Kayfabe Thoughts: Notes from Episode 4: The WWE Hall of Fame

Each year, one of the centerpieces of Wrestlemania week is the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Typically, the year’s honorees begin to be revealed weekly just after the Royal Rumble, the event which kicks off the “Road to Wrestlemania” officially. Thanks to the WWE’s status in sports and entertainment, coverage of and reaction to the announced names extends from not just WWE.com and the traditional WWE programs to mainstream outlets like ESPN.com, USA Today, and E! Entertainment News.

Though there is no physical structure members of the WWE Universe can visit to learn more about these heroes of the squared circle as there is for other sports greatest athletes, membership into this hallowed Hall is just as revered. Upon his induction into the WWE HOF in 2015, Kevin Nash equivocated the honor with winning his first championship. In a sport where kingdoms are built and legends are made by championship reigns, this is quite a claim. In number, there are only 164 total members and of those, 105 have been inducted as individual honorees (excluding those inducted under the Legends banner). Quite impressive considering the number of wrestlers, federations, and territories that have run across the globe over the course of the last 100 years.

Because of the exclusivity associated with the invitation to join these hallowed ranks, there is much controversy and discussion concerning past, present, and future honorees. Generally, the arguments are broken into four general questions:

Who is in the hall that shouldn’t be?

Who are locks as future honorees?

Who isn’t a mortal lock but is deserving nonetheless?

Who is NEVER getting in (or why it doesn’t seem like they ever will)?

So which ten wrestlers (or sports-entertainers) serve as answers to each of these questions? For the purposes of finding answers, I’m only going to consider singles performers inducted individually. There is no need to debate whether or not Chris Von Erich (most notable for tragedy), Donald Trump (eww), or Lou Thesz (absolutely) belongs, as all were elected as part of a group or as a celebrity or legend.  Also, placement on any list isn’t indicative of most/least deserving, only that the listed falls into that category.

Now then, at the risk of finding myself on the receiving end of a stink face, let’s start with the members that maybe shouldn’t be…

“Really? They’re in?” or “The Hall of Very Good”

Greg “The Hammer” Valentine

Wendi Richter

Tito Santana

Koko B. Ware

“Hacksaw” Jim Duggan

Rikishi

The Godfather

The Big Bossman

Don “The Rock” Muraco

Nikolai Volkoff

Now, there are some fantastic workers on this list who compiled quite a list of accomplishments over the course of their long careers. In fact, most of these performers held titles in multiple territories throughout that era. Their inclusion on this list is not meant to demean or degrade their legacy. In fact, their very presence in this category only exists because they have already achieved Hall of Fame status. In short, their legend is already written and the opinions of a mark, keyboard jockey changes nothing.

It’s that it is called the “WWE Hall of Fame” not the “WWE Hall of Very Good” (h/t to my friend Scott for introducing me to that phrasing in regards to the baseball HOF about 15 years ago, though there is little chance he ever reads this).

When looking over the list of members, there should be feeling of awe and reverence, not confusion and wonderment. That these 10 names comprise 10 percent of individually inducted wrestlers is astounding. Even in a sport which is openly subject to storylines, there is little tangible evidence to support those listed being included in the pantheon of wrestling’s greatest ever.

The standard for inclusion into a given sport’s hall of fame was once described to me as this: the sport’s history could not be fully written without including this athlete. Ask yourself how many of these names fill that criteria.

Sure, Greg Valentine had one of the most bloody matches EVER versus Roddy Piper at Starrcade ‘83 (Piper experienced permanent hearing loss as a result) and had brief runs as WWE Intercontinental and Tag Team champion, but he was never in the upper echelon of superstars during the Rock N Wrestling era.

Tito Santana is much the same. Santana is the only man not named Hulk Hogan to appear in matches at each of the first nine Wrestlemanias, a two-time Intercontinental and Tag Team champion but did anyone ever buy a PPV to see Tito wrestle?

Wendi Richter was a huge part of the “Rock N Wrestling” era, but the women’s division wasn’t exactly deep at the time. Truthfully, it was Cyndi Lauper and Moolah who were the stars of the program, Wendi was more of the wrestling stand-in for Cyndi. Considering she was the victim of the “Original Screwjob”, it’s almost incredible that she was inducted at all.

