In January, Game Changer Wrestling hosted a ceremony for the first class of the Independent Wrestling Hall of Fame. It was a universally acclaimed event – people thought the inductees were well deserved and the speeches were genuinely affecting. Coincidentally (or not), Ring of Honor rolled out their Hall of Fame a few weeks later, with the Briscoes, Bryan Danielson, and Samoa Joe as the first inductees. Again, only a fool would have an issue with those choices. So, we have several outlets doing a commendable job honoring the history of independent wrestling.

However…

I’m left with some questions.

What were the parameters for these halls?

Was there a ballot of consideration?

Who voted?

And most importantly, where was the discussion?

I’ve long been a proponent of an Independent Wrestling Hall of Fame. There are men and women who have made enormous contributions to the wrestling industry that have little hope of being elected to either the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame or the WWE’s version. But mostly I just find Halls of Fame a lot of fun. I love Observer Hall of Fame season – I devour all the articles and podcasts pertaining to it that I can. It ultimately doesn’t affect my life if, say, Tetsuya Naito gets into the Observer Hall of Fame (and I’m sure Naito doesn’t care either) but I love dissecting his career, rewatching old matches, researching attendances, and debating the topic online. And we haven’t gotten those opportunities yet with the independent wrestling Hall of Fame. So what if we built our own?

Again, I want to stress that GCW and ROH have done admirable jobs with their Halls. I just want something to facilitate fan discussion and educate on the history of independent wrestling. If we construct the idea from scratch, what does that look like?

Let’s break this down, FAQ style. And I want to say, the below is simply an outline as to how I imagine such a project would work. None of this is set in stone, but I think it holds together and makes sense (at least to me)

First things first: what would we consider “independent wrestling” – for example, would outlaw promotions that ran against the NWA count?

The Wikipedia entry listing independent promotions has an interesting paragraph:

“There is no concrete definition on what constitutes an independent promotion. A general guideline would be that an independent promotion, as its name suggests, has no corporate sponsor or ownership providing funding for its operation. For example, Ring of Honor and Impact Wrestling fall outside this definition, as both are subsidiaries of Sinclair Broadcast Group and Anthem Sports, respectively. Another guideline would be a restriction, either by choice or by financial or logistical circumstances, to a particular geographic area, be it a state, a metropolitan area, or even a single town or arena.”

I think that’s a solid baseline even though it’s not perfect (Ring of Honor, even in the early years, ran the Midwest and several cities in the Northeast). I feel we all know independent wrestling when we see it, but there are probably a few companies to break down further as to whether they qualify:

ROH: Yes, up through the sale to Sinclair

ECW: Maybe up through Barely Legal? After that ECW had regular PPVs, a working agreement with WWF, and ultimately national television.

SMW: This was funded by Rick Rubin and had deals with WCW and WWF, but I still feel deep down they would qualify? It might be academic, as I don’t think anyone from SMW would get in for SMW alone

TNA: TNA was bought by Panda Energy just a few months after its genesis, so it’s a hard no from me

AEW: Surely you jest

How far back are we going?

Independent wrestling really rose in importance as the territories closed, so my first thought is 1990 or so. However, promoters like Jim Kettner and Bob Raskin were doing important work in the ‘80s so maybe we’ll have 1985 as the starting point. That’s just a general guideline but feels like a good starting point.

Who gets a vote?

Everyone. It feels churlish to limit who can vote when independent wrestling exists on such a grassroots level, and I also have no idea who (a) “deserves” a vote or (b) who would decide who deserves a vote. If you are already thinking about your ballot, I’d say you’re qualified (however, spelling it “indy” wrestling is an automatic disqualification). Voting would be done probably through some sort of Google form, with a limited registration process to hopefully avoid people spamming votes.

How will we determine the ballot?

I would say something like the Greatest Wrestler Ever project, where maybe there’s a message board and someone nominates a candidate, and then a certain amount of people has to second the nominee for them to go on the ballot. Hopefully, this will keep the ballot at a reasonable number of nominees and keep people who worked their local shindie as Barbed Wire Bill from sneaking on.

Who’s going to go on the ballot? Is it just wrestlers?

Anyone who was involved in producing wrestling events qualifies – wrestlers, bookers, promoters, ring announcers, trainers, commentators, and the like. No journalists or anything like that, at least for now (I’m sure your podcast is great, you are not going on the ballot).

We are only voting people on the ballot, not buildings (like the American Legion Hall in Reseda), companies (like ROH), or feuds (like Punk vs. Samoa Joe).

And to clarify, if a tag team is on the ballot, their candidacy covers only their tag teamwork. And if a singles wrestler is on the ballot, the candidacy covers only their singles work. So the Briscoe Brothers on the ballot would focus on only their tag matches, while Alex Shelley’s candidacy would exclude any work he did as part of the Motor City Machine Guns, for example.

The Observer HOF requires an act to have 15 years of experience, or be over 35 with 10 years of experience? Will there be a similar threshold here?

I would say you would need to have begun your independent wrestling career 15 years prior to the year in voting (so it would be 2007 if voting were to begin in 2022). This will keep someone like Nick Wayne from getting onto the ballot well before they are ready.

There won’t be any kind of age limit. I know the Observer experience and age limits drive people nuts because you’re often being asked to evaluate people at the peak of their career. But it’s different for independent wrestling – if you’re good, you’ll likely move up to a larger company sooner rather than later and your independent career comes to an end. And I feel 15 years on the independents is more than enough time to truly judge someone’s career arc.

