The 2022 Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame ballot review (Japan/Mexico)
It's the most magical time of the year. No, I'm not talking about the time of the year when shops start stocking up on Christmas items to remind you that Christmas is in fact coming quicker than Veer Mahaan and I'm not talking about Halloween or Bonfire night when millions of British people point at fireworks, I am in fact talking about Hall of Fame season.
When the words Hall of Fame come up in the wrestling landscape, invariably that awful Script song comes to the subconscious of fans as does Wrestlemania weekend when Vince McMahon hand-selected his picks for the WWE Hall of Fame and we the consumer happily nod along and pretend it's a big deal while wrestlers involved think it actually is. But for this wrestling nerd the Hall of Fame that I acknowledge is the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame.
Started up in 1996 by its proprietor Dave Meltzer, the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame's first class was actually hand-picked by Meltzer himself and to be fair the class itself was without fault. If you were to pick the best 75 wrestlers in the history of wrestling in 1996, they would have made up the inaugural class.
Voting would start for the 1998 class with a selection of historians, wrestlers and journalists making up the voting panel. The structure for the Observer Hall of Fame would wind up being the following.
● 60% of votes for a performer would see said wrestler inducted
● Performers that had 10% of votes would be struck off the ballot (they could be allowed back in if their resume for induction is enhanced in the time since removal)
● If on the ballot for 15 years without induction or removal, they would need 50% of the vote from then on or face removal
● A wrestler can become eligible for the Hall of Fame 10-15 years after their debut depending on their age.
● A single voter would get a maximum of 10 slots to vote on with limits on each section. The pool to vote from is separated into six fields (US Modern, US Historical, Japan, Mexico, International and non-in-ring performers) with voters having a maximum of five votes per category except for historical where the max is eight.
Dave has announced that the max is now 18 wrestlers and five non-wrestlers in response to the growing field and the potential problem that a monopoly in the US and in some ways, Japan could cause in future voting.
Another new element to the voting regulations is the addition of 23 tag teams to the ballot. Below is the 2022 ballot that voters will be asked to vote on.
In place of my semi-regular Top Ten columns, I have decided to talk about what are the most interesting cases for debate in who should get an induction into the WON Hall of Fame in what will a four-part series starting with the cases from Mexico and Japan and then the following
● Non wrestlers/International
● Modern (US/Canada)
We will then finish the series off with a look at the tag teams included in the ballot for the first time in what is the most radical change to the Observer Hall of Fame in its history.
So put on Hall of Fame by The Script (actually don't, it's an awful song) and sit back and observe these cases for your consideration.
Mistico/Caristico (Last year vote share- 59.7%)
Rounding up was certainly not the friend of Mistico in the most recent edition of the Hall of Fame count with the lucha star coming 0.3% shy of the 60% threshold needed to be inducted. Dave would write that he went to the original text of the Baseball Hall of Fame whose structure is a heavy role model for his newsletter's HOF and decided not to round up Mistico's number leaving him out of the class of 2021.
Mistico will 100% be voted into the 2022 Hall of Fame. The lucha block of voters in recent years have voted on mass for wrestlers South of the border with 7 of the 17 inductees in the last 3 classes being from Mexico. It feels obvious that Mistico gets in with the power of the Mexican block, but should he?
The answer is yes. Ignore his disastrous run in WWE and look at his mid 00s run in CMLL. Numbers tell you that he was the biggest drawing star in the world of wrestling from 2005-2009 with sell-outs of Arena Mexico in this time frame and with a faltering puro scene and WWE going into a transition phase with the emergence of John Cena and Batista, the argument that Mistico was the top star in pro wrestling in the mid noughties is a very valid one. He is the only wrestler outside WWE and UFC to win the Wrestling Observer Best Box Office Attraction award in the years 2000-2017 and to show how good of an indication this award is for HOF induction, since the inception of the award only two wrestlers eligible for the Hall that were the highest ranked non-MMA personalities on the yearly list are Mistico and CM Punk
The chart shows wrestlers ranked by the Observer Award for Best Box Office placings with points given out like in F1 (1st-25, 2nd-18, 3rd-15, 4th-12, 5th-10 etc)
The argument against Mistico is that his time in WWE was a massive disappointment and while true, other lucha superstars have not matched their success when crossing the border and gone on to be voted into the Hall of Fame like La Park for example.
