Why we rate matches
The mantra we try to live by here at Pro Wrestling Only is that there are only two types of professional wrestling -- good wrestling and bad wrestling. We profess this because as a medium, pro wrestling has proven that it can connect to people in a way that transcends time, place, and culture. We also believe passionately that no matter when or where new fans reach their point of entry, the most open-minded ones can discover and enjoy great wrestling in all corners of the world and moments in history, provided that the footage exists. We find it fun at PWO to make comparisons between matches in different time periods that involve a diverse array of wrestlers. Rating matches provides a quantitative way to do that, which makes it possible to do direct, match-to-match comparisons. On a larger scale, it also facilitates list-based projects and countdowns.
Why we think about wrestling critically
There are some who argue that watching wrestling should be lighthearted or mindless entertainment and that we shouldn't overthink it, to which we respond that this is fun or we wouldn't do it. We consider pro wrestling a form of performance art and consider rating it a way to show our appreciation for just how powerful pro wrestling can be at its best. Consider this critical thinking respect for the form, not an attempt to tear anything down. We believe pro wrestlers can achieve greatness in any environment, with any wrestlers, in any style, in any era, and with or without any limitations. We believe this, in fact, because we've seen it happen.
Why we don't use the classic five-star rating system
At PWO, we find challenges with the more conventional and established five-star rating system. It has certainly been useful in determining what matches are worth watching, and in the past, we've championed it ourselves, but it's not an infallible way to view wrestling (nor is our approach, to be clear, but it does work well for us). There are specific ideals that usually accompany the star rating system about what makes a match good or bad. We find those ideals to be narrower in scope than the way that we enjoy watching and talking about wrestling, even if they are admittedly useful as a short-hand reference point. We have also learned that not all four-star matches are created equal and that greatness resides on a spectrum.
What matters to us when rating matches
We believe that matches should be rated on their own terms. A 9.0 squash is possible, even if we have yet to see it. It may not be as good as a more competitive 8.0 match the way that we would traditionally think about it, but we also believe this distinction to be an unnecessary fan construct in the first place. Matches are something more than the sum of their parts -- crowd reaction can elevate or devalue wrestling, as can historical significance, buildup, match follow-up, later increase or decrease in importance of a move or hold, or an angle or interview that precedes or follows the match.
What we care about most is how successful a wrestling match is in either creating or maximizing its surroundings. Show us a match where fans are cold early on and end up fully engrossed by the end of it and you're likely showing us a match that we'll go to bat for. Show us a match that started with a super hot crowd that stayed that way and we'll give credit where it's due, but we're less likely to be impressed because the specific actions taken in the ring are not what generated that reaction. Show us a match that had a strong storyline with over performers going in and then went on a thrill ride, taking the crowd up and down as they saw fit and getting their desired reaction most of the way, and you're likely showing us an all-time classic.
We believe that there is no such thing as a bad crowd, just as we believe that everything is possible -- the five-minute opener at a TV taping that was just decided upon by the bookers that afternoon has every bit the potential to be a 10.0 as the main event of a card at Budokan Hall that has 18 months of build and will be given 30 minutes of ring time. That doesn't mean that the latter isn't more likely to be great than the former, but we have seen wrestlers overcome obstacles to produce something great so many times that we see preemptive dismissal as disrespectful to the pro wrestling craft. That's not to say that matches that have uninterested crowds don't have other merits and can't be great in their own way, but it does make clear that they failed to achieve their most basic goal, and they likely aren't something we'll view at the all-time classic level. Likewise, two wrestlers in a pie-eating contest or game of cards that the fans go crazy for isn't enough to make it great by itself -- the bell-to-bell actions and technique do matter and are significant, but we care more about the dish than the recipe.
We also realize that what a hot crowd is differs according to time and place. It's not about volume or frequency as much as it is about generating a favorable reaction through specific actions in the ring. Crowds in RINGS are a bit more attentive to detail than crowds in 1980s WWF, so they might not make as much noise, but that also doesn't mean that they aren't interested. We believe that context matters, just as we believe that understanding the norms in a given wrestling company or era is highly important.
