The 10 best rookie years
Being a rookie is tough. Veterans stuff you in lockers. Divas snub you in the cafeteria. Michael Cole struggles to remember your name.
The truth is, it often takes new Superstars a little time to make their mark inside the ring. Others, however, make an immediate impact from the second they arrive and force their way to the top.
From Brock Lesnar to Kurt Angle, here are 10 Superstars who altered the sports-entertainment landscape during their rookie campaigns. Fandango and Big E Langston would be wise to take note.
Which Superstar do you think had the best rookie year? Let us hear about on the WWE Classics Facebook page.
The Native American was on the warpath in WWE when he debuted in 1992. Tatanka cut down the competition with hard chops and big slams. He was unstoppable during his rookie campaign, going undefeated for more than a year, a feat few in WWE history have accomplished. ( WATCH) Although Rick “The Model” Martel tried multiple times to upend the rookie, going as low as to steal the Native American’s sacred feathers, Tatanka’s composure was unshakeable, leaving “The Model” looking up at the lights every time they met. Tatanka’s early success is a perfect example of what rookies can do when the bell rings.
Shane McMahon had been doing odd jobs for his father’s company as far back as WrestleMania VI where he popped up as a referee, but the fortunate son didn’t have his first match until the tail end of ’98. Then a big talking member of Mr. McMahon’s Corporation, the young executive soon found himself trying to back up his loud mouth in the ring against serious opponents like X-Pac and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. WWE fans groaned at the sight of another non-wrestler stepping through the ropes, but they were soon shocked to find out that Shane-O-Mac was actually good. Really good. ( WATCH)
Winning the European Championship from X-Pac in February of '99, Shane went on to defeat the DX member in a rematch at WrestleMania XV. From there, he teamed with his dad to beat The Texas Rattlesnake at King of the Ring and held his own against Test in a memorable brawl at SummerSlam.
It shouldn’t have been so surprising that a 6’4”, 275-pound warrior like Sheamus would have the impact that he did — it’s just that nobody saw it coming.
First making waves in ECW on Syfy where he thumped his way through talented veterans like Shelton Benjamin and Goldust, The Celtic Warrior raged onto Raw in October of 2009 and proceeded to end Jamie Noble’s career with a powerbomb on the arena floor, ruthlessly attack timekeeper Mark Yeaton and put his boot in Jerry Lawler’s mouth.
Less than two months later, Sheamus defeated John Cena for the WWE Title by driving the Cenation leader through the pine in a Tables Match. ( WATCH) The Celtic Warrior would go on to win a Slammy Award for “Breakout Superstar of the Year,” beat Triple H in a Street Fight and capture the WWE Championship for a second time all before his rookie year was through.
Does the term “Eurocontinental Champion” mean anything to you? If you were following Kurt Angle’s initial year in WWE it would.
As the first Olympic gold medalist to enter WWE, the wrestling machine walked in with a ton of hype surrounding his debut, but the pressure never got to Angle. Instead, it fueled him. Tearing apart hapless opponents with his devastating arsenal of suplexes and submissions, the Pittsburgh native slammed his way through the likes of Chris Jericho and Val Venis to win both the Intercontinental and European Titles within months of his first match.
Before his rookie year was through, Angle defeated The Rock to win the WWE Championship, becoming the first man to win a gold medal and that coveted title. ( WATCH)
It would be hard to miss Yokozuna when he entered WWE. Few could match the strength of the 6-foot-4, 500-plus pound mammoth. The sumo champion literally crushed the competition beginning in late 1992. His massive size gave him a big advantage in the 1993 Royal Rumble Match, where he easily outlasted 29 other Superstars to earn a WWE Championship opportunity at WrestleMania IX. Yokozuna shocked the WWE Universe by defeating Bret “Hit Man” Hart to capture the title. He lost it minutes later to Hulk Hogan, but gained retribution by defeating The Hulkster to regain the title in June 1993. ( WATCH) Yokozuna dominated WWE as champion for the next year, rebuffing attempts by Lex Luger and The Undertaker to wrestle the title away from him. The monster’s impressive career earned him a place in the WWE Hall of Fame’s 2012 class.
