Well, it's that time of year again. Time for those who can to vote for who should go into that Observer Hall of Fame
At this time, there will be one or two pieces advocating for this wrestler or that wrestler to go in. I'm not going to do that. Having been born and raised in Sydney, Australia my prime interest is the Australia/Pacific Islands/Puerto Rico category. I'm going to take a look at each of the seven candidates, in particular the five connected to Australia and look at them in terms of the criteria set (that is longevity, drawing power, influence on the region). I'll start with the two about whom I know least, with last year's percentage beside them
1. CARLOS COLON (59%)
Colon missed out by a mere 1%, apparently only needing a couple more votes to get in. Now, I'm not an expert on Puerto Rican wrestling but based on what I've heard and read, it seems to me that Colon meets all the criteria. The reluctance to vote him for some seems to be based on that unspoken (unwritten?) fourth criteria, "he wasn't big anywhere else". Well, so what! By that criteria, half of the Japanese and most of the Mexicans voted in shouldn't be there. There should be no El Santo or Akira Maeda. They weren't big anywhere else, either. I'm not advocating that he should be in over other candidates but It's not a valid reason to dismiss him.
2. JOHNNY BAREND (25%)
A long way short of the 60% needed. Again, I'm no expert on Hawaiian wrestling but I will say this. From what I've read about him, he meets the longevity criteria and had influence on the region. He was a draw but was that any more so than a half a dozen other wrestlers? Should he go in ahead of Sam Steamboat, Neff Maiava or Ripper Collins? I'll leave that for the Hawaiian experts to decide.
Now we come to familiar territory for me, the five candidates from Jim Barnett's WCW era. Let's not get me started on the fact that none of them are actually from the region (although Mario Milano did become an Australian citizen through marriage and still lives in Melbourne). Clearly, some education is needed on the history of Australian wrestling. but that's for another time.
The five candidates are Domenic DeNucci, Spiros Arion, Mario Milano, Killer Karl Kox and Mark Lewin
First, longevity , and we immediately strike a problem. Are we talking about the Barnett years only (which was just over nine) or the entire duration of the promotion to1978?
If it's the first, the order is Milano (12 years), Arion (10), Lewin (8), Kox (7) and DeNucci (5). If the second, it's Arion (9), Lewin (8), Milano (7), Kox (6) and DeNucci (5)
Are we taking into account their entire career outside this region as well? It would seem so, based the voting results. Given that they were nominated on a regional basis, I'd argue that they should be judged on what they achieved in that region. What they did elsewhere is immaterial.
3. MARK LEWIN (48%)
Now here's a clear case of what I've what I've just been talking about. This percentage for Lewin would suggest he's being judged on his overall career rather than what he did in Australia. It's far too high for the region. There's no doubt Lewin's overall career would make him a borderline candidate for the Hall of Fame. However, I'd argue that he fairs no better when it comes to his career in Australia.
He definitely meets the longevity criteria, having been around for most of the Barnett years. In terms of influence, he was a very strong creative force in the promotion, having had a hand in or being entirely responsible for many of the biggest angles and storylines of the period, including the legendary "People's Army v Big Bad John's Soldiers" which was a precursor to the NWO. He had Barnett's ear and is considered by some as the power behind the throne. He was a hugely unpopular figure within the industry in Australia because of the influence he had with Barnett.
Where he falls down is that Lewin himself wasn't a huge draw in comparison to the others. He had two brief runs as champion in 1966 and '67 and never held the title again. While he appeared in main event singles matches occasionally, he largely worked second or third from top underneath DeNucci, then Arion and/or Milano. Many of his main events were tag matches and he held the tag title 10 times with 8 different partners. Perhaps he knew that he could never be the draw that the other four were in this market or maybe he was content to be the king maker rather than the king. Perhaps he was working under orders from Barnett. Who knows? It's probably fair to say that he drew a lot of money for Barnett despite not being a top draw himself.
4. DOMENIC DENUCCI (42%)
A reasonable percentage based on his overall career but probably a little low for the region. DeNucci was the first babyface champ and came in right at the beginning when the promotion was hot. Dave is correct when he describes DeNucci's first period as a Hall of Fame run. He was a big draw in the first two years but arguably, any Italian might have got the same reaction. I would point out that two of the biggest drawing matches in Australian wrestling history featured Primo Carnera (If you are Italian, they will come).
As far as influence on the region, he's still fondly remembered. DeNucci was the first name that came up when I talked to fans of that era and got the most votes when I put them to the test.