What we think matters most in pro wrestling
In the end, we see professional wrestling as something where presentation matters as much as or more than content. This means that the whole of a presentation can often render the content of the match less important or even irrelevant. For example, the main event of Bash at the Beach '96 is iconic in that it concluded with a classic angle that jumpstarted an era and cemented WCW as the number-one wrestling company in the United States, at least for a couple of years. From a business perspective, it accomplished everything one could hope for in spades. When watching it decades later in an attempt to discern the match's quality, that alone won't make it a great match, although those positives do work in the match's favor. We believe that current watchability is important, and ultimately, any rating that we provide for a match is our way of saying, "This quantifies just how much we think this match is worth your time."
How we think great output reflects on a wrestler
We all have favorite wrestlers, but we don't put as much stock in quantifying our thoughts on them. The reason is that most wrestling careers have peaks and valleys. 2010's great wrestler can be 2011's disappointment, and forming an overall takeaway from that is something a bit more nuanced than it is something that can be explained in numeric form. While we appreciate projects that rank wrestlers and see immense value in it, it's not our priority because there are too many ups and downs in the average wrestling career to distill it all down to a "bottom line" much of time. And possibly to our detriment at times, PWO loves the bottom line (and not just 'cause Stone Cold said so).
We also think we are far less qualified to rank chefs than we are meals. When eating a meal at a nice restaurant, we might not know who developed the recipe, who thought it needed more seasoning and called an audible, or who boiled the potatoes. It's not that we see those issues as unimportant as much as we see them as mostly beyond our knowledge -- we just don't know enough to say. Even when wrestlers are on the record with their account of how a match is put together, wrestling's carny history means that we (lovingly) treat it with skepticism. All we can do as fans is observe patterns over time.
We do believe we're fully capable of explaining what worked for us or didn't work for us about a match, and why. We see ourselves as insufficient when we delve into The Politics of Who.
Who we think owns it all -- work and perception of work
The wrestlers own their actions in the ring, but we do not believe they have any ownership of the interpretation of their work. The best intentions sometimes result in the best matches, but they sometimes don't. A match is more than a collection of ideas -- it is something executed. If that wasn't true, the staff of Pro Wrestling Only could probably have great matches against each other now, and you aren't likely to see us pop up on any year-end lists.
How we view the lifespan of a match rating
There are two leading views on this. One is the strict originalist point of view championed by Dave Meltzer, editor of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, which is that all that matters is how good a match is in its place and time because it can't be known at the time how well it will hold up, and that wrestlers have no ability of working for a future audience.. While we agree that wrestlers can't see the future, we disagree with the notion that durability is meaningless. We would suggest one reason that we can clearly make that distinction is that we are able to separate the number of high-end matches from the perception of the wrestler. Another is that if we review a match that took place forty years ago, we aren't expecting the wrestlers to perform like today's wrestlers, and we likely have a good understanding of what wrestling was like at the time. To disagree that only the views of the moment matter is not to argue that they don't matter at all.
How a match holds up long term matters to fans who come along in future generations and want to see what all the fuss was about. Sometimes, because norms have shifted, what was a great match in its time (or even five years after its time) is no longer anything special, or vice versa. We see this as a normal and healthy process, just as we believe that new knowledge or attitudes can change past opinions. No opinion on a wrestling match should be seen as permanent. Wrestling fandom is always a work in progress, and when you see a match rating, it just means that's where we were on our journey at the time the match was reviewed. We see this as a great thing because old wrestling can always become new wrestling, whether that's because we're seeing something old for the first time or because we're approaching it from a new point of view.
How authoritative we think our opinions are
We don't. Seriously, we don't. We put this out there because our desire is to provide what we see as a great roadmap for the curious pro wrestling fan. In the same way numerous publishers print their own maps (and in the same way that new construction changes old routes, to add to the previous point), others may see it differently.
Our goal is not so much that you'll read and agree with everything that we write, although if you do, that's really amazing and we'd love you to let us know so you can be our new sidekick. It's more that you can compare your own thoughts on something you've seen to those that we've put forward and see how much of a gap exists between your take and our take. We think that if you get to a point where you can do this and generally predict how much you'll like or dislike a match, we've provided a valuable service.
