Hall of Fame: Part IV (2005)

Finally, I’m back from my work-induced hiatus which means that tonight, in this very column, you’re getting 100% original content for the first time in nearly three months. As you are possibly aware, my postings for the last three weeks have consisted of old columns that I did last year, covering the formative years of the Hall of Fame. These were originally posted at Obsessed With Wrestling and can be found here, here and here, for anyone who needs a recap. All of which brings us nicely to 2005 and this year’s flurry of inductees – we’ve got 5 guys who are all decent enough in their way, and two genuine legends of the squared circle in the form of Hogan and Piper.

Before any of this, though, let’s open up the mailbag…

Nick Roosa sent the following…

“Great column. A few points to mention…

Why Santana never got a WWF title run? Well, truthfully, he had the misfortune of being in the same era as Hogan and Savage, two of the most over and popular wrestlers of the ’80s. When he finally committed full-time to the WWF, Hogan was already entrenched on top, and there was really no chance for “Chico” to reach the top. Which might be just fine; WWF Champion Tito Santana just doesn’t sound right. (Particularly if it had happened during the post-Strike Force/pre-El Matador days.) Part of me still wishes he’d show up on Smackdown, punk out Eddie Guerrero, and say “I’m the real Latino Heat. ARRIBA!”

THANK YOU for recognizing Valentine as a legitimate Hall of Famer. I actually heard some of my co-workers say Valentine didn’t deserve his spot in the HofF, which pissed me off. He was a great (albeit slow) worker and legit good guy of the business.

Why Bob Backlund is still not in the Hall of Fame is beyond me, unless he and Vince had a Bruno-esque falling out.

If celebrities are to get inducted into the Hall of Fame, then Bob Uecker HAS to go in. He committed to WM two years in a row; I think that merits a spot. His interviews at WM4 were classic (particularly with Andre), and he was quite adept at keeping up with Gorilla and Jesse; listen to the commentary during the WM4 battle royal for evidence.

And since we know it’s coming… who should get in next year? Well, since WM22 is in Chicago, I think the Road Warriors might sneak in, considering Chicago is their kayfabed hometown. I’d put in Savage, Backlund, Bret, Owen, British Bulldogs, Fuji, Steamboat, and Finkel. And Uecker for the celebs.

Looking forward to the Class of 2005 piece.”

Thanks for that, Nick. Fair point about Santana. I do realise that there are certain wrestlers who will never, ever hold the world title, often due simply to measurable qualities like height or girth, but it still bothers me on occasion. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight we now know that smaller guys are capable of a run at the top of the promotion but, back in the eighties, you stuck with what you knew, I suppose. I like the idea of a comeback and a heel turn but Tito seems to be one of the few retired wrestlers who has moved on with his life.

I have never understood the attitude of some people towards Greg Valentine. The Hammer was one of those guys that I always marked out for as a kid and, as I pointed out, judging by the reaction at WrestleMania XX, I can’t have been the only one. And yet, he always seems to be considered as an also-ran in the annals of professional wrestling, which is something I can’t understand. He always put effort into his matches and was the backbone of the many promotions that he wrestled for – a solid, dependable worker, who never seemed to suffer from an inflated ego the way that some of his contemporaries did. Make no mistake, Greg Valentine was, and is, a legend.

I agree with you on Backlund. To be honest, I have no idea whether or not his split from the WWF/E was acrimonious or not, but Bob should be at the top of the list for inductees. Hell, if Bruno won’t do it, then Backlund is the last of the old school champions, now that Billy Graham and the Iron Sheik are inducted.

As for celebrity inductions – I’m not too keen on them myself, as I think the Hall should be reserved for wrestlers, managers and promoters. However, if they are to be included then I would have to pick Cyndi Lauper, Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali as my top three choices as they did what celebrities are supposed to do, and drew mainstream attention (and, consequently, casual viewers) to the world of professional wrestling.

