First impressions are everything. It’s pretty hard for a wrestler to overcome a bad, or disappointing debut. Luckily Steve Austin was able to recover from the Ringmaster debut, Batista became more than a Deacon and the Shockmaster recovered to go on and…. oh wait, nevermind.
In any event, a big debut sets a superstar on the right path and their career gets a huge shot in the arm. From there, it’s anyone’s guess as to where they will go. Here are the top 10 debuts in WWE history.
WWE’s best crowd of the year comes the night after WrestleMania, due to hardcore fans having travelled from all over the world for WrestleMania weekend. This year was no exception.
The WWE likes to take advantage of this by introducing new superstars and storylines on that night. We saw it this year; the start of this one is still ongoing between Paige and A.J. Having bragged about her 295 days as Divas Champion, Paige, the NXT Divas Champion, came down to congratulate A.J. Lee on her reign and victory at WrestleMania XXX.
However, Lee, the cocky champion talked down to Paige, challenging her to a match and offering to put her title on the line. Paige accepted and had the raucous crowd on her side. She escaped the Black Widow, executed the Paige Turn and won her first Divas Championship.
What a way to debut! She won the title and she has set herself up to be the face of the Divas division for a long time.
The native New Yorker got to debut in his hometown, challenging the undefeated Kurt Angle, who had quite an impressive debut and early run himself.
The Madison Square Garden crowd exploded when they heard that heart beep indicating Tazz’s entrance. Tazz made quick work of the Olympian, executing several signature suplexes, and finally won with the Tazz Mission. Tazz choked out Kurt Angle, winning his debut match and it seemed he’d be quite a player for WWE.
Sadly, this would be the only great in-ring moment of Tazz’s WWE career, as injuries and poor booking saw him lost in the shuffle. This debut still stands out.
8) The Rock (Rocky Maivia)
Look past the generic rock music, the awful hair and the bright blue tights, coupled with Rocky Maivia, the biggest white-meat babyface of the 1990s. When The Rock debuted in the Garden, he had star written all over him.
Standing at 6’5″, 260 pounds, the Rock was impressive in his debut and was the sole survivor in the traditional Survivor Series elimination match.
It indicated right from the start that Dwayne Johnson was going to be a huge star in the WWE, but no one could’ve seen him reaching the level he did. Thankfully he did away with the horrible haircut, and the vanilla Rocky Maivia character. Still, his debut is remembered by fans to this day.
Jim Ross was dead on in his commentary, calling Maivia a “blue chipper”.
7) John Cena
Okay, whose hair was worse; John Cena‘s or The Rock’s? That should’ve been in the tale of the tape leading up to WrestleManias 28 and 29.
John Cena answered an open challenge from Kurt Angle on SmackDown and his performance opened a lot of eyes. He didn’t have his character down yet, but as an in-ring performer, he showed good signs and is still the face of the WWE to this day.
This would be far from the last we’d see of these two against each other. WWE officials in the back had to be salivating after this debut, knowing they had a potential gem on their hands.
The WWE nailed this one. The whole appeal of Goldberg was he said little, but went in the ring and kicked ass. It was the night after WrestleMania XIX. The Rock had finally gotten the monkey off his back, having beaten Stone Cold Steve Austin the night before, in Austin’s last match.
It was Rock Appreciation Night, and the Great One was saying that since he had done it all and the people had turned on the People’s Champion, the Rock was leaving. He was going back to Hollywood, saying there was nothing left for him to do.
All of a sudden, some familiar music hit, and Goldberg was seen walking through the backstage area with purpose, making his way to the ring. The Rock sold the action tremendously, while Goldberg was in his element.
The actions were simple, with Goldberg merely saying “YOU’RE NEXT!” before spearing the Rock and leaving the ring. It was the perfect way to introduce Goldberg. While his run in WWE wound up to be somewhat disappointing, his initial program with The Rock was fantastic and the ball got rolling with a great debut.
5) Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman worked well together from Day 1, still going strong to this day. Brock Lesnar was WWE’s crown jewel in its prospect pool. Lesnar had wrestled several dark matches, finally making his WWE debut on the March 18, 2002 episode of Raw. This was the night after WrestleMania X-8.
Lesnar’s debut was simple, just obliterating everyone he saw in the ring, but that’s what it had to be. Lesnar went on to have perhaps the best rookie year in WWE history. Five months after this debut he was WWE champion.
When a seven-foot, 320-pound giant as impressive as The Undertaker, with exceptional ring music and what would turn out to be the best gimmick in WWE history, it’s hard not to put the Undertaker here.
Fans were in awe from the second they saw the Phenom. While he was out of place with Brother Love as his manager, fans saw their first glimpse of a legend, who would go on to have a 20-plus year career with the WWE, arguably the best career in WWE history.
Kudos to Ted DiBiase on a great introduction.
3) Santino Marella
Santino Marella, billed from Calabria, Italy, got to debut in his character’s home country, challenging Umaga for the Intercontinental Championship. The fans in Milan had no idea who he was, but went nuts when he challenged Umaga.
Vince McMahon pulled Santino from the crowd and offered him a shot at the Intercontinental title, his reasoning being he wanted Umaga to make an example of someone.
Santino showed some good ring skill, (hmm, strange for a random fan to have that much athleticism). Nevertheless, with some help from Bobby Lashley, Santino became the Intercontinental Champion in his debut match and went on to have a decent career.
It’s sad that the WWE merely relegated him to a comedic role, as Marella had charisma and good skill in the ring. He’s currently trying to make a comeback from a neck injury. If he does come back, hopefully the WWE can rekindle some of Santino’s early-career magic.
2) Chris Jericho
Who else could debut with the WWE, get verbally undressed by The Rock and still have it considered to be one of the best debuts in company history?
Chris Jericho interrupted the Rock, announcing Y2J had arrived in WWE.
The countdown clock, meant to capitalize on the Y2K craze was a huge hit. Jericho has written in his books that he felt when he saw the Y2K countdown clock that it’d be a great way for someone like him to debut with in the WWE.
It was a success, and even though The Rock got the last word here, Jericho made a fantastic impression on the WWE fans. A young, underused star coming over from WCW got a great head start in the WWE. While it took him a while to really hit his stride in the WWE, the debut has never escaped the minds of fans.
I put this debut up against any in wrestling history. There aren’t many better ways to make an impression than coming out and Tombstoning the Undertaker.
Add in all these factors: The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels were competing in the WWE’s first ever Hell in a Cell match to headline In Your House: Badd Blood, 1997. They had a classic, and the Undertaker had delivered an enormous beating to the Showstopper. After a viscous chair shot, the Undertaker signalled the end was coming. However Paul Bearer followed through on a promise that he’d be bringing “Kane” to the WWE.
Paul Bearer came down to the ring with a seven-foot monster, matching the Undertaker in size. Undertaker was in shock, as it was revealed to be his younger brother, whom he thought had died as a kid.
Kane took the Undertaker, planted him with a Tombstone and cost him the match. It set the course for a memorable feud to WrestleMania XIV. It was the first in many chapters of the Undertaker/Kane rivalry. Most importantly Glenn Jacobs finally got a break in wrestling after being saddled with a stream of bad gimmicks.
He got to feud with the Undertaker in his first program and set himself up for a Hall of Fame career. The WWE made itself a new star in an instant. No debut has ever been able to top this.