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WWE's 20 Biggest and Most Surprising Overachievers of All-Time

Thomas J. Harrigan Jr.Correspondent IDecember 2, 2016

WWE's 20 Biggest and Most Surprising Overachievers of All-Time

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    Some superstars enter the WWE immediately destined for greatness. But what about those who take a more roundabout path to the top?

    Whether it's a poor gimmick, a lack of faith from company higher-ups, or a nontraditional look, some superstars have to overcome tremendous obstacles to succeed.

    Even with fans clamoring for a push, it can take years for certain wrestlers to get an opportunity. 

    For some, the break never comes. 

    There are those who never get the chance to relish the spotlight. 

    And yet, there are wrestlers who have made it despite their perceived shortcomings — those who finally get a chance to run with the ball after enduring years as insignificant curtain jerkers. 

    Here are the WWE's 20 biggest and most surprising cases of wrestlers breaking through and exceeding primary expectations:

Chris Benoit

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    Chris Benoit always let his in-ring work do the talking, and on March 14, 2004, the Crippler sent a loud-and-clear message to the wrestling world: He had finally reached the top. 

    By forcing Triple H to submit at WrestleMania XX, Benoit achieved tangible validation that he was one of the best ever between the ropes, as he secured the World Heavyweight Championship for the first time.

    With that win, the Crippler burst out of the mid-card and into the main event, a place he should have been all along. 

    It was a long and arduous journey for Benoit, but his 2004 success made it all worth it for fans of the Crippler. 

    Accolades: WWE World Heavyweight Champion (one), WCW World Heavyweight Champion (one), WWE Intercontinental Champion (four), WCW/WWE United States Champion (five), WWE Tag Team Champion (three), WCW Tag Team Champion (two), WCW World Television Champion (three), 2004 Royal Rumble winner.


Eddie Guerrero

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    A similar case to his good friend, Chris Benoit, it really is perplexing that Eddie Guerrero wasn't a multiple-time world champion by 2004. 

    Sure, he was a bit undersized, but the guy brought it in the ring with a unique flair unlike any other. 

    Plus, whether he was coaxing fans to chant "Eddie!" or "Eddie sucks!," Guerrero was always superb on the mic. 

    However, Guerrero let his demons get the better of him several times, and in 2001, he was even let go from the WWE after a drunk-driving arrest. 

    Guerrero got his second chance with the company in 2002, but he had to wait until No Way Out 2004 for his first chance at the spotlight. 

    Once he had it, Latino Heat didn't wilt. 

    At the event, Guerrero bested the much larger and nearly invincible Brock Lesnar to win the WWE title for the first, and only, time. 

    Accolades: WWE Champion (one), WWE Intercontinental Champion (two), WWE/WCW United States Champion (two), WWE Tag Team Champion (four), WWE/WCW Cruiserweight Champion (two), WWE European Champion (two), 2006 WWE Hall of Fame.


Rey Mysterio

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    Rey Mysterio had always been a top-notch cruiserweight, notable for putting the lucha-libre style on the map in the United States. 

    But after Eddie Guerrero passed away in 2005, Mysterio's career took on a new life. 

    The 5'6" superstar was long accustomed to playing the David to everyone else's Goliath, but 2006 saw Mysterio venture into uncharted waters by challenging for the World Heavyweight Championship.

    For Mysterio, the journey started by lasting longer in the Royal Rumble than anyone had before en route to winning the match from the No. 2 spot. He went on to WrestleMania to beat Randy Orton and Kurt Angle for the gold. 

    Now 37, Mysterio has captured three world titles in his career, and while he has toned down his in-ring work as he has aged, the little big man can still excite with the best of them. 

    Accolades: WWE Champion (one), WWE World Heavyweight Champion (two), WWE Intercontinental Champion (two), WWE Tag Team Champion (four), WCW Tag Team Champion (three), WWE/WCW Cruiserweight Champion (eight), 2006 Royal Rumble winner.


Daniel Bryan

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    Perhaps these accolades wouldn't be overachievements for Bryan Danielson, but Daniel Bryan is a different story.

    Danielson is a former ROH World Champion, but Bryan? All he is is an undersized kid with some cyber credibility who was let go from WWE after choking Justin Roberts on camera. 

    Fans clamoring for Bryan's return got their wish when he checked in at Summerslam 2010, but Bryan didn't make his main event mark until a year later. 

    Now, his star has never been brighter, and he has a chance to potentially main event WrestleMania—if he can walk away from Elimination Chamber with the belt. 

    Accolades: WWE World Heavyweight Champion (one), WWE United States Champion (one), 2011 SmackDown Money in the Bank winner.


CM Punk

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    If Daniel Bryan has exceeded expectations, CM Punk has blasted them out of the water like a U-boat on the receiving end of a ballistic missile. 