Maybe the strongest case for Mistico getting in is the fact that if you wrote a book about the history of Lucha Libre, Mistico would dominate the chapters about the noughties and that is why he has to go in.
Los Hermanos Dinamita (Last Year- 46%)
The fairest comparison to make for LHD would be the Fabulous Freebirds. Both were the lead heels in a booming territory, jumps to rival promotions made an impact to the business and they would get the nostalgia pop whenever they made "legend" appearances.
Los Hermanos, made up of three brothers, Universo 2000, Cien Caras and Mascara Ano 2000 became the top heel trio in Mexico in the late 80s with their jump to AAA in the early days of their existence a big moment in lucha with their holding of the National Trios Titles which at the time was not owned by a promotion but governed by the athletic commissions around Mexico. Their feud with Perro Aguayo and Konnan was the foundation of the double main event that would draw a 48,000 sell out in the Plaza de Toros bullring in Mexico City. Universo would go on to be one of the most tenured heavyweight champions in lucha history, main eventing through the turn of the millennium along with Caras.
While the three would struggle to get into the HOF individually like Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy and Buddy Roberts, as a trio like the Freebirds, they make good candidates to get voted in. With a 46% vote percentage in their debut year on the ballot last year and with only 16 first ballot Hall of Famers and another high-drawing trio Los Brazos being voted in last year; chances are Los Hermanos' sophomore year on the list could be successful.
Sangre Chicana (Last Year- 33%)
Huracan Ramirez (Last year- 32%)
The third and fourth best 2021 percentage numbers in the 2021 vote at 33% and 32% respectively from the Mexico category, they are only other two Mexico candidates that polled at above 30% in last year's poll so the jump to 60% looks to be too much for Chicana and Ramirez even with the block voting from lucha friendly voters and truth is both shouldn't be in the Hall.
Sangre was a great worker and a big draw but within such a big field and 18 votes available for voters there are more deserving candidates. Same goes for Huracan.
While Huracan has an interesting resume being the man who invented the huracanrana and his movie career which formula, the masked wrestler taking on organised crime was popularised by El Santo made him a mainstream star and in the company with Santo, Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras as the most famous luchadores in Mexico.
Mexican wrestlers pre-mid 80s are at a disadvantage due to lack of television footage due to political reasons and incomplete results records and the chances are Sangra gets under 10% sooner rather than later and Huracan ends up being stuck in the 10-50% purgatory until he gets booted off the ballot in 2025.
While Mexico has not had a problem being represented in the HOF in the last three years, Japan has been a different case. Only three have come out of the Japan section of the ballot (Jun Akiyama, Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada) but with three of the “5-star” era of NJPW and one of the AJPW Four Pillars above 30% in last year's voting, it could be an interesting ballot for puro lovers.
Tomohiro Ishii (Last Year- 38%)
If Akira Taue is the Andy Murray of the AJPW’s Fab Four, then Tomohiro Ishii is the Marcelo Rios of NJPW’s 5-star era. Both are probably the greatest to never win a grand slam/World Title in their respective sports but while the chances of Rios getting into tennis’ HOF is as unlikely as a Baron Corbin induction into the Observer Hall, Ishii has a good case to get in.
Ishii’s 130 8.00+ rated matches on Cagematch puts him first amongst those who have wrestled in the 21st century and his six Best Brawler Awards in the Observer awards are only beaten by Bruiser Brody and Mick Foley, both of them Hall of Famers. On the basis of in-ring style he should get in, but one problem arises in Ishii’s claim for the HOF.
Only four wrestlers from the US and Japan who were classed in the modern category that have not won a World Title have gone into the HOF (Ted Dibiase, Akira Maeda, Atushi Onita, Roddy Piper) and all four were big draws at the box office with two (Maeda, Onita) with promoting as part of their HOF resume, something Ishii cannot claim to be even being a good draw being a lifer in the mid-card even when those matches always produced in the ring.
Ishii can easily be in the list of 100 greatest wrestlers (spoiler alert for future projects) but yet doesn't fit the criteria for the Observer Hall of Fame. Weird isn't it but yet it is the right call.
