March 22, 2009
Mat Matters: WWE Hall of Fame is legit
By JON WALDMAN -- SLAM! Wrestling
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 years 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 HOFer 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 HOFers 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.
Theres a simple rule that applies to the first two cases though you cant induct someone who doesnt 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! Wrestlings 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.
The last name on my list is the biggest bone of contention that we may never see. In the case of Savage, its 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 theyll have the, how the heck is he/she in the hall? debates. The ultimate decision lies with the Halls selection committee and the nominee. If one party doesnt want a personality in, they wont 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 isnt a Hall of Famer or who in their right mind would put Koko B. Ware in the Hall? (and for the record, I dont agree with either, but thats 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 shinnys hallowed hall. A forward primarily with the New York Islanders, Gillies did not achieve the milestones or benchmarks common to most other HOFers 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 isnt the only headscratcher. Bernie Federko certainly didnt fit the bill of an HOFer, 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. Youll find the same WTF selections in any Hall you look at. So once again, an argument is moot.
#3 No physical hall
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, its gone; but the HHOF will always be intact, whether or not theres a physical location.
Further, wrestling fans can have the Hall experience online, and theyre 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
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 didnt 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 doesnt have to honour wrestlers that achieved greatness outside its organization, the same way, say, that the Atlanta Falcons dont, and likely wont, retire Brett Favres number while he played for them. WWE makes a conscious decision to look at the scope of a wrestlers career, not just what they did while they performed for the McMahon family.
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, its nothing significant.
#6 Whos 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 isnt in. They might attribute certain names being in due to whos on the committee (like I blame Jim Gregory squarely for being the yotz who put Dick Duff in the HHOF), but in the end its just rabble and wont change anything.
So aside from arguing against these arguments for why WWEs 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 years class because they want to see him deliver a speech in front of his peers and fans. They continually question about Bob Backlunds status because they feel he deserves to be a Hall member.
If they didnt talk about these subjects, it means that they dont care; and if they dont care, there wouldnt 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.
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.