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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Very Early Forecast For 2013

First things first: On behalf of the entire Pro Wrestling Illustrated staff, I’d like to wish all our readers the happiest of holidays and a joyous New Year. We deeply appreciate your loyalty and will continue to bring you the best in wrestling journalism in 2013.

But what will 2013 look like? A few things are already clear: The Rock promises to be a big part of the WWE product beginning next month and lasting (at least) through WrestleMania. There’s a good chance he’ll even wear the WWE heavyweight championship heading into the big show, where many expect he’ll once again face John Cena in a rematch for the ages.

WWE also begins 2013 with a number of relatively fresh acts that could factor into the company’s plans in a big way. Chief among them is Ryback, who came on strong late in 2012. Despite dominating his competition, he’s been unable to capture the big prize. Will 2013 be the year that “Big Hungry” scarfs down a world title?

Still holding on to his Money in the Bank briefcase, it’s a good bet that Dolph Ziggler will finally break through as a true main-event star in 2013. But then again, some people have been predicting that for years.

Otherwise, 2013 is very much a blank slate for the sport. But for the usual suspects, there are no obvious candidates to provide a dream match in TNA and give Jeff Hardy a run for his money as the company’s top star. The promotion is vastly improved from where it was a year ago, but also is not generating the kind of groundswell among fans that’s necessary to contribute to bona fide wrestling boon.

Much the same can be said for Ring of Honor, which is ending 2013 with a whimper instead of a bang. The company’s biggest show of the year, Final Battle, was high on athleticism, but low on buzzworthiness. Sadly, that’s been ROH’s signature throughout 2012, and there’s not much reason for optimism in 2013.

In December 2011, I attempted to predict 2012’s
PWI Achievement Award frontrunners a year in advance. I have to say I didn’t do too shabby. Among my predictions: That CM Punk would lead in the Wrestler of the Year category; that Punk and Daniel Bryan would put forth a Match of the Year contender; that the feud between John Cena and The Rock would be among the hottest of 2012; and that Bobby Roode and Kevin Steen would wreak enough havoc in their respect promotions to gain consideration as Most Hated Wrestler of the YTear. You can check my picks against the actual winners inside the pages of PWI’s Year-End issue, available now at

My crystal ball is considerably hazier than it was a year ago, but, nevertheless, here’s my forecast for the top contenders in
PWI’s 2013 annual awards.

2013 Tag Team of the Year:
The pool of talented tag teams is far deeper than it was just a year ago, when Kofi Kingston & Evan Bourne struggled to get TV time despite wearing the tag team championship. Today, Team Hell No is one of the hottest acts in all of wrestling. That said, I’d be surprised if Daniel Bryan and Kane were in the running for this award next year. That’s only because I expect both men to return to singles competition before long. Still, there are plenty of other quality tag teams to choose from in WWE. If they can stay healthy for an extended period of time, Sin Cara and Rey Mysterio Jr. have the makings of one of the most exciting duos in years. The Prime Time Players should also shine in 2013. In TNA, the athletic Chavo Guerrero Jr. and powerful Hernandez are sticking to a proven recipe for tag team success. In ROH, which has been long-heralded for its tag team division, the only tandem to really grab my attention in recent months is Caprice Coleman and Cedric Alexander. If they can pry the tag team belts away from the Briscoes, the so-called C&C Wrestle Factory could at least earn a third runner-up spot.

2013 Woman of the Year: It’s been a down year for women’s wrestling, at least in the big national promotions. But there are some things to look forward to. Gail Kim rightfully earned the top spot in our “Female 50” this year, but hasn’t had much depth in her competition. If that changes in 2013, she could be a lock for Woman of the Year. Longtime indy standout Sara Del Rey is now in WWE’s developmental territory. If and when she graduates to the main roster, she should instantly be a contender for the Divas title, and for this award. Then again, who’s to say this award will go to an actual wrestler? After being dumped on by everybody from John Cena to Dolph Ziggler to Vince McMahon, Vickie Guerrero is primed for a makeover as a sympathetic, assertive and (gasp!) likeable female authority on WWE’s Raw brand.

2013 Match of the Year: This is a tough one. With ring masters like Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, and Triple-H all retired or semi-retired, WWE will be counting on its full-time roster to deliver the best performances of 2013. CM Punk is the most likely to come through with a five-star classic, especially if given the right opponent and the right stage. The Undertaker at WrestleMania 29 may fit the bill. Speaking of WrestleMania, The Rock and John Cena had an epic match in Miami, but not a perfectly executed one. With a year to work out the kinks, a rematch could be downright flawless. For years now, TNA has been home to some of the sport’s most talented performers, including Jeff Hardy, AJ Styles, Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe, and Austin Aries. Any two—or even three—of those men could deliver a MOTY-worthy performance. It’s up to TNA tell the right story to elevate it to the next level.

2013 Most Popular Wrestler of the Year: As long as John Cena is competing, he’s going to be a top vote-getter for this award (and, strangely, for Most Hated, as well.) If he can regain the WWE championship in 2013, and beat The Rock along the way, he could win over even more fans. Cena’s biggest challenge for this award may be The Rock himself, depending on how active he remains through and after WrestleMania. Ryback peaked too late in 2012 to be a serious threat for this award, but will have all of 2013 to make those “Feed Me More” chants grow louder and louder. Finally in the right role at the right time, TNA’s world champion and top star, Jeff Hardy, has to be considered in the mix.

2013 Most Hated Wrestler of the Year: With the momentum he has going, it’s hard to think that CM Punk will be any less despised a year from now than he is today. Joining him as top vote-getters for this award could be the members of The Shield, either collectively or on their own. If the latter, Dean Ambrose is the most likely to shine as a sinister villain in WWE. A dark horse candidate: Randy Orton, who has clearly been going through the motions for months now as an alleged “good guy” and appears anxious to return to his sadistic former self. In TNA, the members of Aces & Eights have plenty of heat, but it’s going to take some real character development of its individual members for fans to get invested enough to actually hate them.

