For 20 years, the WWE Hall of Fame has given wrestling fans reasons to scratch their heads.
Even among cynical fans who see the Hall of Fame as nothing more than a propaganda tool, it’s hard not to feel frustrated when deserving candidates get snubbed, and when undeserving ones get inducted.
The WWE is making some major inroads with the former problem this year, as two of the Hall’s most glaring omissions, Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund are both being inducted. But there’s really nothing they can do about the latter.
Debating which WWE Hall of Famers did not deserve the honor can be a bit touchy, in part because WWE has never spelled out the criteria for induction, making the whole thing entirely subjective.
That said, of the more than 100 people who have been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame since it was created in 1993, the vast, vast majority are clearly deserving. A very small number are clearly undeserving. And a few fall somewhere in between.
Like many sports writers who vote in other pro sports halls of fame, I am of the opinion that if you have to think about it too much, then that person doesn’t belong. That shouldn’t necessarily be considered a slight on any inductee, especially considered the scores of wrestlers who have stepped into a ring over the decades and would never even be brought up in such a conversation.
But a Hall of Fame should be reserved for the very elite—not the very good. And so that’s why I think these ten acts should not have been inducted.
10. Nikolai Volkoff: Fans who grew up watching the WWE in the 1980s may have a soft spot for big Nikolai, who did a fine job playing the requisite role of the sinister Russian communist during the height of the Cold War. His WWE career actually dated back to the late 1960s, when he wrestled as Bepo Mongol, and had some main event runs against Bruno Sammartino in the 1970s. But, in truth, Volkoff never reached the very upper echelon of the wrestling business. And, as good as he was in the soviet madman gimmick, he was never as good as the man who perfected the character, former world champion Ivan Koloff (who, incidentally, is not in the WWE Hall of Fame.) Volkoff comes close, but not quite close enough.
9. Johnny Rodz: “The Unpredictable One” was among a group of New York-area WWE veterans from the 1970s who were inducted in the mid-1990s before the Hall of Fame became the grand show it is today. By some accounts, the only criteria needed to get inducted into the Hall back then was that you picked up your phone, and could get to Manhattan relatively quickly. By his own admission, Rodz made his bones as an “enhancement talent” for most of his career, getting paid to make his opponents look good. It’s a respectable, and valuable role in the wrestling business, but not one that should get your name on a list of all-time greats. Rodz went on to be a pretty well-respected wrestling trainer working out of Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. But that has nothing to do with his WWE contributions.
8. Baron Mikel Scicluna: Like Rodz, Scicluna was a member of a New York-based wrestling clique from the 1970s, and was admired and revered by his contemporaries until his passing three years ago. Fans from that era probably have fond memories of the colorful “Baron” and his red velvet cape. He did have a run with the world tag team championship, and headlined Madison Square Garden events against Bruno Sammartino in the 1970s. But, again, in truth, the late Scicluna did little to be included in a list of the very greatest of all time.
7. Ivan Putski: The “Polish Hammer” may have boasted one of the most impressive physiques of any wrestler in the 1970s and 1980s. He also wore the WWE tag team championship for about six months with fellow WWE Hall of Famer Tito Santana (who is more than deserving). But as a babyface during an era when the world title was dominated by Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund, Putsky didn’t spend too much time in the main events. He did feud against Billy Graham during his world title reign in the 1970s. But by the mid 1980s, Putsky was largely used to put over his opponents, including a young Randy Savage.
6. Mr. Fuji: Like with Volkoff, the mere thought of Mr. Fuji is probably enough to elicit a smile from the face of any fan that watched wrestling in the 1980s. Although best remembered as the tuxedo-wearing manager of such baddies as Don Muraco and the Yokozuna, Fuji had some success as a wrestler in the 1960s and 70s, and wore the tag team championship on two occasions. But as a manager, Fuji was OK at best. He lacked the speaking skills to make stars out of his charges, most of whom competed in the mid-card. Even when he managed Yokozuna, Jim Cornette had to be recruited as his “American spokesman."
5. The Blackjacks: The Blackjacks were a fine tag team in the 1970s that held world tag team championships in the NWA and WWE. But few fans would regard them as one of the great tandems in the sport’s history. A better argument could be made for the induction of Blackjack Mulligan, who was a major draw in the Mid-Atlantic region, both teaming with and wrestling against Ric Flair, and also the patriarch of a successful wrestling family that includes Barry Windham and WWE newcomer Bo Dallas. But the Blackjacks’ Hall of Fame induction probably had more to do with the fact that Blackjack Lanza stayed on the WWE’s payroll for decades as an agent and ally for McMahon.
4. Tony Atlas: Atlas’ lasting legacy is that he and tag team partner Rocky Johnson were the first black champions in WWE history. And, with his remarkable physique, Atlas definitely had some star power in the early 1980s, during which he even scored a pinfall victory over Andre The Giant. But, by his own admission, Atlas squandered his prime years in the sport by abusing drugs, and never quite realized his potential. In 1990, he returned to WWE in the embarrassing Saba Simba character, which was nothing more than opening match fodder.
3. Koko B. Ware: I liked Koko B. Ware. I liked his bird Frankie. You may have liked him too. But let’s get serious for a moment. For most of his WWE career, Koko was little more than a jobber. An exciting jobber, but a jobber nonetheless. I wouldn’t argue with anyone that said Koko deserved better than what he got, considering his charisma and explosive athleticism. But the fact remains that Koko never climbed above the lowest rungs of the WWE ladder, and that’s not what Hall of Fame careers are made of.
2. Drew Carey: You may be asking why I’d bother to include anyone from the “celebrity wing” of the WWE Hall of Fame unless I included them all. But the fact is that Mike Tyson, Bob Eucker, Pete Rose and even William Perry all provided some memorable, entertaining moments at WWE’s grandest stage, WrestleMania. Carey’s only WWE contribution was a forgettable angle with Kane at the 2001 Royal Rumble. Even allowing for more lax standards for celebrity inclusion in the Hall, Carey just doesn’t past muster. And he’s not funny, either.
1. James Dudley: “Who,” you mask be asking? No, James Dudley isn’t the long-lost uncle of Bubba Ray and D-Von. WWE would say he was an important executive and manager who paved the way for other African Americans in wrestling. Others would say he was Vince McMahon’s dad’s driver. Whatever the case, Dudley was a loyal confidant to four generations of McMahons, and it was a kind gesture on their part to recognize his contributions. But if pro sports executives rewarded every behind-the-scene worker who made a difference with a Hall of Fame nod, Cooperstown would quickly run out of space, and legitimacy.