Your debut is probably your most important moment as a pro wrestler. After all, as the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Of course, in wrestling, you could always get repackaged, but the point remains, your debut will almost certainly make or break your career in the eyes of the fans, and those watching backstage. Do a great job, and you could even end up in the main event some day. But if you mess it up, things can go an entirely different direction. Sometimes, wrestlers have managed to overcome terrible debuts and even have great careers, but that’s the exception, not the rule. With that in mind, we’ve gathered up some of the most disastrous debuts in wrestling history, some of which were recovered from, and some that sank entire careers from the very start.
10. Big E
We may now know him as the jubilant giant of The New Day, but for his WWE main roster debut, Big E was a silent, stoic bodyguard for the pairing of Dolph Ziggler and AJ Lee. Big E actually debuted in impressive fashion, destroying John Cena at the very end of an episode of Raw, however, it was his very first match on WWE TV where he made what he believed to be an unthinkable error in judgment. While Big E strode to the ring, accompanied by AJ and Ziggler, he began flexing and waving his arms in the air as if warming up, and apparently, he forgot that there were other people following him, as he accidentally punched AJ Lee in the chest. And remember, Big E is a 300-pound powerlifter, while AJ Lee could probably play the part of Tinkerbell without needing to be shrunk down by CGI. In an interview, Big E actually called it “probably the most frightening moment in [his] career”, saying “I was expecting to turn around, see this tiny woman on the ground in a pool of blood. I don’t know what I would have done after that, probably just walk straight to the back”. Fortunately, AJ was fine, and Big E’s career survived the incident.
9. Sin Cara
The jokes and stories about Luis Urive, the original man to play Sin Cara, and his numerous botches and injuries, are pretty much endless at this point, and sadly, they’re all true. The first Sin Cara skipped a trip to WWE’s developmental facilities, and his lucha libre training did not mesh well with WWE’s style of wrestling from the very beginning, leading to bad matches, serious injuries for Sin Cara, and eventually, his quiet dismissal, while another wrestler donned the mask in his place. You could go all the way back to Sin Cara’s debut on WWE programming to see things go bad from the very start, as after weeks of hype, he appeared to save Daniel Bryan from a beatdown by Sheamus. As part of Cara’s high-flying act, a small trampoline, the sort used by gymnasts, was set up at ringside to allow him to bounce over the top rope during his entrance, in what was supposed to be a visually impressive sight. However, in his very first attempt, Sin Cara hit the trampoline awkwardly, and failed to get enough height to fully clear the ropes, flopping over them into a barely controlled roll, which was not the plan at all. It’s hard to believe that things got even worse from there for Sin Cara, but his WWE career was obviously a disaster from the very first minute.
8. The Master Blasters
Before he was an Outsider, before Diesel, even before he was Oz, Kevin Nash debuted in WCW as “Steel”, one half of the monstrous tag team, the Master Blasters. Nash had incredibly limited wrestling experience at that point (and it’s not like he ever really developed into anything more than a passable wrestler at his peak), so when we tell you that he was the better wrestler of the team, you should should understand exactly how atrocious his tag team partner, “Iron”, was in their first match, which happened at a Clash of the Champions special. “Iron” was a disaster throughout the match, blowing many simple spots and generally embarrassing everyone involved. He was essentially fired afterwards, with Al Green, a mediocre but relatively competent worker, taking over as “Blade” and becoming the official answer to the trivia question “Who was Kevin Nash’s first tag team partner”, if only because it’s never been revealed with any certainly who played the role of “Iron” for that horrible first match (in fact, we couldn’t even find a picture of him outside of some tiny, blurry screenshots from their debut match), leaving his true identity has been lost to history. Meanwhile, Nash ended up a multiple-time World Champion across WWE and WCW. Life’s funny, sometimes.
7. The Machine
Much like the ill-fated “Iron”, very few people will remember The Machine, even though he had a heavily hyped debut on an episode of WCW Thunder, against multi-time WCW Champion Diamond Dallas Page (although, to be fair, almost nobody was watching WCW Thunder in 2000). The Machine, real name Emory Hail (a protege of Jimmy Hart, seen below without his gimmick), was a giant of man, brought in under a mask that was meant to resemble a character from Nicolas Cage’s forgettable film 8MM. It’s uncertain whether he was ever actually going to be anything special, although he certainly looked impressive when he first appeared. Unfortunately, during his match with Page, some miscommunication saw Page hit the wrong set of ring ropes in an attempt to dislodge The Machine from the top turnbuckle. Forced to ad-lib, The Machine chose to leap off the turnbuckle, crotch himself on the top rope, and fall to the mat, writhing in pain, despite the fact that there had been no obvious reason for him to do so. Page eventually pinned The Machine cleanly, and the masked man was never seen again in WCW.
6. Sami Zayn
Sami Zayn toiled on the independent circuit for over a decade, then in NXT for two long years, before getting his first real chance on the main roster. And what a chance it was, as Zayn debuted as part of John Cena’s United States Open Challenge, in Zayn’s hometown of Montreal, with Canadian legend Bret Hart introducing him. Zayn was certainly fired up for his long-awaited promotoin, which, unfortunately, led to a serious problem. Before the match even began, while attempting to pump up the crowd with his trademark exuberance, Zayn managed to injure his shoulder. While he somehow managed to put on an incredible match with Cena, Zayn’s injury would be so serious that he was forced to spend the next seven months recovering, and when he returned, much to his dismay, he was back in NXT. Fortunately, Zayn’s second stint in developmental was just a tune-up for his eventual return to the main roster, which saw him make an appearance in the 2016 Royal Rumble, before returning for good in the weeks leading up to WrestleMania 32.
