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World's Worst Man

Criteria that I look for in all forms of wrestling

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I posted this on my blog, Loss suggested I make it a topic. This is just a bunch of stuff that I feel is necessary in all forms of pro-wrestling.

 

Some people say you can't compare different wrestling styles. I say nonsense. While different styles require one to look for different things, there are a number of criteria that are constant in all forms of pro-wrestling. Once that is known, all that is left in order to compare the different styles of pro-wrestling is to decide whether one match does a better job in its genre's specific criteria than the next. This is of course all my opinion, in case the reader is one of those who get offended whenever one doesn't add "In my opinion" at the end of every line they type. So here are four fairly general criteria, that I try to apply to every wrestling match I see.

 

Selling.

 

Without selling, pro-wrestling falls apart. Afterall, how is one able to simulate a real fight, when none of the techniques do any damage? This is perhaps the most important aspect to good pro-wrestling matches, yet so many completely ignore it when it's convenient. Great selling creates drama - One wrestler is getting dominated, only to reverse the tables with a big move. Both men are down, who will gain the upper hand? Great selling creates a greater sense of realism - Thrity minutes into the match, both men are slowing down, showing visible signs of fatigue and damage. Selling is the one of the best ways to make a wrestler or move look credible. It also makes the seller look good, if he can come back after being visibly hurt. Selling is important, and it's a shame that so many "fans" simply disregard the relevance of it, claiming it's "smarky overanalysis" whenever selling issues are mentioned.

 

Building/Setting Up Spots.

 

Building and/or setting up spots is an important component of wrestling logic. It doesn't make sense for a wrestler to rattle off a bunch of easily blockable/counterable spots, early in a match. The opponent isn't fatigued/damaged enough to be susceptible, so it doesn't make any sense for him to "allow" himself to be hit with those moves. This is where long-term build comes into play. Keeping spots for later in the match, when the opponent is more fatigued/damage, and thus more susceptible to the move. On the other hand, there's setting up spots in the short term. Using strikes or counters to setup a spot. This is generally, not a big problem for most wrestlers. However, there are some who don't seem to get this concept. As an example, without naming names, I recently saw a match where the wrestlers were in neutral positions, opposite one another. One of the combatants simply walked up to his opponent, grabbed him, and suplexed him. I don't think I need to explain the absurdity of that situation. Suffice to say, this is something else that ties into the logic of pro-wrestling.

 

Competent execution.

 

Simply put, making the moves and strikes look somewhat realistic and painful. If it's a brawl, the emphasis is on good-looking striking and creating an illusion of a struggle. If it's a technical match, the emphasis is on creating matwork that doesn't look completely contrived, and hitting moves that look somewhat painful to the opponent, without looking painful to the user. If this isn't present, the wrestling isn't believable. Which then makes the selling seem absurd. Transitions are also something that falls under this subject. Basically, properly changing the direction of a match. The wrestler's swap control segments, the match moves from a "feeling out" phase to a "control" phase, etc.

 

Story.

 

The story of the match. Two men, struggling on the mat, trying to wear their opponent down so they can hit their own big moves. A heel dominating the face, while the face attempts to fight his way back. A larger opponent trying to force his will on the smaller, quicker opponent, while the quicker wrestler tries to use his speed to his advantage. And countless other storylines that are played out in pro-wrestling matches. Without a story, why are they wrestling? Edit - I also feel the story needs to somewhat clearly defined. There's a million things one could infer from a pro-wrestling match, but a lot of it would be so small and obscure that it would be doubtful that the wrestlers were actually going for that. If the story bits are clearly defined, there's almost no room for that doubt.

 

These are basically the standards that I apply to all wrestling matches. The latter two topics have their own specific criteria based on what style of pro-wrestling is being used. As long as one doesn't try to apply a specific criteria to every pro-wrestling match, it is no problem to compare different styles of wrestling. And I must admit that there are occasionally times where one or more of the basic criteria are lacking, for perfectly acceptable reasons. I'd rather not get into that now, because it would likely take a lot of time to go through them all. But I'd certainly welcome any discussion about specific exceptions to the rule, or any discussion about this subject period.

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Guest Famous Mortimer

Not a lot to disagree with, apart from one bit. I may be the only person who posts who has a similar view, but building to moves doesn't need to be done in the rigid way you put forward. I read a review of a match once which criticised one of the wrestlers for working on the back all the way through the match before winning with an arm submission. The reviewer said "why did you do that? It made no sense." To which the only reply can be "because it fucking hurts". Working on a body part to set up a finisher based on that body part is cool, but if your submission move is good enough you shouldn't need to work on that body part to soften it up. Take MMA, for example, where they hit whatever submission is most appropriate at the time.

