Pro wrestling features an elaborate set of alignments written by the people who create the show. A Heel is the bad guy. The Face is the good guy. A Tweener shares aspects of both or one who gets cheered like a face despite behaving like a heel.
However, despite what the creators intend, it is up to the fans of the promotion to actually follow through. The best wrestlers and writers can push in a certain direction to achieve the specific heel/face reception from the supporters but the fans may not take to the wrestler like they expect.
This can take the form of X-Pac Heat, where instead of disliking someone because of their heel behaviour, they simply dislike the performer themselves and don't want them showing up at all.
Being an Ensemble Dark Horse in pro wrestling is the opposite of that. It can take the form of a wrestler or other figure being viewed as underused or undervalued by the fans of the promotion. Or someone who is popular regardless of what alignment they have, for whatever reason.
Note, that because of the nature of the industry, becoming a darkhorse can easily lead to a 'push' from the company as they seek to take advantage of that popularity by increasing the wrestlers visibility to gain higher ratings, pay per view buys and merchandise sales.
- El Santo was originally supposed to be a rudo, but the audience didn't see him that way and EMLL wisely gave up on trying to change their minds. Despite not being the most talented luchador, by his own admission, El Santo became the most beloved tecnico of his time, possibly all time, as is the Trope Maker for of Lucha Libre subculture of pro wrestling.
- Jackie Sato and Maki Ueda actually were not considered the best Tag Team Zenjo had, but as The Beauty Pair were easily its most popular, despite only being champions for part of one year, both of them having more time reigning as singles champions.
- During the JCP era of the National Wrestling Alliance, there were The Mulkey Brothers, a jobber Tag Team whom the promoters were determined not to push but gained a fan following out of sympathy for scary beatings they took, and respect for their legit talent, even though they rarely got to show it on account of usually getting put down brutally fast. Once an an armed mob tried to chase down The Midnight Express after the Mulkey Brothers got a shot at their US Tag Team Titles but came up short.
- Masato Tanaka got over quicker with ECW's mutants than anyone before him ever had, to the admitted surprise of Shane Douglas even, who usually has nothing nice to say about anyone.
- Al Snow started his career in 1982, but didn't really get much television exposure until he arrived in SMW in 1994-1995. He spent years jobbing in WWE under failed gimmicks (Avatar and Leif Cassidy of the New Rockers) until he got shipped down to ECW, where he started the "Head" gimmick, which got him over. Even with this newfound popularity and recognition, he still has only one PPV main event to his name (a loss to ECW World Heavyweight Champion "The Franchise" Shane Douglas at ECW WrestlePalooza 98, May 3, 1998.)
- Despite what Vince Russo may want you to believe, nearly every luchador in WCW had a pretty easy time getting over, no matter their usage. Examples would be Silver King and El Dandy, icons in Mexico who never received notable pushes or much to do but have still stayed remembered by American fans. But nobody got more bang for their buck than La Parka, who has been a star in every promotion he's ever worked, including WCW. Even Kevin Nash, who couldn't book his way out of a paper bag, decided that he was going to put him in the main event of his last show as head booker in 1999, because Parka was just that over.
- The entire WCW Cruiserweight Division, despite often being pushed aside and marginalized on the shows themselves, remained popular with the crowds. Dean Malenko, Chris Jericho and Billy Kidman in particular. Even Chris Benoit, who really was accurate to what Kevin Nash dubbed vanilla midgets, would prove popular enough to ride to the main event when given the shot in WWE. Eddie Guerrero retained his popularity as well, even after seven years as a jobber.
- Christian always had a following far greater than his mid-table position in WWE suggested.
- Shark Boy has been this almost everywhere he has been, even in TNA where he was rarely used and mainly as a jobber when he was. His "Stone Cold" was about the only role he took that wasn't universally received but the Impact Zone still loved it.
- Kaientai's hilarious over the top evil gimmick made them incredibly over, coupled with the fact that they were 2 of the best wrestlers in the WWE at the time (Mick Foley is on record stating that if the WWE title was actually based on talent, Taka would be the champion). Unfortunately, being over made them unusable as jobbers, and resulted in the team being broken up.
