Today we’re looking at the most active and hotly debated region in the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame — modern United States and Canada candidates. A result of the closeness many of these figures have with those in the voting pool, particularly wrestling journalists, many of the debates in our wrestling fan bubble center around this category. This year a few super interesting names make their Hall of Fame ballot debut including WWE’s Daniel Bryan (the former Bryan Danielson, of course), longtime WWE main eventers Randy Orton and Big Show and a man who’s back on the ballot after falling off with little fanfare years ago: A.J. Styles. Elsewhere on the ballot are interesting names like Edge, Junkyard Dog, Curt Hennig and the always debatable Sting. Two other guys to keep track of through Hall of Fame season are CM Punk and Brock Lesnar. Lesnar, in particular, gained a ton of steam last year and has a very good chance of making it in this year. Punk, on the other hand, debuted on the ballot with little buzz (19%) and hasn’t done anything in 2015 to hurt or help his chances.

Bryan Danielson/Daniel Bryan

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

One of the biggest names debuting on the 2015 Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame ballot is Bryan Danielson/Daniel Bryan. For the purposes of this piece, I’ll keep it with the current name (Daniel Bryan) or just say Bryan, which works for both. I’m a man of the people.

Anyway, Bryan presents one of the most no-doubt cases on this year’s HOF ballot. Why? He’s the best wrestler of his generation. There’s almost no denying his output on the independent scene from the early-to-mid 2000s all the way to his work on the main roster in WWE. Bryan stands head and shoulders above most of his peers. Bryan won the coveted Wrestling Observer Most Outstanding Wrestler award five straight years (2006-2010). Perhaps more impressive is that from 2004- to 2013 Bryan never finished lower than No. 9 in Most Outstanding voting. In addition to the five No. 1s, he placed No. 2 in 2013, No. 3 in 2004, 2011 and 2012 with his worst finish coming in 2005 (No. 9). Bryan notched a Match of the Year in 2007 (vs. Takeshi Morishima) and was named the Observer’s Most Outstanding Wrestler of the Decade (2000-2009). Over the last 12 years, Bryan has had 14 matches finish in the Top 10 for the Observer’s Match of the Year voting. Bryan also has three Top 10 finishes in Voices of Wrestling’s Match of the Year (2012-2014).

That’s the case right there. Dave Meltzer states in the criteria and voting process of the award that if a candidate is “so outstanding in one or two” of the three categories “they deserve inclusion.”

Daniel Bryan deserves inclusion. We could also look at how he main evented WrestleMania 30, saving WWE from the disaster that was the proposed main event. We can also talk about his influence on the American independent scene, but we don’t need to. He’s already in. Well, in my book. I can’t speak for the voter base and his voting percentage in his first year of eligibility will be one of the main things I look forward to when results come out.

If you need more insights on Daniel Bryan’s case, check out the fantastic article produced by our very own Brandon Howard: http://www.voicesofwrestling.com/2015/09/22/daniel-bryans-case-for-the-wrestling-observer-hall-of-fame/

Junkyard Dog

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 16%

16% for Junkyard Dog? It’s hard to believe, but yeah, that’s what the Junkyard Dog received last year when he made his return to the ballot. While I’ll admit to not being the foremost expert on the Junkyard Dog, those who have done the work and the research will tell you, he’s a great candidate.

One of the stars of the wildly under researched early-80s Mid South, Dog was a noted excellent draw and a legit star in the WWE as a top babyface. From the drawing aspect, Junkyard Dog seems like a great candidate. Unfortunately, his resume isn’t without its warts. As Dave Meltzer wrote last year:

“Negative is longevity, to a degree, and drug issues that took him down from where he could have been prematurely. Also, in the ring, one of the worst main eventers of the era.”

This is where the issue with Junkyard Dog comes up. He wasn’t a flashy in-ring worker, his “workrate” wasn’t up there with many of his peers but there’s no denying his charisma or promo ability and how he made all those things work for him. Sure, he wasn’t going to give you a 5* classic, but dammit if people didn’t pay money to watch him perform.

