare fans for his championship run. He wasn’t even built up as a challenger for Flair’s title (although I guess he did headline a few house shows against Flair before Saskatoon). I went to a house show less than a month before Bret beat Flair for the title and Razor Ramon pinned him with his feet on the ropes in just the second or third match on the card.

  • For me it’d have to be Mankind. I heard about it in advance obviously due to the taped RAW, but I still couldn’t believe that sweatpants-wearing, Mr. Socko-applying, lovably dumpy Mankind was really going to win the WORLD TITLE from The Rock.

    Not that I didn’t like him, but we’re talking about a guy that only a couple of months earlier was a mid-card comedy face…

    Total shocker to me and I loved every second of it.

    • Converge241

      Biggest pop ever seen live; specifically when Austin hits

  • Starscreamlive

    Ivan Koloff

  • Devin Harris

    Jeff hardy. He seemed like Kerry von Erich reincarnated at the time so I’m surprised they rolled the dice.

  • Mr. P

    Definitely Jack Swagger. He went from JTTS to World Champion in like 2 days. A current equivalent would be like if Darren Young all of a sudden beat Kevin Owens for the Universal Championship on this coming episode of RAW.

    • Converge241

      He even screwed up trying to take the gimmick to get to that title

  • Kenny Porpora

    Agree with the comment below that the WHC pasta certain point shouldn’t really count in the same way. Same with the WCW Title past 1999. That’s why the JBL run is still the worst and most surprising ever: because it was the actual WWE Championship. And he was a part of APA like two months before he won it. It actually was the end of my hardcore fandom.

    Sheamus is a really good one. In fact, I’d say all three of his reigns were bad surprises. I’d also say Miz and, in hindsight, Alberto del Rio. (Both, btw, were shitty Money In The Bank cash-ins.)

    Older reigns, I’d say the Sgt. Slaughter one was a bad surprise. I loved the Kane win at King of the Ring but I definitely wasn’t expecting them to take the title off Austin at that point.

    • Nellykins

      JBL as a challenger was like Bob Holly challenging for the belt. It made me think everyone else had just taken a holiday and this was the best they could come up with at short notice. Also Eddie was so loved, nobody thought he would lose the belt to a joke like JBL.

    • Adam Wright

      JBL at the end of his reign was a fine champion, but at the beginning he was nowhere near a main event level.

  • spicollidriver

    the fact that Vince and others seemed to have really believed that the best way to present Rey Mysterio as the world champion was to have him lose several times on tv (Khali even pinned him with just one foot) is still something I can’t really comprehend.

    • brak_attack

      That’s one thing I never understood, when they make somebody who doesn’t typically lose all the time into a champion that loses all the time. For example, Rey Mysterio never lost matches more than when he was World Champion, similar to how Wade Barrett never lost more matches than when he was Intercontinental Champion.

    • Stuart_Chartock

      The fuck was THAT all about?

      If you don’t want someone to be champion, don’t make them champion.

  • Ray Rosini Jr.

    Diesel:Too soon to get the belt, Backlund was coming off a red hot heel run and was doing ok with the title,hell
    have him lose to Bret at Mainia and have Diesel feud with Bret over the summer.Better than Diesel fighting dead weight stiffs all year in a disastrous shifty reign.

    • Jake Ziegler

      He was doing okay with the title he held for three days?


        Did he even successfully defend it?

        • Jake Ziegler


        • Jake Ziegler

          Actually, the night before he dropped it to Diesel, he lost to the Bulldog by countout in Pittsburgh.

          • Converge241

            He gets a few more like that can upgrade this from doing okay the belt to doingWELL with the belt

  • wnyxmcneal

    >I’d also go with Sheamus, since no one was thinking he’d walk out of whatever show that was (TLC?) with the title against Cena in his first PPV main event.

    I don’t know, I thought it was pretty obvious that Sheamus was winning

  • I saw this title and thought Roman had won the belt at a house show. DON’T DO THAT AGAIN

  • Kanye Batista

    Rey’s title reign makes me shake my head everytime I think of it. All those jobs … I think he lost more matches than he won as champion.

  • Stuart_Chartock

    Mixed feelings on how “shocking” Sheamus’ first reign was.

