Everyone’s gotta start somewhere. Whether it’s a character whose first impressions become famous for the wrong reasons (Shockmaster) or for all the right reasons, you only get one chance to make a first impression. This week on Random Reviews, we look at a series of debut matches.
To clarify – we’re not counting small-time independent shows here, we’re looking at debuts on what could be considered a mainstream level. So, a debut on Monday Night Raw would count, whereas a debut in, say, Ohio Valley Wrestling, will not.
Yokozuna vs. Bill Jordan (WWF Superstars, aired October 31, 1992 – viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srChA4ZLhp0)
The debut of a future WWE Hall of Famer starts us off this week, as Yokozuna made his first WWE appearance on an episode of Superstars (which at the time, was one of WWE’s main shows, prior to the launch of Monday Night Raw).
Clad in a black-and-white checkerboard robe, and with the flag of Japan (albeit wrapped around the flagpole, as opposed to waving as you’d expect), Yokozuna was billed as being a 505lb former sumo wrestler, complete with red tights and a white sumo mawashi… and he also does the salt throwing gimmick as well, just to underline the Japanese heritage. At least they didn’t use the Orient Express theme music, I guess. Pointless fact: the gimmick’s name is derived from the sport of sumo wrestling, where the term “yokozuna” is given to the highest-ranked sumos in the sport.
Vince McMahon and Mr Perfect on commentary are too busy talking about the tag team scene in WWE, that they completely ignore Yokozuna until he disrobes, at which point all they seem to be able to talk about is his “girth” (a more polite way of saying “fat”). Yes, they were having problems in the early 90s with debuting new characters as well!
Sick of waiting for Yokozuna to do something after the bell rang, Jordan charges at his much bigger foe and gets a weak-looking palm strike for his efforts, before a side suplex takes him to the mat. Jordan rolls onto his front, and eats a leg drop to the back of his head, which immediately sends him into convulsions. Next up is a belly to belly suplex, before Jordan is whipped into the corner and met with Yoko’s charging backside.
Reeling from that corner splash, Jordan does a reverse Flair flop to the mat. Yokozuna capitalises by climbing to the middle rope, then launching himself onto his prone foe, landing in a seated position, as the Banzai Drop gives Yokozuna a win on his debut. This gave a new meaning to the term squash match, but there was very little here to suggest that we were watching a man who’d become WWE champion barely six months later. **
Bob Holly vs. Justin Bradshaw (WWF Superstars, aired January 27, 1996 – viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LX-5Qyhah3Q)
Fresh from another long TV taping, comes the debut of the future JBL. Although he also wrestled an enhancement talent called Tim Patterson at the same tapings, Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw’s match against (then) Jobber To The Stars Bob Holly aired first. Holly was in the post Thurman “Sparky” Plugg days of his gimmick, but was still wearing his racing-themed gear with this being several years before the JOB Squad and “Hardcore” era of his personas.
Bradshaw came out with Zebekiah as his second (of course, better known as Dutch Mantell or more recently, Zeb Coulter). The first the camera sees of him is in an impromptu face-off with a fan in the aisle, which lets the camera see his gear of a cut-off brown leather trench coat with fringe (or “what would have happened had we seen the Ultimate Stone Cold Warrior”; which I’m sure someone on the independent scene has at least thought of doing). There’s also a bullrope involved, just in case you hadn’t heard the Western-themed music, or were unsure that the Bradshaw character had some Western background to it.
The match starts by Bradshaw kicking Holly in the rear (as Holly was facing the crowd for some reason), and after a few clubbering forearms, Holly gets slammed to the mat, which gets followed up by two rapid elbow drops. The crowd is virtually silent as Holly kicks at a back body drop attempt, then fires back with punches until he eats a big boot from the bigger Bradshaw.
Bradshaw follows up with a pumphandle slam, then whips Holly into the turnbuckles several times, before getting the first near-fall of the match with a suplex. Jim Ross on commentary tries to put over Bradshaw as a loner-heel, saying that even as a Texan, he doesn’t like the Dallas Cowboys (referring to their upcoming SuperBowl victory… even in 1996, WWE were trying to shoehorn in cultural references!)
