Welcome to my analysis of the 2021 Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame ballot. As someone fortunate enough to have a ballot, I will be revealing who I am voting for in this article, as well as an analysis explaining why or why not I voted for certain people.
If you are reading this, I’m assuming you already have a basic understanding of what the WON Hall of Fame is and how the voting process works. If not, just read this Wikipedia article.
Voters don’t have to vote in every category, although many do. Personally, I don’t feel like I have adequate knowledge of wrestling in Mexico and Europe/Rest of World so I don’t vote in those categories. So here is the ballot, with names I am voting for bolded. I don’t have a particularly strong opinion on some names; so I won’t be going into detail on why I didn’t vote for Ole Anderson or Pampero Firpo.
Historical Performers Category
- Ole Anderson
- Bob Armstrong
- Hollywood Blonds (Buddy Roberts & Jerry Brown w/Sir Oliver Humperdink)
- Jerry Brisco
- June Byers
- Buddy Colt
- Wild Bull Curry
- Cowboy Bob Ellis
- The Fabulous Ones (Stan Lane & Steve Keirn)
- Pampero Firpo
- Black Gordman & Great Goliath
- Archie “Mongolian Stomper” Gouldie
- Rocky Johnson
- Sputnik Monroe
- Blackjack Mulligan
- Johnny Rougeau
- Enrique Torres
- Von Brauners & Saul Weingeroff
- Johnny “Mr.Wrestling II” Walker
Flagship Patreon Historical US/Canada Discussion with Kris Zellner: https://www.patreon.com/posts/59201639
In general, I tend to vote very lightly in the historical category. The reason is that there really are not any outstanding historical candidates; anyone with a clear and obvious Hall of Fame is in the Hall of Fame already. This category is similar to the Veterans Commission in baseball in that it often tends to find borderline candidates and push them into the Hall of Fame. I think that lowers the standard and I’m not interested in voting in the wrestling equivalent of Harold Baines into the WON HOF.
The only real explanation I have for voting for people is that it has to be a clear-cut argument on why they have had their candidacy overlooked. For a lot of these names, they have been on the ballot for years and failed to get in; experts have been examining them and consistently said “no” to these candidates. The case has to be made to me why these names were overlooked and why they deserve to be enshrined, because they really are all borderline cases.
Why vote for Rocky Johnson? I think his career success has been overlooked. His son overshadows him, obviously and his best-known run today comes from a short stint in the WWF as a tag guy. The reality is Johnson was a headlining act in a bunch of different markets, some of which, like San Francisco and Los Angeles, haven’t always been highlighted historically. Others, including a very successful run in Memphis, Georgia and Florida, are more well-known but still as impressive.
Johnson checks off the criteria; he was regarded as being a very good (if not quite a tippy-top elite) worker and headlined and drew in multiple markets for a long time. You can even make a case for him having historical significance, given that he was a trailblazer and one of the first Black performers to headline and hold titles in numerous markets; including the WWF.
Monroe pops up on the ballot for one reason: he is occasionally credited with integrating public arenas in Memphis. As the story goes, Monroe was popular with Black fans and would lean into that popularity to agitate white fans. Eventually, Monroe became so popular with Black fans he refused to wrestle unless Black fans were allowed to sit anywhere in the building (they had been limited at that point to the balcony) which eventually happened.
This is a cool story, and while Monroe did draw for a time in Memphis, he doesn’t have a Hall of Fame case for his in-ring work or drawing ability. As far as historical significance, I’d rather vote for a Black performer like Luther Lindsay or Jack Claybourne, guys who were widely regarded as having main event talent but were clearly limited by racism, than for Monroe. It’s a nice story but he’s not a Hall of Fame guy to me.
A few years ago, historian Pat Laparde wrote an excellent article on why Rougeau should be in the Hall of Fame. Rougeu to me is kind of one of those candidates whose cumulative career as a wrestler and as a promoter should get him into the hall, but the way it is designed means he is sometimes voted on as one or the other. Rougeau was a hugely successful drawing card in Montreal for decades, as well as a successful attraction in Boston and around the Great Lakes region. His feud with Ivan Koloff in the late 60s did monster business, drawing upwards of 20,000 fans at times to the Montreal Forum.
