It is a tremendous honor to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Though there are several pro-wrestling Halls of Fame, it is the WWE's that's the definitive one, if not the most controversial.
It is even more of an honor to be inducted in to the WWE Hall of Fame at the first ballot. It means that the inductees effect on the industry can already be seen, and that they can already be called an icon. This is exactly the honor that is being bestowed upon Shawn Michaels this year.
HBK is considered by many to be the greatest in-ring performer of all time, justifying this honor, but who among the still active performers could or should, follow him in to the WWE Hall of Fame at the first ballot upon their retirement?
Randy Orton: Many may be surprised that I haven't included Randy Orton in the actual list of future first-ballot-ers. Orton is one of the very top faces in the industry, has been in some great story-lines, and has put on some great matches. The problem for Orton is that, while John Cena is around, he'll never be the face of the company. If Cena retires first, then Orton will be undoubtedly next in line, but until then, Orton will lack some of the iconic status required for this honor.
Mickie James: 2006 could have been an apocalyptic year for female wrestling: the two top draws of the division, Trish Stratus and Lita, both retired in the same year. Someone needed to step up, and that person was Mickie James, who went on to be hugely popular and carry the division, not to mention winning 5 Women's Championships and becoming one of only four wrestlers to date to be both the Women's Championship and the Divas Championship, all Hall of Fame credentials. Unfortunately, her recent return to TNA will hurt Mickie's chances of any sort of induction, never mind at the first-ballot.
Goldust: Goldust will never be the headline entrant in to the Hall of Fame. His career has never returned to the heights it was at in the 90's when Goldust's unique, asexual character was gaining huge heat and attention from the fans. He became the Intercontinental Champion three times in the 90's when it meant even more than it does now. He was on his way to the top, but a spectacular personal crash ended all that. Nonetheless, his return to the ring at the highest level is genuinely inspiring. He is in the best shape of his life, and an induction by his father would be excellent to see.
Now I have to admit to being very tired of Rey Mysterio these days. His character has become too generic and his 'ultimate underdog' moniker has become incredibly stale.
Despite this though, I think Rey would be one of the guys deserving of a Hall of Fame induction immediately after he retires.
It's not his achievements in the ring that get him the spot, though two World Championships and a spectacular Royal Rumble win are very impressive. The reason Rey gets the nod is mostly to do with how iconic he has become. His mask is iconic, it makes him stand out in the WWE and gives him an iconic position in its history. Not only that, but the amount of Rey Mysterio masks that appear at WWE live events is Earth-shattering. That, paired with his size and electrifying finisher have made him a symbol of excitement, hard work, and determination to the fans.
That, paired with his unique and touching relationship with especially the younger fans make him genuinely beloved, a certain Hall of Famer, and possibly even at the first ballot.
Kurt Angle is one of the most respected wrestlers of his generation, and to many, the best ever.
Unlike many technically gifted wrestlers, Angle has always had the personality to get over as a strong character that the fans could love and hate in equal measure. He has had every success in both WWE and TNA, and has put on excellent matches with regularity.
The fact that he has been so crucial to TNA's growth may mean that, unless he ends his career back in WWE, he wont be inducted in to the Hall at all, but being known as one of the best ever and being successful along with it, has to make him worthy of a first-ballot induction, even if it may not happen.
Sting is one of the most iconic wrestlers ever, and certainly the most iconic never to wrestle in the WWF/E.
It is almost solely for this reason that he deserves to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. His body of work is impressive and Hall of Fame worthy in itself, but the fact that he stands completely alone amongst his top talent contemporaries in never having wrestled for Vince McMahon makes him a genuine icon.
There are rumors that this year's Hall of Fame ceremony in Atlanta (the spiritual home of WCW) could coincide with Sting's retirement, and that this could come together to make Sting another first-ballot Hall of Famer this year.
Chris Jericho is one of the greatest, if not the greatest wrestler of his generation. He possesses every skill relevant to the spectacle of wrestling in abundance.
Despite being a smaller guy then the usual crop of WWE main-eventers, Jericho managed to break through and become, among countless other achievements, the first ever Undisputed Champion. There is definitely a case to made that Jericho's success led the way for other smaller contemporaries (Benoit, Guerrero, for instance) getting to the top of the mountain.
He is one of the best ever at manipulating the crowd, and is so comfortable as either face or heel. He is the total sports-entertainment package.
Triple H has been 'the man' for years now. Contemporaries like The Rock and Steve Austin may have left, but Triple H has been a constant at the top of the industry for over a decade now.
It's simple with HHH: he is the benchmark for the industry, and simply commands respect. Every time his music hits, an awe fills the arena that few others can match, and the matches that he has are consistently excellent.
Triple H has won an astonishing thirteen World Championships, and when not doing that, he has created not only arguably the greatest stable of all time in D-Generation X, but has created another hugely successful group in Evolution which launched the career of meteoric stars, Randy Orton and Batista.
If he is a first-ballot inductee, it wont be due to his connections, it will be because he deserves it.
The Undertaker made his debut 20 years ago, and has been the most feared character in the industry ever since.
The Undertaker commands respect every time he appears, and all while barely saying a word. He lets his determined, other-worldly, and often dark actions do the talking for him in the ring. Even with a faltering body, he has managed to wrestle two of the greatest matches ever with Shawn Michaels at the previous two Wrestlemanias. People may think John Cena is unbeatable, but it is really 'Taker that is practically unbeatable.
This is certainly the case at 'The Showcase of the Immortals', where he has infamously never lost a match. If for no other reason, his Streak, which will never be broken or replicated, is enough to make the Deadman a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
I know placing Cena ahead of the Undertaker will be unpopular with many, but he is at the forefront of those that can be labeled first-ballot Hall of Famers.
He is, to put it bluntly, the Hulk Hogan of our generation. It is true what Michael Cole likes to say about no one evoking as much of a reaction from the crowd as John Cena. Whether the fans love him as a hero or hate him as a product, he is the undisputed face of professional wrestling these days, and he does an excellent job of it.
He is underrated as a wrestler, has put on many unforgettable matches in his career, and is a mainstay at Wrestlemania, the biggest event in the industry. He is the reason many people watch wrestling, and is in his own right, an icon. A legacy that will only get added to as his career continues.