At Sunday night’s Backlash pay-per-view event, Jinder Mahal defeated Randy Orton to win the WWE Championship. The victory shocked wrestling fans everywhere who never expected to hear the words, “Your winner and new champion Jinder Mahal” in this or any other lifetime.
Mahal has been a jobber for pretty much his entire WWE career before being vaulted into the main event scene from out of nowhere. Just two months ago, he was playing second fiddle to ROB GRONKOWSKI in the WrestleMania pre-show battle royal.
As surprising as it was, is it the most surprising WWE title victory in the company’s lengthy history? Here’s our quick list of the five WWE title wins that came as the biggest shocks. And remember, this list is just for the WWE Championship so it does not include movie star David Arquette winning the WCW Championship.
If you need a laugh today, you should definitely go watch that video.
5) Ivan Koloff
We’re going in the way-way-way-way back machine for this one, and it’s likely nobody under 50 knows who Ivan Koloff is unless one of your hobbies is watching old-school wrestling videos on YouTube or you are prone to falling down the rabbit hole of wrestling articles on Wikipedia. Koloff had a lengthy career as an evil Russian villain with the fantastic nickname “The Russian Bear,” even though he was really a Canadian like Mahal. Apparently Canadian guys pretending to be evil non-North American foreigners is a trick as old as time itself.
Koloff makes this list because he defeated the legendary Bruno Sammartino in 1971 after his near eight-year title reign. Koloff fell just short of that mark as he held the title for 21 days before dropping it to Pedro Morales. Koloff is a legendary figure in his own right, but for anyone to defeat Bruno must have been a shock back in the day when it was seen as more sports than “sports-entertainment.”
The Irishman makes this list because of just how quickly he ascended to the WWE championship. In the summer of 2009, Sheamus made his debut on the WWE version of ECW. He was rapidly moved to Raw where he won a battle royal to determine who would get a WWE title shot. At December’s TLC pay-per-view, he surprised everyone by beating John Cena in a tables match to win the championship. It was just 166 days after his debut, only bested by Brock Lesnar and Ric Flair.
Sheamus would go on to win more WWE titles, star in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and wear a ridiculous mohawk.
3) The Miz
It was a long journey for The Miz from being a participant on MTV reality show The Real World to becoming WWE champion. In fact, when Miz started in WWE, he wasn’t a wrestler but was instead the “host” of Smackdown in 2006. Eventually, he stepped into the squared circle and began competing, mainly as a tag team wrestler.
Finally in 2010, he became WWE champion after cashing in his Money in the Bank title shot. And although it was a footnote years-long to John Cena’s feud with The Rock, The Miz successfully defended his WWE title against him at WrestleMania XXVII before losing the title to Cena a month later. Although Miz hasn’t really been in the WWE title scene since, he’s consistently been one of WWE’s best performers over the years.
2) Vince McMahon
Of course Vince McMahon was going to win the WWE title at some point in his lifetime. It is his company after all. Hey, if I ran WWE I would probably want to win my own title too!
Still though, for a businessman in his mid-50s to win the belt was stunning, even in the anything-is-possible nature of the Attitude Era. At least it wasn’t as shocking as Mae Young giving birth to a hand, I suppose. A bloodied McMahon would beat his future son-in-law Triple H in a match on Smackdown before vacating it a week later. In the ultimate irony of ironies, it was longtime arch-nemesis Stone Cold Steve Austin that interfered to help Vinny Mac win the title.
1) Jinder Mahal
According to the Internet Wrestling Database (yes, there is such a thing), Mahal has a lifetime WWE record of 80-368. He’s lost 81 percent of his matches! 81 percent! If you grew up watching wrestling in the 90s like I did, this is like Barry Horowitz winning the WWE Championship.
If you want the backstory on how Mahal went from being at the very bottom of the card to the WWE title, David Shoemaker of The Ringer has the best explanation of the situation. Namely, WWE wants to grow in India and Mahal can be the face of the company for over a billion people there and his quickly-developing veiny physique gives him some aura of legitimacy. And in an era when wrestling fans often tend to cheer WWE’s villains and boo WWE’s handpicked heroes, it’s a great way to actually get fans to boo someone who they don’t want to give a “you deserve it” chant to.
But yes, it is by far the most surprising WWE championship win in history given his greatest claim to fame before this was being in the comedy group 3MB. To use an analogy from sporting events that are unscripted, this would be like the Cleveland Browns qualifying for the playoffs with a 5-11 record and winning the Super Bowl. Even in the world of sports-entertainment, that’s surprising.