Hall of Fame: Part I (1993-1994)
June 9, 2004 by Kevin G. Bufton
WrestleMania XX - where it all begins...again.
I'm not sure that particular promise was ever fulfilled but at least one tradition was reborn during 'Mania weekend, that of the Hall of Fame. On the night before WrestleMania, WWE took over the New York Hilton to induct eleven people into the Hall, a ceremony that had not taken place for eight years. Now boasting 35 members, the Hall of Fame contains some of the most important personalities in sports entertainment history.
Or does it"
In a series of three columns, I will take a look at each member of the Hall of Fame and decide if they really deserve their place in wrestling history. Were they all inducted for their accomplishments; for shaping the way we look at the industry today" Or were they inducted for other reasons - loyalty, pity, media attention or any one of a host of others"
That is what I intend to find out and there is only one place to start - the very first induction ceremony and the sole wrestler deemed fit to be the inaugural member of the WWE Hall of Fame.
Andre the Giant
If there is anybody more fitting to be the first inductee to the Hall of Fame, then I'd like to know who it is. Forget Hogan, Flair, Austin and the Rock - the Eighth Wonder of the World was and is the single most recognisable superstar in wrestling history. He drew more money and larger gates than any wrestler before or since and was sought after by promoters around the world. If you're my age, you tend to remember Andre the Giant towards the end of his career - barely mobile and with a repertoire of moves that makes Kevin Nash look like Chris Benoit. However, it was in these later years that Andre's defining moment as a wrestler occurred. It was WrestleMania III and the bodyslam heard around the world. Andre highlighted his career in the main event of the biggest wrestling card in American history and, in doing so, made Hulk Hogan a bona fide superstar.
Decision: Thumbs up. A worthy start to the Hall of Fame.
Chief Jay Strongbow
I must confess, I don't know if Strongbow was a Native American or not but it doesn't really matter. He was known across the States as Chief Jay Strongbow for the better part of 20 years, regardless of his ethnicity. He was a four-time WWWF tag champion, who had a memorable feud with Superstar Billy Graham among many others. I can't comment on his in-ring abilities, as the only footage I have seen of him was truly diabolical (a Shark Cage Match against the Sheik). I have heard many people praise his wrestling skills, particularly his Indian Deathlock submission, so I am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. Also, he was one of the earlier wrestlers who used a 'superman' comeback - his war-dance being seen by many as the precursor of Hogan's own hulking up, not to mention the sickening horror that was Tatanka. Bastard.
Decision: Thumbs up - just barely. The man was a consistent draw and a good worker but being the template for both Hogan and Tatanka is unforgivable.
A manager of champions (including Andre, Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund), Skaaland is remembered for one thing. He was the man who threw in the towel for Backlund during his title defense against the Iron Sheik and is considered a supporting player in ushering in the era of Hulk Hogan. Unfortunately, that's about it...
Decision: Thumbs down. An induction on the strength of this seems a little much, Hulkamania or not. Give it to the Iron Sheik, instead.
I have never seen Bobo in action, though I am dying to find some footage as the match photos I have seen of him are very impressive. By all accounts, Bobo was a decent enough brawler, who would win matches with his 'Coco-butt' headbutt (remember when a headbutt was considered a finishing move"). One of the earliest African-American wrestlers to achieve mainstream popularity, Bobo was beloved by people of all races and was able to rally a crowd behind him in every match. He was a trailblazer and paved the way for the likes of Rocky Johnson, Junkyard Dog and every other black pro-wrestler that followed him. His in-ring career spanned forty years - an amazing feat - and he wrestled some of the biggest names in the game.
Decision: Thumbs up. Another deserving entry.
Classy Freddie Blassie
I've just finished reading Blassie's autobiography and I recommend to anybody with an interest in the sport. Blassie lived his gimmick pretty much 24/7 and, as a result, was one of the most reviled men on the planet. In my opinion, the greatest serious heel the business has seen, he was good as a worker, great as a manager and even better as a promo man. If you've never heard Blassie's voice then you need to stop reading this and get your hands on some old WWF footage, when he was managing the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff. As a wrestler, he only worked fleetingly for the WWWF, spending much of his time in Los Angeles and Japan. As a manager in the WWF, however, he was an instant heat machine for some of the eighties' most memorable heels, before retiring into a backstage role.
Decision: Thumbs up. Greatest heel of all time - get him in, you pencil necked geeks!
The original Nature Boy is often forgotten by modern fans who, if they think of him at all, see him as a footnote in wrestling history marking the transition in focus from Lou Thesz to Bruno Sammartino. The truth is, Buddy Rogers was more than this. He was the original WWWF champion, having been awarded the title after walking out on the NWA in one of wrestling's most infamous screw-jobs (we're talking bigger than Montreal here, people). He was the first man to hold both the NWA and the WWWF world heavyweight titles, a record that would only be broken when his namesake, Ric Flair, would accomplish the same feat in 1992. Still, the fact that he promptly lost that first title to Sammartino, has led some to call Rogers a paper champion.
Decision: Thumbs up. He was the first WWWF champion, which is reason enough for his induction.
At 6'5" and tipping the scales at 400lbs, Gorilla Monsoon was an awesome presence in the ring. He feuded with the biggest faces of the time, including the legendary Bruno Sammartino and, whilst he might not have held the heavyweight championship, this did nothing to diminish his standing as a wrestler. As well as being a dependable worker, he also caused some mainstream controversy when he caught Muhammad Ali in his dreaded Airplane Spin. As great as he was in the squared circle, he is perhaps best remembered for his commentary work with fellow Hall of Famers, Jesse Ventura and Bobby Heenan. Indeed, though he was a top heel, part-owner and President of the WWF, his place in my heart is assured simply for making up body parts when doing his play-by-play announcing.
Decision: Thumbs up. A genuine legend both in and out of the ring.
James Dudley is not a wrestler, nor was he onscreen talent, save for a few brief cameos. He was the first black man to manage a major arena in the US, which he did whilst working under Vince McMahon Sr. This is a notable thing in itself, but is it really worthy of a wrestling Hall of Fame" The McMahons feel that they owe Dudley a great debt, for successfully promoting and managing their wrestling cards in the Turner's Arena, during the company's formative years. Very admirable - just not Hall of Fame admirable.
Decision: Thumbs down. Call me cold-hearted, but I think most wrestling fans couldn't care less who James Dudley is.
Well, that's the first two years of inductions covered and so far, only two casualties. I'll be back soon with Hall of Fame: Part II, where we will move on to the 1995 and 1996 inductees. In the meantime, let me know what you thought of my various analyses of these eight members.
Until the next time...farewell.
by Kevin G. Bufton..
Shawn Taylor wrote:
It is my contention that James Dudley is more than deserving of his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame. For just as we honor the wrestlers who put their time and energy into this form of entertainment that we love, we must also honor those who work feverishly behind the scenes to advance professional wrestling.
King Nut wrote:
Ok you have only seen Chief Jay Strongbow wrestle once . How can you judge if he is pro wrestling material. If you want an actual good column like this you need to no all about hte people who worked there. Just because you don't like how Jay influenced the "Hulk Up" or Tatanka (which I must say I used to like) this is not enough information to judge them. Also James Dudley was a really close friend to both Vince SR and Junior and worked his life working for them. He was also extremely loyal. The hall of fame respects managers who have never wrestled why wouldn't you respect those who never stepped in a wrestling ring behind the scenes"
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