The Pro Wrestling Illustrated “Top 500” Professional Wrestlers list arrived online and on store shelves just last month. As anyone who follows the squared circle’s premier sport could tell you, Daniel Bryan was #1, despite missing most of this calendar year with a neck injury.
Of course, the next few grapplers are World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) products. A.J. Styles, who has never been more unique or popular than this year, since ostensively leaving TNA Wrestling for New Japan Pro Wrestling and the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Shortly after winning that title on May 3, some observers wondered if his reign was more significant than either TNA’s or ROH’s at that time. Magnus picked up the belt that Styles vacated upon his departure from that promotion. And then in one of the weirdest developments in TNA history, Eric Young was the Main Man in TNA. Ring of Honor’s champion at the time was Adam Cole. He soon thereafter lost the belt to Michael Elgin. None of those fine athletes could compare with the mainstream sensibilities or pedigree of A.J. Styles.
The Top 500 list continues to be a delightful mix of WWE, TNA, ROH, Japanese and Mexican wrestlers. The list starts to finally waver toward the Independent wrestling ranks around 155. Tucked way down at #153 is Zach Ryder, a fan favorite and second-best character that made his own way onto WWE TV before being relegated to an after-thought for the world’s biggest promotion’s outlets.
Conversely, at #158 is a wrestler, when Googled, comes up “Automated Clearing House,” an electronic network for financial transactions. That sounds a lot more intimidating than the wrestler.
Intertwined between up-and-coming NXT talents, once-prominent television mainstays (The Great Khali, with his 1.27 Indian fans is #169) and role players (another 7-footer, Matt Morgan is #184) are other talents from the past like Stevie Richards and Steve Corino.
Around #200 the list gets regional, nostalgic and hopeful (Chavo Guerrero is #201). Jeff Jarrett, who has seemingly been out of the business as a performer for years, has turned his attention to a new promotion called “Global Force Wrestling,” in which he traveled to indy groups and charged a lofty fee for the privilege of evaluating their talent. In August he reportedly entered GFW into a working agreement with New Japan. His infrequent wrestling appearances have all ended in defeat this year. He is #227.
For argument sake, let’s leave the Top 200 as the pinnacle. For many independent wrestlers, being listed anywhere in the Top 500 is all about bragging points. According to a Wikipedia listing, the “PWI writers choose the position of the wrestler following a designated evaluation period, which spans June 1 of last year through May 31 of this year. Anything a wrestler accomplished before or after that period—whether it’s winning a world title or doing an opening match job—is not considered. Also, they follow a criteria that includes win-loss record, championships won, quality of competition, major feuds, prominence within a wrestler’s individual promotion(s), and overall wrestling ability.” This is clearly bunk, as—especially with the flood of independent wrestlers—true statistics and historical/cultural achievements are nebulous at the very least. How else can you explain Jesse Neal at #246 and Tommy Dreamer at #300 (and you have another 200 to argue about).
Contrast those random placement to a wrestler like Pittsburgh’s “Dr. Devastation” Lou Martin. His recommended placement comes entirely based on his wrestling weight—187 lbs. (and it looks catchy in the title). Seriously, the wrestler, who has been performing in Pittsburgh’s only professional wrestling outlet—the Keystone State Wrestling Alliance (KSWA) since its inception in 200. A two-time former KSWA World Heavyweight Champion, he lost the belt to Shane Starr at FanFest, 2014. The show was headlined by Zach Gowen (under-appreciated at #392 on the list) and WWF legend “Luscious” Johnny Valiant (a Pittsburgh native). Martin has never been on the PWI list.
Martin entered into a feud twice with the legendary Lord Zoltan (who had been on the PWI Top 500 from 1994 to 2001 and inexcusably left off since) in which he had to wear a Chicken Suit if he lost. Martin lost both times and in-an-added-stipulation, has to wear the contraption until the end of this calendar campaign. In the first match, Martin—as a World Heavyweight Champion—wore a full Chicken Suit in a match during the annual Millvale (borough) Days. No World Champion—with the possible exception of former TNA kingpin Eric Young—would ever “reduce himself” to such nonsense. Instead, Martin reveled and entertained—like a champion.
Martin appears at various fundraisers and community events throughout each and every year. He anchored a group of KSWA wrestlers who marched in Pittsburgh’s Memorial Day parade and on a recent Wednesday night, showed up at a Special Olympics fundraiser. Those who enjoy professional wrestling would be hard-pressed to find a veteran independent wrestler partaking in those ventures—without a payday—for the betterment of the craft, and brand.
Since losing the second Chicken Suit match, he has been “forced” by KSWA Owner Bobby O to take selfies with fans who pay a donation to charity. The gesture has already benefitted in hundreds of dollars being donated to Muscular Dystrophy and Pittsburgh Catholic elementary school coffers.
When Martin and Zoltan faced off in the finals of the Joe Abby Memorial Tournament in Pittsburgh on March 29, the pre-match spectacle was interrupted by real-life Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who rushed the ring to dance with Zoltan (all the while brushing by a flummoxed and irate Martin).
All of that occurred before Martin was prominently featured in a Wall Street Journal story and video. The story, written by Pittsburgher Kris Maher, was presented on the front page of the WSJ’s weekend edition on Saturday, June 21, 2014.
Days before the PWI Top 500 was posted, Martin was named the Top KSWA Megastar of All Time, because of his two title runs (once as a fan-friendly hero, the other as a devious rule-breaker), his longevity, and importance to the organization. The voting was based on the KSWA Championship Committee’s Top 35 of all time.
PWI Wrestling is based in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania in the farthest region of Eastern PA, 296 miles from Pittsburgh. It’s mind-boggling how writers and editors have continued to miss Martin—from the second-biggest market in the same state—and then add a wrestler named “Cheeseburger” at #480.