2013 Feud of the Year: Although the pieces are in place for some hot rivalries heading into WrestleMania, they’ll likely have to last considerably longer to get strong consideration for this award. If Cena and The Rock can rekindle some of the magic of their past war of words, they’ll likely be in the mix. If Brock Lesnar agrees to a semi-regular schedule in 2013, a reignited feud with Triple-H could get very intense. And if Orton returns to the dark side as I predict he will do, WWE may be tempted to go back to the old reliable feud of Cena vs. Orton. That could feel relatively fresh and fun. Of the other two national promotions, the only obvious candidate for this award is ROH’s blossoming rivalry between Kevin Steen and Jay Lethal. Any feud that begins with one wrestler spitting on the other wrestler’s mother is almost a shoe-in for a runner-up spot.

2013 Wrestler of the Year: You know by now that CM Punk won this award for the second time. Although it’s unlikely that he’ll still be holding on to his gold by this time next year, a string of solid performances in WWE’s main-event scene could make him a contender to three-peat. A more likely candidate is Cena, who looks primed to reclaim the WWE championship in 2013 and take on some very big challenges along the way. How about Lesnar? 2002’s Wrestler of the Year surely has the tools to dominate the wrestling world. The bigger question is if he has the motivation to do so. Dark horses include Sheamus, who had a commendable 2012 but was never truly the face of WWE. That could change in 2013. Another is Dolph Ziggler, who is already considered one of the sport’s best performers and could get a matching push in 2013. And then there’s Jeff Hardy, who has long had the skill and charisma to be wrestling’s biggest star, but now may have the clear head to close the deal.

That’s all for me. Once again, on behalf of the entire PWI
team, Happy New Year!
Al Castle
Senior Writer

Friday, November 9, 2012

Dateline Orlando

I braved the snow-dumping nor'easter and more Disney T-shirt-wearing tourists than I dare count, to travel down to Orlando for last night's edition of Impact Wrestling. As always, Dixie Carter and the gang were more than accomodating. TNA may have its faults, but this is a company that truly values its fans. If you haven't made the trek down to the Impact Zone yet, I highly encourage you to do so ... it's a great experience.

The purpose of my visit was to present Gail Kim with a plaque in recognition of her designation as number one in the 2012 "PWI Female 50." Unfortunately, Gail was on the live event circuit, but she joined me and Jeremy Borash via Skype for a "TNA Today" segment, which will be streamed next week on Both Gail and Jeremy had very nice things to say about PWI, and the segment went very well ... until Hurricane Tara blew onto the set.

The Knockouts champion was miffed that Kim got the top spot, and she made her feelings known in a not-too-subtle way. Be sure to check it out ... it's not to be missed.

Note to Stu Saks: We may have to buy Gail a new plaque.

Dan Murphy

Senior Writer

Thursday, October 11, 2012

You Can Look, But Don't Touch

Well, folks, it's almost Halloween. That means many of our readers are getting ready to celebrate the holiday in style— with candy, costumes, and shoddy attempts at pumpkin carving. Some of you may see a seasonably scary movie or, just maybe, visit a haunted attraction. If you've been to a haunted house, hayride, or corn maze, you know what we're talking about. While Michael Jackson's “Thriller” plays on a loop, you'll be followed around by vampires, zombies, and guys with rubber chainsaws. All of these characters are highly trained and put into place for your maximum enjoyment. Regardless of whether you enjoy them, though, we can assume that you probably won't try to attack any of them. Right?

… Right?

Right. You would never strike or grab an actor at a haunted house or hayride. Rule #1 of any established haunted attraction is: “Don't touch the performers, and they won't touch you.”

Why is this rule so hard for some wrestling fans to grasp?

Two weeks ago on Raw, a match between Ryback and The Miz was interrupted by an overzealous fan who decided to enter the ring. The fan, who appeared to be running toward Ryback, was quickly tackled and ejected by WWE security.

This week on Raw, CM Punk left the ring and made a hasty retreat through a sea of excited fans. As Punk stood among them, one or more of those fans began to make physical contact with him. A younger fan aggressively shoved him. Another fan appeared to accidentally bump into Punk, which prompted the champ to abruptly turn around. As Punk returned his gaze to the ring, that same fan grazed Punk with his arm. Having apparently had enough, Punk turned around and swatted at that man, then pushed him by his face.

A video recording of the Punk incident can be viewed here:

Charles Schmidt is the fan whom Punk went after. He told CBS' Sacramento affiliate that he's considering pressing charges against the wrestler. Schmidt stated that Punk broke his glasses and upset him personally. Both WWE and Punk have apologized formally for the incident.

Right away, let's clarify that it appears Schmidt did not intentionally strike Punk. Most of the shoving appeared to come from a younger fan to Punk's right. Punk told that he felt pushing, bumping, and even heard a fan threatening to shove him down the stairs on which he was standing. The stairs comment may have been uttered by the fan to Punk's right, judging from the early portion of the above video, although this is not clear.

So yes, Charles Schmidt was most likely an innocent bystander. Further, Punk's response was far more than the situation called for. Video footage makes it clear, in hindsight, that he was not in any real danger. Finally, WWE usually has security guards assigned to follow wrestlers through crowds of fans. In this case, no guards were present. Had there been a human barrier between Punk and the fans, this whole situation would not have happened.

Still, there is another lesson to be taken from all this. Punk felt threatened by the fans around him, and the actions of one fan seem to have led to another being attacked. Punk did not injure Schmidt in any serious way, but he could have. Similarly, the fan who charged at Ryback two weeks ago would have stood no chance in a showdown with him. Fans who attack wrestlers at work never do.

If you enjoy watching pro wrestling, it follows that you should have a great deal of respect for the men and women who perform for you. Reaching out for a high-five is okay. Striking or grabbing a wrestler never is. If a fan does happen to hit a wrestler, it's a grappler's natural instinct to defend himself. The Punk situation had an unfortunate and unintended result, but it was a reaction to a situation that never should have occurred in the first place.

