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The WWE Hall of Fame is more than just the stage show

I have been to many professional wrestling events during my 24-year-and-counting fandom—WWE WrestleManias and Monday Night Raws, WCW Nitros and Thunders, AXXESS, Florida Championship Wrestling and local house shows alike.

The WWE Hall of Fame is different.

I attended my first ceremony Friday night at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, and what I found as I examined from afar was the feeling that I was peeking in on something truly special.

A lot has been made by critics regarding the integrity of the Hall of Fame, and as I watched Kid Rock make awkward political jokes during his induction while Jim Johnston is still waiting for his phone to ring, there is no denying that is deserved.

But make no mistake.

For those getting inducted, the Hall of Fame is everything.

Bubba Ray Dudley called his longtime tag partner and on-screen brother, D-Von, his “brother in life” before joking about how he waited two decades to be entertaining, on their final night together (let that sink in for a second). Ivory, who isn’t married and probably felt at the age of 56 that may not necessarily be on the horizon, likened her ceremony to her wedding. Hillbilly Jim explained how the pro wrestling business gave a small-town kid from Scottsville, Kentucky, everything he could have ever dreamed of.

The Hall of Fame setup is similar to what you regularly see at any WWE event, except there is no ramp stemming from the stage, and under that stage lies a grand red carpet that stretches so far as to include hundreds of seats. Hall of Fame inductees, their families, current WWE superstars and executives and their significant others are invited to the event.

Now remember, this scene takes place on the floor of the arena, so surrounding it is stadium seating for fans and media.

And that is the aspect that makes the Hall of Fame different than any wrestling event I have ever been to.

I’d guess that maybe some WWE wrestlers don’t even grasp this part.

Hearing the lesser-known stories that you cannot find so easily on Google, such as Jeff Jarrett and Owen Hart scheming to rib a young tag team made up of two up-and-coming stars named Edge and Christian, or Ivory and Molly Holly making Lilian Garcia, a New York native, feel better after September 11, 2001, or Bubba Ray Dudley walking up to Paul Heyman and suggesting, “Hey, maybe you should team D-Von and me together,” yes, that is special.

But knowing that many current superstars are listening to those stories for the first time as well, seeing their reactions and reacting to their reactions—that is more special.

And then the other unique part is what I would call the humanization of fantasy.

As it stands today in 2018, with the creation of WWE Network and personal Instagrams and Twitters, I acknowledge pro wrestling is less fantasy than ever. But regardless of that, when WWE performers get together for any night like this, you’ve become accustomed to seeing the characters.

But not at the Hall of Fame. Alexa Bliss is a sweetheart, Lana is suddenly free of her accent and the kids that garner your attention are not those of Heath Slater but rather Mark Henry, a father of two who was able to stand on the stage in front of the world and explain that he wasn’t around so that they could have the things he couldn’t.

Bill Goldberg, as intense a wrestler as will come, opened up about his demons of pro wrestling. He came back for his son, and has since found peace, something we learned was always what his wife, Wanda, wanted for him.

He looked directly at her with his fellow pro wrestling friends and family watching, and he borrowed her phrase to let everyone know those demons are gone: “It’s all good, baby.”

The night is long and so too are the speeches (by the start of the final speech many of the wrestlers themselves had already cleared out), but I think for this one night a year Vince McMahon isn’t worried about time. There are no storylines to further.

What I believe he sees it as is an evening to remember and thank his greatest creations while inspiring his current crop to tear the house down two nights later, because one day it will matter as much to them as it does to those who have the floor.

And as fans and as media, we take it all in.

For me, going to the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony is best likened to the movie Inception. The stage show itself is half of it. Watching those watching is what is truly fascinating.

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