Matthew Wade Osborne, a second generation wrestler, who always ended up being his own worst enemy right as he was on the verge of major success, passed away on 6/28, at his girlfriend’s home in Plano, TX.
Osborne was better known during much of his 35 year career as Maniac Matt Borne. He was actually best known, even though it was only for a brief period of time, as the original Doink the Clown, in the WWF. He was 55. His girlfriend found him unresponsive that morning. No cause of death has been released, pending the results of toxicology reports, but the belief was it was an accidental drug death of some sort.
Osborne had a long history with drugs, which caused him to lose the gig he gave the original life to, as the evil clown, in late 1993. Osborne bounced in and out of wrestling, while fighting bigger battles outside the ring, for the past two decades. Friends estimated he was still working two to three weekends a month, often as himself, as well as, if the promoters wanted, with his clown suit. Traditional Championship Wrestling, based in Arkansas, was looking at featuring him as one of their key stars later this year for yet another comeback.
He spent less than a year as Doink on television, a run as mostly a mid-carder, during a period when pro wrestling’s popularity in the U.S. had never been lower since the invention of television. Yet, his death garnered national attention. On the day of his death, Doink the Clown was the ninth most searched for term on the Internet in the United States and his death was covered in many of the leading newspapers in the country, garnering far more publicity than many of the biggest names in history had gotten when they passed away. Doink the Clown was called one of the most memorable characters in the history of pro wrestling. Wrestling clowns, both happy and sad, were hardly a new gimmick in wrestling, popularized first in Mexico with Super Muneco, a huge drawing card in the early 80s to kids. But Doink was the first in a U.S. national promotion.
Osborne was the son of Anthony W. Osborne, better known as“Tough” Tony Borne, one of the all-time legends of Portland Wrestling. His father was a former amateur wrestler who was one of the most successful small heels in modern wrestling history. The elder Borne, who headlined everywhere he went, was actually a significantly bigger pro wrestling star than his son, including being one of the best small heels in history, and having a then-record breaking feud in Mexico with the original Blue Demon.
Matt, born July 27, 1957, grew up in Milwaukie, OR, just outside of Portland. He grew up around wrestling. When he was in grade school, Ronald Mayne, his father’s tag team partner and later biggest rival, was like an older brother to him. Ronald Mayne was known at the time as Lonnie Mayne, The One Man Gang. Mayne was portrayed as a simple-minded powerhouse who Tony Borne groomed into a killing machine, but verbally and physically abused him. Finally, when Mayne had enough of the abuse, in 1968, they had perhaps the hottest feud in Oregon wrestling history, including setting the promotion’s all-time record crowd in selling out the 12,000-seat Portland Memorial Coliseum.
Mayne, in many people’s eyes, was the biggest star in the history of Portland Wrestling, later known as Lonnie “Moondog” Mayne. Ironically, that played a part in the story of Doink the Clown.
Matt Osborne started wrestling as a kid. When he was in high school, he would learn tricks from the shooters in town, guys like Johnny Eagles from England or Ricky Hunter, who legend had it once tied up the Iron Sheik in a period of testing each other. But by the time he was attending Milwaukie High School, as a star athlete, he had no interest in becoming a pro wrestler.
His father had made the successful transition into commercial real estate. In fact, in the 1960s, it was A.W. Osborne’s real estate company that brokered the deal to sell a bowling alley to wrestling promoter Don Owen, who refurbished it, and renamed it the Portland Sports Arena, which held about 3,000 fans and often sold out. The first seven or so rows were fans who came every week–or twice a week, and had permanent reservations. The only way to get a ticket close was to have someone with a ticket die, and pass you their permanent reservation in their will.
Rather than pay rent every week at the local Armory, Owen owned the building, and the concessions. Because of that, they had a different way of running things. The main events were always two out of three falls, but unlike in the rest of the world, the time period between falls was several minutes and the wrestlers would go back to the dressing room between falls. The idea was, they made more money at the food stands that way. Owen taped television every Saturday night from the building. At times the show aired live, and later, it aired after the local news at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday nights on KPTV, and for most of its run, did tremendous ratings. The wrestlers were portrayed as hard-working guys, not so much as larger-than-life superstars as they were in some of the other territories. But the mix worked. It was a successful territory, and paid better than most. Don Owen, who family had promoted wrestling dating back to the 1920s, while cranky and often pessimistic, was considered an honest, quirky but generally well respected as a promoter. Besides running every Saturday night, depending on how hot business was, anywhere from once to three times a month, would run “Tuesday specials.”
