The epitome of success for many major athletes is the induction into their respective league’s Hall of Fame. Most athletes and fans recognize that one’s induction into their respective hall signifies their incredible prowess and contribution to that sport. However, any wrestling fan can tell you that there is a sort of disconnect with this idea, and what actually occurs with the WWE Hall of Fame. For example, many incredible wrestlers and personalities who deserve recognition have not made it into the hall including; Miss Elizabeth, Daniel Bryan, Chyna and many others.
This list, however, will focus on those athletes who have been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame whose induction was surprising to most fans. The sad fact of the WWE Hall of Fame is that for every Edge, who dedicated much of his adult life to the WWE, you have a Donald Trump who was involved in a single WWE match. On this list, we have; surefire hall of famers who have had serious personal or business disagreements with WWE, superstars who have had little influence over WWE itself, and others.
The nature of this list is such that it is based largely on my own feelings, and the feelings of other wrestling fans at the time of the induction. I think that the best gage for “surprising inductions” is how fans viewed the induction at the time it was announced. The evidence used in this article come largely from my first hand knowledge, as well as specific facts drawn from the WWE Hall of Fame page.
Some of you may be shocked to see The Icon start off this list, but it is important to remember that these are induction into the WWE Hall of Fame, not just a straight wrestling hall of fame. As such, while Sting is a five-time World Champion and one of the greatest WCW superstars of all time, he is a mere 0-2 in WWE pay-per-views. Thus, it was a very classy (and somewhat surprising) move by WWE to have Sting headline the 2016 Hall of Fame Induction class. Hopefully this is the start of the transformation from a WWE dominated Hall to one with more of a WCW flair.
14. “Cowboy” Bob Orton
Hall of Famer by association? Those of you who are familiar with “Cowboy” Bob Orton probably recognize him as the father of 12 time WWE/World Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton. Despite being an important part in certain of Randy’s rivalries with the likes of the Undertaker and others, Bob Orton’s own wrestling career is somewhat lacking. Despite being a career wrestler for several decades, “Cowboy“ Bob Orton has only a few WWE tag team credentials to his record. The fact that he is most known for his famous son and perennially broken arms puts Bob Orton on this list of surprising WWE Hall of Fame inductions.
13. The Bushwackers
The people on this list to which I have the most personal affinity for, the Bushwackers are certainly one of the wackiest tag teams in WWE’s history. But are they Hall of Fame worthy? Zero time WWE Tag Team Champions (no, that is not a typo, the Bushwackers never captured WWE’s top tag team prize), the Bushwackers are more known for their crazy entrance and antics than any actual wrestling acumen. I would argue, however, that their personalities alone warrant their inclusion in the Hall of Fame. Especially in an era where a characters memorableness was their greatest asset (see Junkyard Dog and Koko B. Ware), the Bushwackers were forcibly burned into the memories of every 80s wrestling fan. Despite this, popular opinion dictates that I begrudgingly name the Bushwackers as the 13th most surprising entrants into the WWE Hall of Fame.
12. Tatsumi Fujinami
Fujinami is unique on this list in that he was never even employed by WWE prior to his induction. Despite being one of the most successful Japanese wrestlers of all time, the man affectionately known as “the Dragon” has had almost no direct impact on the company who selects and supports the maintenance of this hall of fame. As such, it was very shocking to many to see his name listed under those chosen for the Hall in 2015. My best guess is that this was a kind of lifetime achievement award for the work Fujinami had done for wrestling in general, combined with an attempt by WWE to build relations with Japan wrestling. Whatever the reason, the inventor of the dragon sleeper hold finds himself on our list at #12.
11. Stu Hart
This is another one where someone is inducted not for what they have done in a WWE ring, but rather for what they have done for wrestling in general. The patron of the legendary Hart Dynasty, Stu Hart was instrumental in the teaching of professional wrestling for nearly 40 years. Stu Hart, and people like him, are the ones who have transformed wrestling from something done in high school gymnasiums to the art form performed in front of millions that it is today. Despite this, Stu has never spent meaningful time in a WWE ring. This makes the technical master #10 on our list of shocking WWE Hall of Fame inductions.
