Without so much as a clothesline being thrown, the 2015 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony perfectly encapsulated the very reason many of us became pro wrestling fans in the first place.
Taking place at the SAP Center at San Jose on Saturday, March 27th, the annual gathering of the industry’s great and good was a welcome respite from the soap opera storylines, the Hollywood-esque presentation and the larger-than-life characters.
In a business where nothing is ever quite as it seems, the stars that had entertained us for years within the scripted confines of a pro wrestling show managed to do the very same thing with none of the facade or elaborate showmanship. Over the course of several hours, they captivated us with compelling stories, they made us laugh, they made us cry, they moved us, and yes, they entertained us.
The Usos induct Rikishi
Using the charismatic Uso twins to start the show was undoubtedly a smart move. As our first inductors, Jimmy and Jey gave us the same kind of feel good opening that you had to imagine they’d do just 24 hours later at Wrestlemania.
Eliciting the first laughs of the night, the duo presented us with a picture of their father’s enormous rump on the big screen, recalling how Big ‘Kish’s powerful posterior put them through college and paid for their christmas presents.
With that, the man of the hour made his way to the podium to deliver a humbled, heartfelt tribute to the Samoan Dynasty, giving the mention to everyone from the Wild Samoans to Yokozuna and The Rock, and of course, all the way to the new generation of Anoia wrestlers, his sons, The Usos.
Two people he didn’t mention however, was his former Too Cool running buddies, Brian Christopher and Scotty 2 Hotty. The latter was visibly upset by the snub, taking to Twitter to retweet scores of comments from fans expressing their disappointment.
In Dec. 99, 3 guys that were pretty much obsolete in the wrestling biz came together and made each other. 1 apparently doesn’t remember that
— Scotty 2 Hotty (@TheScotty2Hotty) March 29, 2015
Though this writer sympathises, the lack of love for Too Cool in Rikishi’s Hall of Fame speech isn’t entirely unforgivable. With limited time, the former Headshrinker was given a platform to discuss what was truly important to him, and -as it probably is with most us- that turned out to be his family.
Of course, there was something of a shout out to the erstwhile tag team. Finishing off his speech, Rikishi joined his sons on stage to do Too Cool’s famous dance routine, with Jimmy even popping out a Worm in tribute to Mr. 2 Hotty.
Bruno Sammartino inducts Larry Zbyszko
Harking back to the good old days, 2013 inductee Bruno Sammartino was up next to welcome his friend, protege and one time fierce rival, Larry Zbyszko into the class of 2015. What first stood out here was that despite both men talking about Zbyszko being a student of Sammartino’s, the latter looked about twenty years younger than the former.
That aside, the uber-tanned Living Legend regaled us with tales of his career in a speech which, though it probably ran a little too long, was both earnest and enjoyable.
Nattie Neidhart inducts Alundra Blayze
Representing the current crop of female stars, Neidhart spoke of a woman who paved the way for her generation, the lady many of us know as Madusa, yet who was better known to mid-90s WWE fans as Alundra Blayze.
Praising Blayze for her ability to succeed without resorting to the kind of over-sexualised women’s matches that were such a prominent part of the Monday Night Wars, Nattie then introduced the woman who famously fired one of the war’s first shots by dumping the WWF Women’s Championship in the trash on an episode of WCW Nitro.
For her part, Madusa herself delivered a speech that was probably a highlight of the entire event, at least from a pro wrestling standpoint.
Visibly emotional despite her usual reputation as a bit of a bad ass, Blayze paid homage to everyone who had played a part in her career, from the Fabulous Moolah and Sherri Martel to Luna Vachon, Bertha and countless others, even giving props to former Three Count man Evan Karagias for putting her over in a WCW Cruiserweight title match.
Equal parts witty and poignant, Alundra’s speech left nobody out, recalling her days as a member of the Dangerous Alliance (even referring to herself as ‘The first Paul Heyman Girl’) and even taking a moment to pay tribute to the armed forces.
There there plenty of laughs to be had when Natalia returned to the stage carrying that famous trash can. Out of that, Blayze first pulled out a set of bra and panties (‘God, I hated that crap’), then a bottle of BBQ source, presumably in reference to the abomination that was Ed Ferrara’s Oklahoma gimmick, Eric Bischoff’s autobiography (an amusingly loud chorus of boos from the WWE faithful for that one) and finally the WWF Women’s title itself.
Humorous though that may have been, it was hard not to feel touched by Alundra Blayze’s Hall of Fame speech, though anybody who did manage to keep their tears in check would have no such luck with our next inductee.
Daniel Bryan presents The Warrior Award in honour of Connor ‘The Crusher’
The phrase ‘not a dry eye in the house’ has perhaps never been quite so apt as it was during the three speeches that made up the presentation of the first ever Warrior Award.
With a large statue of her late husband looking on proudly in the background, Dana Warrior spoke of the legacy of The Ultimate Warrior, about dealing with her family’s loss, and about the spirit the former WWF Champion left behind.
Talking about how that same spirit could be found in current WWE Superstar Daniel Bryan, Dana introduced the man himself. Fighting back the waterworks, Bryan appeared humbled by fans chanting his name, telling us that, though he appreciated it, it was worth noting that what he does is ‘all fiction.’
‘If I’ve inspired you, that’s great, but we’re here to talk about something real.’
And oh, did he. Helping all of us to wipe away the tears with wonderfully enlightening and funny stories about Connor Michalek’s interactions with the WWE Superstars, his unwavering confidence and charisma, and what a special little guy the first Warrior Award recipient really was.