- Matt Sydal was basically a joke character in Gateway Championship Wrestling, a skinny, relentlessly politically correct showoff who only wrestled to sell shirts. Opponents and commentators alike suspected he wasn't even above the age of consent but the crowds took to him the way ECW's did to Tazz.
- Diabolic Khaos always had more supports than a duo (then quartet) of demonic vagabonds with few redeeming qualities and fewer social skills would suggest, especially at Gateway Championship's "Adult" shows and especially MsChif, who was repeatedly voted by fans to be GCW's best wrestler. Delirious, despite being nothing more than a jobber in TNA and Ring of Honor, kept getting massively positive responses whenever he showed up, leading to him getting his own angles in ROH (Jim Cornette threatening to fire him if he didn't stop losing, Hang Men 3 turning him crazy by trying to kill him, feuds with Rhett Titus also involving Daizee Haze and Jerry Lynn, a prominent spot in Age Of The Fall after being corrupted by Jimmy Jacobs, etc)
- Stevie Richards in WWE. On the September 10, 2007 Raw, Vince McMahon's flunky Jonathan Coachman told him that, in the online poll on WWE's website of who the fans thought would be revealed to be Vince's "son," Richards was in second place, leading to Coach bringing Richards in to see Vince. Considering how Richards had not held a title for five yearsnote and had not even had a PPV matchnote in two years at that point, it just showed how Richards had been able to retain a fan base from his years in ECW.
- Part of the reason for Richards' popularity was he was on Sunday Night Heat for years without being fired, and had an ironic gimmick about his lack of popularity.
- A brief overview of UltraMantis Black's career, which involved constantly losing in title shots for ten years straight, proclaiming his disgust of the human race and love for communism, starting a religion of evil and brainwashing the aforementioned Delirious wouldn't give one an idea of just how popular he is with Chikara's fans.
- What was seemingly a roll with Replacement Scrappy written all over it, substituting for Aja Kong, Amazing Kong quickly took off to the point game shows were requesting her they way they requested Masahiro Chono and some fans were calling for a World Heavyweight Championship run after two appearances in TNA, which consisted of squashing Gail Kim and being eliminated in a battle royal.
- While Alexis Laree was popular everywhere she didn't have a full on heel gimmick, not even one of those stopped WWE fans from loving psycho lesbian Mickie James.
- Paul Burchill's pirate gimmick was immensely popular, yet he was not used well at all. When Vince McMahon, who didn't get the gimmick, made Burchill drop it, there was a widespread outcry from fans. This didn't stop McMahon having his way.
- After Melina went out on her own from MNM and eventually turned face, she received great reactions from fans. She began to rival Mickie James in terms of the pops she would get - and this was after she had spent several months on the shelf due to injury just after her face turn.
- Daffney became surprisingly popular in TNA despite degenerating into a rarely used jobber heel as time went on, devoid of any redeeming qualities. Following her governor run she had a (weak) Freudian excuse and that was it.
- AJ Lee started as a losing WWE NXT entrant (which was fan voted), but after Daniel Bryan shot her into the main event became wildly popular. Once the creative team recognized that, she was given a General Manager role on Raw, followed by winning the WWE Divas' Title soon after.
- Her former Chick Busters partner Kaitlyn as well. Despite being the least trained and least capable wrestler, it showing, and admitting it, she bagged the most votes to win NXT Season 3 and proved popular enough with fans to push her for the Divas' Championship against Eve.
- Dolph Ziggler was supposedly a heel all the way from his debut until he won the World Heavyweight Title the night after WrestleMania. Not that you would've noticed from the booming cheers when it happened.
- Daniel Bryan is perhaps the biggest example of this trope in professional wrestling history. He was a was a former Nexus member who quickly became the most over WWE superstar since the Attitude Era if not of all time. In fact, Bryan was so popular that crowds went into complete and utter meltdown whenever he was booked weakly and not given opportunities at the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, including two consecutive Royal Rumbles, actively turned on face wrestlers seen as having "stolen his spot", such as Sheamus, Batista, Roman Reigns, and Rey Mysterio Jr., got Shawn Michaels over as a heel in 2013, forced WWE to abort what seemed to be his own turn with him joining The Wyatt Family (and got a pop reminiscent of a title win for what was just him breaking away from a stable he was only in for two weeks), and cheered him even when he wasn't in the ring. It got to the point that WWE had to completely rebook WrestleMania XXX simply because the fans refused to accept anything that didn't end in "Daniel Bryan wins the World Title" (the departure of CM Punk after that year's Rumble may have had something to do with it).
