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Mat Matters: WWE Hall of Fame is legit
By JON WALDMAN -- SLAM! Wrestling


Dusty Rhodes at the podium during the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Wrestlemania 23 in Detroit. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea

As we continue down the “Road to WrestleMania”, we WWE fans will see a few billboards advertising the hot matches, the celebrity appearances and various events surrounding the “granddaddy of them all”.

Among these roadside signs will be announcements for this year’s class in the WWE Hall of Fame, which includes Steve Austin, Terry and Dory Funk Jr., Ricky Steamboat, and Bill Watts among others. They will join other legends such as Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, the Junkyard Dog, Harley Race and a host of others that already have been enshrined.

While much of the current wrestling fanbase anticipate the Hall announcements year-in and year-out (just ask HOF’er Jim Ross, who is inundated with questions through his website), there are still those who do not see the WWE Hall as not being a legitimate entity.

The reasons that these individuals present have varying degrees of validity, but can be easily defeated.

Reason #1 – Rightful HOF’ers have not been inducted

The top two names that are always brought up, when talking about who should be in the hall but are not are Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund. Randy "Macho Man" Savage; Savage, for younger fans, is also a name bandied about every year.

There’s a simple rule that applies to the first two cases though – you can’t induct someone who doesn’t want to be inducted.

Sammartino, in particular, has a big beef with WWE and, in fact, has gone on record as saying he has refused induction requests. In an interview with SLAM! Wrestling’s Matt Mackinder, Sammartino stated, “they've called plenty of times. I turn them down every time. What's the point to a Hall of Fame? Is it a building I can actually go to? No. Give me a break. If I gave in and was inducted, what would that say about me? It would make me a hypocrite and then Vince would turn right around and sell DVDs about me and my career and make more money.”


Bob Backlund, still competing in 2007, here against Alex Shelley at the TNA Slammiversary PPV. Photo by Bob Kapur
Backlund, however, is another story. The former two-time Heavyweight champ also had a sore spot with the Fed for years, though there aren’t any documented cases of Backlund refusing induction, when he was chosen to enter the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame (www.pwhf.org), he politely said his career wasn't over yet. Backlund’s time may come soon though, as he has appeared on WWE TV within the last year, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he is inducted within the next three years (depending on whether or not he’s enough of a marquee name to draw a crowd).

The last name on my list is the biggest bone of contention that we may never see. In the case of Savage, it’s more of a case of McMahon not wanting to work with Randy than vice-versa; but those cases are seen in other halls. Witness, for example, the Baseball Hall of Fame, who will not induct Pete Rose due to his lifetime suspension from Major League Baseball, or the Hockey Hall of Fame, who have not named Dino Ciccarelli as a member, likely due to his on- and off-ice shenanigans.

The bottom line is that a selection committee chooses who goes in. Every entity that has a Hall of Fame, be it in sports or entertainment, will have its share of, “how is he/she not in the hall?” questions, and just as often they’ll have the, “how the heck is he/she in the hall?” debates. The ultimate decision lies with the Hall’s selection committee and the nominee. If one party doesn’t want a personality in, they won’t go in; period.

This leads perfectly into reason number two…

#2 – Undeserving honourees

This one also really bugs me.

Too often, whiners will say, “but Pete Rose isn’t a Hall of Famer” or “who in their right mind would put Koko B. Ware in the Hall?” (and for the record, I don’t agree with either, but that’s another editorial for another time).

My response? Two words: Clark Gillies.

For the uninitiated, Gillies is the name thrown around in hockey circles as a player who undeservedly entered shinny’s hallowed hall. A forward primarily with the New York Islanders, Gillies did not achieve the milestones or benchmarks common to most other HOF’ers who played in the '70s and '80s. He never had 50 goals or 100 points in a season, never was named an award recipient (save for being named to two post-season all-star teams) and only was held in high enough regard to be called to play for Team Canada in the Canada Cup once (1981) in his career, despite being active and available for the 1976, 1984 and 1987 editions of the tournament.

Gillies isn’t the only headscratcher. Bernie Federko certainly didn’t fit the bill of an HOF’er, nor did Dick Duff.

Regardless, all three middle-of-the-roaders are in the Hall, must the same way that Rose and Ware are WWE HOF (soon to be) residents. You’ll find the same “WTF” selections in any Hall you look at. So once again, an argument is moot.

#3 – No physical hall


Fabulous Moolah, George "The Animal" Steele, and Mae Young -- all members of both the WWE and PWHF Hall of Fame -- pose in the bricks and mortar Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2004. Photo by Steven Johnson
Sammartino’s point that there isn’t a building dedicated to the WWE Hall of Fame is another argument that people like to throw around. Again, there is justification for this. After all, part of having a Hall of Fame is having something for fans to look at to learn more about its members.

