Last Second Champions: Wrestlers Who Won Their First World Title Without Warning

This Saturday, Dean Ambrose takes on WWE Heavyweight Champion Triple H at WWE Roadblock. Most fans assume this is just a filler match, a minor bump on the road to WrestleMania, but as the company incessantly reminds us, anything can happen in WWE. That’s mostly a marketing slogan, but when it comes to world titles, sometimes it’s very true. History has seen a surprising number of last-second world championship decisions, and a lot of guys have found out they were winning their first world title only shortly before the fans did.

Destiny can come knocking at any time, and as these eight former champions can attest, plans aren’t set in stone until you walk through the curtain…

Note: I’m only covering the WWE Championship, World Heavyweight Championship and WCW Championship in this article. No ECW, pre-WCW NWA or TNA Championship stuff. Also, I’m only looking at wrestlers’ first world title win, because really, that’s the one that matters.

Randy Savage (1988)

The Title Win

In February, at the NBC TV special The Main Event, André the Giant ended Hulk Hogan’s four-year WWF Championship reign thanks to the skulduggery of villainous ref Earl Hebner. André, apparently in need of beer money, would promptly turn the belt over to Ted DiBiase, revealing the whole schmozzle was a Million Dollar Man plot all along. Due to the controversy, the title was HELD IN ABEYANCE and a one-night tournament was held at Wrestlemania IV. The finals would come down to Randy Savage vs. Ted DiBiase, with Savage picking up the victory thanks to Hogan interference.

When Did He Find Out?

The plan going into WrestleMania IV was for Ted DiBiase to win the belt to further his feud with the Hulkster. Shortly before the show, as close as the day before according to some accounts, Pat Patterson pitched a different idea to DiBiase – rather than winning the real belt, DiBiase would lose, then create his own title, the Million Dollar Championship. DiBiase thought this would actually be a better heat-getter, and a gimmick he could ride long-term, so he went for it, and Savage got the surprise news he’d be the new Macho Man on top.

Ron Simmons (1992)

The Title Win

Big Van Vader was WCW Champion and the human Mack Truck was rolling all the competition in the company. On Aug. 2, 1992, Sting was set to face Vader in a random house show match, but he was taken out by Jake Roberts. WCW president Bill Watts decided to draw a name out of a hat to face Vader, and former football player Ron Simmons was the “random” pick. Simmons had muscles on top of muscles and was a solid upper-carder, but most people didn’t expect he’d beat friggin’ Vader. Well, he did exactly that, pinning the previously unstoppable champ clean as a sheet to become the first officially recognized black world champion.

When Did He Find Out?

According to several Simmons interviews, including his recent Legends with JBL appearance, he found out he was winning the title when he showed up to the arena on August 2. You just never know when history is going to come calling.

Bret Hart (1992)

The Title Win

It was 1992, and Hulk Hogan and his vitamin-enhanced pythons were on an indefinite “vacation” as a steroid scandal swept through the WWF. Vince McMahon put the title on NWA/WCW stalwart Ric Flair, but almost immediately soured on the Nature Boy. Vince then quickly flip-flopped the title to a past-his-prime Randy Savage, then back to Flair, before finally deciding it was time for new blood. That new blood was Bret Hart, who forced Flair to tap out on Oct. 12, 1992 in a random dark match in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The title switch wasn’t even shown on TV for years.

When Did He Find Out?

As we covered recently, Bret wasn’t told he was winning the belt until right before the show, and was pretty sure he was about to be fired when Vince called him into his office to tell him the news.

Booker T (2000)


Bash.At.The.Beach.2000 - Jarrett Vs Booker T... by dido67

The Title Win

In mid-2000, WCW was in a state of complete and utter Vince Russo-engineered mayhem. The WCW Championship had changed hands 16 times and been vacated an astonishing seven times in the past year. This insanity would arguably reach its apex on July 9, 2000 at Bash at the Beach. At the event, then WCW Champion Jeff Jarrett laid down and let a returning, and seemingly confused, Hulk Hogan pin him. After that embarrassing bit of business, it was shootin’ time, brother, as Vince Russo came out, “fired” Hulk Hogan in a profanity-laden tirade, then announced an impromptu match between Jarrett and fan-favorite Booker T for a new version of the WCW Title. Booker would end the night a ONE TIME WCW Champion.

