First impressions... they matter whether you’re on a date, going to a job interview, or showing your face to a few thousand people in an arena. Have a bad first outing, and it can be incredibly difficult to overcome not only the fans’ perception of you, but what the people in the back think, as well. WWE is an environment where you either perform or head to catering. Vince McMahon and his circle is a tough bunch to impress and if they don’t have your back, then don’t expect having a long career.
This collection will go over some of the worst starts to a wrestling career, most of these will be based off of their initial debut, but we’re going to cheat just a bit and extend a “debut” out to a few weeks out, just to give you an idea of how bad things got for some of these wrestlers.
Because this list consists of only wrestlers, there’s going to be one person left out that had probably one of the worst debuts ever - that person (or to be more precise, turkey) is the Gobbledy Gooker. At the 1990 Survivor Series, it was heavily advertised for months that an egg would hatch at the PPV. Well, when it finally did, this strange cartoon-like turkey jumped out much to the confusion of the crowd. Even Hall of Famer, “Mean” Gene Okerlund, couldn’t get the thing over during an in-ring interview. It was awful, and the gimmick was scrapped soon after. Will any of the names on the list top the Gooker? Let’s find out!
We probably could dedicate an entire article to how many NXT call-ups have failed over the past few years, but for now, we’ll stick with just the worst of the bunch, starting with Emma. As a bubbly goofball, Emma was totally over with the NXT crowd, with her silly dancing and awkwardness, and it just worked with small crowds. After a few years in development, she finally got called up, initially hanging out in the crowd with signs like “#EMMAtaining” and“#EMMAlution.”
Those appearances were fine, people were getting hyped for her in-ring debut and it finally came when Santino Marella called her into the ring. Santino has always provided some solid comedy bits for the WWE, but at this point in his career, he was just a low-card worker that was expected to get this newer wrestler over. Unfortunately, Emma was booked as this weird friend, maybe girlfriend of Santino that ultimately did nothing for her. Pair this with her getting arrested for stealing an iPad case, when WWE initially released her from the company, (only to reverse the decision hours later) and it's obvious as to why her main card career never got off to a good start. Emma was off TV for awhile before going back to NXT, where she totally revamped herself into a glorious narcissistic heel.
14 The Shining Stars
The creation of this gimmick is the definition of “dead on arrival.” For those unaware, this is Primo and Epico, formerly known as Los Matadores, as their most recent incarnation are promoters for Puerto Rico. For weeks (and weeks!), they had vignettes talking about all the great locations, food, and entertainment their homeland had to offer those who plan on visiting. WWE finally decided to put them on Raw, where they squashed two “local competitors” to pretty much dead silence from the crowd.
It’s almost like WWE knew they were going to do poorly, as they actually played their theme music while they talked their way to the ring. It was quite unusual and most likely used to cover up the deafening silence from the crowd, as these two chattered on. It took another two months before they were seen again in a televised match. It can be annoying how loyal WWE is to their second generation wrestlers as this is Primo and Epico’s third gimmick, and honestly, what wrestlers gets that many chances at failing?
It’s actually impressive how quickly WWE pulled the plug on this gimmick, as they tend to let bad things run on for much longer than a single televised appearance. Well, that’s exactly what happened to Phantasio, a magician (who somewhat surprisingly was portrayed in positive light), performing tricks and handing off his mask to a kid in the crowd. Truthfully, this was a terrible gimmick that people backstage probably felt had no chance of getting over in the long-term.
While doing magic tricks throughout the match, the big finish to his match against Tony DeVito was when Phantasio used magic to remove his boxers, and while distracted, DeVito got rolled up for the pin fall. The fun didn’t stop there, as referee Earl Hebner, got his boxers yanked off by the magical wrestler, too. Due to the lack of entrance music and silent nature of Phantasio, according to a 2006 interview with Phantasio (real name Harry Del Rios), the Undertaker asked that the gimmick be squashed, since it was too similar to his.
12 Lord Tensai
After spending a few years in WWE as Prince Albert and A-Train, Matt Bloom headed off to Japan for five years to work for All Japan Pro Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling. With some new tattoos and overall vibe, he was brought back to the WWE under the name Lord Tensai. Debuting against Alex Riley, Tensai initially was fully covered as he walked to the ring with his manager, Sakamoto, unmasking him in the squared circle.Fans suddenly realized who it was before them.
From there it went pretty much downhill as the crowd chanted “A-Train” and “Let’s go [Daniel] Bryan!” Nobody bought the gimmick, between his history with the WWE and a White wrestler trying to play an Asian gimmick - it was dead from the start. WWE got rid of the “Lord” and had him beat some of the top wrestlers including John Cena and CM Punk, none of it worked and Tensai eventually became a comedy bit. As we all know, once you get to that level in the WWE, it’s usually only a matter of time before something comes your way, as things worked out well for Bloom; he now is the head trainer at WWE’s Performance Center.