That led us to Connor’s dad, Steve Michalek coming out to accept the award on his behalf. Paying tribute to his son, Steve spoke of how fitting it was that Connor’s favourite wrestler, Daniel Bryan, should be presenting him an award set up in tribute to Steve’s own favourite as a child, The Ultimate Warrior.
If you hadn’t shed a few tears by this point, the arrival of Connor’s brother, Jackson, making his way to the microphone to utter the simple words ‘I love you, Connor,’ surely would have done the job.
Johnny Ace inducts The Bushwhackers
After being put through such an emotional wringer, it was probably for the best that we got some light relief next in the form of The Bushwhackers.
Before the New Zealanders arrived on stage, John ‘Johnny Ace’ Laurinaitis was on hand to induct them. Talking about what an instrumental role Luke and Butch had played in his own career, Laurinaitis then joined the duo in the famous Bushwhacker March as they made their way to the stage.
Butch, despite visibly declining health, was nonetheless as fired up as his cousin Luke, and both gave us plenty of ‘woahs’ and ‘yeahs’ and general Bushwhacker comedy to kick off their speech.
Hilarious from start to finish, Luke and Butch told stories about their times working with Andre The Giant, with Peter Maivia in Samoa, and with Stu Hart in the calgary territory. In a speech packed full of comedy gems, a highlight for this writer was Luke recalling his famous Royal Rumble 1991 appearance, with Butch still apparently upset that, whilst his cousin had to work for all of 30 seconds, Butch himself put in 25 minutes. The best part? Both men received the same amount of pay for their efforts.
Wrapping things up, The Bushwhackers urged a few legends to do the famous march up to the stage. Roddy Piper and Ted Dibiase did so happily, whilst Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart looked somewhat embarrassed and awkward in making his way to and from the stage whilst throwing his arms around.
Ric Flair inducts Tatsumi Fujinami
Having presumedly enjoyed a few backstage refreshments, The Nature Boy Ric Flair took to the stage next, discussing the tough environs of Japanese pro wrestling dojos, the even greater toughness of Fujinami, and that man’s battles with Big Van Vader over the IWGP title.
Accepting his induction, Fujinami himself was brief and to the point, thanking both fans and family and insisting that, even at 65 years of age, he’s still very much a fighter.
Hulk Hogan inducts ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage
Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage were great friends. If you didn’t know that, you soon would by the end of Hogan’s speech. He only mentioned it half a dozen times, in between which he referenced his famous Wrestlemania 30 ‘Silver/Superdome’ gaffe, and took the time to tell us a never-before-heard story about the time he bodyslammed 800 lbs Andre the Giant in front of a billion people at Wrestlemania III.
Talking about that iconic night, Hogan gave credit where credit was due, declaring that Savage’s match that night against Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat stole the show.
With that out-of-the-way, Hogan introduced Savage’s brother, The Genius himself, Leaping Lanny Poffo.
Harkening back to his days as the graduate cap wearing Genius, Poffo read several poems in tribute to his late brother, praised Savage’s widow for making his brother the happiest man on Earth until the day he died, and talked about the Macho Man’s work with special Olympians.
‘Randy loved those kids like Mr. T loves his mother,’ Lanny joked, as much to prevent himself from crying as it was to garner a laugh from the Hall of Fame audience.
And finally, many years overdue, The Macho Man Randy Savage was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Triple H inducts Arnold Schwarzenegger
Joking that his nose wasn’t that big until Arnie punched him out on an episode of Smackdown, Triple H praised tonight’s celebrity inductee for his larger-than-life persona, his commitment to giving back, and his draw as box-office star.
That gave us The Terminator himself, who responded in kind by praising The Game for his work both inside the ring and behind the scenes. Calling for a round of applause for Hunter, Schwarzenegger went on to talk about his friendship with Bruno Sammartino, and how he never, in all his wildest dreams, expected to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
It wasn’t the longest speech on the show, nor was it especially the most memorable, but it was certainly honest, respectful of the pro wrestling industry, and even came complete with a couple of classic Arnie catchphrases.
Shawn Michaels inducts Kevin ‘Diesel’ Nash
‘It’s been great to see so many sports entertainers inducted tonight,’ began the Heartbreak Kid. ‘But now it’s time for a pro wrestler to induct another pro wrestler.’
Talking about the time he first saw Vinnie Vegas on TV, and how a word with Rick Steiner led to Vegas making the jump and becoming Diesel, Shawn then joked about his disbelief when Vince decided to put the title on the big man before praising his friend for paving the way for the industry, not only through his work in the nWo, but also by ‘treating the business as a business’ and thus ensuring that today’s generation of ‘sports entertainers’ all have guaranteed contracts.
Big Sexy himself finally made his way to the podium, and took the time to address the Diesel/Nash situation. In the weeks leading up to the event, all signs indicated to Nash being inducted purely as Diesel, but of course, the video package and hype all referred to him by his real name.
‘Without Diesel, there is no Kevin Nash,’ said Big Daddy Cool, before going on to talk about his ill-fated turns as a Master Blaster and Oz. Subtly admitting that he wasn’t necessarily the best worker in the world, Nash thanked ‘everybody [he had] ever worked with for [their] patience and cooperation’, and also thanked his wife for supporting him for the past 27 years.
With that out-of-the-way, it was on to the obligatory clique hug-fest. Nash, Hall, Michaels, Helmsley and Waltman stood tall and proud, as the 2015 WWE Hall of Fame faded to black for another year.