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wrestling / TV Reports

411’s WWE Hall of Fame Report 4.01.06

April 2, 2006 | Posted by Ryan Byers

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to your recap of the WWE Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. I’m Ryan Byers, and I’ll be bringing you all of the action from Chicago. The ceremony is being shown in two parts this evening. The first two hours were streamed on WWE.com, and the final hour is, of course, being broadcast on the USA Network.

First, though, I’m going to editorialize for a bit. If you don’t want to read my feelings on this year’s induction ceremony, just scroll down a couple of paragraphs and you’ll get to the actual show. I won’t hold it against you.

I’ve read a lot on the internet over the past few months about how ridiculous and illegitimate the WWE Hall of Fame is. People have complained ad nauseam about the inclusion of celebrities like Pete Rose and William Perry or about less popular wrestlers like Baron Mikel Scicluna and Tony Atlas. There have even been some people complaining about WWE’s policy of inducting guys who didn’t have the majority of their success with the McMahon family . . . men like Verne Gange and Harley Race. I come here this evening with a simple message for all of those complainers:

Screw you all.

Yes, I understand that with Vince McMahon and Vince McMahon alone greenlighting inductees, this will never be as legitimate as a hall that relies on a democratic voting process. I understand that a lot of this year’s inductions were made for the sole purpose of helping to market the upcoming AWA DVD and Wrestlemania weekend as a whole. I know that the celebrities are there, and I don’t necessarily like that. However, when you start to look at what the WWE Hall of Fame actually means to a lot of the wrestlers who are being inducted in to it, I can’t see how anybody who calls him or herself a true fan of this sport can complain about it.

Whether they were a true crossover superstar like Hulk Hogan or a near persona non-grata, all of the wrestlers inducted to the Hall of Fame have given us many years of hard work and dedication. They’ve broken down their bodies, worked for next to no pay, sacrificed normal relationships with their families, and some of them have even developed crippling drug addictions. What was this all done for? Our entertainment. If you think I’m going to look at opportunity to honor these men and women and make fun of it because that individual hasn’t drawn enough money or worked enough five star matches, you’re crazy. They’ve all sacrificed, and they all deserved to be honored.

With that said, let’s start the show.

We’re on WWE.com with MC Jerry “The King” Lawler, who will be a Hall of Famer himself at some point or another. The first crowd shot I catch features some insane, insane cleavage from the Linda McMahon. Ew. Jerry introduces the first inductees . . . and it’s the Blackjacks!

Naturally, a video package on Mulligan and Lanza airs. I don’t believe that it’s exactly the same as the one used building up the Hall of Fame ceremony on Raw and Smackdown, but it’s basically the same thing. They gloss over the singles careers of the two men, and then move in to their tag team runs in the AWA and the WWWF (which is called the WWE here). They show footage of the team winning their one and only WWWF Tag Team Championship, something I’ve never actually seen before. They also put over the fact that Windham sired Barry and Kendall Windham, going as far as mentioning the NEW BLACKJACKS~! Lanza’s lengthy stint as a WWE agent is also brought up.

Here comes Bobby Heenan to induct the team that he once managed. They give him the old Bobby Heenan Show theme for his entrance, and he looks a lot healthier than during his last two appearances on Hall of Fame specials. Heenan announces that there is a red envelope containing two backstage passes for Wrestlemania under some fan’s chair . . . but, of course, it’s APRIL FOOL’S DAY! That inspires a “weasel” chant. The Brain rattles off some of the great tag teams that he has managed, but tells us that the Blackjacks were “different,” because they were so damned ugly. Heenan talks about emulating the Blackjack look at one show, but he wound up with a red mustache and long, blond hair. The end result? Heenan says he looked like a cast member from Brokeback Mountain. You knew that one had to be coming at some point. One of the Blackjacks isn’t even a good kisser, says Bobby. He then talks about touring with the Blackjacks and how Mulligan was supposed to protect him. Unfortunately, he still got hit with so many chairs that his head “smells like ass.” The Brian briefly puts Chicago over as a big wrestling city, and then he introduces the team itself. Though there were a few good-hearted jokes here and there, we didn’t have any signs of a “receipt” for the disrespectful, untelevised speech that Lanza did for Heenan in 2004.

