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411’s WWE Hall of Fame Report 03.31.07

April 1, 2007 | Posted by Ryan Byers

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to 411’s recap of the 2007 WWE Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. I’m your host, Ryan Byers. Some of you may remember me from the recap of last year’s induction ceremony, during which I went off on a somewhat lengthy rant on what exactly it means to “deserve” to be in this Hall. I won’t bore anybody with a repeat here, in large part due to the fact that I’ve noticed far fewer people this year complaining about the list of inductees. I’m glad that’s the case, because it’s made for a much more fun atmosphere heading in to tonight’s show.

Speaking of tonight’s show, it begins as a webcast on WWE.com. We start with a lengthy wide shot of the venue in which the show is being held, which I’d say goes on for just a bit too long, but, hey, you’ll have that during a live broadcast. Apparently some of the wrestlers were still being seated at this point, because there was quite the loud “HBK” chant, presumably as he entered the view of the fans. Once everything gets ready to go, we’re treated to a video package running through footage of past inductees, which oddly includes Nikolai Volkoff singing the Russian national anthem.

After that, we head back to the arena and start panning through the wrestlers in attendance. Triple H is present and standing up, so his quad is apparently healing well. Always good to see.

Our host is “Mean” Gene Okerlund, back after being inducted in to the Hall himself last year. Wait . . . apparently Gene ISN’T our host. Instead, he throws it to Todd Grisham, who is booed heavily. He asks that the current WWE stars stand and be recognized, and there’s a respectful pop from the crowd before Todd segues in to our first induction.

It’s Nick Bockwinkel, and, as is typical for these shows, a video package of career highlights is played first. As you might imagine, there are a lot of clips from the AWA DVD recycled. They focus first on his AWA tag team with Ray Stevens (now there’s somebody who should be in the Hall of Fame) before moving on to his time as a singles star and his AWA Championship reign. We also get some clips of Nick’s promos, which were always excellent.

Of course, BOBBY HEENAN~! gets to do the induction. For some reason they cut to Gene Snitsky during his introduction, and Gene is rocking an awesome white suit that doesn’t match his otherwise freakish appearance. The Brain cuts down a few hecklers to start his speech, and he puts over Bockwinkel’s intelligence. Then he makes fun of the fact that . . . well . . . there’s nothing to make fun of. Bockwinkel’s too clean cut, you see. Bobby also takes a second to put over the Sheik (“the greatest heel I’ve ever seen”) and Detroit as a city before bringing out Bockwinkel.

He starts off his acceptance speech by intentionally using a few four syllable words to get a chuckle out of Heenan, and then the speech proper begins. He comes off every bit as articulate as he did during his active wrestling career, thanking his wife, daughters, and his father Warren. The elder Bockwinkel was also a professional wrestler, and Nick claims that he was responsible for everything that his son accomplished. Nick wraps it up at this point, keeping things fairly short. I don’t know if he would be interested in the job, but this is a man who would be PERFECT for a spot doing public relations work for WWE. He’s highly likeable and would definitely come off well in media appearances.

The “HBK” chants continue, and we get a shot of Cena selling them before Todd sends us in to the Wild Samoans video package.

The highlight reel acknowledges the Samoans’ training with Peter Maivia and their early work in Stampede Wrestling and Japan before being introduced to the WWF by Lou Albano. Samu, Rikishi, Tommy Dreamer, Jim Ross, and even Vince McMahon himself get some face time to put the big men over. Apparently the team netted twenty-one tag team championships over the numerous territories that they appeared in. The MASSIVE Samoan family is also mentioned, as is Afa’s training school, which still runs today. (They don’t mention it here, but that’s where both Batista and Gene Snitsky first cut their teeth on the wrestling industry.) And, before we wrap things up, the Rock also gets ten seconds to talk about his uncles.

