A Look Back At: 1996 PWI 500 Rankings
The sixth installment of the series brings us to the 1996 edition of the PWI 500. World Championship Wrestling and the World Wrestling Federation are at war on Monday nights while Extreme Championship Wrestling is gaining more and more popularity. Where will the wrestlers rank in this years edition?
You can find the complete list of wrestlers and where they were ranked HERE.
The grading period was August 1995 to August 1996.
1.) Shawn Michaels
2.) The Giant
4.) Kenta Kobashi
5.) Ahmed Johnson
6.) Kevin Nash
7.) Rey Mysterio Jr.
8.) Hulk Hogan
10.) Ric Flair
1996 was a breakout year for the Heartbreak Kid as he became the WWF World Champion at WrestleMania XII in March by getting the only fall in an Ironman match against Bret Hart. Michaels won the 1996 Royal Rumble to guarantee him the main event at WrestleMania. Shawn had successful feuds with former friend Diesel in a great no holds barred match in April, a steel cage match with Diesel in May at MSG, and then went on to feud with the British Bulldog that also had a couple of entertaining pay per view matches. Michaels finished the grading period by successfully defending the championship against Vader at SummerSlam. It was during this time that Michaels wasn’t having bad matches as he had several entertaining matches on RAW during an era where the memorable matches were few and far between. I think Michaels as number one is completely logical and justified.
The Giant made his debut in the summer of 1995 for WCW and quickly made it known that he was coming for Hulk Hogan as a member of the Dungeon of Doom. Giant had several matches with Hogan to close out 1995 but lost a steel cage match at Superbrawl in February. Despite the loss to Hogan, Giant would become the first ever rookie to win the WCW World Championship when he pinned Ric Flair on the April 22nd Nitro. Giant would go and successfully defend the championship against the likes of Sting and Lex Luger on pay per view before losing the title to the just turned heel Hollywood Hogan at Hog Wild to end the grading period. It’s an example of someone accomplishing a lot in less than a twelve month period and WCW making a star without the help of WWF established stars.
Despite mainly competing in a tag team with Lex Luger, Sting remains in the top five rankings. Sting and Luger got several key victories over top tag teams such as Harlem Heat, Road Warriors and the Steiner Brothers. They were the top tag team for most of the grading period during a time when WCW had a stacked tag division. Can’t forget that in late 1995 Sting had a memorable feud with Ric Flair and Horsemen due to Flair turning on Sting just to reform the Horsemen at Halloween Havoc 1995. It’s interesting that for the second year in a row that Sting had not been presented as a main player but is ranked higher than people who were presented as such during the grading period.
Kenta Kobashi gets into the top five thanks in large part to being the youngest man to win the All-Japan Triple Crown at the age of twenty-nine. He also wrestled in the tag team match of the year for the third straight year.
Similar to the Giant, Ahmed Johnson made a big impact by the end of 1995 showcasing his strength when he power slammed Yokozuna. Ahmed associated himself with Jake Roberts during the spring of 1996 to feud with Owen Hart and the British Bulldog. Johnson had a memorable feud with Vader which saw him suffer his first loss on RAW to Vader. Ahmed rebounded by winning the WWF Intercontinental Championship from Goldust at King of the Ring. By the end of the grading period Ahmed was out due to injury. While Ahmed had a successful year, Ahmed doesn’t seem to be a top five talent based on his accomplishments or his in-ring ability. This ranking is a little baffling, if I’m being honest.
The previous years number one ranked wrestler falls down to number six as Diesel goes from the WWF to WCW. Nash departed the WWF having memorable matches with Bret Hart, the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels before departing for WCW and being part of the hottest angle in wrestling known as the New World Order. Nash teamed with Scott Hall to defeat Sting and Lex Luger at Hog Wild to close the grading period. The fall may have to do with the lack of wrestling from May to August as Nash was largely involved in angles instead of matches.
Mysterio didn’t make his WCW debut until June of 1996, but three months into the company he made a huge impact. Rey won the WCW Cruiserweight Championship n July 8th after losing to Dean Malenko in his debut at Great American Bash in a really competitive match. Rey also had memorable matches with Psychosis in July and successfully defended the championship against the Ultimo Dragon to close out the grading period. It was during the grading period that Rey had a series of classic matches with Juvenud Guerrera in Extreme Championship Wrestling and introduced North American fans to their style of wrestling.
Hollywood Hulk Hogan started the grading period as a good guy but that obviously changed when the grading period came to an end. He also started the grading period as the WCW World Champion and ended it by regaining the championship from the Giant at Hog Wild in August. Hogan mainly feuded with Giant in late ’95 and continued to feud with the likes of Ric Flair and Arn Anderson before taking a leave from WCW in the spring of 1996. Returned at Bash at the Beach in July and shocked the world by forming the New World Order with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash giving his career a much needed shot in the arm.
