WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2015: Larry Zbyszko

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Larry Zbyszko

Class of 2015

The Other Living Legend, Owner of Larryland

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Hall of Fame Rating

6 out of 10

Influential

 Our next inductee comes from the long list of former WWE enemies. Larry Zbyszko, for a long time, sat squarely in the camp of those no one ever expected to join the WWE Hall of Fame. The reasons were many, in 2001 Larry Zbyszko sued the WWE over the moniker “The Living Legend”as WWE had started calling Chris Jericho by the name and Larry took exception, claiming it was his. This quickly deteriorated into a “pride off”, with both Zbyszko and the WWE giving each other the “finger” publicly.  WWE began repeating The Living Legend Chris Jericho often, with McMahon himself even saying it on RAW   (Not that Jericho needed ANOTHER moniker or catchphrase)

Zbyszko then challenged McMahon to a legit fight on the World Wrestling All Stars PPV and began working for TNA, all the while continuing to bash  the WWE at any given moment.  It was a bitterness which, historically, is very common with former WWE talent after the death of the last territory: WCW. Zbyszko really had nowhere to go, plus probably had a chip on his shoulder for not being brought in for commentary in 2001 (rumored to replace Jerry Lawler when he left). Can you imagine this pairing?

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A common phrase is apropos here: time heals all wounds. Hopefully the older you get, the more you temper and  Larry is in his 60s now.So last year, Larry Zbyszko made peace and even signed a Legends contract.  His WWE Hall of Fame induction has quickly followed.  WWE tends to like to bring back those who used to hate the organization.  It’s a good story and contrition feels good for both parties. Plus, NXT films down from Larry’s house. Convenience!

Larry didn’t get into the Hall of Fame because he made peace. He deserves it. He is a type of pro wrestler that really doesn’t exist anymore. Larry Zbyszko ,as a heel, exuded negativity and became inherently unlikable, a role he played to a tee. Today, you rarely see a super successful mid card heel character. The best comparison in modern WWE is the Miz.  The difference between the “Must See Superstar” and the Living Legend is their environment. Miz has to deal with both the mindset of modern wrestlers (be the cool bad guy) and the PC PG environment. Larry Zbyszko could be as unlikable as possible; a good smarmy heel.

Larry didn’t start out as a heel, his debut and first six years were spent as a fairly generic tough Pittsburgh babyface. He has runs throughout the territory systems, holding tag gold. What stopped Zbyszko from being just another Tony Garea was his career defining mid-card feud against Bruno Sammartino. This feud lit fire due mostly to the time period it occurred.  Bruno was the semi-retired beloved figure. Larry was his student and protegé.

Larry not only betrayed Bruno, he battered him. The fans of the 1970s wouldn’t accept it. How could anyone turn against the beloved Bruno? Instant heel, and done well.

Larry was a product of his time. As his feud with Bruno cooled, Zbyszko cooled in the WWWF. But in 1981, he could go to another part of the country and succeed in a separate territory.  The territory system benefited wrestlers as their careers were not automatically over if they cooled in WWE (Looking at the Miz once again). Vince McMahon being the see all, end all  of wrestling has hurt some very talented individuals, such as Mr. Kennedy. Kennedy is a wonderful example of a heel who was following in Larry’s footsteps. Both strived to be as annoyingly heelish. Once Kennedy was fired,  he had nowhere to go (TNA doesn’t count), Larry went to the AWA.

In AWA, Larry had two larger successful runs, due both to his skills and that great to decision to marry the owner’s daughter:

Now known as the "Triple H"

Now known as the “Triple H”

Verne Gagne also seemed to believe in Larry’s abilities, at least more than his own son Greg Gagne’s.  Larry ended up becoming a two-time AWA World Heavyweight Champion, while Greg….looked like this:

No One has any idea what is going on here

No One has any idea what is going on here

Zbyszko has the dubious honor of being the last AWA World heavyweight Champion before their closed their doors permanently in 1990/1991. While in the 70s and early 80s the championship was a great honor, held by legends like Nick Bockwinkel and Mad Dog Vachon, by 1989, it didn’t really matter. Larry’s first series of feuds were poor, mostly due to his opponent caliber. AWA’s death knell period was weird and mostly nonsensical. (Anyone remember the Team Challenge!?)

