Hall of Fame: Part II (1995 & 96)
June 15, 2004 by Kevin G. Bufton
Note: In my previous column, I said that the only Jay Strongbow match I had seen was a Shark Cage Match against the Sheik. In fact, his opponent was Bulldog Don Kent - the match was still appalling.
In this, the second of my Hall of Fame columns, I will be focussing on the years 1995 and 1996. Over these two years, the WWE inducted a further sixteen superstars into the Hall. Will any of them be as important as those who were inducted in the first two years"
Let's find out...
The longest reigning women's champion of all time, Moolah is responsible for the Women's division as it stands today. She was the first undisputed women's champion and the legal owner of the World Women's title belt, until Vince McMahon bought it from her as part of her contract negotiations. Moolah was a great wrestler in her heyday and a competent shoot fighter - something that Wendi Richter found out to her cost. She also played a significant role in the build up to WrestleMania I, through her feud with Richter and the mainstream publicity that came from Cyndi Lauper being added to the equation. She fought the last match of her career at the venerable age of eighty, scoring a pinfall victory over Victoria.
Decision: Thumbs up. Love her or hate her, her impact on the sport is unquestioned.
The first man to hold the World, Intercontinental and Tag Team belts in his WWE career, Morales is a bona fide legend. He was a favourite of the important Puerto Rican crowd and he could back up that popularity in the ring. He once fought Bruno Sammartino to a 76 minute draw - a feat that few wrestlers of his time could boast - and he had his fair share of memorable matches with powerhouses like Don Muraco and Afa, the Wild Samoan.
Decision: Thumbs up. An ethnic champion who appealed to everybody.
I hate Ivan Putski - there, I said it. He represents everything that is wrong with professional wrestling. He is muscle-bound, has few mic skills and he blows up after five minutes. Worse than this, the man simply cannot wrestle. Even excellent workers like Randy Savage couldn't drag a decent match out him. I believe the WWF wanted Putski to be a hero for the large Polish demographic, much like Pedro Morales and Bruno Sammartino were for the Puerto Ricans and the Italian Americans. Unlike these two legends, he wasn't any good as a worker.
Decision: Thumbs down. A truly awful wrestler, who gives the sport a bad name.
This is more like it. Antonino Rocca was the most electrifying wrestler of the 40s and 50s and is regarded as the first legitimate WWE superstar. His high-flying style had never been seen before and he paved the way for every high risk superstar in the business today. One of the most popular wrestlers of his time, he fought the likes of Thesz, Rogers and Carpentier in packed houses across the country. He is one man who can truly claim to have revolutionised the industry.
Decision: Thumbs up. Without Rocca, there would be no RVD, HBK, Jimmy Snuka or any number of others.
The Grand Wizard
I love old-school wrestling and I love heel managers, so the Grand Wizard should be one of my all-time favourites, but he just doesn't do anything for me. He acted as a manager at the same time as Lou Albano and Freddie Blassie, both of whom blow him out of the water. This may seem blasphemous to his many fans but the man wasn't as great on the stick as Blassie, nor could he take a bump like Albano. He seems to have been inducted just to have all three managers in the Hall of Fame.
Decision: Thumbs down. A lot of people love him but to me, he's nothing special.
This is a difficult choice for me, as I love George Steele almost as much as I hate Ivan Putski. His gimmick was fantastic, whether working as a face or a heel and, in the various interviews I have read, I've found him to be an intelligent and thoughtful man who is proud of his history in the business. Unfortunately, aside from his feud with Randy Savage, he didn't do anything that had a great impact on the sport. He has been a favourite of mine for many years but I he's just not in the same league as some of his fellow inductees.
Decision: Thumbs down. Sorry, George - I like you a lot but you're just not Hall of Fame material.
Ernie Ladd was one of the finest heels in the business, originally teamed with Bobo Brazil, in a face role. He achieved his greatest success as a cocky, arrogant heel, seen by some as the prototype for JBL. He was a fine brawler and one of the first to make the transition from American Football to the squared circle, even getting a shot at Lou Thesz's coveted title. Later in his career, he became a manager and an announcer for the WWF, proving that he had lost none of his swagger. Ladd was a well rounded athlete and entertainer and an important part of wrestling history.
Decision: Thumbs up. A decent worker and an excellent heel.
Four worthy inclusions and three disappointments (two and a half, if we count Steele). Not as good as the last two years, but it could have been worse. Let's see if 1996 can up the odds a little...
