In normal situations, the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony is a fun night of nostalgia and celebration. A party-like atmosphere where icons of the industry are honoured for their body of work, and through speeches and stories, share their memories with their appreciative fans and their industry peers.
Like everything else, the global pandemic affected the way the event was presented this year (which actually comprised two years’ worth of inductions, since the ceremony was cancelled in 2020). And while this year’s overall event was good, it was missing a few of the key ingredients that normally make the night so memorable.
First, and most noticeably was the lack of a live crowd. Because of capacity and social distancing restrictions, there was no live crowd in attendance this year. Rather, the crowd was a virtual one, with faces of fans appearing virtually on the Thunderdome screens, with piped-in chants and crowd noise.
Those virtual appearances weren’t limited to the fans, though. Even some of the inductees (both international-based one and the Celebrity Wing ones) weren’t able to be there in person.
Second, in trying to limit each show (they presented each of the 2020 and 2021 ceremonies as a separate event) to 90 minutes, it felt like too much of the important stuff – i.e. the speeches from inductees – were not given sufficient time. Even with the elimination of an introductory speech for each inductee by one of their peers (instead, the introduction was done through a video package), and the aforementioned virtual speeches lasting less than a minute each, it didn’t seem that we got to spend enough time hearing those speeches and stories.
Which all led to an event that, as mentioned, was good, but felt like it could have been so much more. And in normal situations, likely would have been.
Here’s the full rundown of the events.
After an opening video looking at the history of the Hall of Fame that included a series of video clips and photos of many of the inductees and past ceremonies, Jerry “the King” Lawler took to the podium as the master of ceremonies, introducing each inductee one-by-one for their segment.
The video package completely glossed over his stint as Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw and his partnership with Barry Windham as the New Blackjacks. Instead, it focused only on his team with Ron Simmons as part of the APA, before he moved onto the JBL persona – which is closer to his real life as an investment expert. It also noted that he was the one who came up with the concept for Tribute to the Troops, which has been going for 20 years.
JBL’s speech was entertaining, and reminded you that he really was a good talker.
He started off by referencing a line that Lawler had said at the top of the show suggesting that these ceremonies sometimes get emotional and have people crying.
“You’ll be waiting a long time if you expect a Texan and a wrestling god to cry,” JBL quipped. “It just simply doesn’t happen. But if you want to, at the greatness of JBL, feel free to start shedding tears.”
He talked about his early career days, including his first match where he had to wrestle 20 minutes in the main event of a show as he was asked to replace someone who had no-showed – despite the promoter not knowing if he could even wrestle.
In taking about those days, he name-checked Texas legends that he worked with and learned from like the Von Erichs, Freebirds, and his tag team partner Bob Orton Jr. who he worked with in Japan.
He said he loved playing a villain in wrestling, and he recalled one incident where he was inches away from being stabbed by an angry fan.
“Years later, I fell in love with that white heat. If you’ve never been out there where you don’t know if you’re going to make it back alive, you haven’t lived.”
He paid tribute and gave thanks to his partner Ron Simmons pointing out that their real-life friendship with Simmons was very realistically portrayed on TV.
“I could live a thousand lifetimes and I’ll never have a better friend than Ron Simmons. When I told him we’d drink beer on television, he said, ‘That’s the best idea I ever heard.’ People asked if the APA were Ron and I just ramped up. No. The APA were Ron and I toned down.”
He also paid tribute to the late, great Eddie Guerrero who he credited for really being the opponent who elevated him as a villain.
“WWE has afforded me the opportunity to do so many things,” he concluded. “People ask me often what I would do over again. The answer is always the same: every damn bit of it.”
Between inductions, the backstage announcers would interview a number of the WWE Superstars on the red carpet. While this gave us a good chance to see them decked out in fancy clothes, nobody really said anything important, and instead just paid tribute to either the person who had been just inducted, was going to be inducted next, or made some other platitudes about the Hall of Fame. Really, these should have been scrapped entirely and let the inductees have some extra time. I get that normally current stars should get the screen-time, but they did nothing here to justify it.
“British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith
The video started off with clips from his days partnering with Dynamite Kid as the British Bulldogs, and then moved on to focus on his singles career. His match at SummerSlam 1992, where and Bret Hart headlined at Wembley Stadium, got a lot of prominence in the video package. Then they talked about his partnership with Owen Hart and the Hart Foundation faction.
Harry Smith (Davey Boy Smith Jr.), Georgia (Davey Boy’s daughter) , and Diana Hart Smith came out for the speech, accompanied by a bulldog, who they said was named Buffy and was the grand-daughter of Mathilda.
Harry did all the talking, and spoke highly of his father’s athleticism and in-ring skills.
