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2021 Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame

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One of the Lucha experts - Matt Farmer, cubsfan, Rob Viper, etc - really needs to make the case for Sangre Chicana. He got knocked off the ballot straight away in 2017, only polled 14% last year when he returned, and probably going to get knocked out again this year. Yet, he was a top guy for ages, drew very well in the late 70s-early 80s, and seemed to have been a great worker in his prime (the match with MS-1 from 83 is 5 stars). 

I know his work faded as he aged, but is that really the only reason nobody likes him? This is the one candidate that I confess to being, clearly, clueless on. I'm missing something. No idea what it is. 

 

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Besides Okada, I am slowly coming around to the conclusion that Fujiwara might be the best candidate on the Japanese ballot. One of the great workers of the 80ies, still great in the 90ies and highly influential, even if he himself never was the star of the bigger shoot style promotions. The list of people that he at least had a hand in training is insane. With the New Japan guys like Maeda, Sayama, Takada, (Masakatsu) Funaki, (Minoru) Suzuki or Liger it is obviously hard to say how much was him and how much was Yamamoto, but even then, you still have basically the whole BattlArts roster / PWFG guys (Ikeda, Ishikawa, Yone, Otsuka, Usuda, Ono, Minoru Tanaka, Shoichi Funaki, ...) and some UWF or UWFi guys (e.g. Anjo and Kakihara).

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22 hours ago, shakla said:

Wonder why he puts the likes of Nikki Bella and Charlotte on the ballot yet Madusa, Luna and Sherri have never been on.

How is that even possible?!

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The whole group of workers who were mid to late career in the late ‘90s never really got a clean look. Luger was mentioned earlier, he hasn’t been voted on with his entire career in the rear view mirror. Workers from this generation make the ballot the year they become eligible, hence Charlotte and Nikki.

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I'm in a writing mood so I decided to do a new write-up and expand a bit, in a more structured way, on why I feel Tarres and Pino are strong picks for the Europe/Australia/etc. region and why people shouldn't be sleeping on them.

Jose Tarres
= Big crowds. How many guys in the history of that region, and Europe in particular, have three or more reported crowds of 20,000+ in their record? I can only think of three wrestlers and two of them, Jim Londos and Dan Koloff, are already in the WON HOF. The third guy is Tarres, who drew at least three such crowds in Valencia. Now obviously, some territories simply did not run stadiums/arenas for that many people, but that shouldn't be held against Tarres. The fact is in Spain they were running a ton of shows at bullrings and stadiums for 10,000-20,000 people and because of that guys like Tarres could headline regularly in such big arenas, while wrestlers in most other countries in the region could not. That gives him a big advantage over most other wrestlers. Maybe a bit unfair of an advantage, but an advantage nonetheless. The number of such shows that he headlined is definitely over 100, and may even be close to 200. Almost no one else in the history of Europe did that. The unfortunate thing is that actual attendance numbers are hard to come by, which is generally an issue with European candidates, but there's plenty of newspaper reports that talk about the bullrings being full and the crowds being great to confirm the theory that Tarres very likely drew a large number of big crowds. It's also worth pointing out that unlike say England and France Spanish pro wrestling never aired on television so whatever popularity Tarres had he gained without the power of television behind him.
= Wrestling boom. Pro wrestling had been gaining popularity in Spain prior to his emergence already, but not too long after Tarres came along is when wrestling really started booming in Spain. That's when running regular shows at big bullrings and stadiums throughout the whole country became a thing in Spain, and during that time it was Tarres and a few others who were the leading stars. He doesn't deserve all the credit, of course, but he had a lot to do with the popularity of wrestling exploding in Spain and Spain becoming one of the hottest territories for wrestling in Europe.
= Longevity on top. How many guys started headlining shows from week three into their professional career all the way to the end of their career 20 years later? Because that was the case with Tarres. There was never a time where he wasn't considered a headline star in Spain. Super quick rise to the top too - by seven or eight months into his career he was already one of the top two stars in the country and by year a half in he was already drawing his first crowd of 20,000+.
= Championships. Let me first state that Spain had a lot of different championships. A lot. But even so holding certain championships, especially in certain periods, meant that you were the top star in Spain. Over the course of his career Tarres held more championships in Spain than anyone else there and probably more belts than most other wrestlers in the region during that era. Ten different belts across three different weight classes. 19 reigns altogether. Regional, national, European and World titles. Some he held multiple times and some he held simultaneously (e.g. being the Spanish and the European champion at the same time).
= Putting new stars over. Tarres was very important to his home territory, Spain, in that sense too. A lot of the guys who ended up becoming big stars in Spain (Pedro Bengoechea, Felix Lamban, Jim Oliver, Eduardo Castillo and even Hercules Cortez to name a few) were put over by Tarres when they were being elevated to the top. A win over Tarres gave you instant credibility in Spain. He was generally protected by the booking, but had no problems losing and putting new people over.
= Wins over notable international stars. In Spain Tarres beat names likes Stan Karolyi, Gilbert Leduc, Andre Drapp, Andre Bollet, Roger Delaporte, Robert Duranton, Billy Robinson, Al Hayes, Billy Joyce, Bert Royal, Ray Hunter, Andreas Lambrakis, Dr. Adolf Kaiser, Axel Dieter, Tarzan Taborda, Kiyomigawa, Lucky Simunovich, Zando Zambo, Liano Pellacani and many others.
= Biggest drawback? Of course the biggest knock on Tarres would have to be that he didn't have much success elsewhere. Outside of Spain he worked the most in France and he was definitely a popular star there. Most of his matches were either main events or semi-main events, and he did also work a few matches on national television when wrestling was pretty popular on TV in France. However, he worked mostly for the smaller promotions and never really worked any of the biggest shows in France. So you could say he was somewhat successful in France, but not overly so. He also wrestled briefly in England and Germany, but not a lot. In my eyes his lack of success outside of Spain definitely takes him down a peg or two, but on the flip side he was so successful in Spain that he didn't really need to work much elsewhere and he didn't.

