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A Look Back At: The 1994 PWI 500 Rankings

Pro_Wrestling_Illustrated_-_December_1994

The fourth installment of the PWI 500 saw perhaps the best top ten in terms of star power to date. The likes of Hogan, Flair, Austin, Sting, Vader and others were named to the top ten, but where? For the first time in PWI 500s brief history, a wrestler managed to be number one for two years in a row. Maybe he truly is the best there will be.

Just like last year, the grading period was from August 1st 1993 to July 31st, 1994.

I’ll take a look at the memorable names, memorable rises or memorable drops in the rankings as well.

If you’d like to read all 500 rankings for the 1994 installment, just click HERE.

Hitman repeats at #1!

Hitman repeats at #1!

The Top Ten:

1.) Bret Hart
2.) Hulk Hogan
3.) Ric Flair
4.) Big Van Vader
5.) Shawn Michaels
6.) Steve Austin
7.) Razor Ramon
8.) Sting
9.) Ricky Steamboat
10.) Owen Hart

At the start of the grading period, Bret Hart was stuck in the upper mid card feuding with the hated Jerry Lawler and Doink. Hart was able to win the feud against Lawler, and won his Survivor Series match when he led his brothers over a team led by Shawn Michaels. The win would cause turmoil with his brother, Owen. Bret and Owen lost a WWF World Tag Team Championship match against the Quebecers at the Royal Rumble when Owen turned on his brother out of frustration. Bret, with an injured knee, was able to co-win the Royal Rumble with Lex Luger. The Hitman pulled double duty at WrestleMania X where he lost to Owen in the opening match, but won the WWF World Championship in the main event defeating Yokozuna. Bret successfully defended the championship at the King of the Ring against WWF Intercontinental Champion Diesel in June and was involved in a high profile feud with Owen Hart at the end of the grading period. Bret also had an incredible match with the 1-2-3 Kid on the 7/11 RAW. I can’t think of an argument against Bret Hart to repeat as the number one wrestler with that kind of year, honestly.

Hulk Hogan coming in at number two should raise some eyebrows, and rightfully so. Sure, Hogan wrestled several matches in Japan against the Great Muta and his last match was against Tatsumi Fujinami on January 4th in a winning effort. However, Hulkamania remained silent until the summer when he signed with WCW in June. Right before the end of the grading period, Hogan won his first WCW World Championship by pinning Ric Flair at Bash at the Beach on July 17th. Hogan made a splash in WCW, no doubt, but a number two ranking is more for his name power and for the love of kayfabe.

A rough start to the grading period for the Nature Boy, as Ric Flair lost the WCW International Championship to Rick Rude at Fall Brawl. Flair attempted to regain the belt the following month, but again failed to defeat Ravishing Rick. By the end of the year, Flair returned to the top of the depth chart when he defeated the dominate WCW World Champion Vader at Starrcade in December in a match where if Flair loss, he was gone from WCW. Flair prevailed and fought off the challenge of Vader at Superbrawl inside a steel cage in February at Superbrawl IV. Flair continued to be a fighting champion when successfully retained against long-time friend and rival, Ricky Steamboat at Spring Stampede in April. The next month, Flair retained against Barry Windham at Slamboree in a rematch from last years Beach Blast. By June, the Nature Boy of old returned as he became annoyed and bitter with the attention that Hulk Hogan was receiving. Flair unified the WCW World and International Championships by defeating Sting at the June Clash of the Champions before dropping the belt to Hogan in July. I know I said the Hitman as number one was an easy choice, but from December to July, Flair was one hell of a grading period. He should at least be number two, I’d imagine.

Vader handing out punishment to Cactus Jack.

Vader handing out punishment to Cactus Jack.

From August to December, Vader was the WCW World Champion having retained the belt in a memorable Texas Death Match against Cactus Jack at Halloween Havoc in October. He dropped the belt to Flair at Starrcade and couldn’t regain it. Naturally, he fell down the card and had a feud with The Boss, whom he defeated at both Spring Stampede, and at Bash at the Beach. Vader did get a chance to win the vacant WCW International Championship at Slamboree, but his long-time rival Sting was able to pickup the victory. Despite a drop in the card and lack of competition, Vader still had a top five ranking. Vader was still the best big man wrestler competing on national television at the time, too.

