Featured image by Jackson Krule

In the last couple of entries in this series, I talked about some of the finer detail involved in critiquing wrestling matches. God knows there’s a lot left to cover, even if just to break down and elaborate upon all the things I’ve already discussed. There’ll be another time and place for that, I hope.

But for now, I just want to pull back from the more granular elements of wrestling matches and end with some general reminders. These are all things that I’ve found in the wrestling criticism I like to read, and they’re as much reminders for myself as anyone reading this. With any luck, they’ll be helpful to you too.

  • All matches are a product of a time and place.

I watch a lot of matches from a lot of different eras and promotions, and even then, this is something that bares repeating. Context matters Matches don’t exist in a bubble. There’s absolutely value in examining and critiquing a match for how it stands alone, on its own merits. But really, the more one understands about everything that surrounds a match, the better one can understand the match itself.

There’s the basic stuff to consider. What’s the buildup to this match, and how does that play into the choices made in the ring? How does the match fit into the broader narrative that the workers are telling? All these are the simple questions we all naturally ask anyway.

But it’s better to extend that thought process out further. It’s important to situate a match within its promotion and era. An average 2022 WWE match works differently than an average 2022 AEW match. That’s just talking about the top two North American companies in the world, it gets far more complex and interesting once you bring in all the vast international variety that wrestling offers.

This awareness should also extend out beyond the pro wrestling bubble. After all, these matches are products of the general societies that they’re situated in. One can see this in regional ways, like the long-discussed differences between southern rasslin’ and northeastern wrestling back in the territory days. It’s true for how Mexican lucha libre differs from Japanese puroresu. And even within each of those subgroups, one can further analyze the socioeconomic climate of a time and how that affects pro wrestling. The industry is littered with examples well worth dissecting. From things like Sgt. Slaughter’s heel run in 1991 to how cultural forces dictated mandatory early retirement for joshi stars, there’s lots to talk about in regards to wrestling fits in with the world at large.

Not every piece of criticism has to be that thorough, but if you spot something that catches your eye, it might be worth interrogating further.

  • Feel free to connect your criticism to other media.

I’ve talked a lot in this series about how much of our language for criticizing wrestling gets taken from criticism of other media. It’s possible to at least be honest about that and maximize it for all it’s worth.

The obvious ones would be to compare pro wrestling to TV and movie. Those are comparisons that wrestling invites, given the platforms it often takes up. In fact, the relation to film has been directly made by one of the most important figures in pro wrestling history: Vince McMahon. In an interview for the documentary, Beyond the Mat, he famously stated, “We make movies.”

Another obvious comparison would be pro wrestling’s relationship to theater—a discussion often had due to the live aspect of pro wrestling as a performance art. But really, the possibilities here for critics is endless. In my time consuming both wrestling and criticism of it, I’ve seen the medium discussed in relation to music, literature, and paintings.

Try as it might, wrestling doesn’t exist in a bubble, and neither do we. Our opinions of this form of art are influenced by the things we know about other forms as well. There’s space to examine those intersections in meaningful ways.

Perhaps the one caveat I must add here is that it’s important to remember that wrestling is still it’s own thing. Bringing other media into the equation is good to enrich the discussion, but it’s important to always understand what wrestling is on its own. At the end of the day, pro wrestling has its own history, traditions, and conventions that simply can not be replicated in any other medium. That uniqueness shouldn’t be sacrificed when expanding the dialogue.

  • Sometimes, you need to trust the vibes.

I feel like this series has been talking about wrestling criticism in a very clinical way. I could see how one might get the impression that I’m painting a picture of a purely intellectual exercise. As wrestling fans, we all know that doesn’t tell the whole story. Emotion plays a big part in how we talk about wrestling. After all every match works to elicit a wide variety of emotions—sympathy, indignance, triumph, defeat.

Let yourself feel the match. Even beyond that, sometimes matches leave even more abstract impressions. Sometimes, the vibes are just right.

Don’t deny those impressions and feelings. Hold on to them, let it inform your criticism. What’s important though, is to interrogate those feelings. What aspects of the match brought them about? Did it have something to do with the crowd, the venue, or the specific actions in the ring? Poke and prod at those raw feelings, slice them open and see what’s inside.

Trust the vibes, but don’t be afraid to find what lies beneath.

  • Read more criticism.

There’s a lot of great wrestling criticism out there, one just needs to know where to look. The message boards are always a great start. Find any of the big ones and look up threads that talk about specific matches, or specific wrestlers, see the discussions happening and what people disagree about. At best, you’ll find some really insightful work that helps broaden your horizons and sharpen your critical senses. At worst, you’ll find some truly psychotic forum arguments.

Sounds like a win-win to me.

Outside of that, there’s a whole host of blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, and Twitch streams worth diving into. Some of these are from fans who have been dedicated to analyzing wrestling for decades, others from veterans of the industry looking to share their thoughts on the artform. If it exists in pro wrestling, someone’s written about it or done a podcast about it. Seek out thoughts about wrestling you’ve never heard of, seek out diverging opinions from your own.

Find the critics that speak to your own sensibilities, or the ones that make the best cases for opinions you don’t hold. Discard the rest. Let them inform how you see wrestling, and then examine the ways in which you diverge. It’s in the differences, however big or small, that you’ll find your own voice as a critic.

  • Your opinions can change at any moment.

Give yourself the room to have your mind changed. It doesn’t have to happen often or even at all. More important than you actually changing your mind is simply an acceptance that it can happen without you even knowing it.

There’s always space for reevaluation, not just of your own opinions but of the widely held ones that others have. Reevaluation and retrospective are some of the most fun that I personally have as a wrestling fan because there’s always a certain thrill in pushing back against long-established wisdoms. On the other end of the spectrum, reliving joy and opinions is its own reward as well. There’s always cause to question the things you think you know about wrestling.

And besides, a change of opinion, when it does happen, opens up new opportunities for discussion. What changed? Was it entirely about your personal tastes? If so, what brought about that change of preference? Perhaps something about pro wrestling itself has changed. It may have gone in some new direction that casts everything before it in a different light. All good questions any critic should keep in mind.

  • Stay curious.

You’ll never truly know just how much out there you don’t know.

It feels like every few years, some new development in technology, preservation, or distribution opens up entirely new knowledge to pro wrestling fans. Wrestling history once thought lost or locked away can still be found, and a thirst for that kind of new discovery will do wonders for any critic and any fan.

Really, one doesn’t even have to dig that far. Even if we’re just talking about the surface level history that we all think we know, there’s always some place it can lead us. Really think about it, how much of your wrestling knowledge were you told about that you’ve just accepted? I know that I still have so much of that in my own mind, we all do.

One day, you’re watching John Cena vs. The Rock at WrestleMania, the next you’re watching Lou Thesz defending the NWA World Championship. It can happen, let yourself be open to that experience. See where your curiosity takes you, and then write down what you find. Don’t feel pressured to show it to anyone, but the exercise itself is worth it.

Then keep watching, and keep writing. Let the work carve out the path for you. Follow it where it leads.

Then keep going.

I know I will.

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