As for future inductees – well, you’d best watch this space hadn’t you? I have my own views on this but I’ll save those for another column, some time after WrestleMania. No real problems with most of your choices, though. Thanks for the e-mail.

I also got an e-mail from Lenny Montana Jr. asking for some help with a project and I was hoping that some readers out there in PulseLand could provide assistance.

“I am Lenny Montana Jr. I am currently putting together a film project about my dad. I was young during his wrestling years so unfortunately I do not have vivid memories of it. If you could reach out to you staff, contributes etc …. and ask them if they could send in any info on my dads wrestling career, it would be a lot of help. Stories, facts, statistics, pics and so on. I will make sure that you and your site gets credited. Thanks in advance.”

First of all, Lenny – it’s not my site, but thanks anyway. So, can anybody help out with this one? If you don’t know who I’m talking about, Lenny Montana gained some level of fame as Luca Brasi in The Godfather. Prior to this, however, he had made something of a name for himself as a pro-wrestler. He wrestled as Lenny Montana, Zebra Kid, Bull Montana and Chief Chickawicki and had a fairly intense feud with Eddie Graham in the Tampa Bay area, under the Zebra Kid moniker in the early sixties. He wrestled in New York in the early fifties and in Oregon in the late fifties.

If this lot doesn’t spark those little grey cells, then nothing will – however, if you know who I’m talking about and you’ve either seen him in action, met him in person or have any idea of matches, dates and win/loss records, then e-mail me through the link at the bottom of this column, and I’ll pass the information on, with full credit to whomever sends it in. Remember, we’re only looking for the details of Lenny’s wrestling career, not his acting.

Thank you.

Whew – time to do what we came here for, I think.


HALL OF FAME: PART IV (2005)

Jimmy Hart
I should say, for the record, that I f*cking hate Jimmy Hart. That is to say, I hate the Mouth of the South – the character – rather than the man himself. Every time I see him stood at ringside with his glitzy suits and his megaphone I want to put my fist through his face and that is something to be taken as a genuine compliment as I understand the man behind the gimmick to be a really nice guy. Hart started in Memphis, managing Jerry “The King” Lawler and began developing an excellent stable of wrestlers, including Jim Neidhart, Ox Baker, Rick Rude, Austin Idol and Eddie Gilbert. Once he made the jump to the WWF, he added more names to his list of proteges – guys like King Kong Bundy, Greg Valentine, Honky Tonk Man, the Hart Foundation, the Rougeaus and many, many more. Some cynics will suggest that Hart is only being inducted thanks to his close friendship with Hulk Hogan, but I disagree. Jimmy Hart was, with the notable exception of Bobby Heenan, perhaps the greatest manager of the mid to late eighties and one of the last of a dying breed.
Decision: Thumbs up. The Mouth of the South manages to make my blood boil even to this day, no matter how ‘smart’ I think I am – the sign of a true heel.

Nikolai Volkoff
Nikolai Volkoff started his career as an amateur wrestler and bodybuilder in his home country and was either lucky or unlucky (depending on your point of view) to have his debut match as a professional wrestler against the living legend himself, Bruno Sammartino. Prior to his time with the WWWF, Volkoff wrestled in Pittsburgh as part of the Mongols, with Tony Newberry and Bill Eadie, at which time he wrestled Bruno again, taking him to a time-limit draw at Madison Square Garden. Vince McMahon Sr. signed Volkoff to the WWWF and he promptly had another one-hour draw with Sammartino, before joining Killer Kowalski and Big John Studd as one of the Executioners. He achieved his greatest period of fame under the guidance of Freddie Blassie, winning the tag team titles at WrestleMania with fellow inductee, the Iron Sheik (first ‘Mania title change ever, fact fans). Volkoff would incite the fans by insisting that they stand prior to each match, as he sang the Russian national anthem and would have flag matches with guys ranging from Cpl. Kirschner to Hulk Hogan himself. However, Volkoff’s star was definitely on the wane, as he was reduced to jobbing to the likes Koko B. Ware before long and ending up in the tag team of the Bolsheviks with fellow countryman Boris Zhukov, a team that was about as successful as the Conquistadors. That said, it was his earlier career that defined the big man and that is something of which he can be truly proud.
Decision: Thumbs up. The man was a true heat machine, and has a legacy in his early days that few people can hope to match.

