With WrestleMania season only a couple of months away, the talk about who should go into the WWE Hall of Fame in the Class of 2016 is beginning to bhttps://zahthoughts.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=4761&action=edituild-up, especially after WWE officially announced that Sting would be the first inductee this year. A couple of months ago, I started going through the number of wrestlers NOT in the WWE Hall of Fame but couldn’t just narrow down the choices to only ten. I have already counted down numbers 11 through 30 and you can read about them here:
ZAH TOP TENS: Wrestlers NOT in WWE Hall of Fame (part 1 of 3)
ZAH TOP TENS: Wrestlers NOT in WWE Hall of Fame (part 2 of 3)
But now let’s kick off the Top 10 Wrestlers Not Yet In The WWE Hall of Fame:
I remember watching the AWA in the late 1980’s and seeing “Baby Bull” Leon White try to wrestle. He was big, but that was about all he brought to the table. He signed a contract with All Japan in 1987, but was “traded” to New Japan before debuting. He was given the Big Van Vader gimmick and two years later, in April of 1989, he defeated Shinya Hashimoto at the end of a tournament to become the first non-Japanese wrestler to ever win the IWGP heavyweight championship. He ended up being a 3-time champion (during his second reign, he held the title for an incredible 374 days!) and the IWGP tag team champion with Bam Bam Bigelow once. In 1990 he moved on to WCW, where he began dominating the entire roster and was guided by his manager, Harley Race. It was here that he gained some of the biggest matches of his career, battling the likes of Sting, Nikita Koloff, Ron Simmons, Cactus Jack, Sid Vicious, and Hulk Hogan. He was a one-time United States champion and 3-time WCW World heavyweight champion during his time there. He then moved on to WWE in 1996. There “The Man They Call Vader” took on the likes of Yokozuna, Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, Bret Hart, and Kane. While he never won gold in WWE, he was a major player during his time there. Where he has already appeared on the WWE Network (on Table for 3), it’s baffling why Vader isn’t already in the WWE Hall of Fame.
9. John Bradshaw Layfield
That’s right…one of the post-in-ring-career staples of WWE isn’t yet in the Hall of Fame. The man who announces on RAW and PPV’s, not to mention has his own WWE Network program, isn’t in the HoF yet. He debuted way back in 1992 as John Hawk in the Global Wrestling Federation and learned the ropes against guys like Black Bart, Michael Hayes, Jimmy Garvin, Kevin Von Erich, & Greg “The Hammer” Valentine. He was signed by WWE in 1995 as Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw and was managed by Uncle Zebekiah (aka Zeb Colter aka Dutch Mantell). That gimmick died a quick death but he returned with dyed black hair in a tag team with Barry Windham to become the New Blackjacks. He wrestled the mid-card solo (Windham was constantly injured) before forming a tag team with Farooq (aka Ron Simmons) called the Acolytes, being part of the Undertaker’s Ministry of Darkness. They became a successful tag team as they wrestled against the likes of Kane & X-Pac, the Hardy Boyz, the New Age Outlaws, Edge & Christian, the Dudley Boyz, and Billy & Chuck. During this time they became the “APA” (i.e. the Acolyte Protection Agency), which gave them the gimmick of cigar-smoking beer-swilling bad-asses who would attack anybody for the right price. Bradshaw ended up having a decent singles career during WWE’s brand extension in 2002-2003, winning the WWE Hardcore championship 17 times. After a brief reunion with Farooq, Bradshaw was repackaged as John Bradshaw Layfield (aka JBL), a heel cowboy/politician persona that helped him become WWE champion in 2004. By the end of his career, JBL was a WWE champion, Intercontinental champion, United States champion, European champion, 3-time WWE tag team champion, & 17 time WWE Hardcore champion. If that’s not a resume deserving of the Hall of Fame, I don’t know what is.
Now this may be a slightly controversial choice, but I think it’s a deserving one. He was a professional football player in the NFL before being spotted by Lex Luger and Sting, who then urged him to try professional wrestling. It didn’t take long for Eric Bischoff to see the immense potential in the guy, so on September 22 in 1997, Goldberg defeated Hugh Morrus (aka Bill DeMott) en route to a 173-match undefeated streak. During this time, Goldberg mowed his way through the bottom of the card all the way to the top to eventually win the WCW World title from Hulk Hogan in front of a packed Georgia Dome on July 6, 1998. At the time, he was arguably the most over performer in the entire industry…going from a “Steve Austin wannabe” to a phenomenon all unto himself. During his time in WCW he wasn’t only World champion, but also was United States champion twice and WCW tag team champion. While not the most complete in-ring performer, he did enough inside of the ring to make people go nuts for him. Once he moved on to WWE in 2003, he feuded with The Rock, Christian, Chris Jericho, Triple H, Batista, Randy Orton, Kane, and Brock Lesnar before leaving the company in 2004. All in all, the career of Goldberg seems to be quite short, but you cannot deny his impact on the business.
