I was saddened this week to hear the news that Leon White, better known as Vader, is in the stages of his life. The former WCW World Champion is suffering from congestive heart failure and has been given two years to live.
As soon as the news broke, there were petitions and pleas to make sure that White, who was an NFL star and a popular wrestler in Japan long before he competed in WCW and later WWE, would be inducted into the Hall of Fame before his passing.
That debate alone is pause enough to begin the conversation over who will receive the call this year to be inducted into WWE’s hallowed fraternity and who will still stand on the sidelines waiting and wondering if it will ever happen. While I am a fan of Vader’s work, there are performers from the past who are equally and more deserving. Since WWE has been fickle in the past about posthumous inductions, it will be more than interesting to see names pulled out the magic hat this year.
Like any Hall of Fame, the selection process is as much political as it is deserving. Lobbying begins the day after WrestleMania and continues until heated discussions are held. Much like in the NFL, where there are advocates for players and in baseball where ballots determine a superstar’s fate, you can be sure this year will be as hotly contested as any before.
I think Vader gets in this year based on his body of work. While he may have waited another year or two, the news of his future will sway votes. There is no controversy here on my part, just a statement of facts. After the man who made “Vader Time” an in-ring ritual, the remaining spots are a crap shoot.
Here’s a look at five other wrestlers who should be part of the WWE’s Hall of Fame and the Class of 2017.
Chyna – Let’s end the debate here. Of all the superstars who are eligible for induction, WWE finally inducts Joanie Laurer into the Hall of Fame. The only woman to hold the intercontinental title in WWE and the only women who made wrestling men an every-match occurrence. Laurer set the bar for women in the company, wasn’t a diva and certainly wasn’t like anyone before her or those who followed her.
A founding member of the stable D-Generation X as the promotion’s first female enforcer, she held the WWF Intercontinental Championship (the only female performer to do so) twice and the WWF Women’s Championship once. She was also the first woman to participate in the Royal Rumble and King of the Ring events, as well as to become number one contender to the WWF Championship.
Ray Stevens – I am still a bit shocked that Stevens was not inducted posthumously when WWE held WrestleMania in Santa Clara, CA. Stevens was an icon in the northwest and was a solid competitor both in the WWF and NWA.
As Mike Mooneyham wrote in a story that appeared in the Charleston Post and Courier in 1996, “Stevens, one of the top heels in the business throughout his career, first gained national notoriety in the ’50s when he teamed with Roy Shires as The Shire Brothers. He would later become the top draw in Shires’ San Francisco territory throughout the ’60s and much of the ’70s, and would hold the U.S. title nine times during the ’60s and ’70s and the world tag-team belts on several occasions with longtime friend [Pat] Patterson.”
Ric Flair talked about Stevens’ toughness and a friend and foe in his autobiography, “To be the Man.”
Ric Rude – Here’s where it gets dicey. Will WWE have the stones to induct two wrestlers posthumously and will it lead to more wrestlers who have passed finally getting their just due? Rude was one of the greatest heels of all time, regardless of whether he was in the AWA, NWA down in Memphis, WCW or WWE. One of the best bodies to ever step in a wrestling ring, Rude may also be one of the most underrated performers of all time. Men wanted to be like him. Women wanted to be with him.
He was a four-time world champion (three-time WCW International World Heavyweight Champion and one-time WCWA World Heavyweight Champion), a one-time WWF Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion, and a one-time WCW United States Heavyweight Champion. Rude also challenged for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship and the NWA World Heavyweight Championship on pay-per-view and was a founding member of Degeneration X.
Demolition – There has to be a tag team on this list, so why not the team that held the WWF Tag Titles longer than anyone in company history?
Demolition, which was made up of Ax (Bill Eadie), Smash (Barry Darsow), and later Crush (Brian Adams). In the WWF, Demolition were three-time WWF Tag Team Champions, and hold the records for both the single longest tag title reign and the most combined days as reigning champions. They were the company’s equivalent of The Road Warriors and wrestled both as a heel team and as a babyface unit. The team was enhanced and became more popular with Mr. Fuji as its manager. At WrestleMania IV, Ax and Smash defeated Strike Force (Rick Martel and Tito Santana) to win their first WWF Tag Team Championship. During their run in the company, they feuded with the Hart Foundation and the British Bulldogs.
Ivan Koloff – It’s hard to believe Uncle Ivan is not in WWE’s Hall of Fame. The former WWWF Champion is most noted for ending Bruno Sammartino’s 7-plus year reign as company champion. He held the belt for 21 days, before he dropped it to Pedro Morales. Back in the 1970s it was unheard of for babyfaces to square off for a title and happened very rarely.
In 1981 as a wrestler in the NWA, he teamed with Ray Stevens to defeat Paul Jones and Masked Superstar to capture the NWA World Tag Team Championship. On four occasions he would hold the NWA World Tag Team Champion, later winning the belts with Don Kernodle and twice with his “nephew” (kayfabe), Nikita Koloff as “The Russians”.
He is regarded as one of the greatest foreign heels of all time in this business.