Beyond the Stars: It’s Time to Reimagine Match Ratings

Photo courtesy of AEW

Don’t tell Jesus, but the last religious experience I had was watching Bryan Danielson vs. Kenny Omega.

Danielson, in his first match with AEW, looked energized and inspired against the company’s top dog. We saw the American Dragon return to his pre-WWE level of aggression. We saw a dream match inside the largest tennis stadium in the world. We saw a gripping 30-minute draw that left Danielson’s chest the red of raw meat, that featured a merciless Omega flinging his opponent from the most precarious of positions.

I sat engrossed with a quickened pulse and a whirring heart, reminded of the Andre Gide quote: “Art is the collaboration between God and the artist.” And amid the afterglow that followed, here I was wondering how many stars out of five to give the match. How ill-fitting.

The five-star rating system has its place and its purpose, but it alone cannot capture what a fan experiences when watching a match.

I think it’s our natural instinct as humans to categorize, to organize this chaotic world into neat boxes. The five-star system helps us do that. We can track and rank our favorite matches of the year or of all time with a handy spreadsheet and a number between 0 and 5.

As an elementary school teacher, I can appreciate the attempt to quantify excellence. I have to give my students a numerical grade for their writing even if whatever rubric I come up with doesn’t fully measure creativity, voice, literary gumption, and passion put on a page. I need two digits to put into the gradebook.

With wrestling, I sometimes just need a number, too. When I am doing research for my Year of Years column, I often use Dave Meltzer’s ratings as a starting point. Uncle Dave and I won’t always agree, but if I see an All Japan six-man tag from 1994 got the five-star treatment from him, chances are I’m going to like it a lot.

When pressed for time, I lean on how fans rated matches on the GRAPPL app to know what to skip from a wrestling show and what to carve out time for. And be it for research or pleasure purposes, the 0-10 ratings fans give bouts on are super helpful. These all have their place, but we need something more.

There’s a disconnect between a mathematical approach to something so inherently emotion driven as wrestling.

We do not rate great paintings out of five stars. Although, it would personally tickle me to overhear people debating whether Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss is a 4.75 star painting or the full five. We instead speak of visual art in terms of what it makes us think about, how it makes us feel, what place it has in this ugly world of ours.  

We need this same approach when it comes to art of pro wrestling. We need ingenuity and new ideas in terms of how we rate matches.

Eastern Lariat and HappyWrestlingLand contributor @BeMcCooley has smartly cooked up a tier system where matches fall in the Good, Great, MOTYC (Match of the Year contender) levels. It still allows for organizing and quantifying while also not feeling as clinical as a number.

Inspired by that system, I crafted my own to use on my spreadsheets and columns. From worst to first, it goes:

  • Stinker
  • Underwhelmer
  • All-righter
  • Goodie
  • Banger
  • Classic
  • All-timer

This has been extremely useful when grouping bouts, to quickly communicate to a friend where I think a match sits.

Minoru Suzuki vs. Tomoaki Honma from this year’s New Japan Cup? Banger. WALTER taking on Tomasso Ciampa at NXT Stand and Deliver? Classic. Utami Hayashishita vs. Syuri-Stardom Tokyo Dream Cinderella? All-timer.

Let’s not stop there, though.

What if we also rated matches by counting how many times our stomachs fluttered? What if added up all the times we audibly gasped during an in-ring contest?

It is nowhere near as tidy as the stars, but what if we instead rated matches by how they made us feel? After watching Okada vs. EVIL or 5 Star Grand Prix Final, we could jot down “bored me” or “inspired me” in our match notebooks.

Can someone please start attaching a heart rate monitor to themselves while watching wrestling and use the average beats per minute as a rating system?

The more levels of ratings we have, the better. I want to be able to check a number on Cagematch, see what a match got in the Observer, check how it affected someone’s pulse, or see what Simpsons episode a match is compared to.

Let’s add layers to the ratings discourse. Let’s more closely encapsulate the greatness we see in the ring. It’s time to get crazy/creative because five stars ain’t enough.