Wrestling's biggest week of the year returned to the greater Metropolitan area of NYC for the first time in 6 years. I was living in the city last time it was here, much has changed since then but the event has only grown larger as the ENTIRE wrestling community, not just WWE related, descend upon the hosting city & with that city being NYC
WWE Hall of Fame - April 6th - Barclays Center - Brooklyn, NY
As the men and women of WWE get set to step into the ring for WrestleMania 35 on Sunday, the organization honored the 2019 WWE Hall of Fame inductees. This is always a special night because it's one of the few times when everyone drops their characters and we get to see the people behind the gimmicks. Still, the main attraction is hearing legends talk about their careers.
This year's Hall of Fame class included DX, The Hart Foundation, Harlem Heat, Torrie Wilson, The Honky Tonk Man, Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake and veteran WWE employee Sue Aitchison as the recipient of the Warrior Award.
This will take a bit of unpacking:
Let me start by saying that this is my fave wrestling event of the year - Some may find it boring & for with good reason and while there is no in-ring action, there is something truly special that takes happens & really nothing like being there in person. For better or for worse something unpredictable (& usually magical) happens that makes this a must-see event. This year had both in spades.
To start off I thought it was cool how they changed the staging up quite a bit & it was clear that alot of thought had been given to that.
Ironically I've long been pushing for them to do live TV segments at the end stage of the arenas (think old Piper's Pit & now how they (sorta) are doing A Moment of Bliss) as it gives it more of feel than doing it in the ring, but I love how they switched FROM that concept to holding the HOF for the first time inside a tricked out ring staged in the middle of the arena. It gave it class, it eliminated hiearchy in terms of far back invited guests were sitting, everyone could see better & it was just cool sans for half the crowd stuck looking at everyone's back all night. Sadly, what happened with Bret Hart almost assures that this setup was the first time & the last time we will see it. We will get into all of that in a sec:
First we must acknowledge just how insanely gorgeous Maria Menounous looked hosting the red carpet:
Once the red carpet ceremony was over, WWE wasted no time getting to the first induction of the night by having Renee Young and Corey Graves introduce the video package for the first inductee:
The Honky Tonk Man
Jimmy Hart was brought out to induct his longtime client and friend. He talked about the early days of working with The Honky Tonk Man and helping him record the songs he used during his career. Whenever Hart gets a chance to talk about the past, you get the impression he might have more hilarious backstage stories than anyone else in the business. He talked for less than five minutes before bringing out The Honky Tonk Man in a pink Cadillac.
Between the hair dye and outfit, Honky looked much the same as he did 20 years ago & immediately credited Hart with all of the success he had during his career & how honored he was and how he never expected to be inducted. The rest of his speech was devoted to chronicling the history behind his character and how he created it, and how WWE took it to a new level. As he was preparing to leave, Hart convinced him to sing his song one more time.
That's what you want right?? But it still felt unexpected and special and if you grew up in the 80s and will always see The Honky Tonk Man as the greatest Intercontinental Champ of all time like I do, being here for this and knowing that this is the last time that song will be sung in this capacity makes you a part of something that never leaves you. It also set the pace for one wild night.
How's this for a surprise treat? Stacy Keibler made her first WWE appearance in 13 years to induct her friend and colleague, Torrie Wilson.
Now I say surprise, however when they announce the inductee weeks leading up to the event you don't know who is gonna induct them till the night of the event, that's part of the fun. However, usually it's not a hard guess and in this case the minute you hear Torrie Wilson is getting inducted, you would automatically assume Keibler would be involved if not for that she has distanced herself from WWE & wrestling in general for over a decade.
And that decade + has been more than kind as they both looked incredibly stunning & as gorgeous as ever.
However, a late motif seemed to be this triumph & tragedy theme that kept running through everything (& isn't that the heart of pro wrestling?)
But something very real befell many of these inductees with Wilson sadly losing her Father (who actually also appeared on WWE programming in a few funny skits back in their less than PG days) just a few days prior. I wasn't aware of this & was wondering why she was so shaky & visibly uncomfortable.
