ALBANY, NY — The International Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame (IPWHF) held its second annual induction festivities in Albany, New York, this past weekend. Founded in 2019, the IPWHF’s stated goal is to preserve the rich and colorful history of professional wrestling from all corners of the world, while also spanning all eras of the sport. The induction regulations guarantee that this objective is achieved, and interested persons may access and read these rules through the IPWHF website at www.prowrestlinghall.org.

On the afternoon of Friday, August 26th, a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the IPWHF’s physical hall was held at Albany’s MVP Arena, where the inductee plaques and other memorabilia are now on display. The MVP Arena is a prestigious Upstate New York auditorium, which can accommodate 15,000+ spectators for concerts and sporting events. Obtaining space at the MVP Arena was a major coup for the IPWHF, as it obviates the improvements and maintenance needed for a free-standing building. Kudos to the IPWHF team and local governmental agencies for pursuing and finalizing this arrangement.  Collector/historian Tom Burke attended the ceremony and stated, “The current displays of ring gear of wrestlers from the past is well done. Wrestling event posters are also on display along with some great photos both action and posed.” The public may view these significant pieces of wrestling history, by appointment, for the remainder of 2022. In 2023, the IPWHF plans to have a schedule for personal and group tours.

The IPWHF displays include a significant number of historical and rare items that were returned to the Capitol District from the now-defunct Texas-based Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum (PWHF). Readers may recall that the PWHF was founded in 1999 by Schenectady’s Tony Vellano, and held 15 highly successful annual inductions in the Schenectady area through 2015, when the PWHF moved to Wichita Falls, Texas. Thanks to the time-consuming and backbreaking efforts of Lori McGee Hurst, visitors to the IPWHF will enjoy seeing the rare artifacts that were first on display at the New York PWHF museum and are now back in the same geographical region, after making a round trip to Texas.

Booker T with Liam McNees, Aria Schreppel and Claire McNees. Photo by Dr. Bob Bryla

A live New York Championship Wrestling (NYCW) show was held Friday evening in nearby Watervliet. This unexpectedly entertaining show was the first event for new owner, Jason Stone. The high level of skill demonstrated by so many participants bodes well for the NYCW’s future. Cody Hall almost wrested the NYCW title from Adam Stone (no relation to Jason) and the main event between Christina Marie and Adena Steele capped off an energetic night. Several of the IPWHF honored attendees, such as Booker T, Virgil, Rita Marie Chatterton and Ken “Lord Zoltan” Jugan were present and made themselves available for photo and autograph opportunities for the several hundred fans present.

At 11:00 p.m. that night, Bill Apter held his Apter Hours Party show at the Desmond Hotel, where all other induction weekend events were held. Tickets for this event needed to be purchased in advance for $25. Bill’s show features stories of his life within the wrestling world.

On Saturday morning from 10-1 p.m,, a meet and greet took place, and, in contrast to the 2021 induction weekend, a $15 ticket was required to enter the room. Additional tickets, ranging from $20 to $40, were required to obtain a signature from, or a photo with, each wrestling celebrity in attendance. Luminaries present included Dory Funk Jr., Booker T, Dan Severn, Ted DiBiase, JJ Dillon, Bushwhacker Luke, Manny Fernandez, Cody Hall, Virgil, Rita Marie Chatterton, and Bill Apter. The IPWHF collaborated with Captain’s Corner to help make this event successful.

Cody Hall with-Colleen Schreppel and her son Johnny after the NYCW show. Photo by Dr. Bob Bryla

Some fans noted the difference between last year’s event when a ticket to the merchandise room was not required, and collectors could obtain the signatures and/or photos directly from the wrestlers in attendance. During the 2021 induction weekend, fans enjoyed mingling and taking photos with the wrestlers in attendance. However, on June 4, 2022, the IPWHF posted on its Facebook page, “We will strictly enforce a ‘no autograph/no photograph’ policy for talent when they are not at a scheduled event (attendees who violate this will be removed from IPWHF activities).” While the IPWHF obviously needs to raise funds to be successful, such restrictive access to the celebrities may dampen enthusiasm for future attendance. However, from what I observed, and from the pictures accompanying this article, the policy was not enforced.

Some photo ops happened unexpectedly, like Dr. Bob Bryla meeting with Mario Mancini in the hotel’s snack bar.

