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How do you factor in agents/trainers when evaluating wrestlers?

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This is a topic I've seen brought up before, but never really discussed purely in depth. As more promotions treat streaming as a big source of revenue, I'm finding myself shifting away from thinking of matches as just happening in themselves and shifting into thinking of matches for their overall place in the TV production. Matches have become like movies with wrestlers playing the role of actors. You've got camera crews, production people, screenplay writers/bookers, narrators/commentators, and directors/agents. When a great movie comes out, a director often gets just as much praise for it as the lead actors, so why not think of wrestling in similar terms?

 

The wrestler that really opened my eyes up to this was Gail Kim. In her first TNA run she was great, but when she came back to WWE she was nearly getting herself killed botching things left and right. Then she came back to TNA and was great again. How do you explain something like that without taking into account the role of the agents and trainers in her work? My initial reaction was just to think that she was exposed in her WWE run, but now it's a bit more nuanced than that. You can't just pull some random girl off the street and expect her to have a run like Kim in TNA. She might have needed some help, but she was still a great asset to the company. She was a cog who happened to fit a hell of a lot better in the TNA wheel than the WWE one.

 

The common argument, then, is to say to look at someone in a bunch of different settings and base your evaluation on patterns that you notice. Still, that really only works when looking at the territorial era and doesn't work so well when looking at guys who have the bulk of their work in one or two promotions. It's impossible to completely pin down how much a WWE talent is contributing to their matches versus an agent, but this exactly how it should be when looking it as a TV production. You're supposed to fall in love with the characters and not the people writing the lines.

 

The more I think about it, though, the more preposterous it seems to rate wrestlers solely based on what we see in the ring. When you watch a movie, you can praise the actor's deliver but you don't give them credit for every line they deliver like we seem inclined to do with what happens in the ring. I think this why, when people rate actors, they look at the whole package and their impact on the industry rather than just what happens on-screen. The WWE GWE with the NJPW criteria seems a step in the right direction, but I've heard that encountered some difficulties with people ignoring the criteria and just rating however they'd like.

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The thing is, as much as an agent can be instrumental in laying out a framework or giving advice on certain ideas or whatever, you still need two or more people in the ring clicking and doing that stuff correctly to make a good match. In the same way that your special teams coach can run you through all manner of drills and prepare you for the play and set you in the right direction, you still have to be the one out there on the field catching the punt and running it down. For the most part good training or good production or good agenting can't cover up a total lack of skill/instinct/confidence/etc., or at least not to the same degree that a good wrestler in the ring with someone lacking those things can, I think.

 

There's also the problem that we don't really know who's agenting what most of the time. That sheet for Backlash or whatever it was got out and that was a neat peek behind the curtains, but beyond just having a general list of names we don't know who's covering what matches in WWE, right? TNA has agents from what I understand but I'm even more in the dark there. The way certain office guys are mentioned in New Japan it sounds like the same position is being filled there, but I don't know for a fact. This isn't as easy as going on IMDb and looking up who the cinematographer was on a certain flick; there's a bigger barrier to praising good agenting in wrestling.

 

It's not like this shouldn't be considered when evaluating wrestling to some degree. One of the most common excuses you'll hear about people failing in WWE for any period of time is bad agenting. That's as much a part of booking as who wins and who loses, if not more so. I just don't know how we, in this current state, can evaluate this influence thoroughly.

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I think this is a very valid point. Don't know if it is true or not, but suposedly the reason why the WWE referees wear those ear pieces at TV now a days is so that the agent can call the match instead of the wrestlers.

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If a wrestler I like agented a match that I thought was good, I deem him to be a good agent.

 

If a wrestler I don’t like agented a bad match involving a wrestler I do like, I put the blame on the agent.

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I don't. Wrestling is about execution.

 

You don't think there's a huge difference of talent between a guy who's able to execute a script and a guy who's able to put his own match together or even call it in the ring ?

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Short answer: I factor in everything we know at all times. But we work off of incomplete information. All we can do is look for patterns.

