If only every wrestling superstar could have debuts like Goldberg, Chris Jericho, The Undertaker, The Nexus and Kane! After the strobe lights, fireworks, deafening music and Jumbotron visuals conclude, it would be up to the superstar to maintain his or her momentum towards wrestling glory. Unfortunately, first impressions in the world of professional wrestling do not work like that. And heck, even a few of the aforementioned stars didn’t have great debuts, elsewhere — as we shall soon observe.
We often take WWE superstars for granted, getting lost in the moment of their individual greatness. Fans come in and out at various points of a superstar’s character arc and are spoiled by that wrestler’s persona at the time. However, we long-time fans know better and oftentimes ask a respective veteran fan, “Do you remember when he or she first appeared?”
The following list focuses on several WWE superstars who had horrible debuts, both inside and outside of the WWE. Several are current superstars with a few former ones teetering on a WWE return. Some on the listing were brand new while others were more stablished at the time. Nevertheless, horrible debuts are indiscriminate even for the greatest superstars.
Not even the most electrifying man in sports entertainment and Hollywood is immune from horrible debuts. However, it wasn’t Rocky Maivia’s Kid n’ Play haircut, his persona, nor his name that was eyebrow raising. Simply put, it was his outfit. Paying homage to his heritage, namely High Chief Peter Maivia, the future “People’s Champion” sported an ensemble in his late-1996 debut that looked nothing like traditional Samoan garb. Instead, the outfit looked like a mash-up between the Flintstones and Thundercats. Moreover, he had at least 100 feet of streamers attached to the half-shirt alone. Luckily, the outfit as well as the persona was scrapped several months later as Maivia joined the Nation of Domination, adopting a darker personality and becoming more of the Rock fans would come to know. Do you think The Rock wishes he had … it doesn’t matter what you think!
Stephanie McMahon’s debut in the WWE universe was bizarre. During her first televised appearance and angle she was abducted by The Undertaker in a limousine. She was released, interviewed about the situation and then abducted again only in preparation for an on-air marriage to the Undertaker while strapped to a cross. Yeah, that’s right—married to The Undertaker on a cross. The angle culminated in a twisted plot by Vince McMahon to get at Stone Cold Steve Austin who made the save for Stephanie during the marriage ceremony. Stephanie’s next angle—which should have been her first—would be a bit more believable, albeit still strange, as she would become involved and engaged with wrestler Test, drugged by her future husband Triple H and ultimately married to the later.
The Big Show was one of the first wrestlers to jump ship from WCW before the promotion was bought by the WWE. And rightfully so! It was almost criminal how The Giant was introduced and ultimately used amid warring nWo factions in WCW. The alleged ‘son’ of Andre the Giant had taken enough spray-painted beat downs! Upon entering the WWE he deservedly burst into the main event spotlight—literally! No really, he actually busted through the middle of the ring during the main event match between Steve Austin and Vince McMahon at the St. Valentine’s Massacre pay-per-view in 1999. Although the WWE would get their money’s worth with the big-man, Paul Wight’s debut was nonsensical. Really, what’s a seven-foot, almost 400-pound man do under the ring for more than two-hours?
For horrible debuts, look no further than current WWE Chief Operating Officer Triple H. “Trips” had the inauspicious fortune of debuting with WCW, who were nefarious for botching wrestler gimmicks, debuts and angles. However, his look then was not all that bad save for the frilly purple attire. His long blonde locks and muscly frame more than fit the bill for a wrestler—sort of like King Slender in the vintage video game Pro Wrestling. However, King Slender would have been a better name than Terra Ryzing for his 1994 debut. WCW’s use of onomatopoeia had the impact they were hoping. Wait, is he supposed to be “terrorizing” or “terror rising?” Whatever the case, the future multi-time world champ used parts of his real name as Jean-Paul Levesque in another gimmick before jumping ship (thankfully!) to the WWE.
When one performs lucha libre they are bound to miss a few spots—it happens. Fans are usually forgiving and wait for the next awe-inspiring maneuver, reserving the ‘You F’d up” chants for other superstars. However, when one of most celebrated lucha libre stars in the world made his first WWE appearance and missed his very first move, the first impression was hard to shake. That star was Sin Cara and the year was 2011. Cara debuted by saving Daniel Bryan as he was pummeled post-match by Sheamus. Sin Cara ran down to the ring, jumped onto a preplaced trampoline and spilled into the ring. Although he recovered from the move and hit several high flying moves on Sheamus afterwards, he couldn’t shake the “botch” label by fans for subsequent matches and angles.
Thank goodness for Jeannie Clarke, Austin’s former valet (Lady Blossom in WCW) and ex-wife. Austin’s WWE debut in 1996 was not so much about his look but his name—The Ringmaster. Debuting with the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase as his manager, Austin used a variety of technical moves to work his opponents over. However, one could tell something just didn’t fit right with his persona in interviews and in the ring. Where Jeannie Clarke comes in is when Austin was begging the WWE for a change in name and persona as the Ringmaster name and gimmick wasn’t working out. Clarke’s insistence that he drink his tea before getting "Stone Cold" was the catalyst that changed everything. However, the question fans want to know if Austin likes his tea black or green? What?
If you were a wrestler making your first appearance with one of the legendary Dudley boys and Triple H, all things would be right in the world … right? Not quite. Fresh off a developmental program in Ohio Valley Wrestling, Dave “The Beast” Batista had an awkward WWE debut in 2002. During that time D-Von Dudley was working his Reverend gimmick and enlisted “Deacon” Batista as his assistant. Batista’s first televised appearance showed him wearing a sleeveless suit and chain while tightly clutching a donation box. During that particular appearance, he mixed it up with D-von’s opponent, Triple H, foreshadowing the star he was to become. Batista worked with D-von during various matches until feuding with the reverend. He was later repackaged as just Batista and thrust into the main event scene. Can I get an amen?
