While rereading the LOCH, I came upon what I believe to be the ONLY line from a Great which compares themselves directly to Wang Chongyang, by Hong Qigong in chapter 12.
"当年在华山绝顶与王重阳、黄药师等人论剑之时，这套掌法尚末完全练成，但王重阳等言下对这掌法已极为称道 。后来他常常叹息，只要早几年致力于此，那么“武功天下 第一”的名号，或许不属于全真教主王重阳而属于他了。"
"Previously, during the last Huashan Tournament with Wang Chongyang, Huang Yaoshi, and the rest, he hadn't fully mastered this set of palms, yet Wang Chongyang and the others already praised this set of palms most highly. Later he (Hong Qigong) would often lament that if only he had finished learning this set of palms a few years earlier, the title of "Number One Pugilist in the World" might not have fallen to Quanzhen's leader, Wang Chongyang, but instead fallen to him."
This only goes to support the argument I and some others have been making; that the difference between Wang Chongyang and the other Greats probably wasn't very great at all. Aside from the logical suspension of disbelief that would be required for us to imagine that a Wang Chongyang who was tremendously superior to the other Greats in martial arts would take seven days to prove it, this comment from Hong Qigong suggests that he feels he might not have lost to the Wang Chongyang of the Huashan conference if he had (as he presumably had at this point in the story) finished mastering the XL18Z, and, ergo, that he felt that he was, by mid-LOCH, at the rough level of, and perhaps higher than, the WCY he fought at Huashan.
How to explain the Quanzhen students claim that Wang Chongyang could take JLFW and the other pugilists in ROCH, though?
After thinking about it some more, I thought of only one possible solution (besides them being full of it): Jiuying Zhenjing. We know from Zhou Botong that simply reading it without even the intent to learn or practice was already enough to give him great benefits; for Wang Chongyang, who not only read, but supposedly pondered over JYZJ until he fully understood it, the benefits were probably significant as well. When we add in the factor that he was originally at a considerably higher level than ZBT to begin with, with better knowledge and understanding of the martial arts (that he created), the possibility that he was brought to a very high level by 9YZJ seems to be very high. Although he never taught it to his students, his own martial arts level would have had to increase substantially.
So after careful consideration, my current thinking is that at the time of the Huashan conference, Wang Chongyang>~the other Greats, but after the reading and understanding of 9YZJ, he gained great benefits, perhaps enough to propel him to a level high enough to match ROCH Greats, although I personally think this still involves a bit of a fudge factor on the part of the Quanzhen seven; their prediction of ZBT being higher than JLGS, after all, didn't seem to be on the money.
Thoughts? Of course, this is second edition; was the line taken out in third?