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It's not like this shouldn't be considered when evaluating wrestling to some degree. One of the most common excuses you'll hear about people failing in WWE for any period of time is bad agenting. That's as much a part of booking as who wins and who loses, if not more so. I just don't know how we, in this current state, can evaluate this influence thoroughly.

Pretty much agree with all of that. I am not saying that people who use agents are talentless or that we should shift into giving all the credit for great matches onto the agents. I am saying that the way we speak of great wrestlers should evolve just as the business itself has evolved. A guy being able to go out and call a great match with a broomstick hasn't been the primary factor in them useful to a promotion in a long time, and the way we speak of wrestling should reflect. I think it would be better to take a more holistic view in evaluating wrestlers with things like their utility to the company they worked for, their influence on other works, and even how well they promote themselves. It shouldn't just be who has the most matches on tape that.

 

 

I don't. Wrestling is about execution.

 

You don't think there's a huge difference of talent between a guy who's able to execute a script and a guy who's able to put his own match together or even call it in the ring ?

 

I think there is a big difference. No matter how talented somebody is at calling things on the fly, you're never gonna see them have a match like Misawa/Kobashi 1/20/97 without some pretty extensive planning beforehand. I also brought up the Gail Kim example to show how agents and trainers can have a big effect on the execution side of things.

 

Short answer: I factor in everything we know at all times. But we work off of incomplete information. All we can do is look for patterns.

The more think about it, the more it seems like we have such incomplete information that it just isn't right to try to rank guys based exclusively on in-ring ability when we haven't actually been in the ring with them ourselves. The counter I've seen brought up to this line of thinking in the past is that you don't have to be a chef to know what food tastes, but the way I see it we aren't even tasting the food. What we did with the GWE would be like ranking a bunch of dishes solely based on how delicious they LOOK to us while no one actually had the opportunity to go in and actually try them. For all the criticism that "great match theory" got at the time, I feel like the dominant mode of criticizing wrestlers is basically a variant of that which I like to call "great style theory." All you're really doing with great style theory is ranking styles, putting the guys with a lot of stuff on tape from the style that the voter likes at the top of the list. Guys who don't have a whole lot of conventionally great matches or who don't have much on tape get shafted, even if they were hugely influential and highly regarded by the people they worked with.

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We dont really know the inner workings of any creative endeavour. All we can do is judge the final product. If certain folks get a disproportional amount of credit for the final result then thats the way it goes. Its not like the booker or road agent are looking to take credit for authoring the match. What they do is behind the scenes and meant to make the wrestlers look good. The same thing happens all the time in music, movies and television so while it would be great to praise matches as a collective effort I dont think its something we can achieve without production credits.

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I started to wonder how training played a role into things when New Japan World hit and I could see the Young Lions work more. They send guys out there that have wrestled a handful of matches and they look more competent than guys like Mojo Rawley who had been doing it for years. And it was an across the board thing.

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We dont really know the inner workings of any creative endeavour. All we can do is judge the final product. If certain folks get a disproportional amount of credit for the final result then thats the way it goes. Its not like the booker or road agent are looking to take credit for authoring the match. What they do is behind the scenes and meant to make the wrestlers look good. The same thing happens all the time in music, movies and television so while it would be great to praise matches as a collective effort I dont think its something we can achieve without production credits.

 

Pretty much this.

 

Plus I find when the agent issue is pushed heavily it's usually as a way to criticise women wrestlers disproportionately. Except you Matt, you're a different egg and I get you.

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This is the age old singer-songwriter vs singer debate that has raged forever in music.

 

Singer only: I think it takes nothing away from Elvis that he never wrote a song in his entire life. Elvis, in my opinion and in others, is still considered the greatest male singer of all time. He still had to execute the vision of the songwriters. Everyone knows what Elvis sounds like.

 

Songwriter: But songwriters should get a shoutout too. I am a huge fan of Max Martin. He had 9 straight years with a number one single from 2008-2016, with last year being the first year without a number one. If you pay attention, you can pick out a Max Martin song because of the big chorus, the driving rhythm guitar and power drums that drive the dance aesthetic. Having worked with Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, & Taylor Swift, you can hear how he transformed these larger than life personalities with his writing style, but also adapted his paradigm to their personality. I think his greatest achievement was working with the thinner voice of Taylor Swift and still managing to create catchy pop music without forcing her into his style of big choruses.

