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Analyzing the 2020 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame Using Award Shares

Voting for the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame has opened, with the voting expected to close in November. Voting is rarely discussed in depth by the voters, and any kind of statistical analysis specific to this Hall of Fame or professional wrestling in general is rarely, if ever, done.

You can look at the data I used for this here.

An award share is a statistical measure used to compare the careers of players. It’s often used as a rule of thumb to evaluate a player’s candidacy for his or her sport’s hall of fame.

It’s calculated by taking the number of points in a voting a candidate received and dividing it by the maximum number of points any one person could receive in the voting for an award – the number of points awarded for a first place vote, multiplied by the number of ballots cast. If a candidate were to receive all of the first place votes cast for an award, that person would receive a 1.0 for that year’s voting. Since awards of this nature are rarely given unanimously, the winner of an award often does not get a full 1.0 share.

In 2019, Giannis Antetokounmpo won the NBA MVP. He received 941 points. There were 101 ballots cast, with first place on a ballot being worth ten points. So, Giannis’ MVP share for the 2018-19 season would be 941/(101*10), or 0.932.

The Wrestling Observer Newsletter (WON) awards are voted upon by subscribers to the Newsletter, primarily written by Dave Meltzer. Wrestling is unique, compared with MLB and the NBA, due to the presence of multiple promotions and the lack of a single oversight body. As such, there’s very few avenues for “real” awards that cover the global wrestling scene.

Additionally, the presence of a professional wrestling hall of fame is complicated by the multitude of wrestling promotions and, often, their temporary existence. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame fills this gap. Rather than being voted on by fans, it’s voted on by historians, journalists, and current and former performers themselves. Voters are asked to restrict themselves to areas of the world that they are familiar with, so a lack of knowledge in (say) lucha libre will not negatively impact the candidacy of those primarily famous for their work in Mexico.

The WON awards include a number of different voting areas.  I’ve chosen to focus on three: the Wrestler of the Year award (also known as the Lou Thesz/Ric Flair award), the Most Outstanding Wrestler, and the Tag Team of the Year. The third award is clear in what it’s meant for. Tag teams are often not the central point of a promotion, although there have been historical exceptions, but they can on occasion be difference makers in the industry. The Thesz/Flair award is meant to award a wrestler for being the best in the combination of match quality and importance at the box office – it’s equivalent to a MVP award that considers all aspect of the industry. The Most Outstanding award focuses on match quality, which is an important aspect of the industry but it is not the only one.

Generally speaking, the WON Hall of Fame considers “length of time in the industry, historical significance, ability to attract viewers, and wrestling ability.” Eligibility requires 15 years in the business or an age of 35 or up with 10 years in the business. 60% of the votes cast from those voting for the wrestler’s geographic region is required for induction.

Wrestler of the Year

Of the top 25 wrestlers in award shares for Wrestler of the Year, 21 have been inducted in the Hall of Fame. Of the top 50, 39 have been inducted, with a further two of them not being pro-wrestlers (at one point, MMA fighters were folded into the wrestling balloting). This indicates to me that a de facto cut off for a strong correlation between a high finish in win shares and being inducted into the Hall of Fame is near fiftieth place all-time.

Of the wrestlers who are not in the Hall of Fame but they finished in the top 50 of award shares for this award:

