In the modern age of professional wrestling, it’s often difficult to surprise the hardcore fan base. Years of watching the product have allowed us to oftentimes see results or high spots before the casual viewer. However, over the years, there have been a number of matches that have (for good or bad) genuinely surprised us. Who will ever forget Hulk Hogan slamming Andre at WrestleMania III or Steve Austin helping Mankind win his first world championship? These two are just examples of a long line of shocking moments that have littered the history of professional wrestling.
Every year, we come to expect moments such as these to happen, yet we never know where or when they might occur. A prime example of this would be last year's WrestleMania, where in the main event Seth Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase and won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. It was truly a remarkable swerve by the company and it served as a way to ensure that the three men involved (Reigns, Lesnar, and Rollins) all gained something from the moment. For Lesnar, it established him as a champion who couldn't be pinned or submitted, and as for Rollins and Reigns it established them as worthy successors to the WWE throne.
When one witnesses a moment such as the ones mentioned above, they go through a truly remarkable experience. Whether it was a surprise entrant in a match or an unexpected result, something going against the status quo in professional wrestling always attracts attention. Here are the top 15 moments where we as fans were left stunned and amazed, and there are sure to be more moments such as these in the near future.
15 Shelton Benjamin Defeats Maven Twice (New Year’s Revolution 2005)
Throughout 2004, it was apparent that the powers that be had high hopes for Shelton Benjamin. After transferring over to Raw, Benjamin immediately made an impact by defeating Triple H on three separate occasions. Riding a wave of momentum into the first ever Taboo Tuesday event, Benjamin was voted by the fans to receive an Intercontinental championship match against Chris Jericho. Benjamin would successfully win his first singles championship in WWE and at the first pay-per-view event of 2005 Benjamin was set to go one on one with Tough Enough winner Maven.
Putting his Intercontinental title on the line, Benjamin quickly defeated the former Hardcore champion, who would go on to antagonize Benjamin and the fans in attendance. Demanding a rematch, Maven rushed back into the ring, and swiftly received a T-Bone Suplex from Benjamin before getting pinned for the second time. For a man who had been rumored to be joining the ranks of Evolution, this would a career low point for Maven, who would be released from the company later that year.
14 Damien Sandow Loses (RAW October 28th, 2013)
With the exception of The Shield and Daniel Bryan, no one seemed to have more momentum throughout 2013 than Damien Sandow. Going from being a member of the underrated team the “Rhodes Scholars” alongside Cody Rhodes to becoming Mr. Money in the Bank, the sky seemed to be the limit for Sandow. He was charismatic, athletic, and had a connection with the fans; all traits that usually correlates to money for WWE. Holding a guaranteed shot for the World Heavyweight Championship, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before Sandow would win his first title in WWE.
On the October 28th edition of Raw, Sandow decided to cash in against John Cena, who had just returned the night prior from a triceps tear. After viciously going after the still not 100% arm, Sandow seemed poised to win his first title, but a few minutes later one AA abruptly ended the hopes and dreams of fans around the globe. To this day Sandow has been struggling to work himself back up to the level he was at, and despite having a strong support from the crowd, it’s unlikely he will have much more success in the company.
13 Sheamus Wins Money in the Bank (MITB 2015)
Heading into last year’s Money in the Bank ladder match, it was difficult to figure who exactly was going to win the briefcase. Would it be the rising star Roman Reigns, or would it be a veteran such as Randy Orton? To the surprise of virtually everyone, Sheamus was the one who emerged victorious and he would go on to successfully cash in his contract against Reigns at Survivor Series. Even though Sheamus has always been a solid worker and a loyal member to team WWE, the fact that he had little to no momentum heading into this match made us all scratch our heads at the result. Seeing how creative treated Sheamus while he was holding the briefcase (and later during his brief stint as champion), it’s hard to argue whether or not the win did him any good.
12 Sheamus Wins WWE Championship from John Cena (TLC 2009)
Making his second appearance on this list, Sheamus seems to have “shock value” written all over him. After debuting and laying to waste to whoever got in his way in ECW, Sheamus would transfer over to Raw with his sights set on the WWE Championship. In what seemed like no time at all Sheamus earned the right to face John Cena for the championship at the first ever TLC pay-per-view in a tables match. Despite ending the career of Jamie Noble and spearing Mark Cuban through a table prior to the event, it was difficult to buy Sheamus as a legitimate threat to Cena’s championship.
Once the match began, Sheamus began using his brute strength to dismantle the champion. Even though Cena would come back as he always does, the closing moments of the match would involve Sheamus pushing Cena off the top rope and through a table. After just a very a short amount of time, Sheamus had earned his first championship in WWE, and he would go on to hold the title all the way until the Elimination Chamber event in February of 2010.
