On June 28, 2008, the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Hall of Fame held its annual induction ceremony in Waterloo, Iowa. It was an odd year, as the Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum had been flooded earlier in the summer, and was not open. Usually, the museum is the centrepiece of induction weekend, where everyone congregates and hangs out.
The six inductees in 2008 were Roddy Piper, Abe Jacobs, Masa Saito, Leo Nomellini, Ray Gunkel, and Stu Hart. Piper, Jacobs, and Saito were in attendance, and Bret Hart, Class of 2006, was there to accept his father’s award. Pam Gunkel, daughter of Ray Gunkel, was also there.
In addition, Wendi Weaver, the daughter of Penny Banner, accepted the Frank Gotch Award on behalf of her mother who died only a short time before the ceremony. Father Jason Sanderson received the Lou Thesz Award from Thesz’s widow, Charlie, and writers Greg Oliver and Steven Johnson received the Jim Melby Award.
It is the last award, the Melby Award, that was in question during Bret Hart’s speech, which began by accepting his father’s induction in the afternoon (which is the photo above), followed by time at the podium at the evening’s banquet.
This transcript was originally obtained and posted by Kevin Eck from the Baltimore Sun newspaper, and was on that website for years, but no longer is there. Eck agreed to SlamWrestling.net posting it again, 12 years later.
Afternoon ceremony speech snippets from Bret Hart:
“I think when you look at wrestling today, you’ll see that the really great wrestlers had a real background in submission wrestling, amateur wrestling, and that’s sorely lacking in the industry today — that respect and honoring of people that paved the way, like Frank Gotch, Strangler Lewis, and Lou Thesz, the guys that paved the way for the wrestlers of today. So many of these wrestlers fail to appreciate (those) that made them.”
“My father was deeply passionate about wrestling.”
“My dad would be deeply honored to be recognized here.”
“I learned a lot in my pro wrestling career, but I think fundamentally, I learned more about life in my amateur wrestling days… I learned most of all humbleness and respect. I think it’s those things that guided me more during my career than anything else. Certainly dedication and hard work just naturally goes hand in hand with amateur wrestling. I don’t think that I’d be the man I am if I didn’t have that background in wrestling. I thank my father for instilling that in me right from an early stage.”
“It was always instilled in me — wrestling, wrestling, wrestling.”
“This is a very special moment for me, this is a very special moment for my family, and I know this is a very special moment for my father.”
Evening banquet speech by Bret Hart:
[Tragos/Thesz Hall of Fame is] the one wrestling hall of fame that captures what he (Stu Hart) was all about. I look around this room here, and there’s a lot of emotion to me. I’m going to try to stay calm and say what I have to say here. I have some very important things that I want to talk about. I see some really important people in my life and in the wrestling world in the audience here. I see Fritz Goering, coming all the way out here from California. Talking to Fritz, he worked for my father in the ’60s. He knows what it’s like traveling the roads back then, working for my father. Sometimes it was a thousand miles a day wrestling for wrestling fans just when they started sort of understood wrestling from television.
It was a very unique time, and it was the time when Lou Thesz was just sort of establishing a whole new understanding of wrestling through television. Lou Thesz, what a champion, he was always such a great champion, and he earned that right.
You look at Baron [Baron von Raschke]. I know my father talked a lot about legends in wrestling, but he always talked about Baron von Raschke all the time. He was a very, very accomplished NCAA wrestler that got into pro wrestling and was respected by every wrestler that ever worked with him. Whatever the finish was, whatever happened in his matches, he was a legend amongst the wrestlers and the fans.
I see Bob Leonard, who worked for my father for years taking pictures of wrestlers, capturing and documenting, letting people realize the real art of wrestling, and just to capture the pictures of these young athletes dropkicking and head scissors and wrestling holds, making that magic in still pictures. I think Bob Leonard is a very, very important part of my business.
Harley Race, I don’t even know how (to) start. Harley Race to me is the epitome of pro wrestling. He is not only a great wrestler, I don’t know anyone who would want to mess with Harley in wrestling, the fighting or brawling, the real, that moment of man versus man, to know it. Harley Race, he can do whatever he wants to do with anybody he wants, anytime he wants.
