Much has been made of WWE’s Hall Of Fame. Many claim it is in no way a true reflection of the talent who has defined the promotion as many greats have been snubbed of spots whilst Vincent J. McMahon’s cab driver James Dudley, kayfabe career trophy-girl Torrie Wilson and career undercard journeyman Johnny Rodz have all been inducted into the hall – and that’s not even mentioning the ‘Celebrity Wing’ that holds a Price Is Right host and a particularly wall-fond US president. So, to right the wrongs, here is a dream casting for this year’s WWE Hall Of Fame class.
Headlining the class is one of the most obvious absences in the WWE Hall Of Fame: Big Van Vader.
Although his WWF run from 1996-to 1998 is generally perceived as a flop, he certainly had a big role in the promotion as well as significant pushes elsewhere.
Under the name Baby Bull, Leon White had his first big outing in the AWA but his rise to fame did not come until his jump to NJPW in 1987. In one of the best-booked debuts in all of wrestling, the 400-pounder crushed Antonio Inoki in under 5 minutes in an unparalleled squash considering it was not only the promotion’s founder’s first loss in two years but the second of the decade. Such heat was garnered by the monster, he incited a riot. Vader would go on to become the only gaijin (non-Japanese) wrestler to hold the IWGP World Heavyweight title three times – a record. For a short stretch in 1989, he even held world belts across three continents, which also includes capturing the CWA world title in Vienna and the UWA world title in Mexico City.
Vader garnered greater prominence in North America after joining WCW. Here, his accolades only grew including three reigns with the WCW World Heavyweight title, a United States title reign, and a BattleBowl win. During his time there, even despite bad booking, Vader would become a huge asset for the company, having some of the best and most high-profile matches of his career against Cactus Jack, Sting, The Boss (Big Boss Man), Ric Flair, and Hulk Hogan.
His WWF run started strong but slowly rolled down an incline over time. On top of the WWF wanting to re-brand him, a rivalry with Shawn Michaels was supposed to see a WWF World Heavyweight title run but the politicking of Michaels allowed HBK to put the kibosh on that. Vader had big matches but lost any title bouts, which had hindered his monstrous persona somewhat. Although only walking away with a Slammy Award for ‘Crime Of The Century’, he did have a prominent role in the main event scene and got pinfall wins over top stars such as Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and The Undertaker.
Despite the fact his WWF/E run was perhaps not what it could have been (here is how Chris Flackett would have done it), his achievements as both the most accomplished non-native in All Japan history and as a constant top guy in the WWF’s main competition, surely “The Mastodon” deserves entry, proving himself to be an internationally-renowned behemoth in the ring.
For this next entry, it is not like the WWE has not reached out to Martel but that he has no ambition for induction.
Martel had previously been a 2-time WWF World Tag Team titleholder alongside Tony Garea, Martel found solo success on his own in the AWA. In Verne Gagne’s Minneapolis-based promotion, Rick held the world title for 585 days – the longest reign of the decade. In this position, he got to rub shoulders with megastars and respective world champions of their companies Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair. After eventually dropping the strap to Stan Hansen, Martel ventured for the WWF.
Rick broke in through a tag team alongside Tom Zenk called The Can-Am Connection who notably competed in the opening bout of WrestleMania III in front of over 90,000 fans in the Pontiac Silverdome. After that folded, Martel joined up with Tito Santana in the youthful and dynamic white-meat babyface team Strike Force. Arriving to the music of ‘Girls In Cars’, the duo would win the WWF World tag belts off The Hart Foundation when Martel submitted Jim Neidhart. At WrestleMania V, the famous betrayal took place when Martel abandoned Santana. This would create his most iconic role, “The Model” in which the French-Canadian constantly dressed in extremely flamboyant and bombastic attires and created his own perfume named ‘Arrogance’. The gimmick lasted until 1995, with the most memorable feud being with Jake Roberts after he was blinded by Martel, leading to the WWF’s first blindfold match. In 1998, he subsequently had a WCW run, cut short by injury, in which he won the Television title.
