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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING HALL OF FAME?

By Mike Johnson on 2021-12-03 11:20:00

The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame was formed 1999 and was originally based in Upstate New York, celebrating “the good, the bad and the ugly” of professional wrestling history.  It’s first-ever induction ceremony was held in 2002 and since then, over 200 wrestlers, promoters, journalists and personalities have been officially inducted into the Hall, an honor that some talents have felt is the most important Hall of Fame and worthy of their careers, as they are voted in by their peers and others invited to take part in the voting process.  

The Hall of Fame includes a true who’s who of professional wrestling history, inducting honorees from different eras and hallmarks of professional wrestling.  Everyone from Lou Thesz to Roddy Piper to Vince McMahon to George Napolitano to the Midnight Express to Mildred Burke to Stanislaus Zbyszko have been celebrated.

The PWHF (as we will refer to it going forward) opened shortly after, in a multi-level space donated by the city of Amsterdam, New York.  Open to all for free (although donations were obviously accepted), the facility was overseen by Tony Vellano for many years before the decision was made to let the Hall, the Museum and the legacy of all involved move to Wichita Falls, Texas in 2015.

The PWHF was never, ever a for-profit organization.  From its initial launch, the facility and the organization were non-profit, relying on State and Federal grants, donations and volunteers to keep the facility active and operating.  The annual Hall of Fame weekend, featuring a dinner banquet, Q&A Sessions and live professional wrestling was the major lifeblood of the organization, providing a big bang of publicity, attention and money to come in that helped to offset the cost of the rest of the year.

As of 2015, with Vellano having given as much of his personal time as possible to the organization and seeking to spend more time with his family, the PWHF officially announced it would be moving to Wichita Falls, Texas at which point former World Class Championship Wrestling personality Johnny Mantell and his family took over the day to day supervision of the museum, the Hall of Fame and all the materials that were in the Hall’s care.  

Mantell’s career in professional wrestling ran over the course of decades inside the ring, wrestling for everyone from The Lebell family in Hollywood to the Von Erichs in Texas to Don Owen in the Pacific Northwest to New Japan Pro Wrestling from the 1970s through 1996, where he wrestled in the World-Famous  Dallas Sportatorium for the final time.  Mantell was a familiar player and personality in the Lone Star State when it came to professional wrestling.

Since taking over the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, Mantell had been regularly seen at major events and conventions promoting the Hall.  Whether it was New Japan’s AXS TV special in Dallas or Wrestlemania weekend, Mantell was stumping for the Hall, pushing awareness of its annual induction ceremony and trying to bring foot traffic to Wichita Falls, Texas for the Hall and Museum.

Of course, all that stopped with the COVID-19 pandemic.   

Like many other businesses and museums, The PWHF shuttered its doors.  The planned May 2020 induction ceremony, which was to feature Jake Roberts, Magnum TA, the late Luna Vachon, The Great Kabuki, Killer Tim Brooks, Debbie Combs, the late Dory Funk Sr. and more inducted the weekend of May 14th through 16th, was obviously canceled, although thankfully plans were made to honor Tim Brooks, who was towards the end of a battle with cancer that would take his life, so that he could be surprised and enjoy his moment, as Brooks well deserved.

After that, silence, which was understandable.  The world had stopped.

However, this past March, the PWHF announced the following in their website in conjunction with Big Blue Properties:

Joint Announcement from Big Blue Properties & The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum

Since moving to the most iconic building in downtown Wichita Falls, TX and opening in 2016, the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum and Big Blue Properties have worked hard together to bring interest, business, residents, and tourism back to downtown. With recent developments within Big Blue, the continued growth of the Museum with items continually received, the PWHF and Big Blue Properties are excited to announce the PWHF Museum will be expanding space which is greatly needed by relocating to the main tower. With the help of Will Kealty and Chelsey Pirkle of Big Blue Properties, the PWHF and Museum will be moving into the 3rd floor of the Big Blue tower.  This will allow the Museum space to expand and redesign the displays with the thousands of items we do not have space to display now. The 3rd floor of Big Blue will need a little sprucing up which Big Blue is working on for the PWHF but it is the perfect space within the iconic Big Blue Tower of Wichita Falls, TX. This move will allow a more cohesive environment for the Museum, board, signings, and other activities for years to come.

