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
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.