The Coolest WCW Debuts Of All Time

For wrestling fans of a certain generation, there was never a more exciting time in the business than the 1980s and 1990s. The exponential growth of the World Wrestling Federation, followed by the later growth of World Championship Wrestling, fueled an era of superstar movement, compelling television, and some of the best matches the industry would ever see.


With the growth of the internet over the last couple of decades, it's rare for fans to be surprised by the debut of a wrestler with a new promotion in today's world. Almost every time, there's some kind of heads up by a website or a social media post spoiling things. Sure, there were wrestling newsletters and hotlines around in the 1980s and 1990s, but the fraction of fans who were accessing that information in real time during that era was incredibly low. Today, seemingly everyone is plugged into what is happening backstage.

We'll probably never again experience a period in wrestling where there was the feeling that anyone could show up at any time, jumping from one national promotion to another, but its fun to look back at some of the best moments in the past when this occurred.


Let's examine the best debuts (or re-debuts) from the since-vanquished WCW.

Rick Rude - WCW Halloween Havoc 1991

Rude left the WWF shortly before Survivor Series 1990, a show which he was originally scheduled to be featured on by teaming with the Natural Disasters against a team led by Hulk Hogan and The Big Boss Man (who Rude was beginning to feud with). Instead, it was revealed on TV that Rude had been suspended "indefinitely." In reality, he had a dispute with the company over his booking, and Rude was also upset over the payoff that he received for his SummerSlam match with Ultimate Warrior.


Rude spent most of 1991 working independents and even All Japan Pro Wrestling. He signed with WCW late in the year, making his first appearance at Halloween Havoc. Rude debuted under a mask as The Halloween Phantom and had a brief match against Tom Zenk, but it was the promo later in the show that's legendary. Introducing Rude, Paul E. Dangerously (Heyman) cut an incredible anti-authority promo. He said The Halloween Phantom was the man who could defeat Sting and help him bankrupt WCW. 

Paul E. screamed, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, rest in peace Stinger, your career is over. Ladies and gentlemen, the next United States Heavyweight Champion, Ravishing Rick Rude!" Rude said all he cared about is himself, his women, and his money. He declared he was there to help Paul E. send a message to the world title committee by dismantling the promotion brick-by-brick.


Rude went on to have a great WCW run, capped off by defeating Ric Flair for the WCW International World Heavyweight Title at Fall Brawl 1993. Unfortunately, his in-ring career would end shortly thereafter when he suffered a back injury during a tour of Japan in the spring of 1994.

Hulk Hogan - WCW Bash at the Beach 1994

Hulk Hogan's arrival in WCW in 1994 laid the groundwork for the company eventually overtaking WWF in the ratings war, and it opened the door for even more former WWF stars to make their way south. While WCW had been a national promotion led by Ric Flair and Sting, it always felt like it was a tier below the WWF. That changed, optically at least, with the arrival of Hogan.


Hogan finished up with WWF in 1993. His last televised match for the promotion came against Yokozuna at King of the Ring, but he continued working house shows through August 1993. Hogan began appearing on WCW television while filming "Thunder In Paradise" in early 1994. He eventually revealed he was joining the promotion to face Ric Flair at Bash at the Beach. Hogan's signing with the company was filmed for television at Disney-MGM studios in June, complete with a parade.

Accompanied by Mr. T, Shaquille O'Neal, and Jimmy Hart, Hogan defeated Flair for the WCW World Championship in his first match with the promotion in the main event of Bash at the Beach. This was the first-ever PPV match between Hogan and Flair, presented as a dream match to the television audience. Hogan and Flair had worked several house show matches while the two were in the WWF, but a major PPV match was never booked between the two during their time there.


Bash at the Beach did 225,000 PPV buys, the most in the history of the promotion at that point and more than double what most of their PPVs had been doing for the previous two years.

Randy Savage - WCW Saturday Night 1994

The debut of "Macho Man" Randy Savage in WCW didn't need to happen. The two-time WWF World Champion never wanted to leave Vince McMahon's company. However, it was becoming increasingly clear that McMahon wanted to pivot Savage into retirement and broadcasting exclusively, while Savage believed that he had plenty of gas left in the tank for another big run in the ring. Savage bet on himself and was proven to be correct.


Savage jumped ship to WCW in late 1994 (taking his lucrative Slim Jim sponsorship with him). He first appeared on the December 3, 1994 edition of "WCW Saturday Night" on TBS. Savage made it clear in that first promo that he wanted to be world champion again, and he also spoke about the fact that he and Hogan had an on-again, off-again friendship. Would they team or would they feud? Either way, seeing Savage debut in WCW after all those years in WWF as a stop star was jaw-dropping. And the prospect of he and Hogan either as a tag team or rivals once more was enthralling. 

