As wrestling fans, we’re designed to crave the unexpected. As smart as we may think we are, and as much as an outcome may seem set in stone, a pinfall can come from out of nowhere, RKO style, and send our jaws hurtling towards the floor. Sometimes surprising victories can be downright wonderful, and sometimes they can be utterly confusing. Here are the Top 10 Most Surprising Victories in WWE History.
For this list, I’ve taken into account how clean the victory was, who the victor was, who they beat, and any other circumstances surrounding the victory. The cleaner the victory, and the more unlikely the victor, the higher it will rank. With that being said, let’s get on with the list.
10. Sheamus beat John Cena – TLC 2009
Sheamus had only been on Raw a couple of months when he won his WWE Championship, and it came as a huge surprise to everyone. Although it was under rather dubious circumstances, a relative newcomer defeated John Cena for the biggest prize in the company in his second ever pay-per-view match. I remember being sat in awe and disbelief at what I had witnessed, and also glowing with glee at the fact somebody so close to home had actually won the greatest trophy in wrestling. Sadly, it was pretty much all downhill for Sheamus’ first run as champion from there.
9. Kevin Owens beat John Cena – Elimination Chamber 2015
A clean victory over Big Match John is a pretty rare thing – a clean victory over him in someone’s very first main roster match is pretty much unheard of, but Kevin Owens did just that. After a series of fantastic US Open Challenge matches on Raw, the current NXT Champion at the time came out seemingly to answer the call, but instead made a much bigger impression. He laid out the face that runs the place right in the middle of the ring, and at that moment, earned himself a match at Elimination Chamber against him.
Going in to the match, nobody expected Kevin Owens to come out with the pinfall, at least not without some controversy. There was no way the NXT Champion, a title still seen as being part of a developmental brand, could beat the biggest wrestler in the world. However, after one hell of an incredible match, Kevin Owens hit a Pop-Up Powerbomb, and earned a victory cleaner than Cena’s public image. The former indie star had arrived, and arrived in the biggest way possible, to the surprise and delight of many.
8. Shelton Benjamin beat HHH – Raw 29th March 2004
It’s a widely shared opinion that Shelton Benjamin deserved a lot more than he was given during his time in WWE. Sure, his career was nothing to complain about by any means, but his incredible athleticism meant that many fans believed he should have been given a lot more. Even though he wasn’t provided all of the opportunities he deserved, Benjamin was given some incredible moments during his WWE tenure, and none more memorable than his debut Raw match. On the same night he was drafted to Raw, Shelton Benjamin, a man at the time known for just being a tag team wrestler, defeated the leader of Evolution and former world champion, Triple H, to the surprise of everyone. If only WWE had used this monumental victory to springboard Benjamin into the main event push he should have been given.
7. The Hurricane vs The Rock – Raw 10th March 2003
It’ll probably come as a surprise any time someone wearing a cape and green hair actually gets a victory in a fight, but victories don’t really come any bigger than this. Just weeks before his epic encounter with Steve Austin at Wrestlemania 19, The Rock actually lost to The Hurricane on Raw, with a little assist from the Texas Rattlesnake himself. Obviously the victory only happened because of outside interference, but still, it was still a huge surprise nonetheless to see a man pretending to be a superhero rolling up one of the biggest stars in the world.
6. Zack Ryder wins the IC Title – Wrestlemania 32
This IC title victory came as a huge surprise simply because Zack Ryder wasn’t even meant to be involved in the match in the first place. Injuries plagued the WWE roster leading up to Wrestlemania 32, and scheduled ladder match competitor Neville hurt his ankle weeks before the big event, so up stepped a browski to take his place.
For the first time in 9 years, Ryder finally achieved his dream of hearing his entrance music played at Wrestlemania, a dream he would achieve twice in one night. Just as it looked as though The Miz would claim yet another championship victory, the Long Island Iced Z pushed the A Lister off the ladder, and clasped at the white strap for the victory. Nobody expected Ryder to hold the gold at the end of the match, but considering how deserving he was of the victory after years of hard work, it came as a wonderful surprise, and created one of my favourite Wrestlemania moments in history.
5. 1-2-3 Kid beat Razor Ramon – Raw May 7th 1993
By 1993, WWE fans had pretty much worked out the formula: week after week on television, the same familiar, weak-looking faces would turn up to job to the bigger, more established names. The likes of Iron Mike Sharpe and Barry Horowitz would lose repeatedly so new stars could rack up victories without affecting the reputation of fellow roster members. In 1993, Raw viewers saw a fresh-faced kid return every week under a new name each time looking to get a victory, but failed every single time. That is, on one night, after a moonsault onto a standing Razor Ramon, The Kid got a 3 count over the already established star, and the 1-2-3 Kid was born in the most surprising of fashions.
