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10 greatest World Championship upsets
Following the Oct. 15 episode of Raw, many members of the WWE Universe who were probably still chanting “Feed Me More!” took to Tout and Twitter to express their excitement that John Cena would allow Ryback to challenge CM Punk for the WWE Championship at Hell in a Cell. Many even predicted that the juggernaut known as Ryback would leave Atlanta with Punk’s WWE Championship.
While some may think the somewhat inexperienced and not yet tested Ryback has little chance of dethroning The Straight Edge Superstar, history says otherwise. Ryback managing to end Punk’s WWE Championship reign, the 10th longest in history, would be far from the greatest World Championship upset in the annals of wrestling and sports-entertainment.
Ivan Koloff def. Bruno Sammartino for the WWE Championship
Jan. 18, 1971
Managed by Captain Lou Albano, the “Russian Bear” Ivan Koloff got a chance at Bruno Sammartino's WWE Championship in Madison Square Garden, the same place where Sammartino won the title almost eight years prior. Both Superstars were masters of the bear hug, but it was a knee drop from the top rope that gave Koloff the win. Instead of the expected chorus of boos from the capacity crowd, stunned silence filled MSG. Although Koloff dethroned a champion that held the title for nearly eight years, he would not be so lucky. Koloff's reign only lasted about three weeks as he lost the title to Pedro Morales.
Tommy “Wildfire” Rich def. Harley Race for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship
April 27, 1981
The golden-haired and wildly popular “Wildfire” Tommy Rich won dozens of NWA regional titles during this time. Rich achieved his height of popularity in the Georgia territory battling the likes of Ivan Koloff and The Fabulous Freebirds. On April 27, 1981, in Augusta, Ga., Rich cemented his legacy by defeating NWA World Heavyweight Champion, Harley Race. Rich would have the shortest NWA World Heavyweight Title reign in history, losing the championship back to Race four days later in Marietta, Ga. Those four days, however, cemented Rich as a main eventer in the wrestling hotbed of Georgia.
Ronnie Garvin def. Ric Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship
Sept. 25, 1987
WWE fans may remember “Rugged” Ronnie Garvin’s brutal battles with Greg “The Hammer” Valentine. Before competing on WrestleMania, SummerSlam and Royal Rumble, though, Garvin was an NWA staple who battered the likes of Ivan Koloff, Tully Blanchard and Jim Cornette’s Midnight Express with various partners. In 1987, Ric Flair made the mistake of crossing “The Man with the Hands of Stone” and lost the NWA World Heavyweight Championship to Garvin in a bloody Steel Cage Match. Flair won the title back from Garvin two months later at Starrcade … and then made sure to steer clear of him for the rest of his career.
Jerry “The King” Lawler def. Curt Hennig for the AWA World Heavyweight Championship
Despite winning more championships than anyone else in wrestling, the NWA and the AWA World Championships eluded Jerry “The King” Lawler for more than a decade. While both champions were required to defend their respective titles in Memphis, Tenn., against the city’s “King,” disqualifications, count-outs and time limit draws allowed men like Harley Race and Nick Bockwinkel to escape with their championships. Eventually, the wrestling gods smiled on Lawler and the future Mr. Perfect made history by being the man to finally crown “The King.”
The Giant def. Hulk Hogan for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship
Oct. 29, 1995
After reigning as champion for more than 15 months, Hulk Hogan faced his biggest challenge yet (literally) in a 7-foot, 400-plus-pound Giant who was making his wrestling debut. At Halloween Havoc, it took everything Hogan had to fight off the future Big Show, and it looked like Hogan would win the match after slamming the behemoth and using his legendary leg drop. However, Hogan's manager, “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart, turned on The Hulkster. Hart laid out the referee before calling the Dungeon of Doom out to attack Hogan. Ultimately, the match ended in a disqualification victory for the Giant because Hogan's manager, Hart, struck the referee. Normally, a title cannot change hands on a disqualification, but at Hogan’s bequest, Hart had it written into the contract that the stipulation was waived for this match. Therefore, Giant became WCW Champion, but the decision was reversed one week later and the title was declared vacant. This match also saw the dubious debut of the mummy-like Yeti. We're still not sure what Yeti and Giant were doing to Hulk Hogan but we have determined that it was PG (painfully goofy).