11 Eva Marie
It’s tough to pinpoint a specific date for Eva Marie’s debut, as she initially was signed to star on Total Divas. From there, she did make a few random appearances backstage and joined other wrestlers to the ring. The first appearance most people probably remember her from is when the cast of Total Divas was on Miz TV to promote the show on Raw. It was an awful segment made especially bad by Jerry Lawler when he introduced her as “Eva Maria.”
From there, Eva takes the microphone and (in the most robotic way possible) says some dumb stuff about being here to make a name for herself, then slapped Lawler upside his stupid head. This is also the same segment that Brie Bella had a nip slip that set the internet aflame. Anyways, Eva’s appearances thereafter were just as bad, as she couldn’t talk and her wrestling abilities were even more atrocious, working awkwardly around the ring and selling moves in hysterical fashion. On the plus side, fans absolutely can’t stand her and she’s becoming one of the better heels in the women’s division in NXT.
10 The Ascension
Honestly, Konnor and Viktor’s debut on the main roster went pretty well, as they were paired up against The Miz and Damien Sandow, and were able to get a win over a very popular tag team at the time. Between that moment and the next 20 days, it was one of the fastest downhill slides you’ll ever see for a wrestling act. Sure, they won a few more matches against “local competitors” (WWE’s word for “jobbers” these days) and got some TV time, but their promos were just awful.
Attempting to be some weird mix between Demolition and the Legion of Doom, fans began calling them out, to which they started comparing themselves to those teams, saying they were even better! Nothing worked, so the commentary team turned on them, making them look even worse. The final nail in the coffin came when members of nWo, APA, and the New Age Outlaws came out and laid a massive beat down on The Ascension for disrespecting the past. From there, they fell right down the card, and haven’t recovered since.
9 Kerwin White
Snapping his fingers to some lame crooner music, White (previously known as Chavo Guerrero Jr.) drove down to the ring in a golf cart, decked out in very preppy clothes. Yes, Chavo was changed completely to being a middle class Caucasian with a pretty strong racist streak. The initial phrase used was “if it’s not White, it’s not right,” which obviously is pretty dumb and was quickly changed to “If it’s not Kerwin White, it’s not right.” Fair to say, the crowd didn’t really know how to react to all of this.
Eventually, they just got rid of the phrase all together, but White continued to bash pretty much everyone who wasn’t White. During his debut, Jonathan Coachman struggled on commentary to put over this gimmick, basically summing it up as “Chavo, just playing the game.” Well, luckily (and for unfortunate reasons) this character lasted only a few months, before Chavo went back to his previous gimmick to continue the Guerrero legacy, due to Eddie Guerrero suddenly passing away.
It truly is amazing what type of gimmicks were attempted in the early to mid 90s, as WWE literally tried anything they could - including a Minotaur-like gimmick where a guy would come to the ring with a head of a bull and call himself Mantaur. This poor soul basically acted like a bull by charging and actually mooing at his opponents, confusing fans all across the country. WWE quickly realized that aside from this being a terrible gimmick, he’s not really supposed to be talking, so there is zero chance of him getting over, hence bringing in Jim Cornette as his mouth piece.
Somehow he was built up to being a mid-card threat to Razor Ramon’s Intercontinental title, which, of course, he didn’t ever win. Although during their match, according to the guy who played Mantaur, Mike Halac, Razor open-hand slapped him, which Mantaur didn’t appreciate. The two got into an altercation backstage, and because the Kliq was such a strong political force, he knew his time with WWE would be very short. The character was gone within six months.
7 Diamond Dallas Page
DDP had been around wrestling 10 years prior to showing up in WWE, so the fact that it was him, wasn’t such a big deal, but the way WWE brought him to their audience was just so incredibly strange. He was easily one of WCW’s biggest draws with plenty of title reigns to his name. With this in mind, you would think he would have been one of the easier people to transition over, once WWE bought out WCW. Well, they decided to throw it all out the window and make him this weird, creepy stalker of not only the Undertaker, but his wife, Sara, too.
Initially, fans just saw these voyeuristic clips of both people for a few weeks, before DDP literally did an unmasking in the middle of the ring, with a weird zoom-in and all. DDP tried to explain it as his way of just making an impact and going after one of WWE’s biggest stars, but it was still just weird and him as a heel didn’t really work. Fellow WCW wrestler Kanyon joined DDP and the two had a feud with both brothers, ending in a Steel Cage tag team match, losing to Kane and Taker. In that match, DDP got injured, was out for a few months, and returned with a completely new gimmick: a motivational speaker.
A majority of these wrestlers are on this list because they failed to make a real impact with either the fans or those backstage, but Edge’s story is a bit different though. He was brought into the company in 1996, where he was only paid $210 a week, but the WWE took care of his $40,000 college debt. Gaining a developmental contract in 1997, he finally got to make his television debut in 1998 against Jose Estrada Jr.
