This writer remembers watching Chris Jericho debut on WWE television in 1999, interrupting The Rock's promo and announcing his arrival in grand fashion. At that time, I was casually familiar with Jericho's WCW work, but until he blew everyone away with his WWE debut promo, he was, to me, the "long-haired blonde guy from WCW with the faux-Pearl Jam ring theme and list of 1,004 holds, armbar, armbar, armbar."
That was an awesome wrestling debut. Gobbledygooker, Braden Walker, Kizarny, etc.? Not awesome. And we all know how Jericho turned out — 18 years later, anyone who doubted he'd succeed in WWE is a "stupid idiot" who needs to drink it in, man. But not all debuts that leave us with our mouths hanging in awe live up to their initial promise.
This list — and no, we're not talking about the List of Jericho — is all about those awesome debuts or repackagings that weren't quite that awesome once the smoke had cleared and the losses, in most cases, started adding up. It may have been due to injuries, attitude, backstage politics, or various other reasons. But regardless of the reason, they couldn't sustain their awesomeness, and that's why we remember them today.
15 FANDANGO (WWE, 2013)
In early-2013, the former Johnny Curtis was repackaged as Fandango, a kayfabe ballroom dancer who'd refuse to compete unless announcers or opponents pronounce his name correctly. He was also given a nice rub when Chris Jericho put him over at WrestleMania 29, for a brief moment in time, his ring music and "Fandango-ing" were both a thing.
Originally, Fandango was supposed to beat Wade Barrett and The Miz and win the Intercontinental Championship at the Payback PPV in 2013. But when he returned from a concussion in July, no one saw him as a threat to win any kind of title again — it's not clear why, but you know how ol' Vince can lose interest in pushing a wrestler with the drop of a hat.
Currently, Fandango is tag teammates with Tyler Breeze, occupying the lower rungs of SmackDown Live's card as Breezango/The Fashion Police. Remember when "Fandango-ing" was in? Yeah, so was the Macarena.
14 WAYLON MERCY (WWE, 1995)
With WWE cartooning it up to the fullest in 1995, Waylon Mercy had stood out from all the kayfabe hockey players, garbage men, country singers, and half-man half-bull hybrids. Much like Razor Ramon was doing his best Tony Montana from Scarface, Mercy was based on Robert De Niro’s role as Max Cady in Cape Fear, clad in a Hawaiian shirt, white tank top and pants, and a number of fake tattoos. He was a peaceful and serene Southern gentleman, until he started destroying his jobber opponents quickly and violently. When he was done, he’d go back to being cool, calm, and collected. Sounds like someone to watch for...y’know what I mean?
Alas, he wasn't. Mercy, who wrestled in WWE's midcard in the '80s under his real name Dan Spivey, was a gimpy 43 years old at that time, and he retired before WWE could give him a serious push. If it's any solace to Mercy/Spivey, he did inspire a young Windham "Husky Harris" Rotunda to drop the lame "Army tank with a Ferrari engine" shtick and become the creepy backwoods cult leader we now know as Bray Wyatt.
13 DAMIEN SANDOW (WWE, 2012)
Originally known as Idol Stevens and one of Michelle McCool's "Teacher's Pets" alongside KC James in the mid-2000s, Aaron Haddad was back on WWE television in 2012, this time with a full beard and a new ring name — Damien Sandow. He also had one of the most creative gimmicks in recent history, that of the "Intellectual Savior of the Unwashed Masses." He looked down on pop culture, spoke using big words, and was looking very promising, up until the time he became Mr. Money in the Bank in 2013.
That was when Sandow became the worst-booked Money in the Bank briefcase holder ever, as he didn't just lose his feud with former best friend Cody Rhodes, he also lost almost every match he competed in before he cashed in on then-World Heavyweight Champion John Cena. And lost, because Super Cena. It didn't help that prior to that, WWE Creative seemed to be toning down Sandow's snootiness and making him act more like a generic heel.
From that point onward, Sandow was mostly a lower-card talent, languishing in an impersonator gimmick, briefly regaining his promise as "Damien Mizdow," then floundering as the Randy Savage parody "Macho Mandow," then eventually becoming a man with no gimmick in the final months before his 2016 release.
