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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: Ranking the WWE Hall of Fame Induction Classes
By The Doc
Mar 1, 2014 - 10:12:27 PM

QUESTION OF THE DAY: What has been your favorite WWE Hall of Fame induction class or ceremony?

Recently, a reader suggested to me on Twitter that I do a ranking of the WWE Hall of Fame classes. I thought it was a great idea. For me and many of you, the Hall of Fame has become an integral piece of our WrestleMania weekends. We can debate its legitimacy, I suppose, but I am unsure of the point. Each and every Hall of Fame across the sport and entertainment genres has inherent flaws in their induction process. It is subjective – one could say objectively subjective – and with that subjectivity comes controversy. To me, that matters not. I prefer to view the Hall of Fame like many of the WWE stars do – as a night of celebration. Fortunately, that celebratory evening returns to live telecasting, of sorts, this year. I know that I will be watching. Before April 5th sees Ultimate Warrior, Jake Roberts, Lita, and others added to the hallowed Hall, let us take a few minutes to celebrate the past inductees.

(Doc’s Note – These rankings were made by a variation of the eyeball test, which encompassed the name value and accomplishments of the inductees, the quality of the HOF speeches, and the like)

#14 – The Class of 1993 (including only Andre the Giant) - Trust me, I seriously thought about putting the “Andre Class” ahead of some of the others. The accomplishments of just the one man arguably outshined that of numerous peers combined. It was in tribute to Andre that I even brought up that point, frankly. Most of us missed the bulk of Andre’s contributions to the wrestling industry. By the time WWE was mainstream and the first boom period was underway, he was already a shell of what he had been. I hope that the younger fans reading this will take the time to appreciate who he was and not just pass him off as a lumbering, broken down giant. He meant the world to the McMahons. Go back and review the positions in which he was placed on the early Mania cards and you can see how much respect that they have for Andre. Even today, his face is the second that we see on the opening video montage before every WWE show. WrestleMania III….93,173 people….10.2 buyrate. Enough said.

#13 – The Class of 2010 (featuring Ted Dibiase, Antonio Inoki, Wendi Richter, Gorgeous George, Mad Dog Vachon, Stu Hart, and Bob Uecker) - Rumor has it that 2010 was originally supposed to be the year that Ultimate Warrior was inducted, but he backed out before they could get him signed on the dotted line. Thus, Dibiase took over as the main attraction. The Million Dollar Man had a priceless induction in the last year that the USA Network did all fans a favor and aired the Hall of Fame special on Saturday night. (I loved that). I thought it was fitting that such an underrated talent, historically, got to “main-event” the ceremony. His and Bob Uecker’s celebrity induction were the only two speeches worth a second viewing. Uecker was both hilarious and humble. I appreciated that. Richter got her due for being a major part of one of the original Mania’s top matches and buried the hatchet with the WWE in the process. Gorgeous George was the type of induction that should be done every year. He represented an influential part of wrestling’s 100+ year history as we know it. He was one of the first TV-ready heels and a true precursor to the modified pro wrestling genre of sports entertainment. Mad Dog Vachon’s AWA legend would have probably been better served to join one of the recent years of stacked classes full of modern names. It should be an aim on the business side of the Hall of Fame not to induct too many names in the same year that do not attract an audience whose fandom goes beyond the 1980s, in my opinion. I’d echo those sentiments about Antonio Inoki, who was an unbelievably important piece of the international wrestling puzzle. Stu Hart, given the number of territorial legends previously inducted, was a fitting addition to the Hall, as well.

