Pro Wrestling Illustrated, as the title suggests, is the Sports Illustrated of professional wrestling magazines. Since 1991, it has annually compiled a list of the top 500 competitors in the world, so that makes this year's edition the 23rd ranking.
And for most of the past decade, I've been providing a commentary on the results. Normally I haven't been too happy. Sometimes PWI makes baffling decisions for the number one slot. The whole point of lists like this is to spark debate, but sometimes it's seemed as if the magazine has taken a perverse pleasure in selecting the least likely candidate for the slot. I've found myself thinking that there was a far more obvious prospect.
PWI is an independent entity. It exists outside the auspices of WWE or any other wrestling promotion. Still, the top slot often seems to go with whoever WWE has most heavily promoted in the last year, or failing that whoever else has most impressed its editors. The grading period is roughly midpoint of the year to midpoint of the year. Since WWE's WrestleMania takes place in the second half of this grading period, most of my frustrations have tended to stem from the fact that anyone who had at least as good or better a first half of this grading period as the star who shined in the second can never seem to overcome this handicap. They didn't do their best work in the period PWI most values.
Now, PWI is objective to a point. Famously, it presents the majority of its material from a kayfabe perspective. "Kayfabe" is when you take professional wrestling at face value. You believe the competition is real and accept that the way promoters book their talent is basically the only way to evaluate them. In that sense, the success of a given wrestler's year is based on how they were booked. PWI most notably breaks kayfabe when its analyzes a wrestler's specific performance, how they present themselves regardless of how they're booked, or in other words what they do with what they're given.
The problem with the PWI 500 is that it has always been driven by kayfabe. In rare (and some of the key baffling ones) exceptions, the top slot went to someone based on PWI's ability to look beyond kayfabe. However, since I'm focusing primarily on this year's ranking, I won't reiterate too explicitly on past grievances.
All of this is to say that I've been conflicted over this year's winner of the top slot, John Cena. Cena had the WrestleMania push. He won the Royal Rumble and defeated The Rock in the main event of WrestleMania 29, and as of the end of the grading period (but not what has developed since) reigned as WWE champion. That's action from the second half of the grading period. In the first half, he had perhaps one of the worst periods of his entire main event career. He did win a Money in the Bank contract, but became the first person ever to fail in capturing a title after cashing it in. He also lost time while he rested from injuries. In the second half of 2012, Cena was not the man. It was the necessary second act from his heroic efforts in the first part of that year to rebound from losing to The Rock at the previous WrestleMania.
Certainly this year was a triumphant comeback. But that's only been half the year, and half the grading period. No, the man who arguably deserved the top spot in ranking came in at the second slot. He won the top slot last year. I'm talking about CM Punk.
Punk held the WWE championship for 434 consecutive days, a reign that ended at the start of the second half of the grading period. It's the longest reign with the title in decades. True, he did lose two matches to The Rock, and then lost again at WrestleMania to the Undertaker, after which he took some time off, making his second half not nearly as impressive as Cena's, and if anything comparable to Cena's first half, but it's a more than fair argument that Punk's first half was better than Cena's second. Punk's momentum was better in defeat than Cena's was toward triumph.
By the rules of kayfabe, Cena probably deserves that top slot. The rematch with The Rock was excellent, and it did more than their first match to put Cena in the same league as The Rock. It's been weird for me to have to argue that Cena deserves to be in consideration for the title of WWE legend, because I was among his earliest supporters. I long ago saw that this was a possibility, and the improvements he needed to make he did. And yet here we are now in 2013 and I'm wondering if PWI should have made that unprecedented move. Sitting atop this year's ranking gives Cena three such wins in the history of the PWI 500. This distances him from Bret Hart, Steve Austin, and Triple H, who were also two-time top slot winners. True, he's been in a position to be a more consistent main event talent for WWE than those guys, but isn't it weird to think he might be considered better than Austin, much less The Rock, who never had such an honor even once to begin with?
Yes, I'm taking all of this pretty seriously. I'm buying into the kayfabe. Had Punk gotten the honor, he would have joined Cena and the others among the PWI 500 elite. And PWI itself would have been more than happy in a lot of other years to have done exactly that.
Does it matter? I'm asking myself that, on top of a lot of other things I've been asking myself lately. I've been at a crossroads in my life for what sometimes seems all my life, only moreso lately. It's fair to say I've been in crisis mode at least for the past two years, reaping what I've sown, learning the results of all my failures to accomplish what anyone else might have taken for granted years ago. And I look at something like the PWI 500 and debating with myself yet again whether Wrestler A should have been placed above Wrestler B, much less where other familiar and favorite names fell in the ranking, and I wonder if I've been throwing my life away on trivialities.
I wonder, because my whole life I've been working on interests that in a lot of ways have dovetailed very beautifully with each other. I'm happiest with what I've done with my life when I think about how it has affected the writing I do. And yet I'm conflicted because even with all the happiness I have with my writing, I've struggled in every other aspect of my life. I am deep in the heart of the 99%. Financially, I've always been a kind of mess, but now I'm in a whole heap of trouble, especially considering what I've been mired in for the last few years.
I'm not complaining for sympathy. A lot of my troubles stem from the natural kind of alienation I bring on myself. I'm talking about wrestling again even though I know none of my readers particularly cares about it. In efforts to attract more interest to my blogging, I only alienate myself more. I can never be the happy little soldier. In a lot of ways, I isolate myself at least as much by the culmination and expression of my interests as by the instinct to set myself apart, to focus on what makes me different rather than what makes me a part of the community.
I'm a snob. It seems as if my whole being points in that direction. I rate myself on my own merits as much as how I compare myself to others. I'm angry and jealous at the success of others. What comes easy to them is a constant struggle for me. And through all of this I know that life doesn't work that way. Success is arbitrary.
People most appreciate people who don't alienate them. They gravitate toward those who make them feel good. In PWI speak, it's easier to root for Cena, who acts the part of the good guy, than for Punk, who spent the whole grading period as a villain. Am I a villain? Am I selfish and condescending?
I guess and hope that next time I talk about this, I will have an answer.