The WWE Hall of Fame: An Historical Overview

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One of my favourite moments of this year’s Wrestlemania weekend actually happened during the week, not the three-day spectacle that ended it. And it didn’t happen during a broadcast or anywhere on the Network. It was discovering via Twitter that WWE was adding a Legacy Award section to the annual WWE Hall of Fame ceremony. By the roster of its first class – George Hackenschmidt and Frank Gotch, the founding fathers (at least Superstar-wise) of professional wrestling, Ed “Strangler” Lewis, inventor of the Sleeper hold and an unbeatable early World champion, 50’s megastar Lou Thesz, perhaps the first true World champion of the television age who appealed to the old and new guard, Pat O’Connor, a former AWA and NWA World champion who worked with Vince Jr.’s dad, Mildred Burke, an icon far more deserved as the vanguard of women’s wrestling over Moolah, and “Sailor” Art Thomas, one of the first African-Americans to wrestle in the main event in the 1960’s against NWA World Champion Buddy Rogers – it definitely looks like WWE has gone from completely trying to disassociate itself from the entire industry and suddenly embrace with the gusto of a heavily made up Aunt at a family reunion. Although don’t tell Vince that O’Connor was from New Zealand. I’m in the belief that Vince just looked at a list of early 50’s stars and said “This guy. He sounds real Irish.”

The WWE Hall of Fame: An Historical Overview

But as a fan of the professional wrestling industry’s history, this really made me proud to be a fan. From the days as a carnival side show in the late 1890’s to the turn of the century rivalry that started it all – Gotch vs. Hackenschmidt – in one of the most eagerly anticipated sports match-ups of all time, to the rise of television, to see the WWE finally bring that rich and exciting history back into the light was a huge step in the direction for growing a much greater appreciation of the product and industry for those who wish to dig deeper. Though they did mention many of them in some conversation in the documentary for the World Heavyweight Championship DVD, they never really went much further back than 1985 and even then it was selective. So how much of wrestling’s actual history is honoured in the WWE Hall of Fame?

Let’s imagine that the WWE Hall of Fame was a physical construct. I imagine that there would be actual wings, where inductees are lumped with their peers. It would bring a sense of unity of where each section was coming from. Bruno Sammartino may not look cool next to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, but put him next to Buddy Rogers and he’ll look like a monster. Let’s make wings and put each actual WWE Hall of Famer into their respective classes. Each inductee in each wing of one that they made the most impact in. For example, Freddie Blassie could be in the Golden Age as a wrestler and Managers as a, well, manager. Bobby Heenan in Manager and Broadcaster. And so forth. (Note: Inductees are placed in eras where they had their biggest impact, not necessarily every era they competed; Notable Omissions only include wrestlers who no longer actively compete regularly, WWE or indie).

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Photos: WWE.com (Collage by Jamie Greer)

THE LEGACY WING: Origins and early TV Stars

Inductees: Mildred Burke, Frank Gotch, George Hackenschmidt, Ed “Strangler” Lewis, Pat O’Connor, Lou Thesz, “Sailor” Art Thomas

The introduction of the Legacy Award wing in 2016 answered a lot of historians and purists calls for some of the early pioneers of the industry pre-TV, with a stunning first class that saw the First Two of Hackenschmidt and Gotch enter, alongside one of the industry’s first women stars in Mildred Burke and shooter Lou Thesz. Here’s hoping future classes add to this important wing.

Notable Omissions: Orville Brown, Earl Caddock, Edouard Carpentier, Gory Guerrero, Jim Londos, Bronko Nagurski, El Santo, Joe Stecher, Whipper Billy Watson

Photos: WWE.com (Collage by Jamie Greer)
Photos: WWE.com (Collage by Jamie Greer)

THE GOLDEN AGE: The rise of the TV stars in the 1950 & 60’s

Inductees: “Bullet” Bob Armstrong, “Classy” Freddie Blassie, Nick Bockwinkel, Bobo Brazil, Jack Brisco, Gerry Brisco, Dory Funk Jr., Verne Gagne, Gorgeous George, Eddie Graham, Stu Hart, Antonio Inoki, “Soulman” Rocky Johnson, Killer Kowalski, “Big Cat” Ernie Ladd, Jack Lanza, “High Chief” Peter Maivia, Mil Mascaras, Gorilla Monsoon, The Fabulous Moolah, Pat Patterson, Antonino Rocca, “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, Bruno Sammartino, Baron Mikel Scicluna, The Sheik, Lou Thesz, Mad Dog Vachon, “Handsome” Jimmy Valiant, Fritz Von Erich, Mae Young

The rise of television brought pro-wrestling to new heights and it’s first real boom and legitmacy. Buddy Rogers and Bruno Sammartino were undisputed stars who brought the industry to new heights, along with pioneers like Bobo Brazil, Fabulous Moolah and Verne Gagne. The effects of Gorgeous George’s personality was an immediate impact not only on the industry itself but pop culture as a whole.