Inducting the Samoans are their sons, “Sam and Matt Anoai.” It is not acknowledged that these two men used to be WWE competitors as Samu and Rosey, respectively. They put over the family’s humble beginnings in Samoa, and an almost unrecognizable Umaga is shown in the crowd. The induction speech starts to drag after a little bit, and, unfortunately, some schmucks in the crowd decide that they have the right to disrespect the proceedings by yelling at the top of their lungs. Seriously, people, grow up.

Ultimately, Afa and Sika are brought out to the podium, with both looking rather good for their age, Sika especially. He begins the acceptance speech in a Samoan language, and I want to strangle the two guys in the audience who thought this was an appropriate time for a “WHAT?” chant. Afa translates the early part of Sika’s speech. He notes that his brother was thanking God, and God gets a pretty decent pop from the Detroit crowd. He also tells the story of how the Samoans got in to the wrestling business, which happened after a Pat Patterson vs. Peter Maivia match in the Cow Palace. The match was so heated that it lead to a riot with all of the Samoans in the crowd attempting to defend their hero. After that, to prevent any future violence, Maivia decided that it might be a good idea to just bring Afa and Sika in to the business. That story is 100% true and actually one of Dave Meltzer’s favorites to tell. Afa thanks the fans and tells the young wrestlers in the crowd that they should never forget the ones that came before them and the sacrifices they had to make for the business. Afa’s youngest son, who is currently under a WWE developmental contract, is shown in the crowd, as is Afa’s sister, who he takes time to point out is Umaga’s mother. That was a surprisingly good speech from a couple of guys who were never permitted to cut a promo during their WWF careers.

A trailer for The Condemned is played.

Todd introduces Sabu and Rob Van Dam, as we’re apparently going straight to the induction of the Original Sheik with no highlight reel. RVD talks about going to a wrestling training school right out of high school (during which the word “college” gets booed . . . way to reinforce all of the stereotypes there, fans). Naturally, he wound up with the Sheik in Williamston, MI, a small town roughly fifteen minutes up the road from my current home. That’s where RVD met Sabu, and they’d eat dinner with Sheik and his wife Joyce while learning about the business. He tells a story about how the Sheik would chastise him for not being able to execute basic wrestling moves, because RVD just wanted to do a bunch of high flying. Well, that explains his entire in-ring style. Rob also talks about the values that the Sheik “installed” in him. Whoops. After all of that, a switch finally flips, and Van Dam gets pretty serious in talking about how the Sheik taught him the importance of being “one of a kind.”

Okay, now we’ve got the Sheik video package. They’ve got some great old school footage and still photographs courtesy of “Big Time Wrestling,” which is still owned by some of the Sheik’s relatives here in mid-Michigan. The package puts over the crazed wrestler’s use of fire, and his role as the promoter of the old Detroit territory.

Afterwards, Sabu introduces his aunt, the Sheik’s widow, Joyce Farhat. She gets a polite reception and is nearly in tears as she notes that she used to be the Sheik’s valet in the 1960’s, including during a few shots for Vince McMahon Sr.’s WWWF. I never knew that one. She notes how hated her husband was during his wrestling career but how he never let that get to him because of his love for the industry. She also puts her husband over as a family man and a friend. She notes that, for all of the beatings that her husband is remembered for dishing out, he would never give out anything that he wouldn’t take. She wraps things up, and that was one of the better speeches by a non-wrestler that we’ve seen on these ceremonies.

After an “All Grown Up” package for Wrestlemania, the cameras start cutting between Shawn Michaels and John Cena. The audience boos Cena mercilessly and gives their full support to Michaels. If the smaller crowd present for the HOF ceremony is any indication of how the larger Wrestlemania audience is going to react, tomorrow night’s main event is going to be pretty long for Mr. Cena.

Now the Mr. Fuji video package is up. They start with footage of his time as a WWWF Tag Team Champion, though they quickly segue in to his time as a manager during the 1980’s and early 1990’s. Bobby Heenan compares him to Oddjob from the James Bond films, and there’s a clip of the recently-deceased Ernie Ladd doing commentary during a Fuji match. They also talk about Fuji’s work on Tuesday Night Titans, including the epic FUJI VICE! We’ll never see anything like that again in the overly-scripted WWE world of today.

