The origins of 'The Goon,' the WWE's short-lived hockey-inspired wrestler

The Goon stepped into the ring in full hockey gear, including hockey skates with the blades removed. Courtesy of WWE

In 1996, the then-World Wrestling Federation debuted The Goon, a character who claimed he had been "banned from the NHL and all the leagues in between." He was, in fact, former Mid-South and World Class Championship Wrestling performer "Wild" Bill Irwin, whose background in hockey was used as a gimmick when he finally reached the WWE.

The Goon debuted on the July 20, 1996, episode of "WWF Superstars." He walked to the ring in what looked like a New Jersey Devils white sweater without a logo and with "GOON" on the back. A vignette played showing him manhandling his "coach" and "opponents" on a local rec league rink. His wrestling finishing move appeared to be running full speed at his opponents while they were on the ground outside the ring, facing the apron, and "boarding" them from behind, which announcer/WWE owner Vince McMahon called a "cross check."

On a subsequent episode, he was defeated by The Undertaker in 55 seconds.

The Goon's time in WWE was short-lived, although he would return for the "gimmick battle royal" at WrestleMania 17 in 2001, and again for Raw's 15th-anniversary battle royal. He was named the 18th-most absurd superstar by WWE.com.

We spoke with Bruce Prichard, former WWE executive/writer and host of the widely successful "Something To Wrestle" podcast, about the origins of the gimmick. Irwin was interviewed on "Booking The Territory" in March 2017 about his memories of the run.

BILL IRWIN, PRO WRESTLER: I'm getting toward the end of my career. I'm long in the tooth. So I'm talking to Bruce Prichard at the time, and Bruce was one of the men in charge.

BRUCE PRICHARD, FORMER WWE EXECUTIVE: We were always looking for different guys to come in that we could use as what we'd call "enhancement talent." We were looking to have some guys with a little more name recognition, a little more ability, who maybe could turn into superstars in their own right. What really happened, was, unfortunately was that they just became glorified extras. We brought different people in, and Bill was one of them. I always liked Bill. He was a hell of a worker, and a good guy.

IRWIN: I'm just trying to get in. So they bring you out and they knew your talent. So one day Bruce asks if I did come in, what would I do.

PRICHARD: Vince [McMahon] liked to get talent to be themselves, and to get comfortable doing something that they enjoyed doing, and try to expound on their past. What's unique about them? What did they do in a previous life that they could exploit? It was easier to draw from their experience. The Big Boss Man was a real prison guard from Cobb County, Georgia. So for him to portray one was easy.

IRWIN: I thought, "Well, you've had football players and you've had other athletes but you've never had a hockey player." And I'm shooting from the hip. It just comes to my mind.

PRICHARD: Bill tells us he was a goon in high school. And I'm like "Huh?" He said he was a goon -- the guy on the hockey team they'd send out to get on the ice and take out the best player on the other side. He said he'd get in fights and get thrown out of the game. That was his job. So we were like, "Hell, we've never had a goon before."

IRWIN: He takes it to Vince, he comes back with a phone call and says "Vince wants to call it The Goon." And I said, "I'm in!" I can skate out there for 60 minutes in full gear. I bet I can wrestle for 15 minutes in full hockey gear. I'd take it right down to the skates.

PRICHARD: We had him in a jersey. The boots were his idea. He had his boots worked down to look like ice skates. He came up with them. And we were like, "If it's not going to hurt anybody, go ahead and do it."

IRWIN: Let's get a pair of skates, we'll take the blades off of them and we'll put the rubber soles on there, and stack them high. Short people have been stacking them high for years. Did you ever wear platform shoes? Back in the '70s, I had a pair of orange suede platform shoes. And they were cool, man. When it came to making those skates ... if you're going to make skates, you have to have the look of standing on skates.

PRICHARD: I started to have to watch a little bit of hockey. But a lot of that style was him, coming in and saying that before a fight he'd drop the gloves.

IRWIN: I'll go to the ring with gloves, a stick ... not a helmet, but the full garb. The first thing I'll do is, in a hockey fight, I throw a bunch of punches. Boom, boom, boom. And that's what I'll do.

PRICHARD: The Goon only lasted a few months. It was probably our fault. People were tired of those kinds of gimmicks. They were getting sophisticated. They were wanting more reality, they wanted not the cartoonish characters. Real competition. The more we went the cartoon way, the more they upchucked it.

IRWIN: The Goon, people loved. But they didn't know what to do with him. I've never heard anybody say that The Goon sucked. Did it draw a bunch of money? No. Did it last a long time? No. But maybe I sat back a little too much thinking it's a big organization, let 'em go. But sometimes I think I should have stepped up and thrown some angles at them with what to do with The Goon, and I didn't.

PRICHARD: It was the gimmick [fatigue] aspect more than anything. Because if you look at who would make the best professional wrestler, it'd be a hockey guy. And he would have been over in Canada. And Detroit.