According to Matt Farmer, a close friend, Osborne, who placed in the Oregon high school state championships at 177 pounds in 1975, lost interest in pro wrestling as he grew up, because he had developed the amateur wrestler mentality, just feeling that it was fake.
Osborne got publicity locally as a high school kid because of his high school success and because everyone in the area knew his father.
“Matt’s death really shocked me,” said Farmer. “The last time I saw him, he looked like he was in better shape than in a few years. It caught me off guard.”
Borne had become a drifter for the last two decades. He lived out of his car at times. He lived with family members, friends, or on his own, in New Jersey, Oregon, Texas and near Pittsburgh, in Ellwood City. He’d go from place to place. He was a heavy drug user for a long time. He had a number of children and was married several times, and was estranged from several of them, which broke his heart. For a long time, he wasn’t on good terms with his father, but made up with him before his father passed away on August 27, 2010, at the age of 84.
Matt Borne worked a number of different jobs over the past two decades. He wrestled. At one point he was living in a trailer doing drugs like they were going out of style. In 1995, he was arrested for institutional vandalism, harassment, criminal mischief, public intoxication, trespassing and disorderly conduct. He was arrested again in 1998 on warrants from those charges. In 1999, his parole was revoked from the prior charges when he tested positive for cocaine in a New Jersey state drug test. He spent time in jail for that.
At the age of 51, he went to WWE sponsored rehab at the White Deer Run in Allenwood, PA. In interviews, he spoke about how if he had gone to rehab earlier, it wouldn’t have worked because mentally he wasn’t at the point in his life where he was ready.
“I tried to do it myself,” he said in an interview with Slam! Wrestling. “I tried to keep my problems a secret, which is kind of impossible to do when you’ve got drug problems. But I tried to seek help just myself, tried to do it myself, but I just couldn’t do it. Finally, I just decided I wanted help. I was tired of repeating the same mistakes.”
“He seemed in good shape,” said Farmer. “I hung around him enough to see his habits. He wasn’t crazy at that point. He smoked some marijuana. You know the difference between somebody who smokes and somebody who abuses drugs. I didn’t see it. It definitely shocked me. In my conversations with Matt, all the hardcore past days were behind him.”
While in college, he became close friends with Jesse Ventura, who was one of the top stars of Portland Wrestling at the time, and his wife Terri. Ventura talked him into doing pro wrestling, since being the son of one of the area’s all-time legends would make him a natural babyface star, plus he had legitimate skills, was a tough guy and a good athlete.
Osborne was attending Portland State University, and helping his father manage an apartment building that he owned. Ventura, then early in his career, came into Oregon without any kind of a name in wrestling. He immediately got over as a top star, and he and his wife lived in the complex.
“I’d go over there every night and sit and watch Saturday Night Live with him, have a beer, and party a little bit with him,” Osborne said in an interview years later with Slam! Wrestling. “Him and Terri and I, it became a regular thing. When Jesse would get home from wherever he was working, he’d call me and say, `Matt, what are you doing?’ So I’d go over there and we’d hang out. I didn’t know what the heck I wanted to do. I was going to Portland State and I was in my third year of college. Heck, I decided that I wanted to start wrestling. My dad, he didn’t try to discourage me, but just didn’t want to push me, he wanted to make sure that it was really in my heart. So, he waited and waited and I kept hounding him.”
His father didn’t encourage or discourage him, but told him once he started, to give pro wrestling two years before making a decision on it one way or another.
Osborne was a natural in the ring, in the sense you could tell from the very start, he was going to be a good worker. He said that he only had trained in the ring two or three times before Don Owen gave him a much-publicized debut, as Matt teamed with his father against Kurt Von Steiger & Race Bannon on December 6, 1978, at the Portland Sports Arena. He worked mostly in prelims for the first year, as something of a protected rookie because of the family name. He gradually moved up the cards, until leaving, which was how things were done in those days, to gain more experience, to where he could return as a bigger star.
