Dave Meltzer has been dissecting, criticizing and praising professional wrestling matches since the formation of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter in1983. That same year, Meltzer helped popularize the “star rating” system, in which matches are judged and rated on a scale from zero to five (including negative scores).
While the star rating system has received an exuberant amount of criticism for being extremely opinionated, most fans can agree with Meltzer on whether a match is an instant classic, average or just flat out embarrassing.
Meltzer uses the following criteria in order to develop these star ratings:
- The amount of action as opposed to rest-holds throughout the match
- The difficulty and variety of the moves used throughout the match
- The history of the workers and their feud
- The development of an in-match storyline based on the wrestling moves and how they affect the wrestlers
- The overall reaction of the crowd during the match
There have been a total of 71 five-star rated matches since 1983 and only five of them have been awarded for contests that have taken place in the WWE. As you can see, a five-star rating is extremely rare.
While only five WWE matches have received a five-star rating, there have been dozens of memorable performances that have come painfully close to having a perfect score.
Although many of you will find this slideshow to be subjective, I tried my best to follow Meltzer's criteria and included 10 extraordinary WWE matches that could have, and should have, received a five star rating. Also, Meltzer's rating will be added at the end of each slide.
Part one of two features five-star quality matches from 1983-2004 while part two will cover five-star quality matches from 2004-2013.
The following matches are in order of the dates they took place.
Background: SummerSlam 1992 took place at Wembley Stadium in London, England and had an attendance of 80,355 fans, the third largest live audience in WWE history,
History: Though Bret Hart and the British Bulldog (who was accompanied to the ring by Lennox Lewis) were brothers-in-law and good friends, their match at SummerSlam 1992 wasn't fueled with jealous rage or hatred. Instead, it was about respect, pride and one of the most prestigious championship belts in WWE history, the Intercontinental Title. SummerSlam 1992 is one of the few PPVs that saw the Intercontinental Title match main event over the WWE Title match.
Overall Match: Throughout the match, Hart used his flawless technical wrestling ability while the British Bulldog relied on his power. The clash in styles mixed perfectly, which resulted in an old-school wrestling match that was pleasing to watch. Hart gained the advantage early on and slowed the tempo down with mat wrestling and a number of submission holds. Smith fired back with a series of impressive suplexes.
The two WWE legends had a compelling back-and-forth contest, but time stood still when Bret locked in the Sharpshooter, his finishing maneuver. However, the British Bulldog was able to escape the painful-looking hold. After a 25-minute contest, Bulldog managed to get the win after he capitalized on a failed Sunset Flip by Bret Hart. Once the ref counted to three, Wembley Stadium erupted.
Crowd Reaction: The atmosphere at Wembley Stadium that night was one-of-a-kind and absolutely electric. While Bret Hart was a world-renowned fan favorite, the crowd was in full support of their hometown hero, the British Bulldog. Every single person in that arena were on their feet, cheering from start to finish.
Actual Match Star Rating: ****1/4
Background: WrestleMania X took place at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The infamous arena packed in 18,065 passionate wrestling fans
History: Bret and Owen Hart have always been close to one another and nobody expected a match between the two at WrestleMania X. The feud came about after what took place at the 1993 Survivor Series. The Hart brothers were on the same Survivor Series Elimination Team and after Owen accidentally sprung into the ropes, where Bret was standing, Bret flew to the ground. Seconds later, Owen was pinned and eliminated from the match. Clearly frustrated, Owen had a verbal confrontation with Bret once the match was over.
After Survivor Series, Owen tried everything he could to compete in a match against his brother. After Bret declined the invitation, the two became tag team partners at the 1994 Royal Rumble. After Bret sustained an "injury" and the match was called off, Owen attacked his brother and officially turned heel. It was clear that Owen was jealous of Bret's success and claimed that he was the better wrestler on multiple occasions.
Overall Match: Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart at WrestleMania X is considered to be the best opening match in professional wrestling history. Once the bell rung, both competitors were determined to get the victory. Throughout the match, Owen would continue to brag and try his best to leave the ring to catch his breath. However, Bret didn't allow Owen any breaks and cut off the angle at every opportunity.
After the brothers dished out multiple Piledrivers and Sharpshooters to one another, Bret sustained a leg "injury." In the end, Owen reversed a pin attempt from Bret and defeated the Hitman with a roll-up of his own.
Crowd Reaction: The Madison Square Garden audience was on the edge of their seats throughout the entire match. They would cheer Bret after he hit a big move and booed Owen every time he gained an advantage. The crowd was stunned with the Owen Hart victory, but still showed their appreciation for both men once the epic encounter was over.
Actual Match Star Rating: ****3/4
Background: No Way Out 2001 took place at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nev. and had an attendance of 15,223 WWE fans.
History: The entire feud started after Steve Austin was sidelined with a severe neck injury for nine months. Per storyline, Rikishi ran over Austin with a car. After Austin returned, he set his sights on the WWE Title. During a match against Rikishi and Kurt Angle, Triple H came down to the ring with the intentions of helping out the Texas Rattlesnake, or so it seemed.
All of a sudden, Triple H smacked Austin in the face with his signature sledgehammer and told him that he was the one responsible for causing the car "accident".
After Austin and Triple H interfered in the other's WWE Title bouts on numerous occasions, Vince McMahon had had enough and booked them in the very first Three Stages of Hell match at No Way Out 2001.
Overall Match: Steve Austin and Triple H competed in one of the most brutal and tiring matches the WWE Universe had ever seen. This was the first Three Stages of Hell match, which at the time was innovative and new. The first stage was a traditional wrestling match, in which Austin won.
