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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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Top 5 Matches: Week Ending 2/18/18

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In what turned out to be a very close vote last week, our all Japanese All Star Top 5, finally cleared up when the dust settled. The Top 3 matches had people split most of the week, but Kazuchika Okada vs Sanada @ New Beginning: Osaka, came out the same way I listed it last week, on top.

That being said, this was one of those in between weeks. No major events, but surprisingly the quality of the matches are comparable to PPV level. Let’s take a look at what made the cut.

 

5. NXT: UK Championship Match: Pete Dunne (c) vs Roderick Strong

Now some may be surprised this is only fifth, but it didn’t flow as well as the other matches on this list, the crowd seemed unconscious and the lack of real storyline heat, took away from this match a little.

That being said, neither of these guys put on a “bad” match, so this was nearly a given to make the cut. We saw both men get in most of their stuff. Pete Dunne took a page out of Marty Scurll’s book and worked Strong’s hand to make it harder for him to do many of his moves. So thanks to the injury and Dunne’s brawler style, Strong couldn’t keep up and Dunne retained.

A couple sequences seemed a little stalled, but all in all this match was solid. Odd that it kicked off the NXT episode, but it’s also apt that it kicks off this list.

Rating: *** 1/2 (Gold III)

 

4. Raw: Roman Reigns vs Sheamus

This one I had to rewatch since I got distracted mid match(phone calls suck), but at the behest of our beloved Commissioner PC Tunney, I gave it the good ole college try.

A solid hard hitting brawl between two guys with some history from years back, and the tag match the previous week. Cesaro’s interference was minimal, and it was a good showing for Sheamus. Given the fact he’s been in the tag division for the past year, it’s always interesting to see how they’ll present the pieces in singles combat.

Lots of big moves, a superman punch to counter a Brogue Kick (which looked nice) and commentary saying Sheamus tried a Frankensteiner just as a way for Roman to do his sit out powerbomb. Great match that ends with Roman going over, but again he puts on a damn solid match. Those pitch forks are gonna have to aim at someone else soon, cause Roman is progressing much faster than Cena did.

Rating: *** 1/2 (Gold III)

 

3. Smackdown Live: Dolph Ziggler vs Sami Zayn

Well alright, the premise for setting this match up was convoluted…but we got a damn good match out of it.

We all know Zayn and Ziggler can go in the ring, but this was an odd combination of two men who are often overlooked and “buried”, who put on a clinic. Even though the outcome of both impromptu matches was so obvious Helen Keller could see it, this one was fun. Ziggler hit most of his signature moves, and the finish with him countering the Helluva Kick with a Super Kick, was nicely timed and the crowd seemed to appreciate it all.

I doubt this will play into any kind of long push for Ziggler, but I’m just glad we got a match worth watching on Smackdown.

Rating: *** 3/4 (Gold I)

 

Honorable Mention:

Impact: X Division Championship Match: Taiji Ishimori (c) vs El Hijo de Fantasma
Rating: *** (Gold V)

NWA: World Heavyweight Championship Match: Nick Aldis (c) vs James Ellsworth
Rating: ** (Silver V)

 

2. 205 Live: Drew Gulak vs Tony Nese

Well…damn, just damn.

This was the first match this week that surprised me a lot. Tony Nese hasn’t really been lighting it up and Drew Gulak is just the Power Point creating, perfect speller of the ‘Zo Train. So sufficed to say, I forgot these two could wrestle.

Nese held his own and performed some impressive moves, but Gulak was the star. He tapped into some dark technical monster side of his character. He was grinning while getting hit, I really thought Minoru Suzuki possessed him at some point. Also, the fact that he grabbed and posed with the vacant title was such a beautiful heel move.

Evil Gulak may have just became my favorite wrestler on the 205 roster.

Rating: **** (Platinum V)

 

1. Impact: World Heavyweight Championship Match: Austin Aries (c) vs Eli Drake

Now even though this is week 3 of the new Cyrus regime, it’s been hard to see much of a difference. Yes I know they need to tie up the existing stories, but the in-ring product has still been mediocre at best, until now.

During a previous installment I think I mentioned how Eli Drake’s moveset has been ever expanding, and this match held true to that. Eli is more of a brawler, and Aries is a high flying technical specimen. However, Eli kept up wonderfully and this match was back and forth for the most part.

