19 years ago this year, Northern Irish Wrestling legend Finlay made his debut in the WWE. The former WCW star had long been thought to have missed out on his chance in the WWE but he made the most of it when given the chance. Even with his advanced age, he impressed management and had a good six year run with the company.
He has had a long, storied career in wrestling, starting out in the British wrestling scene alongside William Regal. He wrestled all the big stars of the era, including the legendary face of British wrestling Big Daddy on numerous occasions, during a time in which British and Irish tensions were at an all-time high.
He made a name for himself in America as part of WCW, but once that company went bust he eventually moved to the WWE. He was pushing 50 years old on his WWE debut and few had any hopes for the Northern Irish grappler making any kind of impact with the company. Luckily, his incredible work ethic and in-ring work mixed but some fantastic character work to make him a must-watch part of Friday Night Smackdown in the mid 2000s, alongside his “son”, Hornswoggle.
He won a sole United States Championship in WWE, but by his last match in 2010 never tasted World Championship Gold. He also competed for the ECW Championship during the infamous Championship Scramble match but walked out of the match still title less. His final singles match was a win over Batista, albeit by disqualification because The Animal frankly kicked too much ass.
Finlay’s last wrestling match for the WWE was a forgettable battle royal, although that’s not what we’re looking at today. It’s been 18 years since Finlay first hit our screens in the WWE as the Belfast Brawler who simply loved to fight.
Finlay’s WWE Debut
Finlay’s debut match in WWE was on a Friday Night Smackdown house show on March 21st, 2004 against Jamie Noble. The match came three years after his previous match, when he wrestled fellow Briton Robbie Brookside in a match on the British independent scene. It was also four years since he last wrestled in WCW, which was an unmemorable performance in an 18 man battle royal won by Mike Awesome.
The match was originally meant to see if he would be a good fit to get back into the ring. He was already employed by the WWE as a backstage producer, helping other wrestlers to plan out their matches and give them direction directly from Vince McMahon. He had signed with the company in 2001 after the closure of WCW, but stayed out of the ring until the attempted comeback in 2004.
He also wrestled in a defeat to Heidenreich after that, before sitting out wrestling for two years to work backstage. However, in 2006 he came out of retirement for a full time run in the WWE, dropping the name Fit and going by simply his last name Finlay.
Finlay’s first televised match for the WWE was against Matt Hardy on the 15th of January 2006. Finlay looked great in his debut, despite being 47 at the time of his first match. This made him one of the oldest debuting wrestlers in history and used his years of experience to perform excellent, real looking wrestling inside the ring.
His debut match did end in a loss but he looked better than he would have for a win. He had Matt Hardy trapped over the bottom rope and continued to bash him in the head with some stiff looking forearms. The referee counted to five, which merely annoyed the Belfast Brawler and encouraged him to hit Hardy harder and more frequently. Eventually, the referee was forced to call for the bell and hand Matt Hardy the victory.
After the match, he grabbed a microphone as he stared down the referee.
“You’re going to disqualify me?” He yelled in his thick County Antrim accent, “I’ll show you why you should disqualify someone” before stomping Hardy’s head into the steel steps.
Finlay’s debut did well to introduce him as a character as a man who was vicious in the ring, did not take well to authority and had a mean streak in him. He immediately looked like a threat and brought the British “shooter” characteristics that made him so feared in WCW over the WWE with him.
Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.