Monday, July 7, 2008

Pro wrestling classics

Over the past few days, I have been able to watch many pro wrestling matches that Dave Meltzer (perhaps one of the most well-known authors and insiders on pro wrestling) has rated very high on his stringent star-rating "formula." Meltzer is one of a bunch of people who gives star ratings for pro wrestling matches, but his are arguably more valued because of his all-around knowledge of pro wrestling. He doesn't just watch WWE wrestling, but also matches from TNA, Japan, Ring of Honor, etc. Out of the tens of thousands of matches that have taken place in the last 25 years or so (now well over 100,000), Meltzer has only given the coveted 5-star rating about 65 times. Just FOUR are from WWE.

In fact, I've seen that Meltzer actually gives NEGATIVE stars for matches. One site showed that Meltzer actually gave a -***** (that is a NEGATIVE 5-star rating) for a match between Roddy Piper and Mr. T at WrestleMania II. It's obvious why: it was a pathetic BOXING performance. It's not that boxing is pathetic; but to have a trained pro wrestler and a trained actor do something totally out of their element is usually going to end up in disaster no matter how you slice it.

Now, a lot of people, myself included, don't always agree with Meltzer (or any other person giving ratings). It's understandable; people obviously differ in what he or she believes should be considered a classic bout. It gets even more controversial when one person gives a match ****1/2 while another would give it **** or *****. What's the difference between 1/2 a star? It's all subjective.

There is, and never will be, a set formula for rating matches. There are certainly categories, things to look out for, when rating a match. Here are some of the things I look for in rating a match.

(1) Crowd reaction: This is by far the most important category I look for when rating a wrestling match.

(2) Action: I tend to give higher ratings for matches that devote little time to "down time," or a time for wrestlers to catch their breath. Holds not meant for submission purposes are still fine, but if you go to the well too often on that to slow the match down, I take off points. It's likely why matches with big men are less likely to get good ratings in my book. In short, non-stop action where people kick each other's ass in a flashy manner = better ratings.

(3) Reversals: Timely reversals are key for a good match. It shows chemistry in the ring, it shows the wrestler doing the reversal actually wants to win, and it shows athleticism. One of the many reasons why a straightforward match will never score more than *** in my book.

(4) Big spots: I mark out BIG TIME for matches using weapons or dangerous spots. A lot of matches high on my list involve weapons (i.e. TLC matches, last man standing matches, ladder matches, etc.). Also, if not using weapons, I like spots where people will dive over the top to the floor. The more unlikely the person doing it, the more likely it gets a higher rating. The more graceful the move, the more likely it gets a higher rating.

(5) Unusual moves: This can either mean: (a) moves I had not seen from a wrestler before, (b) a move that an ordinary wrestler would likely not be able to pull off, or (c) a move a wrestler pulls off where it would be one of the last people I would have expected that move to come from. For example, "Vicious" Vic Grimes, a huge dude who has to be close to 400 pounds, doing a corkscrew from the top rope is a great example for (c).

(6) False finishes: I LOVE false finishes. The more favorable the crowd reaction, the higher the rating gets. However, not all false finishes are necessarily great. It must tie in well with the flow of the match.

(7) Storyline buildup: Has this match been properly built up, and not just something out of the blue? It's usually not too hard to meet this requirement, although this factor is not really necessary to have for a top-notch match.

(8) Selling of injuries: If a body part is injured, I would like to see the injury exploited well. It is not vitally important to do so, but if the injury is to be a focal part of the match, the injured wrestler must sell well and the person trying to further worsen the injury must pinpoint that weakness consistently.

It goes without saying that the matches I have rated ***** (or close to five stars) have met almost all the above. However, just because one factor was badly done or not applicable does not mean it will not get *****; it just must deliver beyond expectations elsewhere.

Here are three of the matches I have rated five stars:

(1) 3/31/06 Dragon Kid, Genki Horiguchi, and Ryo Saito vs. CIMA, Naruki Doi, and Masato Yoshino
(ROH Supercard of Honor): You have to see this match to believe it. I watched this match with a friend, and both of us failed to notice that the announcers stopped commentating with about six and a half minutes left in the match. That's how good it was.

(2) 9/11/05 AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe vs. Christopher Daniels (for TNA X-Division Title): Truly a classic. It is a rare long match where I did not mind watching the entire thing over again without fast forwarding. Big spots, amazing crowd reaction, superior reversals, and just flawless execution.

(3) 4/1/01 Steve Austin vs. The Rock (WrestleMania X-Seven; for WWE Title): It was a No-DQ match, but the bottom line was it was a back-and-forth match with absolutely no let up. The crowd was TOTALLY into the match. Both men hit the OTHER person's finishers (Austin used the Rock Bottom and Rock used the Stone Cold Stunner). Vince McMahon got involved by helping Austin win. Austin showed the true fire of a man desperate to win the WWE Title at ALL costs, even if it meant co-existing with a person - Vince - who he had feuded with for many years. Amazing storyline buildup + classic match = *****.

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