I've often argued that the WWE Hall of Fame isn't something worth arguing about, but that doesn't mean it's not worth thinking about.
The ceremony tonight (March 31, 2012) in Miami is perhaps assumed to be a place to honor the greatest stars in WWE, or even perhaps in the entirety of pro wrestling.
But is that really what's it about? There's no defined criteria for entry. As far as we know Vince McMahon just picks random names out of a hat while riding on his Segway.
Other pro-wrestling Hall of Fames may serve this artform and its history better, but obviously none of them has the prominent stage that WWE has. So it's here to stay, and we have to deal with it.
I'm dividing WWE Hall of Famers into the following categories:
- The absolute biggest stars in WWE history
- The absolute biggest stars in the history of wrestling that is not WWE
- Stars and characters of the late 1990s and 2000s
- Stars and characters of the 1980s and early 1990s
- Wrestling stars and characters of the 1970s and before
- Famous wrestling groups, teams or families
- Famous people who worked for WWE
Maybe we can get a better sense of what the WWE Hall of Fame is meant to be about and what it isn't about. I put each wrestler in the category in which I believe they best fit, although many could fit in more than one category. Please state your case in the comments if you think I'm wrong. (I only included on-screen performers, so James Dudley and Vincent J. McMahon didn't fit into any of the categories mentioned).
An asterisk notes that the wrestler is also in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame, which is probably as good of a hall of fame as pro wrestling has to encompass its entire history across the world.
The absolute biggest stars in WWE history
Who is in: Andre the Giant*, Billy Graham*, Bret Hart*, Hulk Hogan*, Pedro Morales, Shawn Michaels*, Stone Cold Steve Austin*, and Roddy Piper*
This category is what people traditionally think of when it comes to a hall of fame. I doubt there's any controversy over any of these choices. Piper is the only one who never held a world title, but he was still absolutely vital to the success of WWE's national expansion.
Morales isn't well-remembered now, but he was WWE champion for nearly three years and an able successor to the legendary Bruno Sammartino.
Who isn't in: Sammartino*, Bob Backlund*, Randy Savage*, The Rock*, Undertaker*, Triple H*, and and John Cena*
Undertaker, Triple H and Cena are most assuredly in once their careers wrap up. I'm surprised Rock hasn't gone in yet, but since he's returned to the WWE family that has to only be a matter of time.
Sammartino openly despises WWE, so being involved with them is highly unlikely.
Backlund's relationship with WWE doesn't seem so bad, so it's curious why he hasn't gone.
If the late Randy Savage were going into the Hall of Fame, this seems like it would have been the year, so that's probably never happening.
The absolute biggest stars in the history of wrestling that is not WWE
New in 2012: Mil Mascaras*
Mascaras was probably the best known Mexican wrestler in the United States until the mid-1990s, and his colorful masks and personality made him a favorite to fans. He wasn't necessarily as well-regarded by other wrestlers, particularly by Mick Foley, who wasn't complimentary of Mascaras' work and ego in his first book, "Have a Nice Day."
Who is in: Abdullah the Butcher*, Antonino Rocca*, Antonio Inoki*, Bill Watts*, Bobo Brazil*, Buddy Rogers*, Dusty Rhodes*, Gorgeous George*, Harley Race*, Jerry Lawler*, Nick Bockwinkel*, Ric Flair*, The Sheik*, and Verne Gagne*
Who isn't in: A lot. Lou Thesz*, Frank Gotch*, Georg Hackenschmidt*, Dick the Bruiser*, the Crusher*, Jim Londos*, Mildred Burke*, Danny Hodge*, and Gene Kiniski* are a few of note.
Wrestling has a vast array of legends who could be honored, and WWE's sampling isn't a bad list, particularly for the U.S. in the past 50 years. Certainly WWE could add a name or two here and there from the distant past, but I wouldn't expect much movement here.
Stars and characters of the late 1990s and 2000s
New in 2012: Edge, Yokozuna, and Ron Simmons.
Edge of course was a major part of WWE in the 2000s, growing from a brilliant tag team with Christian into an extremely despised main-event heel who main evented WrestleMania and won countless titles. There were a few bumps along the way and he was never necessarily the No. 1 superstar, but he certainly had a memorable run and is the first inductee to do most of his work in this century.
Yokozuna's run on top of WWE was short-lived, but the 600-pound behemoth put his stamp during his time there, ending Hulk Hogan's first run with the company and being the first dominant heel WWE champion in 15 years. Weight issues slowed him down by the late 1990s, and he died in 2000 at age 34.
Although Ron "Faarooq" Simmons is probably best known as the guy who says "Damn!" or as part of the beer-drinking bar-room brawlers APA, in another age Simmons became the first African-American to be the top champion of a national wrestling promotion when he beat Vader for the WCW title in 1992.
