In case you’re living under a rock, the Miz cashed in his Money in the Bank contract Monday and is the new WWE Champion. For thousands of wrestling fans, the slow build for the superstar of awesome has been enough to justify his reign. Others, however, still hold out the utter disbelief that the Miz is actually at the top of the heap.
It isn’t the first time this has happened, either. Throughout the lineage of the WWE Championship, several men have come and gone who were unlikely usurpers of the throne. Transitional champions, one night stands, and even Miz himself did more than put skeptics to bed with their victories.
So without further ado, let’s take a trip down memory lane to look at the 10 most unlikely WWE Champions of all-time. If history is any indicator, this trend may keep up well into the next decade with more heroes and zeroes claiming the strap.
Yes, the man known as Y2J had a lot of success after his Countdown to Millennium debut back in 1999, but nobody could have anticipated the meteoric rise of Jericho in the fallout of the 2001 Survivor Series.
After months of inner turmoil between he and the Rock, Jericho would be entered in the four-man tournament that would unify the WWF and WCW titles at December’s Vengeance event. Not only was Jericho the last man standing by the end of the night, but he went through the Rock and Steve Austin to do it.
Then, over the next few months, Jericho established that he was more than a transitional champion by beating both men once more on pay-per-view. At the time, Jericho was a remarkable choice considering the depth of talent the World Wrestling Federation was clinging to. When the company has Rock, Austin, Undertaker, Kane, Booker T, and Kurt Angle all active at the time of your victory, you know you’re big.
Okay. Bob Backlund’s first WWF title reign was nothing out of the ordinary. But his second? Well that occurred only 15 years after Backlund had left his prime. The all-American amateur had been forging a comeback since 1992, but it wasn’t until the WWF adopted a new, psychotic rage in Backlund that they felt like they were hitting pay dirt.
Backlund was 55 when he won the WWF title at the 1994 Survivor Series against the company’s biggest draw, Bret Hart. And even though he only kept the belt for a week, just the mere thought of him back on top while the company hawks the “New Generation” is laughable.
This win alone kept Bob around for the better part of the next three years in the WWF, yet he never flirted with championship gold again.
Big Daddy Cool was certainly coming into his own by the close of 1994, and mostly because he was no longer competing in the shadow of Shawn Michaels. But was Kevin Nash really the number one contender for the WWF title? Not hardly.
In an age that included Bret Hart, Lex Luger, and the Undertaker as the top faces of the company (not to mention the impending turn for Michaels), Diesel was easily playing fourth fiddle when he got his first and only crack at the gold in 1994.
He made every second count, pinning Bob Backlund in record time at a taped live event in Madison Square Garden. What followed was one of the rockiest and most troubled years in WWF history as the big man reigned throughout 1995 until showing signs that he was better utilized as a menacing, jealous heel rather than a title-bearing baby face.
Latino Heat was always fun to watch both in and out of the ring, but there never seemed to be a clear consensus on whether or not he was championship material. So in 2004, when Guerrero earned his first true shot at the gold in seemingly forever, the deck was already stacked against him.
Eddie would have to takeout the massive Brock Lesnar in order to become the WWE Champion, a feat that had only been accomplished to that point by a giant and an Olympian. In short, Latino Heat didn’t stand a chance.
But fate had a funny way of intervening that night (as did Bill Goldberg), and before you knew it, Guerrero had matched the might of the next big thing and was on his way to victory. A grueling contest and a frog splash later, and the fans had a true underdog worth celebrating. Too bad his reign would be ended by an even more unlikely foe…
Say what you will about his transformation, he was still the same Bradshaw we had been watching for almost a decade in the mid to low card. Yes, the JBL rich Texan gimmick certainly got under the skin of the audience, but few could anticipate how far it would travel during the brand extension era.
JBL defeated Eddie Guerrero for the WWE title at the 2004 Great American Bash, and would continue to successfully defend said title for nine months afterwards, losing to John Cena at WrestleMania 21. Despite being introduced as Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw a decade earlier, being repackaged as Blackjack Bradshaw, and then finally throwing a couple back as a member of the APA, Bradshaw couldn’t possibly be successful alone, right?