L'Ange Blanc (Francisco Pino)
= Influence. When Pino became the masked L'Ange Blanc in France that was something that influenced not only the wrestling business in France, but the wrestling business in Europe as a whole. Masked wrestlers hadn't been a regular thing in Europe for quite a while. Then came L'Ange Blanc, along with a couple of prominent masked villains (L'Homme Masque and Le Bourreau de Bethune), and all of a sudden masked wrestlers started becoming prominent main event attractions on cards throughout Europe. First a ton of new masked gimmicks started popping up in France, then other top European territories like England, Spain, Greece, etc. followed suit and not only began introducing various masked characters, but they even introduced their own versions of the L'Ange Blanc character. Some of these new masked gimmicks became quite successful in their own right and this new wave of masked characters in Europe can be traced directly back to L'Ange Blanc.
= Mainstream popularity. Like with a Big Daddy in the UK, if you were to ask an older French person who was alive during that era to name a wrestler from back in the day or if you were to read some French article talking about the old days of French wrestling, L'Ange Blanc is often the first name that gets brought up. And keep in mind, his peak was a long time ago - late 1950s/early 1960s. He was a legitimate mainstream star in France back in his day. Especially his initial two-year run when he still had the mask on was huge, reports indicating that his television appearances would double the usual audience for wrestling. And this was at a time when wrestling was already one of the more popular programs on television in France. And he made other television appearances as well, he wasn't just on the wrestling shows. L'Ange captured the imagination of the French audience in a major way. He was probably the biggest mainstream star in the history of French pro wrestling and given the long history of wrestling there, that says a lot. Also, with him at the forefront business in France was booming for a while and that's another feather in his cap. The business in France was already doing quite well when he came along, but he took things to a new level.
= A headline star in several territories. Unlike Jose Tarres, L'Ange was a headline star in a few different places. He was most popular in France, of course, but he also had a good run in his native Spain where he headlined a number of shows at big bullrings and held a couple of important championships. He wasn't as big of a star in Spain as Tarres and a few others, but was definitely a popular and respected name, especially in the capital Madrid. Mexico is another place where he had a run as a headline star. It wasn't a long run, but it was a strong one as it included a few big crowds, two big apuestas matches (a win and a loss) and him being in the main event of the EMLL anniversary show (traditionally the biggest EMLL/CMLL show of the year). L'Ange also appeared as a headliner in England, where he got to main event a show at the Royal Albert Hall in London, among other places.
= Some big crowds. L'Ange had a few big matches at the 18,000-capacity Palais des Sports in Paris before it got torn down that drew reported crowds in the neighborhood of 15,000. In Mexico his mask vs. hair match with Black Shadow drew 13,500 and there were a few other big crowds at Arena Mexico as well. And he likely had some big crowds in Spain too, but those are harder to verify.
= Longevity on top. From the moment he donned the L'Ange Blanc mask in January 1959 through the end of his career there in the early 1970s he was a headline star in France. The peak of his popularity were the first two years when he still had the mask on, but even after that he remained a constant headline star and wrestled many of the top heels in France during this time. In Spain it was a similar deal - he remained among the top names from his initial appearance there as L'Ange Blanc to the end of his career in the mid 1970s.
= Biggest drawback? Not sure. Maybe that he didn't get the chance the headline a lot of big shows in big arenas in France. He had a few, but not a lot. The big Paris wrestling venue got torn down a few months into his run so for that reason he doesn't have as many big French crowds to his record as he could have had, but obviously that was outside of his control. You could also say he probably could have been bigger deal in Spain than he was.

