Power rankings for both professional and collegiate sports are often debated among fans. There are speculations over how a team who didn’t win the championship last year starts off at number one and opinions over which team is more deserving of being at the top of the rankings. Professional wrestling is no different.
Pro Wrestling Illustrated recently announced their annual PWI 500 list, which takes into consideration how individual wrestlers have done between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016. Wins, losses, championships and more are accounted for in a formula used by the staff at the magazine to complete a list of 500 wrestlers. Even with a top 10 list, there would have been a lot of criticism.
The fact that there are 500 names listed every year on the PWI 500 means there is always going to be criticism. It’s just impossible to ignore. Fans can argue that certain wrestlers were helped with the higher ranking because of how their promoters booked them. The same thing can be said for those who might have been ranked lower than many would have expected.
Picking just 10 professional wrestlers who we felt were overrated, as well as 10 who were underrated is also likely going to meet some criticism. Wrestling fans are a unique group with diverse opinions, which is why a list like the PWI 500 is so popular.
However, we’ve decided to rank whom we consider to be the top 10 most overrated wrestlers on the PWI 500, as well as the top 10 most underrated wrestlers.
20 Overrated – Ryback (30th)
Ryback’s departure from the WWE has led to some conversation about how he might not have been used to his full potential. Sure, he was pretty decent when he first started with the company. There’s also a good chance that he’s going to likely find success wrestling either in Japan or Mexico in the near future. However, it is hard to imagine putting Ryback at the number 30 spot in this year’s PWI 500.
One of the reasons why his rank should have been a lot lower is that the year 2016 has not been good until this point. His match with Kalisto for the United States Championship was on the pre-show for both WrestleMania 32 and Payback. Since the beginning of May, he was sent home because he could not agree on a new contract. With the time off television, being 30th seems a bit too high. There are plenty of superstars more deserving because of TV time alone.
19 Underrated – Angelico (124th)
Maybe Angelico was only ranked at 124th on the list because of the fact that many of his highlights on Lucha Underground didn’t have a huge audience. The second season averaged a little more than 100,000 on the very small El Rey Network. While he’s not someone who should be in the top 10 or 20, it is hard to argue against considering Angelico one of the top 100 wrestlers in the world.
On a surprising note, Angelico was actually ranked lower this year than last year by about seven spots (117). In mid-July, Angelico became a three-time World Tag Team Champion in Mexico’s Asistencia Asesoria y Administracion (AAA) with fellow Lucha Underground star Jack Evans, who came in lower on the list at No. 207. There were even reports that the WWE was interested in him, but he rejected them. One would hope that wasn’t part of his hit in the PWI 500.
18 Overrated – Bray Wyatt (56th)
This one hurts to write because the character of Bray Wyatt is very interesting. Just when you think the former Husky Harris found his niche in the WWE, it has since felt more underachieved. That is the main reason why Wyatt’s ranking at 56 is considered too high. One can argue that he has more talent on the microphone than a lot of guys on the list. The problem is that he just hasn’t been able to capitalize on it.
If we are going to put down someone who has not had recent championship wins like Ryback, Wyatt’s inability to get over in recent feuds should move him down the list as well. That has been the common negative involving Wyatt. Losing Braun Strowman to the brand extension draft and Luke Harper to injury will likely effect his standing in next year’s PWI 500. In the meantime, Wyatt's spot on this year's list might be unearned.
17 Underrated – Johnny Gargano (114th)
Things have been great for independent wrestling as a whole for the past year. The WWE is bringing more independent stars to NXT and their Cruiserweight Classic. One of the superstars who has benefited the most is Johnny Gargano, but to see him not having cracked the top 100 in the PWI 500 was a bit of a shock. Ranked at 114th, a strong case could be made that Gargano should be about 20 to 30 spots higher.
The same could be said for his tag team partner Tomasso Ciampa, but Gargano did earn the victory over him during the first round of the CWC tournament earlier this year. Fans who have watched him in the Midwest and through Chikara would also agree he should be lower on the list. Gargano will likely be a breakout star for the remainder of 2016 when he joins RAW’s Cruiserweight Division. That is likely going to move him up the list for the 2017 PWI 500.