Savage appeared at the Starrcade PPV event later in the month, saving his old friend Hogan from an attack by The Three Faces of Fear (Kevin Sullivan, Avalanche, and The Butcher) and officially aligning himself with his former Mega Powers tag team partner. It would take nearly a year, though, until Savage would once again hold a world title, which he had alluded to in his debut. He spent much of 1995 feuding with his old rival Ric Flair and even participated in a U.S. title tournament (where he wrestled Steve Austin just months before the future "Stone Cold" would jump to WWF). Finally, Savage again captured the world title at November 1995's World War 3 PPV event. 


Lex Luger - WCW Nitro Debut Episode

WCW set the tone for the period known as the Monday Night Wars on the first edition of "WCW Nitro," emanating from the Mall of America in Minneapolis.

Lex Luger had been a top star in WCW years earlier, but he had moved over to the WWF in 1992. While he did receive a big push, Luger never took off quite like Vince McMahon had wanted. Even so, McMahon probably figured Luger would stay with the promotion when his contract ended in 1995.


If so, he was wrong.

Luger finished up his time with WWF at a house show in Nova Scotia on Sunday, September 3, 1995 and made a surprise appearance live on "WCW Nitro" the very next day, September 5. Everyone watching was shocked, fans, executives, and wrestlers alike. It set the tone perfectly for the ensuing Monday Night Wars, an era where anything could happen.

Luger casually walked down the corridor in the Mall of America in a buttoned white dress shirt during the Sting vs. Ric Flair match. Nobody knew why he was there at first. Eventually, it became known he wanted a shot at Hulk Hogan's WCW World Championship. The two faced off one week later, where Hogan won via disqualification.

Luger's feud with Hogan had him join the Dungeon of Doom stable for a period of about five months. By the summer of 1996, Luger was out of the group and teaming with his friend Sting (who had been instrumental in bringing him back to WCW) just as some more former WWF stars were jumping ship to WCW to kickstart the hottest period in company history with the formation of the NWO.


Scott Hall - WCW Nitro 1996

Memorial Day 1996 is a date etched into the minds of wrestling fans around the world. May 27, 1996 to be exact. On that night, during a live edition of "WCW Nitro," Scott Hall made his surprising debut for WCW.


The former multi-time WWF Intercontinental Champion Razor Ramon showed up in the rival promotion seemingly still portraying his old character, complete with toothpick and accent. In fact, that's what he and WCW wanted the fans to think. This was an invasion, something wrestling fans had only dreamed about.

"You people, you know who I am, but you don't know why I'm here," Hall declared on the microphone that night.

Hall was an outsider and there were more on the way. On June 17, "Nitro" began its stretch of defeating "WWF Raw" in the ratings for 83 straight weeks. By July, the original incarnation of the NWO would be formed during the Bash at the Beach PPV. Hall hinted at that match during his debut, noting that he had a challenge for anyone at WCW who wanted one.


"You want a war? You're gonna get one," Hall declared at the end of the segment.

Rey Mysterio - WCW Great American Bash 1996

Rey Mysterio had already been wrestling professionally for seven years by the time he showed up in WCW at the age of 21 in June 1996. Already on his way to becoming a legend in Mexico, Mysterio had also wrestled in North America's ECW.


Mysterio's debut came as part of a very good Great American Bash PPV event in Baltimore on June 16, 1996. He challenged reigning WCW Cruiserweight Champion Dean Malenko for the title that night, and this would be far from the last time the two would work against one another in front of the cameras for WCW. They worked a great match that was just short of 20 minutes together, and it showcased their contrasting technical (Malenko) and high flying (Mysterio) styles. 

While Mysterio lost the match, he turned a lot of heads in the process. This appreciation came from not just the fans, but also the boys in the locker room who hours earlier were skeptical of the budding star when they saw him backstage.


"I remember walking in the locker room and Sting, Lex (Luger) and all the big guys were almost laughing like, you got to be kidding me. This kid got a driver's license?" Malenko recalled on "Talk Is Jericho."

They soon found out that what Mysterio lacked in height, he made up for in talent. Mysterio received a standing ovation afterward from those same wrestlers backstage after his match with Malenko. 

Kevin Nash - WCW Nitro 1996

"This is where the big boys play, huh?"

After Hall's arrival on the Memorial Day edition of "WCW Nitro," he promised that a friend would join him soon. A big man. That friend ended up being none other than Kevin Nash, the former WWF World Champion who had been previously known as Diesel (he had also previously been known as Oz in WCW, but we won't go down that road). Nash debuted on the June 10, 1996 edition of "WCW Nitro," joining his friend Hall at the announce position as he was pushing around and harassing Eric Bischoff. Nash and Hall were itching for a fight, with Nash calling out Hogan and Savage and making fun of WCW advertising themselves as "where the big boys play." Nash said they weren't here to play. 