One thing I think that is underrated about his candidacy is that he came in right after Yvon Robert, the biggest star in Montreal history, and was able to keep business in line. How many times in the territories did a legendary star move on, and the replacement wasn’t up to following him? Rougeau would do huge business starting his own promotion, All Star Wrestling, in the 1970s and achieve success as a headline act and promoter, successfully running stadium shows that drew over 25,000 fans. To this day, the Rougeau name is a major celebrity in Montreal and it started with Rougeau’s fame as a wrestler.
Modern Performers (US/Canada)
- Tully Blanchard & Arn Anderson w/J.J. Dillon
- Nikki Bella
- Junkyard Dog
- Bill Dundee
- Charlotte Flair
- Bill Goldberg
- Matt & Jeff Hardy
- Rick Martel
- Jon Moxley/Dean Ambrose
- Paul Orndorff
- Randy Orton
- C.M. Punk
- Seth Rollins
- Sgt. Slaughter
- Trish Stratus
- Rick & Scott Steiner
- Ultimate Warrior
Flagship Patreon Modern US/Canada Discussion with Trevor Dame: https://www.patreon.com/posts/59094057
Nikki Bella is one of the more humorous names on this list since very few hardcore fans would even consider her as a real candidate. The argument for Nikki would be that through Total Divas she helped create a new legion of female fans for WWE. Why the proportion of female wrestling fans did increase for WWE during Nikki’s time as a wrestler, it’s a really flimsy case and she was nowhere close as a worker or as a drawing card.
JYD is like a lot of the historical candidates; he has been on the ballot forever and never gotten in. Unlike say, Johnny Rougeau, I don’t think JYD’s career has been underrated historically. If anything, I think it has been overrated.
The case for JYD is that he was a huge drawing card; but was he really that big of a draw? According to research done by Matt Farmer, JYD only placed in the top 10 of drawing cards in wrestling twice (10th in 1982, 9th in 1984) and when he was brought to the WWF, he was largely viewed as a failure. If someone is getting in on a very short drawing period, I want them to be like, the biggest drawing cards in the world during those few years, especially if they have nothing to offer in the other categories.
I voted for Edge last year, but upon looking back on it, I don’t think it was the right call. Edge is a good worker but probably not an instant Hall of Fame-level worker, and he drew well at times (although his past year has been a dud) but not at a Hall of Fame level, the way someone like John Cena did. Do those two things combined add up to a Hall of Famer? I personally really liked Edge as a kid growing up, and I think that may have influenced my support for him, but taking a step back and looking at things objectively, I don’t think he makes the cut.
Charlotte Flair – Charlotte is the first of the Four Horsewomen to get on the ballot, and it will be interesting to see how she does. Women’s wrestling in WWE (and in some aspects, the rest of North America) did change in large part because of those four women, but it seems too early to make a case for Charlotte based on historical significance. I expect her to fall off the ballot, but potentially return in a number of years when her historical significance is more clear.
Goldberg is a really fascinating case. He was a huge star for a short period of time during a super hot period for wrestling; but his career was really short and he wasn’t nearly a HoF-level worker. Like JYD, he wasn’t as dominant as a draw as you may think on the Farmer lists; finishing 6th in 1998 and 8th in 1999) although he is behind some all-time names at their peak in The Rock, Steve Austin, Mick Foley and Triple H. Again, if he is going in as a major drawing card, I kind of like him to be #1 or #2 for a few years.
His late-career run in WWE adds an interesting twist to his case. He has shown the ability to pop a number if he appears on RAW or SmackDown, and has drawn well for his few matches. I’m not sure how to quantify that; he makes a noticeable difference as a nostalgia act during a time period where WWE is devoid of true star power, so he comes across as a big deal. But his appearances are so infrequent it’s hard for him to add much of a real drawing record to his legacy. He gets a No from me.
Matt and Jeff Hardy
The Hardy Boys are interesting candidates because their daredevil antics do feel like they had a big historical impact on the industry. Not only did it clearly influence teams like the Young Bucks, but it led to an era where WWE almost has to have a ladder match every few months, and other promotions have followed suit. Jeff as an individual also had some success as a main event drawing card. I don’t think they are Hall of Famers, but outside of Rey Mysterio, has any wrestler(s) from the 2000s had a bigger influence on wrestling?
