The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of WrestlingInc or its staff
Before we get started, I want to let everyone know about a new project I have been working on. My colleague Jason Ounpraseuth and I have launched a podcast, the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, where we will be conducting deep dives and thorough analysis of current themes and trends in professional wrestling. Our first episode came out this week and we talk about WWE’s current creative, their star-making vehicle, the devaluation of titles and the disappearing midcard, among other topics. You can access the first episode below, and stay tuned for more content.
The Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame has been inducting wrestlers since 1996. Unlike the WWE Hall of Fame, the WON Hall of Fame functions similarly to the Baseball Hall of Fame, where the members of the hall are voted on by a panel that includes current and retired professional wrestlers (as well as other people in the industry), historians and reporters, to create a representative voting body.
To get into the Hall of Fame, you must get at least 60% of the vote from ballots that you appear on. The ballots are broken up into several categories, they are:
- Modern Era (Wrestlers who were active after 1990)
- Pre-Modern Era (Wrestlers who were active before 1990)
- Mexico (Wrestlers who were stars in promotions primarily in Mexico)
- Japan (Wrestlers who were stars in promotions primarily in Mexico)
- Rest of the World (Wrestlers who were stars in promotions primarily outside of North America/Japan)
- Other (Bookers, promoters, managers, TV announcers, etc.)
To be eligible, a performer must have reached their 35th birthday and completed ten years since their debut as a full-time performer, or be someone who has been a full-time pro wrestler for at least 15 years.
Voters are allowed to make up their own definitions for what they consider makes a wrestler a “Hall of Famer”, however Dave Metlzer includes the following guidelines on all of the ballots.
“The criteria for the Hall of Fame is a combination of drawing power, being a great in-ring performer or excelling in ones field in pro wrestling, as well as having historical significance in a positive manner. A candidate should either have something to offer in all three categories, or be someone so outstanding in one or two of those categories that they deserve inclusion.
Longevity should be a prime consideration rather than a hot two or three year run, unless someone is so significant as a trend-setter or a historical figure in the business, or valuable to the industry, that they need to be included. However, just longevity without being either a long-term main eventer, a top draw and/or a top caliber in-ring performer should be seen as relatively meaningless.”
So this year, I have been fortunate enough to be selected as a voting member as a member of the media. This is a role that I have taken very seriously, and over the years I have done a lot of research on individual candidates to decide if they are worthy candidates or not. Voters are allowed to vote for a maximum of ten performers, with the exception of the “Other” category, who are not counted towards the grand total. Voters do not have to vote for ten names, and can leave the ballot blank if they truly feel that no names listed on the ballot are deserving of inclusion.
So I figured that I would go through the ballot, show who I am voting for and also include some footnotes on various names on the ballot that I have considered. Voters do not have to vote in every category, and I have excused myself from the Mexico and Rest of the World categories, since I do not feel comfortable enough in my knowledge to vote in those categories. So I have listed the names on the ballot below, broken down by category and I have BOLDED the names that I am voting for this year.
(Please note that the Hall of Fame already includes more than 200 inductees, so if you are wondering why a certain performer does not appear on the ballot, the chances are that person has already been inducted).
Modern Era (post-1990)
Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson
Matt and Jeff Hardy
Scott and Rick Steiner
Kevin Von Erich
Kerry Von Erich
* In general, the problem with a lot of these candidates is that they were really big stars, but had a very short run on top. Junkyard Dog, Goldberg, Kevin and Kerry Von Erich, Sgt. Slaughter and The Ultimate Warrior were all huge stars at their peaks, bigger draws than Orton or Edge for sure, but they just didn’t last long enough to crack my ballot.
*Blanchard and Anderson were fondly remembered as a tag team, but they really only tagged for three years, so again, their peak was very short. For one of those years, they were a mid-card team in the WWF. The run as part of the original Four Horsemen was great, but it just wasn’t long enough for them to get in. They would both in my opinion have a better case going in as individuals than just as their short-lived tag team.
*Edge gets my vote because he does check a lot of the boxes. He has longevity, he was a consistent main event wrestler for a long period of time, and he was just an incredible performer. He had great matches, memorable programs, great promo, capable of being a great heel and a great babyface and he carried SmackDown for significant stretches as the signature star of that brand.
