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The Optimal Paper Review

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  • The Optimal Paper Review

    The rules at the top of the CF must be followed if you want to post columns here. The commandments must be followed if you want people to actually read said columns. But I’ve found over the years that it’s just as important that you develop your own rules of thumb to govern how you wish to engage with the community.

    My personal edicts are pretty simple. In fact, there are only two. The first is that if I say I plan to stick around, you can rest assured that I’m about to disappear for weeks, months, even years at a time. The second is that you should never, EVER steal someone else’s gimmick… unless he routinely beats you in tournaments. Then, all bets are off.

    I’ve always been jealous of Mazza’s Classic Paper Review series, an example of which can be found here. The idea of fantasy card building is hardly groundbreaking, but the way he accomplished it was. The construction of each card was elegant, with immense thought given to the perfect selection and arranging of matches. Simultaneously, the artistry was tempered by rules to make the cards more realistic. And the discussion the column generated became as much a part of the column as the proposed card itself. It’s a great format, and I believe the series rightfully played a large role in making Maz a Hall of Famer.

    So it’s hardly shocking that I loved that he broke it out for the CSI tournament in 2018 and gave it a twist to fit with the topic of the round. Instead of creating the ultimate card for a given month or PPV, as he had always done before, he did it for an entire country, Canada. It was a nice tweak to the system. And it got me thinking… what would the ideal card look like not just for Canada, but for every region in which the WWE has ever hosted a PPV?

    Thus, the seed for the Optimal Paper Review was planted. The OPR is my (probably ill-fated) attempt to assemble the best possible card for every state, region, and/or country from which the WWE has held a PPV. As currently envisioned, it will be a 23 column series.

    And when I say “optimal”, I mean “optimal”. In my life outside of LOP, I’m a data scientist. Roughly speaking, my job is to combine computer science, statistics, and business acumen to make predictions about the future for my company. When I was going to school for this, one of my classes involved a subset of mathematics called optimization. The field entails exactly what you’d think it would - algorithms and methodologies to make the best possible decision in a given circumstance. So I won’t actually be choosing the matches to build each region’s optimal card - a computer will be doing it instead.

    How does it work, you ask? All optimization problems are composed of three elements: decision variables, an objective function, and constraints. To illustrate how the PPV optimization problem will work, consider an adventurer preparing for a rigorous, week-long hike. He heads to the grocery store to stock up on food for his trip. Our hiker is faced with an entire store’s worth of items he could purchase. These are his decision variables - should he buy a given item, or not? But his budget limits what he can afford. Similarly, his backpack dictates how much food he has space for. These are his constraints; there are limitations on what he can choose to purchase. Finally, the hiker has a utility for each item of food, encompassing the nutritious value of the food, the taste of the food, and the ease of preparation of the food on the trail. These item utilities will form his objective function - given everything he could purchase and his budget and space limitations, how can the hiker maximize his utility?

    It turns out this is a very traditional optimization scenario, appropriately enough dubbed the knapsack problem. It’s also easy for computers to solve. If fed the needed information in the proper format, it only takes seconds for a computer to return the optimal shopping list.

    Constructing an optimal wrestling card is functionally identical to the knapsack problem. Instead of a store of food to choose from, we have all the matches in a given region’s PPV history. The one difference here is that whereas the hiker could buy multiple bananas, we can’t include the same match on the card twice. So unlike the grocery store, where any integer value greater than or equal to zero is a valid number of items to purchase, for our card construction, the decision variables are a binary yes or no for each match. Either a given match is chosen to be on the card, or it isn’t.

    The objective function is pretty intuitive - we simply want to maximize the quality of the matches that are on the card, just as our hiker wanted to maximize the utility of his food. The hiker’s utility was composed of many factors, just as a match’s quality is a combination of athletic artistry, novelty, execution, and crowd reaction. And just like with utility, a match’s quality is subjective - you may like bananas more than I do, and I might like The Rock’s matches more than you do.

    So what match ratings to use then? For obvious reasons, I found it infeasible to spend the 26 days straight it would take to watch every single PPV in WWE’s history to produce my own ratings. That’s just the match time, incidentally, so it doesn’t include all of the time that would be spent on the fluff of the PPVs. Plus, you know, sleep.

    So in lieu of my own grades for each match, I’ll be substituting in Dave Meltzer’s star ratings. The benefit of this approach is that Dave has been reviewing PPVs since WrestleMania I at Madison Square Garden. There are a handful of gaps, but I was able to track down Dave’s ratings for the large majority of PPV matches in WWE's history. The downside is there’s no guarantee of consistency across the years - is a 3 star match in the 80’s really equivalent to a 3 star match in the 20’s? The numeric rankings also have Meltzer’s biases baked in, whether they be for certain wrestlers or against certain match types. But I’m OK with accepting these negatives because they’d be true of any person’s match ratings. When seeking to turn an inherently subjective exercise into an objective one, compromises need to be made somewhere, and I feel justified in making this compromise here.

    So that settles the objective function - maximize the number of stars on the region’s card. And the decision variables, as discussed earlier, are pretty straightforward too. Either a match is on the card, or it isn’t. But obviously if we’re looking to construct a feasible card, we’re not going to include every match, just as our hiker won’t buy every item of food in the store. That’s where the constraints come in. I’ve borrowed some of Mazza’s usual constraints, and added a few of my own. They’re outlined below, and I’ll be following them for the entire series. Keep in mind that in choosing these constraints, I’m trying to make this card as close to a “typical” WWE PPV as possible. It’s no fun if you’re allowed to include as many matches as you want, or if you end up choosing a bunch of acclaimed but lengthy main events because you don’t care about the card’s duration. The constraints exist to prevent those pratfalls and others like them from happening.

    Optimal Paper Review Constraint List

    1. Each wrestler can only appear on a region’s card once - Generally speaking in the real world, a wrestler only appears in one match per PPV. The same will be true here. The only exceptions are battle royals and gauntlets, mostly because the data for which wrestlers participated in those matches was not as easily obtainable for the Wikipedia crawler I built to obtain the data. I’ll try to highlight this situation should it occur.

