A Maniacal Career
Professional wrestling can be a natural profession for drifters in life. Second generation wrestlers are also a fairly common occurrence. Mix these two ingredients together and it’s no surprise that Matt Osborne (Matt Borne, Big Josh, Doink) spent more than half his adult life as a professional wrestler. Borne passed away on June 28, 2013 from unknown circumstances as of the writing of this article.
Osborne represents a link from the territory days of the 80’s to the predominant big three wrestling company battles throughout the 1990’s. He always seemed to find himself involved in a company, usually in a unique gimmick different from what he had done previously, at the onset of a changing attitude within the company he worked for. Osborne was a member of the Rat Pack which brought great success to the Mid-South territory. Doink in the WWF was a dark, demented clown that was a predecessor to the edgier character types that allowed the compnay to become the conglomerate it is today. Big Josh in WCW represented the doldrums and mistakes that company made in 1991 with Jim Herd at the helm. Even his Borne Again gimmick in ECW was extremely thought provoking and unlike anything in wrestling at the time it was performed. Osborne was a chameleon within the wrestling business with his multitude of interchanging personalities that he was able to develop.
Osborne is the son of “Tough” Tony Borne, a mainstay of the Pacific Northwest Don Owen-led promotion. Matt followed his father’s footsteps and spent the majority of his primitive years in the promotion. Borne was a main event player throughout this time as both an ally to the top dog in the promotion, Buddy Rose, and as an opponent. The matches against Rose, specifically their lumberjack match in 1982, are as good as anything else we have on tape from the United States during this time period. Soon both Borne and Buddy would leave the promotion and Portland would never again experience the consistent drawing of crowds like during this period. Rose was the main factor, but Borne was an integral piece of the puzzle.
Borne entered Mid-South as an immediate ally of Ted Dibiase and his #2 man. Junkyard Dog/My. Olympia vs. Ted Dibiase/ Matt Borne in a loser leaves tag match from 10/27/1982 is one of the most important matches in the promotion’s history. Perception seemed to indicate that Borne would take the fall and have to leave the promotion since he was the least established at the time. Instead, in a genius Bill Watt’s booking move, a gorilla (Hacksaw Jim Duggan) interferes on behalf of the Dibiase/Borne tandem and the top star in the promotion, JYD, is banished. This created a monster heel faction (The Rat Pack) for JYD to feud with when he returned. Mid-South was still riding the wave of oil money so the houses were tremendous for this run and Borne was again a big player in this hot feud.
Borne made his official WWF debut in March 1985, and started a year long run with the company mostly working in a mid-card level as advancement for babyfaces receiving a push. His opponents included Ricky Steamboat, David Sammartino and the British Bulldogs. This would be the most nondescript period of Borne’s career although he did appear in a decent match in the first WrestleMania vs. Steamboat.
Borne found tougher times leaving the WWF as he entered World Class Championship Wrestling for a stint from 1986-1988. Even though he experienced more singles action accolades and title wins here than at any other point in his career, the glory days of the promotion were long gone. Having been burnt out by both the tragedies with the Von Erich family, and the gutting of the roster, this period was extremely bleak for WCCW. Borne and Al Perez were the mainstays that anchored the promotion but the top babyface opposition, in the form of Brian Adidas, was not pleasing to the fans.
Exiting this period, it feels like Osborne was a crossroads in his career. He had experienced some success both in the tag and singles divisions where he wrestled, but he also had been throughout most of the territories in the United States. He returned and had some Portland matches in the late 80’s and also had a really fun feud against Kerry Von Erich in mid-1990 in USWA – Texas that ended prematurely with the Texas Tornado being born. Herb Abrams UWF promotion was a landing spot for Borne as well during this period.
WCW came calling in early 1991 with an interesting gimmick for Borne. He would play a country lumberman by the name of Big Josh. Big Josh made his debut as an overzealous fan trying to help Tommy Rich win a match. Rich informs Jim Ross that it is his friend, Big Josh. The disdain in Ross’ voice acting (like he doesn’t know Osborne) is one of the earliest recollections of smarmy Ross. Josh was featured in numerous feuds throughout 1991- early 1992 but WCW at this time was putrid from a booking standpoint and amid a ton of chaos in the front office. Josh’s highlights from his WCW run come when the booking was stabilized and he was going up against members of the Dangerous Alliance, most notably Arn Anderson.
Osborne exiting WCW again felt like an end to his mainstream career, but if history tells you anything it is to not count Osborne out. Doink began appearing on WWF TV in late 1992 and was one of the highlights of a promotion that was heading into the doldrums. Watching the Doink footage now in retrospect, it is amazing how revolutionary it is. WWF just didn’t have characters as dark and psychologically absorbed as Doink was around this time. Even angles they did that were played for dramatic effect (Earthquake killing Damien and Martel blinding Jake) had an aura of some cheesiness behind it. Doink was just a dark, demented man that terrified the crowd. Doink also was great in the USWA crossover angle that played out in Memphis in 1993. Doink’s heel run ended sadly and prematurely with him turning on his ally, Jerry Lawler in September. The Lawler vs. Hart feud was one of the few bright spots in WWF around this time, and again Osborne was involved. Once Doink turned face, he became a mid-card comedy character which was unfortunate given the promise that the character showed. None of the later portrayals of Doink had the staying power of Osborne’s.
Osborne then had a brief run in ECW doing a series of “Borne Again” vignettes. These were revolutionary and their effect can be seen in later stuff like Superstar Steve Austin and Jim Mitchell promos. The promos carried a sense of religious undertone that really fit Osborne’s persona. Even though he was in the promotion for a brief time, Osborne was a catalyst for the transition from Eastern Championship Wrestling to Extreme Championship Wrestling.
Reading this rundown of his career, it feels like it should involve numerous individuals instead of just one. Matt Osborne was a uniquely talented individual that no matter what he was given in the wrestling business, he made it his own and, in turn, a memorable character. Osborne was a true journeyman in the wrestling profession and a predecessor of the edgier product to come after he left the spotlight.