After a successful retaining of the WWF Intercontinental Championship against Mr. Perfect at SummerSlam, Shawn Michaels had to give up the championship and sit out for several months for a failed drug test. He returned in November, losing to Bret Hart’s team at Survivor Series. He had a great match with the 1-2-3 Kid on RAW in December and quickly found himself feuding with Razor Ramon over who the real champion was. Of course, that led to the famous ladder match with Razor Ramon, which Michaels came out as the loser. For the rest of the grading period, Michaels was focused more on being the manager of his friend and bodyguard, Diesel.

Steve Austin started the grading period as a tag team with Brian Pillman, but two months they lost the belts and Austin turned on Flyin’ Brian. Austin pinned his former partner at the COTC 25 in November and won the WCW United States Championship from Dustin Rhodes at Starrcade in December. Austin was involved in a six person tag match at Supebrawl teaming with Rick Rude and Paul Orndorff in a losing effort to Sting, Pillman and Dustin Rhodes. Austin retained the championship against The Great Muta at Spring Stampede, Johnny B. Badd at Slamboree and against long-time rival Ricky Steamboat at Bash at the Beach. This would the last high ranking for Austin while competing for WCW.

The Bad Guy started the grading period as a good guy and he quickly got support from the WWF fans. Ramon picked up a huge win at SummerSlam in August when he pinned Ted DiBiase, effectively ending DiBiase’s wrestling career. By October, Ramon won the vacant WWF Intercontinental Championship defeating Rick Martel. At Survivor Series, Ramon captained a team over a team captained by rival IRS. They’d meet in January at the Royal Rumble which saw Ramon walk out as the champion. As mentioned previously, Ramon retained the title in the famous ladder match with Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania X. However, Ramon would lose the championship on an episode of Superstars to Diesel in April. Razor entered in the King of the Ring and reached the finals before losing to Owen Hart.

Sting continues to remain consistent with another top ten finish. Sting was out of the title picture towards the end of ’93, but was still a focal point for the company. Sting led a team to victory in War Games against a team captained by Vader in September at Fall Brawl. Sting was considered an underdog when he met Sid Vicious at Halloween Havoc, but was again able to pull out a victory. By the end of the year, Sting attempted to win the WCW World Tag Team Championships from the Nasty Boys, but failed to do so with Road Warrior Hawk at Starrcade. Sting teamed with Dustin Rhodes and Brian Pillman to win a cage match at Superbrawl IV against Rick Rude, Paul Orndorff and Steve Austin. Sting found himself back into the title picture by April as he was able to trick Rick Rude into giving him a title shot at Spring Stampede and was able to win the WCW International Championship. The reign lasted a few weeks as Rude regained the belt on May 1st. Due to an injury, Rude vacated the belt. Sting regained the belt in a match against Vader at Slamboree before losing a unification match against WCW World Champion Ric Flair at the June COTC. With the arrival of Hulk Hogan in WCW, Sting’s stay in the main event picture would take a sabbatical.

Steamboat trying to survive the figure four locked in by Ric Flair.

Steamboat trying to survive the figure four locked in by Ric Flair.

The final year that the fire burned for Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat saw the future Hall of Famer finish in the top ten. Ricky had a busy year winning numerous championships. Steamboat started the grading period winning the WCW Television Championship from Paul Orndorff at COTC 24. The reign was short-lived as he lost the championship to Lord Steven Regal the following month at Fall Brawl in September. Steamboat lost to Orndorff at Havoc, and failed to regain the WCW TV Championship from Regal at Starrcade in December. Ricky’s next high profile match wouldn’t be until April when he failed to dethrone WCW World Champion Ric Flair at Spring Stampede, and failed at a rematch on an episode of WCW Saturday Night. Ricky would get another championship match against WCW United States Champion Steve Austin at Bash at the Beach but just came up a little short to end the grading period.