Here though you have an interesting situation, in that most Halls are separate, but not independent entities from their buildings. For example, the Hockey Hall of Fame is the organization of all inducted members, but The Hockey Hall of Fame and Museum is a building all to its own. If the museum goes out of business, it’s gone; but the HHOF will always be intact, whether or not there’s a physical location.

Further, wrestling fans can have the Hall experience online, and they’re not alone. There are several Halls that either due to a lack of funding or lack of space have chosen the virtual hall route. Hell, SLAM! Wrestling hosts the Canadian Wrestling Hall of Fame, but there is no building either existing or, to the best of my knowledge, being planned anywhere (though Hart House would certainly be the ideal location if there were a sponsor or two).

In the same manner, WWE, through its website, provides biographies, photos and other features on its honoured members. Plus, there is a full induction ceremony taking place in a theatre or stadium, as well as exhibits that travel across North America during the Road to WretleMania.

#4 – Too WWE-centric


Mr. Saito at the banquet for the inductions to the 2008 George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. Photo by Greg Oliver
Of all the common arguments I hear, this is the one that probably irritates me the most, because all it does is fall in line with the rabble you hear about other Halls. Saying WWE doesn’t recognize promotions outside its own borders is the same as the Hockey Hall of Fame not recognizing European players often enough, or that the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio doesn’t have enough members from the CFL.

In fact, in recent years, WWE has been better than both of these sports. Look at Verne Gagne, who never would be mistaken for being a friend of the WWE. Dusty Rhodes and Harley Race certainly didn’t achieve greatness in the Fed (neither won a single title during their brief tenures), yet both of them are in the Hall.

Yet I don't see them ever honouring Mr. Saito or Billy Robinson, like the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, which is a part of the Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum www.wrestlingmuseum.org, has done,

The other reality is that the HOF WWE runs is titled the WWE Hall of Fame, not the “Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame Sponsored by World Wrestling Entertainment”. It doesn’t have to honour wrestlers that achieved greatness outside its organization, the same way, say, that the Atlanta Falcons don’t, and likely won’t, retire Brett Favre’s number while he played for them. WWE makes a conscious decision to look at the scope of a wrestler’s career, not just what they did while they performed for the McMahon family.


Rocky Johnson shows off his WWE Hall of Fame ring in December 2008. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea
#5 – Pride

Just a quick point here: The men and women inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame are proud of that fact. Over the last year, WWE played catch-up, and sent out HOF rings to all of its enshrined members. Check out Rocky Johnson's in the photo at right. He wears it wherever he goes, so obviously his enshrinement means a lot to him and his family.

Now the final argument is one that may hold some water, but really, it’s nothing significant.

#6 – Who’s on the committee

Never has WWE stated who are the people in charge of putting the classes together. It could be the McMahons sitting around their Sunday night dinner table and picking names, it could be writers using a dartboard or it could be a formal meeting for all we know.

But like all the other arguments, this one is pretty stupid. If we knew the names, would it really make a difference? I think not. People would kvetch about who is and isn’t in. They might attribute certain names being in due to who’s on the committee (like I blame Jim Gregory squarely for being the yotz who put Dick Duff in the HHOF), but in the end it’s just rabble and won’t change anything.

So aside from arguing against these arguments for why WWE’s Hall is illegitimate, the only argument that I need to provide that the WWE HOF is legitimate is that the mass WWE fan base considers it to be kosher. Outside of the WWE Draft, the Royal Rumble and Money in the Bank winners and hirings and firings, no other WWE entity gets as much debate and fan deliberation as the Hall of Fame class announcements. People campaign for Randy Savage to be named year-in and year-out because they genuinely care about this accolade. They ask if the Ultimate Warrior will be in this year’s class because they want to see him deliver a speech in front of his peers and fans. They continually question about Bob Backlund’s status because they feel he deserves to be a Hall member.

If they didn’t talk about these subjects, it means that they don’t care; and if they don’t care, there wouldn’t be a Hall in the first place. But make no mistake about it – John Q WWEfan does care about the Hall and sees it for what it is – a tribute to the elite heroes of the past.

WHAT'S YOUR TAKE?
Share your thoughts on the WWE Hall of Fame -- and other wrestling hall of fames -- with Jon at jonathanwaldman@hotmail.com and we'll put together a reader page down the road.

RELATED LINKS

  • More on WrestleMania 25
  • WWE Hall of Fame at wwe.com

    Jon Waldman has been with SLAM! Wrestling since 2000, making him a possible candidate for induction to some future SLAM! Hall of Fame for writers.