An introduction is one of the most important things for a wrestler entering the WWE. The first impression is always huge in how the audience will view a performer. A terrible moment can ruin a career from night one on WWE television. An effective debut can conversely get a fan base going. Finn Balor recently debuted on Raw by winning a fatal-four-way match over Rusev, Kevin Owens and Cesaro along with an even bigger victory over Roman Reigns all in the same night. The two wins made him a hot commodity and allowed him to compete against Seth Rollins to crown the first WWE Universal Champion at SummerSlam.
You can’t ask for more than what Balor received, but there are cases of memorable introductions delivering a bigger impact. We’ll look at both sides of the wrestling world when it comes to debuts. The negative ones also stand out with horrible moments damaging the momentum of a performer entering the company with a world of hype. We’ll look at both chapters in the history books when it comes to stars getting introduced in a memorable manner. The positives and negatives will each be viewed with the top eight and worst seven debuts in WWE history.
15 Best: Big Show
The height of the Monday Night Wars usually featured established WWE stars jumping ship for bigger contracts in WCW such as Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. WWE would look for the opposite with younger stars not living up to their potential in WCW. Big Show was the perfect example as the gigantic young asset felt lost in the shuffle within WCW’s power struggle with bigger names monopolizing the main event spots.
WWE signed Big Show and introduced him in an outstanding way. During the Steve Austin versus Vince McMahon epic Steel Cage Match, Show made his official debut by coming out from under the ring and throwing Austin into the cage. Austin would win the match due to the cage breaking, allowing him to fall out. While Show could have looked more dominant, it was an innovative and intelligent way to have him align with McMahon. Fans were excited and it made Big Show an important part of WWE from his first moments.
14 Worst: Edge
WWE always saw something special in Edge and introduced him to the audience with weeks of video packages and vignettes. Edge’s first appearance ended in the worst way possible. The talented young star went for a dive over the top rope and botched the move to injure his opponent. Jose Estrada suffered a broken neck due to Edge’s leg landing on him awkwardly on him.
Edge obviously rebounded from it to have a Hall of Fame worthy career and still is revered for his work in the industry. The debut had to be a tough night for him trying to make a name but gaining a negative reputation instantly. A young talent getting an opportunity during The Attitude Era was rare. Edge breaking his opponent’s neck could have made him a marked man in the locker room, but he gained their trust by becoming one of the best workers in the company.
13 Best: The Radicalz
The year 2000 basically ended the “war” between WWE and WCW. Vince McMahon ran away with a huge lead in the competition between the two companies and talent desperately wanted to leave WCW. Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn all made the jump together, ditching the fading company for a new start in the WWE. They debuted as a faction known as The Radicalz and instantly made an impact.
All four men sat ringside on an episode of Raw and attacked DX to a massive ovation as the friends of Mick Foley. The Radicalz would turn on Foley a week later and become successful members of the roster for years. Benoit and Guerrero blossomed into stars as two of the best wrestlers in the world. Malenko and Saturn held lower spots on the card with impressive matches. The debut made them relevant and exciting names to pay attention to from the early days in WWE.
12 Worst: Emma
NXT has become an important part of the WWE world over the past few years. The recent surge of talent coming up for the draft has been given huge pushes. Finn Balor is already a Raw main eventer and American Alpha are the top tag team on SmackDown, without wrestling a single match yet. The move to the main roster wasn’t always as simple for the promising talents looking to get to the next level.
Emma was one of the most talented women in the NXT system and had the potential to become a big player on WWE TV. The debut absolutely crushed her chances of success. Emma appeared in the crowd holding signs like a fan using her name in various wordplay one-liners such as “Emma-lution.” WWE would have her enter a feud with Summer Rae and have her randomly align with fellow comedic character Santino. The push completely flopped and Emma was sent back down to NXT to revamp her career before having a more successful call up.
11 Best: Tazz
The best debuts on this list typically end up with the performers evolving into legendary stars. This was one of the rare occasions that somehow didn’t lead to greatness, but provided an outstanding memory. Tazz made his WWE debut in his home arena of Madison Square Garden at the Royal Rumble in 2000 after a successful stint in ECW. The hometown fans showered Tazz with love and made him come off like a huge star.