The PWHF Board wants to thank Big Blue Properties for their continued partnership and support which started with a handshake in 2015. We look forward to seeing great growth in both our Museum and the iconic Big Blue Tower. We will share the changes that will soon be taking place throughout our social media for the PWHF, so follow along on this wonderful journey of creating a bigger, better PWHF & Museum.

So, we won’t be completely closed down for a month or two, Big Blue has offered space on the 2nd floor overlooking the lobby in Big Blue. A temporary museum set-up, where some of our most interesting and asked about pieces will be on display. Once our 3rd floor spaces are ready for creation, we will move to the 3rd floor with amazing possibilities at every turn.

Big Blue is an amazing building, iconic in every way and the PWHF cannot think of a better home for the Museum or partnership with a better company than Big Blue Properties. This weekend the PWHF Ring Crew Volunteers will start the tedious task of moving, packing and storing the items for this amazing move!! 

Be assured that all items will be handled with great care as it was when it moved to Texas. Please follow the website (pwhf.org) and our social media for updates. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact PWHF President, Johnny Mantell at johnnymantell@pwhf.org. (If you are have sent an email, bare with us, we are trying to help catch up on emails after Mr. Mantell was sick since September, or send again & we will address the question, issue or concern.) 

Unfortunately, the PWHF has never re-opened.  

For months, there have been rumors: Was the Museum and Hall of Fame removed from “Big Blue”?  If so, where are the PWHF materials being housed?  Are they in storage?  Were they thrown away?  Are they being held as collateral somewhere?  Who has the items?  Were some sold?   No one seems to know, because no one is able to contact Johnny Mantell, not via phone or social media or email.  Mantell has dropped off all forms of radar in recent months.

Before we go further, I want to make this clear.  This article is not to vilify anyone.  It’s to point out that some very important pieces of professional wrestling history are housed by the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum and that those items need to be protected, because once they are gone, that’s it.  They are one of a kind pieces of history.  Right now, no one knows where any of them are and no one can get Johnny Mantell to contact them back and the longer that goes on, the more concern grows and becomes ever more valid that these materials could be lost forever. 

Last week was Johnny Mantell’s 63rd birthday.  He was wished well by countless friends on Facebook.  There was no response from Mantell.  No one that PWInsider.com has spoken to in recent weeks have stated they have heard from Mantell or his girlfriend.  Emails sent to Mantell via the official Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame website have gone unanswered.

Phone calls placed in recent weeks to the Hall of Fame’s public number (940)-264-8123 ring and ring incessantly when called.  No voicemail system.  No one picked up the phone.  No one called back.  Attempts to reach Mantell and his girlfriend K Kreymer, via social media, phone and email remain unsuccessful.

On 11/29, The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum’s website at www.PWHF.org listed the following message at the top of the page - “Oops! This site has expired. If you are the site owner, please renew your premium subscription or contact support.”  Several pages from the website, including the listing of all of the Hall of Famers inducted from 2002 on, are down with error messages.   

Meanwhile, the official Facebook page of the PWHF hasn’t been updated since March, eight months ago.  Messages from up to 26 weeks ago on social media asking about the status of the physical Hall have remained unanswered.

The most troubling sign of all is that records show that The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum hasn’t filed a tax return since 2017, which would be two years after it was officially moved to the Wichita Falls, Texas location.  PWInsider.com has learned that the PWHF’s non-profit status had been revoked by the United States government as of May 15th of this year.  The organization had until August to appeal that decision but all signs are that it came and went with no such appeal filed.

All of this is concerning.  There is no word on what Mantell’s health is like, since no one is able to get his family to respond.  There has obviously been no work done on the PWHF legal or financial end, based on what we can ascertain from research on our end.  

The PWHF has all but physically disappeared, which means that many, including this short list of irreplaceable one of a kind items, have disappeared along with it:

*Numerous Yellow legal pads featuring Mick Foley’s handwritten Have A Nice Day autobiography.  Foley’s personal first draft of his uber-successful New York Times Bestselling book were on these pads

*The late David Von Erich’s  Yellow Rose of Texas ring jacket, which his family had given to the Museum.

