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Top 5: Underdog WWE Champions

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The result of Super Bowl LII seemed set in stone to most observers, myself included. The Philadelphia Eagles would give the New England Patriots a good game, but at the end of the night the dynasty would prevail once again. LOL Patriots Win, right? Didn’t happen. Doug Pederson coached with cojones the size of grapefruits, Nick Foles made for a better wide receiver than Tom Brady did, and the Eagles shocked the world to win their first Super Bowl.

Underdogs have been a part of sports as long as one can remember. Pro wrestling has certainly seen its share. Here are the Top 5 Underdog Wrestling Champions.

Honorable Mentions: Bret Hart & Shawn Michaels

Here’s the thing: Neither of these men were expected to be WWF Champion heading into the 1990s. The Championship had been dominated by large muscular men that were big in charisma & low on technical ability. Hart & Michaels were solid hands. They were part of successful tag teams & even made a dent in the Intercontinental title scene. The IC title was supposed to be their ceiling.

Circumstances changed & the times called for men that weren’t walking steroid advertisements to lead the company. Bret & Shawn were perfect for that. As a young fan that had watched them develop, I wasn’t shocked when Bret defeated Ric Flair, or when Shawn topped Bret in the Iron Man match at WrestleMania XII. They had proven themselves to me & many others as exceptional wrestlers, and the people standing in their way weren’t exactly unbeatable giants themselves. They were only underdogs to people that weren’t paying attention.

5. Rey Mysterio

WWE Rey Mysterio Underdog

Speaking of smaller men, Rey took the wrestling world by storm in the mid-1990s. His brand of high-flying was something that had never been seen before. He immediately became one of WCW’s most popular performers, and attained the same status in WWE upon his arrival in 2002. Even though the size barrier had been broken by 2006 & wrestlers were trending smaller on average, Rey was still considered way too small. His billed height at 5’6 was very, very generous.

Rey’s time came at WrestleMania 22, where he beat Randy Orton & Kurt Angle in a triple threat match. Unfortunately for Rey, the title reign wasn’t as well-received as it should have been. Many thought that he was only World Champion as a way of WWE paying tribute to his best friend. WWE did Rey no favors during his title reign, as he got beat like a drum by every big stiff employed by the company. It was intended to build up his underdog status, but had the effect of portraying him as undeserving.

In an ironic twist of fate, Rey was at his least popular when he was on top of the mountain. Some underdogs are better off in that role.

4. Jeff Hardy

WWE Jeff Hardy Underdog

Jeff was always tremendously popular with WWE fans. His biggest obstacle in reaching the top of the company was himself. Drug issues threatened to derail his career on multiple occasions, and even after he reached the mountaintop of the WWE Championship he struggled to conquer his demons. That story, added in with the fact that like Hart & Michaels he was smaller & less conventionally charismatic than your typical WWE Champion, made it extra sweet for his fans when he finally won the Championship in December 2008.

In the eyes of many that never thought they’d see it happen, WWE Armageddon was a fitting title for a show featuring a Jeff Hardy world title victory.

Honorable Mention: Chris Benoit

Had the tragic events of June 2007 not taken place, there’s no doubt in my mind that Benoit would be somewhere around this position on the list. He’d wrestled all over the world for nearly fifteen years and was considered one of the best in the ring. Nobody, not even his biggest fans, believed that WWE would ever put him on top. Even after he won the 2004 Royal Rumble & got placed in the Raw title picture, most figured that Shawn Michaels or Triple H would win at WrestleMania XX, even if Benoit made the most sense from a storyline perspective. At the time, it was a wonderful story of an underdog clawing his way to the top of WWE & winning a major championship.

3. Eddie Guerrero

WWE Eddie Guerrero Underdog

At the same time Benoit was working his way to the top of Raw, his longtime friend took the world by surprise on SmackDown. Like Jeff Hardy, Eddie had waged a battle with his demons for most of his career. Like Rey Mysterio, Eddie was small even by the standards set by Hart & Michaels. Unlike any of these men, Eddie had the task of winning the WWE Championship from Brock Lesnar. Brock was & is the exact opposite of an underdog. On paper, Eddie didn’t stand a chance.

The match at No Way Out 2004 told the story of an underdog that never said die against an unstoppable force who was annoyed that his opponent wouldn’t just die. As far as a one-night story of an underdog reaching the top of the mountain goes, I don’t think there’s been a better one. Eddie’s untimely demise less than two years later makes the story live on even more than it would have otherwise.

2. Mick Foley

WWE Mankind Underdog

Foley was a man of many personalities. Whether he was Cactus Jack, Dude Love or Mankind, at the end of the day wrestling fans could relate with him. Mick didn’t have the look of a typical WWF Champion. He took some of the worst beatings in the history of the business. He cut some of the best promos. As talented as he was, championships didn’t seem like they would come his way.

