With Wrestlemania fast approaching, the WWE has been announcing the 2016 inductees to its distinguished, if still non-corporeal, Hall of Fame. With the WWE still the largest and longest-running promotion, its Hall of Fame is the de facto wrestling Olympus for the greats in the squared circle. This year’s crop is pretty good. Sting made the cut this year, as did Stan Hansen and The Fabulous Freebirds as a group. Jaqueline will represent the ladies this year, an honor long overdue for the utility infielder of ’90s women’s wrestling.
Some of the choices, though, are a little harder to justify. Big Boss Man, who will be posthumously inducted by Ted Dibiase, was a solid mid-carder but never much of a champion or draw outside of his face turn in the ’80s when he was applauded for simply not beating handcuffed opponents with his night stick. He’s also responsible for one of the worst matches in wrestling history and for stealing another wrestler’s father’s casket at a funeral, which someone set to the Benny Hill theme because God is real and He loves us.
Then there’s Charles Wright, a.k.a. The Godfather a.k.a. The Goodfather a.k.a. Kama “The Supreme Fighting Machine” Mustafa a.k.a. Papa Shango. It’s a truly baffling choice. Wright, who seems like a very nice man with ring abilities comparable to those of Boss Man, has a single solo title to his name, and Wikipedia tells me he managed to win the tag titles once with Bull Buchanan, a wrestler whose name I forgot I ever even knew. Wright just never made much of an impact in the ring. I suspect that his induction is either Vince McMahon’s apology for three decades of racist gimmicks, or is being done to create a spot for a black male wrestler post Hulk Hogan’s fall from grace for racist remarks. And that’s fine because black wrestlers still very much get the short end of the stick in the WWE and need more representation, but shouldn’t D’lo Brown or Mark Henry be in this spot? The former is the only man ever to get anyone excited about the European Title, and the latter is a multi-sport phenom with a world title to his name.
Let’s look at a few of the other names still missing from one of wrestling’s highest honors.
Of the great ’80s tag teams, Demolition is the only one who still hasn’t been honored in the Hall, and that is just a travesty. The Road Warriors are already in, and Demolition actually beats them in number of tag team belts, at least in the WWE. The Demolition Decapitation remains one of the greatest two-man finishing maneuvers ever devised, and I’m still surprised no one has died from it. It’s true that once Bill Eadie and Barry Darsow left the WWE, they floundered and never recovered (anyone remember Darsow’s short-lived golfer gimmick?), but Brian Adams went on to join the NWO, essentially being part of two of the greatest heel stables ever in his short life. The trio were one-of-a-kind, and that deserves to be acknowledged.
9. Taka Michinoku
If you want to talk about guys who need a gimmick apology induction, Michinoku needs to be right at the top of the list thanks to that ridiculous dubbed eeeeeeeeeeevil thing WWE made him and Sho Funaki do. Beyond that, Michinoku is a legendary champion from around the globe, known for holding onto belts for long reigns, some simultaneously.
There was this weird match in 2000 (embedded above) when Triple H was being an especially big dick as champion where he had to defend the belt and he picked Michinoku. It was supposed to be a joke, The Game expecting an easy match against the cruiserweight. Instead, Michinoku showed up with Funaki and the APA to watch his back, and the resulting match between two of the most technically gifted men ever to square off happened. It was honestly the most perfect example of wrestling I have ever seen. It’s the match I would show someone if he or she had never heard of wrestling, and that’s because Taka Michinoku is magic.
8 & 7. Vader and Bam Bam Bigelow
Speaking of people famous in Japan and not as famous here, two of wrestling’s best big men are still noticeably absent from the Hall. Their cases are so similar that I’m going to just combine them. Both men set the bar for heavyweights capable of remarkable aerial stunts. Both were known for absolutely brutal movesets, and both had flamboyant characters that were instantly recognizable. Vader racked up a bigger belt count in Japan (one tagging with Bigelow, actually), but Bigelow has a more storied career in ECW to bring to the table. Both men definitely changed the game.
