2022 Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame Ballot Review Part 2 (International/Non-wrestlers)
Two of the more interesting categories in the Hall of Fame ballot, International and Non-wrestler have been the cause of many a debating point and at the same time many of its inhabitants are ignored by the voter. While Mexico and Japan are well served by historians with an advanced knowledge of the subject, Modern US/Canada is a subject that is easily voted on by the modern-day worker that has a ballot paper sent to them with Historical candidates being advocated by those who have studied their work, International has always had the problem of not being as well understood as other categories. The Non-wrestlers' section of the ballot has its own unique problem in that it is hard to point to how people in that category qualify for a place in the HOF. Well, I like problems and I like solving problems so in this part of my look at the 2022 Observer Hall of Fame Ballot we look at the problem that is the International and Non-wrestler ballot.
First off, let's look at the International section which is very British-centric
Big Daddy (Last Year- 39%)
The hottest point of contention in not just the International section but maybe the entire ballot. Big Daddy’s endorsers have banged on the drum on social media about Shirley Crabtree. Those who follow @Allan_cheapshot on twitter will see this during Hall of Fame season and his points are very valid.
On a thread about Daddy’s candidacy, Allan points out that Joint Promotions (the actual name of the company that appeared on ITV not World of Sport which was the program that Joint appeared on) was struggling when Shirley came to his brother, who was the promoters' aid when Joint Promotions was struggling and box office skyrocketed with Daddy as an attraction with the argument that he killed the territory not a just one considering that Joint Promotions suffered the same problem every other promotion in the mid 80s suffered, the WWF happened.
The argument that Big Daddy drew big television ratings on ITV while factually correct doesn't hold water with the fact that until 1981 there were only three channels on television sets in the UK and satellite TV didn't become popular until the early 90s well after the death of Joint and the argument that Big Daddy was such a mainstream star that he appeared on Saturday morning national TV and regularly appeared in tabloid papers is numbed down by the argument that snooker players were of the same ilk. Being a mainstream star in the early 80s wasn't that difficult to be honest.
The biggest negative point on Big Daddy is the damage he did to British wrestling and its perception. I personally have had conversations about my wrestling fandom with workmates/work neighbours which have consisted of “that thing Big Daddy did right?” in a less than flattering tone. Wrestling was a joke in the UK to a generation because of Big Dadd. Instead of talking glowingly about the likes of Mark “Rollerball” Rocco and other lighter weights, Big Daddy is derided as the star of the industry, and it would take British wrestling 15 years to get something that resembled a foothold on the wrestling landscape after Joint Promotions died.
Mark "Rollerball" Rocco (Last Year- 58%)
After a 19% increase in his vote share from 35% to 54% in the 2020 ballot due to a “death bounce” Rocco’s vote held steady in 2021 exceeding the expectation that his vote would fall off the following year. A death bounce that has seen Jim Crockett Jr, Eddie Guerrero inducted into the HOF in the year of their death is usually down to the voter taking in the obituaries and tributes of a wrestler that has passed in the last 12 months and making a call to include them on their ballot and Rocco’s tributes which included a look at how his style influenced others saw said "death bounce". It's probably why Rollerball is closer to the 60% threshold than Big Daddy. While Daddy was multi-times a bigger star than Rocco, Rocco’s in-ring work which included great matches against Fuji Yamada, the future Jushin Liger and Dynamite Kid was seen a vastly superior.
It can be said that Rocco was around in the wrong decade. Rollerball Rocco would have been a star in this era. He would have been in AEW or maybe part of NXT. He would have helped tear the house down in Resada in PWG. In the 90’s he would have wrestled in the Junior Heavyweight Division in NJPW and then the Cruiserweight Division in WCW. In the 00’s he would have been in ROH, having classics with Bryan Danielson and Samoa Joe. That is the testament to how great Rollerball Rocco was and why his case for the Hall of Fame is a very interesting one.
Jackie Pallo (Last Year- 34%)
If the argument that Big Daddy’s fame is the factor that brings him over 60% then Jackie Pollo should also be in the HOF.