Tazz was the first man to defeat Kurt Angle in a match and did it by choking him out with The Tazzmission. MSG exploded as if it was the main event of WrestleMania and we all expected Tazz to get a huge push. WWE started downplaying his popularity the following night. Tazz was downgraded from a hot new star into just another midcarder within his first month thus wasting the epic debut. The WWE run may not have gone as planned, but Tazz had one of the best debuts any wrestler could ever dream of.
10 Worst: Sin Cara
WWE intended for Sin Cara to become the replacement for Rey Mysterio as the top star appealing to the Latino demographic. Sin Cara was one of the top stars in Mexico under the name of Mistico and WWE signed him with the hopes of pushing him to the moon. Weeks of video packages and showing a press conference of his signing made his debut highly anticipated as one of the rare talents to skip developmental.
Heading straight to the main roster did not benefit Sin Cara and he instantly flopped. The ring entrance of Sin Cara featured him jumping on a trampoline and bouncing into the ring smoothly. Sin Cara debuted by trying to stop Sheamus from beating down Daniel Bryan. The idea was fine but his bounce into the ring saw him slightly slip and hurt the entrance right away. A lackluster debut just contributed to the horrible string of luck as Sin Cara became known for many embarrassing botches during his WWE career.
9 Best: John Cena
Most of the better debuts consist of the new wrestler winning a match and getting an instant surge. John Cena proved a loss can be just as effective as a win if the story is done properly. Cena's debut saw him answer an open challenge made by main eventer Kurt Angle. Both men brought their A-game and delivered an outstanding match. Cena did well, appearing as an equal to Angle and giving fans enough reason to believe he would win before ultimately taking the loss.
WWE always had a strong belief in Cena and put him in a great spot against one of the best in-ring performers of all time. Fans bought into every second of the match and developed respect for Cena during his first night on WWE TV. Cena became a fixture on SmackDown following the loss and went on to have one of the greatest careers in recent wrestling history. The impressive debut put him on a great path to achieve such great things.
8 Worst: Fake Razor Ramon and Fake Diesel
Sometimes a horrible debut can just be the product of a terrible character idea. WWE had broadcaster Jim Ross randomly turn heel and threaten to bring back Razor Ramon and Diesel to the company as an invasion. Scott Hall and Kevin Nash played those characters and left for WCW. The reveal ended up being WWE wanting to use the characters with different wrestlers, portraying them as a shot implying they could make anyone a star.
Fans groaned with disappointment that WWE would blatantly lie about Nash and Hall returning. They promised fan favorites Diesel and Razor Ramon would be back, but were met with two guys no one knew of. Rock Bognar played the fake Ramon and Glenn Jacobs portrayed Diesel. Both men saw the gimmick flop horrendously from the first night. Jacobs would luckily get the chance to play the successful character of Kane years later, but Bognar had his career end with fake Razor.
7 Best: Kevin Owens
The absolute best way to debut in the WWE is facing off with an established star and getting the upper hand. Kevin Owens shocked the world with his initial appearance on the main roster following years of success on the independent wrestling scene and an impressive stint in NXT. The debut would see him answer John Cena’s Open Challenge with a promo rather than a match. Owens beat up Cena and made a statement in his first night as a WWE Superstar.
Things would get better as Owens defeated Cena cleanly in a PPV match weeks later in his first official bout on WWE television. The win instantly made him a credible member of the WWE roster. Owens has held an upper midcard spot for the better part of the past year and is one of the most popular stars thanks to his introduction in a long feud with Cena. The opportunity is important but showing the ability to hang with the standard bearer is the dream scenario for debuting wrestlers in the WWE.
6 Worst: Lord Tensai
It wasn’t Albert's fficial debut as a performer in the WWE, but his rebranding after years away that makes this list. WWE branded him, as Lord Tensai, whcih was completely different from his days in WWE as Albert and A-Train. Following his departure from the company, the big man improved dramatically in Japan and WWE tried to add that to his new character. They made no mentions of his past but fans still wanted to heckle by chanting “Albert” during Tensai matches.