How we rate current year wrestling compared to classic wrestling
We believe that hindsight provides a much clearer view than real time and typically wait one year to assign a match rating to ensure that we aren't just caught up in the moment. If we do feel that the match warrants a rating, we'll usually just give it a star rating so that our readers have a general idea of where we fell. Some argue that losing that moment goes against the entire purpose of watching wrestling, but we disagree in such a roundabout way that we actually agree and end up back on your side -- one could argue that matches aren't meant to be rated or watched outside of real time at all, which means that we're respecting the intent of the moment by not rating it at that time. If it sounds like we're teenagers trying to twist our way out of trouble with our parents, maybe we are. We'll get back to you on that. In a year, when we give the match a rating.
The rating scale we use
As we've mentioned above, we use a 1-10 scale -- or more accurately, a 0-10 scale, to rate matches. A 0.0 would be the worst match and a 10.0 would be the best match. Don't worry about our deep affection for both Dave Meltzer and Spinal Tap affecting the site too much -- if we saw a 10.0 match that we truly believed set a new standard in pro wrestling, it would still top off at 10.0. It might mean that next time we watch some other perfect tens that we see them as something more at the 9.9 level. Again, this is a journey. We'll never make it to the destination. We see that very fact as something worth celebrating.
Match currency conversions
9.8 - 10
* * * * * match
This is a match that can be reasonably compared to any match in wrestling history in terms of quality. As good as any match in wrestling history, or at least in that level of discussion.
9.3 - 9.7
* * * * 3/4 match
This isn't something quite as good as the very best matches in history, but it's at a minimum one of the best matches of the decade. Maybe the work itself is every bit as good as in some better matches, but the match doesn't quite have the same universal appeal.
8.8 - 9.2
* * * * 1/2 match
This is one of the best matches of the year or of its era. It's not quite one of the best matches of all time, but it's near the top in its own era. This is the type of match that represents its style, performers, company, or weight class exceptionally well. The best match of its kind, or among the best of its kind, even if it might not click with those who aren't fans of the style.
8.3 - 8.7
* * * * 1/4 match
This is a fantastic match. In some years, it could be a low-end match-of-the-year candidate. This is often a match that has something hold it back like a weak finish, questionable booking, bland atmosphere, or one moment that works against what the match was aiming to achieve otherwise, although that isn't etched in stone.
7.8 - 8.2
* * * * match
This is an excellent match worth seeing. It's not a match-of-the-year candidate, but it's an exceptional match by either global standards or the standards of the company, performers, style, or weight class. This match usually hits every note that that can be reasonably expected.
7.3 - 7.7
* * * 3/4 match
This is a borderline great match that usually isn't quite at that level because of either something like a weak finish or a few off moments that bring the match down. If we'd say "This would be a great match if not for ", this range is about right.
6.8 - 7.2
* * * 1/2 match
This is a very good match well worth seeing. We tend to rate a lot of matches in this range that tug at our heartstrings. What usually keeps them from going higher is that either they weren't given enough time, there were extenuating circumstances beyond their control or that we admired what they were going for so much and they came close to pulling it off, but they didn't quite get there. The prototypical match in this range would be the really hot, well-worked 10-minute TV match that is forgotten about quickly.
6.3 - 6.7
* * * 1/4 match
This is the B-plus player of wrestling matches. A step above the average good match for sure, but only a step above. Maybe a solid match that has an outstanding finish or a really great singular moment in it would qualify.
5.8 - 6.2
* * * match
This is a good, solid match that we're glad we saw. Everything was done very well. Nothing world changing, but so what -- it was good while it lasted. We believe that every wrestling card should have at least one of these to justify its very existence.
If we rate something below 5.8, we are usually saying that the match is not worth your time. In some cases, we still think the match is interesting and worth your time, but more as a snapshot in time of the wrestlers involved, the era, or the company. That's why we write reviews to go with the ratings.