At the start of the grading period, Owen Hart was just the younger brother of Bret rooting him on at SummerSlam. By November, he was teaming with his brothers at Survivor Series and was the only one eliminated due to a collision with Bret. That caused friction before the went for the WWF World Tag Team Championships at Royal Rumble, but Bret couldn’t continue and that drove Owen to kicking Bret’s injured leg. Owen picked up the biggest win of his career defeating Bret at WrestleMania X and continued his hot streak by winning the 1994 King of the Ring to become the ‘King of Harts’ to end the grading period.

Yokozuna wearing down the Bad Guy.

Yokozuna wearing down the Bad Guy.

#11: Yokozuna
#12: Sabu
#14: Diesel
#17: Lex Luger
#18: Lord Steven Regal

Yokozuna started the grading period involved in a feud with Lex Luger, which culminated at SummerSlam, which Yoko lost by count-out but retained the championship. Yoko was also on the losing side of a Survivor Series team that competed against a Luger led team. 1994 started off better for Yokozuna as he retained the championship in a casket match against the Undertaker at the Royal Rumble, with help from most of the heel roster. Yokozuna would lose the WWF World Championship to Bret Hart at WrestleMania X ending his nine month title reign. The remainder of the grading period would see Yokozuna team with Crush as he quickly dropped down the card and thus likely fell out of the top ten.

The homicidal, suicidal, genocidal Sabu really started to make a name for himself working for ECW during the grading period. On October 2nd, 1993 Sabu won his first ECW World Championship by defeating Sabu. Sabu held the championship for eight-five days before losing the title to the legendary Terry Funk in a no disqualification match. Sabu competed in the first ever triple threat match involving Douglas and Funk. Near the end of the grading period, Sabu won a dream match against Cactus Jack in June.

After nearly having his career ruined by WCW with constant character changes, Diesel enjoyed a change of scenery. His first taste of the spotlight came at the 1994 Royal Rumble when Big Daddy Cool eliminated seven wrestlers from the match. He would return to being the bodyguard for Shawn Michaels, but by April 1994 he defeated Razor Ramon to win his first singles gold, the WWF Intercontinental Championship. At King of the Ring in June, Diesel would get a shot at Bret Hart and the WWF World Championship. Diesel won, but only by disqualification thanks to Jim Neidhart getting involved. Diesel is clearly on the rise in the WWF.

The Lex Express appeared to be losing some gas after the count-out victory at SummerSlam over Yokozuna. Luger continued his winning ways over the likes of Yokozuna and Ludvig Borga throughout the end of the year. Luger co-won the Royal Rumble, but failed to dethrone Yokozuna at WrestleMania X due to a crooked referee. Luger had a brief feud with Crush afterward and at the end of the grading period had fallen down to the mid card ranks having a feud with Ted DiBiase and having trust issues with friend Tatanka.

Cactus endured a violent year, which saw his right ear get torn off in Germany.

Cactus endured a violent year, which saw his right ear get torn off in Germany.

#20: Scott Steiner
#22: The Kid
#23: The Undertaker
#25: Dirty White Boy
#27: Cactus Jack

Alongside his brother Rick, Scott Steiner was one-half of the WWF World Tag Team Champions to start the grading period. They retained at SummerSlam over the Heavenly Bodies, but would lose the titles to the Quebecers on the 9/13 RAW due to the match stating that the belts would switch hands on a disqualification. Scott was on Luger’s winning team at Survivor Series, but the remainder of the grading period saw Scott and Rick sit out before returning to compete in Japan.

The popular underdog, the Kid found his way into the top 25 this year. He was on the winning Razor Ramon team at Survivor Series and had a brief tag team title run with Marty Jannetty. Kid had a good run in the King of the Ring before losing to Owen Hart in a highly regarded match. Kid followed that performance up with proving to the world that he could hang with the best when he had a tremendous match with WWF World Champion Bret Hart on the 7/11 RAW.

Kind of surprising to see the Undertaker ranked so high. He had a feud with Yokozuna which led to a casket match, but lost and would be off WWF television for the remainder of the grading period. Taker wrestled a few times in Japan in May, but otherwise didn’t perform enough to warrant a high ranking. Maybe they were making for forgetting him in the first edition?

