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Road to Wrestlemania 27: Guide to the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2011

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Since spreading wrestling (entertainment?) history is one of my goals, I figured that I'd do some biographies of this year's WWE Hall of Fame inductees (except for Drew Carey) for younger fans who aren't familiar with many of them (and maybe including some obscure facts for those who are).  An edited version of Saturday night's induction ceremony will be aired on the USA Network an hour before Raw this coming Monday, with the full ceremony coming on the Wrestlemania DVD as usual.

This is a long one, so the bios are after the jump.

"Bullet" Bob Armstrong: Big star all over the southeastern US, especially in Alabama and east Tennessee.  Considered limited in the ring by some, but a strong promo by most, he had his greatest national fame thanks to runs in Georgia Championship Wrestling and Jim Crockett Promotions via their TV exposure on what was then called Superstation WTBS (now split into cable network TBS and local Atlanta channel WPCH Peachtree TV), so he's not a bad pick for an "Atlanta" star.  After largely retiring as an active wrestler, he was the on-screen commissioner of Jim Cornette's Smoky Mountain Wrestling, putting his promo ability and local stardom to good use.  All of his sons became pro wrestlers: Brad, Scott (currently a WWE referee), Steve, and Brian.  Brian, the youngest, became a pro wrestler after serving in Desert Storm and eventually became the biggest national star of the family as "Road Dogg" Jesse James in the WWF.

"Hacksaw" Jim Duggan: Big star as Hulk Hogan's understudy in the WWF in the late '80s-early '90s doing a patriotic gimmick.  As a performer, the best part of his career was his run in Bill Watts' Mid-South/UWF promotion, where he was the top star after the Junkyard Dog left for the WWF.  You wouldn't know it from his WWF stint, where, for whatever reason, he became terrible in the ring overnight, but he was an incredible worker before that, a great brawler/power wrestler who had numerous great matches during a legendary feud with Ted DiBiase.  He also had a number of great matches with wrestlers like the One Man Gang and the Fabulous Freebirds.  He ended up in WCW when Hulk Hogan came in, quickly winning the US Title in an infamous match with Steve Austin.  He was out of place for much of his run doing his WWF character, though there was the occasional highlight like his US Title loss to Vader, where he looked like the pre-WWF Duggan for a brief flash, and his return from kidney cancer.

Abdullah The Butcher: International star who for whatever reason never had a WWF/E run.  Legendary brawler who patterned his bloody, foreign object-heavy style after fellow WWE Hall of Famer The (original) Sheik, who he idolized as a young fan in Canada when Sheik was the top star in Maple Leaf Wrestling.  He started in his native Canada, making a big splash in Stu Hart 's (there's another WWE Hall of Famer) Stampede Wrestling based out of Calgary.  Hart would later say that the biggest draws in Stampede history were Abdullah, Dynamite Kid, and Archie "The Stomper" Gouldie.  He moved on to Japan, where he had his greatest success as a highly paid star for decades.  One of the most famous matches in Japanese wrestling history saw him team with The Sheik against (fellow WWE Hall of Famers, again) Dory Funk Jr. and Terry Funk in the finals of All Japan Pro Wrestling's first annual Real World Tag League tournament in 1977.  In the '80s, he had possibly the most memorable feud of his career when he went to Texas and feuded with Bruiser Brody in a series of legendary brawls.  He was still a national star into the early '90s, with runs in WCW, including one as a babyface!  Since then, he's mostly worked on independent shows with some trips to Japan for a variety of promotions.

Sunny: The first woman in the WWF to really be pushed as a sexpot, to the point that she was "the most downloaded woman on AOL" when that was kinda impressive, she was also an excellent manager who was a tremendous promo.  A wrestling fan growing up in New Jersey, she met local indy wrestling prodigy Chris Candido and they were a couple until his death from complications from surgery after breaking his leg in a freak accident while working for TNA.  She started out in Smoky Mountain Wrestling as Tammy Fytch after Cornette realized that she had potential as a heel manager and that if she worked for the company along with Candido, he could pay them enough to live relatively comfortably while going to college locally.

