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Judging matches

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When did you start breaking down matches?

I was thinking about this topic a couple of weeks ago and was just reminded by the discussion about the Raw 10 man tag. I was nearly 20 when I first saw that match. I'd long known wrestling wasn't real, I read PowerSlam so I had a little bit of "inside" knowledge but even at that point, I didn't remotely try to break matches down to judge them.

I had favourite matches. Some of them I can look back now and put into words when I did or didn't like certain things but back then, I'd say my system was completely based on immediate reaction and gut instinct. My gut generally told me that if IRS, Jimmy Snuka or the like was on my screen, I wasn't going to enjoy it much. But it also told me straight after Warrior/Savage, Bret/Austin, HBK/Undertaker, Cactus/HHH, etc that they were bloody fantastic and I'd need to watch them again and again.

I reckon it was when I started subscribing to the Torch that I started to break everything down to the nth degree. A subtle change to watching shows and immediately reviewing things in my head as to whether they were good or bad and why. Going from lurker to poster on here gave an outlet to write about it and probably crushed the enjoyment even further.

It is pandora's box too isn't it? You're never going back to just watching, enjoying/not enjoying and moving on. You can never get away from over-analysing once you've started.

Outside of wrestling, I think modern technology and the pace of life has also made me completely impatient. The urge to constantly do something else while watching something is something I have to fight. None more so that in wrestling. i think that might have killed it for me anyway even if the rest hadn't.

Edited by tiger_rick

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I think it came in phases.

Working a company where the vast majority of our shows are geared towards young kids has been an eye-opener in reminding me what kids get out of wrestling in the first place - most kids watching wrestling don't really have any concept of a "good match", they just think the guys who look cool are cool, and that the ones who win all the time are the best. And that was probably the only way I watched wrestling during my first stint as a fan.

When I got back into it in 2000, I think I almost immediately went into more of a "smart fan" guise, even if I didn't really know anything yet, as that was the culture around fandom at the time. I started buying magazines and books and reading up online and everything else, but I still don't think I was necessarily breaking down matches so much as stories - second-guessing what might happen next week, trying to get insider gossip on what the big reveal was going to be. I started to recognise that there were people in the midcard that were "better" than people in the main event, even if I couldn't necessarily articulate why.

The combination of magazines and the internet, and Mick Foley's first book, opened my eyes to wrestling outside of the big two, and my (a little too late) diehard ECW fanboying played strongly into crafting an idea of what constituted "good" wrestling, and made me think that the WWF were doing it wrong by not letting everyone have Good Matches all the time, all the usual nonsense.


It was about 7 or 8 years ago that I started training/working in wrestling, and probably a year into that before I really started getting a grasp of psychology. I mentioned in the other thread that we watched that RAW ten-man tag at a psychology seminar, and it was an exercise in breaking it down into the key storytelling points, and I was recognising when the key shifts were when other people in the room weren't. Since I started learning about it, I've felt like I have a strong grasp of the psychology and the storytelling techniques underpinning wrestling, of why certain things are done, and what they're intended to achieve. So if I'm breaking down matches now, it tends to be on those terms. I've never been a star rating guy - I couldn't articulate to you why Match A was a four star match but Match B five stars, nor would I want to; I'd rather talk about the story, and how well executed that was. If it took a corkscrew top-rope piledriver and a powerbomb to the apron to get there, or a sunset flip and an atomic drop, doesn't bother me so much as whether it was in the service of the narrative.

I disagree that I can't go back to watching in the same light, though. A great match can still garner an emotional response, and still make you watch through the eyes of a fan. A good story can either make you forget all the insider gossip and knowledge, or else incorporate that - rather than pretending the audience doesn't know what's going on, make that part of the story, and work the people who think they're above being worked. In the past couple of years, I've lost my voice cheering for matches at live shows where the result was pretty much signposted from the beginning if you know what you're looking for, and I've cried at hard-earned babyface wins, because when you tell the story properly, it doesn't matter if you know how it works. 

Watching on TV is a little different, in that - especially with WWE camera techniques - I don't feel part of the audience, so don't feel part of the story, and I'm more likely to watch dispassionately, and with a more critical eye. Even then, if I'm watching with friends, I tend to get caught up in the moment of good matches one way or another, and maybe only look back critically after the fact. I'd say I watch differently, but I wouldn't say that the different is worse.

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It was probably around the time of The Wrestling Channel turning up, suddenly getting so many alternatives to WWE (where 'good' or 'bad' didn't really matter, it was more about the storyline) and then popping online to the TWC Forums and the SmackDown HCTP message boards which made me start thinking about that sort of thing. There was maybe an element of it from having read Mick Foley's book, but that affected the way I thought about how things were put together rather than quality.

Then, as now, my favourite matches are ones that

(i) do something I've never seen before - like the stunts in TLCII or the counter-counter-counter of RVD vs Lynn at Living Dangerously or the sheer shock of Goldberg vs Lesnar at Survivor Series

(ii) have high stakes or high drama, like Taker vs HHH at WM27 or Savage vs Warrior at WM7 or Bret vs Owen in the cage 

(iii) get me caught up in either the action or the story, suspending my disbelief so I'm watching either as a legitimate athletic contest - Nakamura vs Zayn at Takeover, where I didn't mind who won but was utterly engrossed - or in just caring, wanting my favourite one to win or overcome the odds or just defeat the bad guy - like Michaels vs HHH at Summerslam 2002.

Edited by HarmonicGenerator

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