12 HAKUSHI (WWE, 1994)/ULTIMO DRAGON (WWE, 2003)
Prior to Shinsuke Nakamura, WWE just didn’t have much luck turning Japanese standouts into main event talents. To prove this point, we shall start with Jinsei Shinzaki, who was brought into WWE in 1994 under the ring name Hakushi. Though on the small side by WWE standards of the time, he was an intimidating figure with a body full of (temporary) tattoos. Hakushi got a good push at first, culminating in a feud against Bret Hart which he lost, but nonetheless looked good coming out of it. But after an ill-advised face turn and losses in feuds to midcarders like Chris “Skip” Candido and Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw, he was gone from WWE in early-1996.
Hakushi was a great in-ring talent and a huge star in Japan, but Ultimo Dragon was an even bigger deal who should have been bigger in America. Five years after his decent-enough WCW run ended, the innovator of the Asai Moonsault was booked poorly in WWE, mostly appearing on B-shows. He left the company soon after WrestleMania XX, an event where he had memorably slipped while making his ring entrance. Original Sin Cara a.k.a. Mistico, you are not alone.
11 SEAN O’HAIRE (WWE, 2003)
After Sean O’Haire had a few cups of coffee with WWE following the company’s purchase of WCW, he was prepped for what may have been a decent singles push, and given the gimmick of a “devil’s advocate” who’d tell fans through vignettes that it was alright to cheat on your wife, smoke pot, get drunk, and not pay taxes, and justify why it was all cool. O’Haire debuted with this gimmick in early-2003, and for a bit, he was living up to the hype. For example, he convinced a young, then-clean-shaven Brian Kendrick (a.k.a. Spanky) to do his best Dennis Knight impression and streak through the arena. He was also given a nice undefeated streak to go with his solid midcard push.
Then someone had the bright idea to turn O’Haire into Roddy Piper’s protégé. Instead of going around in a black trench coat and telling people to do bad things, he dropped his gimmick and became a silent, colorless lackey. Then came a motorcycle accident in November 2003, and O’Haire’s eventual release from WWE after he had recovered from his injuries.
Sadly, O'Haire has since left us, having committed suicide in September 2014. He was only 43 years old.
10 LEX LUGER (WWE, 1993)
While never a technical whiz, Lex Luger had that look Vince McMahon loves to see in his wrestlers, and he did have a WCW World Championship to his name when he signed with WWE in 1993. He was originally billed as Bobby Heenan's new protege "Narcissus," but soon tweaked that to "The Narcissist" Lex Luger, a vain physical specimen who won a nice little feud against Mr. Perfect while working as a heel. That was awesome, and it was mostly on account of Heenan being one of the greatest managers of his time.
When Hulk Hogan left WWE later that year, Luger abruptly renounced his narcissistic ways by bodyslamming Yokozuna on the deck of the USS Intrepid on the Fourth of July. Nothing screamed All-American babyface superhero more than that, but fans and higher-ups soon got to see what Luger lacked that Hogan possessed — charisma and mic skills.
In what is still one of the silliest moments in WWE history, Luger beat Yokozuna at SummerSlam 1993 by count-out, yet he and his fellow babyfaces celebrated as if Lex had won the WWE Championship from Yoko. (Of course he didn't.) As that was supposed to be his only shot at the title, Luger was largely an upper midcarder until he left WWE in 1995, so upset with his run that he signed with WCW at about 50 cents on the dime.
9 THE ARABIAN BUTCHERS (WWE, 1997)
Now this is a very, very obscure example, but one that nonetheless stands out in this writer’s mind. On the June 30, 1997 episode of Monday Night RAW, Jim Cornette introduced fans to his latest protégés – two bald-headed, 350-400-pounders who attacked both the heel team in the ring (British Bulldog and Owen Hart) and the babyfaces (The Headbangers), launching hard-hitting strikes and, to my youthful surprise, some neat-looking aerial moves, including a moonsault. As it turned out, this was Cornette’s way of getting back at Bulldog and Owen, who had previously ditched Cornette and eventually aligned with The New Hart Foundation.
Unfortunately, this silent duo of high-flying beasts was never seen in the WWE again, though ECW and Japanese wrestling fans probably recognize them better as The Headhunters. They also had a brief cameo in the 1996 Royal Rumble match as The Squat Team, though that wasn’t quite as memorable as the violent, yet graceful beatdown on two tag teams they performed as The Arabian Butchers.