 

And before someone has a go at me for bringing MMA into a pro wrestling discussion- the first paragraph of MisawaGQ's post stresses realism. Looking back at the Japanese shoot-style feds, they hardly ever did that- Volk Han would twist and turn his opponent on the mat before slapping on some submission finisher out of nowhere.

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Not a lot to disagree with, apart from one bit. I may be the only person who posts who has a similar view, but building to moves doesn't need to be done in the rigid way you put forward. I read a review of a match once which criticised one of the wrestlers for working on the back all the way through the match before winning with an arm submission. The reviewer said "why did you do that? It made no sense." To which the only reply can be "because it fucking hurts". Working on a body part to set up a finisher based on that body part is cool, but if your submission move is good enough you shouldn't need to work on that body part to soften it up. Take MMA, for example, where they hit whatever submission is most appropriate at the time.

 

And before someone has a go at me for bringing MMA into a pro wrestling discussion- the first paragraph of MisawaGQ's post stresses realism. Looking back at the Japanese shoot-style feds, they hardly ever did that- Volk Han would twist and turn his opponent on the mat before slapping on some submission finisher out of nowhere.

I think it all depends on how the match plays out. I've seen matches where a guy will work a body part for no other reason than to use that to create an opening for himself. Or he'll use it for a fall back if he ever gets into trouble. Like if a guy works a leg for a bit, right before he wants to hit a big move, he'll attack the leg, then quickly transition into his big offense. Or a guy will work a leg, and if he starts falling behind in the match, he'll counter-attack the leg to get out of trouble. As long as that sort psychology is played up, I have no problem with working a body-part that doesn't figure into the finish. As long as it makes sense, it's fine with me.

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Really great and well-written. I want to elaborate and comment on a few things you said.

 

Some people say you can't compare different wrestling styles. I say nonsense. While different styles require one to look for different things, there are a number of criteria that are constant in all forms of pro-wrestling. Once that is known, all that is left in order to compare the different styles of pro-wrestling is to decide whether one match does a better job in its genre's specific criteria than the next. This is of course all my opinion, in case the reader is one of those who get offended whenever one doesn't add "In my opinion" at the end of every line they type. So here are four fairly general criteria, that I try to apply to every wrestling match I see.

I agree that any match can be compared to any other match, as long as both matches are worked. Usually, people who argue that you can't compare are people who also have a "greatest match of all time" in their minds, which means that in one way or another, they've thought about what they've seen and decided that one match in one era was better than another match in another (or possibly the same) era.

 

Of course, some also take this line of thinking too far. Context is important, but it's not a crutch. You're not going to see Rey Jr.-style highspots in a 1970s AJPW match, but you might see 70s highspots built in similar fashion with the same goals and results. I think when people say you can't make comparisons, they're typically people who think that one of the aspects of a good match is the difficulty and variety of moves, which I think means absolutely nothing. I'll talk a little more about this later.

 

Selling.

 

Without selling, pro-wrestling falls apart. Afterall, how is one able to simulate a real fight, when none of the techniques do any damage? This is perhaps the most important aspect to good pro-wrestling matches, yet so many completely ignore it when it's convenient. Great selling creates drama - One wrestler is getting dominated, only to reverse the tables with a big move. Both men are down, who will gain the upper hand? Great selling creates a greater sense of realism - Thrity minutes into the match, both men are slowing down, showing visible signs of fatigue and damage. Selling is the one of the best ways to make a wrestler or move look credible. It also makes the seller look good, if he can come back after being visibly hurt. Selling is important, and it's a shame that so many "fans" simply disregard the relevance of it, claiming it's "smarky overanalysis" whenever selling issues are mentioned.

Agreed. Selling is the most important aspect of pro wrestling. I often talk wrestling with people who don't quite grasp what psychology is, or they categorize it into "ring psychology" and "crowd psychology". Truthfully, good psychology, at its core, is nothing more than good selling and logical strategy. The other argument you often hear is that casual fans don't care about psychology, which usually means the person doesn't know what psychology is as well. Casual fans will react to a lack of logic in a match almost every time out, sometimes even more so than we who are accused of overanalyzing it. Bad psychology is being able to kip up after having your back pounded on for 20 minutes or executing picture-perfect dropkicks after having your knee worked over for the majority of the match. There's also what's called "Test" selling, where moves are executed normally and all the selling takes place between moves. That's not good selling either. Good selling affects the direction the match takes, it doesn't just mean that you shouldn't forget to hold your arm or limp.

