Can’t Knock The Hustle: Taking A Look At The 2021 PWI 500

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Can’t Knock The Hustle: Taking A Look At The 2021 PWI 500

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Can’t Knock The Hustle: Taking A Look At The 2021 PWI 500 by : 8:55 pm On October 13, 2021

Ahhh, the good ol’ Pro Wrestling Illustrated 500.

Since 1991, Pro Wrestling Illustrated has put together their yearly list of the 500 best wrestlers in the world, and since 1991, their list has made people talk, argue, fight, and discuss every nook and cranny of it.

“So-and-so doesn’t deserve to be #1!”

“I can’t believe Wrestler A was only #12!”

“PWI is so biased against Insert-Company-Name-Here!”

It never fails.

With this year’s version of the PWI 500 coming out somewhat recently, I wanted to talk about it with all of you. As always, there’s a ton to discuss, and there’s a million things on my mind. Before we go any further, though, I have to share PWI’s criteria for putting the rankings together. It’s incredibly important to take note of that criteria, as a TON of questions/arguments can be solved immediately by reading what the PWI team has to look at before they make their list.

 

Evaluation Period: July 1st, 2020 to June 30th, 2021

Criteria:

  • In-Ring Achievement: Win/loss records, championships/tournaments won
  • Influence: Visibility and prestige within a promotion and/or the industry
  • Technical Ability: Quality of maneuvers, matches, and ring psychology
  • Competition: Success against the most varied and highest quality opponents
  • Activity: Minimum ten matches total, or six matches in separate months

Side Note: The list prioritizes success in singles competition and in vying for heavyweight singles accolades, and to a lesser extent, those in lower weight classes

 

Simple enough, no?

With that out of the way, let’s get this show on the road. It only makes sense to start at the top, so I’ll do just that.

For the second time (2018), Kenny Omega was awarded the top spot. Of course, there was plenty of controversy about that, but should there have been? Coming into the evaluation period, Omega was already a dual champion, being one-half of the AEW Tag Team Champions (with “Hangman” Adam Page) and holding the AAA Mega Championship. From the beginning of the period until the end of 2020, he had a 12-2 record. One of the losses saw him and “Hangman” dropping the Tag Team Titles to FTR, but he made up for that three months later when he defeated Jon Moxley to become the new AEW World Champion. He had a 14-3 record for the rest of the evaluation period, and one of those victories saw him beat Rich Swann to win the Impact World Title.

It should go without saying, but one wrestler holding the World Title for three different promotions at the same time is insane, especially in this day and age. Counting the AEW Tag Team Title reign, that means he held four different titles for at least part of the evaluation period. I’m not sure how anyone is supposed to top that, no matter who they are or where they ply their craft.

A 26-5 win/loss record, with three different World Titles won? I’d say Omega scores high in the “In-Ring Achievement” category. Honestly, those World Titles also give him the nod in the “Competition” category, too. Jon Moxley in an Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch? Laredo Kid in a AAA Mega Title match? Rich Swann? Moose? Joey Janela? Sonny Kiss? “Hangman” Adam Page? Orange Cassidy? It would be difficult to have more success against a more varied group of opponents. Say what you want about the “highest quality” part of that criteria category, but my goodness, he was able to beat wrestlers of all types and sizes. Again… THREE DIFFERENT PROMOTIONS sent their biggest, baddest, wildest, craziest, strongest, and fastest… and he beat them all.

“Technical Ability” is something that Kenny Omega is always going to get high scores on. I get that his “style” isn’t for everybody, but I honestly cannot understand how people can watch him wrestle and not at least see that he’s a wizard between those ropes. If you want to knock him for his psychology, I’ll accept that. Anything beyond that, though, and I’m going to call you out on things, and that’s even with me fully acknowledging that pro wrestling is subjective.