When Did He Find Out?

How much of the Bash at the Beach angle was real, and how much was Vince Russo bullsh*t is up for debate, but Booker T apparently wasn’t included in any backstage planning or plotting. According to Booker, he found out he was winning the strap literally five or six minutes before heading through the curtain.

Chris Jericho (2001)

The Title Win

WWF had acquired WCW and ECW earlier in the year, and were in the midst of the ill-fated Invasion storyline. Both Jericho and The Rock were on Team WWF, while also maintaining a saucy side feud. This would lead to the Dec. 9, 2001 Vengeance pay-per-view, where Jericho beat WCW Champion The Rock and WWF Champion Steve Austin in the same night to become the first Undisputed WWF Champion. You may have heard Jericho mention it a time or two since then.

When Did He Find Out?

So, obviously establishing the first undisputed pro wrestling champion in decades was something WWF put a lot of forethought and care into, right? Haha, nope, Jericho found out the afternoon before the PPV. No wonder wrestlers never take sick days.

Christian (2011)

The Title Win

Edge, who had managed to head off destiny itself by beating Alberto Del Rio at WrestleMania 27, shocked the world by announcing his retirement on the April 11, 2011 episode of Raw. Edge was supposed to have a ladder match with Alberto at Extreme Rules, but his best friend Christian was subbed in. Christian would end up winning the title thanks to some awesome interference from Edge.

When Did He Find Out?

The plan was for Alberto Del Rio to win the title at Extreme Rules, then drop it two days later to Randy Orton on Smackdown, but due to Edge’s unexpected retirement, Vince was convinced to go the emotionally satisfying route and give Christian a short reign. The decision was made either the day before, or possibly the morning of Extreme Rules.

Daniel Bryan (2011)

The Title Win

Hall of Pain proprietor and World Heavyweight Champion Mark Henry had been slugging it out with Big Show in your standard BIG MEAN GUY feud. Finally, at the Dec. 11, 2011 TLC pay-per-view, Big Show managed to beat Henry, but the World’s Strongest Man immediately exacted his revenge by DDT-ing the giant on a steel chair. Despite his vow to nobly hold onto his Money in the Bank contract until WrestleMania, Daniel Bryan struck, leaving his supposed friend Big Show with a titter-worthy 45-second reign. After the match, Bryan would celebrate by thrusting his arms in the air several times while shouting a sort of garbled mix between “Yeah!” and “Yes!” He’d be doing a lot of that over the next few years.

When Did He Find Out?

According to the Wrestling Observer and Daniel Bryan’s book, Vince had one of his trademark changes of heart after Bryan won the Money in the Bank briefcase, and the plan was for him to pull a Sandow and fail to win the title. The decision to put the belt on Bryan after all was made mere hours before TLC, a show Bryan wasn’t even booked to be on. Thankfully, Bryan was signing autographs at a nearby city, so WWE managed to rush him to the show, but even then, he wasn’t informed of what was happening until he arrived at the arena.

Seth Rollins (2015)

The Title Win

The Chosen One Roman Reigns was on his way to his coronation at WrestleMania 31. Unfortunately for Roman, Brock Lesnar had other plans, founding Suplex City at his expense. Roman managed to rally, but then Seth Rollins appeared, cashed in his Money in the Bank contract and made it a triple threat. Brock managed to get the upper hand on Rollins, but Reigns speared Brock. Rollins then dropped Reigns with a curb stomp and collected his gold. The Architect had truly earned his randomly Michael Cole-bestowed nickname.

When Did He Find Out?

Everything leading up to WrestleMania 31 screamed “Roman Reigns is gonna win,” because that’s exactly what the plans were…up until hours before the show. Rollins was told he’d be winning the belt Sunday afternoon, as were Reigns and Brock, but aside from them, it was kept hush-hush. Most of the folks backstage were just as surprised as the fans when Rollins won, and a lot of them weren’t happy about it, particularly Roman Reigns’ family. Even today’s sanitized, corporate WWE is capable of the occassional crazy backstage shenanigans.

There you are, a few champs who barely found out they were winning the strap before we did. Know any stories like this that I missed? Which of these title changes was your favorite? Scroll on down and let’s chat.

via Wrestling ObserverPro Wrestling Scoops, WrestleZone, Wrestling Inc. here & here

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