When you think about professional wrestling in this day and age, where it came from and how it has transformed into the product we all know and love today, one name probably comes to your mind immediately... McMahon.
Not just Vincent Kennedy McMahon, either.
By now, you're probably aware that "Mr. McMahon" is a third generation wrestling promoter. He bought out his father, Vincent James McMahon, in 1982, taking control of his company, and if you go back even further, Vince Sr. was brought to power in 1954 after his father, Jess McMahon, passed away. Heading in the other direction, you know the McMahon name will continue to be involved with WWE long after Vince Jr. passes away, as Stephanie or Shane will probably take over, and then one of their children will take over for the next generation, and so on and so forth.
I know I've just depressed a lot of you, and I'm sorry, but stick with me. This isn't a column about a McMahon.
When you look at the WWE Hall Of Fame, you'll see a lengthy list of members who are incredibly deserving for everything they've contributed to the business through the years. In 1993, Andre The Giant became the very first inductee. There might not be a more universally respected person in wrestling history. Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, arguably the greatest Manager of all-time (and perhaps the greatest Color Commentator, as well), was inducted. The following year, Hulk Hogan was inducted, and that's the guy who shut Gawker down. Jim Ross is believed, by many, to be the best Play-By-Play guy to ever call a wrestling match, and he was inducted in 2007. Are you getting the point yet? Every year, some amazingly worthy people are inducted, but it took until this year... the 25th "class"... for the most deserving Hall Of Famer ever to be inducted.
Read that one again.
The most deserving Hall Of Famer ever. More deserving than any of those names I mentioned. More deserving than Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, Eddie Guerrero, or any other name that has been inducted. More deserving, even, than any name who has yet to be inducted for one reason or another. So, who is the most deserving person, anyway?
Joe "Toots" Mondt.
The average name has never even heard of Toots Mondt, and that's fine, because that's why I'm here.
I can say this with confidence and without a trace of hyperbole... without Toots Mondt, there's a good possibility that we wouldn't even be having this conversation right now. We wouldn't be talking about pro wrestling, as we know it, anywhere, because it wouldn't exist.
The early days of the sport were, obviously, very different than what we know and love today. A single match could last for hours, and was contested almost solely on the mat in molasses-slow contests. It worked in the beginning, but before long, that style of wrestling was no longer a favorite with fans across the country. Mondt had grand ideas for the sport, and he became partners with Ed "Strangler" Lewis and Lewis' manager at the time, Billy Sandow. Mondt convinced Lewis and Sandow that it would benefit them greatly if they were to start their own promotion instead of being controlled by other people. After turning to the "backstage" aspect of things, Mondt knew that more changes needed to be made. He realized that fans were beginning to grow tired of the way things were presented, and attendance suffered as a result. His idea was to change the fundamental core of what professional wrestling was. He decided to combine Greco-Roman wrestling, boxing, freestyle, lumber camp fighting and theater. The new style was called "Slam Bang Western-Style Wrestling". At least we can all be happy that name has changed.
Mondt essentially added the "finish" to pro wrestling, taking a pre-scripted ending and adding it to matches to convince fans in attendance to come back to the next show. The "No Contest"? Time-limit draws? Double count-outs? He introduced it all. As "Slam Bang Western-Style Wrestling" began to grow in popularity, the trio of Mondt, Lewis and Sandow wanted to continue the uptick in business. Mondt's next idea was to take shows from the dingy, old burlesque theaters of the past and put them on in large sporting venues in every city they promoted in. Bigger venues means more butts in the seats. More butts in the seats means more money. More money means more wrestlers that the promoters could go out and bring in. They had so much money that they were able to convince wrestlers to sign contracts that would have them wrestle for nobody but Mondt, Lewis and Sandow. For all intents and purposes, the trio became responsible for the country's first "national" promotion, and were doing so well that they were actually able to pay their wrestlers exactly what they were owed, and paying them on time. As they continued to grow, they began to incorporate "storylines" into wrestling, instead of merely featuring Wrestler A facing Wrestler B for no apparent reason, followed by Wrestler B moving on to face Wrestler C at the next show. Fans were eating it all up, spending their hard earned money to watch these "feuds".
