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March 30, 2008

WWE Hall of Fame report

It was an unforgettable night at the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony last night at Amway Arena in Orlando, Fla. It was memorable mostly because of the return -- for one night -- of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and, of course, for the induction of Ric Flair. Unfortunately, the behavior of many of the fans in attendance put somewhat of a damper on the experience for me -- more on that later.

Johnson -- who was here to induct his father, Rocky Johnson, and grandfather, Peter Maivia --into the Hall of Fame, got a tremendous response from the crowd, which he had in the palm of his hand from the moment he walked on the stage. He started off by grabbing the microphone and delivering one of his many catch phrases: "Finally, The Rock has come back to Orlando." By the time he was finished, which was about 40 minutes later, he had done all of his catch phrases.

In a scene reminiscent of Hulk Hogan's induction a few years ago, the crowd kept chanting, "Please come back!" and "One more match!" while Johnson was on stage. He hinted that he would consider another match with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, who was in the audience nodding his head in approval. Johnson also said that there were three guys he wanted to wrestle but never got the opportunity to -- John Cena, Rey Mysterio and Shawn Michaels.

Johnson made a few jokes at Cena's expense, mostly cracking on his movie, The Marine. He did it with a smile and a wink, but I have to think that was a receipt for Cena's recent comments about Johnson not giving back to wrestling. Johnson made it a point last night to say that, "I not only grew up in this business, but I love this business."

While I was thoroughly entertained by Johnson, apparently he must have gone on too long, because JBL and Dusty Rhodes both made cracks about it later. JBL said that Johnson forgot the most important two words in wrestling: go home. And Rhodes said that "we've got a good two-hour special if we ever need it."

Triple H also took a jab at Johnson, his former in-ring rival. When giving the induction speech for Flair, Triple H said: "No disrespect to The Rock -- oh, I guess I'm supposed to call him Dwayne now -- but before there was "trailblazing and eyebrow-raising," there was "kiss stealin' and wheelin' dealin'." Triple H got a few boos for the "Dwayne" comment, but he laughed it off and said, "Come on, I'm joking. I love the guy." Actually, I think it's always been apparent that Triple H is somewhat insecure and jealous when it comes to Johnson. It's time to get over it.

Unquestionably, the main event of the evening was the induction of Flair. He was choked up from the moment he went on the stage. Actually, he was choked up earlier in the afternoon at the Hall of Fame news conference. Before he could get his first word out, he started crying. Watching Flair talk about his career possibly ending at WrestleMania XXIV in front of a small gathering of media members is something I will always remember.

Flair's speech last night lasted one hour and 10 minutes. He got teary-eyed a few times, but he got through it and seemed to really be savoring the moment. He tried to mention everyone who meant something to him or played a significant role in his 35-plus-year career. When talking about various members of the Four Horsemen, Flair mentioned Chris Benoit, which drew applause. I'm guessing that comment won't be on the DVD. He also said was that "Austin is the biggest star in the history of WWE. I'm tired of saying Hogan's the biggest star all the time."

On three occasions, Triple H walked over to the podium and whispered in Flair's ear to wrap it up. I can't speak for everyone in attendance, but I could have sat there until the sun came up listening to Flair tell stories. Fittingly, Flair punctuated his speech with a "Wooo!"

Those were the highlights. Now for the lowlights. I attended the first two WWE Hall of Fame ceremonies in Baltimore (1994) and Philadelphia ('95) when the event was in a banquet setting. It was attended mostly wrestlers of the past and present, their families and some media members and people who knew someone in the company. The events were classy, suit-and-tie affairs.

The Hall of Fame has grown to the point in which WWE can fill an arena and charge fans for tickets. I suppose it's a smart business move, but it definitely diminishes the "classy aspect."

Many of the fans at the Amway Arena last night should be ashamed of themselves, as they exhibited all of the negative traits of the stereotypical wrestling fan. They were extremely disrespectful of the speakers and they behaved like they were at the arena to see a house show. They dressed like it as well, even though the dress code was "business attire."