The Iron Sheik
Ahh, the Iron Sheik – one of the guys I always marked out for. Like his former tag partner, Nikolai Volkoff, the Iron Sheik was a well respected amateur grappler and Olympic standard athlete for his native Iran. His professional career began in the AWA, where he was trained by Verne Gagne, in a camp that included Ric Flair and Ken Patera. He debuted in 1972 and he stayed with the AWA until 1979, when he jumped ship to the WWWF under the moniker of Hussein Arab. He spent some time in various southern territories before returning to the renamed WWF in the early eighties and feuding with the World champion, Bob Backlund, who would only drop the belt to a legitimate athlete. The Iron Sheik won the gold and then promptly lost it to the newcomer, Hulk Hogan, paving the way for HulkaMania to run wild. There followed a mighty feud with Sgt. Slaughter, ending in the infamous Boot Camp match, before the Iron Sheik was teamed with Nikolai Volkoff, as has already been described. Some years later, the Sheik was in the limelight again, this time as part of the Iraqi sympathiser angle involving former nemesis Sgt. Slaughter. Playing the role of Col. Mustafa, the Sheik riled up crowds to near riot conditions on a nightly basis.
Decision: Thumbs up. I always had a soft spot for the Sheik and I think his place in wrestling history is assured, if only for laying down for the Hulkster.

“Cowboy” Bob Orton
Dandy Randy’s dad is another wrestler who doesn’t seem to get the praise that he deserves. Voted ‘Rookie of the Year’ by PWI magazine in 1973, Bob Orton Jr. was something of a tag team specialist winning no less that nine regional variations of the NWA tag belts with various partners. He is also one of a select few who can legitimately claim to have invented a wrestling move – in Orton’s case, the superplex (no matter what the Dynamite Kid might think). He is probably most famous for being, along with Paul Orndorff, one of Roddy Piper’s hangers-on during the Rock ‘N’ Wrestling era, but he was much more than that. A master of the heel beatdown, he would cheat like a bastard to win his matches, often employing the cast which covered his permanently broken arm. He helped to destroy Orndorff after WrestleMania I, then teamed with Adrian Adonis to beat down Piper prior to WrestleMania III. Outside of the WWF, he had a fantastic feud with Orndorff in Herb Abrams’ UWF promotion and another intense grudge with Jimmy Snuka in the AWF.
Decision: Thumbs up. Orton was an innovative wrestler and a fine brawler and, no doubt, his cocky offspring will reach even greater heights.

“Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff
Paul Orndorff was one of the best talents of his day, possessing a physique that put most of his contemporaries to shame. Trained at the same time as Hulk Hogan, under the tutelage of Hiro Matsuda, he wrestled throughout the Mid-South, Mid-Atlantic and Georgia territories, squaring off against such legends as Ernie Ladd, Greg Valentine and Baron von Raschke. When he came to the WWF, with some six years of experience under his belt, he teamed up with Roddy Piper and took on all comers, including the likes of Ivan Putski, Tony Atlas and Rocky Johnson. In the main event of WrestleMania I, he did the job, following botched interference by Bob Orton, and was subsequently laid out in a nasty heel beatdown afterwards. This led to an alliance with Hogan and, after the inevitable heel turn, one of the hottest feuds of the eighties and both men regularly pulled in $20,000 a night, each. He went on to wrestle in the UWF and faced off against Brian Lee in the finals of a tournament to determine the first ever SMW champion. He also flirted with WCW on more than one occasion and, though he would never reach the top of the tree again, he was still a dependable worker who could claim not only to have wrestled some of the sport’s legendary figures, but also to have grappled with some of its younger superstars like Steve Austin and Mick Foley. After his in-ring career was finished, he became a trainer for WCW’s Power Plant, passing on his skills and knowledge to the likes of Goldberg, Sean O’Haire, Mark Jindrak and Chuck Palumbo.
Decision: Thumbs up. Another guy who may not be in anyone’s top ten (or even top hundred) wrestlers of all time, but who was hugely influential in the business, and dedicated to his craft.