To summarize, I'm in strong favor of both guys, especially in comparison to some of the other candidates on the Europe/Australia/etc. ballot. I can't decide which one of the two I feel more strongly about. Both have their pluses and minuses, but I know for sure I will be voting for one of them. Maybe even both. Depends on how the rest of my picks go when I put the final list together.

------------------------------------

And speaking of my list, so far Okada, Enrique Torres, Bobby Bruns, Bobby Davis and Morris Sigel are the names I know I'm definitely voting for. Beyond that I'm open to changing my mind about certain guys so I'm still reading up on a few potential picks and debating back and forth who to vote for. In the past I have voted for guys like Bob Ellis, Johnny Rougeau and Spiros Arion (among others), but this year there are more options to consider. One guy who I've been considering, and this is more of a controversial pick, is Mistico. Yes, he had that failed WWE run, but I think people often put too much emphasis on that and forget or overlook how huge of a star he was in his heyday in Mexico. There's more to it than just that, but in short I think he's a name more people should be looking into as well in terms of the Mexican candidates.

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If you consider the WON HOF to be about the WON’s own canon, Mistico absolutely should be in. He made Dave care more about lucha than he ever has since Los Gringos Locos.

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I've sent my ballot to Dave. Here it is, with brief justifications, for anyone else interested:

I FOLLOWED THE HISTORICAL PERFORMERS ERA CANDIDATES
June Byers - the last woman to be a main event draw as a wrestler in North America until the four horsewomen gen (gap of 60ish years).
Cowboy Bob Ellis - biggest star, based on drawing power, on this side of the ballot. Big numbers in San Fran, LA, St Louis, the mid-west, and NY.

I FOLLOWED THE MODERN PERFORMERS IN U.S/CANADA CANDIDATES
Rick & Scott Steiner - best full time tag team in the world from 1990-94.

I FOLLOWED WRESTLING IN JAPAN CANDIDATES
Kazuchika Okada - I don't need to explain this one.
Akira Taue - I cannot, from a historical significance perspective, justify Akiyama being in the hall and Taue being out. I'm a both or neither guy. 

I FOLLOWED WRESTLING IN MEXICO CANDIDATES
Dorrell Dixon - first black wrestler in Lucha, first black wrestler to win major titles in both the US & Mexico, to this day still the most successful black wrestler in Lucha history. Pioneer.
Sangre Chicana - This is a vote to save, rather than induct. Seems to be a big draw in the late 70s-mid 80s. Great worker in the 80s. I want an extra year to dig in deeper on him.