Rikishi? Really? He’s more famous for his ass than anything else, including a storyline where he ran over Stone Cold Steve Austin. Over the course of his WWE run, Rikishi played so many characters (much like fellow list-mate The Godfather) that all floated near the mid-card, it’s very hard to consider any of them long-term successes (except for when The Godfather was known as Papa Shango and he made the Ultimate Warrior sweat blood. That was pretty dope.)

Duggan? He won the inaugural Royal Rumble but is still more known for yelling than anything in-ring. He also possessed the absolutely most boring signature move ever: the three point stance into shoulder tackle.

Bossman? A racist, Southern cop character who handcuffs guys to the ring ropes and hits them with a nightstick and was later hung to death by the Undertaker at Wrestlemania XV inside Hell in a Cell only to return as fully alive? Blah (and absolutely ridiculous, btw).

Don Muraco? No, despite being an IC champ. (but please watch Fuji Vice on the WWE Network)

Nikolai Volkoff? The first thing anyone thinks of is the USSR’s national anthem, not his time as Tag Team champ with the Iron Sheik.

And then there is Koko B. Ware. I don’t care how “over” he was in Memphis, the Frankie the Bird was more “over” than him during his time in WWE.

Again, these are inductees of the WWE Hall of Fame.

Combined WWE championships between them? 2, both by Wendi Richter.

Lots of good, just not great.

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 Rock

John Cena

Triple H

The Undertaker

Chris Jericho

Brock Lesnar

Randy Orton

Goldberg

The Big Show

Daniel Bryan

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.

As is the case with other sports Halls of Fame, there are some names missing from the roster of inductees. In traditional sports, there are usually reasons, real or perceived by the voting membership committee (usually comprised of journalists and HOF members), which keep these seemingly well-qualified athletes from gaining admission into the hall (for example: Pete Rose’s gambling ban or Roger Clemens performance enhancing drug suspicions). Over the course of a player’s eligibility term, someone who had gained little support might eventually receive enough support for election, while others remain blackballed, forever outside the gates.

The WWE Hall of Fame is a unique case in that the election committee seems to be Vince McMahon and perhaps his inner circle. On the “Ravishing Rick Rude” episode of his amazing podcast Something to Wrestle With, longtime WWE producer (and former Brother Love) Bruce Prichard mentions that ballots are submitted by company officials each year, but those ballots are taken more as suggestions than votes towards honorees. Regardless, since no formal criteria or voting standard exists, there is much room for speculation in regards to why certain high profile talent are noticeably absent from the roster of HOF members, despite evidence which speaks favorably for their inclusion. As with other lists, position does not indicate or reflect most/least importance. Without further adieu, here are the names:

“It’s Complicated” or “Vince McMahon Hates Me”

Owen Hart

Chyna

X-Pac

Lex Luger

The British Bulldog

Vader

Psycho Sid

Scott Steiner

CM Punk

Chris Benoit

Not all of the names on this list are there directly due to issues they might have had with Vince and or the McMahon family. Some of them are there of their own volition. Some are there because of some event that turned their fame into infamy. In any case, they are performers who had a major impact on the WWE during their time with the company but for one reason or another, haven’t garnered an invite.

Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: Chris Benoit will never EVER get into the WWE HOF. Never. The company has gone to never-before seen lengths to distance itself from Benoit and the horrific end to his family’s lives and that will never change. After no amount of time will searching “Chris Benoit” ever return any results on the WWE Network. The only lasting remnant of Benoit is the concussion policy adopted by the WWE and even then he will never be referenced. His legacy is a specter that hangs over the WWE forever. His is the only NEVER is the world of  “Never say never.”

Two other all-time greats who might never see HOF invites come their way at least partly due to their out of ring exploits are Chyna and X-Pac. Both left the company under strained circumstances and seemed stonewalled thereafter. Once gone, both seemed to go out of their way to criticize both the company and Triple H and Stephanie. Complicating things further is the sex tape that the two made together and released, along with some pornographic films made by Chyna. Triple H has gone on record as saying that Chyna’s porn career has been a big consideration because of worries that the company has in regards to their PG age fans Googling Chyna and finding explicit results instead of her many wrestling accomplishments (which is a bit hypocritical given that some of those results are from Playboy shoots done while she was a WWE talent at the encouragement and promotion of the company).

Though X-Pac has been somewhat brought back “into the fold” in recent years, Chyna never found any such bridges rebuilt. At best, they may find themselves as part of a Degeneration-X faction induction some time down the road, but individual inductions in the near future seem to be somewhat doubtful at best. Either way, it’s almost inconceivable that one of the most influential male or female competitors of all time, someone who actually changed the game over the course of her career, may never be enshrined.

