With the world placing so much of an emphasis on winning and losing, it's easy to see why the world of professional wrestling is sometimes frowned upon. Unlike other professional sports such as the NFL or the UFC, the results of wrestling matches are pre-scripted. This means that the better man or woman doesn't always emerge victorious. It also means that sometimes the fans won't see the more deserving person prevail.
WWE prides themselves on being able to swerve the fans and produce an unexpected outcome despite all the dirt sheets and fans speculation, especially in big title matches. Here are 15 examples of a Superstar "stealing" a championship from a more deserving Superstar.
15 Big Shows Defeats Brock Lesnar - Survivor Series 2002
Before Brock Lesnar returned to WWE in 2012 as a human juggernaut, he had a pretty solid run a decade earlier as the "Next Big Thing." Managed by Paul Heyman, Lesnar made a name for himself by being a very young, but destructive force. During his first year, The Beast amassed victories over legends such as Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker, The Hardy Boyz, and Rob Van Dam. Not to mention that he won the WWE Undisputed Championship from The Rock. Brock spent the summer of 2002 as the hottest commodity in WWE. How could WWE screw this one up right?
Enter Big Show. Show emerged as the #1 contender for Lesnar's title heading into the 2002 Survivor Series. After weeks of Paul Heyman trying to convince Brock of the danger that he was in for, he turned on his client at Survivor Series and helped Big Show win the title. This was truly a head scratcher due to the fact that not only was the Big Show undeserving at the time, but he only held the belt for a month before losing it to Kurt Angle. Luckily this didn't derail the overall momentum of Brock Lesnar.
14 Sheamus Defeats John Cena - TLC 2009
When Sheamus debuted in July of 2009, there was no doubt that he would be made into a main event caliber superstar due to his large physique and larger than life persona. Any one that knows anything about Vince McMahon knows that this used to be the main recipe for achieving success in WWE. However, not many could've predicted that his rise to the top would've happened so suddenly.
After his debut in July of 2009, Sheamus found himself in the main event with John Cena just five months later. And at TLC 2009, Sheamus solidified his star status with a cheesy fluke victory over John Cena in a Tables match. While we do applaud Cena for dropping the WWE Championship to a rookie just 166 days into his career, we have to question the decision to hot shot Sheamus in favor of the more established Cena.
13 Triple H Defeats Randy Orton - Unforgiven 2004
Young Randy Orton achieved the greatest success of his career when he defeated Chris Benoit at SummerSlam 2004. His victory for the World Heavyweight Championship made him the youngest World Champion ever at just 24 years old. The future was bright for Orton and he was guaranteed to at least have a solid first run with the title. Or so we thought.
WWE sent a clear message to Orton and the fans when they had Triple H defeat him cleanly at the next month's Unforgiven pay per view. The loss ended Orton's first title reign and arguably halted his main event momentum until around 2007. It took years for Orton to fully recover from this loss and served as just another example of someone stealing the belt from a more deserving superstar.
12 The Ultimate Warrior Defeats The Honky Tonk Man - SummerSlam 1988
The following situation played out as a cruel twist of fate (no pun intended) for all involved. Following the classic WrestleMania III matchup between Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat, which saw Steamboat win the Intercontinental Championship, Jake Roberts was scheduled to become the next challenger for the championship. However, due to a legitimate injury, Roberts title shot was given to the man who had coincidentally injured him, the Honky Tonk Man.
As we all know, Honky wound up winning the title from Steamboat and held it for 454 days, making him the longest reigning IC Champion in history. At SummerSlam 1988, after his scheduled opponent Brutus Beefcake suffered a story line injury, The Ultimate Warrior shot down to the ring and pinned Honky Tonk Man in 31 seconds to end his historic reign.
While we all know what kind of career the Warrior went on to have after this victory, its arguable that The Honky Tonk Man reign shouldn't have ended this way. Especially after raising the prestige of the title for more than one year. It seems disrespectful to have him squashed in 31 seconds after his historic reign.
11 Sheamus Defeats Daniel Bryan - WrestleMania XXVIII
It's fair to say that Daniel Bryan's early years with WWE weren't always bright and shiny. His start seemed promising, but his momentum was derailed due to The Nexus/Justin Roberts incident. Bryan was fired from WWE, only to return two months later. However, Bryan realized his dream of winning a WWE Championship after he successfully cashed in his MITB briefcase against the Big Show at TLC 2011. The indie hero Daniel Bryan had finally made it to the top and fans were ready for his reign as champion.
As the World Champion, Bryan would successfully defend his title against numerous competitors in a short span of time. He won Triple Threat matches, Steel Cage matches, and an Elimination Chamber. However, just when it seemed that Bryan was hitting his stride as a heel World Champion, he jobbed to Sheamus(making his second appearance on this list) in 18 seconds at WrestleMania XXVIII. This was one of the earlier instances of the fans choice being trumped by the company's choice.
10 John Cena Defeats Edge - Royal Rumble 2006
If you were a fan of WWE wrestling during the late '90s and early 2000s, you'll remember a guy by the name of Edge helping to revolutionize the tag team scene. Edge and his partner Christian won seven Tag titles before splitting up in mid 2001. Edge was pushed as a singles star, but it took a few years for him to really start hitting his stride as a singles competitor. Edge's work finally paid off when he won the first ever Money in the Bank Ladder match at WrestleMania 21, earning himself a future WWE Championship match.
Almost a full year later, Edge cashed in his shot and defeated John Cena at New Year's Revolution 2006. Cena had just won an Elimination Chamber and Edge essentially picked his bones, but that's besides the point. Edge's ten year quest to become WWE Champion had finally been realized, only to lose the title back to "Super Cena" 21 days later at the Royal Rumble. Although Edge would rebound and have a stellar career after that, it only served as evidence of why fans don't like Cena. It's not that people dislike him personally, it's the fact that he beats all their heroes in superhuman ways.
9 Vince McMahon Defeats Triple H - SmackDown 1999
The summer of 1999 could be labeled as the coming out party for "The Game" Triple H. After he and Chyna turned on their DX partners, Triple H began his rise to the top shortly after. During that summer, Triple H changed his look and donned a more ruthless and aggressive personality, which led him to his first WWE Championship victory on the August 23 edition of Monday Night Raw. Triple H was the hottest heel in the company and his star was rising.
A few short weeks later, Triple H began to antagonize Vince McMahon, who had returned as a babyface after being off TV for a few months. For some reason, Triple H challenged Vince to a WWE title match, which Vince won with the help of Steve Austin. You would think WWE would've taken notes from WCW, and not let non-active authority figures win their top championships, but that wasn't the case. Vince won the title, and vacated it a few days later. So the question becomes, what was the point of this transition, especially when Triple H was the very next person to hold the title after Vince?
8 Dean Ambrose Defeats Seth Rollins - Money in the Bank 2016
Seth Rollins pulled off the greatest Money in the Bank cash in at WrestleMania 31 when he interrupted the scheduled Brock Lesnar/Roman Reigns match. Rollins became WWE World Heavyweight Champion that night and provided WWE with a fresh face to lead the company. Seth was a formidable champion, holding on to the belt for 220 days before tearing his ACL and MCL in late 2015. Those injuries are usually enough to end a pro athletes career, but Rollins' aggressive rehab put him back in the ring in just under 8 months.
At Money in the Bank 2016, Seth cleanly won the WWE Championship from Roman Reigns to recapture the prize he 'never lost.' However, Dean Ambrose, who won the MITB match earlier that night, raced to the ring and beat Seth in nine seconds to win the title. It was a heart breaker for Seth Rollins fans that clamored to see him back on top again after a stellar 2015.
7 John Cena Defeats AJ Styles - Royal Rumble 2017
Just to get the reference out of the way, AJ Styles had a.........phenomenal year in 2016. WWE showed just how much faith they had in him by giving him three pinfall victories over John Cena and a lengthy WWE title reign during his first year. There's no doubt that Styles has emerged as a superstar and perhaps the best wrestler/worker in the world. But we knew that already from his TNA/ROH/New Japan days. Styles was set to defend his WWE title against John Cena at his year's Royal Rumble, which raised a few concerns for fans.
First of all, how did Cena get a title match without having to earn it, especially after he had been pinned three times by Styles? And second, why take the title away from AJ which robs him of the chance to headline Wrestlemania after his outstanding first year with the company? Unfortunately, neither of those questions mattered, as Cena would defeat AJ to earn his 16th World title reign. And seemingly, none of it mattered because neither man is in the title picture heading towards WrestleMania.
6 Randy Orton Defeats Daniel Bryan - SummerSlam 2013
A little more than a year after Bryan was shafted by Sheamus (see earlier entry), he managed to really pick up steam with the fans and the very beginnings of the "YES!" Movement. Bryan was described by the McMahon's as a B+ player who wasn't worthy of being in the main event scene, or even being close to the WWE Championship. So when John Cena hand picked Bryan as his opponent for SummerSlam in the WWE title match, no one really expected much.
As we all know, Bryan shocked the world with a clean victory over John Cena to win his first WWE Championship. Triple H, who was the special referee for the contest, celebrated with Bryan while confetti fell in a true feel good moment. That is, until Triple H hit Bryan with a Pedigree, allowing that year's MITB winner Randy Orton to cash in for an easy victory. The Orton win can be seen as the official beginning of the most successful time in Daniel Bryan's career, culminating with a WWE title win at WrestleMania 30.
