Star Ratings are Arbitrary and Meaningless

Alright folks. It’s time to have a talk about match star ratings.

I know. People citing star ratings when talking about wrestling is a silly thing to be annoyed by. But before you write me off as a loon with a meaningless pet peeve, the propensity of wrestling fans to adopt star ratings in arguments in favor or against wrestlers is indicative of a much larger problem.

In much smaller words: Star ratings are arbitrary and subjective.

It is seemingly rampant nowadays. Someone will express excitement at the “5-star caliber” match AJ Styles and John Cena ought to have at the Royal Rumble or justify criticizing Cody Rhodes because he’s the “master of the 2-star match.”

…But what the hell is the objective criteria for star ratings? Does anyone even know?

The star rating system was popularized by Dave Meltzer – a name you probably know if you’re a wrestling nut – and the criteria for judging a match can change, according to Meltzer’s Wikipedia page.

Again, I know. Nice to see that my shiny journalism degree is going towards some hard-hitting investigative journalism, huh?

There’s actually a blog that has dissected the criteria that Meltzer uses to grade matches. Would you like to know the most accurate indicator of match quality? Match time.

As you can see, the ratings for matches goes up until about the 20-minute mark of a fight. At that point, the correlation between match time and match quality tapers off. Now, this should make some sense; the most important matches with (generally) the best talent are going to last longer. And under that logic, they should earn better match grades.

…But is that really the best criteria match for how Meltzer decides his match ratings? Doesn’t that seem odd to you?

Here’s some actual statistics for you. Of the 67 matches that Meltzer has awarded a perfect score of 5 stars over the years, 49 happened in Japan. Only 5 matches in WWE history have earned Meltzer’s prized rating, the last being CM Punk vs. John Cena at Money in the Bank 2011.

Now, you tell me which of these two scenarios is more likely. Has Japan held such a massive stranglehold on wrestling talent since the 1980s? Is that why their matches are seemingly so much better under Meltzer’s rating system?

Or could it be that Meltzer’s ratings are almost completely subjective and that he seems to prefer Japanese wrestling?

And don’t get me wrong – it’s perfectly fine to have a subjective opinion on wrestling. In fact, I encourage it! Please be convicted on wrestling; root for your favorites as much as I do! It makes the wrestling fandom so much more entertaining.

But here’s the crux of the problem with star ratings; people use them in a way that implies authority or knowledge in an argument. They use star ratings, a purely subjective thing, to bolster more objective arguments. For example, people will criticize wrestlers for “only” being able to perform 3 or 4-star matches. We use these subjective ratings incorrectly as fuel for arguing about objective subjects.

What you actually mean is that you don’t find the wrestler that entertaining.

And that’s fine! That’s perfectly fine! Universal love for anything is damn near impossible. But Meltzer’s opinion means nothing to me as an individual viewer of wrestling. His opinion means nothing to my own enjoyment of the sport. Neither does yours.

For example, I love Fandango’s matches. He’s incredible to me. For me, he puts on 5-star matches all the time because I’m thoroughly entertained.

So what am I getting at? Truthfully, I’m not even sure. I guess I’m asking for more open honesty instead of hiding behind common euphemisms. Because at the end of the day, if you’re citing a “star rating” in an objective argument, I’m rolling my eyes at you and moving on.

But if you take the other road and tell me why you like a wrestler without hiding behind star ratings for their matches, I’ll be happy to share opinions and try to empathize with your point of view. People can like whatever they like; let’s just actually talk openly about it, yeah?