December 6, 2005
PWHF announces fifth induction class
By BOB BRYLA - For SLAM! Wrestling
AMSTERDAM, NY - The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum (PWHF) is pleased to announce the PWHF's Induction Class for 2006. The PWHF, a not-for-profit corporation headquartered in Amsterdam, New York, will be celebrating its Fifth Annual Induction Weekend on May 19-20, 2006.
In the Pioneer category, former world champions Ed Don George and Bill Longson will be honored. Ed Don George received recognition at the University of Michigan, where he was a college star and two-time AAU champion. His wrestling talents took him to the 1928 Olympics held in the Netherlands and he later became the professional World Heavyweight Champion in 1931 by defeating Gus Sonnenberg. He later lost that title to his idol, "Strangler" Lewis. Ed Don's professional wrestling career ended when he entered the Navy during World War II. Following his discharge, George continued in the grappling business as a promoter in Buffalo where he enjoyed great success. During his promotional years, he recruited a young Dick "The Destroyer" Beyer, now a PWHF Inductee from 2005. Bill Longson, a native of Salt Lake City, held the National Wrestling Association World Heavyweight title on three occasions. From 1942 through 1947, Longson defeated Sandor Szabo, Bobby Managoff and Lou Thesz for the NWA belt. His favorite finishing hold was the dreaded piledriver. At one point in his career, he wrestled as the Purple Shadow. Bill passed away in 1982 at the age of 76.
In the Television Era category Don Leo Jonathan and Johnny Valentine will be enshrined. Standing at 6'5" and weighing a solid 275 pounds, Jonathan was one of the first "giant" superstars in professional wrestling. Don Leo was extremely athletic and agile for his size and possessed tremendous strength. A wrestler for over three decades, Jonathan was a longtime main event status wrestler and held multiple titles such as the International title (Montreal) and the NWA Texas title. One of the most respected and cerebral wrestlers in the business, Don Leo currently resides in British Columbia where he enjoys underwater research projects and customized knife design. The late Johnny Valentine began his career in the 1940s and wrestled until his career was cut short due to a tragic plane accident in 1975. The blond haired Valentine, always known as a prankster among the wrestlers, was no joke inside the ring. At 6'4" and 250 lbs. Johnny could deliver punishing blows to his opponents. Somewhat of an intellectual outside of the ring, Johnny often passed his time by playing classical piano and chess. The former long time United States Heavyweight Champion passed away in 2001.
The Modern Era inductees for this year's class are Ray Stevens and Ric Flair. Ray "The Crippler" Stevens began his wrestling career in Columbus, Ohio in the late 1940's at the tender age of thirteen and turning professional at seventeen. He was viewed as the consummate "worker" in the ring. To people in the wrestling world, he was known simply as "Ray". He was a holder of many individual titles including the Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight title, the Florida Television title and the United States Heavyweight title (Hawaii). Ray was well known for his free spirit and fun loving lifestyle. He died at the young age of 60. "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair is a 15-time World Champion and has been a headlining wrestler in the major wrestling organizations throughout most of his career. At 56 years of age, he continues to entertain fans as he delivers devastating chops in the WWE. With his the figure-four signature move and his charismatic personality, the blond-haired Flair has made his mark on the industry for nearly four decades.
The PWHF's newly established International category will have Japanese legend Rikidozan as its first inductee. One of the most important names internationally, he is considered by many to be the Father of Japanese Wrestling, Rikidozan was born in the northern part of Korea but gained fame in Japan. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Rikidozan's wins over the great Lou Thesz helped cement his esteemed reputation in the Japanese community. Also a successful businessman and promoter, he met an untimely death in 1963 at the age of 39.
This year's Tag Team recipients are Ray Stevens and Pat Patterson. Stevens not only will become the first wrestler to be inducted into the PWHF in two separate categories but also Stevens accomplishes this feat in the same year. Ray Stevens and Pat Patterson, based often in San Francisco, dazzled arenas like the Cow Palace with their timing and grace in the 1960s and 1970s. Highly respected by their peers, they held the World Tag Team Championship titles many times. Pierre Clemont, AKA Pat Patterson, was a native Canadian. He also excelled as a singles wrestler. Usually a villian, Patterson held numerous titles throughout his international career before retiring and becoming a well respected figure behind the wrestling scene. Pat retired from the WWE in 2004.
Bobby Heenan is this year's inductee in the Non-participant category. Though Bobby had a successful career as a wrestler, his best gift to the sport has always been with his microphone skills. The quick-witted Heenan, nicknamed both the "Brain" and the "Weasel", was a highly regarded manager of villains and also a renowned commentator for several of the major organizations. He seemed to always add a comical, perhaps jaded, perspective on televised matches. Today Bobby has turned author and has put into print an interesting perspective on the business he loves.
The PWHF will posthumously induct June Byers in the Ladies Category. A Houston native, Miss Byers held the World Title from the mid-1950s until the early 1960s. An automobile accident led to her retirement. Considered one of the best female wrestlers of all time, the attractive Byers passed away in her hometown in 1998.
The PWHF is proud to announce the recipient of the PWHF Senator Hugh Farley Award. The Farley Award is presented to a well-known wrestler who has made significant societal contributions outside of the squared circle. This award is an evolution of the New York State Award, which required wrestlers to have a connection to New York State for consideration. The 2006 Farley Award will be given to Ida May Martinez, RN, MS of Maryland. Ida May, who was a wrestling star in the 1950s, was recently featured in the documentary movie Lipstick and Dynamite, which drew critical acclaim. She has also appeared on the Rosie O'Donnell program for her yodeling skills. Her work with AIDS patients through John Hopkins University is most noteworthy.
Each year, the PWHF's Screening Committee formulates a ballot in the predetermined categories. The ballot is then submitted to an esteemed group of voters made up of former wrestlers and wrestling historians. This year's Screening Committee was composed of Robert K. Oates, Esq., Chairperson, and recognized historians Greg Oliver and Steve Yohe. The Cauliflower Alley Club, through the efforts Karl Lauer and Nick Bockwinkel, made substantial contributions to the selection process. Dr. Robert Bryla, past Chairperson of this Committee, served as a consultant to this group. All thirty experts chosen submitted their ballots. The names of the voters will be posted on the PWHF's website at www.pwhf.org. PWHF President Tony Vellano and Vice-President Mike Capano anticipate an overwhelming demand to this year's event scheduled for May 19 and 20, 2006 in Amsterdam, New York. Tickets are available to the public but seating is limited. More information surrounding this annual event is available on the website.
Dr. Bob Bryla is a major collector of wrestling memorabilia, the chair of the PWHF selection committee and a huge supporter of the PWHF.