The Jacks are out, and we cut to Tony Garea watching them in a cute moment. Lanza speaks first. He talks about how hard it is to maintain a marriage in the wrestling business. That somehow segues in to a weird story about how it takes a while for centipedes to put on their shoes. (?) Back to wrestling now, as he calls Bobby Heenan the team’s “secret weapon.” Heenan was also the top manager in the history of the business, according to Lanza. However, with his blond hair, Lanza says that everybody thought the Brain was “stupid or gay” in the old days. “Not that there’s anything wrong with being stupid,” Lanza adds. Then he tacks on “or gay” just to not make people too angry. The next Heenan story sees Bobby trying to breed his dog with a female poodle, only to have the dog defecate instead. That was up there with the centipede story in the nonsensical department.

Windham is up now, and he talks about being on television every morning “before there were 150 channels.” A lot of teams probably had fun, says Windham, but nobody was tougher than the Blackjacks. He loves Joe Blanchard, he loves Verne Gange, and he’s happy to be here. He can still hear the Bruiser and the Crusher in his head, and he can still see Moose Cholak swinging a chain at him. He’s put asses in seats for a long time, and there’s been nothing like the Blackjacks before their reign or since then. He does mention that their actual time in the WWWF was short, but it’s supposedly because they were getting so many other big money offers. He quotes Don McLean’s “American Pie” to wrap things up . . . and we’re done. In case you’re wondering, Windham out-promoed Lanza by a long-shot.

I think I should also mention that, towards the end of the speech, the cameras cut to Goldust in the crowd. He was wearing his full face paint with a suit. Dear god.
Lawler’s back, and he sets up a Verne Gange video package. It puts over his accomplishments in the NCAA and on the United States Olympic Team, as well as mentioning the many famous names that Verne took on during his thirty year professional career. They also note that he was the promoter of the AWA and trainer of men like Sgt. Slaughter, Ric Flair, and Bob Backlund. That’s where it ends . . . a bit short for my taste given the length of his career, but I guess we’re dealing with time restraints.

Greg Gange is out to induct his father, and it looks like he’s stayed in pretty good shape over the years. A fan immediately yells out “RAMBO” in a hilarious moment. Greg acknowledges that it’s odd to see Verne in a WWE-promoted Hall of Fame and says that nobody in his family has joined the “Vince McMahon club” to get there. In an unintentionally funny moment, Greg thanks the “McMahon family” as the camera focuses in on Linda, Stephanie . . . and Triple H. He also ribs the Blackjacks, saying that their acceptance speech earlier was the longest match that they ever had. Greg talks about the passion that people need to have in order to be professional wrestlers and notes that his older son Peter is attempting to become “an athlete.” If he’s going in to wrestling, hopefully he’s more like his grandfather and less like his father. His daughter played basketball when everybody told her she wasn’t going to be able to, and his younger son was both an athletic and an academic All American at Notre Dame. After prattling on about his kids, Greg mentions many of the names that Verne trained, concluding by saying that Ric Flair never beat him. It’s a good thing that we’re dealing with Flair and not Hulk Hogan, because otherwise we’d have a Greg Gange match on Wrestlemania next year so the Hulkster could get his win back. Greg goes in to Verne’s wrestling career now, noting that he was a very popular star in the early days of television and became the first AWA Champion after a dispute with other promoters. Verne’s expansion of the AWA gave a lot of big stars their first major exposure according to Greg, including Dusty Rhodes, Dick Murdoch, the Crusher, the Bruiser, and, of course, Hulk Hogan.

And here’s Verne. He also looks good for his age. He addresses Vince McMahon first, saying that he “never liked the guy either” when a few fans booed Vince’s name. He then recaps his career in much the same way that both the video package and Greg already did. He couldn’t have made a better career choice than being a professional wrestler, he says. Fans start up a “one more match” chant, and Verne wraps it up by saying that he loves what Vince McMahon has done for pro wrestling despite what he said about him earlier. I know that there were a few people concerned about whether Mr. Gange would be still be lucid enough to give an acceptance speech tonight, but he did just fine.

