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CIRCA
WWE Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony:
Class of 2004 DVD Review
June 8, 2004

by Denny Burkholder
Courtesy of WrestleLine.com

 

OVERVIEW

The WWE Hall of Fame 2004 Induction Ceremony two-DVD set splits features the full ceremony split between the two discs, with extras on each disc pertaining to the men who were inducted. Your master of ceremonies for the event is "Mean" Gene Okerlund, who introduces a video package highlighting the careers of each man prior to inviting their inductor to the podium.

DISC ONE

"Superstar" Billy Graham
Inducted by Triple H

Triple H kicks off the inductions by reminding the audience how inspirational Billy Graham was to other pro wrestlers, and to the "sports entertainment" genre in general. The tie-dyed outfits, the physique, and the lyrical promos displayed a level of showmanship that everyone from Jesse Ventura and Hulk Hogan to Scott Steiner and Triple H have personally mentioned as inspirations for their own work. Triple H boldly notes that there are people in the room who said they would not be present if Billy Graham were ever inducted into the Hall of Fame, and credits Graham for being able to stir that type of controversy.

The Game delivers a classic Billy Graham promo to bring the man to the podium. He's right - he does not say it anywhere near as well as Graham did back in the day. Graham gets a standing ovation from the crowd for the remarkable story of why he's still alive today, and the woman whose untimely death provided Graham the organs for the transplant that saved his life. Graham said there should be an asterisk next to his name in the Hall of Fame for this woman.

Graham comes across as a guy that in genuinely happy to have been forgiven by the McMahons for past grievances, and given that he's come so close to death, it seems particularly pleasing to the Superstar that he's not only been accepted back into the wrestling "family," but that WWE chose to honor his life achievements by placing him in their Hall of Fame. Say what you will about the guy's past, but at least Graham respects his peers and appreciates being honored. Granted, he's got a perspective on life that few others do. By all logic, Graham really ought to be dead by now. Graham is happy to be alive, and in finding peace with pro wrestling and the McMahons, he's now rid of the bitterness that caused his rift with the McMahons in the first place.

And you really can't look at Scott Steiner or old Jesse Ventura footage and deny that this man had a huge influence on other wrestling stars. Vince McMahon himself says in Graham's video package intro that if Graham had been kept around a little longer by the WWF in the 1970s, the industry would have changed much sooner than it did. When no less an authority than Vince McMahon admits that you were ahead of your time, then it's safe to say you deserve Hall of Fame recognition.

Greg "The Hammer" Valentine
Inducted by Jimmy Hart

Valentine is another faithful, capable worker you don't hear a lot out of, so it's nice to see The Hammer take a few moments to share his true thoughts. Funny comment in the midst of his speech: While running down his career highlights, Valentine mentions teaming with Brutus Beefcake as WWF tag team champions and says that he also tried to teach Beefcake how to wrestle. Valentine gives a fairly wide overview of his own career, from teaming with Ric Flair to the day Jimmy Hart gave him a bottle of black hair dye as the Rhythym & Blues tag team came to pass.

Actually, Valentine is refreshingly funny, despite his trademark deadpan voice. He thanks Bob Backlund for carrying him through a 60-minute match at Madison Square Garden, admitting that he was blown up after 15 minutes. In acknowledging Ric Flair, Valentine makes an extremely ill-advised attempt to do the "Whoo!" Greg Valentine + "Whoo" = disaster. Valentine recalls that when Vince Sr. gave him his opportunity in the WWF, he pulled Greg aside and promised him that by the time he left New York, everyone in the world would know who Greg "The Hammer" Valentine was. Topping things off, Valentine finishes by recognizing his late father Johnny Valentine with a "this one's for you, pop." Valentine's speech is probably the most surprisingly entertaining one of the lot. You just don’t expect a lot of humor and storytelling from a guy like Valentine, but he made it work.

