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CIRCA
Projecting the Hall of Fame
Class of 2005
January 20, 2005

by Denny Burkholder
Courtesy of WrestleLine.com

 

Maybe this year, we'll finally get to see Bruno Sammartino and Vince McMahon in the same room again. You know... without yelling at each other.
 
Following a very well received WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony in conjunction with WrestleMania XX last year, there's a lot of speculation swirling with regard to the 2005 inductees. WWE has not released any names yet, though credible reports say the only confirmed (but unannounced) name on the short list so far is Gordon Solie. If that's true, it's a great start. 

 
There are plenty of big names to choose from, that's for sure. Scores of former world champions, tons of popular IC-Title level talents, legendary tag teams, memorable announcers and managers remain waiting for their spot in the WWE Hall of Fame, should they ever get one. Last year, WWE chose to honor 10 pro wrestling personalities, plus one wrestling-friendly "celebrity" in Pete Rose. Rose was as much a publicity stunt as anything else, but if WWE really is going to corner off a section of its Hall of Fame for celebrities, there are still more of those to choose from.

As always, there are complications in the selection process. In return for honoring those worthy of a spot in the Hall of Fame, WWE would like the best possible chance for an entertaining and worthwhile ceremony, which they could then market to fans in a DVD release. That means WWE would prefer not to honor those who might not have the best things to say in their speech, or who might not appreciate the recognition as much as others. Anyone regularly (or even recently) affiliated with NWA TNA would also have a significantly reduced chance of being chosen, simply because it would draw attention to another promotion (or worse, the honoree might not be able to attend the ceremony due to a TNA obligation, which could be seen as a slap in the face of WWE).

Nonetheless, the WWE Hall of Fame class of 2005 is still fun to consider, especially for an old-school fan like myself. Even WWE recognizes that, as they've set up an informal survey on WWE's Hall of Fame web site to gather fans' opinions on which superstar they'd like to see at the podium this year.

For what it's worth, here is my own personal WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2005: chosen due to worthiness, but also with other factors in mind. Among other things, I've considered the wrestler's current state of mind, availability for the ceremony, length of time they've been inactive (*if* they're inactive), peers who have and have not yet been inducted, and cohesiveness as a group. I'm not saying all 11 guys have to be best friends. I'm just saying an on-stage fistfight between Hollywood Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage might be a bit awkward, especially if Gene Okerlund has to break it up. So if there are potential fireworks between any two worthy superstars, I've probably excluded one or the other from the class. There's always next year.

Without further ado, here's my WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2005 (and who I'd like to see give their pre-induction speeches):

BRUNO SAMMARTINO
Inducted By: Pedro Morales

Purely from a standpoint of deserving it, Bruno Sammartino should easily top the list of "must-have" inductees. In fact, if not for his significant fallout with WWE and the wrestling business in general, Sammartino probably would have been inducted to the HoF no later than 1995. The man held the WW(W)F World Title twice, but his two reigns spanned roughly 11 years. That's simply amazing to consider in this day and age, and it's a record that will almost certainly never be broken. Champions just don't hold fans' interest today like they did when Bruno sold out Madison Square Garden every month.

Bruno Sammartino still isn't in love with pro wrestling's current incarnation, but he's at least warming up to the idea of spending a couple of days with other old timers. He's booked for the Tampa reunion/fan festival, which indicates that even if he doesn't enjoy himself there, he's at least more willing to be seen in the wrestling community than he was in the past. I doubt he'll ever be a fan of Vinnie Mac, but I'd think Bruno is as game as he ever will be to allow WWE to honor him one last time.

I chose Pedro Morales to induct him because Morales is a contemporary of Bruno's that Sammartino would probably really appreciate having there. Superstar Billy Graham is another decent option, but Morales is more Bruno's type of guy. And with Bruno, they'll need to make every effort to keep him happy in a McMahon-controlled environment. If Pedro Morales can't do it, then maybe Arnold Skaaland can give a short speech on behalf of his former managerial charge.

Final note on Sammartino: as another way of keeping Bruno content long enough to make a gracious appearance at the ceremony, I've intentionally NOT included Hulk Hogan in this year's crop of inductees. I just can't see Bruno sitting still through an over-the-top Hogan acceptance speech. It would be a huge deal to modern fans if Hogan were inducted this year, which would undoubtedly overshadow Sammartino, whose notoriety has faded over the years while Hogan's legend has grown. Bruno deserves not to be overshadowed - especially by a champion that helped usher in the era he hated so much. Both men are worthy, but Bruno is downright overdue. Hogan can wait another year.

BOB BACKLUND
Inducted By: Superstar Billy Graham

Here's another former WW(W)F World Champion that is arguably overdue for the Hall of Fame. Backlund wasn't the biggest sensation of babyface world champs, but he was a dependable and skilled pro wrestler who did a fine job. They wouldn't have kept him in the top spot for six years if he wasn't doing something right. Considering his prime era spanned the 1970s and early 1980s, Backlund should probably be ahead of guys like Hogan and Randy Savage in line for Hall of Fame honors.

