The shocking events of Dean Ambrose winning the Money in the Bank Ladder Match and cashing in later to defeat Seth Rollins to win the WWE World Championship is the hottest story in wrestling at the moment. Ambrose has been a fan favorite for years but it felt like he would follow a career path of never winning the big one. The look, skillset and appeal of Ambrose are things that don’t usually spell World Title success in WWE’s world but he's made it work. There have been a few other stories of unlikely wrestlers achieving huge fame in the wrestling world.
Most World Champions and main event stars follow the same formula of tall and muscular athletes that stand out to the average person. You had to have a bodybuilder's physique to achieve success in WWE for many years. Other factors like experience, backgrounds and age play a role as well. Things have gradually changed and the door is more open than ever for anyone to kick it open in becoming a huge star. We will take a look at the historical side of wrestlers that overcame all the odds stacked against them before Ambrose did it. These are fifteen wrestlers that would become the most unlikely Superstars in wrestling history.
15 Chris Jericho
The long traveled road for Chris Jericho reached the destination of becoming one of the most successful WWE stars of all time. Jericho worked all over the world from Mexico to Japan to ECW before getting his break in WCW. Unlike many others in his position, Jericho held aspirations to make it to the top of the business and become a World Champion. Many criticized him for giving up a good contract in WCW to try to move up the card in WWE, but it obviously worked out for him.
Jericho was met with judgment in just about any promotion he worked for due to his size. At well under 6 feet tall before putting on his wrestling boots, Jericho was deemed undersized entering the business. The odds were against him amounting to anything more than just a “good hand” in the midcard like his WCW run, but he took the ball and ran with it in the WWE. Jericho’s unlikely road to success culminated with being the first man to unify the WWE and WCW titles by defeating Steve Austin and The Rock on the same night.
14 Jeff Hardy
The Hardy Boyz clicked with the WWE fan base and became one of the most popular tag teams in company history. Matt Hardy may have been the more technically sound wrestler but Jeff Hardy was by far the more popular performer. Jeff had the rainbow hair and pulled off the mysterious persona to a tee. Factor in his unbelievable high-flying moves and he was instantly a beloved star. Hardy would face personal demons for years before getting his big singles run.
Jeff never had the prototypical look of a WWE star but he connected with the fan base enough to win the World Championship by defeating Triple H and Edge. No one could have predicted Hardy would put all the pieces together to reach some a high status in the industry. His unique look and personality worked to his advantage in getting to the top of the mountain. Currently in TNA, we can only hope Jeff ends his career with a big WWE run or final match to end it perfectly.
13 Alberto Del Rio
Foreign talents have struggled to achieve success in WWE for years. The majority of wrestlers that make the crossover end up with stereotypical gimmicks or find the language barrier holding them back. Alberto Del Rio was a huge star in Mexico and no one expected him to find the same success in the WWE. They made him unmask and completely change his persona before debuting, but it ended up being the greatest decision of his career.
Vince McMahon loved Del Rio’s work and made him one of the more heavily pushed stars of the past decade. With two WWE Championship reigns and two World Championship runs, Del Rio is arguably the most decorated non-North American star in WWE history and he is still adding to his impressive list of accomplishments. The upcoming brand split may give him an opportunity to add more title reigns onto his legacy as an unlikely champion.
12 The Miz
The Miz’s path to wrestling success is among the most unlikely for a multitude of reasons. With his first stint with fame coming thanks to MTV’s Real World reality show, Miz had a tough time getting accepted into the WWE locker room after getting signed. His lifelong fandom of the business gave him a genuine passion for it, but all of the wrestlers disrespected him for his background. Most reality television show stars want to enter other entertainment industries like pro wrestling without the dedication.
Miz worked his tail off to gain respect and improve as a performer. WWE would gain enough faith to make him the WWE Champion heading into WrestleMania XXVII in a huge main event match against John Cena with The Rock making his WWE return in the storyline. The Miz has tapered off back into the midcard but his accomplishments will never be taken away him, especially after expectations of instant failure in the business.
