Reported by Ryan Droste of WrestleView.com
On Monday, July 17, 2006 at 1:30 AM EST
Wrestling Legends Gather in the Heartland for a Memorable, Emotional Experience
By: Ryan Droste (www.wrestleview.com)
One of the hottest days of the year to date helped ring in the most star-studded George Tragos / Lou Thesz Hall of Fame Ceremony ever, Saturday in Newton, Iowa.
Well over 100 people packed the small pro wrestling wing of the International Wrestling Institute and Museum, with many more outside the door, for the 11:00 am inductions of Bob Roop, Larry Hennig, Mike DiBiase (accepted by Ted DiBiase), Dork Funk Sr. (accepted by Terry Funk), Tom Jenkins (accepted by a relative) and Bret Hart. Nikita Koloff was also in attendance to be awarded the Frank Gotch Award for 2006.
The room was the only in the museum which did not have air conditioning, so the induction speeches were short as the temperature reached almost unbearable levels and the sweat poured off all in attendance. All of the inductees, and those accepting the induction for their deceased relatives, expressed their gratitude and explained how much the honors meant to them.
Larry Hennig gave the most emotional speech of the day, breaking down crying when mentioning his son Curt Hennig at the end of his speech. The crowd reacted with the longest sustained applause of any of the inductees in honor of Larry and Curt.
Hart took his induction plaque last, much to the delight of numerous fans in attendance who were clad in "Hitman" apparel. As compared to his WWE Hall of Fame induction earlier this year, Hart told the audience, "This is a much bigger honor for me."
For those unaware of the qualifications that must be met for induction into the Tragos/Thesz Pro Hall of Fame (the first pro wrestling hall of fame to have a facitility to honor its inductees), the wrestler inducted must have a strong amateur or "real" wrestling background. Exceptions are made at times in order to honor someone whom the board deems "very special." The Frank Gotch Award, which was awarded to Koloff this year, is given to a pro wrestler who "has brought recognition and honor to the sport either by his work as a wrestler or by his work outside of the ring."
Later on Sunday evening, a banquet was held for the inductees at a nearby hotel (which interestingly enough, also failed to have working air conditioning). All of the inductees again spoke, and other pro and amateur wrestling legends were in attendance including Dan Hodge, Verne Gagne, Baron Von Raschke, Gene LeBell, Tom Drake, Mad Dog Vachon and Dan Gable (whom the museum will be renamed after when it moves to the much larger city of Waterloo, Iowa this fall).
DiBiase, the only current regular WWE employee in attendance, noted again what a huge honor it was to be in attendance for his step-fathers induction, and he remarked that he felt like he was "at home."
Harley Race gave a warm and humorous speech, introducing his long time friend Larry Hennig. Before Hennig could come to the microphone following that, one of his daughters also gave a very heartfelt and emotional speech to introduce him. Hennig, who brought 40 members of his family down from Minnesota for the weekend in a tour bus, had one of the more memorable quotes when he looked over at Gagne during his speech and joked, "I thought Verne (Gagne) was in Washington for a gay rights parade." He followed that up by leading the crowd in a sing-along to the song “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands."
Hart capped off the evening with his speech. He again remarked that this hall of fame induction meant much more to him than the WWE induction earlier this year, and he told a couple of stories about his late father Stu which the crowd really enjoyed. An emotional Hart remarked (looking at the Hennig family directly in front of him) that he felt as though he was standing here for some of the wrestlers whom had passed away and couldn't do so.
The evening was capped off by director Mike Chapman announcing a few of the inductees for next year (the rest will soon be announced on the museum's website, wrestlingmuseum.org). Chapman announced that both Stu Hart and Curt Hennig will be inducted into the hall of fame next year in Waterloo, which drew loud applause from the crowd. He also announced that Ted DiBiase would be receiving the Frank Gotch Award next year.
It was a memorable day in Iowa that is for sure. The banquet in particular was a great experience with past inductees, current inductees and other legends of the business all in attendance. It seems as though this yearly event is going to turn into a reunion of sorts (similar to the Cauliflower Alley banquet) for many of the legends of the professional wrestling business to all get together in one place. Maybe next year for Curt's induction, Larry Hennig will bring 80 members of the Hennig family down. One thing is for certain, all of them would be more than welcome.
(For exclusive photographs from the induction ceremony, as well as the banquet, CLICK HERE)