Where he falls down a little, is in the longevity stakes. He spent the least amount of time here of any of the five candidates. He returned twice after 1966. The first time in 1968, he was the number three babyface behind Milano and Arion and was barely seen in singles matches, mainly used a tag team partner to both Milano and Antonio Pugliese (Tony Parisi). The second time, in 1970, he got another run at the top with Milano out of the country (working in the WWF) but nothing like the first time as he was sharing top spot with Spiros Arion.. He was remained popular but never replicated that first run
5. KILLER KARL KOX (40%)
Again, this seems a bit on the low side for both the region his career in general. He's in the middle of the pack for longevity for the region, debuting in 1967 and carrying through to 1974.
As far as drawing power goes, he was arguably the number two heel overall in the history of the promotion, headlining many shows against some great wrestlers, including Cowboy Bob Ellis, Wahoo McDaniel and Billy Robinson, as well the usual suspects like Mario Milano and Mark Lewin. His numerous main events with Spiros Arion were great crowd pullers and rank up there with Brazil-Sheik and Flair-Steamboat as one of the all-time great rivalries.
As far as influence on the region goes, his name is always one of the first to come up in historical discussions and there are wrestlers who cite him as an major influence on their style. For this region, he's a strong candidate
6. MARIO MILANO (24%)
This is a low figure for someone who is an icon of Australian wrestling. Milano perhaps suffers from having modest career in America prior to coming to Australia but for this region, he's a true Hall of Fame candidate.
As far as longevity goes, he debuted in 1967 and was a part of the promotion for rest of its existence, not surprising given he lived here.
In terms of drawing power, he had his ups and downs and but was always a presence. His hottest run would have been from 1967 through to the end of 1969 when he held the title four times and headlined against a Who's Who of big names (Kowalski, Kox, Monsoon, Spoiler, Tanaka, King Curtis, Blassie to name some). After a bit of a slump in the "People's Army" period, he had something of revival in the 70s under the Miller/O'Dea regime , winning the title again and the Brass Knuckles title 4 times, either headlining or working high on the card against the likes of Cyclone Negro, Waldo Von Erich, Brute Bernard, Bob Roop and Bull Ramos. He also held the tag team title 17 times with 11 different partners.
As far influence goes, if you ask anyone in the street, even if they're not a wrestling fan, one of the first names (if not THE first) to come up will be Mario Milano. A number of second generation Italian kids got into pro wrestling in Australia because of Milano. There are even children named after him. What more is there to say?
7. Spiros Arion (19%)
O.K, this one is just ridiculous. Of all the results for this category, this result just doesn't make sense to anyone who knows the history of the promotion. Of the five candidates, Arion, in my humble opinion, is the one with strongest claim for the Hall of Fame in regional terms.
He had the greatest longevity of the five in the Barnett era, debuting in 1965 and going right through to the end of it with one additional visit in 1974.
In terms of drawing power, he probably was probably the biggest draw of the five and headlined comsiderably more shows in that period than any of the other four candidates. The quality of opponents was high and the range diverse. A Hall of Fame of Arion's opponents would be Kowalski, Gotch, Stevens, Monsoon, Jack Brisco, Abdullah, The Spoiler, King Curtis, Brower and many more, not to mention his legendary rivalry with Kox (again). He held the belt more times than any other wrestler and held it for the longest period of time,
As far as influence on the region goes, he was immensely popular with the large Greek communities of Sydney and Melbourne and is still remembered fondly today. Many a second generation Greek kid went into the wrestling business, largely because of him. How he only gets 19% baffles me.
Where he suffers (as does DeNucci to some extent) is that he spent most of his American career in Vince Sr''s WWF. While sticking to the market where their ethnic base was strongest made both of them superstars in Australia, it made them support players in the Northeast. No other ethnic babyface was ever going to be put above Bruno. They were far from the only ones. When Arion and DeNucci ventured out from under the shadow of Bruno, they got their fair share of main events
So there it is, my take on the Hall of Fame candidates for this region. For Australia, I feel Spiros Arion has the strongest claim followed by DeNucci, Kox, Milano and Lewin
One last word. There are many local wrestlers of historical significance for the Australia/Pacific Islands region who are deserving of a Hall of Fame spot, even if you've never heard of them. To all the voters out there, Google these names: "The Professor" William Miller, Clarence Weber, Billy Meeske, Tom Lurich, George Pencheff, Fred Atkins, Sheik Wadi Ayoub and Alan Pinfold from Australia and the great Maori wrestlers John DaSilva and Ike Robin from New Zealand, as well as Steve Rickard
You will discover a whole new world. Enjoy
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