THE RICH HISTORY OF AN INDEPENDENT WRESTLING HALL OF FAME CONTINUES IN PITTSBURGH
by Trapper Tom Leturgey
When “Big Bully” Nick Busick climbed into the ring at the Keystone State Wrestling Alliance (KSWA) in Pittsburgh on Saturday, December 3, prolific wrestling journalist Bill Apter stood, completely unaware as to what was going on.
Apter had held the microphone, ready to interview Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat in front of more than 500 fans at KSWA FanFest/Toy Drive 2016. He was interrupted, and Busick was posed to deliver a surprise.
Since 2008, the KSWA has inducted wrestlers and personalities with a keen connection to Pittsburgh, Western Pennsylvania and its region into its Hall of Fame. Apter, a native of New York and resident of eastern Pennsylvania, has an unquestioned influence that transcends geography. In the weeks leading up to FanFest, it was announced that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf had sent a letter of congratulations to Apter for his body of work in and out of the ring.
Weirton, West Virginia’s Busick, a 2015 inductee into the KSWA Hall of Fame, did the honors and inducted his friend Apter as the first member of the Pittsburgh Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame for 2017. The honor was punctuated with a proclamation from Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, a noted and all-time fan of professional wrestling dating back to the hey days of Bruno Sammartino and Dominic DeNucci. December 3, 2016 was deemed “Bill Apter Day” in the city of Pittsburgh.
The selection of Apter for the KSWA Hall of Fame was a no-brainer for the KSWA Championship Committee; however, the induction must be historic for another reason altogether.
The Keystone State Wrestling Alliance might conduct the longest-running, continuous, and most important Hall of Fame ceremony in Independent wrestling.
[This analysis is separate from the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum, now headquartered in Wichita, Texas. The PWHF was sustained by Tony Vellano in Amsterdam, New York for many years, is the only “brick and mortar” Hall of Fame in professional wrestling. Online-only wrestling Hall of Fames were also not considered. The George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, and Dan Gable Hall of Fame ceremonies were not included, as none are actual wrestling promotions.]
When professional wrestling Halls of Fame are discussed, mentioned or debated, the talk focuses almost entirely on that of the WWE, or World Wrestling Entertainment. Despite the fact that the WWE currently has no physical location for its Hall of Fame, its induction class is always a hot topic in the weeks leading up to Wrestlemania.
Since its (video-only) inception in 1993, there have been 147 individuals inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame (Andre the Giant was the first), which also includes 10 groups, nine celebrities (including President-Elect Donald Trump), two “Warrior” inductees and seven “Legacy” inductees. (Even the WWE has not run continuously since 1993. The WWE Hall of Fame took a lengthy break from 1997 to 2004.)
Rival WCW had its own Hall of Fame induction a few months later in 1993 and they had an actual event, at the Omni in Atlanta, Georgia. Lou Thesz, Verne Gagne and Mr. Wrestling II were the first inductees.
A recent incarnation of the NWA began its own Hall of Fame in 2005, with Lou Thesz, Harley Race, Sam Muchnick, Jim Barnett, Gordon Solie and Jim Cornette making up that first Class. Since it started, the NWA HOF has inducted 87 members, 45 posthumously. Although the NWA continues to operate primarily through a series of regional independent promotions, for most in the industry the brand lost its luster in the 1980’s. It is uncertain how the NWA honors its modern Hall of Fame inductees.
World of Wrestling Online features a list of “Top Independent Promotions” (of which the KSWA is one), and none of the others have easy-to-find Hall of Fames that compare or compete with Pittsburgh’s
Those findings don’t in any way mean that the KSWA had the first Independent Wrestling Hall of Fame. That distinction easily goes to The East Coast Wrestling Association (ECWA), which has been in operation as an Indy Fed for nearly 50 years. ECWA is headquartered in Newark, Delaware.
