Every year around this time, WWE slowly releases the list of superstars that will be inducted into its Hall of Fame. As this happens, there are various debates that inevitably ignite.
Some of these debates -- often the topics most talked about on Twitter -- make no sense to me. This column won't completely eradicate arguments pertaining to the WWE Hall of Fame, but consider these thoughts before you engage in your next debate:
You cannot compare the proper WWE Hall of Fame to the "Celebrity Wing" of the WWE Hall of Fame.
JR blogged about this as well, and I agree completely: there is no way we should be comparing the two. It's like comparing apples to oranges, night to day, Bret Hart to William Perry.
Here's a common yet nonsensical question: "Why is Mike Tyson going into the Hall of Fame this year when Randy Savage and Bruno Sammartino aren't in there yet." Of course Mike Tyson deserves to be in the Celebrity Wing of the WWE Hall of Fame. In fact, he deserves to be there perhaps more than any other celebrity, as he was pivotal in creating buzz for WWE during the Attitude Era – read my blog that dives into the numbers if you don't believe me.
Do I think Randy Savage deserves to be in the WWE Hall of Fame? I would love to see him inducted, yes (you could even argue that the entire Poffo wrestling family, with father Angelo and brother Lanny, should be inducted). Do I think Bruno Sammartino deserves to be in the WWE Hall of Fame? Looking at his accomplishments, of course I do. But they deserve to be in the proper WWE Hall of Fame. The celebrity wing is in jest, a tip of the hat to celebrities who brought their name power (or sometimes lack thereof) to WWE for any period of time. Any celebrity ever associated with WWE at any point in time could be inducted into the Celebrity Wing of the WWE Hall of Fame and I wouldn't care. Elvira, Alex Trebek, Chuck Norris, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Jon Heder, The Muppets, Donnie Wahlberg, Hugh Jackman, even Dennis "Mr. Belding" Haskins for appearing on Z! True Long Island Story (unless there are plans to make a Z! True Long Island Hall of Fame). Induct them all! And when future Celebrity Wing inductees are announced, I absolutely will not compare them to Shawn Michaels, Andre The Giant, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Stone Cold Steve Austin and the rest, because they don't deserve to be, nor are they expected to be.
WWE owns its own Hall of Fame
If you look at Hall of Fames in major sports, you will notice a different setup than the one that exists in WWE.
Take hockey, for example. This is from the Hockey Hall of Fame's website:
HHFM is a non-profit corporation without share capital and a Registered Charity under the Income Tax Act (Canada).
Looking in the sponsors section you will see that the NHL is a sponsor of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
This means that the NHL, the world's largest professional hockey league, does not own the Hall of Fame for the game it is promoting. In fact, the physical Hockey Hall of Fame includes lots of memorabilia from non-NHL events (Olympics, international series of games, etc.), and like the WWE Hall of Fame includes players that never played in the NHL (Vladislav Tretiak) or made their name most famously elsewhere.
Now let's look at Cooperstown. Even visiting the website you see no trace of the MLB, the world's largest professional baseball league. It too is owned privately.
Same thing with football. Looking at the FAQ of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we find this:
Why should I make a cash donation to the Hall of Fame? The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit educational institution that is independent of the National Football League (NFL).
Three of the most major sports in North America have established Hall of Fames that are independent of the biggest league for their sport, but are affiliated with those leagues and work in cooperation with them.
There is, in fact, another Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame. This entity is also independent of any pro wrestling organization, including WWE. Many PWHOF inductees are also in the WWE Hall of Fame (The Road Warriors, Dusty Rhodes, Antonio Inoki, Bret Hart, Roddy Piper and Ric Flair, to name a few).
Despite this, professional wrestling seems to be the biggest example of a Hall of Fame that is owned by the biggest organization in that field (WWE) and is perceived to be recognized as the official Hall of Fame by the majority of the audience. Many members of the WWE Universe may not know that another Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame even exists. We certainly know the reason why – with its global audience, WWE is able to market and promote its own Hall of Fame, while the other one in Amsterdam, N.Y., is tucked away at the side with limited marketing and advertising.
