Look folks, I was there. I saw it all. Okay, maybe not all of it, but a lot of it, anyway. This was the first year I made the 11-hour trek from Dayton, Ohio, to the PWI office in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, to participate in the big meeting that would lay the foundation for this year’s "PWI 500." In my three decades as a wrestling fan, I never thought I’d be one of a handful of guys who would be sitting in a room drafting the international rankings for the best and brightest in the business. On that morning in mid-June, we knocked out the first 130 or so rankings before wrapping up with the understanding that the selection and review process would continue by e-mail, phone, and text for the next few weeks as Senior Writers Dan Murphy and Al Castle worked their way through numerous drafts and biographical sketches.
Indeed, a good amount of healthy follow-up discussion ensued, and at the end of it all, the senior writers and PWI staff put together a respectable list of the world’s best wrestlers for the evaluation period from July 1, 2011, through June 30, 2012. Of course, there were a few issues with the final list as it appeared in digital and print formats, and these have been addressed in detail by Al Castle and Stu Saks. Heck, even our old pal Bill Apter recently addressed some of the regrettable shortcomings of the listings on one of his video presentations, noting the exceptional difficulties of compiling such a detailed roster of industry standouts.
Boners, snafus, and unfortunate omissions aside, the list is largely sound, presenting a cross-section of performers from many of the largest promotions in North America, Japan, and parts of Europe. Now, everyone has an opinion on this or that guy; not just about the big names like Punk, Roode, and Cena, mind you, but about where their favorite guys should’ve placed. For my part, I would’ve loved to see a hard-working indy journeyman like Philip Saunders or former POWW champ Ruff Crossing make this year’s list. And for my money, there’s not a better comedic heel in the business today than Arizona’s only Filipino grappler, the Knome King. But as big of a number as "500" may seem, it’s also kind of small compared to the sheer number of indy workers who perform week in and week out in what my pal Greek God Papadon refers to (in quasi-affectionate terms, I think) as an “alphabet soup” of independent wrestling organizations. Put simply, it’s darn near impossible to put 15 pounds of sugar into a five-pound bag. That’s one of the inherent limitations of any ranking system, including the "PWI 500."
For my part, as the newest guy in the mix this year, I have come to understand and appreciate the "PWI 500" with all of its facets and foibles. What I am having a hard time getting accustomed to, though, is how others see the "500," both inside the industry and well beyond. In fact, the sheer amount of misperceptions and disinformation bouncing around social media and the blogosphere read more like a script for a forthcoming episode of Jesse Ventura’s Conspiracy Theory show as opposed to anything that, in my personal experience, is even remotely associated with how the "PWI 500" really works.
Even Kurt Angle – ranked number-one in the 2001 "PWI 500" – weighed in this week with his own opinion of our ranking system, stating “Punk is not in top 10. Pwi is About title Runs. Not Wrestling. Orton is Better. AJ, Roode, Aries, Me: are Better.” Hey, Kurt and everyone else (including all of those smart guys and gals on the Internet who accuse us of using trained seals, chicken bones, and tea leaves as part of the selection process) are entitled to their own opinions. But the main problem with most of the haphazard armchair quarterbacking that’s flying around in the ether of cyberspace is that many of the folks who are doing the lion’s share of "gesticulating and criticizing" haven’t even read the full "PWI 500" It’s a given that some intrepid fans shelled out five clams for one of the first available digital copies of the "PWI 500" issue and then transcribed the rankings and posted them on various and sundry websites, but providing the list by itself effectively omits somewhere around 85 percent of the qualitative content of the "PWI 500" itself, including individual bios for every featured wrestler as well as our explanation of the selection criteria that appears in the introductory text.
Wins and losses, technical ability, and influence on the sport are among the most important criteria. As far as Kurt Angle’s take on things, it’s accurate at some level that title reigns do factor into the overall picture, but then again, any title reign is an indication that someone is in a good place in the industry.