Pete Rose
Inducted by Kane

As you might expect, there was some booing from the audience as Pete Rose's video package was introduced by Gene Okerlund. The fact will always remain that no matter how funny Rose was in his three Wrestlemania appearances, this was a publicity stunt and nothing more. In that way, Rose being in the WWE Hall of Fame is a slap in the face to guys like Race and Valentine who made the business their livelihood. It's an even bigger slap to men like Bob Backlund and Rick Steamboat, who deserve Hall of Fame recognition but were forced to watch Rose join the elite before they got their call.

Even in the context of a celebrity induction – thus, removing the idea that Pete Rose is somehow considered the equivalent of Race, Heenan, et al by WWE  - there were STILL more worthy celebrities. How about Cyndi Lauper, Mr. T, Muhammad Ali, or Lawrence Taylor? Do any of them belong in the WWE HoF? Perhaps not. But they certainly don't deserve it any less than Pete Rose does.

That being said, Kane does make some good points in his introduction. When a star like Pete Rose gets involved with WWE, it does grab some mainstream attention for the business. Also, as celebrity guests go, Rose has been one of the more gracious of the lot of famous people that have passed through WWE in recent decades. And Rose himself was very easygoing about it, admitting that he felt funny being inducted along side such wrestling legends. The highlight of Pete Rose's speech came when he said that baseball could learn a thing or two from the way WWE treats its fans with respect, and the way the wrestlers respect what they do. He noted NASCAR as the other major sporting group that knows how to appreciate its fans, and the ever-so-quick WWE camera team immediately shows Bob Holly in the crowd, which draws a lot of laughter from the audience.

Big John Studd
Inducted by The Big Show
Accepted by John Minton, Jr. (son)

It would have been great to see the late Big John Studd live to accept his own award, and interrupt Big Show's intro by grabbing the mic and bellowing "It's the GIANT John Studd!" Studd doesn't get enough credit for how good he was as an arrogant, brutish mauler. When he stared down Andre the Giant in the middle of the ring, he did so without fear. Andre vs. Studd was like Godzilla vs. Mothra. Fans never expected a wrestling match. They came to see two huge behemoths pummel each other into a pulp. Studd was also very good on the microphone as compared to other wrestlers his size. He could talk a good game, and along with sheer size and impressiveness, Studd made the perfect foil for Andre, Hulk Hogan, and other big names.

As for the actual induction speech by Big Show, there isn't much to note other than Show acknowledging Studd as a true role model for himself, and that he was honored to have the chance to induct him into the HoF. Studd's son John Minton, Jr., is a spitting image of his father (but not as gigantic), and gives a very brief acceptance speech on behalf of his father.

Sgt. Slaughter
Inducted by Pat Patterson

Patterson introduces Sarge by running down the list of monickers that Bob Remus used in his early days, before settling on the Sgt. Slaughter gimmick. He also jokes that Slaughter weighed 12 pounds at birth, and the doctor pulled him out by the chin.

There is a big reaction from the fans in the audience while Sarge approaches the podium, and Sarge gets a laugh with a dignified and understated "Good evening." But since he's Sgt. Slaughter, that won't do. He returns to his seat, and grabs his trademark sunglasses and hat, and refers to the audience as "maggots" for old time's sake. Sarge extensively thanks a number of friends and family members, and discusses his days as Super Destroyer Mark II, Beautiful Bobby Remus and Bob Slaughter. He tells an interesting story about how Pat Patterson got him his first run in the WWF with the Slaughter gimmick, explaining how Vince McMahon Sr. was impressed at how well the use of a theme song worked for Slaughter. And upon thanking the McMahons and the rest of the wrestling business, he leaves the podium the only way Sarge can: "You're dismissed."

