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By Mike Johnson on 2004-06-02 16:20:00

Superstars Honored

I had the chance to watch WWE's Hall of Fame induction DVD over the weekend and two major points were obvious after viewing the tremendous ceremonies - this was one impressive evening for nostalgia and wrestling history, and also one that's deeply, truly ironic.

Who would have thought that when Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation began snuffing out promotion after promotion and territory after territory in the mid 1980s, that he would eventually end up the gatekeeper and protector for the one thing he ignored while creating his brand, stars, and product - history? Certainly not anyone who was involved with the promotion from the inside or anyone watching from the outside.

Well, for better or worse, WWE remains the last survivor of a wrestling war that took place over decades and to the victor, goes the spoils. Those spoils include the video libraries, the history, the memories, and everything else that comes with those who have been trumped by the ultimate poker player, Vince McMahon.

With Wrestlemania XX as his backdrop, McMahon doesn't gloat however. Instead, he pays tribute to a number of those who helped set things in motion for his empire either through their efforts working for WWE or their efforts elsewhere - Bobby Heenan, Sgt. Slaughter, Tito Santana, Greg Valentine, Pete Rose, Harley Race, Jesse Ventura, Don Muraco, and Superstar Graham as well as posthumous inductions of The Junkyard Dog and Big John Studd. If anything, McMahon comes off almost as humble as those he is honoring.

The bulk of the discs are made up of the ceremonies, which are sprinkled with stories of these unique men's lives and careers. Superstar Graham notes his health issues and tells the story of a young lady who saved his life by being an organ donor. Pat Patterson tells humorous stories about Sgt. Slaughter breaking into the business and getting into a legitimate fight his first day of training. Mick Foley tells a loving story of his hitchhike to see Don Muraco vs. Jimmy Snuka in a steel cage and how his decision to do so has created a wrestling legend of its own. It's obvious that the honorees and those doing the inductions are reminded of how much they love the business. Fans can say whatever they want about Triple H's politics over the last decade, but his love for the business rings truer than anything else during the ceremony.

Respect and love are the themes for Ric Flair's deeply emotional tribute to Harley Race, explaining how if there was ever an issue with a fan, a wrestler, or a promoter, Race was the man to turn too. When Flair needed to be protected on a Japanese tour because he was World champion, it was Race who was sent to ensure there were no doublecrosses. Race is portrayed as what he is to many inside the business, one of the grittiest, toughest men to ever be involved in the sport and it's a testament to WWE that they allowed him to be honored when he was never a headliner for the company and often caused havoc for them as an outsider during the expansion. Flair talks with all the respect and admiration in the world for Race, noting that if Race had not been the one to give his blessing to Flair, Flair's own historic career would never have reached the levels it did over the last several decades.

The biggest highlight of the induction ceremony is without a doubt Bobby Heenan's hilarous yet emotional acceptance speech. After speech after speech discussing health problems, time away from family members, and other issues, Heenan goes on a tear discussing his family, working in the business and how the WWF used to be a zoo. With the spotlight on him for the first time in forever, Heenan returns to form instantly. His successful war against cancer may have aged him and may have slurred his voice a slight amount, but his wit and spirit remain the same as they always were - one of a kind. Heenan is quick to introduce his family (which many of the others did), and make a note that everything would be perfect, if not for the absence of best friend and on air colleague Gorilla Monsoon. The DVD extras involving Heenan's comedic antics with Monsoon make up some of the better extras on the release.

Perhaps the most telling moment of the DVD beyond Heenan's tremendous speech comes from Pete Rose, of all people, who acknowledges that he was a fish out of water but still spoke of the deep affection the WWE stars had for the fans. Rose noted that during his first Wrestlemania he sat in the gorilla position and was touched by how passionate everyone was for their peers and to make the show work. When one of baseball's all time greats notes that the only athletes today who care about their fans are professional wrestlers and NASCAR drivers, you know you are seeing something unique. Rose is obviously enjoying himself and pokes fun at the wrestlers he has worked with, but beyond that, comes off as someone thankful for the WWE family for embracing him after the MLB one exiled him.

It's deeply fitting that Jesse Ventura be the last one inducted as other than perhaps McMahon himself, he has grown to become the most unique legend in the modern day professional wrestling business. From wrestler all the way to Governor, Ventura has been gruff, outspoken, and his own person and while not always liked, will end up revered. Who else can sue McMahon for hundreds of thousands, win, and still be welcomed back as a goodwill ambassador of the sport? Only Ventura. With his hint (threat?) that, "Maybe it's time to put a wrestler in the White House," the stories told and remembered on this DVD may one day be used as a starting off point for future stories that may transcend the business altogether.

If there is one area of the WWE product that is on fire right now, it's their DVDs. This release is another in a long line of great releases over the last year.

The WWE Hall of Fame DVD features the following extras:

Superstar" Billy Graham
Confidential feature on Graham's career
*"Superstar" Billy Graham's WWWF championship win over Bruno Sammartino
*"Superstar" Billy Graham Promo (06/14/77)

Pete Rose
*All three of Pete Rose's Wrestlemania appearances

Big John Studd
*Interview on Buddy Rogers' Corner
*Big John Studd vs. Andre the Giant

Sgt. Slaughter
*The famous Back Alley Fight: Sgt. Slaughter vs. Pat Patterson (1981 in Madison Square Garden)
*Alternative commentary with Michael Cole, Sgt. Slaughter & Pat Patterson
*"I Want my Country Back" promo

*The Hall of Famers appear at Wrestlemania XX

Bobby Heenan
*Heenan in Atlantic City (Prime Time Wrestling - 03/21/88)
*Heenan's Yacht (Prime Time Wrestling - 11/22/88)
*Heenan At Busch Gardens (Prime Time Wrestling - 12/12/88)
*Heenan Grape squashing with Andre the Giant
*Confidential Tribute to Bobby Heenan
*Bobby Heenan's 1st night in the business

Greg Valentine & Title Santana
WWE Intercontinental Championship: Greg Valentine vs. Title Santana (Santana wins title, Baltimore, Md. - 07/06/85)

Junkyard Dog & Harley Race
*The Junkyard Dog vs. Harley Race (Saturday Night's Main Event - 01/03/87)
*Harley Race Promo (World Wide Wrestling - 06/15/83)
Gene Okerland interviews Junkyard Dog (Wrestling Challenge - 07/18/87)

Don Muraco
*WWE Intercontinental Match: Don Muraco vs. Pedro Morales (Muraco wins title)
*Vince McMahon interviews Muraco

Jesse Ventura
*Ventura challenged WWF champion Bob Backlund (03/14/82)
*Pat Patterson interviews Ventura

There are several Easter Eggs on the discs as well:

Easter Egg: Pete Rose's No Mercy Commercial with Kane

How to Access: On Disc 1, Go to Pete Rose. Go to Wrestlemania XVI and left click. The promo will then play.

Easter Egg: Bobby Heenan explains the Weasel Nickname

How to Access: On Disc 2, Go to Extras. Go to Bobby Heenan. Highlight Busch Gardens and right click. A clip of Heenan's explanation and how he felt about it will play.

Easter Egg: Greg Valentine explains how he became known as "The Hammer"

How To Access: On Disc 2, Go to Extras. Go to Tito Santana & Greg Valentine. Go to Greg Valentine vs. Tito Santana. Right click. The clip will then play.

You can order the two-disc WWE Hall of Fame DVD now in the Online Store.

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