The WWE held back-to-back Hall of Fame ceremonies honoring its 2020 & 2021 class on Tuesday in a pair of taped shows from the ThunderDome at Tropicana Field.
The glaring difference this year was the lack of a real audience and eliminating authentic reactions, which became a difficult aspect to enjoy over the course of three hours.
In hindsight, one class would have been sufficient but they did keep speeches brief and had the assistance of editing to meet their desired time requirements.
Jerry Lawler hosted the 2020 ceremony while Kayla Braxton & Corey Graves handled the duties for the 2021 version. Throughout the night, there were various “red carpet” interviews with the current stars reflecting on the various inductees with Kevin Patrick, Alyse Ashton, and Sarah Schreiber handling the chats.
The “main event” induction was reserved for Kane, who went on last Tuesday night and was presented as the biggest star of either class with the N.W.O. headlining the 2020 episode.
As per tradition now, they included “Legacy Inductees” for both classes with Ray Stevens, Brickhouse Brown, Dr. Death Steve Williams, Baron Michel Leone, and Gart Hart part of the 2020 inductees and the 2021 class featuring Dick the Bruiser, “Pistol” Pez Whatley, Buzz Sawyer, Ethel Johnson, and Paul Boesch.
Below are highlights of the individual inductees from each class:
He spoke of traveling to train under Brad Rheingans and working for Catch promoter Otto Wanz. He was in full “JBL mode” and discussing nearly being stabbed by a butterfly knife before transitioning to his WWE days. He singled out Eddie Guerrero and Ron Simmons while remarking on his trips to Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the end, he got serious and spoke of all those he may have offended or hurt along the way before laughing and saying he didn’t regret anything and called them “snowflakes”. It would have been funnier if he didn’t have such a track record of flat-out bullying and shines a spotlight on behavior that you hope is a thing of the past in the industry and wouldn’t fly with any company.
“The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith
Harry Smith handled the speech while holding a bulldog named “Buffy” with mother Diana and sister Georgia on the stage.
Harry spoke of Davey’s athletic ability and having a big heart and personality. Of Davey’s matches, he noted the famous one with Bret Hart at SummerSlam 1992 and the finals for the European Championship in 1997, which was one of the best matches to ever air on Raw.
One thing that didn’t work at all throughout the show was the laugh track that didn’t enhance any jokes and only reinforced the canned nature of the responses.
Jushin Thunder Liger
He accepted the award virtually and noted he had never been so nervous to speak before. His video package included comments from Shinsuke Nakamura, Rey Mysterio, Daniel Bryan, and Finn Balor.
It was a brief speech and accepted the award wearing the mask while also acknowledging New Japan Pro Wrestling.
The video focused on his Monday Night Raw appearance from January 1995 and guest host spot where he did dramatic readings of various wrestler’s theme songs with the best one being Rey Mysterio’s.
The man is 90-years old and looks decades younger. He sent in a video from Los Angeles noting he grew up a wrestling fan in Montreal and was a quick ‘thank-you’.
The Bella Twins
Between their video package, speech, and all the accolades from the red-carpet interviews, they really put Nikki & Brie over as significant change agents for the women’s division – and they did play a significant part. They discussed not being selected for the Diva Search in 2006 and instead, going to Deep South Wrestling and later, FCW.
Their speech was rushed and had to be heavily scripted as they just bounced back from Nikki to Brie constantly. They thanked many people included the other female talent, Dr. Tom Prichard, Billy Kidman, John Laurinaitis, Dusty Rhodes, Pat Patterson, Scott Armstrong, and Nikki specifically mentioning “John” and what he taught her in the industry.
It was definitely a rushed speech and they outlined their dilemma of writing a fifteen-minute speech and being told to limit it to 3-5 minutes.
O’Neil received the Warrior Award and had a great speech about his upbringing, being a product of a sexual assault, and being bullied as a child. They shined a light on his Bullard Family Foundation and all the great work he has done in the Tampa community including helping to feed 50,000 families throughout the pandemic.
The N.W.O. (Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall & Sean Waltman)
They ended the 2020 edition of the Hall of Fame.
Hogan came out with an N.W.O. title belt that felt so cheesy like he was attending a Halloween party, instead of accepting an award.
They took turns and were brief with Hall speaking for maybe 60 seconds at most. Nash is a fantastic speaker and was the best of the four saying, the N.W.O. may not have been The Beatles but they were at least Led Zeppelin. Well, by 1999 they were going in the opposite direction of the Stairway to Heaven.
Hogan’s speech was so painfully worded and had no sincerity behind it. He teased another run by defending the N.W.O. title he never lost (I guess the WCW title has morphed into the N.W.O. version when he beat Jeff Jarrett at Bash at the Beach). The man even worked in a plug for his Hogan’s Beach shop to put over the N.W.O. merchandise they sell, a master salesman to the end.
Rob Van Dam
This was the first speech from the 2021 version. Van Dam mentioned his parents, advice from The Sheik (knowing when to listen and when to ignore advice), but most of all thanked the fans for their reactions that always kept him strong.