Notable Omissions: Dick Beyer (The Destroyer/Mr. X), Blue Demon, Dick the Bruiser, The Crusher, Giant Baba, Karl Gotch, Judy Grable, Haystacks Calhoun, Danny Hodge, The Kangaroos (Al Costello & Roy Heffernan), Gene Kiniski, Boris Malenko, Mr. Wrestling (Tim Woodin), Rikidozan, Billy Robinson, Johnny Saint

Photos: WWE.com (Collage by Jamie Greer)
Photos: WWE.com (Collage by Jamie Greer)

HARD TIMES: The rough and tumble rowdiness of the 1970’s into the 80’s

Inductees: Abdullah the Butcher, Arn Anderson, Andre the Giant, “Bullet” Bob Armstrong, Tony Atlas, Bob Backlund, Tully Blanchard, Gerry Brisco, Jack Brisco, Nick Bockwinkel, Bobo Brazil, Carlos Colon, Ted DiBiase, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, Mr. Fuji, Tatsumi Fujinami, Dory Funk Jr., Terry Funk, Verne Gagne, “Superstar” Billy Graham, Stan Hansen, Antonio Inoki, The Iron Sheik, “Soulman” Rocky Johnson, Killer Kowalski, “Big Cat” Ernie Ladd, Blackjack Lanza, Jerry “The King” Lawler, Mil Mascaras, Gorilla Monsoon, The Fabulous Moolah, Pedro Morales, Blackjack Mulligan, Don Muraco, Cowboy “Ace” Bob Orton, Pat Patterson, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Ivan Putski, Harley Race, Dusty Rhodes, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, Johnny Rodz, Bruno Sammartino, The Sheepherders (Butch & Luke), Sgt. Slaughter, The Sheik, “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka, Ricky Steamboat, George “The Animal” Steele, Chief Jay Strongbow, Big John Studd, Mad Dog Vachon, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, “Handsome” Jimmy Valiant, “Luscious” Johnny Valiant, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Nikolai Volkoff, David Von Erich, Mike Von Erich, Wild Samoans (Afa & Sika), Barry Windham, Larry Zybysko

The 1970’s marked the beginning of the true territorial wars, with each regional promotion striving to create their own unique stars. The NWA and WWWF were the industry leaders, with the AWA a very close third. It also saw the rise of New Japan and All Japan as world competitors.

Notable Ommisions: Ole Anderson, Bruiser Brody, Dos Caras, Lord Alfred Hayes, Ivan Koloff, Dutch Mantell, Dick Murdoch, Tommy Rich, Professor Tanaka, Baron Von Raschke, Vivian Vachon

Photos: WWE.com (Collage by Jamie Greer)
Photos: WWE.com (Collage by Jamie Greer)

ROCK N’ WRESTLING: The 1980’s

Inductees: Abdullah the Butcher, Arn Anderson, Andre the Giant, Big Boss Man, Tully Blanchard, The Bushwhackers (Luke & Butch), “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, The Fabulous Freebirds (Michael PS Hayes, Terry Gordy, Buddy Roberts, Jimmy Garvin), The Fabulous Moolah, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, Tatsumi Fujinami, Terry Funk, Stan Hansen, Bret “Hitman” Hart, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, Hulk Hogan, The Iron Sheik, Junkyard Dog, Jerry “The King” Lawler, Madusa Micelli (Alundra Blayze), Don Muraco, “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, Cowboy “Ace” Bob Orton, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Harley Race, Dusty Rhodes, Wendi Richter, Road Warrior Animal, Road Warrior Hawk, Tito Santana, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Sgt. Slaughter, “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, George “The Anima” Steele, Sting, Big John Studd, Ultimate Warrior, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, Nikolai Volkoff, Koko B. Ware, Wild Samoans (Afa & Sika), “Texas Tornado” Kerry Von Erich, Kevin Von Erich, Larry Zybysko

With Vince McMahon Jr. taking a commanding lead in the territorial wars, AWA had one last run, WCCW pushed the envelope, and the NWA consolidated under Jim Crocket and became WCW by the decades end. Wrestlemania brought pro wrestling back to the mainstream in its biggest boom since the 1970’s.