A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. That’s what a young Brian Kendrick thought when he made his WWE debut on SmackDown in 2003. Paul Heyman used an eager Kendrick to deliver a message for the Big Show to an already pissed-off Undertaker. Kendrick, a veteran of the independent circuit, was dressed in a bellhop outfit and rode to the ring on a girl’s bike with tassels and bells, mocking The Undertaker’s then entrance to the ring. Kendrick commenced singing the Big Show’s message to The Undertaker in an awkward moment that was thankfully saved with Undertaker giving Hendrick a “Last Ride.” Hendrick would go on to conduct more mischief as Spanky; however, the talented cruiserweight deserved better than his debut.
The Undertaker, real name Mark Calaway, wins best first match opponent for his debut against wrestling legend Bruiser Brody in 1984—huss, huss! However, his name and ring attire didn’t make sense. He debuted as a masked wrestler under the name Texas Red in the World Class territory. Although not a name that screams superstar, it had been used previously by two other wrestlers: Red Bastien, the man responsible for training Sting and the Ultimate Warrior, and an old-school woman wrestler. Furthermore, the only speck of red on his ring attire was his boots. The “Red” could have been meant for his red hair … under the mask? At any rate, history would show the Texas Red gimmick would not stifle the Dead Man’s career too much.
In 2011, the future was bright for Johnny Curtis as he was declared the NXT Season Four winner over Brodus Clay. As a result, he was promoted to the Smackdown brand. However, Curtis was put in bizarre promos that put a play on words—crying over spilled milk, having a chip on his shoulder and cutting the mustard—over R-Truth’s promises of a title shot. Humiliatingly, Curtis actually poured milk on himself and used potato chips and other condiments to make his points. Suffice to say, his promos did not go over well. Curtis was quickly squashed—literally and professionally—by Mark Henry and removed from television. Curtis was then repackaged as Fandango, a flamboyant ball-room dancer who refused to make an official debut due to the pronunciation of his name.
Former WWE superstar Ryback Reeves’ rise in professional wrestling is a true feel-good story. At a young age he knew what he wanted to do, stuck with it through adversity and made it happen. However, making it all happen with the persona of Skip Sheffield, “the Corn-fed Meathead,” was probably not what he envisioned for himself. In 2010, Ryback made his televised WWE debut on RAW as a cowboy hat, leather vest wearing Texas stereotype while accompanying William Regal to the ring. Sheffield, fresh off the premiere season of NXT, went on to be a member of the Nexus, feuding with John Cena and other established stars. Both luckily and unfortunately, it took a broken leg and ankle to repackage his character a year later to expunge the Skip Sheffield debut.
Mick Foley had several debuts: Cactus Jack, Dude Love, Mankind and others. However, none were more lackluster and uninspiring as his debut as Jack Foley. Understandably, Foley was starting out in the business during the late 1980s as a “jobber”—the proverbial sacrificial lamb for star wrestlers. Although some would argue that being a jobber is a lost art, a jobber had little say in his or her character direction and look as to not take the focus off the star wrestler. If anything, Foley played his part terrifically, looking as though he was a regular dude plucked from the nose-bleed section and thrown in the ring. As history would show, Foley made amends with subsequent character debuts as well as his overall popularity and place in wrestling lore.
Old-school alert! Without a doubt, Lex Luger had one of the best physiques in wrestling. Bobby “The Brain” Heenan took admiration of that body to another level during Luger’s WWE debut in 1993. Equipped with a triple wardrobe mirror, a silver cape, tights, boots and oiled to the max, Lex debuted while flexing in front of the mirrors as Heenan gushed about Luger’s anatomy from head to toe. In turn, Luger went through several poses, flexing his pecs and fixing his hair in the mirror before giving his signature uneven promo. Bad debut aside, Lex Luger was more plausible as a heel wrestler than a good-guy. However, that did not stop the WWE from making his character switch soon after his Narcissist debut due to Hulk Hogan’ sudden departure from the promotion. Unfortunately, the switch was too soon.
It’s pretty bad when one’s inclusion in the Spirit Squad bests one’s introduction as caddy to a Mexican turned white guy. Yeah, this one gets rather complex. However, that is exactly how Dolph Ziggler debuted in 2005—as the caddy to Chavo Guerrero’s Kerwin White gimmick. Ziggler, using his real name Nick Nemeth, escorted White (Guerrero) to the ring while dressed in preppy gold attire and carrying clubs. He even wrestled in the attire as well. Unfortunately, the Kerwin White angle came to end prompted by real-life circumstances associated with Eddie Guerrero’s passing. As a result, Chavo Guerrero went back to using his real name in tribute to the Guerrero lineage. Nemeth, on the other hand, returned to Ohio Valley wrestling for seasoning and further repackaging for his part in the Spirit Squad. Nemeth would have to wait two more years for his Dolph Ziggler persona.
And just in time for the holidays! There were two places a wrestler did not want his or her debut—WCW and the hallucinogenic induced gimmick-challenged Mid-South territory. Although technically debuting in the central U.S. territories, a young Glenn Jacobs went south—literally—and debuted in the “major” territories as The Christmas Creature. Donned in a green-gold tasseled jump suit over a candy-cane striped shirt and boots, and accompanied by Santa Claus, Jacobs surely wanted to go Krampus on the people who pushed this monstrosity of a gimmick on him. How Jerry Lawler kept a straight face regarding this angle is remarkable! As history would show, Lawler and Jacobs weren’t through with conjuring bad gimmicks given their involvement in Jacob’s official WWE debut—Isaac Yankem. But that Kane character sure did okay for Jacobs!