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They came from the audience: Superstars who debuted from the WWE Universe
WWE fans should never jump over the barricade and interfere with the action inside the squared circle. However, there have been times throughout WWE history when a Superstar made their debut appearing as fans. There was always a motive behind their actions and many went on to become successful WWE Superstars.
WWE Classics looks at 11 Superstars who came from the audience and the impact their actions had on the WWE Universe.
What was your favorite audience debut? Let us know in the comments below and on Facebook!
Many WWE fans remember the moment Earthquake crushed Hulk Hogan’s ribs with his patented Earthquake Splash. But before he was a destructive force that struck fear into the hearts of his opponents, the Vancouver, British Columbia, native was introduced to the WWE Universe during a strength contest between Ultimate Warrior and Dino Bravo.
On Nov. 11, 1989, Bravo and his manager Jimmy Hart decided the best way to truly test the strength of both Superstars was to select an audience member to sit on their backs as they performed pushups. The Warrior obliged, but the entire scenario was a cunning plot by The Mouth of the South. Almost immediately, Hart plucked a “surprised” Earthquake from the crowd and invited him to the squared circle.
In what appeared to be an impressive feat of strength, Bravo completed a set of pushups with The Natural Disaster on his back. When it was Warrior’s turn, however, the massive competitor attacked, revealing his true intentions. Following the brazen and devastating assault on Warrior, Earthquake was welcomed to WWE by his co-conspirators.
Rivalries between Superstars aren’t always sparked by personal animosity, a championship or differences in moral standing. There have been times throughout WWE history when cultural clashes spill over into the squared circle, representing a struggle larger than individual opposition.
That was certainly the case during WCW Saturday Night on Jan. 27, 1996. The final contest of the evening featured Dusty Wolf taking on the snobbish English elitist Lord Steven Regal. All seemed normal until two minutes into the contest when Regal was pulled out of the ring and attacked by an apparent fan.
The assault was brutal and the attacker — clad in jeans and a Northern Ireland jacket — turned to the television audience and introduced himself as “The Belfast Bruiser” Fit Finlay. The mugging may have appeared random initially as though Regal somehow upset Finlay personally. Yet during the attack, The Belfast Bruiser turned to the television audience and revealed his true motives. Finlay unleashed 400 years of pent-up Irish aggression on the Atlanta-based organization’s British noble as the conflict between Great Britain and Northern Ireland manifested in WCW.
To continue competing in WWE despite Mr. McMahon’s attempts to end Hulkamania forever, “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan adopted the personality of the patriotic Mr. America. The continuation of Hogan’s career drew the ire of longtime rival “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and his protégé, Sean O’Haire, who set out to prove Hogan and Mr. America were one and the same.
While trying to ascertain Mr. America’s true identity during an interview in “Piper’s Pit,” “Hot Rod” and O’Haire seized the opportunity to attack the red, white and blue–clad Superstar. The brutal beating left Mr. America helpless against the relentless steel chair attacks and raw power of O’Haire. Just as Piper prepared to unmask the patriotic competitor, a young fan named Zach Gowen bolted into the ring and attacked “Hot Rod” with an American flag.
The brave stand was short-lived as O’Haire quickly tackled Gowen and security tried to pull him from the ring. As Piper also joined the attack on the fan, he accidentally pulled off Gowen’s prosthetic leg. The bizarre confrontation led Piper and O’Haire away from the ring, but gave birth to a new ally for Mr. America as Gowen went on to compete throughout 2003, even battling Mr. McMahon.
In 2006, one of WWE’s most bitter rivalries raged between Trish Stratus and Mickie James. At WrestleMania 22, Mickie defeated Trish for the WWE Women’s Title and their animosity toward one another expanded even further. During their rematch at Backlash, Trish separated her shoulder — keeping her out of action and preventing her from winning back the title.
On the May 8, 2006, episode of Monday Night Raw, Trish could only watch as Mickie James decisively defeated Maria. Following the contest, Mickie continued to attack her opponent, prompting the injured Trish to come to her aid. The Women’s Champion quickly took advantage of her rival only having one good arm and unleashed a brutal savaging.
Just as WWE officials prepared to pull Mickie away from Trish, a female fan entered the ring and tackled the Women’s Champion. Security guards struggled to pull the spectator off Mickie and completely subdue her. That’s because the fan was future Women’s and Divas Champion Beth Phoenix. The Glamazon was an old acquaintance of Mickie James and claimed the then–Women’s Champion ruined her life. After a second attack the following week, Phoenix’s decorated in-ring career officially began.
One of the most beloved Superstars of all time, Hillbilly Jim was a staple of WWE in the 1980s and a frequent ally of Hulk Hogan. The alliance with The Immortal One was forged through Hillbilly Jim’s passion for WWE and desire to compete himself.
In late 1984, the 6-foot-7 Kentucky native began attending many WWE events, sitting in the front row and keeping a close eye on the action. Though he watched from the audience, Hillbilly Jim never once jumped the guardrail to assist Hogan or any other Superstars. Although, sensing Jim’s desire to step inside the squared circle, The Immortal One took the Kentuckian under his wing and began a strict training regimen with the goal of Jim becoming a WWE Superstar.