The highest ranking for Dirty White Boy’s career as he won the SMW Beat The Champ TV Championship in the fall of 1993. DWB would also regain the SMW Heavyweight Championship on February 13th when he defeated rival Brian Lee. After losing the belt to Jake Roberts in May, DWB regained the belt in July from Jake Roberts, though it actually never happened to Jake no-showing several SMW shows. During the grading period DWB had a memorable feud with Tracy Smothers and had become a good guy for the first time in his SMW career.

Cactus Jack had a busy grading period that provided a lot violence and memories. Cactus returned from injury and fought Vader in a wild Texas Death Match at Halloween Havoc, but came up short thanks to Harley Race interfering. Cactus would turn his attention to the WCW World Tag Team Champions, the Nasty Boys. Jack had wild brawls with the champs and was able to win the titles with Kevin Sullivan at Slamboree in May of ’94. They held the belts until July when they dropped the straps to Pretty Wonderful. During this time, Cactus also worked for ECW and had a memorable match with ECW favorite Sabu, which Cactus lost.

Johnny B. Badd, a star on the rise in WCW.

Johnny B. Badd, a star on the rise in WCW.

#31: Arn Anderson
#32: Shane Douglas
#41: Brian Lee
#44: Randy Savage
#51: Johnny B. Badd

The Enforcer teamed with Paul Roma to win the WCW World Tag Team Championships in August, but they lost the belts a month later to the Nasty Boys at Fall Brawl. Arn wouldn’t do anything of note until February when he challenged Lord Steven Regal for the WCW Television Championship, but failed to walk away with the championship. By the summer, Arn teamed with Dustin Rhodes to help him fight off the Stud Stable. That turned out to be a swerve as Anderson ended up planting Dustin with a DDT and joined the Stud Stable leading to a feud between the two at the end of the grading period.

“The Franchise” Shane Douglas has really made a name for himself since joining ECW. Shane won the ECW World Championship on September 9th and held the belt for less than a month. Douglas remained at the top of the card and regained the ECW World Championship on March 26th and held the belt for the remainder of the grading period.

Brian Lee started the grading period as the SMW Heavyweight Champion and held the belt until February 1994, when he lost to DWB. Lee formed a team with Chris Candido. They won the SMW Tag Team Champions on April 23rd from the Rock ’n’ Roll Express and held the belts for the remainder of the grading period.

Macho Man’s in-ring career in the WWF was coming to an end at this point. He was the surprise partner to join Razor Ramon’s winning team at Survivor Series. Savage was involved in a personal feud with Crush which led to a falls count anywhere match at WrestleMania, which Savage won. Savage wouldn’t wrestle much on television, though he had a great match with WWF World Champion Bret Hart at a house show in Japan, which Bret won, but it proved that Savage still had plenty to offer to wrestling.

The early portion of the grading system from August to December saw Johnny B. Badd most memorable feud being against Maxx Payne. However, by early 1994 Johnny had some momentum in his favor. He defeated Michael Hayes at Superbrawl and had a fine opening match with Diamond Dallas Page at Spring Stampede, which he won. By the spring, Johnny got a WCW United States Championship match against Steve Austin at Slamboree but was unable to win the title. Johnny also got a WCW Television Championship match against Lord Steven Regal at Bash at the Beach, but once again was unable to win championship gold. Johnny B. Badd was without question the most improved worker for WCW during this time.

The evil Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart

The evil Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart

#53: Crush
#54: Brian Pillman
#57: Jake Roberts
#61: Jim Neidhart
#88: Mabel

The change in attitude by Crush didn’t help his ranking from last year as he dropped from 35 down to 53. Crush started the grading period out of action due to an attack by Yokozuna. However, by the fall, he turned on friend Randy Savage and joined forces with Yokozuna. Crush wrestled Randy Savage at WrestleMania X in a falls count anywhere match, but came up short. At King of the Ring, along with Yokozuna, failed to win the WWF World Tag Team Championships from the Headshrinkers. Hadn’t fared well in a series of matches against Lex Luger, either. Hardly wrestled for the WWF by the end of the grading period.

