If you are like me, and most of the WWE fanbase, you get sick and tired of seeing the same wrestlers get constant opportunities at titles. From Charlotte Flair being in the title picture for the last few years, similar to John Cena and Randy Orton in 2010 which just seemed to go on forever. However, every now and then, WWE will throw a curveball and introduce an unexpected challenger, but it will usually be a wrestler who has a very slim chance of winning. The most recent we see is Jey Uso, with his brother, Jimmy, out injured, Jey was thrust into the WWE Universal Championship picture at the upcoming Clash of Champions. We know Jey won’t win against Roman, the momentum Roman has behind him is enormous but it’s refreshing to see a new face and an unexpected wrestler getting the opportunity in a main event capacity. There have been many challengers for the prestigious WWE Championship, some were absolute squashes but others brought up some very interesting wrestling matches.
Zack Ryder (vs Sheamus – RAW, August 24th 2010)
This was an odd match but served the purpose to make the new WWE Champion look an absolute monster. This was a pre-True Long Island Z version of Zack Ryder; it was that awkward part between that gimmick and his time as an Edgehead. Sheamus won the WWE Championship for the second time at Fatal 4-Way in June, thanks to The Nexus, you could just tell that WWE had huge plans for the Celtic Warrior, considering this was his second WWE Championship in a year. Ryder was used as a jobber for the match on the August 24th 2010 episode of RAW in which he lost in 11 seconds. The weird thing is, the match is for the WWE Championship, usually, we would just see the squash to bolster the stock of the new champion. Clearly, it didn’t do anything for Ryder whose push was his own creation through his YouTube series and persistence on social media. Sheamus didn’t really gain anything from this, considering he beat John Cena for the title twice as well defeating Cena again and Randy Orton in future matches. A really weird match, that wasn’t massively needed but it happened.
Jeff Hardy (vs The Undertaker – RAW, July 1st 2002)
The complete parallel from the first entry in terms of its impact on both men. Jeff Hardy up until 2002 was known just as a tag team wrestler, alongside his brother, Matt. In 2001, he and Matt split up but somewhat reconciled prior to this match, with both men splitting off into singles careers. It was a really random match for Jeff to participate in, only coming from Jeff losing to The Undertaker the week before. After the loss, Jeff would challenge Taker for his title in a match of Jeff’s choosing, he would obviously choose a ladder match because his surname is Hardy. Jeff would lose the ladder match but not easily, he put up such a fight against Big Evil, even going as far as taunting Taker after the match by declaring he’s still standing and not finished off. Taker would attack him multiple times after he secured the title, before lifting Jeff to his feet and raising his hand, as a sign of respect. Despite very little build, a very unexpected challenger and a very unexpected match stipulation for Undertaker to participate in, the match was incredible for a RAW title match, certainly causing some ripples in the wrestling world that would lead to Jeff’s rise past his brother in WWE.
Jinder Mahal (vs. Randy Orton – Backlash 2017)
What a weird situation this was. Jinder won a six-pack challenge on the April 18th 2017 episode of Smackdown; defeating Mojo Rawley, Dolph Ziggler, Erick Rowan, Luke Harper and Sami Zayn. Instantly, a dodgy line-up for a number one contender spot, with the exceptions of Dolph and Sami, you think Jinder is going to go against Randy Orton and get destroyed. That did not happen. Jinder, out of absolutely nowhere like an RKO, won the WWE Championship from Orton. We found out into his reign, the reason he was picked to dethrone The Viper was due to his Indian heritage with WWE wanting to appeal more to that market before we knew this, it just seemed like the most random decision from WWE. He hadn’t had any character, except his time in 3MB, and wasn’t particularly appealing to fans but the title run did give him an air of credibility. The unfortunate thing with this was the run didn’t help WWE conquer the Indian market, it didn’t really do much except give a lower mid-card wrestler a run with the most prestigious championship in wrestling.
Spike Dudley (vs Stone Cold Steve Austin – Smackdown, June 14th 2001)
The runt of the Dudley family had a weird time in 2001, he would begin a feud with his brothers against The Holly Cousins before his brothers turned on him due to his relationship with Molly Holly. He was shown a little light at the end of the tunnel when he was gifted a shot against WWF Champion, ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. He didn’t earn it, he was just given it after Austin offended Molly Holly when asking Spike to sign his petition against his triple threat match at King of the Ring, resulting in Spike ripping up the petition. Austin would go to Commissioner Regal demanding for Spike in the ring but put his title on the line, despite petitioning against defending his title in a triple threat match. Obviously, Stone Cold would decimate the 150-pound Spike with Molly looking on but Spike got some offence into a huge ovation from the fans in attendance. Spike served his purpose perfectly, to bump like a madman for Stone Cold and make him look like the psycho he was acting.
Ricochet (vs Brock Lesnar – Super Showdown 2020)
I think Lesnar just tells Vince he wants to throw around a lighter and more agile wrestler around, Vince will just make it happen. Ricochet has had a weird WWE career, he had random sprinklings of success, like his US Title run but even that was short-lived and not very hyped. Compared to the two wrestlers he defeated, Seth Rollins and Bobby Lashley, Ricochet felt like he was just shoehorned in because someone else was injured, as he just didn’t fit in with the two. He was a new star, defeating two main eventers, but he wasn’t brand new to the main roster. He had been there for a year at that point, it wasn’t a Finn Balor situation when he debuted and went instantly into the WWE Universal Championship match. Ricochet would win that triple threat and secured a date with The Beast at Super Showdown in Saudi Arabia. That date lasted just one minute and 34 seconds but that just sums up Ricochet’s WWE career. It felt like something good was going to happen, something was going to change but then Vince just rips the carpet out from underneath him. We knew Ricochet wasn’t going to beat Lesnar but we just hoped for a class showing from the high flyer.