His first outside territory was Jim Crockett’s Mid Atlantic territory, where he formed a mid-level babyface team with Buzz Sawyer. While the two teamed around the world, the next year in Oregon, and years later, by this time with both as heels, in Texas, at this point they were the young, athletic “white-meat” babyfaces.
Sawyer, who got his nickname because he would run through wrestlers in training like a buzz saw, was born Bruce Woyan. He was from St. Petersburg, FL, and at the age of 20, was just starting his career. He was a state champion and had placed third in the high school nationals at 191.5 pounds in 1976, losing in the semifinals to Dan Severn of Michigan.
They were tough and aggressive, qualities both later took into the ring as they garnered more experience, as well as out of the ring. Even though both had good physiques, Sawyer was heavy into steroids, and numerous other drugs, very quickly. They didn’t have the kind of size of the bigger wrestlers nor the ability to intimidate just on their presence. So they made reputations as tough guys by getting into a lot of fights with guys a lot bigger than they were, and generally winning.
Borne always praised Sawyer as a phenomenal talent. Sawyer, once he hit the national stage in Georgia a few years later, rose to a singles main event role in Georgia as Mad Dog Buzz Sawyer, and a legendary feud with young babyface Tommy Rich. But drugs destroyed his career. He also destroyed his body with a reckless style, and by the time he was in his late 20s, he was 260 pounds on a 5-foot-9 frame. He eventually passed away at the age of 32 due to a cocaine overdose.
The two never got along personally, including going at it in a fight on the side of the road in the Carolinas when they got fed up with each other. Borne would later tell friends after that encounter, that Sawyer was just in a different league than he was, both as a fighter, and as a performer in pro wrestling.
By June 2, 1980, the two had beaten Jimmy Snuka & The Iron Sheik in the finals of a tournament to fill the vacant Mid Atlantic tag team titles in Greenville, SC. They lost the titles to The Sheepherders a few months later, and both went their separate ways. Sawyer quickly became a national star on Georgia wrestling, and almost as quickly, fell from main event level.
Borne returned to Portland for his natural role, as the local kid who, after having success in one of the most high-profile territories in the country, could now be pushed as a star babyface.
But his career in Oregon took off more by circumstances than design. At the time, the area’s top heel was Paul Perschmann, better known as Playboy Buddy Rose. Rose arrived in the area in 1976, and quickly became the area’s biggest star. After Roddy Piper turned babyface, his feud with Rose ranked with Dutch Savage vs. Bull Ramos and Lonnie Mayne vs. Tony Borne as the biggest in the history of Portland Wrestling.
Rose came on television one day and shocked everyone in the Pacific Northwest. He did a promo, saying that the Playboy’s days as a Playboy were over, and he was getting married. Rose had been married before, and in fact was married the first year or so when he was doing the playboy gimmick to a woman from Minneapolis, who he didn’t bring to Oregon. But none of that was known locally. Everyone in Portland knew who Buddy Rose was, and he played up the playboy image around town. So that was shocking enough. The big shocker was announcing he was marrying Toni Rae Borne, Matt’s sister.
Tony Borne was a heel most of his career, but he had turned babyface a decade earlier. While he had stopped wrestling regularly years earlier, he would appear on television from time-to-time. This was the most hated guy in town marrying the pretty daughter of the area legend. Everyone was shocked. It became an awkward situation, because wrestling was based on reality. In those days, fans would have never accepted the idea that two brothers-in-law could fight each other. It was tougher in a small territory that didn’t employ many wrestlers, so everyone had to work with everyone, let alone for the rising athletic babyface not to be able to work with the top heel.
Rose had to be a heel. It was considered too early in Borne’s career to not be a babyface. But for legitimacy, the two had to steer clear of each other. Tony and Matt had to address the subject on television. Matt’s only comment on TV was that out of respect for his sister, he wouldn’t ever wrestle Rose, but said that if Rose ever did anything to his sister, he’d kill him.
The marriage was short-lived, so much so that some people were skeptical that it wasn’t a contrived angle to build a feud. But the reality is, it was a wrestling feud that built out of reality, and not the other way around.
A short time later, Rose and Toni Rae got into an argument at their house. Rose started slapping her around, but she was able to get to the phone and, depending on the version of the story, either called her father, or her brother. Both lived a short distance away, and if she did call her father, he immediately called Matt.
