*I'm going to be fair about this. Yes, MONGO, Ice Train & John Tenta snuck on the list, but Salvatore Sincere, both New Rockers, JT Smith, Disco Inferno, Fake Diesel & Fake Razor, Furnas & LaFon and other awesome-in-1996 people did not make the cut.
1. Shawn Michaels (1)- Won Royal Rumble. Won WWF title at Wrestlemania. Held belt for over 7 months. Had several classic matches.
2. The Giant (2)- Burst on the scene to win WCW title in his rookie year and come off as the most dominating big man in years. Really felt like not just the next big thing but the evolution of the big man. Big Show had a good career but never again approached his rookie greatness imo.
3. Hulk Hogan (8)- Changed the game again by turning heel and founding the NWO. Won WCW championship in August.
4. Ric Flair (10)- Had two WCW title reigns totaling 3 months. Also won US title.
5. Shinya Hashimoto (12)- Beat Takada for IWGP title in April. Drew several big houses.
6. Raven (37)- Held ECW title twice for over 9 months combined.
7. Goldust (11)- Held IC title for 5 months. Had a few memorable feuds. Challenged for WWF title in September.
8. Kenta Kobashi (4)- Won 1st AJPW Triple Crown in July.
9. Mitsuharu Misawa (28)- Started year as AJPW Triple Crown champ. Held it til May. Also won the AJPW tag titles.
10. Randy Savage (21)- Held WCW title for a few weeks. Renewed feud with Hulk Hogan.
11. Sid (40)- Finally fulfilled his destiny by becoming WWF champ in November. Also won USWA title but was out of action half the year.
12. Bret Hart (21)- Missed a lot of time but was WWF champ for 3 months early in the year. Returned with a memorable win over new rival Steve Austin at Survivor Series.
13. Lex Luger (17)- Regained his mojo since returning to WCW with 5 month tag title & TV title reigns.
14. Sting (3)- Had 5 month tag title reign w/ Luger. Famously altered his character in September.
15. Scott Hall (34)- Opened the year as IC champ. Jumped to WCW a few months later. Changed the game with Nash & Hogan by founding the NWO. Won WCW tag titles in October.
16. Kevin Nash - Had a memorable last few months in WWF despite a long PPV losing streak. Changed the game by returning to WCW and founding the NWO. Won WCW tag titles in October.
17. Konnan (25)- Held US title for five months.
18. Ahmed Johnson (5)- Seemed like the next big thing at the time. Had long undefeated streak. Won IC title at KOTR. Injuries derailed him late in the year and cost him a probable Top 10 spot.
19. Dean Malenko (13)- Put Cruiserweight wrestling on the map with his matches against Rey Mysterio. Had two reigns with that title lasting over four months combined.
20. Akira Taue (57)- Held AJPW Triple Crown for two months. Also won their Champion Carnival. Also also won their tag titles & Real World Tag League with longtime partner Kawada. Big year for Taue.
21. Rey Mysterio (7)- Had a memorable match with Juvy in ECW before bursting on the national scene in WCW where he helped establish Cruiserweight wrestling with classic matches against Malenko, Psicosis & Ultimo Dragon. Held Cwt title for over 3 months.
22. Ultimo Dragon (41)- Won the J-Crown in October and the WCW Cruiserweight title in December. Held 9 or 10 belts at the same time.
23. Mankind (45)- Breakout year for the cult hero who started 1996 as an ECW tag champ. Became the first man to regularly get the better of Undertaker after jumping to WWF. Challenged Shawn Michaels for the WWF title in a classic September PPV match.
24. Steve Austin (22)- Another breakout star in a year full of them. Held Million Dollar Belt but didn't really get going until winning KOTR and calling out Bret Hart. Despite being defeated by "The Hitman" in a classic Survivor Series encounter his popularity would continue to grow.
25. Vader (14)- Don't believe the lies. Vader's first few months in WWF were awesome. He wreaked havoc, pinned the WWF champ, and handed Ahmed Johnson his first loss. Unfortunately he fell off a cliff after failing to dethrone Michaels at Summerslam.