7. Davey Boy Smith
Too many people forget about Smith, primarily because he’s remembered as a tag team guy who died too soon to leave too much of an impact. But those who know better remember him as one of the most successful performers of his time…at least from a mid-card perspective. Smith began his career way back in 1978 when he was only 15 years old. He was spotted by Bruce Hart and was brought to Stampede Wrestling soon after his debut, where he trained in the Hart Dungeon and became a key wrestler in the promotion, winning the company’s British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight Title from his cousin, the Dynamite Kid. He debuted with New Japan Pro Wrestling in 1983, which is where he and Kid decided to become a tag team. The British Bulldogs went from New Japan to All Japan in 1984 before moving to WWE in 1985. There, the Bulldogs were a sensation and won the WWE tag team titles from the Dream Team of Brutus Beefcake and Greg “The Hammer” Valentine. They held the titles for almost nine months during a time when tag teams were aplenty in the company. After leaving the company in 1988, he returned on his own in 1990. It was during this time that he feuded with guys like “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig before he main-evented SummerSlam ’92 at Wembley Stadium in London before 80,355 fans against Bret “Hitman” Hart in which he won the Intercontinental title. In 1993, Smith went to WCW where he teamed with Sting and challenged Vader for the world title. He returned to WWE in 1994 and teamed with Bret Hart against Owen Hart and Jim Neidhart. He was one of the final two participants in the 1995 Royal Rumble before being eliminated by winner Shawn Michaels. He then created a team with Lex Luger called The Allied Powers. He received world title PPV matches against Diesel and Bret Hart and, again, did extremely well in the 1996 Royal Rumble by being one of the final four participants. This led to Smith having another world title PPV match (this time against Shawn Michaels), having another WWE tag team title run (this time with brother-in-law Owen Hart), and becoming the first European champion when the title was introduced in 1997. During his final WWE run from 1999-2000, he turned heel and had more world title PPV matches (featuring one against The Rock), won the WWE Hardcore championship AND the European championship again. In the end, Davey Boy Smith was a 2-time WWE tag team champion, 2-time WWE Hardcore champion, 2-time WWE European champion, and WWE Intercontinental champion. If that doesn’t equal Hall of Fame credentials, I don’t know what does.
6. “Ravishing” Rick Rude
Rick Rude was born in St. Peter, Minnesota and went to high school with a “who’s who” of 80’s wrestling: Tom Zenk, Nikita Koloff, Curt Hennig, John “The Berzerker” Nord, Road Warrior Animal, and Barry “Smash/Repo Man” Darsow. He got a degree in physical education and trained to become a wrestler under the legendary Eddie Sharkey and started inside the ring in 1982. He traveled from territory to territory early in his career before catching the industry’s eye as “Ravishing” Rick Rude in Memphis in 1984, where he feuded with Jerry “The King” Lawler (who else?), Austin Idol, and his eventual partner, King Kong Bundy. He went to Florida next and was managed by Percy Pringle (aka Paul Bearer). He battled the likes of Wahoo McDaniel and Billy Jack Haynes. He then won the NWA American Heavyweight Championship when he went to WCCW in Texas and feuded with Kevin Von Erich, Chris Adams, and Dingo Warrior (aka Ultimate Warrior) in 1985. At this point, he made his way to Jim Crockett Promotions and the NWA, where he teamed with Manny Fernandez (under manager Paul Jones) to win the NWA World Tag Team Championship in late 1986. He was almost immediately scooped up by WWE in mid-1987, was managed by Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, and began his rise to global fame while feuding with “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and the Ultimate Warrior (who he won the Intercontinental Championship from at WrestleMania V). He moved on to WCW in 1991 to be a member of Paul E. Dangerously‘s Dangerous Alliance and won the United States Championship from Sting. He also battled the likes of Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, Nikita Koloff, Dustin Rhodes, and even defeated Ric Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship (which wasn’t recognized as the #1 title by WCW at this time, so its named was changed to the WCW International World Heavyweight Championship). He finished his career with brief stints in ECW, WWE, and WCW before passing away due to drug overdose in April, 1999. When his career was over, he worked as an upper-midcard player in every promotion he joined and ended up NWA American Heavyweight champion, WCWA World Heavyweight champion, NWA tag team champion, WCW International World Heavyweight champion (3 times), WCW United States champion, and WWE Intercontinental champion among his numerous other regional titles. Add to the fact that he is widely considered one of the most well-known WWE heels of the 80’s “boom” era and was even voted Most Hated in 1992 for both the Wrestling Observer and Pro Wrestling Illustrated. This man deserves his spot in the Hall of Fame.