Now it’s time for William “The Refrigerator” Perry, who is going in to the celebrity wing of the Hall of Fame. The video package discusses his particpation in Wrestlemania II’s NFL vs. WWF battle royale, in which he managed to eliminate Big John Studd. They don’t mention much else . . . but, really, what else is there to mention?

John Cena comes out to induct the Fridge, and there are MASSIVE boos for his entrance. You could not hear a pro-Cena contingent AT ALL as he was entering, though they did pick up a bit afterwards. Now Triple H is standing up in the middle of Cena’s speech. It gets a massive pop, and a “Triple H” chant. Hunter is still the smartest man of wrestling, because now he can just use this to justify the fact that Cena isn’t capable of being a top guy. The champ asks how he can overcome the ill will towards him, so he does an induction speech while impersonating the NFL Films announcer . . . you know the one. Hell, I’m not even a football fan and I know the one. It’s pretty amusing and gets some good chuckles from the wrestlers in attendance. It does go on a bit long, though, and it only gets more boos once it’s done.

Here comes Perry, and the crowd is amazingly silent for the “hometown hero.” Maybe all of their ill will towards Cena sucked the pop right out of them. The Fridge is huge these days, probably giving Mark Henry a run for his money in the weight department. He drops a lot of the names that he was in the ring with at Wrestlemania II, including the Killer Bees of all people. Fortunately, Perry never thought that he needed to humble B. Brian Blair in the old country way. The Fridge says that this as a big honor and that there’s plenty more to come. He was seemingly keeping things short because he knew the night wasn’t about him, which I have no problem with.

Now we’re up to Sensational Sherri. Her video package opens up with some great footage of her wrestling in the AWA, then transitioning in to her WWF career, where she pinned the Fabulous Moolah for their title. She puts on exclamation point on it by saying, “After thirty years, you should go crochet, woman!” She managed people as well, and a lot of the 1980’s WWF stars she worked with put over how tough that she was. The mirror shot she took from Marty Jannetty is shown to really hammer home that point. Oddly, they completely excluded any mention of her WCW run with men like Harlem Heat.

Ted DiBiase is here for the induction, complete with the awesome Million Dollar Man theme and a Titantron video that looks pretty good from the limited bits we got to see. He throws money to the crowd, though it obviously can only get as far as the wrestlers in the first couple of rows. He notes that JBL will never be able to follow him and quickly moves to Sherri after acknowledging an unexpected “DiBiase” chant. She was a tough, tough woman according to the Million Dollar Man. She grew up in a poor family and never knew her father, having to fight for everything that she got in life. Sherri saw her first wrestling match in a barn that mainly hosted cattle auctions, after which she moved to Memphis because she knew Jerry Lawler’s headquarters were there. She met up with a local professional wrestler who tried to deter her from getting in to the industry by placing him in all sorts of holds. Eventually she found Butch Moore, another wrestler who would train just about anybody. Butch took her money and slapped her as hard as he could, which also wouldn’t keep Sherri from entering the industry. This was the beginning of her career, and she would go on to be the first woman to hold both the AWA and WWF Women’s Championships. Her managerial career was just as successful, and DiBiase says that her philosophy in that area was to let the wrestlers be the stars. She was very unselfish, and here she is.

