WWE often demonstrates a willingness to embark on unexpected championship directions, with sporadic title victories coming out of left field reminding fans that anything really can happen. These instances of shock WWE or world title changes have a tendency to take place at the tail end of the calendar year, perhaps when the risk appetite of WWE’s creative team is at its highest.
That might sound like conjecture, but there's plenty of evidence that shows this trend. There are obvious outliers, most notably Jinder Mahal’s stunning title victory in May 2017. External variables, such as injuries and suspensions, can also force WWE to execute impromptu title switches.
With that being said, let’s take a look at five December championship trials that took fans by surprise.
1) Sheamus — WWE TLC, December 2009 (2 months)
When Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura made a guest appearance as the guest host of WWE RAW, he booked an 8-man breakthrough battle royal. It featured Kofi Kingston, MVP, Mark Henry, Cody Rhodes, Ted DiBiase, R-Truth, Sheamus and Randy Orton. The winner of the match would go on to face WWE Champion John Cena at December’s TLC PPV.
The ‘breakthrough’ billing of the match essentially ruled out an Orton victory. So the list of likely heel championship contenders was limited to Rhodes, DiBiase and Sheamus. The Celtic Warrior emerged victorious to cement his status as the new challenger for Cena’s WWE Championship.
While it was certainly odd to see Sheamus suddenly being thrust into the title picture, the subsequent TLC main event arguably served up the year’s most shocking moment. A competitive Tables Match pitting Cena against Sheamus was, for the most part, in line with the standard framework of a traditional Cena title defense.
By late 2009, Cena’s title matches had an established pattern. As both men teetered on the top rope with a table set up below, all signs pointed to a superplex or an AA through the table. An outcome that few saw coming, though, was for Cena to be nudged off the top and awkwardly crash through the table.
The nature of the fall seemed accidental, and the slight delay in the bell ringing added to the sense of ambiguity around the freak finish. However, as a means of protecting Cena in defeat, the decision was made for Sheamus to win in an unconvincing fashion, as he started what would be a two-month trial as the champion.