Kota Ibushi (Last Year- 54%)
Tetsuya Naito (Last Year- 38%)
Rounding off the three of the “5-star era” (yes, i’m trying to get this to stick) to not yet be in the HOF, Ibushi and Naito are being lumped in together in my review of their HOF credentials for a couple of reasons which is not because I have a word limit to adhere to.
Their cases are very similar with some minor exceptions. Match quality-wise as seen above in Ishii’s entry, Ibushi and Naito have 95 and 78 matches over the 8.00 mark on Cagematch respectively, their drawing power as part of the collective of the top heavyweights in NJPW has seen them help sell out arenas in Japan between 2015-2019 but when it came to the time that they were given the ball, it didn't work out for them from a business aspect. Whether it was their timing with the Covid-19 pandemic eliminating crowds at live events, in Ibushi's case his inactivity in 2022 working against him and in Naito’s case, not striking while the iron was hot in 2018 working against them, if I was a voter and with 18 votes to use and 5 of then in the Japan section, there are many others on the ballot that make better candidates than Naito and Ibushi.
Shingo Takagi (First year on the ballot)
In what will be his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot, Takagi enters the discussion with some interesting factors to his name.
Before joining NJPW, Shingo was a top five in-ring worker in Dragon Gate and its sister promotion in the USA from 2008 to his departure along with BxB Hulk, Akira Tozawa, Yoshino and CIMA and while in current day, the Pillars of DG careers have diverged (in an alternate timeline Shingo is chasing R-Truth around arenas for the 24/7 title) Takagi has moved up to a Tier 1 promotion and hit a home run in the ring being NJPW’s WOTY in both of the pandemic years and with Japan’s cautious approach to Covid-19 being in contrast to the US, it would take the hottest take of all takes to make points on Takagi’s box office run when champion being a failure
Shingo’s longevity is impressive especially as a wrestler that like Kota Ibushi didn’t come from one of the major promotions dojos as is the norm for a Japanese wrestling star. It’ll be interesting to see if Takagi beats Kota in the vote share but like Kota an induction will seem unlikely.
Hayabusa (Last Year- 23%)
Amongst the criteria for who to vote for in the ballot is being a pioneer for future wrestlers and Hayabusa ticks that box easily. When you see a 450 splash, you see Hayabusa’s Firebird Splash. Same goes for the Falcon Arrow, Hayabusa popularised that move. A lot of the current style is influenced by Hayabusa.
While his headlining years were not of the calibre of Atushi Onita, it's a horrible comparison considering Onita was arguably the highest drawer in pro wrestling from 93 to 95. What Hayabusa did in the box office was delay the inevitable considering the chaos that was surrounding the company in its final years.
Wrestling is an art form and Hayabusa is one of the most copied creators in its history. You can see elements of his style in what Omega, Ospreay and Takahashi have done in the last 5 years. Hayabusa was ahead of the curve in the late 90s and is one of the ultimate pioneers and deserves more than 23%
Meiko Satomura (Last Year- 16%)
Now familiar with quite a few for her work in NXT UK, Meiko’s legacy in the industry was cemented way before she started working in an empty BT Sport studio once a month. Meiko Satomura's longevity in wrestling can be summed up by her appearance on Monday Nitro in 1996 in a match against Akira Hokuto. Two decades later, she is one of the best women wrestlers in the world. While Meiko debuted during one of Joshi’s finest eras, when the All Japan Women's music died, Satomura was the one holding the flag for women's wrestling in Japan. While one of the greatest matches in women's wrestling history took place in the 00s (Satomura vs Hokuto in Gaea in 2001) the decade was seen as barren with little reviews by Cagematch voters from that decade.
However, Satomura is statically one of the greatest women in-ring with 12 Top 5’s in the Female WOTY standings with only Manami Toyota with more and four top spots in said standings (01,06,07,10)
While lucha in the 00s certainly drew better than joshi in that decade, Meiko was the woman of the 00s if you had to write a book about the women's wrestling in the noughties, Meiko deserves a hefty portion dedicated to her and that makes her worthy of a HOF inclusion.
In the next few editions of my Hall of Fame ballot review, we will look at the best Historical, International, Modern US/Canada and Tag Teams on the ballot. Hope you can join me for that.