It is often said that the product that is presented by World Wrestling Entertainment is essentially a “soap opera for men.” The cornerstone of the professional wrestling industry involves babyface characters attempting to defeat dastardly heels who either hate or don’t care about the fans and who will bend the rules to win whenever possible. There have, over the years, been numerous examples of heroic babyfaces who repeatedly and even easily notched wins over foes. Hulk Hogan, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock and John Cena come to mind. None of those men were, during the primes of their careers, underdogs.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are the tales of true underdogs rising up and picking up wins that surprised and, in some cases, even shocked fans. Some of those wins propelled those underdogs to incredible runs that saw those wrestlers participate in main-event angles. Other underdog victories, however, were quickly lost to history because of how those wrestlers were booked following big wins. What we have seen is that the WWE knows how to turn an underdog into a marketable star who gets over among fans. The man who sits atop this list is living proof of that fact.
15. Goldberg Arrives
Bill Goldberg was a guy most casual wrestling fans had never heard of when he made his World Championship Wrestling debut on Monday Nitro. It seemed, at first, as if Goldberg was merely going to quickly lose to heel Hugh Morris, but we soon learned that the former football player was not going to be a jobber in WCW. Goldberg got the win over Morris after he hit what would become called the “Jackhammer,” and that victory began one of the most famous streaks in the history of North American pro wrestling. WCW got one thing right in pushing Goldberg as the company’s top babyface.
14. Floyd Mayweather Knocks Big Show Out
Some wrestling fans may think that this one should not make the list. After all, there is no way that a celebrity such as Floyd Mayweather will do a job for any wrestler. That includes the Big Show. Suspending disbelief for just one moment and looking at the two athletes, Mayweather would have to be up there among the biggest underdogs to ever work inside of a WWE ring. There was plenty of smoke and mirrors during the match, but Mayweather deserves credit for the match that he and Big Show put on. Mayweather was better than some may have expected, and he picked up the win.
13. Bayley Beats Sasha Banks
Anybody who believes that the WWE cannot come up with a proper underdog story in 2015 obviously does not pay attention to NXT. The gimmick had by Bayley is that she was an underdog who was not on the same level of female wrestlers such as Sasha Banks. Bayley received an opportunity to silence heels who had criticized her at the NXT Takeover: Brooklyn show when she faced Banks for the NXT Women’s Championship, and Bayley did not disappoint. Even as a champion, Bayley is still being regarded to as an underdog who is not what “corporate” wants to be champion.
12. Shawn Michaels Defeats Triple H
Wrestling fans could not have known what to expect from Shawn Michaels when he returned to the ring to face Triple H at Summerslam 2002. Michaels had been forced into retirement in 1998 because of a serious back injury, and it was believed at the time that Michaels would never be able to make a full return to the active roster. Not only was “The Heartbreak Kid” as good as he was before he left. Michaels was even better the second time around. His underdog win over Triple H at Summerslam was the start of an incredible second run in the company for Michaels.
11. Owen Hart Beats Bret Hart
Owen Hart was, per the storyline, supposed to act as a warm-up for older brother Bret before Bret wrestled for the WWE Championship at the end of WrestleMania X. “The Rocket” who later became “The King of Harts” had other plans, though, and Owen and Bret put on a wrestling clinic that was worthy of a five-star rating. It was Owen who notched the clean pinfall, and he left no doubt that he could go hold-for-hold with his brother who was the “Excellence of Execution.” All things considered, this victory may have been the top moment in the career of the Hart Family member who was taken from us far too soon.
10. Shane McMahon Beats Big Show
Say whatever you will about his last name or about his work during the awful “Alliance” angle. Shane McMahon proved time and time again that he was willing to sacrifice his body and take risks during matches. McMahon was the underdog before his Last Man Standing match against Big Show, and yet the son of Vince McMahon slayed the giant after he completed a “Leap of Faith” elbow drop that remains one of the most awesome and most terrifying moments in the history of the WWE. Shane received some help from Test at the end of the match, but that does not take away from his work on that evening.
9. Jeff Hardy Wins WWE Championship
Jeff Hardy went from being a tag-team worker who wrestled alongside his brother to becoming one of the more beloved babyface workers in the WWE. With that said, Hardy was nevertheless booked as the underdog when he faced Triple H and Edge in a triple-threat match for the WWE Championship. Hardy was the man holding the gold at the end of that evening, and it was the start of what could have been a special run for the wrestler and the company. Unfortunately, though, Hardy’s activities when he was not working WWE shows kept him from being the star that he should have been as a top babyface.