Lex Luger also has a bad combination of wrestling and non-wrestling related issues working against his candidacy. Luger did himself no favors by leaving the WWE and appearing on the first episode of Nitro back in 1995. While changing companies in and of itself wasn’t out of the ordinary during this time, especially considering that Luger’s contract with the WWE had expired after Summerslam, that Luger had appeared at a WWE house show the night before and didn’t tell McMahon that he was leaving caught the WWE on its heels and really left a bad taste in Vince’s mouth. So bad in fact that it’s rumored that when the WWE purchased WCW and talent was being reviewed for potential WWE use, Luger wasn’t even considered. Factor in that Luger was in a relationship with former WWE manager Miss Elizabeth at the time of her controversial drug-aided death along with these other events and it doesn’t seem like “The Total Package” will be able to add the WWE Hall of Fame to his list of career achievements anytime soon.

Three legendary performers who had successful but truncated runs which ended under somewhat controversial circumstances yet are considered among the best ever for their bodies of work are Vader, Psycho Sid (a.k.a. Sid Vicious, a.k.a. Sid Justice), and Scott Steiner. All three headlined PPVs and competed in championship matches during their time with WWE, with Sid main eventing two Wrestlemanias (8 with Hogan and 13 with The Undertaker) and being a two-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion.

Unfortunately, all three had issues either during or after their tenure. Working against Sid seems to be an incident with current WWE official Arn Anderson while both were in WCW. Allegedly, Sid stabbed Anderson with a pair of scissors after an altercation. Steiner has been very critical of Triple H since his run ended, which can only be a detriment to his candidacy. As far as Vader is concerned, it seems that the perception that he was a bit of a disappointment during his time in WWE is holding him back. On the “Vader in the WWF” episode of his podcast, Bruce Prichard references multiple times that Vader was to have won the championship only to have those plans scrapped at the last minute due to injury. Unlike the other two, Vader doesn’t seem to have any bad blood with the company, having been brought back for one-off’s since, so he seems to be the most likely of this group to be honored by induction sooner rather than later.

CM Punk is the odd wrestler who not only has burned bridges with the WWE but both he and the WWE continue to throw gasoline on the fire in order to keep it burning. Since Punk decided to leave the WWE unexpectedly and the WWE in-turn fired him on his wedding day, there has been a lot of dirty laundry aired publicly by both sides. Punk laid out his grievances with the WWE during an appearance on Colt Cabana’s podcast “The Art of Wrestling”, going as far as alleging that the WWE medical staff may have mishandled some of his injuries. In light of this, the doctor identified by Punk, Dr. Chris Amann, has sued Punk for defamation and that litigation has yet to be resolved.

On air, Punk (whose name is used as a derisive chant by the crowd these days) has been ridiculed for the lack of success he had in his subsequent UFC career, where he lost his first fight to Mickey Gall in just over 2 minutes. Predictably, despite Punk having the longest continuous world championship reign in the last 25 years (434 days) and being one of the most popular and controversial stars ever, it seems that neither Punk nor the WWE have any interest in adding him to the list of WWE Hall of Fame members.

The last two names on the list are linked by both family and tragedy and are very conspicuous by their absence: Owen Hart and Davey Boy Smith a.k.a. The British Bulldog. Both are among the most beloved wrestlers ever despite never holding the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Both are members of the legendary Hart family. Unfortunately, both died very young and under dubious circumstances. Smith passed away at 39 after a heart attack and Owen died tragically in a WWE ring at the age of 34 as the result of a body harness rigging failure that occurred while Hart was being lowered from the ceiling.

For a long time, Owen and Smith’s absence was assumed to be tied to Bret Hart’s controversial exit from the WWE. However, even after things with Bret were smoothed over and he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, Owen and Smith continue to be overlooked. There is some thought that Smith hasn’t been honored because of the allegations that perhaps the circumstances that caused his premature death are too similar to some other wrestlers of the same era who died young. Causes of those deaths have been tied to steroid and drug abuse while they were active performers and the thought is that the WWE might not want churn up any old, bad press related to these deaths by honoring Smith.

