Doctor's Orders: A Detailed New Formula to Determine 2013 Match of the Year
By The Doc
Dec 17, 2013 - 10:09:29 PM
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(Doc’s Note – this is a long one, ladies and gentlemen, so read it when you’ve got some time)
Determining a Match of the Year for 2013 was no simple task. This year, perhaps more than any previous year, featured outstanding matches that were difficult to separate and define as the authoritative best. There have been other competitions in modern WWE history for the year’s finest bout, but only 2002 and 1997 readily come to mind as years when multiple matches that were expected to stand the test of time created for the lack of a majority winner.
In the latter part of the summer, I sat down and watched this year’s top contenders – Daniel Bryan vs. John Cena and CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar from Summerslam, along with CM Punk vs. Undertaker from Wrestlemania – in succession. Twice, actually, I watched the trio back-to-back-to-back. There were certain elements unique to each that made it challenging to rank them. I have spent the past decade or more studying match rating and, yet, after two viewings of each match, I still could not name one over the others. The eye test and an instant-rating scale was not enough. So, I set out to develop a system that refined the statistical data points necessary for categorization and separation, historically, with the specific purpose of identifying the 2013 Match of the Year.
From the end of August until just recently, I went back through much of my ratings and rankings from the past ten years, picking out the key elements that needed to be extracted from a general thought process toward quantitatively labeling matches on the 0-5 star scale and creating distinctions between the matches based on historical context. After completing that task, I started breaking down 2013’s best, accordingly. Here is the detailed rubric that I chose:
Pure - The facial expressions, the psychology, the selling, the drama
Historic - The match’s place in history based on presumed (for now) context
Financial - A match has two jobs, primarily – the first of which is to sell viewers
Setting - A match has two jobs, primarily – the other is to sell tickets
Intangibles - Accounts for innovation, be it in moves by the wrestlers or the match gimmick
# of False Finishes - How many legitimate near falls took place in the match?
Time - How long did the match last?
Botch - Were there any glaring mistakes made by the wrestlers?
Climax - How well did the finish to the match play out? Dramatic? Fit the story?
Event - Accounts for the importance of the event at which a match took place
Build - How strong was the storyline leading up to the match?
Crowd - How passionate were the fans and how much feedback did they give the wrestlers?
Best MOTY - A [+1] to the bout with the best average of pure, false finishes, time, climax, build, and crowd
The above elements are accounted for with their own separate star ratings, with the exception of the intangible and botch categories (each of which use a [+] or [-] system). The star rating for the false finishes is based on the average number of near falls (combined) for the matches in question.
CM Punk vs. Undertaker at Wrestlemania NY/NJ
Pure - **** ½
Historic - **** ½
Financial - *****
Setting - *****
# of False Finishes - ***
Time - ****
Botch - ½
Climax - ****
Event - *****
Build - ****
Crowd - *****
Where it Shined
CM Punk definitively staked his claim to be the 2013 Wrestler of the Year (which he is, in my opinion) with his work during the first quarter of the calendar. His match with The Rock is destined to age well with time as the fans get over the fact that he lost; and his match with Undertaker has the potential to climb the all-time Wrestlemania match ladder if he continues his upward career arc. I rated the presumed historic value of each 2013 MOTY candidate equally. I can foresee each one being fondly remembered a decade or more down the road as turning points in the respective careers of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, especially. Yet, due to the overwhelming success of Wrestlemania 29, with its 80,676 person attendance record for Met Life Stadium (I was there, it was legit) and 5th highest Wrestlemania buy number in history, Punk vs. Taker has an edge as we move forward into the future. What happens at Wrestlemania simply matters more, as time passes, than that which does not happen at Wrestlemania.
