Each year, members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote in the new members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY. Many of the scribes take a moment to write a column about who they selected and why. Selection to the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in Amsterdam, NY, are set up similarly, with noted wrestlers and historians voting on the choices for that year. So here are my picks, along with a note about who was actually elected.
Of note, wrestling is pretty subjective. Steven Johnson summed it up pretty well last year (he didn’t get to vote this year): “It’s tough enough to vote for, say, the baseball Hall of Fame, where there are some real numbers to point to. Not so in wrestling, where we run the risk of the ‘lowest common denominator argument—i.e., if ‘X’ is in, then ‘Y’ should be in, too. There’s no clear cutoff, so we have to rely on the information we’ve dug up as writers, and the interviewers and analysis we’ve collected through the years. But that makes the discussion fun.”
PIONEER ERA, 1800-1942
GREG OLIVER: It can be hard separating the promoter from the wrestler. Santel ended up running a promotion, which gives him a different kind of prominence and longevity with his name living on. Similarly, Pazandak’s legacy is enhanced by the people he trained, like George Gordienko and Stan “Krusher” Kowalski. Earl McCready was one of the first truly great amateur wrestlers to jump into professional wrestling and is my sole pick. That he was Canadian is beside the point; if anything, that helped him abroad in places like New Zealand, where he was also on top.
2016 PWHF INDUCTEES: Earl McCready and Joe Pazandak
GREG OLIVER: Oddly, the most deserving name that isn’t in — Cora Livingston, who was the first women’s wrestling star — isn’t on the ballot this year, but she was last year. Unlike the men, who get split by era, the women don’t. Ann Casey never got the fame that a WWE and WCW star like Madusa Micelli did, plus Madusa has carried on into the world of monster trucks. But for sheer importance to the business, I voted for Leilani Kai. She wrestled and trained, and spanned the eras. Plus, she was a star in Japan for a while too, paving the way for someone like Micelli to succeed in the Land of the Rising Sun later. So, perhaps if Madusa stays on the ballot (not a given apparently), then she gets my vote next year. Unless Cora is back on!
2016 PWHF INDUCTEE: Leilani Kai
The British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith & Dynamite Kid)
Mike & Doc Gallagher
The Black Jacks (Mulligan & Lanza)
Gene & Ole Anderson
The Hart Foundation (Bret Hart & Jim Neidhart)
GREG OLIVER: The Bulldogs revolutionized the way North American fans saw wrestling in a way that none of the other teams can lay claim to. They brought what they’d learned at home in England and in Japan and gave it a spotlight in the WWF at its heyday, a wonderful marriage of power and high-flying. An easy choice.
2016 PWHF INDUCTEES: The Black Jacks (Mulligan & Lanza)
TELEVISION ERA, 1943-1984
“Dr. D” David Shultz
Sweet Daddy Siki
GREG OLIVER: I’m always puzzled when I see Shultz on this list, and he’s been on it before. In no way, shape or form was he a headliner for more than a couple of years, and he’s mainly still famous because of the incident with John Stossel on 20/20. Despite the fact that he’s still a scary, intimidating dude, I’m going to pass. Thornton wasn’t a headliner either, but a capable midcarder with claims to the light-heavyweight division which never got the attention it deserved during his prime. Valentine is a bubble candidate for me, but I suspect he’ll get in. I’ll take the other two — Schmidt and Siki. Schmidt really was a superstar in the early days of television on the Dumont Network, the evil foil for heroes like Verne Gagne. Siki was fortunate to fall in with Nature Boy Buddy Rogers and his touring crew, which meant stardom in bigger territories; inspired by Etta James, he’d dye his hair and start strutting and become a key figure in rings for another 20 years — particularly in his adopted home of Canada after American promoters stopped booking him after he married a white woman.
2016 PWHF INDUCTEES: Hans Schmidt and Greg Valentine
MODERN ERA, 1985-Present
GREG OLIVER: Stone Cold Steve Austin is one of the biggest stars in wrestling’s history, and when The Rock is eligible one day, he’ll get in too. In the Holy Trinity of WWE at the time with Austin and Rock, you had Mick Foley and his own personal triple threat of Mankind, Cactus Jack and Dude Love; his success outside the ring, like in the world of writing, is just the icing on the substantial cake. There will probably come a time for Duggan, Slaughter and Zbyszko too, but they just were never on par with Austin (and Foley was never either, but was certainly closer).
2016 PWHF INDUCTEES: Steve Austin and Sgt. Slaughter
GREG OLIVER: This category has become a catch-all, which hurts everyone. Perhaps it’s time to drop it? Dempsey was a boxer first and foremost, but was a big name transfer as a referee and special attraction on wrestling cards — but that doesn’t make him a hall of famer here. Jimmy Hart got my vote, but not just as a manager. He was also a musical wiz for a lot of the entrance music in WWF and WCW, and continues to be a wonderful ambassador for the sport.
2016 PWHF INDUCTEE: Gene Okerlund
Tiger Mask (Satoru Sayama)
Tiger Jeet Singh
GREG OLIVER: Of all the categories this year, I found this one to be the toughest to choose. After eliminating Peter Maivia, since I don’t see him on par with the other four, it’s a gut-wrenching decision. Assirati might be the toughest wrestler ever to come out of England, which is saying something when guys like Billy Robinson were out there too. Fujinami was a headliner for a decade in Japan and had significant runs in the U.S., both in the WWWF and later WCW. Many dismiss Tiger Jeet Singh as a gimmick wrestler, which is partly true for a lot of his career; but as far as international impact, his name still resonates in his native India, one of the largest and most populous countries on Earth, which should count for a lot. But I still didn’t vote for him. The original Tiger Mask (Satoru Sayama) quite simply changed the sport, and what I thought a human was capable of doing in the wrestling ring. Do yourself a favour and go hunt down Tiger Mask versus Dynamite Kid from the early 1980s — you can’t tell me that it didn’t anticipate the way the business would evolve to the flipped-floppers we take for granted today.
2016 PWHF INDUCTEE: Peter Maivia