Wednesday Morning Backlash on What Goes into a Great Match, WWE and Other Styles

Here is a full list of what goes into a match and how to make it great. Please feel free to add questions, comments and any more information you have to this.

Psychology/Storytelling – The two most important parts of a match are so intertwined that it’s often hard to tell where one ends and the other begins, so it behooves us to handle them together. Often in a match, and let’s imagine a Ric Flair match for simplicity’s sake, a wrestler will attack the opponent’s leg. This is very basic body part psychology. The opponent’s selling of the leg and using less moves which rely on the leg as a base for strength would be good psychology that furthers the story, as would during an opponent comeback, or hope spot, Flair kicking at the leg of his opponent to slow them down.

Other ways to use psychology and storytelling in a match are by using the cowardly heel vs. the virtuous babyface (Randy Orton as a heel, had been doing this against Triple H and John Cena, or done extremely well in the Flair vs. Lex Luger series of the late 80s) or a Power wrestler vs. Speed Wrestler storyline, used to good effect in the Matt Morgan vs. AJ Styles series, or, Shawn Michaels vs. Diesel.

Playing off the history of previous encounters is not always a necessity, but can be a bonus. The best examples of that are Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat matches, but recently, the clear choice is the Samoa Joe-Punk Trilogy. This can be done to a match’s detriment, however, as the Undertaker vs. Edge Hell in a Cell shows, relying too much on history will make a match feel like a spotfest and seemingly lack meaning for one who didn’t see earlier matches.

So, simplified, here are the questions to ask. What story are they telling in the ring? What psychology are they using to tell their story? Is there proper selling? Are they utilizing the wrestlers’ history in telling the story? Did the climax of the match satisfactorily involve/conclude the story being told?

Pacing/Timing – Pacing is the ability of the wrestlers to move the match along in a satisfactory manner to the crowd. Timing is the ability to do what is needed to advance the storytelling or move the structure at the proper time to further involve the crowd. Expectations fit in here since pacing is how you get the crowd involved (well, pacing and the next category).

The easiest example of pacing is in a tag match where tag formula is being followed. Does the formula last until the heat is greatest and does the crowd pop for the hot tag? If not, the pacing or timing was messed up somewhere along the line. One of the best paced tag matches I’ve ever seen is Kevin Steen and El Generico vs. The Age of the Fall, while the classic pacing tag formula was perfected by the Rock n Roll Express in their series against the Midnight Express.

A fast or a slow pace might be appropriate, such as the fast paced Chris Benoit vs. Kurt Angle Royal Rumble match being great and involving the crowd, while a slower Bryan Danielson vs. KENTA match is as good or better, but takes longer to develop without hurting the crowd any.

Ring Role/Character – Character needs to be respected in the wrestling ring. A guy should not be a cowardly heel outside the ring, then a monster inside (a problem that was developing with Sheamus that has seemingly been addressed). Also, certain portions of a match will be done to play to a match’s personalities, perhaps the perfect example of this done well is the Undertaker, where everything he does in the ring has the dread purpose of the Deadman. This is true from the way he moves around and executes manuevers, all the way down to his continually blank facial expressions. Steve Austin was also excellent at this, with a notably expressive face that would run the gamut of emotions in big matches whether its fear and worry as “Stunning Steve” or anger, intensity and frustration as “Stone Cold.”

Next, we’ll discuss ring role. There is surely another way to explain this, but I’ve never come across it, so I’ll be using and explaining my own terminology throughout. Ring role is exactly what it sounds like; the role the wrestler plays in the ring. This is different from both character and wrestling style, although related to both. I’ll explain using famous wrestlers that most are familiar with. Bret Hart, for a time anyway, played a classic baby face character with a technical style in the ring. Neither of these were his role, although both were related. Against a wrestler like Curt Hennig or Shawn Michaels, Hart’s role was a strong/aggressive type. The type of moves he used with this was what made up his wrestling style. He played this role because of his babyface character allowing him to show his strength in the ring against similar sized and skilled opponents. This aggressive role lead him to, generally, be working over a body part, specifically the back and/or legs, which would play a part later. His aggressive/strong role, however, leads to the arrogant heel, as played by his opponents, to take advantage and gain control of the match. This comes into play again with various hope spots, built around the fact that Hart is too powerful an opponent to keep down.