The other criteria categories aren’t going to be strong points for Omega. “Activity” saw him work 31 matches in the evaluation period. That’s not Brock Lesnar levels or anything, but let’s compare that with New Japan’s SANADA, #71 on this year’s PWI 500, who has wrestled 104 matches in 2021 alone as of the moment I type this, and will only add to that number before I post this column because he’s a participant in New Japan’s G1 Climax tournament. When you add in the 2020 portion of the evaluation period, SANADA has a total of 169 matches to look at for this year’s rankings. Just for shits and giggles, if you count Kenny Omega’s last 169 matches, you have to go back to July 29th, 2017 and his tag match with Chase Owens where they lost to Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima on the ninth day of New Japan’s 2017 G1 Climax tournament.

“Influence” is a two-sided debate for Omega. Within AEW itself, Omega has risen to almost mythical levels, and for good reason. However, he’s not as “visible” and “prestigious” within the entire wrestling industry as WWE’s top stars. He’s just not. Even if you love AEW with every fiber of your being, you have to know that WWE still makes more money, has more people watching their television shows (at least on Monday and Friday), and everything that comes with that.

With all of that said, I still don’t see an argument that can be made for anyone else in the top spot this year. Roman Reigns comes in at #2 this year, followed by Bobby Lashley, Drew McIntyre, and Kota Ibushi to round out the top five. Reigns has Omega beat when it comes to win/loss record, but those extra championships win “In-Ring Achievement” for Omega. “The Head Of The Table” wins the “Influence” category, without a doubt, but that’s it. Kenny Omega had himself a strong, historic year, and he deserves the top spot. Roman Reigns had himself a strong, historic year, too. It just wasn’t on par with what Omega was able to do if we’re looking at things strictly from PWI’s criteria.

Before we dig any deeper, let’s have some fun and look at who would’ve been in the top spot if we were only using one specific criteria category and nothing else.

 

  • In-Ring Achievement: Kenny Omega. Again, an almost unheard of year for the guy.
  • Influence: Roman Reigns. As the biggest star in the biggest promotion in the business, you tend to have a ton of visibility and prestige.
  • Technical Ability: Shingo Takagi. He hasn’t had a singles match that I’ve rated at less than three-stars in the entire evaluation period, and he has, by far, the most four-plus star matches in that time frame.
  • Competition: Kenny Omega. As I said, he’s getting to face such a ridiculously varied group of opponents, no matter where he is.
  • Activity: SANADA. Facts are facts. Those numbers don’t lie.

 

A lot of the top ten can only be shifted around due to personal preference, but they all belong there. I’ve already mentioned the top five, but the bottom half of the top ten sees Jon Moxley, Will Ospreay, Finn Balor, Shingo Takagi, and Rich Swann, in that order. Moxley was a dual champion (AEW World Title & IWGP United States Title) coming into the evaluation period, but would go on to lose the AEW World Title on December 2nd. Ospreay was the RevPro British Heavyweight Champion coming in, and would go on to win the IWGP World Heavyweight Title before having to vacate the IWGP belt due to an injury. Balor won the NXT Title early on in the evaluation period and held it for a huge chunk of it. Takagi was a dual champion (NEVER Openweight Title & NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Title) coming in, but would drop the singles title early on, only to win it back two months later, only to lose it again three months later, before winning the vacant IWGP World Heavyweight Title three weeks before the period ended. Swann would win the Impact World Title last October, then win the TNA World Title this March to unify both titles, before dropping the unified belt six weeks later.

Lots of title activity there. This is one of those years where the top ten is indisputable, in my opinion. Like I said, you might be able to make some switches based on personal preference of wrestlers or titles… for example, if you value the Impact World Title a lot higher than the NXT Title, you could switch Balor and Swann… but that’s about it.

Going beyond the top ten, I like to look at who made the biggest jump up from last year to this year, as well as who fell the furthest from last year to this year. That’s always an important thing to look at, although one can rise or fall for any number of reasons.