Kevin McElvaney
Contributing Writer
@OfficialPWI Contributor

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Memories Of Dark Days

With Bret Hart’s return to Montreal, a Pat Patterson appreciation event, and Paul Heyman’s new association with WWE Champion CM Punk, the September 10 edition of Raw promised to be a memorable event. All those storylines became afterthoughts, however, when color commentator Jerry “The King” Lawler suffered a heart attack on live television, less than 30 minutes after competing in a tag team match.
As of this writing, Lawler is recovering from emergency heart surgery and is reported to be in stable condition. The entire wrestling world is hoping and praying for him, and we hope “The King” can make a full recovery.

Unfortunately, pro wrestling has seen more than its fair share of tragedy through the years. We have seen larger-than-life heroes and villains prove to be mere mortals, and we have seen many unforgettable performers leave us before their time.

While watching Monday’s telecast, I was struck by the atmosphere of the Bell Centre – the confused fans straining to see what was happening as medical personnel administered to Lawler; the somber, stoic updates from Michael Cole; the overwhelming sense of anxiety, concern, and fear for a man who fans have invited into their living room every Monday night for nearly 20 years.

That atmosphere reminded me of several times when tragedy suddenly struck the wrestling world, when death thrust its horrid head into our little world of fantasy and entertainment. As a wrestling fan, I have experienced that atmosphere, and those emotions, on several occasions.

We hope and pray that Lawler’s story will prove to be one of survival. Unfortunately, not every story has a happy ending. Here are 10 deaths that stunned the wrestling world. All of them proved as jarring and disconcerting to the wrestling community as Monday’s incident. Video clips are included.

Bruiser Brody
Wrestling’s Wildman was stabbed to death in a lockerroom shower in Puerto Rico in 1988. He died at the peak of his career and was one of the most popular, and respected, stars on both hemispheres.

Owen Hart
Owen Hart died in the ring during a WWE pay-per-view event in a freak accident when he slipped out of a harness lowering him from the rafters at the Kemper Arena. The tragedy, and WWE’s response, were unprecedented.

David Von Erich
The heir apparent to the NWA World title died under controversial circumstances while touring Japan in 1984. It would not be the last tragedy to afflict Denton’s first family.

Gino Hernandez
“The Handsome Half-breed” was one of wrestling’s most dynamic and influential young stars until a cocaine overdose ended his life in 1986.

Andre the Giant
Never was the phrase “larger than life” more appropriate than when used describing Andre the Giant. Acromegaly, the condition that caused him to grow to such an enormous size, ultimately led to the health failures that ended his life at age 46.

Brian Pillman
Recurring throat polyps, a smallish size in an era of super heavyweights, a life-threatening car accident weeks before realizing his dream and signing with WWE … Brian Pillman’s life was all about beating the odds. But in 1997, he died due to heart disease the day of a scheduled WWE PPV match.

Chris Benoit
Eradicated by WWE, Benoit’s in-ring accomplishments live on in the hearts of wrestling fans. The circumstances of his death were monstrous and continue to cast a shadow over the wrestling world today.

Eddie Guerrero
Guerrero entitled his autobiography Cheating Death, Saving Life. His was a story of redemption, perseverance, and survival, which made his sudden death such a bitter pill for wrestling fans to swallow.

Jay Youngblood
The handsome Native American was one of the young lions of the NWA. He died at the age of 30 following a match in Australia, after reportedly rupturing his spleen and suffering a series of heart attacks.

Mitsuhara Misawa
One of Japan’s all-time greatest stars died in the ring after breaking his neck after a suplex. It was a horrifying incident, and a reminder of the dangers and potential tragedy every time a wrestler enters the ring.

Dan Murphy
PWI Senior Writer

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Lingering Questions After The Lawler Scare

Last night’s Raw gave wrestling fans one of the scarier moments in the sport’s history when Jerry “The King” Lawler suffered a heart attack at the announcers’ table while providing color commentary for a match. It goes without saying that the primary concern of WWE officials, performers, and fans alike should be Lawler’s speedy recovery. Not only is “The King” a wrestling legend and a pop culture icon, but more importantly, he’s a father and a dear friend to countless people both in and out of the wrestling business. Whether he ever steps into the ring or behind the announce table is almost a trivial matter when compared to what’s really important—that Lawler get well and be able to enjoy the rest of his life with health and happiness.
That said, last night’s frightening incident does raise several important questions, even if right now is not the time to answer them.

Is it a good idea to have a 62-year-old man wrestle semi-regularly, or at all?
The answer to that question is probably not as obvious as it may seem. That’s because not all 62-year-old men are alike. Not only does Lawler appear to keep himself in good shape, but he also wrestles a fairly conservative style that should not take as much a toll on his body than if other wrestlers tried to compete at his age. That said, a more important number than Lawler’s age may be how long he’s been wrestling (an astonishing 42 years) and how many hours of travel his body endures each week—especially since he’s been wrestling at WWE live events as of late. The collective wear and tear of such a long career could cause serious health issues in a person even half Lawler’s age. And when you’re pushing senior-citizenship, it could be potentially life-threatening.

Have we seen the last of Jerry Lawler in the ring or behind the announce table?
We can all be certain that, at the very least, it will be months before Lawler calls another WWE match. And it’s a good bet that Vince McMahon won’t allow him to wrestle in one of his rings ever again. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Lawler’s wrestling career is over. The fact is, in recent years Lawler has been doing most of his wrestling on the independent circuit. If, God willing, he gets better, it may be next to impossible to keep Lawler out of a wrestling ring permanently. When wrestling is in your blood like it is in Lawler’s, it’s hard to accept that you’ve wrestled your final match. It’s a little more likely that Lawler will eventually return to the announce table, but certainly not a given. Regardless of whether he’s competing in the ring, working for WWE even once a week comes with a hectic travel schedule and can make it tough to live a healthy lifestyle.