According to online records, its first Hall of Fame ceremony has held in 1982, with an initial class that consisted of: Red Devil, Jim Kettner, Super Smenkowski, Tiny Tom, Captain Tom (manager), George Koukedis (announcer), and Mike Schroeder (referee). Until 2001, the annual ECWA Hall of Fame inductions were entirely a list of local product, from referees, ring crew members, announcers, managers, and wrestlers. There were six members of the ECWA Class of 1985 Hall of Fame. It contained two managers and a referee and three wrestlers. Christopher Daniels was the first recognizable name to the wrestling masses. In 2001, he, Reckless Youth and Crowbar shared the honor with a member of the technical staff. ECWA stopped its Hall of Fame in 2013. While the numbers of inductees and length of inductions are impressive, the pure number of fringe staffers on the list makes it a bit disingenuous. The company enjoys its 50th year in business in 2017.
Most of the well-established federations with commitments to the Hall of Fame concept have either fallen by the wayside, or have not held continuous Hall of Fame ceremonies. Below are just a few of the scores of promotions that have at least attempted a Hall of Fame.
The Raleigh, North Carolina-based Southern Championship Wrestling initiated its own Hall of Fame, starting in 1997. The inaugural class included Jimmy Valiant and Wahoo McDaniel. Greg Mosorjak, who has long managed and/or wrestled as Count Grog, was himself inducted in 2001 (the last year of the SCW Hall of Fame). SCW boasted 14 members of the Hall of Fame. Mosorjak has since helmed GOUGE (Gimmicks Only Underground Grappling Entertainment) since April, 2006, but it has not established a Hall of Fame.
In Tennessee, The Kingsport Wrestling Hall of Fame (also known as the East Tennessee Wrestling Hall of Fame) is associated with the Kingsport-based promotion Southern States Wrestling (SWW). According to Wikipedia, “It was established in 1999 to honor select personalities in East Tennessee wrestling history. The induction ceremonies are held as part of its annual ‘Weekend of Champions and Legends Reunion’.” In 1999, Sam Bass, a manager, was the first inductee. He was inducted along with Jim White, who wrestled as Jerry “The King” Lawler’s tag team partner during his in-ring career. It’s also interesting to note that Brownsville, PA’s Bill Eadie was inducted in that initial class in 1999 as The Masked Superstar. The Kingsport Wrestling Hall of Fame closed in 2008 after 20 inductees.
Philadelphia-based CZW began its Hall of Fame in 2004 with Lobo and Nick Mondo as the first inductees. It does not have annual inductees, but had one—Drake Younger—in 2016.
Lowell, Massachusetts-based Chaotic Wrestling Hall of Fame is maintained by Chaotic Wrestling (CW). It was established in 2006 to honor wrestlers, such as the first inductee—Luis Ortiz—who have wrestled for the promotion. CW’s HOF ran sporadically, and ended in 2015 after only eight inductees.
The St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame is an anomaly. It doesn’t hold events, but it is the only regional Hall of Fame ceremony in which fans are a part of the voting process. It began in 2007 with Penny Banner (the only woman found to be a part of an initial class), King Kong (Bruiser) Brody, Dick the Bruiser and Ric Flair. The St. Louis Hall of Fame ended in 2014 with Ted DiBiase as one of the final inductees.
The New England Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame and Fan Fest from Seekonk, Massachusetts, began in 2008 with 26 members of its first class. Since that time there have been 130 inductees into the Hall of Fame. It did not have a ceremony in 2016.
Unless there is an Independent federation in the United States that left a longer, more indelible mark, that leaves Pittsburgh’s KSWA as the longest-running, continuous and most important promotion with a Hall of Fame.
The Keystone State Wrestling Alliance (KSWA) in Pittsburgh began its Hall of Fame in 2008 with Frank Durso and Joe Abby (posthumously) as part of a Memorial Tournament in Abby’s name. Both Durso and Abby were integral parts of “Studio Wrestling” the Pittsburgh wing of the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) that was an institution from 1959-1974.
In 2009, Western Pennsylvania native Bill Eadie was the lone inductee into the KSWA/Pittsburgh Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame. The KSWA Hall of Fame is unique in that it always stuck with wrestlers and personalities with local ties. Donna Christiantello, most likely the most important female wrestler to ever hail from Western Pennsylvania, became the first woman inductee in 2010.
With governmental recognition and events before capacity crowds, the KSWA Hall of Fame is the most recognized Independent Wrestling Hall of Fame in the industry and in 2012, Bruno Sammartino made his final independent wrestling stop at the KSWA. Apter is the 24th member of the KSWA/Pittsburgh Hall of Fame.