WWE Hall of Fame

On January 9th, World Wrestling Entertainment (or WWE, formerly WWF) held the Royal Rumble. This 30-man battle royal determined who will wrestle in the main event at Wrestlemania in just seven weeks. Wrestlemania is WWE’s Christmas, New Year’s and birthday all rolled into one. It’s the biggest event of the year and a spectacle it’s hard to describe unless you see it for yourself.

The night before Wrestlemania, WWE holds its annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Every year, WWE inducts roughly seven or eight new entrants. This may seem like a lot, but they usually have two big names, a tag team, a female, a less popular person from an ethnic minority, a manager, a behind the scenes worker and someone going into the celebrity wing. The celebrity wing is how the likes of Drew Carey, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the current President of the United States end up in the Hall.

WWE just announced the first inductee into the class of 2017. It’s Kurt Angle. For those of you who don’t know, Kurt Angle is the only bona fide Olympic Gold Medalist to ever compete in the WWE. Now, there are plenty of good reasons why Kurt Angle should go into the Hall of Fame; but there are reasons I’m surprised he is. His WWE career was impressive; he racked up a lot of accolades and he’s one of the most entertaining performers I’ve seen. On the other hand, he’s had some legal issues. They include, DUIs, reckless driving, and accusations of stalking an ex-girlfriend that required a legal agreement for the two not to interact. Not the most heinous of crimes, and forgivable.

What I find it harder to believe they forgave, is what he’s been doing for the past ten years. Angle received early release from his WWE contract, claiming he needed time off to heal. He promptly went to work for WWE’s competitors, TNA, and worked there the next ten years. He’s already in the TNA Hall of Fame and will be the first person to be inducted into both Hall of Fames. WWE has not always been so kind to perceived slights.

80s star“Superfly” Jimmy Snuka died recently at age 73. WWE aired numerous tributes to the wrestling legend. The thing is, he had recently been charged with third degree murder. He never stood trial because he was judged unfit just 12 days before his death. WWE flirted with bad publicity in celebrating the man’s life. Luckily for them, the media did not pick up on the story.

Some things are unforgivable. On June 25, 2007 wrestler Chris Benoit, his wife, and his 7-year old son were found dead in his home. Learning the news, WWE called off its live show and aired a tribute show to Benoit. Sometime during that show word began to come out that the incident was being investigated as a murder suicide. WWE was left airing the show. When WWE aired its next scheduled show, Vince McMahon (who at the time was supposed to be dead in storyline) gave a heartfelt apology and vowed Benoit’s name would not be mentioned again. He meant it. WWE began systematically erasing Benoit from their history. Old shows were chopped up to remove him. Needless to say, his merchandise never appeared again. Recently, however, with the advent of WWE’s own network and the need for streamed content, WWE has begun showing old Benoit footage with a disclaimer. Benoit will never go in the Hall of Fame.

Speaking for myself, I’m satisfied with that. Chris Benoit was one of my favorite wrestlers at the time of his death. I was hit pretty hard. But it seemed unfair to wipe him off the map. Especially when medical experts have speculated that post-concussion syndrome brought about by Benoit’s wrestling career (in WWE, World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling) could have caused his actions. Benoit himself claimed he had lost track of the number of concussions he had suffered. I’ve heard at least one wrestler (Montel Vontavious Porter, aka MVP) claim Benoit had shown strange symptoms, like losing track of where he was while in the ring. Wrestling may have been what caused this tragedy and, to their credit, WWE have gone to great lengths to reduce the risk of concussion in their matches and non-match segments (aka angles) since. I still own a Chris Benoit shirt. I would never wear it, but I can’t bring myself to throw it away. I try to hold on to the good memories, even with the dark cloud over them. Perhaps WWE is trying to do the same thing.