Every spring on a magical evening before WrestleMania, the WWE honors performers and contributors who have blazed a trail in sports entertainment history. In what has become a made-for-TV event, wrestlers trade in their sweaty tights for snappy tuxedos and gather to watch as the biggest names of their profession get one last ride into the sunset.
Draped in pageantry and well received by the audience, the annual Hall of Fame ceremony always seems to be one part Academy Awards, one part circus sideshow. Wrestling fans wouldn't have it any other way. Throughout the year, die-hard followers of the sport debate on who will be included in the next batch of inductees.
Although considered an overall success, the ceremony has sometimes been criticized for adding Hollywood celebrities and mid card wrestlers, as well as panned for not including stars that are thought to be automatic shoo-ins.
In the WWE's defense, they've made it obvious that there are many different factors that they use to determine eligibility and that they typically measure a candidate based on their impact on the business. Using that rationale, the company has reached a little here and there, including characters like Koko B. Ware and Nikolai Volkoff.
However, there are several people who have revolutionized professional wrestling in ways that Vince McMahon may not have considered. Whether they are names from the past, stars of international promotions, or just made a really big splash in sports entertainment, here is a list of people who might not make the Hall of Fame, but are worthy of consideration.
15 Stan Stasiak
Easily the most forgotten titleholder in the history of the company, Stan Stasiak had the unenviable task of passing the (then-WWWF) championship from Pedro Morales to Bruno Sammartino. In those days, promoters didn't want one fan favorite losing to another, in fear it would alienate the crowd. So, Stasiak agreed to play a role that wrestling insiders call a "transitional champion." After capturing the title in December of 1973, he only wore the belt for nine days before losing to Sammartino.
Quite frankly, Stasiak should be put in for posterity's sake, if for nothing else. It only seems appropriate that every world champion of the company's golden age be honored. At a time when holding the belt meant a lot more, Stasiak was trusted by Vince McMahon Sr. to do what was best for business.
Stasiak faded into relative obscurity after his run at the top and did so without any complaint. For being a willing warrior and an important part of WWE history, Stan Stasiak deserves to be enshrined.
14 The Great Muta
The Pearl of the Orient dazzled fans in the 80s during an incredible series of matches with Sting for the WCW World Television title and we've loved him ever since.
A dual threat, The Great Muta was a household name in Japan while still maintaining a presence on this continent. While his legendary status overseas is well-documented, newer American fans may only remember him as the strange, Asian guy who was part of The Dark Carnival in the waning days of WCW.
As one of the innovators of the moonsault, The Great Muta infused a new aerial style with traditional Asian kicks and martial arts. Then, he brought that strategy to America and influenced a bevy of his peers to add elements of his ring style to their own.
WWE typically tries to honor an international star from time to time. If they go that route again, The Great Muta would be an excellent choice and a nice little nod to The Land of the Rising Sun.
13 Penny Banner
Mary Ann Kostecki grew up in St. Louis during a time when the gateway city was the capital of pro wrestling and Sam Muchnik was the sport's top authority figure. After being noticed by the good natured promoter for her outstanding looks, charm and athletic ability, she was soon re-christened as Penny Banner.
In some ways, Banner was wrestling's first pin-up girl. Before there were divas, she wowed male fans with her curvy shape and blonde ambition. Her physical charms even briefly caught the eye of the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. Yes, she was truly that beautiful.
Inside the ring, she was the AWA World Women's Champion and engaged in a series of matches with another legendary lady, June Byers. Along the way, she became an attraction that was featured in magazines and television. Promotional posters touted her elegance, asking male fans to 'pay a pretty penny to see the lovely banner.'
It's time to make ceremony night into Ladies' night. And the only way to beautify the Hall of Fame is by giving wrestling's first real debutante her own place there.
And, preferably, one with a mirror.
12 Dave Meltzer
For years, Dave Meltzer was despised for exposing sports entertainment through his insider newsletter, The Wrestling Observer. His publications, dubbed 'dirt sheets' by promoters and wrestlers, revealed to fans that the business was not only a show, but also smartened them up to how and why the onscreen antics were pulled off.
Over the years, Meltzer also morphed into a TV and internet personality, and became the architect of shoot style wrestling journalism. He discussed the politics and inner workings of a federation as readily as he discussed its storylines. His groundbreaking coverage of the 1988 murder of Bruiser Brody helped establish him with mainstream media as a legitimate voice for the business and its performers. Along the way, he managed to gain the trust and respect of those who once saw him as a mere nuisance.
Every website, podcast, newsletter, or tip sheet covering the wrestling business today owes a bit of gratitude to Meltzer for creating an industry inside the industry. He opened eyes and covered professional wrestling like no one before him.
And that, my friends, is a shoot.
11 Danny Hodge
With all apologies to fans of Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle, Danny Hodge may be the greatest amateur combatant to make the jump to a professional wrestling ring. He notched a 46-0 career NCAA record and later became a golden gloves boxer in the Heavyweight division. In fact, he was so outstanding that college wrestling's annual award for the top competitor (their version of the Heisman Trophy) is named after him.
