Ranking Chris Jericho and the Greatest Debuts in Wrestling History

Philip LindseyContributor IApril 23, 2021

Ranking Chris Jericho and the Greatest Debuts in Wrestling History

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    Photo credit: WWE.com

    An effective debut can make or break a wrestler's career.

    For example, Thunder Rosa's menacing foray into NWA Powerrr in October 2019 made her a star with niche fans overnight and put her on the trajectory to win the company's women's championship and eventually burst onto network television with the title in tow to challenge Hikaru Shida on AEW Dynamite.

    Similarly, Paige made her first appearance on the Raw after WrestleMania 30 in 2014 and defeated AJ Lee to end her 296-day reign as Divas champion. The surprise debut and title win cemented The Diva of Tomorrow as the next big star of a division that was quickly changing directions.

    Not everyone is lucky enough to win gold straight away, but some stars created an undeniable presence that helped them to become household names.

    As the final member of Ted DiBiase's team, The Undertaker stole the show in his debut at Survivor Series 1990. In a dominant performance, The Deadman scored two eliminations and made up for the infamous Gobbledy Gooker reveal, which fell flat after months of teases.

    The Phenom's first pay-per-view set the standard for what WWE could do with surprise debuts at their annual event. It laid the groundwork for many others, so without further ado let's take a look at the 10 best debuts in wrestling history.

Honorable Mentions

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    There have been countless introductory appearances from stars like The Undertaker and Paige that rightfully belong on any list of the greatest debut in wrestling history.

    They both could make the top 10 along with these honorable mentions.

    Deonna Purrazzo: Impact

    After an uneventful run with WWE, Deonna Purrazzo made the move to Impact last year.

    After her initial vignette in May, The Virtuosa immediately made a splash on the June 9 episode of the company's flagship show, using her trademark Fujiwara Armbar to ground Knockouts champion Jordynne Grace.

    This created so much positive buzz for the former NXT prospect, and she rode that momentum to a title win a month later at Slammiversary.

             

    Kenta: New Japan Dominion 2019

    Kenta's disastrous trek to the United States as Hideo Itami was riddled with injuries and flat-out bad luck.

    In 2019, The Japanese legend returned to his homeland to reintroduce the world to his hard-hitting style of wrestling. Surprisingly, the 40-year-old made his debut for New Japan Pro-Wrestling with the approval of his longtime friend, Katsuyori Shibata, and entered the G1 Climax.

    This was a big deal because Kenta had made a name for himself with Pro Wrestling Noah, and Japanese wrestlers routinely remain loyal to the company they started with.

    Although the former GHC heavyweight champion did well in his G1 Climax appearance, he became unpopular with the fans and ultimately joined the Bullet Club. The move was one of the hottest heel turns of the year.

               

    Ronda Rousey: Royal Rumble 2018

    Ronda Rousey shook up the world in 2018 when she made a surprise appearance after the first women's Royal Rumble match.

    The Baddest Woman on the Planet received a raucous reaction as she pointed to the WrestleMania 35 sign wearing "Rowdy" Roddy Piper's leather jacket.

    This moment set up one of the best rookie years in recent memory as the former MMA fighter went on to make her in-ring debut at The Showcase of the Immortals in April and headline the event as Raw women's champion a year later.

           

    Brock Lesnar: Raw (March 18, 2002)

    Speaking of crossover MMA stars, Brock Lesnar decimated Al Snow, Maven and Spike Dudley on the March 18, 2002 episode of Raw.

    Billed as The Next Big Thing, he went on to become the King of the Ring winner a few months later and defeated The Rock for the undisputed title at SummerSlam. The youngest WWE champion has had an illustrious career since, accumulating world title reigns.

               

    Finn Balor: NXT/WWE Draft 2016

    Prince Devitt may be one of the most influential wrestlers of the last decade as the founder of Bullet Club. As such, his leap to the U.S. was bound to be successful.

    In September 2014, Finn Balor joined NXT and teamed up with another big name from Japan, Hideo Itami, to create this dream team of stars from NJPW and Pro Wrestling Noah. The rest is history.

    Balor became extremely popular as the NXT champion who guided the developmental brand into its formative era. Then, he had a second debut of sorts on the main roster as the fifth overall pick in the 2016 WWE draft.

    On that night, the newest member of the Raw roster defeated Rusev, Cesaro, and Kevin Owens in a Fatal Four-Way and Roman Reigns in a one-on-one match to become the No. 1 contender for the Universal Championship.

    At SummerSlam, The Extraordinary Man bested Seth Rollins to win the newly established title.

