A title change in WWE can be a glorious moment, especially when the title that changes hands is a world title. A jubilant babyface overcoming an evil heel to capture (or recapture) world championship gold can be a brilliant climax to a storyline and can give fans one hell of a memorable moment. But, like all things in wrestling, this only works if you have the right people involved. For every awesome world title change in the WWE, there is often another example of when a world championship ended up on (in the fan’s opinions) the wrong person. The following list details both the peaks and the troughs of WWE’s world championships; some of these moments will make you jump for joy, whilst the others will just make you want to sink into the ground and never come back up. Here are 8 WWE World Championship Wins Everybody Wanted and 7 That Nobody Wanted.
15. AJ Styles Beats Jinder Mahal (Wanted)
Let’s begin with the most recent one, shall we?
Just two weeks before Survivor Series 2017, AJ Styles was placed into an impromptu match with Jinder Mahal with The Modern Day Maharaja’s WWE title on the line. To the delight of everyone in Manchester, England that evening, Styles dethroned Mahal to capture his second WWE Championship, ending Jinder’s title reign at an impressive 170 days and beginning a new chapter in the title’s historic legacy. Hopefully this chapter will be a long one, as opposed to a few pages.
The reason everyone was pleased to see this title change happen is pretty complicated, so you may want to stop whatever it is you’re doing and give this 100% of your attention. Firstly, Jinder’s title reign had been somewhat of a disaster. A former jobber pushed to the main event well before he was ready, Mahal’s title win came from WWE’s desire to expand into the Indian market by using Mahal (who is of Indian descent) as a poster boy. Secondly, AJ is one of the most popular wrestlers in the company and many fans felt as if he was being under-utilised in the midcard, whilst the much less popular (and much less talented) Mahal hogged the main event scene. Thirdly, WWE had booked a “WWE Champion vs Universal Champion” match as the marquee bout for Survivor Series and Universal Champion, Brock Lesnar, vs WWE Champion, Jinder Mahal, didn’t quite have the drawing power the company wanted. Universal Champion, Brock Lesnar, vs WWE Champion, AJ Styles, however, that’s a dream match right there. As much as I hate to say this about Mahal (he seems like a genuinely nice guy), his title reign did not work out and I, along with most of the WWE Universe, are over the moon to finally see the belt on a wrestler who can truly hold his own in the main event. Speaking of Jinder Mahal…
14. Jinder Mahal Beats Randy Orton (Didn’t Want)
Again, sorry Jinder, but this whole thing was just a mess.
Randy Orton won his ninth WWE Championship (13 including the retired World Heavyweight Championship) at WrestleMania 33, defeating Bray Wyatt in a match that was as weird as it was disappointing. They projected videos of maggots onto the ring canvas, never forget. On the 18th April episode of SmackDown, a six-pack challenge was held to crown a new number one contender to Orton’s title at that year’s Backlash Pay-Per-View. To everyone’s surprise, Jinder Mahal (who, just the week before on Raw, had been jobbed out to Finn Balor), won the match and earned a shot at the title. “Please,” everyone said, “this is just WWE having a laugh. Surely a guy that used to be in 3MB won’t win the most prestigious title in WWE history, right?” Well, if you haven’t figured it out already, these people were wrong. Very, very wrong.
Mahal winning the title was, as mentioned earlier, a ploy to generate some interest in the WWE from India. This meant that Mahal was pushed to the main event far too quickly and fans just couldn’t take him seriously as a main eventer. Fans may not have been that into Orton as champion, but at least he was a credible main event talent. Mahal’s title win was not something many WWE fans saw coming, mainly because plenty of them never wanted it in the first place. It was a bold idea by WWE and certainly changed things up at the top of SmackDown Live, but, sadly, this title reign turned out exactly as the WWE fans feared it would; a big, boring mess. I really do feel sorry for Jinder. He’s so nice.
13. Dolph Ziggler Beats Alberto Del Rio (Wanted)
Oh, Dolph, what could have been.
When Dolph Ziggler won the Money in the Bank briefcase in 2012, many saw this as the first step in the creation of a megastar. Dolph had been building a strong fanbase in WWE for a few years at this point, impressing spectators with great promos, great character work and solid in-ring performances; all the signs of a future main eventer. However, what fans didn’t realise is just how long they’d have to wait to see this moment – 267 days to be precise. After what felt like an eternity of a wait, Ziggler finally cashed in the briefcase the night after WrestleMania 29, and defeated Alberto Del Rio to become the new World Heavyweight Champion to thunderous applause. Yep, you heard me. A match between Dolph Ziggler and Alberto Del Rio got one of the biggest pops of all time. How times change.