I FOLLOWED WRESTLING IN EUROPE/AUSTRALIA/NEW ZEALAND/PACIFIC ISLANDS/AFRICA
Dominic DeNucci - Biggest TV era star & draw in Australia when that territory was arguably the best in the world (certainly best pay). Has a case for being the no.1 draw worldwide between 1964-66. 
George Kidd - Mainstream star in the UK; particularly Scotland. Extraordinary longevity on top along with phenomenal in-ring ability. 
Billy Joyce - the greatest wrestler of his generation according to the likes of Karl Gotch & Billy Robinson. The top UK heavyweight of his era. Missing link between Assirati & Robinson. 

NON-WRESTLERS
Bobby Davis - Managerial pioneer. Start of the lineage that gave us Bobby Heenan, Jim Cornette, and Paul Heyman. 2nd strongest candidate on the ballot after Okada. No-brainer.
Morris Sigel - Promoter who monopolized wrestling in Texas for 37 years. Ran big & important shows for decades. Exported HOF level talent. Credited, by his successor Paul Boesch, with inventing both tag team & cage matches.
Stanley Weston - another "both or neither" situation for me. Bill Apter is in, then Weston should be too. 
Dave Brown - arguably the greatest color commentator of all time. Him & Russell were certainly the best team in my view.
Ted Turner - historical significance. Without him JCP dies in the 80s, WCW doesn't overtake WWF, you don't get the most successful drawing period in wrestling history (attitude era), etc.

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Sigel is someone who I feel like everyone on his level is in. No brainer when you dig into his case.

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I think JYD should be a no-brainer of an induction. I know there had been black main eventers before, but he was the first true black ace of a proper major territory, he turned New Orleans into a major wrestling town, and drew massive numbers for 4 years. He should be in for drawing and influence. He also had a good run as a top 3 babyface in the early Hulkamania years before his drugs and diet got the better of him. 

There are plenty of wrestlers who have had far worse declines on the national stage, but it seems the Dog will not get his due unlike them, because they did not have years of snarky Meltzer addressing them a mocking nickname. It's his hall of fame, what he has said and written obviously matters. 

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1 hour ago, MoS said:

There are plenty of wrestlers who have had far worse declines on the national stage, but it seems the Dog will not get his due unlike them, because they did not have years of snarky Meltzer addressing them a mocking nickname. It's his hall of fame, what he has said and written obviously matters. 

I can state categorically that the primary reason voters don't go for JYD has little do with Dave and more to do with his obvious drawbacks as a candidate. Longevity on top is a problem. His limited appeal (take away the African-American fans in Louisiana and we're not talking about JYD as a candidate at all) is a problem. We have precedent for this point by the way: Danno O'Mahony, the biggest draw of 1935, is never getting into the HOF because takeaway the Boston Irish and he's not a draw at all. His average, at best, in-ring ability is a problem. His mixed historical significance is a problem. No-brainer means no big question marks, should obviously be in. Like Okada. JYD isn't a no-brainer. 

Dave's influence on voters is exaggerated. He's extremely pro-Ishii - but Ishii struggles on the ballot. He's more pro-George Kidd than I am, in fact he thinks Kidd is a no-brainer 2nd best candidate of them all, and Kidd struggles on the ballot. He's equally anti-Sputnik Monroe as me, yet Monroe gets plenty of votes. He's anti-Don Owen, not as much as I am, but Owen gets plenty of votes.  

Putting all the blame on Dave for the struggles of a candidate is an easy copout. Evidence doesn't back it up. I say all this as someone who likes JYD - might vote for him one year, but not this time. Ballot is too strong. 

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On 11/8/2021 at 7:21 AM, Al said:

The whole group of workers who were mid to late career in the late ‘90s never really got a clean look. Luger was mentioned earlier, he hasn’t been voted on with his entire career in the rear view mirror. Workers from this generation make the ballot the year they become eligible, hence Charlotte and Nikki.

