There is nothing more important than a first impression in the work field, in dating, and mostly anything in life. The same can be said in the world of wrestling, as debuts are everything. A good debut can bring you far in wrestling and with it comes success and fame, which most superstars dream of when they first lace up their boots.
This list looks at the top 15 wrestling debuts of all time. The entries on this list consist of successful and memorable debuts and the impact they had on the company, the wrestler’s career, and the legacy it left on the wrestling world. Many of these debuts came during the “Monday Night Wars” where WWE and WCW were out battling it out each week for ratings. There are also debuts that consist of first appearances and one can see how significant the debut was on the wrestler’s career.
** This post was updated after Kevin Owens debut.
15. Goldberg – Raw, March 31, 2003
When the WWE purchased WCW, wrestling fans eagerly anticipated watching Goldberg step into a WWE ring, however, Goldberg’s contract wasn’t bought out by WWE and fans would have to wait nearly two years to see Goldberg’s debut. The fans got their wish the night after WrestleMania XIX, with The Rock cutting a promo that he was going to leave the company because he had nothing left to prove. Goldberg’s music dropped and the wrestling world finally saw his long awaited debut. His debut wasn’t long, as he told The Rock that he was next before spearing him. Goldberg’s debut garnered a lot of excitement, but unfortunately, it wasn’t a long lasting success as Goldberg was with the company for a year and his contract was not renewed.
14. The Radicalz – Raw, January 31, 2000
With all four members (Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko) sitting at ringside during the start of Raw, fans realized that the WWE had just signed The Radicalz from WCW. It was just a matter of time before they got into the ring and made a statement. The stable interrupted a match featuring the New Age Outlaws, before beating them down as Guerrero hit a frog splash and Benoit hit his signature diving headbutt. The fans were thrilled as all four men walked to the back of the locker room. All four men had good runs with the company, with Benoit and Guerrero having the most success. This debut was a preview of the end of WCW, as they were losing quality mid-card talent to WWE.
13. John Cena – SmackDown, June 27, 2002
On SmackDown in 2002, Kurt Angle issued an open challenge to any superstar in the back and that challenge was answered by a young and little known wrestler, John Cena. Though the fans didn’t know what to expect from this kid, they could see he had all the physical attributes to become a huge star. The match was fast paced and impressive, with Angle eventually winning by a wrestler pin. After the match, many superstars congratulated Cena in the back, with the biggest one coming from none other than The Undertaker. This debut was very successful, as it was the start of the “Ruthless Aggression Era” and the beginning of the career of the future face of the company.
12. Brock Lesnar – Raw, March 18, 2002
Coming through the crowd, Lesnar interfered in a match between Al Snow, Maven, and Spike Dudley. He destroyed all three in the ring, showcasing his brute strength. Seeing this virtually unknown wrestler create so much carnage sent fans into a state of ecstasy. To make this debut even better, Paul Heyman joined Lesnar and barked orders at him from outside the ring. This was an example of the “Ruthless Aggression Era,” as a young unknown superstar made a huge splash on their debut. Lesnar would end up becoming the chosen one to end The Undertaker’s incredible streak at WrestleMania.
11. The Shield – Survivor Series, November 18, 2012
This was an impressive debut, as three young wrestlers made a statement by interfering in the main event at Survivor Series. The fans were stunned as three unknown men came out of the crowd, attacked Ryback and powerbombed him through a table. This resulted in CM Punk pinning John Cena and retaining his title. The Shield would go on to be a huge success, as they would feud with top stars and go on a long undefeated streak. The Shield was one of the best factions in wrestling history and this debut was the start of that.
10. Kevin Owens – Elimination Chamber, May 31, 2015
If Michael Cole is to be believed, this would be number one on our list, but that might be stretching it a little bit. While this might be a slightly controversial entry to some of you, since Owens’ had already fought in NXT, we still believe it belongs when looking at a Superstar’s WWE main roster debut and we’re going to look at this one from two angles. Firstly, his debut on Raw, where he interrupted John Cena’s open U.S. Challenge and cut an incredible promo before attacking Cena was an amazing TV Debut for Owens.
Then, in Owens’ official wrestling debut for WWE, he beat the unbeatable John Cena at a PPV. Rusev, who had been built for a long while, could only score one win over Cena at a PPV in four attempts, and it wasn’t even a clean finish. On both debut fronts, Owens was exceptional and earned a spot on the list for the best Wrestling debuts.
9. Booker T – King of the Ring, June 24, 2001
Booker T was one of the best wrestlers to come over from the purchase of WCW. He was the World Heavyweight Champion and United States Champion at the time. The fans expected to see Booker T in a WWE ring at one point, but they never expected how him to show up like this. Booker T made his presence felt by coming out of the crowd and putting Stone Cold through a table. Booker T would be one of the most successful wrestlers to ever come from WCW, with a career spanning over ten years with the company and numerous championships wins. He was elected to the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013.
