2017 – The Year That Broke the 5 Star Ratings System

2017 could be the new measure stick in terms of wrestling quality. The 5 star rating system got exceeded multiple times by Kenny Omega, Tetsuya Naito and Kazuchika Okada. Up to today (23.12.2017), we had already 5 Matches that went over the 5 out of 5 Star rating system, but why is that ?

2017 – The Year That Broke the 5 Star Ratings System

Photo: NJPW

It all began when Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada went one-on-one at the Tokyo Dome on January fourth. Dave Meltzer rated this 46:45 minute classic with 6 stars, in the scale that Dave Meltzer created.

Photo: NJPW

The first ever 5 Star match happened in 1983 when the original Tiger Mask went to a draw with Dynamite Kid at a NJPW show called “Sumo Hall Show“ (for a preview of #NewJapanWeek next week, check out our prologue with the History of NJPW). Since then the scale had just been exceeded once, when Mitsuharu Misawa defeated Toshiaki Kawada at AJPW Budokan Hall show in 1994. Now this year, 2017, we already had five (5!!) matches which went over the 5/5 star rating system.

So judging by the numbers, this is the best wrestling year we ever had. But why…

Photo: David Wilson

Independent wrestling is producing new stars every month of the year. But for every star created, the WWE tries to buy at least 2 of them. There are some wrestlers who are very happy in the independents because they are making good money on their own terms. They are satisfied with producing an alternative to a stale product. Especially in NJPW, which is the biggest competition for WWE internationally.

WWE is very restrictive in the way their wrestlers should perform. Just look at Kevin Owens as an example: in ROH, his finisher was the package piledriver, looks great – not too dangerous. It has been banned by WWE. In his debut match in WWE against John Cena he did an amazing twisting Moonsault which we have not seen in 2017. In NJPW, REV PRO etc., on the other hand, there are no restrictions concerning the moveset of their wrestlers which highly increases the chances of a critically acclaimed match.

The latest 5 star match has been the PWG All Star Weekend 13 Night 2 bout between Zack Sabre Jr. and WALTER, but Kenny Omega has had multiple ones this year which went over the 5/5 scale.

What reasons are there that some matches are rated so high ? let´s find out…

First of all let’s see what makes a match really good: The story has to be told in way that the viewership is thoroughly entertained, just like in a movie. The story has to evolve throughout the course of the match to captivate the viewer.

Photo: Ring of Honor

The way the wrestler views the business could be another factor. If you are in this for the money you could do very well, but there might not be the necessary passion to go into that special mindset if you want to deliver the best match possible for the fans no matter what is needed in order to that. Now, when talking about the wrestlers who do perform on a high level, one can feel the passion they have for this. So just like in the real world: you get out what you put in. When you look at elite athletes like Okada, Naito, Omega, Young Bucks etc. you can see that they have been obsessed with this sport since they first saw it, there is a drive in them that puts them into a state of mind to be their best every time there is a big match.

Photo: nJPW

The executed moveset might be a subject of discussion: some matches can be highly rated but the most moves shown are just “basic“ (body slams, boots, etc.), but the way the emotion is transported to those in attendance is done so good that no one needs a shooting star press in the match because it does not fit the match. In other matches you can find that the story of the two competitors needs some of the highspots that might be marking chapters in a match. For example, the triangle moonsault by Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 11 and the back body drop through the table are two marks in the match which led to another direction and continuous building of tension.

Things Outside the Ring

The one thing you can’t deny is that there are two wrestlers needed for such a match, so both performers are responsible for laying out the structure and, again, considering the amount of great bouts this year, Okada and Omega are two of the best in terms of in ring performance AND in-ring psychology.

Photo: NJPW

As it was recently voted by Tokyo Sports the match of the year is Omega vs Okada from Wrestle Kingdom 11. So the widely critically acclaimed match did win the big one. Interestingly enough the award for MVP went to Tetsuya Naito. So he is the bigger selling point, although his match quality might be a little less than Omega’s.

Photo: NJPW

This is a big point here: the importance of a performer for the company he works for is not only measured by his in ring performance but also by his ability to connect with the fans and by being charismatic. Omega is not far behind Naito, but this year the leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon got cheered the loudest no matter where they went, so he can be considered the biggest draw in Japan. In combination with outstanding performances (which he still had, e.g. Naito vs Omega G1 Climax 27 final) this is a legitimate and well made choice for the MVP.

From an age perspective they are both in their prime: Omega 34 years old and Naito 35 years old. So they both have around 10 years of bouts left in them if they stay relatively injury free.

Where does personal charisma and the ability to tell a great story in the ring tie together ?

Photo: NJPW

One example: After Kenny Omega’s knee surgery earlier this year, he had a match against Juice Robinson, at the Destruction in Kobe show, just two weeks removed from surgery. During the match he sold his knee like it had not healed up completely, even muttering things to himself like: “im okay…or am I ?”. He said these words in a volume that the camera could barely catch it, but it was audible. All these things together made for one of the best matches in 2017, if you look at it from storytelling point of view. In the end his knee was fine, but his selling was so convincing that it was genuinely believable and the audience was concerned for Omega´s wellbeing.

So if you mix all those thought processes together, you end up with a multitude of things that go into a “5 Star Match” and having matches that exceed this mark, speaks volumes for the skill level of those who accomplish it.

Photo: NJPW

Lets see what next year will bring to the table – we’re pretty sure we have not seen the peak of what is possible yet. Especially after the return of Kota Ibushi to NJPW this year. And you know Ibushi has an old friend in NJPW…Kenny Omega. And maybe, just maybe, those two will meet again….to break the rating system in 2018.