26. Undertaker (19)- Challenged for WWF title early in the year. Beat Diesel in a memorable Wrestlemania match. Then he finally met his match in Mankind. Was at last able to overcome the deranged newcomer at Survivor Series but lost to him on PPV 3 times before that.
27. Shane Douglas (20)- Held ECW TV title twice for over 6 combined months. Became the most hated man in the promotion due to breaking Pitbull #1's neck and bragging about it.
28. British Bulldog (24)- What a deep year! Bulldog challenged Michaels for the WWF title in the spring. Would solidify a previously awful WWF tag title scene by winning the tag straps with Owen Hart in September.
29. Owen Hart (33)- Took new golden boy Michaels to the limit in February. Formed a formidable tag team with British Bulldog. They would win the WWF tag titles in September.
30. Sandman (65)- Defeated his family-stealing nemesis Raven to win the ECW Title. Would hold the belt for two months.
31. Nobuhiko Takada (36)- The NJPW invader held the IWGP championship for almost four months. Drew some massive houses while doing so.
32. Lord Steven Regal (56)- My beloved Blue Bloods sadly never did reach the pinnacle of WCW tag team wrestling but His Lordship did regain his TV Title and hold it for over four months.
33. Marc Mero (43)- Held the WCW TV Title twice for a combined 2 months+. Jumped to WWF. Became slightly less annoying. Won IC Title and held that belt for four weeks. Popularized the shooting star press in America. Mero felt like a big deal at the time.
34. Taz (46)- Undefeated in ECW. Choked out all comers. Became the baddest man in wrestling history, brotha. Beat him if you can. Survive if he lets you.
35. Too Cold Scorpio (35)- Held ECW TV title for over 4 months. Unfortunately committed career suicide by jumping to WWF late in the year.
36. Arn Anderson (27)- BEAT HULK HOGAN TWICE! FUCK YEAH! THE HORSEMEN RODE AGAIN! WAS IN ANOTHER EPIC WAR GAMES! GREAT AMERICAN BASH! ARN FUCKING ANDERSON!
37. Sabu (9)- Sabu being this 'low' just reaffirms my belief that 1996 ruled. Sabu was an unlikely babyface hero and it was awesome. Was the measuring stick & conscience of ECW. Put RVD on the map with a big-at-the-time series of matches.
38 Great Sasuke (23)- Spent over 5 months as the first J-Crown champion which means he wore a whole lot of belts.
39. Hunter Hearst Helmsley (79)- Ended the year over 2 months into his first IC Title reign but I couldn't rank him too high due to a long losing streak.
40. Jushin Liger (38)- Held IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship for almost four months. Made at least one WCW PPV appearance.
41. Eddie Guerrero (29)- Helped bring new style wrestling to the mainstream. Won US title in late December.
42. Chris Benoit (18)- This Horseman was another popularizer of new style wrestling. Also showed depth by winning an epic ECW style brawl with Kevin Sullivan.
43. Chris Jericho (42)- Yet another youngster breaking out. Jericho jumped to WCW after an ECW run which saw him hold their TV title for 3 weeks.
44. Rob Van Dam (51)- Athletic breakout stars all over the place! A memorable feud with Sabu put the cocky RVD on the map.
45. Tommy Dreamer (44)- The heart & soul of ECW continued to beef with Raven when he wasn't putting Brian Lee through tables or being put through them himself by "The Bulldozer."
46. Diamond Dallas Page (54)- Became perhaps the most unlikely breakout star of them all by winning WCW's Lord of the Ring, rejecting the NWO and having perhaps the most popular move in wrestling.
47. Jeff Jarrett (26)- Started the in WWF. Left for USWA. Held USWA title for over 5 combined months. Went to WCW where he feuded with The Giant & Benoit.