Featuring the Great American Turkey Hunt...Look it up

Featuring the Great American Turkey Hunt…Look it up

On top of that, Larry won his belt in a battle royal, the weakest position for a new champion’s legitimacy, (Looking at you Khali), in a nonsensical over the top rope pinning battle royal. It was AWA in its final years…

http://www.wwe.com/videos/awa-championship-battle-royal-february-7-1989-27169287

Larry’s final active stop was WCW where he played the role of veteran. He ended his career teaming with Arn Anderson, being part of  Paul E. Dangerously’ Dangerous Alliance and winning the World Tag Team Championship. While he hadn’t lost a step promo wise, his age began to catch up to him in the ring. By 1993/1994, Larry stepped into semi-mostly retirement and used his promo skills for another career: commentating. (Think Jerry Lawler circa 2010)

Larry Zbyszko wasn’t the best commentator, but he certainly wasn’t the worst. He had his niche, he played Larry Zbyszko, a smarmy heel like guy who supported WCW in the fight against the NWO. He coined the comically disparaging nickname, New World Oder for the rogue group. Larry had his last great fight against the New World Order, challenging both Scott Hall and Eric Bischoff  to matches in 1997 and 1998.

Both Bischoff and Hall got the opportunity to step into Larryland, a term Zbyszko used for stepping into the ring with him. The phrase was so old-fashioned, silly and frankly bizarre that it got over. Fans could be heard wailing :LAAAAARRRRY at Zbyszko in what has to be the most annoying chant to exist before the dreaded “WHAT?!” chants.

what

While Larry wouldn’t be a first ballot inductee,  his status as multiple time World Champion (even from the AWA) makes him qualified. More 2015 heels should look at Larry’s work and learn from him when he visits the performance center. To be a heel is to be unlikable, Larry’s speciality. Expect him to give the best speech of the night at the 2015 Hall of Fame Ceremony.

On one final note, I am finally excited to talk about a wrestler in the 2015 class who doesn’t frustrate on some level. With 9 inductees, this is the biggest class since 2004, and it includes three terrible inductees and one deceased child….. Larry Zbyszko is the type of inductee who belongs in this Class….

That too

That too

 

Why 2015?

Larry Zybszko recently made peace and has come in regularly as an advisor at NXT. He has joined the WWE family and WWE likes to reward those who come back to the fold.

Plus every year lately have wanted to do a back to the fold candidate. 2013 was Bruno. 2014 was Warrior and even Roberts and Hall to a degree. 2015 is Alundra Blayze and Larry Zbyszko.

Opens Door For?

More outside World Champions who never were in WWE. Rick Martel should go in soon. Stan Hansen too. Perhaps Lex Luger or DDP from WCW. I agree with all these choices.

Reasons this shouldn’t have happened.

WWE instead of hitting all the possible categories for inductees in 2015 (and going with 9) decides to only do terrible ones. Gotta leave Larry off at that point.

WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2005: Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff

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Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff

Class of 2005

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Hall of Fame Rating

6 out of 10

Influential

 

Career Highlight

Orndorff almost had the WWF Championship multiple times. He never actually got due to well-known illness of being a heel against Hulk Hogan in the 1980s.

 

 

 

Why is he Hall of Fame Worthy?

Talent. Orndorff was good. He was a good wrestler and a good heel. He was an amalgamation of the bruiser stylings of Greg Valentine and the cunning wrestler in Ric Flair. He was, after all ,a throw back to the decade he learned in; a 197os style wrestler who was able to showcase his personality giving him a  very 80sfeel. Plus he was good at comedy, making him a strong player in 1980s WWF.

The 1980s was the decade that solidified the cool heel.  Previously, heels had generally fit into two categories: bullies, those who cheated and tried to take their opponents out ahead of time, or would use brass knuckles and monsters, controlled by a manager. You know the type, the ones who kept Captain Lou Albano employed.

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With Great talent comes…

The 80s gave us the brash upstart of a heel who claimed to be better than all and more specifically believed he was more of a man, especially in the looks and sex department. Ric Flair built a career out of this position. Gino Hernandez flourished with it in WCCW and Paul Orndorff personified it in mid 80s WWF.