For this reason, though the complaints will always rage on, it's a waste of time to lament why certain WWE legends are not in the WWE Hall of Fame. Earlier we talked about Randy Savage and Bruno Sammartino, both of whom are inductees in the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame. If you feel so strongly that guys you like are being slighted and aren't getting their due, there's an alternative available for you. But WWE reserves the right to induct who they want and when they want, because it's their Hall of Fame! Personally, because the Hall of Fame induction ceremony is my favorite night of the year in WWE and I understand and accept the circumstances, I don't let factors beyond my control or comprehension get in the way of my enjoyment of the ceremony.
This is also the reason why I don't let it bother me when legends from other organizations get inducted. Antonio Inoki clearly had his best success in Japan, but it was still neat to see his ceremony live (and of course Bob Uecker lament "that Inoki guy stole all my lines!"). Verne Gagne was in competition with the McMahon family for a time period, but it was still a nice induction to watch. Are some inductions politically motivated? Maybe, but I don't know that for a fact. I don't lose sleep over it.
The Hall of Fame is also an event
Another big complaint among some in the WWE Universe is that superstars like Shawn Michaels and Edge are being inducted too soon. There are two reasons, in my opinion, why it makes sense for WWE to do it this way.
First, remember that it's not only a Hall of Fame, it's a paid event, similar to WrestleMania or any live event WWE hosts. Tickets for the 2011 Hall of Fame in Atlanta were sold for $75, $60 & $50 and were sold out quickly when Shawn Michaels was announced as the main inductee. It was a very logical decision – all generations of WWE fans will want to see Shawn Michaels being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame (similar to Edge this year).
Upon hearing that, some might again go back to the fact that there are several legends that haven't been inducted that may deserve a place before the likes of Edge and Shawn Michaels. Even if we put aside any circumstances we aren't aware of or can't control, let's say Bruno Sammartino was to be inducted. Though Sammartino is a legend and absolutely deserves the highest of honors for his legacy in professional wrestling (including being the longest-reigning WWE champion in history, a record that will likely never be broken), it would be safe to say the WWE Universe today would buy more tickets for a Hall of Fame induction ceremony involving Edge, a man they last saw in WWE less than one year ago and have more recent fond memories of, as opposed to Sammartino, who only a smaller section of the audience actually had a chance to see compete live during his career, and was most recently in a WWE ring over 25 years ago. This of course is purely speculative and a moot point given that Bruno has declined a WWE Hall of Fame induction.
The other factor that you may not be aware of is that, like other sports Hall of Fames, there is in fact a committee in WWE that chooses the Hall of Fame inductees. This was revealed to me by Edge in a phone interview the night he was announced on Raw to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. This committee may consist solely of WWE-affiliated individuals, which differs from the committees of other Hall of Fames; in baseball, the induction committee includes members of the media (part of the Baseball Writers Association of America) and former players and luminaries of the sport (part of the Veterans Committee). The WWE Hall of Fame committee may have simply decided that HBK and Edge are worthy enough to have their inductions sooner than later. Personally, I'm not arguing that decision.
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One big topic from this year's Hall of Fame inductee list that I do enjoy debating (and is a very valid debate) stems from the induction of the Four Horsemen – not just the fact that Ric Flair will become the first 2-ring owner (but eventually not the only – I will write about other soon-to-be 2-ring recipients in a future column), but also which iteration of Horsemen got inducted. To me, Ric, Arn, Tully and JJ were a must, while the last member was really up in the air. I personally would have been happy with either Ole or Barry Windham, or both. Ole Anderson has come out publicly saying that due to his strained relationship with Vince McMahon, he wouldn't have expected a call and wouldn't have accepted an invitation.
The other question is, with the Horsemen going in as a team, do the sum of their parts not deserve individual honors also, and will it now seem awkward if that time came? Arn -- perhaps the most underrated professional wrestler of all time -- absolutely deserves individual induction. Barry Windham has immense accolades that warrant him a spot in the Hall. Ditto Tully Blanchard. With all due respect, they've all left more of a legacy in pro wrestling than Koko B. Ware (who is already a Hall of Famer). Time will tell.
At the end of the day, I find it hard to believe that when the Hall of Fame ceremony is airing and you have chosen to watch it, throughout the entire broadcast in the back of your mind you are cursing the fact that some legends aren't inducted yet, or cursing why a particular person is being inducted. It's a nostalgic and memorable evening for WWE superstars and fans alike.