In the grand scheme of things, appealing for inclusion of anyone into the WWE Hall of Fame is a moot point, since the decisions lurk in the brain of the industry’s most powerful, enigmatic and controversial, albeit without much argument the most successful promoter of all time.
With Bruno Sammartino’s inclusion last year, there are obviously two themes that became reality. For one, anything is possible. Would the Ultimate Warrior be even thought possible two years ago? Is Randy Savage, despite all things that have happened: public and/or private, rumored or reality, unmentionable or speculative, be a possibility in the not-too-distant future? Can Lou Thesz or Danny Hodge or a number of notables of days gone past also be considered?
The problem with the WWE Hall of Fame, of course, is that there is no criteria, no selection committee of analytical merit, no rhyme or reason for so many included, so many excluded, which makes suggestions and speculation and naming names all the more frustrating, but everyone else is doing it, so I’ll take my turn.
The other theme that arose from Bruno’s shocking, inevitable, interesting and controversial enshrinement last year is that there are a number of wrestlers, unarguably worthy of inclusion because they had WWWF/WWF/WWE history, unarguably worthy because they have tangible and intangible merit, and even more unarguably because anyone with logic can point out comparables already in the WWE HOF.
These wrestlers are greatly associated with Bruno Sammartino, and without him in, they would almost never have had consideration. Now they do. Now, there are names in the WWE HOF that have strong connections. There could be an argument about the very existence of the promotion, the Hall of Fame and this discussion if Bruno wasn’t Bruno, if Bruno didn’t come back quickly from a near-paralyzing neck injury, if Bruno didn’t come back to bolster crowds at various points in his career, but that’s not the salient point here.
There are names in that Hall that definitely deserved inclusion, with or without Bruno, but they have great association with his career.
While Walter “Killer” Kowalski was one of Bruno’s Legendary opponents, he didn’t need Bruno to get in, and already, deservedly, is in. Arnold Skaaland is already in, but he was also a WWWF part-owner, ironically after Bruno turned down an offer by Vincent J. McMahon to buy into the promotion. Ditto for Gorilla Monsoon.
Of course, that Vince is already in the Hall of Fame. Sometimes it seems he gets more credit than he deserves, but the promoter does reap the success of the talents employed. Other names already in include Baron Mikel Scicluna and Captain Lou Albano, both (like the previously mentioned) have passed on. Both are greatly associated with Bruno, even though most of the modern fandom has little clue that Bruno helped Lou get his manager position and helped him on many occasions because of situations caused by Lou himself. While Cyndi Lauper made Albano mainstream, Bruno Sammartino made Lou a monster (something about not doing jobs, I recall) such that he could have longevity from the 1970’s to the mid 1980’s. Scicluna is a puzzling inclusion.
Most knew of the Baron as a prelim guy. In the 1960’s, I’m told (repeatedly) that the Baron had greatness in his talent, his stature and his programs. Scicluna’s settling down and staying with the promotion instead of working the territories meant that he kept moving down the card. Ironically, there aren’t many in the current business that can look at that situation and apply it to current doldrums. But Mike’s inclusion is one of the few ‘good feeling’ Hall of Famers, along with James Dudley, where you look at them and wonder about the merits, but kinda say, hey, that’s nice of Vince to do that. I could juxtapose commentary on the “Celebrity Wing”, but won’t.
The foundation being set, there are several obvious Bruno Sammartino associations that deserve, merit and should be in the WWE Hall of Fame. I know from many, many conversations that Bruno has the utmost respect for these guys, despite the villainous connections and especially that chair shot! But the key is that with Bruno in, these guys are “safe” inclusions. I mean, there’s no way any of these guys could be inducted without Bruno, because he’s the first one they would thank, and there’s no way they would be put in that position. Until, and as of, last year.
The first is Ivan Koloff:
1) From 1963 until well into the 1990’s, every WWWF/WWF Champion is in the Hall of Fame.
2) Koloff’s defeat of Bruno Sammartino was a moment for professional wrestling of all time.
3) In the height of Winter Olympic hype, during the games, which not so ironically are in Russia, couldn’t it be interesting for the WWE to play off the connection?
4) Nikolai Volkoff is in the WWE Hall of Fame.
5) Ivan Koloff had a career as a headliner, made the most out of his WWWF title reign, had talent and believability and an aura, and made his mark across the world.
6) Ivan is alive, he has health issues with his back, and to be nice, he undoubtedly could use the benefits of what surrounds inclusion in the WWE Hall of Fame, whatever they may be, more than most.
The second is Larry Zbyszko:
1) Larry’s run with Bruno Sammartino is one for the ages, and very much fulfilled Bruno’s promise to himself to get out while on top. Which he did.
2) Larry’s ability to work as both a babyface and heel sets him above most wrestling talent.
3) While it could be argued that Zbyszko disappeared in the mid 80’s, he did emerge as a strong AWA World Heavyweight Champion, he had runs in the NWA on various levels, and his career had longevity.
4) It is arguable and also somewhat incomprehensible to modern fans, but Larry Zybyszko had a connection with the fans (for good and bad) that places him as the last, Old School talent even though he worked his prime in the modern era.
5) Larry’s work as announcer in WCW should not be overlooked, and his ability to set himself up as an opposing force to the NWO was quite masterful.
6) Let’s agree on this: Larry Zbyszko is incredibly capable of talking up his merits, and when given the opportunity, he’s known for making the most of things. I for one would love to hear his acceptance speech, because of his outspokenness, his knowledge and his psychology.
7) Comparables….. Verne Gagne is in. Sure, Verne has longevity beyond Larry and the legacy of being a big promoter. Naming Larry with Hogan or Flair would cause controversy, and Larry was not near that level of a draw (whatever that is defined as), but Larry’s talent in the ring was vastly superior to the former, and Larry’s ability to work different styles surpass the latter.
A third is Dominic Denucci:
1) While Denucci hasn’t made the venerable Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame, he has credentials that put him in that conversation.
2) Headliner runs: Australia, San Francisco, South America. Denucci worked across the world, including Japan and Europe. He may not have always had the Championship level perception by the fans, but we’re talking the WWE Hall of Fame here, and he’d be recognizable across the world.
3) WWWF/WWF history and overall longevity. Denucci may have been more of a mid-carder in the WWWF, but he held the Tag Team Championship, held the role of upper-mid card babyface for eventual and post Championship contenders, and was a TV fixture for the promotion.
4) Comparables: Johnny Rodz, Tito Santana. Denucci was vastly more important as a babyface than Rodz was as a villain. Santana never had the world-wide legacy, let alone any high level Championships, as Denucci. I could mention Koko B. Ware, but I don’t see anything positive in doing so.
5) If anyone deserves the moniker, “Friend of Bruno”, it is Dominic Denucci, who was born 50 miles from Bruno, and after they met in Japan, they’ve been close friends. Of all the names suggested here, Bruno doing a speech for his friend, as he did with the Amsterdam NY Hall of Fame, would be an awesome display of his promo ability.
There are honorable mentions, including Tony “Battman” Marino (one of Bruno’s glaring exceptions to his disdain of gimmicks), James Hady (a great talent), underrated guys like Waldo Von Erich, Hans Mortier and Bobby Duncum. And then there’s that former Olympian Ken Patera, but who cares about the Olympics?