Moxley did win the WON’s Wrestler of the Year award last year, which is a big deal if you value awards and every wrestler who has won that award is in the hall except for Mistico and Kazuchika Okada. That being said, he isn’t a HOF-level worker and he isn’t a HOF-level draw, although he is pretty strong in both categories, so his candidacy is similar to Edge and a few others. Being one of the initial big stars in AEW might help him when it comes to historical significance, but it’s too early in AEW’s history to tell.
I was pretty surprised that Orndorff not only isn’t in the Hall of Fame, but has only appeared on the ballot four times, and never doing better than 10% of the vote. Why is that? I think a lot of people figured that his time as a big draw was more because of working with Hulk Hogan, so he never got a ton of credit for it. I also think from that era of WWF, he is significantly less memorable than Hogan, Savage, Andre, Piper or Bobby Heenan, so he tends to be overshadowed by his contemporaries.
But the results speak for themselves; Orndorff was Hogan’s greatest drawing opponent, and the steady formula developed between the two was one of the greatest live attendance drawing programs in history, and it lasted for years. Andre and Piper may have been put in the most prominent spots of that era, but Orndorff’s flexibility and professionalism in willing to constantly lose allowed him to sell-out shows night after night with Hogan. Without having a veteran with skill and credibility that was willing to lose to Hogan at any moment, would Hogan and the WWF have been the same? I think it’s a fair question.
Orndorff is also more than the Hogan run as well, Orndorff was a successful main event draw in Memphis, Georgia and for Bill Watts. He wasn’t running up the record-setting numbers that he would with Hogan, but was still a credible top star in multiple territories. While perhaps a level below the truly great in-ring workers of his era, Orndorff was a very good bell-to-bell guy as well, with his athleticism and intensity always shining through, even later in his career when he was physically worn down. To me, he is a very deserving Hall of Famer and I hope he gets a lot of support this year.
I voted for Orton last year, but the more I think about it, the more I think it’s a mistake. The case for Orton is that he was a heavily pushed guy in a successful company for a long period of time. That’s good, but does it really satisfy any of the voting criteria?
He is regarded as a great in-ring talent, but rarely had great matches and falls well short when compared to a lot of Hall of Fame candidates from the same time frame (compare his top matches to say, Kenny Omega, Bryan Danielson or AJ Styles). He is very famous for being in WWE for a long time, but rarely drew more than his contemporaries, and again was dwarfed in individual drawing power when compared to his contemporaries like Cena or Brock Lesnar. Historical significance? No way; I just don’t think he fits the criteria, even if he is hyped up by WWE as an all-time great.
I have no idea what to do with Punk. Punk came back and flexed his drawing power this year; selling out the United Center for his return (which was just a rumor for his return) and then delivering by far the largest PPV number AEW ever drawn for his first match back. AEW numbers saw a significant increase upon his arrival; it has been a great six months for Punk.
The Punk conundrum for me is that a big reason he sold all those tickets to the United Center, and drew that big PPV number, was because he didn’t wrestle for seven years. His drawing power in some regards was artificially created by the fact that he didn’t do anything for seven years. Does he get a ton of credit for FINALLY drawing big numbers after doing nothing?
I think Punk’s best case is for historical significance, since he ushered in a new era of indie wrestling becoming more mainstream, and his actions in his final years in WWE appear to be hugely influential in shaping the last decade of pro wrestling. At this point in time, I think he gets a B+ in the three categories, which probably does add up to a Hall of Famer. I think we can wait for what looks like a potentially huge 2022 for him, so I’m holding off on voting for him at the moment.
Slaughter has been on the ballot for years and never gotten in? I don’t think he has been overlooked, he’s really famous and every fan knows he was a big star in the 80s. Slaughter was a really good worker for his size in the late 70s and early 80s, but injuries slowed him down. He would become a huge star in the early 80s, but really when he leaves the WWF to go to the dying AWA in 1985, he really stops being a huge star. He came back in the early 90s and bombed in a main event role. His time on top both as a worker or as a drawing card is too short, and I think that explains him never getting in.
- Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan
- Yoshiaki Fujiwara
- Kota Ibushi
- Kyoko Inoue
- Tomohiro Ishii
- Naomichi Marufuji
- Tetsuya Naito
- Kazuchika Okada
- Meiko Satomura
- Katsuyori Shibata
- Takashi Sugiura
- Akira Taue
Flagship Patreon Japan Discussion with Alan4L: https://www.patreon.com/posts/58988716
CIMA was the ace of Dragon Gate, which has emerged as a successful promotion that at times has been #2 in Japan. I don’t really see him as a drawing card candidate, Dragon Gate has just never drawn quite well enough to meet the standard. As a worker he is regarded as one of the best of his generation; I don’t want to criticize CIMA, but I’m probably lower on him than others as a worker; personally from Dragon Gate alone I prefer Shingo Takagi, Masaaki Mochizuki and Masato Yoshino.
The best argument for CIMA would be for historical significance, as the Dragon Gate junior heavyweight style has been popularized throughout the world and CIMA has been a huge reason for that. I think a lot of voters want to credit somebody (beyond Ultimo Dragon) for the success of Dragon Gate and CIMA would be the logical guy to do that. I don’t know, his case seems very borderline to me and I tend to not vote for borderline candidates; I think eventually I might come to the conclusion that he has to be in, but not this year.
Satoshi Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan
It’s the same thing every year with these guys; I don’t know why they are on as a tag team and not as individuals. Given the success Yuji Nagata had on the ballot, you would think both men would stand a better chance as individuals then as a tag team. One day I hope Dave does that and we can have a real discussion, because I think they both have a real case.
Ibushi to me, is one of the very best in-ring workers I have ever seen. I don’t really have to consider his drawing power or historical significance at all, because he nails that first category. With that being said, he has proven to be a successful draw both doing record business at his peak in DDT (including selling out Budokan Hall) while also doing extremely well in NJPW, even when compared to his peers. He’s an easy yes for me, even if his last year hasn’t gone well.
Ishii is a polarizing candidate. He is a one-category candidate in that his only case is as an in-ring worker, and it’s a good case. He’s had an incredible career of 4+ star matches, and has been doing it for a very long time. I guess similar to CIMA, while I recognize Ishii’s in-ring quality, but still probably rate him lower than some other voters. In NJPW alone, I’d rate Ibushi, Omega, Okada, Tanahashi, Naito and Ospreay ahead of Ishii. Ishii isn’t a real draw and has no historical significance. To me, he is short but some people will rate him higher as a worker and vote for him and I can’t get mad at them because it’s a wholly subjective debate.
Naito is such a mind-boggling candidate I’m shocked he only got 38% of the vote last year. By some measures, most notably in merchandise sales, Tetsuya Naito is the most popular wrestler in Japan over the past decade, during a record run of success for NJPW. Unequivocally, he has been a huge drawing card, selling out the Tokyo Dome on back-to-back nights for Wrestle Kingdom in 2019, in addition to countless other sell outs of major venues.
On top of that, I think Naito is a really underrated worker. He was great from very early in his career, even before his run with LIJ really took him to another level as a star. His quickness, technical ability and willingness to take risks made him stand out, even among a loaded roster full of top workers. He nails two categories for me, and should be in.
The discussion around Okada is not about whether or not he will get in, it is whether or not he can get the highest percentage of the vote ever, which was 98%, achieved by Kenta Kobashi in 2002. Okada is one of the best candidates ever, and anyone that doesn’t vote for him should have their ballots taken away.
Taue is one of the most intensely debated people on the ballot. The thing is, no new points are ever really made about him. Either you feel like his work as one of the four pillars, where he was fortunate enough to be working with three of the greatest wrestlers of all time, was enough to get him into the HOF, or you don’t. Personally, I don’t think he has enough success while not working with those guys to get into the Hall of Fame.
Some people really love Taue, but I’m simply not one of them. He’s a good hoss and shines in those matches working with three of the greatest workers ever, in a super-hot period for wrestling where the crowd was super into the main events. I think there are plenty of superior wrestlers of his generation, and as a draw, he lags far behind his contemporaries in Japan. He is just below the standard set by 90s Japanese wrestlers in both drawing ability and in-ring work.