    2. Each PPV can only appear on a region’s card once - Variety is the spice of life, so promoting diversity of different PPVs on our optimal card is a worthy goal. Note that this is year independent, so since New York has hosted multiple WrestleManias, this constraint would only prevent two matches from the same WrestleMania from making it on the region’s optimal card.

    3. A given title can only be defended on a region’s card once - Like the first two rules, this one comes straight from Mazza. For example, I can’t have two different matches from two different PPVs both for the WWE Championship on the same card. Again, this is to mimic real life, where titles are more often than not defended once per night.

    4. A given specialty match type can only occur once per card - Since 2009, the WWE has gotten away from this rule, with PPVs like Elimination Chamber or Extreme Rules having a preponderance of similar gimmick matches. But I miss the days when a match like Hell in a Cell was a special treat reserved for only the bitterest of feuds. So for my optimal cards, a gimmick match type can only happen once per card. The gimmick matches I’m monitoring are steel cage, hell in a cell, ladder (including Money in the Bank), Falls Count Anywhere, No Disqualification (in all its shapes and forms), Last Man Standing, I Quit, Elimination Chamber, Tables, TLC, Submission, Elimination (including Survivor Series), and Battle Royals (including Royal Rumbles).

    5. At least one “main” title must be defended - The main titles are the WWE, WCW, World Heavyweight, and Universal championships. Pretty much every PPV in history has at least one main title defense, so I wanted to match that here.

    6. No more than two “main” titles can be defended - So we can’t have a card where the WWE, World Heavyweight, and Universal Championships are all defended. This was done because in WWE’s history, they only have two main championships at a time. And yes, that is shade toward the ECW Championship…

    7. No more than two tag team titles can be defended - The rationale is exactly the same as for constraint 6. But I’m not going to insist that a tag team championship be defended on the optimal card in the same way I’m forcing a main championship to be defended.

    8. At least one match must include a woman - This is not historically the case for the WWE, though it has been in recent years, and I wanted to keep that momentum going. Note that, thanks to Chyna, it doesn’t necessarily need to be a women’s match; this constraint is satisfied if a woman wrestles a man.

    9. A card must consist of seven matches

    10. A card must be 100 minutes of match time or less - These two constraints are my biggest judgment calls. Insisting that the card be seven matches allows for easier comparisons between regions’ cards as the series progresses. Also since we’re maximizing total stars, it makes sense that a card with nine matches would have an advantage over a card with seven, even with the time constraint considered. Both seven matches and 100 minutes are near the historical averages for the number of matches and total match length, respectively. In the graphs below, you can see that seven matches is actually a little low and 100 minutes a little high. This was done intentionally to allow for the optimizer to have the freedom to select longer matches, which should result in better cards. However I don’t want to take this too far, as allowing too much time will let the optimizer select a card composed entirely of long matches, defeating the purpose of making the card realistic. Note that the match times I use are pulled from Wikipedia, which measure from bell to bell. So if there’s ever a match where a lot of action happens before the bell rings to officially start the match, Meltzer might consider that in his rating, but it won’t be reflected in the match time the optimizer sees.

    11. At least one match must be at least 20 minutes long - About 75% of WWE’s PPVs have at least one match that’s 20 minutes or longer. I felt it was important to make sure there was at least one lengthier match included on each card.

    Head spinning yet? We’re almost done. Just a few final housekeeping notes.
    • I’m defining a “PPV” using Wikipedia’s definition. Starting at WrestleMania I, I had the crawler navigate to the “next” PPV in the “pay-per-view” chronology section at the top of the PPV’s Wikipedia page. By this definition, UK only PPVs as well as house shows aired specially on the WWE Network will be eligible for inclusion.
    • A PPV must take place before 2021 for its matches to be eligible. I pulled the data after TLC 2020, but before this year’s Royal Rumble. In the interest of having a static endpoint for this analysis, I’m freezing the optimal PPV consideration to 2020 and before.
    • A small pedantic note - while the optimizer is guaranteed to return a card with the most stars possible given the constraint, there’s no guarantee that there will be just one such card. There could be many different combinations of matches that get you to the maximum star total. To break those ties, I consider each contending card’s average star rating weighted by match time. So a 4 star match that’s 10 minutes long won’t be worth as much to the weighted rating as a 4 star match that’s 20 minutes long, even though both matches contribute the same amount to the objective function.
    • A state/country needed to have at least 10 PPVs to be eligible for its own card. Given the one match per pay-per-view restriction, 10 seemed like a good number to let there be a little wiggle room for the optimizer. Twelve states have hosted at least 10 PPVs. Any U.S. states or regions with fewer than 10 PPVs were aggregated together into rough geographical groupings and will have their own regional cards.
    • I’ll cover international PPVs with two groupings - Canada and Other (UK, Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Japan).
    • NXT PPVs will be excluded from the main analysis, but I’ll circle back to do a couple of NXT only PPVs at the end of the series.
    • My current plan is to start the series by progressing through the eligible states alphabetically. I’ll then cover the U.S regional groupings made from the leftover states. Then the international groupings. And finally, NXT. Add in a wrap up column and this introduction and you get 23 columns total, my most ambitious CF project to date.

    If you have any questions about the methodology, how I compiled the data, or if anything is otherwise unclear, I’ll be sure to respond to any comments. My plan is to keep using one thread for the duration of the series to avoid cluttering the CF too much.

    I’ll be back in a couple of days with the first Optimal PPV card. And I promise, there will be no more math talk. We'll start our journey not just with the first eligible state alphabetically, but also the state that has hosted the most PPVs in WWE’s history - California.

    Buckle up! It’s going to be the most optimal ride of your life.

  • #2
    No more math talk? Then I won't be reading.

    In all seriousness this is an ambitious and intriguing idea and will be the kind of columns I thoroughly enjoy reading. And I can only imagine the time and patience it took to put all this data together and create these cards.

    Very much looking forward to these Mavsman.


    • #3
      I am feeling a sense of deja vu, the same one I felt upon reading the first instalment of Plan's 101 series. Given you are even more likely to disappear for months/years on end, I fully expect you to get 3 instalments in and never see you again.

      Excellent use of graphs this time, by the way.

      Hope you manage to finish (even start). Good luck!