Matt rushed to the house, kicked down the front door and started attacking Rose. Rose knew he was not a physical match for Borne, and ran out of the house to get away. Borne ran after him, and tackled him on the front lawn. Borne was on top of him, throwing punch after punch. Police were called, and got there immediately, with Borne still beating on Rose. Given the popularity of wrestling in the community, the officers knew the two on sight, and hearing what happened, didn’t charge Borne with anything. They took Rose in and he had to spend a night in jail.
The incident made the papers. The next day, promoter Don Owen brought the two of them together in a room. Rose didn’t want to be anywhere near Borne, a feeling that he maintained until he passed away four years ago. Owen told them that every fan and non-fan knew about the fight, and knew why they fought, and they now had to feud with each other on top, even though neither wanted to have anything to do with the other. So they worked together in every kind of match imaginable in what was a landmark feud that elevated Borne to the main events, and his lone Pacific Northwest title win, even if it only lasted for one day.
Once in a chain match, Borne potatoed him and busted him open and everyone questioned whether or not it was on purpose, but he always maintained it was an accident. A few years later, when Borne had turned heel and Rose was a babyface, they feuded a second time, which was even more successful than the first, because everyone in town knew they hated each other.
Farmer, close friends with both, said the heat between the two never dissipated, and until the death of Rose, always had to be careful what he said when talking to either if the subject of the other would come up. But Rose tried to always made sure he was never in the same place as Rose. Borne believed, because Rose had Don Owen’s ear, that Rose was partially responsible for Borne never being put in the position as the promotion’s star, even though he was local, and a very good worker. In reality, it was Owen, because of Borne’s reputation, who would use Borne high on the cards, but never build the territory around him because of Borne’s reputation.
Probably the biggest match of the career of Matt Borne, at least before Doink the Clown, was on October 27, 1982, at the Irish McNeil Boys Club, where Mid South Wrestling taped television every other week.
The angle ended up being one of the most famous in the history of wrestling in that part of the country. The area’s top feud and four biggest stars at the time were Mid South tag team champions Junkyard Dog & Mr. Olympia (Jerry Stubbs), battling Ted DiBiase, the former best man at JYD’s wedding who turned on him in his quest to win the North American title, and Jim Duggan, a former college football star who was portrayed as DiBiase’s big enforcer. The two teams built up to a loser leaves town title match.
The Louisiana State Fair was taking place in Shreveport on the same grounds as the boys club that week. When the show started, they showed a guy in a Gorilla costume from the fair waving and playing with the kids in the crowd and handing out balloons. Bill Watts, the announcer, talked about how there had been some sort of a problem and Duggan wasn’t there. Watts surmised with Duggan’s reputation, that he had probably gotten into a fight at a bar the night before and was incarcerated, but they didn’t know since they hadn’t heard from him.
Borne, new in the territory, but talked about as the son of Tough Tony Borne, a contemporary of Ted’s father, Mike DiBiase, was brought in as a replacement. It seemed immediately like a screw job, and it was, given that just about every fan figured that some guy who was probably just passing through was going to lose the fall in a match that had promised high stakes with one of the four mainstays leaving.
As it turned out, Duggan was the guy in the gorilla costume. Before the show started, Duggan, in the suit, was outside the arena making gorilla noises while a fair worker told the wrestling fans that after the show, they should head to the fair. The gorilla stood up and cheered the babyfaces throughout the show, leading them in chants.
JYD was outside the ring, in front of the cheering gorilla, and when he turned around, the gorilla nailed him from behind and unmasked. Borne pinned the stunned JYD to both win the tag titles. JYD, easily the area’s biggest star for four straight years, had to leave town for three months.
The threesome, who called themselves the Rat Pack, did an interview after, with DiBiase doing most of the talking, explaining how they had set the plan up. Fans were so stunned that they were silent, still in shock that Dog lost. Dog came back immediately, under a mask using the name Stagger Lee. DiBiase & Borne went four-and-a-half months as tag team champions, and were one of the best teams in the country at the time.
It would have likely been longer, but a couple of things happened.
“Borne was more trouble than he was worth, and we ended up having a problem that would apparently boil inside him for decades,” wrote Duggan in his autobiography, “Hacksaw: The Jim Duggan story.’ “It started in late 1982, as we were heading into Baton Rouge, spending the night there before a show the following evening. Borne had a girlfriend, and while we were all in a bar, they got into an argument, and the next thing I know, he’s slapping around this girl.”
