With Modern US/Canada all done and published and no-one yelling at me (that I'm aware of) it's time to look at those on the ballot that made their name in the USA and Canada before the 1990's became a thing.
With the below being stars before many in the coveted 18-49 demo were born, it's easy for people to ignore the legacy they built and left behind which makes Hall of fame season so much fun so we can learn about the history of this thing that we love.
So let's look at those who thrived in the territories and helped make their town a hotspot of the industry.
Johnny Rougeau Last Year- 41%
The king of Quebec, Johnny Rougeau during the late 60’s was one of the best draws in wrestling. Johnny’s feud with Ivan Koloff sold out the Forum in Montreal several times. He and Abdullah The Butcher would also sell 17,000 tickets for the arena on February 17th, 1969. Rougeau was responsible for the highest drawing gate in North America in 1968 and 1969 and drew seven 10,000+ crowds in 1969 in the Montreal area with only New York bettering that in a particular year in the 60s. In all, Johnny Rougeau was the main attraction for shows that drew 10,000+ in Quebec alone on 20 occasions. His run in the 60s helped start a golden period in Montreal that carried over to the early 70s past his sudden retirement in 1971 and again in 1973 after a brief comeback.
Will Rougeau get inducted? Traditionally if your vote goes down by more than 5% in a particular year, then the chances of you getting above 60% the next year doesn’t look good. Only four have ever done this (Ivan Koloff, Konnan, Alfonso Morales and Atlantis) and with a 6% drop from 2021, and with 3 of the 4 mentioned being from the Mexico section of the ballot, Johnny’s chances of getting in looks small.
Should Rougeau get inducted? Johnny was to Montreal and Quebec what the Von Erichs were to Dallas and Jerry Lawler was to Memphis. To quote Pat Laprade, the historian “If that’s not enough to be in the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame I don’t know what is”
Junkyard Dog Last Year- 32%
If it was on work rate alone, JYD would not even be a subject of any debate. He was trash in the ring. 1990 Ric Flair couldn’t get a match out of him, that's how bad JYD was. But under the criteria of drawing, The Junkyard Dog makes a more than plausible candidate.
Mid-South Wrestling was one of the premier territories in American wrestling before Vince McMahon and WWF took a flamethrower to the system in the mid-80’s. The promotion would regularly pull up big attendances at the New Orleans Superdome in their prime with JYD as their biggest star. Junkyard would draw a combined number of 293,000 people at the Dome in his four years in Mid-South in feuds with Butch Reed, The Fabulous Freebirds and Ted Dibiase. Before Hulk Hogan became Hulk Hogan, JYD was arguably the No.1 babyface in American wrestling with only Dusty Rhodes and Jerry Lawler the others in the conversation.
If you say that his drawing abilities are nullified by his lack of workrate, then I present his historical significance, one of the factors of selection
Should JYD be inducted? The Junkyard Dog was the first black wrestling superstar in a world where the audience was part of the first-generation post-civil rights. JYD ran so Ron SImmons, Kofi Kingston, Bobby Lashley could hold a world title. In a world where lazy stereotypes were put upon African Americans who wanted to play quarterback in the NFL and of black businessmen who wanted to be CEOs of companies, JYD showed he could be the lead star of a wrestling circuit. Junkyard meant more than star ratings and attendance numbers. JYD changed the game in professional wrestling and that's why he should be in the HOF.
Will JYD be inducted? Every Hall of Fame inductee that has wrestled from 1980 onwards has a singles match with a Cagematch rating of 8.00. The Junkyard Dog’s highest singles Cagemmatch number is 4.78 (vs Terry Funk-31/10/85) With modern(ish) candidates work rate might be the biggest factor in voting. Whether it should be the case is a debate post-HOF season but as of now, precedent tells you that JYD will never be voted into the HOF.
Von Erichs Last Year- 33%
There was no hotter babyface act in wrestling during the early 80s than the Von Erich trio of David, Kerry and Kevin.
World Class Championship Wrestling’s big shows in the Reunion Arena and Texas Stadium would draw big numbers on the back of Fritz’s sons and their feud with the Fabulous Freebirds, which is one of just feuds to win Best Feud in the Observer Awards in consecutive years (others being Misawa vs Tsuruta, Austin vs McMahon and Okada vs Tanahashi with all six being in the HOF) and with the Freebirds also being Hall of Famers, it seems weird that the face team in the feud isn't in as well.
The reason to be fair is that the Freebirds also sold-out arenas galore in other territories like Florida, Georgia and Mid-South with the Von Erich boys just staying in Dallas.