      • #4
        Just popped a stats nerd boner. Why did I not study towards this????

        Really looking forward to this. You could do so many interesting things with the base idea but love where you are going first


        • #5
          This is quite the undertaking. Good luck! And yes, my head was spinning after reading this haha. Looking forward to this.


          • #6
            This is going to be very interesting. I was recently on Doc's podcast doing something similar with AEW and once you pick a wrestler matches can dry up quickly.

            Also if you want a second opinion on match ratings then Cagematch is generally pretty decent as is Grappl. Both take submissions and give an average score so you are getting multiple opinions.


            • #7
              This ought to be fun. I think MD should make the list. Looking forward to seeing that card


              • #8
                The Cook - I can certainly sneak a little math in the rest of the series for you! And yep, I wasn’t logging how much time it took, but it was a fun evening project for me for about a month to get all the data in the state it needed to be for the optimizer to use it.

                Shinobi - There’s a reason I mentioned my personal CF tenets. I have the best intentions right now, but there’s obviously no guarantee that I’ll follow through. Fingers crossed! I do feel like you comparing me to Plan makes it more likely that I’ll finish. If that jerk could do 101, I should at least be able to do 23.

                Mazza - There’s certainly a lot of other dimensions you could slice the data by to run through the optimizer. But since you’d done such a good job with month/PPV driven analysis, and you sparked the idea of geographical entries with the Canada column a few years ago, I figured regional analysis was a great place to start. I hope I’m able to live up to your standard!

                Don Franc - Thanks for sticking it through the technical introduction! The rest of the series will be much more wrestling focused - hope you enjoy!

                SirSam - I imagine it’s a lot harder for AEW solely because they have a smaller history from which to choose matches. I checked out both Cagematch and Grappl, and unfortunately they both had similar blind spots to where Dave is lacking ratings. Thanks for the recommendation though - good to know about both of those, as you never know when that data might come in handy for future projects.

                Rob - Maryland just missed the threshold to have its own entry to this series - they’ve had 9 PPVs total. The current plan is to combine Maryland with Virginia and Washington D.C. for a DMV PPV.



                Welcome everyone, to the first edition of the Optimal Paper Review! I’m your host and mathematical mage, Mavsman.

                If you missed it, be sure to check out the very first post of the thread for an explainer on the goal of the series. Or, if you look at the length of the introduction and decide “I’m good” you can just know that, in short, I’m seeking to use cold, hard science to build the best possible card for every state, region, and country where the WWE has hosted a PPV.

                We start the series off in California. Long held up as the oasis of the United States due to its moderate climate, stunning ocean views, and towering forests, California is the most populated state in the country with an estimated 40,000,000 people calling The Golden State home. Within the state, there’s both a regional and cultural divide between the glitz and glam of Southern California, the tech geeks and hippie freaks of Northern California, and the more conservative residents of the state’s interior.

                Since they started airing PPVs in 1985, the WWE has hosted a whopping 37 PPVs from California, with the vast majority taking place in the greater Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan areas. A full list of the PPVs from which California’s optimal card will be built can be found below. Just FYI, for the “Main Event” column, I’m not counting a Money in the Bank cash-in as the Main Event if it was the last match on the card. In that circumstance, I list the match preceding the cash-in instead.

                Clearly there’s going to be plenty for the optimizer to choose from. In fact, there were 10 different matches Meltzer rated 4.5 stars or above that didn’t make the cut! What could have possibly merited leaving some of those matches off the card? Which seven matches clawed their way past the competition onto the Optimal California PPV? Let’s dig in and find out!


                The Bash: Rey Mysterio defeated Chris Jericho (c) in 15:42 in a Title vs. Mask Match to win the Intercontinental Championship

                This match was the follow up to these wrestlers’ encounter three weeks prior at Extreme Rules, where Jericho won the Intercontinental title from Mysterio after unmasking him during the match’s climax. Both Grisham and Jim Ross do a great job providing the audience with the context behind the history of masks in lucha libre and how the mask represents Mysterio’s heritage. The audience is thus able to grasp how important Mysterio’s mask is, and by proxy, how much the Intercontinental Championship must mean to him if he’s willing to put his mask on the line in an attempt to win it.

                Jericho starts the match by immediately attempting to demask Mysterio. Rey overprotecting his face allows Y2J to take early control. Jericho, clearly not used to having the size advantage in his matches, revels in getting to display his arsenal of power moves against the diminutive luchador. He smartly attempts to ground Mysterio, slowing the pace of action and wearing him down progressively as the match enters its middle stages.

                It’s not long before Rey is able to capitalize on a small window, and the action quickly picks back up. However Jericho is able to counter a hurricanrana attempt into The Walls of Jericho. Mysterio escapes, and goes for another hurricanrana this time off the top rope, but Jericho is yet again able to counter, this time into a powerbomb. Even with his feet on the middle rope for extra leverage, Jericho is unable to secure the three count. Jericho connects with a massive Codebreaker on an airborne Mysterio, but Rey still kicks out. Jericho finally succeeds in his matchlong quest to demask Rey, only for Mysterio to have a second mask underneath the first! A 619 and a top rope splash later, and we have a new champion.

                This match didn’t open The Bash - it went on second. But it’s a classic opener in my book, with its combination of frenetic action mixed with a healthy dose of ring psychology grounded in the dynamics of the overarching feud. Both wrestlers put on a great show, with very little downtime in the match’s 15 plus minutes. As for the rating, I don’t know if I would have gone quite as high as Meltzer did, but I can’t deny that this was a great match.

                Meltzer’s Star Rating: 4.5

                Summerslam 2001: X-Pac (c - Cruiserweight) defeated Tajiri (c - Light Heavyweight) in 7:33 to win the WCW Cruiserweight and WWF Light Heavyweight Championships

                This wasn’t officially a title unification match, but it may as well have been as this is the last ever PPV defense of the Light Heavyweight Championship. And on our fictional card, it works wonderfully to sustain the fast-paced momentum built by Jericho and Mysterio.

