Best Debuts In WWE History That Fans Remember To This Day

The first time a WWE Superstar is seen by the WWE Universe is incredibly important. This is why WWE tries to always make a debut special, especially if a major pro wrestler has signed with them. It can make or break how you see them in the future. Which involves the build WWE does around them as well as their reputation from there. Who was the best? That is always a tough call. The best debuts in WWE history often make a huge impact on the business or play into something important.

Some might assume that we”d only include those who went on to become big-time World Champions. While many of those debuts were important, others may have never won a World Title yet still had an impressive debut. Plus, we cannot forget that sometimes people debut one way but go on to become something different. You”ll see what we mean about that below. That said, let”s discuss the best debuts in WWE history that fans remember to this day!

 

AJ STYLES

AJ Styles - WWE Champion
[Image via WWE]

The “Phenomenal” AJ Styles had one of the best WWE debuts of all time, camera issues and all. Heading into the 2016 Royal Rumble PLE, there was talk that Styles was headed to WWE. Many figured that Styles would follow the path of other independent standouts before him and would go to NXT first and work his way to the main roster.

However, that notion was dispelled quickly when at #3 in the Royal Rumble match, Styles’ music hit. What made the debut all the better wasn’t just that he had bypassed the traditional NXT route but that the crowd gave him a warm reception. Doesn’t that sound impressive? It was.

This was still in an era where not every fan knew everyone else in every other promotion. The popularity of a promotion like TNA, ROH, & NJPW were not at the same level as they are today in 2024. These are the places you”d know AJ Styles from, so if fans in the arena hadn”t seen him there, that pop would not have been nearly as big as it was. This proved that there was a lot of value in Styles for sure.

Vince McMahon was said to have been surprised by the reception but would start to realize why people called him “phenomenal” soon after.

It was probably exactly what AJ needed to get him on solid footing right away. He didn’t win the Rumble, but he would go on to be a mainstay superstar in the WWE. He won the WWE Championship later that same year!

 

KEVIN OWENS

Kevin Owens - NXT Champion
[Image via WWE]

This is kind of a two-parter. Kevin Owens” debut on NXT and his official main roster debut both were impactful so we have to reference each in one package here. KO would make his WWE debut with the NXT brand at NXT TakeOver: R Evolution. He beat CJ Parker, who would go on to be known as Juice Robinson after departing WWE. In any case, Owens beat Parker but his best friend Sami Zayn had been going through a months-long battle to win the NXT Championship.

Finally, he had one last chance to win the title and managed to beat his rival and then-champion, Neville. It was a big win and people came out to celebrate, including Owens. As they are headed up the ramp, Owens throws Sami down and proceeds to beat the crap out of him. That sets up for a title match at the next NXT special where KO wins without much effort.

Fast-forward to a random WWE RAW episode on May 18, 2015. John Cena had been doing open challenges for his United States Championship often. The week before, Zayn actually came out to challenge unsuccessfully for the title. He was also injured in that match but Vince McMahon had already planned for an NXT star to come up to the main roster. Owens basically took Zayn”s place. He showed up during the May 18th open challenge, where everyone assumed he wanted to face Cena.

Instead, he attacks Cena to set up a non-title match at the upcoming PPV. He then stomps on the U.S. Title while holding up his NXT Championship. It was a moment when KO announced to the world that he had arrived. He would obviously go on to have an amazing career in WWE.

 

BROCK LESNAR

Brock Lesnar & Paul Heyman - 2002
[Image via WWE]

You could give him two spots here, for his initial debut in 2002 and when he returned to the company back in 2012. For now, we’ll just stick with his initial 2002 debut. In retrospect, this would have been hard to screw up. Few athletes before Brock Lesnar or after him have had his look, his athleticism, and his raw power.

WWE gave us perhaps one of the most impressive debuts for any young superstar we had seen up to that point. No one knew who Lesnar was at this point. That made his debut even better when he appeared on an episode of WWE RAW in March of 2002. He interrupted a match between Maven, Al Snow, and Spike Dudley.

This was the perfect trio for the debut of this wrecking ball. Snow and Maven were big enough that they illustrated Lesnar’s raw power and strength. Spike Dudley was small enough that his power looked even more menacing. The fact that he destroyed a guy a quarter of his size said everything you needed to know about who Brock was going to be.

Paul Heyman was there as his manager and mouthpiece, which was a nice touch. The one thing that Lesnar could not do early in his career was carry a promo. No need to worry about that when you have one of the best promo artists managing you!

It was a match made in heaven and led to a lot of success very early for Lesnar.

Brock would continue wrecking WWE superstars for nearly 20 years. Well, after taking a break for a decade to beat people up for real in the NFL & UFC at least.

