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20 memorable Superstar debuts
When a Superstar debuts, they have the unique chance to set the tone for their career – for better or for worse. Throughout sports-entertainment history, there have been countless jaw-dropping, breathtaking and memorable first impressions made by a number of different competitors. Many went on to achieve greatness while others literally fell flat on their face.
WWE.com examines the history books and ranks the 20 most unforgettable Superstar debuts of all time.
The World’s Largest Athlete is a unique case when it comes to discussing memorable first appearances. In his first match ever at WCW Halloween Havoc 1995 — his sports-entertainment debut — Big Show defeated Hulk Hogan to claim the WCW World Championship. Defeating The Hulkster for a major championship is nothing to overlook, but Big Show’s WWE debut a little more than three years later is much more impressive in terms of overall impact.
At St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1999, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin battled his arch nemesis, Mr. McMahon, inside a steel cage. The battle itself was a grudge match between The Chairman, who one month earlier won the Royal Rumble Match to earn a WWE Title opportunity, but relinquished it to the runner-up — Austin. As the chaotic aftermath of the Rumble unfolded, Big Show was still in WCW and had been kicked out of The nWo because they did not have a place for him. Little did the WWE Universe know, Big Show was scheming against Austin with Mr. McMahon.
After what seemed like a final Stone Cold Stunner to The Chairman, The Texas Rattlesnake continued to taunt his boss. With Austin distracted, Big Show ripped through the ring canvas and climbed into the steel cage. The World’s Largest Athlete — a WCW competitor less than a month earlier — immediately targeted Austin.
It seemed that “Stone Cold’s” days were numbered, until The World’s Largest Athlete picked up The Texas Rattlesnake and tossed him to the steel cage, breaking open the construct and allowing Austin to escape with the win. Although Big Show’s appearance was startling, his first action inadvertently cost Mr. McMahon the match.
That’s exactly what happened to Santino Marella on April 16, 2007. Santino was plucked out of the audience by Mr. McMahon to challenge the Samoan Bulldozer, Umaga, for the Intercontinental Title. With the WWE Universe in Milan, Italy, in firm support of their fellow countryman, Santino amazingly held his own against the monster.
That was until The Chairman stopped the match and declared it a No Holds Barred contest, allowing The Samoan Bulldozer and his manager, Armando Estrada, to decimate the eager challenger. Yet before Umaga and Estrada could fully humiliate Marella, Bobby Lashley made a surprise appearance, taking down the Samoan monster and pulling Santino on top of the unconscious Umaga for the victory.
The “Milan Miracle” was complete, and Santino later proved that his jaw-dropping debut and impressive Intercontinental Title win were no fluke. The Italian Stallion has since become an Intercontinental Champion, WWE Tag Team Champion and United States Champion.
A few months after the acquisition, as the WCW Invasion was starting to come to fruition, Booker T made his shocking WWE debut by attacking “Stone Cold” Steve Austin at King of the Ring. Never before had a reigning WCW Champion attacked the WWE Champion, let alone at a WWE event.
Booker T’s startling arrival proved that the Monday Night War was not completely over; the struggle had simply taken on a new dimension.
Abdullah the Butcher
On the Aug. 24, 1991, episode of WCW Worldwide, Sting received a giant, gift-wrapped box for his birthday from his nemesis, Cactus Jack. The gesture seemed odd coming from a rival, but the giant red bow on the present suggested the contents were harmless. As The Stinger unwrapped his gift, the box ripped open and a giant hand targeted WCW’s face-painted franchise. Busting out of the package, Abdullah the Butcher revealed himself and engaged in a vicious assault on Sting.
The assault was direct and fierce, and attacking the Atlanta-based organization’s most popular ring warrior was the perfect way for the future WWE Hall of Famer to introduce himself.
With the WWE Universe watching the aftermath of The Show of Shows unfold, Lesnar — following instructions from Paul Heyman — stormed through the crowd and into the ring, decimated Al Snow, Maven and Spike Dudley, all of whom were involved in the Hardcore Match taking place. As Heyman shouted his orders, eyes all over the word widened as the WWE Universe witnessed the sheer power of the massive competitor.
The most memorable moment of Lesnar’s arrival came when he literally lifted and tossed Spike Dudley into the air, catching him on his shoulders and powerbombing the runt of the Dudley family to the mat. In the wake of the carnage, Paul Heyman stood with The Next Big Thing and raised his arm. Not only did the incident mark the future WWE Champion’s debut, it also presented the duo of Heyman and Lesnar to the WWE Universe, a partnership that continued to plague WWE Superstars in 2012.