 

  • Biggest Rise: Keiji Muto went from not being ranked last year to being #23 this year. Winning the GHC Heavyweight Title for Pro Wrestling NOAH will do that. The 58-year-old legend surprised the wrestling world by winning the title, his first of any kind since he became the WRESTLE-1 Champion on November 1st, 2014. It was his first “major” title win since he and KENSO won the All Japan World Tag Team Titles on June 19th, 2011, and it was his first “major” singles title win since he won both the IWGP World Heavyweight Title and the AJPW Triple Crown Title in 2008. With a 17-3 record during the evaluation period, the man best known to American wrestling fans as The Great Muta had himself his best, and most active, year in a long time.
  • Biggest Fall: Technically, it’s Brock Lesnar, who went from #12 last year to not being ranked this year. However, his fall had to do with him not wrestling at all during the evaluation period. If you’re looking for someone that actually qualified for the list and made the biggest fall, that goes to Baron “Or Whatever Name I’ve Got This Week” Corbin, who was #41 last year and was not ranked this year. I guess that’s what a 12-26 record during the evaluation period will get you. His best work was during promos and vignettes when he was fully committed to the super sad, depressed, and down-on-his-luck version of his character. Other than that, can you name anything he did over the last year? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

 

Next up, I want to talk about something that means exactly zero in the grand scheme of things, but someone, somewhere, is going to get upset about it. That’s enough reason for me to include it. Stir the pot, folks.

If you look at the top ten, an AEW talent took the top spot, but overall, the company had two there, while WWE had four names. Pushing it to the top 20, and AEW sees a total of five names, while WWE has seven names. Let’s push it to the top 50, where WWE saw 18 names, and yes, I’m including people like Daniel Bryan and Adam Cole, who are in AEW now, but saw their evaluation period see them as WWE contracted talents. AEW has ten names in the top 50. When you push it to the top 100, WWE has 31 names listed, while AEW has 17. In the top 200, WWE has 52 names listed and AEW has 37. In the top 300, you’ll see WWE talents listed 63 times and AEW talents listed 50 times. Branching out to the top 400, WWE is represented 73 times, while AEW is represented 60 times. Looking at the entire PWI 500, you’re going to see WWE talents listed 77 times and AEW talents listed 61 times.

What did we learn there? Clearly, WWE is a better wrestling company than AEW. Time for Shahid and Tony Khan to sell the company to Vince McMahon.

I swear… if I get ANY piece of angry feedback from AEW fans over that, I will kick your grandmother down a flight of stairs. In all seriousness, I think it’s impressive that AEW is listed so often this year. Guess what, though? It’s also impressive that WWE is listed 77 times. Both companies had fantastic years, and their representation on this year’s list proves that. Can we all get along?

Actually, let’s not get along, because it’s time for some more arguments. If you’re going to look at a ranking of the top 500 wrestlers in the business, you’re going to come across a ton of names that are listed too high, and also a ton of names that aren’t listed high enough. Who falls into those categories? I’m so glad you asked. Here are some of my picks:

 