Flyin’ Brian didn’t achieve as much as his former partner did when the Hollywood Blonds split up. Pillman lost to Austin shortly after their split, but got some measure of revenge on Col. Robert Parker in early ’94. Started a feud with WCW Television Champion Lord Steven Regal but wasn’t able to win the title at Spring Stampede. The remainder of the grading period saw Pillman with no direction or any high profile feud.

After a short run with WCW in ’92, Jake Roberts returned to the PWI 500 after competing for Smoky Mountain Wrestling during the grading period. He won the SMW Heavyweight Championship from the Dirty White Boy on May 2nd, 1994 but was stripped a short time later after no showing events. During this time, Roberts had a lengthy feud in AAA with Konnan, which ended when Roberts lost a best two out of three falls match, which also was a hair vs. hair match.

The Anvil accomplished he ever had as a singles wrestlers during this time than he ever would. Returned the WWF in the summer of ’94 and aligned himself with Owen Hart to feud with WWF World Champion Bret Hart. Neidhart would get a few shots at Bret, but was unable to cheat his way to victory. Often times would team with Owen to be successful, just as he had with Bret years prior.

Mabel finally won WWF tag team gold with partner Mo towards the end of the grading period. Men on a Mission won the titles on 3/29 at a house show in England. The reign lasted two days as they lost the belts back to the Quebecers. By spring, Mabel was working singles as Mo was out with injury. Mabel would pickup victories over IRS, Kwang and Bam-Bam Bigelow. Lost to IRS in the quarterfinals of the 1994 King of the Ring tournament in June.

Eddie Guerrero, one of the most hated men in Mexico.

Eddie Guerrero, one of the most hated men in Mexico.

#98: Ron Simmons
#101: Rey Mysterio Jr.
#112: Al Snow
#125: Bunkhouse Buck
#141: Eddie Guerrero

Former WCW World Champion and All-American football player Ron Simmons struggled to regain momentum since being champion in ’92. Simmons failed to win gold from WCW Television Champion Paul Orndorff in the summer. Had a winning streak over lesser talent the following months before developing a changed attitude. Won a feud over protege Ice Train by winning a singles match at COTC 26 in January. Simmons continued to wrestle for WCW until the fall, but didn’t return to prominence for the remainder of the grade period.

Rey Mysterio Jr. started to get recognition for his talents and accomplishments at the age of 20 with the ranking of 101 in the PWI 500. Rey mainly wrestled for AAA and had an entertaining series of matches with Juventud Guerrera. Mysterio had held lightweight and welterweight championships during the grading period. He is about a year away from making a splash in the United States.

Al Snow, or once known as “the best kept secret in wrestling” started to get some traction in pro wrestling circles during this time. During the grading period, Snow defeated the popular Sabu on the independents. Snow would have a breakout year next year.

Bunkhouse Buck made his debut for WCW in the spring of ’94 and quickly found himself in a blood feud with Dustin Rhodes. Buck won a bunkhouse match at Stampede, but lost a bull rope match the following month at Slamboree. Buck would continue to feud with Dustin, but often times lost singles matches against The Natural.

Eddie Guerrero became one of the most hated men in Mexico when he turned on partner El Hijo del Santo and formed a tag team with Art Barr. A member of the hated group Los Gringos Locos that dominated AAA during the grading period.

Erik Watts declined quite a bit in this years PWI 500.

Erik Watts declined quite a bit in this years PWI 500.

#143: Sid Vicious
#155: Duke Droese
#157: Marty Jannetty
#183: Erik Watts
#184: Davey Boy Smith

Sid lost to Sting at Halloween Havoc in October and promptly left World Championship Wrestling despite being in line for a run with the WCW World Championship. After a hiatus, Sid returned to action for USWA where he won the Heavyweight championship for the company on July 16th to end the grading period.

The former Garbage Man and 500 ranked wrestler jumped way up in the rankings to 155 after signing with the WWF. Started a feud with Jerry Lawler that started on the June 20th RAW when the King attacked him with a trash can. The segment was one of the more violent moments in the brief history of RAW thus far.