Shockwaves were sent through WCW when a giant appeared, seemingly out of nowhere in 1995. The seven-foot-tall monster set his sights on the top dog in the company, Hulk Hogan. Introducing himself as a descendant of Andre The Giant, he wanted to gain revenge on the man who vanquished The Eighth Wonder of the World years ago. Simply known as The Giant, the monstrous competitor joined the rank and file of the Dungeon of Doom, whose sole purpose was to end Hulkamania. The Giant gave them their best chance at that year’s Halloween Havoc. Following a monster truck battle earlier in the evening, The Giant and Hogan did battle for the WCW World Championship in the ring. Unlike his WrestleMania III battle with Andre, The Hulkster fell to the seven-footer. The Giant became the youngest WCW Champion at 23, and went on to enjoy a successful career in both WCW and WWE as Big Show. ( WATCH)
Alberto Del Rio
The Money in the Bank briefcase. The Royal Rumble Match. The WWE Championship. In one year, Alberto Del Rio grabbed more coveted prizes than most Superstars capture in their entire career. And he barely mussed his perfect hair while doing it. ( WATCH)
Born into wrestling royalty in the Mexican city of San Luis Potosi, the privileged competitor was trained in the combat arts since he was old enough to throw a punch. By the time he arrived in WWE in the summer of 2010, Del Rio had the audacity and the acumen to immediately target Rey Mysterio — and beat him. The Mexican Aristocrat’s momentum rarely slowed from there as he won the Royal Rumble Match in January, the Raw Money in the Bank Ladder Match in July and the WWE Title at August’s SummerSlam — just a week shy of his one year anniversary. If Del Rio can accomplish that in 365 days, imagine what he can do in a decade.
On Sept. 22, 1997, an unknown, but physically intimidating rookie named Bill Goldberg made his WCW debut by mowing down the massive Hugh Morrus in commanding fashion. Less than one year later on July 6, the mighty competitor defeated Hulk Hogan in front of more than 40,000 fans in the Georgia Dome to win the WCW World Heavyweight Title. In the time in-between these milestones, the powerhouse from Atlanta barreled through every unfortunate man in tights WCW had hanging out in the locker room during an undefeated streak that became the stuff of sports-entertainment legend. ( WATCH)
From September of 1997 to Dec. 27, 1998, Goldberg won 173 consecutive matches without a single loss and defeated the likes of Diamond Dallas Page, The Giant and Jerry Flynn more times than the WWE Classics team can count The awesome streak drove Goldberg to the forefront of WCW as fans bought tickets by the thousands just to watch the destruction, turning the former Atlanta Falcon into a sports-entertainment megastar in record time.
Two distinct personas debuted at the 1990 Survivor Series. One was a six-foot-tall turkey named The Gobbledy Gooker who danced in the ring with Mean Gene Okerlund while a bored Hartford Civic Center audience groaned along. The other was The Undertaker.
Introduced as the mystery member of The Million Dollar Man’s Survivor Series squad, The Deadman sent a chill through the capacity crowd as he strode down the aisle in his dusty trench coat and proceeded to stoically dispose of Koko B. Ware and Dusty Rhodes within minutes. The Demon from Death Valley continued from there as he haunted Ultimate Warrior, stuffed fallen opponents in body bags and defeated the unstoppable Hulk Hogan for the WWE Title. ( WATCH)
More than two decades later, The Undertaker was still one of the most popular Superstars in WWE. Now, whatever happened to The Gobbledy Gooker?
Brock Lesnar set the bar by which all WWE rookies are judged.
From the moment he charged into a WWE ring in March 2002, Lesnar made it clear that destruction was his objective. He blazed a trail of carnage during his rookie year, steamrolling Superstars like Hulk Hogan, Rob Van Dam and numerous others while picking up the King of the Ring crown. His meteoric rise came to a head at SummerSlam that year, when he faced off against one of the biggest Superstars in history, The Rock, for the Undisputed WWE Championship. The Great One’s finesse was no match for the unbridled fury of Lesnar, who defeated The Rock to capture sports-entertainment’s top prize. ( WATCH)
Dubbed “The Next Big Thing” upon his arrival, Brock Lesnar became the big thing in WWE in five months and reached new heights by WrestleMania XIX, where he regained the WWE Title from Kurt Angle in a thrilling match.