- Lord James Blears
- Dave Brown
- Bobby Bruns
- Bob Caudle
- Jim Crockett Jr.
- Bobby Davis
- Joe Higuchi
- Jim Johnston
- Takaaki Kidani
- Larry Matysik
- Stephanie McMahon
- James Melby
- Don Owen
- Reggie Parks
- Morris Sigel
- Tony Schiavone
- George Scott
- Mike Tenay
- Ted Turner
- Stanley Weston
- Grand Wizard
Note: I joined the Flagship guys for a special podcast specifically on the non-wrestler category, which you can listen to on the Flagship’s Patreon page.
You can only vote for a maximum of five people in this category, and I think if you could vote for more, I probably would. There are a lot of really good candidates, and I think there is a bit of a backlog of people in this category.
Bruns is on the ballot for one reason: He trained Rikidozan, helped him get booked in the US, and organized some early wrestling tours of Japan. Due to that role, he played a critical part in establishing puroresu in Japan, and in a way everyone associated with wrestling in Japan owes some gratitude to Bruns.
Bruns was also a wrestler and booker in Mid-Pacific Promotions, but wasn’t particularly successful enough in either of those fields to warrant serious hall consideration. His case is really all about the role he played in shaping Rikidozan, and launching professional wrestling as a major enterprise in Japan. Due to the fact that he wasn’t a legendary wrestling star as a performer, and the fact that his role in the development of puroresu isn’t that well-known, he has struggled to gain a ton of support in the voting. However, it’s hard to deny that he didn’t play a tremendously important role in the history of wrestling, and deserves to be recognized.
Jim Crockett Jr.
Jim Crockett Jr. is one of the most well-known territory promoters, due to the success of Jim Crockett Promotions in the early 1980s, where he legitimately went head-to-head with the expanding WWF. There is a lot to Crockett’s case; he had some hugely successful years where his promotion drew really well, and wrestlers like Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes matured into all-time great performers under his umbrella. His drawing is even more impressive when you consider that the cities he was really promoting in; Greensboro, Charlotte, Norfolk, etc. where not exactly compared to the markets the WWF had in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, etc.
There is a negative to Crockett’s case; the most obvious being that his promotion eventually ran out of money and business died to the point that he was forced to sell the company to Turner. Another knock on him is that while his promotion was successful, he wasn’t the booker (George Scott and Dusty Rhodes would be really responsible for Crockett’s biggest years) and you could argue he wasn’t hands-on enough to make the Hall of Fame, if you choose to vote like that. If I had more than five votes, I’d strongly consider voting for him, but I think there are better candidates available.
Davis died back in January, which brought his name back into the news and led to more discussion about his career. What came out was a very compelling Hall of Fame case. Davis contributed to many successful drawing programs as a manager in the 50s and 60s, and perhaps more importantly, was an innovator in the role and would provide a blueprint for future greats such as Bobby Heenan and Jim Cornette.
Davis started out as a teenager working in Ohio, and ended up working for Toots Mondt in New York City in the late 50s, managing Dr. Jerry Graham and Eddie Graham in a series of matches, mainly against Antonio Rocca and Miguel Perez, which drew sell-outs to Madison Square Garden. He was also Buddy Rogers’ manager, and was heavily involved in the famous Buddy Rogers vs Pat O’Connor match at Comiskey Field in 1961, which drew a record attendance of 38,000. Later, he would be a manager in the early days of the WWWF, managing people like Gorilla Monsoon as they challenged Bruno Sammartino for the world title in successful programs throughout the northeast.
Davis was a trained wrestler who would interfere, get heat on his opponents, and then deliver the payoff by taking bumps from the babyfaces. He cut promos where he arrogantly hyped up his wrestlers (as well as himself) and it’s extremely obvious that future managers would model themselves after Davis. He was an innovator in the role of the manager, and also was involved in many different money-drawing programs, including one of the most famous and successful matches of the 20th century.