Taka Michinoku (vs Triple H – RAW, April 10th 2000)
Heading to the ring flanked by Stephanie and Shane, Triple H would go not knowing who his opponent would be in the contest. On the titantron, Kaientai would walk through doors before being followed by the APA. All four men would come to the ring but Lillian Garcia gave it away, announcing that Taka was competing against The Game. The APA would chase off Shane as Taka gets into the ring and Funaki supports from outside. Michinoku was one of the first light-heavyweight wrestlers to compete for the WWF Championship, the decision to put him in the match was completely random but a very good one. Taka comes out hot, using his speed and size to keep Triple H off his feet. When you remember that Taka’s main WWF run consisted of him being a part of a Yakuza style stable, then a fun-loving tag team, him competing for the WWF Champion is a big thing. Despite his loss against Triple H, Taka had a good showing and would extend storylines McMahon-Hemsley era.
Shannon Moore (vs Brock Lesnar – Smackdown, December 18th 2003)
Shannon Moore was just in a bad place at a wrong time, he was punished after Matt Hardy left Smackdown to go to RAW by Paul Heyman, who would put Moore against multiple monster wrestlers. Heyman set up a lottery-style situation for a number one contender, the person being picked out would go against Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship. Moore’s name was picked out of the tumbler before he would fight for his life against Lesnar until he gets caught in the Brock Lock. After the match, Lesnar went out to the tumbler and revealed every name inside the there was Shannon Moore. It’s incredible how WWE made two storylines overlap, with Hardy leaving and Shannon being punished for it. It’s rare to see someone who was in Moore’s position still be used in capacity on the screen when the main reason they were there left.
Hardcore Holly (vs Brock Lesnar – Royal Rumble 2004)
Another veteran of the business not receiving a title shot until later in their career, with the entry being able to trace back to 2002 when Lesnar broke Holly’s neck in a match on Smackdown. It somewhat ties into the former entry where Holly and Shannon Moore would win a tag match to keep Holly’s job straight after Moore’s title match with Lesnar. Down the line, Holly would assault Big Show to the point where Show would put a restraining order on him. Lesnar would hang around with Show to stay clear of Holly before Lesnar would be attacked by Holly during a match on Smackdown. When you think of the name Hardcore Holly and the career he had, you would think he would’ve been more involved in the main event scene than he was but you’d very rarely see him compete for World Titles unless it was on WWECW. The difference between Holly and a lot of the entries in this list is he was a tough competitor and took nothing from anyone, whereas some in this list were there to job out. Despite losing to The Next Big Thing, it was amazing to see Hardcore Holly in this capacity.
R-Truth (vs John Cena – Capitol Punishment 2011)
Ron Killings is a journeyman, he is a delight and an asset to WWE. However, he was never a main event guy, he was never going to hold a World Title in WWE. He held the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship when he worked for TNA but never got these opportunities for the WWE but he would hold midcard titles like the US Title and the Hardcore Title, the latter in his original run. In 2011, R Truth seemed to get a push into the main event scene, after he and John Cena were granted number one contendership when The Miz and Alex Riley attacked them both during a gauntlet match. Truth turned heel after he lost this place to John Morrison, who questioned his position there, although he regained the contender spot for the latter PPV, Capitol Punishment. He would lose to John Cena at the show but came out to the ring in a confederate outfit singing about ‘Little Jimmy’, showing his turn had made him go mental. Truth is a chameleon in wrestling, he can do it all but he was completely unexpected to be in this position.
Jerry Lawler (vs The Miz – RAW, November 29th 2010 & Elimination Chamber 2011)
November 29th 2010 was Jerry Lawler’s 61st birthday and Monday Night RAW was hosting a special King of the Ring edition on that day. Jerry Lawler is ‘The King’, the dates coincided so WWE granted Jerry Lawler his first-ever WWE Championship match, since he arrived in the company back in 1992. The anonymous GM made the match a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match which allowed interference from The Miz’s protegee, Alex Riley. But also, from Lawler’s broadcast partner, and Miz’s number one fan, Michael Cole. Lawler would go on to win a seven-man battle royal later in the month to face The Miz again at Elimination Chamber but was unsuccessful. This storyline just felt so surreal, Cole’s heel turns and him being even more annoying on commentary was genius because it got Lawler over even more and the beatings Lawler put on Cole gave the fans something to cheer for. The two title matches Lawler participated in was definitely unexpected but what a birthday present the first was from Hornswoggle hiding under the ring.
Surprises are fun. Wrestlers finally being given a chance in a high-profile match is fun, especially when it’s a competitor who fully deserves the spotlight. There are a lot of wrestlers in modern-day WWE who deserve this and I really hope that we won’t wait that long before someone comes for Roman Reigns or Drew McIntyre that we just didn’t expect.