Each fall, members of the wrestling media, historians, management figures and even wrestlers themselves come together to vote for the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame.
Dreamed up by Wrestling Observer Newsletter (WON) editor Dave Meltzer, the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame is arguably the crown jewel of pro wrestling Hall of Fames, the most objective presentations of the best of the best in three criteria: drawing power, being a great in-ring performer or excelling in one’s field in pro wrestling and having historical significance in a positive manner.
The ideal Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame candidate should have something to offer in all three categories or be outstanding in one or two of those categories.
Eligible performers must have reached their 35th birthday and completed ten years since their full-time debuts. You’re also eligible if you’ve been a full-time pro wrestling for at least 15 years.
Each candidate is broken into a category (modern United States, historical, Japan, etc.) with voters encouraged to vote in the category or categories they are most knowledge on. The maximum number of wrestlers someone can vote on is ten. Voters can select an additional five executives, managers, announcers or other from the non-wrestler category.
Anyone who receives mention on 60% of the ballots from the geographical region and time frame enters the hallowed (non-physical) halls of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame.
This breakdown will focus on the Modern United States & Canada region and those eligible for election this year. Below each name is a graph of their voting results over the last five seasons.
Bryan Danielson/Daniel Bryan
Danielson came out of the gates quickly in his inaugural year on the ballot garnering 54% of the vote and making himself a prime contender for election this season. Danielson has one of the strongest cases due to a combination of his excellent in-ring career as well as his late-career pop as an all-time great character and draw. Before he even stepped foot in WWE, some argued Danielson as a WON HOFer. To date, Danielson is a 9-time Best Technical Wrestler in the Wrestling Observer Awards (consecutive, by the way), a 4-time Most Outstanding Wrestler award winner (also consecutive) and has a 2007 Observer Match of the Year (vs. Takeshi Morishima) under his belt. The in-ring accolades are just as numerous as a four-time world champion in WWE. Danielson is 26th Triple Crown Champion and the 15th Grand Slam Champion in WWE history and headlined two of WWE’s largest shows in the modern era: SummerSlam 2013 and WrestleMania XXX.
WrestleMania in particular was a rousing success drawing over 73,000 to Louisiana’s SuperDome while bringing in a reported $10.9 million in ticket revenue.
The case for Danielson hinges largely on how you weigh the criteria. As Meltzer notes in the ballot, a wrestler should be able to contribute something to all three criteria or be excelled in one or two. With Danielson, you can start and end with in-ring work. He’s universally regarded as one of the best workers in the world during the 2000s and maintained that high level of work in WWE. Add in his emergence as WWE’s top babyface, patriarch of the YES! Movement and the main event star of WrestleMania XXX and you have yourself an all around case as good as anyone else’s on the 2016 ballot. Interestingly enough, only 12% of current wrestlers voted Danielson last year.
If you need more insights on Daniel Bryan’s case, check out the fantastic article produced by current Fightful.com and former VOW writer Brandon Howard: http://www.voicesofwrestling.com/2015/09/22/daniel-bryans-case-for-the-wrestling-observer-hall-of-fame/
After receiving a disappointing 16% in his return to the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame ballot, JYD recovered nicely to grab 29% of the vote.
One of the top stars of early-80s Mid South, Junkyard Dog is regarded as an excellent draw and a legit star when he made the transition to WWE.
His resume isn’t without its warts. As Dave Meltzer wrote two years ago:
“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.”
One of the worst main events of the era seems overly harsh but there is certainly a case for his in-ring work being less than Hall of Fame worthy. The case for JYD hinges almost entirely on how big of a star you think he was and how much you value drawing — which he did a lot in Mid South and New Orleans in particular.
After tailing off for a few years, Edge saw a huge jump up to 44% (very nearly topping his career-high in 2011). 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.
A high-level worker no doubt, some would argue he simply did not have enough top-tier, all-time great matches to be considered for that category alone. Drawing power is another point of contention while his first run as WWE Champion popped a few ratings (most notably for Lita and Edge’s Live Sex Celebration), he wasn’t regarded as a huge mover of business. On the purely star level, sure, he’s known by many but is certainly not a transcendent star at the level of some of his contemporaries.
Edge remains a Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame enigma. Liked and voted on by a segment of ex-wrestlers, Edge has yet to get the groundswell of support from historians or the wrestling media alike. Whether Edge continues to rise or drops back to 2012-14 levels will be an interesting storyline this HOF season.
For more on Edge’s resume, check out former VOW author Jeuron Dove’s Wrestling and All That Jazz blog: https://jeurondove.wordpress.com/2014/09/22/2014-wrestling-observer-hall-of-fame-candidate-profile-adam-edge-copeland/
Curt Hennig is a candidate that hangs around a certain level year-in and year-out without much variation. Interestingly enough, his percentage has followed a distinct pattern over the last five years. If I were a betting man, I’d put Hennig at somewhere between 23-19% this year!