He said one of his dad’s proudest moments – and his favourite performance by his dad was the match Smith had against Bret “Hitman” Hart at Wembley Stadium in the main event of SummerSlam 1992.
“It’s a match I can watch over and over again, and never get tired of.”
He summed up by saying how much of an inspiration Davey Boy is to him and his own career.
“I’m certainly glad to carry on Davey’s legacy. Every time I step foot in the squared circle, I know he is in there with me in spirit.”
Jushin “Thunder” Liger
The video package credited Liger as being one of the greatest junior heavyweights of all time and included many clips from his WCW matches. It also mentioned his record IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship runs – 11 reigns, one of which lasted over 600 days.
Liger appeared virtually from Tokyo, speaking in Japanese with English subtitles. His speech was short and to the point.
After introducing himself as “Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger from New Japan Pro-Wrestling,” he noted that this was the first time he had been as nervous to speak, and quickly wrapped it up.
“I am really glad I became a professional wrestler. Thank you all so much. Thank you, all my fans.”
William Shatner – Celebrity Wing induction
Lawler referenced his connection with Shatner, noting that it was he with whom Shatner had his most memorable interaction in WWE, and it was Shatner who inducted the King into the Hall of Fame when he went in. His video package consisted of a montage of Shatner butchering a few theme songs through his vocal stylings, and the clip of Shatner hitting Lawler with a monkey flip on RAW back in 1995.
Shatner’s video speech might as well have been a Cameo, but Cameos actually feel more personal.
He mentioned that a lot of great wrestlers from Montreal, his birthplace, have become popular in the United States – but he didn’t mention any by name.
“I have been a great fan of WWE for a long time,” he said. “I accept this induction into the Hall of Fame with the delight of someone who is following some of his greatest heroes. Thank you so much.”
The 2020 Legacy members were named: Ray “the Crippler” Stevens; Brickhouse Brown; “Dr. Death” Steve Williams; Baron Michele Leone; and Gary Hart.
A short video package was shown for each. Cynics will say that these are merely perfunctory and token gestures. But you can’t argue with any of the names.
The Bella Twins
The video package started with their failed audition for the 2006 Diva Search, and spun their failed attempts at wrestling as something good. They talked about their starring roles in Total Divas and Total Bellas and how those shows have helped build a bigger audience for WWE. Lastly, they showed the twins as savvy and successful busines entrepreneurs who are now taking their brand to higher heights just like they took the women’s division.
Their speech seemed to be highly-scripted, and somewhat disingenuous, not unlike their reality shows. They included the requisite girl power type messaging, including Nikki proclaiming at one point, “Show us a wall, and we will kick it down.”
They talked about spearheading the Women’s Revolution and how they rallied the rest of the women in the locker room to stand strong and united to change the impression of women’s wrestling.
“We knew we could make women’s wrestling so spectacular, so watchable and fun, that it would only make sense to make it the main event.” Nikki said.
They talked about their reality shows and how that has helped draw new eyes to the WWE from women and younger female fans, and said they hoped they can use that platform to inspire other women and young girls to continue to follow their own dreams.
After thanking everyone who helped them in their careers – with special mention of Steve Keirn, Fit Finlay, Billy Kidman, Tom Prichard, Mark Carrano, John Laurinaitis, Dusty Rhodes, Scotty Armstrong, and Pat Patterson for helping them learn and grow, a shout-out to John Cena by Nikki – and their respective families, they ended by thanking their legion of fans.
“Thank you to the Bella Army. We always knew we would need an army to win wars.”
Chants for “one more match” filled the arena just in case anyone doubted the crowd was fake. No real person wants to see that.
Titus O’Neil – 2020 Warrior Award
They showed a video about O’Neil’s journey from an at-risk youth to a football star and then to WWE superstar. As an Ambassador for the company, he has thrown himself into charity work, including creating his own foundation to help families and children in need.
Titus speech was actually really good. It was almost like a TED talk about how someone can change their life, and the lives of others for the better.
For him, he learned that while at a boys’ camp for at-risk youth, when he heard the words that he said changed his life: I love you, and I believe in you.
“Many people had told me that they loved me. But they showed the complete opposite. Words are powerful. And because of those words, over time, my attitude, my work ethic, everything else started to change. I realized I needed to believe in myself.”
He talked about his Bullard Foundation and how it helps him create a legacy that can help others, the way that he was helped.
“There’s no question that the WWE platform has allowed me to expand my ability to successfully put smiles on faces. And I’m forever grateful for that. Winning this Warrior Award means that I’ve made good on the most important aspect of success to me: which is to live a life of significance.”
