Wrestling has not been forgotten as RTV’s World of Wrestling transforms in to The Neon Idols. Formulating that Hall of Fame took a lot of time and was a labour of love, and so now that the WWE’s Class of 2013 is in the books, I would like to induct a new class in to my Hall of Fame alongside it, as was originally the plan. So without further ado, the 2013 Class of the RTV Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame.
“The Nature Boy” Ric Flair (Richard Morgan Fliehr, born 1949)
Words can hardly match the icon that Flair has cast for himself over his long pro-wrestling career. The only reason he wasn’t in my initial 50 automatic inductees was that he was wrestling with TNA and didn’t consider him retired. However, now he’s back in WWE as a ‘legend’ it feels like we wont be seeing him wrestle regularly again, so here he is. Taking his nick name (and basically his gimmick) from the first ever WWE Champion, Buddy Rogers, Ric Flair has managed to surpass even that legend; as well as arguably every other legend.
His career has spanned over 40 years now, from the AWA to Japan, various NWA territories, WCW, WWE, and TNA, and so its hard to really chronicle such a career. Flair won the NWA Heavyweight title having already fought famously with the likes of Harley Race, Roddy Piper, Ricky Steamboat and even the original “Nature Boy”, but to my mind, the first really era-defining work Flair did was in his feud for the ages, alongside his Four Horsemen, against “The Common Man” Dusty Rhodes. The ‘stylin’, profilin’ champion born with a golden spoon in his mouth, against the son of a plumber fighting for his family made for a great story and great matches as a result, full of career highlights like the Horsemen breaking Rhodes’ arm and putting “hard times” on the Common Man. Moving to WCW and later the WWF, Flair became the greatest wrestler of his era, putting of some of the best matches ever against the likes of Steamboat, and ultimately, Randy Savage for the WWF Championship, during his short initial run in the WWF – winning the title in one of the best Royal Rumbles of all time in 1992.
After being part of the exodus to WCW during the Monday Night Wars, Flair would return to the now WWE 2001 after being a victim of NWO over-exposure. Initially more of an on-screen personality than a wrestler, there as some life in the nature boy yet, literally evolving as a character with Triple H’s Evolution, and helping build future top talents like Randy Orton and Batista before finally bowing out gracefully following a loss to Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXIV.
It would be hypocritical for me not to mention the controversial parts of Flair’s career, especially given that my first post on this blog was scathing to the Flair that sullied his retirement by wrestling again for money and even using his Hall of Fame ring in a TNA angle. The same Flair that had multiple marriages, had to disappointingly wrestle beyond his prime to pay for his “Nature Boy” lifestyle, is exactly as arrogant as his talent allows, and is, frankly, a bit of an asshole. Like many legends though, his issues are balanced by greatness, originality, and achievement. Through his controversies came moments like selling out the Rŭngnado May First Stadium in North Korea with Antonio Inoki, working on heated relations with the nation, being one of the few to ever hold both the NWA and WWE Championship, and being the only ever two time WWE Hall of Famer (so far.) Truly, Flair encapsulates every side of pro wrestling, the exquisite and the ugly, and for that, he is one of the greatest of all time, if not the greatest.
The Rock (Dwayne Douglas Johnson, born 1972)
When I first started watching wrestling as a young man, The Rock was my joint favourite wrestler alongside Chris Jericho, and though my love for Rocky has dissipated to a dread for his appearances as I’ve matured, the reasons for my initial love for him hasn’t changed. He was, and is, still an incredibly charismatic man, a prototypical athlete, and while not among the very best technical wrestlers, he knew how to put on the show perfectly. He was among the brightest stars of the fames ‘Attitude Era’, and though his act has grown stale (to my mind) for a 2013 audience, his star has only grown, becoming one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.
Though I sympathise with the talking point of him ‘abandoning’ the business, I also believe that though he doesn’t show it all the time, he does have the business in his blood as a third-generational star. His return to the WWE to face John Cena in a series of blockbuster matches broke box office numbers and helped bring more positive eyes to the company. His career was relatively short, but he is truly perhaps the only wrestling star with a claim to being bigger than Hulk Hogan, and considering memorable matches and feuds with Triple H, Mankind, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and now John Cena, he is a sure-fire Hall of Famer.
