Matt Osborne may be gone, but his mark on the business of professional wrestling will leave an everlasting legacy.
Osborne was known to more die-hard wrestling fans as “Maniac” Matt Borne, but to the more casual wrestling fan he was the original Doink the Clown.
Osborne passed away Friday at a hospital in Plano, Texas. The cause of his death is not yet known. He was 55.
Although Osborne made his name playing at first an evil clown then a kid-friendly one, he carried more than a wealth of respect among his wrestling brethren and aficionados.
Before joining the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) in 1992, he earned that respect from years on the old territorial wrestling scene throughout 1980s.
His name alone carried weight as his father, “Tough” Tony Borne, was a star in the Portland, Ore. area and even challenge for the prestigious NWA World championship.
Osborne made a name for himself in his father’s territory as well as World Class Championship Wrestling in Texas, Mid-South Wrestling, Georgia Championship Wrestling and World Championship Wrestling (WCW).
While “Maniac” Matt Borne was making his name as a tough, bruising heel (bad guy) in the wrestling business, Philadelphia-based wrestler Brian Heffron, who is better known as the Blue Meanie, was a fan watching on television.
“I watched him as a fan as a child,” Heffron said during a phone interview Friday. “He was on the very first Wrestlemania. I watched him when he worked in World Class Championship Wrestling. I’ve seen him wrestle from watching tapes from Portland, Ore. where his father was a superstar, ‘Tough’ Tony Borne.”
Once Heffron got into the wrestling business himself in the early 1990s, his appreciation for Osborne’s work only grew. That’s because Heffron got to see why Osborne was so respected amongst his peers.
“His work was something I always admired and the fact that I got work with him and pick his brain here and there was something I’ll always value because he was one of the best wrestlers in the business,” Heffron said.
Osborne left a lot marks on the wrestling business, but possibly the biggest is his psychological approach to wrestling. Osborne’s approach to being a heel was something that inspired many performers throughout the years.
With Osborne, whether he was playing a maniac or an evil clown, you believed he was really that kind of person.
“He taught me how to take my time and make things mean something,” Heffron said. “With Matt Borne there was no wasted motion in the ring when facing an opponent. When he threw a punch, it meant something. When he threw a kick, it meant something.”
Osborne’s intellectual approach to wrestling is somewhat of a lost art in today’s mainstream product. His methodology in and around the ring may be a little too plodding for the more fast-paced, instant gratification, ratings-driven business you see today.
But Heffron said that taking something from his style would definitely be an asset to any up-and-coming wrestler who wishes to make it in the big time.
“If you want to study on how to work watch a Matt Bourne match because he was one of the most believable guys in the ring,” he said. “He knew how to read a crowd and he knew how to feed off emotion. That would be a valuable lesson to anybody in the business.”
When Heffron found out about Osborne’s death Friday, he was devastated. Heffron said he found out the unfortunate news through a text message from a friend, whom had himself heard of Osborne’s passing through an Internet story.
“It stopped me in my tracks,” Heffron said.
Heffron was actually with Osborne for one of his last public appearances. Osborne was recently at the New England Fan Fest in Fairhaven, Mass. back on June 22. Heffron was in also attendance.
Because there are a number of Doink the Clown imitations on the independent wrestling circuit, Heffron said he wasn’t completely sure that it was the original, but eventually found out that it was.
“I’m really, really sad that I didn’t take time to go out of my way to say hello,” Heffron said. “Matt’s a great guy and a great second-generation superstar.”
For fans, Osborne’s death may represent a piece of their childhood that is no longer with them. But for the wrestling business itself, it is the loss of one of the great minds and tacticians the industry has ever seen.
“Any time you lose a great mind […] the business suffers,” Heffron said. “That’s one less tree of knowledge for the future generation to pick from.”