  • Too High: Keiji Muto. I’ve already listed the things he did to get to #23, but let’s be serious… he wasn’t the 23rd best wrestler on the planet over the last year or so. He wasn’t even the 23rd best wrestler in Japan over the last year or so. Sure, it was a fun story to see him win the GHC Heavyweight Title, but he’s a 58-year-old that happens to wrestle like… a 58-year-old. His body has been through so much during his 37-year career, and it shows. He’s still an all-time great, but that nostalgia should only go so far. Good record? Yes. Title victory? Yes. He’s not scoring very high for pretty much every other bit of criteria, though.
  • Too Low: Gunn Club. You can say what you want, but I’m siding with facts and results. The group recently turned heel by attacking Paul Wight, and their explanation for it fits in perfectly here. AEW claimed that wins and losses matter, but Billy Gunn and his sons, Austin and Colten, have won and won and won and won and then won some more. Where it did get them? Nowhere. Now, before anyone says anything, I understand that they weren’t exactly beating the upper tier of AEW talent, but hey… “wins and losses matter” and all that. When Billy Gunn teams up with Austin Gunn for tag matches, they have a win/loss record of 7-0 during the evaluation period, and when Billy teams with Colten for tag matches, they have a win/loss record of 5-0 in that same time span. When the three of them team up for six-man tag matches, they have a record of 12-0. Okay, so they have a combined record of 2-2 in singles competition, and the PWI 500 prioritizes singles action over anything else, but all… those… wins… and none of them even made the list? I’m not saying all three of them should’ve been in the top 20, but my goodness, we can’t even have them in the 400’s?
  • Too High: Miro. He came in at #38 this year, after not being ranked at all last year. With that said, he spent most of the evaluation period completely wasted as Kip Sabian’s “best man” week after week. That storyline came to an end three months before the evaluation period wrapped up, and finally won the TNT Championship six weeks before the period ended. If we included the next few months, sure, I’d be willing to agree with his placement, but since we can’t include it, I’m saying he should’ve been lower.
  • Too Low: Santos Escobar. He has a perfectly respectable ranking of #81 this year, up 288 spots from 2020, and is his highest ranking since 2015, when he had the #63 spot. He has a 14-6 record during the eval period, which is really good, but not quite elite. However, he was putting in some fantastic work there. Besides, three of his losses came in tag or six-man tag matches. As a singles competitor, he was on fire. I think what hurt him is that he won the interim NXT Cruiserweight Title a month before the period began. He had five successful title defenses, followed by a victory in the Cruiserweight Title unification match at Takeover: Stand & Deliver. His feud with Isaiah “Swerve” Scott was amazing, and the unification Ladder Match against Jordan Devlin is one of NXT’s best matches over the last year. He closed out the period with two phenomenal matches against KUSHIDA, albeit in a losing effort both times. Back to what I said, though, I think him winning the Cruiserweight Title before the ranking period began really cost him here. I still think he’s a top 50 guy, though.

 

Originally, I was going to include some more choices for “Too High” and “Too Low” there, but then I noticed I was having too many picks listed. I was a couple steps away from going through the entire fucking list and just putting “Too High” or “Too Low” next to their names. Just know that I think guys like El Desperado (#102) and KUSHIDA (#132) are too low, and guys like Daniel Bryan (#36) and Jun Akiyama (#51) are too high.

What about a look ahead at 2022?

Obviously, it’s pretty difficult to “predict” these things. Titles are going to change hands. Matches are going to be won and lost. Injuries could happen. Pushes will come and go. It’s the nature of the beast. We are three-and-a-half months into the new evaluation period, though, so an early look at things is definitely doable.

Kenny Omega is still going strong, although he has lost the Impact World Title. He still possesses the AEW World Title and the AAA Mega Title, and continued defenses of those belts will only keep his ranking high. With AEW adding the likes of Bryan Danielson, CM Punk, and Adam Cole to their roster, Omega can add even more points to his “Competition” score if he can defeat them at any point. That’s a big “if” right now. Most people seem to believe Omega will drop the AEW World Title soon, perhaps to “Hangman” Adam Page at Full Gear next month. That would be a bit of a blow to his rank.

How about Roman Reigns? He’s still on quite the roll, having been victorious in every non-house show match he’s been involved in during the new evaluation period, including four Universal Title defenses. Unlike Omega, a lot of the conventional wisdom indicates Reigns continues his… reign… for a long time. With each passing week, more and more people seem to be jumping on the “Reigns should hold the Universal Title until at least WrestleMania” bandwagon. If he holds it until WrestleMania 38, it would give him a 581-day reign as Universal Champion. That would not only be the longest reign in the brief history of that title, but the longest main roster reign of ANY title in the company since Hulk Hogan’s first reign as WWF Champion ended on February 5th, 1988, wrapping up a whopping 1,474 days as champion. If Reigns can get to that 581-day mark, especially if he continues defending the title as often as he has been, that has to make him the favorite to be 2022’s #1, right?

