Today, it’s almost unheard of for a new talent to debut on WWE programming without spending some time in NXT first. For every AJ Styles or Braun Strowman who bypass the system altogether, there are a dozen Nakamuras, Finn Balors, Sami Zayns, and Kevin Owens(es?) who are sent to Full Sail University to hone their craft the WWE way before a main roster call-up. But what did the WWE do before NXT? Before Florida Championship Wrestling, before Ohio Valley, and before Tough Enough – even before ECW talent raids and the Monday Night Wars? Enter the WWE’s first developmental territory – the United States Wrestling Alliance. And enter the man who signed the first ever WWE developmental contract – Harry Del Rios, better known by his ghastly gimmick, Phantasio.
Memphis-based USWA began a talent exchange program with the WWE in 1992, and Del Rios was one of their paramount projects. Signed by the WWE and assigned to the territory to sharpen his skillset, Del Rios, an amateur magician outside of the ring, eventually adopted a gimmick based on his real life hobby. Known as the Spellbinder, he’d employ a number of fantastical tricks to bewilder his opponents on his way to victory. By the middle of 1993, Del Rios had begun appearing on WWF house shows, but he left the Spellbinder namesake behind. He was now Phantasio, and he was working his way to television, slowly but surely.
Phantasio’s big break occurred on the July 16, 1995 edition of Wrestling Challenge, where he’d finally appear on national television for a match with Tony DeVito, who’d go on to some success in ECW years later. Making his way to the ring without entrance music, Phantasio wasted no time in showcasing his magical chops, turning a lit torch into a walking stick while still in the isle. The master illusionist, as Jim Ross declared him, also shot streamers out of his hand at his opponent before his big finale. That finale? An atomic drop, after which he’d effortlessly yank his opponent’s underwear out of his singlet, concluding with a rollup for the three count. “They’re nice underwear, they’re boxers!” JR exclaimed. Phantasio wasn’t done there, of course, as he’d also pull referee Earl Hebner’s underwear from his pants. When he did, he revealed exactly what you’d expect – black and white referee striped boxer shorts.
And with that, Phantasio’s WWE career was over. Never again appearing on television, Phantasio’s greatest trick of all may have been his vanishing act. The product of the WWE’s first ever developmental project lasted less than five minutes, and you can see it in its entirety above. In 2002, the man behind the makeup resurfaced on the first ever weekly Total Nonstop Action pay-per-view. He’d given up his magic act since the last we saw him, evidently to pursue a career in impressions.