 

KANE

Kane - In Your House: Bad Blood
[Image via WWE]

It would have been a cardinal sin not to include Kane on the list of best debuts in WWE history. They had been teasing Kane’s arrival for months. Paul Bearer made it clear to The Undertaker that he had a brother who was out for revenge.

When would Kane debut? What would he do to the Undertaker once he got his hands on him?

Classic questions that would be answered at In Your House: Badd Blood. This was notable not just for Kane’s arrival but it was also the birthplace of the first ever Hell In A Cell match. Undertaker and Shawn Michaels were making magic in the ring when the red lights came on, and Kane marched down to the ring. He ripped the cage door off its hinges and took out his long-lost brother.

It was the beginning of one of the all-time great rivalries in WWE history and two icons of the sport over the last 30 years. A lot of history was made in just one night, making Kane”s debut even bigger. Glen Jacobs had been part of WWE before this as an evil dentist among other things. However, his iconic role as Kane has made him one of the most notable WWE Superstars in history.

 

STING

Sting & Triple H
[Image via WWE]

We heard rumors that Sting was leaving TNA Wrestling for weeks. Yet we all knew he was not done yet and really wanted to work for WWE while he still had something left to give. This led to Sting working out a deal with WWE that would involve a few matches per year. Yet he had to make his debut at some point, we just did not know when it would happen. Finally, we had a clue that it might take place at a huge WWE Survivor Series event with stakes as high as ever.

On November 25, 2014, we saw Sting make his debut to prevent The Authority from becoming too powerful. Dolph Ziggler, the only remaining survivor of his team, had been taken out by Triple H. A crooked referee was there to make the three count until Sting came out to stop everything. Sting entered the ring and took out Triple H, then put Ziggler”s arm over Seth Rollins” body. A ref then counted to three, removing The Authority from power in the process.

Of course, this went on to Sting vs Triple H taking place at WrestleMania months later. Sting”s debut was impactful and led to a lot of excitement at the time. While we sadly did not get to see some dream matches due to an injury, Sting”s debut still was really awesome.

 

ADAM COLE

Undisputed Era - WWE
[Image via WWE]

Let’s not forget WWE NXT when we’re looking at incredible debuts. Adam Cole was a highly sought-after free agent who most internet wrestling fans knew was on his way to WWE. Cole had been a major name in Ring of Honor, Pro Wrestling Guerilla, and even New Japan Pro Wrestling. The latter increased after his affiliation with the Bullet Club began. WWE wanted their own version of Bullet Club in WWE, as “The Club” they had been using was not exactly doing it.

When Cole would arrive and how were speculated for some time. We would finally get our answer at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn 3 in 2017.

Cole would arrive through the crowd to attack NXT Champion Drew McIntyre. However, he would not come alone. While they had made their own separate, less-thrilling NXT debuts before this, both Kyle O”Reilly & Bobby Fish stood on the ring apron after Drew”s match. This was done to act as a distraction for Cole to sneak attack McIntyre and take him out. The three men then began beating down Drew together, soon after establishing “The Undisputed Era” faction.

The three men would be joined later by Roddy Strong to make the four-man group one of the most dominant groups in both NXT & WWE history. They literally had every title their team could win at one time. Cole was especially dripping in gold throughout his run on NXT. He won the NXT Championship, held the NXT Tag Team Titles, and became the first NXT North American Champion. This made him the second NXT triple-crown winner too.

Yet it all started with one of the best WWE debuts in history!

 

THE UNDERTAKER

The Undertaker - WrestleMania Entrance
[Image via WWE]

If you want to talk about one of the best WWE debuts in history, The Undertaker”s debut will be discussed as long as WWE exists. The Undertaker debuted at Survivor Series in 1991. He came in as a surprise teammate for “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase as the 5th member of his team.

Fans who have seen it will never forget the slow methodical walk to the ring like he was impending death. It would be the beginning of the greatest wrestling gimmick of all time and the birth of one of the greatest superstars in the history of the sport.

Undertaker didn’t disappoint in the ring, either. He stalked his opponent and combined a trademark combination of slow power with quick bursts of speed and precision. He was a must-watch after that night. This writer remembers as a young kid, being terrified of The Undertaker. Exactly what he was intended to do.

The crazy part was seeing this giant man somehow move around the ring as fast as a cruiserweight too. He seemed capable of anything, only giving us more reason to fear him!

 

TAZZ

Tazz using Tazmission on Kurt Angle
[Image via WWE]

Our least favorite thing about Tazz is how short his career in WWE was. Tazz was an amazing talent in ECW, known for being able to hit a variety of suplexes on darn near anyone. He had been the feared ECW Champion who despite his size, was one of the toughest men to walk the planet.

It would have been great to get Tazz in the ring more than we did. However, the debut itself was awesome and is certainly one of the best WWE debuts in history.

