Observer Hall of Fame Q&A: Japanese candidates with Alan 4L

Photo Courtesy: NJPW

The deadline for the annual Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame is coming up this month and POST Wrestling has reached out to various voters for their thoughts on the annual process.

For today’s focus, we will look at the Japanese section of the ballot and speak with Alan Counihan a.k.a. Alan4L, the host of the ProWres Paradise podcast on the PW Torch website.

Inclusion into the Hall of Fame requires 60% of the votes in the performer’s given region with the ballot broken up into categories of Historical, Modern U.S. & Canada, Japanese, Mexican, Europe/Australia/New Zealand/Pacific Islands/Africa, and Non-Wrestler candidates.

This year the number of votes allowed has been expanded to eighteen from the previous maximum of ten with a limit of eight votes in the historical category and five in the other sections.

Additionally, several tag teams have been added to this year’s ballot where one member is already in the Hall of Fame and their partner is not. Examples include Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue, Jack & Jerry Brisco, The Hart Foundation, The British Bulldogs, and Antonino Rocca & Miguel Perez.

The criteria that voters are asked to consider are as follows:

To be eligible, a performer must have reached their 35th birthday and completed ten years since their debut as a full-time performer, or be someone who has been a full-time pro wrestler for at least 15 years.

Longevity should be a prime consideration rather than a hot two or three-year run unless someone is so significant as a trendsetter or a historical figure in the business, or valuable to the industry, that they need to be included.  However, just longevity without being either a long-term main eventer, a top draw, and/or a top caliber in-ring performer should be seen as relatively meaningless.

The candidates on the ballot in the Japanese section with their percentages from 2021 included:

Kota Ibushi (54%)
Tetsuya Naito (38%)
Tomohiro Ishii (38%)
Cima (23%)
Yoshiaki Fujiwara (23%)
Hayabusa (23%)
Meiko Satomura (16%)
Naomichi Marufuji (11%)
Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan (10%)
Antonio Inoki & Seiji Sakaguchi (added to the ballot)
Riki Choshu & Animal Hamaguchi (added to the ballot)
Shingo Takagi (added to the ballot)
Manami Toyota & Toshiyo Yamada (added to the ballot)
Akira Taue & Toshiaki Kawada (added to the ballot)

Below is our Q&A with Alan about this year’s ballot:

How long have you been voting on the Hall of Fame and how do you view this HOF in terms of an area of achievement for those elected?

This is my 12th year getting a ballot, and it’s something I’m proud to be a part of. The easiest way to point out the level of achievement in getting into the WON HOF is, simply to point out the names in the Hall already and in many cases those who are not. By and large, when you look at the names inducted, you can see that they are truly elite contributors to the industry across a variety of categories. I find this especially glaring when compared to other Hall Of Fames, which are what they are, but a lot of the decision-making comes down to marketing reasons, relationships, etc. The WON HOF is tough to get into. The voting process generally ensures that. I hope it always stays that way to keep it so that getting in shows that a candidate absolutely is amongst the elite.

When assessing the Japanese candidates on the ballot this year, who has the strongest case and why?

After Kazuchika Okada walked in last year (and rightly so), there’s no clear #1 candidate in 2022. However, there are a lot of candidates with strong cases. That, I feel, will result in it being very tough for any of them to get the required votes. The candidate(s) I feel have the best argument is The Holy Demon army, added to the ballot this year. I was an Akira Taue voter, and that was primarily on the strength of the HDA portfolio of the greatest heavyweight tag team matches of all time which fans still reminisce fondly about nearly 30 years since the tandem formed. They also proved that tag team matches could just as reliably headline (and sell out) Budokan as the big Triple Crown bouts during the AJPW glory period.

What impact on votes do you expect to see for Kota Ibushi after a year of inactivity?

Out of sight, out of mind. I think it hurts him. However, he will be more affected by the additions to the category than he will be by his absence.

Who are some of the more intriguing candidates on the ballot this year, regardless of the category?

I’m really curious to see how Jerry Lawler & Bill Dundee fare, as I think so much of their connection is as rivals as much as partners. Will voters factor that in? I’m not sure, but it certainly elevates their case if you do. I have personally championed Shingo Takagi a lot so naturally, I want to see how he fares. I had him as number one on my last Greatest Wrestler Ever list, so I am of course going to vote for him myself. I think he and Ishii are a good measure of if voters are willing to stick to the guidance of the criteria and if someone is so strong in one of the three categories (the in-ring performance criteria in their case) then you vote them in. Those two guys have an utterly insane portfolio of MOTY-level bouts which in both their cases go back further than most people realize.

Do you like the changes with the additional number of votes and the addition of certain tag teams where one member may already be in the Hall of Fame?

The tag teams being on there is something that shouldn’t have ever been an issue and it should have been course-corrected years ago, so better late than never I say – even if it does create some awkward situations and comparisons. I’m definitely happy with the extra votes since a bunch of the teams added have great cases. I think that was a smart move by Dave (Meltzer) and the increase in votes isn’t so extreme that I think it makes it too easy for people to get the votes required. It will still be a dogfight this year I reckon. I also personally appreciate the extra votes because for the first time I’ve looked at the Historical category, seen the names that are now in it, realized I’m ancient and now need to start voting in it!

Listen to the ProWres Paradise with Alan4L on the PW Torch website