- Ryback, another former Nexus member, quickly got over with crowds when he first debuted. Unfortunately, it didn't last long, and he became a Base-Breaking Character over time.
- WWE backstage interviewer Renee Young is actually incredibly popular with fans. It helps that she is both very good at her job and is a genuine wrestling fan. And,if we're being honest, the fact that she's good-looking doesn't hurt either.
- There have always been calls for Christopher Daniels to be in a higher position in TNA, excepting when he was part of Bad Influence, which itself is was an ensemble darkhorse tag team that only came together out of a Shocking Swerve diabolus ex machina to make the life of AJ Styles worse.
- Referee Paul Turner is amusingly popular with Ring Of Honor fans, considering he got that way from stopping a fan from hitting top heel Austin Aries.
- Similarly, the Eagles Club loved Senior SHIMMER referee Bryce Remsburg after he protected Allison Danger from Portia Perez while Danger was pregnant.
- Necro Butcher caught on better in Ring Of Honor than IWA Mid-South which, given the latter being in a Garbage Wrestling phase, you'd expect to be the opposite. Even after he joined the initially X-Pac Heat drawing Age Of The Fall Necro Butcher did not suffer much loss of popularity.
- Pinup lady Rayna Von Tosh, first graduate of the SHIMMER Academy, whose wrestling appearances were sporadic at best, tends to be spoken of fondly despite hardly ever being seen. Particularly by fans of her home promotion, where she has only had five matches (some of which were Dark Matches only seen by the live audience) but still got return request after a 31 volume absence. That's four years for those who don't follow.
- Hiroyo Matsumoto and Misaki Ohata, the Seven Star Sisters, were the most popular tag team SHIMMER had ever seen. SHIMMER couldn't get much out of 3S though since Ohata wasn't a fan of travel.
- Ethan Carter III's popularity bears mentioning considering he was in nothing but irrelevant squash matches in what felt like a whole year. Even following two pay per view "feuds" he still had only had two matches that anyone could consider worth watching. What worked for him were his promos and video packages being hilarious. His one-time partner, Rockstar Spud also qualifies, despite having even less in ring credibility to his name, mainly existing to serve as a meat shield for Ethan Carter and whoever else TNA wanted to milk an impending encounter with. Again, what worked was people finding him funny. When Ethan eventually became more of a serious wrestler and Spud got tired of his abuse, the two were well-received, to the point Spud spent an enjoyable tenure as an underdog face and later EC3 was able to turn into the company's top face through a Face/Heel Double-Turn with Matt Hardy over the TNA world title.
- Michael Elgin early on was considered a generic power wrestler distinguishable only by his mullet, but he rode the wave of positive responses following a surprisingly good match with Davey Richards at Showdown In The Sun to the ROH World Championship at Best In The World.
- Despite their status as jobbers, ThreeMB (Heath Slater, Jinder Mahal, and Drew McIntyre) has a pretty big following and is the subject of the "Reasons to Like 3MB" meme. Outside of 3MB, Heath Slater is an Ensemble Darkhorse in his own right.
- La Rosa Negra was a last minute addition to SHINE 7 who got called back semi regularly after SHINE 13. The responses she got in The Orpheum can be explained by it being in her stomping grounds; those of everyone outside cannot. She had no wins, promo time or video packages, and little individual focus in 3-4 ways with those who did, yet even had professional reviewers abuzz with questions. Her first real angle with Shanna at SHINE 18 got more attention than her main event work elsewhere.
- A developmental example. When footage from an NXT promo class leaked online, several promos saw developmental Diva Alexa Bliss playing the girlfriend of redneck Scott Dawson. She got lots of praise from fans, who eagerly awaited her debut. Although she had a different gimmick when she did debut, fans still remembered her and immediately chanted "let's go Bliss!"
- Damien Sandow was always well liked by fans, but near the end of 2014 the WWE turned him into Damien Mizdow, stunt double for the Miz. He became so over that he's said to rival Daniel Bryan in popularity.