 

Building/Setting Up Spots.

 

Building and/or setting up spots is an important component of wrestling logic. It doesn't make sense for a wrestler to rattle off a bunch of easily blockable/counterable spots, early in a match. The opponent isn't fatigued/damaged enough to be susceptible, so it doesn't make any sense for him to "allow" himself to be hit with those moves. This is where long-term build comes into play. Keeping spots for later in the match, when the opponent is more fatigued/damage, and thus more susceptible to the move. On the other hand, there's setting up spots in the short term. Using strikes or counters to setup a spot. This is generally, not a big problem for most wrestlers. However, there are some who don't seem to get this concept. As an example, without naming names, I recently saw a match where the wrestlers were in neutral positions, opposite one another. One of the combatants simply walked up to his opponent, grabbed him, and suplexed him. I don't think I need to explain the absurdity of that situation. Suffice to say, this is something else that ties into the logic of pro-wrestling.

Again, agreed. There are exceptions, as you pointed out. My favorite example of this is the Arn/Tully v Luger/Windham match from Clash I. Luger wants an early win, and after a clothesline and powerslam, immediately attempts the torture rack. It doesn't work and leaves him as face in peril, which doesn't defy the logic at all, and gets over the point that despite Luger's best efforts, he's not going to win the tag titles for his team by throwing the big guns out immediately. That - in turn - gets the match over and makes the stuff before the false finishes kick in down the final stretch carry some meaning.

 

That last part is where I think the WWE style fails overall. Between the opening bell and the babyface comeback working to the finish, there isn't much work of consequence going on. Shawn Michaels matches often start with headlocks, for example, because that's what long matches are supposed to do. Seriously, of all the guys to criticize CM Punk for working like he's in a "simulated" match, Michaels, who works every match in that "simulated" style, is the worst guy to be throwing that criticism.

 

Competent execution.

 

Simply put, making the moves and strikes look somewhat realistic and painful. If it's a brawl, the emphasis is on good-looking striking and creating an illusion of a struggle. If it's a technical match, the emphasis is on creating matwork that doesn't look completely contrived, and hitting moves that look somewhat painful to the opponent, without looking painful to the user. If this isn't present, the wrestling isn't believable. Which then makes the selling seem absurd. Transitions are also something that falls under this subject. Basically, properly changing the direction of a match. The wrestler's swap control segments, the match moves from a "feeling out" phase to a "control" phase, etc.

Agreed.

 

Now, about moves.

 

I don't care if the wrestler has a lot of offense, as long as they can do everything clean that they do attempt and as long as they aren't repeating the same sequences over and over because they don't know what else to do. I've heard people complain that the problem with WWE style is the toned-down moveset, when honestly, that makes no difference to me whatsoever. The problem for me is that so many of the same moves are used in every match up and down the card to set up the same spots and the same finishes. Variety is important in getting matches over as unique to me, but not necessarily in showing off athletic ability. However, I always get the impression that TNA fans just care about highspots, which is why everyone in the promotion except Evil Owner Jeff Jarrett gets babyface pops.

 

Story.

 

The story of the match. Two men, struggling on the mat, trying to wear their opponent down so they can hit their own big moves. A heel dominating the face, while the face attempts to fight his way back. A larger opponent trying to force his will on the smaller, quicker opponent, while the quicker wrestler tries to use his speed to his advantage. And countless other storylines that are played out in pro-wrestling matches. Without a story, why are they wrestling? Edit - I also feel the story needs to somewhat clearly defined. There's a million things one could infer from a pro-wrestling match, but a lot of it would be so small and obscure that it would be doubtful that the wrestlers were actually going for that. If the story bits are clearly defined, there's almost no room for that doubt.

Very true.

 

Expanding on this, a lot is often made about matches playing off of each other, as that was a staple of 1990s AJPW. You do hear claims sometimes that WWE matches do this, but I don't think they ever do this, and if they do, it's not intentional at all. I can honestly say that aside from Slaughter/Sheik on 06/16/84, Bret/Taker from ONO '97 and Rock/Jericho at Vengeance '01, I've never seen a WWF/E match play into another match where it was obvious that it was a purposeful spot. Sometimes, it seems like it is, but that doesn't mean it is. If the announcers aren't playing it up, I tend to think it was just coincidental. And of the three examples I mentioned, only one (Bret/Taker) actually has the announcers explaining how successful Summerslam strategy is affecting the way ONO is worked.