Don Muraco, a Hall of Famer himself, is out for the induction of Fuji. He says he’s here to talk about the “real Mr. Fuji,” the one who was a notorious ribber. He tells the story about Fuji shoving a bunch of firecrackers in to the engine of SD Jones’ car and one about Fuji getting Outback Jack to walk naked around a hotel. (An Outback Jack reference? This show is officially awesome.) Fuji also cut off a lot of beards and eyebrows in his time, though his exploits as a barber were “not limited to facial hair.” Yikes. That line brings out the man himself for an acceptance speech.

Fuji, who I’ve never seen clean shaven before, is greeted by the biggest pop yet for an inductee. He tells a hilarious story about messing with the car of Professor Toru Tanaka . . . and Tanaka was his tag team partner, so imagine what he was doing to everybody else. He thanks the fans, blows some kisses, and he’s done after giving us one more of those memorable Fuji laughs.

The webcast ends pretty abruptly at this point, with the company not even mentioning that fans can watch the rest of the ceremony on the USA Network beginning at midnight. You’d think that they’d at least take a couple of seconds to plug that one.

After a four hour break, we’re back, and we’re on USA. The show opens with a second video package running down prior inductees and then listing the names that are about to be inducted.

Todd Grisham is still hosting, and he immediately introduces Steve Austin. In turn, he begins to introduce Jim Ross, and they show a shot of his wife in the crowd as Austin says he’s one of the greatest announcers in any sport, not just wrestling. That sets up the JR highlight reel, which follows Ross’ career all the way back to its beginning in 1974. They gloss through WCW and head straight to his WWF debut in 1997, highlighted by some current stars running down Ross’ catchphrases.

And, of course, Ross is out quickly thereafter to grab his plaque. He notes that some of his family is in from Oklahoma and then launches right in to the acceptance speech. A “Thank You JR” chant erupts, and it’s pretty clear that they had to edit it down for TV time constraints. Ross mentions some of his favorite moments in his life, including meeting his wife and his debut with the WWF. He concludes by saying that he is the first “fan” being inducted in to the WWE Hall of Fame and that his “soul is smiling an eternal smile.” I’m starting to wish that I’d gone to this show live, because that sounded like it was a hell of a speech . . . the only problem is that the TV version was clearly edited all to hell. Well, I guess that’s one more reason to buy the DVD.

After our break, Grisham is doing his William Shatner impression before bringing out the real deal. Lance Russell, we hardly knew ye. Shatner comments on how big all of the wrestlers are and then explains his connection to Jerry Lawler, mentioning the monkey flip that he gave to the King back in 1995 before tossing to the video package. I’m glad that this one focuses on his wrestling career more than it does his announcing career, because that’s really what Lawler should be inducted for. They even include some clips of the Empty Arena match with Terry Funk, which I never thought I would see on WWE television. Naturally, the Kaufman feud is run down, as is the similar angle Lawler tried to work with Jim Carrey upon the release of Man on the Moon. And, thankfully, they bring up Lawler’s feud with the Hart family in the WWF, an angle that is seriously neglected in discussions of the greatest WWF feuds of all time.

Lawler immediately thanks Bret Hart for doing such a great job of putting him over when he arrived in the WWF and then segues in to the announcing career. He heaps large amounts of praise upon Jim Ross and then actually starts hyping Wrestlemania and the Battle of the Billionaires. “After tomorrow night, if one of those billionaires wants to run his finger through his hair, he’s going to have to cut a hole in his pants pocket!” And he leaves on that line . . . classy, Jerry, classy.