16 Overrated – Sheamus (17th)
It’s understandable that Sheamus has had a decent year – at least by mid-card standards. He was involved in a feud for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship with a win over Roman Reigns. Sheamus can also add movie star for his role as Rocksteady in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, although the review scores are close to the pass/fail line. Seeing Sheamus placed 17th on the list still seems very high.
While he had a small run with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, he did have a failed faction with the League of Nations. Sheamus does deserve a spot in the top 50 range on the list, but within the 40s. That ranking will also likely fall because of the influx of talent expected to come into the WWE roster in the next few years. The luck of the Irish might not be on Sheamus’ side for much longer in WWE.
15 Underrated – Adam Cole (45th)
With all of the talent that is receiving major television time with the WWE and the NXT developmental brand, it can be hard for someone like Adam Cole to get into the top 25 on the PWI 500. However, it seems like his placement at 45 is a little low. Unfortunately, he wasn’t holding the Ring of Honor World Heavyweight Championship until defeating Jay Lethal in August – weeks after PWI’s grading timeline ended.
Still, having said that, Cole has made a pretty significant impact in professional wrestling by joining the Bullet Club, which has had great alumni to include current WWE superstars Finn Balor and AJ Styles. Cole has kept himself busy as well, not only with ROH, but also Pro Wrestling Guerrila – one of the top indie companies in the U.S. – by joining a faction with the Young Bucks, Roderick Strong and Super Dragon to form Mount Rushmore 2.0.
14 Overrated – Kane (52nd)
No offense is meant here to one of the most underrated wrestlers of all time. He has definitely come a long way since that brutal Isaac Yankem character in the mid-1990s and has developed into one of the best big men not only of the 1990s, but through the 2000s. Kane’s career has spanned more than 20 years and his character has evolved in different forms. Still, Kane has shown his age as an aging superstar that shouldn’t have been ranked 52nd in this year’s PWI 500.
Kane hasn’t held any championships in the last year and probably won’t get to hold gold before he retires – he is 49 years old now and there are reports that he’s thinking about going into politics. Kane is definitely a great superstar who will be in the WWE Hall of Fame, but 52nd is a little bit high for the current Kane who hasn’t really done much this year.
13 Underrated – Zack Sabre, Jr. (28th)
British wrestling fans should be excited about the potential that Zack Sabre Jr. has in the next few years in the WWE. He has certainly caught some attention during his appearances in the WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic and is likely to earn a contract at some point down the road. Being 28th on the PWI 500 list isn’t necessarily a bad spot, but many would have felt he deserves to be among the top 20 – maybe even top 15.
There’s a reason he’s called The Technical Wizard. He has won championships everywhere he has gone and currently holds the World Championship for PWG. While we feel he could be higher on the list, that will likely change as he should be a member of the new Cruiserweight Division on RAW. Depending on how the WWE pushes him, he could add some of WWE’s prestigious belts to his collection within the next five years.
12 Overrated – Dean Ambrose (9th)
Before you send that comment that questions the validity of this entire article, there’s a reason we put the current WWE World Heavyweight Champion on this list. First, yes, he was someone that fans felt was being held back from reaching that brass ring after a number of battles with Seth Rollins. However, he would get some memorable feuds with Triple H leading up to WrestleMania 32 and even had a match with Brock Lesnar.
While it was nice to see him finally win the championship, there are some concerns that his character has fallen a little bit stale since winning the title. The fire that once made him one of the best back when he was in Florida Championship Wrestling in 2011 and even when The Shield broke up in 2014 has cooled. Because of that, being ninth on the list seems a little bit high. Not too much, but he shouldn’t be in the top 10 after becoming stale.
11 Underrated – Johnny Mundo (62nd)
The former winner of WWE’s Tough Enough has had a bit of an interesting WWE career where many felt he wasn’t getting the right push. Since then, Johnny Mundo had a fair amount of success wrestling for Mexico’s AAA that should have pushed him above the 62nd spot in this year’s PWI 500 list. Mundo has won the 2016 Lucha Libre World Cup with Chavo Guerrero Jr. and Brian Cage as Team Lucha Underground earlier this year. He also defeated Pentagon Jr. for the AAA Latin American Championship.