There really isn’t anybody to compare Jim Johnston too, but I think everyone acknowledges that he is probably the best person to ever compose wrestling music. Many of Johnston’s works have become iconic staples in wrestling fandom, and generations of fans associate their appreciation of wrestling with his music. He also legitimately sold millions of albums of his work, so you can even say he drew a lot of money for WWE while he was working there.
Kidani deserves credit for seeing NJPW through a boom period where it achieved record success; but as the president of Bushiroad, NJPW’s parent company, I wonder how much credit he should really get. In my opinion, to get into the Hall of Fame, you really should be a hands-on person whose main career responsibility was wrestling.
Kidani’s administrative work was wise enough to make good decisions, like keeping Gedo and Jado on as bookers, and making smart business moves like expanding WrestleKingdom to multiple nights and creating New Japan World, but I just don’t know how much credit he personally should get for that success when the real wrestling people (the bookers and the wrestlers) are the people who ultimately make the biggest difference.
If you want to recognize NJPW’s business success in the 2010s; vote for Gedo, and the top stars like Okada, Naito, Omega, Tanahashi, etc. Those are the NJPW names that belong in the Hall of Fame; not necessarily the owner who bought NJPW and stayed out of the way.
Owen has gotten very close to going in, and people recognize him for his longevity running Portland Wrestling, as well as the respect he had from the talent, who he paid well and treated with more respect than most promoters. The knock on Owen was that his promotion was much smaller than a lot of other territories, and he never had really big peaks that other promoters who have been voted in achieved. I respect the case for Owen, but his territory was just too small compared to his peers to warrant a vote.
Siegel has a somewhat similar case to Owen; he took over Houston Wrestling in 1929 and ran it until his death in 1967, when it was sold by his widow to Paul Boesch. So Siegel had tremendous longevity in the business, but unlike Owen, he did have a peak where Houston was a legitimately big territory. In the 1940s in particular, when Bill Longson was the world champion, Houston was one of the biggest promotions in the country; running shows at both the City Auditorium and the larger Sam Houston Coliseum, drawing crowds in excess of 10,000 people for big matches.
Other big stars who were featured regularly for Siegel include Lou Thesz, Gorgeous George and The Duseks. Danny McShain, a light heavyweight wrestler who is credited with popularizing blading, was at home in Houston and Siegel was ahead of his time in some regards in how much blood was on his shows.
The only knock on Siegel is that he wasn’t always the booker for his promotion, with Boesch taking over in the mid-40s and booking the territory until Siegel retired. However, Siegel had tremendous success as a promoter, frequently drawing big crowds in one of the steadiest markets in the world, and also had incredible longevity in the business.
I’m not a Turner voter for the same way I don’t vote for Kidani. Yes, Turner’s decision to purchase JCP and turn it into WCW was a critically important moment in the history of wrestling and the industry is very different if he didn’t do that. However, wrestling simply wasn’t one of the most important things in Turner’s life and he was not a hand-on guy in the business, which probably explains WCW’s ineptitude for most of its existence. He made a big impact on wrestling because he was a huge player in the television industry, but he’s not a “wrestling” figure; or at least not enough of one to warrant induction.
Wizard is one of the most successful managers in wrestling history. While he is recognized for his run in the northeast as the Grand Wizard of Wrestling, he had an entire career before he took on that persona. Before that, he was Abdullah Farouk, a management figure for The Sheik during some of Sheik’s biggest years in the 1970s. That run alone, where Sheik was one of the biggest drawing cards in wrestling, is enough to warrant consideration.
He followed that run with his time in New York as the Wizard. In the northeast, his trademark turban, garish suit and wrap-around sunglasses was an iconic look, and there were a million knock-offs of him where managers wore obnoxious outfits to garner negative attention. While he was often a “B” manager behind Lou Albano, he did have some very notable runs, most importantly his time with Superstar Billy Graham, when Graham won the world title and was a huge attraction.
In the latest edition of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, Jesse Collings (@JesseCollings) and Jason Ounpraseuth (@JasonOun95) discuss the various world champions in pro wrestling. They start by talking about Hangman Adam Page’s potential as a long-term babyface champion, then get into the differences between Big E and Roman Reigns and wrap up with the zaniness going on in NJPW with Shingo Takagi, Kazuchika Okada and Will Ospreay all alleging to be the world champion.