Duggan said he pulled the girl away from Borne, and took her out of the bar and put her in his car to take her home. Borne followed Duggan out of the bar, was furious, and started spitting on his car. Duggan ignored it and drove her home.
The next day, at the show, Borne started yelling at the much-larger Duggan. He tried to leg dive Duggan, likely not realizing Duggan actually was a better amateur than he was, as a New York state heavyweight champion. Duggan said he threw Borne down and was putting the boots to him when Ernie Ladd, the booker at the time, jumped in.
“Ernie (who was 6-foot-9 and 325 pounds and years earlier was the most feared man in pro football) was a good man, but he was not someone you wanted to test physically, so when he wanted to break up a fight, it was getting broken up,” said Duggan.
Duggan went back to the dressing room, when Borne slammed open the door and told him it wasn’t over. They started fighting again, far away from Ladd. The only person there was DiBiase, who decided against breaking it up.
“I worked Borne over pretty good and thought that was it,” Duggan said.
Over the next 27 years, there had never been a problem between the two. They were together in WWF in 1993. In 2010, they were booked against each other on an independent show, in White Plains, before about 100 people.
While Duggan was on all fours, he said that Borne threw a live kick at him. Duggan said he recognized it at the last second, and got his hand up to partially block it, but the kick knocked Duggan’s hand into his nose, bloodying him up. Duggan said that if he didn’t get the hand up at the last second, the kick would have knocked his teeth out. Borne followed with hard punches, leaving Duggan with a hematoma on the back of his head.
“But I got back onto my feet and I was ready to go,” he said. “I mean, I was 56 years old–way past the age when I’d be looking to fight anybody, but I knew I could beat Matt Borne’s ass.”
Borne got a chair and Duggan got a 2x4, and they were yelling at each other to make a move, which neither did. Duggan told Borne if he wanted to fight, to go to the dressing room because they weren’t going to do it on camera (the match was being filmed) or in front of fans.
“I went down to the dressing room area, but when I laid down my 2x4, I put it within reach, because I knew Matt often carried a box-cutter, and I knew no matter what, he was going to have some kind of a weapon. Matt Borne was not gong to try me on, empty handed.”
Borne never came. Borne had taken all his gear and his gimmicks and put it in his car before the match started. After the match, Borne left through the fire exit, got in his car, and left. Duggan surmised Borne was planning on sucker kicking him, getting the job done with Duggan not knowing the kick was coming, and escaping with the damage done.
The second incident involved another bar fight. Watts used to get a kick out of his talent, as he had always employed a lot of big, tough guys with high-level football or wrestling backgrounds, getting into bar fights. His feeling is if wrestlers showed they were real in his town in fights, the stories would get around town, and people would think the wrestlers were real, and it would help business in those cities. Of course, the flip side of that was if any wrestler lost a bar fight, they were fired on the spot.
Borne got into a fight, and the result was somebody sued both Borne and Mid South Sports. Watts wasn’t so thrilled about one of his wrestlers beating somebody up when a lawsuit came. Borne figured it was time to go, gave notice, he and DiBiase dropped the tag titles to Mr. Wrestling II & Tiger Conway Jr., in Houston. They did an angle on television, where Duggan then beat up Borne, and in an interview Duggan said he was removing the weak link from the Rat Pack.
Borne wound up working in Georgia. Ole Anderson had no tag team champions, after Afa & Sika had left the promotion without losing the belts. They were going to do a tournament in the summer of 1983, where Borne & Arn Anderson would win and become National tag team champions. The two complemented each other well and had a chance to become an outstanding team.
However, Borne got arrested for a sexual assault on a daughter of a women he was supposed to be with in a hotel room while on he road, and had to leave the territory. The incident garnered press and he had to leave the territory.
The incident became even bigger historically, because Ole Anderson, looking for a new top heel tag team, flew to Minneapolis to meet with Eddie Sharkey and look at some of the huge weightlifters he was training. Sharkey showed him several guys, who he liked. He picked Joe Laurinaitis and Michael Hegstrand, who both had tried wrestling a year earlier in territories, hated making no money, came home and swore off the business. Anderson promised they would make money but they had to get to Atlanta on Saturday to start. And that was the birth of the Road Warriors.
