In one way, the WWE is a lot like the National Football League. Sometimes the winner catches a break and wins the title because they get hot at the right time. It worked for the New York Giants last year and the Green Bay Packers the year before that.
And it works for WWE Superstars, too.
Since 2002, when Triple H was awarded the first WWE World Heavyweight title, there have been 48 title changes. More often than not, the belt has been recycled among the same group of superstars over that time, but a few others were able to break through and grab the gold.
For some of those "others," the fact that they won the belt was not a shock, but it was how their title reigns turned out that was, in fact, shocking.
Let’s look at seven of these so-called “most shocking World Championship reigns."
A Heavyweight Champion barely bigger than a minute? Yes, it’s true.
Rey Mysterio was the first lightweight wrestler to capture the title. He won both belts in group matches against more than one opponent, and we all know how group matches often work. Sometimes the bigger guys ground and pound each other for the duration of the match, only to have someone else (usually a smaller person) get a second or third wind, and close the deal.
Mysterio first won the belt at WrestleMania 22 in a Triple-Threat match that included Randy Orton and Kurt Angle. Both men are/were bigger than Rey, but in the end, it was Mysterio’s hand raised. Surprisingly, Mysterio held the belt that time for more than three months before losing to Booker T (King Booker) at the Great American Bash.
Mysterio’s second title came in 2010 when he won a Fatal 4-Way match with then-champ Jack Swagger, CM Punk and The Big Show. That reign lasted only 28 days, when he lost to Kane. All in all, his combined title reigns were a total of 140 days.
Since then, Mysterio has hovered in the upper midcard range, with a few stops at the top of the card—when he was not injured. But Mysterio represents a Latino fanbase that the WWE covets greatly, so do not be surprised if you see at least one more title run from Mysterio before he calls it a career.
Jack Swagger represents how quickly a superstar can rise and fall in the WWE. The All-American American was a solid heel midcarder in 2010 when he won the Money in the Bank briefcase and then cashed it in on SmackDown, shocking Chris Jericho.
However, the electricity Swagger generated by winning the title zapped him more than his opponents or the WWE Universe. He never quite caught on as a champion the WWE could hang its hat on. Eighty-two days after winning the title, Swagger lost it to Rey Mysterio in a Fatal 4-Way.
That began his downward spiral. Swagger floundered in the midcard and was involved in ridiculous storylines (Remember him training Michael Cole for Wrestlemania?). We all thought maybe he would get some much-needed traction when Vickie Guerrero started managing him, but he was nothing more than a second banana to Dolph Ziggler.
Finally, a few weeks ago after losing yet another match, Swagger walked out of Raw and has not been seen since.
The Heartbreak Kid was the first of what you could call the “transitional champion”—someone holding the belt for a short period of time until another superstar’s push is complete. He won his only WHC title at the 2002 Survivor Series in the first-ever Elimination Chamber match against the likes of Kane, Rob Van Dam and Booker T.
But Michaels only held the belt for 28 days before losing it back to Triple H in a Three Stages of Hell match. So what makes the title reign shocking is the fact that someone as charismatic as Shawn Michaels would only hold the prestigious title for so short a time.
Obviously, the WWE had something more in store for Michaels that did not involve a WHC belt. And the short title reign surely did not hurt Michaels’ career. He’s in the Hall of Fame now, you know.
“Who’s Next” on this list? Bill Goldberg, that’s who.
Looking at Goldberg, he had everything Vince McMahon likes in his champions. He was big. He was tough. He squashed opponents. He screamed "Who's Next?" after every victory, and the crowd ate it up. (Sound familiar, Ryback?)
But once he got the WHC in 2003, it's like the Goldberg mystique had been solved. He did not do much with the belt, except what he did best—squash people. Perhaps he was too one-dimensional for his own good.
Regardless, he held the best for slightly less than three months before the WWE powers-that-be said enough was enough. He lost to Triple H in a Triple-Threat match that also included Kane.
Goldberg went on to roles in movies and TV commercials, but he never got back to the top of the WWE mountain again.
I’m sorry. I am sure Khali is a nice guy, and I hope he makes a complete recovery from his recent brain surgery. But to me, it is absolutely painful to watch Khali in the ring. He walks as if he can barely make it into the ring, and once in the ring, he moves with the speed of a glacier.
So why did the WWE award him the belt in 2007 on an episode of SmackDown?
Simple. The circumstances played right into his wheelhouse. Khali won the vacated title in a 20-man Battle Royal at a time when the big men were supposed to come into these matches and just bull everyone out of there.
The shock finally wore off 61 days later at Unforgiven when Khali lost to another big man in Batista. That’s when the WWE finally realized their champion was really nothing more than a big man whose oversized, awkward movements in the ring were uncomfortable to watch in the arenas and on television. But to them, having Khali as champ must have been better than having the title vacant once again.
Hence, Khali joins the ranks of a champion whose reign was as uneventful as it was short.
He may be the biggest athlete in the world, but The Big Show also holds the record for shortest title reign—a whopping 45 seconds. That's why his reign is considered shocking.
The wrestler formerly known as Giant and Paul Wight clearly got the title shot as a reward for being a good worker. He allowed himself to be inserted into ridiculous storylines, and he put up with the stigma of not being able to win matches at WrestleMania, WWE’s grandest stage. He fought a boxer and a sumo wrestler. He dressed as Santa Claus. He came across as a big, lovable goof.
Finally, he was inserted into the title picture against another big man in Mark Henry. Show pinned Henry in a chairs match at last year’s TLC pay-per-view, but before he could even get up and celebrate, Daniel Bryan rushed in, cashed in the Money in the Bank contract and pinned a supposedly prostrate Show to win the belt.
Shocked that Show won the belt? Nope. Shocked that the reign was so short? Yep, given the WWE’s penchant for pushing big men for its titles.
But it set up the current storyline Show is now following—a monster heel who apparently may get a second by beating Sheamus at this year’s Hell in a Cell. The question is, will this second reign be short-lived courtesy of another MITB winner?
In almost two decades, Christian has proven his mettle. He has held singles titles in the WWE, ECW and TNA. He probably was best known for tagging with his best friend, Edge.
So when he beat Alberto del Rio in a Ladder match at 2011’s Extreme Rules, it was his first WHC title. Ironically, the WHC title had just been vacated when Edge retired, so it seemed only right that Christian carry on Edge's legacy.
What followed, however, put the shock value in the title reign. He lost the belt two days later in a face-vs-face match with Randy Orton at a SmackDown taping. The series of “rematches” with Orton led to a heel turn with Christian forever asking for “one more match.”
He got that "one more match" two months later at Money in the Bank in a fight that had one of the most disgusting endings I have ever seen.
After getting the stipulation waived that a title cannot change hands on a disqualification, Christian hocked a loogie into Orton’s mouth while the latter was beating him in a corner.
Planned or not, it definitely induced cringes and prompted an angry reaction from Orton. Orton kicked Christian in the crotch, a low-blow that resulted in a DQ and a second title reign for Christian.
Christian must not have made that much of an impression as world champ, though. His two WHC title reigns lasted a grand total of 30 days.
It is the dream of every superstar on the WWE roster to hold the World title one day. Obviously, some of them will, provided they get the right push. Mixed among them are ones whose characters may not scream "The Next World Champion."
Who could that be? Look for the ones standing in the middle of a thunderstorm with a glass bottle in their hand looking to catch that elusive lightning.
We will be the ones who are shocked.
Follow Bill Atkinson on Twitter at @BAtkinson1963.