Once upon a time, friends, back before the all-encompassing nature of the Internet, many people got their information, their news, their wrestling fix, their  dirt  from magazines.  For those of who young enough to necessitate explanation, a magazine was a series of physical paper pages bound together which contained static images and written columns.  Imagine NAI in a physically tangible form, but MUCH less cooler.

To give you an idea of how archaic this idea is, I remember celebrating the time I received my monthly magazine only to discover they had moved from mainly black and white pages to all-color.  This was a HUGE deal way back in the day.

The standard-bearer of “impartial” magazines (meaning ones not put out directly by WWF or WCW) was Pro Wrestling Illustrated .  I believe you can still find PWI active today, though I imagine their subscriptions are far less impressive than they were back in the 90’s.  PWI was most famous for its annual ranking of the 500 best wrestlers in the world and their “Year In Review”, where they would hand out their annual awards.

In my day, I had a rather impressive collection of PWI magazines.  This past summer while visiting my parents’, they showed me the results of their attic cleaning, and among the detritus of old high school athletic awards and theater props, I uncovered a selection of this collection; the  crème de la crème  of PWI’s. Among these were a number of “special” editions, and on select Thursdays, we’ll be taking a trip in the Throwback Machine to examine certain ones in greater detail.

Our first PWI post-view is the  2002 Year In Review .  As you can see, the wrestler on the cover is one whom I imagine has graced a couple magazine covers in 2014 / 2015 as well, a younger, slightly taped-up BBBrrroooccckkk LLLeeesssnnnaaarrr! (I hope you read that in your head like Paul Heyman – That was certainly my intention.) Lesnar was a double award winner in 2002, winning the title of

Most Improved Wrestler of the Year and (as evident by his place on the cover) Wrestler of the Year.

If you’re a younger fan, it might be funny to think of Brock needing any sort of improvement whatsoever – so long he’s been THE dominant force in WWE.  In the early months of his career, primarily as part of the Minnesota Stretching Crew with Shelton Benjamin, Lesnar had a far more diverse repertoire than we see today – He focused on mat based wrestling (using his amateur background) and even took to the air quite a bit.  The Shooting Star Press he tried to break out at Wrestlemania vs. Angle was a common part of Lesnar’s arsenal.  In ‘02, once Lesnar got to WWE, he began to change into the Beast we now know and love, hence his selection as Most Improved.

As for being Wrestler of the Year, well imagine that rather than wrestling 3 matches in 2014, Brock wrestled weekly.  We’d be talking even MORE about him being the most dominant champion in history if that was the case.

In addition to the wrestler voted to the top spot, PWI also includes the 3 runners-up as well as votes for others.  Couple fun facts from Brock’s two categories:

The three runners-up for wrestler of the year are also, like Brock, still part-time talents: Rob Van Dam, Triple H and the Undertaker.

The only man to be listed in both categories in 2002 is also a member of the WWE roster in 2015.  In fact, he’s going to be taking part in the IC ladder match.  You guessed it, folks – Ron “Truth” Killings was in the running forWRESTLER OF THE YEAR in 2002, back when he was NWA champion.  When I look at that, I have to ask – “What’s Up?”

Let’s move on to other categories.

 Rookie of the Year – Maven

2002 was not the year for new talents, despite this vote being sponsored by Tough Enough.  In fact, to the best of my knowledge, none of the wrestlers listed here are still active competitors today.  For the first runner up,Christopher Nowinski , that’s not entirely his fault, and I think we’d have to say that Nowinski has the most impressive post-wrestling run with his work on concussion advocacy.

As for Maven, his rookie year was really his career peak, as eliminating Undertaker from the Royal Rumble is essentially the only thing he’s known for.

So, where is Maven now?  Well after being arrested for doctor shopping in 2012, Maven took part in WWE’s rehabilitation program.  According to Wikipedia, he’s now a bouncer in New York.

With news that WWE is possibly bringing back Tough Enough, I sincerely hope they have better success with talents.  Has there ever been a really successful graduate of that series?  Ever?

 Inspirational Wrestler of the Year – Eddie Guerrero

This one hurts.  In 2002, Guerrero had finally gotten his life in order after being fired from WWF in 2001 due to drug issues.  Getting himself back into shape, both mentally and physically, Guerrero was rehired and picked up right where he left off, winning the Intercontinental and Tag Team titles.

Eddie’s greatest mainstream success came in the years to follow, which only proves how inspirational he truly was and still is.  It’s a shame we’ve been without him this last decade.

