AL CASTLE'S TAKE

THE WORLD IS IN FLUX ... SO, TOO, IS THE “500”

TEXT BY: AL CASTLE

A pandemic that shut down wrestling companies around the globe for more than a third of the evaluation period. A national reckoning on institutional racism that spurred us to more closely look at the names (and skin tones) of the wrestlers on our list. And a new milestone in female empowerment that made us consider the inclusion of women—and the exclusion of some men—in the PWI “500.”

Never have world events, politics, and social revolutions shaped the list as they have in this, its 30th edition. While part of me certainly misses the days when all we had to consider was the tidy criteria we developed over the last three decades, I certainly appreciate why the formation of this year’s list was, by necessity, complicated. It’s because the world is, too.

Let’s start with the COVID-19 outbreak. Here’s a bit of PWI “500” trivia: I was the one who came up with the rule (adopted years ago) that, to be ranked, a wrestler must have competed in 20 matches during the evaluation period, or at least one match in seven separate months. The idea was to have a hard-and-fast policy on what constitutes wrestler “inactivity.”

As well-intended as it was, the rule didn’t account for the possibility that one day, putting on wrestling matches would not only be difficult, but potentially a threat to public health. It seemed unfair to penalize wrestlers who, like many people, stayed home for the last four months of the evaluation period, either out of their own choosing or because of the sound judgment of their respective employers. We had to account for that.

Then there’s the issue of race. The unfortunate reality is that in the 30-year history of the PWI “500,” Black wrestlers have only broken into the top 10 on 12 occasions—a meager rate of 4 percent. It’s easy to for us to say that the matter is out of our hands, as the PWI staff is largely beholden to who wrestling promoters decide to push as their top stars. But that would be passing the buck.

Even while working within our set criteria for the “500,” we do give weight to a wrestler’s influence on the sport like the influence Kofi Kingston had by being the only Black wrestler to hold a major world championship during the evaluation period. We had to account for that.

And what about the role of women in wrestling? Once a freak show attraction, intergender matches have become more commonplace, as evidenced by Tessa Blanchard winning the Impact heavyweight title. While the female counterpart to this list, the forthcoming Women’s 100, still exists, that doesn’t mean the “500” should necessarily be exclusive to men. We had to account for that.

Perhaps most troubling was the question of what to do about the multitude of wrestlers accused of sexual misconduct in the #SpeakingOut movement. While appreciating the American justice system’s presumption of innocence, some of the more credible accusations are deeply troubling. Obviously, we were reluctant to heap praise on potential sexual predators, regardless of their wrestling accomplishments.

Without making judgements of guilt (or innocence), we chose to consider each accused wrestler on a case-by-case basis . . . eliminating those left in limbo by terminations or suspensions. We realize that, inevitably, some people will be upset with our decisions. We had to account for that.

Accountability is an important thing these days.

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