Women from the Sherri/Madusa/Luna era get shafted because they had the bad luck of having their primes in an era where mainstream US wrestling didn't give a shit about women's wrestling. Sherri and Madusa at least have their AWA run and even that kind of goes against them because the company was doing their slow motion car crash into bankruptcy. 

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I sometimes think about how much more interesting the WON HOF would be if it was 55/30 or even 50/25 instead of 35/15. It feels like the bar is currently too low.

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The age bar is definitely two low, 7 of the people removed from the ballot this year for getting too few votes are people still actively adding to their cases, it's silly.

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3 good inductees and Don Owen, who is a major problem for Dave now because he has, factually, lowered the promoter bar dramatically. If you've promoted for a long time, even if it's all been mediocre, you should be in now based on precedent alone. 

Weakest promoter in the WOHOF by a distance and, possible the weakest candidate overall in the WOHOF. Some changes to the pre-1970 non-wrestling folks is needed as damage limitation I think. Maybe not this year because Bobby Davis and Morris Sigel did just fine, but certainly next year if the trend continues. 

 

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1 hour ago, Loss said:

I sometimes think about how much more interesting the WON HOF would be if it was 55/30 or even 50/25 instead of 35/15. It feels like the bar is currently too low.

Dave has repeatedly said that wrestlers need to be evaluated as close to their primes as possible because the further away from someone's peak you are, the more perceptions become clouded by nostalgia and reputation. He always points to Kiyoshi Tamura as the quintessential example of a guy who was screwed by the fact that the style he was arguably the best ever at died and the companies he worked for went out of business, which killed his legacy for newer voters. Raising the age floor is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. None of the wrestlers voted in before the age of 40 were anything less than very strong candidates, and the vast majority were absolute no-brainers.

In other news, the Holy Demon Army goes on the ballot next year. That means Taue is being removed as a singles candidate, which is unfortunate, but anything that increases the likelihood of him taking his rightful place in the Hall is a plus in my book.

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Kurt Angle was not even a strong candidate and got in, where I think if he was eligible now he wouldn't get 60%. He's the main reason I think the age requirement is too young -- he started at an older age and was evaluated in real time just a few years into a career that kind of trailed off into disappointment.

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It always struck me that if you aren't well remembered five years after your prime, that probably does not say much for your Hall of Fame candidacy. I have long thought the age requirement was too low. The problem is that changing it results in a 5+ year dead period where no one new becomes eligible, and HOF interest starves without new inductees. But you can't have that low age requirement and then drop people their first year. Dave likes to copy baseball's system but it just doesn't work.

I like to use Sgt. Slaughter as an example. If the Observer Hall were around in the '80s he would be eligible in 1984. Year after the Greensboro cage, fresh off the WWF run, no way he doesn't get in, right?

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32 minutes ago, Al said:

I have long thought the age requirement was too low. The problem is that changing it results in a 5+ year dead period where no one new becomes eligible, and HOF interest starves without new inductees.

I'd gradually move the age/career length requiremeet up 1 year every 2 years until it's at 40/20.

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There's enough of a backlog of candidates that it could probably survive a few years (maybe not 5 but a couple at least) with no new candidates added on. 

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It's funny you say that because it feels like one of the problems the WON HOF has is that pretty much everyone who should be in was already inducted years ago.

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1 hour ago, Loss said:

Kurt Angle was not even a strong candidate and got in, where I think if he was eligible now he wouldn't get 60%. He's the main reason I think the age requirement is too young -- he started at an older age and was evaluated in real time just a few years into a career that kind of trailed off into disappointment.

I disagree. I think he gets in easily every year from the point he first becomes eligible with the possible exception of the period he was self-destructing in TNA. No offense, but this board is really on an island when it comes to Angle. Just about any other place that discusses wrestling, he's held in near-universal reverence as one of the all-time greats. That doesn't mean they're right and we're wrong, mind you, but it's important to keep the broader consensus in mind when evaluating someone's candidacy.

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I understand that Angle is more liked in other places. My point is that he spent several years working in a company no one cares about, and I think I heard some good things about a cage match with Joe and an MMA gimmick match with Jarrett in that entire run.

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