Owen’s exclusion is also somewhat complicated. While the wrongful death suit filed by Hart’s widow Martha Hart has long-since been settled and a tribute DVD honoring Owen’s life has been released, it seems that something is delaying Owen’s induction. Allegedly, Martha Hart is not interested in allowing the WWE to honor her late husband and because there was a lot of tension between Martha and the rest of the Hart family after Owen’s death, there was little good will gained in regard to Owen when Bret’s issues with the WWE were resolved. For the time being, Owen Hart, one of the most popular and influential wrestlers of all time (he’s probably your favorite wrestler’s favorite wrestler) has yet to take his place among the greats but maybe one day both he and the Bulldog will find their way in their rightful place in the WWE HOF.

All of these performers have HOF credentials but circumstances which are preventing them from induction. Seemingly, only one man holds the keys to the Hall of Fame. Will Vince let them in? Only time will tell.

Now that the questionable inductees, the future slam dunks, and the noticeably absent have been covered, there is one more group that needs to be addressed. The names on this particular list are well-regarded, influential, and deserving of recognition. Why some of these stars aren’t in already is astounding, while others aren’t simply because they are still technically active, but in the twilight of their careers. Truthfully, this list of 10 workers is responsible for this entire series. One last time, placement on the list is not indicative of ordered importance.

“The Jannetty Ten” or “We Play Second Fiddle to No One!”

Christian

Goldust

Mark Henry

JBL

Rob Van Dam

Rey Mysterio, Jr

Victoria

Kane

Molly Holly

Batista

To many fans, the names on this list are likely to elicit the same response as those on the “Duh List” from Part 2. Everyone on this list has been a world champion or women’s champion (except one). All of them have headlined PPVs or had key storylines in their respective divisions and helped build Hall of Fame resumes for many current and future members. All of them may have had their candidacy hurt because of the depth of roster during their tenure or that they began their careers as partners of wrestlers who went on to have even more high-profile careers than theirs. In any regard, they too are worthy of enshrinement as a byproduct of their own excellence.

Christian is a unique case in that he was hugely successful as half of a legendary tag team with WWE Hall of Famer Edge, got a nice push as Intercontinental champ after the two were split up, but ultimately left the company to work for a competitor after falling down the mid-card thereafter. While working for the competition as Christian Cage, Christian re-invented his persona and became TNA’s World Champion, showing the world that he was more than just the other guy in the “Edge and Christian” tag team. When the WWE brought Christian back, he was a bigger deal than ever before, having great matches and engaging in a very memorable feud with Randy Orton which saw him become the World Heavyweight Champion. Unfortunately, Christian’s career was cut short by injury and concussion, but few wrestlers have ever broken out of the shadow of their higher profile with quite so much success as Christian.

Likewise, Kane, though a multi-time world champion of his own, seems to live in the larger than life shadow of his kayfabe brother The Undertaker. “The Big Red Machine” was the third “Grand Slam” champion in WWE history and has had many memorable matches over the last 20 years. Kane’s imposing blend of size and athletic ability is almost unmatched and his ability to easily move his character between babyface and heel has helped keep him near the top of the card. Through partnerships and feuds, Kane has helped to make stars of Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan, and Seth Rollins along the way. When Kane gets the call to the hall, it will be well deserved.

Living in the shadow of an all-time great and trying to break out on your own is something that was a real-life concern for Dustin Rhodes. A well regarded performer, Dustin found himself compared to his legendary father Dusty Rhodes early on in his career, for better or worse. Once he transformed into the eccentric Goldust character, he blossomed into a compelling character who commanded the audience’s attention. The sexually androgynous character was a huge hit in the mid 90’s and Goldust was involved in some very memorable storylines and matches, including the Hollywood Backlot Brawl at Wrestlemania 12 versus Rowdy Roddy Piper. While Goldust never held the world championship, he is a multi-time Intercontinental, Hardcore, and Tag Team champion and should eventually be honored with a HOF plaque of his own.

JBL, then known as Bradshaw, also was primarily a tag team specialist early in his career, most famously teaming with WWE Hall of Famer Ron Simmons (a.k.a. Farooq) as the APA. When Farooq retired early in the 2000’s, it was assumed that Bradshaw would either find a new partner or fall down the card. Injuries however offered Bradshaw the opportunity to breakout as a singles performer, and he transformed from the beer drinking Bradshaw into the limousine-riding JBL. Only the out of ring appearance had changed it seemed, as JBL retained the same tough, relentless attitude of Bradshaw, but with the arrogance afforded to a millionaire.

