The Miz and the 7 Most Notable Rankings from PWI's Top 500 Wrestlers List
The PWI 500 list for 2017 was released on Wednesday, and it has many expected names near the top. Many of the wrestlers who won the WWE Championship this past year are featured in the top 10, as well as NXT's biggest stars. New Japan Pro Wrestling also had one of its strongest showings on the list to date.
However, some names stand out more than others. While any list of this nature should only be considered a guideline, the PWI 500 has always been a great way for the highest-performing wrestlers to be honored for their accomplishments over the previous year. This is particularly true for the unexpected workers who found high positions on the list.
Pro Wrestling Illustrated has always laid out the simple criteria that defines the ranking process. Each wrestler's position is based upon their previous year's win-loss record, number of championship victories, major feuds, quality of opponents, prominence in their promotion and their overall wrestling ability.
This process allows certain wrestlers to be heavily featured, while some fan favorites are left low on the list unexpectedly. From The Miz's top-10 finish to Cesaro and Sheamus' disappointing placements, these are the seven most notable rankings from the PWI 500 for 2017 list.
Position: No. 1
The PWI 500 has always favored WWE Superstars. The standing provided to wrestlers by competing in the world's top professional wrestling promotion makes for an unfair advantage by PWI's criteria. The last time a non-WWE wrestler topped the list was 2010, when this year's second-place finisher, AJ Styles, passed John Cena thanks to his historic 211-day reign as TNA world heavyweight champion.
This year, Kazuchika Okada tops the rankings as the face of NJPW, the first Japanese wrestler to reach the top spot. As NJPW continues to grow as a promotion, becoming the true top competitor to WWE, Okada stands at the head, putting on great matches with the best performers in the world outside of WWE.
Okada's matches with Kenny Omega are already legendary, perhaps to the point of hyperbole, but he has defended his IWGP Heavyweight Championship in many other excellent matches over his 440 days and counting with the belt (approaching the longest reign in the title's history), including against Naomichi Marufuji, Minoru Suzuki, Katsuyori Shibata and former WWE star Cody Rhodes.
Rainmaker has been the centerpiece of a new rise in popularity for NJPW and is the biggest star in professional wrestling outside of WWE. He placed second last year to Roman Reigns and could well keep his spot at No. 1 in 2018 unless someone in WWE makes an impact no one can forget.
Cesaro and Sheamus
Positions: No. 54 and No. 57
The PWI 500 will always cause some controversy. Some wrestlers are going to be lower or higher than fans expect them to be. This year's strong standouts are Cesaro and Sheamus, who are both near career lows on the rankings since they debuted on the main roster despite having won the Raw Tag Team Championships twice in the past year.
Some of this comes down to the issue with rating performers based on win-loss records and individual prominence because it could be argued these two are performing at a higher level in the ring than they have at any point in their careers in WWE. Week in and week out, they have put on impressive showings individually and especially as a unit.
During The New Day's historic tag team title reign in 2016, Big E and Kofi Kingston ranked at Nos. 38 and 42, respectively, outranked by Ryback and Kalisto. The criteria work against tag team wrestlers. Cesaro and Sheamus have been working with a lower level of competition on average while also suffering meaningless losses individually to help their stories develop.
Whatever the rankings say, Cesaro and Sheamus are both great wrestlers who could use their recent run to springboard their careers long term. It would be shocking to see both below 50th place next year at the rate they are performing. In fact, it would be less shocking to see the two competing for the WWE Universal Championship before the PWI 500 is released for 2018.
Position: No. 19
The Face That Runs the Place has topped the PWI 500 three times in his career, in 2006, 2007 and 2013. The last time Cena's rank was as low or lower than number 19 was 2002, the year he debuted on the main roster. Because of his high profile and win-loss record over the years, Cena has been a constant presence at the top of the list.
Clearly the reason for his drop has been Cena's steady increased time away from WWE. His growing stardom has consistently kept The Champ out of the spotlight in professional wrestling to the point PWI does not even consider him among the 10 biggest performers in Vince McMahon's company.
