The Magnificent Seven 2.09.14: The Top 7 Worthy Inductees to the WWE Hall of Fame
Posted by Mike Chin on 02.09.2014
From Vader and Lawrence Taylor to Randy Savage and more, 411's Mike Chin counts down the top 7 worthy inductees to the WWE Hall of Fame.
I'd like to preface this week's column with the knowledge of what we know about the WWE Hall of Fame. First and foremost, the institution of this hall is all about business. As far as I know, there's no formal selection process, and decisions about inductions have less to do with honoring deserving parties than they do with business interests—which inductions will drive sales for DVDs and tickets for the live induction; who will people tune in on TV or visit the WWE website to see speak; which name is significant enough to draw the attention of fans who hadn't otherwise been following the WWE product anymore.
That said, as much as cynical fans want to deny it, the WWE Hall of Fame does mean something. No, the inductees to date are not altogether balanced, with a mix of main eventers, lower mid-card acts, celebs and behind the scenes WWE employees of dubious worthiness. But the fact remains that for anyone inducted, WWE is calling the attention of the fans to that specific piece of nostalgia, and allowing the performer or performers being inducted to appear in front of an audience of fans and their peers for one final weekend—on stage to speak at the Saturday night ceremony and in front of upwards of 70,000 live fans the next night at Wrestlemania (in addition to a million PPV buyers). Therefore, I don't feel we can laugh off Hall of Fame inductions.
My recommendations for inductions are rooted in a combination of my personal preferences, what I perceive to be WWE's business interests, and parties that I feel objectively deserve to be honored.
#7. Ricky Steamboat vs. Ric Flair
There's talk of this year's inductions including a match, rumored to be the Wrestlemania 1 main event tag. I like the idea of honoring special matches, and while this one is, itself, far from an all-time classic, I recognize it's iconic status and importance to the wrestling business in its time.
If we're going to start honoring matches, it's not a terribly far leap to honor a series of matches or a feud. If we're moving in that direction, from an in-ring perspective, there's no pairing more worthy of recognition than Ricky Steamboat and Ric Flair. The two had stellar matches in the late 70s and a strikingly good match at WCW Spring Stampede 1994, but the ones that wrestling fans remember as some of the greatest pieces of work ever appeared in a series of three 1989 NWA main events at the Chi-Town Rumble, Clash of the Champions, and WrestleWar. I don't know that any two other wrestlers have generated three consecutive matches that are so universally agreed upon to be of five-star quality.
Yes, this actual induction is a bit of a long shot for the immediate future—Steamboat is already in the Hall and Flair has been inducted twice. Still, I'd love for a new generation of fans to be exposed to this specific brand of greatness, and to see Steamboat and Flair share the stage after all these years for a final curtain call.
#6. Lawrence Taylor
Don't get me wrong—I'm not saying that LT deserves an induction over the countless full-time pro wrestlers who haven't yet been recognized by the Hall. But for a Hall of Fame that has an obtuse celebrity wing that already includes Pete Rose for getting tombstoned at three Wrestlemanias and Drew Carey for a brief Royal Rumble run, it's hard to fathom Lawrence Taylor not being inducted as a main event wrestler who held up his end of the bargain, putting on perfectly serviceable match with a game Bam Bam Bigelow at Wrestlemania 11.
The forecast for this induction isn't great. He pled guilty to sexual misconduct in 2011, and if WWE were going to go out of its way to honor him, it probably would have happened at Wrestlemania 29 weekend, closest to Taylor's largest contingent of fans. That said, if the appropriate amount of time passes, I feel Taylor is one of the celebrities most deserving of WWE recognition, based on his actual contributions to the business.
#5. Owen Hart
Owen Hart was a great worker and a great heel character, not to mention a celebrated part of one of the great wrestling families. His feud with his brother Bret is one of the greatest in-ring feuds in WWE history. Given the level of accomplishments he was booked to have, I don't know that he's necessarily a Hall of Fame slam dunk the way some people do, but I do think that he has a place in the Hall of for no other reason than that so many fan seem so dedicated to the cause. Fan demand leads to attention, which leads to ratings, which leads to money.
There is, of course, the complication that Owen's wife remains at odds with WWE. I'm not opposed to Bret Hart's proposed solution of inducting the whole Hart Foundation stable (it would also be a way to quietly induct three deceased wrestlers in one shot and get another induction speech out of Bret), though I do worry that such a choice may downplay Owen's individual contributions. One way or another, I hope "The Rocket" gets recognized soon.