I’m on the fence about JYD and I waver on an almost daily basis. My hope is that, regardless of how I vote, not only does Junkyard Dog stay on the ballot but he makes it in soon.

Edge

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
N/A 22.0% 18.0% 46.0% 37.0% 37.0% 36.0%

Forty-five-time (it’s really not that far off) WWE Champion Edge has seen a steady percentage of votes year-in and year-out after reaching nearly 50% in 2011. Voters obviously love his longevity near the top of WWE as well as his stellar in-ring consistency. Wrestling and All That Jazz has a great profile breaking down Edge’s potent resume: https://jeurondove.wordpress.com/2014/09/22/2014-wrestling-observer-hall-of-fame-candidate-profile-adam-edge-copeland/

One of the highlights from Jeuron’s piece is a look at Edge’s longevity in WWE main events. From 2006-2011, Edge competed in 52 PPV matches total, 16 of which were in the main event position with the other 20 either for the WWE or World Heavyweight Championship. Edge also holds the record for most championships of any wrestler in company history. Obviously this has more to do with when he wrestled but it’s still an achievement in consistency and longevity.

Edge has a stacked resume but remains an enigma both to me personally and to HOF voters.

Curt Hennig

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
31.0% 23.0% 19.0% 29.0% 22.0% 30.0% 23.0%

Curt Hennig is one of my favorite wrestlers ever. Mr. Perfect is one of my favorite characters in wrestling history. To this date, I still slap my gum into the air instead of spitting it out or disposing of it in the trash. It’s really the only way to get rid of your gum. With that said, Curt Hennig is not a Hall of Famer and I’m shocked he continues to merit 20-30% of the vote every year.

Ivan Koloff

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
35.0% 40.0% 39.0% 48.0% 54.0% N/A 48.0%

I think Dave Meltzer put it best last year when describing Koloff’s candidacy:

“I can’t come up with a negative to say on him. Great wrestler. The win over Sammartino at its time was one of the biggest matches in history and headlined everywhere. Top star from the late 60s and his 70s numbers as far as going places and drawing are ahead of many Hall of Famers and behind only one not in, and his consistency as a star everywhere beat Morales. One of the strongest guys on the ballot and maybe the strongest.”

One of the strongest guys on the ballot…maybe the strongest… and yet only 48%. Is 2015 finally the year for Koloff?

Brock Lesnar

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
N/A N/A N/A N/A 24.0% 47.0% 56.0%

One of my more polarizing figures in recent Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame history, Brock Lesnar could find himself enshrined after a noteworthy year as WWE’s top draw. Much has been written about Brock over the past few years, including by yours truly (http://www.voicesofwrestling.com/2014/09/12/gordy-list-brock-lesnar-2014-won-hall-of-fame/), but I’m not sure we’ve reached a consensus on how to judge Brock Lesnar.

Meltzer’s intentional vagueness regarding MMA makes Brock a particularly hard case to get a handle on. If we count MMA, he’s obviously in. But do we count MMA? We count MMA in Japan, but not the United States? Well wrestling and MMA were kind of the same in Japan for a while but they’ve always been different in the United States so should they be different?

See? It’s infuriating.

Brock’s best chance for candidacy could come in the next few years as he’s developed himself into WWE’s top draw (not a coincidence he’s also the least exposed man of the roster). Entire months on the WWE Network are devoted to Brock and they’ve even started taking advantage of his rare house show appearances to generate Network subscriptions.

In-ring, he’s put together yet another stellar year with numerous standout WWE main events.

Brock was right on the cusp of getting in last year, with another year of influence, draw and fantastic in-ring work under his belt, 2015 may be the year for The Beast.