Here's where I think Superstar Billy Graham is a good choice for giving an induction speech. Graham and Backlund were a pretty good match as main-event adversaries, and were about as different as two world champions can get. Graham has been very appreciative of pro wrestling as he gets older, and I think that would make him a great choice for paying Backlund his just due.

THE IRON SHEIK
Inducted By: Sgt. Slaughter

As a WWF World Champion, the Iron Sheik was really no better than Ivan Koloff or Stan Stasiak. He was a transitional champion who was in the right place at the right time when the promotion decided they wanted a different babyface as the top banana. Where the Iron Sheik stands out above champs like Koloff and Stasiak is that he became something of a household name; a superstar despite not really being the top guy in the company for very long (or ever, in the big picture). The Sheik was an outstanding amateur grappler  who became a very formidable heel in the pro ranks. More importantly, the Iron Sheik became very good as a character, which opened him up to successful feuds with big draws like Hogan and Sgt. Slaughter.

I think it speaks volumes to the Iron Sheik's lasting impression on the business that people still think fondly of him to this day (in a nostalgia way, if not in an "I like the guy" way). In 1984, I don't think anyone expected his legacy to have this kind of longevity. For that reason, I don't feel bad about giving the original "Khosrow" the HoF nod. Nikolai Volkoff will have to wait, though. And Slaughter makes a perfect choice to introduce his old nemesis, partially because we know he'll be available for WWE that night!

PAUL "Mr. WONDERFUL" ORNDORFF
Inducted By: Bobby "The Brain" Heenan

In his prime, Paul "Mr. Wonderful" Orndorff was easily the hottest heel in the WWF. He and Hulk Hogan drew 70,000 people to a live event in Toronto. That alone is probably enough to warrant Orndorff's Hall of Fame bid, even if an injury did cut his career (and his potential) very short. Seriously: how can the top adversary of Hulk Hogan during the Hulkster's popular and physical prime NOT be considered an all-time classic performer? Like the Junkyard Dog before him, Orndorff's legacy might not have very many title reigns peppering it, but Orndorff deserves the honor anyway.

Heenan gets to do the induction speech, both for being Orndorff's manager during his main event run and because Heenan is a fantastic person to listen to. This is a chance to give Bobby Heenan the microphone. You can't pass that up!

RICKY "THE DRAGON" STEAMBOAT
Inducted By: Ric Flair

One of my personal all-time favorite performers - and one of the first wrestlers I truly ever "marked out" for as a kid. "The Dragon" is the very definition of a classic babyface. And I don't think I need to explain his credentials as a ring general. Have you heard yet that Rick Steamboat is one of the greatest pure wrestlers of the past quarter century? If so, then I'll save my breath.

Ric Flair gives the induction speech for Steamboat, because he's easily available, he'd be honored to do it, and it would be perfect. This one's such a no-brainer. Can't wait to see which classic Steamboat match they put on the DVD... then again, does it matter? It's Steamboat!

TED DIBIASE
Inducted By: Tito Santana

This is the only slightly controversial choice, mostly due to the timing of it. DiBiase deserves (and no doubt will one day get) a Hall of Fame spot. The question is this: does he deserve his spot before Hogan and Savage get theirs? That's the one thing I wrestled with in giving DiBiase the nod for 2005. In all honesty, DiBiase is an honorable enough man that he would not feel slighted if he had to wait a few years to get in, and he'd be just as appreciative either way.

Oddly, it's for that reason that I endorse him getting into the Hall of Fame sooner than his more famous contemporaries. Ted DiBiase was an amazing wrestler in his prime... hell, even BEFORE he hit his prime, he was great. Like many guys, he just barely missed out on a potential world title run. Also like a lot of his peers, his career was cut short by a dumb-luck injury. For such a talented worker to get slighted so many times and NOT become bitter in the process, I think DiBiase, just this once, deserves to be moved to the front of the line.

To the average wrestling fan, Tito Santana might seem like a bizarre choice for Ted DiBiase's induction speech. I chose Santana because of all the guys DiBiase crossed paths with in his wrestling career, Santana has the deepest history with DiBiase, having been his football teammate in college. In his book, DiBiase noted that one of the greatest things about his debut in the WWF in 1979 was that he got to hang out with his good college friend Merced Solis again... so to have Santana help put the final cherry on top of DiBiase's wrestling legacy would bring DiBiase full circle.

ROAD WARRIORS
Inducted By: Paul Ellering

Right now, the only tag team in the WWE Hall of Fame - meaning they were inducted as a team, in recognition of their work as a team - are Johnny and Jimmy Valiant. With all of the truly legendary tag teams wrestling has enjoyed, I think it's time we start honoring more duos. The Road Warriors are the first of two tag teams I picked for the Class of 2005. There is no denying the impact Hawk and Animal made on the business, nor the influence they made on the direction of wrestling in the 1980s and 1990s.

Of course, in pro wrestling, the ultimate measure of how successful you are is the money you drew and the number of fans you had. The Road Warriors pass both of those tests without breaking a sweat.