Should the show have gone on?
It’s a tough question, and one that has haunted WWE for 13 years since the night Vince McMahon chose to go ahead with the Over the Edge pay-per-view even after Owen Hart fell to his death in the ring. Hindsight is always 20/20, and WWE could not know how serious Lawler’s situation was until he was admitted into a hospital and thoroughly examined. The company knew this much: Lawler was alive and breathing on his own when he left the building. What’s more, they knew they had a commitment to fill another hour of television time on the USA Network, and to put on a show for the fans inside the Bell Centre in Montreal. In the end, I think WWE officials handled the situation as best they could under the circumstances by having the planned in-ring segments take place without commentary, and using Michael Cole to regularly update fans. I’m sure nobody at WWE was much in the mood to work after seeing Lawler taken away in an ambulance, but they did all have a job to do.

Was it a lot to ask WWE’s Raw announce team to increase its workload by half when the show was extended to three hours?
It may only amount to an extra hour of work a week, but WWE’s decision to extend Raw from two hours to three hours in July assured that Lawler would spend 50 percent more time each Monday in the stressful position of calling live television. Little has been said about it, but the fact is that the WWE performers most affected by Raw’s expansion have been its announce team. Regardless of whether or not the extra work factored into Lawler’s health issues, it had to add a little more stress to his life.

Are part-time WWE performers, like Lawler, subject to the company’s Wellness Program, and should they be?
This question could probably be answered with a simple yes or no by WWE, but it’s not clear at this time. On one hand, as an announcer working on WWE’s production side, Lawler probably would not be subject to the wellness policy, which tests performers annually for cardiac issues. On the other hand, Lawler has been working a semi-regular ring schedule as of late alongside other WWE wrestlers who are subject to the policy. Certainly, any 62-year-old man would stand to benefit from getting his ticker regularly checked out, especially before exerting himself in a wrestling match.

Did last night’s situation serve as an example of why WWE should avoid simulating such grave health scares in the future?
I was only half-paying attention to Raw last night when the Lawler incident occurred. And so when Michael Cole explained on camera later in the night that Lawler had passed out at the announce table, I thought the same thing that I imagine scores of other wrestling fans thought: that this was all part of the show. And even through the end of Raw, I was still a little skeptical that the Lawler situation was legitimate. It wasn’t until I visited various credible wrestling websites that confirmed that Lawler had collapsed that I was convinced that the situation was all too real. You can accuse me of being too cynical, but the sad truth is that WWE has cried wolf too many times with staged injuries and other medical emergencies that they’ve tried their hardest to pass off as legitimate. It seems like at least once a year a WWE announce team grimly addresses the fans at home about a storyline development with the same tone that Jim Ross used on the night Owen Hart died. In as much as WWE is in the drama business, I understand the need to present everything that happens on its television shows with a sense of realism. But the goal should be to keep fans’ suspension of disbelief while they are watching a product that they know is entertainment. It should not be to fool them. Imagine if the director of 1993’s The Crow put out a sequel to the film and made up a story about another actor being accidentally shot dead on the set, just like Brandon Lee was in the original film. It would be deceitful and tasteless. That’s not too far removed from what WWE has done time and again since Hart’s death. Think I'm exaggerating? Maybe you should be reminded of this 2007 press release on WWE's corporate website <> . And so when an actual tragedy occurs on one of their shows, inevitably some fans are going to be dubious about whether it’s legit.

Should last night mark the end of the heel Michael Cole character?
Unquestionably, the wrestling universe’s thoughts and sympathies should have been with Jerry Lawler and his family in the moments after he collapsed on television. But, I, for one, couldn’t help but feel for Michael Cole, who was put in the unenviable position of having to continue doing his job even as he watched his longtime friend and broadcast partner in a potentially life-threatening medical emergency beside him. Cole stepped up and did an admirable job, not only of calling the action until his WWE bosses made the call to go silent on commentary, but also of updating fans with the latest information on Lawler’s condition. Cole was sincere, composed, informed, authoritative, and even brave. It was a reminder of what, at its best, the job of a play-by-play man in any sport should be. It was also a reminder of how good Cole could be if he weren’t forced into the money-losing role of the villainous announcer who hates all things good, including Lawler, and whose primary task is to steal attention away from the real stars of the show. Cole is so much better than that, and he showed it last night. Let’s hope he doesn’t revert back to his old ways.

What becomes of WWE’s announce team?
In the grand scheme of things, this should be the least of WWE’s concerns. But nevertheless, the reality is that, come next Monday, there will be an empty seat to fill at the announcer’s table. Mostly likely, it will be occupied by Josh Mathews, who does a serviceable job with Cole on Smackdown every Friday night. With the brand split all but finished, it’s less of an issue now than ever to have the same announce team call both shows. But, in the long term, WWE needs to get new and talented announcers in the pipeline for the future. The  existing announcing roster is rounded out by the likes of the obnoxious Matt Striker and the overzealous Scott Stanford. William Regal has shown some promise doing commentary on some of WWE’s web shows, but his style may be too mellow and subdued for prime time viewers. Of course, WWE does have a fairly experienced employee on its payroll by the name of Jim Ross, who just happens to be the greatest wrestling announcer in history. But it’s become obvious over recent years that Vince McMahon just does not want Ross as the face of his flagship show. WWE will most likely scout for young, camera-friendly broadcaster-types, but it should also scout for older, more-seasoned wrestling veterans, like Lawler. They should even consider former WWE broadcasters from long ago. In most pro sports, age isn’t a negative for a broadcaster. It’s a positive, as fans want a wise and experienced voice calling the action. My wish list would include John Layfield, Sean Mooney, and Kevin Kelly. WWE might even try out veteran wrestlers with no past broadcasting experience, like Dustin Runnels, Ron Simmons, and even Edge, assuming any of them would be interested in the job.

Al Castle

PWI Senior Writer

Friday, September 7, 2012

The True Story Of The 2012 "PWI 500"

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.

Mike Bessler
PWI Contributing Writer
@OfficialPWI Contributor

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"PWI 500" Errors: The Resolution

After much back and forth with staff members and contributors, we have decided that the best course of action for dealing with the errors in the "PWI 500" is to take the unprecedented step of reissuing the rankings. These changes will not be reflected in either the digital or print editions of the magazine, as the mistakes were detected too late.