It was a defining few weeks leading to Wrestlemania for CM Punk. He basically had a month to make the feud w/ The Deadman interesting. Sure, it was about “The Streak” being challenged by the longest reigning WWE Champion of the last 25 years, but it was more about Punk creating a personal issue that made the 800,000 or so casual Mania viewers want to see Punk get his rear end handed to him and the 200,000 or so religious followers of the WWE product (who ordered Mania) want to see just how he was going to pull off making himself a believable threat to end “The Streak.” On all accounts, CM Punk succeeded. What sets him apart is his ability to understand that while he owns the weekly viewership, he has to keep working hard to hook those other people. For those that buy tickets throughout the usual wrestling calendar, Punk is right there with John Cena as the character on TV that people have invested in most over the last three years (with Daniel Bryan gaining on them in a hurry). Yet, he does not rest on the laurel that the smart marks adore him and instead tells stories that appeal to the broader audience. If he wants to be one of the stars that people talk about in conversations about “greatest,” then he has to win over the masses that tune in during Wrestlemania season. My buddy told me over Wrestlemania weekend that “Punk just doesn’t look like a star….but he is.” Unfortunately, because he doesn’t look like a star, the key to Punk’s long-term placement in WWE history is dependent upon him continually reminding the general viewership that he belongs at the top. At Wrestlemania this year, that hard work translated big time in front of a massive, very important crowd. I have been part of four Wrestlemania crowds, including one in Chicago, and Punk vs. Taker elicited a reaction unique to any match I have ever seen live. We may never know how influential Punk’s attempt at ending “The Streak” was to the unquestionably excellent financial bottom line for Mania 29, but the fact of the matter remains that no match at the 2013 version of “The Showcase of the Immortals” captured the imaginations of the people like Punk vs. Taker.
The atmosphere at Met Life was incredible. I walked into the stadium assuming that Rock vs. Cena II, even if it was a rematch that many a diehard fan had scoffed about, would provide me with an experience that I would remember forever. I thought it would generate the best crowd reaction. I was wrong. From the moment that the extremely well-produced hype video promoting the Taker-Punk match was shown, the crowd was abuzz. The added touch of having Living Color play Punk to the ring with an awesome live rendition of “Cult of Personality” served to turn up the amplitude of an already electric setting. To the personalities involved and the New Jersey attendees, Punk vs. Taker was the main-event of the night. It felt like the match that everyone there came to see.
Punk came out dressed in old school Taker colors (purple and gray) and spent much of the match playing mind games. He became only the second man that I can ever recall to perform Taker’s signature “Old School” tight walk along the top rope. He also had Paul Heyman frequently lift the Phenom’s urn into the air, mockingly “drawing power” from it as Taker had done so often in the past with the recently deceased Paul Bearer. The same urn nearly aided in his bid to give Taker the elusive Wrestlemania loss, as he clobbered him with it during an attempted Last Ride powerbomb for the second of the incredibly effective, drama-enhancing near falls of the match. They had the crowd in the palms of their hands, especially after Punk kicked out of the Tombstone piledriver in a moment that had me grabbing my buddy, Tony, and shouting “AHHHHHHH!!!!” There were numerous stunning visuals throughout the match, also including Punk’s flying elbow drop onto Taker and the announce table and Taker sitting up and staring an evil hole through Punk’s retinas while locked in the Anaconda Vice.
Taker vs. Punk stole the show and pretty much solidified Punk as the wrestler most likely to take HBK’s torch as Wrestlemania’s preeminent big match performer.
Where it fell short
CM Punk has a very old school, methodical approach to pro wrestling that separates him from his contemporaries. That was part of what made his top rope to announce table leap all the more fascinating. He has gone on record - and has backed up his words through his actions - in being a wrestler who wants to tell elaborate stories devoid of the shortcuts that came to define the Attitude Era. Referring to out-of-the-ring shenanigans, such as the announce table, as the “furniture,” he has made a clear effort to stay away from using props during his high profile matches. Seemingly, Punk is attempting to draw the general fan base back into the ring and rebuild their expectations for classic matches on what takes place inside of the ropes rather than what might be used from the outside. With that mindset has also come a reluctance to overuse his finishing moves. I quite like that tendency. In fact, only in his series of classic bouts with John Cena has he employed the use of multiple finisher attempts to create the added drama. If you review his matches with Randy Orton, for instance, they were excellent, but they told a story that did not rely on false finishes while still building to very dramatic climaxes.
The problem with that mindset is that the matches in the modern era that have been the most critically acclaimed are the ones that have had that series of HUGE kick outs. Punk’s other match on the 2013 MOTY candidate list, for example, featured a lot more near falls en route to garnering the 5-star rating in false finishes necessary to boost Punk-Brock’s profile ahead of Punk’s match with Taker in the minds of many. John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan, perhaps in an effort to best Punk-Brock, followed suit.
