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Top 10 WWE Championship Shockers

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.

[adinserter block=”1″]I thought it would be fun to take a look back at those stunning moments. What I found interesting in doing the research for this is that out of the 100+ times the title changed hands, only a small percentage of switches are what I’d call shockers or upsets. That is why when those shockers did happen, you never forgot about them.

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.

[adinserter block=”2″]Psycho Sid defeats Bret Hart to win the WWF championship (February 17, 1997 Monday Night RAW): Bret as champion was heading towards WrestleMania 13 in a WWE championship match with Steve Austin. That was the main-event that everyone wanted to see at the time. Bret finally won the championship in a Fatal Four-Way and wound up defending against Sid the next night on RAW. Nobody expected Bret to lose because a) he just won the night before and b) Bret vs. Austin would have been a big WWE title match. Austin ran down the aisle and nailed Bret with a chair as he had Sid in the Sharpshooter. Sid power bombed Bret and three seconds later became new WWE champion.

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  1. Is this a joke about "no reaction for The Miz when he came cashing out" ? Are you deaf or something ?
    The crowd was RED HOT FOR IT. Same for you thinking it would not happen at all IMO. The Miz WAS on PPV jobbing to Bryan the US Title and putting him over so he could then goingto bigger things aka this FIVE Months Title reigns that got BIGGER Ratings than CM Punk, Del Rio and Sheamus reigns COMBINED.

    When Miz countered the RKO into his one and only legit finisher, Everybody WENT NUTS in the wrestling site, chat room and with my friends watching IT.

    Blandy Boreton vs Wade Barrett was AWFUL because of how badly booked Barrett was at the time.
    He lost all his momentum by jobbing out to Cena at SummerSlam alongside Nexus then Orton destroyed him night after night.

    The whole set up of Orton INJURED Knee IS The typical set up for a legit CASH IN !

    The Miz got a HUGE POP and it was one of the biggest FEEL GOOD Moments in pro wrestling history with The Miz mocking the crowd with "I told you ! I Told You I Would DO IT !".
    Karma baby Karma, Miz destroying Orton was pure poetry in motion and is one of the last legit BIG MARK Outs moments of this poor era of pro wrestling.

    From Zero Real Tv show to HERO !

  2. When the Warrior beat Hogan at WM 6 it was pretty shocking. I think everyone exptected Hulk to walk out of Toronto as the first wrestler to hold both the WWE and IC titles (at the same time, anyway). I was at the Skydome, and trust me the crowd was in shock when Ulty got the 1-2-3 on Hogan. I was one of the ones cheering, of course!

  3. One can never argue with one's opinion…so I certainly respect your list. Nice trip down memory lane…my only replacement would be the Ultimate Warrior beating Hulk Hogan at WM VI. Up to that point, HH had never been beaten cleanly, let alone at a WM Main Event. Even though I knew I wanted the Ultimate Warrior to win, never in a million years did I think it would actually happen.

  4. Bob Backlund winning the title from Brett Hart was a shock, but maybe more shocking was when he lost the belt to Diesel days later at a house show. WWE would never consider booking a title change at a non-televised event now.

  5. Great list Eric, as usual. One change I would make would be to replace the Miz cashing in his Money in the Bank with Edge cashing in Money in the Bank against Cena. While the thought of Edge wasn't shocking, the manner in which he won was shocking, in my opinion. Edge was the first to cash in and I think that made it more shocking than Miz. I didnt expect that you could cash it in that way back then, i figured it would be a scheduled match. When Miz did it, even though he wasn't on a hot streak, it was pretty standard that if you won the briefcase you would cash it in and win at some point. But that first time, I remember sitting up straight and going, "Holy Crap! This is going to happen." Just my 2 cents.

    • Certainly worth an argument. In retrospect you certainly could go either way. The thing is you could see that Edge was poised for greatness. The Miz on the other hand was MITB winner but at that particular time nobody saw it coming, especially over Orton. Like I said I don't know if there is a right or wrong answer here. Thanks for replying and the kind words as always Vince.

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