Ziggler’s cash-in had been anticipated by the WWE crowd for months when it actually happened. They chanted his name during world title matches, they cheered for him when he appeared in matches with the briefcase and got so invested in Dolph that, when he eventually cashed in, they blew the roof off the building. Ziggler’s popularity as Mr. Money in the Bank meant that fans were desperate to see him as World Champion, making this title victory one of the most satisfying moments for the fans in recent WWE history. Although, to be fair, moments like that are pretty few and far between these days. Why do you hate us, WWE?
12. The Great Khali Wins A Battle Royal (Didn’t Want)
I know it looks really bad that I’ve put both world champions of Indian descent on the bad side of the list, but anyone who watched WWE during this period will know that I am absolutely justified.
The Great Khali is known by a number of different names. Some call him “The Punjabi Titan”, some call him “The Punjabi Playboy” and some call him “The Worst Thing To Happen To Wrestling Since The Steroid Trials.” Don’t know who those people could be… Whoever they are, their worst nightmares were realised when, on an episode of SmackDown in 2007, Khali won a 20-man Battle Royal to win the World Heavyweight Championship, which had been vacated by Edge. He might have had the word in his name, but this moment was far from Great.
Khali had nothing going for him apart from the fact he was 7-feet-tall. He wasn’t technical, he wasn’t agile, he wasn’t even that strong. He was just a big dude that WWE took a shining to. Just a shame the fans didn’t feel the same. Khali was pretty much everyone’s last choice for a world champion, especially considering the massively popular Batista was also in this match, being cheered every single second. From start to finish, Khali’s time with the World Heavyweight Championship was a total dud and fans knew this right from the beginning. Also, whilst we’re on the topic, anyone remember when Khali came back and helped Jinder Mahal win the Punjabi Prison match at Battleground this year? That was so random.
11. Brock Lesnar Beats John Cena (Wanted)
This was an absolute mauling.
It was SummerSlam 2014 and John Cena was ready to defend his WWE Championship against Brock Lesnar in the show’s main event. Well, I say ready, but is anyone ever truly ready for the human hurricane that is Brock Lesnar. Cena had just won his fifteenth world title at Money in the Bank and Lesnar was fresh off a win over The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXX. You may have heard of that one. Both men were white hot going into this match and had plenty of history with each other, so fans were expecting an even, competitive bout between these two big players in WWE. Turns out they may as well have expected it to rain tuna inside the stadium, because they got the total opposite.
Lesnar dominated Cena, delivering 16 German Suplexes and two F5s to the champ to win his fourth WWE Championship. Whilst the manner in which Lesnar won was certainly shocking, fans were simply pleased to see the former UFC man on top of the WWE. Since his return in 2012, Brock had simply been a special attraction that WWE wheeled out every once in a while, a poor use of such a unique talent as Lesnar. Now, he had a purpose in the WWE and the company could use his immense star power much more effectively with the WWE Championship around his waist. Don’t get me wrong, he was still only on TV once every six months or so, but at least he had a reason to be there when he did.
10. Dolph Ziggler Is Awarded The World Heavyweight Championship (Didn’t Want)
Remember Dolph’s other title win on this list? This was the exact opposite of that.
February 15th 2011 marked the 600th episode of SmackDown and, to commemorate this landmark achievement, General Manager,Vickie Guerrero decided she was going to be an absolute turd. She was feuding with World Heavyweight Champion Edge at the time and used her position of power to strip the Rated-R Superstar of his title. Rather than hold a tournament or set up a battle royal or put on any sort of competition whatsoever, Guerrero instead handed the belt to her on-screen boyfriend, Dolph Ziggler, giving The Show-off his first ever world championship in the WWE in the lamest way possible. Great.
This was a complete and utter waste of time for numerous reasons. It was a terrible way to crown Ziggler as world champion for the first time. He was over, but not that over, not yet. This was compounded by the fact that, on the very same night, Edge won the title back in the show’s main event, ending Ziggler’s first world title reign at a couple of hours. It’s clear then that WWE had no confidence in Ziggler as a main event talent (his next world title reign wouldn’t be for another two years), so what was the point of putting the title on him in the first? This was a bad decision on every level and was obviously a ham-fisted attempt to make the 600th episode of SmackDown seem memorable. Well, I guess it was mission accomplished, WWE, just for all the wrong reasons.