#12 – The Class of 1996 (featuring “Baron” Mikel Scicluna, Johnny Rodz, Jimmy Snuka, Captain Lou Albano, The Valiants, Vince McMahon, Sr., Pat Patterson, and Killer Kowalski) - The first three ceremonies were not held in association with WrestleMania. 1996 was held in New York City prior to the Survivor Series. The early classes were full of names made famous before the 1980s. Vince McMahon’s dad was the class main-event, so to state. He was most prominent for his promotion of the WWWF, particularly after it split from the NWA in the early 60s. Killer Kowalski, best known amongst modern fans for training Triple H (plus Damien Sandow and Kofi Kingston), was one of the cornerstone heels of the early WWWF days. Ditto for Scicluna, a former WWWF Tag Team Champion. Speaking of tag teams, “Lucious” Johnny Valiant and “Handsome” Jimmy Valiant were the first to be inducted into the WWE Hall. They were champions in the 1970s. Pat Patterson was another man of firsts – he was the first Intercontinental Champion. One of the most respected men in the business, Patterson was considered an outstanding road agent who helped put together the matches of some of the top talents of the 90s. He also invented the concept of the Royal Rumble. For those unfamiliar with Johnny Rodz, think of all the stars over the years that have been used to put over the top guys. That was Rodz. He should serve as an example of how a WWE talent can make a Hall of Fame career of just being a good hand and helping others for many years. Captain Lou was one of the pioneers of WrestleMania, in addition to being one of the greatest managers ever. Without his relationship with Cyndi Lauper, the Rock ‘n Wrestling Connection may not have happened. Of course, Jimmy Snuka was a major player in the first decade of the Mania Era. Unfortunately, I’ve not seen this ceremony to be able to factor induction speeches into the rankings.

(Tie) #11 – The Class of 2007 (featuring Dusty Rhodes, Mr. Perfect, Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler, The Wild Samoans, Mr. Fuji, The Original Sheik, and Nick Bockwinkel) - While lacking a huge name from the modern era, it did have a lot of relevant wrestlers. I really enjoyed The American Dream’s speech. He was so important to the NWA in its fight to survive the onslaught of the WWE in the 80s. His Hall of Fame-closing line has stuck with me over the years. “I have truly wined and dined with kings and queens.” Mr. Perfect’s speech would have been great had he been alive to give it. His and Sheik’s posthumous inductions were respectful and courteous. Fuji’s had the potential to be like Iron Sheik’s if it had taken place a few years earlier. He appeared to have one foot in the grave in 2007, yet he is still alive today. Back then, he was a reminder of how important managers had been to the 1980s and 1990s…and how much they were missed. The Wild Samoans, three-time Tag Team Champions, were part of a multi-year run of tag team inductions. I would like to go back and watch that year’s ceremony to see if a young Roman Reigns was shown in the crowd that night. Nick Bockwinkel was one of my favorites of the group. I gained a great appreciation for him after the ’07 Hall of Fame. I wrote in my book that he was one of the biggest casualties of my decision not to include predominantly AWA stars in my analysis of the WrestleMania Era. It was because of him that I could not separate the ’07 class from 1995’s. History has made it difficult to separate Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler. I thought that Lawler’s HOF induction had to (unfortunately) overcome his inductor, William Shatner, but my favorite speech of the night was the one given by King’s all-time great broadcast partner, Jim Ross.

(Tie) #11 – The Class of 1995 (featuring Antonino Rocca, Ernie Ladd, George “The Animal” Steel, Ivan Putski, The Fabulous Moolah, The Grand Wizard, and Pedro Morales) - Many of the WWE Hall of Fame classes have featured one star whose accomplishments truly stood out so much above the rest of his class that it almost became the Hall of Fame version of a one match WrestleMania card. I will not go so far as to state that any of the inductees from the 1995 group paled in comparison, but for my money Pedro Morales was to 1995 what Ric Flair was to 2008 and Ted Dibiase was to 2010 – far and away the #1 wrestler in his class. When it comes to the Hall of Fame – and I will go on record right now in stating that the WWE has done a tremendous job balancing the drive for commercial success with such a hot commodity during Mania weekend with legitimacy and a watchful eye on wrestling’s overall rich history – there is no such thing as a weak class; it’s the Hall of Fame for crying out loud. Yet, Morales was the kind of historically underrated talent that leaps off the page for 1995. He was a pioneer. In addition to becoming the first Latino World Champion, he also held the title for over 1,000 days and became the very first triple crown winner in WWE history after capturing the Intercontinental and Tag Team Championships. With all due respect to the excellent manager, The Grand Wizard; the well-renowned “Big Cat” Ernie Ladd; Ivan Putski, one of the original power lifter body-types; Antonino Rocca, who was one of the first to use the aesthetically-pleasing, we’ll call it “HBK” kind of in-ring style; George “The Animal” Steele, an awesome monster heel before his loveable babyface days in the mid-80s; and arguably the greatest women’s champion of all-time, The Fabulous Moolah; this was simply Pedro’s class.

