Observer Hall of Fame Q&A: U.K. candidates with John Lister

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The Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame voting season has begun and today, we are looking at the U.K. candidates with historian and author John Lister.

The U.K. candidates are grouped with those representing Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, and Africa.

Last year, Mark “Rollerball” Rocco was within four votes of being added to the Hall of Fame and was the strongest candidate in this section. There are several that finished just above the 10% threshold where if they dip below that percentage, they will be removed from the ballot next year.

As a reminder, the criteria for inclusion into the Hall of Fame is 60% or higher votes from the given region, based on the following instructions:

Longevity should be a prime consideration rather than a hot two or three year run, unless someone is so significant as a trend-setter or a historical figure in the business, or valuable to the industry, that they need to be included.  However, just longevity without being either a long-term main eventer, a top draw and/or a top caliber in-ring performer should be seen as relatively meaningless.

Below are the candidates from this section of the ballot along with 2021 performances:

Rollerball Mark Rocco (58%)
Johnny Saint (45%)
George Kidd (43%)
Big Daddy (39%)
Dominic DeNucci (36%)
Jackie Pallo (34%)
Billy Joyce (28%)
Jose Tarres (19%)
Ricki Starr (19%)
Otto Wanz (18%)
Adrian Street (18%)
Spyros Arion (16%)
Kendo Nagasaki (13%)
L’Ange Blanc (12%)
Killer Karl Kox (12%)
The Royal Brothers (added to the ballot)

John Lister is the author of several terrific books including Turning the Tables: The Story of Extreme Championship, and Have a Good Week…Till Next Week profiling the most influential wrestling figures in U.K. history.

Here is our Q&A with John about this year’s candidates in the section:

How long have you been a voter and how do you view this version of the Hall of Fame in terms of importance for one’s career to be included?

I’ve been voting since 2009. Other halls may have more prestige in terms of the ceremony and the public nature of being honored, but there’s something special about being voted in by a mix of current and former wrestlers, journalists, and historians with their differing perspectives.

Who is the strongest candidate among the Europe/Australia/New Zealand/Pacific Islands/Africa section on the ballot this year, and why?

I can only really speak to the UK candidates, but George Kidd seems to be the overlooked candidate who is closest to the full criteria and where those criteria interact. Both anecdotal evidence and the nature of the venues he regularly headlined suggest he was a genuine draw, despite being a lightweight wrestler. His in-ring work was highly regarded and a key part of his box office appeal rather than just being a charismatic personality or having an outstanding presence. He was a genuine mainstream celebrity in his area. And his ring style was hugely influential and is arguably the root of the mix of fast-paced mat work, reversal, and tricks that are often described as the “World of Sport” or “British” style (even though it was one of many different styles in the UK.)

How do you feel this specific section is represented and is it the toughest category for a figure to be elected from?

It’s difficult in a couple of ways. Firstly, very few voters have the knowledge to compare the different areas and they had very different setups, styles, and business models. That means you really need to stand out among voters in one area to get over the line in this category. (There’s also a bit of a logjam with a split between people who will always vote for Big Daddy and people who will always vote for other British wrestlers, making it very hard for either side to get 60%) 

Secondly, the nature of the British set-up, with up to 15 shows a night (plus a healthy independent scene) in an area and population comparable to the old WWWF territory makes it very hard for individual wrestlers to stand out in the same way as a US territory headliner. In particular, the oft-cited idea of a 10,000 crowd as a drawing metric simply doesn’t work in the UK given the available arenas, the business model, and the wider culture of entertainment events only targeting people living within a few miles.

Who is on your shortlist among the non-wrestler category that you feel has the strongest resumes for inclusion?

I can see an argument for Ted Turner simply on historical influence, though it would be bizarre to induct somebody who probably spent less than five percent of their career even thinking about wrestling. If Stardom continues to grow, I can see a case for Rossy Ogawa.

How do you feel about the changes to the process this year with added votes and the inclusion of several tag teams where one member may already be part of the Hall of Fame?

Extra votes make sense given a large number of candidates and having a limit per category should reduce the risk of people simply flooding the ballot by voting for everyone they like. The tag team change definitely makes sense, though it’s not always a clear line on how you assess a tag team, particularly in the UK where tag teams were a big thing for a period, most wrestlers went back and forth between singles and tags from night to night rather than specializing in one or the other. The Royal Brothers are a prime example as if you take the entire careers of Bert Royal and Vic Faulkner, they are extremely strong candidates, but if you only count their tag matches it’s a much weaker case.

John Lister’s book reviews can be found at Pro Wrestling Books and he also contributes at ITV Wrestling. Follow him @JohnLister.