Mastadons, Models, Rocks, and Punks.
After the news of Vader’s passing, at age 63, hit wrestling fans all over the world with a sickening thud, you can’t help but feel bad that this legend never got inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame while he was alive.
It’s a circumstance made all the more unfortunate by the fact that Vader faced failing health over the past few years and had actively lobbied to get into the Hall of Fame, as he suspected his time was limited. Other wrestlers, including Hall of Famer Mick Foley, advocated strongly for Vader to be included in the Hall of Fame, but sadly Vader’s one and only appearance at the ceremony will forever be limited to the year that he inducted longtime rival Stan Hanson back in 2016.
Now, there are plenty of performers who deserve to be in the WWE Hall of Fame, but since the ceremony is booked like a wrestling card in its own right – with certain “something for everyone” mindset (main event, mid-card, gimmick match, usually one woman, etc) – every year the presentation and packaging has to be just right. For example, you can’t have an entire Class comprised of posthumous inductions. They have to be spread out, sadly.
And we’re not even getting into the stars who are most likely blacklisted for one reason or another. There are heaps of heavy hitters who, for various reasons, won’t be let in because of bad blood, bitter backstage bile, or other narratives that might make them a controversial pick. That’s a totally different Everest to climb. But with Vader now hopefully being given a pass into the upcoming Class of 2019, we’ve compiled a list of others to consider for next year’s, or near future-ish, Hall of Fame spots. Check out our picks below.
As one of the most unique, agile, and dominant “big men” in wrestling – carving a crushing path of chaos through Japan, WCW, and WWF in the late ’80s and ’90s – “The Mastadon” Vader is long overdue for a place in the Hall of Fame. His feuds with Sting, Cactus Jack, Shawn Michaels, and Undertaker were as hard hitting as they were legendary.
Though her wrestling stint was short-lived, all things considered, AJ Lee was one of WWE’s top draws when women’s wrestling had taken a bit of a nose-dive. She was so popular, and such a hot commodity, that she was purposefully placed into main event storylines just to make them more interesting. She also gleefully served as the company’s long-reigning anti-Diva Diva’s Champion, defeating every single member of the women’s roster – at one point, at WrestleMania 30, all at once.
Honky Tonk Man
WWE loves to honor old classic gimmicks, so it’s kind of amazing that Honky Tonk Man, who constantly gets referenced on TV by whoever’s holding the Intercontinental Championship, isn’t already in the Hall of Fame (though it’s said he declined it back in 2010). Honky’s one of the most memorable characters from ’80s-era WWF and he still holds the record for longest reigning IC Champ to this day – with 454 days. Throw in his self-sung theme song and his guitar shots and the mystery regarding his absence deepens.
Okay, so we know, more or less, why Chyna hasn’t been inducted thus far. It’s a combination of – well – just about everything that can keep you out of the spotlight. Resentment by those up on high, some questionable post-wrestling career choices, etc. None of it changes the fact that Chyna absolutely changed the landscape of women’s wrestling, and wrestling in general, when she first debuted and helped Triple H at In Your House: Final Four, in 1997. There wasn’t a true women’s division at the time so Chyna…fought the men. Most notably, Mick Foley, Jeff Jarrett, Chris Jericho, and Eddie Guerrero.
We’re honestly not quite sure why WWE’s old answer to the Road Warriors, Ax and Smash of Demolition, haven’t been scooped up by the Hall of Fame. They were dominant 3-time WWE Tag Team Champions and basically ruled the roost back in the late ’80s and early ’90s – as both heels and babyfaces. They had a killer gimmick, awesome costumes, and personas that were able to captivate crowds no matter if they were seeking cheers or jeers.
Okay, so this induction may never come. Or it may come somewhere waaaay down the line, in some fruitful future where cooler heads prevail and bygones transform into bygones. Regardless, CM Punk’s iconic “Pipe Bomb” promo rocked the entire industry and instantly elevated him into a main event player – and his record-setting WWE title reign, as a “smaller” guy, helped pave the way for the ascension of Daniel Bryan and the influx of TNA, ROH, and indie scene guys into NXT.