On Saturday afternoon, a panel discussion was available for a $40 fee. Booker T, Ted DiBiase, Manny Fernandez, Bushwhacker Luke, and Dan Severn were the scheduled featured speakers. Attendees were able to hear road stories from the panelists and to ask questions about these wrestlers’ careers.

Last year, a wrestling history panel discussion featuring mat experts Mark Hewitt, Don Luce, Tom Burke and emceed by John Pantozzi was presented. The history discussion was well-received and nicely attended last year, but it was not held in 2022. Efforts were made to schedule a similar panel for 2022, but it did not make the final roster of events. Hopefully, such a panel will be held in the future to help fulfill the stated mission of the IPWHF.

At 6:05 p.m. on Saturday evening, the official induction banquet commenced. That unusual start time was made in remembrance of the TBS wrestling show from decades ago. Emcees again this year were Bill Apter and JJ Dillon, who both seemed to enjoy their duties. The inductions were made by a variety of presenters including:

  • Ted DiBiase and Marti Funk introducing Dory Funk Jr., who was in attendance. Dory brought his whip and impressed the crowd with his ability to make it “crack.”
  • Mike Falvo posthumously inducting Jim Londos and Genichiro Tenryu
  • Bill Apter talked about “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who addressed the assembly via video
  • Jake Shannon inducted the late Billy Robinson, with whom he worked on the book, Physical Chess
  • Brian Solomon inducted Japanese star Riki Choshu
  • Mike Viscosi inducted the late Joe Stecher
  • Jody Simon, who wrestled as Joe Malenko, inducted the late Karl Gotch
  • Mike Lanuto and Police Chief Jody Geurink of Marshfield, Wisconsin inducted Fred Beell, who was killed in the line of duty as a policeman there.
  • IPWHF Board members Joe Defino, Greg Wachtel and Andrew Groff inducted wrestling pioneers Tom Jenkins, Alex Aberg and Tom Cannon
  • The first female inductee, Mildred Burke, was inducted via video by current NWA Women’s champion Kamille (the title belt is referred to as “The Burke”)
  • The induction banquet ended a little past 10:00 p.m. The Desmond staff deserves special mention for their very courteous and prompt service.

Tom Burke justifiably noted in his SlamWrestling.net piece on last year’s IPWHF induction that the old-timers were not given adequate time and attention during the otherwise very enjoyable 2021 weekend and banquet. This situation was completely remedied in 2022, as attendees were treated to individual presentations of the life stories of each inductee.

Hall of Fame group picture includes Bushwacker Luke, Mario Mancini, Dan Severn, Manny Fernandez, JJ Dillon, Dory Funk Jr., Cody Hall, Joe Malenko, Rita Chatterton, Ted Dibiase, Bill Apter, Booker T, among others. Photo by Brian R. Solomon

Again this year, the IPWHF gave out three different awards as it did in 2021. The Medal for Mettle is awarded to a “champion of courage in the wrestling community” and this year’s recipient was 12-year-old Azaliah Farkas, a dedicated wrestling fan from New Jersey. Despite various physical obstacles, she volunteers in charitable community work.

The IPWHF Trailblazer Award honors those who broke boundaries in the business, and this honor was given to Dan Severn for his mixed-martial arts-to-wrestling achievements. Dan gave a heartfelt and humorous speech detailing his life in combat sports.

Booker T presented the Excelsior Award to Anthony DiPippo, a non-wrestler who has helped to advance the pro wrestling industry. Anthony aided in establishing the Wrestling For Innocence organization, and he was also given an IWPHF ring, an honor which is typically only afforded to inductees.

Former WWF referee Rita Marie Chatterton recognized Lori McGee Hurst for her outstanding contributions to the IPWHF museum. Bud Carson presented a beautifully framed vintage color picture of Ed “Strangler” Lewis, with an accompanying cut signature, that will be displayed at the hall.

A painting and signature of Ed “Strangler” Lewis. Photo by Brian R. Solomon

During the dinner, president Turner talked about the need for fundraising, and also spoke about his goal of having the IPWHF receive ongoing educational and other grants to fund its operations. Since he is a superintendent of a Long Island school district, he likely would be in a position to understand that type of possibility.