Borne returned to Oregon, but Owen, after what happened, would not push him. After six months of prelims, Owen finally let him back to headlining. At some point around this time, Borne beat up Rip Oliver, who had replaced Rose as the star of the promotion, in the dressing room.
When WWF expanded, Borne worked some with WWF, mostly as an experienced enhancement talent. He worked with Ricky Steamboat on the first WrestleMania show on March 31, 1985, in what, from a technical standpoint, was probably as good as match as there was on that show.
Borne always remarked that at the time, to the guys, while they realized WrestleMania was a big show, the biggest show he’d been on, the fact was he’d been on big shows before and at the time felt was really just another day at work. He didn’t stay there long. He worked over the next few years all over the world. He was in Oregon a lot. He was in Texas a good deal of time. He wrestled several tours for New Japan. He was still physically tough. I can recall Dick Murdoch telling stories of the UWF guys, who were in their shooting mentality mode in New Japan after their promotion folded, like Akira Maeda and Nobuhiko Takada, and how Borne was so physically strong and such a good wrestler that he was getting the better of them in the semi-shoot conditions, joking how they would go back to Karl Gotch (their teacher) and say, `Karl Gotch, we’re getting our ass kicked.’
Borne wasn’t the world’s toughest man, but he had a reputation in wrestling for wrestling a very believable and tough style, very much suited for New Japan in that era. If you weren’t willing or able to fight back believably, he wouldn’t make a match easy.
He was also a headlining star, the world mid-heavyweight champion in South Africa for promoter Sam Coen, where he wrestled a lot against the likes of Danny Vogues and Gama Singh for the title.
While wrestling in Texas, he helped Dustin Runnels start his career. Later he worked for George Scott in the Carolinas when Scott tried to get a new territory going, and was a traveling partner of Ken Shamrock, as the two were dating women who were friends.
Mick Foley wrote that Borne was a major influence on his career. Foley was wrestling in Texas when Borne had returned to town. Foley remembered that his tag team partner, Gary Young, gave him advice on working with Borne.
“What I do remember is Gary telling me that matches with Matt weren’t likely to be easy. `He has an unusual style of selling,’ Young told me. `He makes you work for everything you get.’ Veteran World Class referee Bronko Lubich stopped by to give me some friendly and very sound advice.
`When you get on Matt, stay on Matt. Otherwise, he’ll eat you up. He’ll sell for you, but only if he thinks you’ve earned it.’ The Bronc was only looking out for my best interests.”
He compared working with Borne with riding a bucking bronco.
“True, to Gary Young’s words, he made me work for everything I got. I heeded Lubich’s warning and stayed on him, probably with more intensity than I’d ever stayed on anyone before. He’d sell momentarily, and then come firing back, forcing a young wrestler like me, for whom in-ring aggression was never a strength, to dig deeper, work harder and become meaner than I’d ever needed to be. But when Matt Borne finally did sell for me, I absolutely, positively, knew I’d earned it. More importantly, I had a seed planted that day–a seed that would grow into the vision I had for myself of what I wanted to be when I one day would have that inevitable babyface turn.”
During the late 80s in Oregon, Owen’s business started going down. It was an inevitability, as fans could see WWF and WCW on television with bigger stars. Plus, Oregon got an athletic commissioner, Bruce Anderson, who, after learning about scabies going around the wrestlers in the promotion due to working on mats that weren’t cleaned, and then learned all about the business, started regulating it closely. In particular, Anderson banned use of the blade. Oregon wasn’t a blood circus territory. But it was gritty wrestling, not glamor wrestling, and blood was a major component, at least when it came to peaking interest for main event feuds. The feeling was all the restrictions were costing money, as were the safety measures, and the profit margin was dropping. Owen, for decades, talked pessimistically about the future of the business, even when things were going well. The wrestlers took it in stride. The Owen family had run pro wrestling since the 1920s, and the feeling was, no matter how Owen talked, that it would continue with Don’s son long after Don was gone.
But suddenly, the world was changing and they were really struggling. One Saturday night on television, Borne did an interview, telling Bruce Anderson, by name to come next week to the Portland Sports Arena, because there is going to be blood. He did. And there was. And it was Borne’s blood.