DISC ONE EXTRAS

"Superstar" Billy Graham

  • Superstar's career (WWE Confidential - 09/06/03) 

  • WWE Championship Match: "Superstar" Billy Graham vs. Bruno Sammartino (Graham wins title, Baltimore, Md. - 04/30/77)

  • "Superstar" Billy Graham Promo (06/14/77)

Pete Rose

  • Wrestlemania XIV (Boston, Mass. - 03/29/98)

  • Wrestlemania XV (Philadelphia, Penn. - 03/28/99)

  • Wrestlemania XVI (Anaheim, Cal. - 04/02/00)

Big John Studd

  • Buddy Rogers' Interview (All Star Wrestling - 04/20/83)

  • Big John Studd vs. Andre the Giant (04/25/83)

Sgt. Slaughter

  • Alley Fight: Sgt. Slaughter vs. Pat Patterson (05/04/81)

  • Alley Fight with Alternate Commentary by Michael Cole, Sgt. Slaughter & Pat Patterson

  • Sgt. Slaughter: "I Want my Country Back"

The Hall of Famers at Wrestlemania XX (03/14/04)

The two gems of the extras are the Billy Graham world title victory over Bruno Sammartino and the Patterson vs. Slaughter alley fight from Madison Square Garden. The former for the rarity of the footage, and the latter for the brutality of the match. Patterson vs. Slaughter starts off as a fairly typical no-holds-barred match, and then gets gruesome when a Slaughter blade job inflicts an INCREDIBLE amount of blood loss. What's even more impressive is how Sarge keeps fighting back to his feet and attempting to mount an offense when he is visibly losing strength from the loss of blood. It's not for the weak-stomached fan, but for a pure display of guts, this one's a keeper. The alternate commentary with Patterson and Slaughter is also a fun feature, to hear the men discuss the match as it happens and what they were thinking and feeling during it.

The only easter egg on disc one is the No Mercy 2002 advertisement featuring Pete Rose, a bunch of trick or treaters, and Kane.

DISC TWO

Bobby "The Brain" Heenan
Inducted by Blackjack Lanza

Heenan's acceptance speech is equal parts entertaining and lengthy. But with Bobby, it never seems like he's droning on. The entire room was in stitches. Pete Rose and Ric Flair in particular were each caught on camera during fits of laughter. In a way, the rather soft-spoken and dull introduction by Blackjack Lanza was the perfect opener. It would have taken a hell of a performance for anyone to remember who came on before "The Brain," anyhow. Might as well skip the formalities and get right to the star of the show.

Heenan admits in the beginning that he tried to prepare something, but thought it better to just go to the ceremony, see all his former comrades tell their old stories, and let it all come back to him. That's what Heenan did, and as a result, his own speech is essentially an impromptu riff.

Bobby drew jokes and old stories from nearly everyone on stage with him. Regarding Patterson's induction speech for Slaughter, Heenan announces to the audience: "At 12 o'clock midnight, that will be replayed in your rooms in English." When Harley Race failed to answer Heenan's question about how many times he was world champion - Race either wasn't paying attention to Heenan, or couldn't hear what he had asked - Heenan joked "Harley, wake up, or they'll throw dirt on you." He referred to Ric Flair as Larry Flint. He said that when he heard Harley Race would be there too, knowing Harley, he assumed they were being indicted rather than inducted.

The audience gives Heenan a standing ovation at several points, including one for overcoming throat cancer (Heenan's voice is distorted during the speech, but it's not too difficult to understand him). Another rousing ovation - particularly from the McMahon family in the front row - came as Bobby went on a spirited rant about the World Wildife Fund taking the "F" away from WW"E". That rant also drew loud "BOBBY! BOBBY!" chants from the spectators. Heenan: "If you think your people at the WWF now think it's wildlife, you spend one weekend at the HoJo's in Newark with Afa and Sika, The Samoans - THAT'S wildlife."

Heenan's comedy was accented with plenty of old stories. His first night in the wrestling business is covered. There's an interesting story of a conversation Bobby had with Vince McMahon, as Heenan was about to give the angry Verne Gagne notice that he was leaving the AWA (Heenan: "All the World's Assholes") for the WWF. Heenan discusses making countless phone calls to the WWF trying to get work there, before a spot finally opened up for him.

The best part of Heenan's speech is watching him come back to life. As he draws more laughs, and gets deeper into his own memory while discussing his career, Heenan gets more and more energetic, before finally stopping and laughing. "Man, I'm having fun!" Heenan explains that for two and a half years, he was housebound while recovering from cancer, and he's elated to be back out with the people he loved, entertaining them again. He finishes with an acknowledgement of his family, and chokes back tears as he says "I wish Monsoon was here." There are a few tremendous speeches on this DVD set, and Heenan's is absolutely the best of them all. Worth the proverbial price of admission on its own, says I.