The revised "PWI 500"will supersede the published version and be viewed as "official."

The original "500" contained several regrettable mistakes. There was an instance where a wrestler's bio was inadvertently left off a page, two instances in which the same wrestler appeared twice on the list, and one in which an elite star was omitted entirely.

On the original list, Bray Wyatt was listed at both 167 and 244. Silver Kain was listed at 182 and again at 283 as Silver King. Cody Deaner's 207 never made it to the published page. And, after a superb year, Hiroshi Tanahashi was left off the list entirely.

In the case of Wyatt, his second listing in the "500" was intended for Yoshihiro Tajiri, so that's an easy fix. In the case of Silver Kain, we did not have a wrestler selected for the second spot, so to scratch number 283 off the list means we'd have only 499 wrestlers in the ranking.

That opens a spot for the deserving Tanahashi. Since it was our intention all along to rank him in the number-11 position, that is precisely what we are going to do. Frankly, it was never our intention to rank Hiroyoshi Tenzan in that number-11 spot, but that's where he ended up in the published editions. He was supposed to be number 81.

So here's the bottom line. Tanahashi is now the official number 11. Tenzan is number 81. With the exception of Tanahashi at 11, numbers 1-80 remain intact. All those wrestlers ranked from 82-282 will be dropped one slot. Numbers 284-500 remain intact.

Why are we doing this? Several reasons. 1) We want to be accurate. There will always be debate as to where wrestlers rank on a list such as this, which is expected and welcomed. If someone is to be left off the list, we want it to be for the right reasons--certainly not because of our screw-up. You can review Tanahashi's credential in the previous blog post. He deserves his number-11 ranking (and, we can guess, higher in the eyes of many). 2) The historical significance of the "PWI 500." The list isn't just printed in one issue of PWI and forgotten. The "PWI 500" is re-run in our Almanac, referenced on Wikipedia, and the previous year's ranking is listed when a new list is compiled. We have an obligation to posterity to do what is necessary to make this right. 3) The wrestlers shouldn't be shortchanged. Being listed in the "500" is not going to make or break the career of an established star like Tanahashi, but, as CM Punk told us this year, "I see this as being honored by my peers, which is what it's all about for me ... To be spotlighted by your magazine like this is a true honor."

We are, of course, sorry that our own negligence made these steps necessary. We apologize to our readers who purchased the magazine and will not have a list that is 100 percent accurate. We also apologize to the wrestlers who will lose one slot on the official "500" listing. And, finally, we promise to come up with safeguards to prevent this from happening again.

Stu Saks


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"PWI 500" Errors

Perhaps the only thing that matches the anticipation we here at PWI feel each year leading up to the release of our annual "PWI 500" list is our dread of the errors that come with it.

Considering the size of the task at hand, some mistakes are inevitable. Sometimes they are hardly noticeable, and sometimes they are doozies. This year we had a little bit of both, and in every case, we feel terrible. 
We sincerely apologize, both to our readers and, in particular, to the hard-working wrestlers who were inadvertently omitted from this year's "PWI 500." We promise to be more careful next year to ensure similar mistakes don't happen again.

Let's go over the errors:

• In the "doozy" category, we failed to include reigning IWGP champion Hiroshi Tanahashi, who had a dominant year in New Japan.This was obviously a huge oversight on our part--made worse by the fact that he was mentioned in so many other Japanese wrestlers' profiles. Certainly, an argument could be made that Tanahashi, who shattered all kinds of records between 2011 and 2012, should have been ranked above them all. We can tell you this much: At one point, Tanahashi was ranked very high on our list. But somewhere in the process of shuffling wrestlers around before finalizing the list, we omitted him altogether and did not notice until it was too late. We're embarrassed by the mistake and sincerely apologize to Tanahashi, and to our readers.

• Bray Wyatt is ranked twice, at numbers 167 and 244. The error stemmed from the fact that, at one point, we had him under two different names, Bray Wyatt and Husky Harris. And so a scan of the list in search of repeats did not catch the duplication. And because different writers wrote the two profiles, neither realized the mistake. Later, we changed Harris to is current wrestling character, Wyatt, but did not catch the fact that we was still listed twice. Again, we apologize for the error. For the record, Wyatt should officially be ranked at number 167. Number 244 belongs to Yoshihiro Tajiri.

• We made a similar mistake with Silver King, who is also ranked twice. He’s at 182 as Silver Kain, the name he occasionally uses when wrestling under a mask, and at 283 as Silver King. Again, because the names are different, we didn’t immediately notice the error. Officially, he’s number 182.

• Because of a layout error, there is no entry under number 204. The spot should have gone to Cody Deaner. 

We will convene a staff meeting over the next few weeks to see how to handle subsequent publications of the 2012 "PWI 500."
In the meantime, below are the bios of the omitted wrestlers.

HIROSHI TANAHASHI (5’11”, 230, 19, 22) Dominant New Japan superstar shattered multiple records over the past year, during which he wore the prestigious IWGP heavyweight championship for the fifth and sixth time . . . His fifth run with the title began in January of last year and lasted 404 days, the second longest in NJPW history, behind only Shinya Hashimoto’s 1996-97 reign . . . He tied Tatsumi Fujimami’s record for most IWGP title reigns and bested Yuji Nagata’s record for most title defenses during a reign at 11 . . . Those included wins against Giant Bernard, Shinsuke Nakamura, Tetsuya Naito, Toru Yano, and Nagata .. . Lost the title to Kazuchika Okada in February, but won it back near the end of the evaluation period in June . . . Also saw some success tag teaming with Hirooki Goto in The Billion Powers . . . Somewhat undersized for a heavyweight , but makes up for it with a dizzying array of innovative moves, including his Bridging Dragon Suplex.