                X-Pac wins a test of strength at the match’s start, but Tajiri garners the advantage by utilizing his quickness. X-Pac is able to slow the Japanese wrestler down by slamming him crotch first into the ringpost. After being grounded for a stretch, Tajiri regains the advantage by avoiding a Bronco Buster and nailing a prone X-Pac with boots to the chin. Tajiri’s signature offense follows - kicks, a reverse elbow after somersaulting off the ropes, and a Tarantula. Tajiri scores a series of nearfalls with some innovative pinfall attempts. Albert comes to ringside to support X-Pac and gets a faceful of mist for his trouble. The distraction allows X-Pac to nail a low blow followed by an X-Factor for the win.

                This match didn’t get a lot of time, but the two men made the most of it. The action was frenzied and the much-maligned X-Pac proved a worthy foil on this night for Tajiri’s impressive offense. As far as bang for your buck goes, you could do much worse than this.

                Meltzer’s Star Rating: 3.25

                No Mercy 2017: Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins (c) defeated Cesaro and Sheamus in 15:55 to retain the Raw Tag Team Championship

                No Mercy 2017 is best remembered for the gigantic double main event of Roman Reigns vs. John Cena and Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman. But it also featured the rematch between Reigns’ former Shield brothers and The Bar. At SummerSlam the month prior, Rollins and Ambrose successfully captured the Raw Team Team Championship from Cesaro and Sheamus. I, along with most of the IWC, loved the reunion storyline between Rollins and Ambrose. WWE is rarely capable of attempting long-term storytelling, let alone pulling it off, so it was great to see Rollins and Ambrose’s five year arc continue to play out at No Mercy. The Bar were perfect counterparts for them, countering the former stablemates’ star power with a no-nonsense, brute force approach that vigorously tested the tenuous bond of the champions.

                Sheamus and Ambrose start things off. Cesaro quickly creates a distraction that leaves Rollins in a heap at ringside and finds Ambrose getting swung head first into the steel steps by The Swiss Superman. The heels are thus able to isolate Ambrose, with both wrestlers targeting Ambrose’s left arm. But Cesaro gets too greedy and his Neutralizer attempt is countered by Ambrose, who’s able to tag Rollins into the match after launching Cesaro into the steel ring corner supporting the turnbuckles. Rollins is on fire, and as the highest flying wrestler of the four is all over the place with offense. With the referee distracted by Cesaro legitimately losing his two front teeth, Sheamus is finally able to slow Rollins down with underhanded tactics.

                Even with his mouth being a dental disaster, Cesaro remains in the match, assisting Sheamus with double team maneuvers to wear down Rollins further. Eventually though, Rollins is able to launch the bloodied Swissman over the top rope to earn a hot tag to Ambrose. A flying elbow drop off the top rope by the Lunatic Fringe results in a near fall. Rollins and Ambrose just can’t seem to get on the same page, with one or the other constantly being neutralized and allowing a numbers advantage for the challengers. Ambrose is able to kick out of a double Irish Cross, frustrating Sheamus, who wonders what he has to do to keep Dean down. In the highlight of the match, Sheamus hits White Noise on Ambrose, followed up by Cesaro powerbombing Rollins from the top rope onto Dean. But still the referee is unable to find a three count. After dominating the entire match, The Bar make a big mistake, with Sheamus accidentally Brogue Kicking Cesaro. Rollins then hits a ripcord knee on the Irishman which Ambrose follows up with a Dirty Deeds for the win.

                I had completely forgotten about this match, and I’m glad the optimizer surfaced it. Even without a bloodied Cesaro, the physicality in this match would have been impressive. I also enjoyed the storytelling of The Bar’s teamwork proving superior until a costly slip in the final moments. This match is every bit deserving of the rating it earned from Meltzer.

                Meltzer’s Star Rating: 4.25

                Survivor Series 2018: Ronda Rousey defeated Charlotte Flair in 14:40 by disqualification

                I strongly considered placing this as the main event, but ultimately decided it would serve better anchoring the middle of the card. There’s no denying how much of a dream match this was at the time. Ronda brought in tons of outside appeal from her time in the UFC and had been running roughshod over the Raw Women’s division. Meanwhile Charlotte had been the face of the Women’s Revolution in the WWE to this point. Yes, it was a dream match… just not the dream match fans in the moment wanted or expected. During an invasion angle on the go-home Raw, Nia Jax legitimately injured Becky Lynch, who was in the middle of one of the hottest runs by any man or woman that decade. Lynch was incapable of competing against Rousey at Survivor Series, and she personally selected Charlotte to be her replacement.

                The competitors start the match with a feeling out process, trading attempted punches and kicks. Charlotte escalates the action by shoving Rousey to the mat, sending a message that Flair’s a much stiffer challenge than anything Ronda had faced in the WWE to date. Both wrestlers look for and are unable to find their finishing submission moves, leading to a stalemate.

                An elbow from Charlotte busts Rousey’s mouth open, but the Raw Champion retaliates with an enziguri to stun The Queen. This provides a window for Ronda to wrap Charlotte up in an armbar in the ropes, dealing major damage to Flair. Ronda applies a Triangle choke hold, but Charlotte is able to counter into a Boston Crab. Charlotte heads to the top rope looking for a Moonsault. Ronda counters with a stiff leg to Charlotte’s jaw, only to eat a massive spear when she turns around from hyping up the crowd. Ronda kicks out at two, but it doesn’t take long for Charlotte to lock in a Figure Four. However the Queen is unable to transition to the Figure Eight, and Rousey rolls them both out of the ring for a much needed breather.

                Back in the ring, Ronda enters the bread and butter of her offense, with stiff arm drags and punches battering Flair. Rousey looks yet again for an arm bar, but even after nailing Flair with a Piper’s Pit, she’s unable to lock in her patented submission hold. The match comes to an end when Flair, having rolled out of the ring to escape the arm bar attempt, nails a pursuing Rousey with a Kendo stick resulting in a disqualification. Charlotte continued the beatdown after the match with even more Kendo shots, a Natural Selection onto a steel chair, and a stomp to the same chair as Rousey’s throat was trapped in the opening between the chair's top and base.