Then again, what happens if Shingo Takagi has a super lengthy reign as the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion? He’s already in the top ten, so you would think he’d only move up even further. What if Big E puts in a bunch of work and keeps the WWE Title for a long time? He’s #13 this year, and is already set to move up, so a good reign puts him in prime position for a run at the top. What if “Hangman” Adam Page beats Kenny Omega to win the AEW World title in a five-star classic, and then defends the belt against all comers and has classic after classic with Bryan Danielson, CM Punk, Adam Cole, Jungle Boy, Malakai Black, Andrade El Idolo, and so on?

What say you, ReaderLand? If you’ve seen this year’s PWI 500, what are some of your thoughts? Out of respect for Pro Wrestling Illustrated, I’m not going to post the entire list of names here. More than enough people have seen the rankings by now, so I want to know what you’re thinking about. Should Kenny Omega have been given the top spot, or should it have been Roman Reigns? As always, hit me up in the comments section below, or on Twitter (@HustleTheSavage), and let me know what’s on your mind.

 

 

Weekly Power Rankings

  • Big E: A mainstream sports appearance on Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff pre-show before his alma mater, the Iowa Hawkeyes, took on the Penn State Nittany Lions in one of the school’s biggest games in history. Iowa would go on to win. Hours later, Big E would make another mainstream sports appearance, doing the pre-fight introduction for the much-hyped Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder boxing match. E would then be shown in the crowd, sitting next to Demetria Obilor, nearly causing Twitter to crash. Then, he appears on Raw and cuts a promo about how he has “tasted the spoils” of being WWE Champion, and how they tasted to sweet that he let the juices drip down his chin, onto his neck, and betwixt his nipples. Damn, Demetria Obilor has it like THAT?!? Oh… and E would team with Drew McIntyre to have a pretty good match against The Usos, so there’s that, too.
  • Casino Ladder Match: Spots, spots, spots, spots, and more spots. That’s to be expected, of course. There was a bunch of speculation on who would be the mystery “Joker” entrant here, with people like Windham Rotunda and Braun Strowman being thrown around on social media. In the end, AEW went with the “safe” option of “Hangman” Adam Page. I don’t mean that in a negative fashion. I’m merely saying it’s a lot easier to tell his story in going after the AEW World Title than it would be to introduce yet another new member of the roster. Now, just like that, Page is right back in the title picture after people feared he would be shoved behind the crowd of new signees. The Omega/Page story has been so good for so long, so I’m glad to see it continuing on.
  • Bryan Danielson, Christian Cage, Jungle Boy & Luchasaurus vs Kenny Omega, Adam Cole & The Young Bucks: I’ve said it before, but AEW has really perfected the art of putting on chaotic multi-man (six-man, eight-man, ten-man, all the way up to sixteen-man) tag matches and just letting the competitors go nuts from bell-to-bell. This was another instance of those types of matches. Everyone other than Christian, who was taken out of the match with an “injury” relatively early on, got to shine and look like a million bucks in front of another insanely hot AEW crowd that we’ve all come to expect at this point.
  • Isaiah “Swerve” Scott vs Santos Escobar: As I said earlier in this column, these two have had one really entertaining feud over the last however many months it has been. With Swerve ready to join the Smackdown roster with the rest of Hit Row in a little over a week, I don’t think many people expected him to leave this episode of NXT with the North American Title. That didn’t hurt the quality of the match itself, as it was yet another good’n between two opponents with crazy in-ring chemistry together. Swerve would pick up the win, surprising everybody, but he still didn’t leave the episode as the champion…
  • Carmelo Hayes: Congratulations to Carmelo Hayes, the brand new NXT North American Champion. He cashed in his Breakout Tournament shot, Money In The Bank-style, beating Swerve in less than a minute after his match with Escobar. In another sign of NXT’s youth movement, the 27-year-old Hayes picked up the win in only his eighth match with the company, only making his debut four-and-a-half months ago. It looked like big things were in his future when he arrived, but I sure didn’t expect those things to happen this soon.
  • Xavier Woods vs Ricochet: A really fun match made even better by WWE making it clear how important it would be for both men to win the King Of The Ring tournament. It has been Woods’ damn-near lifelong dream to be crowned King, and Ricochet got a chance to talk about how much the win would get his career back on track. Woods picked up the win, setting up what should’ve been the easiest slam dunk WWE could make in a long time… a semi-finals showdown between Woods and Kofi Kingston. The story there could be told in so many entertaining ways, so of course WWE decided to have Kofi lose to Jinder Mahal later on in the episode.
  • CM Punk vs Daniel Garcia: Another match where Punk got to work with one of AEW’s young, rising talents. It was also another match where Punk’s opponent got a ton of offense in before finally going down in defeat. Please stop all of the “Punk is burying young talent” nonsense. Darby was already a major star for the company, so his loss didn’t really hurt him at all. Powerhouse Hobbs and Daniel Garcia, on the other hand, look infinitely better now than they did going into their matches with Punk. Me thinks that’s the opposite of Punk/AEW “burying” them, no?
  • Hikaru Shida vs Serena Deeb: Two of AEW’s best going at it and actually having a story told that didn’t revolve around a title. Shida has become such a fantastic talent since she first started with the company, and Deeb remains one of the best women in wrestling, even after all these years. Deeb playing the aggressive spoiler, stopping the lovefest for Shida becoming the first woman to win 50 matches in AEW, was a great touch, and it sets up another match between these two. I’m with it.
  • Finn Balor vs Cesaro: It’s Balor and Cesaro. You know exactly what you’re going to get when these two are involved, and adding the King Of The Ring tournament to the mix only added to it. Especially since WWE actually seems to care a little bit about the tournament, unlike what they’re showing with the Queen’s Crown tournament. Yikes.
  • Diamond Mine: Ivy Nile was impressive in her debut match, and then Julius Creed looked good in singles action. I don’t know if anyone in the group other than Roderick Strong is going to get an actual sustained push of any kind, but it’s a lot of fun watching them so far.
  • (Writer’s Note: I have yet to watch the highly-rated Jacob Fatu vs Alexander Hammerstone from MLW Fightland, so I don’t have it here. The episode is on my DVR, but I just haven’t had time to watch it yet. I’ve seen a bunch of rave reviews about the match, so I’m really looking forward to getting the time to watch it.)