Paul Bearer (William Alvin “Bill” Moody, 1954 – 2013)
Any mention of Paul Bearer must be prefaced, I think, by mention of his reputation as one of the nicest men in the business, and a sincere lover of wrestling. He was certainly dedicated to it, working in the business throughout his adult life, firstly as Percy Pringle III – a classic heel, loud, wealthy, flash, and bleached blonde who worked with and elevated several legendary talents such as Rick Rude, Lex Luger, “Stunning” Steve Austin, and eventually “Mean” Mark Calloway in federations like Florida Championship Wrestling and World Class Championship Wrestling.
He would work later again with Calloway, with a much darker character, with significantly more success as part of what people commonly consider the greatest wrestling gimmick of all time – The Undertaker. No one commands more respect than ‘The Phenom’ after his 20+ year career, but without the creepy, captivating mouthpiece of Bearer by his side, it’s hard to tell whether ‘Taker’s gimmick would be quite so convincing. Thanks to him, The Undertaker’s lack of natural charisma was covered up and replaced with carefully protected mythical mystique, the prop for which being his iconic urn. In his darker guise, Bearer was able to help guide The Undertaker, and later, Kane and Mankind to some of the greatest and most memorable moments in wrestling history. To that point, every wrestling fan of Bearer’s era is familiar with the image of Bearer holding the glowing urn aloft to give his charges power, and with the unmistakable sound of his accompanying “Ohhhhhh Yeeeeaaahhh!”.
His death took an emotional toll on fans and workers alike that when he passed, a tribute was demanded and happily given in the touching form of both Undertaker and Kane giving their familiar salute of respect to each other in the ring – a powerful angle which also helped birth one final angle between the Undertaker and upstart CM Punk. Even in death, Bearer was a part of the story – just as the old school wrestling fanatic would have wanted it.
“The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase (Theodore Marvin “Ted” DiBiase, Sr, born 1954)
For years I never fully appreciated the Million Dollar Man; considered him something of an ‘also ran’ who never really made it. For some reason though, I saw him in a new, more impressive light rewatching the 1992 Royal Rumble. Watching him stroll out smugly to his music, I really connected with the character like the people of the time would have – or close to it.
Though wealth and smugness were and are stalwart heel tendencies, The Million Dollar Man was a truly original gimmick, reflective of a moneyed era. To an audience still predominantly working class, this smug ‘Millionaire’ showed total disregard for them or the contests they came to see, using his privilege to undermine the wrestling contests by hiring a Virgil to help him cheat, buying a Million Dollar Championship, and later, the WWF Championship. He was a true original, a top star, and larger than life – in an era with big, larger than life stars.
DiBiase’s career spans further and wider than the Million Dollar Man, but with that, he became etched in the consciousness of pro wrestling.
“Ravishing” Rick Rude (Richard Erwin Rood, 1958 – 1999)
Compared to the others on this list, Rude’s career in wrestling was relatively short, partly because he came to wrestling, and sadly due to his early demise – however, he achieved much in his short career.
Starting in the territories, and known for his incredible physique, Rude was managed by Percy Pringle III and feuded with The Road Warriors, Kevin Von Erich and even Jerry Lawler in Memphis, but it was in the WCW and WWF where Rude really cemented his legacy. As part of Bobby Heenan’s Family in the WWF he feuded famously with Jake Roberts, approaching his wife, berating her, and taunting Roberts by printing his wife’s face on his tights. Moving to WCW he joined Paul Heyman’s Dangerous Alliance and feuded with Ricky Steamboat, Ron Simmons and Ric Flair. In his time in the two companies he won both the Intercontinental Championship and the United States Championship.
After a botched suicide dive, he was forced to prematurely retire in 1994. That didn’t keep him from the business though, becoming embroiled in the Attitude Era, famously appearing on both RAW and Nitro on the same night (thanks to RAW being taped), being a founding member of D Generation X and later joining the NWO. It was said that he was training to get back in to ring shape, but unfortunately, in 1999, he joined an overlong list of wrestlers dying young due to their lifestyle. Who knows if he could have made that return, but even without it, he made his legacy clear.
Betty Jo Niccoli (born 1946)
An often overlooked female wrestler, perhaps overshadowed by Mae Young and The Fabulous Moolah, Betty Jo Niccoli was a truly war hardened, experienced wrestler.
She wrestled around the world, winning titles in several different places, becoming the AWA Women’s Championship, the NWA Women’s Championship as well as their Texas Women’s Championship. Like many battle-hardened male wrestlers, Niccoli travelled to Japan to wrestle for All Japan Pro Wrestling, even winning their Women’s Tag Team Championship.
Throughout her successes, Niccoli truly tried to progress the cause of Women’s wrestling, and became influential in lifting New York’s ban on women’s wrestling in the state before retiring in 1976.