Tuesday, 22 April 2014

FEATURES (Lists): Top 10: HOF Candidates

Recently, the pro wrestling world has been buzzing about former WWE Champion and cultural icon the Ultimate Warrior FINALLY getting into the WWE Hall of Fame. Warrior was a huge star for the WWE during the 1980's and early 1990's, and was one of the most popular wrestling characters of all time. His inclusion in the Hall of Fame has come about due to a host of reasons that began prior to the 2013 Hall of Fame Ceremony.
Bruno Sammartino was the biggest wrestling star in the world during the 1960's/ 1970's and was known for having held the WWE Championship for over seven years- a record that is unmatched to this day. Following what Bruno saw as culture changes for the worse implemented by new WWE owner, Vince McMahon Jr. during 1982 and beyond, the WWE and Bruno kept their distance from each other for other 25 years. Meanwhile, the WWE became serious about their Hall of Fame and the induction ceremony has become a major annual event. Obviously, Bruno was a significant omission.
But he's in now. Thanks to Triple H acting like a professional and acting in his best interests as an Executive Vice President, the WWE has officially bridged the major gap between the Vince McMahon Jr. Era since 1982 to the past between 1963-1982 when Vince McMahon Sr. and his partners ran what became the WWE. Bruno's addition helped to legitimize what can be a controversial Hall of Fame. Instead of making efforts to repair their relationship with Bruno, the WWE found it in their power to induct Drew Carey, Pete Rose, Mike Tyson, and many midcarders whose success probably doesn't merit their induction into the Hall.
Bruno was an excellent addition to the Hall of Fame last year, as is the Ultimate Warrior in 2014. But despite these inductions, there exists a log line of deserving wrestlers and personalities that are awaiting induction to the Hall. With the pro wrestling industry being cut throat, many of these wrestlers won't get in because they need to make amends with the WWE and Vince McMahon. Others are still active and will probably get inducted the year after they officially retire. One such case is probably the saddest story ever in pro wrestling with a death in the ring.
So without further adeau, lets get going!

Number 10...
                                                              Paul Heyman.

Kicking off the list with one of the greatest- and one of my personal favourite- personalities in wrestling history. Paul Heyman began his career as a photographer and writer for wrestling magazines like pro illustrated, before starting out as a manager in 1987. Known as Paul E. Dangerously, he travelled the American territories and worked for many promotions before landing it big in WCW in 1988. Here he engaged in the famous Midnight Express tag team feud with fellow managerial great Jim Cornette, while also managing a future star in “Mean” Mark Callous- who later became the Undertaker in WWE. After this, Heyman settled into a role of announcer alongside Jim Ross, before returning to his managerial duties in 1991 to head up the Dangerous Alliance. The Dangerous Alliance was an all heel group in WCW that featured wrestling legends Rick Rude, Bobby Eaton, Arn Anderson and Larry Zbyszko; as well as the future of the business in Steve Austin. After falling out with WCW management, Heyman left the company and purchased a company called Eastern Championship wrestling IN 1993- later known as Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). With ECW, wrestling fans were given a viable and violent alternative to the sometimes child friendly product of the WWE and WCW. Rapidly garnering a cult following around the world, the ECW brand exploded and was key in WWE winning the Monday Night Wars by providing an edgier product ala ECW. Since ECW went under in 2001, Heyman has had an on-off relationship with WWE and Vince McMahon. After a brief stint as part of the creative team, he is most remembered for his association with wrestlers Brock Lesnar and CM Punk. Following his return to the product in late 2012, Heyman has consistently been one of the best aspects about WWE television. His charisma and ability to garner unfathomable amounts of heat has propelled him to being arguably the greatest wrestling manager of all time- although Bobby Hennan may differ on that point. Heyman is a wrestling genius whose work is second to none and he will hopefully be a joy to despise in the sport for many years to come.

Number 9...
The Dudley Boyz.