At an event such as this, you shouldn't boo the talent, even if their character is a heel. Of course, the fans last night booed some babyfaces, too, namely Cena and Batista. While the latter got more jeers than cheers, it was nothing compared to the reaction to Cena, who was booed out of the building and serenaded with vulgar chants. Whether or not the fans like Cena's wrestling character, they should at least show John Cena the person some respect.

Cena has always taken the mixed reaction in stride and said all the right things about fans having the right to cheer or boo who they want. Last night, however, Cena looked shaken by the incredibly mean-spirited response. I just don't understand it. He has a passion for the business and an incredible work ethic. And, by all accounts, he's a good guy who hasn't let his success go to his head. He's a decent wrestler, as well, so for those last night who chanted "You can't wrestle," you obviously have no clue about the business.

As horrible as the crowd's treatment of Cena was, the biggest show of disrespect came from the morons who were yelling, "Speak up!" when one of the late Gordon Solie's sons was trying to give a speech about his father.

Here's my suggestion to WWE regarding future Hall of Fame ceremonies: Jack up the ticket prices. Maybe it will keep out the riff-raff.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 12:47 AM | | Comments (26)


Wow. I just watched the USA program and had no idea how much was cut out. I just thought that, as in some previous years, they picked up the show at the end. Obviously not. From your account, they really edited Johnson and Flair - not that I would have expected USA to show over two hours of those two speeches combined. Thanks for your report and I hope the whole enchilada will be available on DVD later on.

I certainly hope this is on the WM dvd since I didn't even get to see Flair's speech since it ran past the hour it was alloted and I had it TIVO'd.

Given the disparities between your account of the show and the USA Network's airing of it, I'm guessing that the approximate two-hour gap between the live webcast and the TV telecast was used for taping and editing purposes, as WWE probably anticipated that Flair's speech would go over the time allotment.

Shame, it would've been nice to see the entirety of The Rock's speech/routine since it brought back fond memories. And although USA Network and WWE probably thought it would be in the best interest of the viewers to show us the meat of Ric Flair's induction, I still would've preferred to see it in its entirety, regardless of length.


Great post, thanks for sharing your thoughts on the ceremony. I agree with you - Triple H is clearly jealous of Dwayne Johnson. However, no worries - he's got "Game of Death" coming out soon! What's weird to me: why didn't they induct Rocky Johnson at the same time they inducted Tony Atlas?

By the way, I'm sure that the Santino Marella moment was just electric for you with his induction.

Apparently, you (the writer of this article) have forgotten the code of the wrestling fans.
You see, it is the responsibility and the character of the fan to hiss and boo the rivals.
Therefore, if you don’t want to hear hissing and booing, don’t invite the fans.
It’s there place in the business. Like all soap opera-like written scripts, it depends on the character’s popularity with the fans. Who would expect an induction ceremony where fans are allowed to attend to be any more formal than the actual Wrestlemania itself?
I’m a long standing fan of the business and the business men/women alike. The Chairman is just going to take that negative spirit of the fans, and give them more of what they are asking for. That’s where that “E” comes in after the “WW”. Just plain ‘ole ENTERTAINMENT. The hits are fake, the slams are controlled, but the money is real. We the fans make it happen. We as fans respect each and every athlete that calls him/herself a wrestler. We respect the tremendous strain on the body to prepare for TV entertainment. We also respect the ATM when it comes to swiping that card for it for a sold-out arena week after week. I doubt John Cena really cares whether those boos are for the character John Cena as long as that paycheck says “Pay to the order of John Felix Anthony Cena.

I was there, and Kevin, I couldn't agree with you more. That was completely disrespectful. The Rock's mom couldn't get through a sentence without some moron yelling "make rocky come back." I was in the section that started the "we can't hear you" chant, and those idiots could have heard if they hadn't been too busy yelling. Enforcing the dress code, and not serving beer would have cut down the moron factor considerably.

Wow. Rock said he'd like to wrestle HBK???

I thought he had a legit reason for not wanting to work with him that goes way back.

And man, did Steph look hot last night! Too bad on USA they didn't show much of her.

RESPONSE FROM KEVIN ECK: I was shocked as well when Rock mentioned Michaels. They haven't exactly had a warm relationship in the past. But then again, I believe Michaels truly is a different guy now.