After a couple years in the company where both made their mark as future stars, they were signed by the WWF, where she became the first woman to get a breast augmentation that was paid for by the company.  After their original gimmick of babyface cheerleaders Team Spirit was dropped and she had a quick run as "Tamara Murphy" hosting the Live Event News segments that pushed the local house shows, they were paired as Skip and Sunny, the Bodydonnas (an awkward name combining "prima donna" and "body" because they did a heel fitness instructor gimmick).  While he was excellent in the ring and had a memorable feud with long time TV job guy Barry Horowitz after losing to him, he didn't get the time to talk that he had in SMW and she was positioned as the star of the act.  She eventually moved on to managing The Smoking Gunns and (briefly) Ron Simmons as Faarooq Asad before losing status in the company when the Gunns split, Faarooq's gimmick was overhauled completely, and Sable (then Rena Mero, now Rena Lesnar) started to overshadow her as the top female star.

As she developed a drug problem, she was relegated to a bunch of random guest ring announcer appearances for over a year before being repackaged as the manager of LOD 2000, the repackaged Legion of Doom.  That didn't last long and she eventually ended up in ECW, following Candido.  Their drug problems spiraled out of control as they went to WCW and back to the indies, and she developed severe thyroid and pancreas problems that caused her to balloon in weight.  Eventually, she got healthy as they got clean.  Just as Candido had repaired his reputation, he died and she had issues with TNA since they wouldn't send her his paychecks since they had never gotten legally married.  She's been working occasional appearances since then and just made a surprise appearance at Madison Square Garden to referee a women's tag match.

The Road Warriors & Paul Ellering: Possibly the biggest drawing tag team in history, the Road Warriors, Hawk and Animal, who I interviewed last week about his career and his new book), were two Minneapolis bouncers turned rookie wrestlers who recruited into stardom by Ole Anderson who debuted them as National Tag Team Champions in Georgia Championship Wrestling in 1983.  Recently retired wrestler Paul Ellering was made their manager as he was an entertaining interview, and he became their real-life manager as well.  They quickly became huge national stars thanks to their TBS exposure, which Ellering took advantage of by booking them into other territories as an attraction like Andre The Giant.  After GCW was bought by Vince McMahon, they went home to Minneapolis to wrestle for Verne Gagne's AWA, where they quickly became tag champions and helped keep the company afloat after it was raided by McMahon.  In the meantime, they became a hit in Japan and started working tours for All Japan Pro Wrestling while also working many dates for Jim Crockett Promotions before eventually transitioning to working for Crockett full-time as he expanded nationally after buying the TBS deal from McMahon.  

They cemented their legacy in JCP, where they were wildly popular main eventers and had numerous famous feuds and matches, like their scaffold match with the Midnight Express and participating in the first Wargames with Ellering, (fellow Hall of Famer) Dusty Rhodes, and Nikita Koloff against the Four Horsemen and manager J.J. Dillon.  After JCP was bought by Turner and turned into WCW, they won the tag titles and turned heel in a memorable series of angles.  The turn didn't take, though, and they quickly just kinda became babyfaces again without an actual turn back.  They had more memorable matches and angles in the following year, like their tag title loss that took Teddy Long to national prominence as he turned from a generic referee to heel manager, the "Marietta Massacre" angle where they were attacked in a cage by the Freebirds and Samoan Swat Team leading to an excellent Wargames, and winning the Iron Team tournament at Starrcade.

