The Hall of Fame is the ultimate recognition for every WWE related person, inside or outside the ring.
As Vince McMahon's company bought many promotions' legal rights and/or libraries through the years (AWA, ECW and WCW to name a few), wrestlers that had their best days in other promotions and worked just for a short period or even a few matches under the WWF/E brand get qualified for an introduction to the HOF (e.g. Stan Hansen, Carlos Colon Sr., Mil Máscaras).
In this article we list 10 great wrestlers that have passed away and are not yet included in the Hall, for various reasons. Some seem a certain entry for the future, some might never be recognized...
Please note that all wrestlers listed are not yet inducted to the HOF as individuals or as members of a Tag Team/Stable. That's why glorious singles wrestlers like Chyna were not considered for inclusion, since she was inducted as member of the D-Generation-X in the 2019 Hall of Fame.
Also, all performers are listed in alphabetical order... except one. You 'll find out who!
Arguably one of the most naturally gifted, agile and physically remarkable big men to ever step foot in a wrestling ring, Scott Charles Bigelow was named Rookie of The Year in his debuting year 1986 by Wrestling Observer.
He remained fully active 'till 2001, finding success in four of the most legendary promotions in the wrestling business: NJPW, WWF, ECW and WCW. He then became an independent wrestler, fighting sporadically through 2002 and very rarely during the 2003-2006 period.
As many other stars of his era, he battled with substances abuse and chronic pain from the many injuries he suffered throughout his career, thus becoming unable to wrestle regularly and struggling through his everyday life too.
He was eventually found dead by his girlfriend in January 19, 2007 with toxic levels of cocaine and an anti-anxiety drug in his system. He was 45 years old.
With political correctness and public image being the most important things in today's business for WWE, they will have to hedge his passing when they eventually induct him to the Hall of Fame. That shouldn't be a huge issue though, since they have proved themselves more than capable of doing so in numerous occasions. If they decide so, they can avoid any specific reference altogether.
The 2019 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony took place in Bigelow's hometown New Jersey, but he was out of it that year too...
2. Brian Pillman
The man after whom Dean Ambrose modeled his "Lunatic Fringe" persona, he was the Wrestling Observer Rookie of the Year in 1987, one year after the previous man on this list.
He was a prolific high-flyer and a great technician, but his most unique attribute was his versatility. From the "Flyin' Pillman" luchadore persona which very few American wrestlers could pull off back in the day to the "Loose Cannon" gimmick that gave him success as the most dangerous psychotic heel of his time, Pillman was as good as they come.
A member of Stampede Wrestling, WCW, ECW and WWF, he suffered a horrific ankle break in a car accident on April 15, 1996, that forced him change his wrestling style to a more grounded, "brawler" style of in-ring performance.
His most famous feud was that versus his former "Hollywood Blonds" partner Stone Cold Steve Austin on late 1996, when he pulled a gun and cursed on live TV in one of the most historically significant moments of the early WWF Attitude Era.
Unfortunately, in an occasion hard to imagine by today's high medical standards, Pillman suffered from an undetected arteriosclerotic heart disease that led to his sudden, devastating death in his sleep on October 5, 1997, at only 35 years of age. Ironically, the same condition killed his father when Brian was 3 years old.
At the time of his passing he was feuding with Goldust and real-life ex-girlfriend Marlena in a love triangle scenario that was cut short by his loss.
With no dark spots on his career or death conditions, it seems only a matter of time before he is eventually inducted to the HOF.
3. Davey Boy Smith
A rare combination of power, agility, technique, and verbal skills, The British Bulldog really had the total package. Equally decorated as a singles wrestler and as a tag team performer, he could easily be inducted to the HOF as both, making him a 2-times Hall of Famer.
With very fruitful years on Stampede Wrestling and WWF (his WCW run was not so special), he received the Match of the Year award from Pro Wrestling Illustrated along with Bret Hart for their Intercontinental Championship match at SummerSlam 1992, which he won. He is also the inaugural European Champion, as he pinned Owen Hart in February 26, 1997 at the European Championship Tournament final.
As for his tag team career, The British Bulldogs (him and The Dynamite Kid) were named the Tag Team of the Year by Wrestling Observer in 1985. Also, as a member of the New Hart Foundation, he had a great partnership with Owen Hart. In fact, Davey Boy Smith won the WWF Tag Team Championship with both partners, in 1986 and 1996 respectively.
As it was a common practice before the Chris Benoit tragedy and the completely different wellness policy the WWE adopted right afterwards, muscular wrestlers like Smith often used anabolic steroids to built and maintain their physique. Although substances like these were not found in his body after the fatal hart attack he suffered on May 18, 2002, doctors believe that steroids had progressively damaged his cardiovascular system through the years. Smith was 39 years old.
WWE certainly prefers to avoid mentioning cases like that, but as we noted before on the Bam Bam Bigelow section, they can easily evade the drugs and just refer to his death as a mere fact. Thus, it shouldn't be much trouble for them to make him a HOFer when they decide to.