Taker vs. Punk was given plenty of length to play out, but its 22:07 time stamp did fall short compared to its peers, each of which were given an extra 3-4 minutes that were used to add a final layer of drama. Purely speaking, it did not matter much. Yet, when forced to assess every small detail, it did matter.
CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar at Summerslam
Pure - *****
Historic - **** ½
Financial - ****
Setting - ****
# of False Finishes - *****
Time - *****
Botch - ½
Climax - *****
Event - ****
Build - *****
Crowd - ****
Best Match of the Year? +1
The Reasons it would NOT Win
Inevitably, the two Summerslam classics must be compared. In many ways, Punk vs. Brock is a better match than Bryan vs. Cena. However, the one element where Bryan’s title victory holds a slight edge is the crowd. For all the flack that Los Angeles area crowds have taken over the years, they really brought their “A” game to provide Bryan with an amazing auditory and visual backdrop to his championship quest. Punk vs. Brock simply did not have that. It was not as if the crowd was bad for “The Best vs. The Beast,” but it just could not adequately compare to the audience’s adoration for Daniel Bryan. On that same token, 17,739 people giving a soundtrack to your match does not compare to 80,676 people giving a soundtrack to your match. Wrestlemania 29’s Punk vs. Taker match eclipses Punk vs. Brock from Summerslam – in regards to setting and crowd reaction - as a result.
CM Punk has become not my favorite wrestler, but the wrestler that I most enjoy watching on any given show. He’s my Lebron James for pro wrestling right now. My interest in a high profile match increases tremendously with his involvement. Unfortunately, the Summerslam buyrate did not reflect that a substantial portion of the general pay-per-viewing audience shared my opinion. Punk’s bout with Taker dominates the match with Brock in the financial, setting, and event categories. One million buys for a WWE PPV is the gold standard. In my ratings, I did not decide to hold other events to Wrestlemania’s expectation. The Royal Rumble had a buyrate in 2013 that was basically 5-star for that event, for instance. Had Punk vs. Rock qualified for the MOTY discussion, I would have given it a 4.5 star label compared to Wrestlemania. Sure, the buyrate was roughly half of Wrestlemania’s, but if you look at the overall year and the PPVs from month-to-month, anything well above 200,000 is an excellent buyrate in the here and now. So, Punk vs. Brock and Bryan vs. Cena combined to draw just 296,000 buys. That may have been below expectation, but I’m not harping on that in this comparison. The monthly standard, outside of the big 3, is just a paltry 200,000 buys. Right around 300,000 buys is a 4-star buyrate in 2013. Nevertheless, Summerslam is not Wrestlemania and that has to be accounted for in some way.
Why it is the Favorite
Brock Lesnar vs. CM Punk has earned my award for the “BEST” Match of the Year. When you combine the ratings of 5-stars for the purity, false finishes, time, climax, and build, along with a 4-star crowd, you get a base rating of [**** ¾]. The same elements yielded Daniel Bryan vs. John Cena at a rating of [**** ½] and Undertaker vs. CM Punk at rating of [**** ¼]. In a year as tightly contested as 2013, that little “plus one” you see in the breakdown for the Punk-Brock rubric matters quite a bit, as we will discuss in due time. Of all the matches in 2013, the one that I was most looking forward to was CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar. Personally, I think that CM Punk is a much better heel than he is a babyface, but I also believe that when people want to cheer you, then it’s important to let them fully embrace your character. Babyfaces that are truly over in today’s WWE are so rare. We so often have protagonists pushed on us rather than given to us because we asked for them. Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, and The Miz are the primary examples of the WWE deciding that a wrestler was going to be a good guy because they saw in them elements that would make for a good babyface, but skipping the step of testing them out on TV to see if the crowd would react favorably and then basing their decision on whether or not the masses began to stir in anticipation for a babyface turn. CM Punk and Daniel Bryan have both gotten over to the point where the general audience has very much invested in their respective successes.
