2 OUT OF 3 FALLS
"Lord Nelson's Got a Vote." "No, Lord Nelson Has A BOAT."
Only a few weeks ago, we saw athletes like Ozzie Smith and Jim Kelly elected to the Baseball and Pro Football Halls of Fame, respectively. And now, this week will see the announcement of this year's inductees into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame.
Just like the worked sport it's based, the HOF ballotting is sure to generate controversey. Every year, there are deserving candidates who are not voted in by the committee of wrestlers, historians and journalists Meltzer has assembled. It's not a stretch to compare Shawn Michaels to Pete Rose, as both had a great career but also have glaring negatives that have kept them out of the Hall.
Without further ado, here are my own choices, among this year's candidates that I would vote for, were I an august writer with a vote. (Observer rules say a maximum of ten candidates can be selected.)
Bob Backlund - Six years as champion has to account for something, even being dragged down by his later comedy appearances and attempts to be a politican.
Chris Benoit - Is it too early in his career? If you would have had the chance to vote for Joe Montana or Barry Bonds after the midpoint of their careers before they retired, would you have done so? Of course. Yes, Benoit has not had a lengthy run as world champion nor headlines with the kind of regularly to credit (or discredit) him with the ability to draw. But how can you ignore his in-ring excellence, in all the major styles of wrestling around the world?
Ultimo Dragon - My vote emcompasses his tenure as worker, promoter and trainer. Asai was a great wrestler before the botched surgery on his below. (Not to mention the one on his elbow! - CRZ) His greatness may eventually be eclipsed by his creation of such workers as Magnum Tokyo, CIMA and Milano Collection AT. And he runs what I would consider to be the best promotion currently running in Japan (Toryumon/T2P).
Fabulous Freebirds - Forget about the Hayes/Garvin/Little Richard Marley days in WCW. Forget about Terry Gordy, post-coma, as a shell of his former shell feuding with the Undertaker as the Executioners. The importance of the Freebirds, particularly in the early 1980s, can't be underestimated. They were part of an angle in 1982 that is STILL being constantly imitated - Holy Montreal, Batman. The showmanship, the music, the videos were all ahead of their time.
Hiroshi Hase - Look up unselfish in the wrestling dictionary and you'll see a picture of Hase, the assistant booker during the New Japan heyday in the 1990s. Has anyone put over more less-talented workers for the betterment of the company than Hase? How many workers could have a grueling full-time job (and in politics, nonetheless) and still come back and have great matches? The 45-minute match with Mutoh was like a flashback to the 1970s and the amazing 1991 IWGP contest featuring Hase and Sasaki against Mutoh and Chono is still, to this day, the perfect tag team match.
Kenta Kobashi - He wasn't the cornerstone of All Japan like Misawa, but he was easily one of the best workers in the 1990s. You could start listing his great matches with Misawa, Kawada and others from now until next year's balloting and not run out of choices. His chronic knee injuries of the past few years do nothing to diminish his earlier greatness.
Aja Kong - While more attention went to the pretty girls or her equally monstrous teammate Bull Nakano, there's no doubt that a brutally devastating performer like this deserves recognition.
Shawn Michaels - Yes, I know all the minuses. Losing his smile, as well as plenty of title belts without jobbing in the center of the ring. And so on. But was there there a more dynamic performer in the United States for almost a decade than Michaels? I would have voted for him even more his Summerslam match, but that gutsy performance cements my opinion.
Blue Panther - Of all the luchadors mentioned this year, he is the one deserving of a vote. He's not flashy, but just great in the ring. Always deservingly at the top of the CMLL cards, particularly in the great trois teams of the last few years, with Dr. Wagner and Black Warrior and later Fuerza Guerrera. Also gets points for training many talented wrestlers.
Manami Toyota - My first vote, even ahead of Benoit. When I first started watching Japanese tapes a decade ago, it was Toyota (and Liger) that got me hooked. The only woman ever to win the Observer's Most Outstanding Wrestler Award and also regularly finished high among the Observer reader's favorite wrestler poll, in the company of such stalwarts as Flair, Benoit and Foley. Has anyone ever seen a match like the hair vs. hair match Toyota had with then-tag team partner Toshiyo Yamada?
Jesse Ventura - The extra vote that goes to a non-wrestling personality. A pro wrestler, who did not hide his background and in fact used the skills he learned in wrestling for his advantage, becomes the governor of an entire state. That's so mind-boggling, it's still unbelievable almost four years later. Also, Ventura's popularizing of the heel commentator is historically important. It's not his fault he was so good everyone had to imitate it and still does, even though the gimmick had run its course a few years ago.
Those are my very touch choices. Anyone who knows me can well imagine the anguish I had to go through to leave the Midnight Express off my ballot, not to mention Dick Murdoch, Wahoo McDaniel, Moolah and the Undertaker. But there's always next year. There's no shame in not being elected in your first year. There are only so many choices a person can make, even among the talented performers that warranted nomination.
(Cheap plug: Join me, along with lucha comic creator Rafael (Sonambulo) Navarro, and hundreds of other comics creators at the 2002 Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD, on September 6-8. We'll be selling the hot-off-the-press Fall 2002 issue of Odessa Steps Magazine, featuring interviews with comics creators, reviews and a valentine to Pardon the Interruption. For more info, goto www.spxpo.com.)
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