The WWE Hall of Fame was first established in 1993, and although there were no new inductees between 1996 and 2004, many of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time have been honored over the years. Now that the 2013 class will be headlined by Bruno Sammartino, however, it stands out as the best ever.
Many fans have viewed the WWE Hall of Fame as a joke over the years. One reason for that is the lack of an actual Hall of Fame building, but the bigger issue people have had is the absence of top stars like Sammartino. The WWE Hall of Fame has a lot to do with who is on good terms with the company and who isn't, but reaching out to Sammartino has helped legitimize the process.
With that said, the WWE has certainly inducted some all-time greats in the past. Although there are some names that make wrestling fans cringe, such as Koko B. Ware and Drew Carey, there are many more inductees who are more than deserving, including Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, Andre the Giant and countless others. Sammartino now joins that list along with the entire class of 2013 that has been announced to this point.
Sammartino's accomplishments in the WWE are undeniable. He is a two-time WWE Champion and the longest-reigning WWE Champion of all time, as his first title run lasted over seven years. He ultimately held the strap for 11 years in all. Sammartino also headlined cards at Madison Square Garden on a regular basis, and he was responsible for selling out 187 shows in the Big Apple, according to his Hall of Fame video package.
Sammartino joins a class that was already shaping up to be among the best. Prior to the announcement of Sammartino's induction, Mick Foley was unquestionably the top star in the class of 2013. It can be argued that Sammartino will overshadow him, but I'm sure Foley won't have an issue with that, as he is from Long Island and grew up idolizing WWE legends like Sammartino.
Foley may not be the longest-reigning WWE Champion of all time like Sammartino, but his mark on WWE history is indelible. The fact that he was able to get over with the fans under his own name and as Mankind, Cactus Jack and Dude Love goes to show how beloved he was. Foley is a three-time WWE champion, eight-time Tag Team champion and the first-ever Hardcore champion.
Perhaps most importantly, many give Foley credit for turning the tide in the WWE's favor during the Monday Night Wars. Foley won his first WWE Championship on a taped edition of Raw that aired on Jan. 4, 1999. WCW enjoyed spoiling the WWE's taped shows, so Tony Schiavone told the Nitro viewers that Foley would win the WWE Championship that night. He joked that it would "put a lot of butts in the seats," but the joke was on him.
Wrestling fans wanted to see Foley win the WWE Championship so much that they switched over to the Monday Night Raw broadcast in droves. This allowed Raw to win the ratings battle for the night, and it would beat out Nitro every week thereafter until WCW's closure in 2001. Foley isn't usually given as much credit as guys like "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock, but he was just important to the WWE during the Attitude Era.
Sammartino and Foley alone constitute an incredible Hall of Fame class, but Bob Backlund adds to it even more. While Sammartino is the longest-reigning WWE Champion of all time, Backlund is second on that list, as he was in possession of the title for nearly six years. Backlund was the face of the company during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and he often sold out Madison Square Garden, just like Sammartino.
To top it all off, Trish Stratus will also be immortalized the night before WrestleMania XXIX. Although Stratus was a model prior to joining the WWE, she eventually became one of the most beloved divas of all time. Her looks had a lot to do with that, but through hard work and determination, she became a great in-ring performer as well.
Trish is a seven-time WWE Women's Champion and was named Diva of the Decade during her WWE tenure. She is also well known for main-eventing an episode of Raw in 2004 as she faced Lita. A women's match had never done that before, and it hasn't been done since, so that was truly a special moment for Trish and any diva who has ever competed in the WWE.
The last few years have featured five or six Hall of Fame inductees, so there will likely be one or two more names added to this list in the coming weeks. The WWE could easily press forward with Sammartino, Foley, Backlund, Stratus and nobody else, though, because that is about as star-studded of a class that can possibly be put together.
There have been a lot of strong Hall of Fame classes over the years, but the only one that comes close to 2013 in my estimation is 2005. That year saw Hulk Hogan, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, The Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff, "Cowboy" Bob Orton, Jimmy Hart and "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff get inducted. In terms of overall depth, it can be argued that 2005 is the best, but the circumstances surrounding 2013 make it better.
Not only is the WWE inducting three of the greatest WWE champions ever and arguably the greatest women's champion ever, but the MSG venue makes it mean more. Both Sammartino and Backlund were beloved in New York, while Foley hails from the area and went to shows at Madison Square Garden as a kid. Stratus is popular absolutely everywhere, but she had some big moments in New York as well, so everything is coming together perfectly.
Perhaps the next inductee or two will put 2013 over the top unquestionably, but I'm not sure it can get much better. The past few years have featured a celebrity inductee of some kind, so I can see Mr. T being inducted, as he headlined the first WrestleMania alongside Hogan at Madison Square Garden. Throw in another supporting player like Jake "The Snake" Roberts, and the star power of the 2013 class would be undeniable.
I realize that some fans will never appreciate the WWE Hall of Fame as long as the likes of "Macho Man" Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior and other deserving members are left out. The WWE is clearly making an effort to legitimize the Hall of Fame this year, though, and Sammartino's inclusion will go a long way toward accomplishing that.