Captain Lou Albano
Captain Lou makes the trilogy of managers complete, taking his place alongside Blassie and the Grand Wizard. One of the more important on-screen personalities of the eighties, he was a boisterous and outspoken manager who was a major player in the build up to the inaugural WrestleMania. He was a decent wrestler in his younger years but he will be remembered for being the loud mouthed Hawaiian shirt wearing lunatic who stole the spotlight in every match in which he was at ringside.
Decision: Thumbs up. A great manager who mixed aggression with comedy.
Kowalski is about as old-school as they come and was one of the most important heels of his time. Trained by Lou Thesz, he had high profile feuds with some of the industry's top faces, including Sammartino. He teamed up with fellow Hall of Famer Gorilla Monsoon in a tag team that cut swathes through the business. He is notorious for a tearing off Yukon Eric's ear with a flying kneedrop - something he boasted about in interviews for years. His place in wrestling history is further assured by the calibre of wrestlers whom he trained, including Triple H, Chyna, A-Train, Chris Nowinski and April Hunter...we'll just have to forget about Bastion Booger.
Decision: Thumbs up. A decent worker whose legacy lives on in Raw's top heel.
Baron Mikel Scicluna
I can't grade Scicluna's worthiness for the Hall of Fame as, not only have I never seen him in action but, until recently, I had never even heard of him. He was a vicious old-school heel, who had a massive feud with Bruno Sammartino - you know, like every other heel of the time. I am reserving judgement on the Baron for now. Perhaps, when I get to see some footage, I will do a follow-up column.
Decision: Thumbs in the middle. It's not fair of me to judge him with no evidence.
Johnny and Jimmy Valiant
I've included both of these wrestlers in the same spot as they wrestled together for many years. Plus, it means I only have to come up with one set of insults to cover them both. Why were these guys inducted into the Hall of Fame" As workers they were average at best, though "Luscious" Johnny V is better known for his stint as a manager. The fact that Heenan managed Andre the Giant, Miss Elizabteh got Randy Savage and Johnny Valiant was lumbered with Brutus Beefcake, gives you some idea of his place in the pecking order. Jimmy Valiant recently had his final match, ending a career that was some forty years too long.
Decision: Thumbs down. I can't believe Vince rates the Valiants as highly as Andre or Moolah.
As a worker, Johnny Rodz was known as a decent enough jobber, much like the Brooklyn Brawler. However, it is his work outside that ring that makes him such a worthy inductee. He opened a wrestling school in New York and among his trainees were some of the most influential workers of the new generation - Tazz, Tommy Dreamer and D-Von Dudley, among others.
Decision: Thumbs up. Not a legend in his own right, but his legacy will live on through his trainees.
A lot has been said against Pat Patterson over the years, much of which may be warranted. The fact remains that he was the first ever Intercontinental champion and one of the finest in-ring competitors of his day. Anyone who doubts this need only witness his matches with Sgt. Slaughter in the early eighties. He has also been a long time road agent and is respected by many of the wrestlers for his dedication to the sport and the business.
Decision: Thumbs up. Patterson was an great worker and is an important backstage figure in the WWE.
Vincent J. McMahon
Vince McMahon Snr. is the man to either thank or blame (depending on your view) for the state of wrestling today. As much as his son has moulded the industry into his own image, it was Vince Snr. who started things off, absorbing the rival territories into one massive promotion, which gave young Vince Jr. a firm starting point from which to take the company global.
Decision: Thumbs up. A key player in the McMahon family dynasty.
"Superfly" Jimmy Snuka is one of the most popular wrestlers of all time. Though never at the very top of the business, he was a superb showman, delivering sports entertainment before the term was coined. Famous for his Superfly Splash, he had passionate feuds with Roddy Piper, Don Muraco and Bob Backlund. Snuka is also responsible for inspiring the likes of Spike Dudley, Tommy Dreamer and Mick Foley to enter the squared circle.
Decision: Thumbs up. A world without Cactus Jack" No thanks...Snuka is the man to thank.
Six more deserving inductees from 1996. Scicluna remains ungraded as I cannot, in all fairness, pass judgement on a man I have never heard of. In fact, if it weren't for the Valiants, we'd be looking at a clean sweep here.
In my final Hall of Fame column, I will look at the inductions for 2004 and see if they can stand up to their fellow members. Will they increase the number of worthy entries" We shall have to wait and see.
Until the next time...farewell.
by Kevin G. Bufton..
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