I love writing critical reviews. During my first foray into the online world of professional wrestling, back in the olden days of the early aughts, I dabbled in reviewing a TV show here and there. During my hiatus from wrestling I discovered how much I enjoyed partaking in critical analysis through movie reviews written for my personal blog and other outlets. It was only natural that when I answered the sweet siren call of the pro graps begging me to return that I would take a crack at providing critical analysis yet again.
I started my own blog, Blue Thunder Driver; built around the idea of reviewing the matches throughout wrestling history that I viewed as great. The Tag Rope became my second home shortly thereafter, and I’m still incredibly fond of my Forgotten Near Classic review series. In my never-ending desire to stretch myself thin I started another blog, Random Match Generator, where I reviewed any match or event that someone requested I review. I also took up reviewing matches available to watch for free online, legally, at Free Pro Wrestling. Finally, I decided to join the staff of Phoenix Plex Review and when that site went under I took my humble talents to this fine website. The point is, I tackled the critical wrestling analysis game head on and used it as my avenue to explore wrestling in a deeply critical manner.
For the most part I think I have done a fine job as a reviewer. I’m not a well-known reviewer by any means, but I am honest in my opinions, try to back up said opinions as much as possible, and always welcome dissenting thoughts from others. In the nearly two years I’ve been providing a critical voice to the online pro wrestling community I’ve always felt I was doing my very best to tackle wrestling in the truest way possible. My thoughts on that really haven’t changed, but I have begun to wonder about the critical process we use to digest, think about, and discuss professional wrestling.
These nagging thoughts surfaced because I did what any good critical thinker should do; I sought out other critical work on the art form of pro wrestling. Most work I found mirrored mine, as it appears we have entered an age where long form writing that takes a critical eye to a form that most don’t think of as being worthy of such treatment has become the norm. The one thing I did notice was that most writing styles sprang forth from the traditional film review style. A match was discussed and broken down as if it were a film. An event was treated as if it were a series of short films that connected to form an ungainly whole.
Sites such as Segunda Caida and Voices of Wrestling excel at the generally accepted form of wrestling criticism. To this day I find great value in their work, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. I always seek out the reviews of Phil Schneider, Dean Rasmussen, Ru Gunn, Brandon Howard, or Matt DiCarlo just to name a few high quality online wrestling critics. Yet, I began to think, “Are we discussing and reviewing wrestling under an adequate set of parameters?”
The above question deals with the idea of the match as a singular entity. Is a pro wrestling match really a short film within the larger collected narrative of an entire show or card? That is the accepted narrative; in fact it’s such an accepted narrative that it’s an assumed fact of wrestling criticism. It is the number one parameter, or guideline if you will, from which those of us writing about wrestling choose to operate. The question I raised isn’t decrying this narrative, but it is challenging our willingness to accept said narrative without batting an eye.
How then should we be reviewing wrestling? Lately I’ve begun to see the wrestling match as more akin to a chapter within a film or book. Instead of offering the standard, “This was a good match because X, Y, and Z happened within the match” maybe we should be looking at the match through the lens of the greater whole it represents. Stan Hansen versus Carlos Colón in a bullrope match from World Wrestling Council in Puerto Rico in January of 1987 is widely regarded as a fantastic match by all that have seen it. The idea I’m challenging is that though the match may be great, perhaps it is even greater when considered but a chapter in the 1986-1987 feud between Hansen and Colón?
We, as people wanting to add a critical voice to the art form of Hammerlocks and Punches, should be challenging the way we look at and discuss the art form we greatly appreciate. Instead of watching Goodfellas and declaring, “Chapter 27 is a fantastic chapter, easy ****1/4 star affair,” we speak of Goodfellas as a whole. We don’t do that with wrestling, but it may be the next step in the evolution of wrestling criticism. The Hansen/Colón bullrope match is a great chapter within a film (the feud in this case) but how good is the entire film? That’s a new, or maybe just different, way of looking at and analyzing wrestling. We willingly sacrifice the whole to write reviews of the pieces, but is that the right course of action to take?
Taking a series of matches and viewing them as one whole instead of separate pieces may sound like a dicey proposition, but it’s really not. It does require us to shake up our internal guidelines a bit, but that’s something we should do from time to time anyways. Discussing the entirety of Hiroshi Tanahashi versus Kazuchika Okada from New Japan Pro Wrestling over the course of the past few years could, and should, present different thoughts than breaking down their matches piecemeal. I’m not saying this approach is right, or even that it is the way to go. But, maybe, just maybe there’s something to challenging the way we critically engage professional wrestling?
I don’t have the answer to that question, or to any of the questions I’ve asked in this article. That’s one of the great things about art; there are no correct answers and sometimes there are no answers period. Changing the way we tackle writing, thinking about, discussing, or engaging with the art of wrestling isn’t an easy endeavor. For most it will be an endeavor to forego altogether. Why change what isn’t broken is a popular refrain that could certainly apply to the critical analysis of wrestling. At the same time, maybe the structure we have created was never sound in the first place?