Wins and losses are an interesting criterion to touch upon at this point, too. I think it’s sufficient to say that PWI is proudly “old school” in how we look at pro wrestling as a sport, and the ultimate outcome of individual matches definitely carries a great deal of weight in how we look at an individual’s overall performance.
Nevertheless, there will be folks who have their own personal reasons for taking issue with the "PWI 500." Some wrestlers feel slighted that they may have made the list in the past and didn’t get in this year. Others have been trying to make the list for a decade or more and continue to fall short. For many of the guys involved in the "PWI 500," we started hearing about this stuff weeks before we even got together in Philly. I personally received a number of texts and e-mails from wrestlers who wanted a sneak peek at the final rankings to see if they’d finally made it (which, even if permitted to, I actually couldn’t provide because I didn’t have one in the first place).
The day that the "500" issue was released in digital form, I got my share of angry notes, tweets, and Facebook posts from guys who felt like they’d been snubbed and insulted because they weren’t on the list. Stu, Frank Krewda, and the other guys have heard it all before, but this was a first for me. I heard and read folks alleging that PWI writers were “getting rich” by selling spots on the list this year. Some guys suggested that a wrestler’s proximity to the Philly scene was a major factor in consideration for a spot. Then there were the guys who just basically laid it all out and said they didn’t make it because they “didn’t kiss enough ass.” It’s hard to argue with broad-based generalizations and cathartic hyperbole. Not all of it was bad, though. Barry Wolf, a leading grappler in the Gulf region and southern U.S. and number-500 in the 2010 rankings, was a real class act about it, sending me a note that said he’d hoped to make the list, but understood that it wasn’t in the cards this year. I heard the same from John Campbell, who probably expected to make the cut but fell just a little short – and this is a guy who was even mentioned within the pages of PWI at least three times during the evaluation period, including a “One To Watch” write-up. Was he disappointed that he wasn’t part of the "500"? Sure. But he handled it like a pro.
There’s also the time-honored tradition of debating whether or not the "PWI 500" even has a place in the industry these days. One guy on a user-generated sports reporting site is actually doing a whole series of articles arguing that the "PWI 500" is no longer “relevant” at all. It’s just my opinion, but the decision to pen an entire series about something that you’re trying to depict as wholly “irrelevant” raises serious questions about how you choose to spend your spare time. Moreover, it tends to suggest that the very thesis behind your argument is contradictory from the get-go. But I digress …
If you really want to know if the "PWI 500" is relevant, ask the guys who actually made the list. Hell, ask guys who didn’t make the list. Ask Darin Corbin, who was grateful to make number 222 and still enthusiastic with his slide to 223 after we made accommodations for Hiroshi Tanahashi’s addition. Ask Matthew Theall, who didn’t place on the list but was mentioned in the blurb for Perry Von Vicious, who clocked in at 492. Matt sent me a personal message the night the "500" was released in which he excitedly mused, “Do you know how often managers are mentioned in "PWI 500" write-ups? How special am I?” Ask Chris Cairo, who didn’t place but continues to bust his butt throughout the Chicago area and beyond. You can even ask Chief Attakullakulla who has personally threatened to come to Dayton and “stinkface” me because he wasn’t in the "500." Does the "PWI 500" still matter? Is it relevant? To thousands upon thousands of fans and wrestlers, it absolutely, positively does matter. And it’ll continue to matter as long as hard-working guys suit up and grapple in hardscrabble towns and burgeoning cities around the world, week in and week out.
I admit it; I am hopelessly biased as a longtime PWI reader and as a contributing writer. But I think that this year’s "PWI 500" had a lot to offer in terms of its contribution to the overall canon of professional wrestling history. Eventually, the dust will settle and we’ll go back to business as usual, and folks will start looking forward to the 2013 "PWI 500." And if Dan Murphy is kept awake at night by calls from the likes of Knome King and Gentleman John Campbell, it may or may not be because I slipped them Dan’s home phone number.
PWI Contributing Writer
PWI Contributing Writer