(been working on this post off and on for a couple weeks. Hope it holds together.)
The ballots for this year’s Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame are out. It’s the closest thing to a legit hall of fame. I am not so interested in hall of fames for a lot of the same reason I decided I wasn’t much interested in awards this year. It’s often junk food history, which isn’t even a problem itself until people start treating it like a real meal. I’d like to have some history with some real meat. (Also, the whole Ron Santo/Baseball Hall of Fame thing.) Wisely, the rest of the world goes on without my weird thoughts about things, so this hall of fame still exists and is generally respected.
Yet: I have a vote this year, for the first time ever. Since I find this situation weird, I thought I’d make it weirder by soliciting opinions from readers about where my vote should go. There are a lot of people smarter than me reading this (smart enough not to be the one writing this), and I could stand to learn a bit more from you. I’m restricting my votes to the luchadors on the ballot; I have followed US wrestling, but I don’t know/care enough about the older guys to have a balanced and well thought out ballot.
This is how the ballot is explained:
The basic criteria for the Hall of Fame is a combination of drawing power, being a great in-ring performer as well as having historical significance in a positive manner. A candidate should have something to offer in all three categories, or be someone so strong in one or two of those categories that they deserve inclusion.
The names listed below are those under considerable for this year. To be eligible, a performer must have reached their 35th birthday and completed ten years since their debut as a full-time performer, or someone who has been a full-time pro wrestler for at least 15 years.
Longevity should be a prime consideration rather than a hot two or three year run, unless someone is so significant as a trend-setter in the business, or valuable to the industry, that they should be included. However, just longevity, without being either a long-term main eventer, a top draw and/or top caliber worker should be seen as relatively meaningless.
There are ten lucha candidates. As I’ve gone thru them, there seems to be three groups: those who’s careers ended before lucha libre TV in Mexico was a factor, those who became TV stars but who’s best matches are likely to have gone untaped, and those who’s careers have mostly be on TV.
up to mid80s
Karloff Lagarde: The one I know far the least about and struggle the most.
drawing power: Matt Farmer lists him as having 21 10K crowd, but his era of lucha libre is not well documented (at least on this side of the border – help always appreciated!)
in-ring worker: The bio we’re using for a worker credit Karloff as being a great rudo worker.
historical significance: I’ve got Karloff as main eventing 6 Anniversary shows over 15 years.
1957: loser in a tag team tournament for 10000 pesos
1962: loser to Antonio Posa for the NWA Middelweight Title
1965: defeated Huracan Ramirez to win the NWA Welterweight Tilte
1966: lost to Jerry London in a hair match
1968: defeated Blue Demon to keep the NWA Welterweight Title
1972: defeated Huracan Ramirez to win the NWA Welterweight Tilte
6 in 12 years is nice number, though we can pick at a few of it. The tag team tournament is a bit iffy. The Blue Demon win sure speaks in his favor, but the Jerry London loss was a loss to a foreigner of the moment to set up another hair mach later in the month. At least in that year, he wasn’t the top guy. The 1965, 1968, and 1972 matches were all part of double (or triple) main events. Only the 1962 match appears to be a clear case where that match was the one totally responsibility for making the show.
Lagarde was the NWA Welterweight champion for six years (except for a 2 month stint in 1967.) That’s the same belt Santo and Demon had fought for a few years prior, and there was at least an attempt to make the comparison with Santo by having him win three titles at once to tie Santo’s record. However, the sense I get is that heavier weight classes were more important, and the more important guys were moved up to middleweight. That’s weight class Santo got moved up after he lost this title to Demon. That title was being held by Rene Guajarado, Rayo de Jalisco, Ray Mendoza and El Solitario during this time period, guys who’ve had more demonstratively historical impact.
Besides the anniversary show, Karloff Lagarde is only known to have one notable apuesta win, over Cavernario Galindo in Arena Coliseo. That took place after the new (current) Arena Mexico was built, but it was held in the smaller arena. Besides the loss to London, Lagarde has a hair loss to Mendoza just around his long title reign should’ve been starting, and a hair lass to Perro Aguayo when his career was on the downswing.
All of this fits the profile of a guy who floating between semimain/top guy, someone who had credibility with the fans but was could be trusted to be the setup guy for another on the way up, but programs weren’t built around him, but I’m still basing it on awful iffy information.