Shawn Michaels, as a face, plays quite a different role. He plays the underdog babyface role. This plays into his cocky character and highflying style. In a match against nearly any opponent, Shawn will start off well and take quite a beating. His hope spots come from his highflying style and the cockiness comes from the fact that he can take whatever an opponent dishes out and make a comeback. Shawn is almost always fighting from behind, but unlike Hart against a like sized opponent, will get offense almost exclusively through counters and combinations. Hart on the other hand, will merely control a match for a time, working over his chosen body part, being the competent technician that his style and role call for.

The role of Hart will change a bit when he is facing a significantly bigger opponent, like Diesel or Yokozuna. At that point, Hart will take on the same underdog role as Michaels, but keep the same wrestling style. Where Michaels’s hope spots and eventual comeback are caused by speed and high spots, Hart’s will still be technical moves focused on the leg or back of his opponent. The payoff will likely be similar, (a full comeback), but the road they use to get there, and the story told on the way, can be altered quite a bit based upon the ring role in combination with the wrestling style of the characters.

Let’s take a look at one more wrestler to ensure you understand what I mean. This time, let’s discuss Triple H as a heel. Triple H plays a dominating heel using an old school style. Triple H, much to the chagrin of his detractors, spends the majority of his matches on offense, regardless of his opponent. Against a smaller enemy, like Benoit, his ring role will be that of a dominating heel. Triple H will, despite a flurry of early offense, nearly always be in control and seem a favorite to win, regardless of booking, making the face seem like the underdog. This is a large part of why he is so respected by other wrestlers. He’s amazingly adept at making his opponent into the underdog and making himself more hated and the opponent more cheered in the process. He does this with an old school style, which is, simply put, beating down on the opponent. He can be countered by the underdog babyface, as all his opponents end up beating, when they play to their strengths, whether they be pure power like Batista or throws and mat work like Benoit.

Ring role interacts with wrestling style to determine what a wrester does in the ring and why. Without establishing this role, or rather, these roles, any style comes off as empty and moves are merely being used and not be applied for a sense of furthering the match and building the story. Naturally, this logic behind how and why wrestlers do what they do is tied extremely closely with psychology and storytelling/

Spots – Spots are the big moves in a match. Impressive high spots like top rope moves fit here, even in spot fests if they’re impressive enough, but so do logically built and coherently timed moves. When these two are tied together, you often have something special, like in the TLC matches, but you can have a good, fun match with little psychology to the spots, and that needs to be reflected. Many a Sabu match or an Amazing Red match prove that sometimes, just flashy spots can earn a high rating, but such spots aren’t needed to have a great match, as Kobashi and Joe showed us. Building to your spots properly using a good structure to the match can earn as high a rating here as a death defying stunt, so long as the structure leading to it works. The spots, however, and how they fit in, where they fit in, what they accomplish, and how they escalate as the match builds to it’s conclusion all contribute to the overall quality of the match and thus stand alone in their own category. The WWE often takes heat for their lack of high spots in a match.

High spots are merely the big, important spots in a match that lead to a shift in momentum or the finish and are not required to be huge dives or dangerous head drops. What these people are really lamenting is a lack of variety in style, leading many of the WWE wrestlers to use similar types of moves and move progressions to finish the match. Spots matter based upon selling, a topic I’ll tackle more next week.