11 Ron Simmons
Ron Simmons’ journey to becoming a top star in his field is a more inspiring one than most other stories featured on this list. The early 90s still showed heavy signs of racism and minorities were not completely accepted in many entertainment fields. Wrestling employed African-Americans for years at that point, but they had never held the World Titles in television promotions. Simmons made history as the first ever black WCW World Champion by defeating Vader for the incredible moment.
Many young fans were inspired by Simmons title reign and it often gets forgotten in the greatest wrestling moments of the 90s. The circumstances around the unlikelihood made it an important moment. Simmons probably never thought he would be able to hold the biggest prize in WCW due to the color of his skin, but hard work paid off in making him one of the most inspiring and unlikely wrestling heroes of all time.
10 CM Punk
CM Punk's success in the WWE helped create change that would impact the industry in ways we are seeing today, but it was a long road. Punk developed a reputation for being cocky and brash for his unwavering confidence in himself from day one. No one expected him to ever hold a World Title but he had the goal of getting to the top of the company. Punk worked extremely hard to prove he was an asset to the company.
WWE’s use of Punk improved through the years after he showed the ability to hit a home run every time he was called upon. The skinny tattooed loudmouth made his biggest impact in 2011 during the legendary summer of worked shoot promos and stellar matches. Punk got to an extremely high level that very few performers in the history of the industry have been able to achieve. The bitter ending to the relationship with the WWE may have tainted it, but Punk should be proud of achieving things against all odds.
9 Diamond Dallas Page
WCW’s best days featured the typical talent in the main event spots during the Monday Night Wars. Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Ric Flair, Sting and Lex Luger exchanged title reigns through the years but one shocking successful addition to the upper echelon was Diamond Dallas Page. The talent and hard work of DDP was unquestionable, but he started at a late age to make his run in the business.
Page was already 40 years old around the time his popularity began to take off. Fans loved DDP’s hard work and determination in the stories along with his overall cool persona. Page would win his first WCW Championship in 1999 at 43 years old in an incredible achievement. Everyone told him that it was too late to make noise in the business, but he proved them wrong by winning one of the two most important prizes in the industry at the time.
8 Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle understood the wrestling business and picked up the fundamentals faster than anyone else in history. The 1996 Olympic gold medalist represented the United States of America in amateur wrestling, so it only made sense he would try professional wrestling. Olympians never wanted to dabble in the WWE landscape of the world due to shame or potential for failure. Angle’s background and naturally reserved personality gave caution to any hopes of him becoming a big star.
Angle's career skyrocketed with a plethora of title wins in his few years. Angle would defeat The Rock to win his first WWE Championship in 2000, less than a year into his television debut. Angle delivered in every facet of the game, in a way that no fan, wrestler or expert expected until he was put in a sink or swim environment. As still the only Olympic gold medalist in WWE history, Angle’s legendary career is coming to an end sooner than later and he deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame.
7 Booker T
The struggles of Booker T in his younger days put him on a trajectory that was nowhere near becoming a future wrestling Superstar. Booker was a convicted felon following multiple armed robberies in the Texas area. Following a stint in prison, he was inspired to turn his life around for the better. Booker put all of his effort into professional wrestling training and it helped him in ways he would never imagine.
WCW ended up signing Booker along with his brother Stevie Ray as Harlem Heat and they were the most decorated tag team in company history with 10 tag title reigns. Booker was the standout performer of the two and ended up getting a singles push following the tag team ending. WCW found a new main event star and Booker T blossomed into a five-time WCW Champion. Perhaps the most successful part of Booker’s career was being the only WCW carryover to achieve success in WWE after Vince McMahon purchased his contract.
6 Bret Hart
The current wrestling landscape makes it seem obvious that someone like Bret Hart would be a huge star, but the era in which he achieved it was remarkable. WWE only believed in muscle heads and bodybuilders to become the top face star at the time. Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior were the biggest stars of the time period and Vince McMahon wanted Lex Luger to become the next guy. Hart was the variable that helped change the industry.
Bret was not a small man by any means. In everyday life, he is tall and extremely athletic but WWE wasn’t everyday life. Hart stood out among the smaller performers in the company, but he was given the opportunity in the top spot through hard work and developing a bond with fans. The appeal of the Hitman may have been most for being a great role model for children and he hit a home run with multiple WWE Championship reigns. Hart showed skills could win out in the land of the giants.