Eli would counter and catch Aries mid move, and Aries would get frustrated at Eli’s resiliency. Chris Adonis proved mostly useless, except to take a Suicide Dive, so that’s probably the path to why he leaves Impact (when things are officially on Twitter it’s basically general knowledge). The match did a great job at protecting the Gravy Train since Eli never hit it, and Aries was visibly frustrated at many points.

So even though Aries retained, Drake should’ve cemented himself as a main event player to management. He pulled off a top rope moonsault and jumped to the top turnbuckle and suplexed Aries down, in one fell swoop. These aren’t part of a usual Eli Drake match, so it should be fun to see what other tricks he has up his sleeve.

Rating: **** 1/4 (Platinum IV)

 

This vote is actually hard for me. Now I’m a big fan of Eli Drake, and he worked his ass off, but Drew Gulak really showed a new side and captured my attention. Argh…okay, since I have to pick, I will vote for, Drew Gulak vs Tony Nese. Not easy for me, but Evil Gulak could be something special.

So vote, scream, cry, dance, ridicule me, whatever you want to do. Interact on Facebook and Twitter, or yell at me personally at, andrewbalaz@thechairshot.com. Until next week.

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Top 5: Animals in Wrestling

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Brandi Rhodes Top 5 Wrestling Animals

Professional wrestling is often referred to as a circus. It’s a wide-ranging presentation of different acts designed to appeal to children of all ages. Wrestlers have spoken in cizarny language to each other for most of the art form’s existence.

Every good circus needs animals.

Bury the Bullet Club Bear is just the latest involvement of animals (or people dressed like animals) in the history of our great sport. For many years, animals have been used to accentuate human performers. There was even a time when animals wrestled humans in special attraction matches. Here are Wrestling’s Top 5 Animals.

5. Frankie

A macaw, Frankie served as Koko B. Ware’s mascot from Koko’s entrance into the World Wrestling Federation in 1986 until his tragic death in a fire in 2001. Frankie drove home Koko’s “Birdman” persona & entrance music.

The only problem I had with Frankie was that he didn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of Koko’s opponents. The 1980s WWF often ran angles where heels were afraid of babyface animals. Frankie really couldn’t pull that off.

4. C.P. Munk

CHIKARA has seen several wrestlers in animal costumes appear in their ring, but none inspired the reaction of C.P. Munk. Munk’s inspiration, C.M. Punk, actually appeared in the main event of the first CHIKARA main event. For whatever reason, he & CHIKARA’s management had a falling out and that marked Punk’s only appearance for the promotion.

August 13, 2005 marked the debut of C.P. Munk, a giant chipmunk with Punk’s mannerisms, wrestling attire & entrance music (sped up, of course). He appeared a couple of more times in October before disappearing. Munk’s return happened at CHIKARA’s Tag World Grand Prix 2006, where he teamed with Colt Cabunny.

We found out that Necro Butcher was the man behind the C.P. Munk persona. It made perfect sense, Necro’s typical character certainly wasn’t family-friendly & he needed a way to get into CHIKARA.

3. Matilda

The British Bulldogs are still remembered as one of wrestling’s greatest tag teams. Davey Boy Smith & Dynamite Kid certainly wrestled with the tenacity of bulldogs, but in the 1980s WWF you needed a little bit more than that to establish your persona. Enter Matilda. The bulldog showed up towards the end of the Bulldogs’ tag team championship reign, and offered at least the same level of managerial expertise as their previous manager: Captain Lou Albano.

The highlight of Matilda’s wrestling involvement happened when Bobby Heenan & the Islanders dognapped her. Fortunately, Vince McMahon hadn’t yet considered the idea of having a wrestler feed another wrestler their own dog for dinner.

2. Terrible Ted

Animals

The wrestling bear was a tremendously popular attraction throughout the 1950s & 60s. Live gates would go up across the nation when a bear was advertised. The most famous of the wrestling bears was Terrible Ted.

Ted wasn’t a bad worker from what I’ve seen. I imagine it had to be difficult from a mental standpoint for a human wrestler to get in there with him. Even if the bear looks like he’s working, you never really know for sure. Of course, wrestlers don’t need to worry about getting booked against bears now due to animal cruelty laws, liability laws & things like that. Daniel Bryan wanted to wrestle a bear at a recent WrestleMania, but there was no way he or a bear was getting cleared to compete in a WWE ring.

1. Damien

Jake Roberts had been known as “The Snake” ever since he started out in wrestling. It made sense on two levels: it rhymed with Jake’s first name & it described his personality in & out of the ring. It only made sense to make it a key part of his persona when he arrived in the WWF.

