A previous blog examined the Hall of Fame chances / credentials of talent not on the current WWE roster (retired from the ring, working elsewhere, or passed away). Most on that list might hear their name called one day to make the induction speech. The names on this list, however, are “first ballot” Hall of Famers, even if there is only one ballot cast that matters.
That previous blog reviewed what might be the WWE criteria for inclusion since some obvious non-Hall of Famers went in early (and often). The trend continues with people like Bullet Bob Armstrong in 2011 and the Bushwackers in 2015. It is not like the WWE Hall of Fame is the only Hall of Fame with problems. Who is in and who is out of the Baseball Hall of Fame spurs sports talk radio debates, newspaper editorials, and even a book or two.
In writing about the Baseball Hall of Fame in the first edition of the Bill James Historical Abstract, James defines four “levels” of Hall of Famer. This approach might be instructive when looking at past WWE selections which could guide future ones. This is about total entertainment value and box office power, not work-rate. The focus for these definitions is only on ring in talent.
Definition A: someone who could be argued as greatest ever: Austin, Hogan, Andre, etc
Definition B: one of the greatest ever and dominant for years: Hart, Michaels, Backlund, etc
Definition C: consistently among the best: Santana, DiBiase, Henning, etc.
Definition D: rises above the average wrestler: Junkyard Dog, John Studd, Iron Shiek
And of course Definition WTF: Koko B Ware, Johnny Rodz, Wendi Ritcher, etc.
So with those definitions in mind, let’s look at talent active in or outside the WWE ring that one day will be defined as WWE Hall of Famer.
One other way to look at the Hall of Fame is a lifetime achievement award. Goldust fits Definition D as his career winds down. Injuries and addiction hurt his career, while his edgy character was too early for the Attitude era. Bad days in WCW and TNA (which don’t exist in WWE vision) cut into his WWE run. Nowhere close to his father’s level, but much more successful than his brother Cody, despite little brother getting way more pushes, Goldy deserves a gold ring.
14 T13. Lillian Garcia
What a pleasant way to start most every Monday for years with Lillian Garcia announcing the first match. For the past decade, however, we don’t hear that voice until after thirty minutes of other people talking. Lillian announces each competitor with enthusiasm. She kicks it up a level when announcing a title change. She’s for the most part avoided taking part in stupid angles, a Hall of Fame achievement in and of itself. She does what she does wonderfully, even throwing in some excellent singing when asked. Not a great pick but of the broadcast team currently working, she’s the best of the bunch (sorry Michael “Shill like a drill to my head” Cole)for her announcing chops.
13 T13. Mike Chioda
Broken into the business by Gorilla Monsoon and his referee son Joey Marella, Chioda’s worked as a ref in the WWE for almost two decades. Look on the WWE Network at big WrestleMania matches and he’s often the third person in the ring: Rock vs Hogan, Triple H vs. Batista, Rock v Cena, etc. The role of the ref in a big match is crucial, especially in counting the near falls, selling the drama of submissions, not to mention the practical aspects of relaying spots. It is doubtful Chioda would ever go in given that for at one time Vince once forbade announces from using the names of refs. Still, it would be a nice gesture to honor one of the men who may not take (that many) bumps, but work just as hard, and care just as much, about putting together a good match.
12 The Dudley Boyz
Their recent return puts them back in the loving arms of the WWE. They broke not just tables, but new ground, in tag team wrestling. They also broke the record of most times winning the WWE Tag Titles. Throw in the ECW tag titles and they are no doubt one of the most rewarded teams in history. More entertaining as faces than heels, Devon and Bubba Ray know exactly “what’s up”: a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame, especially when / if Mania goes to Philadelphia as rumored.
11 T9. Mark Henry
A WWE lifer who never quite lived up to the high expectations of his huge contract. Hampered at first by a lack of experience, then throughout his career with injuries, Henry never was “the guy” that McMahon signed to an unprecedented ten year contract. His “Sexual Chocolate” and Nation of Domination gimmicks got him over in the Attitude Era, but by 2000, he was back in the minors to learn his craft. While he’d win the World Heavyweight and ECW straps, he never captured the WWE belt. With more turns than a winding mountain road, Henry’s just another guy filling out the card but seems to do so without bitterness.
10 T9. Big Show
Similar to Henry, Show never met the hype and became the next Andre. Also like Henry, Show got demoted mid-career to (re) learn his craft. Maybe the fact he lost his first match on WWE Raw weeks after debuting demonstrated that this Vince didn’t know how to book a giant. Involved in endless angles, turns, and backstage skits, it is a wonder he still has any credibility as a performer. Yet, the knockout punch gimmick, stemming from the angle with Floyd Mayweather (talk about not meeting expectations) still gets a pop. When the day comes and Show answers the fan’s chants (“Please retire”), he’ll walk over the top rope in the WWE HOF.