He first appeared in the WWE at Royal Rumble 2000. When Kurt Angle announced that he was having an open challenge, very few expected Tazz to walk through the curtain. However, if you go back and watch the show, fans knew Tazz was supposed to be headed to WWE. Yet no one was certain when he was going to arrive. Since the event took place at Madison Square Garden in New York and Tazz is a native New Yorker, most felt that would be the night.

That led to “we want Tazz chants” throughout, even during Angle”s promo. When Tazz”s music hit, the place went nuts!

When he got into the ring, Tazz almost immediately applied the Tazmission on Kurt. What made this even bigger was that Angle had been undefeated in his WWE career up to that point. Therefore, on his first night, he made Angle pass out from the Tazmission and ended his winning streak to start his own.

This is one of the all-time great debuts and what a way to showcase him as a true badass. Too bad we couldn’t see Tazz do that for some time longer.

 

JOHN CENA

John Cena Returns
[Image via WWE]

Any time someone yells out “RUTHLESS AGGRESSION,” just remember they are probably a professional wrestling fan.

In fact, they”re likely a John Cena fan in particular as this line has now become iconic. In 2002, WWE was trying to bring a lot of new names to television so they could build new stars. They thought this kid named John Cena from their OVW sector might be pretty good. He was still a bit green but he has a good look and knows how to cut a good promo, so he”ll figure it out.

This led to Cena making his WWE debut on a July 27, 2002 episode of WWE SmackDown. He came out after Kurt Angle, trying to prove how awesome he was, put out an open challenge to anyone in the back. Cena came out and Angle asked: “What is the one quality that you possess that makes you think you can walk out here, and come into the ring, with the very best in the business?”

Cena responded by saying: “Ruthless Aggression!” 

Then proceeded to slap the lips off of Angle”s face. They went on to have a pretty solid match, one that many haters of Cena will even cite as a pretty good debut match for someone. While Angle won in the end, Cena proved himself against the best of the time. The Undertaker then gave him some respect in a later segment, which would become a big deal for John. Of course, Cena went on to become one of the most notable WWE Superstars of all time.

 

THE SHIELD

The Shield - WWE
[Image via WWE]

Talk about making an impact during a debut on the main roster. One of the all-time great factions in wrestling history, The Shiel,d featured three eventual hall-of-farmers: Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins.

Survivor Series in 2012 featured a main event match with WWE Champion CM Punk and challenger Ryback. The two were locked into an intense battle, and just as Ryback thought he had Punk beat, out of nowhere appeared the Shield.

They stormed the ring, took out Ryback, and helped Punk win. Their look then was different than what it would become. They weren’t sporting the military vests that would become their trademark look. However, they were devastating and talented.

It wasn’t long before they went from hated heels to over babyfaces in a matter of a few months. It was hard to hate just how good they were. All three members would go on to reach incredible heights in professional wrestling (though Ambrose would largely do so in AEW). This was one of the best WWE debuts in history for a multitude of reasons. From who was involved to the purpose it had, it was truly perfect in numerous ways.

 

NEXUS

Nexus
[Image via WWE]

Speaking of debuts on the main roster, the Nexus had one for the ages. This might have been the most unique debut for any faction in WWE history.

To grasp this, you should first know that NXT was more of a reality/game show that aired during the old ECW brand timeslot on Tuesdays. The show had “Rookies” that were paired with a WWE Superstar mentor. The idea was that the winner would get a WWE contract and title shot. We all knew everyone was under contract already, but still.

The show ended with Wade Barrett as the winner. We then saw these NXT rookies as members of Nexus.

During the June 7, 2010 episode of WWE RAW in the main event match with CM Punk and John Cena, the former NXT rookies surrounded the ring and wreaked absolute havoc on anyone within eyesight. Punk, Cena, and even the announce team were all taken out. Heck, even the announcer Justin Roberts was choked out using his own tie!

Nexus destroyed the ring itself too, and even took out security. It was a sight to behold and a concerning development for the main roster. Who were these guys? How powerful and impactful would they be with so many of them all working to destroy the talent at the top?

Nexus would be a hot story for some months and then fizzle despite many different iterations. Still, that night was one to be remembered. It put them on the map. It even led to Daniel Bryan being fired by WWE, as he was the one who choked Roberts with the tie. Bryan came back to battle against Nexus later that same year.

 

REY MYSTERIO

Rey Mysterio
[Image via WWE]

Very few debuts go this well, which is why we have to call it one of the best debuts in WWE history. Rey Mysterio had been teased for a while in some of the coolest vignettes every week for months during 2002. Several of his notable masks flashed up on the screen, and it was just so awesome because everyone knew. We all knew that Mysterio was coming to WWE. Most of us millennial kids loved watching Rey in WCW and could not wait to see him in WWE.