9. Mankind Beats The Rock (Wanted)
What I wouldn’t have given to have been there on this night.
While everyone might remember WrestleMania XV as the event that saw Stone Cold vs The Rock for the WWE Championship, what a lot of people forget is that, in the build-up to this event, another amazing Attitude Era feud was taking place. The Rock had gone from The People’s Champion to The Corporate Champion, after turning heel at Survivor Series 1998 to win the WWE Championship. In contrast, Mankind had switched the other way, being betrayed by Vince McMahon in that same Survivor Series match to lose a shot at the world title to The Rock. This led to a match that aired on the 4th of January episode of Raw pitting Mankind vs The Rock for the world title. After a butt-tonne of interference from everybody from DX to Stone Cold, Mankind managed to overcome Rocky and win his first world title ever. If you haven’t seen this moment before, Google it right now. You won’t be disappointed.
This is honestly one of the biggest crowd-pleasing moments in WWE history and it’s not hard to see why. Mick Foley was beloved by the fans and the betrayal he suffered at the hands of The Rock and The Corporation only made fans love him more. There wasn’t a soul in the building who didn’t want Mankind to win the title that night and no one was left disappointed when Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy left the arena clutching the gold. A truly amazing moment between two of wrestling’s finest, this is a moment way too special for words. Seriously, why are you still reading this? Go and Google it. Now!
8. John Cena Beats Rey Mysterio (Didn’t Want)
This is by far and away the most heel thing Cena has ever done.
When CM Punk won the WWE Championship at Money In The Bank 2011, he fulfilled his promise to leave the company and take the belt with him, leaving Big Vinnie Mac with no world champion. Damn. To fix this, a tournament was set up to crown a new WWE Champion, with Rey Mysterio defeating The Miz in the opening match of the 25th July edition of Raw to win the tournament and become the new champ. However, Rey’s celebrations would be short-lived, as who should come along to ruin the luchador’s big moment but the biggest bad guy in pro wrestling history – John Cena.
Cena challenged Mysterio to a title match that night and, because of course he did, he won, ending Mysterio’s reign at a few hours. Fans had just seen Cena as WWE Champion before he’d lost to Punk and were ready to accept a new main eventer in Rey (who had never held the WWE Championship before). What they got, however, was the same old song and dance with Cena winning the title to set up a “Champion vs Champion” match at SummerSlam. Rey was a total afterthought in this and his one and only WWE Championship reign has been consigned to a footnote in the larger story of Punk vs Cena, something a competitor of his calibre did not deserve.
7. Eddie Guerrero Beats Brock Lesnar (Wanted)
Sure he cheated, but who cares?
Eddie Guerrero was one of the most talented, yet underrated performers in the WWE when he stepped into a ring opposite Brock Lesnar at No Way Out 2004. Guerrero had risen up the WWE ranks and won numerous titles, including the Intercontinental, United States and Tag Team belts, but had never held the world championship. He looked to change this against WWE Champion, Brock Lesnar, but the odds were thoroughly stacked against the much smaller Guerrero. However, thanks to some clever tactics by Eddie (and a spear from Goldberg), Latino Heat hit the Frog Splash on a prone Lesnar, covered the future Beast Incarnate and won his first and only WWE Championship to a huge ovation from the Daly City crowd. This happened 13 years ago and I still get emotional watching it. Why am I cursed to feel, dammit!
Eddie wasn’t just popular, he was beloved, and to see him overcome the seemingly-impossible obstacle of Brock Lesnar to win his first world title left every single wrestling fan ecstatic that day. Whilst many people may not have expected this title change, it’s fair to say almost everyone was secretly hoping for it and the reaction Eddie got when he won serves as perfect evidence for this. The story of Eddie Guerrero may have ended in tragedy, but, on this one night, his was a story of triumph and joy and we as fans are forever grateful to have shared that moment with him. Rest In Peace, Latino Heat.
6. Hulk Hogan Beats Yokozuna (Didn’t Want)
What an absolute mess this was.