One of the most memorable heel gimmicks of the ‘Golden Era’, Martel went from a rather traditional and skilled worker to a pompous aristocratic snob. Rick was a strong performer as a determined face but is now more remembered for his WWE-created character which he played to perfection. Although never the top star in WWE he was in the AWA, Martel deserves more than a creditable role for his work in the era as one of the most trustworthy and reliable wrestlers of his time.
The Midnight Express (Jim Cornette, Bobby Eaton, Stan Lane & Dennis Condrey)
Despite never reaching the WWF, The Midnight Express may be one of the most influential and well-round teams of all time.
The team is largely remembered for its drawing power for heat thanks to Jim Cornette. The racquet-swinging manager was the perfect mouthpiece, ranting and raving for minutes on-end with a rich kid smarm that made him so intolerable to southern audiences. Whether assaulting Baby Doll, blowing a fireball into the face of and temporarily blinding Ronnie Garvin, or busting open Bill Watts – Cornette knew exactly how to press the buttons of the audience and make the group much more of a hot commodity because of it.
However, the members also put up more than their fair share of work. Bobby Eaton is often regarded as one of the greatest tag team wrestlers of all time, being a workhorse often in alliances. “Sweet” Stan Lane too was a skilled worker with an agility that the group had not seen before. Elsewhere, Lane’s precursor Dennis Condrey was also perceived as a strong grappler of his day. The team most memorably feuded with The Rock ‘N’ Roll Express yet also locked horns with The Legion Of Doom, The Fantastics, and The Samoan Swat Team – the latter during a short-lived face turn.
The influence of the group can still be felt in the wrestling world today, including through FTR. The honor and prestige of The Midnights make them one of the most iconic teams of their time, in a time bursting with tag teams across the wrestling world. Surely for their impact on tag wrestling forever, the glorious NWA heel team of the 1980s deserve to see themselves gain induction into the WWE Hall Of Fame.
This one may be more questionable than previous entries due to the perceived notion that Lex Luger could not wrestle. Yet Luger is a good worker with the right opponents and found more than enough success for himself in multiple promotions.
Luger’s first big run was in the NWA where he would become a top challenger for the NWA World Heavyweight title against Ric Flair after breaking off from The Four Horsemen. Luger would also become a 4-time United States champion including, to date, the longest individual and combined reigns as champion. In 1991, Luger won the WCW World Heavyweight title to become the 2nd ever WCW Triple Crown champion. His later WCW run saw him garner more accolades such as another run on top as well as a memorable alliance with ‘frenemy’ Sting.
Luger challenged at SummerSlam 1993 and WrestleMania X for the WWF title, was the sole survivor in the main event of Survivor Series 1993, co-won the 1994 Royal Rumble in the WWF, and managed to carve out a legacy for himself in the WWF. His WCW return saw an ongoing friendship with Sting, another WCW title win, and winning Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s ‘Wrestler Of The Year’ award for 1997.
Luger may not have been a top worker throughout his career but still formulated a more than reasonable career for himself – being a part of some of wrestling’s greatest alliances, rivalries, and accolades. A hated heel or beloved face, Luger has done more than enough in my view to earn himself a place in the WWE Hall Of Fame.
The 2005 Hall Of Fame was a unique event. All the ceremony’s inductees were linked by one wrestler: Hulk Hogan. From The Sheik to Roddy Piper and Jimmy Hart to Paul Orndorff, everybody in that year’s hall had worked alongside Hogan.
A rival of Hogan’s not inducted then or subsequently was “The Ugandan Giant” Kamala. After making his name in the Continental Wrestling Association, Mid-South, and WCCW amongst others, Kamala had several high-profile WWF championship matches with Hogan from November 1986-February 1987. He would then garner Mr. Fuji as a manager and team up with Sika. After a run in Jerry Lawler’s USWA where he was a 4-time world champion, Kamala would return to the WWF where he memorably feuded with The Undertaker.
Kamala would have a brief run in the camp-horror stable that was The Dungeon Of Doom as well as an impressive showing in WrestleMania X-7’s Gimmick Battle Royal.
