Thursday, March 8, 2018

The WWE Hall of Fame: The Banquet Years

Sure, it's always been and always will be a subject of contention and controversy, but take it just a little less seriously and it's just plain fun. Like it or not, the WWE Hall of Fame is what the mainstream world will always recognize as the wrestling Hall of Fame. It's simply how it is. Aside from having the WWE banner, the broadcasts are award show-quality as far as production and now attract arenas full of fans. It's hard to believe now, twenty-five years after the creation of the Hall of Fame, but it wasn't always that way.

The first induction that began the Hall of Fame, Andre the Giant in 1993, was a mere announcement on WWF television. The following three years saw small ceremonies with inductions and speeches. These events were actually not much more than dinners held in hotel banquet facilities. The 1995 and 1996 ceremonies were held in conjunction with King of the Ring and Survivor Series in those years respectively.

Many of the all-time great WWE stars took their rightful places in the Hall of Fame at those early events including Buddy Rogers, Chief Jay Strongbow, Freddie Blassie, Bobo Brazil, Gorilla Monsoon, Arnold Skaaland, James Dudley, George "The Animal" Steele, Ernie Ladd, Ivan Putski, The Fabulous Moolah, Pedro Morales, The Grand Wizard, Antonino Rocca, Captain Lou Albano, Killer Kowalski, Johnny Rodz, Vincent J. McMahon, Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, Pat Patterson, Baron Mikel Scicluna, and the Valiant Brothers.

While it's nice that many of these now-deceased stars were able to enjoy their special night, their longtime fans can only wonder what the inductions of legends like Monsoon or Albano may have been like in the current Hall of Fame format. On the other hand, some of these early stars may have preferred the more intimate atmosphere that these ceremonies held, where fan attendance seemed to be more of an exception than a rule. No ridiculous chants at these banquets, for sure.

Though often unseen, these banquets yielded three individual Hall of Fame programs. Unlike the modern WWE Hall of Fame programs, these were small, four-page affairs printed on heavy paper stock reminiscent of a school concert or wedding program. Seeing as that attendance was greatly limited at these events, these programs do not become available very often. One in my own collection even has a small food stain. Could this have dropped from the fork of a Gorilla? Will you stop?

WWE Network does feature abridged versions of these events. While we may never see the full ceremonies officially released (there may be a "fan cam" version of one, but you didn't hear that from me), at least we have these fun and somewhat rare mementos of the nights where Rogers, Superfly, Blassie, and Patterson, among others, were finally and fully recognized by the company that they largely helped to build.

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