 

Singer-Songwriter: I have massive respect for those people that can write music and sing it, but lets face the Beatles caused a lot of people that shouldn't be writing songs to write songs. I think there is an unfair emphasis that you have to both write and execute in order to be considered great.

 

I am afraid that in this new era of wrestling where the Singer-Songwriters are disappearing and we will have Singers that execute a Songwriters' vision that the new Singers will be unfairly penalized. Elvis is still the GOAT. The wrestlers of today can still be great. I love a good layout and a good narrative but it still needs to be executed with energy, urgency and feel. I got into debates with Matt D over Demolition. Demolition matches have great layouts! It is undeniable. The matches however bore me to death.

 

A great layout or a great Songwriter does not necessarily beget great wrestling. It is a combination of layout and work that begets great wrestling. Thus the workers still have to work.

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I think we're veering slightly, but I heavily value writers over artists in comics too and screenwriting over cinematography, so at least I'm consistent?

(I'd also argue about specific Demolition performances, and I think you're higher on their heel work in general layout/energy aside, but that's not for here).

 

Some of this goes into "Calling in the ring" vs "Planning things out." too. Also the idea of intent. There's a lot to unpack here.

 

I think one thing which really doesn't matter for this argument, however, is what other wrestlers feel unless we can make a connection between those feelings and the footage, positive or negative. Do we care whether Lance Storm was a light touch with a chair if the chair shot looked terrible and took away from the match? I don't blame him for not wanting to hurt someone but I do blame himself for letting himself be talked into doing a spot that he can't actually execute both safely and while looking good. Do we care if wrestlers liked working with Brody because he never got winded when the stuff he was doing with that wind was often crummy both in layout AND execution? On the other hand, if someone's a light touch but his stuff looks great or if he has amazing cardio and does amazing things with it, I think maybe those could be useful things to know. If someone's a heavy touch and his stuff looks good? Well, maybe that's good to know too. But it's how WE use it to judge; that's the point. As viewers, we don't inherently judge wrestling/value skills of wrestlers the same way other wrestlers do and nor should we.

 

We are judging something very specific. It goes without saying. We're not judging "this is the best wrestler ever" so much as "this is the best wrestler ever based on footage and the elements we can discern and that we value." Does footwork matter? Only in as it leads to the final product. Now, maybe it does and you just need to watch five hundred matches with a specific wrestler to figure out exactly how (or some sort of comparative experiment). For instance: I've watched enough wrestling to know that Cass' wavy-armed selling of Daniel Bryan's kicks is probably ineffective and distracting relative to how other people might sell those. That's an out there example, and I couldn't tell you the first thing about Cass' foot positioning, but I know guys like Edge and Christian and Austin have talked about how it's the first thing they watch in a wrestler (Well, Austin watches lockups, and maybe because of that I've come to pay attention to the initial lock up in a match a lot more than I used to).

 

There's a lot of stuff to unpack. There are inputs and there's an overall output and you can work out a lot of those inputs and the effect/output they generate/lead to, though absolutely not all, by watching enough wrestling closely. It's part of why wrestling is so great to analyze.

 

To me, great matches were the starting point, not the ending point. You come out of a great match and then think "Ok, I felt like this was a great match. Why?"

 

(Sorry for all the edits)

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I do think we are veering away from things, so I will try to put my point into simpler terms: Wrestlers in major league promotions these days have to do quite a bit more than just lay out a good match and perform it well in the ring. To make an impact, there's so much they have to do besides just having good matches. Further, the "lay out a good match" part of that is increasingly slipping out of their hands as the business has shifted to agents laying matches out extensively ahead of time. To rate wrestlers based solely on their perceived in-ring ability is not only an incomplete way of looking at things but also just flat-out incorrect in many cases.