Sticking with the ECW theme, the next nominees deserving of induction are the Dudley Boyz. The fans of old school teams like Demolition or British Bulldog fans will probably dispute this selection, but the Dudley Boyz are the most successful and accomplished Tag Team of all time. This team came out of no where as Buh Buh (or Bubba) Ray Dudley and the "black sheep" of the Dudley family, D'Von (or Devon) Dudley joined up and gave the ECW promotion a viable heel tag team to fend off the Eliminators and Gangstas tag teams through 1997. They would absolutely dominate ECW competition in the years following until the WWE signed them during late 1999. Upon joining the WWE, they were thrown into the Hardys vs. Edge/Christian feud and the trifecta of a perfect tag team division was born. I should also note that the Hardys and Edge/Christian, in their own right, are very much Hall of Fame Tag Teams.
The Dudleys benefited from title inflation that became prominent during the late 1990's and throughout the 2000's. Their absurd amount of Tag Team Championship reigns between ECW, WWE, and TNA is unmatched by any tag team ever and the Dudleys actually have 1 WCW Tag Team Championship reign during the 2001 WCW invasion storyline, where the WCW Titles were still actively defended. During 2005, the WWE had a wave of cuts while also letting various contracts expire. Dudleys were a part of this and the WWE shoved them through the door harder by announcing that the Dudley gimmick was a WWE trademark. Now operating under "Team 3D", the Dudleys joined TNA wrestling during 2005 where they most recently made careers as singles wrestlers. While D-von has since left, Bubba (now known as Bully Ray) is doing quite well in the TNA promotion despite his age and wear & tear from the many years of battles in ECW and against Hardys & Edge/Christian in TLC matches.

Number 8...
Owen Hart.

With Owen Hart, it's what COULD HAVE BEEN, especially heading into the year 2000 when the WWE stockpiled a wealth of talent. Could you imagine Owen Hart getting to wrestle the likes of newly acquired Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, or Eddie Guerrero while getting additional chances to wrestle Steve Austin, Rock, and Triple H? With the way that the World Title was getting changed often after Steve Austin left for injury during late 1999 (incidentally, thanks to Owen's piledriver in 1997), Owen could easily have been WWE Champion. Eventually, the WWE would have removed Owen from the Blue Blazer gimmick and he could have been re-branded and re-pushed. Despite the heat with his brother Bret by the WWE, Owen was well liked and probably would have had a chance to thrive during 2000 with a loaded roster.
But his career was cut short. In what remains the biggest shame in professional wrestling, Owen Hart died in the ring on May 23rd, 1999 at the WWE Over the Edge Pay Per View. Owen was supposed to drop in from the ceiling from a line- much like what WCW wrestler Sting used as a form of mockery for Owen's Blue Blazer character. But it went terribly wrong and Owen fell approximately 78 feet from the ceiling to the ring and died at the age of 34 due to blunt force trauma from the fall. The "King of Harts" was great and had plenty left in the tank to make him a bigger star. In fact, he should have been a bigger star after his superb Wrestlemania 10 match against his brother, Bret, in 1994. However, the WWE stuck him in the midcard with his 1997 feud with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin giving him some light in the main event tunnel. This feud had Owen as a perfectly despicable heel to combat with the rising star of Steve Austin. He used the real-life accidental incident, where he broke Austin's neck, as material for his heelish ways by stating; "Owen 3:16 Says I Just Broke Your Neck!" Watch the Owen Hart tribute RAW on May 24th, 1999 to see how much his fellow wrestlers loved him. His career was truly, a lost opportunity in professional wrestling.

Number 7...
Chris Jericho.

To prove why Chris Jericho deserves his spot on this list, go watch Royal Rumble 2013 and listen to how loud the fans pop for his #2 entrant into the Rumble match. In almost every promotion he's wrestled in, Jericho consistently proved himself. He wasn't in Extreme Championship Wrestling for long but he made an imprint enough for World Championship Wrestling to acquire him. Jericho, stuck in the midcard, was getting himself over with his personality and charisma and in spite of WCW having many hours of programming to fill, those at the top saw him as a threat. WCW slowly de-pushed Jericho to cool down his character as other higher priced WCW (and former WWE) wrestlers hogged the spotlight. By 1999, he wanted out and Vince McMahon was glad to sign him.
Jericho's WWE debut is the stuff of legends. To this day, there has NEVER been a better debut and I don't believe there ever will be. The WWE hyped his debut for weeks with a clock and it eventually went off during an August 9th, 1999 segment with The Rock. The entrance, the theme music, and the anticipation made it perfect. Wrestling fans knew Chris Jericho was great and were glad to have him in the WWE. Timing was great as Jericho helped to fill the void that an injured Steve Austin left in addition to the debuting Kurt Angle, a newly pushed and repackaged Triple H, a newly turned babyface Rock, and the WCW acquisitions of early 2000 with Benoit/Guerrero/Malenko/Saturn. Jericho has consistently giving the WWE great matches and great feuds despite being forced to honor the tall shadows of Rock, Austin, and Triple H that was always over him. Jericho walked away from the WWE during 2005 after a high profile feud with John Cena that helped put Cena on the map as a legitimate main eventer. By 2005, Jericho could have been a bigger star with Rock/Austin finally out of the way but he still walked away. Jericho did return during 2007 and has been nothing but excellent since. His maturity as a professional wrestler now shows and he always makes an impact upon his return.

