Star Ratings and Stuff

Back to a topic I’ve covered in the past, but I still get asked about it a lot, so let’s trod there again, shall we?

“While I’m holding a conversation with you I was wanting to also ask you
about you rate the matches. I mean, how do you know the difference between a
*** match between a **** match. Or better yet a *** to a ***1/4 match. What
are the key differences and what gives one match a 1/4* between another?”

Well, here’s the thing.  I’ve seen a LOT of wrestling.  Like, into what must be thousands of matches by now.  Generally I know when I’m watching a ** match or a *** match or whatever, because there’s certain tells.  For instance, generally a 10-20 minute match with no resting where I kind of know that I’m watching a good match but don’t get emotionally invested in it is going to be a *** match.  That’s like your house show opening Hardy Boyz v. a couple of stiffs.  Like, say, Chris Masters & Johnny Nitro.  Whoever, it doesn’t matter.  In fact, the Hardyz are a perfect example because they don’t do restholds much, but they also don’t much else than work the tag team formula and generally bore the shit out of me.  That’s ***.  If I’m watching and they’re about to make the hot tag, but then something neat happens and alters the match in a way I don’t expect and nothing else out of the ordinary happens, that’s probably ***1/4.  And so on.  Basically, the more invested I can become in the match, the higher the rating is going to be.  Other than that, there’s no scientific method, I just rate matches on pure instinct and I can “feel” the difference between ** and *** or **** and ****1/2 or what have you.  And I know my system works because 9 times out of 10 when I go back and re-watch a show from 10 years ago where I can’t remember the ratings for the life of me, I’ll be able to recreate all the match ratings within 1/2*.  In fact, I generally get worried if a match is more than 1/2* off my original rating, because that probably means something was out of wack in the first place.

Some people don’t even believe in 1/4* gradiations.  Some people even round up or down to whole numbers.  Whatever works for you, works for you.

“And, so I can fit it all in one e-mail, I know the endings are booked and
that some moves are called during the match, but I’ve always been curious to
know how they determine the overall flow of a match. “They” being the
performers in the match. How does one know how to take over in a match,
reverse a sequence, or to continue to be dominated during the match?”

Well, see, that’s another area that can affect ratings for a match.  As a fan, I (and others around me) instinctively “know” when it’s time for the babyface to stop getting beat up and make the comeback.  John Cena is particularly good at it.  The trick, which comes with time as a peformer, is being in sync with the audience and knowing when to start the comeback.  Too soon and you don’t build up enough sympathy to maintain the heat.  Too late and you lose the crowd.  The absolute master is Shawn Michaels — he can take a shitkicking for like 20 minutes and keep the crowd in it by doing “hope spots”, where you give the crowd hope that the babyface will be able to rally.

If you want to look at it from the most clinical POV, watch a lot of Hulk Hogan matches.  Hogan’s matches in the 80s were the very definition of formula.  It goes like this:

1)  Heel attacks Hogan (Generally lasts about a minute)

2)  Hogan overpowers them and dominates, usually gets shots at the manager, and the crowd is revved up and thinks he’ll quickly finish the challenger (Generally lasts about 2 minutes)

3)  Manager interferes, heel hits Hogan from behind and methodically wears him down.  (Lasts about 3-5 minutes)

4)  Vital step:  Hogan fights out of a resthold and makes a BRIEF comeback, enough to maintain the sympathy from the beating while building hope for a comeback, but his best efforts fail and the heel gains the advantage again.   (Lasts less than a minute)

5)  Heel attempts to finish Hogan with deadly finishing move, but Hogan kicks out, makes the final comeback, and wins (Lasts less than a minute).

Into the 90s, he changed that formula up and worked more standard main event formula matches, but basically up until then you could plug most of his matches into that formula and it would match up.  They weren’t GOOD matches, but Hogan knew exactly when to make that comeback because he was a genius at reading the crowd.  A lot of wrestlers are much more elitist about it, maintaining that the wrestlers should dictate the match, regardless of the crowd’s reactions to it.  Either way, that’s why WWE’s developmental system was such a disaster for so many years (and still is in a lot of ways) — the WWE is a TV-based organization and there was a long stretch where guys just couldn’t get the experience of doing long matches night after night like they did in the 80s and 90s, and thus couldn’t learn those instincts themselves.  Witness what happened in the Russo era as proof of that.

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