*Scott Hall is another guy who is fondly remembered by fans, but was basically a career mid-card wrestler in the WWF, and while a founding member of the NWO, was also pretty much a midcard wrestler in WCW and rarely main evented PPV shows. That isn’t to say that Hall wasn’t an important or memorable figure in the history of pro wrestling; but to make my ballot you really should be a main event performer for a lengthy period of time and a clear drawing card relative to your peers, and Hall doesn’t crack that criteria.
*I could be convinced one day of The Hardy Boys making it, but it is a no from me right now. Jeff Hardy was a main event wrestler for a number of years and was very popular and a draw at one point in time, but I think the real case for the Hardy’s was that they have proven to be a very influential team that has inspired a lot of current wrestlers who are stars today. They are not the biggest stars on the ballot, but you could argue they are the most influential. The more success we see in the current generation with young, high-flying wrestlers, the stronger their case will become.
*Kevin Nash had a similar career trajectory to Hall, although Nash got a much bigger push when they were in the WWF and headlined a lot more PPVs. That being said, Nash was a flop as champion in the WWF, and his later years in WCW (and after that, WWE) also did poor business. Nash was a big drawing card from 1996-1998, and a poor one outside of those years. Nash is someone who has had a huge impact on the wrestling business through the NWO, but as an individual star I don’t see a strong enough case for him.
*The sheer longevity of Randy Orton has worn me down. I’ve written a lot over the years that Orton has been naturally gifted and always protected and pushed by WWE, which has enabled him to have an insane resume of accomplishments; even though oftentimes it felt like he was on autopilot and rarely had great matches despite his obvious talent. I still think that, but you just can’t deny someone who has headlined so many big shows, worked so many main events for the largest company in the world, and at times, been a solid draw. I can’t vote for Edge and not vote for Orton, even if I’ve personally enjoyed Edge’s career more.
*CM Punk probably would be an obvious candidate to get in if he hadn’t retired young. While he was very good on the independents, it is hard to build a Hall of Fame case based on work in promotions that were only drawing a few hundred people. His run in WWE was memorable, and he was an incredibly talented and versatile performer who did at one point become a notable draw, but he just didn’t last long enough at the peak.
*Roman Reigns in some ways is like Nash in the sense that he has been pushed to the moon by WWE and has headlined a ton of shows, but has never proven to be a notable draw; in fact business has only declined during his run as a top name in WWE. He has lasted a lot longer as a pushed name in WWE than Nash did, but he also doesn’t have Nash’s NWO run. Perhaps one day Reigns will have a case similar to Orton’s in that he will just have been a big name for so long he has to get in, even if I didn’t particularly like his work throughout his career. For now, I don’t really see an argument for Reigns other than that Vince McMahon has stubbornly pushed him for years and years; business has been bad with him on top and his work and programs are very unmemorable. Perhaps his heel run will spark something new and he will be a slam dunk pick in a few years, but for now, it’s an easy no.
*The standard for women’s performers in the Observer Hall of Fame is theoretically supposed to be the same as male performers; so the bar isn’t any lower for someone like Trish Stratus than it is for Bill Goldberg. That might not be fair, given that women have historically had way less opportunity to become big stars; but I don’t think that Stratus is a serious candidate. Yes, she was the best of the fitness models that Vince McMahon trained to become professional wrestlers, and she does have a very favorable reputation with modern fans, but she had about the same length of career as Goldberg and was almost exclusively an undercard wrestler for that time period, and Goldberg isn’t in and he was 10x the drawing card. I think in the coming years when Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Bayley, etc. become eligible there will be a better case for more American women getting into the Hall of Fame, but it is hard to consider the case for Stratus, if only because she thrived during an era that didn’t take women’s wrestling that seriously.
Historical Era (pre-1990)
Wild Bull Curry
Cowboy Bob Ellis
The Fabulous Ones (Stan Lane and Steve Keirn)
Black Gordman and Goliath
Archie “Mongolian Stomper” Gouldie
Chavo Guerro Sr.
The Masked Interns (Jerry Hester, Billy Garrett, Tom Anderson and Dr. Ken Ramsey)
Miguel Perez Sr.
Jimmy and Johnny Valiant
Von Brauners & Saul Weingeroff
Johnny “Mr. Wrestling II” Walker
*A key thing about the Historical Era is that over time, the voting body has batted around every half-decent candidate for years and years, so that every borderline candidate has pretty much gotten in. There are not too many names that jump off the page as obvious choices on this list because of that, and I think the more and more people from this era that do get in, the standard of the Hall of Fame is basically being lowered. Take Mr. Wrestling II for example, who passed away recently. Mr. Wrestling II was a big star in Georgia, a good worker in his younger years and a great promo on television. I might be inclined to vote for him, but at the end of the day, voters have had 25 years to vote him into the Hall of Fame and they have never put him in, and I think that says a lot given the voting body contains many historians and journalists from his time period, as well as his fellow wrestlers.
