If you follow my blog or Twitter feed, you can probably tell that I love to collect rookie cards. Whether it's baseball, basketball or football, rookie cards have always been one of my favorite parts of the hobby. Typically the distinction of a players rookie card is pretty clear - it gets hairy with XRCs and Bowman cards, but the leagues have official rules or guidance on what constitutes a rookie card for a player.
I'm also a wrestling fan. I like to collect wresting cards, but the topic of trying to figure out the rookie card of a wrestler can be subjective and there are no clear rules. Should it be the person's first wrestling card, no matter the promotion/character/name? Should it be their first mainstream release or do we consider rare sets and stickers? Do the rules need to be fluid, taking into consideration something like how NXT wasn't considered a main roster but now it's considered its own brand?
At the end of the day, I thought I would put some thoughts together to start the discussion. At the end of the day, collect what YOU like and your definition of a wrestlers RC may be different from someone else, and that's ok.
Here is what I've pulled together - I'd love to hear your thoughts (work in progress):
AJ Styles: 2004 Pacific TNA #47 & #71
I haven't done extensive research on AJ Styles potential rookie card, but leveraging Beckett's database started with this 2004 Pacific TNA release. AJ Styles was a long-time member of TNA, but now that he's with WWE they release his "RC" in 2016 Topps Heritage. Given his long tenure with TNA and gap of time between his first TNA card and his first WWE card, I'd say that his 2004 Pacific cards would be considered his RC.
This one could go a couple different ways. Alexa Bliss has a full slate of cards in 2015 products (Topps, Topps Chrome, Topps Heritage) but since they were from her NXT days, it wasn't considered her rookie card until her first main roster cards in 2017. In this scenario, I'd equate this to baseball where players usually get their first card in Bowman, while they are in the minor leagues, but their rookie card isn't until their first major leagues card (subject to MLBPA rules). At the time of these releases, NXT was still considered a "minor league" or training brand within WWE. While that has changed recently (and we'll talk about it with other wrestlers), I'd lean more towards her first main roster cards as her official rookie cards.
Atsushi Onita: 1997 BBM Pro Wrestling #246
I'll gladly admit that I don't know a ton about wrestling card releases from outside of the United States (other than O-Pee-Chee), so please do not hesitate to contact me if this may not be his first card. Onita has gotten some profile in the US with the Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match planned for AEW. Onita is one of the innovators of death match wrestling and founded FMW in 1989.
Bayley: 2017 Topps #5 / 2017 Topps Heritage #12
Bayley also falls under the NXT rule, but her first cards were as far back as 2014. Again, this is purely a subjective guide, but I'm going to lean towards her first main roster cards as her rookie cards here.
Poor Becky, her cards are all over the map here. This is another case of her first card being in NXT, but it was only in the WWE Undisputed product and technically the NXT cards were an insert set. In 2016 though, she gets her first main roster cards in 2016 Topps and Topps Heritage, yet only the base Topps card has the RC logo. I'm not sure the reason, but I would say that both can be considered her RC despite the Heritage card not having the logo.
The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be. I don't claim to have a massive depth of knowledge with wrestling cards, but this one seems to be pretty clear cut. The first cards featuring Bret Hart were in the 1987 O-Pee-Chee and Topps products. I haven't seen any cards or anything that would leave me to believe he had an earlier release, but definitely shoot me an email if you know of anything. Either way, I'd say that the hobby has generally accepted these two cards as his rookie cards.
Charlotte Flair: 2015 Topps Heritage #104
Charlotte's rookie card debate comes down to the NXT vs. main roster decision. She has 2014 cards from her time in NXT, but she's a main roster talent all the way, especially as NXT was a training show at the time of these cards.
Chyna: 1998 DuoCards #63
Here's a bit of a new debate - should a sticker count as an RC? Chyna has a 1997 Panini sticker #155 which is really cool, but should it be her rookie card? Or do we go with the 1998 DuoCards #63, which is a bit more mainstream and an actual card? For me, I can see both sides but I'll suggest we pick the card. Again, these are my opinions - what works for you or the hobby may be different.
Edge: 1998 DuoCards #46
I haven't done a ton of research yet, but this appears to be the first instance of Edge on a wrestling card. I checked to see if there were any non-card releases or anything, but I haven't seen anything yet. Feel free to message me if I've missed something.
Finn Balor or Prince Devitt, you could go a few different ways here for his RC. He has some NJPW cards and then his NXT cards and then his main roster cards and now he's back in NXT. His NJPW cards are really great, and worth a chase but at this point he'll ultimately be best known for his WWE career (whatever brand he's on). His NXT card probably carries more weight than some of the others, given his strong run there and eventual return. However, his arrival on the main roster was a MASSIVE deal and these cards have the RC logo, so I believe we'd count these as his rookie cards.