Now we’ve got Wade Boggs out after the token introduction by Grisham. I’m sorry, but there are thousands of better people who could be doing this. Under the circumstances, Boggs does a pretty good job and actually appears to be a little bit emotional as he throws to the video. The package starts with Hennig’s time as an amateur athlete in Minnesota and highlights his AWA Title win before moving on to his WWF career. Naturally, there’s a montage of the Mr. Perfect vignettes, including Boggs’ cameo. They note that he was the longest reigning IC Champion of the 1990’s, a statistic that I don’t believe I’ve heard brought up before. They also mention his reputation as a practical joker, though his several years in WCW during the boom period are completely ignored.

Hennig’s entire family is out to accept on his behalf – his widow, his four children, his mother, and, most notably, father Larry “The Axe” Hennig. A “Mr. Perfect” chant breaks out as Ms. Hennig takes the mic. She keeps things short and sweet, even getting the crowd to sing along with her husband’s catchphrase towards the end. It was a nice moment, but I’m a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to hear Larry Hennig say anything. He’s quite good on the mic from what I recall.

Dustin and Cody Runnels are out to induct their father. Of course, the former is Goldust and the latter is currently training in OVW. Cody takes things on a bit of an odd turn, claiming that the Attitude era would not have gone nearly as far as it did if it was not “ushered in by Goldust.” Of everything that wound up on the cutting room floor, that stayed on the show? Cody changes over to the actual topic at hand, promoting his father’s career. He calls Big Dust the greatest mic worker in wrestling history, noting that he “talked fans in to buildings” and made everybody believe that Ric Flair was dastardly when in reality he’s one of the nicest guys in the world. Aside from the odd bit about Goldust in the beginning, that was a HELL of a little promo by Cody. I wouldn’t be surprised if his father made sure that he was prepared for this opportunity, because it’s clearly a situation in which WWE management’s eyes are on him and he could get in to their good graces. Of course, it all sets up the Dusty video. It focuses more on Dusty as a personality than it does on any of the specific events of his career, which is probably the better way to do things if you’ve got a limited amount of time.

And the son of a plumber is out to his WWF theme music. He immediately gets funky like a monkey on stage before heading over to hug his boys. There’s a great shot where they all embrace and the only thing you can see of Dusty is his scarred up forehead peaking up over his sons’ shoulders. The Dream talks about how proud he is of his two sons and the “hard times” that he had to spend on the road, harkening back to one of his most famous promos. He even works in a local reference to the exodus of manufacturing jobs from Detroit. Ever the smart politician, he stops in the middle of the speech to tell everybody how great Triple H is. (Again, of everything that wound up on the cutting room floor . . .) After a quick edit, Rhodes references his feud with Kevin Sullivan and the golden spike as well as Harley Race, who is IN THE CROWD~! Of course, that turns to Ric Flair, who Dusty takes the time to shake hands with. Then, in perhaps the best moment of the whole evening, Rhodes pulls out a handkerchief to wipe up some tears . . . and it’s the POLKA DOTS~! Ricky Steamboat also receives some kind words, which is permissible now that he’s got his name back from his ex-wife. Dusty goes on to talk about how his passion for the business keeps him there despite the fact that he doesn’t quite understand the computers that these kids use today. He concludes by noting that tonight, he truly has wined and dined with kings and queens.

Todd takes a couple of seconds to wrap up the show, and we’re done.

As far as entertainment value is concerned, this Hall of Fame induction ceremony was down a few notches from those that have been televised in previous years. Though there were definitely highlights, including Afa’s surprisingly good speech and every member of the Rhodes family tearing it up on the mic, there weren’t any epic moments like the acceptance speeches by Bobby Heenan, the Iron Sheik, or Hulk Hogan in past years. However, I do have the feeling that, if tonight’s speeches were shown uncut, a few of them would rival those speeches from years past. But, no matter how much things got edited, this isn’t really a show about entertaining the fans. This is a show about honoring the men and women that have sacrificed so much for this industry over the years. In that regard, the show was a definite success, as it highlighted eight acts in professional wrestling that are worthy of being remembered not just for one night, but for eternity. Hopefully their positioning in the Hall of Fame will make that a reality.

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