CODY DEANER (6’, 220, 12, 267) Wrestling redneck competes in the Ontario independent circuit, including for TWA Powerhouse, ProWrestling Xtreme, and Great Canadian Wrestling . . . Teamed with Derek Wylde to capture the TWA tag team championship at Summerbash 2011 . . . Previously worked in TNA.

TAJIRI (5’8”, 210, 18, 183) Former WWE and ECW sensation remains active in Japan, both as a wrestler and a promoter . . . Was a driving force behind the SMASH promotion before it folded this year . . . In April, the “Japanese Buzzsaw” founded a new company, Wrestling New Classic. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Joey Kovar And What Could Have Been

Joey Kovar passed away late last week. While most media outlets and gossip sites have extensively discussed his appearances on “reality” shows like The Real World and Celebrity Rehab, a lot of folks may be a surprised to learn that Joey was an aspiring professional wrestler who had, at one point in his life, pursued a career in the business. After Kovar's stints on reality shows, his reputation for partying hard and crashing even harder was known to many. Despite that, there were a a few folks in the wrestling world who were willing to take a chance on him.

I remember seeing Kovar backstage when he showed up for a guest appearance at last year’s POWW’s WrestleRage IX show in Elk Grove, Illinois. I didn’t know a lot about Joey’s work in reality television, but I remember how he was warmly greeted by everyone in the POWW lockerroom and the Chicago-area crowd that night. Early in the evening, I stood just a few feet away from Joey as he talked with one of the other guys backstage about his struggles with addiction and how he really felt like he had gotten his priorities straight in life, both for his own sake and for that of his growing family. Joey seemed to really appreciate the benefits of sobriety as well as the support of family and friends, including the men and women of POWW.

I learned of Joey’s passing late last Friday after I saw a status update posted by POWW owner Jim Blaze. Jim fondly recalled Joey’s charisma and potential as an in-ring performer and indicated that he had firmly believed that Kovar might have had a shot at the big leagues had he stuck with pro wrestling. I talked with Blaze by phone over the weekend and he shared some personal insight on Joey’s aspirations and the challenges he faced in recent years.

Blaze explained that he came to know Kovar through a mutual acquaintance, Dave Williams of Windy City Wrestling. At Williams' suggestion, Blaze invited Kovar to train at POWW’s wrestling school in Lakemoor, Illinois.  “I knew about his problems with drugs and all that from seeing him on television, but I gave him a shot. We bonded instantly,” Blaze recalled. “We both were picked on in school because we loved wrestling, and Joey’s dream -- like mine --  was to be a pro wrestler.” For several months, Kovar trained at the POWW facility and showed some promise. “His goal was to be in TNA, and I honestly thought I could make it there.”

About four months into the POWW program, Kovar expressed a desire to move a little closer to home. He picked up some more training at a facility near Joliet, Illinois, but, according to Blaze, Joey fell back into old habits and ended up back in rehab shortly thereafter. “He called me when he got out,” Blaze said. “Everybody knew what had happened. He said he wanted to give it another shot and he came to a few shows. After a while, I asked if he wanted to do some commentary at a show and he was really excited.” Their discussion led to Kovar’s appearance at WrestleRage IX in which he walked to the ring, picked up a microphone, and told the audience about the hard times he’d endured and his desire to finally make an positive impact in the wrestling business. The same night, Kovar had a brief dust-up with TNA’s Robbie E in which he foiled Robbie’s vicious in-ring attack on Blaze. The crowd loved it and it seemed like Joey finally had a home in the squared circle. "I knew he was clean at WrestleRage," Blaze said with a smile. "He had the right people around him and I guess I felt like it was time to give him his dream."

However, Blaze lost touch with Kovar again after last year’s show. “He’d send me texts once in a while, checking in and sharing inspirational messages," Blaze said. "He was very spiritual and shared a lot of motivational ideas with people. That’s what he did best and that’s what a lot of us will remember him for.”

Blaze addressed Kovar’s passing in a talk with the POWW lockerroom shortly before their show on Saturday night. “A lot of jaws dropped when I told them the news because quite a few of them didn’t know Joey had died," he said. "I reminded them that we all have our demons and that it’s a matter of everybody sticking together, helping each other through things, and overcoming those demons.”

In my life outside of wrestling-themed pursuits, I’ve spent the better part of two decades working closely with scores upon scores of people in various stages of the addiction cycle. It’s a difficult and often tragic situation. It’s often exhausting and discouraging because while there are plenty of touching tales of success and redemption, there are many, many more stories that end in tragedy, with a promising life cut short as friends and family are left to grieve and wonder what could have been. By all accounts, Joey Kovar was the victim of his own excesses and his death was extremely unfortunate. During his lifetime, though, he enjoyed the support of fans and admirers and he was fortunate enough to get a shot at living his dream when he trained with wrestlers of POWW Entertainment. Jim Blaze deserves recognition for being one of the people who still believes in giving individuals a second chance despite their emotional baggage and personal struggles. Sometimes, given the right circumstances and a little luck, that kind of gesture makes all of the difference in the life of a troubled person.

Mike Bessler
Contributing Writer
@OfficialPWI Contributor

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ain't No Cure For The SummerSlam Blues

Heading into this Sunday’s SummerSlam, here are a few things that are floating around my mind:

• It’s both astounding and maddening that WWE still does not understand the concept of an anniversary. Contrary to WWE’s hype, this is not the 25th anniversary of SummerSlam. It’s the 25th edition of SummerSlam. There’s a huge difference (365 days to be exact.) WWE’s been making this same mistake since it promoted 2009’s WrestleMania as the 25th Anniversary of the event, when it was not. I’m sure by now WWE has heard several people correct them, and have just decided to dismiss them as nitpickers. But this is no technicality. It’s basic mathematics, and WWE looks downright idiotic when it can’t get such a simple concept right. I was married on November 1, 2003. And so, the first anniversary of my wedding was November 1, 2004—one year later. It wasn’t on the same day that I was married. SummerSlam, having been created in 1988, doesn’t turn 25 years old until next year, in its 26th installment. I get that the number 25 carries some gravitas. And so why not just call this SummerSlam 25? Or the 25th Edition of SummerSlam? They’d get double the bang for their buck that way, because they’d still be able to pull out the big 25 number next year when it actually would be the show’s silver anniversary.