6. Jim Cornette
Aside from Vince McMahon himself, there is no one in wrestling like Jim Cornette. As a manager he has been one of the great heels, drawing heat for the likes of The Midnight Express, Yokozuna and more than a dozen others. Behind the scenes he’s run Smoky Valley Wrestling, and booked for Ohio Valley Wrestling, where he became a starmaker for the WWE. John Cena and Brock Lesnar are two of the talents who made it to the big stage thanks to Cornette.
A falling-out with McMahon over Cornette’s booking and backstage behavior is probably the reason he hasn’t been inducted, and I suspect that once The Midnight Express is brought in as a group, Cornette will be part of the package. Until then, one of the biggest players in the business remains missing.
5. Jim Johnston
Jim Johnston is one of the main reasons the WWE is what it is. Since 1985, Johnston has been penning entrance themes for superstars, and some of his work ranks as the best ever written. He’s done themes for D-Generation X, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Triple H, The Undertaker and The Rock. His sounds are inexorably linked to the build-ups of the greatest matches of two generations, and the business wouldn’t be the same without him.
Shout-out to my favorite Johnston theme of all time, that for Hakushi, better known in Japan as Jinsei Shinzaki. Johnston’s tune, “Angel,” was written in case “the opposite of The Undertaker” ever showed up, and the dark-versus-light themes at play there were perfect for the greatest match almost no one in America ever got to see.
Yes. Shut up, yes, she does deserve it.
Chyna remains one of the most impactful women in the history of the WWE and in wrestling in general. She was the first woman to compete in the Royal Rumble, the first woman to participate in King of the Ring and an active member of one of the most influential stables of all time, and she is still the only woman to hold a major male title in the WWE in any capacity, winning the Intercontinental Championship. Yes, Chyna’s personal life went to very bad places after her star fell, but no woman changed wrestling the way Chyna did. If Sunny’s post-ring pornography career doesn’t disqualify her from being in, neither should Chyna’s.
3. Akira Hokuto
You may not recognize her name, but you’ve seen Akira Hokuto’s work. For starters, there are several powerbombs that wouldn’t exist without her having invented them, including the gut-wrench sit-out and the Northern Lights. She is one of only two women to have held the short-lived WCW Women’s Championship, and she was undefeated when she vacated the title and returned to Japan. Overseas, she holds a very impressive rank of belts, and she’s a rare female wrestler who actually managed to both raise a family and keep competing, making her a great role model as well as a very tough lady. She’s a unique part of WCW wrestling history that is too often forgotten, and her work as a move innovator deserves celebration.
2. Eric Bischoff
There’s really no overstating what Eric Bischoff did as both an on-screen personality and a booker. He crafted two of the greatest rivalries ever in both his own NWO storylines as well as the meta battle between himself and McMahon as WCW and WWE vied for Monday Night supremacy. Once McMahon managed to wrest control of the airwaves back, the company went into decline, but Bischoff’s work remains a bright spot. In addition to all that, Bischoff never gets enough credit for bringing lucha libre to a white audience the way he did, and even though many Mexican greats ended up curtain jerkers and jobbers, some, like Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio, rose to the highest heights. That’s definitely change for the better. And speaking of lucha libre…
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1. Ultimo Dragon
No name is more prominently absent from the rolls of the Hall of Fame than that of Ultimo Dragon. The Japanese luchador is the single most decorated wrestler in history, at one time holding and defending ten titles, a record no one has ever topped and likely no one ever will. Notches on his belt include holding the WCW Cruiserweight and Television titles twice, holding the WWE Light Heavyweight title when it was still a belt defended in Japan, and participating in Wrestlemania XX. He is also the inventor of the Asai Moonsault, one of the most popular high-flying moves ever created.
I can only assume that Dragon’s lackluster appearance in WWE when he joined the company last decade is the reason he hasn’t been a prominent contender for the Hall, and though being in Wrestlemania fulfilled a lifelong dream for him, his appearance is mostly remembered for an unfortunate trip on his cape he had when entering the match. Nonetheless, Dragon’s long and amazing career across the globe as a major draw and almost unmatchable champion makes him more than worthy to be in the WWE Hall of Fame, even if his actual WWE career was forgettable.