Doink the Clown found fame in early 1990s WWE, but there was, unfortunately, trouble along the way for Matt Borne, the man behind the paint.
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.
Matt 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.
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.
Borne would leave 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 the movements of Matt Borne.
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, Matt Borne returned to the WWF — this time as Doink the Clown. This gimmick is what Borne is most known for, as his ‘evil clown’ persona 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 substance abuse. 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 would later play 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.
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 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.
The Death of Matt Borne
Behind the scenes, Matt Borne suffered from substance abuse issues and had a few notable run-ins towards the end of his life, such as getting into a shoot fight with Jim Duggan at an independent show after refusing to cooperate with the WWE Hall of Famer during a match.
Sadly, Borne would die at his home in Plano, Texas, from an accidental overdose of morphine and hydrocodone on June 28, 2013. He also suffered from heart disease, which was said to have contributed to his passing. He was 55 years old.
“Matt was trying to escape issues,” remembers Borne’s long-time friend, Stuart Kemp, who wrestled as “Bulldog Bob Brown, Jr.” and was a staple in the Pacific Northwest alongside Borne off and on from 1993 to 2013.
“He had been off the coke for years though he did have problems with drinking. We never had it in the house while he was rehabbing.
“He stayed with my wife and me when he was trying to get free of the trap. Matt was working a steady job, was loved by coworkers, and was pretty handy as a contracted employee.
“Howard Finkel was in regular contact with us on his recovery, and Matt was doing well.”
According to Kemp, Borne’s enlarged heart ultimately played the most significant role in Borne’s death.
“It may have been brought on by years of abuse, no one knows.”
Kemp continued, “Matt wasn’t perfect; he would tell you that.
“Matt loved to make chili. He never had a recipe, but man, it was good. You’d always need sour cream as he made it way too spicy!
“Him passing shortly before turning 56 was tough on us. We are not sure if his passing was caused by issues; we will never know. I can’t say his relationships [with women] worked out, but he tried. And did he have CTE? That’s a good question.”
Kemp followed up by sharing a painful story, one showing the brutal reality for many who passed away all too young in the business of professional wrestling.
“Matt was over one day on the couch,” Kemp shared. “I found a list of wrestlers who died before the age of 40 and read it aloud to Matt. He asked if I could print it out.
“When I did, he asked for a pen. He then took the paper and left a checkmark and number next to many of the names.
“He finally somberly said, ‘I worked with two-thirds of this list. Imagine; they are all dead. I should have been gone before any of these guys.’
“Sadly, less than two years later, Matt was gone. He is sorely missed.”
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