5 Shawn Michaels
You can’t talk about Bret Hart without mentioning Shawn Michaels and both men endured the same struggles. Michaels was smaller in stature than Hart and may have been the skinniest WWE Champion in history during his first reign in 1996. WrestleMania XII featured the heartwarming moment of Michaels winning the title for the first time by defeating Bret in a legendary Iron Man Match. That started the main event run of Michaels career that would continue every time he stepped foot in a ring.
Michaels is often regarded as the greatest in-ring performer of all time and you would be hard pressed to find another soul with a library of matches as great as his. During the days of Hulk Hogan’s reign, anyone proclaiming Michaels a future World Champion would have been ridiculed for such an outlandish statement. The Heartbreak Kid proved his doubters wrong and retired among the greatest WWE stars in company history.
4 Rey Mysterio
The smallest WWE World Champion in history is Rey Mysterio and it was among the most unlikely stories. Mysterio could be argued as the greatest in Cruiserweight in WCW until its eventual demise. WWE would pick him up a year later and the signing went down as one of the best in company history. Mysterio instantly connected with the fan base, especially important demographics. Kids all across the world wanted his mask and Latino fans made SmackDown the most-watched television show in Spanish-speaking households for a short time period.
Mysterio made a great deal of money to WWE and it forced them to overlook his 5’5’’ height. The biggest victory of his career took place at WrestleMania 22 when he defeated Randy Orton and Kurt Angle to become the World Champion. Mysterio added a few more title reigns to his resume and is an obvious choice for the Hall of Fame. Imagine being told he would hold the WWE World Title during the 90s and just how far-fetched a suggestion it would be viewed as. Mysterio beat the odds and made history.
3 Mick Foley
Many of the unlikely success stories in wrestling occurred during a time period where other variables helped, but that wasn’t the case for Mick Foley. The veteran saw his popularity rise during the Attitude Era, but that also featured the main event core of Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H and The Undertaker. Foley had to contend with a few “once in a generation” stars at the top of the cardm but he still excelled.
The various characters of Mankind, Dude Love and Cactus Jack showed his range and ability but fans getting to know the real Mick Foley is what made him the beloved star he is today. Foley would capture the WWE World Championship in 1999 defeating The Rock and would go on to have one of the most celebrated careers of all time. The love fans still have for Foley and the desire to keep up with him definitely shows, as he is a top ten all-time WWE star. Foley battled through years of brutal battles to become an unlikely icon in the wrestling business.
2 Eddie Guerrero
The legendary career of Eddie Guerrero showcased an incredible performer that overcame the odds in every aspect of life. Guerrero always had all the skills in the world and the work ethic to put out great matches, but a few things hindered his career. His issues with alcohol and drug addiction harmed Eddie throughout his career until he cleaned up his act in the early 2000s to change his career and legacy forever.
Guerrero’s size as one of the smaller performers in WWE also impacted his standing in the company. No one expected him to become a main eventer at 5’8’’ tall and 220 lbs. The desire and determination shown by Eddie changed the tune of the WWE and they actually took a chance on a performer that didn’t fit the mold to become champion. Guerrero defeated Brock Lesnar of all people to win the WWE Title and assured a spot in wrestling history. Between conquering wrestling stereotypes and personal addiction, Eddie is among the most unlikely success stories you’ll ever find in any field.
1 Daniel Bryan
No one has a story as unlikely or fascinating as Daniel Bryan. The 5’8’’ dorky kid from Aberdeen paid his dues on the independent wrestling scene and traveled all over the world. Bryan finally signed with WWE in 2009 and proved to be a great addition to the roster. Everyone expected him to remain a successful midcarder that would have great matches putting over other main eventers, but the fans refused to allow it.
Bryan’s biggest rise came in 2013-2014 during a movement that saw fans demand he enter the main event picture and win the WWE World Championship. WWE tried to push him lower down the card and hoped to feature Randy Orton vs. Batista in the main event of WrestleMania XXX. The fans hijacked the show with chants for Bryan every night until WWE was forced to add him to the main event and give him the big win. It signified a rare victory of the fans telling the story and standing up for the most unlikely hero in wrestling history.