By Jeffrey Lutz
When it's not busy patting itself on the back for present-day accomplishments like television ratings (last week WWE was the top-rated cable television show among transvestites ages 6-14, beating every show on ESPN 8, The Ocho), WWE actually does an admirable job of celebrating its history. Between DVD releases, special episodes of Raw that feature returning stars, and pre-show signatures that include homages to legends, WWE protects its legacy with the enthusiasm it deserves.
Perhaps the best way WWE shines a light on yesteryear is through the Hall of Fame. In 2004, after several years of going without a Hall of Fame induction, WWE decided to hold the ceremony during WrestleMania weekend, a practice it has continued every year since. In some ways, this has proved to be a wise decision, but not all the consequences of a more commercial and widely viewed event have been beneficial.
First, the positives. I went to the WWE website recently expecting to see a nominal tribute to the Hall of Fame and its members, but I was pleasantly surprised. I got lucky in quickly finding how to arrive at the HOF portion of the website even though it wasn't immediately visible, but once there I was encouraged by its content. Each Hall of Famer was rewarded with a long biography, photos, and video when applicable. If a WWE fan is actively searching information on the Hall and its inductees, WWE provides plenty of it.
The HOF also honors most of WWE's deserving stars from all eras. Most. The early years of inductions were used to celebrate the origins of WWWF under Vincent J. McMahon, and the accomplishments of wrestlers who most of today's fans never saw perform are preserved nicely in the Hall. Add them to the most recognizable performers from recent years such as Shawn Michaels, Edge and Stone Cold Steve Austin, and the HOF creates a smooth bridge from past to present.
Even though the HOF isn't completely broken, some elements can be fixed. I'll leave out the absence of a physical Hall of Fame building because I'm not sure it would be financially feasible and focus instead on ways WWE can improve the HOF under current circumstances.
First, the HOF needs to be more accessible to fans and more reliant on fan participation. One year, the ceremony aired live on WWE.com, but that idea was quickly abandoned in favor of a one-hour special the day after WrestleMania that misses many key moments and removes context from others. Not to mention it completely skips the inductions of several stars who deserve the moment as much as the next person. Bringing back the live stream of the event wouldn't damage television ratings because die-hard fans would tune into the one-hour show, too.
Fans should also be involved in deciding who goes into the HOF. The logistics of this idea could be difficult to work out, but WWE could do the legwork in finding out which deserving stars are available to attend the ceremony, then put those names on a list before putting it to a vote on the website. The top five former wrestlers enter the HOF along with the celebrity, broadcaster or backstage contributor of WWE's choice. If WWE's Hall of Fame is for the fans, it should also be by the fans.
WWE also most ensure that the most worthy stars gain entry into the Hall. The only factor in whether someone gets into the HOF should be whether he or she deserves it. Politics from the past should be forgotten, as should negative circumstances surrounding someone's death (excluding Chris Benoit). It's the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Performers Who Ended Their Careers on Good Terms With WWE. That name is way too long, anyway.
Of course, getting to this point is partly the responsibility of the wrestlers who feel they've been burned by politics, such as Bruno Sammartino and The Ultimate Warrior. It's a shame that turning down an invite is an option, because it's not realistic for someone to refuse to have his or her life's work honored with permanent recognition.
To ensure that the most deserving stars go in the HOF, WWE should change its habits. The pecking-order process that basically announces that some stars are more deserving than others should go away. If three past WrestleMania headliners go in one year and zero the next, so be it.
Inducting factions should also become a distant memory after last year's induction of the Horsemen. If a wrestler isn't qualified to enter the HOF on his own, he shouldn't enter at all. If Evolution and DX both are enshrined someday, Triple H (assuming he goes in individually) and Ric Flair would be three-time Hall of Famers, a dynamic that would devalue the institution. This is where having a physical location would help, as artifacts from the Horsemen could be put on display alongside the Flair exhibit, for example.
WWE does many things right in regards to its history, and the Hall of Fame ultimately is one of them. That doesn't make the HOF perfect, however. There are ways to improve it that would serve everyone better, from the fans to the inductees themselves. Both groups deserve the best Hall of Fame possible.
Jeff Lutz has written for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas for over a decade and debuted with Prowrestling.net on November 4, 2012. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lutz's Blog: How to improve the WWE Hall of Fame
Jan 30, 2013 - 11:40 AM
Jan 30, 2013 - 11:40 AM
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