More clubbering blows to Holly follow, as does a side Russian legsweep, but Bradshaw doesn’t stay on top of his foe, and that opens the door for another Holly comeback, who hits two running clotheslines, then ducks a big boot as he looks to take down Bradshaw, with a third clothesline finally doing the job. It’s not long before Holly does the job though, after a reversed Irish whip sees Holly bounce off the turnbuckles, and into the path of a running lariat from Bradshaw – and that’s all she wrote!
Not a bad debut, but the crowd clearly didn’t care either way about the future Wrestling God. **
The Viking vs. David Isley (WWF Wrestling Challenge, aired February 17, 1991 – viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8jyhNmrn9w)
From a character that was somewhat cartoonish, to one that was a total charade – The Viking! Granted, within two months he’d been renamed as the Berzerker, but John Nord’s WWE televised debut came on a taping of Wrestling Challenge in Savannah, Georgia (the day after a Superstars taping in Macon, but that’d air after this; so technically this is his televised debut).
“Hailing from Iceland”, the Viking was already saying “Huss”, and was clad in furry boots and a navy blue vest that went to his waist, bringing with him a sword, a shield, and a metallic helmet with horns. Because he’s a Viking. Thankfully the Viking takes off the helmet and downs his weapons when the bell rings, and starts by kicking Isley in the midsection and unloading with forearms. Isley gets sent into the ropes and is taken down with a big boot, and another Irish whip sees Isley met with a dropkick. After every move, the Viking grabs his hand and yells “huss”, which is quickly grating. Body slam. Huss. Trap Isley in the ropes, then hit a chop. Huss. Running big boot to a still-trapped Isley. Huss. Face-drop suplex. Huss. Huss. Huss.
The Viking then picks up Isley for an atomic drop, but instead dumps him outside the ring, and then runs the ropes for a while as Isley gets counted out. Post-match, the Viking slingshots himself to the floor, landing on Isley in what would have been the most athletic move of his evening (had he not hit that dropkick earlier).
This was the Viking/the Berzerker’s gimmick – beating up his foes then dumping them outside the ring to win via count-out – but this match was horrible. There’s a difference between establishing a character and hitting you over the head with it… you can guess which side of the fence this fell on! DUD
Bob East vs. Doink (WWF Wrestling Challenge, aired January 31, 1993 – viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XE0CAFySImQ)
Okay, so this wasn’t Matt Borne’s WWE debut – he’d wrestled for the company as enhancement talent back in 1985 and 1986, and had even been on the original WrestleMania, in a losing effort against Tito Santana. But after years in Japan, Texas and WCW, he returned to the WWE to be the first to put on the facepaint of the demented clown known simply as Doink.
Although Borne was not long for the WWE, the character itself would go on to be played by several others in the company (and remain a fixture of low-level independents long after Borne’s untimely passing in June 2013.) The character had already appeared on TV before this, in a storyline with Crush, but this would be Doink’s in-ring debut with the WWE.
Doink came out to one of the most underrated themes in wrestling – the stereotypical circus music gone sour, as the cameramen struggle to find kids in the crowd who were on the verge of tears at seeing this evil clown. Doink’s holding a balloon animal, and goes to give it to a kid in the crowd… only to let go as the balloon flies away. What a heel!
At the bell, Doink grabs Bob East and takes him down with a variation of a Fireman’s carry that almost sees Doink’s clown mask ripped off his head, and Doink stays on top of his opponent with a single-leg Boston Crab, then transitions into a step-over toehold. Doink slaps East a few times in the toe-hold, which enrages his opponent, but his comeback stopped at “catching a kick”, which turned out to be a set-up for a nice enziguiri.
We then see Doink work a grounded hammerlock on East as they go to a split-screen format to show an inset promo, which is just a set-up for Doink to joke that he’s “armed and dangerous” (since he tricked Crush with an injury, only to use a fake/loaded arm as a weapon on the Hawaaian). Back to full-screen action now, and a dropkick takes down East, then a snap suplex, followed by a stump puller that Doink leans back on to get the victory via pinfall.