11 Triple H Survives the Chamber (SummerSlam 2003)
Here’s a fun fact for you; Triple H participated in every single World Heavyweight Championship match on pay-per-view from the belt’s debut at Unforgiven 2002, all the way to Backlash 2004. To put that in perspective for you, that’s fifteen championship matches, and the only event where he didn’t defend or fight for the strap was Backlash 2003 (as champion, he participated in a six man tag team match). Heading into the 2003 edition of SummerSlam, the original main event was going to be Triple H going one on one with Goldberg. This was later changed on Raw into an elimination chamber match, and Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, Chris Jericho, and even Triple H’s protege Randy Orton were added to the fold.
In what seemed like a must lose situation for the champion, he entered the match at number six, and after taking a beating from Goldberg, he used a sledgehammer brought into the chamber by Ric Flair to end Goldberg’s undefeated streak in WWE. The reason why this win is so surprising is because 2003 seemed to be the year of Bill Goldberg, who had defeated the likes of Chris Jericho and The Rock prior to this event. however with one shot to the head, Triple H managed to severely damage the aura Goldberg had achieved and Goldberg would find it too difficult to recover from, despite winning the title a month later at Unforgiven.
10 Kurt Angle Taps Out Hulk Hogan (KOTR 2002)
After finishing up a severely underrated program with Edge in the first half of 2002, Kurt Angle looked poised to work his way up the card. At King of the Ring, Angle was set to go one on one with the immortal Hulk Hogan in an epic encounter. While the match itself may have left a little to be desired (mainly due to The Hulkster), the result itself was one that very few saw coming. Countering the infamous leg drop, Angle would fasten the ankle lock on The Hulkster and a few moments later fans stood in shock as Hogan tapped out to the hold.
The win itself would propel Angle up the card and give him important momentum, which he would use to win his first Tag Team Championship and his third WWE Championship later that year. He would go on to headline WrestleMania XIX against Brock Lesnar, before taking time off for surgery. As for Hogan, this would be his last appearance on pay-per-view until the 2003 installment of No Way Out, where he would go on to have a sub-par match with The Rock.
9 Chris Jericho defeats Edge (WrestleMania XXVI)
To the surprise of millions of wrestling fans, Edge would make a surprise return at the 2010 Royal Rumble. Recovering early from a torn Achilles tendon, Edge would go on to win the match, before focusing on Chris Jericho and his World Heavyweight Championship. Prior to his injury, Edge had been one half of the unified tag team champions along with Jericho, however following his injury Jericho would make it his mission to ridicule Edge whenever possible. This would cause Jericho to earn the ire of his former partner, and at WrestleMania it seemed that Edge was penciled in to win the title.
As it turns out, at the "Show of Shows," Chris Jericho would soundly defeat Edge to retain his title. Since this win was achieved with assistance from the championship belt itself, Edge was justifiably livid. Within moments of losing, Edge would get his revenge, spearing Chris Jericho off of an announce table and through the timekeeper's area. After this match, the world title scene would shift, and Jack Swagger successfully cashed in his MITB contract on the next episode of SmackDown.
8 The Shield Clean Sweeps Evolution (Payback 2014)
Fresh off of defeating Evolution at Extreme Rules, the Shield were on top of the world. With rumors running rampant that Batista was going to leave the company prior to Payback, a rematch between these two teams seemed unlikely. However, as it turned out, Batista decided to stay with the company for just a bit longer, which in turn would allow a rematch to take place. At Payback, The Shield faced off against Evolution one last time, this time in an elimination tag match. This time the six men involved produced an even greater match than their previous battle a month prior, with The Shield benefiting from this the most.
By the end of the hard hitting match, fans were indeed surprised and that’s because The Shield eliminated all three members of Evolution, while none of them were eliminated. This was a total shock to fans, because Evolution was comprised of quite arguably the greatest world champions of our generation. For them to lose in such a fashion was totally unexpected and it would allow The Shield to go out on top, because the following night on Raw they would disband following an even more shocking betrayal by Seth Rollins.
7 Mr. McMahon Wins the Royal Rumble (Royal Rumble 1999)
During the illustrious Attitude Era, it was near impossible to find a feud that could even compare to the battles that Steve Austin and Vince McMahon had. Heading into the 1999 Royal Rumble, it was declared that these two men would be the first two entrants into the match. Once the match commenced, Austin would lay a beating on McMahon, who would later retreat backstage with Austin on his heels. This would turn out to be a ruse by McMahon, who orchestrated an attack on the Rattlesnake which would cause Austin to have to leave the arena via an ambulance.
Confident that he had seen the last of Austin, McMahon would make his way back out to ringside and sit on commentary. Before long though, Austin would make his way back to the arena and clean house. After some time passed Austin and McMahon were once again the two men left standing in the ring. This time, however, Austin wouldn't have the last laugh, as interference from The Rock would allow McMahon to toss Austin over, winning his first Rumble match. The fans were upset, and more importantly Austin was livid, but he would later go on to beat McMahon a month later to earn a shot at the title. Then later on at WrestleMania XV, Austin would defeat The Rock to win his third WWE Championship.