When I think of the Hall of Fame, I think of icons. Representatives of eras, companies, divisions. Chyna is, in so many ways, a remarkable emblem for the Attitude Era—the lone female star to get a lengthy run performing in matches with men, including memorable programs with Chris Jericho and Eddie Guerrero; a member of the period's top stable, DX; and ultimately a dominant performer in the women's division, via programs with Ivory and Lita.
Sure, you have to contend with the fact that Chyna is crazy, but if WWE has trusted The Ultimate Warrior and Mike Tyson with a live mic at the Hall of Fame, then I can't think of a better female inductee than "The Ninth Wonder of the World."
#3. Big Van Vader
Sadly, WWE-only fans may only remember Vader's *okay* run from the late nineties when had an awesome match with Shawn Michaels, then became mostly upper-mid-card fodder for bigger stars. But if you look at the larger body of this guy's work, particularly his early nineties WCW run, you can't help but recognize that he was an absolute beast. Stiff as all hell, incredibly agile for a big man, and booked as a legit heel monster, Vader had tremendous programs with the likes of Sting, Ric Flair, and Cactus Jack. Unfortunately, his WCW legacy, too, ultimately fell victim to the pre-NWO-Hogan era of the company's programming, but that shouldn't take away from the man's many tremendous in-ring showings and sensational aura when he was in his prime.
Of all of the potential inductees listed here, I suspect Vader is the most likely to get his just due before too long—a WCW star at a time when WCW DVDs have been selling quite well and a former player on good enough terms with WWE to make more than one nostalgia appearance over the past few years.
#2. Jim Cornette
In 1997, WWE gave Jim Cornette the freedom to rant, speaking his mind about the status of wrestling in a short series of pre-recorded videos. I'm not so naïve as to call these rants shoots, but I don't doubt that Cornette was speaking his truth and doing so the way only he could. In a matter of minutes Cornette proved himself as a great wrestling mind with historical perspective and a sense of what is legitimately best for the business of wrestling.
These rants are representative of Cornette is all about, but they aren't, of course, his only credentials for the Hall of Fame. Cornette is in a rare class of truly elite managers like Bobby Heenan, Freddie Blassie, and Paul Heyman who could talk his clients through epic feuds and get physically involved in wildly entertaining ways (most iconically, his Starrcade 1986 fall from the scaffold). From The Midnight Express to Yokozuna to Vader and many points in between, Cornette is one of the most recognizable, talented corner men in wrestling history. Add onto all of that his founding of one of the top indies of the nineties, Smoky Mountain Wrestling, and his extensive backstage work, and Cornette should be a lock for the Hall one day. The one thing that might stop or slow him is his outspoken personality—it seems Cornette has heat with somebody just about everywhere he goes.
#1. Randy Savage
Push comes to shove, I don't think there's any argument against "The Macho Man" topping this particular countdown. Yes, there are obstacles. Depending on who you listen to, it sounds like Savage didn't want to be inducted unless his father, Angelo Poffo, or the whole family were, too. Savage's brother, Lanny Poffo, seems to back this story, and seems to have more of his share of baggage with WWE. Other (far less validated) sources suggest Savage may have had behind-closed-doors contractual disputes with WWE or even that he may have deflowered young Stephanie McMahon. Combine all of these issues with the fact that Savage is deceased and WWE doesn't like to put too many late wrestlers in per year, and it does make some sense that he hasn't been inducted yet.
But come on. It's Randy f'n Savage.
No, Savage was not booked as the top star of his day. He doesn't have a place on WWE's Mount Rushmore, with number one stars of their eras like Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, The Rock, and John Cena vying for spaces (not to mention Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and The Undertaker nipping at their heels). But I'd argue he is just one notch removed—a star of equal, if not greater stature than existing Hall of Famers like Pedro Morales, Mick Foley, and Edge.
Moreover, Savage was a main event player during one of WWE's hottest periods, and a both a featured performer and in-ring savior for many of the early Wrestlemanias, pulling off scintillating matches with other premier workers (Steamboat, Flair), giving less capable performers some of the best matches of their careers (Hogan, Warrior, Crush), and working four matches in one night at the biggest show of the year, to win his first world title and give WWE a truly iconic moment at Wrestlemania 4. Add his WCW run on top of that, and I can't think of any not-yet Hall of Famer more deserving than Savage.
Who do you think belongs in the Hall of Fame? Share your thoughts in the comments section. See you in seven.
Read stories and miscellaneous criticism from Mike Chin at his website and his thoughts on a cappella music at The A Cappella Blog.