10. Mean Gene Okerlund
Before anyone gets into a frenzy, remember that this list is “shocking” inductions into the WWE Hall of Fame, not undeserving inductions. For many older wrestling fans (don’t tell my dad), the man affectionately called Mean Gene was the uncontested voice of professional wrestling. Through unforgettable interviews with the likes of Hulk Hogan, the “Macho Man” Randy Savage, and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Okerlund endeared himself to the WWF/WWE universe. Mean Gene’s reason for being listed here is that at no point in his life did he actually compete in the squared circle. Therefore, the shocking induction of Gene Okerlund not only places him on this list, but also paved the way for later all-time-great non-wrestlers like Jim Ross and Howard Finkel.
9. Peter Maivia
Like many others on this list, “High Chief” Peter Maivia is a shocking inductee not because he has not had a dramatic effect on the professional wrestling profession, but because he has had only a limited involvement with WWE itself. A veteran of wrestling organizations around the world, Maivia is probably best known to WWE fans as the maternal grandfather of Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson. In addition, Maivia was a longtime general manager of a small time pro-wrestling rival. His lack of notoriety along with his limited relationship with WWE makes him a particularly shocking choice for inclusion in WWE’s most exclusive club.
8. Antonio Inoki
Who? Exactly. For much of the 60s and 70s Inoki was the premier wrestler in Japan. After that he became a very influential promoter and politician. Much like Fujinami, I think Inoki’s induction was largely the result of WWE’s attempt to form a pipeline with Japanese wrestling, while at the same time honoring an accomplished former wrestler. However, this does little to change the fact that at Inoki’s induction in 2010 I had no idea who he was. As a lifelong WWE fan and someone who is fairly familiar with the stalwarts of other worldwide wrestling organizations, this is a significant knock against Inoki. As such, I think Inoki is very deserving of this spot here at #8.
7. Carlos Colon
Similar to Stu Hart (mentioned earlier), Carlos Colon’s induction into the WWE Hall of Fame was surprising due to his limited involvement with the company itself. Unlike Stu, Carlos Colon’s greatest contribution to the world of professional wrestling is likely his creation of a rival wrestling organization. While never a direct threat to WWE, the Puerto Rican wrestling promotion World Wrestling Council was a serious player on the international wrestling scene. As such, Colon can be credited with helping to nurture the careers of several prominent WWE wrestlers, including his sons Carlito and Primo Colon. Still, I find it very strange and shocking to see the management of another wrestling promotion granted the highest honor within the WWE organization.
Jacqueline is a perfect example of WWE trying to thread the line between good public relations, and trying to maintain their appearance as a legitimate sports–like form of entertainment. In the past few years, WWE has come under fire for its treatment of its female talent, including the lack of women in the Hall of Fame. They have somewhat rectified this in recent years with the induction of surefire female Hall of Famers like Lita and Trish Stratus. In addition to the feminist concerns, there is also a noticeable lack of African American talent in the Hall. As such, it probably seemed perfect to the higher ups of WWE to induct a black woman like Jacqueline in 2016. The problem with this is that many fans were shocked and nonplussed by Jacqueline’s selection. While she was a 2 time Women’s Champion during her time in WWE, it is hard to argue that she had the sort of lasting impact usually associated with a Hall of Famer. As such, Jacqueline is one of the more recent shocking additions to the Hall and #6 on this list.