Tito Santana
Inducted by Shawn Michaels

I really enjoyed Santana's speech because you don't often get to hear a guy like Tito speak his mind. Here's a guy that never rocked the boat during his long employment with WWE. He was a dependable midcarder at worst, and an exciting Intercontinental Champion at best. He was a perpetual babyface with plenty of fans. And when he left the business, he did so quietly, and without fanfare.

In introducing Santana, Shawn Michaels mentions that when he used to run with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, Hall said that he always wanted "The Tito Thing." Michaels explained what the "Tito Thing" was: to enjoy the business, have a long and satisfying career, and to one day leave it all behind and "go home to momma," to spend time with your family, raise your kids and enjoy the lifestyle the wrestling business provided for you.

It's a unique experience to hear Santana - always the quiet, content, dependable worker - have a chance to say what he really feels about WWE (although in the context of being honored by WWE, most comments directed at its management are understandably kind). Santana was choked up during most of his rather brief speech, the key focus of which was that he was grateful for the opportunity that Vince Sr. gave him, and that he owed his wonderful family to his wife, for raising the kids while he was on the road. Tito expressed how great the McMahon family made you feel about yourself, which was a refreshing change in a business where promoters were known to be liars.

Tito is a happy ending, too, which is always nice to see in wrestling. Santana left the business and started a new life as a high school Spanish teacher. Two of his sons go to major colleges now, with a third son about to graduate high school. Too often, old-time wrestlers wind up a statistic, or else forced to continue working because they never saved money. Tito was a good example back then, and he remains a good example today - in fact, Santana is synonymous with good examples, judging by the "Tito Thing" that other wrestlers refer to. It's nice to see a guy like Santana get some recognition.

Harley Race
Inducted by Ric Flair

Harley comes across as the wise elder statesman of the 2004 inductees, while guys like Ventura, Flair, Heenan, and Okerlund - all legendary in their own right - feel compelled to continuously shoot comments at Race for approval, proudly tell stories of the time they worked with Harley, or traveled with Harley - hell, if they ever SPOKE to Harley, they made sure to drop his name. That's because, as Ric Flair said while inducting Race into the Hall of Fame, Race is the guy the other wrestlers consider the measuring stick for manliness.

In his intro, Flair rambles on with plenty of Harley stories. Flair recalls going to Japan to defend the NWA World Title and Harley being along for the trip to make sure they didn't try to take the belt off of Flair. Race was the great problem solver of the wrestling business, says Flair. If a promoter ever had a problem with another wrestler, or a fan, or anything else, all they had to do was call Harley. Flair credits Race for giving him the nod of approval to get the world title, and in the process, giving Flair his break into the stratosphere of world champions.

Flair also mentioned that Harley epitomized "old school," and despised sports entertainment. In the end, Race adapted to the wrestling business we know today, but he was and will always be a proud member of the old guard.

As he addresses the audience, Harley Race speaks softly and pointedly.  Race notes that in the mid-1980s, when he was probably ready to be shoved off into retirement, the McMahon family took him in and made him King of the Ring. Harley said that if he lives to be 100 years old, he will never forget that. He gestures to Linda, Shane and Stephanie sitting in the front row, and promises that he will be with the McMahon family to assist with anything they need in the future. It's notable that more than probably any other inductee, every eye in the room is fixed squarely on Harley. He's got the undivided attention of the audience - another example of the respect this man commands among his peers.