 

These are basically the standards that I apply to all wrestling matches. The latter two topics have their own specific criteria based on what style of pro-wrestling is being used. As long as one doesn't try to apply a specific criteria to every pro-wrestling match, it is no problem to compare different styles of wrestling. And I must admit that there are occasionally times where one or more of the basic criteria are lacking, for perfectly acceptable reasons. I'd rather not get into that now, because it would likely take a lot of time to go through them all. But I'd certainly welcome any discussion about specific exceptions to the rule, or any discussion about this subject period.

Well said.

 

I do think heat is important as well, but I also think that needs some explanation.

 

There is difference between noise and heat.

 

The Worldwide Arena crowd in WCW had signs telling them who and when to cheer or boo, but it was terribly obvious to viewers at home how phony and contrived it was. The matches had incredible noise, but no emotion, which was obvious. Then there are plenty of matches like Kawada/Muto on 02/24/02 that are incredibly heated, but the work is so subpar that it doesn't really matter. In a case like that, they could be having any shitty match under the sun and the fans would pop because of the personalities involved.

 

Then, there are matches like Benoit/Malenko at Hog Wild '96 that someone always inevitably mentions as an example of a good match that the crowd hates. I don't think this example really applies at all, because it was a non-wrestling crowd that didn't even pay for tickets, nor were they even vaguely familiar with the product. Put that match practically anywhere else and I guarantee you the heat would have been off the charts when they kept extending the time limit. There are cases when the wrestlers are doing everything they should be doing and the crowd just doesn't respond. That's not the fault of the wrestlers.

 

To me, heat factoring into match quality is important when it's the direct result of something that has happened in the match. It's an enhancement, and it can make the difference between *** and ***1/2 for me in some cases.

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Very true.

 

Expanding on this, a lot is often made about matches playing off of each other, as that was a staple of 1990s AJPW. You do hear claims sometimes that WWE matches do this, but I don't think they ever do this, and if they do, it's not intentional at all. I can honestly say that aside from Slaughter/Sheik on 06/16/84, Bret/Taker from ONO '97 and Rock/Jericho at Vengeance '01, I've never seen a WWF/E match play into another match where it was obvious that it was a purposeful spot. Sometimes, it seems like it is, but that doesn't mean it is. If the announcers aren't playing it up, I tend to think it was just coincidental. And of the three examples I mentioned, only one (Bret/Taker) actually has the announcers explaining how successful Summerslam strategy is affecting the way ONO is worked.

This is a good point, and ties into my belief that psychology in wrestling needs to be well defined, otherwise there's no limit to what the viewer can infer from a match. Many "meaningless" spots can be made into meaningful spots, but it's doubtful that the wrestlers are actually going for that sort of meaning. For example, I saw Koshinaka vs. Chono from the 1995 G1 today, which had Koshinaka jumping Chono before the bell and hitting some moves. A few minutes later, it slowed down and Chono used a halfcrab. One could say "The halfcrab is a brilliant spot, since Chono wants to slow the match down after Koshinaka's fast start". But really, did this spot realistically have that meaning, when the "Chono wants to slow it down" story wasn't actually played up in any other way? But I've seen attempts to single out certain spots and try to give them meaning, when the story isn't played up in any other way. It just can't work that way, otherwise there's no end to it.

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It really stikes me that Kurt Angle is the exact opposite of everything you look for in a match.

 

Selling.

Angle likes to just pop up and do a suplex. Especially if a guy hits a big move and then heads to the top rope. It seems selling to him is just a brief reaction to moves.

 

Building/Setting Up Spots.

Notice that Angle sets up his finisher by using it over and over in a match. It's not strange to see Angle going for the move 4 or 5 times in a given match without doing any leg work.

 

This is just him being lazy though. How hard is it to do a chop block on someone's ankle before doing the move or even something as simple as a shin breaker?

 

Competent execution.

Angle's less guilty of fake looking moves but he's still guilty of this. The standing anklelock he does is pretty bad. You would think any competent worker would do it like Shamrock as it gives the guy you've applied it to less room to move around.

 

Story.

Not very good here either without a superior worker.

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I think selling is a bit overrated. There are situations where no-selling - or to put it nicer, selling less - is appropriate. Selling, above all things, should not be utterly realistic, but should befit the character and the story. As long as it does that, I'm happy.

 

I'm surprised transitions aren't mentioned as much. Weak transitions, to me, are bigger flaws than unrealistic selling. If they don't clearly show who is in control and who isn't it's easy to lose the crowd and ruin the flow of the match.

 

I'd rank my criteria as:

 

#1. Story/character.

#2. Heat.

#3. Transitions.

#4. Offense.

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