Seeing Paul Heyman – the only heel in the WWE that could touch CM Punk in how to effectively grate on the nerves of the fans if he so chooses – turn on Punk and unleash Brock Lesnar to do his bidding was a really intriguing story on multiple levels. To the casual fan, the idea of Punk vs. Brock may not have worked to the extent that I think the WWE had hoped it would, but it was still Brock Lesnar against a guy who we had all recently seen defeat Chris Jericho and give The Rock and Undertaker everything that they could handle in high profile matches in the previous year. To the diehard fan, Punk vs. Brock was maybe not a dream scenario, but it was certainly a daydream situation. To see Punk achieve a level of success where the WWE would put him against Brock, Taker, and Rock in an eight month span was gratifying. To the ultimate fan, Punk vs. Brock was a match that would give us an idea of where Punk stood in the eyes of upper management. Being in a match against Brock was one thing, but would they book him to win?
Punk embraced the challenge of making the storyline a rousing success and Brock Lesnar got himself motivated. Paul Heyman and CM Punk’s microphone interactions throughout the summer were fantastic. They were the best of the year and befitting of the two best talkers in the wrestling world today. Where Brock stepped up was his own investment in making the match a success. Lesnar vs. Triple H was a bigger match, but it felt “all business” in many ways. It lacked a certain passion that was far more evident during the Brock vs. Punk feud and match. I was extremely impressed with how Brock handled himself during the 25:16 of the Summerslam match. It was the longest of the five matches that he has had since his 2012 return to wrestling. He looked prepared.
Given the strength of the pre-match build-up, which was tops for the year, Punk and Brock had everyone anxious to see what they could produce. Numerous reports suggested that the wrestlers themselves crowded around the TVs backstage during the match to see how it all played out and that, when Brock and Punk walked through the curtain at the gorilla position afterwards, their peers gave them a standing ovation. If there is any truth to that piece of insider news, then that is telling. I concur, frankly. I thought it was an incredible match that lived up to any and all hype surrounding it. It was the most unpredictable match of the three in question for MOTY and had me the most emotionally invested in the outcome. The climax was outstanding, though no better than Bryan vs. Cena (that was a tie in 5-star ratings that could not be broken).
Though Punk lost, the match at Summerslam with Brock further cemented that he will be a major player in the WWE until his body gives out or his attitude gets him fired. The legacy of the Punk vs. Brock match will be that of one of the top 5 Summerslam matches of all-time. Much like the historical value of his match with Undertaker will, the context provided to the Punk vs. Brock classic will largely hinge on Punk’s ability to continue to excel for another couple of years. If he can maintain his current position or maybe even main-event a Wrestlemania, then the prestige of Brock vs. Punk at Summerslam will increase as the years pass.
Bottom line: The Best vs. The Beast was excellent.
Daniel Bryan vs. John Cena at Summerslam
Pure - ****
Historic - **** ½
Financial - ****
Setting - ****
# of False Finishes - ****
Time - *****
Botch - ½
Climax - *****
Event - ****
Build - **** ½
Crowd - *****
The Pros and Cons
Luckily for the two candidates in opposition to Punk and Taker’s Wrestlemania encounter, the two other matches up for 2013 MOTY took place at the second biggest PPV of the year. I do not believe that this would be as close of a race had Bryan vs. Cena and Punk vs. Brock gone down at events outside of the Big 3. It was so close between the three matches that, had the setting and PPV been downgraded to “below Summerslam,” the non-Wrestlemania bouts would not have been able to keep pace with Taker vs. Punk. 2013 offered a memorable Summerslam, putting two stars in a position as draws that, two years ago, a fan would have been crazy to predict. It was an historic night for a lot of diehard followers of the modern product and no match drew out the emotions of the diehards that packed the Staples Center in Los Angeles more than Bryan vs. Cena. That crowd was great. Let me reiterate that – that Los Angeles crowd was great! LA crowds have long been criticized for sitting on their hands, but Bryan had them thrusting their hands skyward, ravenously chanting “YES!” The only crowd that compared in 2013 was the larger WM crowd for Punk-Taker (and it was the best Los Angeles crowd since Warrior vs. Savage from Wrestlemania VII). In different ways, each audience deserved the 5-star mark, so I gave it to both of them (for Punk-Taker and Bryan-Cena). Where they shined particularly bright for Cena vs. Bryan was the climax that saw the camera pan to the LA faithful, all in unison on their feet chanting “YES, YES, YES” as Bryan prepared to strike from the corner. I remember saying to my viewing party, “if they’re going to end this match with a Bryan win, now is the perfect time to do it.” A few seconds later, the running knee was introduced and Bryan was the new WWE Champion. It was a perfect ending to that match.
