There is nothing more exciting than seeing the WWE championship change hands. The most prestigious belt in pro wrestling has been won more than 100 times but only a few are what I’d call shockers. Today I look back on those shocking moments and count down the top 10.
Seeing the WWE title change hands today is nice but it is nothing like watching a title change hands 20, 30, or even a mere 10 years ago. Title changes were rare and when they happened, the world knew about them. Most champions were guys you expected to get the big push at some point, yet there were some that stunned pro wrestling fans.
Keep in mind that these ten shockers are in no particular order. Leave a comment if you agree, disagree, or want to let me know I missed one.
The Iron Sheik defeats Bob Backlund to win the WWF championship (December 26, 1983 MSG): I’ll start with one the shocker that had the most impact on me as a wrestling fan. I was 11 and was in a state of shock when I called the WWE hotline and heard the result. It must have been a mistake right? The Iron Sheik was getting a strong push at the time but I don’t think anyone saw it coming. It wasn’t as if the Sheik was beating big names on his way up. He went over Tony Garea the previous show at MSG, not exactly a setup to the strap. Seeing Backlund run through everyone as a kid had me thinking that the Sheik would be easy pickings for the champ. I never took the injury storyline into account and one towel throw later we had a new champion. To me, this was the biggest shocker of all-time.
Ivan Koloff defeats Bruno Sammartino to win the WWWF championship (January 18, 1971 MSG): Now to me the Sheik’s win was the biggest shocker but to those that lived the era, nothing will be bigger than Koloff beating Sammartino. Nobody expected it! Bruno once told me that he thought he went deaf after he lost because the place was silent. They were so shocked they were speechless! Behind the scenes Bruno wanted a reduced schedule and the plan was put in place to have Koloff transition to Pedro Morales. Koloff bodyslammed Sammartino, went up top, dropped the knee, and won the title in front of a stunned New York crowd ending Bruno’s seven year historic reign.
The Miz defeats Randy Orton to win the WWE championship (November 22, 2010 RAW): The thing about this one was that you had a feeling that The Miz was going to cash in his Money in the Bank at some point but this was a bit of a shocker. I took a look back at results around this time and Miz was barely even wrestling on the pay per views. Orton wrestled Wade Barrett on RAW in a super hot match. Orton’s knee was injured by Nexus earlier in the night and worked on throughout the match. Orton won with the RKO and was leaning on the ropes post match when The Miz came out to cash in. What’s funny about this is if you watch the match back on YouTube the fans really don’t even care when Miz comes out which is ironic because the crowd was super hot during Orton vs. Barrett. Miz reversed an RKO into a Skull Crushing Finale for the win and the title. I’m sorry but MITB winner or not, I never saw this one coming.
Bob Backlund defeats Bret Hart to win the WWE championship (Survivor Series 1994): This is an odd one because on paper, what is so shocking about a former WWE champion winning the title? What you have to understand is that Backlund was a much different wrestler here and was not booked like a former champion. Backlund didn’t have any big wins yet in the run and was stuck wrestling guys like Doink the Clown. The finish of this Throw in the Towel match had Owen Hart dupe his mother into throwing in the towel. Bret losing to Backlund wasn’t expected at all and at the time, this was a shocker.
Andre the Giant defeats Hulk Hogan to win the WWF championship (The Main Event): Most of you already know about this legendary match but I still call it a shocker. At the time Hogan had been running strong for over four years as champion, beating everyone and anyone that challenged him. Once Andre fell to Hulk at WrestleMania 3, I never had the feeling that he’d be going over to get the title. He did and we all know how it played out with the Hebners double crossing Hulk. More people watched this match than any other match in pro wrestling history. 33 million people were probably wondering what the heck happened that infamous night in Indianapolis.
Bret Hart defeats Ric Flair to win the WWF championship (October 12, 1992 Saskatoon, SK): Bret Hart winning the title is not a shocker. Bret Hart winning the WWE title in 1992 was a stunner and some may argue after Koloff’s win, the biggest shock of all. The WWE was the land of the giants at the time and Bret did not fit the mold of WWE champion. He was a heck of a worker but he was missing that giant, monster look. The business had changed and Vince McMahon took a gamble and reinvented his company by putting the belt on Bret. We all saw Bret on the rise but if anyone was expecting to win the belt that night in Saskatoon, those people should be playing the lottery.
Sheamus defeats John Cena to win the WWE championship (TLC 2009): Sheamus is an established main-eventer today but in 2009 he was just an ECW guy. Thanks to RAW Guest Host Jesse Ventura, Sheamus had the opportunity to compete to win a title shot and did. Sheamus came on strong and pulled off a major shocker when he defeated John Cena in their first title match at TLC. Cena wasn’t even champion for a month and nobody expected him to lose it so quickly, especially to an “ECW guy.”
Kane defeats Steve Austin to win the WWE championship (King of the Ring 1998): King of the Ring is remembered for Mick Foley’s crazy bumps but what most fans don’t realize is that Stone Cold’s title reign also came to an end that night. When Stone Cold Steve Austin defeated Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 14 most expected he would have a long run at the top with the title. What most people probably don’t realize who weren’t around back then is that Austin’s first reign only lasted a day short of three months. Kane was getting a big push but he was still a bit cartoonish for fans to take him seriously. Kane wound up winning the title from Austin in a First Blood match that shocked most WWE fans. Fortunately for the Stone Cold army he regained the title one night later on RAW.
Sgt. Slaughter defeats The Ultimate Warrior to win the WWF championship (Royal Rumble 1991): Slaughter was red hot at the time but all signs seemed to be pointing to a big WrestleMania rematch between the Warrior and Hulk Hogan. Warrior rarely lost and the idea of him losing to Slaughter didn’t seem fathomable. Randy Savage ran down the aisle and cracked Warrior on the head with the Scepter while the referee’s back was turned to give Sarge the win.
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