It's been a while, eh? Pro Wrestling Illustrated published its annual PWI 500 recently (and my noting of this would have been even more concurrent had I gotten around to it sooner), and unfortunately, the issue was given the short shrift thanks to the recent (but not as recent) 25th anniversary celebration issue, which was marked by an issue of lists of 25 covering the 25 years PWI has been around, plus a packaged reprinting of the magazine's very first issue. The apparently long-suffering staffer Brandi Mankiewicz, self-styled heel column artist and editor of the 500 project, admitted in print that the team was forced to make due with an abbreviated yearly highlight (ironically, last year's was the biggest yet). The very worst this resulted in was making the affair seeming about 75% less comprehensive than it really should have been.
Chris Benoit snagged the top spot. If you were only focusing on the 2004 portion of the July 31, 2003-July 31, 2004 grading period, he easily made it over nos. 2 (Eddie Guerrero) and 3 (Triple H), serving a stellar five months as Raw World champion after the incredible Royal Rumble win. Problem is, and this was a recurring one throughout the feature Harry Burkett allegedly single-handedly wrote, there was a whole other half-year to consider, and it clearly was not seriously considered. If it had been, Latino Heat would have come out on top. Professional that he has always been, Benoit did not have the momentum Guerrero did coming into 2004. Where to start? The Smackdown US title tournament win, the interlapping tag team title reign with Chavo, and the resulting feud with Chavo proved that Eddie had a lot more focus and momentum leading to a successful feud with Brock Lesnar of all people (and I'll get back to Lesnar, you can be sure) and the ensuing Angle-Layfield quagmire. There's no question in my mind that Eddie was robbed. Not that Benoit is a guy I would really protest over.
That U.S. title hunt? Guerrero's main opponent there until Big Show steamrolled over him (which provides a tasty look into a possible near-future development for Smackdown) was in fact Benoit, who spent the rest of the year as Smackdown's fourth or fifth biggest star (we could argue over John Cena or Show or even Undertaker, at least until Survivor Series, if you'd really like to). He even won a mini-rumble to challenge for the WWE championship in late 2003, and was the other man left standing besides Cena in that Paul Heyman House of Towering Infernos elimination match in November (the card already being named a few lines up). But he just was not that big a force until his out of nowhere January win. And he did spend most of his time as champion living under the shadows of Shawn Michales and...
Triple H. This guy's never going to receive another break from the smart marks, is he? Much like Goldberg's precipitous fall in 1999 and Lesnar's in 2004, Hunter lost the respect of the fans because he became a dominant champion in an era where that is virtually unheard of. Champions today are more reminiscent of The Rock, who won half a dozen world titles, most of which ran in spans of weeks rather than months. Even Steve Austin was never champion for very long, but he spent long periods of time in between his reigns on the shelf. Hunter sticks around, dominates, and is hated, and not in the nod nod wink wink kind of way. An unbiased assessment of the 2003-2004 grading period, which saw him remain at the World title level the entire time, would have seen Triple H below Guerrero and just above Benoit.
But these are just quips, right? Clearly all three combined to rule the roost, and just the fact that they're acknowledged as, in some combination, standing 1,2,3 is good enough. Well, we then have to settle for the next three guys, Goldberg, Lesnar, and Angle being chopped down or left off completely because they happened to miss the last four months of the grading period. When Stone Cold missed the last few two years ago (when the grading was August to August), he had to settle for no. 13. Goldberg gets walloped to no. 48 (see just how unpopular he is?) while Kurt Angle settles for no. 36. What did both accomplish in the time they did compete in WWE? Heavyweight championships, and feuds that marked 2003 and 2004. "Da Man" waited months for his shot at Triple H's gold, and then had to wrestle two main events to do it. He then retained it on a third card, and lost it in a triple threat match on a fourth one. Maybe people really want to believe he didn't have much to offer as a wrestler, but he served as the one person to successfully handle Hunter these past five years. The Rock couldn't do it, Steve Austin couldn't do it, Shawn Michaels couldn't do it. Benoit did eventually, but needed not one but two triple threats involving HBK to get around to it. And then Goldberg left WWE after defeating Lesnar at WrestleMania XX.
Angle, meanwhile, had engaged in an epic feud with Lesnar throughout 2003, culminating in the classic Ironman match in the fall. After playing a supporting role for a while, he went on to challenge Guerrero at WM XX in another classic, and was forced to the shelf again to rehabilitate his neck (shades of Austin all around), before the dramatic reveal PWI notes when he came back for competitive grade and cost Eddie the WWE title in a steel cage match against John Bradshaw Layfield.
And then there's Lesnar, whose exclusion can be chalked up to the fact that he retired after XX to pursue professional football. But he was on perhaps the highest peak of his professional wrestling career before that, and because of some inane rules PWI set up this couldn't be acknowledged in the sports' premier accolade forum. I have other issues with PWI, such as why Japanese stars such as Kenta Kobasji (no. 4) can be assumed to place in certain slots and not really have to justify it like WWE and other North American stars when PWI fails to provide adequate coverage and explanation. At best, from his write-up, Kobashi sounds like a 200s calibur talent. But what do I know?
Randy Orton, John Cena, A.J. Styles, and Chris Jericho all seem to more than hold their top ten water weight, though Michaels is questionable (especially when trying to rationalize with the apparent standards for others already discussed). I could go through all of my thoughts, but I won't, at least not at this time. Orton is still making his case against Triple H on Raw, while Booker T has stood up to one of Smackdown's All Heel Champions, Bradshaw. And Shelton Benjamin is Intercontinental champion! Woo! Wrestling is looking just fine leading up to this year's Survivor Series.
In non-wrestling matters, Dave Mordal won Last Comic Standing, I was eventually able to find out (Father of the Pride ain't that bad, Siegfried & Roy being freakin' hilarious, but Tuesday is still Scrubs Night Special for me, though this week was Heather "I'm Always Pleasantly Smiling" Graham's last call, plus a Futurama-worthy )hearttugger for Molly Shannon). Good for him!
A year ago (the resurrection of the Monk, btw) I was cheerleading Josh Beckett, so it's only appropriate that I mention how I'm in a win-win situation this year concerning the World Series. The Red Sox can win it tonight, or the Cardinals can somehow match Boston's incredible ALCS performance. I love both teams. That Curse of the Bambino, by the way? It was reversed the day the Yankees acquired A-Rod. Nice to know, huh?
And are we watching Lost? Hell yeah! It's Boomtown's replacement as my new favorite show! And what's even better, a significan amount, a large significant amount, of other people is wacthing right alongside me. Let's hope this lasts. And maybe provides residual viewers for J.J. Abrams' other show, Alias, in January.
Lastly, we're a week away from elections. Fittingly, I'm finally letting whatever readership there is providing their own input to the blog. Let me know what you think!