5. Eddie Guerrero
When Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, and Perry Saturn jumped from WCW to WWE in early 2000, it was one of the largest talent shifts between the promotions during the entire Monday Night Wars. The appearance of The Radicalz on WWE TV only days after they had been in WCW (Benoit had actually won the WCW World Title just a few weeks earlier, but vacated it immediately afterwards and left the company) was seen as one of the biggest daggers in the heart of the company. However, on TV, they were forced to win a “Best of Three” series of matches against D-Generation X in order to earn contracts. With his team already down 0-1, Guerrero attempted to perform his Frog Splash finisher, and somehow gruesomely dislocated his elbow in the process. Since he was unable to continue, the booking changed on the fly, with Guerrero taking a pin instead, making the planned third match, a main event bout between Triple H and Benoit, completely irrelevant (they would still have the match, which Triple H won). Guerrero was forced to the sidelines for several weeks, only making his return to action at WrestleMania, hurting The Radicalz momentum in the process.
4. Daniel Bryan
Everyone once in a while, wrestling fans should thank their lucky stars that we got to see as much Daniel Bryan in WWE as we did, given that he was actually fired the day after his main roster debut. Already a fan favorite thanks to his work on WWE’s fledgling NXT program (back when it was a “reality” competition and not the developmental program we have today), Bryan, along with the other participants in the first season of the show, made a shocking appearance in the main event of Raw, attacking John Cena, destroying the ring, and leaving chaos in their wake. Amidst everything that was going on, Bryan decided to take down ring announcer Justin Roberts and choke him with his own necktie, which made for an incredible visual and underlined the brutality of the attack. However, someone in authority (it was never clearly stated who, but many pointed the figure at an executive with Mattel, who had just signed a massive deal with WWE to produce action figures for the company) had serious issues with Bryan violently choking a non-wrestler on TV, and the decision was made to fire Bryan immediately. This caused problems with the ensuing Nexus angle, as Bryan, by far the most experienced of the NXT stable, had been expected to carry things on the wrestling side for the group, and the angle floundered straight out of the gate as a result. Luckily, fan backlash against WWE saw them re-hire Bryan almost immediately, having him debut as a surprise opponent against the Nexus at SummerSlam.
3. Shawn Michaels
As hard as it might be to believe, we nearly didn’t get Shawn Michaels in a WWE ring, thanks to a combination of things which would end up dogging him for most of his early career. As the Midnight Rockers, Michaels and his partner, Marty Jannetty, rose to fame in the AWA before being lured away by Vince McMahon, making their WWE debut in 1987. After taping a single match with the company, the Rockers were apparently encouraged to go out and celebrate with the rest of the roster. At this point, it’s well known that both Michaels and Jannetty battled with substance abuse issues and alcoholism over their careers, and this would be the first (but not the last time) those problems would sidetrack them. Two weeks after being hired, the Rockers were summarily fired, as their hard-partying attitude had raised some eyebrows among the higher-ups in WWE, and it was determined that they simply weren’t mature enough to be trusted. Shawn Michaels himself has repeatedly told the tale of Vince McMahon complimenting Shawn’s boots, then telling him “they’re made for walking, you know”, right before they were terminated. Fortunately for future fans of HBK, they were hired back roughly a year later.
These days, Edge may be a WWE Hall of Famer, a 31-time champion, and a reasonably successful actor, but things nearly went drasticaly awry in his very first televised WWE match. After lurking around WWE arenas in a trenchcoat for weeks, Edge was set to make his debut in an squash match against Jose Estrada Jr, a member of the Los Boricuas stable. During the match, Edge attempted a high-risk somersault senton move on Estrada outside the ring. Unfortunately, something went horribly wrong, and Estrada crumpled in a heap, unable to move. The match immediately ended, with Edge awarded a countout victory, and it was later revealed that Estrada had suffered a broken neck during the attempted move. After a lengthy recovery period, Estrada’s career would continue, although he left WWE and retired shortly afterwards. Edge was fortunate to escape serious consequences for the tragic accident, and went on to have a lengthy and incredibly successful career in WWE. Ironically, Edge himself was eventually forced to retire due to neck issues of his own.
1. The Shockmaster
At this point, we almost feel bad for mocking this poor guy. Intended to be the big surprise partner for Sting and Davey Boy Smith in their upcoming WarGames match, The Shockmaster’s big reveal involved him bursting through a wall…and then falling on his face. In the years after his massively embarrassing tumble, it was revealed that at some point in between rehearsing the spot and the actual event, someone had nailed a support beam across the lower part of the wall in order to make it more stable, but failed to inform The Shockmaster of that fact. As a result, instead of stepping over the new obstruction, he walked straight into it, resulting in a moment that has lived in wrestling infamy forever. The Shockmaster still competed at WarGames after the incident, repackaged into a character that was portrayed as being exceedingly clumsy, but the entire gimmick was abandoned shortly afterwards. Of course, we’re still not sure how dressing a guy up in a glittery Stormtrooper helmet was supposed to help him get over in the first place, but we’ll never know how things might have turned out.