Sherri’s out in an uncharacteristically tasteful dress, and we get plenty of shots of the current WWE women applauding her. She says that she got to work with some of the nicest people in the world through wrestling. She was, however, jealous of one person – Pat Patterson. Why? Because he could keep a man longer than Sherri ever could. She mentions Randy Savage, saying that he was a “psycho.” She also puts over her husband who she “beats every day” because she doesn’t have professional wrestlers to smack around anymore. She then tries to get back in to the story of her career but has to stop to tell disrespectful fan to shut up because she “worked twenty-six years for this.” Sherri rules. She mentions many more of the people that she worked with, including Tom Prichard, Buddy Rose, Kevin “Nailz” Kelly (huh?), Ted DiBiase, and Ric Flair. Apparently when she and Flair were in Huntsville for WCW, they went to a bar after the show, where she lost $100 of the Nature Boy’s money in a pool game. The story really doesn’t go anywhere, as she moves back in to talking about her failed marriages. “The promoters gave me longer partners than I could pick out for myself,” has to be one of the best quotes of the night. She also mentions her WCW run, indicating that Eric Bischoff is, in fact, in the audience. Sherri thanks him for the job, which is amazing given what most people would say about the guy if given the opportunity. Apparently she had to go in to rehab after managing Ric Flair for a few months, and she got to manage Harlem Heat afterwards. Sherri mentions that the initial idea was for her to manage Ron Simmons to play off of the media attention surrounding OJ Simpson’s trial for murdering his wife. However, due to the controversy the angle could generate, the bookers decided to put her “with two huge brothers instead of one.” She really seemed to love Harlem Heat, just like she loves the whole wrestling industry. After thanking her mother and her sister, that same obnoxious fan gets on Sherri’s case again, prompting the crowd to do a “kick him out” chant. She also thanks the aforementioned Butch Moore and the Fabulous Moolah, who, of course, is in the audience. That caps things off. Sherri was very graicious and entertaining. I’d really like to hear a good shoot interview with her after this one.

Now Lawler sets up the video package for Tony Atlas, and of course he has to do it by comparing Tony’s great physique to the great physique of Vince McMahon. Atlas’ video package is the exact same one that he had on Raw earlier this week. As lousy as this guy may have been in the ring, that clip of him press slamming Hulk Hogan is still quite impressive.

Special Delivery Jones gets the honor of inducting Atlas, and Lawler introduces him as Tony’s “special” tag team partner. The crowd is just dead silent for SD’s entrance, though he thanks them profusely anyway. He and Tony met in 1980 and became close friends, after which they asked the promoters to become a tag team. They were supposedly one of the best, or so says Jones. They attempted to get the championships away from Masa Saito and Mr. Fuji, but they could never get the job done . . . and SD is willing to admit that it was all his fault. He was eventually replaced by Rocky Johnson, after which the first African American WWF Tag Team Championship combo was born. Their reign was short, after which Jones and Atlas teamed up once more, traveling the world over. One time in Spain, they took a six hour flight to Barcelona to meet up with the country’s Olympic power lifters. Once there, Tony did a 660 pound bench press, scaring away all of the lifters. They did the same thing in Vienna, Cairo, and Oslo. SD also puts over some of the various championships that Atlas has won, both in wrestling and bodybuilding. That leads in to the man himself making an appearance.

Tony managed to find himself a swank, swank tuxedo for the evening, and he kicks off his speech by thanking the fans, as wrestling would not exist without them. He mentions all of the various territories he worked in and the great men he encountered therein, with Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Ken Patera, and Billy Graham all getting special mention. Atlas acknowledges that this might be his last time to address the wrestling industry, so he’s going to put over everything his mother did for him. She worked two jobs to support nine kids and had to keep them in a shack with dirt floors. Tony feels that he was blessed, though, because he was born in “the greatest country in history, the United States of America.” He’s proud to be an American, because, no matter what background you come from, you can truly make it in this country. Atlas also acknowledges a woman in the audience named Monica, who took him in when he became homeless in the 1980’s as a result of not saving his money. She gave him the money so that he could become a certified personal trainer, which was supplemented by Mr. Vince McMahon. Before departing, Mr. USA thanks the fans one more time and puts over his country big time. This was a great speech by Atlas, and I’m happy that he got this opportunity to be seen by wrestling fans one last time. His last major appearance was on MTV’s True Life: I’m a Professional Wrestler, which just made him look like a huge schmuck and a failure. This man, however, was proud, intelligent, gracious, and well spoken. I think that’s how we all want to remember Tony Atlas, and that’s the opportunity we got this evening.

At this point, the WWE.com portion of the ceremony concludes about twenty minutes before the USA start time. Good . . . I needed a chance to get a sandwich.