                On the night, this felt like an unsatisfying ending, but in the long run it served as an important plot point in both womens’ march to the main event of WrestleMania 35. The crowd cheering Charlotte’s brutal post match attack set the wheels in motion for Rousey’s heel turn, and the intensity Charlotte showed was a key evolution to her character. I probably would have deducted about a half a star from Dave’s rating due to the dirty finish, but I understand the WWE's desire to protect each competitor from taking a pin or tapping out. It may not have done so fully, but this match mostly delivered on the promise its talented competitors’ offered.

                Meltzer’s Star Rating: 4.25

                Unforgiven 2002: Chris Benoit defeated Kurt Angle in 13:55

                It’s always tough to follow a main event caliber match in the middle of the card. In real life, Ronda and Charlotte went on second to last. At Survivor Series, Daniel Bryan and Brock Lesnar were up to the challenge of keeping the audience engaged, and I think Benoit and Angle would be capable of pulling off a similar feat in our optimum alternate universe.

                This match between lauded members of the SmackDown 6 was instigated by Benoit laughing at Angle getting stinkfaced by Rikishi. Angle returned the favor a week later by restraining Benoit while Rikishi rubbed his ample behind in the Canadian’s face. I suppose there are worse feud backstories… though none come to mind at the moment. Michael Cole and Tazz do a good job of selling that this match is about pride and proving who’s the better man, though they can’t help butt to bring up Rikishi a few times.

                There’s plenty of mat-based chain wrestling to start the match, with both wrestlers narrowly avoiding each other’s submission finishers. More back-and forth leads to an excellent series of nearfalls via rapidly transforming pinning predicaments. Angle takes the upper hand by dropping Benoit sternum first across the ringside barricade. Benoit is resilient, though, and is able to hit two German suplexes, but Angle blocks the trifecta to hit two of his own. He too is stymied from hitting a third. Benoit hits one more German before Kurt counters one more time, finally hitting the three Germans in a row both men were seeking.

                Kurt’s singlet straps come down, but Benoit counters the Angle Slam into a devastating belly to back suplex that flips Angle onto his face. However, Kurt scales the top rope with catlike agility to prevent a Diving Headbutt attempt from Benoit, hurling the Canadian to the mat with a belly to belly throw. Both men counter apparent piledriver attempts before Benoit nails a shoulder breaker and successfully connects with the Diving Headbutt. While that fails to garner a three count, it gives him the opportunity to apply the crossface. Kurt comes close to tapping, before somehow countering with an Ankle Lock while still trapped in the crossface! There are a couple more slick transitions between each man’s finisher before Angle locks in the crossface on Benoit. Chris gets tantalizingly close to the ropes, but Angle spins them away, only for Benoit to use that momentum to get Kurt into a pinning predicament. Using the ring ropes for additional leverage, Benoit secures the win.

                I didn’t enjoy this match as much as their excellent encounter just a few months later at the Royal Rumble, but it was still a strong demonstration of intense technical wrestling. Of course with these two, I would expect nothing less, and if they’re not deserving of Dave’s full rating, they certainly aren’t that far off.

                Meltzer’s Star Rating: 4.5

                Royal Rumble 1998: Max Mini, Mosaic, and Nova defeated Battalion, El Torito, and Tarantula in 7:48

                This is a miniature wrestler showcase, part of a short-lived partnership between the WWE and AAA. Most of the luchadores are not Hornswoggle small, but they are demonstrably more diminutive than Sunny, who is the special guest referee for some reason. I get a kick out of how seriously she takes her job, thoroughly checking each participant for foreign objects before the match begins while also sneaking in the occasional tickle. Earn that paycheck, Sunny!

                The crowd is pretty dead to start this match, but Nova and Tarantuala quickly get them engaged with their surprising athleticism. I have to take back what I said about Sunny taking her job seriously, though, as there isn’t much concern for enforcing proper tag protocol; the wrestlers enter and exit as they please. All the while, there’s some seriously impressive bursts of chain wrestling coming from the mini wrestlers.

                Max Mini is able to get Sunny involved on his behalf; she boosts him so he can kick down each of his opponents. The crowd pops for Mosaic and Max Mini busting out a suicide dive and a springboard corkscrew to the outside, respectively. Max Mini earns the win for his team with a top rope headscissors takeover into an arm drag transitioning to a cradling pin.

                Overall this is a fun undercard match, but there’s literally no story, which I suppose isn’t that surprising given all six wrestlers are unknowns to the crowd. I considered placing this match earlier in the card, but ultimately decided it would serve as a good palate cleanser before heading into the main event. I’m honestly surprised at how highly Dave rated this, but I suppose he does have a bias for international styles and fast-paced action.

                Meltzer’s Star Rating: 3.5

                TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs 2018: Daniel Bryan (c) defeated AJ Styles in 23:55 to retain the WWE Championship

                If you’d told people from 2005 this match would eventually take place in a WWE ring, they’d have thought you were crazy. If you’d told the same people the same thing in 2010, with Bryan Danielson now employed by Vince McMahon, they would have thought you were nuts. In 2016, even after AJ Styles made his once unfathomable WWE debut, those people still would have considered you removed from reality because of Bryan’s legitimate retirement due to concussions. But life sometimes makes fools of us all. Fortunately for us, this time it was in a good way.

                Bryan had stolen the title from Styles on SmackDown a month prior with a low blow, cementing his heel turn with a post match beatdown. Styles wanted revenge. The champion wanted to prove that the “The New Daniel Bryan” was both physically and morally superior to everyone in the WWE. The fans wanted a classic… and depending on their tastes, they got their wish.

                At the match’s start, Bryan rolls under the bottom rope repeatedly, rather than engage in physical combat. It clearly works as intended - Styles is livid at the cowardly evasion. When he is finally able to get his hands on Bryan, he unloads with chops across the champion’s chest. Styles maintains control before Bryan exits the ring again… thanks to a clothesline from Styles sending him over the top rope. But when the challenger attempts to leap to the outside with a phenomenal forearm, he’s met instead by a kick from Bryan to his gut. This allows Bryan to take control, and he continues to target Styles’ torso and ribs with kicks, knees, and submission holds.

