WATERLOO, Iowa – The 22nd George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Induction Weekend took place this past weekend and I have to say that I am leaving the event with a warm and fuzzy feeling. From the sometimes gut-wrenching moments, emotional acceptance speeches at the induction ceremonies, to the camaraderie of the legends and fans in attendance, it was an event that had a bit of everything.
At the opening “Jason Sanderson kickoff social” held for the attendees at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum, the welcome greetings by the museum’s director Jim Miller, Dan Gable and Gerry Brisco kicked off the weekend well, with Brisco entertaining the group and asking all to “bring a friend” each year to grow the participants for future years. Also, surprising all in attendance at the opening party was inductee Mark Henry, who took the mic and was genuinely happy to be there, entertaining everyone there. The first heartwarming moment (of many over the weekend) was the surprise for long time friend of the Hall of Fame, and photographer Joyce Paustian. Joyce was given the “Impact Person of the Year Award.” Joyce has been shooting photos for the museum for many years [See an AWA gallery she shared with SlamWrestling.net]. She was surprised by the honor, given to her by Impact’s Troy Peterson and Chad Olson. The first day of festivities ended with many participating in the Pro Wrestling Trivia event at the lounge inside the Best Western Plus in downtown Waterloo.
Friday saw talent evaluations at the Five Sullivan Convention Center, podcast tapings featuring Mark Henry, Wes Brisco and Red Velvet (AEW wrestler). Then it was time for the Impact wrestling show, which was a sellout. I was impressed with the turnout and the appearance of legends like Cowboy Bob Orton, Mike Rotunda, Barry Windham, and Baron Von Raschke (who cut a great promo with Gerry Brisco for the local TV news). Vendor tables were set up and fans got the chance to buy merch, or get autographs and pose with the Impact wrestlers and the legends. I got to hang a bit with Colt Cabana, meeting him for the first time. It was cool talking to the wrestling podcast pioneer and cutting a video with him. Colt then wrestled in a the tag team match, teaming with Wes Brisco. The impact matches were well organized and although the ladder match for the Impact Extreme Championship was a little… well… extreme with hard chair shots throughout the match, it was a entertaining show.
Saturday saw a tour of the basement of the Hall, with attendees getting a chance to see the amazing archives and artifacts of pro wrestling collected and stored over the years at the museum. And upstairs, one of the displays that everyone enjoyed (including me!) was the Andre the Giant tribute, by the ultimate Andre collector, Chris Owens (recently featured in the A&E show WWE’s Most Wanted Treasures). One of the items on display was the original get well card signed by so many of the WWF to Andre when he was going through his health issues in the early 1990s, before his death. I wondered why this item was not featured in the TV show.
Then, an emotional roundtable discussion took place about the late Don Kernodle. Don, an inductee into this year’s Hall of Fame class, tragically took his own life on May 17th, just two months prior to this event. It was hard not to keep a dry eye as Don’s brother Rocky (still overcome with grief), tried his best to share memories of his best friend and tag team partner, with the panel and fans. Sargent Slaughter was there to shoulder some of the burden of keeping the panel moving, but it was so very touching to hear both Sarge and Rocky share memories, along with Gerry Brisco and Bob Orton.
An autograph session followed, with JJ Dillion, Thunderbolt Patterson, Orton, Brisco, Slaughter, Rocky, and the World’s Strongest Man, Mark Henry (who sat next to my Mat Memories table). I got the chance to meet Mark and exchange some stories, and give him a copy of my book, written by Greg Oliver and yours truly. What I was impressed of most with Mark was his warm interaction with all the fans, and the smiles he brought to the faces of the kids in attendance. What a great, genuine man, whose love for the fans was evident here.
Finally, it was time for the banquet and inductions, with Chad Olson serving as the Master of Ceremonies. Jim Miller fired everyone up with a rousing inspirational opening. Then a representative of the Cauliflower Alley Club talked gave an update on CAC president B. Brian Blair, and gave a check on behalf of the CAC to the Hall.
Author Mark James was awarded the Jim Melby Award for Journalism, and gave a wonderful speech reminiscing about the impact Melby had as a pioneer of saving and sharing results, saving the history of the territories. Mark also discussed his longtime friendships in the industry, mentioning Jim Cornette as one of his closest friends in the business, and his impact as a true historian, and shared some cool stories.
A new award was introduced for wrestling announcers and broadcasters named after the legendary Gordon Solie. Accepting the first Gordon Solie Award was his son, Jonard, who talked about the rich history his father trailblazed. Before the ceremonies began, Jonard shared some classic 16 mm films of matches never before seen (with his brother calling the action of matches featuring Terry Funk, Jack Brisco, Tim Woods and others).
The George Tragos Award went to Ken Shamrock, who told his story in his acceptance speech, about his days as a troubled youth, stabbed at the age of 10, and landing in a boys home owned by the man who eventually became his father, Bob Shamrock. Ken went into detail about his life, including his breaking his neck as a teenager and being written off by doctors after that potentially career ending injury. The fact that Ken didn’t let a broken neck stop him from pursuing his athletic career and achieved what he did was amazing to hear. I was riveted to his speech and learned a lot about the man and gained a new respect for him.
Mike Milisky of Filsinger Games donated a check for $5,000 to the Hall of Fame, with Gerry Brisco challenging him to up the donation to $10,000 next year, which everyone chuckled about. A generous donation for sure.
The Hall of Fame inductions were next. Based on the emotion of the earlier roundtable, everyone knew this would be a hard one to watch, as Rocky Kernodle and Sgt. Slaughter talked about honoree Don Kernodle. Rocky wept when talking about the man who was his brother, and the person he was “joined at the hip with” all his life. Sarge talked about recommending Don for induction to Gerry Brisco, and how Kernodle was excited about being inducted, before the tragic end to his life. Tears were evident in many of the attendees during this induction.
The finale was Mark Henry receiving the Frank Gotch Award. In his moving 12 minute acceptance speech, Mark spoke about the importance of history, and shared some funny and poignant stories. It was a great way to end the night and the weekend.
As a second time attendee, I came away from the event with a deeper appreciation of all the Hall of Fame does to honor the history of pro wrestling and honor those who have paved the path to everyone in the industry. It is an event I highly recommend to everyone. And the #bringafriend theme used to promote this year is one that I hope every attendee plans on doing next year, when the next Hall of Fame weekend takes place from July 21-23 in 2022. I’ll be there, and you should too.
TOP PHOTO: Gerald Brisco, Rocky Kernodle, Sgt. Slaughter and Jim Miller. Photo by John Arezzi
- July 20, 2021: A rookie’s visit to Waterloo & Tragos/Thesz induction weekend
- SlamWrestling.net’s George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame story archive
- Tragos/Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame website