To many of us, the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame is the only pro wrestling hall of fame that matters. It considers wrestling from all over the world and in all eras. However, even though there is a historical category, some candidates are so far in the past that voters might not have the necessary knowledge to accurately determine the strength of a performer’s candidacy. In those cases, such as Martin “Farmer” Burns in 2002 or Evan “Strangler” Lewis in 2007, Dave Meltzer makes an executive decision under the advice of historians to include them in the hall. 

Unfortunately, that also means that some of the most important pioneers of our great sport who should have gone in with the inaugural class in 1996 must wait decades for the recognition they deserve, like the induction of James McLaughlin in 2016. 

Presently, eight pro wrestlers who began their wrestling careers in the 1800s are in the WON Hall of Fame:

  1. Frank Gotch
  2. George Hackenschmidt
  3. Tom Jenkins
  4. William Muldoon
  5. Martin “Farmer” Burns
  6. Evan “Strangler” Lewis
  7. James McLaughlin
  8. Paul Pons

This is an excellent list. A hall of fame that attempts to cover all eras that doesn’t have Gotch, Hackenschmidt, Muldoon, Burns, Lewis, and McLaughlin is not a hall of fame. Should Dan McLeod be included? What about John McMahon or Ernest Roeber? Maybe James Owens? Those are borderline cases that may have to be examined in the future.

But there is a more pressing candidate whose significance ranks up there with those already in and frankly surpasses some of them.

His name is Homer Lane, and he deserves to be in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame.

The argument for his candidacy can go line by line with the criteria.

Longevity

Firstly, he clearly meets the longevity requirement, having an over 30-year career from the 1850s to the 1880s, which began in the traveling carnival—the root industry from which pro wrestling grew. 

Positive Influence

Secondly, and most important, is his argument for positive influence. Homer Lane is key to developing virtually every important aspect of worked wrestling from the 1860s to the 1910s. Post-Civil War, Lane began taking his ballyhoo to the papers, and using the burgeoning media to draw marks to his barnstorming exploits. Advertisements for matches ahead of time helped pro wrestling grow from a piece of a traveling carnival to an event that can draw on its own. Lane was in the first generation of wrestlers post-Civil War to do this. Even more significantly, after a snafu where a referee who wasn’t on the take exposed his work in the papers, he linked up with venue owner (and suspected criminal) Harry Hill, who would ref many matches moving forward. Four years later, they would expand their syndicate and include other regular wrestlers—most notably John McMahon—making the first full-fledged “trust” in wrestling. That same year, Lane introduced a concept to wrestling that he took from boxing that still lingers today: weight classes. After their trust made McMahon the heavyweight champion due to his larger size, Lane was made the middleweight champion, a significant development in wrestling history. Right up until the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, when pro wrestling revenue shifted completely and they had to stop gambling on their matches, precedents that were set by Lane and his crew were copied throughout the industry

Drawing Power

Thirdly, a few things need to be kept in mind to discuss Lane’s drawing power. We are completely at the mercy of what newspapers decided to report. If they only said it was a “well-sized crowd,” then that’s all we have to go on. Even more often, they simply wouldn’t comment on gate, attendance, or gambling numbers. So, there are only a few actual figures we have hard numbers for. Furthermore, the modern reader has to adjust their thinking to what drawing meant in the post-Civil War wrestling world. While tickets sales were a part of the business, they were a small part. The major money was made by gambling. So it wasn’t about drawing the most people, but by drawing the most money to bet the way you want it to. 

In this sense, Lane’s drawing ability in his day was top-tier.

He worked on top and with the biggest names for years. On the famous Lane/McMahon match in Manhattan on May 30, 1873, they could work Lane as the heavy favorite, so when McMahon won, the crew cleaned up. The top single gambler made $2,000 ($51,000 in today’s money), who undoubtedly was one of their patsy bettors, not to mention the rest of their intermediaries whose winnings weren’t listed. Add approximately a $400 gate (a little over $10,000 today), and it’s probably safe to assume that the revenue for the night was close to $4,000 (approximately $100,000 today). 

Despite the fact that the amount of money being bet was more important than the number of people attending, Lane succeeded in both. In a rematch between Lane and McMahon in August, this time in Troy, NY, the local paper reported 1,000 people in attendance. This was at a time when the population of Troy was less than 50,000, and travel was much harder than it is now, so if you weren’t within walking distance, or weren’t wealthy enough for a carriage, you couldn’t attend. 

Lane was described as a talented wrestler, but so was every wrestler. Obviously, no footage exists from this era, so just like the eight others in the hall, the in-ring performance aspect isn’t a consideration. 

As a pioneer and a draw, Homer Lane is just as important as James McLaughlin, the apple-to-apple comparison from the same era who is already in. It’s apropos that the two had a program in ’69-’70, and Lane stepped in as champion when McLaughlin was arrested.

It took a long time for McLaughlin to get the recognition he deserves.

Lane still hasn’t. Hopefully, that can be rectified soon.