Back again with the third of my original Hall of Fame columns that I posted many moons ago at Obsessed With Wrestling. The first two are available here and here.
Next week sees some new content from yours truly, as I debate the pros and cons of this year’s inductees. In the meantime, feel free to e-mail me and let me know your opinion of my opinion, as it were.
HALL OF FAME: PART III (2004)
Welcome to my third and final Hall of Fame column. Over the last few weeks, I have passed judgement on those superstars inducted into the Hall between 1993 and 1996. After 1996’s induction there was a seven-year hiatus, during which no further ceremonies were held. The reason for this was never made clear, though I would imagine the Monday Night Wars played their part. I doubt Vince would have wanted to induct a bona fide legend, only to run the risk of WCW opening the corporate wallet to parade the wrestler in question on the following edition of Nitro.
In any case – here we are in 2004, with the largest induction ceremony to date, bringing the total number of superstars to a whopping 35. This year also sees the first inductee to the Hall’s new celebrity wing. Will these latest editions to the Hall of Fame manage to raise the level of quality therein?
Only one way to find out…
Jesse “The Body” Ventura
A former Navy SEAL, commentator, mayor, movie star, governor…oh and wrestler, of course – nobody could say that Jesse has lead a quiet life. He started in the WWF in the early eighties, having racked up several tag team reigns in the Pacific Northwest. An effective heel, he was involved in a long-term feud with World Heavyweight champion, Bob Backlund and, whilst he never raised the strap himself, he did not lose an ounce of heat. A blood clot he suffered in the ring in 1984 prevented him from taking part in his highest profile feud, against Hulk Hogan and forced him into semi-retirement. Ventura became an announcer, teaming with Gorilla Monsoon to call the matches at the first six WrestleManias. He retired in 1994 to concentrate on his political ambitions, though he still had sufficient balls to referee the main event at Summerslam 1999, despite fierce disapproval from the media.
Decision: Thumbs up. Jesse is a true legend and it’s refreshing to see a respected public figure that is unashamed of his wrestling past.
Think “Don Muraco” and you automatically think Jimmy Snuka and their legendary cage match. This match was responsible for inspiring the likes of Mick Foley, Tommy Dreamer and Spike Dudley to enter the squared circle and is justly regarded as a classic. Muraco was also a two-time Intercontinental champion, holding the belt for some 18 months. He was a solid contender in the upper mid-card for many years, before leaving the WWF in 1988, travelling to Stampede Wrestling and Herb Abrams’ UWF, were he squared off against long-time fan, Cactus Jack. Eventually, he reached ECW, where he feuded with Snuka once again, this time for the World Heavyweight strap. Now promoting in Hawaii, “The Rock” is considered one of the legends of his age.
Decision: Thumbs up. Muraco has been a great influence on many of today’s superstars and deserves his induction into the Hall.
Santana entered the WWWF in 1979 for a short stint as one half of the tag team champions. Following a run with AWA, he returned for more gold, winning the Intercontinental title from Don Muraco before engaging in a feud with Greg “The Hammer” Valentine. Santana was the first man ever to win a match at WrestleMania and was also the first man to enter the inaugural Royal Rumble in 1988. Back in the tag ranks, he formed one half of Strike Force with Rick Martel. This led to another exciting feud when Martel dubbed himself “The Model” and turned heel on his former partner. Following a new gimmick as “El Matador”, Tito fell towards the bottom of the card before leaving the company for ECW, where he won the World Heavyweight title from his old enemy, Don Muraco.
Decision: Thumbs up. Why this man was never the WWF champion is something I will never know.
Superstar Billy Graham
“The man of the hour, the man with the power…too sweet to be sour.” Superstar Billy Graham is one of the most influential superstars in WWE history. Jesse Ventura, Hulk Hogan and Scott Steiner all owe their gimmick to Graham…and with good cause. He is the longest reigning heel champion in WWE history, holding the World Heavyweight title for some 10 months after defeating Bruno Sammartino in 1977. He was a fighting champion, fending off challenges from Bruno, Gorilla Monsoon, Dusty Rhodes and Larry Zbysko, among others, before finally losing to Bob Backlund. He also wrestled to a one-hour draw with NWA champion, Harley Race, in the first ever title unification match. Outside the ring his life has been a litany of injuries and diseases, most linked to his years of steroid abuse, though this has never shaken his faith, which is something to be admired in this day and age.
Decision: Thumbs up. A long-reigning champion, an entertaining heel and one of the greatest gimmicks of all time.
Big John Studd
Whilst I am not a fan of Big John Studd, I can’t deny his achievements in his early years in the business. He held four regional versions of the NWA Heavyweight title and Tag Team titles over the years and feuded with the likes of Dusty Rhodes, Bruiser Brody, Ric Flair and Verne Gagne. Unfortunately, he is likely to go down in history for his feud with Andre the Giant over who was the real giant in wrestling. This was possibly the most boring feud of the eighties as both men moved slowly about the ring administering the usual giant’s repertoire of punches, kicks and headbutts. Studd did have a couple of high points in his WWF career, however. His best gimmick was the $10,000 Bodyslam Challenge, which only Andre himself managed to beat. Then of course, he was also the winner of the very first Royal Rumble on Pay-Per-View in 1989, which is no mean achievement.
Decision: Thumbs up. I don’t like Studd but he just manages to sneak in, by virtue of his NWA title reigns and the Rumble victory.