I felt the same way about the crowd's behavior at the ceremony. They acted like they were at a RAW taping rather than a special night for wrestling.
As for Triple H, I think it's obvious he has always been insecure about keeping his spot in the pecking order in the WWE, and The Rock was always a threat to that. I remember hearing rumors about Triple H frequently lobbying to keep the belt off the Rock and how Rock's a better draw chasing the belt ( coincidentally the same things he supposedly says about Cena).
And as far as Cena, I think at this point he's more than paid for the idea he was pushed too hard, too fast. He busts his butt out there and his love for the sport is nothing but good for business. What does this guy have to do to earn even a single night's break from the haters?

I had no idea Rock and Flair spoke for that long.

Either way, no matter what happens tonight, Rock's HOF appearance was still the highlight of the weekend.

I agree that some of the fans acted like a bunch of morons. It makes all the fans look bad. These wrestlers are just people and unfortunately there are some bafoons out there who seem to forget that and continuously make them into the character they are on tv. An easy fix to the Hall of Fame having some respect is, If they dont dress right they arent aloud in and if they start acting disrespectful and disruptive throw them out. No exceptions. That would work. If they dont start doing that it will ruin it for all the other fans because it will not be made into a public event. There are good and normal fans out there but the weirdos who chant and act stupid and with no class are making all of the fans look bad. And that is just not the case.

Watching the show last night with my wife I said to her, How can the best wrestler ever rap up his whole career in fifteen minutes of air time. I wish I was able to see his whole speech. I am sure he must of mentioned and thanked all the greats he faced and ran with through his great career. I must be getting old, I have been watching Ric flair since I was 10 years old and got a little emotional with what I did see; realizing the last of all the greats are gone it is definitaly the end of an era.

FULLY AGREE with Cena about Rocky not "giving back to the business" that made him.

Why is it everytime he lifts a thumb, to make an appearance, he has to play that "where is so-and-so" game with us...... like THAT is supposed to compensate for all the years and moons he's been gone..... especially when the guys he is "calling on" have given more to entertain us than he ever did??

His movies are dry like sandpaper in humor and the guy will NEVER hold a toothpick to George Clooney or even Johnny Hollywood.

The Rock and Andy Milonakis comprise the REAR of the Hollywood Talent Spectrum.

The lack of dress-code enforcement disappointed me (well-- I guess that's what they get for having it in a local ARENA and not a THEATRE or civic Auditorium setting??).

They could have easily had Armando Estrada induct the Johnson-Maivia duo and I wouldn't have missed Duane one bit.

FLAIR deserved the floor to speak the entire night if he so wanted, and I too hope the full-length speech makes it onto the DVD.

My TiVo listings said it was alloted to run till 12:05 so that :05 was my hint that an overrun was in order and so I taped it manually till 12:15.

Ric Flair says of the following: I'm tired of saying Hogan's the biggest star all the time.
I think that's a bunch a crap. I never liked Hogan, Triple H, and the Rock much anyway. I think Flair is the greatest of all time followed by Stone Cold, Bret Hart , and then Sting. This is going by todays standards though.

Thanks for another great post Kevin Eck . I'm sure it had to be emotionally sturring to witness Flair's induction in particular . As far as the fans , there is no defending their conduct . There is a time and a place... this was not the place . Overall a very good night and a very good report .

Two quick side notes about "the business":

1.) Booing and hissing at heels and rivals is perfectly okay at a wrestling event. However, this was an awards ceremony and anyone with the slightest IQ would know that this sort of event is an exception. The wrestlers were wearing suits, everyone was out of character and all of that ruckus just took away from what the evening was about: the inductees, not the current talent and their storylines. Grow up.

2.) That said, Mr. Eck, John Cena CAN'T wrestle. He is extremely cartoony and has very little technique, but this is no surprise since Vince has always pushed poor workers to the top (Hogan, Rock). Cena was at least entertaining when he had the snide rapper-guy routine down, but since he became the boring face-guy he is really hard to watch. If you listen closely you can almost separate the crowd reaction to him every time he makes an appearance: there is this high pitched cheer (little kids and women) with this deep "Boooo" (dudes) underneath. Just put him on Smackdown already!

....oh yeah, Triple H needs to stop telling jokes. He's really bad at it.

