If the 1980’s were full of “One Hit Wonders” in the music world, then the 1990’s had their share of the same in the world of professional wrestling. You’ve heard the saying “one and done”, well that covers our next Mission as part of Operation Gimmick Impossible. It’s Cpl. Dick Peters back from the baseball world after watching the famous Knuckleball Schwartz strike out. And this week we fast forward a year to 1995, and we’re in the midst of the hot summer. If you saw this character on your TV sets back then, you may have thought it was just a heat mirage, but you’d be wrong. He was real…. very real, and as much as his character may specialize in pulling off illusions, he was unable to get one over on the WWF. What’s the old saying, “the hand is quicker than the eye”? Well this guy wasn’t quick enough to fool the eyes of the WWF officials. This week’s mission, is the one and only Magician of the mat, no not Paul Christy, though that might be a fun one for down the line. No not the Black Scorpion either, although I can’t wait to get sent on THAT mission. No, I’m referring to the WWF’s answer to the Black Scorpion, I’m talking PHANTASIO!
Objective 1: The Spellbinder
Before his arrival in the WWF, Harry Del Rios, also known as “The Spellbinder”, had a nice run in the USWA promotion throughout 1993 into 1995 while using a takeoff on the Papa Shango gimmick, but based more on dark magic rather than Voodoo Black Magic. This was also during the years that the WWF was working closely with the USWA, using the Memphis-based promotion to cross-promote shows and to some extent also using the USWA as a farm system during this period. There’s no doubt that Del Rios size, agility, and appearance caught the eye of one Vince McMahon. The Spellbinder was well put together, a nice physique and standing 6’3″ and 275 solid pounds. Not only was Del Rios blessed with the physique that basically guaranteed you a job with the WWF at the time, he was also fairly good in the ring, especially with only a couple of years experience under his belt. With the size, agility, and “look” in place, there was only one of two places for the Spellbinder to go. So it was off to the WWF! Enter Phantasio….
Objective 2: The Magician Arrives
One step up from a clown (sorry Doink), Phantasio would use magic tricks as his shtick, prior to, during, and following his match. He was the family friendly version of the Black Scorpion, and rather than having a real magician perform his acts in a mask, Del Rios performed his own magic show. Del Rios has claimed the idea for this gimmick started out as a cross between the The Ultimate Warrior and Legion of Doom, it somehow boiled down into a Magician gimmick once Vince was made aware of Del Rios past in working with magic. On his way to the ring the magic tricks almost began immediately as Phantasio walked out of the curtain turning a flaming candle into a cane, and providing a magic powder explosion from his top hat.
Once in the ring, Phantasio would slowly remove a mask which matched his face paint so perfectly that it was almost impossible to even detect the mask was present. Phantasio would then hand off his mask to a ringside fan as a souvenir. I hope they kept that and put it on ebay! But he wasn’t done there. Before Phantasio could lock up with his first (and last) opponent, Tony DeVito, he would have to remove a never-ending supply of thin scarves from his mouth.
Now THAT my friends, is Magic!
Finally the match is underway, and he just isn’t done with the shenanigans yet. As DeVito comes racing off the ropes, Phantasio throws a web of streamers over his head, shocking his opponent, even forcing DeVito to take a bump from the shock.
After surprising his opponent with his best impression of Arachnaman (no doubt another future Mission), Gorilla even calls him Spiderman Phantasio would finish him off by reaching down into DeVito’s trunks and yanking his boxers off. I’m not making this up folks.
DeVito becomes so surprised by the one handed removal of his Joe Boxers, that Phantasio is able to catch him off guard with a school boy rollup for the win.
But Phantasio wasn’t done there! As referee Earl Hebner renders the decision to the ring announcer, Phantasio sneaks up from behind Earl and removes his boxers as well!
We learn that Earl keeps it real, matching his boxers with his referee shirt, black and white strips baby! Now that’s comedy people!
I have added video footage (provided by the WWE) of Phantasio’s first, and only, match. Most of the bout remains in tact, however a portion of his pre-match shenanigans have been edited off. Enjoy!
Objective 3: Wow, Great Disappearing Act!
In Phantasio’s second recorded match… Wait. What? Oh yeah, that’s right. Phantasio’s WWF career spanned ONE television match (DeVito) and one untelevised match against Rad Radford (Louie Spicolli).
Making his tenure in the WWF one of the shortest, or possibly the shortest of that era (Buff Bagwell has him beat in this century). Phantasio provided us with the greatest magic trick of all, and it was no illusion, it was a true disappearing act. It was literally “now you see him, now you don’t”. I’d think that his time with the company was over before his match ever even made it to air, which is unfortunate because this is something Vince may have actually been able to make work to some degree versus some of the other mid-90’s flops that clearly had no business ever making it to air, much less being given 6-month and one year runs..
Debriefing Mission 6: Phantasio
Very few guys can say that they have an unblemished record in the WWF, but Phantasio is one of the few who can look himself in the mirror and proudly know that during his entire tenure, he was never defeated. The amount of matches he had may skew that figure a little, but who’s counting. Just think of all the inspirations Phantasio brought to this sport, from Mick Foley’s removable thumb trick to Cody Rhodes’ “Smoke & Mirrors” theme song, Phantasio’s stay in the WWF may have been a short one, but his legacy lives on. All joking aside for a moment, can someone please tell me how Man Mountain Rock, Duke the Dumpster, the Portuguese Man O’ War, and Mantaur gimmicks all got runs during this period, but a guy with the size and agility of Phantasio was kicked to the curb so quickly? My only guess is that he pissed off the wrong person backstage. That’s purely speculation of course, but maybe he should have made like his gimmick and stayed invisible in the locker room. Phantasio, we barely knew ye!
Del Rios would return to the Indy circuit, mainly around the Memphis area, for the next several years, working under the character “Streak” in Memphis Power Pro, and even taking part in the very first TNA PPV using his real name of “Del Rios”. The Spellbinder has been quiet for the better part of a decade, but you never know when this magical mat mechanic will perform his reappearing act.
Mission Accomplished! All be it a short mission, it was fun to take a look at a character that “could have been”. Now I know the guy wasn’t a wrestler’s wrestler, but with Vince directing his program towards kids at the time, and the guys ability, it’s really unfortunate that we didn’t get to see this thing evolve into a black magic type character. The Spellbinder character was fun in the USWA. Anyway, it’s time to leave the house of fun and head back to HQ for my next mission. What that will be, I never know. This has been Cpl. Dick Peters, standing at attention!