Bradley Craig of Scotland deserves special mention for editing the contents of the commemorative induction program. This 60-page publication features some of the most accomplished writers in the wrestling community, including Mike Chapman, Mark Hewitt, Brian Solomon and others. I felt privileged to have my biography of Tom Jenkins included. Bradley’s 2021 IPWHF program was similarly impressive. These two journals are likely the most comprehensive and studious programs ever developed for any wrestling halls of fame, including the 15 programs that I edited for the PWHF.

Last year’s program cover pictured only 13 of the 24 inductees, and I subsequently brought this discrepancy to the attention of Greg Wachtel, the IPWHF Board member who oversees the program’s development. My contention was, and is, that each inductee has parity with every other inductee. However, on this year’s cover, Steve Austin’s picture dominates the other six wrestlers depicted. Six 2022 inductees (Joe Stecher, Alex Aberg, Tom Jenkins, Tom Cannon, Karl Gotch and Fred Beell) are not included at all. Joe Stecher was as well-known among the general public during his prime compared to virtually any other wrestler of any era, yet his image was not included on the 2022 program cover. To adequately fulfill the IPWHF Mission Statement’s objective to “preserve and honor the history of professional wrestling from around the world. …” my historian/collector colleagues and I believe that all inductees should be equally represented on future covers.

Many of us wanted to reunite with “Irish” Davey O’Hannon, who attended in 2021 and is on the IPWHF Board of Directors. Unfortunately, Davey did not attend this year and he was missed by those of us in the “Old School” crew. Also, missing was IPWHF Board member Tito Santana, who was listed on the IPWHF May 4, 2022 Facebook page as being unable to attend. Tito’s life story is inspirational, and he is a great representative for professional wrestling and the IPWHF.

The induction process was designed to be fair, objective and transparent. Of course, I am biased because I developed these regulations after many months of initial effort and several years of fine-tuning. Fifteen years of similar work with the New York PWHF was great experience for this IPWHF task. A Ballot Committee Chairperson may serve no more than two consecutive one-year terms, and I have completed that tenure. The 2023 IPWHF Ballot Committee Chairman will be well-known author and wrestling historian Mark Hewitt, in whom I have total confidence. The IPWHF Voting Pool now consists of almost 100 potential ballot recipients, and I want to thank each and every one of these experts for accepting my invitation to be part of this undertaking. If you feel that you are qualified to be in the IPWHF Voting Pool, or if you have any suggestions for improvement in the induction process, please feel free to contact Mark at [email protected]m.

The final official event of the weekend was a Sunday morning Breakfast of Champions buffet, for a $35 price.

If there was a snafu during the weekend, it occurred through a miscommunication among the IPWHF, the Dory Funk Jr. representative, and fans who purchased $30 tickets to obtain Dory Funk Jr’s autograph. Joe Marcianti, a Certified Public Accountant from Tuckahoe, New York, was surprised when he was told by Mrs. Funk that a signature on a belt would cost Joe an additional $120, plus the original $30 ticket price. Joe had purchased five $30 tickets, as he wanted some books signed as well. Furthermore, he was told that every item would have to be personalized, unless an additional $25 fee was paid per item. Many collectors do not want their signed items to be personalized, but what made the situation worse was that the personalizations were even not made by Dory Funk Jr., but rather by Mrs. Funk. Initially, Joe said that he was told by Mike Lanuto that he would not be given a refund because the fees were considered “donations.” However, the next day, he was reimbursed for the unused tickets. Personally, I encountered a similar problem after buying nine advanced sales tickets for Dory’s autographs. The advertising for this meet and greet stated nothing about additional fees or personalization requirements. I asked VP Mike Lanuto if the IPWHF had a written contract with Funk, and he stated that he did not know, as he did not do the negotiations. Hopefully, future meet and greets will spell out all restrictions and costs at the points of both advertising and purchasing.

The IPWHF has been helped financially by various sponsors, and the major ones listed on their website are Anthony DiPippo, Motor Oil Coffee, Relentless Awareness, Southend Financial, Jason Stone, Michael Lanuto and Michael Viscosi. Wrestling enthusiasts are grateful for these and all other donors who further the ambitions of the IPWHF.

WAYNE PALMER’S PHOTO GALLERY 

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