The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame has announced its Class of 2009, and it includes a Chief, a Superstar, a Strangler, a Captain, and even a Macho Man. It could be called a “Wonderful” class.
The upcoming induction list, the Hall’s eighth, is very strong.
Here are the inductees for 2009:
Evan “Strangler” Lewis (Pioneer Era Category) — Not to be confused with the legendary Ed “Strangler” Lewis (Initial Class of 2002), Strangler Lewis began his career in the 1880s, and became one of the most feared and famous figures in 19th Century sports. In his autobiography, Hooker, Lou Thesz talked about the earlier grappler: “Evan Lewis’ trademark hold was a form of the headlock that was literally a strangle-hold; he’d slip his wrist down below his opponent’s ear over the carotid artery and squeeze, shutting off the blood supply to the brain and putting his opponent to sleep. Today, that hold is called a sleeper. It was a legitimate hold in Evan Lewis’ day, but it was illegal by the time Ed (Lewis) came along.” In fact, the strangle-hold was basically illegal by the mid-1890s, and Lewis bowed out of the sport after a loss to Martin “Farmer” Burns (Class of 2003) in 1895. A native of Madison, Wisconsin, Lewis, died at the age of 58, on November 3, 1919.
Wladek Zbyszko (Pioneer Era Category) — A famed Polish strongman and wrestler, Wladek Cyganiewicz was involved in the world title picture during the 1910s and 1920s, though he never quite achieved as much as his brother Stanislaus (Class of 2003). “Laddy Zbyszko was a great wrestler,” recalled Man Mountain Dean in a 1936 New York Evening Journal story. “He loved the admiration of the fems. Put three or four of them in the first row and he’d kill his opponent just for the sake of showing off. A corker!” Both brothers had a hand in training Harley Race (Class of 2004) on their farm. Wladek Zbyszko died in June 1968.
“Superstar” Billy Graham (Television Era Category) — The 6-foot-4, 275-pound Superstar Billy Graham (Wayne Coleman) became WWWF World champion for his physique and charisma, helping to change the sport of professional wrestling and influencing names like Hulk Hogan (Class of 2003) and Jesse Ventura. And he has stood the test of time, said Johnny Rodz. “He was a character that was from the old-time, and from the new-time. He was old-style, and then flamboyant at the same time. You put it all together, and that was his time. That’s why he’s still a character that people recognize still today, more than 20 years later. He’s a character that you just don’t forget.”
“Chief” Jay Strongbow (Television Era Category) — Under his real name of Joe Scarpa, the New Jersey native carved out a decent wrestling career. “Joe Scarpa was a great teacher. He had great timing, yet he’d never made any money at the time,” recalled Bill Watts. But putting on an Indian headdress and using his mother’s maiden name of Strongbow made him a star, particularly in the WWWF. Overall, he worked more than 42 years in pro wrestling, including time as an agent for the WWF.
“Mr Wonderful” Paul Orndorff (Modern Era Category) — In the mid-1970s, after his football career hit a dead end, Paul Orndorff turned to pro wrestling, learning his trade in Florida. He would work the various territories until the “call” to the WWF, where “Mr. Wonderful” will forever be linked with the early days of Hulkamania, as he was one of Hulk Hoganï¿½s foes at the first WrestleMania, and a top challenger to the Hulksterï¿½s world title in the mid-1980s. “In my opinion, Paulï¿½s the greatest wrestling heel that there ever was. He could get real heat, not cheap heat, but the kind of heat where people wanted to kill him,” said Brian Blair, a long-time friend and opponent. He would wrestle until 1995, at which time he became a respected trainer.
Antonio Inoki (International Category) — Forever linked with the New Japan Pro Wrestling promotion, which he founded, Inoki’s influence on the business is quite deep. As well, he was a successful businessman and politician in Japan. As a wrestler, he was a main eventer for two decades, both in Japan and on many shows in the United States. “Antonio was easy to work with and knew a lot about the American style of wrestling due to the time he spent in the United States working with Hiro Matsuda,” recalled Jack Brisco (Class of 2005) in his autobiography. Inoki retired in 1998 from in-ring action.
Mark Lewin & Don Curtis (Tag Team Category) — One of the top tag teams of the Golden Era brought together a pair of wrestlers from Buffalo, N.Y. Mark Lewin and Don Curtis (Don Beitelman) teamed from 1958 to 1962 as the consummate student-teacher team. “Mark was almost a ‘Greek god-like’ image, and Don was the protector of him, being raw-boned, sinewy, and about 10 years older than that ‘kid’ from Buffalo,” Don’s wife Dotty recalled. Curtis died March 6, 2008, and Lewin is believed to currently live in Washington state.
“Captain” Lou Albano (Non-Wrestler Category) — In an interview in 2004, Lou Albano dismissed his accomplishments as a professional wrestler, especially in regards to his much-remembered pairing with Tony Altamore as the Sicilians: “As a wrestler, I’d put him over myself. Myself, maybe I was a good talker, but Tony was the brains of the outfit,” Albano said. Fortunately for pro wrestling, Albano never gave up on his participation, though he morphed into a bearded, wild-eyed ringside manager in the WWWF/WWF. Albano rose to celebrity status in a Cyndi Lauper video, and followed that up with a few more films and TV roles. In either medium, there were few more colourful. “Lou Albano, you could not help but like Lou. I don’t know anybody that didn’t just love him,” said Randy Colley. “You could make a 300-mile trip, and he’d entertain you the whole way. Never a dull moment.”
Donna Christantello (Women’s Category) — Trained by The Fabulous Moolah (Lillian Ellison, Class of 2003) in the 1960s, Christantello wrestled until the 1980s. Regarded as a good athlete, Christantello’s career took off when she turned heel. She was a “whirlwind of fists, elbows, knees, feet, and nails. She knows what will make her opponents scream in pain,” reads one magazine piece on her. In 1970, her team with Toni Rose was recognized as the first WWWF women’s tag team champions. Christantello stayed close to Moolah, and still lives on her estate.
The Senator Hugh Farley Award, which is presented to a well-known wrestler who has made significant societal contributions outside of the squared circle, will be given to wrestler turned comedian turned actor Hank Garrett.
Based in Amsterdam, New York, the PWHF inducted its first class in May 2002. The mission of the museum is to “maintain organized volunteerism that preserves and promotes the dignified history of professional wrestling.”
Ticket information for the 2009 Induction Ceremony, traditionally held in May, is still forthcoming.