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The more think about it, the more it seems like we have such incomplete information that it just isn't right to try to rank guys based exclusively on in-ring ability when we haven't actually been in the ring with them ourselves. The counter I've seen brought up to this line of thinking in the past is that you don't have to be a chef to know what food tastes, but the way I see it we aren't even tasting the food. What we did with the GWE would be like ranking a bunch of dishes solely based on how delicious they LOOK to us while no one actually had the opportunity to go in and actually try them. For all the criticism that "great match theory" got at the time, I feel like the dominant mode of criticizing wrestlers is basically a variant of that which I like to call "great style theory." All you're really doing with great style theory is ranking styles, putting the guys with a lot of stuff on tape from the style that the voter likes at the top of the list. Guys who don't have a whole lot of conventionally great matches or who don't have much on tape get shafted, even if they were hugely influential and highly regarded by the people they worked with.

 

A lot of this I don't think is right.

 

First of all, I don't really get how ranking wrestlers is like ranking dishes just by looking at each dish. Wrestling is supposed to be consumed just by looking at it. Fans aren't supposed to have a deeper experience than that. I don't see how that ties into the food analogy. When you see some article like "We tried every major fast food burger--see which one ranks best!" it never goes into detail beyond what's on the burger, how it's presented, what it tastes like. There's no behind the scenes, here's how it's made information, just the things any consumer can sense when they buy it.

 

I joined this site during the big ranking project, and even though I didn't vote and barely made any comments I knew that there were plenty of people talking about how they weren't going on conventionally great matches and taking risks on guys who didn't have much on tape. Arn Anderson made the top twenty, didn't he? We don't have as much information as those who actually participate in the matches, that's true, but it's not like the exercise was an attempt to determine who had objectively contributed the most to quality professional wrestling in its history. If the project had been more like that and required participants to cite arguments with opinions of other wrestlers, it would have gotten a hell of a lot less participation. Probably less interest in the results too. Even then, why should I care about Chris Jericho's opinion of Ric Flair when he's never stepped in the ring with Mick McManus? No one was claiming to know more than those people. They were making the best list they could, and most people wouldn't have done so if theirs would have been the only list and their biases wouldn't have had any other ballots to balance them out.

 

I think anyone could tell it was halfway between "greatest wrestler ever" and "wrestler I most enjoy watching" and that the end result would always skew towards certain styles. That can be frustrating, but judging one style as subjectively less enjoyable than another isn't a whole lot different from judging one wrestler's bumping style as subjectively less enjoyable than another's.

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That's one area where I get annoyed with people that try to minimize Stan Lee's contributions to Marvel Comics. Yeah, Jack Kirby's art is great and Ditko's Spiderman is iconic. But what makes those Silver Age Marvel stories what they are is the unified voice from Lee.

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The "unified voice" idea is an interesting one and useful in this context, I think. When you have Vince steering the ship on an entire show that he wants done a particular way or Patterson laying out how a big Rumble should work, you get a central idea behind a big piece of work for better or for worse. But when you have six sub-ten minute matches on RAW with six different agents saying how they should go you're spreading that influence out more and more, which can be good in some cases but often is just sort of jumbled, I think we can agree. More and more it feels like that unified voice is being delineated out to other, smaller voices. It's less of a lengthy novel and more a collection of short stories by different authors.

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I don't. Wrestling is about execution.

You don't think there's a huge difference of talent between a guy who's able to execute a script and a guy who's able to put his own match together or even call it in the ring ?

There is but since we arent privy to the details of how matches are put together most of the time, I can only call what I see.

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I do think we are veering away from things, so I will try to put my point into simpler terms: Wrestlers in major league promotions these days have to do quite a bit more than just lay out a good match and perform it well in the ring. To make an impact, there's so much they have to do besides just having good matches. Further, the "lay out a good match" part of that is increasingly slipping out of their hands as the business has shifted to agents laying matches out extensively ahead of time. To rate wrestlers based solely on their perceived in-ring ability is not only an incomplete way of looking at things but also just flat-out incorrect in many cases.

In this case, I wonder why they dont just make every single match exactly what it should be, whether thats to be great or to accomplish a more specific goal. Why is there sometimes failure?