*The late Terry Gordy’s ring gear, which his daughter Miranda has publicly asked for the return of and thus far, has been ignored.

*Ring gear worn by the late Ted Petty aka Rocco Rock in ECW and WCW.

*Ring gear worn by Stan Hansen.

*A suit worn by late Mid-South announcer Boyd Pierce.

Beyond these items were other championship belts, paintings, posters, ring gear from a number of women who worked in the pioneering days of women’s professional wrestling and more than we could ever properly list or account for in this article alone.  It was enough to fill multiple floors when the PWHF was housed in Upstate New York alone.

Making this potentially more frustrating for those wondering where the actual contents of the PWHF are currently residing, the Museum’s website notes, “All items located in the museum and on display have been donated or have been loaned from the wrestlers, their families, or fans from around the world for everyone to enjoy!" - but if there are others, like the Gordy family - seeking the return of the items, no one knows how to get in contact with anyone but Mantell, and there’s been no sign of him publicly.

A full accounting of what was housed in the PWHF may indeed be impossible, as it is unknown what may have been publicly donated and lent to the organization,  but whether it is ten items over 10,000, pro wrestling can not afford to lose any of them.    

Worse, if all items were indeed lent to the facility, the families who are the actual owners of these items have no current way to retrieve them.  While Miranda Gordy has publicly asked for the return of her father’s donated belongings, imagine if they are lost forever.  Imagine if David Von Erich’s jacket is gone.  Imagine if any of these items are lost.  Going down that rabbit hole is a scary process. 

If even one of these items are damaged or lost, there are no copies, no secondary versions, they are gone, forever.  Priceless and lost.

Furthermore, if this was a case of the organization attempting to go from a non-profit to a for-profit institution, federal law in the United States would require the PWHF to sell off assets in order to pay back any creditor.  After that, if there are any assets left, the non-profit should then distribute the items to another 501(c)3 non-profit group or to the United States Government.  If private collectors of family members had loaned items to the museum, there should be a loan agreement that stipulated the conditions of the items being loaned out.  The PWHF should have also taken insurance out on the items, but whether that was done or is currently being done is unknown. 

The fear here is all of these items are going to end up in landfill somewhere, lost in a storage locker (like the remnants of Slammer’s Wrestling Gym, which ended up sold at auction and was lost forever) or like the artifacts for legendary punk rock club CBGB, which sit in a trailer somewhere in the middle of nowhere, New Jersey as the elements and Father Time slowly destroy them.  No matter where these items are, they are a far cry from the type of protection and care that proper museums would provide.    Even as this article is written, it’s unknown whether they even still exist.

Calls to Big Blue Properties, LLC in Texas, which provided the space for the PWHF in Wichita Falls have gone unreturned, providing zero insight into how the PWHF went from moving to a larger space to vacating the premises and what was taken with the PWHF when it exited.  It could be that Big Blue has the artifacts locked up on their premises, but no one knows for sure - and if they do, how much are they going to care about these items if someone else wants to utilize that space?  Could we be looking at a scenario where the items have been or could be lost to time in order to make space for whoever the next tenant for Big Blue Properties is?

The one person who could provide clarity, Johnny Mantell, isn’t speaking.  Whether that is by choice or due to health issues remains unknown.  Over the past month, PWInsider.com attempts to reach Mantell, his girlfriend and others close to him have led to zero clarification as to what is going on here.   

Mantell’s silence, whether he has meant for this to happen or not, has opened the door for lots of rumors about what the future of the PWHF is, where the materials inside the Museum have gone, whether items had been sold to collectors, etc. that started locally in Texas and continue to ripple forward as more and more become aware and concerned with the PWHF seemingly disappearing out of existence.  

If Mantell is dealing with a health issue, that is unfortunate and sad and obviously, everyone wishes him the best, but at the very least, the future safeguarding of the PWHF has to be seen as a priority.  John Mantell and even Tony Vellano before him were not the owners of the PWHF, just the caretakers.  If Mantell is indeed ill, that is tragic, but there need to be plans made for someone else to take over control of the Hall, Museum and everything under its purview.  

