It’s Wrestlemania week and I am looking forward as my favourite part of it slowly comes into focus. On the whole the professional wrestling industry has a reputation as a whole of being both unforgiving and selfish, the performers used up and left behind. I don’t mean that as an indictment, I am pointing out that it functions like any other professional sport, if you can’t contribute to the team you don’t play. The lucky ones can coach, train, transition to a broadcast role, scout or if they were wise with their finances move in to an entirely new career. For every tale of successful transition there are tales of broken lives, crippled bodies, substance abuse, bad investments, uncontrolled spending or just the inability to adapt to a life outside the ring. Sounds a lot like any professional sport doesn’t it? The light at the end of the tunnel though is the WWE Hall of Fame. . The part that really gets me about it is that it isn’t just a WWE Hall of Fame it has clearly become a professional wrestling Hall of Fame, not that they don’t exist in other forms but the level of production, glamour and the reach of the WWE truly elevates the spot light of the performers, promoters and even the celebrities that have contributed to the industry, not just the company.
It all began with Andre The Giant in 1993. The most fitting inaugural induction as The Giant was a massive crossover success and an unparalled draw in the business. The Hall of Fame was not a regular attraction to Wrestlemania until 2004. Since then it has grown from a small venue show to an arena filling attraction. Thousands of fans and industry professionals attend every year to pay homage to the legacy of the inducties. What gives it legitimacy is that legends who’s legacies were cemented outside of the WWE are honored, they were not WWE icons, Antonio Inoki and Tatsumi Fujinami along with 2016 inductee Stan Hansen made their names in Japan. Vern Gagne, Stu Hart and the Von Erichs were the athletes, owners and promoters of their own territories and competitors to WWE through out the 70’s and 80’s. Mil Mascaras is a Mexican wrestling legend on par with Hulk Hogan. Sting and Paul Ellering made their bones in WCW, it does not seem to matter to the governing body of this Hall of Fame and one has to assume that the final say does rest with Vince McMahon.
Looking over the Hall of Fame roster I, unlike the IWC at large, do not see any problems with the inductees from the business, the celebrity wing is a little ify but I digress because most of them do deserve a spot. The big arguement is on why some talent is in but others are not…yet. My favourite is The Bushwackers, as a WWE act they were comedy baby faces, the rest of their career they were mostly booked as hard core heels, the villians that would use anything or do anything, look at the scars on their foreheads. Apart from the rest of their career The Bushwackers earned their spot because they are MEMORABLE, period. Their music and distinct arm flailing march to the ring and the bizarre high energy promos stuck in the minds of fans, so back off the Kiwis haters. The same principles apply to Koko B. Ware, he stuck in our minds, he deserves his spot. There are more decorated talents and contributors sure but be patient, there are dozens of reasons why it wasn’t their year.
The Hall of Fame has been a tremendous factor in returning talent to the fold. Massive names like Bruno Sammartino and The Ultimate Warrior held grudges for years, even decades before returning to accept their place. Before you Canadians start screaming “What about Bret!” allow me to put forth that I never thought Bret would stay gone forever so his return, though exciting, was never in doubt in my mind. Ooohhh yeeeaaah, I know you are thinkin’ thinkin’ thinkin’ that “The Macho Man” Randy Savage returned too, but it was his brother “Leaping” Lanny Poffo that made it happen after Randy passed away, DIG IT! The only name I do not ever see being publicly inducted is that of a man who’s legacy is forever tainted by his last days. According to a few interviews with his friends that man would not have wanted the spectcal and controversy to ruin the honor, should he be inducted I suspect it will be a quiet erecting of a small display in a corner where the in ring accomplishments of Chris Benoit will be acknowledged, not soon, most likely not ever, but never say never in wrestling.
The sad part in all this though, to me at least, is that there is no physical Hall of Fame. I can not go on a trip and walk through displays and monuments to these legends. Rumours abound that there are plans but until the WWE announces it, which they have not as I type this, the Hall of Fame is digital and I hope a small part of it still travels in WWE Axxess, a fan festitval that accompanies Wrestlemania. I am sure there is enough memorobilia to fill a decent sized building but I don’t see it being a big enough attraction to function on it’s own, I think to add it to a larger attraction like a theme park or major tourist destination would be perfect, away from the WWE performance centre or headquarters so fans do not disrupt business at either would be ideal. In 2001 and 2002 I was able to see the small selection of displays at Axxess and for a wrestling fan it was incredible to see the vehicles, ring gear and statues. I will pay the admission to walk through halls and displays if such an opportunity arises.
The WWE Hall of Fame class of 2016 will be arriving in Dallas this week, the day this is published is 7 days prior to the event, no matter what the IWC thinks or the outrage of the key board warriors in chatrooms every where this class is more than worthy. There is only one name that should be in the Hall of Fame before anyone else but I will say with the utmost certainty that he will not be inducted while he is alive. It’s not his lack of titles, he is a former WWE Champion, not his attitude, he had never been fired or suspended. He was in the ring with all time greats, is a legendary and memorable announcer, host and play by play man. No sir it is simply that he does not seem to want to cast any shadow of disrespect or taint this event, it may well be the most sacred thing the WWE produces after all. When the world watches his induction I do not think the crowd will chant “You still got it!” or “One more match!” there will be a moment of silence then thunderous applause because we may gave hated him, we may have loved him and respected him but we will thank Vincent Kennedy McMahon for what he gave us.