PHOENIX — It took a literal downpour of money, but eventually the fans at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony exhibited some raucous behaviour, after what had been an otherwise subdued and generally serious affair.
The cash was dropped to close the speech of the night’s final inductee, the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. As the son of two wrestlers himself, it was fitting that DiBiase’s induction be presented by his two sons, Brett and current WWE superstar Ted DiBiase Jr.. The love of their father was evident throughout their speech.
“The thing I’m most proud of,” said Ted Jr., “is the man my father has become. A man of character, a man of principle, and a man of integrity.”
Despite being one of wrestling’s biggest villains of all time, DiBiase walked out to a huge sustained ovation by the 5,000 people in attendance at the Dodge Theater.
After thanking some of the legends that helped him during his storied career, including Dick Murdoch, Dusty Rhodes, Terry Funk, Harley Race, DiBiase tipped his hat to Virgil (Mike Jones), the man who portrayed the Million Dollar Man’s bodyguard/manservant, and with whom he will be forever linked.
In a particularly emotional moment, DiBiase then thanked his wife Melanie for staying by his side, throughout the good times and the bad.
“You persevered,” he told her, as she could be seen on the giant video screens dabbing tears from her eyes. “You forgave me for a lot. You’re my rock.”
After passing on some of his father’s advice to the current crop of WWE superstars: “If you’re willing to work hard, persevere, and pay the price, you can do anything you want to do in this life,” DiBiase then addressed the WWE Universe directly. To prove the truth of his famous catchphrase that everybody did indeed have a price, he said he would make everybody stand up and get excited, which was indeed the case when thousands of bills fell from the ceiling to end the speech, and the evening.
Other than the excitement at the end of DiBiase’s speech, the event was certainly more reserved than in the past few years. While some fans might say it was borderline dull, the more subdued atmosphere actually quite appropriate, given the seriousness with which the company treats the Hall of Fame honour. The smaller size of the building undoubtedly helped, as did the signs and announcements warning fans that over-enthusiastic behaviour such as yelling while the superstars were on stage would be cause for immediate ejection from the building.
Which is not to say that there wasn’t a few humourous moments during the ceremony. Pat Patterson, in inducting Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon, shared some funny stories and cracked a few one-liners.
Same with Roddy Piper when he told stories about life as a WWE star in the ’80s (“They were a wild ride… so they tell me”) in his speech inducting former WWE Women’s champion Wendi Richter. Richter, whose connection with music star Cyndi Lauper helped user in the Rock and Wrestling connection fittingly ended her speech, in which she paid tribute to her famous opponent, the Fabulous Moolah and other historical women wrestlers, with the declaration that “Girls just wanna have fun!”
A family affair saw Bret Hart induct his father Stu Hart into the Hall, while his brothers and sisters stood behind him on the stage, with many other extended family members sitting in the audience. Bret talked about the number of wrestlers whose career started off in Calgary working for his father. Beyond his professional success, Stu was also a very generous man, and one example given was an incident where Stu gave a job to someone who once tried to steal his car.
“He could have called the police, but he didn’t. Instead, he gave the guy a job, and changed his life. My father believed in giving people a second chance.”
Tears turned to laughter when Bret spoke of Stu’s sense of humour, including a story of a practical joke that Stu orchestrated on the wrestler The Great Antonio. “People always think of my father as a tough, mean wrestler. But the truth is that he had a heart as big as this room. We all loved him, we all miss him, and I don’t think the wrestling business will ever be the same without him.”
Another inductee that has also stamped his legacy on the sport is Japanese superstar Antonio Inoki, who was inducted by Stan “The Lariat” Hansen.
Hansen, who spoke about Inoki’s efforts to bring about world peace through the promotion of international wrestling events said that the “one thing Inoki is most proud of “is that he is a pro wrestler.”
Inoki echoed this sentiment during his speech, noting that this year marks the 50th anniversary of his first match. Speaking in English at the beginning of his speech, and then through an interpreter, Inoki thanked the WWE for recognizing his efforts and requested they work with him on a project to help bring awareness to the ecology in Antarctica, a new project he’s working on. Looking 20 years younger than his age, Inoki ended off by leading the crowd in a “1-2-3 Da!” chant.
The night’s comedic moments came with the induction to the celebrity wing of the Hall of Bob Uecker, famous for being a bad baseball player, and who was a guest at Wrestlemania 3 and 4. Inducted by past NBC executive, and frequent WWE collaborator, Dick Ebersol, Uecker’s speech was chock full of self-deprecating humour, that was most welcome after some of the other, more serious speeches.
Uecker’s induction and that of wrestling pioneer Gorgeous George (George Wagner) were two of the three that were scheduled to be televised on the USA Network’s broadcast of the ceremony (DiBiase’s was the third).
If Uecker’s and DiBiase’s represented the modern era of the business, Wagner’s paid tribute to the golden age. Inducted by Dick “The Destroyer” Beyer, George was credited with revolutionizing the sport thanks to a TV, which was a relatively new invention at the time.
“He not only brought in entertainment,” said Beyer, a famed opponent who was involved in one of George’s most famous matches, “but he also could wrestle.”
In a tender moment, Wagner’s original wife Betty, now 97 years old, accepted the honour on his behalf. “He was gorgeous,” she said simply, when asked by an unnamed woman who joined her on stage (presumably a relative) to say a few words about her husband. With a playful wink, Betty declined to delve too much into George’s life. “I don’t want to tell everything,” she quipped, earning her a hearty laugh from the crowd.
While some narrow-minded critics may argue that the 2010 Hall of Fame class was missing a mega-headliner, like Ric Flair two years ago, or “Stone Cold” Steve Austin last year, that comment seems to be missing the point. Indeed, with a broader range of inductees representing nearly every aspect of the industry, one could argue that this year’s class is truly representative of what a hall of fame should be.