*June Byers is someone I am voting for because I do believe that she has been overlooked by voters in the past, for obvious reasons. Before The Fabulous Moolah took over control of the women’s wrestling landscape in the late 1950s and turned into the comedic sideshow it would remain for the next half-century, women’s wrestling was taken much more seriously in this country and following in the footsteps of Mildred Burke, who Byers had a very real rivalry with, Byers was the top star for years in the 1950s. Women wrestlers did not work consistently in the same territories, traveling around almost every weekend, which prevented them from becoming long-term stars in any one place and ultimately hurt their ability to be remembered as stars; but when Byers was in town, she worked close to the top and almost always got over. There is only one American female wrestler in the Hall of Fame (Burke) and I think there should be two.
*I’m voting for Rocky Johnson as well because I think he has been undervalued by previous voting committees. While most fans will know him as the father of The Rock and for tagging with Tony Atlas towards the end of his career, Rocky Johnson was a headliner pretty much everywhere throughout the 1970s, including the Bay Area, Portland, Los Angeles, Texas, Georgia, Florida and Memphis. I think he has been undervalued because for whatever reason wrestling on the west coast, particularly Los Angeles, has not been remembered as favorably as other territories, such as the Carolinas and Memphis, even though the Los Angeles territory was often bigger and much more successful than those other promotions. Johnson’s feud and later tag team with Freddie Blassie did big business in Los Angeles, and Johnson checks all the boxes for me. He worked on top in a lot of different places, a good worker in his day, very physically charismatic, and had good longevity.
*Sputnik Monroe gets a lot of credit in recent years due to his role in helping integrate public venues in Memphis, but as a wrestling star he didn’t have the kind of success to justify a vote from me. The story of him being popular with Black fans to the degree Memphis had to allow Black fans to purchase floor seats (as opposed to being stuck in the balcony) is a great factoid, but I don’t think it can get him in the Hall of Fame. Realistically, I would be more inclined to vote for historical Black wrestlers, like Jack Claybourne or Luther Lindsay, who were regarded as great wrestlers in their day but whose careers were limited by racism and Jim Crow.
Satoshi Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan
*Jun Akiyama has been a borderline case for years. The case for him is pretty clear; he broke out in AJPW in the 1990s when that company was on fire and had amazing matches, first as a young boy in tag teams with Akira Taue and wrestling Misawa, Kawada and Kobashi, and later as a singles star when the promotion was still hot. When he jumped to NOAH he became a multiple time world champion when the promotion was still the largest company in Japan. His career peaked with a five star classic against Kobashi is the main event of a sold out Tokyo Dome show in 2004; it doesn’t get much bigger or better than that. His later career has been hurt by NOAH and All Japan declining, but he remained a constant main event wrestler. Great worker, wrestled on top for a long period of time, drew when he was on top, he should be in.
*Kojima and Tenzan are interesting cases as a tag team, I think they would have a better case as individuals, especially Kojima. Given their careers peaked while NJPW business was nearing all-time lows, it is hard to consider them a strong enough tag team to get in.
*Long time readers will know that Kota Ibushi has been my favorite wrestler for years; but I don’t have him in…yet. Yes he has been a proven main event draw for a few years now and he is one of the greatest in-ring performers I have ever seen, but I’m just waiting for his IWGP World Heavyweight Championship run to make it an easy choice, perhaps as soon as on next year’s ballot.
*Tomohiro Ishii has gained a lot of support over the past few years as he continues to make a case based on his incredible workrate, and I love Ishii, but he has never been pushed consistently at the top of the card and that ultimately matters on my ballot. As great as he is, I can’t put him in.
*Tetsuya Naito has been arguably the most popular wrestler in NJPW over the past few years as the company has conducted record business, and has worked in the main event of countless major shows. Naito became the top merchandise seller in Japan and has been a consistently great performer for years, even as injuries have taken their toll on his body. Several years ago, before he went to Mexico, it looked like Naito would be a good wrestler but never really over enough to warrant a Hall of Fame Vote. He has completely reinvented himself with Los Ingobernables de Japon and turned himself into an obvious choice.
