Wrestling Lists and Star Rankings: Do They Matter?

I’ll admit, I had originally started this column as a pretext to decide my own WrestleMania Top 10 Match List. I had written down about 42 matches that I wanted to watch in full before I made that list. But, while writing this, and based on this year’s WrestleMania conversation, I’m taking a different approach. Somewhat. Plus, as of this writing, I’ve only been able to watch 11 of them completely. Every year from January to early April one of the most talked about things in WWE is your “Top 10 WrestleMania match list” and especially focused on everyone’s top favorite Mania match of all time, which 9/10 times is usually in 7/10 people’s Top Mania match list. I LOVE wrestling lists. These kind of Top 10 Lists in wrestling really started gaining popularity with Adam Blampied doing his wrestling lists starting in 2015 on WhatCulture and now on WrestleTalk/Parts FunKnown. I could spend hours watching his lists at night, and no one really does them better than he does (and, I’ll be honest with you, when I type out my Mansfield’s Matchups columns, I do it while typing it in his voice cause it really just makes everything come across a lot easier). And it was always interesting whenever he would list top 10 matches, especially his WrestleMania ones, to get his perspective. Now, there are MANY matches in WrestleMania history that are universally acclaimed, and others that aren’t and still make it onto either our or other fans’ lists. Not only do we as fans have our own lists, but we also rank them, typically on a 5 star count, and after every major wrestling event, many fans wait with baited breath to find out the Match Star Rankings given by Dave Meltzer and to see if his matches up with their own.

I’ll admit, I had originally started this column as a pretext to decide my own WrestleMania Top 10 Match List. But, while writing this, and based on this year’s WrestleMania conversation, I’m taking a different approach. Somewhat, anyways. So, what else inspired this little writeup? Two things, actually. Well, two people. One, Ariel Helwani. WWE on BT Sport posted on Twitter Helwani’s Top 10 WrestleManias and Top 10 WrestleMania matches and both received PLENTY of criticism from fans. His Top 10 Mania list which included WrestleMania IX, widely regarded by most fans as one of the top 5 worst WrestleManias in history. His Top 10 Mania matches brought their own controversy by only including Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels from WrestleMania 25 as the 4th of his 6 honorable mentions. Now, don’t get me wrong, his Top 10 had some amazing matches, a good amount that would probably be on my own list, but had, at least one or two, that left me scratching my head. The second, the man who can’t seem to stay out of controversy as of late, is of course, Ric Flair. After Charlotte vs. Ronsa Rousey’s SmackDown Women’s Championship match which went on second to last on Night 1 of WrestleMania 38, the Nature Boy tweeted (and I shit you not), that it was, “the greatest women’s wrestling match i’ve ever seen” and thanked them for, “changing the game”. That, of course, left many scratching their heads, and many flat out said that it wasn’t even the best of the two women’s matches on the card, let alone in history. Now, I’m going to take the unpopular route here and say, apart from the ref bump screwy finish, I really did enjoy this match very much. It was better than Charlotte vs. Asuka a few years ago and the Winner Take All Triple Threat from Mania 35, but not the greatest in history by any stretch. Ric being Charlotte’s daddy, though, it’s not hard to see why he said it. We all rank different matches differently. And while we may rank matches differently, there is still a group of fans who wait with baited breath to find out the Match Star Rankings given by Wrestling Observer Newsletter founder Dave Meltzer and to see if his number of stars matches up with their own for a particular match. Most wrestling fans of course know about good ol’Dave Meltzer’s match ratings and some either swear by it, or, to quote our own dear Virtue, think that, “Meltzer knows absolutely nothing about what makes a wrestling match great, good, average, or bad. He’s just a fan with an opinion”. Regardless of your opinion on Mr. Meltzer (believe me, I have my own), whether you think he is the wrestling match granddaddy or a mark for himself, something Virtue said I think hits to the core of all of this, that Meltzer is, “a fan with an opinion”. All of us are fans and we all have opinions. And it is our opinions, as fans, that help decide which matches are great. Now, yes, some fans are professional wrestling journalists and “insiders”, whose opinions can matter more because their voices are projected louder thanks to the platforms on which they deliver their content, and your thoughts on those platforms and voices, no matter if it’s Wrestling Observer, Fightful, WrestleTalk, Ringside News, Givemesport, Cultaholic, What Culture, us here at NoDQ, and a great many others I’m probably forgetting, do obviously factor in on how much you treat their wrestling word as wrestling gospel. And yes, some of these personalities who make their career and livelihoods out of writing, studying, and living professional wrestling absolutely do have the right to have their voices heard as some type of authority on ranking professional wrestling matches. Heck, even WWE themselves do it by telling us what we should think the proper rankings should be when they release their own lists. But, at the end of the day, we are all fans of the great entertainment sport of professional wrestling and we all have our own opinions, our own star rankings, and our own lists. I originally started this in an attempt to make my own Top 10 WrestleMania Match List, but I’m still going through a lot of matches people consider to be some of the greatest. But the question remains: how do we go about making our own lists, typically? If I wanted to just be completely biased, I could easily just fill it with Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Edge, and Shane McMahon matches. But that list would probably not be taken very seriously with all the amazing matches it might neglect, so that’s not happening. But we do have our own qualifiers, and In the very not professional writer opinion of a 25 year old who actually does live in my sister’s basement, in no particular order, here’s how we all pretty much break it down (insert “suck it” crotch chop here).