Sabu remains in the top ten for the second straight year, but his top moments don’t appear to be all that spectacular. He did defeat Cactus Jack twice in February 1996 and won a stretcher match against Rob Van Dam. PWI also noted he had victories over Stevie Richards and Jimmy Del Ray, but neither man is overly popular or anything at this point. Might have been an example of getting an “ECW guy” in the top ten to spark conversation.
The Nature Boy Ric Flair had a busy grading period as he lost to long-time friend Arn Anderson at Fall Brawl in September 1995. They reunited the following month and Flair would become the WCW World Champion by the end of the year, though he would lose it to Savage in January, Flair regained the title at Superbrawl inside a steel cage thanks to Elizabeth turning on the Macho Man. Flair got his first career pin fall victory on Hulk Hogan on the January 29th edition of Nitro. Won the WCW United States Championship from Konnan in July and retained the belt in August against Eddie Guerrero. A fine grading period for someone who was seemingly put on the back burner at one point.
13.) Dean Malenko
16.) Bret Hart
17.) Lex Luger
Formerly known as the Natural Dustin Rhodes, Goldust made a big impact upon his arrival in the WWF with a controversial character. By January 1996, Goldust won the WWF Intercontinental Championship when he defeated Razor Ramon. That led to a feud with Roddy Piper and an infamous brawl at WrestleMania XII. Had a less than stellar feud with the Ultimate Warrior before losing the championship to Ahmed Johnson in June. At the end of the grading period had a loose association with Mankind and feuding with Marc Mero.
“The Iceman” jumped to World Championship Wrestling after a successful tenure in ECW. Malenko was largely competing in undercard matches for most of the grading period and didn’t have a feud to work with until he won the WCW Cruiserweight Championship in May of 1996. Malenko then had a series of great matches with Rey Mysterio Jr. on pay per view and on television. Next year would see a big accomplishment for Malenko.
Vader left WCW in the fall of 1995 and joined the WWF in time to appear at the Royal Rumble. He didn’t win the Rumble but he did start a feud with Yokozuna that eventually saw Yokozuna escorted off of RAW on a forklift due to a Vader attack. Vader was unsuccessful in winning the WWF World Championship from Shawn Michaels at SummerSlam. Was easily the top heel for the WWF for most of the year.
The Hitman started the grading period on a good note by winning the WWF World Championship from Diesel at Survivor Series ’95. Hart would retain the belt over the likes of the British Bulldog, the Undertaker, Diesel inside a steel cage, and Goldust during his title reign before losing to Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XII. He surely would have been ranked much higher had he not gone on hiatus after the loss and had not returned at the end of the grading period.
Lex Luger shocked the wrestling world when he arrived on the first Nitro telecast and quickly made it clear he was after Hulk Hogan and the WCW World Championship. Luger had a brief feud with Randy Savage before starting a team with Sting which saw them win the WCW World Tag Team Championships. Luger challenged for the WCW World Championship at Great American Bash but came up short against the Giant. One of the three wrestlers chosen to combat the New World Order at Bash at the Beach.
18.) Chris Benoit
20.) Shane Douglas
21.) Randy Savage
22.) Steve Austin
24.) Davey Boy Smith
Upon his arrival in WCW, Chris Benoit consistently had great matches with guys like Eddie Guerrero, Lord Steven Regal and Alex Wright. He joined the Horsemen during the grading period and had a brutal feud with Kevin Sullivan that had a falls count anywhere match at Great American Bash in June. The best is yet to come for Benoit in the wrestling business.
A failed WWF run brought Shane Douglas back to Extreme Championship Wrestling by early 1996. Earned a victory over Cactus Jack in February. Failed to win the ECW World Championship from Raven several times during March and April. Douglas was able to win the ECW Television Championship from 2 Cold Scorpio in May. Had a lengthy and heated rivalry with Pitbull #2 during the grading period.
The Macho Man won his first WCW World Championship in November at World War III, lost it a month later to Flair at Starrcade, regained it in January, and lost it again to Flair in February inside a steel cage. Spent most of the grading period feuding with Flair. Was one of the guys involved in the six man tag match at Bash at the Beach in July.
Austin was briefly involved with ECW during the grading period involved in matches with Mikey Whipwreck and the Sandman. Jumped to the WWF where he became the Ringmaster and was the Million Dollar Champion. Had a competitive feud with Savio Vega and then with Marc Mero. Won the 1996 King of the Ring where he introduced the 3:16 trademark. By the end of the grading period if was evident that Austin was on the path to super stardom.