8. Mankind Wins Gold
Art imitated life multiple times in the WWE during the “Attitude Era.” Once such instance was the story of Mankind emerging as a foe of The Rock, Vince McMahon and The Corporation. Mankind was not, per the storyline, “championship material” who could be marketed by the company, but he emerged as one of the biggest babyfaces in the WWE at the time. Mankind was given a chance to win the WWE Championship against the Rock during an edition of Raw, and he achieved that dream with the help of some outside interference. That moment, as wrestling fans know, did “put butts in the seats.”
7. Zach Gowen and Stephanie McMahon Beat Big Show
You would have to look far and wide to find a bigger underdog than Zach Gowen. The one-legged pro wrestler was given a chance to perform in the WWE, and he was thrown into a storyline that involved big names such as Stephanie McMahon and the Big Show. Gowen and McMahon were placed in a 2-on-1 match versus Big Show during an edition of SmackDown, and it appeared as if the larger-than-life wrestler was going to destroy his competition. Gowen and McMahon received some help from Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar, though, and the duo picked up the underdog win.
6. Rey Mysterio Beats Kevin Nash
Years before he was presented as a performer who could win a World Heavyweight Championship in the WWE, Rey Mysterio was a cruiserweight who more often than not wrestled against opponents of similar size in WCW. Mysterio had been unmasked thanks to the New World Order, and that was followed up with Mysterio having a feud with Kevin Nash. It appeared as if Nash, who towered over Mysterio, was on his way to a victory when Mysterio rolled “Big Sexy” up for the flash pin. The underdog win was the launch of the “Giant Killer” portion of Mysterio’s career.
5. The Kid Beats Razor
Sean Waltman was The Lightning Kid or just The Kid during his early days in the WWE back in the 1990s. Kid had been presented to fans as a jobber when he entered the ring to face off with Razor Ramon during an edition of Monday Night Raw. While Razor dominated much of the action, he was hit with a moonsault that allowed the Kid to pick up the underdog win. This would be the berth of the 1-2-3 Kid character, and it was also the start of what became a very successful career. Who could imagined, at the time, that Kid would become Syxx and later X-Pac?
4. Barry Horowitz Wins
Wrestling fans who grew up watching the product in the 1980s and 1990s probably remember Barry Horowitz working as a jobber who routinely lost to superstars. Horowitz had his moment in the sun when he defeated Bodydonna Skip in the summer of 1995. That was the start of the one and only push that Horowitz received while working in the WWE, as the lovable loser and underdog was turned into a midcard babyface. Horowitz never came close to cementing himself as a performer capable of working in main events, but his brief babyface run was nevertheless fun to follow.
3. Zack Ryder Wins US Title
You almost have to feel sorry for Zack Ryder. Ryder used social media and the YouTube website to make himself popular among pockets of wrestling fans. The WWE reacted by ignoring the chants of fans yearning to see more Ryder on shows such as Raw. Ryder was eventually given a big underdog win when he defeated Dolph Ziggler for the United States Championship. That victory was, however, nothing more than a tease for Ryder, as it was the top moment to date of his solo career. Ryder quickly fell down WWE cards, and he was relegated to the NXT brand in 2015.
2. Brock Lesnar Beats Undertaker
There is only one case when Brock Lesnar could be considered to be an underdog before the start of a match: When he is facing the Undertaker at WrestleMania. Undertaker was seemingly destined to finish his career with an undefeated WrestleMania record when he entered the ring to face Lesnar at WrestleMania XXX. History was made on that night, however, as Lesnar picked up a win that shocked some fans to the point that they believed the bell had accidentally been rung. No mistake was made, though, as Lesnar had pinned the “Deadman” and ended the streak.
1. Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania XXX
Daniel Bryan is the ultimate real-life WWE underdog. The undersized Bryan was never supposed to be a legitimate world champion and superstar, but he became just that heading into the WrestleMania XXX season. The WWE was dragged kicking and screaming by a fan base that wanted to see Bryan as the company’s top star, and the leader of the “Yes Movement” was eventually booked to be an underdog who had to win two matches at WrestleMania XXX in order to be crowned World Heavyweight Champion. Bryan accomplished that goal, but injuries sadly cut his run at the top of cards short.