5. The Ultimate Warrior
As someone who didn’t begin watching professional wrestling until the mid-90s, it was very surprising to watch early WrestleManias and to see the incredible crowd reaction for the Ultimate Warrior. Until their recent reunion, arguably the second most popular wrestler of WWE’s golden age was effectively blacklisted by the WWE. A product of several disagreements during the Warrior’s wrestling career, he was viewed incredibly negative by several members of WWE’s management (and I’m sure the feeling was mutual). Thus it was very shocking in 2014 to see the Warrior not only headline his Hall of Fame class, but to see the incredible way he was received by both WWE and the fans. With his untimely death occurring soon after his final return to WWE, the Ultimate Warrior’s shocking induction into the Hall was a nice finale to a legendary career.
4. “Cowboy” Bill Watts
Bill Watts has the distinct honor of being the first person listed who I had to research before placing him on this list. I wanted to ensure that he was deserving of a spot and that his selection was not the result of my ignorance to older wrestlers. However, even after reviewing the career of Watts I was still shocked to see his induction occurring in 2009 before many other seemingly more deserving superstars. Despite his long career with other smaller organizations and his work as a promoter/advisor with WCW, Watts had only a three-week stint with WWE and his in-ring work (from my few valued sources, thanks dad) was hardly memorable even to those who saw it live. As such, “Cowboy” Bill Watts finds himself at #4 on this list of shocking WWE Hall of Fame inductions.
3. Alundra Blayze
Should one moment define a WWE superstar’s career? Many have cited the great Mick Foley as the embodiment in WWE of this premise by his daring fall from the Hell in the Cell cage, however, I think the superstar who is most remembered for one moment in their career may be Alundra Blayze.
Coming to WWE from WCW, Blayze dominated the companies women’s division for much of the early 90s. However, in 1995, Blayze resigned with WCW. The new booker for WCW, Eric Bischoff, instructed Blayze (now wrestling as Madusa) not to return her WWE Championship belt to Vince McMahon and WWE. Then, as part of the “Monday Night Wars” storyline, Bischoff had Blayze throw the championship belt into the trash on live WCW television.
Though Blayze claims she later regretted this decision, her actions would have huge ramifications for WWE. Her actions caused McMahon to basically dismantle the WWE women’s division, which would not have a title for several years afterwards, and probably had a direct impact on how WWE later handled the Montreal Screwjob. Bringing us to the next member of our list…
2. Bret Hart
If you’re talking purely about wrestling acumen then Bret Hart is a surefire WWE Hall of Famer. Hart was a 5 time champion with WWE and has been involved in countless main event matches and classics. His status as a Hall of Famer, however, is called into question as a result of the Montreal Screwjob and the chain of events which followed.
In 1997, Bret Hart informed WWE that he would soon be signing with rival company WCW for more money. As such, Vince McMahon asked Hart if he would drop the WWE Title to Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series in Hart’s hometown of Montreal Quebec, to which Hart refused. However, at the pay-per-view, unbeknownst to Bret, a plan was put in place where Shawn Michaels would lock the excellence of execution in his own hold the sharpshooter, and Vince would call an end to the match without Hart actually submitting.
Following the conclusion, Bret was visibly furious, even going so far as to spit in McMahon’s face at ringside and later punch him backstage. This understandably led to a 20 year tumultuous relationship between Bret and WWE which made his 2006 induction into the Hall of Fame, and the healing that followed, all that more incredible.
1. The Entire Celebrity Wing
Yup, here it is, the ire of diehard wrestling fans. WWE, and the wrestling industry in general, has made a substantial push in recent years to show the incredible amount of work and dedication needed to reach the peak of the professional wrestling field. Many would argue that all of this is undone by allowing random celebrities to be inducted into the Hall of Fame for wrestling’s cornerstone company. I (unlike many other hardcore wrestling fans) understand the use of celebrities in WWE to bring in casual fans who otherwise would not watch the product, however, I do find something intrinsically wrong with inducting Snoop Dogg into the same club as the legendary “Nature Boy” Ric Flair who sacrificed his body for over 40 years in the wrestling ring. For that reason, the entire celebrity wing is surely the most surprising (and irksome) induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.