#9 – The Class of 1994 (featuring Arnold Skaaland, Bobo Brazil, “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, Chief Jay Strongbow, “Classy” Freddie Blassie, Gorilla Monsoon, and James Dudley) - The 1994 class was headlined by the first man to hold the NWA and WWE Championships, “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers. The stat sheet was certainly impressive for the man who inspired Ric Flair’s gimmick and finishing move (Rogers innovated the Figure Four), but it was his style and panache that were arguably the greatest part of his legacy. As television was changing the wrestling business in the middle of the 20th century the way that the internet may well change it in the 21st, Rogers was the perfect heel. His flamboyance jumped off the screen, essentially writing the book still in use today for how to portray a villain. Gorilla Monsoon, who would go onto become a revered commentator by those of us that grew up on Hulkamania, was a monster-type heel in contrast to Rogers, but was equally if not more effective in the northeast due to his giant frame making him such a strong opponent for Bruno Sammartino. Monsoon’s presence can still be felt today, according to some wrestlers, as the pre-entrance position to the WWE sets is named “Gorilla.” Freddie Blassie was an awesome heel in his own right, dominating the territorial days to the tune of three dozen NWA regional titles before becoming a successful manager in his later years. I always thought it a nice tribute that, before one of the most important WrestleManias of all-time (XV), Blassie was the featured legend in the opening video package. I felt that the overall strength of the cast supporting the aforementioned three, in particular, put it on par with any of the classes featuring a better-known modern cast. Arnold Skaaland, whose wife was given a nice tributary hug from John Cena prior to the Mania 28 main-event, managed Bruno and Bob Backlund to the WWE title. “Chief” Strongbow was a multi-time Tag Team Champion and a prominent backstage hand during the original wrestling boom. James Dudley and Bobo Brazil broke down racial barriers.

#8 - The Class of 2008 (featuring Ric Flair, High Chief Peter Maivia, Rocky Johnson, The Briscoe Brothers, Mae Young, Eddie Graham, and Gordon Solie) - In recent years, the Hall of Fame classes have been stacked with talents relevant to the modern audience, plus a touch of the more distant past. 2008 was an example of the opposite. Gordon Solie, for instance, was the voice of the NWA in its early attempts to compete with Vince McMahon. He was on commentary for the first Starrcades. To me, he was most famous for calling the suplex the “suplay.” I respect him, but like Eddie Graham, he was a selection based on the location of that year’s WrestleMania (Florida – both were well-known for the Championship Wrestling from Florida promoting) that probably would have gone over much better in one of the seven years in which the WWE stopped holding the Hall of Fame ceremonies between 1997 and 2003. With the way 2008 was structured, Flair was far and away the guy that everyone came to see from the actual induction class. Though deserving, The Rock’s granddad and father seemingly were inducted so that the WWE could bring The Rock back to do their induction speeches, giving the WWE audience their first sample of “The Great One” in four years. It wound up being very memorable, seeing The Rock again (for good and bad reasons, frankly). Mae Young’s induction was fun and the Briscoes gave a really underrated speech that offered me a saying I use to this day (“It’s worth the drive, baby”), but it was essentially Ric Flair’s night. The reason that this class ranks as highly as it does despite a generally weaker secondary group was because of how awesome and replay-worthy Ric Flair’s speech was. Sometimes with Hall of Fame speeches, you are left wanting more. Flair left it all out on the stage that night just as he would have if it were a wrestling ring.