Hillbilly Jim’s training paid off and he teamed with Hogan numerous times before breaking into singles competition at The War to Settle the Score. The fun-loving Superstar retired from active competition in the early 1990s, but he remains one of the most memorable and adored competitors in WWE history. Not bad for a country boy.
Santino Marella is beloved by the WWE Universe for a lot more than just his quirky attitude or powerful Cobra strike. After all, Santino debuted directly from the WWE Universe during WWE’s first broadcast from Italy on April 16, 2007.
During Monday Night Raw, Mr. McMahon issued an open challenge for anyone in the Milan audience to challenge the Intercontinental Champion, Umaga. After scanning the WWE Universe for a moment, The Chairman zeroed in on Santino Marella and invited him to the ring for the match. With the WWE Universe in Milan in firm support of their fellow countryman, Santino amazingly held his own against the monster.
Mr. McMahon decided to make the match a No Holds Barred contest, however, allowing The Samoan Bulldozer and his manager, Armando Estrada, to decimate the eager challenger. But before Umaga and Estrada could fully humiliate Santino, 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 a two-time Intercontinental Champion, WWE Tag Team Champion and United States Champion.
Between his uncanny martial arts abilities and pulsating entrance theme, Steve Blackman was undoubtedly one of the most memorable faces of WWE’s Attitude Era. Often wielding a Kendo stick, the Superstar mixed his natural toughness with his mixed martial arts background to become a six-time WWE Hardcore Champion. His unbridled intensity made him a favorite of the WWE Universe, a characteristic he displayed from the moment he debuted.
On Nov. 3, 1997, Monday Night Raw emanated from Blackman’s home state of Pennsylvania. During the event, Vader squared off with, and defeated, The British Bulldog. Following the contest, Phil LaFon, Doug Furnas and Jim Neidhart attacked The Rocky Mountain Mastdon. As the villains unleashed a vicious beating, Blackman — in attendance as a fan — jumped over the guardrail and took down the three attackers with agile and devastating martial arts maneuvers.
Not realizing The Lethal Weapon was an ally; Vader took him down and waited for security to escort him from the arena. Blackman’s high-octane debut would ultimately set the tone for his style of competition in the coming years.
On Monday Nitro on June 30, 1997, WCW commentators made note of a familiar competitor sitting in the audience observing the action. The competitor — Raven — was known for his legendary rivalry with Tommy Dreamer in ECW, and refused to answer questions revealing his intentions for being at Nitro.
Though Raven did not get directly involved with any WCW competitors, he would compete as an unsigned free agent and often sit in the front row at WCW events. Eventually, he was joined by other competitors such as Billy Kidman, Perry Saturn, Kanyon and Van Hammer, each modeling their apparel and attitude after their leader.
Not only had Raven made his WCW debut by appearing in the audience, but he also formed The Flock in that same manner over the course of a few months. This unique approach represented everything the faction stood for as they made their own rules and did what they pleased. Since then, there has never been a competitor or group more misunderstood and self-loathing than Raven and his Flock.
Beginning on the Nov. 24, 2008, episode of Raw, WWE television cameras captured a young woman in the audience holding signs proclaiming she was then–Women’s Champion Beth Phoenix’s No. 1 fan. For weeks, the woman — Rosa Mendes — was seen at ringside wildly cheering for The Glamazon. At first, Rosa seemed like a harmless fan professing her affection for her favorite WWE Diva (and to an extent, Beth’s former beau, Santino Marella). However, as Beth confronted the No. 1 contender to her Women’s Title, Melina, Rosa hopped over the fan barricade and aided The Glamazon in attacking her rival.
The following week, Rosa was banned from WWE events, but she found a way in disguised as one of Melina’s photographers, attacking her once again. Although WWE officials frown on these types of activities, Melina did not press charges and Rosa was hired to be Santino and Beth’s intern.
The duo known as Glamarella trained Rosa over the next few months and she officially made her in-ring debut in an 18-Diva Tag Team Match.
"Sailor" Art Thomas
In the 1950s and ’60s, one of the most beloved competitors inside the squared circle was “Sailor” Art Thomas. Standing at 6-foot-6, Thomas was a physically imposing Superstar and often challenged “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers for the NWA Championship. Thomas endeared himself to fans all over the United States by the way he would answer challenges from less-than-reputable competitors.
A former Merchant Marine, Thomas often attended events dressed in his uniform and when any wrestler would taunt the crowd or take advantage of a vulnerable opponent, Thomas would jump over the guardrail and confront the nefarious competitor. As a patriotic sailor, Thomas immediately drew cheers from the crowd and when Thomas revealed his body-builder physique, the individual confronting him knew he was in trouble.
Thomas’ impressive stature was complemented by incredible quickness, which at the time was rare for a competitor of his size. Those traits made him a feared Superstar to cross, and his physical conditioning led to a career lasting more than four decades.
WWE NXT standout Emma began appearing on Monday Night Raw, sitting in the front row and wielding a sign that simply said “#Emmalution.” The Austrailian-born beauty appeared again on SmackDown, much to the chagrin of Fandango’s dance partner, Summer Rae.
After drawing the attention of the WWE Universe, Emma was called into the ring by Santino Marella to participate in a dance contest against Summer Rae. Although the classically trained Summer Rae showed off her ballroom skills, Emma’s bizarre and somewhat awkward dance moves delighted the WWE Universe, giving her a victory in the contest.