Another short match, but the polar opposite of how the Viking was debuted – a cartoony character (literally, in this case!) showcased some of his signature moves and his character, without ever coming close to grating. Chalk this one up to a good character that was perhaps a few years before its time. *
The Legion of Doom vs. Al Burke & Bob Bradley (WWF Wrestling Challenge, aired July 15, 1990 – viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBOGEs9GAoQ)
Much like the Viking, this wasn’t technically the Legion of Doom’s first night in, but given the airing schedules of Superstars and Wrestling Challenge, this one aired first. The rebranded Road Warriors were barely a month out from their last WCW appearance, winning a six-man tag at the Capital Combat.
Here, they were back in their usual role of obliterating enhancement talent in squash matches, and LOD jumped their foes at the bell, with Animal pounding on Burke in the ropes, whilst Hawk held up Bradley for a press slam. Bradley rolled out of the ring after that, allowing Animal to whip Burke into the ropes and connect with a dropkick. Animal kicks away at Burke in the corner for a while, and we get an inset promo with the (then) tag team champions Demolition.
In the ring, Animal takes down Burke with a shoulder block, then tags in Hawk who hits a dropkick of his own, followed by a big boot. Animal is tagged in and hits a kneelift before tagging Hawk quickly, and Hawk climbs to the top turnbuckle… Doomsday Device! Burke takes a flip bump, landing on his front, and the LOD get their debut win! Bob Bradley got off lightly, taking just a press slam as opposed to the punishment his partner got.
Not quite the explosive squash that you’d associate with LOD, but a perfectly acceptable debut! **
Bastion Booger vs. Virgil (WWF Superstars, aired June 19, 1993 – viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzWsCkWaclg)
We finish off with one of the worse WWE gimmicks of the 90s – Bastion Booger! A repackaging of Mike Shaw, after his initial persona of Friar Ferguson was canned after just one match, the WWE clad the Booger in grey trunks and grey straps that emphasised his belly, his man boobs and created a fake humpback to complete the hattrick. Booger was shaved bald, and even had his eyebrows shaved to two little squares above each eye – almost like a Hitler-moustache.
Booger got the no music entrance, in comparison to Virgil who got his music, entrance logo and was treated almost like a star. At the bell, Booger kicks Virgil in the midsection then clubs his back (not the first time we’ve seen that opening in this set of reviews!), but the Booger’s attach doesn’t last long when Virgil successfully ducks a clothesline, then slides through his legs before taking the bigger man down with a crossbody that almost wins it.
Virgil follows up with a headlock, but Booger directs him into the corner to force a break, and cheapshots him as the referee separates the pair. Some shots to the head follow, as a headbutt downs Virgil, as Booger follows up with a bodyslam and a leg drop. Given that Hulk Hogan was on the outs with WWE at around this time, there’s probably something to be said for the Hulkster’s big finish being given to a joke character so quickly, no?
Virgil kicks out of a lateral press following the legdrop, as Vince McMahon, “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Jerry Lawler seem to be more interested in how to brand Yokozuna’s upcoming bodyslam challenge (you know, the one that reshaped Lex Luger’s career in WWE?). As Vince drones on about how he believes “there’s an American somewhere that can slam that 550lb Yokozuna”, Booger takes down Virgil with another bodyslam. Perhaps this was an audition tape? I can really imagine Bastion Booger working well as the Disgusting Patriotic Hero… picking his nose from coast to coast!
Virgil kicks out of the bodyslam as Booger reverts to a rear chinlock, but Virgil elbows his way out of it, before leapfrogging the Booger in the corner, and going for a crucifix pin. He eventually gets the big man down, and Virgil surprises Booger on his debut! Booger would get his win back, but this was a terrible gimmick, and would find himself on the losing end of most of his matches before leaving WWE in the summer of 1994, never to return again to any of the big national promotions). *1/2
Post-match, Jerry Lawler makes use of the Telestrator that WWE’d clearly just bought, and sketched over the top of a still of Booger to demonstrate who he thought he was related to. Sadly, the resulting sketch didn’t look anything like “Macho Man” (as Lawler was going for), but did bear a resemblance to Jim Ross…
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