The problem here is deciding how much Daniel Garcia gets credit for, and how much he benefited from the movies.
drawing power: 12 10K attendance. Same caveat applies. In this case, Huracan Ramirez had many mask wins to his credit, and toured South America. No idea how well they actually drew, but it seems like the promoter believed he meant something. He’s one of the few guys up this year who could be considered international stars. His drawing people was helped by being a movie character before becoming a luchador, but it grew (or at least maintained enough) that Garcia was able to take over the role in the film. The film people believed Garcia was as important to Huracan Ramirez as the character was to the luchador.
in-ring worker: Did not invent the huracarrana, but popularized it. Noted for being a distinctive graceful wrestler. Enough of a flyer that he got bad press for being too much of a flyer, changed to doing mat work to prove the point, then was convinced to going back to flying since that’s what made him special.
historical significance: very recognizable name and identity; all those guys using the gimmick now have hurt the memory of the gimmick, but that all those guys want to use the gimmick now seems a testment to the important of the character. Feuded with top guys in Mexico, was an international star.
Only main evented the two anniversary shows. I wonder if he was more of a Mil Mascaras type, where he didn’t get the big showcase matches on the yearly big shows because he would be instead brought in to prop up the otherwise slow times. This is another tough one because the volume of information is not there, but people who were following lucha at the time see him at the level of a Mistico/La Parka level.
mid 80s-TV boom
First ballot on the scarred forehead Hall of Fame.
drawing power: 76 10K+ crowd. El Toreo/UWA/LLI itself was a very strong brand (and still is a surprisingly strong one.) A lot of different people main evented for UWA, and there’s evidence to suggest he meant more than most.
in-ring worker: Noted as one of the better workers in Mexico in the 80s thru the end of the UWA. Had technical matches with some opponents, and bloody brawls with Perro Aguayo. Appears to have had the MOTY for the promotion multiple times thru the 80s.
historical significance: the Villano/Atlantis mask match is one of the most important in the history of Arena Mexico, and he’s emblematic of the UWA era. Villano’s III career really took a nose dive after the mask match; he had the hair vs hair match with El Signo (a return of an old feud), and won a lot of hairs in the last decade, but they’re much smaller arena. Maybe the kind of arenas we wouldn’t have info on for prior decades. Nowadays, he seems more like a nostalgia figure who couldn’t/wouldn’t retire, but he got to stick around that long because of the high regard for him in his peak.
Atlantis tends to be looked as a guy was on top forever, but the rise to the top gets downplayed.
drawing power: 127 10K+ crowds. He headlined sold out anniversary shows in 1984 (vs Talisman), 1989 (w/Satanico vs MS-1/Tierra Viento y Fuego) and 1993 (Mano Negra), and not so sold out shows in 1992 & 1999. There’s also the Villano III sell out. His mask was important enough that people turned out to see him if it was on the line, but there’s not evidence that he was a weekly draw when the stakes weren’t as high.
in-ring worker: notable acrobatic wrestler in his youth. Turned into a guy you can have a good match with but was not a good match on his own.
historical significance: Atlantis is a cornerstone CMLL wrestler, for his longevity at the position. He’s been kept at or near the top for over two decades, while most of his contemporaries have disappeared or at least been moved down cards; he’s tough to beat on longevity. Appears to have been doing the Asai Moonsault sooner than Ultimo Dragon, though I’m uncertain if he was the first.
drawing power: Never really the top draw outside of the Love Machine feud. That one did well for AAA and CMLL. He got the win over Lizmark Jr. in 2007 Anniversary show in front of a strong crowd, but that was a cage match with Mistico & Perro Aguayo as the real draws and Panther/Lizmark as among the least important; they appeared to be planning that result weeks out, but didn’t have confidence in it as a singles match. Lost to Villano V the following year, a backup main event when both Mistico & Perro were hurt and a lesser draw than they would’ve had.
in-ring worker: Well regarded worker thru the 90s (and a bit more on each side), and is considered in the top 5 in the early 90s. Noted for superior technical ability even long after his prime.
historical significance: The Love Machine feud
Cien Caras – It’s tough for me to get a sense of how young Cien Caras was as a worker as a draw before his mask match. Cien was already a 16 year vet, 41 years old, but those first sixteen years generally seem to be skipped over because of the relative lack of footage.
drawing power: Matt Farmer’s records (which I’m going to be leaning on heavily here) say Cien main evented 120 events that drew 10,000 or more. The Rayo vs Cien mask vs mask holds the Arena Mexico attendence record and will unless/until they remodel it add more seats. Cien had major mask wins in the 80s, was used as a top star in early AAA, and was trotted out every few years for a hair match (loss) in CMLL until his retirement. The promotions saw him as a major draw, because they kept going back to him.
in-ring worker: almost everything still around today is past his athletic prime. He never seemed impressive to me, but then what most of I’ve seen is in his mid/late 40s, where really not a lot should be expected. From what I’ve read, Cien sounds like a fair worker in his prime, and connected above averagely with the fans.
historical significance: the Rayo mask match, obviously. Cien is one of the best remembered names of his era.