His victory over The Rock on a taped episode of Raw that aired on January 4, 1999 was such a monumental & crowd-pleasing moment that people wanted to see it even though WWF.com & WCW spoiled the result of the match before it aired. It was fitting that Mankind, the most downtrodden of Foley’s personas, won the Championship. He had opened his heart to Mr. McMahon only to be rejected in favor of the younger, more charismatic & more cosmetically pleasing Corporate Champion. Fans could relate to Mankind’s story & saw him as an ultimate underdog that would fight through any type of punishment.

Some still didn’t get it. Even WCW tried to downplay it as somebody that worked for them before & couldn’t get it done. Fans knew all that meant was that WCW didn’t know what they had. One of the greatest underdogs of all time.

Honorable Mention: Steve Austin

It’s hard to believe it now, but at the time of his first WWF Championship victory, the Rattlesnake was considered an underdog. He’d been fired by WCW, it was obvious that Vince McMahon didn’t want him to be WWF Champion, and he talked about how it took him eight f’n years to get to the top of the business. In retrospect, the bit about eight f’n years was pretty ridiculous. It takes most top guys at least that long to attain their position. Once Austin reached the mountaintop, the only thing that could knock him off was injury.

The New England Patriots were underdogs at the beginning too.

1. Daniel Bryan

WWE Daniel Bryan Underdog

Underdog champions have a way of popping up at WrestleManias every ten years. Bret Hart avenged his defeat to Yokozuna at WrestleMania X. Benoit & Guerrero stood tall at the end of WrestleMania XX. WrestleMania XXX saw the crowning of possibly the least expected champion of all, Daniel Bryan.

Bryan’s rise through the business was chronicled on the Internet. Ring of Honor, the company that he was associated with more than any other during the 2000s, was a niche product targeted towards Internet fans. Bryan seemed like the opposite of what WWE wanted in a wrestler when he arrived there, and he continued in that path during his time with the company. His charisma became more pronounced & he attained more of a connection with the audience. He won the World Championship on SmackDown, but was still marketed by WWE as a man that looked like a goat.

His loss of that championship in eighteen seconds to Sheamus at WrestleMania XXIX riled the fanbase. They were appalled by WWE’s lack of respect for Bryan to job him out like that. Pro-Bryan chants dominated the rest of WrestleMania weekend. He went into SummerSlam against WWE Champion John Cena because Cena asked the fans who he should wrestle & Bryan was their answer. His loss of that championship to Randy Orton minutes after defeating Cena riled the fans up even more. Pro-Bryan chants dominated WWE programming for months afterward. News that Bryan was destined for a lower-midcard WrestleMania match combined with his lack of presence in the Royal Rumble Match made the chants even louder. By the time WrestleMania rolled around, it was obvious that there was only one way the event could end.

People still debate whether or not WWE intended the Daniel Bryan push to happen the way it did. That’s the number one sign that it worked. Bryan was such a loveable underdog & had such a connection with the fans that we all felt like we were part of it. Whether we were or not is irrelevant.


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Opinion

When Will The Roman Reigns Experiment End In WWE?

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Two weeks ago, Roman Reigns walked in to the Mercedes Benz Superdome and thought he would walk out of WrestleMania 34 as the new Universal Heavyweight Champion.

Brock Lesnar’s new deal with WWE ended those dreams as the current champion on Monday Night Raw destroyed the “Big Dog” and retained his title. Reigns gets another shot at glory at the Biggest Royal Rumble show in Saudi Arabia, but the chances of a different outcome may be slim of not possible at all. Still, WWE continues to push Reigns, a three-time WWE champion, as the future of the company. Watching him lose to Lesnar time after time hasn’t endeared him to the fans, who would still rather see a new performer atop the leaderboard.

WWE’s love affair with Roman Reigns must come to an end at some point, right? This isn’t a soap opera where you can stop watching for a year, come back and see the same storyline, is it? Apparently, Vince McMahon wants to get as much out of the Reigns as he can.

The main event picture on Monday nights got a little more crowded with the arrival of Bobby Lashley last week. Reigns, Lashley and Braun Strowman figure to be front and center on this carousel while Lesnar walks in and out of the company’s backdoor. The lure of WWE and UFC at the same time will leave the “Beast Incarnate” with deep pockets and decisions to make.

Having the Universal Champion on Monday nights showing off red gold would benefit everyone involved, including the man who has beaten The Undertaker and John Cena in the past year. If WWE wants to continue Reigns’ path as the new leader of the company, it must put the strap on his waist soon. Fans have become restless and disengaged. Strowman gets the biggest pops on television. Seth Rollins is the Intercontinental Champion and could elevate himself to the main event.

Lashley will have fan support any time he gets in the ring.