After turning pro at the age of 19, Hodge went on to dominate the NWA's Junior Heavyweight division, winning the title an astounding eight times. Adding to his legend is that he also had the peculiar ability to crush apples with his bare hands, even at the ripened age of 70.
Hopefully before he leaves us, Danny Hodge will be inducted on WrestleMania weekend by his good friend and fellow Oklahoman, Jim Ross. Seeing those two legends share the stage would certainly make Sooner Nation swell with pride.
10 El Santo
There are legends. There are icons. And then, there is El Santo.
South of the border, El Santo (The Saint) is the single most influential figure in the history of lucha libre. His popularity transcended the wrestling world in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, as he appeared in movies, talk shows, and comic books... long before Hulk Hogan ever even smiled for a camera. Along with his contemporaries, Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras, Santo established many of the traditions of Mexican wrestling that are still followed today.
Born Rodolfo Guzman Huerta, he became synonymous with the mask and blazed a path that would be followed by future stars like Konnan, Rey Mysterio jr., and his son, El Hijo del Santo.
In the land of masked high fliers, he stands alone as the all-time king. For his influence, for his legacy, and for his legend, El Santo should be added to the roster of immortals.
9 Tony Schiavone
Try not to get too excited about this one.
Tony Schiavone, the high-pitched carnival barker who shrieked that every Monday night was the BIGGEST ONE EVER, had his share of great moments in his career. The WCW audience who loved him for his folksy charm and old school style were countered by new fans who seemed to think he was corny and redundant.
At the end of the day, Schiavone should be remembered as a pro's pro, who served behind the microphone for WCW and (briefly) WWE in a career that spanned nearly 30 years. He was a lead announcer for some of the biggest events of the 80s and 90s, and his voice is sprinkled over the soundtrack of the sport's history.
Love him or hate him, Schiavone didn't become one of the longest-tenured mic men by accident. From the territory days to the Monday Night Wars, he had a front row seat for every single slam or suplex. For that, Tony Schiavone should be included in the broadcaster's wing of the Hall.
8 Luther Lindsay
Some people consider Luther Lindsay to be the greatest African American wrestler of all time. Just as many fans have never even heard of him.
That last part needs to change.
After a brief pro football career in Canada, Lindsay debuted in the early 50s and was often billed by promoters as the reigning black world champion. Trained by the legendary Stu Hart, Lindsay was known for his size, courage and mat skill. Lindsay was considered one of the few students who could go hold-for-hold with his teacher in the legendary Dungeon. It is said that Hart admired his pupil so much that he carried a picture of Lindsay in his wallet until the day he died.
Lindsay wrestled and won titles in the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, and the Carolinas, but also made appearances for Vince McMahon Sr. in the New York area. Facing discrimination at hotels and lower rates of pay because of the color of his skin, Lindsay forged on to be a trailblazer and a legitimate star against staggering odds.
Luther Lindsay died in 1972 without being properly recognized for the sacrifices he made for the sport. A posthumous honor by the folks at Titan Towers would help to right that wrong.
7 Ivan Koloff
The other short-term world champion on the list, many could argue that Ivan Koloff is a legend in his own right even outside of WWE. His world title victory over Bruno Sammartino in Madison Square Garden literally sent a hush through the entire building. Promoters feared there would be a riot in the stands, but instead were met with a surprised, stunned silence.
The Russian Bear is not only a former kingpin of the company, but he forged a career beyond WWE that only adds to his credibility. Years later, Koloff would terrorize the Carolinas with his kayfabe nephew Nikita, while being broadcast coast-to-coast on Superstation TBS. In a career that spanned decades and continents, the Soviet bad guy collected a bevy of regional singles and tag team titles.
6 The Rock 'n' Roll Express
For lifelong followers of World Wrestling Entertainment, the names Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson might not mean much. The team appeared briefly, past their prime, in an angle that featured stars of the National Wrestling Alliance invading the WWE back in the late 90s.
But for old school fans of southern 'rasslin', The Express was THE babyface tandem of the 1980s. Locking horns with larger teams like The Koloffs or The Road Warriors while matching skills with the likes of The Midnight Express and The Four Horsemen, the duo blew the roof off of arenas and set attendance records everywhere they toured. Anyone who seen the heartthrob poster boys make their entrance to an arena could tell they were over; all they had to do was listen to the piercing screams of female fans.
Affectionately nicknamed Punky and Hoot by their locker room buddies, Morton and Gibson seemed to be able to put on an exciting match with any opponents. They weren't the first team of smallish pretty boys, but they were by far the best. The Rock 'n' Roll Express captured the hearts of the fans, along with five NWA World Tag Team Championships and have earned their right to boogie woogie all the way to the Hall of Fame.
5 Mr. Wrestling II
Here's what you need to know about Mr Wrestling II. He wore a mask. Everywhere.
If staying true to the game makes you a legend, then Wrestling II has earned that status. As one of the most famous grapplers to don the hood, he stayed loyal to storyline, vowing to never reveal his face in public.