Number 6...
Kurt Angle.

Between late 1999 until the time he left the WWE during 2006, Kurt Angle was arguably the best in-ring performer in the world. He debuted at the right time during late 1999 because several teachers arrived shortly there after to teach him how to work great matches. Angle was blessed by the WWE acquiring Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, and Perry Saturn from WCW during early 2000. Combined with Angle's own insane work ethic, he picked up on what other professionals did. He has often cited that Chris Benoit was a major influence on him in terms of in-ring mechanics and stepping it up for big matches. Angle's workrate quickly improved during 2000 and by 2001, he could carry anybody to a 5-star match at his choosing. His 2001 battles with Steve Austin are classic. Angle then joined the Smackdown brand during 2002 and was a key component in the brand split's success with his tag team work with Benoit and battles with Brock Lesnar. Angle had tremendous matches with virtually everybody he wrestled against for the next 3 years in the WWE, possibly hitting his peak in the WWE with a 2005 rivalry against Shawn Michaels. Take your pick on which of their matches was "Match of the Year" for 2005.
The astounding part about Angle's tremendous 1999-2006 WWE run was that he did it mostly with a damaged neck. During early 2003, like several other wrestlers who suffered the same fate and required at least 1 year off to recover (Chris Benoit, Edge), Angle's neck was badly damaged and required the same spinal fusion surgery. Angle, however, opted for a quick fix surgery that involved shaving the spurs off of his spinal discs. Certainly, he was able to return faster than a year, but the long-term damage would eventually drive him to personal problems through 2006 in attempts to dealing with the pain. WWE wanted Angle to work through the pain but it was putting Angle on a destructive path with painkillers to deal with the pain. Not wanting to continue to work through the injuries, he requested a release from his WWE contract instead. WWE, possibly thinking he was just seeking time off, obliged and Angle jumped to TNA Wrestling just weeks later in what was a well talked about internet story at the time. Angle remains with TNA to this day. There have been some discussions of bringing Angle back to WWE, but Angle has continued to be loyal to TNA. Working fewer dates and yet still getting paid well has its benefits. However, there is no denying that the WWE is the big dance in town and it's only a matter of time before the Olympic gold medallist returns home.

Number 5...
Triple H.

Triple H has had a lengthy career with the WWE. Most don't know it because the Game is associated with his Main Event role and not his midcard role. As Hunter Hurst Helmsley, Triple H was a solid midcard wrestler since 1995 and then had continued success as a member of Degeneration X in 1997. But it wasn't until a new contract arrived and a new look (different tights, added muscle mass, and becoming serious in character) that he could transition to the Main Event scene during late 1999. Then, 2000 occurred and Triple H would embark in the most successful 1 year and a half stretch run until shredding his quadriceps muscle during May 2001. Starting with his Royal Rumble 2000 battle with Mick Foley, Triple H would go on to have epic battles with Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle, Steve Austin, the Rock, and the Undertaker. When Triple H returned during early 2002, he wasn't the same. The quad injury seemed to slow him down along with the additional muscle mass. However, his career has been solid since and he has a collection of good matches since 2002 to make for a well rounded career.
He could add to his Hall of Fame resume through his role as a WWE Corporation executive. He's currently training to one day be in Vince McMahon's operational role and his HOF induction might need to be placed on hold to see how well he can run the WWE on his own. Triple H was mostly an advisor backstage for much of the 2000's, provided by his marriage to Stephanie McMahon. His role increased when John Laurinaitis was removed and Triple H began overseeing the developmental system. Triple H has been working as a trained back-up to Vince McMahon backstage, likely owning Vince's role if/when Vince ever retires from the WWE. His effectiveness as a WWE executive was on display by landing Bruno Sammartino for the WWE Hall of Fame 2013 class and the Ulitmate Warrior for the 2014 class. Bruno and Warrior had both kept their distance from WWE for years and there had been legitimate heat with both men and Vince McMahon. Triple H worked on Bruno and Warrior for the past two years and their returns have helped garner the attention of many older WWF fans long gone from the current product.

Number 4...
The Rock.