48. Toshiaki Kawada (62)- Won AJPW tag titles and RWTL with longtime partner Taue.
49. Jun Akiyama (96)- Won AJPW tag titles with Misawa. Also held All Asian Tag Titles.
50. El Hijo del Santo (63)- His heel turn was as big in Mexico as Hogan's was in America. Among many other awesome things, 1996 was the Year of the Heel Turn.
51. Great Muta (32)- Opened the year as IWGP champion.
52. Booker T (86)- Harlem Heat had multiple WCW tag title reigns lasting over 4 months combined.
53. Dan Severn (47)- Held the NWA championship all year. Also participated in UFC. Got a good amount of PWI hype.
54. Savio Vega (49)- Beat Steve Austin at least twice, ended Ted Dibiase's WWF career, and pushed IC champ Goldust to the limit.
55. Pitbull #2 (77)- Another unlikely breakout star of sorts. Held ECW TV title for 3 months. Had a memorable feud with Shane Douglas.
56. Bart Gunn (133)- The Smokin' Gunns spent over 5 months as WWF tag champs....
57. Billy Gunn (194)- over the course of two reigns.
58. Stevie Ray (67)- Harlem Heat had multiple WCW tag title reigns spanning over 4 combined months.
59. Perry Saturn (81)- The Eliminators had two ECW tag title reigns spanning over 6 combined months.
60. John Kronus (88)- See above.
61. Mikey Whipwreck (146)- Opened the year as ECW tag champ with Cactus Jack. Lost to his partner in Cactus' memorable ECW farewell match. Mikey lost hard fought matches to many of ECW's best this year.
62. Faarooq (55)- The former WCW champ made a big impact when he injured IC champ Ahmed Johnson in his July WWF debut. Would later found the Nation of Domination.
63. New Jack (129)- The Gangstas held the ECW tag titles for over four months.
64. Mustafa Saed (144)- See above.
65. Scott Steiner (15)- Returned to WCW accompanied by much Apter Mag fanfare. Held tag titles for a whopping three days.
66. Rick Steiner (30)- See above.
Rant- The Apter Mags were such Steiner fanboys. They're at least 20 spots too high in every PWI 500. I get that the Apter Mags were pushing them as the best tag team in the world, and 2nd greatest of all time, but it's still ridiculous. I mean it's not like I have Jeff Jarrett or whoever in the Top 10 every year. Did the Steiners sell magazines? I don't really get it.
67. Jake Roberts (161)- Returned to WWF fat and old after a long absence. Had a fun golden oldies feud with Lawler. Famously lost to Austin in KOTR finals.
68. Jerry Lawler (31)- Had multiple USWA title reigns lasting over 4 months. Feuded with Jake & Mark Henry in WWF. Is also way overrated in every PWI 500. Yeah, he won the USWA title approximately 7 times per year but he was a joke in WWF.
69. Brian Christopher (64)- Had multiple USWA Southern title reigns lasting over 7 months. Got a lot of Apter Mag hype.
70. Stevie Richards (97)- Became the greatest comedic wrestler in history to date while becoming a more serious competitor at the same time. ECW Stevie was kind of a genius. Took Sabu to the limit. Founded the BWO!
71. Brian Lee (84)- Threw and was thrown through tables from high places in his interactions with Tommy Dreamer.
72. Masa Chono (59)- Held IWGP tag titles w/ Tenzan for over 5 months.
73. Shinjiro Otani (NR)- Became the first WCW Cruiserweight Champion. Inexplicably not rated by stupid PWI.
74. Hiroyoshi Tenzan (61)- Held IWGP tag titles for over 5 months w/ Chono.
75. Koji Kanemoto (48)- Opened the year as IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion.
76. Psicosis (39)- Went to WCW where he continued his US career of traveling Rey Mysterio jobber who has great matches with his dance partner. Perhaps even more impressively made me think Konnan was a great wrestler. Yes, I was kind of a mark for very early Aztec Warrior WCW Konnan and much of the credit has to go to Psicosis.