  • Kazuchika Okada is fourth all-time in award shares at 3.92, but is only 33 at this point. All three above him in win shares are inducted, and 67 acts below him have been voted in. He will not be eligible for inclusion on the ballot until 2023. He has been the most important wrestler for New Japan Pro Wrestling for the better part of the past decade. It’s hard to imagine he won’t finish at least second in this category once his career is over.
  • Kenny Omega is 14th all-time in award shares at 1.58. 11 of the 12 acts above him in win shares have been inducted, with 59 inductees below him. He didn’t receive significant votes in 2019, though his 2020 outlook is certainly stronger, especially depending on how the last quarter of the year goes for his booking. He received 53% percent of the vote in the 2019 Hall of Fame balloting. I expect he’ll get in one day, though being pushed as a major part of AEW’s roster rather than (at times) a secondary act will be necessary to help convince those who are on the fence. I expect that to happen in the next year with a storyline of some sort with Hangman Page.
  • CM Punk is 16th all-time in award shares at 1.41, placing him directly below Kurt Angle and above Jushin Liger. He has been retired as a wrestler for almost six years now, after walking out on WWE, and he seems highly unlikely to return to the ring at any point. He finished at 20% of the vote in the ’19 Hall of Fame voting. His appeal is limited by the fact that he only spent about eight years on the WWE main roster, with only about six of those years as a main eventer. Despite his four-year run in Ring of Honor helping a highly successful alternative independent company to WWE, voters have given that run little credit; I personally think it’s received too little credit.
  • Mistico (aka WWE’s first Sin Cara, aka the current Caristico in CMLL) is 25th all-time in award shares at 0.85. This places him directly below Akira Maeda and Chris Benoit. Mistico is a very interesting case, in that before joining WWE he was among the most popular acts in lucha libre history in terms of peak popularity. His WWE run was an abject failure, though, and while he’s back to being a main eventer in CMLL, he’s not nearly the draw he once was. His mixed track record has left him with just 25% of the vote on the 2019 ballot. If he continues to rebuild his standing in Mexico, he could contend, but it looks like it’ll be years before that happens. The 2019 voting is certainly not encouraging for his chances, and CMLL being shutdown for most of this year won’t help.
  • Edge is 30th all-time in award shares at 0.75, placing him one spot above Triple H and one below Akira Hokuto (both of whom are in the Hall). Edge dropped slightly, from 50% to 49%, in the 2019 balloting. He’s finished above 36% the last nine years, but his 2018 total of 50% is his peak. Edge’s career ended early after a devastating neck injury, leaving him with about eight years as a main eventer in WWE. The impact of his main eventer run, and his tag team work with Christian earlier in his career, seems undervalued. However, his return this year with Randy Orton did not seem to make a significant difference in business and was cut short by an unfortunate injury. 2020 did not help his case, and may have hurt it.
  • Samoa Joe is 32nd all-time in award shares at 0.72, which puts him above Ted DiBiase and right below Triple H. Samoa Joe’s resume is based entirely on his work in secondary U.S. promotions TNA & RoH. He had a strong two-year run in NXT, but since has spent less than four years on the WWE main roster, where he is not featured as a top act with regularity. He’s spent more of the past year or so as an announcer than as a wrestler.
  • Sabu is 36th all-time in award shares at 0.51, placing him directly below Bruiser Brody and above Terry Funk (both of whose careers largely pre-date the Observer awards). Sabu will not get in – the entirety of his win shares come from 1994 and 1995, with most of that coming from 1994 where he narrowly finished behind Toshiaki Kawada. Sabu stands basically no chance of getting inducted, as his ECW career was imperfect and he fell off the Hall of Fame ballot in 2011 after receiving less than 10% of the vote. This is the first case where a high finish in this statistic certainly does not correlate with a likelihood of election.
  • Tetsuya Naito is 38th all-time in award shares at 0.50, right between Funk and Genichiro Tenryu. Naito has been one of the most popular wrestlers in New Japan for several years now, and won their top two championships in their 2020 Wrestle Kingdom weekend events. I don’t expect a big boost from his 2019, but he started 2020 strongly and is now back on top. Despite all of this, his matches haven’t been extremely impressive and his best in-ring days seem to largely be behind him. A strong run as champion should shore up his candidacy, as he only received 16% of the vote in 2019. It might take a little bit for people to realize how talented and popular Naito was in a time of New Japan having a ridiculously stacked roster.
  • Randy Orton is 40th all-time in win shares at 0.46, behind Tenryu and ahead of Eddie Guerrero. Orton will be a test case of what the value is of being a WWE main eventer in the 2010s outside of John Cena. He was heavily featured for the entirety of the decade when healthy, but he was not a notable vote getter in the Thesz/Flair award after 2011. Since then, he’s held one of their world championships four times but did not receive much acclaim for those runs. He also won worst feud and worst match of the 2017 Observer awards. Orton has stagnated in the voting, dropping to 23% in 2019 from his high in 2018 with 35%. Without a late career resurgence, Orton seems unlikely to get in until it’s been longer enough for people to forget how mediocre some of his more recent runs. His 2020 run seems to be relatively strong within WWE, but the company itself is still struggling and now has major competition.
  • Bob Sapp (45th all-time) and Tito Ortiz (49th) finished highly during the period before MMA had their own awards.
  • Will Ospreay has cracked the top 50, coming up to 49th after finishing third in this category in 2019. It’s very early for him, but if he can maintain his performances from last calendar year, he’ll be a shoe-in. I don’t think 2020 will help him a whole lot, but I am writing this having only watched one night of the G1. A super strong performance can give him a boost. He’s just 27, so there’s a lot of time left for him to accomplish things.