#7 – The Class of 2011 (featuring Shawn Michaels, The Road Warriors, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, Abdullah the Butcher, Sunny, Bob Armstrong, and Drew Carey) - Putting 2011 ahead of 2008 was really a matter of preference for me, personally. Though the two classes were comparable in the caliber of stars inducted, what it boiled down to for me was two things: #1 was that Shawn Michaels is my all-time favorite wrestler and I literally jumped out of my seat and started yelling like a little kid when he was the first inductee announced for the first of the two Hall of Fame ceremonies that I’ve attended live. As much as I admire Flair, I respect HBK. It was such a thrill for me to see his induction speech in person. No one has ever had a more spectacular WWE career, in terms of his performance. I loved what he said that night. He is a person to emulate, as far as I’m concerned. #2 was the head-to-head comparison of the secondary headliners for the classes. The Road Warriors were huge stars and worthy of their headlining place in the 2011 class more so than High Chief and Rocky Johnson were for theirs. Sunny was more influential to women’s wrestling than was Mae Young, as well (though arguably not in a good way). The remainder of the 2011 class was fairly ho-hum, with Bob Armstrong, Hacksaw, and Abdullah all being fringe-Hall of Famers in my opinion (which I state only for the purpose of giving the nod to the 2008’s classes “undercard,” if you will). Drew Carey was by far the weakest celebrity inductee to date, having done nothing of note to earn his spot. Most of the time, I disagree with booing a celebrity who is inducted because of their contributions to the wrestling business, but when you have no contributions to the wrestling business outside of a forgettable Royal Rumble appearance that was the 12th most memorable happening on a show, then that’s a different story. Boo away!

#6 – The Class of 2006 (featuring Bret Hart, Eddie Guerrero, The Blackjacks, Sensational Sherri, Tony Atlas, Verne Gagne, and William “The Refrigerator” Perry) - There was a lot to like about this class and their ceremony. First and foremost was that it was Bret’s first live WWE appearance since “The Montreal Screwjob.” If he had not come back in 2010, that alone might have been enough to boost the 2006 class to higher on the list. You also had the incredibly emotional induction of Eddie Guerrero just five months after his tragic, untimely death. I thought that was very well handled, all the way around. I was really excited to see those inductions. I was in Chicago for Mania that weekend and, you can ask my Mania 22 partner, PEN, how disappointed that I was when neither of our hotels had the USA Network, rendering us unable to finish watching the ceremony that we had been watching online prior to. It was worth the wait for the DVD version, as I thoroughly enjoyed Bret’s speech. Seeing the Hitman, one of my childhood favorites, looking reasonably healthy just a few years removed from a stroke was a welcome sight. The rest of the class was a mixture of the early, somewhat awkward speeches by old-timers such as The Blackjacks and some nice surprise hits. Mulligan and Lanza told stories and inside jokes that nobody understood; that got uncomfortable at times and I felt bad for them. SD Jones, who inducted Tony Atlas, was no less awkward. It actually was sort of endearing, though, seeing these guys tell war stories, so to state. I loved the “Sensational Queen.” Sherri was outstanding in all her craziness, as was her inductor, Million Dollar Man, who we had not seen in years back then. Verne Gagne was an interesting watch. John Cena nearly stole the show with his John Facenda (long-time voice of NFL Films) impression in honor of “The Fridge.”

#5 – The Class of 2005 (featuring Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Paul Orndorff, Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff, Jimmy Hart, and Bob Orton) - Two moments solidified me as a “Hogan mark” in the last 12 years. The first was Hogan vs. The Rock. That brought back every childhood memory of the Hulkster even though I was more of a Warrior fan. The second was the 2005 Hall of Fame ceremony. I attribute the commercial success that the Hall of Fame has earned over the past decade to the awesomeness of the ’05 class. When they aired it on Saturday night before Mania 21, I was glued to the TV as if it were Mania, itself. I felt robbed when they stopped airing the HOF on the night of in 2011. I collected so many memories from 2005-2010 watching the Hall of Fame. It had become a Saturday warm-up to Sunday’s big event. I’ll reiterate that it will be nice to have it back this year. Anyhow, I loved the ’05 ceremony. Watching Iron Sheik’s speech set the stage for him to be such a smash hit on Twitter in modern times. It reminded everyone how endearing he was and, frankly, how big of a star that he was. I’ll always remember Kurt Angle laughing his butt off in the front row at all of Sheik’s verbal antics. Orndorff started the trend of uncomfortable moments at the ceremony, throwing some verbal barbs at Hogan by recollection from my first few viewings (all several years ago). Jimmy Hart was deserving as a manager inductee. I loved him as a kid. My dad would always joke that it sounded like someone put a vice on his Jimmy’s balls when he spoke. Bob Orton was a fringe inductee, in my view, but such talents getting into the Hall give hope to many a mid-carder from various eras. Piper’s speech was great. People are expecting some pretty excellent speeches this year from Warrior and Jake, but with Piper’s mic prowess, anticipation may have been as high for his as anyone in history. Then, there was Hogan. He made me love the HOF. The crowd reaction to his return and, honestly more than anything, Big Show’s tears, added an emotional element to WrestleMania weekend that makes me glad I’ve been to two ceremonies.