The JBL character caught major heat with fans and he found himself in memorable feuds with Eddie Guerrero, John Cena, and Batista for the United States and World Championship titles. Somewhat surprisingly, JBL eventually had what was billed as the longest World title reign in a decade at 281 days before losing the title to John Cena at Wrestlemania 21. Despite allegations of backstage bullying throughout his career, JBL is without question worthy of inclusion in the WWE Hall of Fame.

Another well-decorated, long-tenured wrestler who should one day find themselves on a stage giving a speech the Friday night before Wrestlemania is Mark Henry. Despite coming to the WWE with little skill beyond brute strength and a great look, Henry worked on his craft, developed a great character and evolved from a support character into a main event player. While “The World’s Strongest Man” may never be known for his technical expertise, Henry has expertly deployed an arsenal of devastating power moves in pursuit of world championships, becoming champion multiple times. Henry also evolved his character from the goofy “Sexual Chocolate” who fathered a rubber hand with septuagenarian Mae Young to the latter-day curator of the Hall of Pain. Henry’s time in the ring may be drawing to a close, but he has done more than enough to find his name among the immortals soon enough.

Batista came to wrestling a little later in life than is typical and had a comparatively short career to some of the others on this list, but he maximized his time in the squared circle. After debuting as Deacon Batista, he soon left Brother Devon and found himself in Triple H’s Evolution faction along with Ric Flair and Randy Orton. As the mauler of the group, Batista would later break away and in the world championship picture. Over the course of his career, Batista was world champion six times, eventually holding the World Heavyweight Championship for a record 282 days. After a relatively short 8 years with the WWE, Batista retired to pursue a short-lived MMA career and acting roles, though he did return for a few months in 2015, during which time he won the Royal Rumble match and main evented Wrestlemania 30. Batista is now perhaps better known for his role as “Drax” in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie series than for his wrestling career, but as with The Rock and John Cena, his mainstream success only stands to enhance his candidacy for the WWE Hall of Fame.

Rob Van Dam also has a fairly short history with the WWE at a combined 8 years when considering his career as a whole but RVD nonetheless had great runs featuring multiple championships, including a time where he held both the WWE and ECW championships. Van Dam arrived in the WWE in 2001 and found himself immediately inserted into the title picture, and he remained near the top of the card. Most importantly, although his on mic work may have been a bit cheesy and fans could call RVD’s spots as they were about to be performed, his matches were always entertaining and commanded attention. Van Dam’s invite may be the most tenuous on this list, but since the WWE clearly considers careers as a whole, his WWE and ECW time should be more than enough to get him a spot in the HOF.

Victoria and Molly Holly are two women whose influence and contribution to the past and current incarnations of the WWE’s women’s division should not be understated. Victoria brought a combination of size and beauty to a division that desperately needed a real, crazy heel to battle Trish and Lita, in order for them to establish themselves as the queen babyfaces. Molly brought with her perhaps the most extensive move set possessed by a female competitor ever. Both Molly and Victoria were capable of getting more out of the other women on the roster than most and pushed the entire division forward by helping to change the perception of what women’s wrestling could be. The two eventually collided at Wrestlemania 20 in a hair versus title match, which saw Holly get her head shaved after her loss to Victoria.

For some reason, the WWE seems to credit Lita and Trish with redefining women’s wrestling, seemingly ignoring Victoria and Molly. Even more confusing is the induction of Beth Phoenix into the HOF before either Victoria or Molly. Hopefully the WWE’s current focus on featuring their female superstars will bring their careers back to the forefront and both find HOF inductions in their futures.

Finally, Rey Mysterio, Jr. Though injuries shortened his career in the WWE and caused long absences from the ring, one could say that the current cruiserweight division as a whole might not exist in the WWE if Rey Mysterio didn’t prove to Vince McMahon that fans like to watch smaller, fast guys wrestle, too. Over the course of his multi-time championship winning career, Rey was involved in memorable storylines, with the ones had with Eddie Guerrero and Batista being the most prominent. Guerrero also had one of the most memorable entrances, shooting up from below the stage when his music hit, and became a huge hit among the younger members of the WWE Universe, who wore masks like his while they cheered wildly. The ultimate David, Mysterio shone brightest in matches where there was a size disparity to overcome on the road to victory. The best of the little guys should join the giants of sports entertainment in the Hall of Fame very soon.

The wrestlers on this list may not have the notoriety as some others, but nonetheless are bankable Hall of Fame inductees when considering their breadth of their accomplishments and influence. Hopefully the powers that be recognize their numerous achievements and extend them invitations over the next few classes.

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