Finally, he made his highly anticipated appearance on July 25, 2002, on an episode of WWE SmackDown. Initially, he just had a match with Chavo Guerrero which he won in impressive fashion. Yet Paul Heyman wanted Rey”s first night to be a little bigger. Later that night there was a steel cage set up for the main event. At the end of it all, Christian, Lance Storm, and Test were beating guys down in the ring with no one able to get inside to help.

Rey decides to climb the cage from the outside to get inside. As he gets to the top, he jumps off of it to take out Christian and Storm with a huge crossbody. It is perhaps one of the absolute coolest ways to make a debut we”ve ever seen. Making it one of the absolute best WWE debuts in history.

 

CACTUS JACK

Cactus Jack - WCW
[Image via WWE]

This is cheating, we know that, and yet we”re oddly cool with it. Just a little bit though!

Mick Foley was around and well-established in WWE before 2000, mostly known for his Mankind character. However, embroiled in a feud with the sinister and tough-as-nails Triple H, Dude Love was in trouble. The alter ego to Mick Foley, Dude Love didn’t have the necessary edge to take on a guy like Triple H in what was supposed to be a street fight.

At the same time, Mankind had become a softer, gentler soul who had the right type of craziness. Yet he did not possess the never-say-die, killer instinct of another alter ego that Foley had within him.

Live from Madison Square Garden, Love decided that he needed to call in a better opponent to handle Triple H. In a video clearly recorded before the show, Dude Love sat down with Mankind. During the segment, Mankind tells Love that he”s dreamed about hurting Hunter Heart Helmsley. While he has dreamed of doing horrible things to him, he claims to know someone who dreams about it even more. This is someone who will do even worse things!

Love asks: “Are you thinking what I think you”re thinking?”

Yep! They were on the same page. Mankind then says: “Here he is, Cactus Jack! He”s back! HE”S ALIVE, HE”S ALIVE!”

During his ECW days, Jack was an absolute maniac who got excited at the thought of inflicting pain on others. However, many would say he enjoyed inflicting pain on himself even more. If that meant he could hurt his opponent in the process, even better!

 

CHRIS JERICHO

Chris Jericho - WWE Debut
[Image via WWE]

What list would leave off Chris Jericho? Not ours! It would certainly be a sin to leave Jericho off of a list revolving around the best WWE debuts in history.

This debut has now become iconic, and an example of how you perfectly book a debut. First, they made a big deal out of getting Jericho. This was a far departure from how WCW seemed to view Jericho. They used him as comic relief and a mid-card guy, yet he proved to be capable of so much more.

WWE had bigger plans for him and teased his arrival for weeks. It was perfect as the year 2000 was coming so they used a Millenium Clock to count down to his debut, even though we did not know it was him at the time.

WWE did not let the crowd in on who this was about, but they let you know that you needed to get ready for it.

Finally, they revealed him just as The Rock was cutting a promo. This was great because the Rock was the hottest star in the company at the time. This allowed Jericho to go toe-to-toe with The Great One on the mic. Not only did he hold his own, but the two had legendary promo battles for years after this. From his first night on, WWE gave Jericho a level of status that he never had anywhere else.

His promo with The Rock was fantastic, and it set Jericho on the right path to being a big-time part of the WWE for the next decade. It’s so important how you bring someone into any promotion. It’s safe to say that WWE nailed it with how they handled Chris Jericho.

 

ERIC BISCHOFF

Eric Bischoff - RAW Debut
[Image via WWE]

The first time, hell froze over.

Eric Bischoff was once the chief rival for Vince McMahon and the WWE. He went so far as to challenge Vince to a fight on television. EB also used to spoil previously recorded episodes of WWE RAW by having commentators tell you the results of the show live on WCW Nitro. Of course, despite how impressive WCW was, it would eventually go down mostly due to inside problems creatively. It also did not help that Time Warner, owners of WCW, sold off to AOL.

This led to Vince McMahon buying WCW for pennies of what it was worth, as AOL had no idea what they had. Some wrestlers claimed that had they known AOL was selling it for what was basically $2 million, they would have bought it themselves. Of course, WCW was bought by Vince which meant we”d never see Eric Bischoff again, right?

Years later, in front of a big crowd, Bischoff returned to the wrestling world as an employee of the WWE. He would become the on-screen General Manager of RAW, WWE”s flagship show he used to try and destroy. Eric shared an on-screen handshake and hug with Vince McMahon, something no wrestling fan thought we”d ever see.

What a bizarre moment for those of us who lived through the Monday Night Wars.

Good on McMahon for proving once again that he would put his ego aside if it meant creating a buzz and helping the product ratings. He succeeded too, as RAW ratings did go up for a bit after this move. It was certainly one of the best WWE debuts in history and one of the most shocking.