 

 

This Week’s Playlist: “The Herder” by Tech N9ne… “No See Umz” by Tech N9ne, Snow Tha Product & Russ… “Face Off” by Tech N9ne, Joey Cool, King Iso & Dwayne Johnson… “Take Your Halo” by Tech N9ne… “Venom (Remix)” by Eminem… “Can You Hear Me Now?” by Michael Dion & Rick Ross… “Flocky Flocky” by Don Toliver & Travis Scott… “Super” by Cordae… “Late To The Party” by Joyner Lucas & Ty Dolla $ign… “Hands Up” by Tyla Yaweh & Morray… “Wig Split” by Pouya & Denzel Curry… “Swing My Way (Video Version)” by KP & Envyi… “One In A Million” by Aaliyah… “If Your Girl Only Knew” by Aaliyah… “The One I Gave My Heart To” by Aaliyah… “4 Page Letter” by Aaliyah… “Rock The Boat” by Aaliyah… “More Than A Woman” by Aaliyah… “I Care 4 U” by Aaliyah… “Try Again” by Aaliyah… “Back & Forth” by Aaliyah… “Are You That Somebody” by Aaliyah & Timbaland… “Miss You” by Aaliyah… “At Your Best (You Are Love)” by Aaliyah… “I Don’t Wanna” by Aaliyah

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