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Posted in: Requesting Flyby
REQUESTING FLYBY: Maverick’s Match Review & Match Rating Philosophy
By Maverick
Oct 15, 2014 - 5:59:36 AM

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Maverick’s Match Review & Match Rating Philosophy

Greetings dear readers, and apologies that this is the first solo outing in two weeks for yours truly (there have, of course, been two editions of ATTITUDE alongside Mazza for you to check out, right here on the main page of LOP *Foley Pop*). In real life I am a high school teacher, and last week we were visited by the dreaded school inspectorate OFSTED (for the benefit of non-UK readers, imagine Right To Censor crossed with the Ministry of Darkness) so things were pretty busy in Flyby Land and so I didn’t get the chance to honour you all with an RFB. Still, the hell is over now, so here I am to drop some column flavoured goodness for you all.

Since I joined the Columns Forum in 2012, one of my main roles as a columnist has been to bring reviews of matches and pay-per-views to the masses. The most obvious ongoing review, of course, has been ATTITUDE, but there were plenty of other pieces of this nature too. In the CF, for example, I reviewed every New Gen main event from 93 to 97, wrote 30 Wrestlemania dailies and wrote an epic nine part series chronicling the rivalry between John Cena and CM Punk. Up here on the main page, I have been the primary reviewer for Battleground, Summerslam and Night of Champions and have also brought you my thoughts on the top 10 matches in the history of the September pay-per-views, Unforgiven and Night of Champions. With two more like minded columns on the history of the Hell in a Cell PPV and the old school No Mercy PPV to come in the next two weeks, I thought that now was as good a time as any to have a chat to you all about how I review matches and come up with ratings for them. Everybody has their own opinions about these matters; some believe that Meltzer’s way is the definitive way, for example, while others believe that he is out of touch. My fellow MP columnist The Doc lays down his thoughts on what makes a great match in his book ‘The Wrestlemania Era’. Some of his thoughts I very much agree with, others I contend a little. What I intend to do here is list in order what I believe to be the most important elements of a pro wrestling match and why, and then give you a examples of matches I have rated at *, **, ***, **** and ***** and why. Bit of a nerdy column this week, I grant you, but hey, doesn’t hurt to indulge once in a while eh?

Maverick’s List of Match Traits, In Order of Importance

Storytelling: For me, the most important thing in a pro wrestling match is that the wrestlers involved tell me a compelling and engaging story that is logical and fits the ongoing angle they are involved in. Shawn Michaels and Mick Foley were two of the very best at this. Watch their epic from In Your House: Mind Games to see some oscar winning plot creation from those two greats. In the modern day, CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar stands up as a wonderful example also, with Punk burning down the world, including its resident Beast, to get to Paul Heyman, but just failing at the last.

Psychology and Booking: Do the performers inside the squared circle act in a convincing manner that allows us to suspend disbelief? Do they target certain body parts to suit their finishing manoeuvre? Do they sell for their opponent? Do the two wrestlers understand how to work up the crowd with heel heat and face shine? Does the finish make sense in context of match and feud? Bret Hart was a master of this. Watch any of his matches from his tag career through his main event run to see how it’s done. In terms of how important a finish is, think of Austin vs. Angle from Summerslam 2002, a bout which is undoubtedly a five star affair aside from the finish.

Crispness and Execution: Are the moves performed crisply? Do they look like they hurt? Are the sequences well timed and imaginative? Are signature spots woven into the fabric into the match rather than shoehorned in? I myself prefer subtlety to tonnes of false finishes, although I will concede that certain matches demand them. Dolph Ziggler vs. Daniel Bryan from Bragging Rights ‘10 is a classic example of the kind of in ring execution and style I like to see, but going back in history a bit, Ricky Steamboat vs. Macho Man is the daddy of them all.

Innovation and Historical Importance: Has new ground been broken in the type of match being performed? Have new spots been invented? Are there cool counters we haven’t seen before? If it is from a series of matches, does this one try to tell a subtly different story based on the previous one? Was it significant in making stars? The first tag team ladder match (No Mercy ‘99), first tag team tables match (Royal Rumble ‘00), first triangle ladder match (Wrestlemania XVI) and TLC 1, 2, 3 and 4 formed one gigantic story arc with constant self-referencing of previous spots and constant one-upmanship in bumping and spot creation. They also set Edge and Jeff Hardy in particular on the road to being extremely over main eventers.