    And the thing is, Punk keeps outdoing himself. 

    He overachieved by winning the world title from Edge in 2008, and did it again by turning into a conniving heel to end Jeff Hardy's WWE career a year later.

    But the Straightedge Superstar wasn't done.

    For his finest act, Punk morphed into a pipe-bomb toting pontificator hell bent on changing the WWE status quo. 

    In the process, he became a two-time WWE Champion and the most popular superstar in the company.

    Accolades: WWE Champion (two); WWE World Heavyweight Champion (three), WWE Intercontinental Champion (one), WWE Tag Team Champion (one), ECW Champion (one), 2008 and 2009 Money in the Bank winner.


Diamond Dallas Page

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    True, the vast majority of Diamond Dallas Page's success comes from his WCW career, but since he did wrestle in WWE, his name can be mentioned among the all-time underdogs. 

    On the strength of one move, delivered any time and any place, DDP became a megastar, vaulting from the mid-card to the main event in less than two years. 

    Throughout 1997 and 1998, Page established the Diamond Cutter as one of the fiercest finishers in wrestling, using it to defeat countless foes as he rose up the ranks in WCW. 

    Page developed a reputation as a gritty roughneck, and he was rarely seen without his ribs heavily taped up.

    He broke through via the success of his feud with Randy Savage in '97; he won the U.S. title at Starrcade and went on to win WarGames at Fall Brawl '98. 

    DDP then came closer to putting down Goldberg than anyone else had before at Halloween Havoc '98, but ultimately fell victim to the Jackhammer. 

    That didn't stop DDP, as he would finally win the heavyweight title—in a match with three former world champs—at Spring Stampede '99. 

    Accolades: WCW World Heavyweight Champion (three), WWE/WCW United States Champion (2), WWE Tag Team Champion (one), WCW Tag Team Champion (four), WCW World Television Champion (1), WWE European Champion (1).


Booker T

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    Possibly the unlikeliest world champion ever, Booker T took advantage of tumultuous circumstances to capture his first heavyweight title.

    At Bash at the Beach 2000, Booker's night appeared to be over after he lost to Kanyon. However, after Vince Russo had Jeff Jarrett lie down for Hulk Hogan, Russo lambasted Hogan in a now infamous promo and put over Booker as one of the company's workhorses. 

    In a surprise match, Booker defeated Jeff Jarrett to win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. 

    Booker T became one of the biggest stars in WCW's dying days and then carried the company as one of the leaders of the Invasion angle in 2001.

    Accolades: WWE World Heavyweight Champion (one), WCW World Heavyweight Champion (five), WWE Intercontinental Champion (one), WWE/WCW United States Champion (four), WWE Tag Team Champion (three), WCW Tag Team Champion (11), WCW World Television Champion (six), WWE Hardcore Champion (one), 2006 King of the Ring. 


Steve Austin

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    Though he's arguably the most influential WWE superstar of all time—it's either him or Hulk Hogan—Steve Austin wasn't always so popular, so successful...or so bald. 

    Austin, with flowing blonde locks, went by the monikers Stunning Steve and the Ringmaster before he found his stone-cold edge.

    Once he uttered his catchphrase, "Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass," for the first time in 1996, the WWE was forever changed. 

    In a few short years, Austin went from the guy who had been fired by WCW over the phone— reportedly deemed "unmarketable" by Eric Bischoff in 1995—to one of the most marketable pop culture icons of all time. 

    Accolades: WWE Champion (six), WWE Intercontinental Champion (two), WWE/WCW United States Champion (one), WWE Tag Team Champion (four), WCW Tag Team Champion (one), WCW World Television Champion (two), 1997, 1998 and 2001 Royal Rumble winner, 1996 King of the Ring, 2009 WWE Hall of Fame. 


Mick Foley

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    Call him pudgy, call him doughy, call him out of shape, but just be sure you also recognize Mick Foley for what he really is: a winner. 

    Though he's portrayed several personas, Foley captured the hearts of the WWE fans as Mankind, a leather mask-wearing, sweat sock-toting crackpot who lived in a boiler room. 

    What he lacked in athleticism, Foley made up for with sheer insanity and a complete disregard for his body. 

    He engaged in a brutal feud with the Rock in late 1998 and early 1999 that saw him capture three WWE Championships. 

    Foley is also one of the pioneers of the Hell in a Cell match, as his fall from the top of the cage through the announce table and subsequent crash through the cell will be forever played among the most savage clips in wrestling history. 

    To top it all off, Foley is also a multiple-time New York Times bestselling author.

    Whether you like him or not, one thing is clear: Foley is good. 

    Accolades: WWE Champion (three), WWE Tag Team Champion (eight), WCW Tag Team Champion (one), WWE Hardcore Champion (one).