#4 – The Class of 2004 (featuring Sgt. Slaughter, Junkyard Dog, Harley Race, Jesse Ventura, “Superstar” Billy Graham, Greg Valentine, Bobby Heenan, Don Muraco, Big John Studd, Tito Santana, and Pete Rose) - Whew. That hurt my hands typing all of those names. In the largest class in WWE Hall of Fame history at eleven inductees, the group in 2004 brought the HOF back with a bang after an eight year absence. The stacked cast of characters included legendary wrestler and commentator turned successful politician, Jesse Ventura. It featured the iconic Sarge, he of the mainstream fame in the 80s and the WM7 main-event. The greatest manager of all-time, Bobby “The Brain,” added flair to the proceedings. No “personality” may have ever deserved his induction more than Heenan. Harley Race was the face of the National Wrestling Alliance for more than half a decade. “Superstar” Billy Graham was one of the rare stars in the early WWWF era to hold the World title. JYD was an incredibly underrated contributor to the WWE’s early national success, as was Greg Valentine. Add in Latin sensation, Tito Santana, who picked up in the 80s where Pedro Morales left off in the 70s, Big John Studd, and Don Muraco – all Hulkamania era stalwarts – and you had a whole host of incredible names. The speeches were all quite good, as well. Perhaps the lack of live TV cameras and a more intimate setting should be factored into that assessment. Pete Rose, in contrast to a Drew Carey-type, had enough of an impact to warrant the “celebrity wing” being added to the thus-far figurative Hall. In totality, the eleven superstars created for an awesome class. Heenan was big enough to headline some of the other classes. Race, Sarge, Graham, and Ventura all could have been strong number twos in any of the recent ceremonies driven by commercial success. This one is definitely worth a watch if you ever get the chance to catch it on the Network (assuming they add the ceremonies some day).

#3 – The Class of 2009 (featuring “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Ricky Steamboat, Terry and Dory Funk, The Von Erich Family, Bill Watts, Howard Finkel, and Koko B. Ware) - Try not to judge a Hall of Fame class by its weakest link. Koko B. Ware was inducted for reasons that I can only surmise, but will never know with any certainty, but the rest of his induction class was outstanding. Steve Austin, the greatest era specific star of all-time, dressed up in a suit (on purpose) in a moment of career closure that we never officially got to see when he hung up his boots six years prior. Vince McMahon fittingly inducted him. It is “The Boss” who helped Austin’s popularity reach new heights and “The Boss” who has maintained that Austin is the greatest ever. I think that he truly believes it for reasons that go beyond the squared circle. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat had a helluva Mania 25 weekend, didn’t he? Inducted by his top rival, Steamboat proceeded to give a memorable speech reminding the world that wrestling is not just about the money drawn and the butts in seats, but the performance given once the money’s been collected. You have to bring them all back again and, at that, Steamboat was a master. The Funks could have been strong secondary headliners in many other classes given their unbelievable NWA careers and Terry’s influential time in ECW. Dory has trained some true legends. Terry has remained incredibly insightful. The Von Erichs were a fitting addition to this class, particularly due to the ceremony being held in Texas. World Class Championship Wrestling was a big deal to a lot of people whose opinions in wrestling still matter to this day. The Von Erich’s tragic story needed a happy ending and I feel as if they got it in 2009. I always appreciate the opportunity to listen to Jim Ross speak about someone who he respects. He definitely respects Bill Watts, the (in)famous booker and promoter. Watts gave one of the most underrated speeches in recent memory. And, oh, how I love my memories of “The Fink.” All due respect to Justin Roberts and company, but I do not believe that I’ll ever emulate any announcer other than Howard Finkel (and maybe Gary Cappetta). I’ll occasionally find myself alone in the house mimicking Fink with my own tributory rendition of “The HEART-BREAK KID, SHAWN MICHAELS!” (among others).