But Mundo has also shown how good he is during the second season of Lucha Underground and there are some good things ahead of him from the taping for season three. His abilities should be enough to, at the very least, put him in the top 50 on this list. The number 62 spot seems a little low, even though he has yet to win an actual world championship – because the WWE’s version of ECW doesn’t count.
10 Overrated – Seth Rollins (8th)
Seth Rollins is definitely one of the top men in WWE and will likely be competing for world championships for the next decade. At the same time, the past 12 months have not necessarily been the best of his career – although the PWI did place him eighth on the list. While holding the WWE World Heavyweight Championship for most of 2015, he had to vacate the championship last November due to tearing his ACL, MCL and medial meniscus in his knee.
The time lost has to bring his stock down, despite winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship again at Money in the Bank. However, that reign lasted only a few minutes before Dean Ambrose cashed in his title shot that he won earlier that night. Since then, Rollins hasn’t been able to reclaim any gold in championship matches – losing to Ambrose, Balor and Owens in the last few months. Therefore, he should fall outside the top 10.
9 Underrated – Xavier Woods (58th)
The New Day has been the best thing for the WWE’s Tag Team Division for several years. While Kofi Kingston is the veteran of the group and Big E is the powerhouse, Xavier Woods is a talent who often doesn’t get the appreciation he deserves. Being at 58 on this year’s PWI 500 is not terrible, but he could be a lot higher. When wrestling, he has shown he belongs as a top mid-card talent.
He also has plenty of charisma that is truly one of a kind. Even before being the trombone playing member of the New Day, he showed something special when he first came onto the main roster debut in 2013 that was complete with donning and afro and shouting “over 9,000” – a nod to fans of Dragon Ball Z. Woods is someone who is very relatable as a vocal fan of video games, comics and cartoons. He could be a dark horse to eventually win the Intercontinental or United States Championship.
8 Overrated – John Cena (10th)
John Cena has usually been considered a top man in the WWE. In fact, he was second on the 2015 PWI 500 list. This year, he has fallen to 10th, but he should really be farther down. I would say that somewhere in the 20s is a good spot because it’s hard to ignore the fact that he is one of the hardest working men in professional wrestling today. Cena has also improved in his recent rivalries with AJ Styles and Kevin Owens.
But Cena has also started to fall farther away from being a world champion. It also seems like the WWE might keep him away from the gold for a bit because of his age and the different opportunities he has received, including hosting the American Grit reality show on FOX. When looking at the recent losses to AJ Styles and losing the United States Championship earlier this year, 2016 has not been too kind for Cena. It’s also doesn’t earn him a spot on the top 10 on the PWI 500.
7 Underrated – Shinsuke Nakamura (7th)
New Japan Pro Wrestling has been quite the recruiting pool for the WWE. One of their biggest stars in Shinsuke Nakamura had a decent summer last year that included winning the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. However, he would lose the belt when it came time for him to leave NJPW for the opportunity to have a new challenge in WWE. He’s had a very successful run in WWE’s NXT that has eventually led to becoming the NXT Champion.
However, it was a surprise to see The King of Strong Style take a hit from last year’s PWI 500 (fifth) to seventh. It’s hard to imagine how making a move to WWE would warrant being dropped a few spots, since he hasn’t really lost while in WWE’s NXT. At the very least, he should have remained in the PWI’s top five, maybe even moved up to fourth. He has had some great matches with Sami Zayn and Finn Balor before making his run against Samoa Joe for the NXT Championship.
6 Overrated – Jay Lethal (5th)
It was a bit of surprise to see Jay Lethal make the huge leap from 17th in the 2015 PWI 500 to the fifth spot this year. It’s especially surprising when considering all of the top stars who have emerged in the 12-month period during which these wrestlers were assessed. From June 19, 2015 until August 19, 2016, Lethal was the Ring of Honor World Champion. During that reign, he was also carrying the ROH World Television Championship until October 2015.