What should we consider when voting?

The criteria for the WON HOF are “a combination of drawing power, being a great in-ring performer or excelling in one’s field in pro wrestling, as well as having historical significance in a positive manner.” I feel those criteria still apply, but I would downplay the drawing aspect in favor of the other two. Drawing is capped at a certain level in independent wrestling whereas wrestling ability and historical significance are not. Someone could get in for just being a great wrestler, or someone could get in just based on their influence, but I don’t know if anyone is getting in just for being a draw.

Should success outside the independents count?

If your accomplishments on the independents have an influence on larger companies, that may be a consideration. But the fact CM Punk was WWE champion, for example, should not factor into evaluation for this HOF. (Inversely, I find myself tempted to focus on those candidates who spent the majority of their career on the independents – if Punk is a viable WON HOF candidate, he’s already getting plenty of recognition, and we’re trying to shine a light on those that would otherwise go unnoticed. That’s just personal preference though, and ultimately, I suppose the best candidates should be elected regardless).

Will there be an inaugural class like the Observer, where Dave immediately put in over 100 wrestlers without any votes?

When the Observer Hall of Fame was implemented in 1996, there were several more decades of wrestling than what we are considering and a worldwide pool to draw from; it made sense to have an inaugural class. We’re looking at a smaller window of time and a more niche product, so I don’t see a need to automatically induct anyone. If baseball can start with five inductees for their Hall of Fame, I don’t see a need to overload it to start.

Also, I feel there would be fewer consensus picks. No one blinked an eye when Lou Thesz and Ric Flair were inducted into the WON HOF, but I honestly don’t know if there are many candidates whose automatic induction wouldn’t invite grousing from various corners of fandom. So, everyone who goes into the Independent HOF will be voted in.

What’s the threshold to get in? For the Observer it’s 60% of your designated region.

This is where things get complicated. The Observer HOF sends out a set number of ballots to a limited voting bloc. In our scenario, anyone could be eligible to vote, but we have no idea how many would participate. Would it be 10? 100? 1000? And I imagine the ballot is going to be large, so it’s possible fractured voting could lead to no one getting 60%.

I propose for year one, everyone gets 10 votes, and the top 10 vote-getters gain entry. And from then on, we do the top 5 every year. We would ensure a regular stream of inductees, with the best candidates (hopefully) making it in every year.

One benefit of this would be the elimination (or at least a reduction) in strategic voting, where someone eschews voting for a sure-fire candidate to lend their vote to someone with less support.

Will anyone be eliminated from future ballots if they don’t receive enough support, or if they’re still on the ballot after a certain number of years?

The Observer boots you off the ballot if you get less than 10% of the vote, or if you get less than 50% after 15 years on the ballot. We’re flying blind at this point, so I want to defer on this question. I could absolutely see cutting off the bottom 5 or 10 candidates, but we don’t know the size of the ballot yet, so we can table this for now.

Will the ballot be broken out by category? Like wrestlers in one category, bookers in another, etc?

Election will be based on the top vote-getters for all nominees, so the top five nominees get in. It won’t be the top 5 promoters, the top 5 wrestlers, the top five commentators, etc., just the top five vote-getters. There isn’t much need to split out the ballot. And often wrestlers will wear many hats (wrestler, trainer, promoter) so parsing out where they would go would just be an unneeded headache.

When would voting take place?

I would say in the spring, we wouldn’t want to overlap with the Observer HOF. Announcing the inductees during WrestleMania weekend (probably the busiest time of the year for independent wrestling) sounds good.

Is this worldwide? Are we including Europe, Japan, and Mexico?

We’re probably already biting off more than we can chew here, so let’s keep it at the United States and Canada for now.

 How are we going to handle regionalism?

This is the most complex and convoluted part of this exercise. Let me explain what I mean by regionalism.

Beyond Wrestling is an independent federation based in New England. They have run hundreds of shows, and the vast majority have taken place in Massachusetts or Rhode Island. They are as regional a promotion as it gets. But if you’re an independent wrestling fan, you know about Beyond. Their shows air live on IWTV, often every week. They have shows up for sale on Smart Mark Video. They are, against all logic, a national company.

Contrast them to, say, Tony Rumble, who was a very influential and successful promoter in the New England area in the ’90s. I would say anyone in the area who was aware of him would consider him a very strong candidate. But it would be tough to gain support when I imagine a good chunk of the voter bloc won’t have as deep an understanding of his contributions as they would, say, Samoa Joe. How do we recognize them?

My idea is this: the Observer breaks out candidates by region (U.S., Japan, Mexico, etc). We could do the same with regional candidates. Tony Rumble would fall into the “New England” bucket, and if you designate yourself a New England voter, then if someone on the New England appears on 60% of the ballots from New England voters, then they would get in. This would (a) give these regional candidates and fair shot and (b) still allow people to vote on them and not just induct them via committee.

You’ve thought a lot (arguably too much) about this, are you going to run this proposed Hall?

Lord no. I’m more of an idea man. But I hope some outlet picks up on this and runs point on the project. There will be some executive decisions that have to be made (like adding future candidates to the ballot, which candidates are regional, and probably a million other minor details).

You realize this will likely be a huge shitshow if this idea gains traction, right?

Probably, but wouldn’t that be the ultimate tribute to independent wrestling?