Randy Orton

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

By all accounts, Randy Orton should be a Wrestling Observer Hall of Famer, but it just doesn’t feel right, there just doesn’t feel like enough there for a good case. Despite being one of WWE’s most highly-pushed wrestlers since 2004, Orton hasn’t amassed nearly the same amount of hardware as his peers (Wrestling Observer’s Most Improved in 2004). Sure, you could chalk that up to resentment by the smarky fan base that votes for the Wrestling Observer Awards, but think about it — what awards should Orton have won? He was a guy solidly behind peers in terms of drawing ability and star power while also solidly behind others in terms of in-ring work. Throughout his most pushed period, he’s always seemed just kind of… there.

Orton has never had a five star match, but has participated in a number of really, good matches. Nothing legendary. He was a draw for WWE, but that quickly faded into malaise and his influence is virtually non-existent.

If Orton gets a high percentage his first year on the ballot, it likely will come from the Current and Former Wrestlers voting pool, many of which would’ve worked with him. I can’t imagine him getting enough support from historians or current journalists to make a sustained run at the Hall. Then again, stranger things have happened.

C.M. Punk

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 19.0%

CM Punk returns to the ballot after only receiving 19% his debut year. This again will be a tough year for Punk who’s done virtually nothing in either pro wrestling or MMA to sway voters one way or another. In my opinion, he’s a slam dunk. He was a top-tier big match performer always rising to the occasion and performing to the best of his abilities each and every time he was put in a high position. Punk is also one of the best promos in wrestling history, a man capable of selling PPVs, shirts and more simply through his words.

We have evidence of him as a short-term draw and merchandise mover, but nothing substantial enough to make him a slam dunk in this category.

Influence is where Punk can sway you. Personally, I think he’s one of the most influential figures in pro wrestling today. Punk was the first indie guy to “make it”. He wasn’t the first indie wrestler to join WWE but he was the first who rose to prominence. Punk in many ways broke the WWE mold paving the way for Daniel Bryan’s push, Seth Rollins’ current run at WWE Champion, Kevin Owens being hired, Sami Zayn winning the NXT Championship and so on. Punk isn’t the first small guy to ever get a push or be featured but he’s the first to come from the indies and it’s hard to deny that level of influence when you watch today’s WWE product.

What hurts Punk most is his exit from the world of wrestling. We have nothing else to build on so what we’ve seen from him is what we’re going to get. Is there enough there to make a definitive Hall of Fame case?

Big Show

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

Well, it’s The Big Show. Or Paul Wight, The Giant, Big Nasty Bastard, whatever you want to call him — either way, he makes his debut on the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame ballot this year. Like the aforementioned Orton, Big Show has been consistently pushed as a top star in both WCW (1995-99) and WWE (1999-Present). There were some bumps along the way but more times than not he’s in the main event, top of the card picture. With that, does he have a great resume?

In-ring, Big Show has never been my thing, though I readily admit his style works for others. He found his stride as a monster in the mid-2000s with WWE and though his tremendous size has slowed him down in recent years, he’s still capable of putting together a solid main event level match. Again, like Orton, he’s not going to give a spectacular, legendary all-time great match but he’s going to consistently deliver to some degree.

His record as a draw hasn’t (to my knowledge) been fully researched yet though Chris “mookieghana” Harrington did some work roughly a year ago looking at WWE ratings movers and Big Show was solidly in the top 20. Though one of WWE’s most protected wrestlers over his career, Big Show has only main evented WrestleMania 2000 despite being in featured matches on numerous other major shows.

The influence argument is almost a non-starter with Big Show. I’d venture to guess in terms of total times as a main eventer and total pushes, he has the least amount of cultural influence and impact. He just doesn’t register as someone who’s endeared himself as an all-time great an all-time legend or a figure that will be remembered for years to come.

Sgt. Slaughter

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
25.0% 17.0% 22.0% 26.0% 24.0% 24.0% 22.0%

It’s pretty tough to imagine that Sgt. Slaughter not only isn’t a Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame but he’s not really close.