She began by talking about how her first boyfriend in fourth grade called her "fatso" and how she used it as inspiration to get in shape & how WWE helped her build confidence on a worldwide stage. Finally at end she delivered some true but comic relief how the fans have made her aware of what a big role she (perhaps unknowingly) played in their male adolescence.WWE didn't gloss over Wilson's Playboy appearance during her video package, which is a little surprising in a PG environment. Keibler and Wilson both look like they could step back into the ring tomorrow.
The Hart Foundation
Bret Hart having already been inducted on his own in 2006, was the first of two wrestlers going into the HOF for a second time as part of a tag team.
Again more of the triumph and tragedy theme here as sadly his partner Jim The Anvil Neidhart passed away last year.
Bret came out with Neidhart's daughter and current WWE Superstar Nattie to speak instead of having one introduce the other. Nattie accepted the induction on her father's behalf as they both struggled to hold back tears as they talked about losing The Anvil last summer.
Eventually he got the crowd to laugh by talking about some of his old gimmicks and coming up in the business with Neidhart by his side.
This was the perfect mix of humor and emotion - UNTIL - One of the wildest things to ever happen at any WWE event, let alone a televised & the only formal one of the year occurred. Some asshole white dude sporting a rastafarian hat & fake dreads seemingly outta freaking NOWHERE, rushed into the ring and tackled Bret.
This would have been a dick move in any capacity, not to mention a profoundly stupid one as everyone surrouding the ring & beyond are trained killers who all love Bret, but your going to rush a 62 year old stroke victim, in tears talking about his dead family member next to his niece on what should be one of the greatest nights of his life?
Several wrestlers rushed to help subdue him until the authorities could drag him away.
Let me tell you something, this could have been anywhere & who woudln't want to punch this guy, but this hostile Brooklyn crowd? No matter what shitty cell phone footage you've seen online, I assure you NONE of it does it justice, it instantly became one of the scariest & most volatile situations I've ever been in the presence of & it went on for a good 10 mins.
Like a true pro, the moment everything calmed back down, Hart continued his speech from the exact sentence where he left off. A wild moment that sadly will always define the 2019 Hall of Fame induction & hate that this asshole will live in infamy for doing this to The Best Their Is, The Best There Was & The Best There Ever Will Be (when Hart delivered that line at the end I'm not ashamed to tell you that I had tears running down my face (& I wasn't alone in this regard.)
Brutus 'The Barber' Beefcake
Ok, so how do you follow that? We need Hulk Hogan - who came out next to induct Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake, a man he has more history with than almost anyone else in the industry. The Hulkster told some stories about coming up with Beefcake in the territory days and noted how it was The Barber who helped get him back into the business after he thought he was done for good.
Beefcake talked about being grateful for having a 41-year wrestling run and having a friend like Hogan to help him during his career but this was not the loud, boisterous Barber we saw in the ring for years. This was a man who was quiet, humble and thankful to be remembered for all of his hard work. This was another example of a short but effective speech at an event usually known for going over its scheduled end time.
Legacy Class of 2019
One thing that I really admire that they have added in recent years are performers that have passed and some from so long ago that their wouldn't even perhaps be a family member to accept. How do you address that? The answer is the Legacy Hall which is wonderful and glad to see guys I grew up watching like Wahoo. S.D. Jones & of course Bruiser Brody being recognized.
Sue Aitchison/Warrior Award
When The Ultimate Warrior proposed the idea for a new award at the Hall of Fame for people who work hard outside the ring, it was people like Sue Aitchison he was talking about. This is someone who has worked for WWE behind the scenes for decades and is one of many people whose hard work is almost never known to the WWE Universe.
Dana Warrior appeared once again to present the award created to honor her late husband. She even had a little Ultimate Warrior action figure with her on the podium. She eventually introduced John Cena as the one who would induct Aitchison into the HOF.
He talked about everything Aitchison has done to help others throughout her career and how instrumental she was in forming a partnership with the Make-A-Wish Foundation (while asshole fans chanted "Face Kurt Angle") At least Angle was laughing his butt off in the crowd. Sue jokingly talked about how despite being inducted, she still had to set up accommodations for the rest of the inductees and their families. She was genuinely grateful to have a job that allows her to help make wishes come true for children and recalled the story of meeting Connor Michalek and his family.
