She’s here. Ronda Rousey signed on the dotted line last weekend at WWE Elimination Chamber, completing the cage-to-ring transition for one of the most celebrated athletes of the modern age. The former UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion has yet to compete outright in WWE, but she’s already made quite the splash, putting Triple H through a table and getting Stephanie McMahon to apologize (profusely) for a heated confrontation that ended in a slap to the face. With less than a week as a WWE Superstar under her belt, Rousey still has a way to go, and yet she’s already an unqualified success story and a major coup for WWE, putting her in the same conversation as nine other Superstars …
It’s kind of crazy that there are not one, but two Clubs of Japanese-wrestling origin bouncing around the Raw and SmackDown LIVE rosters, but it all started with one Extraordinary Man. Bálor — then known as Prince Devitt — was both the rogues’ gallery’s first leader and its first to take a crack at WWE; his highly anticipated NXT debut was shrouded in mystery until his surprise appearance as Hideo Itami’s partner against The Ascension in 2014. Even then, the best was still saved for last, as Devitt’s signature comic-book paint was later re-debuted as well, under the guise of Bálor’s heart-stopping alter-ego of The Demon. For those keeping track, that’s two debuts for one man. Not bad.
In this case, “biggest” signings can be taken literally. The man who had intimidated WCW as The Giant was a shoe-in to become a WWE Superstar; the only question was when Mr. McMahon would scoop him up. Then, in 1999, Big Show — still going by the name of Paul Wight — surged up from beneath a Steel Cage to disrupt a Steel Cage Match between “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Mr. McMahon, kicking off a thunderous, Grand Slam-winning career that continues to this day.
For many a wrestling fan in the aughts, Samoa Joe was the de facto decision for guy-WWE-should-sign-but-probably-won’t. Everything from Joe’s age to his previous commitments to his bulky physique had the Internet convinced — convinced — that The Samoan Submission Machine would, for one reason or another, never set foot in a WWE ring. But then he did, stomping his way to the ring to confront Kevin Owens at NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable, and kicking off a career revitalization that peaked (for now, at least) with a Universal Championship Match with Brock Lesnar himself. Joe is here. Joe is happy. So are we.
Who didn’t want to see Goldberg step foot in WWE during the heyday of the Monday Night Wars? The fantasy-match possibilities for WCW’s nigh-unstoppable human hurricane were endless, but red tape prevented Goldberg from coming over once WWE acquired Ted Turner’s money-flushed promotion. Of course, eventually WWE was going to get its man, and, Goldberg ultimately picked up right where he left off, winning the World Heavyweight Championship and locking up with Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania XX. He even had a comeback run in 2016, culminting in a Universal Championship victory and another tussle with Lesnar on The Grandest Stage of Them All. The sum total of these efforts? A deserved induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.
When WCW’s Cruiserweight Division began setting the wrestling world aflame in the heat of the Monday Night War, it was practically a given that WWE would try and snatch up some of the cutting-edge talent for its own roster. They grabbed two of them — Eddie and Dean Malenko, as part of The Radicalz — and it wasn’t belong before Guerrero’s career proved to be a trasncendent one. A beloved figure both in and out of the locker room, Latino Heat carried the WWE Universe with him on a journey of heartbreak and triumph; had he not been taken before his time, there’s little doubt he would continue doing so today.
For a long time, Sting’s legacy was not only as the face of WCW, but as the most famous holdout in sports-entertainment history. The former WCW World Heavyweight Champion had seemingly made it his business to try his hand in every promotion except WWE, though he admits to coming close on several occasions. Then came the WWE 2K15 promotion and a few sporadic panels and signings, all whispers of something big that hadn’t quite happened yet. It all came down to Survivor Series 2014 and a long-awaited debut, orchestrated under a cloud of secrecy and executed in pulse-pounding fashion. Since then, The Icon suffered an injury that cut his career short, but he put it quite succinctly at his WWE Hall of Fame induction in 2016: “It’s not goodbye. It’s see you later.”
When it was revealed that bona fide Olympic Gold Medalist Kurt Angle was breaking into the pro game, any promotion with a few bucks in its pocket was lining up for a crack at the American icon. And even though Angle was famously off-put by the demented menagerie of ECW, he had no qualms about becoming a WWE Superstar. Angle’s debut was heralded with all the fanfare of a five-star general and he delivered in full, running the gamut from no-nonsense wrestling machine to side-splitting comedy alongside “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. He’s now a WWE Hall of Famer, Grand Slam Champion and the current General Manager of Raw. If you’d have told the kid from Pittsburgh that this was what his future holds, even he might have a hard time believing you, no matter how much you insisted it’s true.
The former UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion is the newest signee on this list (five days at press time), but she may end up making the most waves out of all of them before it’s all said and done. In just two days as a Superstar, she slammed Triple H through a table, got the imperious Stephanie McMahon to apologize for a prior slap in the face and seemingly managed to neutralize The Authority’s usual power plays with nothing but an ice-cold stare and the threat of yanking an arm or two out of its socket. She’ll likely cause a few more headaches for Triple H and Stephanie, but ironically, she’s proven to be “best for business” thus far.
Much like Goldberg, Rey Mysterio was among the WCW talent whose contract stipulations prevented him from jumping to WWE immediately after Mr. McMahon bought the promotion out. But when he did, in 2002, he did so in epic fashion. Vignettes hyping Mysterio’s arrival promised a human highlight reel, and that’s exactly what the WWE Universe got, from his SmackDown debut all the way through a WWE Championship victory in 2011. Injuries would eventually cut Mysterio’s WWE career short, but he did pop up in the 2018 Men’s Royal Rumble Match looking (and moving) better than ever. Fittingly enough for an ultimate underdog, there’s clearly plenty of fight left in him.
Who would have thought that when WWE signed the conspiracy-theory obsessed Corazón de León, they were getting a near 20-year boundary breaker who finds ways to reinvent both himself and the sports-entertainment industry each time he shows up? Not only was Chris Jericho’s countdown-clock debut one of the best moments in WWE history, but his two big returns — the “Save Us” code and the creepy end-times vignettes — the unification of the WWE and WCW Championships, The List of Jericho, his record nine Intercontinental Title reigns and reincarnation as a Live Event specialist have made clear that the only thing predictable about Y2J is his unpredictability. Don’t believe us? Roll the footage, monkeys.