Squared Circle: 5 Most Memorable Unlikely WWE Championship Matches Since 2000
Last Monday night saw Jerry "The King" Lawler challenge WWE Champion The Miz for the title. Although he was unsuccessful in winning, and we all knew there was no way WWE would allow the 61-year-old commentator to walk away as champion, the tale was told in such an unpredictable way that caused some of us to be on the edge of our seats.
For me, the match represents one of the strongest selling points of Miz being the WWE Champion. While you know they won't put the belt on him, the majority of the WWE locker room could have a close championship match with him and with each successful title defense, he gains more heat. The fans desire to see him lose with a passion. So much so that when he eventually loses it the one who beats him will be extremely popular.
Some people have cried foul about the match and have stated that it already represents how Miz's title reign will look and why he is not ready to be a main eventer. People forget that Miz is not the first champion who has come close to losing it all to a contender who should not seriously be considered a challenger for the top guy in the company.
The Miz vs. Jerry Lawler recalls a by-gone era where it was not uncommon for the WWE championship to get a random title defense on the spur of the moment, whether it be Raw, Smackdown or even Sunday Heat. So, I am going to list five of my most memorable, unlikely WWE Championship matches from the last ten years (in chronological order).
The matches are of personal opinion and nothing official. If you don't like my choices then I encourage you to list some matches that you remember in the comments section.
Triple H Vs. Taka Michinoku: April 2000
Taka Michinoku is arguably one of the most talented wrestlers to ever compete in WWE. He was a good all-rounder who could pretty much compete in any type of wrestling match and adapt to the situation. After losing the Light Heavyweight Championship he joined Kai En Tai and would shortly after become a comedy jobber.
Triple H was only on his third WWE Championship reign at this point and was placed into a surprise title defense at the beginning of the show. It was looking as if the match would be a squash but with a little assistance from the APA and his tag partner Funaki the odds were evened.
What you have to remember is that this was before Triple H's rise to power within the company and some people felt that in 2000 he was a weak champion due to his past ties to Shawn Michaels, Montreal and the MSG Incident. Considering he lost his first World Championship to Vince McMahon on a random episode of Smackdown and then his next reign was ended by Big Show who at the time was widely considered mid-card talent in WWE. Whilst most of us were certain Triple H would retain, we could never say never.
Stone Cold Steve Austin Vs. Spike Dudley: June 2001
We go from a championship match that made a jobber look very good to one making the champion look dominant. Not that it was difficult when you were fighting the rag-doll of the Dudley trio. Steve Austin was on the verge of a championship defense at King of the Ring in a triple-threat against Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho.
Spike was always a sympathetic favorite because he always fought like he could stand with the best despite being beaten badly most times. This meant that when the heel Austin went into this match using the championship to lure in poor Spike, he gained loads of heat from the crowd which in effect built support for Jericho and Benoit.
It is one of the best ways to get your crowd to be repulsed by a villain. It's a card not played often enough when PPV buildup is struggling as it can reignite a crowd's hatred towards the WWE Champion. If this was today, imagine a heel Randy Orton decimating Santino Marella.
Chris Jericho Vs. Maven: January 2002
Maven was the first-ever winner of Tough Enough in 2001 and the following year, WWE made steps to make him a big part of the promotion for the next season. In the Royal Rumble, he eliminated The Undertaker and was placed in a feud with him. If being in a storyline with one of the most well-known WWE competitors wasn't enough, he was given a WWE Championship match as well.
This match provided a nice blend of qualities from the previous two matches. It allowed Maven to look like he was really going to be someone in the company for the future (now we know different) and Jericho to look arrogant and villainous by using heel tactics to barely win yet brag he had a momentous title victory.
This is not something that could be done on a regular basis, as giving rookies a championship match is a slap in the face to more developed wrestlers that never get the opportunity. One of the problems today is that newcomers are instantly treated as serious contenders (see Barrett or Sheamus). WWE skips the early stages and has them enter at the highest point.
The Undertaker Vs. Jeff Hardy: July 2002
Before he was the "Wrestling Anti-Christ" in TNA, 2002 had Jeff Hardy as part of Team Xtreme and was thought of nothing more than a tag team wrestler and infrequent midcarder. The Undertaker during this time was probably at the strongest his Big Evil character ever reached. It was unfathomable that Hardy would defeat Taker. Unlike the previous three matches this was not a spur of the moment event.
After April 2002 the WWE was split into brands for the first time ever. Unlike today there was only one World Championship up for grabs. This meant that only one show would see the build up for the main event of an upcoming PPV. In this case Undertaker was going into Vengence defending against The Rock and Kurt Angle who both were on Smackdown.
The Hardys has been feuding with Taker pretty much throughout his entire heel turn on Raw. The inclusion of the ladder match added the unpredictability the match needed for the crowd to get into it.
The match achieved quite a lot. In terms of storyline it began to turn Undertaker face because he showed respect for the battered Hardy. Outside of kayfabe it was a match that began Hardy's push into the main event. What could have easily been a throwaway match to fill Raw's main event one week showed that he could, if need be, compete at the top level. Admittedly there were a lot of troubles after this match caused by inappropriate behaviour (e.g. no-showing, drug problems, behaviour). You do have to wonder: if it was not for this match Hardy may have eventually become a World Champion in 2008.
Brock Lesnar Vs. Eddie Guerrero: February 2004
I was really wondering if I should have included this one. Are you really an unlikely contender if you main event the PPV before WrestleMania and capture the championship off one of the biggest stars of the time? After some deliberation with myself I have decided that it would be fine to add this one.
Unlike the previous four choices, Eddie Guerrero was a wrestler that could easily compete at the highest level throughout his career. He had occasionally received the odd WWE Championship match on free TV but he was never a guy you would have expected to win it or headline a PPV. It seemed before this match Guerrero was a man that would have never of made it because he was too small and his past drug issues had made him an unreliable choice to lead the company.
It was even more unlikely that Brock Lesnar, possibly the most dominant WWE champion of the time, would lose to a man half his size. If we look at his career he lost very few singles matches by pinfall or submission and the list of names is a short one. Big Show, Kurt Angle, Goldberg, and Eddie Guerrero are the only four to have that distinct honour. Whilst people were fully expecting Lesnar to lose the belt soon as it was appearing he would be leaving for the NFL, most suspected that he would lose the belt at WrestleMania.
This match is good because it really does emphasise the whole "Anything can happen in WWE" attitude. With a little help from Goldberg, Eddie would capture his only WWE Championship and have a highly successful reign until another unlikely champion, JBL, took the belt off him.
You may be wondering why all of my picks happened prior to 2005 and the main reason is because this was the point the structure of WWE changed. At the tail end of the Attitude era and begining of the Brand Extention the main title scene was dominated by heels. After Eddie Guerrero's title reign JBL was the last heel to have a long spell with the belt. John Cena's victory saw the beginning of a time where faces once again were the main holders of the belt.
Its all well and good making a nasty champion go out there and squash a lower ranked competitor but this is something a fan favourite cannot do. They either have to make it look competitive or squash heels, both of which can cause damage to their character.
The other reason is that 2004/05 saw an increase of PPVs that left less free slots open for random matches on TV. The unlikely competitor was good for filling a week up and not having to write up something too complicated. With most periods of time between PPVs now being 2-4 weeks much has to be accomplished in a short time frame.
Either way that's five of my most memorable unlikely championship matches from 2000 Onwards. I hope you enjoyed the list and I will return the week before TLC at the very least.
This is Squared Circle signing off.