Should The Von Erichs be inducted? It's a case of what if? with David as he was being primed for an NWA Worlds Title run before his death in Japan in 1984 but dealing with the actual happenings, their 18-month run in Dallas is a probable cause for HOF induction if you believe their run was exemplary enough in its short-term.
Will The Von Erich’s be inducted? Dave Meltzer has said publicly that The Von Erich’s numbers in the early voting are sharply better than last year. While the result is only final when the last vote is counted, the signs look very interesting for the First Family of Texas.
Dave has attributed this to The Iron Claw movie about the Von Erich’s that is due to be released but I think the movie will help more next year in the vote with the cinema/DVD and digital releases of the movie having happened.
I do hope that they do get voted in this year though so I can tell my friend all about the Observer Hall of Fame during the post-movie Nandos after the The Iron Claw as well as the historical inaccuracies in the film. That’ll impress her right?
Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard with JJ Dillon- Last Year 31%
With just three years as a team to their name, Anderson and Blanchard's candidacy is marred by their short time span even by tag team standards.
The addition of JJ Dillon to their name on the Ballot is even more puzzling as the argument that Arn and Tully's best year as a team was in 1989 when they were in WWE and with Bobby Heenan is a good one and with their tenure as a team over after their time in Titanland after Tully's failed drug test and more-or-less black balling from the industry, induction has always looked difficult.
Will Anderson/Blanchard be inducted? With no sign of progress in their vote share and with the problems with their candidacy mentioned above, it feels like with the wrestlers with higher vote share having better cases than Arn and Tully that Anderson and Blanchard are going to be mid-table fodder for the rest of their time on the ballot.
Hang on, am I comparing Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard to Brentford FC?
Should Anderson/Blanchard be inducted? JJ Dillon is an interesting name to have on the ballot on his own and maybe Arn too, despite a previous demotion from the ballot in 2006 as he is arguably the greatest tag wrestler ever with his time with Ole Anderson, Tully, Larry Zbyzsko and Ric Flair but as a team with the lack of longevity and without enough influence to others (except for FTR when when they stop saying that Bret Hart is their biggest influence) like Satoru Sayama, Arn and Tully just don't feel like HOF's
Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood- Last Year 29%
In the article about those in the 50%+ club, we talk about Sgt. Slaughter and his abilities to draw and his feud with Steamboat and Youngblood. If you induct Slaughter on the basis of that feud, you need to induct Steamboat and Youngblood.
But it isn’t that feud alone that warrants the pair a spot in the HOF, Steamboat and Youngblood were the top tag team in wrestling from 1979 to 1983 in the ring and in the box office and was Carolina's greatest ever team and that includes The Rock n’ Roll Express and The Midnight Express as the shortlist. Their feuds with the Briscos and Gene Anderson's army were the foundation for Mid-Atlantic's claim to be the premier territory in the early 80's.
Jay would end up being one of the tragedies of the 80’s dying in Australia in 1985 from a heart attack while Steamboat would be one of the greatest in-ring workers ever but the years before the national expansion are something not talked about widely by some and in looking at Steamboat and Youngblood, you would see how influential the pair were as a team.
Will/Should Steamboat and Youngblood be inducted? While Steamboat and Youngblood set the template of the young babyface tag team, they will probably get lost to history with the amount of teams that have mastered the formula and with 31% to gain, it might have to be books like Greg Oliver’s Tag Teams edition of the Hall of Fame series of books that keep the memories of Ricky and Jay alive.
June Byers- Last Year 27%
There was a time when women’s wrestling was just a big of a draw as the men were. It was also the time when controversy would dominate. The story of Byers vs Mildred Burke in 1954 is going to make for a very good movie when Queen of The Ring comes out (Kamille, holder of the NWA Women’s belt, named the Burke is going to play Byers)
After June Byers disputed victory against Mildred Burke in what was supposed to be a passing of the torch moment but wasn't, Byers would be the face of women's wrestling while travelling around the country as NWA Women's Champion. Byer's athleticism and technical skills would lead people to say that she was the greatest woman of all time at the time even if her reputation of being too physical in the ring was lived up to on more than one occasion with matches often making Athena vs Jody Threat look like the opening minute of an Orange Cassidy match.
Should Byers be inducted? Byers would be seen with her faults and all as the last great women's wrestler before The Fabulous Moolah come into wrestling and ruined women's wrestling with her out of the ring awfulness and her wretched wrestling in-ring and if Mildred Burke is in and Moolah can get north of 50% at points, June Byers is a shout for the HOF
Will Byers be inducted? It might also be a case like the Von Erichs that a movie in which she was featured would help push June into HOF reckoning (when are they doing a movie on the life and times of Giant Baba?) until then Byers isn’t going to voted in this year.