As we close of another Hall of Fame Class I wrap up the largest class I have ever inducted since I started inducting a Hall of Fame Class in 2017. This is the largest induction of every class as I took the WWE's idea as a way to honor the past paste the spotlight on the early days of pro-wrestling. This year I tighten up those who I missed when in past years. Including names from the television era, and the very early days.
Gorgeous George: The man who would become one of the greatest drawing cards in the history of wrestling and one of the first true mainstream athletes of the sport. Due to his exaggerated effeminate behavior when the ring announcer introduced him as "Gorgeous George". Such showmanship was unheard of at the time; and consequently, arena crowds grew in size as fans turned out to boo him. George was the first big draw for wrestling in television and would influence celebrities like James Brown and Muhamad Ali teaching them the art of self promotion. It is my pleasure to finally welcome Gorgeous George into the Wrestling Express Hall of Fame.
Buddy Rogers: Speaking of someone else that was influenced by Gorgeous George was the original "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers. Another top draw from the early days of wrestling Buddy would flaunt his drawing power in high profile feuds with Lou Thesz, Ed "Strangler" Lewis, Killer Kowalski, and various other top stars of the era. Buddy is one of only a handful of talent to hold both the WWE & NWA World Championships. Best known as the first WWE Champion it is unfortunate that Buddy would become champion in the later half of his career and wasn't really able to put his drawing power on display in the WWE. After his in ring career ended he would manage the likes of Jimmy Snuka, Big John Studd, Ken Patera, and various others. It is my honor to welcome "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers into the Wrestling Express Hall of Fame.
Killer Kowalski: Waldek "Killer" Kowalski had the look of someone you didn't want to cross and in turn became one of wrestling's most feared heels. Killer took pride in maiming his opponents from breaking the leg of Buddy Rogers to ripping off part of Yukon Eric's ear with knee drop he was unlike anyone else. Next to his feud with Rogers his most famous feud was likely against Bruno Sammartino becoming one of Bruno's top opponents during Bruno's time as WWWF Champion. Though later in his life Kowalski would become one of the most respected trainers in the world of wrestling that didn't do much to discount his legacy and reputation. Kowalski is known for training legends like Triple H, Chyna, Perry Saturn, Big John Studd, and an NXT icon in Tomasso Ciampa as well as many others. It is with great pleasure I welcome Killer Kowalski into the Wrestling Express Hall of Fame.
Farmer Burns: The man who trained one of the very earliest top stars in wrestling in Frank Gotch. Though Burns never really reached the level of success of his most famous protégé it was a different time when Burns was in the sport as it was the early days of organized wrestling and he was a top draw, but in my opinion some are more famous for in ring accomplishments and others are more famous for their accomplishments out of the ring. Farmer Burns also had a hand in training legends like Toots Mondt, Earl Caddock, and Rudy Dusek. It is with great pleasure I welcome Farmer Burns into the Wrestling Express Hall of Fame.
Cora Combs: The wife of Billy Wolfe who trained her to become a wrestlers this lady was on of the early lady wrestler who helped in paving the way for those who would follow. Cora would have a daughter who would become a top women's wrestler in the 1980's that being Debbie Combs. Cora may not have become a known star of the era like her counterparts but that shouldn't discount her as someone who helped pave the way for women becoming a more respect part of the wrestling world. It is with great pleasure I welcome Cora Combs into the Wrestling Express Hall of Fame.
This has been the largest class I have inducted since I first began the Hall of Fame, but this is the end of the Class of 2022. It is with great pleasure I welcome these six names into the Wrestling Express Hall of Fame Class of 2022 as a part of the Legacy Induction.
It took me until August or September of last year and now we finish this year's class in three months and this is the biggest class of the year.
Orville Brown: Brown was one of the many stars from the state of Missouri, pushed to join the world of wrestling by former manger of amateur and pro-wrestlers Ernest Brown. At first, Brown was undefeated in his first 71 matches including impressive performances against former World Champions Jim Londos and Ed "Strangler" Lewis. Brown was named the first World Champion of the newly formed NWA. Brown was forced to retire from the ring in November 1949, following injuries sustained in a car accident.
Everett Marshall: Not much is known about Everett Marshall other then his long history in the Midwestern United States and a member of first incarnation of the NWA when it was known as the National Wrestling Association. Marshall had held the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship on only one occasion, but was the other side of the match that first opened the secret door of wrestling. In 1947, former promoter Jack Pfefer spilled the secrets of wrestling to the NY Times following a marquee match between Jim Londos and Marshall. Marshall was a major star for the Association during his time main eventing a number of events.
Whipper Billy Watson: William Potts better known as "Whipper" Billy Watson who was the biggest star north of the border in the 1940's and 1950's. As Watson's stock began to grow in Montreal he would spend time in other areas specifically St Louis where he ended the four year title reign of local legend "Wild" Bill Longson. Watson kept the territory hot with his match against Lou Thesz for the local title which Thesz won. Watson got his win back by ending Thesz six year reign as NWA Worlds Champion in 1956 which was only reign as Worlds Champion. Watson would spend 31 years entertaining fans in Montreal becoming one of the most beloved stars in the city having his last match in 1971. Watson was well known for his contributions to charity. He raised millions for campaigns such as the Easter Seals and was responsible for having 150,000 children join a safety club.
Judy Grable: Judy was one of many women of her era trained by The Fabulous Moolah and was one of the Moolah's top rivals during her career. Moolah's female trainees worked in Boston under promoter Paul Bowser, and in Boston, Grable and Moolah were involved in a feud. Known by her nicknames of the "Barefoot Contessa" and "the acrobatic blonde with the educated flying feet and was one of the top ladies in the era.