Crowd Heat: I personally do not find this the be all and end all (the first Hell in a Cell match was performed in front of a relatively quiet crowd but it doesn’t damage it too much in my view) but it is certainly true that a hot crowd can add huge amounts to a bout. CM Punk vs. John Cena is the greatest example of recent years, but the Goldust and Cody Rhodes vs. Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns tag contest from Battleground last year is another brilliant example of this.

Length: It is my own belief that too many main event matches go on for far too long nowadays. Most of the time, half hour matches are neither booked well nor well structured. They drag like hell in the middle. Personally, I would rather see a hot ten minute match than an average thirty minute one every single time. Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins will always be three times the match The Rock vs. John Cena was, because it was an adrenaline fuelled masterpiece that redefined the lumberjack match. That it was under 15 minutes long was neither here nor there. See also: Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio from Summerslam 2002. To me, bell time is the least important factor when rating a match. of course, anything under five minutes is very tough to rate, but watch back something like The Rock vs. Stone Cold from In Your House: D-Generation X. As entertaining a match as you’ll ever see, but it’s not even six minutes long.

The Matches

Right, now let’s look back at some previous reviews from ATTITUDE and REQUESTING FLYBY and look at a match in each star category and see why I awarded what I did. The italics after the review indicate my reasoning.

THE ONE STAR MATCH: Goldust defeated Bluedust in 3:04 at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, 02/14/99
Both men come out to the classic Goldust music; Bluedust’s parody is pretty funny for what it is. You have to give credit to low card guys like him, who didn’t mind being humiliated in the name of entertainment. Goldust hits a nice spinebuster and Cole breaks out a “What a manoeuvre!” perhaps in honour of the great Vince McMahon’s announcing. Bluedust goes for a walk and is caught by Dustin and thrown back into the ring, but the Meanie tries to work over the leg of the Bizarre One. However, Goldust puts a wedgie on Bluedust (!) and sets up Shattered Dreams, but the Meanie gets out a boot to stop it. Despite that brief setback, Goldust manages to hit the Curtain Call for the win. Quite an ugly Curtain Call to be fair. After the match, Goldie hits Shattered Dreams to complete his revenge on the ECW alumnus (or reject, as Lawler puts it). A crap match, to be honest, but this kind of thing was habitual on Attitude Era undercards, and you kind of get used to it. This was obviously a comedy match, but not a very well performed one. It is short, doesn’t serve any great purpose, and comes across rather disjointedly. In all honesty, it’s a basic squash match with some Attitude Era additives and not really fit for an episode of Raw, never mind a pay-per-view.

THE TWO STAR MATCH: The Miz defeated Dolph Ziggler in 9:22 at Night of Champions, 09/22/14
I had this down as a potential show stealer before the bout took place, but sadly, WWE decided to get some country music jabronis to do guest commentary, and their involvement, overbooking and some dreadful announcing sucked the life out of the match. The chemistry of the two men was once again evident with Ziggler going on a very nice roll with two clotheslines, a corner charge and a neckbreaker, momentum which Miz countered with a sunset flip out of a fameasser attempt. Sadly, this was the moment where those Florida Georgia Line nobodies were booked to get involved, running off Mizdow, which was frankly a terrible idea. An enraged Miz turned into a sweet superkick straight in the moneymaker for a near fall, following which Miz caught The Show Off in the figure four- which he seems to have got better at applying. Dolph sold it beautifully of course) and reached the ropes, following up his escape with a fameasser for near fall while selling the leg. Mizdow then returned to interfere which allowed his employer to recapture the white belt with a roll up involving a handful of tights. This one had good, crisp wrestling, but being as overbooked as it was, and presented in a throwaway manner in the way that it was, really hurt it overall, with not enough focus on the two men in the ring and not enough time for them to tell their story due to the amount of energy expended on what was going on outside.