After quickly being shuffled down the card and being lowballed on a contract offer, they went to the WWF as the Legion of Doom (a nickname gained from Ellering's old stable of wrestlers that stuck even after the others were gone, it was their name in the WWF to prevent conclusion with then WWF Champion the Ultimate Warrior).  They feuded with Demolition (who had been considered Road Warrior knockoffs) and eventually won the tag titles from the Nasty Boys.  They had a good run until Hawk's drug problems got out of control and he quit right before Animal injured his back and sat out the next few years while collecting on his disability insurance until he was ready to return.  Hawk ended up working full-time in Japan with Power Warrior (Kensuke Sasaki in Road Warrior gear) as the Hell Raisers, where he was very successful.  Animal was not happy, but when he was ready to return, they reunited in WCW.  The run was largely unspectacular and they eventually ended back up in the WWF, where they made a surprise return to a huge reaction at a live Raw in New York at the Manhattan Center.  They had some high profile matches, like participating in the main event at the Canadian Stampede PPV as part of Team USA against the Hart Foundation, one of the legendary matches in company history.  They also had a quick run with the tag titles before being buried, returning as LOD 2000, being buried again when Hawk's addiction issues were turned into a storyline, and eventually left the company.  Animal ended up in WCW during its dying days and both did shots all over the place on independent shows and for various Japanese companies, as well as having a WWE tryout in 2003.  Hawk died not long after of a heart attack.  He had cleaned up and become a born-again Christian, but the damage was done by then.  Animal ended up in WWE a few years later forming the New Legion of Doom with John Heidenreich for some reason, winning the tag titles before eventually splitting while Animal turned heel and worked briefly as The Road Warrior.

Shawn Michaels:  Considered by many to be one of the greatest workers of his generation, he retired a year ago after a long WWF/E run that started when he was one half of The Rockers with Marty Jannetty.  An excellent tag team, they formed when both were a couple years into their career in the AWA in 1986 and became the top act in the dying company.  In the WWF they were popular, but never officially won the tag titles due to a bizarre series of events when Jim Neidhart, one half of champions The Hart Foundation with (fellow Hall of Famer!) Bret Hart, was fired, the Rockers won the titles in a match marred by some issues when the top rope broke, Neidhart had his firing rescinded, the NBC special where the match was supposed to air was cut down to an hour from 90 minutes, and the switch was forgotten (except in Indianapolis, where it was taped, and the local fans were told on TV that the title change was nullified due to the rope breaking causing an unfair environment).  Michaels eventually turned on Jannetty, who was in and out of the promotion for years, sometimes feuding with Michaels, as he was often fired due to personal issues.

He came into his own as a cocky heel, won the Intercontinental Title from Davey Boy Smith, and gained a solid reputation at that level for years.  After splitting with bodyguard and tag team partner Diesel (Kevin Nash), he put on a memorable performance at Wrestlemania 11 where he arguably undermined Diesel to the point of turning himself face, and his turn was rushed to the next night's Raw.  He caught on in a major way as a charismatic babyface, though Vince McMahon seemed to have no idea how to push a heartthrob type, as he and the other announcers all sounded like they had crushes on Michaels, and it often worked against him.

Michaels won the WWF Title from Bret Hart at the next Wrestlemania, and while he had a memorable run with some great matches (especially with Diesel, Davey Boy Smith, and Mick Foley as Mankind), he wasn't drawing nearly as well as Hart had while feuding with Diesel and The Undertaker and the company's syndicated TV shows in the US died off.  He lost the title to Psycho Sid (Sid "Vicious" Eudy) at the 1996 Survivor Series at Madison Square Garden (where the crowd totally turned on him) to set up regaining it at the 1997 Royal Rumble, stadium show in his home town of San Antonio.  He didn't click locally to the degree they hoped, as while the crowd at the Alamo Dome was huge, many of them were there because they got free tickets or bought them for $5.  When he was set to lose the title to Sid again, he claimed that a relatively minor knee injury was career ending and vacated the title in a memorably bizarre interview where Vince McMahon looked like his puppy had been murdered and Michaels said that he "lost his smile."

He returned a few months later, showing no signs of a knee problem, and quickly became unbearable to work with.  He had heat before, as during his last IC Title reign, he and friends Nash, Scott "Razor Ramon" Hall, Sean "The 1-2-3 Kid" Waltman, and Paul "Hunter Hearst Helmsey" Levesque (then new to the company) consolidated power (they had asked Bret Hart to join them, but he refused) as what was dubbed by the other wrestlers as "The Clique."  They became hated by many of their peers, with opposing factions forming to show solidarity against them and Vince McMahon showing up at house shows when they grew out of control.  It was worse this time.  He implied on TV that Hart was having an affair with Sunny, leading to a backstage fight.  After turning heel, he announced that he wouldn't do jobs to anyone, including Hart, which is a big reason why Hart didn't want to drop the WWF Title to him in Montreal (and I'm not going over the rest of that here as it would take forever, so look it up if you're unfamiliar).  During all this, he was having tremendous matches in a feud with The Undertaker.  In the Casket Match blowoff at the Royal Rumble, he severely injured his back by taking a bump on the edge of the casket.  He didn't wrestle again until Wrestlemania, losing the WWF Title to new top babyface Steve Austin in a match where he clearly in severe pain.  Austin was just a few months back from his own spinal injury after being dropped on his heat by Owen Hart, but they managed to have a very good main event.