Considering how highly regarded he is, Race is quite humble at the podium. Harley states that he is not a single step better than any other person on stage, or anyone else in the business for that matter. He specifically mentions that he is honored to have passed the torch to Ric Flair in the 1980s, and that Flair has more talent in his little finger than 90 percent of anyone who has ever worked in the wrestling business past or present. Race points out that it's a tremendous honor to him every time Triple H delivers a high knee on Raw and Jim Ross calls it a "Harley Race knee." All in all, Race comes across just as he is perceived: he's got the utmost respect for pro wrestling, he is passionate about it, and is very appreciative of being recognized by so many as one of it's greatest warriors. Harley Race's speech is one of the true pleasures of this DVD set for any fan with a sense of history.

Don "Magnificent" Muraco
Inducted by Mick Foley

The Magnificent One had a few tidbits to share about his start in the business, and how he used to get stretched by the superstar wrestlers that passed through Dean Ho's gym in Waikiki. In a relatively brief acceptance speech, Muraco expressed appreciation to all of the boys who helped him early in his career, by giving him useful feedback about what he was doing wrong, and helped him become the wrestler he was. Muraco really did have some interesting thoughts, but seemed to be having trouble vocalizing them, noticeably stuttering.

Foley's introduction to Muraco focused on his own infamous brush with greatness, hitchhiking from Cortland, N.Y. to Madison Square Garden to see the steel cage match blowoff to the Jimmy Snuka-Muraco feud. Foley was amusing as always, mocking Patterson's commentary when Snuka dove over the top rope onto Muraco on TV. Foley gave credit where it was due and said that without Muraco being such a sinister heel, he wouldn't have cared so much to see Snuka get his revenge.

All in all, the acceptance was fine, but it probably would have been more fitting as a Don Muraco tribute if Foley (or for that matter, Muraco) touched on other aspects of his career. It seemed a tad unfair that even as he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, the main focal point of Foley's intro was Snuka. There is no question that match was the hallmark of Muraco's career – it's certainly the most memorable match – but as a Muraco fan, I always feel a little cheated when he's only remembered for taking the Superfly splash in that one match. Oh well.

Junkyard Dog
Inducted by "Big Cat" Ernie Ladd
Acceptance by Latoya Ritter (daughter)

The Junkyard Dog's induction was a lot like his WWE tenure in that it had all the right ingredients, but it fell just short of what it should have been. "Big Cat" Ernie Ladd was indeed a good choice to induct JYD, having worked with him, booked him, and been his friend outside of the ring. There's also the important issue of Ladd and JYD sharing the distinction of being two of the biggest-drawing black wrestlers of their times.

Where Ladd's speech falls short is that it was long, slow and belabored. Ladd cares about the business and about JYD and his family, and he certainly conveyed that. It's just that in following guys like Heenan and Foley, Ladd was a huge contrast. Also, The Dog's daughter, Latoya Ritter, was quite brief, thanking the McMahon family for putting them up in New York and allowing them to participate in Wrestlemania XX. Latoya said she knew her father loved wrestling, and she fondly remembered kids running up to him and asking him to bark, or asking to see his chain.

Junkyard Dog truly was a major star in his time. It is nice to see WWE acknowledge that; I guess I was just hoping for a more spirited tribute. Nonetheless, The Dog is a very deserving candidate. Championships or not, JYD was a legit draw, with scores of fans.

Jesse "The Body" Ventura
Inducted by Tyrell Ventura (son)

In a classy move, Ventura opens his own acceptance speech by thanking Harley Race's wife and son on Harley's behalf, as Harley forgot to do it while he was at the podium. Adding a touch of irony, Ventura then gives a lengthy and spirited speech, jaws with Harley from the podium, rallies support for a 2008 Presidential run, thanks the entire crowd on behalf of every other inductee that night, and walks off without thanking his OWN wife and kids. Only when Gene Okerlund starts telling a story and says the word "wife" does Ventura return to the podium and correct his omission.

Ventura was an excellent play-by-play man during his WWE days, and he's gotten even better at giving speeches since his run as Governor of Minnesota. He's easy to follow, his diction is precise, and he hit on all the hot topics. "The Body" runs down his career, from idolizing Superstar Billy Graham, to being a Navy SEAL, to teaming with Adrian Adonis, to appearing in the movie Predator, all the way to becoming Governor of Minnesota. He predictably ties in wrestling with politics, noting that he succeeded in political debates because he was a wrestler, and he knew how to talk in front of a microphone. Jesse also declares that politicians are no different from the pro wrestlers they look down upon, because the character they play in front of an audience is often nothing like the person they really are. A very valid point, to which I'd add that at least pro wrestlers admit they're PLAYING a character, and nothing a wrestling character does could ever seriously harm the country.

