uploaded through SkyNet by Robot Hammer (@robot_hammer)
Last year, some gracious soul uploaded Wrestle Kingdom 7, in it’s entirety, to YouTube. I had seen a ton of people on twitter praise the show, so, I did what any right thinking wrestling fan would do: I set aside one of my days off from work to dive headfirst into the show, before it was reported and taken down from the site.
Confession time. I’m not an expert when it comes to the Japanese wrestling scene. (Hell, I’m not an expert on anything, wrestling related or otherwise. I’m just another goon with Internet access and a keyboard, but that’s another topic for another day.) The only competitors I knew on the show were the guys who’d been through WWE or TNA and Bob Sapp. I didn’t know a Rainmaker from a High Fly Flow, or a Makabe from a Shibata. So, before getting started, I looked for a rundown of the card. The only thing I was looking for was a Who’s Who match listing, so that when the show was over, I could look for more matches from the performers who caught my eye. What I found was a review, breaking down the matches and applying their Star Ratings to each match.
I don’t remember what site I stumbled upon or who wrote the review that popped up in my Google results, and even if I did, this isn’t an attack on that review or writer anyway. It’s not an attack on Meltzer, the mack daddy and grand poobah of the Star system,
either. It’s not an attack on anything at all, really. It’s not even a review for Wrestle Kingdom 7, but if it was, I’d say Wrestle Kingdom 7 was really good. It’s just a simple statement, one I’d like to get off of my chest and out into the open. I have no clue what the Stars are trying to tell me.
How does the star ratings system work? What is the fundamental difference between a 3 and 1/2 star match and a 3 and 3/4ths star match? An additional 3-6 kick outs at two? Does a chairshot add to, or subtract from, the match’s collection of stars? If a match features two rookie wrestlers, are they graded on a curve, or are they held to the same standards as two established veterans? If a wrestler uses an Ace Crusher, and the commentators call it a Diamond Cutter, but you’re embarrassed because you stood up and yelled “RKO OUTTA NOWHERE” in your living room, does that affect the matches rating?
When I see a match rated ‘three out of five stars’ the first thing that comes to my mind is the A to F Academic Grading percentage based system used in American schools. So, a three star match becomes a C, an average grade, 70-79 on the percentage side, and again, what does that even mean? What does an average wrestling match look like? Three headlocks, an Irish whip reversal, and a screwjob DQ ending?
If we’re going to grade a wrestling match like it’s a spelling test, I’d like to know the guidelines. I understand spelling tests. The test has ten words, you misspell two words, and you get a B. Eighty percent equates to four stars. Boom! Four Star Spelling Test! I simply do not understand grading wrestling matches. I understand the need to critique, discuss, and dissect wrestling. Wrestling is an art form and a storytelling medium, and as such, it invites discussion. For some reason though, I’m completely disconnected from the need to assign a star/grade/numerical value to a wrestling match.
It took me a while to figure out why the rating system bothered me so much when it comes to wrestling. For movies or music or anything else, I may not put a lot of faith in a one to five rating, but it doesn’t irk me the way it does with wrestling. I think it’s because a wrestling match is almost always a live performance, usually without the benefits of second chances and reshoots. When recording a song, if you don’t like the way the vocals sound, try again. The guitar doesn’t sound quite right? Try again. When filming a fight scene for a movie, the stunt men, stunt coordinators, camera operators, directors, extras, and potentially dozens of other people know their roles and have rehearsed and planned how to capture the fight, one frame at a time. Just like with a song, if something isn’t right, try again, because the finished product can always be edited later. With wrestling matches, what we see is what we get. It’s a live performance, being created as we see it, off of notes and ideas discussed backstage. The wrestlers then take those notes and adapt them to the crowd’s reactions, turning their initial idea into an improvised version of their original plan. Grading something that the creators, their editors, and their producers have all had opportunities to refine and correct seems reasonable, even if still seems a bit weird to me. Assigning numerical worth to improvised live performances designed to react to and direct the crowd’s reactions into certain directions just feels wrong to me, and I think that’s the part that bothers me. Applying math to art feels like the most nonsensical, antithetical thing I could ever do as a wrestling fan.
After watching a match, the only way I have to critique it is as follows:
1: Did I enjoy the match?
2: Did the match make me want to see more matches featuring the wrestlers involved?
3: Did I become emotionally invested in the match? Frankly, at any time, did I give a damn who won and who lost?
4: If the match was part of an ongoing story or feud, did it further said story?
5: Was I in any way entertained by the match, through the match itself or shenanigans around the match?
That’s it. Those five steps are the only ways I know and understand how to critique a match, and in all honesty, if I can answer yes to number one, the rest of the list is a redundant.
One of the questions I had to stop and think about while preparing this piece was “Hey, aren’t you one of the co-writer’s for 4CR’s 10 Spot? You assign numerical values to wrestling every time you work on a TOP TEN LIST! What’s the difference, you hypocritical goober?” First of all, I own up to and cherish my hypocrisies, but the 10 Spot is a discussion. We solicit people to submit their top ten rivalries or tag teams or what have you, and arrive at group generated list. The lists generate discussion in a way that star ratings can’t. If I say that Steamboat vs Savage at Wrestlemania 3 was a better match than Steamboat vs Flair at The Chi-Town Rumble on a list, and someone calls me out on it, there’s a discussion to be had there. If I say Savage/Steamboat is 3 and 15/16ths stars and Flair/Steamboat is 3 and 7/8ths stars, I feel like there’s nothing left to talk about. It goes back to the spelling test analogy. How do you argue with a spelling test grade? Did you spell the word right or didn’t you? Once a grade has been given, the discussion is over.
When I take to twitter or submit an article like this, or read an article here on the 4CR site or a listen to a podcast, I do it to see what other wrestling fans are thinking. Did someone see something in a match that I missed? Are they going to point out an aspect of the story I didn’t see? Will their observations lead me to watch the match or show again, and appreciate something new? None of that can be communicated to me through ‘Blackjack Hackenschmidt vs Thunderbutt Gotch Jr: 2 and 22/25ths stars.’ Grading matches makes a statement, whereas an article invites conversation, and I’d much rather participate in a discussion than give a lecture.
I realize that this line of thinking, from wrestling to art to math and my inability to smoosh them all together, is just my own peculiar way of looking at things. If the rating system works for you, that’s great. Other contributors to this site use it, and when they say “4 out of 5 stars,” they know exactly what they mean. It’s a wrestling fan’s short hand, but unfortunately, I can’t read it.