Every year, the WWE Hall of Fame celebrates the contributions of wrestlers and wrestling personalities who made an unforgettable impression on the business. Like any other Hall Of Fame in music, sports, film, or other – there is always controversy surrounding the inducted class!
Behind the Curtain on the WWE Hall of Fame
Over the years, the WWE Hall of Fame has produced infamous backstage stories and its fair share of bizarre moments – things WWE doesn’t want their fans to know! Here are seven such examples.
1. Paul Orndorff – “A Wonderful Trashing”
The 2005 WWE Hall Of Fame cast revolved around those who worked alongside Hulk Hogan, including manager Jimmy Hart, arch-rival Roddy Piper, and the man he beat for his first WWF title: The Iron Sheik!
Also amongst those honored was Paul Orndorff, whom Hogan pinned in the main event of the inaugural WrestleMania before allying only to disband and create one of the most profitable storylines of all time.
“Mr. Wonderful” would deliver a sincere and gracious acceptance speech during his induction, with his former manager Bobby Heenan introducing him.
Off-screen, however, Paul was more eager to let his feelings show on what he truly thought of the WWE Hall Of Fame ceremony.
A year after his induction, the executor of the Piledriver bashed the entire concept, explaining that he only accepted the invitation when informed of the payment for his appearance. He called the gifted WWE Hall of Fame plaque a “twenty-dollar plaque” and allegedly left it behind in his Los Angeles hotel room after the event.
What’s more, Orndorff once commented that he has another ring twice the size of the one provided by the WWE, so he wore that one instead.
Needless to say, Paul thought very little of the whole spectacle, thinking of it as a simple payday with other cheap tat thrown in.
Don’t miss: The Legendary Life of Paul Orndorff Before Wrestling.
2. Bruno Sammartino – “Delaying Bruno”
Considering the iconic status of Bruno Sammartino, one would have thought a WWE Hall Of Fame induction would be on the cards quicker than the time it took for him to win his first-ever WWE (then WWWF) championship match over Buddy Rogers (just 48 seconds)!
Reigning as WWE’s top champion for eleven years over two reigns, he was a critical figure in the company’s history.
Did you know? The Italian grappler was not only a famous star but also a crossover hero for many – so much so that singer Peter Hernandez incorporated The Living Legend’s name into his own stage identity, becoming Bruno Mars!
In 1987, Sammartino cut ties with Vince McMahon and then WWF over various causes. One of the most significant was his son’s treatment in the WWF.
David had debuted in 1984, and despite his name status, David’s career was overshadowed by the returning Bruno, who the fans adored much more, with David’s biggest matches only coming when aligned with his father.
In rebellion, David deliberately went against the script in a match in November 1985, submitting early to enhancement talent Ron Shaw.
Bruno also disliked the use of PEDs and the new direction the WWF was heading in.
Bruno was no fan of Vince upon departing the company in 1988, and in interviews, Sammartino called Vince a “lowlife” and “a sick-minded idiot.”
Bruno moved to rival promotion WCW shortly after departing the company.
Over the twenty-five years that followed, Bruno and Vince did not see eye-to-eye, and Sammartino continued attacking the company.
One of the most influential wrestlers of all time, his induction was halted for nearly two decades.
Eventually, in 2013, the two sides made up as “The Strongest Man In The World” accepted a 2013 Hall Of Fame induction despite previous grievances. Long-time friend Arnold Schwarzenegger inducted him.
The relationship between WWE and Sammartino stayed strong in the years before his death, with Bruno inducting his “kayfabe” sworn enemy, Larry Zbyszko, becoming a playable character in 2K14, and a statue honoring the legend was revealed at WrestleMania Axxess in 2014.
Learn more: Bruno Sammartino and Vince McMahon – A 25-Year Feud.
3. Superstar Billy Graham Leaves the WWE Hall of Fame
The return of the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2004 saw the induction of former WWWF Champion “Superstar” Billy Graham. Yet, in 2011, he became the first entrant to walk out voluntarily!
In 2011, one of the announced WWE Hall Of Fame inductees was Abdullah The Butcher. This caused some uproar, considering Abdullah had not worked for the company on a high-profile level.
Butcher competed pretty much everywhere outside of the WWE, including AJPW, WWC, WCCW, various NWA territories, WCW, ECW, and Stampede (to name a few on his résumé).
