Every year, Pro Wrestling Illustrated produces a list of the 500 best (male) pro wrestlers in the world, called the PWI 500. Before I begin, I need to point out two very obvious things:
1. The purpose of the PWI is, usually, to “get people talking,” aka “be purposely super wrong, because nobody would care if you objectively ranked pro wrestlers based on actual existing criteria”
2. Pro Wrestling Illustrated, as important as it was to our childhoods as wrestling fans, is not a legitimate or respected publication. I mean, even when they were great they were essentially writing Ric Flair interview fan-fic and claiming it was an exclusive. Guys like Flair didn’t care because they had better things to do, and who gives a f**k about PWI
That said, this thing has made me FURIOUS for the 23rd year in a row, so I might as well tell the Internet why it’s horrible. First things first, here’s the list, in its horrible glory:
Where do we even begin?
1. The list is kayfabe, but only when they say so. The idea behind the list is that it’s kayfabe, or, more accurately, based on wins and losses and stuff that actually happens on the shows instead of our broader idea of who is and isn’t a good wrestler. They didn’t do that one year and Dean Malenko ended up #1.
Anyway, John Cena being number one makes sense, because he’s the big unstoppable face of the biggest wrestling promotion in the world. He held the WWE Championship for most of 2013, main-evented WrestleMania and pinned The Rock, whatever. Number two is CM Punk. Assuming this list goes from November to November (or something close to it), Punk was at the very end of his legendary WWE title run. What’s he done since then? He lost to the Rock twice. He lost to Undertaker at WrestleMania. He took time off, came back, got a win against Chris Jericho, then lost Money in the Bank and lost to Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam. He’s #2 because he’s popular, and our idea of what a good wrestler is. So is it based on kayfabe or not?
2. PWI makes these lists by arbitrarily listing all the wrestlers they can name on a sheet of paper, then googling and randomly assigning the rest. If the first step to creating the PWI 500 isn’t copying the “WWE personnel” Wikipedia page into a word file and randomly assigning numbers to it, I’ll eat my shoe. There are guys on the list who barely or NEVER wrestled in the last calendar year who ranked in the upper half of the 500 because they’re on the WWE roster page. Camacho is #200. When was the last time you saw Camacho wrestle? Ted DiBiase Jr. is 155. The most notable thing he’s done all year is be a lumberjack during one fall of a three-fall John Cena/Ryback match. Hell, NXT’s TYLER BREEZE is number 255 and that guy has had 2 televised developmental matches since his debut. Meanwhile, Daisuke Sekimoto is 279. Why? Because…
3. PWI has no idea who these Japanese guys are, they’re just visiting a puro forum and skimming. I like Tyler Breeze a lot too, guys, but two developmental squashes does not make you better than Daisuke Sekimoto. Akira Tozawa, legitimately one of the most exciting and talented young wrestlers in the world and an important cog in the success of both Dragon Gate AND Dragon Gate USA, is only a few spots ahead of Breeze. Okada and Tanahashi made the top 10, sure, because a lot of people are talking about them, but this year is the 23rd time PWI has put the Japanese guy they’ve heard the most about in the top 10, then skipped puroresu completely from 11 until they ran out of American guys they could name. It doesn’t make sense in kayfabe OR in real life.
4. Lucha libre gets it even worse. Sin Cara is number 75. Just saying.
5. The inconsistencies are so weird I can’t even complain about them. Here’s a quick example for you … Jey Uso is 110. Jimmy Uso is 107. What POSSIBLE reason do you have for Jimmy Uso being three wrestlers better than Jey? Are they counting ‘Total Divas’ appearances? Similarly, Primo is 149, and Epico is 153. Do what now?