The Great Khali
During The Undertaker’s bout with Mark Henry, The Punjabi Titan made his way to the ring. There are only a handful of times when The Phenom has been genuinely shocked by an individual standing in front of him; this was one of those moments. Turning his attention away from his opponent, The Deadman stared up at the towering Khali, baffled by his sheer size. With a resounding jab to the The Undertaker, the Punjabi giant asserted his presence.
The Great Khali’s debut was memorable for the way he completely manhandled The Deadman, even ripping off a turnbuckle with one hand as he did it. To this day, the former World Heavyweight Champion remains one of the most imposing forces in WWE, a precedent he set by taking out The Phenom in his debut.
Wearing what was described as a “samurai headdress,” the horned helmet the former WCW Champion wore to the ring looked like something straight out of a science fiction film. Halfway to the ring, Vader removed the massive helmet to reveal his masked visage.
Drawing cheers from the fans, Vader treated them to the wildest moment of his debut. After a few strange hand motions, the helmet — resting on the ground in front of him — shot steam from both sides of the headpiece. Vader would have a very successful career, but his WCW debut certainly set the tone for his unbridled intensity.
However, once the bell sounded, Goldberg dominated his massive opponent with unbridled intensity, claiming the first victory of what would become an astonishing 173-0 undefeated streak. The most memorable moment of Goldberg’s debut, however, came after the match.
“Mean” Gene Okerlund tried to get the former Atlanta Falcon’s post-match reaction, but Goldberg didn’t say a word. He simply walked back to the locker room wondering, “Who’s Next?”
Though he did not take part in the WCW/ECW Invasion, The Ultimate Underdog made a huge impact when he officially made his WWE debut. After weeks of anticipation, Mysterio successfully competed in his first WWE match against former WCW Cruiserweight Champion Chavo Guerrero on the July 25, 2002, edition of SmackDown.
Sure, his inaugural match was impressive, but it was The Ultimate Underdog’s actions later in the evening that made his first WWE appearance all the more extraordinary. Following a Steel Cage Match between Edge and Chris Jericho, The Un-Americans — Lance Storm, Christian and Test — attacked Edge. While they assaulted the future WWE Hall of Famer inside the ring, Mysterio raced to the ring, scaled the cage and made one of the most daring leaps in WWE history.
Slated to compete in his first match against Tazz, the Arabian athlete was led to the ring by 911 while chained to a gurney and wearing a Hannibal Lecter mask. In an era before ECW was truly extreme, the images of Sabu uncontrollably kicking and screaming became a sign of things to come. Finally unchained, the freakish competitor immediately charged after his opponent, soon spilling to the outside where fans were caught in the crossfire. At one point, 911 tried to restrain Sabu, but the frenzied competitor started throwing chairs all over the arena.
After securing the victory, Sabu unleashed a table and continually threw himself into it until he was pulled out of the ring. The hardcore competitor’s debut not only set the tone for his career, but it is also cited as the birth of extreme.
Rumors ran rampant as Mr. McMahon was preparing to announce a new General Manager for Raw. The speculation reached a fever pitch when Booker T, while being interviewed near the locker room, was approached by his former WCW boss, Bischoff. Soon after the five-time WCW Champion’s shocking interaction, Mr. McMahon announced his former rival as Raw’s new General Manager. If that wasn’t enough, the moment that really left the WWE Universe pinching themselves was when The Chairman and his former nemesis shared a hug.
The debut was both memorable and shocking, but also the ultimate sign that WWE had indeed conquered WCW. Bischoff would become one of the longest-reigning Raw General Managers and was the driving force behind the Elimination Chamber and Raw Roulette.
For the very first time, the WWE Universe witnessed the awe-inspiring entrance of The Undertaker. The WWE fans inside the Hartford Civic Center were speechless as their hearts raced while The Deadman slowly walked to the ring. Amazingly, this was long before The Demon of Death Valley conjured up smoke, lightning and fire during his entrance.
The battle began with Hart and The Undertaker facing off. The “Hit Man” was unable to mount an offense, tagging in his Hart Foundation partner who also failed to nudge The Phenom. Moments later, Koko B. Ware decided to try his luck, but was immediately eliminated following The Deadman’s first Tombstone. After The Deadman eliminated Rhodes, The American Dream attacked The Phenom’s manager, Brother Love. This prompted Undertaker to leave the ring to defend Love, leading to him being counted out.
For weeks leading up to the event, an orange logo with the number 13 in the center would pulse throughout arenas all over the country. The WWE Universe remained perplexed until the night of the Royal Rumble, emanating from Madison Square Garden in New York City. The undefeated Angle was set to face an unnamed opponent, and once he called the challenger out, the logo appeared, heavy music started pulsating throughout the arena and ECW’s most dominant competitor made his way to the ring.
As the New York City faithful erupted in chants of “E-C-DUB,” Tazz took the fight right to Angle both inside and outside the ring. Though momentum shifted back and forth, once Tazz executed a series of suplexes, he locked the gold medalist in the Tazzmission, securing the victory and ending Angle’s undefeated streak.