6 Nikki Bella Turns on Brie Bella (SummerSlam 2014)
Say what you will about The Bellas, but during the summer of 2014 no feud was hotter in the company than Brie Bella and Stephanie McMahon. With Daniel Bryan out of action following that year’s Extreme Rules event, The Authority needed a new adversary to deal with. After Brie “quit” WWE at Payback, Stephanie would take out her anger and frustration on Nikki, who would go on to lose matches where the odds were stacked against her. Returning to seek revenge for the insults that Stephanie had spewed and the damage that had been done to her sister, Brie challenged Stephanie to a match at SummerSlam.
The match itself certainly lived up to its expectations and then some, with Stephanie showing the same skill that made the match between her and Trish Stratus years back memorable. At the end of the daym fans wouldn’t be talking about Stephanie’s performance, they would talk about how at the conclusion of the match Nikki betrayed her sister. WWE would follow up the shock to this moment by producing horrible segments where Nikki would unleash her inner housewife and verbally unleash on her sister, but at the time the shock value of the betrayal allowed the feud to carry on.
5 Edge Returns (Survivor Series 2008)
Back in 2008, Triple H and Jeff Hardy participated in several championship matches against one another. It became a pattern that Hardy would always come so close to victory, only to have Triple H barely come out on top and retain the WWE Championship. Heading into Survivor Series, the original title match was a triple threat involving Hardy, Triple H, and Vladimir Koslov. After Hardy got “attacked” prior to the event, the match seemed to become a singles match, with Triple H and Koslov going at it. At first this was the match that we were treated to, that is until Vickie Guerrero (the SmackDown general manager) came out mid match and told the fans that “he” was here.
While we all assumed this to be Hardy, a familiar song played throughout the arena, and it turned out to be Edge making his return after facing The Undertaker at SummerSlam. Rushing to the ring, Edge would spear Triple H, and then Hardy would ultimately make his presence felt and attacked the Rated R Superstar. Hardy would then go outside and grab a steel chair, and after blasting both Triple H and Koslov in the head, Hardy would turn around and get hit by a spear. A few seconds later, we had a new WWE Champion and the world stood in shock as Edge celebrated with the title.
4 Paige Wins Her First Divas Championship (Raw after WrestleMania XXX)
Emerging victorious at WrestleMania XXX, then-Divas champion AJ Lee was indeed head and shoulders above the rest of the women in the Divas division. On the Raw following WrestleMania, AJ would come out and flaunt her then record setting title reign…that is until a debuting Paige made her way to the ring. Overconfident as always, AJ would slap Paige and make an impromptu Divas Championship match, and this in turn would backfire on the champion. Paige would go on to pin the champion, and with tears in her eyes she celebrated her first championship victory on the main roster.
3 Hulk Hogan Wins Via “Fingerpoke of Doom” (WCW Monday Nitro 1999)
Once the WWE had begun to gain back considerable momentum during the Monday Night Wars, WCW struggled to produce television at the level it once had. Difficulties arising from contracts guarantying creative control and a lack of definitive leadership were mostly to blame. Two men who seemed to benefit most from this were Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash, two of the biggest stars in the company. On the same night that the WWE showed Mick Foley winning his first world championship from The Rock, Hogan and Nash made a mockery of professional wrestling with their own world title match.
After Nash sold a finger to the chest like a shotgun blast, Hogan would cover his friend and win yet another WCW world title. Despite the fact that the commentators on duty were trying their best to sell the result, the fans were having none of it. WCW tried their best to create buzz similar to The Montreal Screwjob, but instead this episode will go down in infamy for all of the wrong reasons. To many this seemed to mark the beginning of the end for WCW, and the company would later be bought by Vince McMahon in early 2001.
2 Maven Defeats The Undertaker (SmackDown 2002)
When one looks at the losses that The Undertaker has suffered over the years, many of them are against quality opponents. A select few are not, and even though Maven sure had charisma he falls under this category. After shocking the world by eliminating The Deadman in the 2002 Royal Rumble, Maven would go on to feel the wrath of The Undertaker. On the February 7th episode of SmackDown, Maven went one on one with Undertaker for the Hardcore Championship. Following a huge assist from The Rock, Maven would go on to win his first Hardcore Championship, shocking fans around the world. As for Undertaker, he would face The Rock ten days later at No Way Out, before transitioning to Ric Flair for WrestleMania 18.
1 Brock Lesnar Ends the Streak (WrestleMania XXX)
As if any other moment in recent memory could top off this list. At WrestleMania XXX, The Undertaker would make his way out to the ring for the 22nd time to face off against a man that can be considered his biggest rival; Brock Lesnar. Following three F-5s, Lesnar would shock the world and become the man who defeated the undefeated streak of The Undertaker. As cameras cut to the shocked faces in the arena, Heyman would raise the hand of Lesnar as the titantron displayed what we all feared; 21-1. The win would once again separate Lesnar from the rest of the locker room, and by SummerSlam he was dismantling Cena and winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Sadly the future wouldn’t seem as clear for The Undertaker, but he would ultimately return at WrestleMania 31 and defeat Bray Wyatt.