While Cena will continue to be WWE's top star for years to come, he has taken on the role of a part-timer. Even when he is around, he is no longer constantly in the world title picture and has even been placed in filler matches, such as his recent bouts with Rusev and Baron Corbin. It is clear the guard is changing in WWE.
No. 19 is still an impressive spot for any wrestler. Despite being the universal champion, Brock Lesnar could not reach that mark this year, and many wrestlers have never even been close to that position, particularly those outside the WWE system.
Position: No. 11
This is not the first time Neville has been high on the PWI 500. From 2014 to 2015, Neville was the biggest part of NXT before starting off hot on the main roster to earn the No. 15 spot on the list. However, even before he was struck by a rash of injuries, Neville's position was falling rapidly by late 2015.
The Man That Gravity Forgot was always a talented high-flyer, but many wondered whether he could be a star. His performance in 2017 has turned more heads than he did during any other year, with Neville carrying WWE's renewed cruiserweight division. The next-best finishers were Cruiserweight Classic winner T.J. Perkins at No. 35 and former cruiserweight champion Rich Swann at No. 56.
It is impressive how high Neville is on this list, outpacing Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt and Seth Rollins. While he is often on the Kickoff show while those stars are main eventing, no wrestler is putting in better work every week to prove his worth than Neville. It is fair to wonder whether 205 Live would still be around without him.
Neville has been incredibly dominant since becoming the King of the Cruiserweights in January, and he should remain so for a long to come. Even if the division is scrapped, Neville could easily make the transition to the heavyweight roster once more. This ranking may not remain so high in the immediate future, but Neville should not fall far for a long time to come.
Mike Bennett (Kanellis)
Ranking: No. 154
Those who only watch WWE may not know Mike Kanellis, one half of the Power of Love on SmackDown Live, was once a major force on the independent wrestling scene. He made his most notable mark in Ring of Honor as a member of The Kingdom alongside Matt Hardy and recent NXT signee Adam Cole.
2016 was the biggest year of his career, as he began to emerge as one of the rising stars of the industry, signing with Impact Wrestling. In that year, he was No. 51 on the PWI 500, and expectations were that his status would only rise. However, this past year has all been spent building up to Kanellis' main-roster debut in WWE, skipping NXT entirely.
Kanellis debuted at Money in the Bank in June, and he already seems to have fallen into obscurity. At this rate, he may not make the rankings at all in 2018, which is a shame. Kanellis may be stuck with a silly gimmick, but he is a talented performer who can both wrestle and talk with the best in the business.
There is still hope for Mike and his wife-cum-manager, Maria, to be an important part of WWE, but time is rapidly running out. If things don't change soon, Mike will be a forgotten part of WWE's 2017 and be back on the indy scene, rebuilding his image.
PWI Position: No. 10
The PWI 500 has not always been the biggest talking point for wrestling fans, but back in 2011, everyone had an opinion when Miz topped the list over both Randy Orton and John Cena. The Awesome One was at the center of WWE at that time and on the biggest hot streak of his career, having main evented WrestleMania XXVII that year.
Still, many wondered whether Miz's in-ring production had merited such an honor. Since that year, Miz had not once been in the top 10 on the PWI 500, dropping to as low as No. 60 in 2015, and his career similarly fell into the background. What changed between 2015 and 2017 to allow him to return to the top 10 this year?
Miz has largely been in the same role since 2012, which was the year he won his first Intercontinental Championship. The difference is how The A-Lister has improved as a performer in that time to maximize his exposure in the business. He is a seven-time IC champ, and he has managed to elevate the title in recent reigns thanks to his performances.
He is the only wrestler in the top 10 who did not main event a PPV in a singles match or win the top championship of his promotion in the preceding year, but his performances have rivaled those of almost everyone in the top 10, including surprisingly excellent bouts with wrestlers he has faced countless times before such as Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler.
While this was the best year of Miz's career as a performer, it may also herald the future of his career, showing he is finally ready to return to the main event scene. If he does so soon, he may be topping the list once more in 2018, and this time there would be much less dissension.
All information on past PWI 500 rankings based on the collected lists on the Internet Wrestling Database.