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Is there a better way of critiquing wrestling than focusing on matches?


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#1 overbooked

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Posted 24 August 2016 - 07:33 AM

I think there are a few things to cover here, and this feels like an exercise in getting the questions right as much as finding the answers.

 

The predominant mode of critiquing wrestling seems to be rating matches on the ol’ star rating system. Aligned to this is the match review, which more often than not is an intro, followed by play-by-play, concluding thoughts, star rating. I know there are exceptions.

 

Is this focus on matches the right way of critiquing wrestling?

 

While in the in-ring action is generally the most important aspect, it isn’t the be-all and end-all of pro wrestling as an art form/performance/spectacle. Promos, angles, skits and VTs all play their part, as does commentary, pre- and post-match formalities and shenanigans, look and feel of the arena/studio etc etc.

 

From a narrative perspective, any sort of decent pro wrestling story arc takes place over months or years, not just over the course of one match. And that is before you start weaving in any behind-the-scenes stuff that may have had an impact on what happened in the ring.

 

In this light, match reviews feel pretty reductive, or at least offer a disproportionate focus on one aspect of what pro wrestling is. While “having good matches” seems increasingly an aim of pro wrestling, I’m not sure that was always the case, or will always be the main goal.

 

So, are we missing a trick just viewing wrestling through its matches? And how else could we construct a critique?

 

And would this lead to a greater variety of wrestling writing? While there is some great wrestling writing out there, it feels like there aren’t that many modes of writing about wrestling. And for wrestling analysis or appreciation to take the next step it feels like the writing needs to adopt more sophisticated forms than a match review.

 



#2 JerryvonKramer

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Posted 24 August 2016 - 08:07 AM

For a period of at least a year (2012?), I tried to make this point here. That fans focus too much on matches when it is just one punctuation point in the "grammar" of pro wrestling storytelling.

I guess the "trouble" is that a wider appreciation of angles and things like that feels less quantifiable or evaluative. I've got a great idea of what a five star angle is like (e.g. Flair in Memphis episode), but a much less clear view of what a four or three star one might look like. It quickly becomes a bit too complicated.

To try to break it down ...

Your typical feud consists of:

- angles
- promos
- matches

Something like Bruno vs. Larry feels like a five star feud, but it's carried almost entirely by the promos. There is one angle (Larry turns on Bruno hits him with a chair) and the matches have great heat but aren't amazing.

But what about all the stuff outside of feuds? Character building stuff:

- Iron Sheik Persian club challenge
- Sgt Slaughter five minute challenge
- DiBiase skits (basketball etc.)
- TNT in general
- Interview spots on "talk shows" (e.g. Piper's pit)

These aren't angles that advance feuds, they are more about establishing norms and establishing character that can be used as a launchpad to start feuds. I guess we'd call them all "skits".

So building up our grammar:

- Skits
- Angles
- Promos
- Matches

I once had a go at approaching some Flair promos like literary analysis (in audio form, see Fair for Flair #2: The Art of the Promo).

The best stuff on angles etc. that I can recall is again in audio form, seek out any time Will discusses Mid-South stuff. Especially DiBiase vs. Duggan feud. I can't remember the exact show but he gives a blow by blow account of every angle and discusses the logic at every point.

I'd generally love to see more writing about stuff outside of the matches.

#3 Matt D

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Posted 24 August 2016 - 08:10 AM

I suppose what's most interesting to me, in this regard, is the intersection between the stuff outside the matches and the matches themselves. That's not an answer, but it's a step closer and broader. 

 

I care about purpose when it comes to matches. Other people generally haven't. 



#4 JerryvonKramer

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Posted 24 August 2016 - 08:15 AM

As a follow-up to what I just said, I've always wanted to think about workers in a more holistic way like this.

So great match workers, great skit workers, great angle workers, great promos.

Being a great promo does not necessarily make you a great skit / angle worker. Flair for example is without doubt a top-ever-level promo, but he's way more awkward in skits and talk show segments. This is one reason why Flair for the Gold sucked so hard.

It was always one of my DiBiase arguments that he was a tremendous worker of skits and angles. It's a slightly different skill from being a great promo.

People generally don't want to analyse workers in that way though.

