Now that we have identified those honorees whose inclusion is perhaps the most questionable, who exactly is on the list of current and recently retired performers whose HOF rings are already sized? These are the best of the recent best, as it seems as though the WWE will utilize the Legends designation to honor wrestlers from the territory era and before. Simply put, a Hall of Fame wouldn’t be worth having without them. Once again, these are in no particular order of importance.
The “Duh” List or “Did you Even Have to Ask?”
The Big Show
The names listed above are a veritable “Murderers Row” of talent. Each and every one has been a part of multiple high-profile storylines, has sold out shows around the world, and has held the WWE championship. All of these stars have become synonymous with the WWE, been featured in non-WWE related media and, in some cases, have found crossover success outside the WWE. In short, a mere mortal doesn’t need to make a case for these superstars.
For the sake of argument though, here are the reasons:
The Rock is the biggest no-brainer on this list. The man at whom fans once chanted “Die Rocky die!” turned himself into one of the biggest draws of all time. A multi-time world champion and Wrestlemania main event participant, The Rock took part in 2 of the most significant “torch passing” matches in Wrestlemania history: his match versus Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania 18 and his matches versus John Cena at Wrestlemanias 28 and 29 signaled the ends of 2 WWE eras and the beginning of 2 others. His matches against Stone Cold Steve Austin at Wrestlemanias 15, 17, and 19 comprise the only main event trilogy ever.
Outside the ring, The Rock became everything Vince McMahon has ever wanted a headliner to become in the mainstream entertainment culture achieving success on the highest level. From hosting Saturday Night Live to becoming the biggest movie star in the world, The Rock is truly no longer just “The Most Electrifying Man in Sports-Entertainment” but “The Most Electrifying Man in Sports AND Entertainment”. The only question regarding his invite is “What is taking so long?”
In many cases, the same can be said for John Cena. Cena, who once criticized The Rock for being a part-timer who only comes back to the WWE when he has something to sell, has in recent years found his acting and hosting careers blossom in such a way that his wrestling has almost become secondary. Appearances in “Trainwreck” with Amy Schumer and “Sisters” with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, have helped Cena broaden his acting lane from “action dude” into comedy by showcasing his sense of humor. Cena is a featured part of the WWE’s highly successful Total Divas and Total Bellas television programs along with hosting his own reality game show “American Grit”. Cena also works frequently with both the WWE’s Be A Star anti-bullying campaign and the Make-A-Wish Foundation being recognized as their most-requested wish ever.
Cena’s in-ring accomplishments start and end the fact that he is a 16-time world champion, a number only matched by the incomparable Ric Flair. Once criticized for only using “Cena’s Five Moves of Doom” in his matches, Cena has worked to improve his skillset in effort to matchup better with the WWE’s new stars who have perhaps a greater toolbox of holds from which to draw. This has allowed Cena to work great matches even at this late hour of his career. No matter which side of the “Let’s go Cena!/Cena sucks!” chants fans fall, there is no doubt that he is an absolute lock for the Hall of Fame when he hangs up his boots for good.
In fact, quite a few members of this list have used wrestling as a springboard to other successful ventures. Chris Jericho has had a great career inside the ring, most notably beating The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin on the same night in 2001 and becoming the first undisputed champion in wrestling history by uniting the big, gold WCW championship belt with the WWE World Heavyweight championship. He also found success with his band Fozzy and travels the world touring with bands like Metallica and Avenged Sevenfold and running The Jericho Network of podcasts, which includes his very successful podcast Talk is Jericho, when he’s not in the ring having show-stealing matches at the age of 46.
Likewise, Brock Lesnar cashed in on the notoriety afforded to him by becoming the youngest WWE champion in history to pursue a career in mixed martial arts. Lesnar became one of the biggest draws in all of the UFC and becoming heavyweight champion in only his second match with the company. This allowed Lesnar to achieve mainstream success in a legitimate sport in a way that few other pro wrestlers have ever done. After successfully defending his title a couple of times but eventually losing it, Lesnar returned to the WWE as a greater attraction than ever before. He proceeded to dominate his competition in ways not previously witnessed, culminating in his Summerslam bout with John Cena. Lesnar took Cena to Suplex City, leaving the man who has sold millions of dollars of merchandise featuring his personal mantra of “Never Give Up” a broken, befuddled heap, cementing his legacy as one of sports-entertainment’s true badasses. Still active but with limited dates, Lesnar will be enshrined as soon as he permits.
A couple of other members of this group, The Big Show and Goldberg, are in less for their skill on the mic or in-ring prowess, but because they are two of the biggest attractions ever. Both used their intensity and physicality to dominate their opponents and capture the imagination of the crowd. Pro wrestling has a history of promoting the spectacle of the moment over the quality of the performance and both maximized on this as well as anyone ever.
The Big Show commands attention simply for his size alone. Once billed as simply “The Giant”, The Big Show helped change the tide of the Monday Night War by defecting to the WWE from WCW and instantly impacting the title picture and becoming a multi-time champion over the course of his long career. In better shape than ever before, The Big Show is still getting cheers today and helping to make stars out of up-and-comers by having excellent matches that others his size simply can’t have. Once retired, he won’t have to use one of his gigantic hands to knock down the door to the Hall of Fame, someone will happily open it for him.