Say what you will, but Honky Tonk Man was one of the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time. He's also a legendary "character" - the Elvis-knockoff gimmick, the use of the guitar, pairing with Jimmy Hart - perfect person for the perfect gimmick at the perfect time. Wrestling fans seem to have a love/hate with him, but I'm a fan. His rookie card, based on my limited research, seems pretty clearly to be the 1987 OPC/Topps cards. I hadn't found anything earlier based on a few different places I've looked.
Jake "The Snake" Roberts: 1983 PWE Wrestling All-Stars
Another one of my all-time favorites, Jake "The Snake" Roberts rookie card is clearly the 1983 PWE Wrestling All-Stars card. I haven't seen anything earlier, and this is an iconic wrestling set with so many legends featured for the first time.
Johnny Gargano: 2016 Topps NXT #12
What do we do with Johnny Gargano? He has a 2015 IPW Wrestling card (#31), and he really hasn't been a main roster talent - so if he's an NXT talent and now NXT is more of a main brand, I guess we'd have to go with his first NXT card from 2016. The tough part here is that the NXT card is really more of an insert to the main set. Either way, this was the format they used for NXT cards back then, so I suggest we go with his 2016 Topps NXT card as his rookie card.
Jon Moxley / Dean Ambrose: 2013 Topps #11
Perhaps this decision will change over time, but at this point, his debut in a WWE product is the 2013 Topps card. The only card I've found prior to this is a NNO card from a 2011 FCW Slamarama set. Having moved on from WWE to AEW, maybe we'll have to look back on this to figure out if his first Jon Moxley card should be considered. Keep an eye on this one, although given the length of time he was in WWE, I don't know if I'd suggest changing it.
Jun Kasai: 2002 BBM Pro Wrestling #136
Simliar to my choice for Onita, I chose this card because it was the earliest card of his that I could find but I'm also not that knowledgeable with non-US card releases. If there is an earlier card you'd like to suggest - let me know. Jun Kasai was brought to my attention when VICE did a docu-series on wrestling across the globe. A death match wrestler, like Onita, Jun Kasai is a legend in Japanese wrestling and death matches. While death matches aren't my personal style, he's still a legend in the business and commands a great deal of respect.
Kevin Nash / Diesel: 1994 Action Packed #4
This one hasn't had a ton of research on my end, but it appears that the 1994 Action Packed card is the first appearance of Diesel on a trading card. More to come...
Kevin Owens: 2015 Topps Heritage #107
For some reason, Kevin Owens, despite having a strong run in NXT, did not have the same amount of cards available prior to 2015. There may have been some one-off NXT cards, but nothing like most of the other wrestlers mentioned here. His 2015 Topps Heritage card has the RC logo and is his first card on the main roster, so this one should be an easy selection as his rookie card.
Owen Hart: 1990 Classic WWF History of Wrestlemania #89
Owen Hart was such an outstanding wrestler, so I wanted to add him to this list as perhaps there are others who would have an interest in his cards. Figuring out his RC is a tough task - there's the 1990 Classic card which is really a match-based card featuring Mr. Perfect and The Blue Blazer. Then there is a 1992 Merlin card for High Energy (Koko B. Ware and Owen Hart). Or you could figure out the first solo-card for Owen Hart. A case can be made for any of those, and ultimately it's your call and maybe the hobby market will dictate which one is most "valuable", but I think his first appearance on the match card with Mr. Perfect is the one for me.
One of my favorite wrestling personalities of all time, I was fortunate to pick up his 1985 Topps RC prior to the COVID card craze. Either way, I haven't seen anything (yet) that would make me think that there is another card/sticker/item out there that would count as his rookie card.
Sasha Banks: 2015 Topps Heritage #109
Typical NXT vs. main roster here. You can take your pick. In my view, the 2015 Topps Heritage card has the RC and she'll forever be more well-known for her main roster performances vs. NXT. Easy pick here. I'll have to say, I hope they make a Topps Living Star Wars card for her character on The Mandalorian.
Seth Rollins: 2013 Topps #38
Now we're going to start having fun. Seth Rollins started on the independent scene as Tyler Black and has a 2010 Missouri Wrestling Revival card where he's featured as Tyler Black. He then spent time in NXT, but never had an NXT card. His WWE debut led to a 2013 Topps card, which by WWE standards, would be considered his rookie card. So which card do we call his rookie card? Personally, I can make a case for either card. I'm going to go with the mainstream release and the name he's better known for, and say the 2013 Topps card is his rookie card. MWR isn't a major promotion, it's not a mainstream card brand, it doesn't mean that it's not totally cool and being an indies fan, Tyler Black is awesome, but have to go with the mainstream copy here.
Shawn Michaels: 1989 Classic #118 The Rockers
What do we do here? Do we look at where he made his first appearance on a card, even if it's as part of a tag team? Do you disregard tag team cards and pick his first card as a singles wrestler? I don't know the answer here - but I think this 1989 Classic card of The Rockers, which appears to be HBK's first appearance on a card, is the one to go with. You don't get HBK without The Rockers, so this seems like a logical choice.