#5 overbooked

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Posted 24 August 2016 - 08:25 AM

I like the idea of building up a "grammar" of wrestling, and I can live with that being harder to rate. The real issue I have with star ratings is they become a replacement for proper analysis, either from the person making the rating, or the person criticising it. Taking a broader view of what wrestling is and what makes it work seems a more interesting exercise than fussing over 1/2* here and there (although I do appreciate star ratings are a useful shorthand). I think breaking down each element, seeing how they work together, or even just focusing on one underappreciated aspect, is a worthwhile enterprise.

 

I also agree purpose is really important to matches, so even if the focus remained on the in-ring, you need to proper assess the broader context to see how well a match worked. A great match can still work with no context, but pro wrestling as a form relies on that interplay between purpose/context/matches etc.

 

holistic view on wrestlers would be interesting too, especially as I do think those promos, skits and angles do then have an impact on how we watch the matches that follow. These aren't isolated skills or events. They all influence one another.



#6 Matt D

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Posted 24 August 2016 - 09:15 AM

I also wonder if we shouldn't be more focused on understanding, deconstructing, and classifying than ranking and rating.



#7 Ricky Jackson

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Posted 24 August 2016 - 09:40 AM

My GWE list, and my philosophy on wrestling in general, reflects the belief that Great Matches are only one piece of what makes a wrestler and wrestling great

#8 Migs

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Posted 24 August 2016 - 09:56 AM

I am consistently surprised that no one has adapted the online TV review style (popularized by people like Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz) to reviewing wrestling TV. Wrestling TV reviews tend to focus far too much on the matches and too little on the overall effect of the show. Of course, a lot of wrestling TV would not hold up well to this analysis, but it would be worthwhile and make reviews of shows a lot easier to read. And it would also allow us to better grasp why certain promotions that actually did produce good "TV episodes" (i.e. ECW, Memphis) excelled beyond the basic quality of the matches and the promos.



#9 GOTNW

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Posted 24 August 2016 - 10:05 AM

I also wonder if we shouldn't be more focused on understanding, deconstructing, and classifying than ranking and rating.

For a lot people (myself included) rating and ranking is just part of the process-a more tangible idea on how good I think something is in the grand scheme of all wrestling that ever happened. I'm absolutely more interested in explaining why something works for me or not, and in general find something like "great match *rating x* " pretty useless (not that there's anything wrong with it). I actually have a thread in mind about ratings.



#10 Loss

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Posted 24 August 2016 - 10:18 AM

The reason to view matches is so you can make compare and contrast wrestling on a global scale. If there was something all wrestling across eras, countries, styles and promotions had in common other than having matches, I'd be in favor of widening the criteria. That doesn't mean nothing else is important. That means that if you're going to include more than matches, you have to limit your scope. If all wrestling happened in America and America only, I think looking at the bigger picture would be appropriate.



#11 Loss

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Posted 24 August 2016 - 10:21 AM

For a period of at least a year (2012?), I tried to make this point here. That fans focus too much on matches when it is just one punctuation point in the "grammar" of pro wrestling storytelling.

I guess the "trouble" is that a wider appreciation of angles and things like that feels less quantifiable or evaluative. I've got a great idea of what a five star angle is like (e.g. Flair in Memphis episode), but a much less clear view of what a four or three star one might look like. It quickly becomes a bit too complicated.

To try to break it down ...

Your typical feud consists of:

- angles
- promos
- matches

Something like Bruno vs. Larry feels like a five star feud, but it's carried almost entirely by the promos. There is one angle (Larry turns on Bruno hits him with a chair) and the matches have great heat but aren't amazing.

But what about all the stuff outside of feuds? Character building stuff:

- Iron Sheik Persian club challenge
- Sgt Slaughter five minute challenge
- DiBiase skits (basketball etc.)
- TNT in general
- Interview spots on "talk shows" (e.g. Piper's pit)

These aren't angles that advance feuds, they are more about establishing norms and establishing character that can be used as a launchpad to start feuds. I guess we'd call them all "skits".

So building up our grammar:

- Skits
- Angles
- Promos
- Matches

I once had a go at approaching some Flair promos like literary analysis (in audio form, see Fair for Flair #2: The Art of the Promo).