Then there’s [Masa] Saito here. I know that he wrestled in Japan, a well-accomplished amateur wrestler, got into pro wrestling, paid his dues for hanging with wrestlers that made mistakes that he wasn’t even a part of, sacrificed to come all the way from Japan to be here.
I look at Danny Hodge, he’s one of the most, one of the greatest wrestlers in pro wrestling or amateur wrestling there’s ever been. To be in this room with Danny Hodge is a big, big honor to me.
I look at Roddy Piper. I could name a lot of wrestlers that helped me in wrestling, gave me advice — Harley Race — but I don’t think anybody did more for me or helped me more, and helped me make those decisions to get me to where I was than Roddy Piper. To come here, he had to fight cancer, and to be part of this tonight, is just that much more special. It’s my understanding and belief that Roddy Piper came here for the sole reason just to hang out with me, to be part of this event, because it was important to me. That means a lot. I came all the way from Rome to be here. I flew in, and it was important from watching the news over in Italy, seeing the flood problems here, and knowing that I would be here in a few days. It would have been a lot easier to shoot home to Calgary and not worry about the floods — I’m not a good swimmer. [crowd laughs] It was important for me to be here. It made me proud to know that I was coming here.
Mike Chapman, yeah, I talked to him a couple of years ago. I talked for so long, and I learned so much about wrestling, championships, and Lou Thesz, and how the origin of wrestling started, it was like sitting under the learning tree, just sitting there listening to this guy, digesting, knowing this guy knows what he’s talking about. He’s not full of it. He’s not a B.S.er. He knows what he’s talking about, he knows these people. He’s talked to Lou Thesz. He knows the history. He knows the transition from pro wrestling and amateur wrestling.
Now, I’m here because I was a pro wrestler. But I also know, I also know, what it’s like to hang a gold medal around my neck. I know what it’s like to wrestle a one-hour match. I know what it’s like to go full blast for that hour. And to lose. I know what it’s like to lose a wrestling match by one point, I’ve been there too. I know what it’s like to snap on a knee brace. I know what it’s like to snap on a world title belt. I also know what it’s like to wrestle in front of 90,000, 100,000 people sometimes, just to have that kind of impact, and to make people — I remember wrestling the British Bulldog in Wembley Stadium, England, and make everybody in that (audience of) 82,000 wrestling fans, they dismissed all their disbelief about wrestling, and wrestling for 35 minutes became real. It was real. There’s an art to that. There’s a science to that. It’s hard work, it’s really hard work.
I don’t want to be too lecturous here. What is a hall of fame? To me, a hall of fame is a place where it’s important to speak the truth, to capture history. When someone tells you they’re holding Karl Gotch’s jockstrap, or whatever it is, there’s the real jockstrap. It had better be real. I think wrestling fans want the truth, and that’s kind of what my point is here. My father was all about wrestling. He loved wrestling. He dedicated his life to wrestling; it wasn’t just about amateur wrestling, it was about pro wrestling for the whole business. It was about feeding families and making something out of nothing. Wrestling used to mean — what I always tried to get people to remember about wrestling was the honor of being a pro wrestler. There’s something about that term, doing the honors for somebody, and knowing that there’s somebody that is going to be the champion, and going to be the guy that carries the load for everybody, and everybody is going to profit by the fact that he’s Lou Thesz, and he makes people believe that wrestling is real, that he’s a real champion. It’s not just the champion, there’s a whole team of wrestlers that make this whole show, make the whole story, it’s not just the cameraman and the referees and the people that let everybody in. It’s more than that. It’s people that dedicate their lives to wrestling.
