Wednesday, November 12, 2014

#776. The 24th annual PWI 500

Okay, so my readers can ignore this one.  It's time once again for me to pretend anyone actually cares when I blog about wrestling!

And it's time, once again, to talk about the PWI 500.  This is the annual list Pro Wrestling Illustrated compiles of the best wrestlers in the world.  For as long as I've been blogging here, I've been commenting on this list, now hitting its twenty-fourth year.  I value this effort a great deal, but I'm always hoping the magazine will take its responsibility more seriously.  This year is no exception.

Before I get into my reaction, I want to repost comments I made to PWI's blog when it issued its own statement on the difficulty of putting the list together (here).  They said that the PWI 500 is as difficult a thing to do as ranking the year's best actors.  This is what I said in response:

As far as actors go, evaluating/ranking them would probably look something like this: Tabulate the numerous awards and nominations they've received for the year. Tabulate the box office/ratings. That second tabulation alone gives actors who haven't gotten awards and/or nominations a shot. By that point, you've already got a good sampling. Then go deeper. Look at what people have been saying that isn't necessarily reflected in awards/nominations/box office/ratings (a good recent example of that would be Tatiana Maslany from Orphan Black, whose name always comes up from disappointed fans because she's been overlooked by the awards/nominations again). Then look at how much work the actor has done in the past year (popularity within the industry itself), how much they have lined up for next year.
It seems like sometimes some of these considerations aren't taken into account in the higher slots for the PWI 500. Some years you've blatantly determined no big name fits your criteria for a whole grading year, so you've gone with someone you like (here I'd single out RVD, but there have been other cases). Some of it has to do with the kayfabe nature of PWI. We all get that PWI still wants to maintain the illusion of what we watch is basically real, but in doing so you end up shortchanging a lot of excellent work, rely more heavily on some of your criteria than other indicators. That's my evaluation, why I sometimes get upset at your choices.
Overall, we all appreciate the undertaking. It's incredible, it really is, the best single thing the whole wrestling industry gets done for it year after year. 
It's just, it would have more credibility if it were also the one time of the year you...break kayfabe. Recognize the talent all the way around. Just a thought.
The blog editorial was published in the PWI 500 issue itself, along with a different one looking at the lack of Japanese talent reaching the top of the list.  Never mind that a clear bias has always been given to WWE even before WCW and ECW closed shop in 2001.  Other than the extremely suspect top ranking of Dean Malenko in 1997, Sting's win in 1992 was the only instance until A.J. Styles in 2010 where someone other than a WWE won the honor.  In fact, nearly every top pick has been the guy who had the WrestleMania push, and whenever that's been within WWE itself, the PWI 500 has had to look for someone else to top the list, hence why in 1997 when Shawn Michaels threw everyone's plans out of whack PWI scrambled to find an acceptable alternative, eliminated all the likely candidates, and ended up with Malenko, who never even came close to main event status, let alone in 1997.  To keep the acting analogy in play, it would be like calling Adam Sandler the best actor of any given year, even in 2002, when his best-received role in Punch Drunk Love nonetheless completely failed to alter the course of his career in the perception of critics.

Speaking of 1997, the editorial about Japanese wrestlers, which uncomfortably and unexplicably suggested a possible bias has something to do with the lingering effects of WWII (to borrow the Miz's line, Really?), no matter how Stanley Weston might have felt, that idea just doesn't wash.  It explains how Bret Hart, Undertaker, Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, Dallas Page, and Steve Austin were all eliminated from consideration "due to injuries or key losses."  Again, really?  Keep in mind the list is published in the fall and so generally covers the period from one summer to the next, meaning that the 1997 PWI 500 covered mid-1996 to mid-1997.  Here's what the years of those wrestlers actually looked like in very broad strokes:

  • Bret Hart - Had been away for much of 1996 following the loss to Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XII.  Came back for November's Survivor Series with a win over Steve Austin...Lost in a title match against champion Sid at the next PPV...Was one of four competitors at the Royal Rumble involved in the finals that were later contested...Won the WWE championship in February...Quickly lost it...Defeated Austin again at WrestleMania XIII in what was instantly considered a classic match...Formed the new Hart Foundation...Bottom line for Hart's year is that it really wasn't worthy of consideration for the top honor.  He had better years before and after this particular grading period, including an extended championship run just after its conclusion.
  • Undertaker - Lost to Mankind (Mick Foley) at Summer Slam 1996...Defeated Goldust at the following PPV...Defeated Mankind in a "Buried Alive" match...Defeated Mankind again at Survivor Series 1996...Defeated the Executioner...Lost to Vader at Royal Rumble 1997...Was one of the final competitors at the same event in the finals that were later contested...Defeated champion Sid at WrestleMania XIII for the title...Successfully defended it against Mankind, Steve Austin, Faarooq (Ron Simmons), and Vader...Bottom line for Undertaker's year is that arguably he was the most worthy, even by PWI's own standards, of being ranked first that year.  Instead he ended up sixth.
  • Hulk Hogan - Formed the New World Order...Defeated the Giant (Big Show) to become WCW champion...Defeated Randy Savage to retain...Lost to Roddy Piper in a nontitle match...Defeated the Giant to retain...Defeated Piper...Lost the title to Lex Luger...Bottom line for Hogan's year is that it was downright criminal for PWI to have significantly downplayed everything he accomplished.  He was ranked 55th that year.  Really!  It's insane.  That's what leads people to question the credibility of the list, impressive as it is.
  • Shawn Michaels - Defeated Vader at Summer Slam 1996 to retain the WWE title...Defeated Mankind to retain...Defeated Goldust...Lost the title to Sid at Survivor Series 1997...Defeated Mankind...Reclaimed the title from Sid at Royal Rumble 1997..."Lost his smile"...Battled Steve Austin to a draw...Bottom line for Michaels' year was that it clearly continued the success of the previous one, in which he'd topped the list.  Clearly a few bumps, but any grading period with two separate championship reigns should be taken seriously, even if there were shenanigans that followed.  He dropped to 18th instead.
  • Dallas Page - Defeated Chavo Guerrero...Defeated Eddie Guerrero...Lost to Eddie at Starrcade 1996 in the finals of a tournament to declare a new U.S. champion...Lost to Scott Norton...Defeated Buff Bagwell...Defeated Randy Savage...Lost to Savage...Bottom line for Diamond Dallas Page this year was that it was clearly his breakthrough campaign as he helped WCW fight the NWO.  But this could not have been a serious name to toss out in contention for the top spot.  His career improved thereafter, but there's nothing here that would remotely warrant consideration.  Except for the fact that he ranked 4th on the list that year.  For some reason.
  • Steve Austin - Defeated Triple H...Lost to Bret Hart at Survivor Series 1996...Defeated Goldust...Technically won the 1997 Royal Rumble...Lost to Hart at WrestleMania XIII...Defeated Hart...Lost to Undertaker in a WWE title match...Had a draw with Shawn Michaels...Bottom line for Stone Cold this year was that this was what his career looked like right after his King of the Ring breakthrough and before the 1998 explosion.  PWI had always been hot on him, even in the WCW years when WCW clearly wasn't (a rare instance of PWI recognizing talent despite how it's used), so it's no surprise that it leaped on the bandwagon before the bandwagon actually arrived.  But there's no way he warranted serious consideration.
I don't follow Japanese wrestling closely, so I don't know how Mitsuharu Misawa's year compared, but that was the guy the editorial talked about as being the closest shot yet at having someone from that country top the list.  PWI is always giving a token high placing for a Japanese star but rarely has adequate coverage in the magazine itself to justify it, except in the wrap-up reports from several back-of-the-issue columns.  The magazine can be considerably sloppy in acknowledging even its own enthusiasm.  A TNA wrestler known as Gunner today was once identified, when he was known as Phil Shatter, as a potential star by PWI itself, but can't catch a break in the magazine now that he has an actual opportunity.

Which leads me to what I really wanted to talk about concerning this year's list.  After some consideration I decided PWI was right to give Mr. Anderson a relatively low ranking, but its explanation as to why was baffling: "Renewed his TNA contract last year, but it must have included a secret clause prohibiting him from being relevant in 2014."

Really?  In the first half of the grading period Anderson helped end the Aces & Eights arc by defeating Bully Ray in a feud.  2014 has seen him feud with Samuel Shaw, an up-and-coming prospect whose feud with Anderson has so far helped shape his career, and has since gone on to feud with...Gunner.  Not only was Anderson crucial in the formative development of someone's career, but he's helped open the door to giving Gunner something distinctive to do, which presumably is what everyone's been waiting for, especially PWI.  I just don't get it.  If Anderson himself, back when he was known as Mr. Kennedy in WWE, had gotten similar treatment, instead of a slapdash beating-numerous-former-world-champions push and then extended feuds with Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, his career would probably look a lot different today.  I'll always champion the guy.  Main event personality with an in-ring talent that was never given a chance to be taken seriously.

The opposite, basically, is true of Bray Wyatt, the would-be successor to Jake "The Snake" Roberts who without the benefit of the massive push he's received for the past year would be a nobody, and certainly would have been laughed out of PWI's own offices if suggested for a top ten finish in this year's list.  A great gimmick, but he's nowhere near that great a talent.  Daniel Bryan claimed the top spot.  I'm more than okay with that.  Good, obvious choice.  But PWI's twisted logic left CM Punk off the list.  Left Brock Lesnar off the list.  Nonsense.  Only Roman Reigns of the former Shield faction cracked the top ten, when all three of them (including Seth Rollins and especially Dean Ambrose) should have warranted it.

I appreciate that PWI puts this thing together every year, but it just seems like it drops the ball in too many ways to have the credibility it ought to have.  Wrestling has a hard enough time being taken seriously.  Having what's now the only publication taking its own responsibility so flippantly is unacceptable in 2014.  This is a list that has been compiled for nearly a quarter century now.  There should be no question about how to do it, and do it right.


Pat Dilloway said...

Nothing like watching a bunch of steroid freaks pretending to fight each other.

Tony Laplume said...

Pat, you know? I get it. You can't take this stuff seriously. After the first few thousand such comments, the message started to sink in. You can ignore this stuff. Just pretend it doesn't exist.


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