9 T9. Kane
When Glen Jacobs was Isaac Yankem and Fake Diesel, nobody was thinking “there’s a future Hall of Famer.” After landing the Kane gimmick in 1997, Jacobs has run off years of important matches while feuding mostly with main event talent. Unlike Show, even with all the turns, angles, and backstage skits, fans care about him, and don’t chant at him to retire. In particular, his tag team run with Daniel Bryan breathed life into a character that seemed near dead and The Authority angle kept him relevant. Kane rarely drew the house, but like the 6th man in basketball, he’s been a vital part of a winning team for a very long time.
8 T7. Randy Orton
The third generation superstar is sure to become a second generation Hall of Famer. Like almost all modern era talent, except Cena, Orton’s turns are too numerous to follow. He seems better as a heel, but every time he turns – such as his most recent – he gets a huge reaction. High profile feuds with Undertaker, HHH, and John Cena have kept him in or near the main event. At only age 35, Orton’s got years to add to his already impressive resume unless his most recent shoulder injury forces his retirement. While part of the impressive Evolution stable (and the less impressive Legacy), the viper’s better working as a single. RKO = HOF.
7 T7. Chris Jericho
He’s tied with Orton for all the same reasons: a long run at the top of the card featuring great feuds. Jericho was over from his first promo in the WWE and stays over by not wearing out his welcome. First undisputed champion (so they say), most ever IC title wins and some great tag teams, in particular Jeri Show. From inventing the Money in the Bank ladder match in 2005 to bringing real heat / hatred to a modern day feud (vs Michaels in 2008), there’s nothing Jericho hasn’t accomplished in the WWE. Except be in the Hall of Fame.
6 T4. Stephanie McMahon
The main question for the McMahon clan is not who goes in (Come back Shane!) but when. Stephanie’s great in her role as the screeching banshee, but often her authority figure undercuts the babyface. Or, as in 2001 in “supporting” Chris Jericho, she took the heat off the heel and the Jericho vs HHH match. She did some time in the ring, in the GM role, but mainly doing the female version of her father seems to work best. From once being terrible on interviews, she’s gotten much better. But then again, she’s had plenty of practice with the mic in her hands enough the past few years.
5 T4. Mr. McMahon
As an in-ring performer, his facials, passion, and daredevil stunts (like letting Michaels elbow drop him from a ladder, while having a trash cash on his head) far overcame his lack of in-ring ability. But that’s about the only area where VKM didn’t excel. If the WWE HOF was a real thing, he’d earn three time honors: as announcer (terrible play by play, but great at pushing the angle), as a promoter (invented something called WrestleMania) and as a performer playing the Mr. McMahon. Like Dr. Evil, he’s triple threat. Often comparing himself to God, perhaps the only reason Mr. McMahon might NOT go into his Hall of Fame as he views it as a place for mere mortals.
4 T4. Triple H
It took him a long time to get over in the WWE, and it was his relationship with Shawn that helped with that. Learning it is who you know, his ending up with Stephanie was what was best for his business. A main eventer since the Attitude Era, he drew money with Batista, Cena, and Austin. But HHH also served as the headliner during years when the business was down after Monday Night Wars ended. The smartest player of the game, who always seems to get a big match for a big pay day at Mania. His brain rivals his righteous physique. He maintains that build despite always having his (large) nose up some big behinds. Behold the King of Cuckolds.
3 Brock Lesnar
The beast. The Mayor of Suplex City. The Conqueror of the Streak. Booed out of the Garden in 2004, Lesnar returned after his UFC run, to a huge ovation in 2012. Despite losing in his first match back to Cena, then again later to HHH, Lesnar's like few other performers in WWE history. The only question is when he's inducted, will he give his own speech or have Paul Heyman deliver it for him?
2 The Undertaker
Why not number one? Simply because he might not want to do it when he (if he ever) retires. The induction ceremony would mean breaking character which he’s been very, very unwilling to do for most of his career. All of the Hall of Fame speeches, except maybe the Iron Sheik who IS a character, are delivered by the person, not the persona. He’s the biggest star over the longest period of time than anyone in WWE history and always featured in high profile matches. While this is not about work-rate, here it matters. It seems as the more Taker put more effort into having great matches the last ten years, the more fans have invested in a once tired character.
1 John Cena
A t-shirt selling machine that also drew money in big matches month after month, year after year. On the top of the card and center of attention for a decade, Cena’s not the Babe Ruth of wrestling (whatever that means), but he’s an icon fans won’t soon forget. With his movie career taking off and maybe the house only big enough for one alpha male SuperMan, Cena’s days on top seem to be fading. Ironic, given his work with Owens and Cesaro in 2015 was some of the best of his career. Up there with Hogan, Austin, Andre and that rarified air of someone, in terms of making money, is one of the top of all time. Six words. Hustle. Loyalty. Respect. Hall of Fame.