Kenny Omega never became quite as popular as Naito in Japan, but that is balanced out by his immense, watershed popularity outside of Japan. Omega is instrumental in turning NJPW into more of a mainstream wrestling promotion in the US, not to mention the pivotal role he has played in founding AEW. Omega proved to be a dynamic drawing card on multiple continents and is on the shortlist of greatest wrestlers ever when it comes to bell-to-bell work. He is another easy choice.
*Akira Taue probably had more great main event matches than any wrestler not in the Hall of Fame, but he is still a no for me. He has gained momentum over the years because the 1990s AJPW stuff has aged so well, but if you look at Taue’s career when he wasn’t working with all time greats like Misawa, Kawada and Kobashi, it just doesn’t hold up. He was talented, but he was at the right place at the right time to maximize his career. He’s also someone who has been on the ballot for years and years and never gotten in, so the wrestlers and media who watched him in his prime never felt strongly enough to vote him in.
Lord James Blears
Jim Crockett Jr.
The Grand Wizard of Wrestling
*Bobby Bruns is a very underrated figure in the history of pro wrestling. He was a notable wrestler, but his more substantial accomplishments came outside of the ring. He was a successful booker for a number of territories during the 1950s, but his most important role was how he helped lead an American wrestling expedition to Japan in the early 1950s. It was there where Bruns began to work with a former sumo wrestler, Rikidozan, who would become the biggest star in Japanese wrestling history, and Bruns played a pivotal role in establishing wrestling in Japan. Without Bruns, there is a chance professional wrestling in Japan would have never gotten off the ground.
*Jim Johnston is a very interesting candidate because unlike other people on this list, who are bookers, promoters, television announcers or managers, there is nobody who you can really compare him too. Would pro wrestling be the same without Jim Johnston? I honestly don’t know. Clearly, among fans who are aware of his work, he is a revered figure. I think part of it is that Johnston really has never gotten a ton of public credit for his work making music for WWE, and people are interested in seeing him honored. I think that he is far and away the best person to have ever done his job, so I’ll give him my vote.
*Takaai Kidani is someone who has gotten support due to NJPW turning around under his watch, going from record lows in business and public interest, to record highs and overseas expansion. However, I think that when Gedo went in last year as a booker, that was more of a confirmation of NJPW’s business success than Kidani’s run as president. By being the president of Bushiroad, NJPW’s parent company, Kidani has wielded a lot of power over NJPW, but I don’t really see him as someone that has been hands-on enough to be inducted into a professional wrestling hall of fame.
*Not sure what Stephanie McMahon is doing on this list; or whether she is being considered as a performer or her work as a brand ambassador for WWE. Either way it is a hard no from me.
*Ted Turner is in a similar position as Kidani, albeit much more impactful given that his Turner networks played a pivotal role in the success of multiple wrestling organizations over the years. I do think Turner’s actual presence in the history of pro wrestling is somewhat overblown; it wasn’t like he was booking promotions or even handling a lot of the network decisions. Years ago I read his autobiography and he hardly mentioned pro wrestling and didn’t say the words “WCW” once. Again, I just think that someone should have more of a hands-on impact in the wrestling business in order to get into a wrestling hall of fame.
Must Watch Matches
Cody Rhodes vs Brodie Lee: ****1/4 – AEW Dynamite 10/7
Takashi Sugiura vs Katushiko Nakajima: **** – NOAH N-1 Victory 2020 Tag 4
Taichi vs Tomohiro Ishii: **** – NJPW G1 Climax 30 Tag 9
Kota Ibushi vs Will Ospreay: **** – NJPW G1 Climax 30 Tag 9
Minoru Suzuki vs Will Ospreay: **** – NJPW G1 Climax 30 Tag 11
Shingo Takagi vs Kota Ibushi: ****1/4 – NJPW G1 Climax 30 Tag 11
Kazuchika Okada vs Shingo Takagi: ****3/4 – NJPW G1 Climax 30 Tag 13
Tomohiro Ishii vs Jeff Cobb: **** – NJPW G1 Climax 30 Tag 13
Will Ospreay vs Taichi: **** – NJPW G1 Climax 30 Tag 13
Minoru Suzuki vs Kota Ibushi: ****1/4 – NJPW G1 Climax 30 Tag 13
Kazuchika Okada vs Tomohiro Ishii: **** – NJPW G1 Climax 30 Tag 15
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs SANADA: **** – NJPW G1 Climax 30 Tag 16
Cody Rhodes vs Orange Cassidy: **** – AEW Dynamite 10/14