It was just a couple of months before WCW fired the first shot in the Monday Night Wars in 1995. The WWF was still enamored with over the top gimmicks and characters. It was style over substance…the bigger the physique…the better. It didn’t really matter if the guy could wrestle a 5 star match or not…just be flashy.
Of course, if a wrestler had size and athletic ability, it was a plus…not mandatory…but a plus. Enter a wrestler by the name of Harry Del Rios. Del Rios by his own admission…was the WWE’s first ever developmental wrestler under contract. He was trained by the great Johnny Rodz in New York City and had a great look. He was 6’3 and close to 275 pounds of lean muscle. He also wasn’t half bad inside the ring.
Harry Del Rios was a WWE project that Vince McMahon was committed to make work. He spent a couple of years down in Memphis,Tennessee for the USWA. At the time, the WWE and USWA had a working agreement with each other. It was unofficially officially the WWE’s first developmental territory. In the summer of 1995, Del Rios got the call to head north.
Several ideas were pitched back and forth for a gimmick for Del Rios. Vince McMahon loved the fact that Harry Del Rios was a real life amateur magician…so the two came up with a magician type gimmick named Phantasio. A character would be styled from the old Papa Shango character with the difference being he was a babyface character. It was a gimmick that Del Rios was somewhat familiar with, as he briefly portrayed a similar character named Spellbinder in Memphis.
Phantasio made his WWE debut on an episode of Wrestling Challenge in July of ’95. He wore a mask and carried a magic wand…when he removed the mask..his face was painted much like a mime. He did an assortment of magic tricks before wrestling future ECW star Tony Devito.
Phantasio emerged victorious in the match and celebrated by doing what else??? You guessed it…more magic tricks! Fans in attendance seemed a little perplexed over the gimmick…but with time…maybe it could work out. The problem was…there was no next time.
Phantasio vanished without a trace…never to appear on WWE television again. So what happened?!? According to Del Rios in an interview in 2006….Mark Calaway was not a fan of the Phantasio gimmick as he felt it mirrored his Undertaker gimmick too closely. Vince agreed and sent Del Rios back to the USWA to be repackaged.
Regardless if Del Rios was 100% accurate or not…he was sent down to Memphis and had several other names and character tweaks including joining the USWA’s version of The Nation of Domination. Del Rios never returned to the WWE, but he can brag that he was undefeated in his extremely brief time there. So what happened to Harry Del Rios? He still wrestles occasionally on the independent circuit as Spellbinder. He also competes in fitness competitions across the country.