Bull Nakano is in the WWE Hall of Fame

The tweet was 13 minutes old the first time it was sent to me. Within an hour, multiple friends and followers were either enquiring after my welfare or congratulating me on a lifetime of service. On 6 March 2024, 27 years after her retirement, Triple H announced that Bull Nakano, my favourite professional wrestler of all time, would finally be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Whether it’s true that this is the first Hall of Fame class decided entirely by Triple H – and, frankly, whether it’s true that WWE is running out of women with whom it is on good enough terms to induct – adding Bull does suggest a change in approach. I’d like to think it means Papa Hunter finally read the highly persuasive argument I wrote on this topic seven years ago, and this would have happened sooner if only the right people had found it earlier.

It also reflects changes in the wrestling landscape. Seven years ago, Bull was not making occasional appearances on indie shows in the US or reading the certificates at her friend Kyoko Inoue’s DIANA shows. Asuka had not won the inaugural women’s Royal Rumble, paving the way for everything she, Kairi Sane and Iyo Sky have achieved since making the move from Japan to work in the Fed. Meiko Satomura hadn’t made her seismic-feeling move to NXT UK, never to be seen again. Things change.

The Hall of Fame has always been about creating a lineage of women stretching back through WWE history. It usually means recognising their achievements to cover for how badly they and their sisters were treated. In the year when Iyo, flanked by the Kabuki Warriors, will walk into WrestleMania as champion, it makes perfect sense that WWE would flesh out a lineage for its current crop of dominant Japanese wrestlers.

Never mind the blatant racism you’ll hear if you watch any of Bull’s matches with the sound on. Forget the company’s endless failures with Asian representation in general. Definitely don’t think about Jim Ross having to explain that some people watch porn featuring Asian women so that Vince McMahon would believe Gail Kim was worth pushing. WWE: we’ve always appreciated them, honest.

Women’s wrestling has evolved in other ways that have fans looking back to Bull and her peers. We’re in an era that welcomes the female hoss. Nia Jax has made a comeback, seemingly without causing many major injuries. She can stand across the ring from the 6-foot Raquel Rodriguez, who can square up to dominant champion Rhea Ripley, who can challenge the freak athlete Bianca Belair. One of the biggest pops in this year’s Rumble was Belair’s staredown with the big new signing, Jade Cargill.

Each of these women owes more to Bull than to Alundra Blayze, and women who already form part of that lineage acknowledge it: last time she worked a match, Hall of Famer Beth Phoenix wore Bull Nakano’s trademark face paint.

Beth Phoenix wears Bull Nakano-style face paint in her mixed tag match with Edge against Judgment Day in 2023.

Bull is an obvious addition to the foundations of WWE’s women’s division. She and her feud with Blayze were also the most successful products of a working agreement between the Fed and AJW, which saw people like Aja Kong, Chaparita Asari and others coming in from Japan essentially to provide opponents for Blayze. While WWE has a history of working agreements with Japanese promotions – albeit mostly short-lived – and there have been rumours of the Fed exploring closer relationships with Japanese companies in the past few years, it’s one of the few areas in which it is comprehensively outdone.

AEW capitalises on the Japanese connections that WWE can’t. The Fed can sign individual talents with the promise of exclusivity; its younger rival has made champions of Hikaru Shida and Riho, brought Yuka Sakazaki and Emi Sakura to the casual English-speaking fan, and given Mei Suruga a chance to be a goblin on TV without completely taking them away from their home promotions or freelance gigs. By enabling them to take new fans back to those companies, it’s helping to stimulate interest in joshi in the English-speaking world.

It’s well documented Tony Khan doesn’t seem to know or care about booking more than one women’s match a week, so that effect may not be deliberate. But exploiting and catalysing Japanese wrestling’s popularity with ‘hardcore’ fans in the West is absolutely part of the business model. Just look at Forbidden Door, the crossover event with New Japan Pro Wrestling that takes its name from the fact it was thought impossible.

Interpromotional working agreements have always been part of the wrestling landscape. When WWE brought in Bull Nakano, that relationship existed to paper over the cracks in its booking. Now, when AEW is using its connections to grow its audience worldwide – and has even managed to tempt Kazuchika Okada away from NJPW – WWE doesn’t have an answer, except to remind the world that it was using generational Japanese talent first.

In a sense, WWE’s Hall of Fame is worthless. It’s a corporate publicity stunt, full of self-aggrandising fluff to position the company as the centre of the wrestling universe and to make up for, or obfuscate, its many mistakes. But in wrestling we have this thing called kayfabe. The Hall of Fame can only fulfil that function if it tries to appear legit, and no serious attempt to tell the story of professional wrestling, or even of WWE, is complete without Bull Nakano.

Thanks for putting her in the Hall of Fame, Hunter. And if you really care, try inducting more than one woman per year.

Author: Sarah Parkin

Sarah never really got over finding out that The Undertaker and Kane aren't really brothers. Now she spends her time telling anyone who will listen that Bull Nakano should be in the Hall of Fame. When she grows up, she wants to be Lita.

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