We’ve not yet touched on Kamala’s appearance, one of the key aspects of his character. Weighing nearly 400 pounds, “The Ugandan Headhunter” was often painted with decorative tribal patterns all over his body such as stars and moons. Walking to the ring with a spear and traditional mask, he exclusively spoke Swahili so needed maintenance by handler Kim Chee or his endless list of managers throughout his career such as the aforementioned Mr. Fuji, The Wizard, Slick, Harvey Wippleman, or Freddie Blassie. He was even originally billed as the bodyguard of Idi Amin.
He may not have been the greatest athlete but there is no debate the character work of Kamala has led to top matches against The Undertaker, Hulk Hogan, Sting, Randy Savage, Magnum T.A., Sgt Slaughter, and Lex Luger amongst others on PPVs or Supercards.
The WWE tries to cover different areas of history for their annual class so I’ve gone for a more recent entry in Finlay.
Born in Northern Ireland, the tough-as-nails grappler first started wrestling as far back as the mid-70s, cropping up on the staple of British TV wrestling: World Of Sport. The same ITV show had made Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks households names (as well as featuring early appearances of William Regal, Davey Boy Smith, and “Rollerball” Mark Rocco). Finlay would have rivalries across his career including various battles with the aforementioned Regal which will likely forever make the two synonymous – due in part to a brutal contest at Uncensored 1996.
Despite winning 20 titles worldwide including in Britain, Germany, Japan, and the USA – the former WCW Television and WWE United States champion’s biggest contributions may be behind the scenes.
This includes Finlay’s contributions to the evolution of women’s wrestling in WWE from the bra and panties, looks over wrestling style to the more tasteful and respectful way we see today. WWE competitor Victoria stated: “He made us and molded us. He got to know what made us tick, exposed that, and there was nothing we couldn’t do. Today, the girls pick and choose what moves they want to do. If Fit Finlay wasn’t around, that wouldn’t happen”. Natalya called the Irish brawler “an incredible wrestler and patient coach who treats everyone equally and brings out the best in them”.
Even Batista has requested Finlay be put in the Hall Of Fame and everybody from Lance Storm to Sarah Logan to Cody Rhodes has added to comments about his improvements in wrestling.
Not only for his storied career but for his improvements in wrestling to those around him, it seems fitting that the British wrestling icon is to be inducted into professional wrestling’s biggest Hall Of Fame.
On the topic of women’s wrestling, whilst women’s wrestling in the 20th century was a largely neglected market, a constant presence in the 80s and 90s was Leilani Kai.
At MTV’s The Brawl To End It All, Wendi Richter won the WWF Women’s belt from The Fabulous Moolah. As an act of revenge, Moolah aided Kai in winning the belt off Richter after attacking Cyndi Lauper. Kai would hold the belt until the inaugural WrestleMania when unseated by Richter in WrestleMania in the first-ever title change at the event.
Kai was subsequently teamed up with Judy Martin. They would win an allegedly fictitious bout in Cairo over Desiree Patterson and Velvet McIntyre to win the WWF Women’s Tag Team titles whilst Kai also saw success in Japan. In 1987, they underwent a drastic image change as they became The Glamour Girls, managed by Jimmy Hart and with Kai dying her hair blonde. The duo then had a feud over the tag straps with Japanese exports The Jumping Bomb Angels including clashes at 1987’s Survivor Series and 1988’s Royal Rumble; they traded the belts with the “Mouth Of The South”-managed heel tandem being the final titleholders before the belt’s deactivation.
Kai returned for WrestleMania X to unsuccessfully challenge for Alundra Blayze’s Women’s title, re-emerging due to the poor state of the female roster in the era. This made Kai the only worker on the cards of both WrestleManias I and X. She briefly appeared in WCW in the 90s and picked up the NWA World Women’s Championship in the early-2000s.
A constant face that was commonly through a tanking women’s division, the contributions and accomplishments of “The Hawaiian Princess” Leilani Kai deserve recognition and she should therefore be inducted into the WWE’s Hall Of Fame.
Paul Jones (Legacy)
Every year, the WWE inducts a swath of vintage wrestlers into a separate legacy wing – often designated for those present before, or working outside the WWF’s commercialist period starting in the 1980s. A recent aspect of the ceremony, here we’ll only deal with one inductee into this subsection: Paul Jones.