5 The Rock Defeats CM Punk - Royal Rumble 2013
Even though The Rock is one of the most popular and beloved characters in WWE history, it doesn't save him from making this list. After defeating John Cena in their "Once in a Lifetime" match at WrestleMania XXVIII, The Rock left for Hollywood again, making sporadic WWE appearances throughout the year. During one of those appearances on the 1000th episode of Raw, The Rock expressed his desire to face the WWE Champion, whomever it may be, at the following year's Royal Rumble. Meanwhile, CM Punk was in the midst of his record setting 434 day WWE title reign.
The two collided at the 2013 Royal Rumble and the Rock emerged victorious. Business wise, it made sense because John Cena had won the Royal Rumble match earlier that night. This meant that their rematch would now be for the WWE title. (Sound familiar?) So The Rock and Cena wrestled again at WrestleMania XXIX, and CM Punk was left with nothing to show for his record setting title reign. While this event didn't lead to CM Punk's eventual departure from WWE, it's obvious that it didn't help either.
4 Kevin Nash Defeats Goldberg - Starrcade 1998
Along with the Sting-nWo story line, Goldberg was one of the main factors of WCW's ratings dominance over WWE during 1997-98. Goldberg was the hottest non-WWE act and his popularity was sky high. Goldberg boasted a winning streak of well over 100 victories and was awarded a WCW title match in mid 1998. On July 6, 1998, Goldberg defeated Hollywood Hogan on Nitro to win the WCW title. Goldberg seemed unstoppable and began his dominance as WCW Champion.
A few months later, Kevin Nash, who had a fair amount of creative control, was booked to defeat Goldberg at Starrcade for the WCW title, which also ended the winning streak. The problem here is that Kevin Nash was already a well established star who didn't need the rub of being the man to finally defeat Goldberg. If that decision just had to be made, why didn't WCW give that victory to a younger wrestler who could've benefited from it? And what's worse is the fact that just eight days later, Nash would surrender the WCW title to Hogan in the infamous 'Finger poke of Doom.' So, one could say that this match correlates with the beginning of the end for WCW, as the following year was one of the worst in their history.
3 Hulk Hogan Defeats Yokozuna/Bret Hart - WrestleMania IX
Although Hulk Hogan only wrestled Yokozuna the night of WrestleMania IX, he did manage to defeat both Yokozuna and Bret Hart in the same night. The title match scheduled for the event was Bret Hart defending his title against Royal Rumble winner Yokozuna. Hogan was nowhere in the equation. The night before the event, Vince McMahon reportedly told Hart that Hogan would be leaving the show with the belt after a controversial finish. Hart agreed, due to the promise from both Hogan and Vince that Hogan would return the favor and Hart would soon be champion again.
So after only being scheduled in a Tag match, Hulk Hogan steals the spotlight and the WWE Championship from both Bret and Yokozuna. Then, to put the cherry on the sundae, Hogan reportedly refused to give Bret a title match, instead dropping the belt back to Yokozuna a few months later. Hogan's claim to Vince McMahon was that Bret wasn't on his level and 'didn't deserve to be put over by him.'
2 Goldberg Defeats Kevin Owens - Fastlane 2017
The most recent championship thievery occurred at last months Fastlane pay-per-view. Since returning to the company last year, Goldberg has been on a hot streak similar to his WCW days. His popularity is high, and he hasn't lost a match. While the main reason for his return was to continue his feud with Brock Lesnar from 2004, Goldberg managed to gain a title match with the Universal Champion Kevin Owens at Fastlane. And as expected, Owens did the job to Goldberg in 22 seconds and dropped the title.
This was an outrage to fans due to two factors. The first factor is that WWE decided to give Goldberg the title, even though since his return, his matches combined have barley added up to five minutes. That includes his Royal Rumble appearance. And the second factor is that WWE, once again, decided to screw a more deserving full time wrestler in favor of a one shot with a part timer. Goldberg's match with Lesnar at the upcoming WrestleMania is now a Universal Championship match, when in truth, neither of them deserve to be near the title. And most likely, both men will disappear for a while after the event, just like they did in 2004.
1 Shawn Michaels Defeats The British Bulldog - One Night Only 1997
The final entry on this list comes from a pay-per-view in September of 1997 in Birmingham, England. The hometown hero and European Champion, The British Bulldog was scheduled to defend his title against Shawn Michaels, who was at the height of his original DX heel run. The event sold out and Bulldog's family was in attendance. Front row seats to be exact. Everything was in place for The Bulldog to prevail and send his family and hometown crowd home happy.
Dave Meltzer reports that Bulldog wasn't informed of the change of plans until the morning of the event. But the new plans had Shawn winning by submission, to lead to the revenge match which would've taken place in Manchester and seen Bulldog take his title back. However, when you steal a victory from the hometown hero in a scandalous way (Montreal Screwjob?), things tend to go badly. The crowd was furious after DX and Shawn Michaels embarrassed The Bulldog, and the tension almost turned into a riot. Bulldog's wife and sister also sat at ringside in tears while watching Shawn and his ego run wild. And of course, in case you didn't already know, that event in Manchester that would've seen Bulldog take his revenge, never happened.