                Finally, Styles is able to gain a moment of respite by exploding out of the corner with a clothesline as Bryan attempted his trademark running corner dropkick. Styles unleashes a flurry of strikes, but Bryan escapes the ring before the challenger can attempt a Styles Clash.
                Once back in the ring, Bryan regains the advantage with an impressive Cravat lock transitioning into a suplex. He follows this up with a successful series of “No” kicks, but Styles forces a stalemate with a surprise enziguri. Styles is able to wrench the champion down to the mat by his leg and proceeds to target the injured limb. Bryan almost taps to a single leg Boston crab, but finds a counter into the Lebell Lock. Styles escapes, and nails a Pele kick in the resulting scrum. Styles is able to hit a beautiful springboard 450 splash, but Bryan kicks out. Styles applies the Calf Crusher to Bryan’s injured leg, but he is over-vigorous in applying pressure, allowing Bryan to transfer Styles' momentum into a rope break.

                Bryan returns to his early match tactic of escaping the ring. It backfires, though, when Styles finally connects with a Phenomenal Forearm utilizing the ring barricade as a launching point. Bryan avoids another Phenomenal Forearm back inside the ring, and is able to roll Styles up with a sudden inside cradle to secure the win.

                The match had a slower start than I was expecting, but I appreciated the psychology behind Bryan’s methodical takedown. For my taste it never quite hit the fifth gear that I envisioned in my mind for this pairing. But if you’re a fan of a stiffer, more cerebral style over fast-paced action, then this clash should be right up your alley. In that style, this match is close to perfect. I personally wouldn’t rate this match as highly as Meltzer did, but I can understand his rationale for doing so.

                Meltzer’s Star Rating: 4.75

                THE VERDICT

                Thus concludes the Optimal California PPV. It checks in with the following stats.

                Total Match Time: 99 minutes, 28 seconds

                Total Stars: 29

                Weighted Average Rating: 4.31

                I’ve yet to run the results for any other state/region, but I imagine this will be a mighty hard score to top. We’ll just have to wait and see. And whether or not this card is eventually topped, it’s certainly earned my respect for being littered with strong matches and great wrestling, anchored by a compelling opener, an oft-forgotten but wonderful tag team battle, a dream women’s match, a technical tour-de-force, and a fantastic main event. Throw in a couple of solid undercard matches, and that’s a recipe for a card for the ages.

                Do you agree? What's your favorite match of the seven? Any matches from California's history you think should have been included instead? Let me know!

                Thanks for joining me on the first edition of the Optimal Paper Review. Next up, we’re headed from one sunny coast to another as Florida will get its turn under the optimal microscope. I hope to see you then!


                • #9
                  This is an absurdly great idea and I utterly love the first entry! I've seen almost all of the matches on the card and there are some absolute gems there. For me I think there's none better than the opener, Mysterio and Jericho were absolute magic through that whole feud, but you literally can't pick a loser here. And an extra shout out for an all time favorite in Tajiri! I can't wait to read more of these Mavs, this is really superb stuff.

                  The '92 Rumble! The Brain's Finest Hour!


                  • #10
                    mizfan - I'm glad you like the concept and the first edition so well! Yeah, that Mysterio-Jericho match was probably my favorite of the entire California card. I don't think I had ever seen it before, so I'm glad the optimizer gave me a reason to check it out!


                    THE OPTIMAL FLORIDA PPV

                    And… we’re back, after a delay due to my shocking (to me, anyway) non-elimination from Round 4 of the Last Man Standing tournament. Welcome to another edition of The Optimal Paper Review. I’m your host and statistical savant, Mavsman.

                    In the debut column of OPR, California posted a stout total score of 29 stars and a weighted match rating of 4.31 stars. Now, it’s Florida’s turn to take the optimizer for a spin to determine the best possible PPV card for the WWE in The Sunshine State.

                    Containing both the all-night parties of South Beach and the rural panhandle that in heritage belongs to the Deep South, Florida is a state of contrasts. Perhaps best known for spawning eponymous “Florida Man” headlines, the state’s eccentricities make it the butt of the joke for many across America. Though it’s possible some of that animosity comes from a place of jealousy - there’s a reason many snowbirds from the Northeast and Midwest have winter homes in Florida. It may have its crazier elements, but nice weather and no state income tax will always make it a magnet for new residents and vacation-goers alike. Plus, Disney World!

                    In its history, the WWE has hosted 29 non-NXT PPVs from Florida, with 10 of those coming in 2020 as the company sheltered in place due to the coronavirus. As a result Orlando, home of the original Thunderdome, is the Florida city to host the most PPVs with Miami (and its suburbs) and Tampa in second and third. A full list of WWE’s Florida PPVs can be found below. Note that I listed Drew McIntyre vs. Seth Rollins as the main event for Money in the Bank last year as the two titular matches which ended the show were taped from Connecticut, not Florida.

                    There’ve been surprising gaps in the WWE’s appearances in Florida over the years; I couldn’t believe that WrestleMania 33 was the last PPV the WWE had hosted in the state prior to WrestleMania 36. The WWE has hosted many PPVs at the beginning and ends of years in Florida, especially early on in its tenure in the state. Outside of the WrestleManias, none of these shows stand out as classic PPVs, so it will be interesting to see which matches the optimizer surfaces.

                    Speaking of, we might as well get to it!

                    THE OPTIMAL FLORIDA PPV

                    WrestleMania 33: Brock Lesnar defeated Goldberg (c) in 4:45 to win the WWE Universal Championship

                    Goldberg shocked the world at Survivor Series in 2016, not just by beating Brock Lesnar but by doing so in dominating fashion. Goldberg would go on to eliminate Lesnar from the 2017 Royal Rumble, further incensing The Beast. Though as angry as Lesnar was, it paled in comparison to the rage felt by most IWC fans when Goldberg buried Kevin Owens to win the Universal Championship at Fastlane. While I too wished that Owens would have kept the Universal title as part of his WrestleMania feud with Chris Jericho, I was nevertheless intrigued by the WWE’s chosen Universal Championship clash for The Show Of Shows. This was in part because it was so rare to see Lesnar as the underdog and in part because of the ignominious performance the two delivered in their past WrestleMania encounter thirteen years prior. Would they be able to redeem that humiliation and give the fans a satisfying WrestleMania clash worthy of their titanic personas?