Orndorff’s WWE character morphed into a real first for the organization. He was a talented wrestler, who could speak and could garner a response from the crowd, but he wasn’t necessarily evil. He was just insanely cocky. And he was just what the WWE needed as the first real world title feud of Hulk Hogan’s career. After Roddy Piper (whom Hogan never scored a pinfall victory over), Hogan needed another major foe (who wasn’t big and bulky and boring)

Sorry Guys

Sorry Guys

Cut to the most predictable turn in WWF from a modern point of view. The crowds of 1986 however, ate this stuff up. And a lot of that is due to the testament of Paul Orndorff.  His story was then mimicked in the Andre The Giant/Hulk Hogan story of 1987 and the Randy Savage feud in 1989. All of Hulk Hogan’s friends turned on him in the 80s. Must have been something he said.

Even Old Ladies Turn on Hulk Hogan

Even Old Ladies Turn on Hulk Hogan

His multiple Saturday Night’s Main Event appearances against Hogan gave the Hulkster a real adversary who not only might cheat to win but could very possibly out wrestle the champion. Paul Orndorff’s success helped pave the way for Rick Rude, Mr. Perfect, Shawn Michaels and many more. He proved that a villain could be a really good wrestler in the WWF and yet still be the villain.

If Orndorff existed today instead of the 1980s, he would be a multiple time world champion. His style, hard-nosed and nuanced as it was, is similar to Randy Orton. The list of WWF heels who deserved a run with the title is long: Piper, Perfect, Rude, & Dibiase all proved their ability to hold the title, but most didn’t get as close as Orndorff.

After 1987, WWF turned Orndorff face again (a face named Mr. Wonderful?) and he disappeared due to injury. This is the major reason for Wonderful’s stilted success. Orndorff had a serious arm injury and arm atrophy in 1987/1988 and he was forced to retire. As most wrestlers, it only kept him out the game for a few years (no one is ever retired until they are dead)

Just ask Mae Young

Just ask Mae Young

Orndorff returned a little forgotten and a little rusty to WCW in 1995.

Unfortunately for him, he real didn’t strike the cord in the southern wrestling promotion.

He did however have one of the greatest (see Weirdest Moment below) vignette’s in WCW’s history. It literally made no sense whatsoever and yet it strikingly watchable. It’s the Room of Pro Wrestling

Orndorff retired when in 1999, he injured himself doing his own move. See Orndorff was injuring himself in silly ways long before Kevin Nash. A real trailblazer.

I kid Mr. Wonderful. Anyone who can have this music is someone who will be remembered.

Fun Fact

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Paul Orndorff now looks insane.

Weirdest Moment:

 

This is both a catastrophe and amazing at the same time.

 

Why 2005?

 

After the Hall of Fame was reestablished in 2004, the next logical way class was a focus on Wrestlemania 1(excluding Mr. T). Orndorff’s role in the main event of that program means that he will always be part of the WWE lore. 2005 was the perfect time for his induction.

Opens Door For?

The late 80s WWF midcard. Many of his contemporaries went in during the same class.

Reasons this shouldn’t have happened.

orndorffhof

Kinda looked like a high school gym teacher at time of induction.

WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2014: Mr. T

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Mr. T

Class of 2014: Celebrity Inductee

 Pittier of Fools; Top  Five Most Important Celebrities in Wrestling History

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Hall of Fame Ranking

6 out of 10

Influential

In the history of WWE, there have been tons of celebrities. The Hall of Fame is littered with examples of one and done celebrity contributions (See William Perry). If a celebrity wing has to exist, none of these belong in the WWE Hall of Fame. There is a select group of true impact-full  outside figures. In WWE, the top  three are Mr. T, Cyndi Lauper and Mike Tyson (Andy Kaufman takes Tyson’s place if we count other promotions). Mr. T takes the top spot. He brought Wrestlemania to the next level.

It is simple. In 1985, Mr. T was hot stuff. Keep in mind, the landscape of the 1980s in entertainment was drastically different than today. Even with the advent of cable television, most had 35 channels maximum. Television was smaller, it hadn’t grown to the monstrosity it is today. Today, everyone is a star.