8 ANDREW MARTIN (TNA, 2007)
Lest you think this is an all-WWE list, let us remind you that TNA has also had its share of big debuts that ultimately turned into disappointments. And our token TNA entry in this list is Andrew Martin, or as WWE fans knew him, Test. The former kayfabe Motley Crue bodyguard/kayfabe fiancée of Stephanie McMahon was brought in with much hype in the summer of 2007, as he ran in to help babyfaces Abyss and Sting beat AJ Styles and Christian (Cage) win a tag team ladder match, with the winner choosing the type of match to compete in at the Hard Justice PPV.
That match turned out to be the Doomsday Chamber of Blood, and Sting, Abyss, and Martin ended up beating Christian, Styles, and (Tyson) Tomko in that match. But with TNA concerned about Martin’s Wellness Policy violations in WWE, he was released soon after. He died from an accidental drug overdose in 2009, just four days shy of his 34th birthday.
7 SCOTT STEINER (WWE, 2002)
We're cheating it a bit here, since Scott Steiner was previously in WWE in the early-'90s, also using that shortened version of his real name. But the Steiner we saw arrive in WWE in 2002 was completely different from the clean-cut, All-American, brown mullet-wearing young man who had a nice tag team run in WWE with his brother Rick before they returned to WCW. This was the bleached-blonde, jacked-up "Big Poppa Pump" Scott Steiner, and he wanted somebody to give him the effin' mic!
Although one can say that Steiner wasn’t a very heroic babyface and still was prone to speaking Steinerese (read: loud, angry, mush-mouthed nonsense) promos, he was still entertaining on several levels. Then came some pretty underwhelming World Heavyweight Championship matches against Triple H, where the chemistry was all over the place and botches came aplenty. After Steiner’s losing feud with Trips, he was busted down to the midcard, and WWE quietly released him in August 2004 while he was recovering from injury.
6 KHARMA (WWE, 2011)
When two-time TNA Knockouts champ Awesome Kong debuted in WWE in 2011 under the ring name Kharma, she was a complete departure from the slim, attractive, yet often technically-inept Divas whom John Laurinaitis loved signing back in the day. She was a powerhouse wrestler who knew her stuff in the ring, and she made a huge impact upon her debut, randomly attacking former Divas Champions on WWE television. But an incident where she suddenly broke down crying in the ring led to her revelation that she was pregnant, hence the unscripted tears.
Kharma made her return from maternity leave in a big way, appearing in the 2012 Royal Rumble match and eliminating a few men (including a visibly terrified Michael Cole) during her brief time in the ring. But that was the last we ever saw of this gifted wrestler in WWE, as she announced in the summer of 2012 that she had been released, with no fanfare whatsoever.
Fortunately, WWE seems to be getting it right these days with Nia Jax, another physically-intimidating female wrestler who might not have had a chance back in the Johnny Ace era.
5 TAZZ (WWE, 2000)
Younger fans probably know Tazz as a color commentator, having served in that capacity for both WWE and TNA. But prior to all that, he was a multi-titled competitor for ECW, earning praises for his wrestling ability, and for being the “Human Suplex Machine” – a short (5’9”), yet well-built (250 pounds) individual who was as good on the technical side as he was as a powerhouse wrestler. Both WWE and WCW fought hard for his services, with WWE winning out and Tazz debuting at the 2000 Royal Rumble by dealing Kurt Angle his first-ever defeat.
What followed was a rather confusing situation that resulted in Tazz briefly returning to ECW to beat Mike Awesome (who’d defected to WCW), then lose it ten days later to Tommy Dreamer. And while we’re not saying this is another example of Triple H doing some digging with his trusty old shovel, Tazz’s WWE run was never the same after he lost to The Game on an episode of SmackDown while holding the ECW belt. Injuries may have been the bigger culprit, as Tazz soon started doing double duty as a commentator/wrestler, before retiring as the latter in 2002. But it’s not like he did much of note after that loss to Triple H.