5. Owen Hart
I have heard that the recent release of Owen: Hart of Gold was the intro to Owen being named as a Hall of Fame inductee for the Class of 2016. I sure hope that’s the case because man…if dying on the job doesn’t get you into good graces with the company I don’t know WHAT will (sorry…too soon?). Anyway, I remember first watching Hart on Stampede Wrestling from Calgary back in the mid-to-late 80’s. Both he and Brian Pillman were pretty awesome and I remember hoping they’d eventually get a shot in WWE or the NWA. He was a Stampede Wrestling International tag team champion with Ben Bassarab (pictured, at right) and feuded with Johnny Smith & Dynamite Kid, among many others. He wrestled for New Japan in 1987-1988 against the likes of Jushin Thunder Liger, Shiro Koshinaka, and even won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship from Hiroshi Hase. WWE came calling after that and gave him the infamous “Blue Blazer” gimmick, hoping that his high-flying skills and superhero gimmick would be a big hit with the fans. He was immediately relegated to the mid-card, though. He defeated jobbers on television but would lose bigger matches to guys like “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase and “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig on the larger shows. Hart left the fed in 1989 and traveled the territories, both as Owen Hart and as the Blue Blazer. He eventually lost the Blue Blazer gimmick in a match against El Canek before moving on to WCW (!!!). Yes, Owen Hart wrestled in WCW before going back to WWE. He only wrestled in five televised matches, but looked really good in taking on Rip Rogers and even teaming with Ricky Morton. Owen returned to WWE to team with Jim Neidhart as the New Foundation where they feuded with the Beverly Brothers and the Orient Express. Neidhart left the company and Owen wrestled against Skinner at WrestleMania before being placed in a tag team with Koko B. Ware called High Energy (most well-remembered for wearing “Hammer pants” in their matches). The team didn’t last long so Hart went solo and joined his brother, Bret, in his feud against Jerry “The King” Lawler. After a few months, they began working a feud between the brothers where Owen was tired of living in Bret’s shadow. This became one of the best feuds of Bret’s entire career that had two major highlights: their incredible WrestleMania X match where Owen pinned Bret clean and their awesome steel cage match at SummerSlam ’94. By this time, Owen was full-on heel and won the 1994 King of the Ring tournament (thus becoming the King of Harts). His feud with Bret continued throughout 1994 and even into early 1995, before he joined forces with Yokozuna and won the WWE tag team championships at WrestleMania XI. He later won the tag titles with a heel Davey Boy Smith. Their relationship began to disintegrate after Smith won the European Championship. Just when you thought the two former partners would begin feuding, a newly-heel Bret Hart convinced them to put family first and, thus, the new Hart Foundation was formed (along with Jim Neidhart and Brian Pillman). Owen defeated Rocky Maivia (aka The Rock) in 1997 for the Intercontinental championship before feuding with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Farooq (aka Ron Simmons). After Bret left for WCW, Owen feuded with Degeneration X and won the European Championship. He moved on to join the Nation of Domination (“Enough is enough and it’s time for a change!”) until quietly leaving in late 1998. His final run was under the Blue Blazer mask as he tagged with Jeff Jarrett and won (again) the WWE Tag Team Championship. I truly believe that if you forget about the extremely unfortunate death of Hart at the Over The Edge PPV in 1999, his career can be held up against a number of other current Hall of Famers.
4. The Fabulous Freebirds
This is another rumour for the Class of 2016, as WrestleMania is taking place in Texas this year…which is where the Freebirds made their name known to the world during their days in World Class Championship Wrestling taking on the Von Erichs. I think the primary reason for the Freebirds to be inducted is because of how they changed the business in the early 80’s. They were the first team to use music as not only a way to introduce themselves en route to the ring, but also to help identify them and show the world who they were (they used “Freebird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd before using their own recording called “Bad Street USA”, sung by Michael “P.S.” Hayes). While not the first wrestling act to ever use music as an entrance, they were the first to use rock music and this helped change the entire industry.