Who else is in: Eddie Guerrero*, Jim Ross*, Mae Young, and Sunny.
Obviously Mae Young had a long career as a wrestler, but I doubt she's in the WWE Hall of Fame without her second career as a WWE comedy figure in the late 1990s and 2000s.
Who isn't in: Mick Foley*, Rey Mysterio*, Kurt Angle*, Randy Orton, Chris Jericho*, Batista, Brock Lesnar, John "Bradshaw" Layfield, Booker T, Goldberg, Rob Van Dam, Diamond Dallas Page, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall.
I'd expect many of the next Hall of Fame classes to include wrestlers from this era. Mick Foley makes a crazy amount of sense for next year in New Jersey, and Page makes a smaller amount of sense depending of WWE's feelings of his worthiness.
Goldberg has been derided by Triple H and Shawn Michaels as not being worthy of inclusion, but let's just say that's ridiculous and silly
Obviously Kurt Angle works for another company right now, but he seems like someone WWE might embrace in the future.
Stars and characters of the 1980s and early 1990s
Who is in: Big John Studd, Bob Orton Jr., Bobby Heenan*, "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig, Don Muraco, Koko B. Ware, Gene Okerlund, George "The Animal" Steele, Greg Valentine, Howard Finkel, Iron Sheik, Jesse Ventura, Jim Duggan, Jimmy Hart, Mr. Fuji, Paul Ellering, Ricky Steamboat*, Sgt. Slaughter, Sensational Sherri, Wendi Richter, Jimmy Snuka, Junkyard Dog, Nikolai Volkoff, Paul Orndorff, Rocky Johnson, Tony Atlas, Ted DiBiase* and Tito Santana
Who isn't in: Ultimate Warrior, Rick Rude, Jake Roberts, Paul Heyman*, Jim Cornette*, King Kong Bundy, Kamala, Slick, Earthquake, Irwin R. Schyster, Rick Martel, and Haku.
Triple H seemed to open the door to Warrior's inclusion, and apparently he and WWE have been close to negotiating it before. Though I'd advise anyone to not allow Warrior to talk on an open mic.
Wrestling stars and characters of the 1970s and before
Who is in: Arnold Skaaland, Baron Mikel Scicluna, Bob Armstrong, Captain Lou Albano, Chief Jay Strongbow, Eddie Graham*, Ernie Ladd*, Fabulous Moolah, Freddie Blassie*, Gordon Solie*, Grand Wizard, Johnny Rodz, Mad Dog Vachon*, Killer Kowalski*, Stu Hart*, Gorilla Monsoon, Peter Maivia, Ivan Putski, Pat Patterson*
Who isn't in: Former WWWF champions Ivan Koloff and Stan Stasiak are noticeably absent.
Famous wrestling groups, teams or families
New in 2012: The Four Horsemen (Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Barry Windham & J.J. Dillon)
The Horsemen set the stage our New World Orders and our D-Generation Xs and even our Misfits in Actions. They were the muscle behind Ric Flair's dominance of the NWA in the 1980s, and they are the standard in which any wrestling group will be judged.
Who else is in: The Funks (Dory Funk Jr.* & Terry Funk*), The Briscos (Jack* & Jerry Brisco, although they are listed separately on Hall of Fame website); the Blackjacks (Blackjack Mulligan & Blackjack Lanza); The Von Erichs (Fritz*, Kerry, Kevin & David, and maybe Mike and Chris, but definitely not Lance); The Road Warriors (Animal* & Hawk*), The Wild Samoans (Afa & Sika) and The Valiant Brothers (Jimmy Valiant & Johnny Valiant, but not Jerry).
Who isn't in: Demolition (which is a tragedy beyond all tragedies), British Bulldogs, New World Order, Fabulous Freebirds, Midnight Express, Evolution and the Hart Family.
Famous people who worked for WWE
New in 2012: Mike Tyson
This last category is always a contentious one with WWE fans. You know, "how dare celebrities demean my Hall of Fame and trample on the legacy of Koko B. Ware and Baron Mikel Scicluna?"
But it's here to stay, and Tyson certainly belongs when it comes to the most important celebrities in WWE history.
His appearance on WWE TV and battles with Austin heading into WrestleMania 14 helped heat the company up and was the last step toward fueling its Attitude Era explosion. Other than perhaps Cyndi Lauper and Mr. T, no celebrity has been more important to WWE's history.
Who else is in: Bob Uecker (who is a national treasure), Drew Carey, Pete Rose and William "Refrigerator" Perry
Who isn't in: Lauper, Mr. T, Donald Trump, Floyd Mayweather, Snooki, and Art Donovan
The last two are a joke. I think.
So, Cagesiders, who do you think should be in the WWE Hall of Fame? Who is already in that you don't already think is deserving?