I’ve watched wrestling, and been a part of wrestling, since I was five years old. I sold programs and made my first 10 cents on wrestling. It’s just something that I’ve had a passion for since I was born. I think it was my calling to be wrestler. If someone had told me when I was 16 years old that I would tour the world, be the champion, and be a hero to kids, and at the same time, to be here, amongst such great amateur wrestlers, the people who were heroes to me when I was 16 years old, people I had the deepest respect for. People like Danny Hodge. I knew all about Danny Hodge when I was 16. I appreciated Danny Hodge even though I’d never met him. But I knew all about him because I respected wrestling. I think my point is, I’m honored to be here.
I know this isn’t my place to gripe about stuff, but I have a serious issue with people who write books about wrestling who don’t honor the truth. And you, sir, you do not honor the truth of wrestling. Greg Oliver writes these books on wrestling and it’s all made up. It’s not the truth. It’s just baloney, you know. I wrote a book that took seven years. I gave everything I had to write about some of the deepest tragedies, the truth about my life as a wrestler. For someone like this that sits in the room with me to say that in his website that my truth is not the truth, it’s just wrong for me to be in the same room as these people. They don’t honor the truth of wrestling. When you buy their books, I think you have to look at that and say these people are not telling the truth. They don’t know anything about wrestling. I’ve never seen them in the back. I’ve never seen them in the dressing room. I’ve never seen them at anything to do with wrestling. They don’t know anything at all about my business. They don’t know anything about me. They don’t have any respect for what I do or for anyone else.
So I’m going to step aside now, and I just want to say that it’s not right for me to be in the same room as people who don’t do honor and justice to my profession. You either have a choice of leaving, or I will.
[Silence. Someone says “Get up” or “Get out.”]
I speak the truth about wrestling and I take pride in what I do.
[Applause starts slowly but picks up. Sound covers part of Hart’s speech.]
… how it was and how it was done, how it should be done. These guys over here, it makes me laugh that Greg Oliver here rated me behind Sky Low Low, as, I think the 13th greatest Canadian wrestler. I have news for him — he’s wrong. Sky Low Low was a much better wrestler than me, but he was only half the man that I was.
But anyway, my point is, you know, I take a lot of pride in what I do. It means a lot to me that people would come here and be part of this, because wrestling was important to me, and I hope it was important for you. But it’s important that people tell the truth. When you write about wrestling, you talk about wrestling, especially when you’re among these kinds of people, you owe it to tell the truth. If you want to come here and be a charlatan, well, you’re in the wrong place because this is a room filled with legends, and people that paid their dues in wrestling. We want the truth to be told about wrestling. Take your sorry-ass lies about wrestling and how you make it up, and save your books, because they’re not the truth. This is a room filled with truth. Thank you.
I’m talking to you, Greg Oliver. Either you go or I go.
[Oliver waves goodbye to Hart.]
Greg Oliver’s going to stay. I’m going to go to my room.
[A few fans yell: “We want Bret!” and there’s a smattering of applause, then silence for 20 seconds. Someone says, “Thanks, Bret” and applause starts again.]
Mike Chapman followed Hart:
“I’m a writer, I’m an author, I’ve spent 35 years in the newspaper profession. We make mistakes — I’m not saying Greg did, I don’t know, I haven’t read everything he’s written. I’ve made mistakes in things I’ve written, I’ve apologized for them. I will say that pro wrestling is very seldom what it seems to be. Bret Hart ought to know what it is, he’s spent his whole life in it. We all have to make our own choices in life about everything, but I don’t think anyone would ever question Bret’s sincerity in what he says or what he does. Who’s next?”
TRAGOS/THESZ CLASS OF 2008 STORIES
- July 3, 2008: Melby Award winners deserving of honor
- June 28, 2008: Bret Hart’s speech from 2008 Tragos/Thesz Hall of Fame induction ceremony
- June 28, 2008: Piper, Saito, Jacobs enter Tragos/Thesz HOF
- June 27, 2008: Flood damage at Iowa HOF makes an impression
- June 27, 2008: How Ray Gunkel’s death changed wrestling
- June 20, 2008: Flood won’t stop Tragos/Thesz HOF ‘Super Weekend’
- June 14, 2008: Iowa wrestling museum flooded
- Tragos/Thesz Hall of Fame section in the Dan Gable Museum National Wrestling Hall of Fame