Why The Rock wasn't inducted from 2005-2010 when the WWE wasn't utilizing him, I'll never know. You cannot deny the 2nd biggest draw of the "Attitude Era" a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame. He was a wrestler who could have been a complete failure. WWE brought him in as Rocky Maivia during 1996 and pushed him hard as a happy-go-lucky babyface. This failed big time and it took a knee injury shortly after Wrestlemania 13 during 1997 to change course for the Rock. Returning as a heel, Rocky Maivia became the Rock and became one of the greatest WWE heels of all time. The Rock was so good as a heel that he started getting babyface cheers. Realizing this, yet still wanting the Rock as a heel, the Rock joined the Corporation at Survivor Series 1998 to become the "Corporate Champ". He would go on to headline a huge Wrestlemania 15 event with Steve Austin and ending up wrestling Austin at 2 more Wrestlemanias (17 and 19). When Steve Austin went down with injury later in 1999, the Rock took over as the top babyface and drew huge for 2000 as if Austin never left.
What hurts the Rock from being the top superstar of all time in the WWE is that other entities are requesting his services. The Rock has become a decent actor. Though he doesn't have that one movie that drew huge with him as the star, his movies have drawn well for the most part. And the movie roles are becoming plenty- even with every character having the tattoos on the left arm. During 2001-2004, the movie roles took him away from the WWE... knowing this, the Rock used his time wisely in the WWE and helped put over other wrestlers, most noticeably Brock Lesnar. Brock was in need of a huge win to quickly catapult him to the top. The WWE tried to put him over Steve Austin on random editions of RAW, but Austin refused. Rocky did not and put him over cleanly at Summerslam 2002. Rock would then leave the WWE after Wrestlemania 20 during 2004 but return to the company during February 2011 to be the "host" of Wrestlemania 27. He would go on to wrestle and beat John Cena at Wrestlemania 28 and then become WWE Champion for the 8th time at Royal Rumble 2013, before losing it to Cena at Wrestlemania 29. Just IMAGINE what he could have done if he didn't walk away from the WWE...

Number 3...
The Undertaker.

How many wrestlers can honestly admit that they improved significantly with age? The Undertaker certainly can. As the WWE lessened the over-the-top and nonsensical stuff with the "Deadman" gimmick during the 1990's and began to feed the Undertaker GOOD opponents, the true in-ring talent of the Phenom began to shine. It's almost as if Vince McMahon, by design, gave the Undertaker stupid feuds and lame, yet safe, matches during the 1990's in order to preserve the Undertaker for the 2000's. After enduring feuds with various "freakshow" wrestlers, Undertaker seemed to show his potential when Mankind (Mick Foley) joined the WWE during the Summer of 1996 and gave the Undertaker someone who could adequately sell his offence while putting up a reasonable fight. Then, the Undertaker continued to show his potential during his late 1997 feud with Shawn Michaels and then during 1998 when feuding with Steve Austin. Undertaker was deep into character again, however, with the Ministry of Darkness angle and it may have taken a torn groin injury to save him from that ridiculousness in booking by Vince Russo
Upon his return during 2000, we had the "American Badass" Undertaker who traded character for an actual human being. With the gimmick no longer dominating the wrestler, he was able to shine as an in-ring performer. Since his 2000 return with the American Badass character, his in-ring focus has produced multiple Match of the Year candidates. All 3 matches against Triple H were impressive at Wrestlemanias 17, 27, and 28. In particular his 2 Wrestlemania matches against Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemanias 25 and 26 were his best. The Wrestlemania 25 match, in particular, ranks up there on "best of all time" lists and it wasn't just from Shawn Michaels bumping- Undertaker brought it. Undertaker had great matches with Brock Lesnar, Edge, Randy Orton, and Ric Flair and with time, his Wrestlemania streak has become an important draw of the show.
Undertaker is often criticized for "not making stars"... What about Steve Austin in 1998? SummerSlam 1998 was an important event and Steve Austin went over clean. Undertaker put over Brock Lesnar during 2002 after Lesnar just won the undisputed WWE Title. Many suggest that the Undertaker should use his Wrestlemania streak to put over the next big star with a loss. Chances are that the Wrestlemania streak will be the Undertaker's legacy and given his contributions to the WWE, he can probably keep winning for all Vince McMahon cares. Should the Undertaker lose at Wrestlemania, the winning wrestler should consider it an honour.

Number 2...
'Macho Man' Randy Savage.