Anderson suspended Owen’s promoter’s license throughout the and suspended Borne, although Owen was back in business a little over a week later.
Likely to show his gratitude for helping his son, when Dusty Rhodes got the booking job in WCW in 1991, he hired Borne and created the gimmick Big Josh. He was a lumberjack from the Pacific Northwest who was supposed to be the hick cousin of Tommy Rich. He admitted to never being comfortable in the role. When Bill Watts came in, he wanted to get rid of the gimmicks and go back to a more serious wrestling style. Borne would joke about the meeting of how he wanted everyone in trunks and wrestling boots, and there was Borne with his logging boots on and his lumberjack gear. The guys at the meeting were all staring at his logging boots while Watts made the speech, and snickering.
Watts, brought in by TBS management to cut costs since the company was losing $6 million a year, fired him. But he allowed him to leave early and sign with WWF before his WCW contract expired. Watts also gave him full rights to use the Big Josh name and gimmick anywhere he wanted, although Borne wound up never using it again.
When McMahon came up with the idea to do an evil clown, there were a lot of different people who could have been given the role. Borne was a good ring technician and tough guy, but there were plenty of good ring technicians around. His body type wasn’t unusual among wrestlers. The big unanswered question is why, when you could put any number of people in the costume, why Matt Borne, given his career track record?
Borne was shocked when McMahon approached him with the idea to do the evil clown. Borne wasn’t hot on the idea at first either, since he considered himself a serious wrestler. McMahon wasn’t even all that confident in the character, telling Borne when he was pitching it to him, that it could work, but it could just as easily flop. But it was a pushed role in WWF, something Borne wasn’t going to get under his own name. It took Borne three or four days to agree to try it.
The belief is Borne was picked because McMahon had an idea of what he wanted the character to be–Lonnie Mayne. Mayne had passed away in 1978, but had worked for the WWWF in 1973. In a discussion about a gimmick for Borne, he brought up Mayne when McMahon asked him about growing up in the business.
“I told him about Lonnie, how Lonnie had such a big impact on me when I was a kid,” Borne said. “He was always pulling practical jokes in the locker room, and locking guys’ cowboy boots together and this and that. I was just a little kid sitting there watching that. Heck, I would start doing it. Then they’d come back and find out it was me and they wanted to kill me.”
Borne claimed he used Mayne as the inspiration for the character. The WWF gave him a list of 25 to 30 names for the character. He circled five of them, one of which was Doink. The office then decided Doink was going to be the name.
They first sent him to Memphis. WWF had a relationship with Jerry Jarrett at the time, and wanted him to have the gimmick down. He had appeared on WWF television in late 1992 to be introduced, but didn’t start wrestling in the ring on TV until March, 1993.
He received a strong push, and was a success as the evil clown, pranking kids in the audience and other wrestlers early on, although it was always obvious the long-term role would be as an undercard babyface.
He feuded with Crush (Brian Adams), attacking him with a fake arm to lead to a match at WrestleMania IX that year. The finish saw Steve Keirn, dressed as the second Doink, come from under the ring and attack Crush with a fake arm. Keirn sat under he ring for six hours that day. The WWF wanted this to build to a two Doink tag team, but Borne was against the idea, and complained about it. He was already paranoid, thinking both Keirn and Steve Lombardi were angling to get the gimmick. He also had a house show feud with Marty Jannetty after dousing him with a bucket of water in a TV angle.
He worked second from the top on the March 21, 1993, show in Madison Square Garden, losing via DQ to Randy Savage underneath a Bret Hart & Mr. Perfect vs. Lex Luger & Razor Ramon main vent. He lost a prelim match on the August 13, 1993, MSG show to Sean Waltman as the 1-2-3 Kid.
Aside from the WrestleMania match, probably his biggest match was at SummerSlam that year, on August 30, 1993, when Jerry Lawler claimed to have been injured and unable to wrestle Bret Hart.
It was actually the highlight of the show, headlined by Lex Luger beating WWF champion Yokozuna, via count out. Lawler came out on crutches, claiming an injury, and brought in Doink as his replacement. Doink threw a bucket of confetti at the ringside crowd, doing the old Harlem Globetrotters trick, with fans freaking thinking he was going to douse them with water.