A heel turn for the British Bulldog in August changed his career for the better. Having spent most of the year as a tag team wrestler, Smith became the number one contender for the WWF World Championship after turning on Diesel. Was unable to defeat Diesel, Bret Hart or Shawn Michaels for the WWF World Championship. Yes, he challenged all three title holders during the grading period. Had an infamous feud with Michaels where his wife claimed that Michaels tried to sleep with her. Smith lost two title matches on pay per view against Michaels.
33.) Owen Hart
34.) Scott Hall
40.) Sid Vicious
42.) Chris Jericho
The King of Harts was one half of the WWF World Tag Team Champions with Yokozuna briefly during the grading period. Owen famously knocked Shawn Michaels out of action on an episode of RAW in November. Lost to Michaels in February on pay per view. Picked up a rare pin fall victory over Bret Hart in Kuwait. Won a singles match against Savio Vega at SummerSlam to end the grading period.
Formerly known as Razor Ramon, Hall started the grading period losing to guys like Goldust and Vader before heading to WCW to be part of the biggest angle in quite sometime known as the New World Order. Similar to Kevin Nash, Hall hadn’t competed much in a WCW ring as the group was largely used in angle progression manners.
Raven had a busy grading period as he mainly feuded with Tommy Dreamer and the Sandman, both of which were incredibly memorable and controversial. Raven won the ECW World Championship by pinning Sandman on January 27th and would hold onto the championship for the remaining time in the grading period. He retained the championship over Sandman, Shane Douglas, 2 Cold Scorpio, Chris Jericho and Tommy Dreamer. Would hold the championship for over 250-days.
Psycho Sid started the grading period losing to Shawn Michaels on an episode of RAW to conclude their long running feud during the year. Sid would fall down the card even losing to Bob Holly on a house show event in January. Would be off television until July when he replaced Warrior to team with Michaels and Ahmed Johnson. Sid won a singles match against the British Bulldog at SummerSlam to end the grading period. Sid was getting a very good crowd reaction upon his return to the company.
Jericho made a quick impact in ECW winning against the likes of Rob Van Dam, Cactus Jack, and Mikey Whipreck. Won the ECW Television Championship at Hardcore Heaven in June, but lost it at Heatwave in a four way elimination match. Ended his ECW run with losses to Sabu and 2 Cold Scorpio. Headed to World Championship Wrestling at the end of the grading period.
51.) Rob Van Dam
79.) Hunter Hearst Helmsley
84.) Brian Lee
Started the grading period competing as Cactus Jack, but transformed into the deranged Mankind upon making his WWF debut in April 1996. After four months, Mankind became a viable threat to the Undertaker winning singles matches against Taker at King of the Ring and at SummerSlam. Paul Bearer turned on Taker and aligned himself with Mankind to end the grading period. In ECW as Cactus Jack held the ECW World Tag Team Championships with Mikey Whipwreck before turning heel and being anti-ECW.
RVD made his ECW debut in January defeating Axl Rotten and started a lengthy feud with Sabu due to not showing him respect. Earned a victory over Shane Douglas and Tommy Dreamer at the end of the grading period.
Mabel lost his WWF World Championship match against Diesel at SummerSlam and had a feud with the Undertaker which saw him break Taker’s eye socket causing him to wear a mask. Was out of the WWF by August 1996 but still gets ranked just outside the top 50.
Hunter Hearst Helmsley maintained an undefeated streak until losing matches to Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart in early 1996. Was successful in feuds against Duke Droese and Henry Godwin. Helmsley was projected to win the 1996 King of the Ring, but following the Curtain Call incident in May, that didn’t happen. At the end of the grading period, Helmsley was not doing very well in a feud with Marc Mero.
Primetime Brian Lee made his ECW debut in the spring of 1996 aligning himself with Raven to take out Tommy Dreamer. Lee and Dreamer would go on to have wild brawls with both men trading victories. Lee primarily feuded with Dreamer during the grading period and won far more times than he lost.
146.) Mikey Whipwreck
161.) Jake Roberts
167.) Flex Kavana
Previously known as the lovable loser in ECW, Whipwreck went on to win all three major championships in ECW. Whipwreck had a brief run as tag team champion with Cactus Jack. Lost to Cactus Jack in March 1996 prior to Jack leaving for the WWF.
Roberts returned to the WWF in January competing in the Royal Rumble match. Roberts made a valiant effort to win the 1996 King of the Ring but lost to Steve Austin in the finals after being brutally attacked by Vader earlier in the night. At the end of the grading period, Roberts was feuding with Jerry Lawler about Jake’s issues with alcohol.
Flex Kavana would go onto being known as the Rock. At this time he competed in the USWA where he held the tag team championships with Bart Sawyer.
What are your memories of the 1996 PWI 500? Leave your thoughts below.
Thanks for reading.