Any list-based book stands and falls on two point: the credibility of the list and the quality and information of the write-ups. Unfortunately this falls short of top-notch in both areas.
The big problem with the list is that although the book’s editor Dave Meltzer notes in the forward that choosing criteria for ranking wrestlers — who perform in a sport without objective wins and losses — is difficult, there’s no clear explanation of what Molinaro actually went with. It seems to be some combination of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame’s recipe of in-ring ability, drawing power and historical importance, but how they are applied isn’t obvious.
From a historical perspective, there’s little to take issue with at the top of the rankings. My personal off-the-top-of-my-head pick for the ten biggest names ever would be (in alphabetical order) Andre the Giant, Steve Austin, Ric Flair, Frank Gotch, Hulk Hogan, Jim Londos, Rikidozan, Lou Thesz, Antonio Inoki, El Santo and these make up ten of the top 12 names in this list.
The middle sections are more disputable and show the difficulty with applying a variety of criteria. It seems strange for example that Jushin Liger is above the likes of Harley Race and Jack Brisco, presumably because of in-ring ability, but Rick Steamboat and Randy Savage are both lower. That said, the fact that Liger and George Hackenschmidt are in adjacent places show just how difficult such comparisons can be.
The lower end of the list is where the real problems lie. For example, the Undertaker at number 62 could be argued today but seems out of place in 2002 when this book was published. Sting’s inclusion is noteworthy given his lack of traction with WON Hall of Fame voters. And Jesse Ventura making a top 100 list of wrestlers is difficult to justify, no matter how notable his achievements in politics.
The write-ups range from four to six pages for the top 10 stars to two pages for those at #11-50 and then around half a page for the rest, with large photographs of varying quality breaking up the text. Even with the space available for the higher rankings, these are largely capsule bios with many being more a chronological list of events than an argument of their merits or an explanation of their contexts. There are several historical errors, along with at least a couple of mistaken identities in photographs.
The biggest problem is that the Observer branding merely highlights how these bios compare unfavourably with the career recaps and obituaries penned by Meltzer in the newsletter and the accompanying tribute books. This is at best a mildly diverting coffee table book, but doesn’t stand out enough in any element to be a must-buy.
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