Unfortunately, the ending did not stand. I think the entire WWE audience joined me in waiting for that little WWE trademark to pop up in the bottom corner of the screen, signing the PPV off the air so that Bryan would remain champion. Certainly one of the knocks against the Bryan-Cena match is that our collective emotions were brought to an enormous high, only for the figurative balloon to get popped when Triple H turned on Bryan and Randy Orton cashed in Money in the Bank. It was a decision that has the potential to negatively affect the historic value of the match, though that was not a factor in the rating given to that category, at this time. Everything before the post-match letdown will remain brilliant and, who knows, the beginning of The Authority could also be considered brilliant if the story concludes in a few months with Bryan emerging defiantly triumphant; but, until then, the memories of Bryan vs. Cena may have to carry on in spite of what happened immediately after.
The build-up and climax of the Cena-Bryan saga was awesome. The combination was the year’s best. I really enjoyed how the WWE re-established Bryan as a legit main-event player throughout the summer. Some people were irked that Bryan’s spot was “chosen by Cena” for Summerslam, but that never bothered me. It made sense that Bryan wound up in the main-event of the second biggest PPV of the year because he earned the respective of his greatest peer. The story was always about the corporate suits having little to no interest in pushing someone that did not fit their mold and it would have diluted that key selling point of “us against them” had the WWE brass put Bryan in a position to more traditionally earn a #1 contendership. The WWE accentuated that “anti-Bryan” mindset very well, in my opinion, leading to one of the best TV segments of the year on the Raw before Summerslam when Bryan nearly equaled Cena’s ability to hard sell a rivalry on the microphone. That was a seriously amazing verbal interaction, which both of them made sure to bring into the equation throughout their match. I do not believe that Bryan sells, with his expressions and mannerisms, quite like Cena and Punk, so Bryan-Cena had to rely on the Golden Boy to accentuate the little things that define the pure rating (hence the lowest score of the three matches). Nevertheless, the part of the climax when Cena and Bryan were slapping each other in reference to the Japanese tradition mentioned on the go-home Raw from 6 nights prior was intensely dramatic. I also loved how Cena, throughout the match, changed up his playbook and did more wrestling than we are used to seeing from his arsenal. As much as Bryan impressed throughout the feud and Summerslam bout by matching Cena’s penchant for entertainment, Cena was equally as impressive in matching Bryan’s wrestling acumen. In a battle between a perceived entertainer and a perceived wrestler, they each showed themselves capable of doing well what their opponent was known for.
Bryan vs. Cena was everything that it was advertised to be. Cena’s matches with non-traditional main-eventers such as Bryan and Punk have thrived on the passion that they bring out of his critics. Every near fall and every feigned tap out carries with it a much more distinct sense of finality than do matches between all the other combinations presented over the last few years. If you put Cena in the ring with someone that the vocal minority feels should be at the top in his place, then you’re guaranteed to have a special atmosphere. Cena vs. Bryan was one to remember.
It’s all about Historical Context
The big question mark surrounding the legacy of the Bryan-Cena match will be whether or not Bryan emerges as a consistent top tier player for years to come. His fans continuously demand that he return to (and stay at) the main-event. Of the three matches, Bryan vs. Cena has the most to lose as time passes. Punk is already an established headliner, so his matches with Taker and Brock, respectively, are likely to stay historically consistent in the years to come.
The Verdict on the 2013 Match of the Year: Brock Lesnar vs. CM Punk from Summerslam 2013
If you add up the cumulative scores of all the individual star ratings and intangibles, minus the botches, it came down to a ridiculously close call. Bryan vs. Cena (45.5) and Undertaker vs. Punk (45.5) finished 0.5 points behind Punk vs. Brock (46.0). It came down to the added point for Punk vs. Brock being the best match of the year by the traditional scale. Without that, we would have had a tie between the other two.
Question of the day: 1 – What did you think of the new match rating scale? 2 – What do you think is the 2013 Match of the Year?