They were also the first tag team that was actually a trio, hence today the “Freebird Rule” exists (in an unofficial way) where any two of the three members of the stable can defend whatever tag team titles they happen to own. This “rule” has been used by such teams as Demolition, the Wolfpac, the Jersey Triad, and the New Day. The Freebirds drew HUGE money with their Von Erich feud in World Class, they battled the Road Warriors in the AWA, and they raised hell through the NWA-affiliated Georgia Championship Wrestling. They were introduced to the UWF as the biggest signings the company ever had, and proceeded to see Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy win the UWF Heavyweight Championship and Buddy “Jack” Roberts win the UWF TV Championship. Even when Gordy decided to make runs in Japan, Hayes would team with longtime ally Jimmy “Jam” Garvin in WCW, enjoying tag team reigns as U.S. and WCW tag team champions. The last time the Freebirds worked together was in 1994 when Hayes, Garvin, and Gordy went to the Global Wrestling Federation. They were NWA tag team champions in Georgia four times, WCCW 6-man tag team champions six times, Global tag team champions, Mid-South tag team champions (twice), WCW US tag team champions (twice), and WCW World tag team champions (twice). While never huge WWE stars by any respect, their influence on the business should not…and can not…be ignored.
3. Jim Cornette
Unfortunately, I don’t see this one happening any time soon. Why? Well…Jim Cornette has never been one to mince his words and continues (to this day) to say things that distance himself from the WWE’s good graces. He probably doesn’t even care about the Hall of Fame, and that’s a shame because if any manager deserves to be there that isn’t there already, it’s Cornette. He began working at wrestling events at the age of 14 serving as a photographer, ring announcer, magazine correspondent, and public relations correspondent. It was Jerry Jarrett who gave him his first big break in 1982 as a rich kid turned inept manager whose clients kept firing him after one match (this included wrestlers such as Sherri Martel, Crusher Broomfield (aka One Man Gang), and Dutch Mantell. By the end of 1983, Cornette was managing the Midnight Express (“Beautiful” Bobby Eaton and “Loverboy” Dennis Condrey, who was later replaced by “Sweet” Stan Lane). They won titles in the NWA and were a force to reckon with, showing the world what tag team wrestling could be without the use of gimmicks to get over (though, in fairness, Cornette and his tennis racket certainly accounted for a lot of those victories). They had tremendous success and Cornette also managed Big Bubba Rogers (aka Big Bossman) during this time. Between 1986 and 1990, Cornette became a color commentator on Jim Crockett Promotions’ nationally syndicated NWA television program, which also led to him joining Jim Ross on commentary for the Saturday night program on TBS. In 1989, Cornette became a member of the booking team for WCW. He began the Smoky Mountain Wrestling territory in 1991 (it ran through 1995), but because he was very much into an “old school” wrestling product and the entire industry was in a recession of sorts, it wasn’t the best time for him to start this venture. Having said that, he helped promote some great new talent that found fame elsewhere including the Heavenly Bodies (Tom Prichard & Jimmy Del Ray), Bob Holly, New Jack, Al Snow, Lance Storm, Chris Jericho, Glenn Jacobs (aka Kane), Chris Candido & Tammy Sytch, and Brian James (aka Road Dogg). Because he couldn’t use Smoky Mountain as his full-time job, he joined WWE in 1993 (while still serving as the promoter for Smoky Mountain). At this point, he created Camp Cornette, which included such superstars as Vader, Yokozuna, Mantaur, the Heavenly Bodies, Owen Hart, and Davey Boy Smith. He was also included on the booking committee during this time. In 1998, Cornette led an “NWA-invasion” with a stable of wrestlers like Barry Windham, Jeff Jarrett, and the Rock’n’Roll Express. Cornette later became lead booker and part owner of OVW, which became WWE’s official developmental territory. In 2006, he joined TNA as the “new face” of TNA management. He left the company in 2009 and moved on to Ring of Honor, where he was the Executive Producer of the ROH television show. He became head booker in 2012 shortly before his departure from the company. When you look back on the past 30 years, it’s difficult to not say that Jim Cornette isn’t one of the best 5 managers of all time. When you include the backstage influence he had on the industry, it’s hard to argue why he’s not currently in the Hall of Fame.