The World Heavyweight Wrestling Championship, which was the first recognized pro wrestling title, was held by Strangler Lewis for just about half of the 1920's. He was the national superstar created by the booking and promoting prowess of Mondt and Sandow. Yet another thing that pro wrestling can thank them for is the tried-and-true method of having a World Champion "put someone over", dropping the title to them to generate interest in a rematch, where Lewis could win the title back. Lewis' first reign with the title lasted only a few months before he lost to Stanislaus Zbyszko. Ten months later, Lewis would win the title back, and his second reign would last nearly three entire calendar years. That method would last all the way until the end of the "territory era", made famous to a new generation of fans by Ric Flair, who would travel from territory to territory defending the NWA World Heavyweight Title against that area's top challenger. Flair would make the challenger look like a million bucks, even if that person was only worth a handful of pocket change and belly button lint, and this would cause fans to fill up arenas all over the world. Those fans thought their "guy" had a chance to defeat the great "Nature Boy", and they wanted to pay to see it. Back to Toots Mondt, though...
As is almost always the case in wrestling, egos and bravado got in the way of common sense, money making and friendship. Mondt, Lewis and Sandow were making so much money that they were given the officially unofficial nickname of the Gold Dust Trio. Their relationship fell apart by the end of the 20's, as Mondt was feuding with Sandow's brother, Max. That must be the end of the Toots Mondt story, right?
He bounced back right away, teaming up with a promoter from Philadelphia named Ray Fabiani. The men dominated most of the Northeastern United States, but they couldn't quite control New York City because of a rival promoter named Jack Curley, who all but blackballed them from the area. When Curley passed away, Mondt decided to create a group of big time promoters from the area, in an attempt to gain control of New York. One of those men was none other than Jess McMahon. It ended with Mondt forming an alliance with Bernarr McFadden, which allowed them to book shows at Madison Square Garden. In 1948, Mondt promoted the first wrestling event held at MSG in nearly a decade. When Fabiani decided to look elsewhere for more power, he brought in Vince McMahon Sr, and now things are really starting to get interesting.
In 1963, Mondt and Vince Sr. left the National Wrestling Alliance, renaming their Capitol Wrestling Corporation, now calling it the World Wide Wrestling Federation. By this point in Mondt's life, however, he was battling a serious gambling problem. That gambling problem, as well as... surprise, surprise... another battle of egos, caused a serious rift in the relationship between Mondt and Vince Sr. When Vince saw Mondt's "weaknesses", he forced him out, buying his shares of the company. Mondt would go on to die in 1976, at the age of 82, with nearly no money to his name. It's an incredibly sad way to end such an important, influential life.
Let's go back to what I said earlier about how pro wrestling, as we know it, probably wouldn't exist without Toots Mondt. Do you still want to doubt that? Look at everything he created. Putting on shows in larger venues. Matches that had set amounts of time they could go. Storylines. Finishes. Signature moves. No Contests. Time-limit draws. Double count-outs. Disqualifications. Adding a more theatrical flair to the sport. Exclusive contracts. Taking a traveling champion from city to city and helping to put the city's top challenger over, even in defeat. The World Wide Wrestling Federation, later known as the World Wrestling Federation, now known as World Wrestling Entertainment. Bruno Sammartino as a top guy. Teaching Vince Sr everything he knew about booking and promoting. He had the balls to take wrestling to limits that it could never dream of reaching before, and every bit of wrestling from then until now owes their success to him.
He is the single most creative and influential person in the history of the sport. With as much credit as Vince Jr gets for his ideas that created huge boom periods for wrestling, he can't come close to saying that he created as much as Mondt did. I mean, come on, without Mondt's guidance and knowledge, there might not even be a wrestling promoter named Vincent Kennedy McMahon.
With all of that said... all of the creations and ideas that are still used a full century later, it still took until 2017 for Toots Mondt to get his name in the WWE Hall Of Fame, and on top of that, he isn't even going in as a full-fledged inductee. He's a member of this year's "Legacy" wing, going in with a group of other people, and all they'll get at the Hall Of Fame ceremony is a video package that quickly glosses over what they've done.
Toots Mondt deserves better than that, but at least he's going in, and I'm glad to play a part in spreading the good word about what he did, even if I only teach one reader something with this column.
The most deserving WWE Hall Of Famer ever. Point blank. Period.