Immediately following Austin’s victory, Triple H gained the advantage and eventually won the second stage, which was a Street Fight. The third and final stage was a Steel Cage match, and both competitors went the extra mile to give the fans a night to remember.
Both Austin and Triple H were busted open and could barely move after a barbaric 30 minutes of action. At the end of the match, Austin and Hunter had a weapon in their hand and proceeded to clock each other in the head at the same time.
By pure luck, an unconscious Triple H landed on a blacked-out Steve Austin. The referee counted to three and gave the Game the victory.
Crowd Reaction: Every time you see a match between Stone Cold Steve Austin and Triple H, you know the crowd is going to be wild. Not only was the crowd excited to see these two beat the hell out of each other, but they witnessed the first Three Stages of Hell match, which made the night even better. The crowd loved every second of this match and knew they were witnessing history.
Actual Match Star Rating: ****3/4
Background: WrestleMania 17 took place at the Reliant Astrodome in Houston and drew in 67,925 fans.
History: The Dudley Boyz, Hardy Boys and Edge & Christian were three evenly matched teams that revolutionized the Tag Team division. In 2001, tag team wrestling was at an all-time high when it came to popularity. Each team wanted to hold the WWE Tag Team Titles, and they went through an extraordinary amount of pain and suffering in order to do so.
The Dudleyz were famous for putting their opponents through tables while the Hardy Boys perfected using ladders to their advantage. Edge & Christian were known for the Conchairto, which was a devastating move that saw them hit their opponents in the head with chairs at the same time.
At SummerSlam 2000, these three teams competed in the first TLC match in WWE history. The match received so many positive reviews, they had the exact same match with the exact same competitors less than a year later at WrestleMania 17. Coming into TLC II, the Dudley Boyz held the Tag Team Titles.
Overall Match: There aren't enough positive things to say about this match and if I had to sum it up in one word, that word would be: legendary. From beginning to end, there was never a dull moment.
Tables, ladders and chairs filled the ring and all six Superstars used those weapons to shock the Texas crowd with innovative moves and dangerous stunts. Bodies were flying everywhere as well as through tables. In the end, Edge & Christian grabbed the titles and became the new champions.
Crowd Reaction: At times, the crowd were at lost for words due to the action they were witnessing in the ring. After every big spot, they would chant expletives and jump around with joy and excitement. WrestleMania 17 is arguably the greatest PPV event in WWE history and the TLC match is a key reason for its success.
Actual Match Star Rating: ****3/4
Background: WrestleMania 20 took place at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The infamous arena packed in 18.000 fans.
History: Triple H was the World Heavyweight champion and was in the middle of an intense feud with Shawn Michaels. Since Chris Benoit won the 2004 Royal Rumble, he was given the opportunity to choose which World Champion he would face at WrestleMania 20.
Benoit decided to challenge Triple H, but Michaels felt that he deserved a rematch after wrestling to a draw in his match with Triple H at the Royal Rumble. This led to the very first Triple Threat World Title match at the 20th WrestleMania.
Overall Match: The start of the WrestleMania 20 main event was hectic and nervy. Early on the crowd saw each Superstar hit their signature moves and submissions. Later on in the match, Benoit managed to apply the Crippler Crossface on Shawn Michaels and just as Michaels was about to tap out, Triple H came in to make the save.
There were plenty of close-calls and near-falls, which helped the crowd really get into the match-up. Eventually, Triple H and Michaels suplexed Benoit through the announce table so that they could continue their personal feud at the grandest stage of them all.
After Benoit countered a Sweet Chin Music and threw Michaels out of the ring, Triple H attempted a Pedigree. However, Benoit reversed the Pedigree and applied a sickening-looking Crippler Crossface. In the end, Triple H tapped out and Benoit finally reached his goal of becoming a World champion for the very first time in his WWE career.
Jim Ross called the epic match and the words he spoke at the end will always be remembered.
As Benoit was overjoyed with emotion, Eddie Guerrero came out with WWE Championship that he retained earlier in the night. The two embraced in a friendly and heartwarming hug. The scene at the end of WrestleMania 20 is considered to be one of the most emotional moments in professional wrestling history.
Crowd Reaction: After witnessing a rather average show, the crowd seemed extremely impressed with the Triple Threat main event. Chris Benoit was the dark-horse in the match and the unpredictable finish left fans very pleased. After Triple H tapped out to the Crossface, Benoit received a huge pop and there is no doubt that the Madison Square Garden crowd left with smiles on their faces.
Actual Match Rating: ****3/4
The matches below are outstanding, but just missed the cut:
WrestleMania III: Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat
In Your House 10: Mind Games: Shawn Michaels (c) vs. Mankind (WWE Title)
SummerSlam 2000: Edge & Christian (c) vs. Dudley Boyz vs. Hardy Boys (TLC I)
WrestleMania 17: Stone Cold Steve Austin (c) vs. The Rock (WWE Title)
Royal Rumble 2001: Chris Jericho vs. Chris Benoit (Ladder)
In conclusion, here are the five WWE matches that received a five-star rating:
WrestleMania 10: Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon (Ladder Match)
SummerSlam 1994: Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart (Steel Cage Match)
WrestleMania 13: Bret Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin (Submission Match)
Badd Blood 1997: Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker (Hell in a Cell)
Money in the Bank 2011: CM Punk vs. John Cena (WWE Championship)
Do you enjoy or agree with Dave Meltzer's star-rating system? What are some of the best matches in WWE history that you feel should have been rated five stars? Release your frustration in the comments section below!
Be on the lookout for "10 Classic WWE Matches That Should Have Been Rated 5 Stars Part 2/2". Coming soon to Bleacher Report.
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