By Joe Gagne
I remember buying the very first PWI 500 back in 1991 (when Hulk Hogan was #1 and they comically left the Undertaker off the list completely). Basically, they took 500 wrestlers (the vast majority of whom were from the U.S. – David Sammartino finished 1 slot ahead of Mitsuharu Misawa, and Jumbo Tsuruta was 1 spot behind the Yellow Dog, but he did just beat Tim Horner), and ranked them in a kayfabe manner over who was the best. I think I appreciated the scope of it more than anything – I knew all the WWF and WCW wrestlers, and some indy wrestlers I knew of mostly from reading PWI, but the fact 500 wrestlers existed, and someone took the time to rank them and write bios fascinated me. Even when I stopped reading the Apter mags not long after I always tried to track down the PWI 500. It still gets published to this day, and costs about $86 dollars on the newsstands.
There have been fan attempts, most notably the Death Valley Driver 500. I had always thought about doing a list like that, but didn’t think I watched enough wrestling to make a comprehensive list. Remember, back in the day, to see a show from Japan you had to trade tapes or pay $10, if not more. Now, with the likes of Youtube, Daily Motion, Sendspace, MP4’s, and other means, almost any show that happens anywhere can be viewed in about a week, if not live. So given all that…I still don’t watch enough wrestling to make a comprehensive 500. But I can come pretty close.
My approach here was basically to ask: “Who do I most want to see in a match right now?” I’d rather see #9 wrestle more than #10, #5 more than #4, and #1 is the guy I most want to see overall.
A) This is based on in-ring performance only.
B) I tended to take a “best case scenario” for each wrestler. Tomoaki Honma is a guy who knocks it out of the park when given a high profile singles or tag match, if you only watched him in lower card tag matches where he doesn’t get a chance to shine, you may think his ranking is nuts.
C) There’s obviously a discrepancy in amount of footage for each wrestler. I can see John Cena wrestle 100 times a year easily; for some indie guys it can be tough to track down anything. I tried to watch at least a handful of matches for everyone on the list.
D) No women or mini’s. While there are plenty of both who would deserve being added to an overall 500, I just don’t follow either at the level where I’d be comfortable adding them.
E) Smaller Indies are going to suffer in terms of representation, and that goes for the entire world, not just the U.S. Through the Network and TV, there’s plenty of WWE to watch, lucha is easy to find online, and even not counting iPPV’s on Ustream, a lot of Japanese stuff is available. Indies can get expensive (unless you’re a dirty thief), and I mainly focus on the larger groups. There are also only so many hours in the day to watch wrestling, and indie wrestling is likely the one to get cut. I know there’s a bunch of guys in Europe who should make the cut, but I lack the time and funds to properly rate them. Such is life.
F) I would count tag teams as separate wrestlers, in order to pad the list, and also it’s just fun to think about which teammate is better. In true PWI 500 fashion, tag teams members are usually only a few slots apart.
G) As far as who was included, if I think a person currently injured or on hiatus will wrestle soon, I included them. That’s why CM Punk is here, as I can’t imagine him never wrestling again. I’m also assuming Daniel Bryan comes back close to 100%. The Undertaker is not here, since I get the sense he’s done, and he may only wrestle one more match if he does come back. Evan Bourne is here and fairly high, which may be weird, since he hasn’t wrestled since Obama’s first term, but what can I say? I’m excited to see him wrestle again. Jado may have retired as I type this, but I left him on.
H) Personal biases weigh heavily. Yuji Nagata is likely too high. Don’t care. Kane is probably too low, but I don’t ever want to see him wrestle again so there you go.
I) If I see guys live a lot that also probably affects the rankings.
J) “Just repeat to yourself, it’s just a list, I should really just relax.”
So there you go. Big thanks to The Cubs Fan, Dylan Hales, Alan4L, and Mike Falcone for suggestions, feedback, and finding the embarrassing amount of duplicates in the original list. I had a lot of fun putting this together, but I doubt it’ll be a yearly thing. I could narrow it down to the top 200, which is more manageable, but not nearly as much fun. Anyway, I did it, here it is, enjoy.