After that, Michaels retired as a wrestler, appearing on WWF TV at times as Commissioner and later a sometimes guest referee.  Meanwhile, he started a wrestling school (plugged on WWF TV by a shirt he wore advertising an informational 900 number that cost $10 per call) and local promotion in San Antonio, the alumni of which include Daniel Bryan, Brian Kendrick, and the late Lance Cade.  To try to give the promotion a boost, he returned for a street fight against Venom (Tom "Paul Diamond" Boric, his original tag team partner as "The American Force") where he didn't take any bumps.  It didn't help and the promotion eventually closed with trainer Rudy Boy Gonzalez fully taking over the school.  He was set to make a return of some kind in 2001, but showed up at Raw wasted on pills to the point that Triple H wouldn't go to bat for him, and he was sent home.  He eventually became a born-again Christian and cleaned up.  He returned to WWE in 2002 for a feud with Triple H climaxing in a street fight between them at Summerslam.

Michaels stayed on as a part-timer, even winning the newly introduced Raw "World Heavyweight Championship" from Triple H in the first ever Elimination Chamber at Survivor Series at Madison Square Garden.  After losing the title back to Triple H, he feuded with Chris Jericho, culminating in an excellent match at Wrestlemania 19 that inspired Michaels to come back full-time.  At the end of that year, he had a title match with Triple H in San Antonio that would probably be considered one of the greatest matches in Raw history if not for a terrible finish (Michaels pinned Triple H, but when he collapsed for the pin,  his shoulders were on the mat.  Even though he wasn't covered at all by Triple H, heel General Manager Eric Bischoff ruled it a double pin draw).  After that, he infamously inserted himself in the Chris Benoit vs Triple H feud for the title stemming from Benoit winning the Royal Rumble, as he had said years earlier that the Wrestlemania main event should always be a singles match.  The angle to get him into the match (he signed Benoit's spot on the contract for the match after attacking him, forcing WWE to include him because contracts totally work that way) was contrived and the fans at Madison Square Garden totally turned on him and all of the spots in the match designed to showcase him, siding with Benoit for the whole match and exploding when Michaels was thrown out of the ring to lead to the finish.

Not long after that, Michaels went through a number of physical changes for whatever reason.  His hair started to fall out rapidly and he had terrible-looking plugs put in.  He lost all of his muscle tone and aged a decade facially, with sunken features.  His attempts at tanning often failed, leaving him looking ridiculous.  He switched from traditional tights to pleather pants made to look like chaps, presumably to hide his kneebraces.  He still had some good matches, but he was less crisp in the ring (I have no idea if it was related to whatever happened  to him physically but I've wondered about it because it happened about the same time), with his moves looking dainty and his selling getting overdramatic at times.  When he reformed DeGeneration X with Triple H, he looked like an old man trying to be a teenager, and the booking didn't help (while there were often funny parts where he avoided the more adult aspects tied to DX because of his religious conversion, one segment saw them have human feces dropped on the heels and another got them kicked off TSN when Triple H and Candice Michelle were implied to have receieved oral sex from two women at a barbecue).

That said, when it counted, he delivered and in the last several years, earned his "Mr. Wrestlemania" nickname.  His feud with John Cena saw multiple excellent matches, including a tremendous Wrestlemania main event and a famous long match on Raw (extended from about 40 minutes to close to an hour by commercial breaks).  The following year, in Ric Flair's retirement match (ahem), he did a tremendous job delivering an emotional match ending with the now famous finish where he says "I'm sorry.  I love you." before superkicking and pinning Flair.  In his Wrestlemania matches with The Undertaker the last two years, they had an incredible roller coaster ride built on near falls and selling and then a more subdued, but possibly even better match last year that retired Michaels.

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