At this point, the top finishers who aren’t in the Hall in win shares are Naruki Doi, Great Sasuke, Davey Richards, Takashi Sugiura, Masato Yoshino, and Satoshi Kojima. Doi, Richards, Sugiura, and Yoshino have never been on the ballot; Sasuke was last on in 2004; and Kojima only received 13% of the vote for his tag team with Hiroyoshi Tenzan.

Most Outstanding Wrestler

This award is intended to solely recognize in-ring performance. Of the top ten recipients of win shares in this category, nine are in the Observer Hall; of the top 25, 16; of the top 50, 28. There’s a weaker correlation between this award and induction compared with the Thesz/Flair award. Of the top 40 finishers in win shares, 60% of them have been inducted.

Here are the top finishers in MVP shares that are not yet inducted into the Observer Hall of Fame:

  • Kazuchika Okada, 6th all-time with 2.89 shares, putting him between Jushin Liger and Hiroshi Tanahashi. His case is laid out above.
  • Kenny Omega, 12th all-time with 1.72 shares, finishing between Shawn Michaels and Toshiaki Kawada.
  • Davey Richards, 15th all-time with 1.46 shares, finishing behind Manami Toyota and above KENTA. Richards is the first name on this list that seems unlikely to be inducted. His shares come from high finishes in 2009-2011 carried by his work in Ring of Honor and New Japan. He hasn’t sniffed significant support since 2012.
  • KENTA, 16th all-time with 1.45 shares, behind Richards and above Eddie Guerrero. Unlike Richards, he has a chance – albeit an outside chance – of getting in. Before the outbreak, he was getting a pretty big push in New Japan. It probably will take him being one of the top two or three names in New Japan to have his case helped out, but the depth in this company is so stacked and KENTA is now 39. It doesn’t look great for him.
  • Will Ospreay, 18th all-time with 1.28 shares.
  • Samoa Joe, 19th all-time with 1.26 shares.
  • Tomohiro Ishii, 22nd all-time with 0.88 shares. Ishii’s case is built entirely on his in-ring performances. He’s never been a main eventer in a major company, but he’s been among the very best G1 performers – and, by extension, one of the best in-ring performers – for almost a decade.
  • Shinjiro Otani, 21st all-time with 0.87 shares. His career as a difference maker has largely been over for almost two decades, and he’s not even on the current ballot. There’s a case here for him based off of in-ring work, but he seems to largely be overlooked. I think that’s mianly because the junior heavyweights were never pushed as a key act in New Japan during his peak with them.
  • Koji Kanemoto, 24th all-time with 0.84 shares. His case is very similar to Otani’s. If one gets in, the other should. He also isn’t even on the ballot.
  • Kota Ibushi, 25th all-time with 0.81 shares.
  • Owen Hart, 26th all-time with 0.76 shares. Hart’s votes in this category are from the 80s. He was never pushed as a key star outside of a short period in the WWF during his great feud with Bret. Owen’s hypothetical career in the WWF of the early 2000s is very interesting, given his in-ring abilities and the changes that were happening to WWF’s product. He wouldn’t have even been 40 until 2005. Other Hall of Fames do have cases of giving projected credit to athletes who died during their career – look at the baseball Hall of Fame and Addie Joss, Roberto Clemente, Ed Delahanty, and Ross Youngs.
  • Finn Balor/Prince Devitt, 29th all-time with 0.73 shares. He has a chance if WWE gets behind him, or he goes to AEW or NJPW and is a difference maker. He is 39, but he looks like he could easily work at a top level for another five years or so.
  • Sabu, 33rd all-time with 0.57 shares. His case is mentioned above.
  • Naomichi Marufuji, 34th all-time with 0.54 shares. His commitment to NOAH and its relatively small status is probably why he won’t get a real shot.
  • Jun Akiyama, 38th all-time with 0.47 shares. Akiyama is very much like Marufuji, except Akiyama is older (50 versus Marufuji’s 41). He has a strong case, but suffers from being compared with Misawa and Kobashi.
  • Nigel McGuinness, 39th all-time with 0.464 shares. His in-ring career is done, and his key work was basically in Ring of Honor, which is not given credit among HoF voters.
  • Chris Hero, 41st all-time with 0.459 shares. Unless he has a late career resurgence, he’s another one that is not going to get in.
  • Satoshi Kojima, 43rd all-time with 0.4149 shares. He’s currently on the ballot, primarily for his tag team with Hiroyoshi Tenzan, but I think that hurts both of their chances. Both are important enough for their complete careers that they should be considered individually, and I think not limiting them to their tag accomplishments – which I think some voters are doing – would boost their candidacy. He’s not going to boost his candidacy any more at this point.
  • Shingo Takagi, 44th all-time with 0.4143 shares. It looked like his candidacy was done for awhile, but his run in New Japan has been a revelation. He’ll probably need more of a push to make a dent in the voting – the Ishii path into the Hall by being a great worker treated like a second tier star is very narrow.
  • CM Punk, 45th all-time with 0.38 shares.
  • Sami Zayn, 46th all-time with 0.37 shares. He’s not going to get the push necessary to change his career, barring a major change in situation.
  • Great Sasuke, 48th all-time with 0.32 shares. As said above, he hasn’t been on the ballot since 2004. He just doesn’t seem to be taken seriously as a candidate.
  • Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig, 49th all-time with 0.31 shares. His peak was probably too short, and he was not pushed as a major star after the early 90s.