- Ol' Blue Pants was the most over woman on NXT by at least her second appearance, despite having been in nothing but an under a minute squash.
- Bo Dallas is notable for having gone from one of WWE's biggest Scrappies to one of its biggest Ensemble Darkhorses in less than a year.
- Mauro Ranallo, a commentator that began his WWE career on the first Smackdown on the USA Network, has been well received by the IWC for his fantastic first night on the job on commentary note and being a vast improvement over the likes of fellow commentators Michael Cole and Byron Saxton.
- Barry Horowitz, the most popular jobber of all time. Many will always remember the announcer's legendary cry of:"Horowitz wins! Horowitz wins! HOROWITZ WINS!"
- Shane McMahon, has always received a lot of ovations compared to his father, mainly because his no-DQ matches has allow him to go beyond the limit note as well for being Stephanie's polar opposite. His return on Raw in February 22 has the biggest pop of the night.
- The Shield, despite being heels for most of their run, were incredibly popular with fans, thanks in no small part to the inclusion of Internet favorites Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose. Even after their breakup, both Rollins and Ambrose were able to hold on to the same popularity (even though the former was a heel). Roman Reigns, the other third of the group, wasn't nearly as lucky, as he quickly became a major Creator's Pet in the eyes of fans.
- The "Four Horsewomen" of NXT, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Becky Lynch. They were seen as four of the best female wrestlers in recent WWE and were a glimmer of hope in a wasteland of a women's division on the main roster. Charlotte faced a ton of backlash once she moved up to the main roster, but the other three are still given nothing but praise for their work.
- WWE NXT as a whole, for that matter. Widely considered to be the best thing about WWE in the 2010s, its less bloated and repetitive format compared to the main WWE roster is seen as a refreshment from what many fans saw as an rotting period for WWE otherwise. Wrestlers like Adrian Neville, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, Shinsuke Nakamura, and the aforementioned female stars helped make it a masterpiece of wrestling.
- The Wyatt Family, a backwoods cult stable, won the fans over with their mysterious entrance and leader Bray Wyatt's sinister Manson-esque personality. Although their booking started to take a turn for the worse after WrestleMania XXX, it hasn't stopped fans from admiring them and wanting better for them.
- Kofi Kingston, Big E. Langston, and Xavier Woods were all well-liked throughout most of their careers, but when they got together to form the trio The New Day, they became a massively popular phenomenon thanks to their geeky personalities and hilarious antics. Even though they were heels thorough most of their run, they still got massive support and turned face in 2016.
- While Alberto Del Rio is by no means an Ensemble Dark Horse (he was at the beginning of his WWE run but his popularity dropped sharply afterwards), his former ring announcer, Ricardo Rodriguez, is, thanks to his Large Ham personality.
- SHINE's quickest case of this is Viper, who debuted on show 35. The fans were immediately cheering her over the usually popular Luscious Latasha(who herself is a case) and despite having the SHIMMER, SHINE and TNA Knockouts Champions in the ring at once for the main event, were still chanting for Viper. Another appearance of Ivelisse Vélez, who had just made a heroic return that night, stopped them for about a minute before they went back to demanding to see more Viper. Someone must have noticed this because Viper, who was initially paired with the hated heel Rhia O'Reilly, showed up in a random baby face gathering that seemed designed to get heat on the less popular heel Nicole Matthews. And when Matthews, who usually gets cheers despite association with the reviled Portia Perez, is the less popular heel, you're over.
- Breezango. Inititally a make-shift team formed to serve as jobbers to the higher level superstars, they broke into their own after adopting the "fashion police" gimmicks and starring in some Reference Overdosed skits, showing off their comedic talents and earning the love of the audience.
- Originally Rusev started out as an unbeatable Foreign Wrestling Heel and got some heat before settling into a mid card heel role who no one really cared about. As of mid 2017 however, he was teamed up with Aiden English and allowed to express his naturally comedic personality, and as a result his Rusev Day gimmick has gotten incredibly popular, to the point where the only people who consistently get bigger pops on Smackdown are AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan, and that's despite him and English ostensibly being heels. He's selling merch, too, with Rusev Day shirts consistently being in the top 5 shirts on the entire WWE store. Time will tell how far Rusev's Dark Horse status will get him.