Jannetty formed a successful tag team with the 1-2-3 Kid as they were able to win the WWF World Tag Team Championships from the Quebecers on the January 10th edition of RAW, but lost the belts a week later to the Quebecers at MSG. Jannetty would vanish from the spotlight following WrestleMania X.

When Bill Watts left WCW, so did Erik’s push in the company. The former PWI Rookie of the Year had a lackluster year. Started the grading period picking up wins over Chris Benoit over the summer. His biggest victory during the period was an upset victory over Paul Orndorff on the 12/18 Saturday Night to end 1993. Lost virtually ever featured match he was involved in for the first half of ’94. Defiantly a guy who was successful due to his father being in charge.

Smith started the grading period failing to wrestle the WCW World Championship away from Big Van Vader at COTC 24 in August ’93. Smith proceeded to feud with WCW Television Champion Lord Steven Regal and wrestled the champ to a draw at Halloween Havoc. Failed to win the WCW World Tag Team Championships with Sting in November against the Nasty Boys. Left WCW after a falling out with management and was to be joining the WWF as of press time.

One of the best underdog stories in wrestling, Mikey Whipwreck.

One of the best underdog stories in wrestling, Mikey Whipwreck.

#189: Sparky Plugg
#200: Barry Windham
#202: Mikey Whipwreck
#217: Moadib
#225: Jean Paul Levesque

Plugg made his debut for the WWF in January ’94 and had a winning streak that shaw the NASCAR driver pickup victories over Bastion Booger, Adam Rick Martel and Jeff Jarrett. Failed to qualify for the King of the Ring when he lost to Bam-Bam Bigelow. A hard worker who played the underdog role pretty well.

Windham made one appearance during the grading period as he returned to WCW to challenge WCW World Champion Ric Flair at Slamboree, but was pinned. Windham suffered a knee injury and didn’t return to WCW television.

Known for a lengthy losing streak, Whipwreck won the ECW Television Championship in May ’94 by pinning The Pitbull. Was able to retain the championship often times by disqualification as his opponents would cost themselves the match. Still champion as of press time, though he was feuding with Jason Knight.

Moadib made his debut for GWF in 1994. He was a powerful wrestler who appeared to be destined for big things before the company closed. Associated himself with Gen. Skandor Akbar and was a rule breaker. He’d be on a national stage soon enough.

Jean Paul Levesque made an impact in WCW when he had a several month undefeated streak. Had a brief feud with WCW Television Champion Larry Zbyszko, but wasn’t able to win the title. His winning streak came to an end thanks to Johnny B. Badd over the summer. Seemed to be a highly regarded talent with a bright future in WCW, or elsewhere.

LA Parka

LA Parka

#229: La Parka
#244: 911
#255: Vampiro Canadiese
#390: Glen Jacobs

La Parka had a successful tag team with Psychosis in Mexico. Was one of the biggest draws for Mexico, which still holds up today. Parka won his first championship, the WWA Lightweight Championship in August ’93 by defeating Lizmark. Parka held the belt until October, but beat Lizmark again for the title in June ’94.

911 dominated ECW as a bodyguard and regularly choke slammed wrestlers for his boss, Paul E. Dangerously. An unbeatable force in ECW highly popular.

Vampiro nearly held the UWA World Championship for a year before dropping the belt on December 19th, 1993. Over the summer of ’94, Vampiro had a very successful tour of Japan that saw him nearly win every match he was involved in. Started to become a draw wherever he wrestled.

Glen Jacobs, better known as Kane in later years, accomplished quite a bit in short time during the grading period. Was being compared to Sid Vicious in terms of size, but with better ability. Earned the biggest win of his career by pinning Eddie Gilbert while competing in Puerto Rico.

Gone From The 500:
Ludvig Borga, Disco Inferno, Haku, Van Hammer, Curt Hennig, and Ice Train

Any rankings in the 1994 PWI 500 surprise you? Who would have been in your top ten? Was Bret Hart the best wrestler for the grading period provided?

Leave your thoughts below!

Thanks for reading.

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