Playing a lone wolf gimmick, Edge was a speedy high-flyer that instantly caught the fans’ interest. During his match against Estrada, Edge went for a somersault senton from the ring to the outside, and Estrada was meant to catch him, but instead caught a terrible neck injury. Blame was never put on Edge, as he did the move just fine, and Estrada just happened to be in a bad position and fell awkwardly. With his foe unable to get up, Edge ended up getting the count-out victory. Obviously, Edge recovered and went on to become a Hall of Famer, but severely injuring another wrestler in your first televised match is never a good way to kick off your career.
5 Nathan Jones
If you don’t recall this seven-foot, 350-pound monster, no worries, as he was only on TV for only a few months before bailing on the WWE (due to their rigorous travel demands). Initially, WWE planned on basing his gimmick after Hannibal Lecter, but it didn’t seem like that would connect with Jones, as he came off as a big angry guy in his first televised appearance against Bill DeMott. Jones had tons of presence, but his wrestling skills were extremely basic, going against DeMott (who was a well versed wrestler and trainer). That match came off like they were just training.
DeMott got in a solid amount of offense and even though he was meant to be the talent enhancer, he’s the one who came off looking better. Jones did a slew of basic moves and strikes before finishing off DeMott with a Hogan-like big boot. The crowd barely reacted, his gimmick was scrapped, and he was instead booked to work with the Undertaker, A-Train, and Big Show at WrestleMania XIX. His skills were still so limited, and he was instead was sent to development for more training.
After nearly seven years on the indy circuit and another one in WWE’s development system, Kizarny finally got his big chance in the WWE. Who is Kizarny you ask? Well, he was freak show carnival worker that spoke primarily in “carny,” so when WWE put out his vignettes fans couldn’t understand, him minus when he would say “My name is Kizarny.”
Coming out to (you guessed it) carnival music, Kizarny took on MVP in his debut match on SmackDown. At the time, MVP was on a major losing streak, which continued when he lost to the carnival worker in a fairly solid match. Wrestling skills weren’t really the issue here, though; the gimmick just didn’t work, especially in 2009. Had this been in the early 90s, the environment might have lent more to this type of character, but he lost support and was released only five months after his TV debut.
Playing a religious Zealot, Mordecai sported primarily white outfits, blond hair (and eyebrows) with a goal to destroy all sin in the world. After a number of vignettes introducing his character, he debuted at Judgment Day in 2004 against Scotty 2 Hotty, who was an extremely random first opponent. The match itself only last three minutes, barely giving the crowd a chance to see the new gimmick. They were actually more excited when Scotty attempted that stupid Worm move.
Lasting barely three months, Mordecai was sent back down for more training, which later on in an interview, Mordecai admitted he was pushing 300 lbs. at the time (needing to drop some weight). He also mentioned getting into a fight with another guy, in which he put the man in the hospital and put Mordecai in legal troubles. WWE preferred to keep him off TV during this time and eventually just released him in 2005.
2 “Dr. Death” Steve Williams
Williams had a solid amateur wrestling background in college, coming up just short as an All-American on multiple occasions. From there, he got right into pro wrestling, starting in 1982 for Mid-South Wrestling where he learned the ropes. Although sometimes disputed, from 1987 until 1997, “Dr. Death” was considered undefeated in the U.S., only losing to ECW Champion, Raven in 1997.
So, with so many years of hype, the WWE finally called Williams in to be included in their “Brawl for All” tournament. If you don’t remember, WWE attempted a tournament with legit shoot fights, with both competitors wearing boxing gloves. WWE expected that with his reputation, Williams would do well and bring notoriety to the brand, but instead in the second round of his first bout, he not only tore his hamstring, but got knocked out by perennial tag team extraordinaire, Bart Gunn. Williams returned and was managed by Jim Ross, but was released soon after, thanks to his horrendous start with the company. It should be noted that he was being groomed to take on "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, who was the WWE Champion at the time, but that never panned out.
1 Bastion Booger
Initially meant to play a mad monk named Friar Ferguson, WWE had to call an audible when the Catholic Church of New York cried foul on the gimmick. WWE quickly switched to Bastion Booger, a nasty looking man with an all-too-tight outfit. Apparently, the church had no issues with this gimmick. Bastion was over 400 lbs., so WWE decided to make fun of this by making him easily one of the worst gimmicks ever in wrestling.
His debut came in 1993 on Superstars, when he lost to Virgil. This was during Virgil’s good guy days, so the crowd loved seeing him take this other nasty dude out. This gimmick was doomed from the start, as he basically became talent enhancement for the rest of his tenure with WWE, putting over guys like Bam Bam Bigelow and Koko B. Ware. Bastion lasted just over a year with the WWE before being released, but on the plus side, still got his own action figure over a decade later.
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