 Note:  We’ll need to do a “Truth Watch”, it seems, since Ron Killings also received votes in this category as well, bringing his total to 3. . . For now.

Comeback of the Year – Hulk Hogan

This was a comeback for a variety of ways.  It was a comeback for the man himself, since Hogan had been absent for a few years ever since his very public falling out with Vince Russo and WCW (which we’ll have to save for another time).

More importantly, at least to me, this is the return of the red and yellow for Hogan, who had been Hollywood for a while by 2002.  That was the bigger deal, since the fans who had been exhausted with him in the mid-90’s were rabidly waiting to welcome him back with open arms years later.

Taking notes, Mr. Cena?

 Truth Watch: This makes 4 for Killings, being the third runner-up for this award.  K-Kwik who?

 Match of the Year – Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock

I’ll paraphrase a line I heard from Jeff Jarrett once in reference to this match. . .

 For those who’ve seen it, no explanation is necessary.  For those who haven’t seen it, no explanation will do.

There are few matches in history that tell a story as well as this one does.  Those who enter the match leave on the complete opposite end of the face / heel spectrum as they started, and the fans were on the edge of their seat the entire time.

 Note:  No Truth Watch here, but it’s worth mentioning that Kurt Angle participated in 7 matches. . . SEVEN. . . that earned votes for MOTY.  And you’re telling me he couldn’t have thrown together another brief run to topple Rusev in 2015?  Jerks.

 Woman of the Year – Trish Stratus

Not going to spend a huge amount of time on this except to say that it’s super impressive that Trish went from being Vince McMahon’s mistress, barking like a dog and all, to one of the more popular and capable women’s wrestlers in modern history.

Also of note is that with the exception of the first runner-up (some woman named Stephanie), no other Diva on this list is still part of the wrestling scene.

 Feud of the Year – Stephanie McMahon vs. Eric Bischoff

Post-Invasion, we had the brand split, and this feud was the warring GM’s, Bischoff of RAW and Steph of Smackdown.

I might the only person on the “2015 expansion” train, but by God, I’m going to keep driving it to freedom!

 Tag Team of the Year – Billy and Chuck

It is my sincere hope that in 20-30 years, we’ll look back on the “ambiguously gay tag team” with scorn and confusion, not sure why such a normal, everyday orientation would be treated with such controversy.

Truth be told, I liked this team, and not just because I was one of the few who thought Billy Gunn was a World Champion in waiting.  They were a little controversial, but that can be a good thing, and they held the tag titles for four months.

Fun fact: Once they lost the titles for good in June of ‘02, those belts changed hands  5  more times before the year ended.  4 months was a LIFETIME in that era.

 Most Popular Wrestler of the Year – Rob Van Dam

I want to focus on the first sentence of this entry, where RVD is said to be “on the cusp of true greatness.”

13 years later, let me ask you – Did he ever get off the cusp?  Can you say with any certainty that Rob Van Dam ascended to a higher plane of wrestling stardom?  I know we’re talking about a Triple Crown AND Grand Slam Champion (having won the World, IC, tag and Hardcore titles), but where does he rank among the all-time greats?

Let me put it this way – Is RVD a Hall of Famer?  If the WWE HOF never has an ECW wing, does Rob make the cut?

Speaking of Hall of Famers. . .

 Most Hated Wrestler of the Year – Chris Jericho

When the promo package for Y2J runs on RAW at some point in the near future, I hope it is mentioned how well Jericho played both sides of the fan spectrum – He could be an insanely popular face or be the most hated man in wrestling, as he was in 2002.

It’s sad that it’s a mere trivia point now that Jericho was the first Undisputed World Heavyweight Champion in WWE – He never really seemed to “own” that belt, despite beating Austin and Rock to win it.  What he did own, however, was instigating vitriol and disgust from fans way back when, though he did it even better when he returned later in the decade.

 Truth Watch:  Killings makes it 5 categories in 2002, earning votes for Most Hated wrestler as well.  Just think about that for a second: Outside of WWE, Killings was THE wrestler in 2002, and a hated one as well.

Lesson being: When he takes over New Day and they start terrorizing WWE in late 2015, don’t be surprised.

So there you have it – 2002 in a nutshell.  Having learned (or remembered) about the year that was, what do YOU think?  Will you be heading into the WWE Network archive to bask in the glory of Hogan vs. Rock, or Angle vs. anybody?

Be Heard.

From the NAI Archive – March 19, 2015 – Throwback Thursday – Reading the PWI Year in Review from 2002
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