Reality v. character: the shots of Paul Wight with tears running down his cheeks during Ric Flair's speech. Despite his character there has always seemed a twinkle in his eye that its an act.

You miss one point Kev. The MAIN reason Cena still gets booed is because it's always been an unwritten rule if your a heel and you are cheered you get turned. If your a face and they boo you get turned. For some reason Vince won't listen to the fans and it only makes them angrier.

RESPONSE FROM KEVIN ECK: It might be making them angrier but they're still paying their money to boo Cena, so Vince must know something.

Wow, I didn't know The Rock talked for 40minutes since I was watching over TV (the score on bell express vu). He's got full fan reaction for over 40 minutes... I hope that the Hall of Fame DVD or Rock's next WWE DVD will include the FULL speech.

Surprisingly, I believe I heard some boos when Todd Grisham mentioned the Rock's name, but it quickly turned into 100% cheers. I miss the Rock in WWE, and WWE absolutely needs the Rock.

The fans are a big reason I don't go to events anymore, Kevin. I'd rather just watch it on TV by myself. Between the ignorance, the signs I can't see through, and spilling of beer, it's really not worth it.

my comment is the fans is really what makes thestars,but they should have respected where they were and dressed properly.stars like ric flair,triple h knows their fans love them.

I was there too and I didn't have a huge problem with the hecklers until Gordon Solie's son tried to talk. This is a man who is not in the business and has no idea how to hand an unruly crowd. The first idiot that started yelling was sitting on the same row as me. Someone finally got up and got in his face and cut a promo on him and the idiot was never heard from again.

Watching Raw Last night; we all saw the Talent and Fans say good bye to Flair; wonder how Hogan took it; When he retired; Management and Hogan ran the show; Flair's Farewell, came from the love and respect of his Peers; other Talent and the Fans (Thoughts?)

I agree with you on the fans acting with class issue
The one reason I love WATCHING the Hall of Fame is because you get to see the WWE as the family they are, that's the specialness of it, that night there are no faces, there are no heels, on WWE talent. Cena is one of the guys you can tell LOVES the business, and LOVES its history. But you could tell he got a bit nerved by their reaction.
On the whole Rock portion, I thought he was funny too, word is that he didn't even spend a second before, during, or after the show talking to old friends ... like he was above mingling; so maybe doing a semi-roast wasn't his best move. My thinking is if he would have at least mingled a little bit before, it wouldn't have been that big of a deal. Moreover, to do a roast and not seem to put much thought into the induction of your own father/grandfather ... I don't know, it just seems a bit strange.

"Jack up the ticket prices. Maybe it will keep out the riff-raff." Not only a tad bit rude but also highly stereotypical.

RESPONSE FROM KEVIN ECK: That wasn't nearly as rude as the fans who my remark was intended for. And they did perpetuate the stereotype. They proved that they couldn't behave like civilized people at a nice affair. As a wrestling fan, it was embarrassing.


I just got Wrestlemania XXIV on Blu Ray, and I googled this topic because I was reminded of the drunken disrespect of some of the fans. I have attended the 2007 and 2008 HoF Ceremonies. I go to pay my respects and say "thank you" to those who helped build the industry that I love, and not cheer and boo. I was direcly behind the idiot who yelled "Speak up!" during Solie's induction. What you did not see was the entire WWE roster, on the floor, turn and look into our side of the crowd in complete disgust. I was embarrassed and ashamed to be placed in the same group with those wrestling fans. Another bad moment was from 2007 in Detroit. As Jim Ross was receiving his induction, he mentioned his mother passing away during a UK tour. A bunch of fools, from the UK, went nuts, cheering the fact he mentioned their home country, but it came off really, really bad.

I agree. Increase ticket prices, strictly ENFORCE the dress code policy on the ticket, and, for god's sake, STOP SELLING ALCOHOL AT THIS EVENT!!!!! It is a classier event, made to appreciate the past, not for the typical, uncouth, drunken wrestling fan to make an ass out of his or her self. If these trends continue, I fear that the WWE Hall of Fame will once again be buried for several years, or reserved to small, private ceremonies.

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About Kevin Eck
The Baltimore Sun's Kevin Eck blogs about professional wrestling.
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