We’re back, and we’re on the USA Network. There’s a video package up top, giving us highlights of previous Hall of Fame inductees and then moving in to the three men being inducted on this special.

Hulk Hogan is out immediately for his induction of “Mean” Gene Okerlund. I guess we’re skipping the video package. He’s sporting his formal black doo-rag, and he gets the best response of the evening thusfar, as you might imagine. He hits the “let me tell ya something Mean Gene” line really quickly and calls Okerlund the foundation of the WWF, supposedly working harder than the wrestlers themselves. He also mentions the tag team match that the two men had together, saying that Gene-o was more popular than a lot of the wrestlers on the card. This would not be the case when he faced Mark Madden on WCW Thunder many years later.

Okay, HERE’S the video package. It also says that Okerlund was as popular as the wrestlers and shows footage of the Hogan/Okerluand vs. Steele/Fuji tag team match. There’s also a bit of a blooper reel showing Okerlund either making mistakes or standing around in his more wacky wrestling moments, most of them involving animals or cake. There’s even a clip of Okerlund telling people in production to “go [deleted] themselves” because they were running low on time.

And out comes Meeeeeeean WHOOOO BY GAWD Gene. He comes out to his cover of “Tutti Frutti” from The Wrestling Album, but we have to take a commercial break before he can give his acceptance speech. When we come back, Gene notes that it was actually Jesse Ventura who gave him the “Mean Gene” nickname. He’s had many unique experiences through the years, most of which took place with Bobby Heenan by his side. The Brain gets up from his seat, kisses Okerlund on the top of his bald head, and sits back down. PRICELESS. Verne Gange apparently got Gene started in the business, and he’s glad that Verne is being recognized here tonight. He also mentions Jake Roberts and an interview that the two of them were doing for Cleveland, Ohio. The Snake put the entire city down, after which Gene mentioned that his mother-in-law was from Cleveland. Snake’s response? “And I didn’t like her mustache, either.” Gene says that he’s been calling wrestling for thirty-five years and married for forty-two years, and he’s proud to be a part of the professional wrestling industry though it all. He says he’ll continue for another thirty-five years if at all possible. He also says folks should sign up for organ donor programs because of what they did for Billy Graham. That was certainly random. Gene closes by saying that, when he dies, he should be buried face down so that all of his critics can kiss his ass. This really just came off as an excuse to get Hulk Hogan on the show.

We’re back from commercial, and Lillian Garcia acknowledges the individuals who were inducted off of TV. She mispronounces Verne Gange’s name. Whatever they pay her, it’s too much.

Here’s the Eddy Guerrero video. They start off with childhood footage of Eddy and interviews with his family, all of which I believe were originally shot for the Eddy DVD. He got in to wrestling and married his wife Vicki around the same time. Though they show brief clips and still photos of Guerrero’s time in AAA, NJPW, ECW, and WCW, the main focus is still on WWE, particularly his “lying, cheating, and stealing” period and his WWE Championship win. The video gets a standing ovation from the crowd and a bevy of Eddy chants.

Chris Benoit, Chavo Guerero, Jr., and Rey Misterio are all out now. We do another commercial break, which I understand may be necessary from a TV standpoint, but it really took me out of the moment that they were trying to build here.

Chavo starts off the induction speech, recalling that Eddy was in front of him two years ago at the Hall of Fame ceremony and that Eddy having a good time there just made him happy. He never expected that he’d be up here because of Eddy’s death. We’re getting several shots of the Guerrero family in the crowd as this is going on, and many of the wrestlers. The family is obviously in tears, as are William Regal, Roadwarrior Animal, and the Big Show. Chavito talks about Eddy’s passion for the business and mentions one important lesson that his uncle taught him. One time, due to frustration, Chavo broke down in to tears and became even more angry because he felt that a man should not do that. Eddy, however, taught him that it was okay for a man to cry and show emotion. A “Thank you, Eddy” chant erupts, and Chavo tells us all that Eddy’s memory still lives in all of our hearts before handing the floor to Chris Benoit.