The Outsiders then showed up at the Great American Bash PPV event, where Bischoff had promised he would announce if he could get them a fight. This would result in a match at the following month's Bash at the Beach PPV. Hall and Nash promised that they would have a third man join them that eventual match that would see them face Sting, Randy Savage, and Lex Luger. Memorably, Nash gave Bischoff a Jackknife Powerbomb off of the Great American Bash stage and through a table to close the segment. 

Of course, that man who would join Hall and Nash ended up being none other than Hulk Hogan, turning heel for the first time since early in his career. The result was the formation of the original NWO and a new boom period for pro wrestling.


Bill Goldberg - WCW Nitro 1997

Bill Goldberg's arrival on the scene in 1997 marked a major shift in WCW's trajectory, one that would reach its apex with Goldberg winning the WCW World Heavyweight Championship from Hulk Hogan the following summer at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta — one of the biggest and most successful editions of "WCW Nitro" in history.


Goldberg's rise through the ranks was a slow build. After working some house shows and "WCW Saturday Night" tapings throughout the summer of 1997, Goldberg made his "WCW Nitro" debut on September 22, 1997 against Hugh Morrus. The match was very much indicative of what was to come for the WCW icon — a showcase of power and agility.

But he debuted as a complete unknown with nothing in the way of hype. Tony Schiavone remarked on commentary that Goldberg was "a man we know absolutely nothing about" but said he looked "very determined." Even Mike Tenay, typically touted as a wrestling encyclopedia on "Nitro" broadcasts, stated he knew nothing about the new wrestler. 

Early in the match, Goldberg reversed an arm bar and put Morrus into a leg lock. Morrus came back with a big clothesline and hit his signature moonsault off the top rope for a near fall. The announcers were stunned that Goldberg kicked out of the move, and Goldberg came back with two big power slams and then hit his Jackhammer finisher for the pinfall.


"Bill Goldberg, out of obscurity, comes to 'Nitro' and pulls a major upset," Schiavone declared on commentary. 

He would go on to work his way up the ladder throughout the rest of the year, turning many heads along the way. By the following summer, WCW saw dollar signs and made the move — Goldberg captured the world title in the aforementioned match against Hogan at the Georgia Dome on July 6.

Bam Bam Bigelow - WCW Nitro 1998

Scott "Bam Bam" Bigelow was already a legendary big man in the wrestling industry when he made his return to World Championship Wrestling in 1996. He was also no stranger to the territory, having worked there briefly in the late 1980s and 1990 after a successful WWF run. Bigelow was also continually working for New Japan Pro-Wrestling, which ended up cutting that initial WCW/Jim Crockett Promotions run short. 


The mid-1990s were kind to Bigelow as his star continued to rise, so much so that in 1995 he headlined WWF's WrestleMania XI alongside NFL star Lawrence Taylor. However, shortly after that, Bigelow returned to the independent scene, Japan, and even had a run with ECW.

Then, in late 1998, Bigelow made a shocking return to WCW for a lucrative contract that paid him over $400,000 per year. He hardly could have been debuted in a bigger way, as Bigelow shocked the crowd on the November 16 edition of "Nitro" by interrupting a match between Scott Putski and Chavo Guerrero Jr. After taking out both men, Bigelow called out WCW World Champion Bill Goldberg. Out came the champion (along with a ton of security) for a memorable face-off.


Bigelow's feud with Goldberg would stretch over the next few months. Bigelow helped cost Goldberg the title at Starrcade and eventually wrestled him one-on-one at SuperBrawl IX in February. Over the next several months, Bigelow captured the WCW Tag Team and Hardcore Championships, but nothing was as good as that initial debut and feud with Goldberg. 

Mike Awesome - WCW Nitro 1999

Much like Bam Bam Bigelow, Mike Awesome also became frustrated with his paychecks not cashing while part of ECW. The difference between he and Bigelow, though? Awesome was the ECW World Heavyweight Champion when he decided to bounce. 


Awesome shocked the wrestling world on the April 10, 2000 edition of "WCW Nitro." Still ECW's reigning champion, Awesome showed up on "Nitro" during a Kevin Nash promo and attacked him from behind. This was part of his introduction as a new member of The New Blood, a faction consisting of most of WCW's younger stars that was being led by Eric Bischoff and Vince Russo. The story was that they were going to take down The Millionaire's Club, which was the side of the roster of most of the legacy and older stars. The story didn't last long because the fans didn't get behind The New Blood as planned, and creative direction under Bischoff and Russo was less than optimal, to say the least.

However, it's hard to deny that Awesome's initial debut was very memorable. It also led to a crazy situation where a WCW contracted wrestler (Awesome) and a WWF contracted wrestler (Tazz) met in a match at an ECW house show in Indianapolis so that Awesome could drop the ECW World Championship that he still held. Tazz then lost the title a week later to Tommy Dreamer, who then dropped it minutes afterward to Justin Credible.