Here are excerpts from my Jan. 5, 2002, column in the (Charleston) Post and Courier:
Toronto-based journalist John Molinaro takes a bold step in attempting to rank the greatest pro wrestlers in the history of the game in his new book, "Top 100 Pro Wrestlers of All Time." Unlike many of the "best" and "greatest" lists that spread like wildfire at the end of the millennium, Molinaro's compilation has blossomed into a well-written, thought-provoking work that's sure to spark spirited debate among wrestling fans for years to come.
And that's a good thing.
Like many similar lists, the Top 100 is not one with which everyone will agree. Any effort to rank athletes in any sports endeavor over such a long period of time is a risky proposition at best. But Molinaro, who at age 28 is already one of the top writers on the pro wrestling scene, covers all the bases in his study, giving a detailed, biographical account of each wrestler on the list.
The rankings are not solely based on the opinions of Molinaro, who was a driving force behind Canada's SLAM! Wrestling site. The list was compiled by some of the industry's leading experts, along with the assistance of several mat historians.
The book is further strengthened by Molinaro's inclusion of Dave Meltzer as a contributing editor. Meltzer, longtime editor of the authoritative Wrestling Observer newsletter and author of "Tributes: Remembering Some of the World's Greatest Wrestlers," lends his considerable expertise to the effort, explaining the selection process in great detail in the foreword of the book. Serving as a co-editor was radio broadcaster/writer Jeff Marek, founder and host of the world's longest-running wrestling radio talk show, The LAW (Live Audio Wrestling), based out of Toronto.
The book's strong points are many. Not only is the writing crisp and concise, but some intriguing, rarely seen photos - most from the collection of noted wrestling photojournalist Dr. Mike Lano - accompany all 100 listings. There are countless stories and first-hand accounts of the performers who shaped the wrestling business, along with bios that help put their illustrious careers into historical perspective.
Molinaro's Top 100 also is a truly global ranking, since it includes wrestlers - male and female - from all over the world, representing every style of wrestling, from every major promotion.
Among the criteria used in determining the rankings were professional success (including the number of titles a wrestler had won), importance to history, ability in the ring, drawing power and mainstream status achieved. Also considered were those qualities that can't be measured in numbers, such as the ability to put on a great match each night.
Perhaps the most studied and researched ranking revolved around just who was the greatest of all time, a question that has been tossed around, it seems, forever.
For his consistency and longevity, along with his ability to make opponents look better than they really were, Ric Flair was unanimously chosen as the greatest pro wrestler to ever step inside the ring. It was noted that Flair put on probably as many great wrestling matches over a lengthy period of time as anyone in history, along with being considered by many to be the greatest talker the business has ever produced.
This book undoubtedly will serve as fodder for lively discussion among those who follow the business. Molinaro said he expects Hulk Hogan's ranking at No. 5 to fuel the flames of the debate, but he's more than ready to defend his decision.
"I don't find it the least bit controversial but I think a lot of people, especially casual fans, are going to have a problem with Hogan not being ranked No. 1 and having four guys ahead of him," said Molinaro. "To so many, he was the biggest star of all time and I think to non-fans he's the one guy they automatically associate with pro wrestling. But I just felt that Flair, for everything he's meant to the business as the best in-ring performer of all time, deserved to be No. 1. There's just no question in my mind."
"Thesz, Rikidozan (No. 3) and (Antonio) Inoki (No. 4) all had much greater historical impact on the business as a whole than Hogan, and that's why they're rated higher than him," added Molinaro. "But I don't think a lot of people will appreciate that and naturally scoff that Hogan isn't No. 1."
The 212-page book is beautifully illustrated with nearly 300 color and black and white photographs. Some of my favorite photos are part of a pictorial presentation entitled "Ring of Friendship," a special section that shows a number of mat legends bonding backstage at WWE pay-per-views and at Cauliflower Alley reunions.
With the recent spate of wrestling autobiographies on the market (The Fabulous Moolah, Bobby Heenan, Roddy Piper, Hulk Hogan, Jerry Lawler), this work is a refreshing change of pace. It's a must for any wrestling (or "sports entertainment") fan.