• I have mixed feelings about WWE making Los Angeles’ Staples Center the official home of SummerSlam each year. On one hand, I think it’s a cool hook, and ensures the event will be held in a major market each year. On the other hand, it means I may never see another SummerSlam in person again, seeing as how I live on the other side of the U.S. I’ve attended six SummerSlams: 1991 in Madison Square Garden, 1997 at the Meadowlands, 1998 in MSG again, 2002 in Nassau Coliseum, 2005 in Washington, D.C., and 2007 in the IZOD Center. The 1991 edition was the first WWE pay-per-view I attended in person. I had the most fun in 2002, which featured Shawn Michaels’ inspirational comeback match against Triple-H after a four-year hiatus and Brock Lesnar defeating The Rock for the WWE championship. I drove from Long Island to D.C. and back in the same day to watch Hulk Hogan vs. Shawn Michaels in 2005. I got home around 4 a.m. and called in sick to work the next day.

• SummerSlam 2002 may have been the most loaded, top-to-bottom, in the show’s history. But my personal favorite is still SummerSlam 1990. The event was well-built over a number of months and featured the culmination of several grudges, ranging from Power & Glory vs. The Rockers to Bad News Brown vs. Jake Roberts to Dusty Rhodes vs. Randy Savage, to the blockbuster double main event. Nearly every match on the show had a solid storyline behind it. There were two title changes, including the Hart Foundation beating Demolition in a red-hot two-out-of-three falls match. Hulk Hogan made his big return after being sidelined for months by Earthquake. And The Ultimate Warrior, riding a wave of popularity, had his only successful pay-per-view World title defense, against Rick Rude in a steel cage match that was a lot better than you’d expect.

• It used to be that SummerSlam felt nearly as important as WrestleMania, but that sure isn’t the case anymore. Through 1994, SummerSlam was one of only four or five pay-per-views a year, and as such was built up for months and months. After WWE expanded to monthly PPVs in 1995, it felt less special. When the off-month In Your House shows expanded from two hours to three, it felt even less special. When WWE did away with brand-specific PPVs and combined the rosters for each monthly show in 2007, it felt even less special. And now, with the brand-split all but gone, and with Raw being three hours each week, it’s harder than ever for SummerSlam to stand out from the pack.

• Of course, the other reason SummerSlam has traditionally been a more important pay-per-view than most is because it features some of the biggest matches of the year. Triple-H vs. Brock Lesnar would certainly seem to fit the bill, but the rest of the card might as well take place at No Way Out. We’ve seen just about every variation of a match involving John Cena, CM Punk, and The Big Show. Alberto Del Rio vs. Sheamus (if it’s still happening) is a fine Smackdown main event, but nothing more. And the rest of the card seems thrown together with spare parts. Aside from Triple-H vs. Lesnar, it’s as uninspired a SummerSlam card as I can remember.

• As far as predictions, I have to pick Brock Lesnar to beat Triple-H, although it’s far from a given. Fans rightfully expected for Lesnar to be portrayed as unstoppable following his return to WWE in April. But he’s been anything but—losing to John Cena in his first match back and being beaten up and sent running back to the lockerroom by Triple-H a few weeks back on
Raw. It’s imperative that Lesnar get a win here so he can look strong headed toward what many expect is a showdown with The Undertaker at WrestleMania 29. I expect CM Punk to retain his title in the three-way match. I also expect him to make some big news along the way. Regardless of who Sheamus ends up defending his World title against, I could see Dolph Ziggler cashing in his briefcase and winning the title before the night is through. For the rest of the show I pick: Bryan, Miz, Primetime Players, Cesaro.

• Since WWE isn’t doing a whole lot to make SummerSlam feel special, I’ve taken matters into my own hands. My friends and I will be watching SummerSlam in my front yard, drive-in movie style, as projected onto a giant bed sheet. If nothing else, it’ll help make the night memorable.

Al Castle
PWI Senior Writer

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Olympic Pro Wrestling?

At some point during every Summer Olympics season, my friends and I wonder aloud, “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if pro wrestling was an Olympic sport?” We amuse ourselves with the notion of a run-in during a medal ceremony, or an entire panel of judges somehow missing a pull of the tights. There’s no question, the idea of pro wrestling being allowed in the Olympics is absurd.

Or is it? After watching much of the Games this past summer, I couldn’t help but question why some of the sports included are any more legitimate than pro wrestling. With all due respect, can anyone tell me with a straight face that ping pong, handball, or rhythmic gymnastics—which involves throwing a hula hoop in the air, dancing around, then catching it—requires more athletic ability than a 30-minute wrestling match?

Let me state the obvious, under the definition of an athletic contest in which participants compete for victory, pro wrestling may not be considered a sport. But, as athletic exhibitions that can be judged on various criteria, pro wrestling matches are not much different that platform dives or gymnastic events.

What’s more, pro wrestling has tremendous international appeal. The United States, Japan, Mexico, Canada and Great Britain all have rich pro wrestling histories that go back several decades. Other countries, including South Africa, Germany, Spain, Turkey, and India also host various wrestling promotions, some of which are nationally televised.

According to the Olympics website, for a sport to be included in the Olympics, it has to be “widely practiced around the world.” Certainly, pro wrestling fits that bill.

So here’s how I think it could work:

• Olympic pro wrestling would be divided into two events: singles and tag team.

• Countries would send “teams” of singles wrestler and tag teams to the Olympics. They’d have to first pass whatever qualifying events to make it to the Olympics. Those would be scored using the same criteria as for the Olympics.

• At the Olympics, a panel of judges representing different countries, and consisting of former pro wrestlers, promoters, and writers would observe matches and assign scores.