There are numerous, reliable prospects who would be more than happy to assist in the upkeep, maintenance and health of the PWHF.

The newly-minted International Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame being overseen by Seth Turner, is the spiritual successor of the original PWHF’s days in Amsterdam, NY.  One would think they would be overjoyed to be tasked with retrieving and taking care of the items, especially if they are given physical space by the State of New York, as the original PWHF once was.   We should note that there have been noises made over the last month that Turner has even sought out attempting to retrieve the collection with the goal of returning it to the State of New York, where it could once again be displayed publicly.

Obviously, WWE would love to house the collection for their own archives. 

The Waterloo, Iowa Thesz/Tragos Museum could also provide a welcoming home for this history, although their Professional Wrestling area is a smaller area in a much wider, amazing museum celebrating amateur wrestling.

It’s also entirely possible a Tony Khan or a Billy Corgan, who each dearly love their pro wrestling history, would be willing to assist the Hall in some way.  We don't know, because those conversations aren't taking place, since there's been no attempt to start them.

One of those prospects could also be former Global Wrestling Federation owner Grey Pierson, who is currently listed on the PWHF Board of Directors.  The only other PWHF Board member listed currently is Fred Urban III, who promoted professional wrestling in Texas, but sadly passed away several years ago.

Pierson, thus far, has been the only person related to the Texas PWHF that has returned inquiries on the location and future of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. 

In speaking with PWInsider.com on 11/30, Pierson noted that COVID-19 caused the shut-down of the PWHF’s activities.   Pierson stated he had been in recent contact with Mantell and intimated that Mantell would not be able to handle overseeing the PWHF going foward.  Pierson stated his current, personal hope is to eventually move the Museum and Hall to the greater Dallas area and re-open, noting the bigger footprint in tourism for that area vs. Wichita Falls would be a better fit for the Museum, but as of right now “nothing is certain.”

Pierson, however, did state that the Hall of Fame collection still currently resides in Wichita Falls and “is protected,” acknowledging the rumors making the rounds that material from the collection may have been privately sold.  Pierson stated that he has not seen concrete proof that is the case, and to be fair, when I have asked those bringing up similar rumors for proof, none has been provided.  Pierson, an attorney at law, commented he would bring “immediate, harsh action” against anyone involved in such actions if he learned there was any validity to the sale claims.

No matter who lands in control of the PWHF going forward, one can only hope that the safety and guardianship of the artifacts under its umbrella are indeed protected and safe and that the PWHF continues, so that all of them can be, at the very least, protected from the ravages of time and in the best case scenario, presented in the best possible museum format so that they can be enjoyed by all who care about professional wrestling, with the items being protected and celebrated at the same time.

For almost 20 years, the PWHF has celebrated and remembered the best of this industry.

For a little under 20 years, it has housed priceless artifacts.

As of today, it’s gone and no one knows, for sure, where it went.

The most important point person for the PWHF in Texas, Johnny Mantell, isn’t talking.

There are generations worth of history, memories, and artifacts that were under Mantell’s supervision, that were meant to be maintained, not lost.

Whatever has happened to the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, the time has come for both the answers and the artifacts to be publicly revealed.

The 200+ PWHF Hall of Famers, their families, their friends and wrestling fans across the world deserve answers to their concerns, because if the items under the care of the PWHF are lost forever, what could one call that but a tragedy?

The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame was created to celebrate the good, bad and ugly of professional wrestling history.  

So, whatever happened to it?

We don’t have answers yet and the longer we don’t, the more likely it is that everything the Hall contained and stood for will be lost forever.

Mike Johnson can be reached at MikeJohnsonPWInsider@gmail.com.  He is calling upon all involved with the PWHF to make it publicly clear where all aspects of the Museum and Hall are, to make arrangements to protect the Hall for future generations and, at the very least, to make arrangements for the return of loaned items to their proper owners.

If you enjoy PWInsider.com you can check out the AD-FREE PWInsider Elite section, which features exclusive audio updates, news, our critically acclaimed podcasts, interviews and more by clicking here!

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