A Look Back At: The 1991 PWI 500 Rankings
For the past twenty-five years Pro Wrestling Illustrated has accepted the challenge of ranking 500 of the best wrestlers during each of those years. Sometimes there have been questionable rankings and times when they actually forgot to include wrestlers.
I’ve decided to take a look at each publication of the PWI 500 and see the interesting listing, dispute their rankings and show the progression of wrestlers through the years.
I’m not going to list all 500 guys, but instead point out interesting rankings and see the progression or decline throughout the years. For a full listing of 1991 PWI 500, click HERE.
The issue started in 1991 and has been a staple for the publication ever since. Lets take a look at the top 10 for 1991.
1.) Hulk Hogan
2.) Lex Luger
3.) Ric Flair
4.) Randy Savage
6.) Scott Steiner
7.) Ricky Steamboat
8.) Steve Williams
9.) Arn Anderson
10.) Rick Steiner
It’s quite clear as to why Hogan was number one. He had a big year by winning the Rumble, beating Slaughter at Mania VII and was able to successfully end his feud with Earthquake. Also, we can’t forget that he had numerous matches with Ric Flair at the tail end of the year. Sure, he lost the WWF World Championship at This Tuesday in Texas but a week later regained it by defeating the Undertaker at Survivor Series. Oh, by the way, they forgot to include the Undertaker and Terry Gordy. Yeah, that’s a head scratcher, I know. Anyway, Hogan at number one is perfectly fine. He had a strong year in comparison to the remaining top ten.
Luger is a close second, but a victim of Flair leaving WCW in the summer. Had Luger won the WCW World Championship at Great American Bash in June over Flair instead of Barry Windham, I think Luger gets over the hump and takes number one. Luger was a double champion holding the WCW United States and WCW World Championships after the win at the Bash. Luger continued his reign as champion leading into 1992 successfully defending against Ron Simmons at Halloween Havoc.
Flair didn’t seem to have an overly huge year. Sure, he was champion and never lost the WCW World Champion, but something just seems to be missing. He didn’t get traction going in the WWF until ’92, but I suppose their not being many top stars made it an easy pick for Flair to be in the top 5.
Not sure why or how Randy Savage was ranked number four as he was “retired” following his loss to the Ultimate Warrior at Mania VII. He wouldn’t return to action until the fall. Seems a bit high and that’s coming from a Macho Man fanatic.
Interestingly enough, Rick Steiner is ranked lower than his brother Scott Steiner despite Rick getting several WCW World Championship matches against Lex Luger, of course he was unsuccessful in those attempts. Scott was unsuccessful going after the WCW Television Championship that was held by Steve Austin. The most memorable moment for the Steiner Brothers was their classic match at Superbrawl against Lex Luger and Sting, which they won.
It’s shocking that Ricky Steamboat was in the top ten of the list. He was in the WWF for most of 1991 and literally had matches with the Barbarian and other mid card talents. Being ranked at number seven seems extremely high considering the other talent listed, which we will get to. Steamboat returned to WCW in November and won the WCW World Tag Team Championships with Dustin Rhodes, but it’s no way plausible to have the Dragon this high, at least not in 1991.
Moving out of the top 10…
11.) Ultimate Warrior
21.) Bret Hart
23.) Jake Roberts
28.) Jeff Jarrett
29.) Ron Simmons
Despite leaving the WWF in August, Warrior still had a big year. Sure, he lost the WWF World Championship to Sgt. Slaughter at the Rumble, but he beat Randy Savage at Mania, was successful in a feud against the Undertaker and teamed with Hogan to victory at SummerSlam. That seems more top ten worthy than Steamboat.
The rise of Bret Hart started in 1991 and gets a top 25 ranking. A fine place for the tag team wrestler who got his biggest victory against Mr. Perfect at SummerSlam 1991 to win the WWF Intercontinental Championship. 1991 was a very strong year for the Hitman. He might have been a top 15 ranked wrestler.
Jake “The Snake” Roberts started off getting quite a bit of sympathy when he was nearly blinded for life by Rick Martel and beat Martel at Mania VII in a blindfold match. By the summer, Roberts was the most hated man ruining the Savage/Elizabeth wedding at SummerSlam and embarked in a truly personal and awesome feud with Savage to close out 1991. That period could be Jake’s best work.
Jeff Jarrett had a busy year in USWA where he won the USWA Heavyweight Championship four times and the USWA Tag Team Championships four times. Sure, his father Jerry Jarrett ran the company, but regardless Jeff had a stellar year full with success.
In the beginning of 1991 Simmons was the WCW World Tag Team Champions with Butch Reed, but they lost the belts in February and Simmons won a cage match against Reed at Superbrawl in May. Simmons continued to rise up the card and got a WCW World Championship match at Halloween Havoc against Lex Luger but came up short in a best two out of three falls match. Bigger things are ahead for Simmons.
31.) Steve Austin
33.) Big Van Vader
37.) Shawn Michaels
55.) The Patriot
58.) Bam-Bam Bigelow
Austin didn’t waste anytime upon his arrival in WCW to capture gold when he beat Bobby Eaton for the WCW Television Championship on June 3rd. He’d hold the belt for nearly a year. He also joined the top heel faction in WCW known as the Dangerous Alliance. Austin was a huge part of WCW from the get go.
Vader found success in 1991 overseas as he wasn’t used all that much in WCW. He was the CWA Heavyweight Champion for more than half of 1991 before losing the strap to Rambo. At the end of the year he would win the CWA Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship but was forced to give up the championship upon signing a full-time contract with WCW and a contract with NJPW.
One half of the Rockers, Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty should be close in the rankings but shockingly Jannetty was ranked at #57. By the end of 1991, the Rockers would be split up as Michaels literally tossed Jannetty through a plate glass window.