It’s a no-win situation for Reigns, who didn’t ask for this kind of response. Had he beaten Batista in the 2014 Royal Rumble, this might be a different story – the kind where fans cannot get enough of the former Shield member. 

I almost feel sorry for Reigns. A big, strong wrestler born into the business with a look of a champion. He falls victim to the social media age of this business and fan sensibilities that change from day to day. If Reigns had been a champion in the 1980s, he and Hulk Hogan would have torn down Madison Square Garden. If he had been part of the Attitude Era, no doubt Steve Austin, Triple H and The Rock would have come knocking on his door.

Had he been part of the NWA in the early 1980s, I would have loved to see him in matches with Barry Windham, Lex Lugar and Ric Flair. This is the hand he has been dealt. For that reason, he and the fans must live with it.

As long as McMahon is pushing the button, Reigns will be the center of attention. Lesnar may hold the belt now and there are rumors Bobby Lashley may soon take it from the current champ. But front and center on the mind of WWE’s “machine” is a way to finally get Reigns over as the champion of the red team and as a favorite with the steadfast fan base.

It’s a relationship that will continue to remain toxic as long as Reigns is pushed down fans’ throats.


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The NXT North American Championship Is A Good Thing

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Chairshot Edit Adam Cole WWE
Pro Wrestling Wikia/Chairshot Edit

A few weeks ago William Regal announced that NXT would be unveiling a brand new championship at TakeOver: New Orleans. This lead to a six man ladder match to crown the first ever NXT North American Champion. A match I think we can all agree was excellent.

But the big question is though: Does NXT need another title?

Short Answer: Yes. Let me tell you why.

Now I know that a lot of people myself included like the clear structure of a TakeOver event. Just over 2 and a half hour show with just 5 matches allowing for more stories outside the title picture. This is good in theory but it doesn’t always work. In the past we’ve had the odd match on a Takeover that while great from an in ring standpoint in terms of story had no reason to exist.

Perfect example of this is Kassius Ohno vs Velveteen Dream from TakeOver: Philadelphia. Not a bad match by any means but the story behind hit felt rushed because they need another match to fill the card. The North American title has already partly taken care of this problem as the ladder match had a clear story behind it. Each man involved wanted the right to be known as the first champion.

Now look at the first ever NXT North American Champion: Adam Cole Bay Bay!

Since picking up the win for his team at War Games, Cole hadn’t won many big matches and was in danger of losing his appeal. Looking back he was the perfect guy to win it because he can lord over everyone like the cocky heel that he plays so well. His title win along with the inclusion of Roderick Strong into the Undisputed Era they once again feel like a dominant faction. Honestly they haven’t felt this hot since their debut.

Cole isn’t one who’s been made to feel big by the belt, who watching the ladder match didn’t feel like anyone in that match could have won? If you said you didn’t you’re a liar. He’s already defended his title at Mania Axxess against Akira Tozawa and is set to defend it on next weeks NXT against Oney Lorcan.

Which brings up my next point: more championships means more opportunities.

NXT’s roster is larger than most people realize. There are a lot of people who only work live events and have to wait months to get on TV. Even when they do it’s mostly to get squashed by someone.

Oney Lorcan despite being a very talent worker and over with Full Sail crowd has unfortunately fallen into the role of jobber to the stars. This match with Adam Cole is his first real shot at a championship in NXT. Hopefully this means that more talent in NXT like Lorcan who don’t get a lot of TV time get an opportunity.

You know most of them won’t win but if they can put on a great match they can get over in defeat. Similar to John Cena’s US open challenge. You knew he won’t lose to Zack Ryder or Stardust but he still put on a really good match with them.

The North American title has already given us great matches with the ladder match even getting the full 5 stars from Dave Meltzer (our own Andrew Balaz gave the match 3.5 stars). WWE matches don’t get those very often.

Finally as I said the NXT roster is quite vast meaning not everyone can win the top title. Before the North American title you had guys like Strong & Ohno wondering around the mid card aimlessly because if they weren’t going to win the title there wasn’t much else for them to do. Having a secondary belt gives certain superstars purpose. Instead of making Ohno a glorified jobber have him challenge for the North American title.

It’s also a great proving opportunity for certain stars. Stars who a little younger or they’re not sure if they’re ready for the main title have them win the North American Title and see what they do with it.

They’re way of saying “Here’s an opportunity, sink or swim with it”. It’s for this exact reason I was sure Velveteen Dream was going to win it. He’s incredibly over put maybe too young for the main title. In essence it could become what the Intercontinental Title use to back in the day. The up incoming guys like Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and even The Rock got at least one run with the IC title before they were ready to become World champion.

You have to think this partly Triple H had in mind for this title as it’s an old school concept and he clearly loves old school wrestling. You can tell with NXT’s old territory set up and the design of the North American title itself.

With all that it’s hard to see how the NXT North American Championship can’t be a success. I see it possibly being on par if not bigger than the NXT Championship.