I'm proud to welcome these four legends of wrestling into the legacy wing and the Wrestling Express Hall of Fame Class of 2021.
Another year and another class of legacy Hall of Fame inductions to honor the past of wrestling.
June Byers: Starting as an enhancement talent to stars of the time like Mae Young and Mildred Burke as a way of paying her dues in wrestling. June would be trained by Buddy Wolfe who was also the man who got her bookings around the country. At the time it was either Fabulous Moolah or Buddy Wolfe training women and getting them bookings. Byers would eventually win the Women's Championship, but it wasn't that easy after Mildred Burke didn't want to let go of her spot. Over the course of her career Byers would hold the Women's Championship for ten years over time.
Pat O' Connor: The only person to hold the NWA and AWA World Heavyweight Championships at the same time. O' Connor would be the first AWA World Heavyweight Champion and even though he never actually defended the championship the title was awarded to him upon the founding of the company. Pat was also one of the first champions during the early days of television which in a way made him the first star of the television era in wrestling.
Bobo Brazil: Remembered for his iconic feud with The Sheik in Detroit and Indianapolis as well as wrestling under names like Bubu Brasil, Boo-Boo Brazil, and Houston Harris. Bobo Brazil is credited with breaking down color barriers in pro-wrestling and considered one of the first successful African American stars in pro-wrestling. Alongside names like Bearcat Wright, Art Thomas, Ernie Ladd, Luther Lindsay, and others set the stage for the future of wrestling. Brazil is one of the few legends in wrestling all over the United States before the expansion of wrestling to go national.
Frank Gotch: In the early days of pro-wrestling names like George Hackenschmidt, Ed Lewis, Lou Thesz, and others were considered the first franchises of wrestling. Frank Gotch was the first big star in wrestling and is credited with popularizing wrestling in America. Gotch has the distinction of being one of the few stars to win the World Title before the advent of the NWA as the governing body of American wrestling.
I preferred the way I did this part of the Hall of Fame last year due to the ability to induct more than just two people into the class and really keep things simple and together like they should be for this award.
George Hackenschmidt- One of the earliest pro-wrestlers ever and was the man behind the bear hug which was believeable due to his considerable strength. One thing that he was known for is his legendary feud with Frank Gotch to put into perspective the impact this feud had one wrestling historian says this is the only feud that was bigger then the sport. Describe as a major sports star and a man that only lost two matches in his entire career George Hackenschmidt is absolutely a legend of professional wrestling.
Rikidozan- The most famous Japanese professional wrestler ever in my opinion this man led the charge before anyone else. Rikidozan was the first major superstar in Japan and many ways poured the foundation for the pro-wrestling we see today in the land of the rising sun. Without Rikidozan there would be no New Japan! Sadly his career was cut short after he was murdered by a Yakuza member in December 1963 and his passing would change everything, because it left a void in Japan.
El Santo- Much like Rikidozan was not only the most famous Japanese wrestling star ever, but someone credited with bringing popularity to the sport in his native country El Santo did exactly that in Mexico. El Santo transcended professioanl wrestling to become an actor and folk hero in his native country and his one of the most respected legends in Mexico. Santo had legendary feuds with Blue Demon & Black Shadow, but also appeared in action adventure films during his life. One thing I think a lot of people would be surprised by is that Santo never removed his mask in public or private even in private company. It is amazing to me the lengths El Santo would go to keep his identity a secret from even the people he worked with. A legend in wrestling and a hero in Mexico he belongs in the Hall of Fame.
After choosing to split up the eras last year between the Golden, Modern, & Territory eras. However, with the new class slowly coming upon us I decided to take a page out of WWE's book and move to a more legacy award concept. The reason for the move is because I feel as though with using the underling Legacy idea I feel like I could induct more people this year than I did the year before. I decide to induct the legacy inductees first to explain the reason I chose to make the change to the Legacy Induction instead of the Golden Era.
Ed "Strangler" Lewis- As we visit back into the past it is hard to not mention the man who invented the sleeper hold. During a match in Europe, Lewis put his opponent in the sleeper hold and most of the fans in attendance believed that Lewis was strangling his opponent and that is not just the first sleeper, but also how he got his nickname. Lewis also played a pivotal roll as a member of the "Gold Dust Trio" with promoter Big Billy Sandow & Toot Mondt. Even though there is more to this trio I will elaborate on another date. Lewis however was the first man to willing drop the title knowing that he could get the title back at another time. Lewis played a major part in laying the ground work for the future of wrestling.
Mildred Burke: This female competitor was one of the first ladies to actually fight in a wrestling match and not against other women. According to research Burke actually competed against men in shoot fights and would usually win her matches and would be a leader to find women a spot in wrestling. Though Burke would reign as champion for 20 years she earned her keep as she fought to allow women to be included in the National Wrestling Alliance which would open the door for women to be featured on a large scale. Burke would have a hand in training numerous stars of the 1980's much like Fabulous Moolah, but even though she may have been "blackballed" from major wrestling their is no doubting that she was one woman who laid the first bricks in building the legacy of women's wrestling.
Jim Londos: The man known as the "Golden Greek" was also basically the innovator of the gimmick match. Best known for his physique and looks he would only compete in matches against the ugliest fellow wrestlers he could find. The reason for this was due to Jim's lacking wrestling skills and was used as a way to cover this lack of skill up from the fans and make Jim a reliable source for early promoters.
The next set of legacy inductions will becoming in the coming weeks. Check out last year's small Golden Era class right here.