Although I'm sure the Dudley Boys will campaign to induct the Warriors, it would be much more fitting to have their longtime manager "Precious" Paul Ellering do the honors. At the very least, Ellering deserves to be present for the ceremony. And if he's there, he might as well pay homage to his Legion of Doom. I'm sure both Ellering and Animal will feel a bit incomplete without Hawk up there at the podium with them, though.

THE WILD SAMOANS - AFA AND SIKA
Inducted By: The Rock

I actually can't believe they haven't thought of this yet, given the rich history of the Samoans and their family in pro wrestling (and in WWE specifically). Aka and Sika were a primary force in the WWF's tag team scene for years. Not only that, but I'm sure one of WWE's most cherished alumni would be all too glad to drop everything and come to the ceremony to induct the Samoan legends. IF YA SMELLLLL...

Yokozuna's day will come, too. But for now, let the elder Samoans have center stage.

GORDON SOLIE
Inducted By: Jim Ross

As stated above, this is rumored to be the only name WWE has set in stone for 2005, and if that's true, they made a great choice. "The Dean" was a highly skilled and influential announcer, whose tag line "Goodnight from the Sunshine State" still brings back memories of how rasslin' used to be.

And I'm certain that Jim Ross would be thrilled to honor Solie, as Good Ol' JR himself has gone on record to call Solie the greatest pro wrestling announcer that ever lived.

TERRY FUNK
Inducted By: Mick Foley

In picking the 2005 honorees, I leaned toward the performers who are no longer active. The only problem: Terry Funk will probably never quit. Actually, scratch that: he might "retire" a few more times. But the man is a living, walking, breathing embodiment of the wrestling business. He's been the world champ. He's been the hardcore icon. He's risen above the legend of his father, and to an extent his brother. He's worked with virtually every big name there is, from the 1960s right on through... well, last weekend, probably!

Honestly, there are many great choices for people to give "The Funker's" induction speech. Everyone from Dory Funk, to Ric Flair, to Harley Race, to Paul Heyman or Tommy Dreamer could all stake a claim to the job, and do it well. I pick Foley because he's probably got better modern-day stories to tell about Funk, and he's probably the most entertaining speaker outside of Flair (whom I've already saddled with the job of inducting Steamboat).

Celebrity Inductee:

ANDY KAUFMAN
Inducted By: Jerry Lawler
(who else?)

Even though Andy Kaufman's history in pro wrestling took place in Memphis, it's still one of the more remarkable events of the past 25 years. The only glitch is whether WWE is willing to buy the rights to the necessary Memphis footage (or David Letterman footage, or Saturday Night Live footage) to include on the DVD. That expense alone might make Kaufman a long-shot selection.

As celebrities in pro wrestling go, there are people who made bigger long-term impacts that Andy Kaufman (cases could be made for Mike Tyson or Mr. T in that regard, both having helped spark a good run for WWE business by their association with it). But Kaufman's history is so unique, so strangely likeable, that it deserves recognition. The key here is love for the wrestling business. Andy Kaufman had absolutely no reason to get into pro wrestling. He was successful as a comedian and actor. He did not need the money. He had no offers on the table from wrestling promoters. Andy Kaufman loved pro wrestling so much that he got involved when it made no sense for him, personally or professionally. More than any other celebrity in wrestling history, Andy Kaufman really loved being a part of the show.

And more than any other celebrity WWE could honor, I think Andy Kaufman would have truly appreciated being a celebrity inductee to a pro wrestling hall of fame. Especially if he could say he beat Jerry Lawler to it.

There are my official endorsements for the 2005 WWE Hall of Fame. How many of those do I think have a shot at actually getting in this year? It's difficult to say... but they all deserve it.

A brief look at others who deserve to make the Hall of Fame roster some day that I considered before settling on the finalists above:

HOLLYWOOD HULK HOGAN
BRET HART
YOKOZUNA
ULTIMATE WARRIOR
KING KONG BUNDY
RANDY "MACHO MAN" SAVAGE
THE HONKY TONK MAN
DYNAMITE KID
DAVEY BOY SMITH
OWEN HART
BIG BOSSMAN
CURT HENNIG
RICK RUDE
"ROWDY" RODDY PIPER
IVAN KOLOFF
STEVE LOMBARDI
JIMMY HART
Mr. FUJI
TORU TANAKA
WENDI RICHTER
ARN ANDERSON
TULLY BLANCHARD
DEMOLITION
HAKU
BRUTUS BEEFCAKE
JAKE "THE SNAKE" ROBERTS
KOKO B. WARE
HACKSAW JIM DUGGAN
BOB ORTON, JR.
BARRY WINDHAM
DORY FUNK JR.
JACK BRISCO
JERRY BRISCO
WAHOO MCDANIEL
LORD ALFRED HAYES
HOWARD FINKEL
DAVE & EARL HEBNER

Other celebrities considered:

MIKE TYSON
Mr. T
LAWRENCE TAYLOR
CYNDI LAUPER
BOB EUCKER
DONALD TRUMP
MUHAMMAD ALI
REGGIE WHITE

Agree with my list? Think someone else deserves consideration? Drop me a line.

 
E-MAIL DENNY
BROWSE THE CIRCA ARCHIVES


  
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