The best stuff on angles etc. that I can recall is again in audio form, seek out any time Will discusses Mid-South stuff. Especially DiBiase vs. Duggan feud. I can't remember the exact show but he gives a blow by blow account of every angle and discusses the logic at every point.

I'd generally love to see more writing about stuff outside of the matches.

 

How do you apply something like this to Japanese wrestling or lucha libre?



#12 Loss

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Posted 24 August 2016 - 10:22 AM

I suppose what's most interesting to me, in this regard, is the intersection between the stuff outside the matches and the matches themselves. That's not an answer, but it's a step closer and broader. 

 

I care about purpose when it comes to matches. Other people generally haven't. 

 

The road to hell is often paved with good intentions. In the case of pro wrestling, the road to heaven is often littered with dead bodies. I want to make the best pastry ever. A professional pastry chef will wake up and make a better one than me without even trying that hard. My intent didn't get me very far.



#13 Matt D

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Posted 24 August 2016 - 10:38 AM

By purpose, I mean "what is this match trying to accomplish?"

#14 Loss

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Posted 24 August 2016 - 10:38 AM

Does it matter what it tried to accomplish, or just what it did accomplish?



#15 Matt D

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Posted 24 August 2016 - 10:43 AM

Are we ranking matches are trying to understand (analyzing) them?

#16 Loss

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Posted 24 August 2016 - 10:45 AM

Yes. However, I believe all criteria used to critique a medium should be universal. If you can't figure out the intent behind every match ever, you should ignore the intent even when you are able to figure it out. Because for me, comparison is the ultimate goal of all of it. And maybe that's where we differ.



#17 Matt D

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Posted 24 August 2016 - 10:49 AM

And for me comparison it's just a helpful tool, one of many. It is a mean, certainly not an end.

#18 Loss

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Posted 24 August 2016 - 10:50 AM

I see it as an end. I think we've finally nailed down the key difference. Productive!



#19 Loss

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Posted 24 August 2016 - 11:02 AM

I want to clarify something. For me, it's not about a right or wrong approach. It's about each of us really defining and fleshing out our own approaches. My personal pie in the sky that will never happen is that one day I can say, "In my opinion, here are the 5000 greatest matches in the history of recorded and available pro wrestling footage", only needing to revise it as new matches happen or old matches are uncovered. That doesn't mean everyone's mission needs to match mine. It's a bit frightening, so I sort of hope I'm on an island. But if I wasn't fueled by that pursuit, I would have stopped watching a long, long time ago.



#20 JerryvonKramer

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Posted 24 August 2016 - 11:22 AM


For a period of at least a year (2012?), I tried to make this point here. That fans focus too much on matches when it is just one punctuation point in the "grammar" of pro wrestling storytelling.

I guess the "trouble" is that a wider appreciation of angles and things like that feels less quantifiable or evaluative. I've got a great idea of what a five star angle is like (e.g. Flair in Memphis episode), but a much less clear view of what a four or three star one might look like. It quickly becomes a bit too complicated.

To try to break it down ...

Your typical feud consists of:

- angles
- promos
- matches

Something like Bruno vs. Larry feels like a five star feud, but it's carried almost entirely by the promos. There is one angle (Larry turns on Bruno hits him with a chair) and the matches have great heat but aren't amazing.

But what about all the stuff outside of feuds? Character building stuff:

- Iron Sheik Persian club challenge
- Sgt Slaughter five minute challenge
- DiBiase skits (basketball etc.)
- TNT in general
- Interview spots on "talk shows" (e.g. Piper's pit)

These aren't angles that advance feuds, they are more about establishing norms and establishing character that can be used as a launchpad to start feuds. I guess we'd call them all "skits".

So building up our grammar:

- Skits
- Angles
- Promos
- Matches

I once had a go at approaching some Flair promos like literary analysis (in audio form, see Fair for Flair #2: The Art of the Promo).

The best stuff on angles etc. that I can recall is again in audio form, seek out any time Will discusses Mid-South stuff. Especially DiBiase vs. Duggan feud. I can't remember the exact show but he gives a blow by blow account of every angle and discusses the logic at every point.

I'd generally love to see more writing about stuff outside of the matches.

 
How do you apply something like this to Japanese wrestling or lucha libre?

You don't




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