Rowdy Roddy Piper
I’ve just finished reading Piper’s autobiography and if even half of the stories in that book are true, then he deserves to be inducted into the Hall of Fame ten times over. Piper had his first professional wrestling match at the tender age of 15, getting mercilessly squashed by Larry Hennig. He wrestled up and down the country, learning the ropes and paying his dues in various territories before settling down with Jim Crockett Promotions and engaging on a series of red-hot feuds with guys like Ric Flair and Greg Valentine. His battles with Valentine were especially brutal and included the savage Dog-Collar match from Starrcade ’83. When he arrived at the WWF he was the top heel in the promotion and quickly ended up feuding with Hulk Hogan, leading to a title shot at the War to Settle the Score, which he lost. He was the focus of WrestleMania I and he promoted the event as hard as he could; he then went on to have prominent roles for the following two ‘Manias. Though he officially retired at WrestleMania III, after beating Adrian Adonis, Roddy has found it hard to stay out of the ring and has always been ready of one more match up. The most important thing for Hot Rod’s success, however, was not his matches – as good as they once were – but his promos. Piper was probably the most gifted person on the microphone during the entire Rock ‘N’ Wrestling era, and I’m including Bobby Heenan in that equation. There was nobody better at stirring up emotions or berating an opponent than Rowdy Roddy Piper and you would willingly pay to see someone beat the living crap out of him and that, my friends, is why he his a legend.
Decision: Thumbs up. Whether in the ring or on the stick, perhaps the coolest guy in professional wrestling, bar none.

Hulk Hogan
Only one inductee could possibly put Piper in the shade and, wouldn’t you know it, he’s here as well. No matter what your opinions are regarding Hogan, the fact remains that without his presence, the world of professional wrestling would be in a much sorrier state. He may never have dazzled the crowds with his workrate, but he sold out arena after arena with his charisma and his promos. I would even go so far as to say that Hogan was the first true superstar as, before this, wrestlers were territorial workers, whereas Hogan’s visage was on every television set across the country. More importantly than this, Hogan made promoters realise just how much money there was to be made from professional wrestling. The dingy gymnasiums were replaced by massive arenas and merchandise became the order of the day. Hogan has more than his fair share of critics, especially among the ‘smart’ internet fans, but is it really justified? Yes, Hogan may have been responsible for the death of British Wrestling; he may have looked after his buddies above and beyond the call of duty; he might have f*cked up Austin’s push in WCW but I still maintain that Hogan has done more good than bad for the industry – HulkaMania, Rock ‘N’ Wrestling, the nWo, the match against the Rock, No Holds Barred. Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the point.
Decision: Thumbs right the way up. If Hogan had never existed, I wouldn’t even be writing this – decide for yourself if that’s a good thing or not.

Holy shit – seven out of seven and a full house. I know, well in advance, that I’m going to get someone bitching about Volkoff and probably the Sheik, but who gives a f*ck? The Sheik had an important part to play in bringing HulkaMania to the masses and I was always a bit of a mark for Volkoff, for reasons that escape me at present. More importantly, this year saw two true legends of the sport get inducted to the Hall of Fame, which helps to add that extra level of legitimacy to the proceedings. Whilst I mean no disrespect to any of the Hall’s current incumbents, guys like Junkyard Dog, George Steele or even the great and glorious Bobby Heenan just aren’t at the same level as Hogan and Piper when you’re talking about reshaping the business.

Anyway, that’s it for this week. Check out my archive and drop me a line if you have any thoughts on this week’s column.

Until the next time…farewell.

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