The Patriot was a breakout star for the promotion GWF, or the Global Wrestling Federation. Upon his arrival, the fan favorite won the GWF Television Championship on June 29th and within two months won the GWF Heavyweight Championship in August. Patriot would hold the Heavyweight Championship for the remainder of the year.
Bigelow had a successful 1991 working mainly in Japan and teaming with Vader, though the team wouldn’t win any gold until the following year.
76.) Diamond Stud
79.) Roddy Piper
107.) Chris Benoit
131.) Dustin Rhodes
171.) Shane Douglas
Kind of surprising that Stud would be ranked so high considering he lost quite a bit of steam when he lost to guys like Ron Simmons, Tom Zenk and was on the losing side of the Chambers of Horrors match at Halloween Havoc. Probably didn’t help that Rick Rude joined the company and had almost the same exact gimmick as Stud. A bigger year is in store for Stud in 1992 with a chance of scenery.
One of the biggest stars in the WWF had a busy 1991, but that wouldn’t be reflected by his ranking. He spent some of the year hurt due to his hip but helped Virgil in his feud with Ted DiBiase. More importantly, Piper was involved in a heated feud with Ric Flair upon his debut in the WWF that would continue on and off for the next seven years.
The young crippler Chris Benoit was under the radar to the mainstream fans as he was tearing it up overseas having classic matches with Jushin Liger in Japan. It would be a few years before Benoit made a splash in the States.
Dustin Rhodes had a great 1991 as he didn’t lose a match on pay per view or at a Clash of the Champions. Fought Steve Austin to a draw at Havoc for the WCW Television Championship but managed to win gold in November with Ricky Steamboat when they defeated the WCW World Tag Team Champions Arn Anderson and Larry Zbyszko. Dustin is one of the few guys who have a successful career and put on good matches like his father, Dusty.
Shane Douglas seemingly got his ranking based on what he had done previously to 1991. For the most part, the most impressive thing Douglas did was last nearly 27 minutes in the Royal Rumble.
250.) Dean Malenko
253.) Lightning Kid
For a guy who won at WrestleMania against his former employer Ted DiBiase by count-out and then won the WWF Million Dollar Championship at SummerSlam, a ranking of 246 seems a bit too low for Virgil. Sure, he isn’t a spectacular wrestler, but considering Shane Douglas lasted all of 27 minutes in the Rumble and then vanished and got a ranking of 171, Virgil is made out to look like an All-Star in comparison. I’m pretty sure that’s the last time I’d ever say that about Virgil.
Who would have ever thought that Dean Malenko would be ranked lower than Virgil. Malenko, much like Benoit, found great success in Japan and wouldn’t venture over to the States for a few more years.
The highly entertaining Lightning Kid had a strong second year of competing by winning the GWF Lightweight Championship on two occasions and having several memorable matches with Jerry Lynn throughout the year.
Tazmaniac held the IWCCW Lightweight Championship for six months in 1991 and was one of the most hated men in the Northeast area.
The one of many gimmicks for Kevin Nash, OZ came in at 367. OZ was successful for a period of time before losing to Ron Simmons at the Great American Bash. The character wouldn’t make it to 1992.
390.) GI Bro
392.) Jerry Lynn
403.) Chris Candido
409.) Brian Christopher
GI Bro would be better known as Booker T. In 1991 he worked for lesser known promotions but a short time into his career, he was beating veterans on a regular basis. It took him only eight weeks to make his television debut.
As noted before, Lynn was busy working in the GWF and putting on classic matches with the Lightning Kid. Lynn would win the GWF Lightweight Championship in December of 1991.
Candido had a good run with the USWA where he teamed with Eric Embry and faired well against veteran wrestlers. Another guy who would rise up the ranks throughout the years.
Brian Christopher was a top fan favorite for the USWA but would really breakout in 1992.
I’m not aware of what Zeus did wrestling wise in 1991, but it’s a notable name to be ranked as number 500.
Did you disagree with any of the rankings for the PWI 500 in 1991? Who would have been your number one? Where would you have ranked the Undertaker had he not been forgotten by the writers when this was published?
Leave your thoughts below!
Thanks for reading.
Bob Colling Jr. View All
31-year old currently living in Syracuse, New York. Longtime fan of the New York Mets, Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Vikings. Avid fan of professional wrestling and write reviews/articles on the product. Usually focusing on the old school wrestling.
My first thought was ‘who on earth does a Top 500?’ but given the people you mention in your last extract from the list, I’m guessing it did actually contain close to 500 interesting, recognizable names…although obviously not in the exact same order as any reader would agree with….the chances of that must be astronomical! I vaguely remember reading these and, in line with your own review, it looked to me like everyone outside the first 10 or 20 was numbered on an almost random basis. Did PWI ever explain their thinking? Were they deliberately just trying to stir up a debate? I really got into wrestling in ’92 so I’m looking forward to the next one(s)…….thanks Bob! You sure know how to stir up the memories!
I used to read the PWI 500 every year, and I think it was definitely random after the top 20– who would really make an argument that someone else belonged at number 356? :) Though a few years later they did start making a huge deal out of the number 500 spot, after a wrestler in Florida named Garbage Man was ranked in the last spot; he signed with the WWF as Duke “the Dumpster” Droese shortly after, and PWI bragged about it for YEARS after.
Regarding Zeus, I believe he made a short-lived comeback overseas in 1991– I think he wrestled mainly in Puerto Rico.
Just wondering… are you going by the calendar year, or the twelve-month period PWI considered (I think July-June)?.
Makes a big difference.
I’m going by the calendar year. Especially considering they started in 1991, they could have gone from January to late October at the latest.