Drama – Drama is the building of tension and anticipation in the audience when building to the climax. The old writing class story used to explain drama is two guys sit at a diner talking. A bomb blows up and they die. You have no drama or tension here. The only reaction you can get from the audience is “What was that and why did the author do it?” To create drama, one simple element is needed: the audience must be aware of the bomb. The characters can know or not, but when the audience knows, it changes the entire perception of the scene. Just including drama isn’t enough; however, the drama must build to the climax. That can be done, the anecdote tells us, by introducing a timer that the audience is aware of. Now we’re building towards something. That’s the basics of drama. To get a great drama out of this you can use any number of ideas- have one character know the bomb is there, have their discussion rise slowly as the timer moves closer to the impact, have one of them ask for the check with plenty of time left- and so on.

Now, back to wrestling. Let’s use Samoa Joe and Kurt Angle’s first encounter to show how this relates. Joe and Angle created no drama. The drama present in the match was that that the audience, out of context, brought into the match with their expectations, Angle being a major WWE star, new in TNA, and Joe being TNA’s top homegrown guy.

Sometimes, if the stakes are high enough, and Rock vs. Hulk Hogan comes to mind, the outside expectations can be enough, but usually, more is needed.

Once the match between Joe and Angle began, we got no build and, although we know that there is a bomb, no countdown until the explosion. How we add drama to wrestling matches is generally fairly simple and well known, but I’ll cover it anyway. The first and simplest way to add drama to a match is to add time to it. This alone won’t make a great match, but a longer match allows for, by definition, more time for anticipation to build. This doesn’t mean all longer matches are better than shorter, but that they have the potential to fit more drama into them. Think of how often you’ve seen a match go a bit longer than expected, then suddenly the near falls start to build and the crowd is exploding. That’s the power of added anticipation towards the finish.

With length adding anticipation, we need a build, or something to do with the extra time we’ve been allotted. What we got was Joe dominating, then Angle suddenly hitting two moves, twice each and finishing off Joe. When one man dominates in a wrestling match, so that it does not become a redundant affair, wrestlers use hope spots, or small areas of the match where the dominated attempts his comeback. This shows that he is still capable of fighting back and keeps the audience aware that a big flurry is coming. Remember, surprise is nice, but you need to build to the climax. Ricky Steamboat once said that as a babyface, he’d always throw in a few punches and to let the audience know he was alive, even if he was quickly cut off.

One way a wrestling match will build drama is the working of a body part. We know Angle often finishes with an Ankle Lock, so leg work would be the way he could focus his hope spots to build tension. The Ankle Lock is meant to be deadly, but instead of relying purely on the audience’s prior knowledge of the move, adding it in match brings it to the front of the audiences mind and builds the tension when the move is finally managed. Here, selling becomes key. Joe acting like the leg is hurt, making sure to limp or kick gingerly makes each successive leg move thereafter mean more. Better yet, when a face adds that selling, he decreases the odds of himself winning subconsciously to the audience and looks like he’s in pain. The former makes his later comeback all the more impressive, while the latter adds sympathy and garners a bigger pop for that comeback.

In story terms, if Angle really can beat Joe so quickly, it makes no sense for Joe to dominate the way he did. If the finish is going to be Angle’s domination on counter sequences, then earlier in the match (earlier in the story) Angle should have been dominating on counter sequences. If we are attempted to make them look like equals, while Angle merely has more dominating finishers and is just a bit better, then a back and forth match is called for. With Joe dominating, a slower build of Angle hope spots was called for before a wild-finish with Joe nearly putting the desperate Angle away before a big comeback. Not only did they not correctly build drama, they also failed to use the proper techniques to build drama within the story they were vaguely attempting.

So, these are what are needed for a good wrestling match. The story and psychology of the match must be consistent and interact with the characters and ring role of the wrestlers to create drama, kept at an interesting pace with well-timed spots.

Check back tomorrow for thoughts on Danieil Bryan’s burial and tonight for Will Time, as Will Pruett ends the Pulse Wrestling day with his thoughts.

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