Along the way, he became one of the biggest stars of the southern territories, especially in Georgia and the Mid-South. One of the more famous stories about II is that he was President Jimmy Carter's favorite wrestler. The Commander-in-Chief extended an invitation to the superstar to visit the White House, but II politely refused. It was later learned he declined because the secret service wouldn't let him wear his mask into the building.
(Wrestling II has another quirky footnote in history. His wife, Olivia, was the seamstress who originally tailored all of Ric Flair's magnificent robes.)
As possibly the United States' greatest masked wrestler and a talented performer of the golden age of southern wrestling, it's time to reveal Mr. Wrestling II as a WWE Hall of Famer.
4 Jeff Jarrett
Jeff Jarrett's name gets kicked around by fans in a will-he-or-won't-he kind of way when they discuss a possible Hall of Fame induction. While his impressive resume of title reigns, including multiple times on top in WCW and TNA, makes him one of the most decorated champions of all time, he hasn't mad too many friends or fans along the way.
The son of promoter Jerry Jarrett, he was introduced to the business at birth and made his in-ring debut as a teenager. nearly 30 years later, he has had a couple stints with McMahon and is one of the most prolific Intercontinental Champions in history.
The guitar smashing grappler burned a lot of bridges with Vince McMahon, allegedly holding him up for money when his contract expired and then jumping to WCW. A few years later, he had the gall to found his own organization and attempt to wage war with the WWE. He then played the heel in public, when he became involved with and later married Karen Angle, the estranged wife of fellow wrestler Kurt Angle.
Despite all that, he should still be included with the other champions of his era. His body of work in the ring speaks for itself and his launching of TNA in 2002 had at least some impact on the industry (pun intended). The little company provided a springboard for future stars like CM Punk, A.J. Styles, and Samoa Joe, and brought a second wrestling entity to prime time television.
The McMahons have made a habit recently of patching old wounds and repairing relationships with performers who have done far worse things. Perhaps someday, Jarrett will be in the good graces well enough to take the stage on that glorious ceremony night.
3 Cyndi Lauper
The most important entertainment presence in the history of the WWE is not in the celebrity wing of its Hall of Fame. The question is: why?
Cyndi Lauper, quite frankly, made WrestleMania. At a time when the term 'sports entertainment' hadn't yet been coined, the biggest female pop star in world lent her celebrity to Vince McMahon's little wrestling venture. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T were the match made in marketing heaven and the perennial chart topper was a girl just having fun right along with them.
At a time when wrestling was very much in a guilty pleasure, Lauper used her celebrity status to give McMahon's first super card a huge rub. Her MTV appeal helped cement the rock and wrestling connection that pushed the WWE into the mainstream. Once there, the company established itself as the dominant brand name of the industry.
Without the support of Lauper, the first WrestleMania may not have been successful or even have occurred at all. But thanks in part to her magnetizing presence, it got the attention it deserved. For that, Lauper should she bop her way into the Hall someday.
2 Bill Apter
Pro Wrestling Illustrated was long considered the bible of professional wrestling and the messiah most closely associated with its mat message is Bill Apter.
Apter, trusted by industry insiders and respected by mainstream media, sat at the helm of a family of magazines that were the voice of the sport for most the 80s and 90s. In his publications, he protected pro wrestling's dirty little secrets, regarding it with historical deference and covering it as if it were as legitimate as any other pro sport.
In the primitive days of cable television, most fans didn't have access to stars in far away places. Apter opened up those markets with his magazines, coloring in the lines for the fans while also helping to shape personas and careers.
Here's the scoop: Bill Apter, professional wrestling's greatest storyteller, should be recognized for informing fans, supporting the sport and being a goodwill ambassador for an industry he dedicated his journalistic life to. It would be the perfect exclamation point at the end of his legendary career.
1 Eric Bischoff
There's no doubt that Eric Bischoff is one of the most influential and powerful people in the history of pro wrestling. And there's also a decent chance that he will find his way to the WWE Hall of Fame in the future. He has worked for, and with, the company at different times since the demise of WCW in 2001.
Some of the exact reasons for Bischoff's worthiness may surprise newer fans, however. In the grand scheme of things, Bischoff changed everything about the professional wrestling industry. His moves in the mid-90s created a butterfly effect on the business like no other man before him not named McMahon. All of the big money contracts, live broadcasts, and realistic angles he could muster could not topple the WWE, but he sure made a lot of waves trying.
Without Bischoff, the big boom never happens. But because it inevitably did, the effects of that period are still being felt to this day. Historically speaking, he may be the only man who can ever say he once beat Vince McMahon at his own game. But in doing so, he also changed the game, even in his ultimate failure.
50 years from now, when the harsh feelings are gone and the last story is told, people will look back at what Bischoff tried to accomplish with WCW as both revolutionary and historic. But today, all that simply needs to be done is to give McMahon's greatest challenger his rightful spot. In the Hall of Fame... placed just slightly behind Vince, of course.
(Note: In past years, the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony has typically been conducted on the Saturday before WrestleMania. This year's event will be held on Friday, March 31st, to make room for that Saturday's live NXT event.)
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