THE THREE STAR MATCH: Rusev defeated Jack Swagger by count out in 9:55 at Battleground, 07/20/14
The sheer size and quickness of the two men is extremely impressive to witness, and they go at each other with good pace and intensity, showing awareness of how to work the bout based on the build. Swagger continually tries to pick the ankle, playing on the angle from the go home show, whereas Rusev works in some impressive strikes and kicks, taking in some Sambo stylings. I like the fact that The Real American is allowed to show such resilience and fortitude in the face of the Bulgarian Brute’s all out assault, and when he once again turns the big superkick into the Patriot Lock, the crowd popped like crazy. I love how Rusev actually struggles in the submission for a gruelling length of time before making it to the bottom rope, and indeed the way Swagger doggedly pursued him to the outside to slap it on once again. The count out finish, after The All American American went into the post, is quite a smart move really, preserving Rusev’s streak while also keeping Swagger reasonably strong, since he did not submit and was not pinned. A match that took advantage of the hot angle that preceded it and the growing overness of the participants by working to the strengths of both men and keeping the crowd invested with multiple variations of the ankle lock pick, as well as with the match’s intensity, physicality and pace. The inconclusive finish in this instance worked well in the parameters of the multi-PPV story they were telling. Exactly what a midcard match should be, quietly enhancing the overall card

THE FOUR STAR MATCH: The Hardy Boys defeated The Dudley Boys in 10:18 at The Royal Rumble, 01/23/00
The Hardys sprint out to do battle, foregoing their high flying style to show in kayfabe that they can fight a war if need be. The Dudleys waste little time getting the tables out, and boy, it’s a gimmick that only these two teams ever made work. The quickness of Matt and Jeff allows them to avoid the wood in a variety of breathtaking ways, a kind of tables match version of the near fall, if you will. Bubba sells the table to the head like a champ, walking around as if groggy, but even so, he sets Matt up for the splash through the table only to take too long and almost get superplexed through it himself. Matt then brings in a ladder as the favoured weapon of their team and they use it to devastating effect (all of this is very much setting up for the triangle ladder match at Wrestlemania 2000, which I like to think of as the first TLC match even though it wasn’t called that). The Hardys drive Bubba through the table with a double leg drop off the ladder and top rope respectively, and then go after D’Von with a steel chair. The furniture is set up for D’Von, but Matt misses with a leg drop off the top to the outside and Jeff misses a suicide dive. However, the rules of the match state that only an offensive move counts, so even though Jeff and Matt went through tables, the contest continues. Matt takes a horrific powerbomb off the second rope through a table to tie things up at one all, with D’Von and Jeff being the two guys who can break the sudden death situation. The teams fight all the way to the arena exit, and Bubba sets up tables, places Matt on them even though he has been through one already, and goes up to the tier of the stand, Seth Rollins style- ridiculous for a 300ib guy like Bubba- and goes to drive the elder Hardy through the wood for the second time only to find Jeff behind him using a low blow to prevent his brother being taken out for good. Bubba takes a sick chair shot and then Matt sets up D’Von on the table for Jeff to hit a Swanton from the balcony for the win. Amazing stuff. Everyone remembers No Mercy ‘99, Wrestlemania 2000, Summerslam 2000 and Wrestlemania X7, but this is up there actually. The psychology of the false finishes, the slickness of the hardcore based grappling and the mind boggling athletic innovation of both teams is incredible in itself, but add in a molten crowd and a clear example of maximising minutes and this is a minor classic.