For two years in a row in 1962 and 63, he and Mick McManus (a member of the HOF himself) wrestled on ITV’s pre-match coverage of the FA Cup final. For the Americans reading this, imagine if FOX had Roman Reigns vs Drew McIntyre on the pre-show on their Superbowl broadcast. While stories vary on the TV ratings of the matches going from 3 million to 16 million, the broadcasts itself show how the pair caught the imagination of the public, Pallo especially. His ability to rile up fans would get him in the tabloids. The riled-up granny with the shoe stereotype came from a Daily Mirror story of how a elderly female fan tried to attack Pallo with her shoe after Pallo’s heel tactics.
Pallo would be a mainstream star appearing on quiz shows like Celebrity Squares and The Generation Game. He appeared in villain roles in The Avengers and The Saint and appeared on Sunday Night at The Palladium and was even the subject of an episode of This Is Your Life.
Jackie Pallo and Big Daddy should be seen in the same light in their pros in their candidacy but Pallo’s abilities in the ring put him ahead of Big Daddy in my list of worthy HOF candidates
Johnny Saint (Last Year- 45%)
Johnny Saint’s percentage in last year’s ballot (45%) was higher than Jackie Pallo, Bobby Bruns, Jim Johnston and The Steiner Brothers. Maybe Kent Brockman was correct in saying that democracy simply does not work.
So why is Johnny Saint’s number so high? He was the face of the re-emergence of the old British style, performing in the ring in the 00s, wrestling on Chikara cards in 2010. Johnny would also feature on NXT:UK as the GM but with mic skills so great Sid Scala had to speak for him which in hindsight was not a good thing at all.
In the 2021 ballot, Saint finished third among active wrestlers/performers behind Kazuchika Okada and Los Brazos. He didn’t rank in the Top 20 among Historians, Journalists and retired performers. The modern wrestler appreciates Saint and his mat wrestling style and rightfully so. A video circulating on twitter last week showed his magical escapism style while working for Michinoku Pro Wrestling in their heyday of the mid-90s, but Johnny Saint was nowhere near a decent draw and his vote share is too high considering who is underneath him at the moment
George Kidd (Last year- 43%)
Kidd’s percentage last year was 43% putting him below Saint on the voting results but if you look at Kidd’s resume Kidd should be in already. Kent Walton, the voice of British wrestling and Observer Hall of Famer would say that Kidd was the best wrestler that he saw in his time.
His mainstream appeal in the early days of televised wrestling saw him end up as a talk show host and even presenting events like Miss Swimsuit and The Policeman’s Ball.
His in-ring style was the predecessor to Johnny Saint with Kent always namechecking Kidd whenever Saint wrestled but Kidd drew better than his successor as the best chain wrestler in Britain selling out arenas in his homeland of Scotland and even nearly selling out Pittodrie, the home stadium of Aberdeen FC. Kidd would also take his talents to Mexico performing on EMLL cards.
Mexico had El Santo, Japan had Rikidozan and the USA had Jim Londos as their forefather to wrestling’s popularity in their countries. The UK and Scotland had George Kidd.
Dominic DeNucci (Last Year- 36%)
In the International section because of his run in Australia where he was the headline star for a decade, his drawing numbers Down Under make a good case for induction.
Dominic would be the babyface star of the start-up promotion based in Australia called World Championship Wrestling (not the Eric Bischoff version) which would have multiple sell-outs with DeNucci in the main event and he would be the highest paid wrestler of the 60s as a result. DeNucci would also sell out the Cow Palace multiple times when in San Francisco with his feud with Ray Stevens being one of the best in the territory's history.
DeNucci would be linked with Bruno Sammartino in the second half of his career with the pair teaming up in main events in Pittsburgh and then Dom would play the role of Bruno's best friend who would take a beating from Bruno's rival to get heat for the eventual MSG main event, a formula played more than once during Bruno's second WWWF Title reign.
DeNucci would also be known for his 1986 class from his training school that included Shane Douglas and Mick Foley but his main pro when it comes to his candidacy is his pioneering run in Australia which put the country on the map in wrestling for the decades to come.