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We dont really know the inner workings of any creative endeavour. All we can do is judge the final product.

This sounds like Great Match Theory. 😀

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Is the wrestler good or bad? That requires some degree of knowledge beyond just watching, I suppose, depending on your outlook.

 

Is the match good or bad? You can answer that question by just watching.

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I do agree that it is hard to properly credit the agents or producers backstage for a good match because the information is usually not available to the fans, however the reality is that at this point the wrestlers are more like just actors who plays a role in the match, with directions coming from those in the backstage area. I also think there is a correlation between there being a lot of solid matches nowadays and the power of planning matches being stripped from wrestlers and given to the agents. I think there are a lot of wrestlers in WWE, males and females both, who we think are good, because they have the benefit of having someone there with the wrestlers to help merge both the overarching storyline and the in-match story being told in a way that makes sense (for the most part). Wrestlers are no longer required to call the matches so those who can are just luxuries that the WWE doesn't utilize very much in the way they used to be.

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I think there are a lot of wrestlers in WWE, males and females both, who we think are good, because they have the benefit of having someone there with the wrestlers to help merge both the overarching storyline and the in-match story being told in a way that makes sense (for the most part).

 

Agreed. Which is why I'd say that by default, most of the WWE-only workers are overrated by default. Unless they go work in a different context where everything is not as micro-managed, there's no way of knowing what they are really able to do outside the context of machine. I'd argue that Kurt Angle became a better worker in TNA. Ditto Christian Cage. That's from current viewing experience.

 

Is the match good or bad? You can answer that question by just watching.

 

 

True. But we can't ignore what we know about the context (ie : the agenting, for instance Pat Patterson putting Hogan vs Warrior at Mania 6 together and them rehearsing it) and the workers in question from other matches or simply verified informations (like Flair & Steamboat calling it in the ring, but also having worked a hundred times together, or Savage and DDP laying it in advance and getting the best matches ever out of super limited guys in the process)

 

Then again, the match being good/bad is very subjective. Meanwhile, a match can be poor but one of the guys involved can be clearly responsible for it sucking, while the other still has a good showing. From there, you can point to positives and negatives about each worker, the match itself being less important in putting out an evaluation.

 

And then again, all of it is from an outside perspective, where only matters what is produced. The production itself we could not give a shit about, which is where stuff like people loving to work with Kane or Randy Orton comes from, despite the fact it doesn't matter in the end result, seen from the audience's perspective.

 

So yeah, what do we know... ;)

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We dont really know the inner workings of any creative endeavour. All we can do is judge the final product.

This sounds like Great Match Theory.

 

 

I can't remember if I was for or against Great Match Theory.

 

People can appreciate different aspects of the finished product but if I'm enjoying a match because of a wrestler's technique, for example, I never think about how it felt to be the guy he was wrestling. Just like I never think about how many takes it took to shoot a scene or whose idea it was to shoot something a certain way. Those things would be interesting to know but I don't think the people involved want you to know them.

 

I think you can judge a wrestler by how consistently good they are. Whose stuff always looks good? Who always gives a solid performance? That sort of thing. Personally. I just like whoever I like at the moment but just like there are actors who can give good performances in bad films or with lousy scripts there are ways to judge wrestlers regardless of pre-production. I get the point about the modern worker and the new requirements they're faced with but even in that context surely it's possible to gauge who does a better job of working the agent style than others.

 

The original point about Kim may have had as much to do with her not adjusting to the WWE house style as it did any failing on the production side. How many times did we see someone jump ship to the WWE and struggle to adjust to the wrestling style? In some cases it took them years to learn how to wrestle the "WWF way."

 

Anyway, this is all very complicated. I like the guys who wrestle well and make interesting faces.

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I don't. Wrestling is about execution.

You don't think there's a huge difference of talent between a guy who's able to execute a script and a guy who's able to put his own match together or even call it in the ring ?

There is but since we arent privy to the details of how matches are put together most of the time, I can only call what I see.

 

 

Even if you know you're comparing Apples to Oranges if you're comparing a New Japan match vs. a WWE match based on one having no agent layout / input vs. one that you know does?

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