Sting, Dustin Rhodes and The British Bulldog were scheduled to square off against Sid Vicious, Vader and Harlem Heat when they revealed a mystery partner on Ric Flair’s talk show, “A Flair for the Gold.” When introducing their teammate, Sting exclaimed, “He will SHOCK you!” As pyrotechnic explosions went off, The Shockmaster came barreling through a wall, tripped over an errant two-by-four and fell flat on his face, losing his trademark glitter-encrusted Stormtrooper helmet on the way. In that hilarious instant, an Internet legend was born.
The Stinger was right about one thing: Sports-entertainment fans were shocked by the bumbling stumble of the physically imposing Superstar.
The Wyatt Family
After weeks of creepy videos and mysterious messages to the WWE Universe, The Wyatt Family finally — and destructively — arrived in WWE on the July 8, 2013, episode of Raw, mere seconds after Kane defeated Christian in a hard-fought match.
Following Bray Wyatt's ominous TitanTron address, he and his enormous, imposing followers — Erick Rowan and Luke Harper — emerged, lit only by flickering candlelight. Then Wyatt blew out the flame, casting Baltimore's 1st Mariner Arena into pitch blackness.
Photos: The Wyatts arrive
When the lights came up, Rowan and Harper brutally attacked The Devil's Favorite Demon in the ring. As Wyatt eerily watched from a rocking chair at ringside, his sycophants battered the big man with their fists and, eventually, the steel steps, leaving the former WWE Champion in a heap and in need of medical attention.
The Wyatt Family's shocking debut and dismantling of Kane leave more questions than answers. One thing, however, is certain: These unhinged individuals are poised to make a major impact in WWE.
During a battle between John Cena and CM Punk on Raw in June 2010, the NXT Rookies — including Daniel Bryan, Heath Slater and Darren Young — appeared and attacked both Superstars. After months of being at odds on WWE NXT, the young competitors displayed unity with black armbands and proceeded to attack everyone at ringside. No one was safe from the wrath of the group that would become known as The Nexus. They tore apart the ring and even attacked announcer Justin Roberts, leaving complete destruction in their wake.
Their motivation was simple: They all wanted guaranteed contracts, and they continued to attack Cena and WWE Superstars until their demands were met. Although the faction eventually faded, there is no denying that their debut was the most talked about event in 2010.
Just days after Mr. McMahon delivered a rousing speech to the WWE locker room about possessing “ruthless aggression,” the then-unknown Cenation leader answered the gold medalist’s challenge on SmackDown. When Angle asked Cena what made him special, the West Newbury, Mass., native cited the very trait The Chairman was looking for: ruthless aggression.
With a powerful haymaker, the future "Champ" went on the offensive and gave Kurt Angle — a former WWE Champion and one of the greatest amateur wrestlers of all time — a run for his money. In countering both the Angle Lock and Angle Slam, Cena proved he was a force to be reckoned with.
Though he was ultimately unsuccessful that evening, the Cenation leader earned the respect of his fellow Superstars, including then–Undisputed Champion The Undertaker. Since his unexpectedly intense debut, Cena has become a 12-time World Champion and one of the greatest Superstars of all time.
Presumably still under WWE contract, Hall appeared in the crowd at Nitro before making his way into the ring and addressing the world. Though he insinuated that he was still employed by WWE, Hall was indeed under WCW contract, but it marked a major defection between the organizations during the very early days the Monday Night War. Hall memorably asked, “You wanted a war?” before making it clear that he wasn’t alone.
In the weeks after Hall’s memorable arrival, Kevin Nash followed suit and eventually the duo revealed their allegiance with Hulk Hogan, leading to the formation of The New World Order.
The always outspoken Chris Jericho made his WWE debut, brazenly interrupting The Great One and introducing himself to the WWE Universe. It didn’t take long for The Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla to declare that “Raw is Jericho” and the sport-entertainment enthusiasts enthralled with the Monday Night War knew this was a major defection from WCW.
Jericho would go on to become a six-time World Champion, but his debut is still his most talked-about moment in WWE.
At Badd Blood that same year, Kane arrived in WWE to confront his sibling. The WWE Universe bore witness to The Big Red Monster’s hell, fire and brimstone for the first time during The Undertaker’s Hell in a Cell Match against European Champion Shawn Michaels. The Devil’s Favorite Demon stalked to the ring, ripping the door off the cell and standing defiantly in the face of The Phenom.
Kane wasted no time making a statement and Tombstoned his brother, allowing Michaels to win No. 1 contendership for the WWE Title. In his fiery debut, The Big Red Monster began a career that has spanned 15 years and a slew of titles, including two World Championships.