There’s definitely a fear factor when it comes to snakes. People are taught in Sunday School that they’re evil. Jake used Damien as well as any wrestler has ever used a side character. Damien crawling on Jake’s downed opponents was always a creepy moment that further established Jake as a sinister force. Even when he was a good guy, there was always something dangerous about Jake & Damien.

Damien was constantly involved in angles. Ted DiBiase kidnapped him. Earthquake sat on him. He was the only thing that Andre the Giant was afraid of. There was never a more important animal in the history of pro wrestling.

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Power Rankings: New Japan Pro Wrestling

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Well coming off the big New Beginning shows, there were some interesting events. Taichi kidnaps Naito, Sanada showed the world that he’s a the real deal, Kitamura shows a great ability to learn and adapt, as well as, Yoshi-Hashi…well…not stinking up the joint.

Given the fact there’s so much to chew on, it makes sense to try and Power Rank the current landscape of New Japan Professional Wrestling.

5. Tetsuya Naito

The leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon, the leading merchandise mover in Japan and forever the Stardust Genius. Accolades aside, he’s been in a weird spot since losing his IWGP Championship shot at Wrestle Kingdom 12. He got jumped by Jericho, he got pushed around by Yoshi-Hashi and now Taichi is trying to make a statement with him. Not really sure why he’s being saddled with the lower card guys of 2 other factions, and freelance Jericho is looming over his head. So with no real direction but, himself and LIJ are still the most over thing in NJPW, he deserves mention in the Top 5.

 

4. Will Ospreay

ELEVATED, EL-ELEVATED – oh, ya his theme song is catchy, shut up. Aside from a catchy theme, he’s one of the premiere atheltes on the indie scene as well as New Japan. So given the fact that he’s been towards the top of the Junior Division for the last 3 years, and a 2 time Champion in the last six months, it’s hard to ignore him. The fans love him, Okada hand picked him for Chaos, and even hand picks him again for the Anniversary Show to reignite the tradition of the Junior Champion versus the Heavyweight Champion.

Starting off big, this proves to be a big year for Ospreay.

 

3. Minoru Suzuki

The Sadistic Surgeon, he literally tortured Hiroshi Tanahashi to the point where Red Shoes couldn’t take anymore and took pity on the stubborn former Ace. Now he’s the Intercontinental Champion after losing the NEVER to Hirooki Goto last month in a brutal match. He feels disrespected by the press, but the fans still love to hate him. Screaming Kaze Ni Nare at the right time, is still an arena wide tradition, and you can’t help but eat up his brutal technical style.

Suzuki-Gun Ichiban.

 

2. Golden Lovers

Well this one is a gimme. It’s the reunion every new western fan wanted and even many Japanese fans were clamoring for this. Kenny Omega’s possible split from the Bullet Club, time to go full Babyface with Kota Ibushi. Not only Bi-lingual…these guys will be a great story to keep fans engaged through the New Japan Cup and the usually smaller show of Wrestling Dontaku.

We know what they can both do, and now it’s just a matter of seeing where they go. Some great matches can be had, but until we get confirmation on the Bullet Club, speculation is abound.

 

1. Kazuchika Okada

What can I really say? He’s a 5 star machine, even more so than Omega. He’s booked to be super human, looks like a million bucks, has a global footprint larger than most expected and still remains mostly humble on promos. Also New Japan’s parent company Bushi Road has been using his boyish smile and look to help sell their products like Buddy Card Fight.

Even if your sick of him being champion, his matches are always put together in a way to make you believe the other wrestler has a legit chance, until Okada’s resilience shines through. So unlike other “Pushed down our throat” talent, Okada remains humble to fans, looks fairly human, just has a more impressive reserve tank than most.

He will continue to rain money down on New Japan, even after Omega’s eventually exit to WWE.

 

Well there we have it, Power Rankings for New Japan. Due to injuries, Hiroshi Tanahashi isn’t on this list and due to being relatively new, Jay White hasn’t quite captured the hearts and attention of people to believe he’s a top talent.

Could there be a lot of changes amidst how the Anniversary Show, New Japan Cup, Strong Style Evolved and Wrestling Dontaku shake out? Of course! Makabe challenging for the Intercontinental Title, Jericho’s eventual involvement and the next opponent for Okada could shift things. But until them, tranquilo and Bullet Club is fine, they’re fine.

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