4 DREW MCINTYRE (WWE, 2008)
He was young, tall, muscular, and quite an in-ring talent at the tender age of 24. As such, he was a good choice to debut in WWE in August 2009 as Vince McMahon’s “Chosen One.” Scottish wrestler Drew McIntyre was introduced to the WWE Universe as a “future world champion,” and he seemed on the right path toward main event stardom, winning the Intercontinental Championship from John Morrison in December.
In the summer of 2010, the bottom fell out for McIntyre, after an alleged domestic violence incident involving him and his then-wife Tiffany, a.k.a. Taryn Terrell in real life. Tiffany was arrested for the incident for being the supposed aggressor and suspended by WWE, while McIntyre received another kind of "punishment" – the complete loss of anything resembling a decent push. He kept jobbing until his final days in WWE as part of “lovable loser” stable 3MB, though he did revive his North American career big-time with TNA, where he competes under his real name, Drew Galloway.
With his TNA deal soon to expire, who knows if we may see him back in WWE with a much better push?
3 VADER (WWE, 1996)
In WCW, Big Van Vader was an awesome force of nature — a 450-pound ex-NFL offensive lineman who worked stiff yet very realistic, and had the mobility of a man at least 150 to 200 pounds lighter. Ever see a giant wrestler performing a flawless moonsault? Big Van Vader did it in WCW, and was a three-time World Heavyweight Champion for Ted Turner. As you may expect, he was quite the free agent signing when a then-struggling WWE snapped him up in 1996.
With the inimitable Jim Cornette as his manager, the requisite early winning streak, and an onscreen reputation as a man so violent WWE had to “suspend” him for his attacks, everything was going well for “The Man They Call Vader.” But leave it to Kliq politicking to ruin anything good Vader had going for him, as Shawn Michaels wasn’t a fan of Vader’s stiff style, not to mention how he didn’t quite move out of the way as HBK attempted an elbow drop at SummerSlam 1996. That cost Vader any serious chance of winning a main event title with WWE, and by the time he left the company in 1998, he was little more than a 450-pound jobber to the stars.
2 MR. KENNEDY (WWE, 2005)
His gimmick was simple, yet very effective, and very entertaining – giving himself his own ring introduction and repeating his name twice at the end. Of course, you know who we’re talking about here, and that’s MISTER…KENNEDY! KENNEDY!
Ken Anderson, known as Mr. Kennedy in WWE in honor of Vince McMahon’s middle name, got a big push right off the bat, with his gimmick getting over and his combination of in-ring and mic skills impressing fans. So why is it that he only has one United States Championship reign to show for his WWE tenure? For one, he was injury-prone. Secondly, he was more than a bit reckless in the ring. Thirdly, he had to deal with backstage politics. And fourth, allegations of bad attitude backstage didn’t help his cause.
Fortunately for the former Mr. Kennedy, he had more success in TNA wrestling under his real name (though retaining his old WWE shtick as “Mr. Anderson”), and won two TNA World Heavyweight Championships. But he’s burned his bridges with TNA just as he did with WWE, and at 40, it’s hardly likely we’ll see him back with either company anytime soon.
1 THE NEXUS (WWE, 2010)
The Nexus was eight rookies, all from the first season of NXT the rookie search, all debuting at the same time and wreaking complete havoc on the set of Monday Night RAW set in the spring of 2010. They had no fear, literally tearing the ring apart and attacking everyone — John Cena, CM Punk, even ring announcer Justin Roberts. (Ask Daniel Bryan about that one.) They were hell-bent on taking WWE over, and many fans thought they could. That is, of course, until John Cena almost singlehandedly helped Team WWE beat Team Nexus at SummerSlam 2010, an idea of his that Chris Jericho, Edge, and Christian tried to talk him out of, but to no avail.
Individually speaking, Bryan went on to become an underdog hero and a certified main event superstar after his one-day stint with The Nexus, and we've seen Skip Sheffield become Ryback and latter-day member Husky Harris become Bray Wyatt. For what it's worth, Darren Young and NXT Season 2 recruit Michael McGillicutty (later Curtis Axel) are still employed by WWE. But talking about The Nexus as a faction, it's obvious that they fizzled out remarkably quickly, and even more obvious that John Cena shouldn't have gone all Super Cena on them at SummerSlam 2010 and neutered them for the remainder of their life as a stable.