Benoit says that Eddy meant so much to so many people in so many different ways. He mentions their relationship, as well as the one that they had with Dean Malenko, who is in the crowd this evening. The Crippler notes that, every time Eddy got in to a ring, he was “the man,” which he proved by winning the WWE Championship from Brock Lesnar. Benoit misses Eddy, he loves Eddy, and he is proud of Eddy.

Now it’s Rey Misterio’s turn, and he tells us that Eddy was a surefire Hall of Fame inductee . . . it’s just nobody knew that it would be this soon. He lived up to the expectations that follow a second generation wrestler. The only thing that Rey is sad Eddy never got the opportunity to do was star in a movie, which is a shame because Rey thought that he could have been “the next Cheech Marin . . . without the smoke.” He also says that Eddy is alive in all of our hearts and that he was a great man and a great friend. He taught Rey about wrestling, and he taught Rey how to be a man.

Vicki Guerrero arrives on stage to accept Eddy’s plaque. The couple’s two daughters are with her, and Vicki is understandably crying as soon as she hits the stage. She thanks Jesus and the fans, saying that Eddy lived through the energy of the crowds that he performed in front of. She thanks the fans one more time and takes her leave.

Wow. What can I say. There are a lot of situations in professional wrestling tries to simulate legitimate emotion. However, there’s also a lot of real emotion in wrestling, and that’s what we had here tonight. Everything was tastefully done, and I’m glad we were given this moment.

After another commercial break, Jerry Lawler introduces the highlight reel for his old rival, Bret Hart. We go all the way back to his childhood in Calgary and his relationship with father Stu Hart, who obviously gave him his start in the business and his first major push. The Hart Foundation is next, and they captured numerous WWF Tag Team Championships. After that, the Hitman broke out in to the singles ranks, and the package does a great job of capturing the connection that Hart was able to make with his fans, both young and old. They show Bret winning his first WWF Championship from Ric Flair, and Vince McMahon notes that the Hitman is truly “in a class by himself.”

And here’s Steve Austin. He tries to speak, but he’s assailed by “Hogan-Austin” chants. He notes that he’s got a can of whoop-ass with the Hulkster’s name on it, though fortunately he doesn’t dwell on that point too much. He says that he wrestled Bret Hart a million times and that he was a great man. He lives his excellence of execution motto, and he is the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.

Here comes the Hitman to chants of “Thank you, Bret.” Hart says that he’s more surprised than anybody else about the fact that he is there. He says that, no matter what happened between him and Vince McMahon, he would always have come back to do the Hall of Fame. He’ll never forget what WWE took away from him, but he’ll also never forget everything that they gave him. He thanks the McMahon family for the opportunity. Bret talks about his family, as everybody loved wrestling. At this point, he decides to tell a few stories about Owen, who gets a big chant of his own. Bret remembers getting calls while he was on the road about room service giving him free pizza. He’d be forced to pick his toppings, which were later revealed to not be free. “That was Owen.” Bret says that he wrestled for twenty-three years, and it’s not easy to be the best for all of that time. He says that he never injured anybody despite having a physical style. He wants to thank every wrestler that he ever worked with, as well as his current wife and all the fans that prayed for him after his stroke. He also specifically thanks his English fans, because the Wembley Stadium match against the British Bulldog was his career favorite. He tells any prospective wrestlers to fear nothing and that your success will be based on what is inside of you at the beginning. Bret thanks everybody one more time, and we get a shot of the younger members of the Hart family in attendance.

Lillian Garcia asks for one more round of applause for the inductees, some confetti drops, and we fade out rather quickly.

That’s it for the show, and that’s it for my report. This was an excellent program, as everything was done with touches of respect and class that many people don’t associate with the professional wrestling industry. Quite frankly, though, I don’t think anything could have been done better than it actually was. We got to relive memories with veterans. We got to honor a man who built a major promotion that got many older fans in to wrestling. We got to honor a woman and an African American who made great strides in breaking in to a business dominated by white males. We got to say goodbye to Eddy Guerrero. We finally got to say thank you to Bret Hart. It was a great evening, and, far more than any WWE card has done over the past several years, it reminded me of why I am a wrestling fan.

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