Considering that, every year, WWE’s on the hunt for a big name to headline the Hall of Fame, The Rock’s going to have to go in sooner than later. People say the “People’s Champ” hasn’t been inducted yet because he’s not officially “retired,” but wrestlers get inducted and then continue to do sporadic matches all the time. Maybe WWE’s afraid that if they induct him, it will mark his retirement. Anyhow, we don’t have to explain why Rocky needs to go in. He’s the freakin’ Rock. He cooks things and we smell the things he cooks and it’s awesome.
Bam Bam Bigelow
Like Vader, Bam Bam Bigelow was an unforgettable brute with a cool name, mesmerizing look, and deceptively amazing athleticism. He may not have held a ton of gold but, for what it’s worth, this guy main-evented WrestleMania XI and had to make his opponent, Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor, look like a million bucks. While also losing to Taylor. That’s a hell of a lot more than some past inductees ever did.
Irwin R. Schyster (aka Mike Rotunda)
More for your “old iconic gimmick” consideration – this one from the “wrestlers for whom wrestling was a side hobby to their real occupation” category – Mike Rotunda’s multi-year stint as IRS, one half of 3-time WWF Tag Team Champions Money Inc., was one of the funniest and most despicable characters of all time. Making the package even more complete was Mike Rotunda’s own sheer excellence as a wrestler, having already previously competed for years, and won championships, under his own name (sometimes “Rotundo”).
She may not have been a wrestler per se, but it’s hard to imagine ’80s wrestling, or the implosion of the Mega Powers duo Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan, without the valet-to-top-all-valets, Miss Elizabeth. As a crucial, game-changing ingredient for the Macho Man’s rise to superstardom, Elizabeth was the beauty to his beast, the calm to his storm. Her tragic death, at age 42, would make this a posthumous induction, but there’s no denying that she’s got a rightful spot in those hallowed halls.
Rob Van Dam
If you’re looking to book a solid ceremony, and need a magnificent mid-carder, the innovative Rob Van Dam, who moved from ECW greatness to a storied career in WWE as a holder of many, many titles, is your low-key guy. As one of the true breakout/breakthrough stars of 2001’s Invasion storyline, and one of the few to remain on in WWE, Van Dam would go on to cash in his Money in the Bank contract and defeat John Cena for the WWE Championship at 2006’s ECW-branded One Night Stand PPV.
You could easily just honor Rick Martel on his own merits – a ’70s and ’80s career that included the AWA Championship and multiple WWF Tag Team Championship reigns – but since WWE loves to induct workers for their homegrown goofy gimmicks… there’s nothing goofier, or greater, than Martel’s gig as “The Model.” No, The Model never won any gold, but he did have memorable feuds against Tito Santana, Jake Roberts, Razor Ramon, and Shawn Michaels. Plus, who wouldn’t want to get sprayed with “Arrogance?” You know, provided it’s not in your eyes.
The British Bulldogs
While both the Dynamite Kid and Davey Boy Smith easily deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame, individually, we’ll make it easy on everyone and just call for an induction of The British Bulldogs as an iconic rough and tumble tag team of the ’80s WWF era. Feuding with the likes of The Hart Foundation, The Fabulous Rougeaus, and Islanders, the Bulldogs became one of the most respected and renowned teams of their day.
Owen Hart’s absence from the Hall of Fame is one of the institution’s most egregious omissions. Of course, it’s a very complicated matter filled with heartbreak, tragedy, and some very strong animosity between Owen’s widow and WWE. His in-ring death, which happened live on a PPV in 1999, is also something WWE doesn’t readily want to bubble back up to the conversational surface, so for now this extraordinarily talented performer, who gave us some truly landmark matches against the likes of brother Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Davey Boy Smith, and Triple H, will have to remain the “People’s Inductee.”