Perro Aguayo Jr.:
As bad as things have turned for Perro Aguayo, he’s only 32. There’s plenty of time for him to turn things around, and have another top run that’d easily get him thru the Hall of Fame. For now…
drawing power: 92 10K crowds. Was a big significant draw during the peak of the Perros del Mal faction (ran from summer 2004 – summer 2008, peaked the last couple years.) Not as significant a figure outside teaming his father prior to that run, outside of the fourway feud with Garza/Metal/Aguila. Drawing power has disappointing since leaving CMLL. Park and Wagner are have been better draws in similar circumstances.
in-ring worker: Okay->good wrestler who excels in brawling, and most of all relies on extra-ordinary charisma. He’s almost solely relied on his charisma in recent years. The fans still believe in his matches despite some inconsistent and down right bad runs of performance. The halo effect of prior achievement lasts a long longer in Mexico, and fans still see him as an exciting wrestler despite his decline.
historical significance: The Perros del Mal angle turned Perro Aguayo into a top wrestling star, and then a crossover mainstream name at it’s peak. It’s a memorable period and strong enough at the time that the core participants will be able to live off it for decades to come, but the peak itself wasn’t a long run. A lot of his earlier CMLL feuds (and early AAA feuds) centered on him being Perro Aguayo Sr.’s son and carrying on his old rivalries.
drawing power: 67 10K crowds, which is less than I’d figure but he did lose a few years in there. As wasteful as WCW was for him, he’s actually been a bigger draw after his US stint, Park was able rebuild his credibility to become a meaningful indy guy. It’s not a strong case in CMLL, where he was always used as one of the top guys (in usual CMLL fashion.) He very clearly is a important draw in his return to AAA, much more than in his first stint.
in-ring worker: A better athlete in his earlier days, but a very creative and charasmatic rudo for his entire career. Capable of workrate intensive matches early in his career and did that style in the early 2000s (indies and CMLL.) Has spent the last few years doing brawls and schtik routine in most matches (especially off TV); can get repetitive, but the crowd gets way into him every time. May not be easy to work with; he’s going to do his match his way, and you’re along for the ride.
historical significance: Cult figure in WCW, for what it’s worth. Maybe not a lot. Popular and well known figure of the early AAA years, then seen as an international star upon returning back to Mexico decide being used as mostly enhancement talent in WCW. Treated as a top recognizable star for the last decade. His match vs La Parka at last year’s TripleMania is one of the most significant in AAA’s history, and his mask/hair match vs Mesias this past year was really the one that drew the house.
drawing power: 73 10K crowds. He drew a lot of huge crowds during his peak, from summer ’91 until disappointing at the end of 93. As big a factor as anyone every during his hot period. Much less meaningful after that period; a lot like Atlantis where fans see him as a big star if they’re at the show, but doesn’t appear to be drawing people to go to the shows.
in-ring worker: Tried! Even though he was not a skilled wrestler, Vampiro did connect exceedingly with the crowd during his peak.
historical significance: Crossover start during his peak, and still a luchador who’s recognized outside of lucha libre. He does not have the amount of big time matches as most candidates.
Dr. Wagner Jr. :
drawing power: 112 10K crowds. Only really made the leap from “perennial top guy” to “drawing card” after his father passed and he turned tecnico in 2005, and still a step below the Mistico/Perro/Vampiro drawing level outside of the first set of matches in AAA.
in-ring worker: Considered the man to emulate by younger luchadors and seems to be respected by older ones. Very good/great wrestler once he returned to CMLL full time to current day. Is still capable of having a stinker now and then, and falls into cheap brawling matches similarly to Park, but has been the best working main event guy in AAA since jumping over and was among the best in CMLL.
historical significance: Seen as an international star and one of the most important wrestlers of his era. Didn’t really have the achievements to actually back it up – the Canek/Universo/Rayo/Wagner is the only apuesta Anniversary match he had in CMLL, and most of his bigger wins are interchangeable title wins. AAA’s really changed things; the first match with Mesias was a really big deal. AAA’s backed into making him a central figure in the company since; they seemed to want to back him down to the same level he was in CMLL, but he’s been so over that he’s forced AAA into keeping him in the 1 or 1A feuds for most of his stint. The reality of Wagner’s importance to lucha libre is catching up to the hype.
After all of that, this is how I’ve currently got them sorted (still have a few days to send votes in). Vaguely ordered…
Definite Yes: Cien Caras, Huracan Ramriez, Villano III
Guys Who Are In The Balance: Dr. Wagner Jr., LA Park, Atlantis
Definite No: Blue Panther, Perro Aguayo Jr., Karloff Lagarde, Vampiro
I don’t want to do with those three middle guys. If they’re not over the threshold of being HOF worthy already, I feel like they all have a chance to be so in the next few years. I don’t want to fall off the ballot before then, so I think I should vote yes, but what if they get in but never get around to having those matches I’m expected them to have? The world doesn’t really end either way.