All these performers thank the fans but in Van Dam’s case, it really is the case in WWE that he was always far more over than his push. When he entered the company in 2001, he was red hot and the audience was ready to get behind him fully. The company didn’t pull the trigger until five years later at One Night Stand and then he got pulled over and his push was down the drain.
Van Dam shared a nice story recounting when his father died and he had a scheduled autograph session and decided to go through with it. He told no one about his father’s passing and lived vicariously through the positivity the people provided and helped him through a traumatic day. If nothing else, he came off very sincere in his appreciation for the fanbase supporting his character and uniqueness when others (insinuating the company) never understood him.
This might be Riddle’s speech one day.
This woman is a saint.
She started off noting two people have had their heads shaved at WrestleMania. One is the most influential person to ever enter a wrestling ring – and the other was Vince McMahon. That opening line would have killed with a live crowd.
Her speech could not have lasted longer than three minutes and instead of talking about her career or achievements, she spent the majority naming all the crew members she admired. Molly said the crew were her close friends and would often stick around after shows wrapping cables with them.
She said in a world of shaming others, the audience always embraced her strong qualities. It’s worth noting, in her video, they avoided any references to the gimmick they bestowed upon her in 2002 of having a large ass, which was as poorly received back then as you could imagine it would be today.
Molly was excellent with the few minutes she had and came off as the genuine article and someone to aspire to in this industry.
She actually provided her entire speech, which was nine minutes as a WWE.com exclusive.
The Great Khali
He was not at the ceremony and sent in a video but said all the fans were in his heart, to take care of yourself and showed off his Hall of Fame ring that was fitted for his pinkie finger!
I was hoping for one final roar with his arms in the air, but alas.
He accepted the award from Los Angeles and broke the cardinal rule thanking Vince McMahon along with Paul Levesque. It was very brief and the video package was much longer focusing on his WrestleMania 2 appearance with The British Bulldogs, performing on SmackDown in 2007, and hosting Raw in 2010.
I was disappointed as Bischoff could not have had even five minutes for his speech. He actually joked he only had “three minutes” for a 3 Minute Warning reference and signaled to the sky.
Bischoff said he was “standing on the shoulders of giants” and largely came off as extremely grateful but also understanding he had no time to summarize a very influential career, so didn’t even try to get into anything substantial.
This was one where you question why they chose Bischoff for this year when there is a future year where he would be a vital person to include. He’s a tremendous speaker and would have been great with a crowd and instead, felt like a speech they had to race through.
Hering is WWE’s Senior Vice President of Government Relations & Risk Management and was receiving the Warrior Award.
This was the exact type of person that Ultimate Warrior outlined when he suggested this award in 2014 of someone behind the scenes in WWE that does a lot of work that goes unnoticed – he specifically noted Jimmy Miranda that year and naming the award after him.
Hering has a long history with the company with the video showcasing his background as a criminal court judge and member of the New York State Athletic Commission where he became friends with Vince McMahon Sr. In a trivia note, he played the officiant in the wedding between Randy Savage and Elizabeth at SummerSlam 1991.
The video included messages from Dana Warrior and her daughters Indiana and Maddigan, with who Hering is very close and provided a lot of assistance after Warrior’s passing seven years ago.
His speech was short and shared a few notes but the video package was well put together. By the end, you just wanted to hear this guy announce a future book deal for his memoirs.
They went all out for his video package and even used “The Red” by Chevelle as we all transported back to 2003.
The feature included every ridiculous angle he’s been part of including the White Wedding with Lita, getting blown up in a car with Shane McMahon, running Zack Ryder off the stage in a wheelchair, and his comedic moments with Team Hell No.
Glen Jacobs came out and thanked his parents, mentioning his mother loved the Isaac Yankem DDS character.
He mentioned his two daughters and wife, missing a lot of important events due to his job but was very proud that his marriage has lasted almost 26 years in a tough industry.
There were mentioned of Jim Cornette, Dutch Mantel, Jim Ross (who he apologized for lighting on fire), Paul Bearer, and The Undertaker and briefly discussed their first-ever match in Smokey Mountain Wrestling in August 1995 when he was Unabomb.
And, that wrapped up the three-hour Hall of Fame special. There were a few nice speeches but if there was a lesson to be learned it was how much the crowd is needed for these types of events as the ThunderDome crowd didn’t replicate an audience to the degree it does for wrestling matches.
There were too many inductions and several could have been saved for future years with Eric Bischoff being a prime one, who clearly could have had a terrific speech if he had the time.
A lot is said about the Hall of Fame – what it is and what it isn’t – but for many performers, it’s the sign of validation from the company that they succeeded. It does carry weight for the current generation who have grown up with the Hall of Fame as a yearly event that’s been treated with importance by many marquee stars of the past.
The future of this event will be interesting as it’s not the must-attend show of the week especially with the accessible nature of the WWE Network to watch the speeches. When it comes to future headliners, you still have a handful of names that can carry the show from The Rock, The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, John Cena, and Paul Levesque among those. Preferably, you would have fewer inductions but have those that can deliver captivating speeches and have the time to do so while keeping the event around 2 ½ hours.