Meet these people... who are famous for...Fuckall...

Meet these people… who are famous for…Fuckall…

In 1985, Mr. T was in the middle of starring in the hit television show The A-Team with legit actor George Peppard, and Battlestar Galactica star Dirk Benedict. It was a legit gig. Comparable today might be working on House of Cards with Kevin Spacey. On top of that Mr. T, had finished up a breakout role in Rocky III as Clubber Lang and was riding high on his quest to super stardom. This is the man who had his own children’s cereal.

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Where the prize is more Mr. T

Mr T was  major popular star of a hit television show coming into the WWE and not only appearing, not only participating in an angle, but learning to and actually wrestling. (And not in the Seth Green  “Isn’t this funny”, kind of way) He actually fought and did a hip toss and a bodyslam.  When Mr. T did these things, he represented legitimization of wrestling as a form of entertainment. Hulk Hogan is credited (with the brain power of Vince McMahon) as being the face of the mainstream coming of age of wrestling. While Hogan is the face, the usher was Mr. T. Because of Mr. T, Hulk Hogan appeared on late night, he appeared on Saturday Night Live and he choked out Richard Beltzer.

It is common knowledge that Vince McMahon leveraged his home on Wrestlemania 1. The concept was to take the supershow, something which had been done for a couple of years in the form of Starrcade, and add glamour, glitz and legitimacy . In McMahon eyes, legitimacy meant celebrity and mainstream attention. His vision was to bring the eyes of the media on pro wrestling. And McMahon paid for that through his teeth.

Wrestlemania 1 had a ton of celebrities and those guys aren’t cheap. On top of Mr. T was Muhammad Ali, who had a special affinity for wrestling paychecks as he even appeared in Mid South seconding the Snow-Man. For real.

Add in Liberace, The Rockettes, Cyndi Lauper, and many many more and Vince bet it all on this show. This is why T’s participation is so key. The show needed the face of WWE to be Hulk Hogan and Celebrity. Mr. T made Hulk Hogan a celebrity to the point that even  today is the one wrestler that everyone, young or old, rich or poor knows. This is thanks to the doors opened by Mr. T.

The best part of his participation in the event is that Mr. T is one of only a few guys (back to that list again) who didn’t feel above the frey. When Floyd Mayweather wrestled, it was a gimmick, he didn’t even care. When Jeremy Piven jumped off the top rope we received Summer Fest. There is an unmistakable air about celebrities on WWE programming that almost says ” I know I’m better than this”. T was different. He joined the storyline. He complimented and become engulfed in a storyline, where he got beat up, allowed the heels to get heat and came back. He understood (or at least was willing to go along with) the way the business works. Vince took an idea which was perfected by Andy Kaufman (only celebrity willing to play heel) and WWFized it. T wasn’t a villain, but he was a representation of our hero. And he was good at it.

Mr. T’s character was perfect for Pro Wrestling. He is an absolute ridiculous caricature of a person. Him along with many others are the encapsulation of the 1980s. Ridiculous was king in the 80s. In the recent 80s Radio Shack commerical (with Hulk Hogan) the only missing element was Mr. T.

Mr. T also did one other thing that very few celebrities do. He continued with the organization for many years. The very next year, Mr. T took his rivalry with Roddy Piper to the next level in a one on one…boxing match? In a move which worked for none, the match ended in a DQ finish due to a body slam…

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Mr. T was such a character that he continued with WWE sporadically until 1987 when T wanted too much money for his level of stardom at the time. And that was that. Its always about the bucks and T’s induction might be related to a good payday. Regardless of why, he is inclusion is a must and a welcome, overdue move on the part of WWE. The fans are happy about this one.

regaldancing

Why 2014?

The money. T is in need of cash due to his legal troubles with his son. Plain and simple, WWE is smart. With, the 30th anniversary (29th damn it!)  Mr. T appeared in the Wrestlemania 1 main event. Hogan is back and now so is Mr. T. Regardless of why, his inclusion is welcome and awesome. 

Opens Door For?

 The other Top Three celebrities.. Next should be Cyndi Lauper and Andy Kaufman.

Reasons this shouldn’t have happened.

Mr. T might fight Roddy Piper as they legitimately don’t like each other.