           

    The Nexus: Raw (June 7, 2010)

    Last fall, a group of masked anarchists destroyed the Performance Center on the Aug. 7 episode of SmackDown. What would become Retribution essentially mimicked what The Nexus did so much better 10 years ago on the June 7 edition of Raw.

    When the crop of prospects from the first season of NXT did it, it was shocking and new. Their debut made this new stable an unpredictable threat under the leadership of Wade Barrett.

10. Tazz: WWE Royal Rumble 2000

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    With ECW, Tazz earned a reputation as one of the toughest men in the industry in the late 1990s. So much so that his fame among indie fans preceded him when he joined WWE in January 2000.

    At the Royal Rumble, The Human Suplex Machine received a hero's welcome in his hometown as he entered Madison Square Garden to challenge Kurt Angle. Then, Tazz proceeded to dominate the Olympic gold medalist, forcing him to pass out and ending his undefeated streak.

    This was arguably the highlight of the Long Island native's career. Unfortunately, it didn't grant him a successful run with the company like it should have. That's the only reason he didn't land higher on this list. Nevertheless, the ovation he received made for an unforgettable debut.

9. AJ Styles: WWE Royal Rumble 2016

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    In January 2016, AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura delivered a classic match in the Tokyo Dome at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 10. This seismic event changed the wrestling world because it was their last appearance at the world-famous Japanese arena.

    The following day, Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks effectively formed what would become The Elite as they unceremoniously kicked Styles out of Bullet Club. This created anticipation for news on where the former IWGP heavyweight champion would end up next.

    Fans didn't have to wait long for answers as The Phenomenal One finally made his way to WWE as the third entrant in the 2016 Royal Rumble match.

    As he entered the Amway Center to a sizable reaction to face Roman Reigns, viewers could see the surprise and emotions wash over Styles' face when he realized WWE fans knew who he was.

    Eight months later, he defeated Dean Ambrose to win the company's top prize at Backlash.

8. Adam Cole: NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III

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    In 2017, Adam Cole joined a long list of Ring of Honor stars who signed with WWE. The former ROH world champion made his surprise debut following the main event of NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III.

    As Drew McIntyre ascended to the top of the black-and-gold brand as new NXT champion, Bobby Fish and Kyle O'Reilly distracted him long enough for Cole to attack him from behind. The trio formed The Undisputed Era on that fateful night as the crowd welcomed the new arrival by chanting his name.

    When the new faction got to the top of the ramp, the crowd repeated the new signing's catchphrase, "Adam Cole Bay Bay," as he raised his arms above his head. It was a pleasant surprise and one of the most epic NXT debuts to date.

7. The Shield: WWE Survivor Series 2012

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    Sierra, Hotel, India, Echo, Lima, Delta. The Shield is easily one of the greatest wrestling stables of all time. The act famously launched the WWE careers of Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, and Dean Ambrose.

    The dominant trio of NXT call-ups debuted at Survivor Series 2012. During the main event, The Hounds of Justice came out of the crowd and swarmed on Ryback, pelting him with punches and kicks. Finally, they triple-powerbombed him through the commentary desk to help CM Punk retain his WWE title.

    The three men went on an incredible run together and eventually became fixtures in the company's world title picture as single competitors.

6. Shinsuke Nakamura: NXT Takeover: Dallas/SmackDown

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    While AJ Styles' long and well-earned journey to WWE was one of the biggest headlines of 2016, Shinsuke Nakamura's signing a month later was certainly no footnote.

    The Japanese wrestler was the biggest star to join NXT, and his press conference in Tokyo was proof of its significance.

    Ahead of NXT TakeOver: Dallas, The King of Strong Style appeared on the screen behind William Regal as Sami Zayn's opponent for the event. His arrival was an exciting time for NXT fans, and the former IWGP Intercontinental champion didn't disappoint. His charismatic entrance thrilled the crowd, and he and Zayn delivered a critically acclaimed match during WrestleMania weekend.

    Strangely, WWE Superstars who start with the black-and-gold brand essentially have two debuts and Nakamura's main roster debut is still one of the most electrifying entrances ever.

    It's impossible not to get chills as Lee England Jr. plays his theme song on the violin and the crowd sings along when The Artist debuted on SmackDown following WrestleMania 33.

5. John Cena: WWE SmackDown (June 27, 2002)

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    John Cena is the biggest WWE star since the Attitude Era. His debut kicked off the Ruthless Aggression Era and cemented him as the next up-and-coming Superstar.