Tag Team of the Year

I won’t spend as much time talking about this category, since there are fewer tag teams inducted into the Hall.

  • The Young Bucks, 1st all-time with 5.38 shares. The Bucks’ lead in this category is astonishing. Not only do they have the credibility of consistently great matches, they helped former All Elite Wrestling, which has turned out to be the first major alternative US promotion in the U.S. since WCW (they’ve certainly already accomplished more than TNA did at their peak). This will irritate the Jim Cornette voting block, but I can’t fathom a legitimate argument that they don’t deserve a spot.
  • The Briscoes, 2nd all-time with 2.19 shares. Their entire career is in RoH. Jay’s had two RoH World Championship runs. It feels like they have no chance of getting inducted due to where they’ve spent their career.
  • Bobby Eaton and Stan Lane, 3rd all-time with 2.12 shares. Inducted under the Midnight Express.
  • The Steiner Brothers, 4th all-time with 2.06 shares. I’m shocked they’ve never received serious consideration – they have been on the ballot for three years, the last being in 2007; and they only broke 10 percent once. They were major draws in Japan and did well in the U.S. Scott Steiner also has some success as a singles star, though the majority of that came as WCW was dying.
  • Hawk and Animal, 5th all-time with 2.02 shares. Inducted.
  • Bobby Eaton and Dennis Condrey, 6th all-time with 1.60 shares. Inducted under the Midnight Express.
  • KENTA & Naomichi Marufuji, 7th all-time with 1.59 shares. They had a short peak as a team, but they won the Tag Team award twice and finished a strong second once. Those were the only three years they received any votes, though. They shouldn’t get in as a tag, but maybe considering this tag run would help their individual candidacy.
  • Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue, 8th all-time with 1.40 shares. Kawada has been inducted. Taue is on the ballot. They had a five-year run getting votes in this category. This is a point in Taue’s favor.
  • Ultimo Guerrero & Rey Bucanero, 9th all-time with 1.39 shares. Guerrero has been inducted; Rey Bucanero has not. I don’t know enough about Bucanero’s candidacy to make a strong assessment here, but WON Award voting has largely overlooked lucha libre. This team has been on the ballot twice, both times receiving less than 10% of the vote. Bucanero’s WON Awards have all been tied to this tag team.
  • Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly, 10th all-time with 1.29 shares. Despite their strong performances, they feel like they have no chance of getting in as a unit. They’ve never been pushed as a main event group, with their strongest sustained push being in NXT as part of the Undisputed Era where they have been support to Adam Cole.