The Katz Files – Arnie Katz
My Personal Hall of Fame: The Hogan Era
The Kingfish Arnie Katz talks about great, or at least memorable, wrestlers of the wrestling he has seen for the last half-century.
For Those Who Missed Part One
I’m not trying to set up yet another Hall of Fame. I’ve seen the attacks by the people who criticize Hall of Fame selections and I’d rather not stand in their crosshairs.
What I thought I’d do is offer my own personal Hall of Fame, based on my own recollections of pro wrestling. I’ve seen a lot of wrestling since I watched Verne Gagne fight Lou Thesz on filmed wrestling from Chicago in the early 1950’s, so that particular Memory Lane is a crowded thoroughfare.
By the same token, you won’t find all the wrestlers you loved in this column or its sequels. If I didn’t see them, I can’t remember them. (The 1970’s is also a blur, but that’s another subject.) Among wrestlers I didn’t see enough to include is Dick the Bruiser, Lou Thesz, Gene Kiniski and Berne Gagne.
To put my choices in perspective, let me give a bit of my background”
I was born in Brooklyn, NY and grew up in New Hyde Park, Long Island. I saw a lot of WWWF/WWF/WWE wrestling. TV also gave me access to Wrestling from the Olympic (Los Angles) and Wrestling from Florida with Gordon Solie.
This installment of my Hall of Fame focuses on the era before the reign of Bruno Sammartino. It doesn’t go back much before 1952, because that’s when I started watching pro wrestling. These Hall of Famers are all from the era when WWE had a lot more “W”s.
This isn’t a complete list by any means. It’s more a rundown of the “charter members” of my personal Hall of Fame. Maybe it’ll jog a few of your memories, too.
This time the wrestlers are drawn from the period that began with the arrival of Huck Hogan in WWFand the rise of the NWO in WCW.
The world of professional wrestling changed radically when Vince McMahon hired a muscle boy developed in Verne Gagne’s AWA and had him beat the Iron Sheik for the WWF’s World Heavyweight Championship.
The bombastic and outrageous Hulkster introduced the super hero aesthetic to wrestling. He wore a costume and had the ability to “Hulk up” to gain extra power that inevitably propelled him to victory. It was bullsh!t, but fans bought into it in record numbers.
Hulk wasn’t an exceptional wrestler, though he wasn’t quite as bad as some of his detractors claimed, but he worked some pretty exciting matches despite his limited repertoire.
Knowledgeable wrestling fans almost all preferred Ric Flair and quite a few, like Dave Meltzer, were enthralled by Japanese pro wrestling, but the mainstream, the mass market, belonged to the man in yellow and red.
There never was a real debate among knowledgeable, serious fans of professional wrestlers about who was at the top of the heap. It was the Nature Boy Ric Flair.
Flair’s gimmick wasn’t entirely original – who can forget Nature Boy Buddy Rogers? – but Ric brought a verve and glamour to the role that took him well beyond whatever inspiration Rogers supplied.
Naitch is that rarity who is outstanding both on the mic and in the ring. No one could touch him when he got on a roll during one of his “wheelin’ deali’ airplane flying, kiss stealing” rant.
His ring work was a little stylized, such as the corner flip over the rope and suddenly crash to the mat, but he had great cardio and worked great matches. You knew he was in trouble when he climbed the ropes for the aerial move that never came, but that’s a small quibble.
Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard
Fair’s main running mates in The Four Horsemen formed one of the outstanding tag teams of all time. Injury and circumstance shorted their careers, but they were rough, exciting and skillful when they were at their peak in the ring.
The Double A Spinebuster – and it’s interesting that it is still called that – was one pf the great, match-changing moves. With Flair to man the mic, this team stood tall as long as they were fit and active.
Oh yeah! The WWE reported hates him, so you probably won’t see Savage get any honors from that direction, but I loved watching him and, even more, listening to his off-kilter rants.
When Savage became a thorough babyface, he sometimes teamed with Hulk Hogan as the Mega Powers to thwart the greatest evils in the world in tag team competition.
Savage was somewhat undersized, especially for a WWF grappler, but he made it work through sheer attitude.
I’ve noticed, with some satisfaction, that Sting is gradually coming out from behind his Crow-like make-up and costume. The rafter-haunting figure is ok, but I still like the one with the colorful painted eye mask, blond-haired and war whoop.
He was really dynamic and kinetic in the ring in those days. Sting could galvanize the whole arena in an instant and made a perfect adversary for the equally charismatic, though treacherous, Ric Flair.
Never much on the mic, he was one terrific wrestler. He was a high flyer who took significant risks when that wasn’t the prevailing style.
WWF sometimes involved him in less-than-worthy gimmicks in an attempt to compensate for the fact that his work was better than his mouth. The short ninja movies and the big lizard only distracted from one of the truly great performers.
In the wild, lurid and often grimy world of professional wrestling, Miss Elizabeth was a fairytale princess. She looked so clean, so innocent, and so lovely. There have been many more beautiful Divas and even more who exuded greater sexuality, but Miss Elizabeth blazed the trail. Even when valeting got Tandy Savage when he was a heel, Miss Elizabeth remained pristine and angelic.
Her real-life origin enhanced her appeal for those, like me, who knew it. She had been a dumpy ring rat who, through awesome determination and hard work, had remade herself into the ethereal Miss Elizabeth.
When the IWA rose to challenge WWF, a lot of the main eventers were past their primes. They knew how to work an entertaining match, but they no longer had the athleticism for wild moves and eye-popping bumps. I would put Tex McKenzie, Johnny Powers and Mark Lewin, among others, in that category.
One awesome exception was the masked man from Mexico. When I saw him live in Jersey City at what proved to be the IWA’s biggest card, his swooping acrobatic moves made him seem like the super hero he played in the movies.
That’s it for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with another installment of the Internet’s fastest-rising daily wrestling column. I hope you’ll return to join me and, please, bring your friends.
— Arnie Katz