#2 – The Class of 2012 (featuring Edge, The Four Horsemen, Ron Simmons, Yokozuna, Mil Mascaras, and Mike Tyson) - I’m doing my best not to be a prisoner of the moment in naming the last two years as the finest combination of talent and speeches, but I really do believe that the WWE has found a winning formula for their Hall of Fame. From the announcements to the way that they “book” the ceremonies, I’ve felt strongly that the last two years delivered incredibly well across the board. Part of the reasoning behind placing 2012 so highly was my personal attachment to most of the class members. Edge was one of my all-time favorite wrestlers. During the summer of 2002, I latched onto him as “my guy” and was fortunate to witness all of his greatest moments either in-person or on PPV. I was there for his lone WM main-event and for his final match. I wrote reviews for LOP during the height of his run at the top of the business. The Four Horsemen were inducted right when I was writing my respective chapters on each member for my book in the winter of 2012. I loved that group, historically – each and every member of the incarnation that they chose to induct. Mike Tyson was one of the most important celebrities in wrestling’s modern history and a huge part of the reason why the Attitude Era was able to take center stage in front of the world. I remember his boxing career fondly and sat in my room for every single one of the pre-Mania XIV moments that have become so well regarded as time has passed. Yokozuna was in the main-event of the first Mania that I ever watched live and, though he dethroned my childhood hero, Bret Hart, that night, there was honestly not a single important Yoko happening in his WWE tenure that I did not see. I still have my WCW Ron Simmons action figure and, of course, his groundbreaking achievement is incredibly important to wrestling lore. Mascaras was before my time, but the rest of the 2012 class drew me in emotionally like few other classes.

#1 – The Class of 2013 (featuring Bruno Sammartino, Bob Backlund, Mick Foley, Booker T, Trish Stratus, and Donald Trump) - There is a fair bit of personal bias with this class, as well. I have only been to two Hall of Fame ceremonies, 2013 being the second. I was, for the first time, at a live event at Madison Square Garden and I got there to find that my tickets had been upgraded for a still yet-to-be-determined reason. Awesome! They put me and my pals within a light stone’s toss of the wrestlers. I would later find that I was in the background, faintly, in a dozen camera shots throughout the video recording. Aside from my own experience, though, the credentials of the 2013 class were second to none. Even if the group featured two stars that were pre-WrestleMania Era as the main-event and headliner, respectively, the fact that the pair combined to hold the WWE Championship for 30% of the WWE’s 50 year history trumped that they were not exactly hip with the modern fanbase that makes up the majority of the WWE Universe. Bob Backlund and Bruno Sammartino were both glaring omissions prior to last April. The WWE Hall got a major boost in credibility with their additions. Donald Trump is one of the pinnacle celebrities in WWE lore. I put him up there with Mike Tyson and Mr. T as the top personalities who influenced the course of wrestling history. He has long been a supporter of the business. Trish Stratus was the greatest Women’s Championship of all-time, in my view. Her influence probably will not be fully appreciated until another decade passes, but see my LOP Hall of Fame induction column for her to see what I truly think of Trish. Booker T was one of the most decorated champions in modern wrestling history, providing many fond memories to fans from many companies. He worked his butt off to get to his spot and then worked his butt off to keep it. All hail HOF Book-AH! And what can be said of Mrs. Foley’s baby boy that has not already been said? Spend half a day watching his most violent matches and you will see a man who put his body on the line for your entertainment like no one else ever had, has, or ever will again. Every speech was great…every speech was memorable…2013 set a new standard for all others to follow.

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