He then took another bucket, which everyone figured was filled with confetti, and went to throw it at Bruce Hart, Bret’s brother, who was at ringside. In a complete rib, because Bruce had been such an outspoken critic of the WWF, the bucket was filled with water and Bruce got doused. Bruce was legitimately furious. The match itself was just normal, with Hart getting Doink in the sharpshooter, when Lawler broke the crutch over Hart’s head for the DQ. This led to WWF President Jack Tunney ordering Lawler to immediately wrestle Hart, or be suspended for life.
A few days later, he turned babyface on Lawler, by throwing a pie in Lawler’s face. A few weeks later, he poured a bucket of water on Bobby Heenan to cement his turn. But his drug issues caused him to miss an overseas tour, just as the babyface Doink was getting over big. Because the character was so strong and was in a full body costume, Vince McMahon borrowed the old Nick Gulas formula with masked heels, used others as Doink, so you could have a Doink on every show.
Shortly after that, he failed a drug test and was fired, and Ray Apollo was given the role. While Borne actually only did the role for about a year, and wrestled with it for eight months, while Apollo did it regularly for another two years, and others did it at times as well, nearly everyone, when thinking of the character, would talk about Borne.
“I had a very bad cocaine problem, and then when Vince fired me at the end of 1993, I really went off the deep end for about a year-and-a-half,” he said in an interview more than a decade ago. “That’s when I tried to run from it. It kept coming back to me.”
“Matt was a great worker, who was believable and could really get it on when it came to actually wrestling,” wrote James Beard, a referee in Texas and friend of his. “He was also a good guy, particularly if he took a liking to you. But, he also could be a terror to be around if he got into the `stuff.’ When I first saw the Doink gimmick, I rolled my eyes and thought, for the thousandth time, `Vince is doing it again.’ But Matt really made that a viable gimmick because of the wrestling skills and the way he came across under the makeup. He’s another one of those guys who kept shooting himself in the foot, business wise.”
Shortly after being fired by WWF, Paul Heyman brought Osborne into ECW in the clown role. Given ECW’s trying to be what WWF wasn’t, and Doink the Clown was the epitome of what a lot of the ECW fan base hated about WWF wrestling, the idea seemed to make no sense on the surface.
Heyman’s idea was that he would lose to Shane Douglas, at the time his top star, and then renounce the gimmick. Instead of being Matt Borne, he would be called “Borne Again,” wearing some clown face paint so people knew who he was, and part of the clown outfit, but drop the clown wig and take on a tough guy beard look and work as a serious wrestler.
After Douglas beat him, Douglas got on the mic, told him to have some pride, told him that he was a great wrestler, and his father was a legend in the business and, “You’re not f***ing Doink the Clown, you’re Matt Borne,” which got a big reaction.
But the character never got off the ground. Borne’s version was that he got a better money offer to work for Otto Wanz in Germany, but expected to return after the tour. But after he left, Heyman had lost interest in the “Borne Again,” character, which didn’t take off as he envisioned it.
On Facebook, three weeks before his death, Osborne noted that Father’s Day was coming, and that he’d be seeing his dad soon. He also openly talked about how sad it was that he was estranged from his own children.
“My children, Anthony, Renja, Teagen and Matthew, are the most important people in my life. Being estranged from them is sometimes more than I can handle. Not looking for sympathy, just cherish your children and their lives.”
“He took his image and his work seriously and he was always a guy you could count on in the ring,” wrote Beard after his death. “As someone who’s greatest enjoyment was working with wrestlers who were utterly believable and skilled, Matt was the perfect example of the perfect wrestler. You could never see through anything he did and when he was in the ring, you knew, whoever he was facing had to be at their best or else they would get eaten up.
“When we heard he was going to WWF and was doing the Doink gimmick, most of us who knew him were shocked and afraid that Vince was literally going to make a clown out of another outstanding wrestler. But, when I saw what Matt did with the gimmick and how he made it real and even a bit scary, I knew Matt had taken that image and put himself into the character, making it a classic that had an incredible impact that lasts to some degree, even today. I only wish he had been able to see the idea through the way it should have been. But, because of Matt and his skill and personality, he was able to turn what could have been a joke and laughing stock into an interesting and meaningful character, at least for a time.”