The Hall of Fame is a crock of shit, right? That’s what the ‘smarks’ always say. It’s a marketing tool; it draws mainstream attention; you either get inducted because Vince likes you, or because the company wants to show off that it’s no longer feuding with you.
Any or all of this might be true. If you want a more objective picture of the stars who built the pro wrestling industry, there’s always the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame. Uncle Dave knows all, after all. But among the names in that hallowed pantheon that don’t appear in the WWE version, there has always been one that wounds me.
Bull Nakano is not in the WWE Hall of Fame, and that is a travesty.
It’s hardly surprising that she’s in Meltzer’s Hall of Fame. Nakano was a huge star in All Japan Women’s Wrestling (AJW) throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, which means that some of her greatest matches happened in front of tens of thousands of fans at a time when it could reasonably lay claim to being the best promotion in the world. She worked in Japan, Mexico and the US, becoming the first ever women’s champion in Mexico’s oldest promotion, CMLL. She gained a wealth of experience that helped her become not just one of the best wrestlers in the world at the time, but someone who can comfortably claim to be one of the greatest in history. Then she retired and became a professional golfer, because why not?
I’m not here to lay down a biography, though I could if there were enough hours in the day. The match above took place when Bull was 22 years old and already a seven-year veteran of the wrestling business. Her body of work stands as testament to her talent. But she’s an absolute no-brainer for the WWE Hall of Fame, this year more than ever.
The past two ceremonies saw Jacqueline and Alundra Blayze receive their inductions. With the exception of Sunny (the so-called ‘First Diva’), these were the first two public acknowledgements that women’s wrestling happened in the long gap between the 1980s – key period for inductees Moolah, Wendi Richter and Sensational Sherri – and Trish Stratus and Lita in the 2000s.
Now, the 1990s were not exactly a good time for women’s wrestling: there were gravy bowls, bra and panties matches and The Kat getting her boobs out on pay-per-view. But at a time when WWE has been consciously trying to develop women’s wrestling (I hear there’s some history being made– have they mentioned it?) it makes sense to start building a sense of continuity between these two periods. The company has to focus on the women who could actually wrestle and who carried the torch into the long, dark night of the Attitude Era.
Alundra Blayze was by far the biggest name in the women’s division of the mid-90s. In terms of in-ring talent, there was barely anyone in the company who could keep up with her at her peak. When WWE started bringing in female performers from Japan who would never have dreamed of fighting in an evening gown, she took the opportunity and ran with it. Her biggest rival was Bull Nakano.
This was the best women’s match WWE had ever done up to that point (except for maybe a couple of the Jumping Bomb Angels’ tag matches). It’s also one of the matches which is used heavily in the promotional materials the company uses for Blayze – to a lot of viewers whose only exposure to wrestling was weekly episodes of Raw, this feud basically was women’s wrestling. Nakano was crucial to Blayze’s success. If one is in the Hall of Fame, the other should be too. There’s even somebody there to induct her, for crying out loud.
Though her run in WWE was relatively short compared to her ‘storied career’, to use a Hall of Fame video package cliché, it made a massive impact. There are inductees who spent far less of their careers in the States than she did: think of Antonio Inoki or Tatsumi Fujinami. If the cocaine use which got her fired from the company is a potential barrier, consider the crimes of which people like Jimmy Snuka were accused. Her standing with the company is no better than that of anyone else with whom they’ve built bridges, and it’s certainly no worse.
There’s no doubt that she played a huge role in wrestling history, but it’s her impact on the performers of today that should cement her place in the Hall of Fame. First, there’s the small matter of one of the company’s most marketable talents adapting her finisher and citing her as an important influence.
That’s the tip of the iceberg. Though Nakano’s name isn’t often mentioned by WWE performers, the influence of her and her peers can be seen everywhere. Women’s wrestling in WWE is going to places it has never reached before. Among all the tapes stored for Performance Center viewing, there won’t be many women’s matches from the US that reach the levels of aggression, pace, psychology and skill that we’re beginning to take for granted. Today’s main event-level matches have far more in common with mid-90s Japan than they do with Mae Young and Moolah (thankfully).
To induct a star who looked and worked like Nakano would provide a genealogy for the monster heels of the division. She put on substantial weight to play her in-ring character, lost it after retirement, then put 80lbs back on again so she could look like her character at her retirement ceremony years later. If Kharma isn’t going in, who else is the obvious forebear of Nia Jax? It’s basically Bull and Bertha Faye, both of whom proved that women who don’t fit the WWE template could still kick ass and have exciting careers. She would also be a welcome addition to the tiny ranks of non-white Hall of Famers at a time when issues of diversity and representation are so pressing, Asuka is knocking on the door of something special, and WWE is clearly making a concerted effort to grow its market share in Japan.
Her significance in the history of women’s wrestling is obvious. The benefits of putting her in the Hall of Fame for business and public relations are apparent. Yet I think, to me, it’s about more than that. To me, Bull Nakano is an eternal badass who attacked everything she did with conviction. She took ownership of her body and wore her weight like a suit of armour. She gave no fucks what anyone had to say about the choices that she made, and that’s the greatest lesson I could learn from her. That’s what I want to be.
Put her in the Hall of Fame, Vince. And if you really care, try inducting more than one woman per year.