I don’t agree with the idea of a celebrity wing in what is, after all, a WWE Hall of Fame, but if they had to do it, couldn’t they have picked someone better than Pete Rose for the honour? What about Muhammad Ali for his involvement in the first WrestleMania and his feuds with Gorilla Monsoon and Antonio Inoki? What about Mike Tyson for his pivotal role in the D-X/Steve Austin angle? Hell…I’d have brought in Mr. T. before I brought in Pete Rose – at least he wrestled once.
Decision: Thumbs down…thumbs way down. I disagree with any celebrity inductions, but even Liberace would have been better than Pete Rose.
Sgt. Slaughter was a fine brawler who had some classic feuds with the likes of Pat Patterson, Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik. Indeed, his Alley Fight with Patterson is considered one of greatest slobberknockers (thanks, J.R.) of all time. His greatest success came when he portrayed an Iraqi sympathiser during the Gulf War, during which time he won the World Heavyweight title from Ultimate Warrior, whilst ducking death threats from over zealous fans. Teaming up with General Adnan and Colonel Mustafa, Slaughter took on Hogan and Warrior in a handicap match at SummerSlam ’91. Following an overwhelming defeat, Slaughter turned face again, renouncing his turncoat ways. He teamed up with Hacksaw Jim Duggan for a time, before lapsing into semi-retirement and his role as the WWF commissioner. Now acting as a road agent, he still makes the occasional in-ring appearance to put over new talent, such as La Resistance and Randy Orton.
Decision: Thumbs up. One of the most recognisable and respected wrestlers in WWE history.
Greg “The Hammer” Valentine
“The Hammer” has been wrestling non-stop for 35 years now and has a reputation for being at his best in long matches. In the NWA he wrestled dozens of matches against the likes of Ric Flair and Roddy Piper, running up forty-five and sixty minute bouts where he proved to be as much of a workhorse as legends like Flair, Sammartino and Race. In the WWF, he feuded with Tito Santana over the Intercontinental title, before finding himself in the tag team division. Here, his talent seemed wasted alongside such partners as Brutus Beefcake and Honky Tonk Man and many of his tag matches were forgettable at best. Sadly, Valentine would never again reach the heights of his U.S. Heavyweight and Intercontinental title reigns. However, he remains a phenomenal and dedicated worker, plying his trade on the independent scene to this very day, most recently with Ted DiBiase’s Christian wrestling promotion.
Decision: Thumbs up. Valentine got one of the biggest pops of the night at WrestleMania XX and with good cause.
Bobby “The Brain” Heenan
Has there ever been a greater entertainer than “The Brain” in wrestling history? Whether acting as manager or announcer, his antics always made for must-see television. He was the very definition of the heel that fans love to hate – true, they may have cheered when Heenan took a massive bump from the Warrior but they all had a place in their heart for the outrageously funny commentator. As a manager he lead one of the finest stables of all time, the Heenan Family, which boasted such members as Ric Flair, Harley Race, Andre the Giant, Haku and Mr. Perfect, among others. He was the perfect comedy heel of his time and, to this day, there are millions of fans around the world who love to hate “the Weasel.”
Decision: Thumbs up. An excellent announcer, devious manager and all-round comedy genius.
Harley Race is one of wrestling’s true legends, having racked up an impressive 25 singles titles all over the country, including 8 NWA World Heavyweight title reigns. During his tenure in the NWA, he had incredible feuds with guys like Dory Funk, Jr., Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes and Jack Brisco over the belt, helping to make it one of the most prestigious titles in history. Ironically, his WWE run was perhaps the least memorable of his career, with even his role as Vader’s manager in WCW scoring more highly than this. Feuding with Junkyard Dog and Hacksaw Jim Duggan didn’t really give Race the quality of opponent that he was used to. Nonetheless, he remained a dependable worker and an excellent promo man, possessing one of the most menacing voices in the game.
Decision: Thumbs up. His best years were behind him when he joined the WWF, but the man’s reputation lives on.
And so we reach the final inductee for 2004 – one of the most abysmal workers of all time. I know that a load of people out there love ol’ JYD, but I can’t stand him. By all accounts he was a lovely guy and an inspiration to many black wrestlers who saw his success in the business but we’re talking about wrestling here and overall impact and, whatever way you look at it, Junkyard Dog just doesn’t cut it. I love wrestling and I’ve seen many a shoot interview in my time and all the eighties veterans get asked the same question – who was the hardest guy to work with? Almost without fail, they all say that it was JYD. He was sloppy in the ring, with a bare minimum of power moves and, for a man supposedly bubbling over with charisma, he was of little use on the mic. Even true legends like Flair, Race and Savage couldn’t get a decent match out of him and, I’m sorry, that’s the reason I watch wrestling…to see good matches.
Decision: Thumbs down. Everybody seems to love JYD but his skills both in and out of the ring seem out of place in the Hall of Fame.
Nine out of ten – excellent. I don’t class Pete Rose as a member and JYD is a very popular choice for many people, so I suppose this is the strongest year since the Hall of Fame’s inception.
Over these last three articles, I have taken a look at the careers of all 35 inductees, of whom 27 were considered worthy entries, which isn’t too bad.
I have to confess that I was surprised at some of the inductees I allowed in. Reading through the list, I disregarded many of the names off-hand – names like Big John Studd, Ernie Ladd and Buddy Rogers. However, after researching their pasts I discovered just how much these people did for the industry and realised that they were at least as important as legends like Moolah and Andre.
And so it ends…let me know what you think of my opinions on the Class of 2004 and I’ll be back soon with a brand new column for you to chew over.