“Number One” Paul Jones was in his day an accomplished performer across the NWA; this includes in Championship Wrestling From Florida (CWF) and Mid-Atlantic specifically. Jones held various belt iterations such as the United States belt and the Television title, 3 and 5 times respectively. Additionally, Jones held tag gold with some of the biggest stars of the time such as Ricky Steamboat, Wahoo McDaniel, and Baron Von Raschke. Jones’s repertoire of title wins is a diverse one – beating Terry Funk, Ric Flair, and Blackjack Mulligan.
Yet for the majority of those who know him, Jones’s most memorable role was in managing from 1982 to 1989, leading his own faction. Paul Jones’s Army consisted of a contingent of the top NWA talent and names of the era: Rick Rude, Manny Fernandez, Abdullah The Butcher, Superstar Billy Graham, Baron Von Raschke, Ivan Koloff, and The Powers Of Pain were just some of the names in the group. They mainly feuded with “Boogie Woogie Man” Jimmy Valiant. As well as the star-studded stable, Jones was noteworthy for his eye-catching and formal attires – differing between a smart suit with a bowtie, a more traditional dark cowboy attire, and a general’s outfit. The latter of which caused controversy when the khakis and jackboots-wearing, short, hair side-parted Jones started trimming his mustache into a distinctive toothbrush style to emulate Adolf Hitler.
Though he may not have been the biggest star or best manager, a prolific holder of title belts – often before international fame – the contributions of “Number One” Paul Jones deserve to belong in the Legacy wing of the WWE Hall Of Fame.
Andy Kaufman (Celebrity)
The hot topic of every year’s ceremony is the celebrity inductee. Often, this leads to derision as a singular-appearance celebrity gets in over career workhorses. However, one of the most obvious celebrity candidates has not yet been inducted – and he worked a whole angle.
One of the most iconic American comedians of the 20th century, Andy Kaufman’s offbeat humor led him down the path of professional wrestling.
Kaufman started by declaring himself the “Intergender Wrestling Champion Of The World”, in which he challenged women for matches with cash prizes, offering to shave his head, or letting them marry him if they won. High-profile names to fight Kaufman include Playboy playmate Susan Smith and lead singer of Blondie Debbie Harry.
Andy only lost once to one of these women, with his brother Michael recalling in Vice interview:
Andy went to visit a girl who was dying. She was a fan of his, and when his plane was delayed in Chicago on its way to Washington, he drove out to Demotte, Indiana, to visit her. Word got out at the hospital and Andy wrestled three people. I have pictures. They were supposedly nurses and maybe one patient’s mother. It’s the only time he ever lost a match. He let them beat him. And then there’s a letter from the mother, thanking Andy for doing that. Seven weeks after his visit, she died. That whole correspondence will be there. Andy never told anyone about that. I only knew about it because I went through the stuff.”
When he moved to the Continental Wrestling Association in Memphis, he ran into “The King”, Jerry Lawler. Kaufman played a heel persona to the southern audiences in skits such as showing residents how to use soap and calling the city “the nation’s redneck capital”. Alongside Jimmy Hart, Kaufman regularly fought Lawler often to non-finishes – the most famous of which was on April 5th, 1982 when the ex-Saturday Night Live star was hospitalized by two consecutive Lawler piledrivers. Redefining a work-shoot, the dup made an appearance on The David Letterman Show in which Jerry slapped Andy and Kaufman retorted with a barrage of profanities. Throughout 1982 and 1983, the subject of R.E.M.’s ‘Man On The Moon’ would wrestle more matches involving Lawler before a carcinoma diagnosis in late ‘83 and his death in mid-1984.
If any celebrity should get the nod, it should be Kaufman. For rebuilding kayfabe, the art of the work-shoot, and the patenting of his unique wrestling persona – the anti-comedian surely has to be wrestling’s most definitive celebrity.
So that is a dream cast for this year’s WWE Hall Of Fame. I’ve tried to keep it grounded in realism whilst also containing many names that likely will not get the pass due to their lack of work in the WWE. However, I think these names would be a more than notable group to be considered for this year’s Hall Of Fame, crossing off many of the names long-neglected by the award ceremony. Any other wrestlers you want to see inducted? Use the comment section below.