A sold-out crowd flocked to the Smoothie King Center on Saturday night for the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony on the eve of WrestleMania XXX — a ceremony that provoked apparently genuine emotion as former stars with sometimes fraught relationships with the industry were honored for their achievements in “sports entertainment.”
The Ultimate Warrior, a star in the late 1980s and early ’90s, was known for his bodybuilder physique and his energy, typified by his frenetic rush to the ring. But he is remembered by fans for his sometimes antagonistic dealings with the WWE, which he referenced as he was inducted, despite recently signing on as an ambassador with the company.
Warrior — now his legal name — defeated Hulk Hogan in WrestleMania VI, but he had a reputation for being hard to work with. This was documented in a 2005 WWE DVD, “Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior.” He spent much of his speech trying to refute that portrayal.
“I was a good guy. I am a good guy,” he said during a lengthy speech that also was deeply appreciative of the moment, including nostalgia for the wrestling life.
“I miss that,” he said, and he wasn’t alone. The ceremony was a love letter to the industry and the camaraderie built upon a life of constant travel and wrestling bouts.
Like everything in the WWE, the ceremony was partly geared toward the diehard fans in the arena and the audience at home, watching on the fledgling WWE network.
Current and past WWE superstars in black tie and divas in formal gowns sat in the well-lit first six rows, with fans filling the rest of the seats. The audience members were hardly passive observers, though, breaking out into familiar WWE chants throughout the ceremony.
When the crowd urged the Ultimate Warrior, “One more match,” he answered, “No, no, no, no.” That prompted the audience to quickly respond with the “Yes! Yes! Yes!” chant of current crowd favorite Daniel Bryan.
WWE superstar Kane (Glenn Jacobs) remembered driving to matches in the late ’90s with his in-ring manager, posthumous inductee Paul Bearer, while ’90s star and inductee Razor Ramon recalled how his life could be a mess but he felt powerful and in control once he stepped through the backstage curtains to approach the ring.
Inductee Jake “The Snake” Roberts sounded the most emotional moments of the night. He was a 1980s star in the WWE, but he was last seen by many fans a couple of decades later in videos of him appearing drunk at independent shows. He spoke without a script about growing up hating professional wrestling because his father was a wrestler and was often absent.
“I did the same thing,” Roberts said, then talked about the excitement of working a crowd’s emotions and the pain of life after wrestling — which eventually led him to drinking and drugs.
“It hurts because I can’t play anymore,” he said tearfully.
The night’s most dramatic speech was followed by its most bizarre moment, when a little person in a bull costume ran onstage to ram emcee Jerry “The King” Lawler in the groin.
Celebrity inductee Mr. T, who was a part of the first two WrestleManias, then spent more than 20 minutes praising his mother, sometimes in incredibly unusual terms. “Her urinary tract had to work for two” when she was carrying him before he was born, he said.
Unlike the Academy Awards, the WWE doesn’t have a musical cue to let speakers know when they’ve gone on too long, so Kane walked onstage to let Mr. T know his time was up.
The response to the induction of Carlos Colon was generally muted, largely because Colon’s heyday was in the 1970s and he didn’t wrestle in the WWE. Instead, he organized professional wrestling in Puerto Rico and brought many of the company’s stars to Puerto Rico.
The night’s simplest pleasures came during the induction of Lita, who in the 2000s was one of the most athletic and acrobatic divas, as WWE calls its female performers. She was inducted by her in-ring rival Trish Stratus, who referred to her throughout as “Amy,” a reference to Lita’s real name, Amy Dumas.
Dumas recalled getting into wrestling by going to Mexico in search of its “Lucha Libre” matches. The rollicking tale ended with Dumas toasting current superstar Rey Mysterio and retired pro wrestler Arn Anderson, both of whom were important to her career.
It was a look at life behind the sports entertainment curtain, and she credited an unusual source for her success.
“The punk rock scene told me I could do what I want to do and be what I want to be,” she said.