The nWo (Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and Sean Waltman)
The video package was done like the old style nWo commercials with black and white clips of highlights from the original nWo run in WCW, and the voice-over noting how their faction sparked a seismic change in the industry by setting off the Monday Night Wars.
In a neat touch, Hogan came out air-guitaring with his nWo title belt, and had his black dyed beard again.
Each member said a few words, with X-Pac (or Syxx as he was known in the nWo) starting off by thanking Eric Bischoff who was the brainchild behind the group being formed in WCW.
Much of the early success of the faction, each one acknowledged, was because of the original perception that it was a legitimate group of WWE superstars invading WCW.
Nash talked about the perfect storm of things that all played into the success of their jumping ship, including the timing of their contracts ending with WWE back then being only six days apart. “If I’d have come in thirteen months (after him) and said, ‘Surprise, I’m the other guy,’ it just wouldn’t have worked out.”
Hogan credited the nWo as really resurrecting his career, and was inspired to join after realizing the potential the storyline had in terms of appearing to be a WWE invasion. “I saw how real it looked, like WWE was invading the WCW. I called (Bischoff) and said ‘I’m thinking really heavily about making that move.’ And he said, ‘If you’re not going to do it, I’m going to ask Sting.’ And I went, ‘Not Sting, man. I’m WWE from head to toe.’”
Hogan ended the show with some familiar catchphrases that the others (and the audience) joined in on, saying that “The nWo is still as hot today as it was back then. The nWo is 4 Life, because these guys are just Too Sweeeet.”
Corey Graves and Kayla Braxton took over from Lawler in emceeing duties for the 2021 ceremony.
Rob Van Dam
Graves had the pun of the night, noting that RVD would be “riding high“ on the accomplishment of his induction before throwing it to the video package.
The highlight reel wasn’t entirely dismissive of RVD’s accomplishments in ECW, but they certainly positioned him as hitting career heights only after he moved to WWE.
A neat touch saw his video screen say “Dam it’s good to be back,” reflecting his many years away from the company.
“The reason that I’m up here right now getting inducted into the Hall of Fame is totally because of the response you the fans have had for me. It’s because of the fans that I wanted to get into wrestling, because I was a fan.”
Van Dam was a lot more articulate here than in any promo he’s ever done. Instead of coming across as too laid back, here he came across as genuinely humbled and grateful for the honour. Not only of the induction, but of being a professional wrestler.
He told the story about the day after his father passed away and he had an autograph signing to go to. “I decided to do the autograph signing. I chose to not tell anybody about my situation, and I just tapped into their positive energy. And I felt so much love, so much excitement, it got me through. I realize that the energy exchange is a two-way street. I’m tickled to death to think that I can improve people’s lives. That somehow they could feel better by seeing me do my thing.”
After thanking his parents, the Sheik and Sabu who both trained him and gave him invaluable personal and professional advice, and the bookers and wrestlers he worked with, he gave a special shout out to his fans.
“When I get up on the top rope and I look out to the crowd to get your support to do the Five-Star Frog Splash… I don’t know of a better high. Seems like I would know,” he laughed.
Her video package ignored her WCW stint and her romance with Spike Dudley. But did cover the evolution of her character from young Holly cousin to Mighty Molly to her heel run with the Right to Censor. The video package featured female stars from back in the day as well as the current crop, who credited her as being someone they all look up to.
God, she looks like she hasn’t aged a day.
Holly told a good joke to start, noting that only two people have had their head shaved bald at WrestleMania. One was the most influential person to ever enter a wrestling ring; the other was Vince McMahon. Poor Adrian Adonis.
She thanked the backstage crew for all of their work – by name – praising them as unsung heroes who helped her considerably.
And wrapped things up in her usual uplifting and positive way when thanking the fans.
“In a culture where public shaming is the norm and judgement reigns supreme, you chose to graciously overlook my shortcomings, to forgive my selfishness, and chose to focus on my good qualities, to uplift me, to cheer me on, and to believe in me.”
The Great Khali
They went full retcon on how they presented Khali. Instead of showing his goofier moments or making fun of his in-ring and speaking skills like they have at every past opportunity, his video package was full-on serious, positioning him as a major destructive force on his path to winning the World Championship. They played up his hero status in India, mentioned his training school, crediting him as being the leader of a new wave of Indian superstars.
He appeared via video, and was subtitled even though he spoke some of his promo in English… or more appropriately, Khalish.
“I feel so great. I feel so happy. I can’t even tell all of you how happy I am. For some reason I can’t be with all of you today, but all my fans are in my heart.”
In a funny touch, he wore his ring on his little finger – one size doesn’t fit all, apparently.
Later on, Ranjin Singh was interviewed. Of all the red carpet interviews, his was the most memorable, only because he broke out his old jacket with “The Great Khali says” on the back.