WrestleMania IX is not remembered very fondly and this is one of the main reasons why. The final match of the event was supposed to be Bret Hart defending his WWE Championship against the villainous Japanese (who was actually Samoan), Yokozuna. When Yokozuna defeated Hart thanks to assistance from his manager, Mr. Fuji, many assumed that this was the end of the show. Then Hulk Hogan came out. Hogan, presumably annoyed that no one had paid attention to him in the last five minutes, was challenged by Fuji to take on Yokozuna in a title match. Why, you ask? I wish I knew. Using the power of America and backstage complaining, Hogan avoided a Mr. Fuji attack and defeated Yokozuna for the gold, ending his reign in a matter of minutes and leaving everyone in a state of confusion or anger or both.
Hogan managed to politic his way into a world title win, even though it made zero sense in storyline. Why would Yokozuna want to challenge someone just after he’d won the title? Why was Hogan down at ringside in the first place? Why did fans care that Hogan, who was not a part of this storyline, was now the champion? It made no sense at all. The worst part is that Hogan had promised to drop the title to Hart later that year in a passing of the torch moment, but backed out at the last minute, instead dropping the belt back to Yokozuna. Stupid match, stupid booking, stupid man. Now let’s move on before I burst a vein or something. I’m so mad.
5. Steve Austin Beats Shawn Michaels (Wanted)
STONE COLD! STONE COLD! STONE COLD!
Wrestling historians (which is what nerds like me like to call ourselves to feel better) have often debated when the Attitude Era began. Some say it was SummerSlam 1996, some say it was with the “Pillman’s Got a Gun” promo, but many of them say it was at WrestleMania XIV, when Stone Cold Steve Austin defeated Shawn Michaels to win his first WWE Championship. Austin had won that year’s Royal Rumble and was facing down Michaels and his DX ensemble, which included boxing legend, Mike Tyson After a great match between two legends, Austin finally hit the big Stunner to finish Michaels off, pinning HBK and winning the world title to the delight of the Boston crowd. The Austin Era had begun and with it came a whole lot of success for the WWE.
Austin was already a huge fan favourite when he won the Rumble match in 1998 and his popularity only increased in the build up to Mania. He represented a new type of wrestling superstar; brash, crude and full of, well, Attitude. Crowning him WWE Champion showed the fans that the WWE were going in a brave new direction with their product, a direction that would eventually lead them to victory in the Monday Night Wars. This was one of the most important title changes in wrestling history and, regardless of whether they knew that or not, every wrestling fan was pleased as punch to see The Rattlesnake raise that title belt above his head at the end of the night. Oh, Hell Yeah.
4. Alberto Del Rio beats CM Punk (Didn’t Want)
“Summer of Punk”? More like, “Bummer of Punk”… I’m sorry.
CM Punk changed the game when he won his first WWE Championship at Money In The Bank 2011. He was by far the most popular WWE wrestler in recent times and seeing him with the title and then abscond with it through his hometown crowd had every wrestling fan in the world glued to WWE TV. Then it all went to pot. Punk returned just eight days after this daring escape to set up a “Champion vs Champion” match with John Cena at SummerSlam. Punk won this match (thanks to shoddy refereeing by Triple H), but was then attacked by Kevin Nash. And people say WWE is behind the times. After this topical (SARCASM) and completely logical (SARCASM) attack, Mr. Money in the Bank, Alberto Del Rio, rushed down the ring and cashed in, taking the belt from Punk. Just when you think WWE has done something right, they do five somethings wrong immediately afterwards.
The only outcome the majority of wrestling fans wanted to see here was CM Punk leaving SummerSlam as WWE Champion. He was massively over and in the middle of one of the hottest angles in pro wrestling history – of course the fans wanted to see him win. Instead, we got a champion who had even been remotely involved in the storyline building up to this moment and whose presence was yet another obstacle to what the fans truly wanted; Punk as champion. The Summer of Punk might have started out promising, but, as all summers do, it quickly got darker and eventually went cold, bitter and devoid of life.
3. Seth Rollins Cashes In On Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar (Wanted)
And thank God he did, too.
WrestleMania 31 was the first WrestleMania I ever watched as a fan and let me tell you something, it was way way better than it had any right to be. The buildup to this show was extremely poor, but, thankfully, the end result was spectacular. One of the worst areas of build up this show had was surrounding the main event – Royal Rumble winner Roman Reigns vs WWE Champion Brock Lesnar. For reasons I’ll get into later, fans could only see one way that this match wouldn’t end in disaster and, thankfully, that’s exactly what happened.
