On April 6th, WWE held its annual Hall of Fame ceremony at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. While I have written in the past about my own displeasure with the Hall of Fame ceremony, Saturday night’s spectacle was a star-studded affair featuring an A-list of inductees. Harlem Heat is objectively one of the most memorable and successful tag teams in the history of World Championship Wrestling under Turner ownership. The Honky Tonk Man is the first hip-swinging image many wrestling fans think of when they imagine prolific Intercontinental Champions when they were a kid. And D-Generation X, while often thought of as WWE’s answer to the unpredictable debauchery of the New World Order, is one of the greatest and most-beloved factions in modern wrestling history.
In the midst of the WWE’s self-described “Women’s Evolution,” Torrie Wilson was inducted for her years as a popular member of both RAW and SmackDown during the Ruthless Aggression era and for building a successful fitness instruction brand in her post-wrestling years. While many wrestling fans online questioned the merits of Wilson’s induction in the weeks leading up to the ceremony, Wilson shot-back at her detractors during her speech, stating confidently that she did in fact deserve to stand among her fellow inductees.
I believe that Wilson’s induction offers an opportunity to open up a conversation about the lack of female talent currently present in the WWE Hall of Fame. Don’t get me wrong: Wilson is a motivational follow on Instagram and I haven’t found one interview where she is defamed in any way by her former colleagues. While she wasn’t one to put on solid matches like her contemporaries in Molly Holly, Victoria or fellow Hall of Famers Trish Stratus or Lita, Torrie doesn’t deserve the brunt of any criticism that she was a “glorified bikini model.” While it’s great to have a dense line-up of wrestlers who know their way around the ring, it’s good for a company to have a cast of characters that standout in different ways, such as Wilson’s “girl next door sex appeal” aura. On that same note, WWE storylines were a lot more adult in the dying flames of the Attitude Era than they are now, so she was merely walking the company line when pitched to be involved in segments like wrestling Dawn Marie in a mud pit. This isn’t an attack on the merits of Torrie Wilson’s induction. Rather, the question I aim to pose in this editorial is a question of “If Torrie is in, why isn’t ____ in?”
Miss Elizabeth. The Jumping Bomb Angels. Bull Nakano. Rockin’ Robin. Velvet McIntyre. Sable. There’s a great number of women who have been a part of professional wrestling in North America in the last 35+ years who would all make worthy additions to WWE’s distinguished class of prestige talent, yet are not included. Doesn’t it seem a little hypocritical for a company that continues to claim that women are making history seemingly every pay-per-view with “first time ever” matches, yet WWE does the bare minimum to honor the history of the forerunners and trail-blazers of the past? That would be like the National Baseball Hall of Fame only honoring the likes of Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige while completely overlooking Negro League greats like “Cool Papa” Bell and Josh Gibson.
To me, it just seems kind of silly for a company to brand and promote itself as championing women and striving to make efforts to establish a respectable women’s division (which they have) while also ignoring and glossing over a large part of women’s history in their company. The women of the present have longer matches, more in-depth storylines and more respectable characters than in years past like “The Boss” Sasha Banks, “The Man” Becky Lynch and “The Empress of Tomorrow” Asuka. They’ve entered Hell in a Cell and the Elimination Chamber matches for the first time, gotten their own Money in the Bank and Royal Rumble matches, and even main-evented WrestleMania for the first time in 35 years. The future looks bright in NXT as well with the likes of Shayna Baszler, Kairi Sane, Io Shirai, Bianca Belair, Mia Yim, Candice LeRae, Toni Storm, Piper Nevin and many more. Why doesn’t the past get the same kind of treatment?
And don’t get me wrong: This problem isn’t distinctly for women either. I think WWE accrued a very respectable class this year, but there’s still a laundry list of deserving talent that are on the outside looking in. (Owen Hart, Brian Pillman, Demolition, the British Bulldogs, Vader and New Jersey’s own Bam Bam Bigelow just to name a very select few). Ask any wrestling fan and they can name you their own list of worthy names that are still waiting for their invitation to WWE’s annual ceremony.
I will give WWE a good bit of credit in one regard: Before 2012, only five women were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame when the ceremony was much smaller and programs like the “Legacy Inductions” were not instituted yet. Since then, 12 women have been inducted in some way, shape or form in the last seven years, such as in a group (Chyna as a part of D-Generation X). Also, like I’ve stated in previous columns, WWE is a business with sponsors, partnerships and relationships to cultivate and up-keep. They want to induct and honor the finest examples of people who will represent their company well in the public eye. It’s no wonder why they’re high on promoting people who have successful fitness programs (Wilson or Stratus) or people who were consummate professionals throughout their long careers in wrestling. Additionally, given the continued legal troubles of Hall of Famer Sunny, WWE is more than likely thumbing through potential Hall of Famers with a fine-toothed comb. Triple H famously said on Stone Cold Steve Austin’s WWE Network podcast in 2016 that Chyna’s “lifestyle choices” were a factor worth considering for her Hall of Fame induction. Who’s to say that’s not the case for people like Miss Elizabeth, who passed away from a drug overdose in 2003?
What’s my solution to this problem that can serve as a form of “catch-up?” Every time WWE does an Evolution pay-per-view, they can have a small segment during the show where they do a specialized “Legacy” Hall of Fame induction for a number of women in order to bring up their numbers in the Hall of Fame while also allowing for an opportunity to celebrate wrestlers from the past on a show with women of the present in focus. You can even have the usual “smile-and-wave” acknowledgment of the Hall of Famers like WWE does during WrestleMania. Granted, this may not be enough for some, as they would want people like Luna Vachon or Mildred Burke to receive a “proper acknowledgement” during the actual Hall of Fame ceremony. But I would argue that WWE has done this for many other performers who are deserving of a “proper acknowledgement” and ceremony like Bruiser Brody, Wahoo McDaniel, Lord Alfred Hayes and Toots Mondt. It may not be perfect, but it is a start and a great way to honor history.
In short, WWE has done a remarkable job in the last few years improving their women’s division and placing more of a spotlight on a crop of women that have a great deal of fan support and talent. While these strides are extremely encouraging and promising for the present and future of women’s wrestling within the company, they should not overlook their past and find ways to honor the trend-setters who led the way to this point. Mention the Jumping Bomb Angels defeating the Glamour Girls for the WWF Women’s Tag Team Championship’s at the first Royal Rumble (especially since they’re trying to reestablish Women’s Tag Team championships on television today). Showcase past highlights of matches between Sensational Sherri and Rockin’ Robin on the WWE Network. And most of all, make sure that wrestling’s past is not forgotten or just thrown together in remembrance when considered at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony.
Comment your thoughts below what you think about this topic. Thank you as always for reading and continue to check out ProWrestling.com for all of the latest news, insights and hot takes in the world of professional wrestling.