4. Shawn Michaels beat Bret Hart – Survivor Series 1997
Almost twenty years later, and this is still one of the most discussed moments in all of wrestling. You know the story by now, so you’ll know why this bout makes it onto my list. Sure, Shawn Michaels winning the WWE title isn’t surprising whatsoever, hence why it doesn’t rank higher in this list, but it’s the events that surrounded the victory that make it one of the most surprising, shocking and controversial wins in history.
3. Jinder Mahal becomes #1 Contender – Smackdown Live 19th April 2017
Okay, so this isn’t as shocking as the screwjob was, but you have to admit, NOBODY saw this coming. Jinder Mahal returned to WWE in August 2016 to absolutely no fanfare, and within the 8 months leading up to this match, he had won just two matches. Week after week, he would job to a range of WWE superstars with little sign of any chance of a victory. But then, from absolutely out of nowhere, Jinder Mahal became the number one contender for the WWE Championship, and the wrestling world was in shock.
Never has someone made such a monumental jump from the deepest, darkest depths of the bottom of the card to suddenly being thrust into a WWE Championship match at a pay-per-view. Jinder winning that match wasn’t even in the realm of possibility for most people watching Smackdown that evening, so when it happened, it was probably the most surprising victory in WWE television history. With rumours and insider news at our fingertips at all times these days, true surprises are not all too common, but as wrestling fans, we love the unexpected, so even if the booking made absolutely no sense, it was still great to have a shot of unpredictability injected into Smackdown. Now, if Jinder actually goes on to beat Orton at Backlash, that victory would definitely end up topping this list.
2. Ivan Koloff beat Bruno Sammartino – January 18th 1971
Back in the days of the WWWF, people didn’t go to Madison Square Garden to watch wrestling, they went to watch Bruno Sammartino. Bruno was a god. The entire company was based around the former powerlifter, and even after eight straight years as champion, Bruno was still as popular as he ever was. But all of that time at the top took its toll on Bruno, and he needed some time off. So on one unsuspecting night in January 1971, Ivan Koloff defeated the undefeatable in in just 48 seconds, and the arena was left stunned. What is now known as “The Night the Garden Went Silent”, the thousands in attendance sat without making a noise as they tried to process what had just happened. The atmosphere has been described by Bruno himself as that of a funeral. The WWWF fans had seen the death of their hero’s golden championship reign, and although Bruno would regain the title in December of the same year, that 48 second match remained the most surprising victory in wrestling for over four decades.
Andre the Giant beat Hulk Hogan – The Main Event 1998: An over 7 foot man with a 15 year winning streak scoring a victory should not be a surprise, but against the man with the 24 inch pythons, brother, it really was. At the time, Hogan had been champion for four years without a single loss, so seeing that gold belt being taken away from him was surprising to all.
James Ellsworth beat AJ Styles – Multiple Times: James Ellsworth getting hired by WWE in the first place was a pretty huge surprise.
Rico beat Ric Flair – RAW 16th September 2002: Remember Rico? Big sideburns? Liked slapping people’s asses? Well, he actually holds a victory over a 16-time world champion. After the worst delivered spin kick of all time, Charles Robinson counted three and declared Rico the winner, despite Flair’s hand clearly being on the rope. Bad refereeing or not, seeing a former manager beat such a high profile star in his first televised WWE singles match was a big surprise.
Eddie Guerrero beat Brock Lesnar – No Way Out 2004: This is possibly the greatest surprise victory of all time. Eddie Guerrero was beloved by so many who wanted him to reach the top, but felt as though he would never be given that chance. Being proven wrong never felt so good.
Heath Slater beat Seth Rollins – August 4th 2014: Another case of a roll-up victory thanks to a distraction. Seth Rollins was on his way to being a bonified main eventer at this point, so seeing full-time jobber Heath Slater get the 1-2-3 on him was a big surprise, regardless of the interference from Dean Ambrose.
Barry Horowitz beat Skip – The Action Zone July 9th, 1995: Barry Horotwitz was a jobber on WWE television for eight whole years, before one night he randomly got his first ever televised victory over Skip, otherwise known as Chris Candido. Just goes to show that hard work eventually pays off.
Carlito beat John Cena – Smackdown October 7th 2004: Big Match John hadn’t quite gained his superpowers at this point, but beating the United States Champion, and winning the championship in the process, in your debut match is always going to be a surprise.
- Brock Lesnar beat The Undertaker – Wrestlemania 30
The Streak was one of the few things in wrestling that seemed like an absolute certainty, but as good ol’ JR always said, anything can happen in the WWE. Brock hoisted Taker up for a third F-5, sent him careening to the mat, and covered him for the most shocking victory of the 21st century. Every single person watching was speechless. We had witnessed the unimaginable. The streak was over. Whether you thought it was the right thing to do or if you believe the streak should have remained in tact forever, there’s no denying that surprises don’t come any bigger than this.
What do you think is the most shocking victory of all time? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @HairyWrestling.