Hennig’s case hinges almost entirely on his in-ring work which some consider all-time great while others feel he was just a good hand. Where you stand on this debate would likely dictate if you vote for Mr. Perfect.
Still an active performer, Randy Orton’s 15% was a surprising figure for his first appearance on the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame ballot. Orton will continue to gain support as his career winds down but questions about his all-time great status will always remain.
Never a proven, sustainable draw, never an all-time great worker and never a star the same level as contemporaries like John Cena, Orton will probably need a miracle to ever get into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame.
Looking to build upon a disappointing 19% during his debut year on the ballot, Punk only jumped a few points up to 22%. Could voters be waiting to see if Punk continues his career in pro wrestling or is he just not that great of a candidate? Punk ticks a few of the criteria boxes but not as easily for every voter. Some consider his work (in-ring and promo) all-time great (myself included) while others don’t. Some see Punk was an influential historical figure (which I dove deep into a few years ago), others don’t.
Some think CM Punk is a WON HOFer (*raises hand*), others don’t. It will be interesting to see if Punk’s foray into MMA will help him out this year. In the past—particularly in the case of Brock Lesnar—MMA drawing power and star-making has helped boost Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame cases (whether it should or not is a debate for another day). One of the problems though, Lesnar WAS a star in UFC, a champion and a culture phenomenon. Punk lost in minutes and despite being a net positive on PPV sales, it could be one and done for ol’ Phil Brooks.
Punk will be an interesting case to keep an eye on. I suspect many voters are waiting to see if and when he returns to the wrestling ring or simply realize they have years to vote for him before they need to worry about it and are instead sending their voters to older candidates. Or maybe he’s just not HOF-worthy, after all.
The GI Joe start just can’t seem to make any headway with these maggots (that’s us Hall of Fame voters, by the way). Here’s what Meltzer had to say about Slaughter’s case two years ago:
“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.”
It’s hard to believe a Hall of Fame of wrestling without Sgt. Slaughter in it but he’s never received momentum in voting, topping at 26% in the last five years. It’s hard to imagine a year in which Slaughter receives a huge uptick in votes so we may have to imagine just a scenario.
The least divise WON Hall of Fame candidate of all-time, each year everyone universally agrees that Sting should be a Hall of Famer with little argument on Twitter, message boards or podcast.
Nobody generates more discussion about the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame than Sting. Like an American presidential race people cling to their side (in or out) and refuse to waver. Those who think he’s a HOF look to his star power in the early 90s as the icon of WCW. While never a spectacular in-ring worker, Sting was more than capable of having great matches with the right opponent. Supporters will also bring up his recent WWE run which (while far too short) had people remembering the connection THE MAN THEY CALL STING had on their childhood. He’s a nostalgia vote through and through.
Detractors will look at the period in which he was the man for WCW as one of their worst periods and detractors will bring up those very same in-ring limitations. Sting is as divise as they come and we’re reaching what could be a critical mass for his entry into the Hall. His WWE run no doubt contributed to an 18% leap in votes. Can he get the remaining 9% to get into the Hall? VOW writer Bryan Rose did a great deal of work looking at Sting’s candidacy years back, check it out for more on his candidacy.
Kerry Von Erich
A shocking first-time ballot appearance for Kerry Von Erich. One of the legends of the Texas wrestling scene and arguably the best in-ring worker of the Von Erich family, Kerry, like Junkyard Dog, was an undeniable regional drawing powerhouse.
Maybe more than Junkyard Dog, though, Kerry’s reach extended even internationally and while not to the same level as he did in Texas, Von Erich drew in outside territories.
The knock on Von Erich will be his relatively small peak. Could we be talking about a slam dunk candidate if he hung around WWF (cleanly, of course) for years after his Texas run? It’s possible. Von Erich will be a super interesting case to see just how much regional drawing power means for HOF voting in 2016. Will people look past the short peak, early death and lack of top-tier in-ring prowess to vote one of the biggest wrestling stars of his era?
The death bump is real. Ultimate Warrior, who fell off the ballot years ago, was re-added to the ballot last year after his untimely and tragic death. He received a solid 20% (nowhere near enough to be considered for entry), making some question where his momentum would go. We now have the answer.
A year removed from his death, Warrior only garnered 13% of the vote, a 7% drop and a sign that Warrior will probably never be in serious contention for the Observer Hall of Fame.
Like Von Erich above him, Warrior shined bright but flamed out far too quickly to gain serious momentum in the balloting. Von Erich supporters can hang his hat on a few years of being a drawing dynamo in Texas whereas Warrior supporters have to look primarily at his WWF run — a WWF run highlighted by a main event of WrestleMania VI, yes, but followed by a drop in WWF business across the board until the title was taken off him.
You can argue on a macro level, Warrior is someone even the most casual of fans or your parents may know. He’s iconic more because of his style—the tassels, the music, the paint—than his substance—a poor worker, an unproven draw.
It’s not a great case.