The growth of Southern California wrestlers in the annual PWI 500

Earlier today, Pro Wrestling Illustrated released their annual PWI 500. A list that attempts to rank the top 500 wrestlers in the world. I wanted to take a look at Southern California representation in the list and how it has changed over time.

There is so much pro-wrestling out there, trying to effectively rank the top 500 wrestlers in the world is nearly an impossible task. The list is done in kayfabe and takes things like wins and losses into consideration and a lot of time huge segments of the wrestling world are largely ignored. At one time Southern California was virtually ignored by the PWI 500, but that probably wasn’t the magazine’s fault.

Before I get to far ahead here, I want to mention that this article will only be refereeing to wrestlers who trained in Southern California. Not wrestlers who are from the area who trained elsewhere such as Vader or Rey Mysterio Jr. I’ll also am not counting Sting and Ultimate Warrior as the majority of their training happened outside of the area despite being discovered in Los Angeles.

Pro-wrestling was controlled in California by the California State Athletic Commission until 1989. When the Los Angeles territory ended in 1982, WWF became the dominant promotion in the area, running monthly shows at the Los Angeles Sports Arena into the 1990s. With monthly WWF shows and a restrictive athletic commission there wasn’t a lot of people willing to start up independent promotions or wrestling schools in the area.

SoCal Wrestlers in the PWI 500 through the years.

This isn’t to say there wasn’t independent wrestling or people training to wrestle in the area in the 1980s. Places like Gil’s Garage were islands of wrestling in a desolate sea, but it was sparse compared to what would become in the 1990s and 2000s.

When Pro Wrestling Illustrated started their PWI 500 in 1991, there really wasn’t a lot wrestlers from Southern California that were known out of the area. Slammers had started up and Bill Anderson and Jesse Hernandez were training people, but the area was still heavily lucha libre focused. We have a hard time keeping up with local lucha libre now, it would have been impossible for a magazine in the pre-internet age.

Suffice to say, no one from the area was ranked in the inaugural PWI 500 in 1991.

In 1992, with a notable feud going in Tijuana, Louie Spicolli became the first locally trained wrestler to make the list, coming in at number 428.

Through the 1990s, with wrestling schools in Southern California starting to produce more wrestlers, a few people would get ranked every year.  In 1996, Slammers must have sent in a list of wrestlers to the magazine, as the number of local wrestlers ranked jumped to six, with most of them being from Slammers.

Then in 2001, the number of locally trained wrestlers ranked would explode to sixteen from two the year before. This would also be the first year that John Cena and Samoa Joe would be ranked. Coincidentally that was also the year started.

Over the next 17 years, there would be an average of fifteen to sixteen wrestlers from Southern California ranked per year. Two wrestlers from UPW’s Ultimate University would even get the number one spot on the list. John Cena three times and The Miz once.

(c) Pro Wrestling Illustrated

Pro-wrestling in Southern California is as strong as it has ever been. There are more pro-wrestling events than ever in the region and the quality of the wrestling is higher than ever. This year a record 23 locally trained wrestlers (counting David Arquette who Peter Avalon helped train). That is nearly 5% of a list that is supposed to encompass the entire world, and it still doesn’t seem like enough.

Here are this year’s Southern California pro-wrestlers that were ranked on the PWI 500:

11. Samoa Joe
35. The Miz
49. Rusev
75. Matt Jackson
76. Nick Jackson
79. Brody King
113. Frankie Kazarian
116. Scorpio Sky
136. Willie Mack
165. Joey Ryan
227. TJ Perkins
238. Rocky Romero
280. Jungle Boy
306. Jacob Fatu
331. Jake Atlas
386. Andy Brown
434. Luchasaurus
447. Ray Rosas
449. Eli Everfly
453. David Arquette
456. B-Boy
458. Tyler Bateman
490. Adrian Quest

The PWI 500 has its flaws and on a year-to-year basis there is a lot of disagreement on who is ranked and who isn’t. Looking at the data over time however, you can see the growing influence of the Southern California pro-wrestling scene.

The benefit of these types of lists is that they spark conversation about pro-wrestling. Debating them is fun. At the end of the day they don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s more fun to debate who should be number 483 than if wrestlers should be called performance artists.

About the Author

Steve Bryant
Fan of Godzilla.