In a move that was likely done to cut down on time, Harlem Heat were introduced by Young and Graves instead of someone else giving a long-winded speech before bringing them out.
Stevie Ray and Booker T received a warm welcome from the WWE Universe before King Booker began by talking about how he wished his mother could be there to see them being inducted.
Booker spoke candidly about his time in prison and how his brother always had his back and kept him interested in pro wrestling while he was locked up. He along with Bret Hart were the two wrestlers being inducted for the second time as part of a tag team. Proud to say I have been to both of Booker's inductions (& oddly they were both in NYC, as the his solo induction was back at Wrestlemania 29 in 2013).
When it was time for the big brother to speak, Ray talked about how they trained to become wrestlers and how they were discovered after they appeared in an indie wrestling magazine when they were just getting started. Ray earned some laughs throughout his speech, but most of his time was devoted to thanking the people who helped them in various ways. He name-dropped Hogan, Ole Anderson and Sid Vicious as people who helped them get and keep their jobs with WCW. Booker's crediting of Sensational Sherri with their early success in WCW was a classy move. She helped some of the greats get over as a manager. They had one of the longer speeches of the night, but also one of the funniest especially when Booker fueled the mania around Kofi Kingston and told Daniel Bryan he was gonna get his ass kicked the next day at Wrestlemania). It never felt like they overstayed their welcome.
As expected, D-Generation X's induction closed the show, which is appropriate since it featured several Superstars being inducted at the same time., some of the biggest & best of all time & one currently married to the Boss's daughter. And just like how The Honky Tonk Man kicked off the show with entering in a caddilac, how else could Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Billy Gunn, Road Dogg and X-Pac enter but on the infamous tank used to invade WCW way back when.
Let me say this: I wasn't watching wrestling between May 1992 & March 2001 (I know, I know, I missed alot but thankfully I have the WWE Network to catch me up) so I don't have the nostalgia for this team that those that lived it do. To me Shawn Michaels will always be a Rocker & Triple H is the badass that comes out to Motorhead - Having said that, this was one of, if not the best & most well done & thought out while still feeling totally spontaneous inductions I've ever witnessed (& this is my 5th one).
Other than a few serious instances, this was basically a series of comedic moments and quips, and that is exactly what a DX induction should be. Triple H thanked Killer Kowalski for training him, and he thanked everyone who has ever stepped into the ring with him for making him look good.
Sincere laughs galore throughout, every thing you wanted to them to touch on they did -
Trips ribbed Vince McMahon by repeatedly telling everyone not to mention his name by saying his full name over and over. The crowd chanted "Vince McMahon" in response.
Gunn mentioned that McMahon can't fire him, and Triple H said Vince will buy All Elite Wrestling just so he can fire Gunn again.
Michaels' mention of All In got a pop from the crowd.
X-Pac said he didn't think he would be alive to see this day and thanked his family for accepting him back into their lives after all of his issues. He shed a few tears but kept his composure.
They brought out the classic DX podium to end their speech by issuing an apology to an entire generation for getting them in trouble as kids for copying what they did on television, as we were subjected to a string of censored images of naked mature women (you read that right).
.They did the full "Are You Ready?" rap before spraying those in proximity with high pressured water guns!
X-Pac gave credit to the underrated Jerry Lynn and called him one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. He also suggested WWE rename the Women's Battle Royal in honor of Chyna.
Triple H jokingly said his mom wrote all of the dirty jokes DX told back in the day.
Lots of laughs before they moved on to the more serious matter of paying tribute to Chyna. The Heartbreak Kid credited her with making them popular when they first started the group. He became emotional when the crowd chanted, "thank you, Chyna,"
After all the nonsense that had went on throughout WWE Hall of Fame 2019 - some of it intended, some of it not - it was just about the perfect conclusion - and a totally fitting way to mark WrestleMania's first ever all-women's main event.
The Associated Press