Graham left in protest, annoyed that the WWE was inducting someone he claimed had never worked there.
Superstar commented, “It is a shameless organization to induct a bloodthirsty animal such as Abdullah the Butcher into their worthless and embarrassing Hall of Fame, and I want the name of Superstar Billy Graham to be no part of it.”
Over the years, Graham has only garnered more controversy for his comments, while Abdullah is still a debated figure in the class.
Further reading: Superstar Billy Graham – Peaks and Valleys of his Life and Career.
4. Jerry Lawler – “A King Is Crowned”
The WWE Hall of Fame induction of Memphis wrestling legend Jerry Lawler was not exactly a fitting tribute and not the one desired by “The King” himself.
Inducted in 2007 due to his prolific body of work, Lawler wanted to be inducted by long-time broadcaster Lance Russell.
His smooth and calm delivery was a trademark of Russell’s that made his work so iconic. Yet, WWE producer Kevin Dunn nixed this idea, stating that no one would know who Russell was.
Russell, who worked in the Memphis territory from 1959 to 1997, had never appeared in the WWE.
Dave Meltzer commented on an episode of Wrestling Observer Radio, “[WWE] said no to Lance because they didn’t want Lance.”
Meltzer continued, “It’s one of those weird things you know where someone is respected or liked, but [WWE] didn’t make them that, and it’s just part of their culture — I get it, I understand it at this stage.
“You’re sitting in this meeting, and somebody — at the end of the day, it’s Vince, even if Kevin Dunn is going, ‘Oh, we don’t want to, he never worked here, the audience doesn’t know who he is.’
“A lot of the audience wouldn’t and a lot of the audience would. But that’s not necessarily the point. They pay tribute to guys that a lot of the modern audience wouldn’t know when it happened and they were far more obscure in the business than [Russell] was.”
Instead, WWE chose William Shatner to induct Jerry Lawler.
While Star Trek’s Captain Kirk seems a bizarre choice, the pair did have a singular interaction on a 1995 edition of King’s Court in which Shatner hit a monkey flip on “The King.”
On the topic of weird inductor choices, Ghostbusters star Bill Murray was at 1995’s WWE Hall Of Fame ceremony riding an elephant in front of a green screen whilst inducting George Steele. I guess wrestling’s just like that sometimes!
5. Vince McMahon’s Sr.’s Driver? A WWE Hall of Fame Oddity
Fans and critics have panned many WWE Hall Of Fame inductees (or lack thereof) over the years. This example is no different!
1994 was the first official, multi-person class and featured legendary talents such as Gorilla Monsoon, “Classy” Freddie Blassie, and Buddy Rogers. However, one name sticks out like a sore thumb: James Dudley.
No, not one of the Dudley Boyz – they were inducted in 2018 – but Vincent J. McMahon’s personal limo driver!
This only stokes the conversations of the WWE having a run of favoritism in their Hall Of Fame, with Dudley’s impression on wrestling history being unremarkable compared to many not currently inducted, such as former WWWF champ Ivan Koloff, King King Bundy, and a plethora of other legends.
The WWE does try to find various ways to rightly justify Dudley’s induction without mentioning how nepotism may have factored in.
Dudley himself had a fascinating life, living up to the age of 94 – and last appearing on-screen at 91. He had 38 grandchildren, 34 great-grandchildren, and 16 great-great-grandchildren.
The contributing factors to his WWE Hall Of Fame induction include Dudley becoming the first African-American in the United States to manage an arena – being gifted management duties of Turner’s Arena in Washington, D.C. by Vincent J. McMahon. Dudley also performed many different jobs, from carrying buckets of water and bodyguarding to counting ticket sales.
He also managed various talents, most memorably Bobo Brazil, Bearcat Wright, Sailor Art Thomas, and Sweet Daddy Siki.
Vince Jr. even claimed, “Had there been no James Dudley, the WWE possibly wouldn’t exist as it does today!”
Yet, most fans will remember Dudley being honored for being the elder McMahon’s limo driver.
6. Ric Flair – “Not Fair To Be Flair”
Although still an active wrestler by 2008’s WWE Hall Of Fame, the retirement of the 16(+)-time World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair seemed inevitable. Nearing 60, Flair was inducted into the WWE’s Hall Of Fame before having his career ended the following night by Shawn Michaels.