4. Dynamite Kid
A true legend of the squared circle, the Dynamite Kid was a performer like no other. The 1st cousin of Davey Boy Smith (his father and Smith's mother were siblings) possessed an unmatched passion for the craft of pro wrestling, a craft he carried far beyond it's previous limits.
An absolutely fearless individual with lightning quickness and impressive strength (5'8" - 228lb in his prime), he performed dangerous dives, risky stunts and explosive Suplexes day in and day out, a style that played a huge part in the change of in-ring performance perception we have progressively witnessed since his influential years (mid-80s).
With a rich career at Stampede Wrestling, AJPW, NJPW and WWF among others, he won many Championships and multiple Wrestling Observer awards, including Best Maneuver [Power Clean Dropkick], Best Flying Wrestler and Best Technical Wrestler (all in 1984), Tag Team of The Year in 1985 with Davey Boy Smith as The British Bulldogs and a Match of The Year award for his NJPW bout against Tiger Mask on August 5, 1982.
Countless violent bumps, steroid abuse and even drugs finally took their toll on Dynamite's body, as he announced his retirement in December 1991, being active for only 14 years.
In 1997 he was eventually confined to a wheelchair with a paralyzed left foot and various health problems, both skeletal and neurological. He finally died on his 60th birthday on December 5, 2018 after twenty long years of suffering.
The only actual worry WWE might have regarding his induction to the HOF is the inevitable media connotations and references to the one wrestler Dynamite Kid inspired more than anyone, the amazing performer that was essentially an enhanced version of him, a magnificent athlete that lived, thrived, killed and died for (and because of) his passion: Chris Benoit.
5. Ivan Koloff
The oldest veteran in this list, The Russian Bear was one of the most hated villains in the 70s and 80s. Taking advantage of the Cold War tensions, Oreal Donald Perras from Canada became Ivan Koloff from the USSR and wrestled all around the world in a storied career.
Without a doubt, his best moments happened under the NWA and WWWF promotions. As an NWA wrestler, he won the astonishing amount of 36 Titles, including 6 Heavyweight Championships. In WWWF though, he had one of the most globally significant achievements of his era: in January 18, 1971 he beat Bruno Sammartino, ending his 2,803 days reign and becoming the WWWF World Heavyweight Champion in front of a speechless Madison Square Garden crowd.
It's worth noting that he never missed a year of wrestling from 1961 to 1994, fighting also for NJPW, WCW and ECW when the acronym still stood for Eastern Championship Wrestling (1992-93).
Koloff died in February 18, 2017 at the age of 74 from liver cancer, and he might be the most important athlete of his generation that died over the age of 70 but was still not inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame alive.
When he is eventually inducted to the WWE HOF, it will most likely be in the Legacy Wing with a short mention and no ceremony, but still it will be a day of rightful recognition to a true pioneer when it finally happens.
6. Owen Hart
Probably the most beloved wrestler in this list, Owen is the most fan requested WWE HOF candidate every year.
Considered by many fans and experts alike as an even more talented performer that his brother Bret "The Hitman" Hart, Owen was a blue-blooded individual destined to thrive, as he belonged to the Hard Dynasty and was trained at the notorious Hart Dungeon by the patriarch Stu Hart.
Rookie of the Year in 1987 according to Pro Wrestling Illustrated, he was also Best Flying Wrestler in 1987 and 1988 for Wrestling Observer. His rare combination of sublime aerial and mat skills made people believe he would be the first of the Hart brothers to win the WWF Championship, a title he never managed to hold.
None the less, he had HOF-caliber years on NJPW, Stampede Wrestling and of course WWF, where he won the European, Intercontinental and Tag Team Titles (4 times), as well as The 1994 King Of The Ring tournament.
If Owen hadn't died during his "Blue Blazer" entrance stunt accident in May 23, 1999 at the age of 34, he would surely win many more titles, most likely even the WWF Championship he seemed so suitable for.
The horrific incident still is one of the darkest moments in WWF/E's history, and is also the reason Owen is not yet a WWE Hall of Famer. His widow Martha has a very bad relationship with the company, and wants no use of her late husband's name or image by them.
In a 2018 interview, Bret Hart stated:
"I think Martha, Owen's widow, is a very obtuse, square-headed person. I think she has done more to erase my brother Owen's memory than she ever did to remember him. I think it really bothers me that the fans that love Owen so much don't get a chance to remember him."
7. Steve Williams
A four time All American in amateur wrestling, Dr Death was one of the most successful foreign wrestlers in Japanese wresting history and among Mitsuharu Misawa's greatest rivals.
Famous for his legit toughness and durability, he had a stellar career on AJPW where he most notably won the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship in 1994 and the World Tag Team Championship 8 times. He is the second most decorated Tag Team Champion in AJPW history (only Toshiaki Kawada surpasses him with 9 reigns). Steve Williams & Terry Gordy are also the second most decorated AJPW Tag Team, with 5 reigns as champions (Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue come first with 6 reigns).
Dr Death also wrestled with great success for WCW where he held the WCW and NWA Tag Team Championships four times overall, as well as for IWA, NWA and UWF where he also won individual and Tag Team championships.
In 1985, while performing for Mid-South Wrestling, he won the Most Improved Wrestler of the Year award from both Pro Wrestling Illustrated and Wrestling Observer in a rare achievement. As if that alone was not impressive enough, Steve Williams & Terry Gordy received the 1992 Tag Team of the Year award again from both magazines!
Moreover, the June 7, 1996 AJPW match of Steve Williams & Johnny Ace vs. Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama was named Match of the Year by Wrestling Observer.
Unfortunately, his first WWF run was a disaster. He joined the company in July 1997, got injured during the WWF Brawl for All tournament and was released almost immediately, nixing a feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin for the WWF Championship that was planed for him after the tournament. He then returned in 1999, fighting only 3 matches before leaving again for his beloved AJPW.
In December 2009 Williams died from throat cancer, after a five years battle, at 49 years of age.
His almost non-existent WWF career seems like the only downside to his WWE HOF induction, which will most likely be decided sooner or later.
A late success in wrestling, Edward Smith Fatu was a member of the Samoan Dynasty that had to try two totally different gimmicks in his two different WWE stints.
On his first WWE run (2002-2003) he was Jamal, forming a Tag Team with his cousin Rosey (he also died on April 17, 2017) named 3-Minute Warning. The two of them were the heel enforcers of Eric Bishoff, beating up whomever was "not entertaining enough" according to their boss. However, Fatu's temperamental character got him in a bar fight that cost him his job and brought his rather forgettable first run with the company to an end.
During the next 2 years he worked for TNA and AJPW with mediocre results, and in 2006 he returned to the WWE repackaged as "The Samoan Bulldozer" Umaga. That was it!
Umaga was a very believable threat, a monster of a man that squashed every opponent on his path and losing only 2 singles matches by disqualification in a 7 months period! From 2007 to 2009, Umaga feuded with the biggest WWE names (John Cena, Bobby Lashley, Triple H, CM Punk and more), he became a two-time Intercontinental Champion and wrestled 22 PPV matches overall.
Unfortunately, despite his realized potential and remarkable second run for the biggest company in the pro wrestling world, his demons overcame his will. After two Wellness Policy violations and his refusal to rehab, WWE felt like they had to let him go in June 2009. In December 4, 2009 he died from a hart attack, a result of heart and liver disease and a drugs cocktail.
With so many relatives still working with the WWE under great terms, Umaga seems like a certain WWE HOF entrant at some point in the future.
Considering his glorious stints with AJPW, NJPW and WCW, "The Mastodon" Vader is the most decorated wrestler on this list and one of the most respected performers around the world. Kenta Kobashi, Mitsuharu Misawa, Sting, Stan Hansen, Ric Flair and many others found in Vader the ideal opponent for timeless rivalries, still revised today with great joy from fans and experts alike.
All of his Heavyweight Championships aside, the incredible athletic ability he possessed (considering he was always a Super-Heavyweight) along with various stories about his uncanny toughness make him probably the best "big man" in the history of the sport.
With a fantastic 1993 year as a monster heel in WCW, he received the Best Wrestling Maneuver [Moonsault], Best Heel and Wrestler of the Year awards by Wrestling Observer, while Pro Wrestling Illustrated gave him the Wrestler of the Year award too, in a rare occasion where both famous newsletters agreed.
His strong will to constantly improve himself was recognized by Wrestling Observer in 1999, when he was named the Most Improved Wrestler after 14 years in the business.
With a passion for the craft second to none, Vader suffered countless injuries that took a heavy toll on his body. However, he claimed that he couldn't live without wrestling an he didn't stop performing even when cardiologists told him he had only two years ahead of him in 2016. "If this thing [death] is gonna happen, I’d rather be in a ring" he said.
Unfortunately, doctors were right. Leon Allen White, as was his real name, died on June 18, 2018 from heart failure after a month-long hospitalization for pneumonia. He was 63 years old. His long time friend and great wrestling rival Sting was visiting him frequently at the hospital.
Despite "The Mastodon" inducting Stan Hansen to the WWE Hall of Fame in 2016, Vader himself is still not a HOFer to this day, to everyone's surprise. His WWF/E career was not as decorated as in other promotions, but a legendary performer like him should have been inducted years ago.
10. Chris Benoit
"I’m not going to excuse any of the things Chris did outside of wrestling, but when he was in that ring, he was possibly the greatest of all time."
- Kurt Angle
Of course Chris Benoit is the wrestler that's mentioned last on this article. Of course he is never going to be inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame. Of course you already knew both.
All controversy aside, Chris Benoit was the man that embodied the spirit of The Dynamite Kid and became a senseless, fearless in ring performer that gave his physical and mental health to the business he loved.
Named the Best Technical Wrestler in 1994, 1995, 2000, 2003 and 2004 by Wrestling Observer, he is considered one of the greatest ever not only by Kurt Angle as aforementioned, but by almost every decorated athlete he ever stood in the ring with.
One could only imagine what legendary status he would have reached and how the wrestling business would have been today if he hadn't done what he did back in 2007.
If two things are certain, it's the huge changes the WWE made to it's Wellness Policy towards the right direction after the horrific incidents, and the unveiling of the sometimes fatal toll that legit head shots took on wrestlers like him through the years.