As Doink the Clown, Matt Borne’s legacy is a little complicated, to say the least, and there seems to be a clear pattern in his career path of missing the opportunity.
Matt Borne- Before Doink the Clown
The son of Pacific Northwest mainstay “Tough” Tony Borne, the second-generation grappler’s greatest success under his own name came early in his career in Mid-South wrestling, where he formed a three-man stable with Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Ted DiBiase. While Duggan would pursue the promotion’s North American championship, Borne and DiBiase won the Mid-South tag titles.
Borne, already a polished performer despite only having a few years in the business at that point, was actually the first of those wrestlers to jump to the then-WWF. He worked underneath, largely jobbing out, but collecting some wins over other lower-card wrestlers. Borne appeared at the first WrestleMania, going on third in a losing effort to Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat. But he didn’t last long in the gimmick-heavy WWF, and soon he returned to the NWA.
There seems to be a clear pattern in Borne’s career path: He was never in the right place at the right time. He wrestled in Jim Crockett Promotions in 1980, even winning the Mid-Atlantic tag titles with Buzz Sawyer, but left before the territory caught fire with Dusty Rhodes, Magnum TA, and the Rock-n-Roll Express. He left Georgia under murky circumstances–wrestling manager/historian Jim Cornette has alluded to a possible statutory rape charge against Borne–and he left Mid-South before it blew up with the Midnight Express vs. the Rock & Roll Express.
Once his first stint with the WWF was over, Borne went to Texas, one of the territories where his father had first found success. But things were tough in Texas. The white-hot Freebirds-Von Erichs feud was over, and houses were down. Fritz Von Erich had pulled the promotion out of the NWA and tried to make World Class its own entity. Borne still put in good work, managed by Percival Pringle III (you’ll know him better as Paul Bearer) and winning the WCCW tag titles with his old friend Sawyer, as well as the promotion’s secondary championship, the Texas heavyweight title.
Borne and Sawyer were involved in the angle that saw the Dingo Warrior (Jim Hellwig, in the days before he became WWE’s Ultimate Warrior) turn babyface, which was one of the highlights of the dying WCCW brand, as the pair turned on Warrior during a six-man tag team match. Warrior became a babyface–the fans were dying to cheer him anyway–and the heel locker room could carry him in the ring a little better than the babyfaces could.
From late 1987-1990, it’s harder to track Matt Borne’s movements.
He’d wrestle here and there, but he was largely out of the public eye–and in fact, his time in the spotlight underneath his own gimmick was done. When he returned in 1991, it was as a brand-new character for World Championship Wrestling: Big Josh. Josh was a family-friendly character for WCW, a lumberjack and outdoorsman who danced with bears and debuted in the promotion as a friend of mid-carder Tommy “Wildfire” Rich. One of Borne’s signature moves was a “log-roll” where he would repeatedly stomp on the abdomen of his opponent as if he were trying to maintain his balance on top of a piece of lumber floating down a river. He again found success as a tag team, winning the United States tag titles with Ron Simmons and claiming his only “world” title as part of the WCW six-man tag champions with Dustin Rhodes and Tom Zenk.
The Birth of Doink the Clown
From WCW, he returned to the WWF–this time as Doink the Clown. This gimmick is what Borne is most known for, as his ‘evil clown’ gimmick is still fondly remembered today. In 1993, when every mid-card wrestler in the WWF had some sort of oddball gimmick (remember Duke “the Dumpster” Droese?), Borne’s portrayal of Doink is the one that most people remember. He feuded with Mr. Perfect and Bryan “Crush” Adams on TV, but what most people remember is Doink pranking other wrestlers during their matches. Borne worked the gimmick as both a heel and babyface and during the difficult time in the early 1990s WWE, Borne was a qualified success.
“Qualified” because Borne was a mess behind the scenes. By his own admission, he had substance abuse issues and was fired from the WWE for drug use. Borne maintained that personal heat with Bam Bam Bigelow got him fired after Bigelow saw him smoking pot in the hallway of a hotel and “snitched” to management. Both men are gone now, so it’s impossible to know whether this account is accurate. After Borne’s departure, Doink the Clown was played variously by Steve Keirn, Ray Apollo, and Dusty Wolfe.
Borne played a version of the character in Memphis-based USWA, and in ECW, where the fans did not accept the character. During an angle with Shane Douglas, where Douglas berated Borne for allowing himself to be turned into a kiddie character like Doink, Borne changed his gimmick to “Borne Again.” But Borne didn’t last long in ECW–and again, as with the rest of his career–the promotion took off without him.
Perhaps the wrestler most like Matt Borne in that regard was The Great Kabuki, who appeared in World Class, Mid-Atlantic, and Georgia as a main eventer right before those territories really took off. As Freebird Michael Hayes once said, Kabuki didn’t get enough credit, because he was one of the guys who “set the table” for the Texas territory to go off like a Roman candle with the Freebirds-Von Erichs feud, but he was gone before the big money came rolling in. That’s similar to Borne, who just missed the big money runs in Charlotte, Atlanta, Dallas, WCW’s 1990s surge, and WWE’s Attitude Era.
Behind the scenes, Borne suffered from substance abuse issues and, frankly, was miserable to be around for a lot of the locker room. By many accounts, he was often unnecessarily rough with job guys and rookies. Once famously referred to as Krusty the Clown by a member of the locker room for his demeanor, Borne also apparently got into a shoot fight with Jim Duggan at an independent show later in his career after refusing to cooperate with the WWE Hall of Famer.
Borne died at his home in Plano, Texas, from an accidental overdose of morphine and hydrocodone on June 28, 2013. He was 55 years old.