Like Santana, Ventura also highlights how much wrestlers owe to their families for the stress they put them through, with wives raising children on their own and worrying while their spouses are on the road. Personally, I think Ventura is a credit to the wrestling business, for being a very clear thinker, an intelligent, outspoken man, and a success in life. On top of all that, he is unapologetic about his past as a wrestler and his love for the game. Ventura was (and still is) in a position to completely abandon pro wrestling without much consequence, and would actually stand a chance of benefiting from it. But he doesn't, and that takes balls.

Closing Comments: Vince McMahon

In a very brief closing statement, Vince McMahon asks for one more standing ovation for the families of the pro wrestlers, and pins the blame for the lateness of the ceremony on Jesse Ventura speaking too long. That's a bit unfair, since I'm sure at least a couple of people (Bobby Heenan, Ernie Ladd) were in the neighborhood of Ventura for speech length. Either way, he's Vince, and that's the show.

DISC TWO EXTRAS

Bobby Heenan

  • Atlantic City (Prime Time Wrestling - 03/21/88)

  • Yacht (Prime Time Wrestling - 11/22/88)

  • At Busch Gardens (Prime Time Wrestling - 12/12/88)

  • Grape squashing with Andre the Giant (Prime Time Wrestling - 02/25/91)

  • Bobby Heenan Tribute (WWE Confidential - 06/15/02)

  • Bobby Heenan's first night in the business

Greg Valentine & Tito Santana

  • WWE Intercontinental Championship: Greg Valentine vs. Title Santana (Santana wins title, Baltimore, Md. - 07/06/85)

Junkyard Dog & Harley Race

  • Junkyard Dog vs. Harley Race (Saturday Night's Main Event - 01/03/87)

  • Harley Race Promo (World Wide Wrestling - 06/15/83)

  • Gene Okerlund interviews Junkyard Dog (Wrestling Challenge - 07/18/87)

Don Muraco

  • WWE Intercontinental Match: Don Muraco vs. Pedro Morales (Muraco wins title, Philadelphia, Penn. - 06/20/81)

  • Vince McMahon interview (03/20/83)

Jesse Ventura

  • WWE Championship Match: Jesse Ventura vs. Bob Backlund (03/14/82)

  • Pat Patterson interview (All Star Wrestling - 01/16/82)

For my money, the best of this crop of extras has to be Santana vs. Valentine. It's also great to have the Ventura title shot against Backlund, which is another pretty rare match. Buyer beware: Junkyard Dog vs. Harley Race is NOT from Saturday Night's Main Event. It's the match from Wrestlemania III, with a small clip of their prior SNME encounter as a lead-in. Muraco vs. Morales is another decent IC title affair. The Heenan stuff is light-hearted fun from the glory days of Heenan and Monsoon on Prime Time Wrestling, but the clips are pretty brief. In the clip of Andre the Giant forcing Heenan to stomp grapes, it's funny to catch a glimpse of Vince McMahon dressed in his snazziest Hammer pants and casual powerlifting attire.

FINAL ANALYSIS

This ceremony is a must-have if you appreciate the old days (or at least, the old timers FROM those old days). There are countless stories of Hall of Famers on the road, breaking into the business, learning the ropes, and making peace with the fact that they can't be there for their families if they wish to continue as a wrestling superstar. The extras are great reminders of what these men were like in their primes. Add the 2004 Hall of Fame DVD set to the ever-growing list of fantastic DVD releases from the WWE library. Even relatively new fans can enjoy release, and perhaps gain some new insight into how wrestling got to where it is today, and the people that carried it this far.

Very, very highly recommended.

E-MAIL DENNY
BROWSE THE CIRCA ARCHIVES


  
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