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5 Most Surprising Pro Wrestling World Champions Of Recent Years

Wrestling fans have come to expect the unexpected...

New Japan fans are still trying to wrap their heads around the events of the weekend. Longtime upper midcarder, and LIJ underboss, EVIL won a major two-match parlay, defeating the iconic Kazuchika Okada to win the New Japan Cup on Saturday, before unseating Heavyweight and Intercontinental champion Tetsuya Naito to win both belts at Dominion on Sunday. In between the two bouts, EVIL switched allegiance from LIJ to Bullet Club, and is unquestionably beginning the biggest run of his career.

Fair play to EVIL, but it's a turn of events few would've predicted. As noted, the man was a cornerstone of Los Ingobernobles de Japon, but was never really viewed as the top dog, so seeing it all play out the way it has is quite a shock. It's happened before, the "surprise" World champion - sometimes you get such a title change for shock value, while other times it's a calculated risk to get a new star over. And sometimes, you have a veteran performer breaking through a glass ceiling, long after you'd assumed the door was closed on them.

Wrestling history is filled with such examples, but here are a few from recent years.

5. Jinder Mahal (WWE World, 2017)

1398 jinder mahal

Fans likened Mahal's flash-quick rise to the main event to JBL's run 13 years earlier - an attempt to turn a career midcarder into a top heel overnight. There was a business side to the decision - WWE was gambling on this Mahal push to boost company viability in India.

It didn't exactly take, sad to say for WWE. Perhaps it was because Mahal was previously too much of an underneath guy to realistically make the leap, and he didn't have JBL's ability to draw heat. It wasn't long after the reign's end that Mahal was back in the middle of the pack.

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Justin Henry

Written by Justin Henry

In addition to writing lists and commentaries for Cultaholic, Justin is also a features writer and interviewer for Fighting Spirit Magazine, and is co-author of the WWE-related book Titan Screwed: Lost Smiles, Stunners, and Screwjobs.