Both of the traditional outcomes of this match spelled disaster for the WWE. Roman Reigns had been pushed way too hard way too soon and fans had turned on him as a result. If he had won the match, then the boos would have travelled all the way from San Francisco to Birmingham. And I don’t mean Birmingham, Alabama. I mean Birmingham, England. However, if Brock won, then the show would have ended on a really flat note; the heel going over the face clean is not a traditional way to end a WrestleMania. Instead, WWE had something they very rarely have these days; a stroke of genius. Seth Rollins, who had been holding onto his Money in the Bank briefcase for 273 days at this point, stormed down to the ring (whilst the match was still going on) and cashed in his briefcase. This made the match a triple threat, which allowed Rollins to pin Reigns and win his first WWE Championship, sparing Lesnar a defeat and ensuring the belt didn’t end up on Reigns. It was pure genius on WWE’s behalf and it ensured that WrestleMania 31 will go down in history as one of the most shocking Manias of all time. And not just because of Triple H’s shockingly bad entrance.
2. Roman Reigns Beats Triple H (Didn’t Want)
Just one year after fans were spared a Roman Reigns victory in the main event of WrestleMania, they found their worst nightmare was repeating itself all over again and this time, there was no Money in the Bank to save them. Roman Reigns, after months of being persecuted and hounded by Triple H and The Authority, finally overcame the odds to defeat The Game in the main event of WrestleMania to become WWE Champion. If you wanna know how the fans felt about this victory, then just ask anyone who was in the AT&T Stadium that day. I’m pretty sure they’re still booing to this day.
Objectively, this was a well-told, wel-delivered storyline. It’s just a shame that WWE picked the absolute worst person to play the role of the hero. The fans just weren’t into Roman; they weren’t into him the year before at Mania 31 and they certainly weren’t into him during the entire build to Mania 32, booing him at every available opportunity. Imagine Star Wars, but with Jar Jar Binks as the main character. When Reigns beat Triple H and won the title, it put a massive downer on what was (up until that point) a fairly decent WrestleMania. It was clear from the boos leading up to this match that the fans weren’t happy with Roman as the top guy, so having him win the title on The Grandest Stage of Them All showed that WWE just didn’t care about the opinions of their fans, something that left plenty of devout wrestling fans jaded and disheartened. Ah well, at least WWE learnt their lesson and didn’t book Reigns in the main event of the next WrestleMania. Oh, wait…
1. Daniel Bryan Beats Randy Orton And Batista (Wanted)
Is this one of the greatest WrestleMania moments of all time? YES! YES! YES!
Daniel Bryan’s journey to the main event of WrestleMania was about as smooth as some sandpaper wrapped in barbed wire. Bryan won (and lost) his first WWE Championship to Randy Orton at SummerSlam 2014, then spent a large part of the rest of the year chasing Orton for the title. After a feud with Bray Wyatt, Bryan once again set his sights on the gold, challenging Triple H to a match at WrestleMania XXX, where the winner would be inserted into the planned main event of reigning champ Randy Orton and Royal Rumble winner Batista. Not only did Bryan beat The Game, but he also overcame the combined might of Batista and Orton to force The Animal to submit, recapturing the title in front of tens of thousands of adoring fans. An underdog babyface overcoming a group of villains to win the big one on the biggest stage. That’s wrestling at its finest, right there.
The reason Bryan’s win was so satisfying to wrestling fans was because he wasn’t just an underdog in kayfabe, but one in real life too. Bryan had been soundly rejected as a possible main eventer by backstage officials, who were planning on running Batista vs Orton as the main event for Mania XXX. They didn’t even have Bryan compete in the Royal Rumble match in 2014, even when fans were chanting his name throughout. It was this overwhelming fan response that forced WWE to shoehorn Bryan into the title picture; the backlash if they hadn’t would have been catastrophic. Bryan and the fans had a real symbiotic relationship; he provided us with some amazing matches and we gave him the support he needed to crack the main event picture. This special bond meant that, when he finally got the huge moment he so thoroughly deserved, the fans were over the moon. Thanks to his determination, hard work and the support of the fans, Daniel Bryan will go down in history as the most unlikely WrestleMania main eventer of all time. Well, except maybe Mr. T. Still can’t get over that.
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