The legend of Goldberg was written 20 years ago, solidified by an incredible 173-0 record to start his career, and it’s only been enhanced since then. Goldberg changed the game with his dominant babyface character, squashing greats left and right along the way, in matches featuring more fists than headlocks. Each and every Goldberg match was an event and the aura of Goldberg continued to grow even during a 13 year hiatus from the ring and despite a fairly unmemorable run with the WWE in the early 2000s, which culminated in one of the most reviled matches in Wrestlemania history versus Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 20.
Fans were treated to a dream rematch when Goldberg returned to face Brock Lesnar, and Goldberg showed that he was older, but still a dominant animal, beating Lesnar in under 2 minutes. This previously unimaginable dominance over Lesnar whipped the WWE Universe into a frenzy that couldn’t be ignored by management and as a result Goldberg got a brief run as Universal Champion before dropping the title to Lesnar at Wrestlemania 33. Though it seems like Goldberg has finally retired for good, odds are he will find himself in the Hall of Fame sooner than later.
Daniel Bryan’s WWE run was a phenomenon, a burning comet flashing across the sky that burns brightly but disappears quickly, leaving a feeling of something undone. The ultimate underdog, Bryan was one of the most beloved superstars ever and the title chase storyline with the Authority that played out leading to Wrestlemania 30 is the modern equivalent of the Vince McMahon/Stone Cold storyline.
In many ways, it was better.
The constant references to Daniel Bryan as being a B+ player by most notably Stephanie McMahon and the many seemingly stilted situations that occurred made it seem as though Bryan might never have a real shot at claiming the title. Month after month, Bryan found his quest for the title stymied at every turn by agents of the Authority, but his fans grew and the “Yes Movement” was born. This atmosphere of inequity collided with the “Yes Movement” and helped create one of the most magical moments in Wrestlemania history at Wrestlemania 30 when a damaged, bandaged Daniel Bryan emerged victorious over the Authority and claimed his title. While real-life injury would force Bryan to relinquish the title just months later and ultimately cause him to permanently retire just a year later, Bryan is still one of the most cheered performers ever.
Randy Orton has one of the most impressive resume’s ever, as he ranks highly on the list of most title runs ever and has been near the top of the heap for almost 15 years. Over his career Orton has been the proverbial dark side to John Cena’s light side, with the two engaging in numerous memorable battles. Orton is a natural, able to have great matches with workers of varying skillsets.
Orton is such an athletic freak seemingly destined for greatness that it has long been said that if someone was designing a sports-entertainer from scratch, they would make him look like Randy Orton. Orton carries a quiet fury with him at all times, seemingly ready to strike at any time, a perfect reflection of his moniker “The Viper”. Despite seeming too quiet at times, and not as skilled on the microphone as some others, Orton is without question one of the top stars of his and any era.
Someone included on this list who hasn’t had the outside crossover success of The Rock or John Cena but instead sold himself out to the old-school idea of keeping kayfabe to become a wrestling icon is The Undertaker. Often referred to as Vince McMahon’s Greatest Creation, The Undertaker is a multi-time world champion across his storied career, along the way compiling the greatest win streak in Wrestlemania history, running his record to 22-0 before falling to another all-time great (and member of this list) Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 30 and ultimately finishing with an astonishing 23-2 record.
In later years, The Undertaker made only 1 or 2 appearances outside of his Wrestlemania match each year, in order to build the mystery. Despite the infrequency of his appearances, The Undertaker continued to have entertaining matches with talent many years his junior by keeping himself in excellent, almost-freakish condition. Now that it seems “The Phenom” has finally left the arena for good, without question his invitation to join the pantheon of immortals in the HOF is soon to arrive.
Who’s left? Hmm…
Oh yeah. Triple H.
The man is so good, he was able to overcome the stigma of “The Curtain Call” and marry the boss’s daughter. Having done enough by helping define the Attitude Era as a member of Degeneration X, Triple H grew into one of the most fierce competitors the squared circle has ever seen, becoming one of the most decorated champions ever along the way. Possessing an amazing ability to combine size, speed, and skill, Triple H made every win feel inevitable and every loss mean something for the victor.
The man simply known as “The Game” has dedicated his later career to building others, either via matches at Wrestlemania or through his work in building the next roster of superstars at NXT. It can be said that no in-ring performer has done more to shape the future of wrestling than Triple H and he has done it over the past 20 years and he shows no signs of slowing down, aside from the fact that he’s taken a page from The Undertaker’s playbook and become mainly a Wrestlemania-only in-ring performer. The self-anointed “King of Kings” will take his throne in the Hall of Fame when he wants to claim it.
These are the workers without whom the story of wrestling could not be written.
As a fan, I wouldn’t have wanted to know the story of wrestling without them.
Next: Part 3: Who is NEVER (or maybe never) getting in?