6. PWI has no idea how the independent circuit works. Remember that thing I said about PWI just listing random indy workers? Notice how guys who’ve competed in Ring Of Honor get inflated appearance numbers — ACH, a guy I love, is suddenly the 113th best wrestler in the world — but guys who haven’t, but have brought down the house at shows as or more successful than ROH don’t appear at all. Green Ant and Fire Ant from Chikara aren’t among the 500 best wrestlers in the world, but MICHAEL TARVER still is. No incarnation of Archibald Peck/Robert Evans/R.D. Evans/whoever appears on the list despite him being an important part of Chikara and an increasingly important part of ROH. A lot of guys I get to see kill it in Texas like Matthew Palmer, Davey Vega, Scot Summers, Gary Jay — guys who have all won title belts, which is supposed to be kayfabe-important — don’t make the list, but RUDY RUSSO does. Rudy Russo is best known as “the guy with the weird rat tail in the second match at any show in Texas.” Guys like Vega have had great matches in Kansas City, St. Louis, Cleveland, everywhere, but I guess unless you sent a “hey, I want to be in the PWI 500” e-mail to the magazine, you don’t find a spot. Why?
7. Because the people who run PWI don’t watch wrestling. That’s the bottom line. I love wrestling, so I watch a lot of it. I’m also a guy on the Internet, so I know how EASY it is to watch wrestling from EVERYWHERE. If your job is to run the only wrestling magazine people can name without a big WWE logo on the front of it, wouldn’t you want to at least watch as much wrestling as me? Know who these guys all are, so you aren’t just throwing names at a wall to fill out a 500?
8. The PWI 500 still doesn’t have any women on it. Look, I know “women’s wrestling” as an idea isn’t everybody’s bag, but there are enough talented wrestlers putting on great matches across the country (and on television) who happen to be female who deserve to be considered for and named as one of the 500 best wrestlers in the world over worthless f**king sacks of shit like Azrieal (389) and Ruckus (237) simply because you recognize their names from 7-year old ROH shows. Do you honestly think Gail Kim is worse than whoever you put at #500? Or that Kana isn’t a better representation of what makes wrestling great than “The Stro?” (485)
9. Finally, let’s take a second to point out who PWI says had a better year than Daniel Bryan. You know Daniel Bryan, right? The guy who just pinned John Cena clean at SummerSlam to win the WWE Championship, held the tag team championships for most of the year, is helping redefine what good WWE wrestling can be and gradually became the most beloved and popular guy on the show? You know, the guy who spent about a decade being Bryan Danielson, the best wrestler our modern interpretation of “independent wrestling” has ever seen. That guy. Who had a better year than him? How about Dolph Ziggler, who spent three months losing to John Cena before winning the World Heavyweight Championship on a briefcase cash-in before immediately getting hurt, having to take a month off and losing it? The guy who slummed it in a mixed tag match on the show where Bryan won the title. How about Kevin Steen? How about JEFF HARDY, for Christ’s sakes. If you want to put these guys on the list, go for it, but no possible idea of objectivity should place one of the most successful, impossibly talented and unstoppably popular wrestlers in the world behind that big dead fish with the eyeball paint, flopping around in the world’s smallest pond.
10. Wade Barrett. Want to know how little the PWI cares about kayfabe? Wade Barrett is number 21. Wade Barrett won roughly two matches all year, lost 60,000 consecutive non-title matches and accidentally got half his beard shaved trying to give a guy a haircut.
Here’s my 3-step plan to fixing next year’s PWI 500.
1. Consider putting people who watch and love wrestling in charge of it, instead of payola monkeys who are bad at googling
2. Work hard to consider the relative values of subjectivity versus objectivity, and create an entertaining, thought-provoking narrative on what defines “good pro wrestling,” because that’s such a hard question to answer. “Getting people talking” is lazy.
3. Really look at and learn to appreciate wrestlers who don’t automatically fit your notions of what good wrestlers are. Consider women, Mexican guys, Japanese guys, guys from Europe, people wrestling ANYWHERE in front of any number of people. Consider them, instead of copy-pasting Curtis Axel into the top 40 because you remember him off the top of your head.
Actually, here’s an easier solution
1. Cracked.com presents the 5 best pro wrestlers
Or, if they aren’t available, Buzzfeed’s 34 Wrestlers Only 90s Kids Will Remember.