Review of 'Class of 2008, Hall of Fame Induction' in Waterloo, IA (6/28)

Reported by Adam Martin of
On Sunday, June 29, 2008 at 4:13 PM EST

Class of 2008 - George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Induction
Location: Waterloo, Iowa
Date: June 28, 2008
Report By: Adam Martin of

I had the opportunity to attend yesterday's "Class of 2008 - George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame" induction ceremony in Waterloo, Iowa. The ceremony featured the inductions of "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, Stu Hart, Penny Banner, Abe Jacobs, Masaniro Saito, Ray Gunkel and Leo Nomellini.

I would first like to thank the staff at the International Wrestling Institue and Museum in Waterloo including Mike Chapman and Kyle Klingman for allowing tons of access to this event on Saturday afternoon. It was greatly appreciated.

The event itself ended up taking place at the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center (two blocks away from the museum) as a result of the damaging floods to the museum earlier this month. T-shirts were being sold for donations for the museum that will need to be completely remodeled after the flood caused a great amount of damage to the building (a photo of the flooding can be seen at this link). Donations can be made at this link.

The inductions were set to kick off around 11:00 a.m. on Saturday afternoon, but didn't actually begin until just before Noon as a few of the inductees (Piper and Hart) didn't show up until around 40 minutes afterwards. Piper, sporting sunglasses, appeared to be nursing a hangover and you could tell that Bret was having some fun with him in front of the viewing crowd.

You could tell a majority of the crowd was there for Piper and Hart, although some wrestling greats and past Hall of Famers were in the crowd as well. Those that were included Harley Race, Larry Hennig, Nikita Koloff and various others.

The living inductees for the ceremony included Roddy Piper, Abe Jacobs and Masa Saito accepting plaques before giving their respective speeches. Pam Gunkel and Bret Hart accepted the induction for their fathers Ray Gunkel and Stu Hart, while Wendi Weaver accepted the "Frank Gotch Award" on behalf of her late mother Penny Banner. The Jim Melby Award for excellence in pro wrestling journalism was awarded to authors Greg Oliver and Steven Johnson. Father Jason Sanderson was also given the Lou Thesz Award by Thesz's widow Charlie.

Pam Gunkel's speech for her father was kept short as she had to leave to get on a flight back to Atlanta I believe. Leo Nomellini was unable to have anyone present on his behalf, so a moment of silence and round of applause was held for the crowd. Wendi Weaver gave a great speech about her mother Penny and how she is starting to realize her impact on the industry. Father Jason Sanderson's speech about doing work in the Congo and how everyone in that region knew what wrestling was spoke volumes about the business. Abe Jacobs gave a very respectful speech and had the line of the day stating, "Could you picture a world without wrestling? I can't." Masa Saito was limited in his speech saying a few english words and apologizing for being so mean to American wrestlers over the years, which got a laugh from the crowd.

Bret Hart's speech inducting his legendary father Stu Hart was also very well done. Bret spoke about the influence Stu had on him as a child and how wrestling was always apart of his life. He joked about how guys who looked like Chippendales dancers would show up at the Hart house wanting to learn how to wrestle and how Stu would get a big grin and bring them down to the dungeon immediately. Bret spoke about the respect Stu had for amateur wrestling and how he would also ask how guys like Scotty Steiner were doing when they would visit. In closing, Bret mentioned how important this honor was to his father and to his family and that it was an honor to induct his father into this hall of fame.

In what was the highlight of the day, Roddy Piper's speech brought everyone to their feet in a standing ovation for the Hot Rod. Piper seemed very touched by the reception he received from the crowd and made it known that if it wasn't for wrestling fans that none of this would be possible. Piper thanked and pointed out numerous individuals from his past that were in attendance including Red Bastien and Larry Hennig. He shared a funny story about Lord Alfred Hayes slapping him upside the head when Piper was asked by a promoter how his match went. Piper told the promoter it wasn't all that good and Hayes slapped him upside the head saying, "Never tell a promoter you had a bad match. They never see the match since they are in the back counting the money!"

Overall, it was a very enjoyable day and I'm told something very interesting took place at the banquet later that night involving Bret Hart and Slam Wrestling's Greg Oliver. We should have a report up about that shortly as's Ryan Droste (who attended the festivities all day) saw it up close and personal.