The official debut of Lord Tensai didn’t help his causes. Weeks of vignettes added intrigue that would fail to deliver when he came out rocking Japanese symbols tattooed on his face. The fans were not impressed with the lack of creativity and found his match boring. Various chants ruined his push and WWE changed plans from making him a top heel into a comedic lower card face act with Brodus Clay. Today, he currently runs the WWE Performance Center so things worked out for the best, but the debut of Tensai was a terrible time in his career.
5 Best: Kane
We already touched on this earlier but Glenn Jacobs had a tough start trying to find the right character in the WWE. Between stints as Isaac Yankem and the aforementioned Fake Diesel, hope appeared to be lost but one big moment would change everything. WWE wanted an evil brother of The Undertaker to emerge and play his rival for many years. Kane was born and Jacobs received the honor of trying yet another risky character.
The debut made Kane one of the most interesting performers on the roster and he instantly became a success. Kane interfered in the first ever Hell in a Cell Match between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker. The dark red lighting created a spooky environment and his demolishing of The Undertaker caused fans to speculate. Mystery can always spark excitement and Kane did just that with a flawless debut making an impression as a pivotal character on WWE TV.
4 Worst: The Gobbledy Gooker
The reason for the following selection being such a terrible debut is it delivered one of the worst overall moments in WWE history. With the culture still allowing corny characters, WWE went all in with the ridiculous idea of The Gobbledy Gooker. There was a gigantic egg on the stage for weeks teasing something big would be coming. Surprises are always fun in wrestling, but they have to deliver a great result.
Survivor Series 1990 revealed the hatching of the egg and The Gobbledy Gooker becoming a real thing in the WWE world. Fans reacted negatively with vocal disappointment at Hector Guerrero wearing a giant turkey suit and dancing around like a fool. We have no idea what WWE intended to happen here, but all plans went out the window with the disdain for the debut. WWE scrapped the character quickly after the fateful night but the memory lives on forever in wrestling circles.
3 Best: The Shield
WWE has struggled to make new stars over the past decade. Most of the promising talents in recent history have been met with inconsistent booking that spelled doom for their upward mobility. Three men escaped that with an incredible debut. Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns were introduced to the WWE together, costing Ryback a title match against CM Punk and John Cena at Survivor Series 2012.
The trio dominated the night and would dominate the WWE landscape for years. The company protected them by investing time and energy in making all three men credible talents on the rise. You can argue Rollins, Ambrose and Reigns are the three most popular stars in WWE today and will lead the company into the future for many more years.
It all started with their shocking debut, as they put Ryback through a table and left the fans in awe. WWE gave them the ball from night one and they ran with it ever since.
2 Worst: Diamond Dallas Page
The worst debut of a performer in the WWE came in the form of a credible star seeing his career get ruined on his first night in the company. Diamond Dallas Page was one of the most popular stars in WCW for years as someone the fans organically fell in love with. His work ethic and improvements made him a consistent main event performer during the Monday Night Wars.
Along with Booker T, DDP was the only top star to come to WWE during the WCW invasion storyline. WWE did not care about his past accomplishments and forced Page to play a completely different character. DDP was revealed as the mystery man stalking The Undertaker’s wife Sara for weeks. The former huge star was relegated to playing a perverted creep following the other wrestlers’ wives and videotaping them. Page would fall down the card rapidly and became irrelevant in just a few months.
1 Best: Chris Jericho
One moment will always stand out when thinking about the best WWE instances of a talented star debuting. Chris Jericho was being wasted away in WCW as the company refused to give him a legitimate push or move him up the card. WWE offered him a deal and he took it right away, feeling a better chance would be provided to succeed. The introduction alone proved Jericho made the right decision and WWE was the right place for him in the wrestling world.
Weeks of videos showing a countdown clock aired with no explanation. The date finally came and the countdown clock ended with Jericho making his debut on WWE television. Fans gave him one of the biggest pops in wrestling history and made him an important piece on the show going forward. Jericho engaged in a promo battle with The Rock and showed he could hang on the microphone with the best in the business. The magical moment of the countdown clock ending has never been topped and it makes Jericho’s debut the best to ever take place in the WWE.