• Point values would be assigned based on a criteria that took into account the various elements of a good wrestling match, including athleticism, execution, flow, dramatic content, and the finish. In other words: How exciting were the moves? How well did they connect? How much did it feel like a real fight? How well did the match captivate viewers and take them for an emotional rollercoaster ride? And how satisfying was the finish? Tag team matches would have added criteria to reflect the differences in styles.

• Teams would compete tournament style to advance to the finals. Qualifying matches would be given time limits of 10 minutes, while finals would be given 30 minutes.

To be clear, participants would only wrestle in matches against those from their own country. In that sense, the actual outcome of the match is less relevant than the overall quality of the match (although who is chosen to win could affect how good the match is, and therefore, how many points it receives.)

To say the least, it would be an imperfect system—in large part because it would be impossible to replicate in that setting one of the key factors that determines whether a match is good or not: the storyline and build-up behind it. Wrestlers would be limited to the time they have in the ring to tell an interesting story.

It would be fascinating to see a competitive showcase of different wrestling styles from around the globe, ranging from the high-flying Mexican lucha libre style to the hard-hitting Japanese style. As well, it would be interesting to follow which wrestlers are sent by each country to represent them in the Olympics, and whether some wrestlers who made careers in the U.S. might choose to compete for other countries (Chris Jericho for Canada? Primo for Puerto Rico?)

And, like we’ve seen in the past with men’s basketball, the perfect Olympic team may be about more than just star power and individual success. The right pro wrestling team would require good chemistry among all of its contestants, so they can be mixed and matched and consistently put on good performances. They’d have to be technically sound, but not high-spot artists. And, most important, they’d have to be good storytellers in the ring.

My U.S. pro wrestling Olympic dream team might include Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Davey Richards, Austin Aries, AJ Styles, and, of course, Kurt Angle.

Who would you choose?

Al Castle
Senior Writer

Monday, August 6, 2012

Tensai vs. The Law Of Diminishing Returns

Lots of things seem great on paper: Cold fusion. Water-powered automobiles. A Metallica collaboration with legendary Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed. And then there’s Lord Tensai; I know it’s just “Tensai” now, but that’s just indicative of the whole problem with where he is in WWE at present. The original idea for bringing Albert/A-Train back, repackaged as a tatted-up monster villain-type guy who forged his wrestling prowess in the fires of the legendary foundry of Japan’s ultra-violent, ├╝ber-tough wrestling world seemed like the proverbial “can’t miss” … Well, it must’ve seemed like that to somebody, anyway. Something like this did work quite well when WWE turned Eddie Fatu into the rather convincing main-eventer Umaga. But the same formula just doesn’t work for Tensai.

Some of the problem might be easily traced back to Tensai’s debut. As Giant Bernard, Tensai had indeed spent a lengthy and relatively successful stretch of his career in Japan after leaving WWE in 2004. WWE not only touted this but blew it way the hell up, creating a new, caricature-like persona whose achievements in the Land of the Rising Sun were now Tensai’s only claim to fame and relevance in the WWE Universe.

A major problem with this particular approach is that wrestling in Japan isn’t what it used to be. Sure, there are puroesu die-hards who can effortlessly wade through the alphabet soup of Japanese wrestling organizations and tell you how many titles Takashi Sugiura has held since 2000 and what year Akitoshi Saito debuted in Pioneer Senshi (I think it was 1990, for the record). And hey, a lot of those guys were probably tickled pink to eventually learn that Giant Bernard was headed back to action in the States. But by and large, a lot of wrestling fans just don’t know or care about Japan’s wrestling heritage or prominence the way they used to. Call it a diminishing return on WWE’s wager that a seasoned superstar of the once-burgeoning Japanese scene would capture and hold the interest of gazillions of relatively finicky fans.

Major American talent rosters are relatively short on Japan-seasoned talent these days, despite the exceptional depth chart of Japanese wrestlers who performed in the WWF, WCW, and ECW in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000’s. By comparison, American wrestling organizations and their fans are quick to recognize and embrace the significance of the Mexican scene more than ever. I asked my friend Ben “Santo Loco” Fiallos, a longtime lucha libre enthusiast and video blogger, why the Mexican scene flourishes while Japanese wrestling seems to have lost a considerable amount of luster – both with regard to American fans and with their respective home countries. Ben shares this observation: “Japan has a lot going on with popular culture. Mexico is very different. I think that the people of Mexico are still looking for heroes in some way, especially now with the crime, drugs, and poverty they endure.  People need a special place to escape from the reality and see their heroes in the ring. Lots of Mexican kids don’t have video games and all that, but they have the luchadors to help them escape.” 

True enough, when WWE tours Mexico, even Alberto Del Rio gets a thundering hero’s ovation from his countrymen. Whether it’s sociocultural issues, economics, or regional political tensions, the climate has changed quite a bit with regard to the wrestling business in Japan and, quite simply, it could be that Mexican wrestling has picked up where Japan left off some years ago.

In America, wrestling stars with roots in Mexico are some of most visible figures in the business right now, from WWE’s Rey Mysterio, Alberto Del Rio, and the  Guerrero family to TNA’s recent Mexican America stable. To his credit, Tensai is arguably the most prominent alumnus of the Japanese scene working in the U.S. today. Smackdown’s Yoshi Tatsu also spent the early years of his career in Japan wrestling for NJPW, and while he’s fortunate enough to be in the “big leagues” at present, recent reports suggest he is rather dissatisfied with his current status in the business.

In the five months or so since Tensai’s debut, his stock has fallen steadily, starting at the top of the card and sliding all the way down to last week’s mid-card loss to Tyson Kidd. Despite WWE’s minor tweaks to Tensai’s on-screen character (including a nod to the fact that he is, in fact, the celebrated Albert of days past), it hasn't gained much credibility with fans. It’s academic to try and predict how or when WWE will attempt another retroactive overhaul of Tensai’s biography, but it’s sure starting to seem like fans wouldn’t mind if "Tensai" were to depart, just as long as "Albert" sticks around…and finally shows the fans the guy they really want to see.

Mike Bessler
PWI Contributing Writer
@OfficialPWI Contributor