Mikey Whipwreck def. The Sandman for the ECW World Heavyweight Championship
Oct. 28, 1995
Before Rey Mysterio became wrestling’s greatest underdog by winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Mikey Whipwreck held that distinction. The slightly built 5-foot-7, 170-pound Whipwreck was a member of the ring crew who was seen horsing around in the ring by Joey Styles and offered a tryout by Paul Heyman that same night at the ECW Arena. To everyone’s surprise, the resilient Whipwreck went on to win the ECW World Television Title, the ECW World Tag Team Titles with Cactus Jack and then became a Triple Crown Champion by defeating The Sandman in a Ladder Match for the ECW World Heavyweight Championship. Whipwreck would prove he was no fluke when he successfully defended the title by pinning Steve Austin (not a typo). Mikey eventually lost the championship back to The Sandman in a Three Way Dance (now called a Triple Threat Elimination Match) that also involved Austin. Mikey’s unthinkable win was a classic ECW “Oh My God!” moment.
Mr. McMahon def. Triple H for the WWE Championship
Sept. 16, 1999
On Sept. 16, 1999, Mr. McMahon was not only the owner of WWE, but he was also the WWE Champion. In an unscheduled match that saw Shane McMahon officiate, Triple H defended his newly won WWE Championship against his future father-in-law. During the match, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin delivered a Stunner to The Game, allowing McMahon to get the shocking win. McMahon was not WWE Champion for long, however, as he vacated the title four days later after making his point to Triple H not to “cross the boss.”
David Arquette wins the WCW World Heavyweight Championship
April 25, 2000
In a history-making evening in Syracuse, N.Y., WCW World Champion Diamond Dallas Page teamed with then–Mr. Courtney Cox, David Arquette, to battle Jeff Jarrett and Eric Bischoff. This would be no ordinary tag team match, however, as DDP’s title would be at stake and any man in the match who scored the pin on their opponent would be crowned the WCW World Champion. On this night on WCW Thunder, Arquette pinned Bischoff to become the first Hollywood celebrity in sports-entertainment history to become a World Heavyweight Champion … and WCW began its slide into insolvency. Things couldn’t get any worse, could they?
Vince Russo wins the WCW World Heavyweight Championship
Sept. 25, 2000
Vince Russo did the unthinkable (and intolerable) when he accidentally won a Steel Cage Match to become the WCW World Champion. Realizing he was in over his head as a wrestler (but not yet as a Creative Director), Russo surrendered the championship shortly thereafter and many WCW fans surrendered watching Nitro. WCW met it’s less than glorious demise a few months later when WWE purchased what was left of once great WCW from AOL/Time Warner, who wanted to unload WCW at a bargain price.
Rey Mysterio def. Randy Orton and Kurt Angle in a Triple Threat Match to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
April 2, 2006
Rey Mysterio may not be tall in stature, but was “Big Time” at WrestleMania 22 when he pinned Randy Orton to become the World Heavyweight Champion.
Heading into the Triple Threat Match, it was Olympic Gold Medalist Kurt Angle who seemed destined to retain the World Heavyweight Championship from Orton and saw Mysterio as little more than a nuisance. Angle put on a wrestling clinic, hitting German suplexes on both Orton and Mysterio. Angle also made both Orton and Mysterio tap to his Ankle Lock, but the referee saw neither submission because of Angle’s other opponent. Angle even kicked out of Orton’s RKO and Mysterio’s seated senton. In the end, though, the star-spangled sensation would watch the match end while desperately trying to break up the winning pinfall. It was the three-count that allowed Mysterio to silence the critics who deemed him too small to be anything more than WCW and WWE Cruiserweight Champion. At that moment, Mysterio became sports-entertainment’s “littlest big man”.