Lethal is a great talent in the wrestling world, but there are a number of other superstars who are more deserving of being in the top five of the PWI 500. It’s just a matter of a lot of competition near the top and Lethal really deserving to be closer to the 20s range on the PWI 500 list. One would hope he could one day earn a chance to work for WWE because he has improved since leaving TNA in 2011.
5 Underrated – Kevin Owens (6th)
Kevin Owens would likely tell you he should be number one on the PWI 500. Then again, there’s a lot of guys for whom that argument should be made. It was no surprise that he moved up within the top of the list from 2015 (10) to 2016 (6). However, Owens was definitely one of the most impressive wrestlers on the WWE roster. He had become the Intercontinental Champion after defeating Ryback in November 2015 and had classic matches against the best on the WWE mid-card.
Owens showed that he was able to put on five-star matches with just about anyone on the WWE roster. The WWE also recently awarded his talent with the WWE Universal Championship. The recent brand extension has been good for Owens and he is deserving of being a top guy on RAW. Additionally, the PWI should have put him among the top three in this year’s list.
4 Overrated – Brock Lesnar (19th)
There’s no denying that the WWE is building Brock Lesnar to be an unstoppable monster in the ring. There’s also no denying the fact that he is a physical freak of nature both in WWE and also in the UFC. after earning a big win over Mark Hunt – although some aren’t happy about the recent failed drug test. Lesnar wasn’t place in the PWI’s top 10, but even being 19th on the list is questionable.
Part of the reason The Beast Incarnate should be lower on the list has nothing to do with him as a wrestler. It’s more to do with showing the proper respect for those who actually wrestle on a full-time schedule. Lesnar has long had the luxury of being paid millions and only wrestling in select events, all while being booked like someone who might never lose another match in WWE again. Call us grumpy, but the top 50 should be reserved for people who work more than once every three or four months.
3 Underrated – AJ Styles (4th)
AJ Styles has long been a loyal company man for TNA Wrestling for more than a decade. He was easily their greatest talent in company history, but even he was tired of the direction TNA was going and has since found a great amount of success on the independent circuit and with New Japan Pro Wrestling. However, 2016 was a big year that earned him a spot at fourth on this year’s PWI 500. Even with that high of a spot, one could believe that he should have been first or second on this list.
For one, he had most surprising appearance in Royal Rumble history because no one ever thought Styles would appear in a WWE ring. He’s taken that momentum and had great matches in rivalries with Chris Jericho and Roman Reigns. Becoming a heel and going against John Cena should not be taken lightly. It might be the right amount of momentum that leads to him becoming the top guy on the new SmackDown roster.
2 Overrated – Roman Reigns (1st)
The one thing that PWI did note that pretty much everyone in the professional wrestling community can agree on is that half of the readers were going to hate their number one selection. Roman Reigns might be the most polarizing pro wrestler today, which makes him deserving of being in the top 10. However, an argument can be made for a number of superstars who are more deserving of being the PWI’s top man on this list.
While Reigns has won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship three times since July 2015, they were short and didn’t really get him over with fans. In fact, they booed him even more. He also had the 30-day suspension for a failed test within the WWE Talent Wellness Program. That alone should have knocked him down a few spots. While the PWI 500 has had some controversy, this might be one of the biggest ones in the history of the list.
1 Underrated – Finn Balor (3rd)
Finn Balor has definitely had a very rewarding last 12 months, before the sudden shoulder injury that led to him vacating the WWE Universal Championship one day after winning. Still, the former Prince Devitt had achieved a lot during his time with WWE’s NXT brand. While being third this year is great after being 28th in last year’s PWI 500, there is quite the argument for being at the top of the list.
It started last July when he defeated Kevin Owens for the NXT Championship in Japan. He held onto the title for nearly a year before losing it to Samoa Joe. During his time between NXT and the short stint in the main roster that started in July, Balor has developed a huge following that welcomed him on his first night on RAW. He has also developed the alter ego that is The Demon King. No wonder the WWE wanted to make him the first WWE Universal Champion moving into the new era of WWE. He’ll likely pick up where he left off when he is fully recovered.