                    Lesnar flips the script from their match at Survivor Series, hitting the champion with three quick German suplexes in a row at the match’s start, but Goldberg immediately answers with two resounding Spears. Lesnar rolls out of the ring to regroup, only to be met with a third devastating Spear, this time through the barricade near the timekeeper’s area. Back in the ring, Goldberg nails a fourth Spear, following it up with a Jackhammer. Somehow, Lesnar is able to kick out mere milliseconds before the ref counts to three. And even more unbelievably, he has enough energy to leap over a fifth Spear attempt. Seven more Germans and an F-5 later, and Brock Lesnar would capture the Universal Championship for the first time in his career.

                    I imagine this match was a nightmare for Dave to rate. On the one hand, it was fast and furious action that served as a satisfying coda to these men’s decade-plus saga. On the other hand, it was extremely short for a typical main title match at WrestleMania. Do you grade it for what it was, or for what it could have been? Dave clearly veered toward the former, and if you’re looking for solid entertainment on the night, I think that’s fair. While subsequent Goldberg matches in the last four years have deadened the impact of the finisher-spamming formula used here, on this night, it hit the spot.

                    Meltzer’s Star Rating: 3.5

                    Survivor Series 2010: Daniel Bryan (c) defeated Ted DiBiase Jr. in 9:58 to retain the WWE United States Championship

                    This match was booked just six days prior, when DiBiase beat down Bryan following a match on Raw. The announcers discuss how DiBiase wanted to earn a title, not just have the Million Dollar Championship handed to him by his father. Silly Ted… nepotism is wonderful if you can get it! Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!

                    Some chain wrestling gets us started. DiBiase gains the advantage when he suplexes Bryan over the top rope out of the ring. An attempted Bryan comeback angers DiBiase, who pummels Bryan with fists to the face in response. The challenger hits a gorgeous dropkick on the champion, but Bryan kicks out of the attempted pinfall. Bryan finally gets DiBiase off his feet with his own dropkick, sending DiBiase clattering into the corner. Bryan enters his peak offense, with a barrage of kicks and a flying clothesline serving as a preface to a suicide dive to the outside. The champion hits a double booted stomp from the top rope, earning a two count. DiBiase blocks the Labell Lock and hits a mammoth clothesline. DiBiase blocks the Lebell Lock again, slingshotting Bryan into the steel ring corner. Bryan uses his momentum from escaping the ensuing pin to finally apply the Lebell Lock, forcing DiBiase to tap out.

                    This match opened Survivor Series 2010. On Florida’s optimal card, it would face the much more unenviable task of following up the colossal clash between Lesnar and Goldberg. If this card was to actually come to fruition, I could imagine the crowd reaction Bryan and DiBiase earned suffering as a result. But I think they’d essentially be able to hold their own. This was a solid match that showcased both men’s athleticism and talent well. Nothing groundbreaking, but nothing terrible either. You can do a lot worse for a midcard title match at a PPV.

                    Meltzer’s Star Rating: 3.5

                    Hell in a Cell 2013: Cody Rhodes and Goldust (c) defeated The Usos and The Shield (Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns) in 14:38 in a Triple Threat match to retain the WWE Tag Team Championship

                    At Battleground 2013, the Rhodes brothers won a fantastic match against The Shield that prevented the brothers and Dusty from being fired. A week later on Raw, they captured the WWE Tag Team Championships from The Shield thanks to interference from The Big Show. After some chicanery in determining the new number one contenders, a triple threat tag team match was booked for Hell in a Cell.

                    First off, what a moment in time this match represents. It’s capturing some of the last moments we would see of Cody Rhodes in the WWE before he transitioned into the Stardust character. The Usos are still doing the Haka for their entrance. Vicki Guerrero was in a position of authority. Tout is still getting shoutouts! Poor Tout… couldn’t be Vine or TikTok even though it tried so hard...

                    Oh right, the match. Though described as a Triple Threat, only two wrestlers are legal at any one time. Rollins cowardly tags in Jey Uso immediately, hoping the other teams will demolish each other and The Shield can pick apart the pieces. The Rhodes and Usos wrestle to an early stalemate before Reigns blindly tags himself in, allowing for an ambush of Goldust that puts The Shield firmly in control of the match. Rollins and Reigns isolate Goldust, but he’s able to plant Reigns with a DDT. Rollins knocks Cody off the apron before he can make the tag, though. Goldust looks to tag in an Uso as a last resort, but The Shield knock both Samoans off the apron as well.

                    After a powerslam to Reigns, Goldust is finally able to tag in his brother. Cody comes in on fire, and Rollins is selling the high-flying offense phenomenally. Jimmy tags in at Cody’s expense as the champion goes for a Disaster Kick, and the Usos are finally getting a chance to make a major impact in the match. They don’t disappoint, with Jey flying over the top rope to take out two competitors and Jimmy nailing a massive Samoan Drop on Rollins. Jimmy gets crotched on the top rope before he can attempt his trademarked diving splash. This allows Cody to tag in, but he too is neutralized in the corner on the top rope by Rollins. Rollins joins Cody, and they fight for control before Cody hits a Superplex to the outside. Jimmy hits the diving splash he was looking for earlier - this time to break up Cody’s pin attempt on Rollins. He tries to drag Cody to the corner to tag himself in but is annihilated by a Spear from Reigns. Jey retaliates with a Superkick to Reigns, but is tossed out of the ring by Rollins for his trouble. Unfortunately for Seth, this leaves him two on one with the champions, and a right hand from Goldust sends him straight into the clutches of a Cross Rhodes from Cody, and the champions retain.

                    A rollicking opener, this match built effectively on the recent history between The Shield and the Rhodes brothers. While the Usos added a nice dynamic to the match, they ultimately came across feeling a touch superfluous. But between effective ring psychology and impactful offense, this bout is every bit deserving of Meltzer’s rating.