Ozzy Osbourne – Celebrity Wing induction
The video package for Ozzy included clips from his appearance at WrestleMania 2 and his sporadic appearances on WWE programming.
He appeared virtually from his backyard, and like the Shatner appearance, this was pretty much a Cameo video, but even shorter. In fact, it probably took you more time to read this sentence.
The 2021 Legacy members were named: Dick the Bruiser; Pez Whatley; Buzz Sawyer; Ethel Johnson; and Paul Boesch.
Again, a short video was played with clips for each inductee.
The video tracked Bischoff’s rise from announcer in the AWA to the head of WCW and a one-time contender to be the king of the mountain in the wrestling industry. And they noted that he was able to persevere after WCW folded and resurrect himself as a top personality in WWE.
After starting off with a funny joke – a callback to his “three minutes” catchphrase in talking about how much time he was given for his speech – he then became much more poignant.
His speech was about taking a series of road trips. Journeys that took him from AWA to WCW and ultimately to WWE, the last one being the most unexpected and improbable of them all.
He summed up his success with the phrase “Standing on the shoulders of giants. I realize that all of the amazing things that I’ve gotten to do – including standing here in this moment – is because I’ve had the privilege of standing on the shoulders of giants that came before me. I want to thank the giants that gave me the opportunity. The people that have taken this industry from what was once the sideshow that was part of a traveling circus to become one of the most powerful forms of entertainment anywhere in the world.”
“It’s been one hell of a ride,” he concluded, “and the best is still to come.”
Rich Hering – 2021 Warrior Award
In his own induction speech, the Ultimate Warrior suggested the Warrior Award be given to the unsung people who work in WWE but aren’t on TV. Other than Sue Aitchison, who co-ordinates all of WWE’s Make-A-Wish efforts, none of the other winners have fit that bill. Until this year’s winner, a 51-year employee, Rich Hering, who left the New York State Athletic Commission to work for Vincent J. McMahon (current owner Vince’s father), and has been with WWE ever since.
The video package showed Stephanie McMahon giving Hering the news on a video call while he was flanked on either side by Triple H and Vince McMahon. Vince even acknowledged that he couldn’t think of anyone more deserving. In the video, Hering was noted as a key contributor in helping the company transform into an international conglomerate.
While he was featured on-screen on occasion – most famously as the wedding officiant for Randy Savage and Elizabeth – it was off-screen that he was the hero, becoming a great help to the Ultimate Warrior’s family after the loss of the Warrior. Warrior’s widow Dana and her kids all appeared in the video to thank and congratulate him.
In his speech, Hering – known internally as the “Problem Solver” thanked the Warrior Family, the past and present WWE superstars, and his fellow WWE employees who “day in and day out make our TV shows and our live events what they are for the WWE Universe.”
The video covered all stages of his career, from his shocking debut, his legacy of terror, and his comedic highlights, including his repeated beatdowns of Pete Rose and his Team Hell No exploits. The longevity of his character is really incredible when you think about it.
Sadly, he didn’t come out in full costume like he did for the Undertaker’s retirement ceremony – but he did have his mask with him, sitting in a glass box that sat on the podium with him.
He gave credit to his parents for always supporting him. “For example, my mom loved Isaac Yankem DDS. Mom also had the greatest sign I’ve ever seen at a live event: I raised Kane.”
He talked about life on the road and he got emotional talking about missing many of life’s moments with his wife and family. “If I have one regret, that’s it.”
In terms of his wrestling career, he thanked a few of the men who played important roles in getting him into WWE, including Dutch Mantel, Jim Cornette and Jim Ross, noting wryly “JR, I’m sorry I paid you back by setting you on fire.”
He thanked the many behind-the-scenes employees for everything they do for making sure the WWE superstars look good, and then his fellow wrestlers.
“Thanks to my brothers and sisters who put on tights and lace up boots. It was an honour and privilege to perform with all of you. You are, in my opinion, the most talented, the most versatile, the best entertainers in the world. It sounds corny, it sounds cheesy. But you put smiles on faces and the world is better for it.”
He gave special mention to his on-screen “family”, Paul Bearer and the Undertaker. He talked about his first match with the Undertaker, which actually took place in Smoky Mountain Wrestling where he was wrestling as Unabomb. “It was the first of many times the Undertaker dropped me on my head.”
Lastly, he thanked the WWE Universe.
“For 25 years, you’ve been part of my life. I finally realize how exceptional the journey has been. And none of it would have been possible without you. Thank you for making Kane one of the most memorable characters ever.”
He ended the speech with his customary Kane fire show, bringing the show to an explosive close.