There are very few guarantees in life but one that is perhaps increasingly prevalent is upon expressing joy, excitement and love for something there will always be someone to point out that hey, that thing you love? It’s really not that good.
This cropped up on Sunday night and Monday morning following the Strong Style Evolved card promoted by New Japan Pro Wrestling at the Pyramid in Long Beach, California. The card was topped by a dream tag team match between the recently united Golden Lovers and the Wrestling Observer Tag Team of the Year the Young Bucks.
The crowd reaction and the initial online feedback to the main was almost universally positive, or at least as universally positive as anything involving the controversial Jackson brother and Kenny Omega can receive. In amongst the negative feedback however was an interesting point raised not so much about the match, but rather the reaction to the match by long time wrestling writer, freelance journalist David Bixenspan.
Bixenspan expressed his distaste of people describing the main event as being the best tag team match of all time and went on to list series of tag team matches which he felt were superior. He then followed this up by questioning the depth of knowledge of wrestling history of those claiming this and raised the question of how much would anyone need to have seen in order to qualify their opinion of any match the ‘best ever’.
These are all very salient point which do deserve some further discussion.
To take the question of the match being described ‘the best tag team match ever’, a quick search of twitter using the #njSSE hashtag does not return too many occurrences of this opinion being expressed. There are several instances of fans who were live in the building saying it was the best match – tag team or otherwise – they had ever seen live and numerous more saying it was the best match they had ever seen, and both those qualifiers are important.
When we talk about the ‘greatest of all time’ or ‘worst ever’ or really any definitive dramatic opinion we are always, whether stated or not, qualifying this statement to really say ‘that I’ve seen’. It would take a special type of arrogance for anyone to presume that there is nothing out there which could possibly be any better or worse than what they personally have witnessed.
Added to this of course is that any statement like that is clearly going to be opinion based, and this is where things can get tricky. Yes, everyone is going to have their own individual opinion, and yes, all opinions are valid. However, it is important to realise that although all opinions are valid, not all opinions carry the same weight.
Opinions are formed based on personal taste alongside knowledge and experience of the subject at hand. The latter is of particular importance when announcing something to be the ‘greatest of all time’ because there will always be someone who’ll be able to turn around and say “Well, actually…” and let you know why you’re wrong because, god dammit kid, you just don’t know enough to be able to make that judgement. With the following ‘unlike me’ usually inferred rather than explicitly stated.
Twitter as a medium is particularly inclined to support the idea of anything being the best of worst ever. With a tight, though expanding, character limit it is not the ideal platform for in depth critical discussion, especially in the case the Bucks vs Lovers, in the immediate aftermath of what was for many fans an emotional match.
Added the style of writing encouraged by Twitter there are the two competing tricks of the mind playing out their battle over 280 characters declarations of war – Recency Bias and good old Nostalgia.
Recency Bias is the idea that people more prominently recall and emphasise recent events and observations than those in the near or distant past. Whatever is happening now or has just happened is deemed better than what has happened before precisely because it is happening now, and the feelings are fresh, vibrant, and still alive. A very common example of this can be heard on radio phone-ins, especially regarding football where fans frequently describe their current team as the best or worst they’ve ever seen, even if, for example, describing a team 6th in the Premier League as being worse than a team from 20 years ago who were 15th in the Championship clearly has no logical base. No wonder then that people were quick to declare the match the best match they’d ever seen. It was the most recent match they’d ever seen, after all and it was damn good.
Nostalgia, of course, is very much the opposite. The yearning to return emotionally, to the past, particularly childhood, is very strong in all of us, and in a business that can change as fast as pro wrestling can do it shouldn’t be surprising a whole industry has popped up in servicing nostalgic wrestling fans through podcasting and YouTube channels. In the same way Recency Bias makes the most recent great match you saw stand out as something special, Nostalgia can make anything from your past stand out, great or not, because there’s so much associated with it than just the wrestling match.
As a personal example, ‘my’ Wrestlemania is Wrestlemania IX. Make no mistake, Wrestlemania IX is a terrible show and I do not recommend anyone who hasn’t seen it to watch it. It is not worth your time whatsoever. But I watch it at least once a year, and I enjoy watching it. Not for what I’m watching, but because when I was a child it was one of the few wrestling VHS tapes I had, and it brings back memories of my bedroom and being the age I was when I used to watch it all the time. As I said, it’s a terrible show, but that doesn’t matter to me because that’s not what I’m watching for. Had a been a year older and grown up with a Wrestlemania VIII tape I could very easily imagine insisting to everyone I know that VIII is the greatest ‘Mania ever, even though I’d say it’s pretty easy to objectively say it isn’t, because it’s good enough with the Hart vs Piper and Flair vs Savage matches to produce some sort of argument through nostalgic glasses.
Another important factor in any opinion is the knowledge that goes behind the formulation. If we stick with using Wrestlemania as an example subject, imagine someone who has never watched a Wrestlemania asking two friends which is the best one to watch. The first friend has watch every ‘Mania and the second friend has only watched three of them. Clearly the opinion which carries the most weight here is the first. This doesn’t make the second opinion any less valid, it doesn’t make their opinion wrong, but the person asking the question is probably best to go with the first opinion when choosing which to watch.
This, much to some people’s annoyance, is why the opinion of someone like Dave Meltzer is genuinely worth more than a random 23 year old WWE fan on twitter who watches all WWE programming but nothing else. Both opinions are valid, neither can be totally dismissed, but Meltzer’s huge depth of knowledge having closed watched and followed all major league and large chunks of minor league wrestling since the 1970s makes his opinion carry more weight.
Returning to the inspiration for this article, David Bixenspan has watched an enormous amount of professional wrestling, from all countries with a wrestling tradition and from all eras. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Bixenspan knows his stuff, but this knowledge can also bring a type of fandom which promotes knowledge and perspective over the immediacy of what is felt in the here and now.
Part two of this series will look at the difference between the fans who have a constant thirst for not only more wrestling, but a context for the current product and a desire to know the history of the sport and fans who are content to live and die by the current product and how this has changed over the years, especially in the context of Japanese and other non-WWE wrestling.