Randy Savage's real life brother, Lanny Poffo, has been pushing hard for the Poffo family as a whole (father and sons) to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. In pro wrestling, however, the real family based couple to be inducted should be Macho Man and Miss Elizabeth. From Wrestlemania 2 to Wrestlemania 8, the couple was very important to the WWE. When Savage was a heel, he drew heat by treating his poor valet like dirt... But when Savage was a face, WWE fans embraced the power couple. There was no greater moment for the two, than after Wrestlemania 7 when Savage was forced to retire at the hands of the Ultimate Warrior and Savage and Miss Elizabeth reunited.
Randy Savage was gravely important to the WWE during the 1980's boom. He made the Intercontinental Title stronger as champion and helped teach future wrestlers about what a big event match SHOULD look like with his match against Ricky Steamboat at Wrestlemania 3. His success as a midcarder soon fast tracked him to the WWE Title by winning the Wrestlemania 4 tournament as a babyface. Fans embraced Savage and Elizabeth as a couple, along with Savage's newly formed alliance with Hulk Hogan known as the "Mega Powers". Go watch the first-ever SummerSlam in 1988 when Savage/Hogan took on Andre "the Giant" and Ted Dibiase if you'd like to see how big the Mega Powers were. When the Mega Powers broke up, thanks to Savage's raging jealousy over Hulk Hogan regarding Miss Elizabeth, they drew HUGE at Wrestlemania 5. Savage would remain a heel for the next few years but was out of the WWE Title picture. Desperate, he chased the Ultimate Warrior and demanded a WWE Title shot. The anger built up in Savage that he attacked Warrior at Royal Rumble 1991 to cost Warrior the title to set up the "Retirement Match" at Wrestlemania 7 against Warrior. Savage lost that match but returned when Jake "the Snake" Roberts' actions (i.e. slapping Miss Elizabeth, attacking Randy Savage with a huge King Cobra) were enough for reinstatement by then WWE President Jack Tunney.
After the Roberts feud, Savage would go after Ric Flair for the WWE Title and won the belt at Wrestlemania 8. His WWE career was minimal after this, as Vince moved Savage to the announcer's booth. Savage wanted to wrestle more and had a good WCW career (4 time WCW Champion) that helps boost Savage's Hall of Fame resume. Savage was exceptional and has star power during the late 1980's and early 1990's that only Hulk Hogan exceeds. His death on May 20th, 2011 made national and sports headlines and wrestling fans mourned him greatly.

Number 1...
Vincent Kennedy McMahon.

Since Vince McMahon Jr. purchased the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) from his father and Hall of Famer Vince McMahon Sr., the pro wrestling industry has never been the same. Before Vince Jr. took over, pro wrestling companies were dedicated to territories both in reach and in television. Vince Jr., however, had dreams of a national pro wrestling company and began the attack by placing WWF programming in other territories via syndication and the growing Cable television. The second step was to aggressively raid the territories of their best talent with the promise of being promoted nationally. And finally, Vince McMahon took advantage of the new Pay Per View concept and crafted brand name events (Wrestlemania, Survivor Series, Royal Rumble, SummerSlam, etc.) that nobody could compete with. Many big promotions went under in attempt to compete with Vince, with only World Championship Wrestling (WCW) surviving thanks to Ted Turner's money subsidizing the product (later Time Warner subsidizing).
Vince also changed the industry for a second time during the 1990's. After his business model of taped 1 hour shows and lame gimmicks grew stale in comparison to the fresh WCW product through 1996, Vince McMahon radically changed his product during 1997 to eventually topple WCW by 2001. Vince changed RAW to a 2 hour show, live every other week, injected more adult themed storylines, and began to push brand new stars to the top (Mick Foley, Steve Austin, Rock, Triple H, etc.). WWE's growth combined with WCW's poor business choices after 1997 allowed for Vince McMahon to purchase WCW during March 2001, a major achievement. Vince has since purchased most of the major video libraries (AWA, ECW, World Class, etc) and kept other competition out by the brand extension to flood the market with WWE television products. Since 2001, no other company has been able to challenge the WWE and that's despite a gradual decline in ratings, attendance, and Pay Per View purchases.
Vince has certainly made his mistakes (Katie Vick Storyline, XFL, etc.) and the wrestler deaths have been a black eye to him, but his push to make the WWF/WWE the most dominant pro wrestling company in history has led to many great innovations and much needed changes to the business. Wrestlers are well paid and have many opportunities afforded to them thanks to the star power granted to them by the WWE corporate machine. Without Vince McMahon's influence 30 years ago, who knows where the pro wrestling industry would be.

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