77. Junji Hirata (112)- OK, so I know nothing about this guy (Strobe or Icon fill me in) but he held the IWGP tag titles w/ Hashimoto for over 5 months.
78. Yokozuna (50)- Started the year hot by turning babyface on Camp Cornette. It was all downhill from there. Jobbed to Vader. Made fewer and fewer appearances as the year progressed.
79. Steve Williams (68)- Ended the year nearing a 3 month tag title run with Johnny Ace in AJPW.
80. Johnny Ace (153)- See above.
81. Kevin Sullivan (82)- Lead Dungeon of Doom. Had memorable feud with Chris Benoit. Almost killed a jobber on Worldwide this one time with a badass powerbomb/piledriver combo....unless that was 1995, which is totally possible.
82. Skip Candido (69)- Held WWF tag titles for over a month. Left WWF to return to ECW in the fall.
83. Zip (87)- Held WWF tag titles for over a month with Skip.
84. Henry O. Godwinn (106)- Held WWF tag titles for a week with stupid Phineas.
85. Rocco Rock (119)- Public Enemy held the WCW tag titles for 8 days. Brought hardcore lite to WCW via long feud with the Nasty Boys.
86. Johnny Grunge (123)- See above.
87. Phineas I. Godwinn (138)- Godwinns held the tag titles for a week. Also held the USWA Southern Title as Tex Slazenger.
88. 1-2-3 Syxx (203)- Left WWF not long after losing a Crybaby Match to Razor. Debuted in WCW as a member of the NWO some time in the fall.
89. Juventud Guerrera- Had a memorable match with Rey in ECW. Would join Rey in WCW by August.
90. Stan Hansen (66)- Opened the year with a near two month AJPW tag title reign teaming with Gary Albright.
91. Gary Albright (102)- See above.
92. Riki Choshu (89)- Won the G1 Climax.
93. Scott Norton (100)- Feuded & teamed with Ice Train. FIRE & ICE BABY! Joined NWO. Probably did some stuff in Japan too.
94. Steve MONGO McMichael (300)- Joined the Horsemen at Great American Bash in a memorable swerve. Beat "Desperado" Joe Gomez a month later on PPV. Was awesome.
95. John Tenta (136)- HE'S A NOT A FISH OR A NATURAL DISASTER! HE'S A MAN, DAMMIT! AND HE WON A CARSON CITY SILVER DOLLAR MATCH! DID YOUR FAVORITE WRESTLER EVER WIN A CARSON CITY SILVER DOLLAR MATCH? HELL NO!
96. Big Bubba Rogers (93)- Feuded with John Tenta. Raped him of his dignity. Lost a CARSON CITY SILVER DOLLAR MATCH.
Rant- Bossman was such a great/underrated heel. I hated that bastard. His dickishness made me care about a meaningless low card feud between two has beens.
97. Ice Train (237)- CHOO CHOO! The hits just keep on coming! Feuded & teamed with Scott Norton. FIRE & ICE, baby!
98. Brian Knobbs (114)- Nasty Boys brought hardcore lite to WCW in their long feud with Public Enemy.
99. Jerry Saggs (121)- See above.
100. One Man Gang (NR)- The weirdest and worst US champion in history. He disappeared as quickly as he came out of nowhere to once again make me think the TV Title was superior to the US Title.
Fun Fact: One Man Gang didn't even get ranked in a year in which he won the WCW US title but something called "The New One Man Gang" was ranked #339. Wtf? Is there a New Buff Bagwell in current wrestling? An El Hijo del Freddie Joe Floyd? Now I am curious.....
101. The Booty Man (162)- Was the worst. But was also kind of hot for a little while there. Beat DDP in Page's breakout year. Helped Hogan & Savage defeat 37 guys at the same event by throwing cocaine a mysterious white powder in the eyes of the heels.
102. Ultimate Warrior (110)- Returned to WWF at Wrestlemania. Squashed Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Feuded with Goldust. Defeated Lawler. Left again after getting attacked by Camp Cornette which gave me another reason to love Camp Cornette.