Road Dogg

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    How could a guy devoid of any exceptional wrestling talent or noteworthy in-ring moments become one of the most memorable stars of the Attitude Era? 

    "Oh, you didn't know?" 

    Road Dogg Jesse James and his partner, Billy Gunn, developed a timeless schtick that the audience loved because it was simple, fun and allowed them to croon along.

    "Yo' ass better call somebodaaaayy!" 

    The New Age Outlaws won five tag-team championships in the WWE and were involved in some of the more outrageous moments of the Attitude Era, including the DX Army showing up on location and declaring war on WCW. 

    Accolades: WWE Intercontinental Champion (one), WWE Tag Team Champion (five), WWE Hardcore Champion (one).


Chyna

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    Throughout her career, the Ninth Wonder of the World proved that even in a man's world, she could still be an alpha dog. 

    Tough, rugged and deadly, she was the first and only woman to compete full-time in the men's division, which led to her winning two Intercontinental Championships. 

    She defeated the misogynistic Jeff Jarrett at No Mercy '99 for her first title and pinned Trish Stratus in a mixed tag-team match to win the gold for a second time. 

    Chyna was also the first woman to compete in the Royal Rumble, a feat which has since been duplicated by Beth Phoenix and Kharma. 

    When she turned her focus to the women's division, Chyna had no problem dominating. She defeated Ivory in less than three minutes at WrestleMania X-Seven to win her first and only Women's Championship. 

    Accolades: WWE Intercontinental Champion (two), WWE Women's Champion (one). 


Edge

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    How does a wrestler go from tag team specialist to Hall of Famer? 

    By winning 11 world titles in five years, that's how.

    Edge won 14 tag championships in his career, seven with Christian, but he didn't win his first world championship until 2006. 

    The backlash following his real-life affair with Lita gave his heel character a new edge, no pun intended, making him more marketable as a main-event star than he ever was before. 

    Edge established the validity of the Money in the Bank match as a springboard into superstardom, as he twice took advantage of a fallen opponent to win the world title.

    With John Cena on Raw, Edge became the face of SmackDown from 2007-2010, holding the World Heavyweight Championship seven times. 

    Accolades: WWE Champion (four), WWE World Heavyweight Champion (seven), WWE Intercontinental Champion (five), WWE/WCW United States Champion (one), WWE Tag Team Champion (14), 2010 Royal Rumble winner, 2001 King of the Ring, 2005 and 2007 Money in the Bank winner, 2012 WWE Hall of Fame.


Christian

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    Like his former tag-team partner, Christian built up his career with success in the mid-card and the tag division until he finally broke through to win a world title. 

    Sure, Randy Orton took the belt away several days later, but Christian's name will forever be in the record books as a former World Heavyweight Champion.

    Plus, he won the title back from Orton, getting a second run as a WWE world champion that legends such as Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit never had. 

    Accolades: WWE World Heavyweight Champion (two), WWE Intercontinental Champion (three), WWE Tag Team Champion (nine), ECW Champion (two), WWE European Champion (one), WWE Hardcore Champion (one).


Jeff Hardy

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    Jeff Hardy is the third member of the TLC sextet to win a world title (excluding Matt Hardy's ECW Championship reign).

    Like Edge and Christian, Hardy toiled for years as a successful mid-carder before he jumped into the main event. 

    Though Hardy nearly upset the Undertaker in a ladder match for the WWE Championship in 2002, it would be six long years before he would get his chance to wear the top prize. 

    Six long years of getting buried by Brock Lesnar, jumping to TNA, reuniting with his brother in the WWE and facing several drug suspensions before finally seizing the title at Armageddon 2008. 

    Accolades: WWE Champion (one), WWE World Heavyweight Champion (two), WWE Intercontinental Champion (four), WWE Tag Team Champion (six), WCW Tag Team Champion (one), WWE European Champion (one), WWE Hardcore Champion (three). 


Zack Ryder

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    Though Zack Ryder's initial character shift from a forgettable member of Edge's entourage to a stereotypical Long Island guido went largely unnoticed by the WWE Universe, Long Island Iced Z forced the WWE Universe to pay attention. 

    Rather than wait for his eventual pink slip, the Broski took to the Internet to build a fanbase. His YouTube show, Z! True Long Island Story, became a huge hit and has run 50 episodes to this date.

    Ryder's underground following came to the forefront in late 2011, as the audience began to clamor for the superstar with cries of "woo, woo, woo." 

    Long Island Iced Z gained the support of CM Punk and John Cena, and the WWE finally began putting him on television. 

    He feuded with Dolph Ziggler, defeating him at TLC in December to win the United States Championship.

    Accolades: WWE United States Champion (one), WWE Tag Team Champion (one).