Bobby Davis (Last year- 56%)
Without Bobby Davis, you don't get Bobby Heenan, Jimmy Hart, Paul Heyman and Jim Cornette. Bobby Davis was the first successful manager in the television era. Starting with Buddy Rogers, managing him during the time when the original Nature Boy was the biggest draw in wrestling, Bobby then was the voice behind the Graham brothers, Johnny Valentine and many other main events in the WWWF in the 60s. A testament to Bobby's mic skills are that while Buddy and the Grahams were great promos, Bobby did the talking for them because he was even better and gave adage to the phrase "talk them into the building" and his way of getting under the skin of those fans meant when he took a bump the fans would have got their money's worth.
To quote @allan_cheapshot “Whilst Davis wasn’t the first pro wrestling manager, he was the blueprint”
Bobby Bruns (Last Year- 26%)
There was a short running joke on a wrestling group chat I am on in which if any of us got QT'd by Dave Meltzer whenever we replied to Meltz we would post the tweet with the caption "I have been chosen" and on one particular day I got chosen.
Yes, autocorrect was not my friend that day
And Dave is right. Why is that?
Without Bobby Bruns we don't get to walk down the Kings Road, The Three Musketeers never happen, The Five Star era doesn't happen (yes, I'm still sticking with this) because Bobby Bruns was the guy who set up the first wrestling enterprise in Japan discovering Rikidozan and setting up a chain of events in which we now see the influence of puro reshaping wrestling in America and the rest of the world.
His time booking Mid-Pacific Promotions in Hawaii was not as notable as the period when the Maivia family ran the territory and the most notable moment of his wrestling career was being in the same car of Orville Brown, the then NWA Worlds Champion when he was in an automobile accident that cut short both their careers but when you are essentially the father of Japanese wrestling and the Wrestling Observer and its role in the boom periods of the 90’s and 2010’s you should have Bruns in their Hall of Fame.
But with Bobby Bruns being closer to the less than 10% relegation zone than the 60% needed to get in, it seems unlikely that he will get into the HOF and he that's just wrong.
Stanley Weston (Last Year-47%)
If you've heard the video clip "Don't call them the Apter Mags" and wondered the actual context of that clip, Bill Apter, the man behind it was referring to PWI, the magazine he edited during the wrestling boom of the 80s and similar magazines the like being called Apter mags to which Bill pointed out that in fact it was Stanley Weston who owned the family of magazines that PWI and Wrestling News was a part of.
Bill Apter was voted into the HOF in 2018 and some believe you can't justify the inclusion of Bill Apter without Stanley Weston. There is an argument that it's both or neither. If I was overlord of the Hall, I'd say neither but since Apter is in, you have to vote Weston in. If you believe in fairness based on precedent, Stanley Weston should be in.
Jim Johnston (Last Year- 33%)
When determining the credentials of those on the ballot who aren’t wrestlers or even managers instead of using the cold hand stats, emotion plays a big hand in what you think make great candidates and with Jim Johnston in my opinion, he makes a great candidate.
If, like me, you were watching WWE at a certain age and during a part of your day you’ve been unable to get rid of an earworm like Shawn Michaels theme or the Fabulous Rougeau's theme, you can thank Jim Johnston. Johnston’s work as the WWE’s head of music creation has helped many wrestlers find their fame. Would The Undertaker have got to the heights of fame without the creations of Johnston. Same for John Cena, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels etc. Maybe the memories of my childhood are forming my bias, but Jim Johnston deserves a slot in the HOF for shaping the history of WWE with his creations
Larry Matysik (Last Year- 46%)
Those from a younger generation might never have heard of Larry Matysik but his mark on wrestling is obvious to see
Starting out in the business in 1963 in St. Louis at the age of 16 under the famed promoter Sam Muchnick, Matysik would become commentator of the territories weekly TV show and became regarded as the one of the best in the country at the time. Larry would become the booker of the territory leading to the territories best run in its existence with Ric Flair's average of 13,086 whenever he headlined at the St. Louis Kiel Auditorium in his first NWA Worlds Title run his highest average in his years as champ.
After leaving the St. Louis Wrestling Club and a failed attempt at a new promotion due to politics and financiers pulling out, Larry would work for WWE from 1984 to 1993 before finding his second coming as a critically acclaimed author whose books are required reading for fans.
All the promoters from the heyday of the territories are in the Observer HOF except for Larry Matysik and you kind of feel that it needs to be rectified and Larry's resume tells you it should be.