Dave Meltzer addressed Slaughter a bit last year:

“The Sgt. Slaughter of 1980-84 was a Hall of Famer in every way. While he had a long career, longevity from a Hall of Fame standpoint is the big question. He was good on the way up, but nothing that would be considered Hall of Fame level until his run in the Carolinas as U.S. champion and world tag team champion was Hall of Fame caliber, and his original face run in WWF was huge. But it ended quick. After 1984, past the 1991 run with Hulk Hogan that was a mixed bag, there’s nothing there. But he was very famous, even outside of wrestling, which can help, although in his case he’s never done well in voting. Very much like Hennig, but a stronger draw, and not the draw JYD was, but Slaughter was one of the best working big men ever during those peak years.”

I can see a groundswell of wrestling journalists working to get Slaughter in over the next few years and I can’t blame them, he does have a great resume. Though it’s not as polished and padded as some of his peers, it’s still a solid enough resume. It certainly deserves far more than the under 25% he’s received over the past three years. Keep an eye out for where this percentage moves this year, he could make a meteoric rise and may even get in this year.

Sting

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
24.0% 26.0% 20.0% 43.0% 38.0% 33.0% 33.0%

Did I say Brock Lesnar was one of the most polarizing HOF candidates? Yeah, sorry, I meant Sting. Sting HOF arguments have become a meme these days as people anticipate the back and forth banter that’s inevitably on the way when you mention Sting and Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame in the same sentence.

Our very Bryan Rose did a great deal of work looking at Sting’s candidacy and his conclusion is the same voters have had — he’s not a Hall of Famer.

Here’s how Meltzer weighed in last year:

“Perhaps the most hotly-debated candidate on the ballot. He was a guy pushed near the top level from 1988 until his career ended in TNA at the end of 2013. But aside from the 1997 Hogan run, he didn’t have the great success at drawing. His entire career was the duration of this publication and he was never considered for Wrestler of the Year or even a top place winner, even though he did great for years as far as Most Charismatic went. His drawing power doesn’t make worldwide Hall of Fame caliber list. Match of the Year points he’s in the mix, again, not at slam dunk levels but it doesn’t hurt him and he’s ahead of many Hall of Famers, but also worked with great people. World title tenure is okay, behind only Batista, Edge, Martel, Kojima and Nagata of those not in from the last 35 years. As far as headlining big shows, only Akiyama and Taue are ahead who aren’t in, and in both of those cases they were often the weaker partner of a tag team on those big shows. It’s a lot based on emotion, kind of like Moolah, in the sense you could go, “Well, he’s Sting, he should be in the Hall of Fame.” It’s about how he was pushed, usually a top guy in WCW and at times the top guy (although that period was actually very limited) and then the long TNA run where he was always pushed near the top and kept special. But that will strengthen him as time goes on. When his WCW run ended, he couldn’t stay on the ballot. As nostalgia has taken over on that period, many view him as a terrible omission.”

The big question for Sting in 2015 is how much his recent WWE run has hurt or helped his candidacy. In my mind, it’s helped. He came back to WWE and was immediately pushed as a star. He took part in a major match at WrestleMania and even headlined WWE’s Night of Champions PPV against Seth Rollins. Best of all, the matches versus Rollins may have been his best single performance ever.

I think Sting makes a nice run this year but, ultimately still falls short.

A.J. Styles

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

A.J. Styles returns to Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame ballot after making enough of a splash on the American independent and New Japan Pro Wrestling to warrant re-inclusion. Is it enough to get him into the Hall? Eh, not yet, but he’s certainly on the right path. Styles has become one of the pillar draws of New Japan Pro Wrestling in the past year in addition to being one of the most notable draws on the American indie scene. If Styles can keep this going for another year or so, it’ll be hard to deny his spot in the Hall of Fame.

Add in his tremendous in-ring work, particularly in major New Japan shows over the last two years and again, you have yourself a worthy candidate… just not yet.

Ultimate Warrior

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 20.0%

Ultimate Warrior’s unfortunate and untimely death brought him back on the ballot last year but to little fanfare. Warrior was only a short-term major star with very little drawing power. He was not a great wrestler, had very few truly good matches.

Warrior’s positives come in a WrestleMania main event that sold out Toronto’s SkyDome, great merchandise sales and an influential name that is still remembered to this day.