The Miz

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    A former reality television star as world champion? Sounds like something Vince Russo would book. 

    But give the Miz credit. He worked his way from the Real World all the way to the top of the wrestling world. 

    After splitting from his tag team partner, John Morrison, and ditching his garish ring attire for more traditional trunks, the Miz won the United States Championship twice, as well as the Money in the Bank ladder match. 

    The Miz cashed in on Randy Orton to win the WWE Championship and successfully defended the gold at WrestleMania XXVII against the face of the WWE, John Cena. 

    Accolades: WWE Champion (one), WWE United States Champion (two), WWE Tag Team Champion (five), 2010 Raw Money in the Bank Winner. 


John Bradshaw Layfield

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    The APA were a staple of the Attitude Era, with their constant beer swilling and weekly backstage poker games, but forgive me if I didn't see Bradshaw as world champion material. 

    However, a haircut, a name change and a character alteration later, and JBL became one of the longest reigning WWE Champions ever. 

    And really, all JBL had to do was start acting more like his real-life persona.

    The real John Layfield had written a financial advice book and had frequently appeared on Fox News as a financial analyst.

    After the APA broke up, Bradshaw assumed the character of a cowboy hat-wearing Texas business tycoon and immediately received a WWE Championship match against Eddie Guerrero, which he won.

    Quite a leap for a wrestler who had spent eight years mired in the WWE midcard. 

    Accolades: WWE Champion (one), WWE Intercontinental Champion (one), WWE United States Champion (one), WWE Tag Team Champion (three), WWE European Champion (one), WWE Hardcore Champion (17).


Triple H

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    From a polite and proper Connecticut noble to one of the most vicious superstars of all-time, Triple H certainly exceeded expectations in his career.

    Backstage politician or not, there is no denying the impact Hunter Hearst Helmsley has had on the wrestling business.

    He won 13 world championships in his career and 23 titles overall, as well as the King of the Ring and the Royal Rumble.

    He headlined WrestleMania six times and wrestled in world title matches at two others.

    His in-ring acumen and manipulative intelligence earned him the nicknames "The Game" and the "Cerebral Assassin."

    Triple H has also been a part of some of the most memorable factions in wrestling history, including DX, the Corporation, the McMahon-Helmsley Regime and Evolution, and he mentored two of the WWE's biggest stars in the past 10 years, Randy Orton and Batista. 

    Not too shabby for a guy who debuted in 1995 preaching civility and etiquette with a terrible British accent. 

    Accolades: WWE Champion (eight), WWE World Heavyweight Champion (five), WWE Intercontinental Champion (five), WWE Tag Team Champion (three), WWE European Champion (two), 2002 Royal Rumble winner, 1997 King of the Ring.


Owen Hart

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    Bret's little brother's career was anything but small. 

    Though the measuring stick was set extremely high thanks to his last name, Owen Hart managed to exceed all expectations in forging his own identity.

    Hart's untimely death in 1999 prevented him from ever winning the WWE Championship, but the Canadian left a lasting impression on the WWE Universe nevertheless. 

    In 1994, Owen engaged in a lengthy feud with his brother, defeating him at WrestleMania X before losing to him in a 32-minute epic Steel Cage match at SummerSlam for the WWF Championship. 

    Prior to his second match with Bret, Owen had won the King of the Ring tournament and had begun referring to himself as the "King of Harts."

    He also engaged in a memorable feud with Triple H and DX in 1998, which led to a reign as the European Champion. 

    Accolades: WWE Intercontinental Champion (two), WWE Tag Team Champion (four), WWE European Champion (one), 1994 King of the Ring.


Chris Jericho

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    Chris Jericho always had main-event potential. He just had to join a company that would cultivate it. 

    That's how Jericho went from dominating WCW's cruiserweight division to defeating the Rock and Stone Cold in the same night three years later. 

    Unlike a boxer, Jericho didn't have to pack on poundage to jump to the heavyweight division. 

    He just had to continue to do what he did best: cut creative promos and consistently produce exciting matches. 

    Jericho's legion of Jerichoholics finally were able to rejoice at Vengeance 2001, when Jericho beat the Rock for the World Championship before knocking off Steve Austin for the WWE Championship, in the process becoming the first-ever Undisputed WWE Champion. 

    Jericho likes to call himself, "the best in the world at what he does," and throughout his career, the Canadian has more than lived up to the moniker. 

    Accolades: WWE Champion (one), WWE World Heavyweight Champion (three), WCW World Heavyweight Champion (two), WWE Intercontinental Champion (nine), WWE Tag Team Champion (seven), WWE/WCW Cruiserweight Champion (four), WWE European Champion (one), WWE Hardcore Champion (one), WCW World Television Champion (one). 


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