    Once the match was announced as a Tables Match, I thought it was pretty obvious that they were gonna have Cena lose in wonky fashion; come the PPV, I would have been more surprised had they not put the title on Sheamus.

    That said, the original decision to even put the belt on Sheamus in the first place was definitely shocking, though with “shocking” being closer to “questionable” in this case. Same goes for his booking afterwards, which was just atrociously bad and makes Owens’ current run look like a dominant monster heel reign by comparison.

    • Owens wishes they booked him as well as they did Sheamus. At least Sheamus wasn’t playing sidekick to R-Truth while holding the belt.

  • Fat, Ugly Inner-City Sweathog

    I was a little surprised they had Bryan beat Cena at Summerslam 2013. You knew the Orton cash-in was coming, but I didn’t think they would put Bryan over Cena clean before doing it

    • Empian

      Tend to agree. I suppose this is the main reason there are still people out there who think that everything that happened between that Summerslam and Mania was planned like that.

    • Down Under Aussie (in Aus)

      I was surprised because Bryan’s only finisher was the Yes lock, and Cena never submits, so how was Bryan going to win?

      • Fat, Ugly Inner-City Sweathog

        Exactly. I thought there was a remote possibility that Cena passed out in the Yes Lock, but I never expected a clean win either way. I figured Orton interfered and cashed in during the match

  • Fat, Ugly Inner-City Sweathog

    DDP winning the WCW title in 99

  • JasonMK

    Unless I missed it, nobody seemed to mention a title change that’s coming up shortly in the Observer Flashbacks. I don’t think anyone expected Undertaker to win at the 91 Survivor Series, although I believe Dave thought it might happen after he heard about the unannounced PPV tgat would take place about a week later.

    • Fat, Ugly Inner-City Sweathog

      Good one


    At first I didn’t realize we were only talking about world or “main event” titles. Because otherwise, there was still no greater shock than the f’in Honky Donkey Man winning the I-C belt from Steamboat. Even the announcement that Bret Hart had won the world title, as far out of left field as it was, still seems more like than Honky’s win was at the time.

    • Miko363

      Honky Donkey Man?

      Sounds like we’ve got our next Roman Reigns catchphrase, PAL!!!

      • JAWAS ♥ SMOAK

        He’d be ripping off Santino, which actually sounds about right.

    • TheOriginalDonald

      YOur post will not make sense, YOU JACKASS!

  • Fat, Ugly Inner-City Sweathog

    How about Flair winning the title in the 92 Rumble?

  • Miko363

    Bret’s win was the biggest surprise because Flair was supposed to retain the title. But midway through the match, he was so blown away by how great Bret was and how flawless his moves were that he pulled him in the corner and whispered, “You’re a hero to these fans and the best wrestler I’ve ever seen. You’re the real champion in my eyes, Hitman.” Then asked Bret to immediately put him in the Sharpshooter.

    • RawisStoned

      You missed “you’re the real champion in my TEAR FILLED eyes Hitman.” But I would still give it a 9/10.

    • Stan Ford

      After the match, Flair stopped by in the locker room and picked up the belt, then handed it to him as a sign of passing the torch. He then whispered “Seth is a reckless asshole. You’ll understand someday.”

  • SuckaFreeSince83

    Rin Simmons. I had only been watching WCW for a little over a year and 9 year old me didn’t see it coming.

  • tzunset

    Kane. I thought Austin was settling in for a long first reign, and then they hotshotted the title for a day.

    • Joe Martinez

      Austin had a 6-month reign. That Kane reign barely counts because they HAD to put the belt on him because they painted themselves into the corner with both stipulations. Classic Russo, bro

      • Adam Wright

        Considering that Kane had lost an Inferno match just 2 months previously, as well as the various other fire stunts with Kane/Taker over the previous 6 months, including a member of the ring crew being set on fire. It wasn’t insane to think they had a plan on how Kane was going to set himself on fire safely.

      • tzunset

        A whole six months!

    • I legit thought Austin was going to get a Hogan/Bruno type run where he held the belt for 4-6 years (or until his neck gave out).

      • tzunset

        I’d hoped for that. In retrospect, it was wishful thinking. But Austin was so huge at the time — it seemed like they might take a longer-term approach than they had during the New Generation period.

  • Joe Martinez

    Rey’s first reign was not him being him a transitional champion

%d bloggers like this: