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The Hall is open
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The 2008 WWE Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony has come and gone, and eight new members are now a part of the most exclusive club in sports-entertainment.
It was a mob scene earlier today both inside and outside the Amway Arena, as a virtual encyclopedia of past, present and possibly future WWE Superstars met and greeted each other. Hours before the ceremony was set to begin, thousands of fans were lined up on the streets of downtown Orlando to catch a glimpse of their favorite Superstars, Divas and Legends. Even celebrities came out for the ceremony, as actors Freddie Prinze Jr. and Macaulay Culkin were spotted in the Amway Arena tonight.
Understandably, it was a nervous last few hours for all the inductees, as the minutes ticked away until they were officially Hall of Famers -- hours and minutes, as 2004 inductee Greg "The Hammer" Valentine explained, that you can't really fathom until they're over.
"I was excited, a little bit nervous, apprehensive … but this is a real gala event," Valentine explained, "and you don't know how big it is until you're in. It's a big deal to be honored for all the years you spend in the ring, and I'm happy to see my former partner Ric Flair join me in the Hall of Fame tonight."
As tense as the ceremony may be for the inductees, those who induct them into the Hall may have a harder task. After all, how do you introduce someone who truly needs no introduction? Still, according to JBL -- who inducted the Brisco Brothers -- it's truly a chance to give back to those who led the way.
"Gerald Brisco has been a dear friend of mine for years; he hired me 13 years ago in a shower in Bethlehem, Pa.," the Raw Superstar said. "Honestly, this is the greatest honor I've ever been given. To be able to induct the Briscos … they have to be the greatest tag team in the history of professional wrestling."
Potentially a future Hall of Famer himself, JBL says the Hall of Fame Ceremony is one of a kind.
"I've been to all the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies; you learn the legacy of this business and you know how important WrestleMania is," he said. "You learn how cool it is to look back at your career and if you're competing at WrestleMania, you see that your career is still being made. You see the history and how important it is; the Hall of Fame puts it all in perspective."
That perspective: Emotion.
"This is probably one of the most emotional nights of my career," Gerald Brisco explained. "It was very difficult to get out there and not just break down. I have a passion for this business and I love the fans. And to be out there with my brother, this was just as good as it comes."
He continued, "My take on JBL's presentation of the Brisco Brothers is that he's got one more stretch job coming."
"It's like a dream come true," added touched Hall of Fame inductee Jack Brisco. "I'm just really, really excited. To be going into the Hall of Fame with my brother, Gerry, made this a really special night. Also, to go in with such great people as Eddie Graham, Ric Flair and one of my all-time favorite announcers, Gordon Solie."
It's also a special night for many Superstars, who watch those they may have worked closely with or learned from receive the highest honor in the industry.
"Mae Young and I go way back, and she rightly deserves this," Mark Henry proclaimed. "She's done more for ladies in sports-entertainment than just about everyone but the few who have preceded her into the Hall. And man, she was a tough lady. Remember when she got powerbombed through a table? When she came to, she said, ‘That's all they've got?' A lot of guys would have been laid up for weeks; not Mae."
Mickie James is one of those who currently travels the road paved by Mae and her contemporaries.
"I think it's awesome that Mae is being honored," the former Women's Champion said with a smile. "She's given a lot to this business, and it was especially tough for her being a woman surrounded by men. It's just that much more rewarding."
Also among the inductees tonight were former Championship Wrestling from Florida promoter Eddie Graham and announcer Gordon Solie -- two men that are very familiar to former multiple-time World Tag Team Champion Mike Rotunda.
"I was very fortunate to be a part of CWF, it was an honor to work there," Rotunda told WWE.com. "Some of the greatest Superstars came through there, and Gordon brought it all together on television for the fans. Seeing them inducted tonight brought back a lot of memories from those golden years."
Elijah Burke grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., watching CWF on television every week. And much like with Dusty Rhodes in 2007, Burke got a little emotional watching some of his Florida favorites enter the pantheon of the elite.
"Ric Flair is right behind Dusty Rhodes as one of the biggest influences as to why I got into sports-entertainment," Elijah said in a moment of candor. "Because of Ric and the Dream, that's why I'm here. If you read my blog, the Elijah Experience, on ECW.com, you'll know that it was a huge honor for me to have a match with Ric Flair on ECW on Sci Fi. And Solie … that golden voice was great, and I still to this day refer to it as a vertical ‘su-play.' I grew up on Gordon Solie, on Ric Flair, on Eddie Graham's product; to be here to see them become Hall of Famers is an honor and a blessing."
And for Solie's family, it was one final fitting cap for the legacy of "The Dean."
"To hear the likes of Jim Ross and Dusty Rhodes call my father the best … it's humbling," said son Jonard Solie. "It's a great honor for Gordon to be in the Hall of Fame. He made people want to come to the matches; I just wish he could have been here for this."
Our fans, of course, were just as excited, and just about all of them that WWE.com spoke with agreed on the highlights of the night.
"Ric Flair!" screamed Chad Lauderbaugh of Charlotte, N.C. "He's the greatest wrestler of all-time. He is a16-time World Champion -- who's ever going to top that?"
"Finally, THE ROCK has come back!" added Anuj Shah, who traveled all the way from New York City to attend WrestleMania. "He's still the People's Champion, and his father and grandfather should be in the Hall of Fame just for being related to The Great One!"
It was that kind of night here at the Amway Arena, as the WWE Hall of Fame welcomed Flair, Rocky Johnson & Peter Maivia, Mae Young, The Briscos, Eddie Graham & Gordon Solie into its hallowed halls.
And now that the Hall of Fame Ceremony is over, it's almost time for the biggest event in sports-entertainment. Superstars will shine, and several future Hall of Famers -- and a few current ones, too, like Flair, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler -- will perform for more than 70,000 screaming WWE fans in the Citrus Bowl. Most importantly of all, however: History will once again be made -- history that may someday be recalled at a future Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.