1 – Storyline. The storyline leading up to a WrestleMania match can very much determine how the crowd will react to a match on the night. A perfect example is Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar I & II, or Drew McIntyre vs. Baron Corbin, if you don’t care about the story going in, than the guys and gals in the ring have to work extra hard to make it something special and not just be wrestling in front of perpetual boos, or even worse, silence. Sometimes wrestlers can make up for it in the ring, sometimes not, but the storyline really helps make or break a match.

2 – Characters. The larger the character, the greater we think the match will be and the more we care about the match. Now, sometimes a match can have one great character and one terrible character and it turns out way better than people thought. But other times, it can make people just not care, despite the in-ring work (See any and all of Baron Corbin’s WrestleMania matches). Sometimes two characters are all you need for a match to be an instant classic, like Edge or Cody Rhodes. But even if the characters are big, if they are too polarizing, it can turn the fans in a second (see Reigns vs. Lesnar Mania 34).

3 – Crowd. Every wrestler will say that they feed off the live crowd in a match. A wrestler must listen to the crowd to determine what to do. But there are times when a crowd just doesn’t care about a match. I remember being in Cleveland for Fastlane 2019 and no one in that arena gave a crap about the Triple Threat WWE Title Match with Daniel Bryan, Kevin Owens, and Mustafa Ali because there was no Kofi Kingston, even though looking back, it was really good. Now, on the flip side, a crowd being electric for a great match can burn the crowd out for later and so matches that otherwise would be considered really good or even great have no heat to them because the crowd is exhausted. I think that was a part of what happened on the post-Raw Mania this year with the crowd being exhausted after two straight nights of WrestleMania.

4 – Stakes. What is on the line? Why does this match matter? What is at stake to make us care? The stakes of a match can elevate a good match to a great match and can even help elevate the in-ring work. You look at Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels Streak vs. Career, the stakes helped elevate it and made it one of the best Mania main events. You look at Bianca Belair this year at WrestleMania, getting a title back from Becky to get retribution for her loss at SummerSlam with it being make or break for her against a woman who has, while being active, held championship gold perpetually since WrestleMania 35 in 2019, making everyone wonder who can actually beat her for the title.

5 – In-ring. The in-ring work is, of course, the main thing that makes a match great. Now, does every match have to have the best in-ring work ever to make it an all time great? No, just look at basically all of Hogan’s matches, yet his are still widely talked about (vs. Rock at Mania 18, vs. Savage at IV, Warrior at VI, and of course Andre at III) even though the person Terry Bollea is persona non grata in wrestling right now. But a match has to deliver in-ring. For the crowd to stay invested, for the storyline to pay off, the match itself must deliver. Just look at some of the in-ring greats like Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Rey Mysterio, etc. A great part of what makes them great is their in-ring work in their matches. If a match is too slow or does it end too quick, or if a match is just a finisher spam fest, it won’t be as memorable, no matter who’s in it, what’s the storyline, or what’s on the line (Yes, looking at you Reigns vs. Lesnar).

The qualifications of how we choose to rank a wrestling match are not necessarily in any order, nor should they be, because we all choose which things are more important in a wrestling match. Some may value the storyline and stakes of a match over its in-ring work or vice-versa. But when all of those things align with a good majority of the fans, I think that’s when you can say a match is truly great. Do some reporters or even wrestlers opinions have some more weight than the average fan at home or in the stands? Sometimes. And the fans will say together when a reporter, journalist, writer, or legend is completely off their rocker in their own bias or favoritism, as Virtue does with Meltzer, and like most of Wrestling Twitter did with The Nature Boy on Saturday. But we all need to realize that there’s a variety of opinions, a variety of options, and a variety of styles when it comes to wrestling and matches and what we think. I think it’s awesome when we are able to come together and agree on amazing wrestling matches, like this past weekend with Becky/Belair, Seth/Cody, and Edge/AJ, and it’s just as okay when we’re divided on Roman/Borck, Charlotte/Rhonda, and so many other matches. Wrestling has something for everyone, and that’s one of its beauties, but what a beauty it is when we can all come together and say, “Wow. What a match”. And that, not just the guys and gals in the ring, helps shape wrestling history into what it was, what it is, and what it will become. And that, in the end, is why lists and match rankings, not just by the pros, but by the fans, matter.