Notable Omissions: Brutus Beefcake, Demolition (Ax & Smash), Dynamite Kid, Earthquake, Miss Elizabeth, Hillbilly Jim, Honky Tonk Man, Kamala, The Killer Bees (B. Brian Blair & “Jumping” Jim Brunzell), King Kong Bundy, Nikita Koloff, Magnum TA, Mitsuharu Misawa, Rick Martel, The Midnight Express (Dennis Condrey, Bobby Eaton, Stan Lane), Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, One Man Gang, Butch Reed, The Rock & Roll Express (Robert Gibson & Ricky Morton), The Rougeaus (Jacques Sr., Jacques Jr., Raymond), “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Dick Slater, Tiger Mask (Satoru Sayama)

Photos: WWE.com (Collage by Jamie Greer)
Photos: WWE.com (Collage by Jamie Greer)

THE ATTITUDE ERA: The 1990’s

Inductees: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Big Boss Man, Alundra Blayze (Madusa), Booker T, Edge, Mick Foley, Terry Funk, The Godfather, Eddie Guerrero, Stan Hansen, Bret “Hitman” Hart, “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan, Jacqueline, Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, Razor Ramon (Scott Hall), Rikishi, Road Warrior Animal, Road Warrior Hawk, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Ron Simmons, Sting, Sunny, Ultimate Warrior, Yokozuna

The 90’s were an enormous time for the wrestling industry. The New Generation in WWF started with a whimper, but the birth of ECW, the emergence of the Attitude Era in the WWF and the rise of WCW as a legitimate contender versus the McMahon empire created one of the industry’s most exciting eras.

Notable Omissions: Bam Bam Bigelow, British Bulldog, D’Lo Brown, Chyna, Shane Douglas, Goldberg, Great Muta, Haku/Meng, Owen Hart, Hayabusa, Paul Heyman, Ivory, Jeff Jarrett, Kenta Kobashi, Konnan, Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Lex Luger, Dean Malenko, The Nasty Boys (Knobbs & Saggs), New Age Outlaws (Road Dogg & Billy Gunn), Diamond Dallas Page, Brian Pillman, Raven, William Regal, The Rock, Sable, Sabu, The Sandman, The Steiners (Rick & Scott Steiner), Taz, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Manami Toyota, 2 Cold Scorpio, Ultimo Dragon, Vader, Sid Vicious, Viscera, X-Pac

Photos: WWE.com (Collage by Jamie Greer)
Photos: WWE.com (Collage by Jamie Greer)

THE MILLENIALS: First decade of 2000

Inductees: Booker T, Edge, Eddie Guerrero, Lita, Shawn Michaels, Trish Stratus

With the Monday Night Wars over and the WWE poised as the top global brand in pro wrestling, the territories became a hot bed of activity with the rise of Ring of Honor, CZW, PWG, Chikara and TNA.

Notable Omissions: Batista, Chris Benoit, Daniel Bryan, Christian, Beth Phoenix, CM Punk, Drake Younger

Photos: WWE.com (Collage by Jamie Greer)
Photos: WWE.com (Collage by Jamie Greer)

MANAGERS: Those who had outstanding careers as a manager or valet.

Inductees: Cpt. Lou Albano, Paul Bearer, “Classy” Freddie Blassie, J.J. Dillon, “Precious” Paul Ellering, Mr. Fuji, The Grand Wizard (Ernie Roth), Jimmy Hart, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, “Sensational” Sherri Martel, Arnold Skaaland, Sunny, “Luscious” Johnny Valiant

Some of these had notable careers as wrestlers prior to becoming managers for other stars, while some stuck to what they did best: serving as the agitator or mouthpiece for stables or wrestlers who needed the extra heat.

Notable Omissions: Skandor Akbar, Bill Alfonso, Jim Cornette, Gary Hart, Oliver Humperdink, Slick

Photos: WWE.com (Collage by Jamie Greer)
Photos: WWE.com (Collage by Jamie Greer)

BROADCASTER: Outstanding broadcasting as a wrestling announcer.

Inductees: Howard Finkel, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, Jerry “The King” Lawler, Gorilla Monsoon, “Mean” Gene Okerlund, Jim Ross, Gordon Solie, Jesse “The Body” Ventura

An integral part of the storytelling, announce teams can make or break some storylines or matches. There’s been a long line of broadcasters that have transcended the simple announcing requirements and helped add the necessary intensity to each story being told.