Wrong. The JBL character was one of the best sources of heat from the audience for years, forming his own stable of somewhat undeserving characters (including the worst U.S. Champion ever, Orlando Jordan) and defeating even the mightiest of opponents.
When you look up transitional champion in the dictionary, you’ll likely find a photo of Stan Stasiak right next to the definition. Stasiak’s only WWF title reign lasted 10 days, yet it was as important as any in the history of the company.
Stasiak, who was on his third run in the WWWF, was wrestling the upper echelon of opponents when he began feuding with then WWWF Champion Pedro Morales. Morales had been the champion for two years, but the potential for him to clash with the other big face in the locker room, Bruno Sammartino, was too great to chance it.
So Stasiak was brought in specifically for the same purpose that had been bestowed upon Ivan Koloff at the start of the decade. Beat the champion and subsequently lose the title to the other face so that the faces never had to work against each other. In the 70’s, this practice was common, yet Stasiak’s minuscule reign stands out considering he wasn’t credited with even one title defense before dropping the strap.
He may have won Money in the Bank in July and become a legitimate mid card star over the past two years, but that said, he’s still the Miz. Fathoming that this former Tough Enough star and Real World cast member could become a credible wrestler is mind boggling.
Remember, the Miz finally bust onto the scene as the “host” of SmackDown!, taking part in bad vignettes, hanging out in the crowd, and shouting out poor catchphrases with the Divas. How did this guy become the WWE Champion?
Even now it still seems unnatural to say. WWE Champion The Miz. Like a dirty word. An AWESOME dirty word.
Of course, the Miz still has a lot of time to show that he can be a great champion. Our next winner was way past the point of greatness when he bafflingly took the WWF title off of the uber-popular Ultimate Warrior in 1991.
It wasn’t that Sgt. Slaughter wasn’t a big star; quite the contrary actually. Slaughter was easily the number two face behind Hulk Hogan during the mid-80’s. But when he returned to the WWF in 1990, he received an instant makeover to get him over as a heel in the midst of a transitional period for the company.
With tensions rising from the Gulf War, creative changed Slaughter into an Iraqi-turncoat and had him do dastardly deeds to win his matches. Beating Warrior at the 1991 Royal Rumble, the WWF sealed Slaughter’s fate as nothing more than fodder for Hogan in the coming months.
But was Slaughter really a championship caliber wrestler? Perhaps five years beforehand, yes. But certainly not in 1991.
Name the only notable feud that the Celtic Warrior had prior to his encounter with John Cena at last year’s TLC pay-per-view. Give up? It was with Goldust on ECW. Yes, Goldust.
Sheamus may be a household name in the WWE Universe now, but the backlash and outrage to putting him on the belt so quickly in 2009 is derivative of a fan base that really didn’t know who the guy was. He had wrestled only a handful of television matches and actually lost during his feud with the bizarre one. Sure, the breakthrough battle royal helped to give him some dues, but he was still incredibly green and unprepared.
His first title reign was also completely wasted, as Sheamus couldn’t seem to beat any credible threats without a little underhanded tactics. After all, his victory over Cena for the title didn’t even involve pinning the champ. He simply put him through a table (rather, Cena threw himself into the table). If he’s such a raging bull, why can’t he just pin an opponent and be done with it?
But for a WWE champion to truly be unlikely, you have to ponder the thought that the owner of the company could be so ego-maniacal that he would make himself the top guy on the show. Such was the case for Vince McMahon on a 1999 edition of SmackDown!, where the boss was out for revenge against then-champion Triple H.
With the help of his son Shane and Stone Cold Steve Austin, McMahon claimed his first and only WWF title on September 16, 1999, just a few weeks before the WWF went public with stock offerings. Perhaps it wasn’t the best business move, but the boss recognized the issues and vacated the title the following Monday on RAW. The next champion was Triple H once more, thus negating any rhyme or reason to McMahon’s brief reign.
He won the title just to do it. And what’s worse, he didn’t even lose it. He gave it up voluntarily, thus making himself the only undefeated WWF champion in history. If that isn’t unlikely, nothing is.