    On the June 27, 2002 episode of SmackDown, he answered Kurt Angle’s open challenge and famously proclaimed he had the "ruthless aggression" Vince McMahon demanded.

    Cena lost a competitive match, but his strong showing gained the respect of the audience and The Undertaker, who approached him afterward.

    It took some time for The Cenation Leader to become the massive star we know today, but this moment put him on the path to greatness.

4. Kevin Owens: NXT TakeOver: R Evolution/Raw

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    Kevin Owens is the second former ROH world champion to make this list and with good reason: He enjoyed two of the most well-executed debuts with WWE between 2014 and 2015.

    At NXT TakeOver: R Evolution, he competed in the opening match against CJ Parker, New Japan's Juice Robinson. The Prizefighter defeated Parker but it didn't end there as he came down to the ring to celebrate with his close friend, Sami Zayn, who dethroned Neville to win the NXT Championship in the main event.

    Then, Owens became the most hated man on the brand when viciously powerbombed Zayn onto the ring apron to close the show. This heel turn instantly made him into a compelling character and positioned him against NXT's resident underdog.

    Two months later, KO defeated Zayn at TakeOver: Rival for the NXT title. Later, the champion took the belt to the main roster when he answered John Cena's open challenge for the United States Championship on the May 18 episode of Raw.

    In his introduction to mainstream WWE fans, the Canadian cut a fantastic promo on Cena and laid him out to stake his claim to the title. Two weeks later, Owens beat Big Match John in a non-title match at Elimination Chamber.

3. Jon Moxley: AEW Double or Nothing 2019

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    In 2019, Dean Ambrose stunned the WWE Universe when he finished up his contract and left the company he had called home for the better part of a decade. On May 1, he reemerged online as Jon Moxley and became the hottest free agent in the industry.

    On May 25, Mox made his surprise debut at All Elite Wrestling's first pay-per-view event, Double or Nothing. The deathmatch enthusiast received the loudest pop of the night as he stormed through the crowd and attacked Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega.

    Now, this may seem like recency bias, but the crowd reaction for Moxley was out of this world. His arrival gave AEW the boost in star power it needed ahead of the premiere Dynamite a few months later.

    The new company had its share of positive buzz, but the addition of the 35-year-old was a major shift that defined it as an alternative for fans and wrestlers in the U.S.

2. Kane: WWE Bad Blood: In Your House 1997

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    Kane is one of WWE's greatest creations.

    Paul Bearer foretold the coming of The Undertaker's long-lost half-brother as revenge for murdering their family and setting their home on fire. For months, WWE built up this new character and he finally made his debut in the main event of Bad Blood: In Your House.

    At the event, The Big Red Machine interfered in the first Hell in a Cell match with Bearer by his side. His trademark theme, which opens with that iconic organ solo, set the mood as sauntered down to the ring and ripped the door off the cell.

    Seeing Kane set the ring posts ablaze for the first time as the light came back on is the stuff that made most of us wrestling fans. The Undertaker is such an imposing figure and watching someone stand toe-to-toe with him and leave him speechless gave The Devil's Favorite Demon an allure to match his visually striking look.

    Kane hit The Deadman with his own Tombstone Piledriver, allowing Shawn Michaels to pin him and become the number one contender for the WWE Championship. The recent Hall of Fame inductee enjoyed a mystique that was hard to manufacture after such a perfectly orchestrated debut.

    Fans can see its influences on The Fiend's debut match at SummerSlam over 20 years later.

1. Chris Jericho: WWE Raw (Aug. 9, 1999)

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    During the Monday Night Wars, no one benefited more from jumping ship than Chris Jericho. The Canadian star left WCW in 1999, and it became no secret that he was a big free agent.

    For weeks, the "countdown to the new millennium" appeared during WWE programming and it finally ran out on the Aug. 9 episode of Raw. Then, the pyro went off, and "Break the Walls Down" erupted as the Chicago crowd immediately recognized Jericho.

    The man who has made a career of reinventing himself bet on himself and it paid off as he declared: "Raw is Jericho."

    It isn't easy to enter a war of words with The Rock, but The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla cut a memorable promo in this star-making debut. If you didn't know who he was, the crowd's reaction and his back and forth with one of the best talkers in the company made him a name to remember.

    Interestingly, Mox's introduction to a new fanbase at AEW Double or Nothing is similar to Jericho's WWE debut because it was a turning point for the company at the height of steady competition.

    WCW also hadn't even scratched the surface with Jericho. He had the makings of a bigger star but the company put a ceiling on him when his popularity continued to grow. That acceptance from the fans made it easy for him to transition into a bigger role with WWE. 

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