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Bray Wyatt Has Found His Niche With Woken Matt Hardy

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Matt Hardy & Bray Wyatt

Matt Hardy is sharing his Woken wisdom with the world. The first man to fully accept that wisdom is Bray Wyatt and the two men are now a tag team in WWE. Many fans saw this coming, as Wyatt’s character had peaked for the most part. There was only so much ground WWE could cover with him in his Eater of Worlds persona.

It was indeed time for a change and Hardy facilitated that change. Now the two men are sharing the same air without trying to destroy each other, which seemed to be their fate. Like Undertaker and Mankind, Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt seemed destined to feud forever. But they are much better as a team.

That was perhaps not what fans expected. Though the signs of a potential partnership were there, no one could have predicted just how well they would mesh together. Fans watched them fight for so long that any union between them could have fallen flat.

But they are clicking together quite nicely at this point. Their personalities compliment each other and they have a great chemistry together. Wyatt has slid into the No.2 spot, which is a change of pace for him. He was always the man at the head of The Wyatt Family. He was always the one pulling the strings.

Therein lays the disbelief among many fans when it comes to this new team. Wyatt spent his entire WWE career as a heel. There was never any reason for anyone to trust him, because he was always playing mind games with everyone around him. He had no history as a babyface and he never really crossed into that area at any time during his run. He always had an agenda and that agenda was usually trouble for whoever crossed him.

Then there’s the fact that he was such a twisted soul. Bray Wyatt was never really hated like other heels around him, but he was booed. At his best Wyatt was creepy and sometimes even frightening. At his worst, he was a babbling madman. Somewhere in the middle, he found his niche.

The WWE faithful often didn’t understand what he was talking about but they knew it was psychological. Wyatt often seemed to talk above everyone’s head, as if he was already three steps in front of them. Fans took what they wantd from his promos and though the point wasn’t always clear, the intent was. Bray Wyatt wanted to be worshipped. He needed to be.

His character’s existence needed validation. The only way he could get that was by controlling others and making them need him. They were subservient to him and he led the way. Wyatt’s opponents wanted to shut him down but they were being played as well. Bray thrived on funhouse horror and expected everyone else to live that life with him. In that world, only he stood at the top.

So when fans now see him alongside Matt Hardy, they immediately have doubts. How could such a megalomaniacal figure like Bray Wyatt actually step aside and give control of his fate to a man that was beneath him? Wyatt did try to destroy Hardy and was convinced that he could do it. How could one brawl completely change his mind and indeed his very essence? Is that even possible?

In the world of WWE, Bray Wyatt is Marvel’s Loki. Like his comic book counterpart, Bray is devilish and conniving, always ready to use others for his own personal gain. He is a trickster, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a man that wants to slide in and take whatever he wants before anyone knows he was there.

Neither man is concerned with obliterating everything around them; they would much rather rule it all. Complete power is intoxicating and both men are indeed addicted to it. Loki has betrayed his brother Thor numerous times in order to get that kind of power. Is it only a matter of time until Bray Wyatt betrays Matt Hardy for the same reason?

The biggest problem with that theory is fans just saw it happen. Randy Orton once followed Bray and then turned on him. It was obvious from the start that Orton was up to something; he’s called The Viper for a reason. But no matter how many times it seemed as if Randy would leave Bray, he stayed. He even began to fit. Suddenly Randy Orton looked like he belonged with Bray Wyatt. Fans accepted it. But as soon as everyone relaxed, Orton made his move.

This could happen again of course. Wyatt could betray Hardy and leave him for dead in the middle of the ring. He could even take control of SAniTy and possibly even remake them in his own image. Many fans believe that would work and it quite possibly could. But is that the right move for Bray Wyatt?

Right now he and Matt Hardy are just getting started. Some guys are better enemies than friends but that just doesn’t apply to this situation. Hardy and Wyatt have gone to war many times before. Fans have seen that. It was fun and it worked for them. But it was time for something new. The same is definitely true for Wyatt.

Bray needed a change. He may have the same look and he may have the same move-set in the ring but he has evolved. Wyatt reached his apex and needed to do something fresh in order to keep moving forward. That’s exactly what he’s done now. Wyatt was a compelling heel but he can be a dynamic character babyface. This is what he perhaps should have been all along.

Matt and Bray are not The Hardy Boyz. They’re also not The Wyatt Family. These two Superstars are something more, something different. Hardy revitalized his pro wrestling career with his Broken and Woken personas. Bray Wyatt is now doing the same. The time for twists and turns may come. But now the time is right for this duo. Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt are bizarrely fun together and that fun is just beginning.


Always Use Your Head and visit the official Pro Wrestling Tees store for The Chairshot All t-shirt proceeds help support the advancement of your favorite hard-hitting wrestling website, The Chairshot!


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