THE FIVE STAR MATCH: Shawn Michaels defeated The Undertaker in 29:57 at Badd Blood 10/05/97
As the match is essentially a revenge tragedy, the revenger, ‘Taker, has the advantage in the early going, dishing out one of the most hellacious beat downs you’ll ever witness. From a huge backdrop that sends the Sexy Boy about nine feet in the air to contemptuous fling into the chain link of the cage, the Deadman is dominant and Michaels is in super sell mode. It’s compelling to watch, seeing Shawn try to escape time and time again only to be ripped down from the cage and pummeled. It’s literally a physical dissection, a match booked as physical torture. The cell structure is used over and over again in numerous ways, and Shawn looks utterly destroyed, which is a testament both to his selling and to the hard bumps he takes. By the time Michaels finally manages to reverse his opponent’s dominance, he’s out on his feet and has to roll in the ring for a breather as Taker lies prone outside the ring, sound psychology from a master of that game. With the momentum with HBK, the possibilities of the caged environment are fully explored with some sensational high flying and by the time the steel chair comes out, a weapon which has spanned the entire feud, the Deadman has taken a beating every bit as severe as the one he himself dished out to Shawn at the beginning of the bout. With ‘Taker tied up in the ropes, Michaels runs right into a boot and is then backdropped right into a hapless cameraman, who Shawn precedes to beat on in order to garner extra heat. Back in the ring, the Showstopper maintains his advantage and shows off the ultra-athletic style that made him a star. The set up to Sweet Chin Music is picture perfect, but this is The Undertaker we’re dealing with and he sits up in an ultra dramatic moment that sells the seven footer’s supernatural gimmick to perfection. I’d be tempted to say that it feels outdated except that it works so damned well. Crucially, in plot terms, Commissioner Slaughter has the cell opened so that the cameraman can be helped to the back...cue the two competitors spilling out of the cell to the outside.

This is the comeback of the legendary Phenom, and it’s perfectly pitched to emphasise the revenge angle, as Michaels, busted open and panicked, elects to climb the cell to escape his implacable foe, but like Frankenstein’s monster, ‘Taker follows slowly, steadily, with a sense of the inevitability of HBK’s downfall gradually growing into the audience. Atop the cage, with anticipation at fever pitch, Michaels takes a backdrop onto the roof and is then military pressed for good measure. It’s eye watering stuff and a tribute to how far these two are willing to go in order to get over this brand new gimmick match and the epic nature of their feud. On the way down, and this is perhaps forgotten due to the way Mick Foley trumped it a few months later, Shawn takes an insane fall off the cage through a table at ringside. People would be raving about it still if it weren’t for Mick being even madder! The Sexy Boy’s face is a crimson mask, the visual is utterly compelling, and it seems that he must lose very soon as the action flows back into the cell and into the ring, with Slaughter re-chaining the door. A chokeslam off the top, a truly vile chair shot to the head...but then the arena goes black and an eerie organ sounds over the PA…Is there any better debut in the history of wrestling than that of Kane? As the Big Red Monster makes his way to the ring accompanied by Paul Bearer, the announce team go crazy. The stare down between the two seven foot behemoths is electric, but the fatigued Undertaker blinks first and gets a massive tombstone for his troubles. A destroyed Shawn Michaels is able to barely cover the prone Deadman for the win. But he doesn’t look much like a winner. What a match! Almost seventeen years later, it stands up as the very greatest cell match and a jewel in the crowns of both participants. Getting a brand new gimmick match over, innovating, storytelling, chemistry, bumping, false finishes, the debut of a monster, off the charts psychology...it has everything bar epic crowd heat, but there is no chance of that taking anything off the five stars for me.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, there’s one disclaimer I will offer, and that is that of personal taste. I do not truly believe one can be entirely objective when rating matches, because the kind of thing each fan enjoys will differ so much. To give you an example, the matches between Triple H and The Undertaker at back to back Wrestlemanias left me cold. They were too grandiloquent, too self-indulgent and too finisher heavy for my taste...but lots of people loved them. I also far prefer the matches from Shawn Michaels’ first career to his second career, which is probably not an opinion you’ll see often expressed. To give a live example of something a lot of people disagreed with me on, I gave Randy Orton and Chris Jericho **¾ for their contest at Night of Champions, because it was, for me, too methodical, too safe and had a lazy finish. Others argued it was match of the night. In none of these cases am I wrong, it’s just one informed fan’s view, which I can support with evidence if I’m pressed for it. So next time you read a review of mine, or Mazza’s, or Doc’s, or Tito’s, think about what our reasoning is, and your own reasoning...rating matches is a fascinating preoccupation, and everyone will bring their own biases and arguments to it, and those kind of debates is what makes professional wrestling one of the best fan communities to be a part of.

Feel free to add your voice to the discussion below, or tweet me here:

But until then, this is Maverick, requesting flyby!