By TIM WOOD – SLAM! Wrestling
In Schenectady, New York, there’s a building that bears an eerily apt address. It belongs to the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame.
“You know, God guides me,” said Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame President Tony Vellano in a recent interview with SLAM! Wrestling. “I wanted to rent out a dozen places. All of a sudden one day, he walked me right to this spot. I asked if it was vacant, they said it was. It looks great, and it’s a perfect spot for us. The address is 123 Broadway. 1-2-3 is the count, and when they used to wrestle to a draw in the olden days, they always wrestled to a Broadway. So I look up and say, ‘You did it again! You took me as far as you can and you brought me to this place, and I couldn’t ask for any more!”
Geography has also played a role in the PWHF’s Schenectady address. As Mike Capano, one of the PWHF’s board members, points out, there are 18 other Halls of Fame in New York state, including baseball, basketball, soccer and horse racing. “You could literally take the family and make a weekend of it driving around New York state, visiting the different Halls of Fame.”
Vellano, a New York State businessman in a family construction business that spans fifty-six years and four generations, is the middle son in a family that has been involved in the organization, rules and regulations of sports for many years. His older brother a baseball historian and his younger brother a professional football player, Tony eventually found himself working in the New York State Boxing and Wrestling Commissions, serving as an Inspector to both sports as well as being on the Board of Directors for the Boxing Hall of Fame.
It was during a conversation with eventual PWHF co-founder Jim Myers (George “The Animal” Steele) that Vellano learned that wrestling did not have a brick and mortar structure to celebrate its accomplishments. Vellano decided to rectify that, and in September of 1999, he filed for a charter with the New York State Department of Education. It was granted on December 7th of the same year.
He and Myers then went about setting up the fundamentals behind the Hall of Fame, including drawing up the by-laws and setting up a Board of Directors. For a year and a half, Vellano and Myers carefully chose community members for the Board, drawing on Vellano’s experience in the Boxing Hall of Fame to ensure the PWHF’s success.
In April of 1999, they held an inaugural dinner in Schenectady that included Steele, Walter “Killer” Kowalski, and Da Baldies of ECW that met with great success. Fundraising autograph signings followed throughout the year with Brutus Beefcake, Jimmy Snuka, Doink the Clown, Captain Lou Albano, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, and Afa of the Wild Samoans.
Even more interesting than the businessmen, bankers, and wrestling historians who came on board for the endeavor (including Myers and former WCW referee Billy Silverman) were those that were eventually chosen for the Selection Committee.
Several well-known wrestling journalists were tapped for the job of compiling the list that would eventually decide who got into the PWHF, including 1wrestling.com owner Bob Ryder, WCW alumni Mike Tenay, wrestling photographer and writer George Napolitano, and Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. With such a strong committee giving added legitimacy to the PWHF, support grew among the wrestling community, and the Hall was finally able to schedule their first induction weekend for May 4th and 5th of this year.
The weekend will feature a card and memorabilia show on May 4th from 10-2 EST, followed by a celebrity golf game from 11-5. The induction dinner will follow that evening, and the following day, the PWHF will hold their inaugural induction ceremony, where Vellano hopes to present three wrestlers with special Hall of Fame rings. Vellano chose rings over plaques because of the pride athletes in other professional sports have shown in wearing them.
“A ring means a lot to these people,” Vellano said. “You talk about Michael Jordan… he won’t say about how he’s made 300 million. He talks about how he’s got 5 or 6 rings. So that’s going to be a big thing for these people. See, we try to mirror other Halls of Fame, but those people [inductees] ended their careers in their 30’s — maybe they can get to 40. But with wrestling… you know, I was talking to Jim Myers, who’s 63 years old, and he stopped only two years ago. Some of these people wrestle until their 60’s, and you really wouldn’t get a chance to induct them until they’re maybe 69. And I think by the time they’re 69, they ought to be wearing a ring.”
Vellano’s words ring true, as the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame’s induction process declares that a wrestler must be retired for five full years before being inducted. While the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Board itself has no say whatsoever as to who is or is not inducted into the Hall itself, those wrestlers under review for induction must receive eighty percent of the vote from the Selection Committee. Receiving honours this year are ladies wrestling legend Mildred Burke, midget wrestler Sky Low Low, Frank Gotch, Ed “Strangler” Lewis, Lou Thesz, Joe Stetcher, Jim Londos, and George Hackenschmidt. They are joined by fellow greats Andre the Giant, Ricky Steamboat, Gorgeous George, Bruno Sammartino, and Buddy Rogers. Each have been selected in different categories: Ladies, Midget, Pioneer, Golden Age, and Mania Eras.
The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame is hoping to open officially to the public in the near future, and is presently seeking memorabilia from wrestling sources. “There’s a lot of people with their noses pressed up against the glass, looking at what we’re trying to do,” Vellano added. “And when this thing comes off, I think we’re going to be like the guy who pulled his finger out of the dam, and it’s going to be a pretty good influx of people coming in. And I think then I’ll get the memorabilia.”
For further information about the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, visit www.pwhf.org.