Notable Omissions: Tony Schiavone, Joey Styles, Mike Tenay, Ed Whalen

Photos: WWE.com (Collage by Jamie Greer) WWE Hall of Fame Builders
Photos: WWE.com (Collage by Jamie Greer)

BUILDERS: Behind the scenes who helped build the industry, promoters, etc.

Inductees: Gerald Brisco, Carlos Colon, J.J. Dillon, James Dudley, Tatsumi Fujinami, Verne Gagne, Eddie Graham, Stu Hart, Antonio Inoki, Jerry “The King” Lawler, “High Chief” Peter Maivia, Vincent J. McMahon, Pat Patterson, Dusty Rhodes, Jim Ross, The Sheik, Fritz Von Erich, “Cowboy” Bill Watts

There have many men (and women) who have helped build the industry from behind the scenes, as trainers, bookers, agents and promoters. Whether it’s those who founded promotions – like Gagne (AWA), Fritz (WCCW), Inoki (NJPW), Hart (Stampede/The Dungeon), or Vince Sr. (WWWF) – or those whose tireless work in creative and mentoring – like Patterson, Rhodes, and Ross – there are many whose work behind the scenes who deserve to be recognized.

Notable Omissions: Gory Guerrero, Paul Heyman, Jerry Jarrett, Jess McMahon, Toots Mondt, Sam Muchnik, Mike Quackenbush, Gabe Sapolsky

WWE Hall of Fame Women
Photos: WWE.com (Collage by Jamie Greer)

WOMEN: Pioneers in women’s wrestling

Inductees: Alundra Blayze, Mildred Burke, Jacqueline, Lita, Sherri Martel, The Fabulous Moolah, Wendi Richter, Trish Stratus, Sunny, Mae Young

The women have long been side show afterthoughts in the pro wrestling industry and, despite having a monumental amount of pioneers for decades, it’s only recently – with the indie circuits and WWE’s Divas Revolution – that women’s wrestling has finally taken a seat alongside the men’s.

Notable Omissions: June Byers, Chyna, Sarah Del Rey, Miss Elizabeth, Judy Grable, Akira Hokuto, Molly Holly, Ivory, Mickie James, Jazz, Bull Nakano, Beth Phoenix, Manami Toyota, Luna Vachon, Jaguar Yokota

CELEBRITY: Celebrities who have made memorable impressions on the industry.

Inductees: Drew Cary, Mr. T, William “Refrigerator” Perry, Pete Rose, Arnold Schwarzeneggar, Snoop Dogg, Donald Trump, Mike Tyson, Bob Uecker

The most criticized wing of the WWE Hall of Fame by far, despite the fact that pro wrestling has used celebrity star power for decades to help draw in casual fans or push itself into the mainstream press.

Notable Omissions: Mohammed Ali, Alice Cooper, Morton Downey Jr., Aretha Franklin, Andy Kaufman, Lemmy Kilmeister, Cyndi Lauper, Dennis Rodman

FACTIONS: The Greatest Groups and Teams in Wrestling

Completed Inductees: The Blackjacks (Blackjack Lanza, Blackjack Mulligan), The Bushwhackers (Butch & Luke), The Fabulous Freebirds (Michael PS Hayes, Terry Gordy, Buddy Roberts, Jimmy Garvin), The Four Horsemen (Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Barry Windham, JJ Dillon), The Wild Samoans (Afa & Sika), The Legion of Doom (Road Warrior Hawk, Road Warrior Animal, Paul Ellering)

FAMILIES: The Greatest Families in Wrestling History

Inductees: The Funks (Dory Funk Jr., Terry Funk), The Harts (Stu, Bret Hart), The Samoans (“High Chief” Peter Maivia, Afa, Sika, Rikishi, Yokozuna), The Von Erichs (Fritz, Kevin, David, Kerry, Mike, Chris Von Erich), The Windhams (Blackjack Mulligan, Barry Windham)

Obviously, as noted in the Notable Omissions of each section, there are still hundreds of names that deservedly belong in the WWE Hall of Fame. There’s infinitely more that aren’t even mentioned here. Ultimately, it’s up to WWE to decide who they put in. But by looking at it by era and wing, it definitely shows that every era is finally being recognized and with the talent still not in, it guarantees some fun and entertaining inductees for years to come.

So favouritism aside…who do you think belongs in each wing that isn’t in yet?

Main Photo: WWE.com, WWE Hall of Fame Logo 2016

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