Inducted by Triple H, “The Game” would go on to call it “the worst possible fear” he possibly could have had, and his “worst moment ever.”
Why? WWE was unhappy about the length of Flair’s speech.
Amid The Nature Boy’s long acceptance spiel, Triple H had to prompt Ric to wrap it up various times.
In an episode of WWE 24, HHH said he was nervous about inducting his hero.
Flair opened his speech with, “I’m just gonna talk a little bit about everybody that… from day one, if you don’t mind, if you got time for it…”
Clearly, the length of Flair’s speech was something backstage figures certainly did mind.
“The Cerebral Assassin” was called over by a backstage figure where Triple H paraphrased what Vince McMahon told him: “We’re going to get dropped off TV! You’ve got to go out there and cut him off!”
A backstage hand even had to come out, with Triple H’s prompting to Flair only causing the crowd to get more hostile.
Considering the almost unmatched legendary status of Flair in professional wrestling, many were angered by this treatment of Flair.
Yet, H believes Flair was not as impacted by it as himself, saying, “I don’t even know if it was a big deal to him or that he even remembered it. It was a whirlwind to him but, oh my, for me, it was the worst moment ever.!
Flair would get another speech in 2012 when the Four Horsemen were inducted, with “The Nature Boy” becoming the first 2-time WWE Hall Of Famer.
7. Molly Holly – “Momentary Molly”
Ric Flair was not the only wrestler working with reduced time, with the 2021 WWE Hall of Fame induction of Molly Holly having a heartbreaking backstory.
“Mighty” Molly had been a fixture of the women’s division in the Attitude Era through the Ruthless Aggression era. She was aligned in storylines with her faux cousins, The Hollys, and relationships with The Hurricane and Spike Dudley.
Elsewhere, she was a 2x WWE Women’s Champion and 1x Hardcore champ, memorably losing her hair at WrestleMania XX after losing a Hair vs. Hair match.
WWE reportedly gave Holly a 15-minute time slot for her speech. She worked with professional writers to aid her and claimed to have practiced her crowning achievement for a reported sixty hours! Despite practicing every day and everywhere, it was not to be.
Speaking on Busted Open Radio, Holly would explain, “A couple of days before [the ceremony], they said, ‘Oh, nevermind, you actually have two minutes to give your speech.’ I cried for like four hours.”
Molly continued, “A lot of the times when I used to wrestle full time, they would tell us, ‘Okay, you have twelve minutes to wrestle,’ and then right before we walked out, they’d be like, ‘No, nope, you have four minutes.’
“We’d be like, [sighs] ‘We were so ready to tell a story of good versus evil and give the fans their money’s worth and now it’s just like entrances, two moves and end the match. It would be such a heartbreak.
“I think I took a lot of that resentment or hurt or whatever from twenty years ago and piled it onto that moment when they cut my speech down and I was so sad.”
Molly was also told shortly before not to thank or mention the production crew.
As a guest on GAW TV (a show run by Mickie James, “Victoria” Lisa Marie Varon, and So Cal Val), Molly commented, “The talent would treat the crew like furniture and I was like, ‘Aw, that really stinks!’
Molly continued, “Not everyone who is a talent backstage even knows how much they receive from the crew members.
“Sometimes you just need a grounding and talk about something else like someone’s new pug or someone’s like — I don’t know. I just feel like the crew is there in the same weird world and they know the jargon, they know the job but they’re not as poisoned by all the believing your own fame type of thing that we can all get sucked into, so I’ve always relied on the crew to help.”
Despite the heartache that she felt after being told her speech had to be cut by more than 85% on the night of the ceremony, Molly Holly was extremely thankful that the WWE allowed her to record a video of her entire, unedited Hall Of Fame speech on their YouTube channel.
In this, she was allowed to thank many of those who had helped her that she was not allowed to in the actual speech, including Dean Malenko and Lanny Poffo. The speech is nearly ten minutes long, covering what she could not previously.
“I was very grateful and honored to have the experience,” Molly remarked. “It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions for me.”
These stories may also interest you:
- 12 All-Time Legends the WWE Hall of Fame Did Wrong
- Warrior on His Initial Refusal To Enter the WWE Hall of Fame
- Buddy Rose on Why Every Wrestler Should be in WWE Hall of Fame
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