8. The Big Show – St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, February 9, 1999
During the cage match between Stone Cold and Mr. McMahon, Austin hit him with a stunner and everyone thought the match was over. Though, this was not the case and the WWE had a surprise for the wrestling world, The Big Show. He would make his debut by tearing through the canvas from underneath the ring and attacking Stone Cold. The fans were shocked to see The Big Show as everyone thought he was still employed by WCW. It ended up backfiring on Vince, as The Big Show picked up Austin and threw him at the cage, resulting in it opening and Austin falling out. That counted as a legal escape and Austin won the match.
7. Tazz – Royal Rumble, January 23, 2000
The crowd was electric at Madison Square Garden while anticipating the mystery wrestler who would face the undefeated Kurt Angle. By the roar of the crowd, you could tell the fans already knew who the mystery wrestler was going to be. When Tazz’s music dropped, the fans erupted and their hometown hero finally made his way to the WWE. With both superstars being suplex specialists, the match was a technical exhibition. Tazz won the match with a sleeper hold and gave Angle his first lost. With this debut, many thought Tazz ‘s WWE career would be successful, like the one he had in ECW, but that wasn’t the case as injuries and a lack of character direction led to a mediocre run in the company.
6. The Undertaker – Survivor Series, November 22, 1990
The Undertaker debuted at Survivor Series as the mystery partner on Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar team. Once the Graveyard Symphony started playing, fans were in awe as they watched this supernatural figure walk to the ring. Taker dominated right from the start, eliminating Koko B. Ware in seconds and this was just a glimpse of how The Undertaker would dominate the wrestling world. This debut may have not been as cool or exciting as some others, however, it marked the first time we would see the character that would send chills down our spines for years to come.
5. The Outsiders – Nitro, June 10, 1996
This was a huge surprise to wrestling fans, as they saw Scott Hall and Kevin Nash cutting promos in WCW. The angle was done very well, as many still thought Hall and Nash were working with the WWE and invading WCW. Both of them called out the entire WCW roster and stated to Eric Bischoff that if “you want a war, you got one,” further insinuating the idea that this wasn’t part of a storyline, but was a real invasion. This debut was memorable because it was a pivotal point in the “Monday Night Wars” as two big stars left to WCW.
4. Ric Flair – Prime Time Wrestling, September 9, 1991
The “Nature Boy” showed up the only way he knew how, in a stylish and cocky way. Flair came out with the World Heavyweight Championship, which at the time was property of WCW, and cut an amazing promo, like he usually does. He boastied that he was “The Real World Champion” and called out the likes of Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper. Flair would go on to feud with top talent and win the 1992 Royal Rumble to claim the vacant WWE Championship.
3. Chris Jericho – Raw, August 9, 1999
Weeks before Chris Jericho’s debut, promo videos of a clock counting down to the new millennium were shown on WWE programming, creating huge excitement for a new superstar’s debut. On Raw, while The Rock was trash talking in the ring, he was interrupted by the same clock, which finally hit zero and revealed Jericho to the WWE crowd. The fans went ballistic, as many were stunned to see Jericho, however some fans already expected him (these were the early days of the internet) and were waving Jericho signs. Jericho cut an amazing promo, stating that he was going to change the WWE and be their top performer. The Rock countered Jericho’s promo with one of his own and fans were delighted to see two of the best wrestlers on the mic trade exchanges. Jericho was a talented, yet underused star in WCW, and this debut showed wrestling fans that with the right direction, Jericho could be a top tier performer.
2. Kane – Badd Blood, October 5, 1997
During the months leading up to Kane’s debut, Paul Bearer haunted The Undertaker by repeatedly saying “your brother Kane is coming.” Kane finally made his debut during the climax of the Hell in a Cell match between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, as the lights went out and Kane’s eerie music started playing. Fans finally saw what all the hype was about and Kane didn’t disappoint. With his creepy slow walk and giant figure, he looked more like a monster than a man. The stare down between these two was perfect, as for the first time ever, fans saw an unsettled Taker. It didn’t last long as Kane tombstoned his brother and left the ring, giving a preview to fans of how dominant he would be. This debut sparked a very good feud between Kane and The Undertaker, resulting in many memorable matches.
1. nWo – Bash at the Beach, July 7, 1996
This debut couldn’t have been set up any better, as with the mystery partner for Hall and Nash still not revealed, fans were on the edge of their seats for the entire match. When Hulk Hogan walked down, no one thought The Great American Hero, the guy who inspired children everywhere to say their prayers and eat their vitamins, would turn on WCW. When Hogan hit the leg drop on Macho Man, the crowd was in utter shock and felt betrayed. Hogan cut a promo introducing the New World Order of wrestling and fans threw garbage in the ring. It was truly a scene for the ages. The nWo was a huge part of the success enjoyed by WCW and the reason it beat out WWE in the “Monday Night Wars” for 84 consecutive weeks. However, it was also the downfall of WCW, as horrible character direction and an overuse of the faction eventually led to its demise. Though, the nWo is still considered the greatest faction of all time and its legacy is still shown on signs and shirts worn by wrestling fans across the world.
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