2. Ivan Koloff
A lot of you are scratching your heads right now at this one because he’s so high on the list. Those knowledgeable on Koloff’s career would probably think that he’s ranked so high because of the one massive title victory that he holds, and while true it’s not the only reason. Oreal Perras was born in Montreal, Quebec and began his run as “The Russian Bear” in 1967 in his native Canada. He started in WWE being managed by Captain Lou Albano in 1969. On January 18, 1971, Koloff ended the almost EIGHT YEAR title run by Bruno Sammartino after a knee drop from the top rope and became the WWE champion.
While he lost the title only three weeks later to Pedro Morales, you cannot deny the scope and importance of this one victory in the history of the WWE title. Sammartino was seen as invincible at the time, so this sent a shockwave through the entire industry and created a superstar in Koloff. He wrestled in the WWWF from 1975-76, 1978-79, and also in 1983. During this time he also battled WWE champions “Superstar” Billy Graham and Bob Backlund, being the first opponent to face all four champions for the title. The big reason to place him so high on this list was because he arguably found his greatest success in his later years as a wrestler. He entered the NWA in the late 70’s and made his mark by winning titles throughout the NWA-affiliated territories. He formed tag teams with Ray Stevens, Don Kernodle, Nikita Koloff, Krusher Krushchev (aka Demolition Smash), among many others to win various NWA-affiliated titles. He took advantage of the incredible U.S./Russia tension in the early-to-mid 80’s and became one of the most hated performers in the entire industry. Even though he was in his 40’s, he continued to be a featured performer as “The Russians” (which included Nikita and Krushchev) were involved in a number of high-profile feuds at the time (most notably against the Rock’n’Roll Express, Magnum T.A., the Road Warriors, and Dusty Rhodes). Koloff left the NWA in 1989 and wrestled on the indies until his retirement in the early 90’s. No, he’s not on WWE’s good side at the moment because of his potential involvement in a lawsuit against them concerning concussions…but he should have already been inducted into the Hall long before now. He won championships all over the world and was one of the most hated heels of all time. For those reasons alone, Koloff deserves his spot.
1. Kurt Angle
C’mon…I realize that Angle is in TNA right now, but if he doesn’t get his eventual spot in the WWE Hall of Fame then he only has himself to blame. Before diving into his career, all you really need to know is that Angle is the ONLY wrestler in history to win the WWE, WCW, TNA, and IWGP heavyweight championships in his career. That incredible career began back in late 1996 when Shane Douglas convinced him to attend a taping of ECW. He signed with WWE in late 1998 and began training in Memphis with the Power Pro Wrestling developmental territory. It wasn’t long before making his first WWE televised appearance in early 1999 on an episode of Sunday Night Heat in an angle with Tiger Ali Singh. He didn’t make his televised wrestling debut until November 1999, but is widely considered to be one of the fastest-learning wrestlers of all time. Angle picked up the business as if it were second nature to him. He became the “EuroContinental Champion” by winning both the European championship and the Intercontinental championship in 2000. While he dropped both titles at WrestleMania, he did so in a Triple Threat match against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit where he wasn’t pinned or submitted. He went on to feud with Triple H before winning the WWE championship from the Rock…making his rookie year one of the most successful of all time. Angle defended the title for the next four months against foes like Undertaker and Triple H before eventually losing the title back to the Rock in early 2001. He had an incredible feud against Chris Benoit before the “Invasion” took place. At this point, Angle went through his “entertainment” phase by being aligned with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and doing some of the best behind-the-scenes work of his career. He won (and lost) the WCW championship, United States championship, and WWE Hardcore championship before regaining the WWE championship from Austin in September. He then feuded with Edge, Hulk Hogan, Brock Lesnar, Big Show, Eddie Guerrero, Shawn Michaels, the Undertaker, and Randy Orton before leaving the company in 2006. I could go on to discuss his TNA career (Angle recently claimed his best work has been during his TNA career), but I don’t think it’s necessary. Angle’s WWE career speaks for itself: 5-time WWE/World heavyweight champion, WCW champion, WWE Intercontinental champion, WCW United States champion, WWE Hardcore champion, WWE European champion, WWE tag team champion, and 2000 King of the Ring. Seriously…can you deny his rightful spot in the Hall based on just this resume alone? I think that Kurt Angle, more than any other ex-WWE wrestler on the planet today, deserves to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. My only hope is that in 2016, Angle’s “retirement” turns into a part-time return to WWE so he can come back “home” and be treated with the respect and the “send-off” that he truly deserves.
These are my picks for the Hall of Fame…but what are YOUR thoughts? Sound off in a comment below or via social media and let me know!