PWO: Greatest Wrestler Ever Ballot

I don’t frequent too many message boards because they’re basically just comment sections run amok and we all know that you should never read the comment section if you want to maintain your sanity. One place I do allow myself to occasionally visit when I’m in the mood to talk serious graps with likeminded folks is the Pro Wrestling Only board. I find the gang there to be really educated and *mostly* rational when discussing things. A couple of years ago they began the process of preparing a massive “Greatest Wrestler Ever” poll that was meant to be an update of a similar one done in 2006 by another board called Smarks Choice. With the ten year anniversary of that poll looming, and given the explosion of available footage in the interim years thanks to streaming services and YouTube, the PWO boys thought another kick at the can was due, so they gave everybody a year’s notice and started soliciting feedback.

The process was a pretty involved one. Wrestlers (male or female, as there would be no separation of the sexes) had to be “nominated” in order to be eligible, after which time a thread was opened up for people to debate the various merits of the particular wrestler. No pure criteria on what exactly we were voting on was ever set forth, in fact part of the idea was to leave it open to individual interpretation. Some guys (and gals) voted for wrestlers based purely on in-ring work, some on a combination of workrate and mic skills, and still others (like me) stretched things to include things like legacy, popularity, and even kayfabed “success”. Needless to say the debate was varied and heated (though civil, if you can believe that).

I had a blast with the project as it allowed me, a lifelong wrestling fan who was really only familiar with the major American promotions and some of the more recent US indies, to dive deep into Japan and Mexico while also focusing on the territory wrestling of the 80’s that I had long only heard about. Working on the project really altered the way I watch and process wrestling. I forced myself to start tracking what I’d seen and eventually adopted the time honored wrestling critic “five star rating” system just to keep my head above water. Mostly though it was just watching a shit ton of wrestling from all different eras and styles. I learned that I absolutely love the hard-hitting Japanese style, particularly the All Japan 90’s, while also coming to the conclusion that Mexican Lucha Libre wasn’t really my thing. In the end I tried to watch at least a little of every wrestler who I thought (based on other’s feedback) was going to be top 100 material, although admittedly my work on lucha and joshi (Japanese female wrestling) was not what it could have been.

Ballots were due the day of WrestleMania 32 and the results were tabulated and parsed out over the next several weeks. That’s when things took a bit of a dark turn as the hostility on the board ramped up due to some people just not being able to handle the fact that wrestling is a varied artform that speaks in different ways to different people and any project such as this wasn’t going to match their personal feelings. All in all though it was a fun time and I’m glad I participated. Below is my final ballot of 100 wrestlers which became obsolete almost the moment I submitted it. It went through many changes in the days leading up to submission and would no doubt look very different today, but that was sort of the point of the exercise, to provide an in-the-moment snapshot of what we were all feeling at the time. Looking at in now I’m not even sure how to defend some of my rankings, that’s how drastically my feelings have changed in the almost two years since.

Greatest Wrestler Ever Ballot
(submitted on 4/3/2016)

100. Wahoo McDaniel
99. Giant Baba
98. Rick Rude
97. Dick Murdoch
96. Ryo Saito
95. Ricochet
94. Bob Orton Jr.
93. Cesaro
92. Curt Hennig
91. Dennis Condrey
90. Christian
89. Bob Backlund
88. Davey Boy Smith
87. Jay Briscoe
86. Brian Pillman
85. Hiroshi Hase
84. Minoru Suzuki
83. Lex Luger
82. Mocho Cota
81. Jeff Hardy
80. The Undertaker
79. Gino Hernandez
78. Edge
77. Dutch Mantell
76. Pat Patterson
75. Owen Hart
74. Sean Waltman
73. Volk Han
72. Seth Rollins
71. William Regal
70. Hiroshi Tanahashi
69. Negro Casas
68. The Rock
67. Chris Jericho
66. Bobby Eaton
65. Akira Taue
64. Verne Gagne
63. Hulk Hogan
62. Shinsuke Nakamura
61. Naomichi Marufuji
60. Nigel McGuinness
59. Low Ki
58. Billy Robinson
57. Kevin Steen
56. Kazuchika Okada
55. Kerry Von Erich
54. Timothy Thatcher
53. Shinjiro Ohtani
52. Lou Thesz
51. Sami Zayn
50. Dustin Rhodes
49. Jack Brisco
48. Jim Breaks
47. Dynamite Kid
46. Ted DiBiase
45. Greg Valentine
44. Shinya Hashimoto
43. Mick Foley
42. Ricky Morton
41. Buddy Rose
40. Barry Windham
39. Austin Aries
38. Rick Martel
37. Arn Anderson
36. Brock Lesnar
35. Bill Dundee
34. Triple H
33. Vader
32. Tatsumi Fujinami
31. Tito Santana
30. Terry Funk
29. Tully Blanchard
28. Riki Choshu
27. Jun Akiyama
26. John Cena
25. AJ Styles
24. Rey Mysterio Jr.
23. Sgt. Slaughter
22. Roderick Strong
21. Nick Bockwinkel
20. CM Punk
19. Ricky Steamboat
18. Samoa Joe
17. Jushin Liger
16. Kurt Angle
15. Jerry Lawler
14. Toshiaki Kawada
13. Genichiro Tenryu
12. Eddie Guerrero
11. Steve Austin
10. Stan Hansen
9. Bret Hart
8. Chris Benoit
7. Randy Savage
6. Mitsuharu Misawa
5. Kenta Kobashi
4. Daniel Bryan
3. Jumbo Tsuruta
2. Shawn Michaels
1. Ric Flair

BTW, the top 10 finishers on the original Smarks Choice poll were as follows:

10. Stan Hansen
9. Bret Hart
8. Ric Flair
7. Mitsuharu Misawa
6. Eddie Guerrero
5. Kenta Kobashi
4. Jushin Liger
3. Chris Benoit
2. Toshiaki Kawada
1. Jumbo Tsuruta

Obviously Benoit was unlikely to repeat a top 10 finish given the way things turned out for him a year after the poll was done, with lots of voters outright refusing to include him in 2016. Flair was also expected to receive a bigger push and the debate surrounding Shawn Michaels was pretty intense too. Here was how the 2016 PWO version shook out:

10. Jerry Lawler
9. Toshiaki Kawada
8. Kenta Kobashi
7. Rey Mysterio Jr.
6. Jushin Liger
5. Daniel Bryan
4. Mitsuharu Misawa
3. Stan Hansen
2. Terry Funk
1. Ric Flair

Jumbo dropped to 11th, Guerrero to 12th, Bret to 17th, and Benoit to 34th (which is pretty decent all things considered). Meanwhile Funk moved up from 11th, Mysterio from 22nd, Lawler from 41st, and Bryan from 117th. Meanwhile Shawn Michaels went from 46th to 31st, which is kind of mind-numbing to me, but it became clear during the process that there were people who REALLY hated his 2002-2010 WWE run. As always, different strokes for different folks. My only other top 10 pick not to make the actual top 10 was Savage, who went from 44th to 18th.

I ended up being the high voter on 3 wrestlers. My love for early ROH shined through for two of them, Roderick Strong (me: 22, final: 236) and Samoa Joe (me: 18, final: 59), while the 3rd was obviously my #1, Flair (making me 1 of 28 voters in that regard).

So again, this list is how I felt in the heat of the moment back in March of 2016 when I was totally burying myself under an avalanche of pro graps watching and trying desperately to be “fair and balanced”. Looking at my ballot now I cringe at some of the placements, but it is what it is. While my list would be different today, it would be different from that next year, and so on. In the meantime though, it’s a fun little snapshot. Even if it is totally wrong now.

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