                    Meltzer’s Star Rating: 4

                    Extreme Rules 2011: Christian defeated Alberto Del Rio in 21:05 in a Ladder Match to win the vacant World Heavyweight Championship

                    This match originated in the wake of Edge’s shocking retirement. The Rated R Superstar had retained the World Heavyweight Championship against the Royal Rumble winner, Del Rio, at WrestleMania XXVII. Christian got involved in the feud to help even the odds as Del Rio’s ring manager, Ricardo Rodriguez, and his bodyguard, Brodus Clay were constantly interfering. After Edge was forced to relinquish the title, his spot in the already scheduled ladder match for Extreme Rules was put up for grabs in a 20-man battle royal on SmackDown. Christian won, setting up a Cinderella story - could he finally capture his first world championship in the WWE in poetic fashion by defending the honor of his longtime tag team partner?

                    Christian opens the match with a barrage of punches only to be met with an equal barrage of kicks from Del Rio. Del Rio proceeds outside to grab a ladder, only for Christian to nail a dropkick into the ladder between the first and second ropes. He’s able to trip Christian, causing the Canadian to slam face first into the ladder he was carrying. Del Rio sets up a ladder spanning the ring to the announce table and attempts to suplex Christian onto it, but Christian blocks. Both men look for their finishers unsuccessfully, but Christian is able to flapjack Del Rio into a ladder that had been wedged into the corner. Christian grabs a larger ladder, but this time is stopped halfway up when Del Rio throws a miniature ladder into him. Del Rio climbs the miniature ladder and pulls Christian down with a double knee arm breaker, dealing great damage to the limb in the process.

                    Del Rio presses his advantage, slamming the injured arm into a ladder. Del Rio looks to suplex Christian into the ladder that’s perched between the ring and the announce table, but instead Del Rio is back dropped onto a ladder laying in the ring. Christian nails a Spear, paying homage to Edge but also further damaging his left arm in the process. Christian ends up prone on the ladder bridging the announce table. Del Rio goes for a stomp from the top rope onto Christian, but Christian escapes and Del Rio crashes precariously to the ground. Christian is able to grab the championship before Brodus Clay interferes. Christian sends him face first into a ladder before nailing him with the miniature ladder to eliminate the threat. Del Rio was able to revive himself though and he applies the cross arm breaker to Christian’s damaged limb which is trapped in the miniature ladder. Del Rio begins a slow climb to the championship before a honking sound distracts him. Edge has arrived! Christian tips the ladder, sending Del Rio flying out of the ring onto Clay and Rodriguez. Christian grabs the title, ending his thirteen year major championship drought in the WWE. An emotional Christian poses jubilantly atop the ladder with a clearly proud Edge applauding in the ring. They hug and share words before Edge holds the new champion’s hand high in recognition of the biggest victory of his career.

                    This match epitomizes the importance for fans of being able to compartmentalize - the post-match celebration was a phenomenal moment, and a suitable end to a shitty situation caused by Edge’s retirement. Yes, it was a storybook ending… for all of two days, before the WWE ripped the title from Christian and put it on Randy Orton instead. That context leaves a sour taste in any rewatch of this match. But if you’re able to put that aside, you’ll be able to savor a delightful match which marked a coronation for one of the most underrated wrestlers in WWE’s history. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, finally Christian was center stage, and he delivered with a great match and an iconic moment for the ages. Reality would come crashing down mere hours later, but for now, Christian was finally vindicated. And his triumph felt right.

                    Meltzer’s Star Rating: 4.25 stars

                    Survivor Series 2020: The Street Profits (Angelo Dawkins and Montez Ford) defeated The New Day (Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods) in 7:00

                    There’s not a ton of backstory to this one. It was a pretty straightforward Champions vs. Champions match between the Raw Tag Team Champions (The New Day) and the SmackDown Tag Team Champions (The Street Profits).

                    The New Day dance along as The Street Profits enter the ring, and the mutual respect and fun vibes continue as Woods and Dawkins start the match. Kofi and Montez are quickly tagged in though, and they engage in some classic chain wrestling. Kofi takes out Ford on the outside with a suicide dive and Xavier slams Angelo’s head to the outside floor to further cement The New Day’s advantage. Kofi and Xavier take turns working over Montez’s midsection with punches, kicks, knees, and shoulder blocks. Xavier then applies a chin lock, forcing Montez to watch as Kofi kicks The Street Profit’s signature red Solo cup into the Thunderdome audience. Kingston enters the match and sinks in a Bear Hug, but Ford escapes and jumps into a DDT to earn the tag to Dawkins. Angelo’s mix of power and agility sees him simultaneously dominate both New Day members. Ford recovers well enough to take part in some more double team action, including a nifty Sliced Bread utilizing Dawkins’ chest to launch himself into the move. The New Day members combine for a Midnight Hour that earns a nearfall. Kofi hits three Boom Drops onto Ford, but gets distracted by Dawkins before he can hit Trouble in Paradise. Kofi is able to hit an SOS, but Dawkins breaks up the pinfall. Xavier flies in with a missile dropkick to take out Dawkins. A now-legal Xavier hits a huge gut buster on Ford, but somehow Montez kicks out. Dawkins blindly tags himself in and The Street Profits nail an Electric Chair / Diving Blockbuster combo move to secure the win.

                    This match didn’t get a ton of time, but the charisma of the performers really shone through. They also managed to cram quite a bit into the SHORT duration, to the point the match felt longer than its mere seven minutes. This is exactly the type of match that serves as glue in an Optimal Paper Review card - a short but sweet affair.

                    Meltzer’s Star Rating: 3.5

                    Summerslam 2020: Asuka defeated Sasha Banks (c) in 11:25 to win the WWE Raw Women’s Championship

                    A month prior to Summerslam, Asuka lost her Raw Women’s Championship to Sasha Banks thanks to Bayley’s interference; a rematch between The Empress of Tomorrow and The Boss was booked. Additionally, Askua won a Battle Royale to become the number one contender for Bayley’s SmackDown Women’s Championship. Both title matches were booked for Summerslam. Earlier in the night, Asuka lost her title match against Bayley after interference from Banks. The besties proceeded to beat down the challenger after the match’s conclusion. Thus, this second title match began with a bitter Asuka determined to leave the pay-per-view with at least some gold while simultaneously exacting revenge on the annoying Banks and Bayley.

                    At the match’s start, Banks immediately dropkicks Asuka’s left knee which had been previously weakened by Bayley. Asuka fights back, and Banks decides to walk out, willing to accept a countout loss since she would retain her title. Asuka catches her though, and on the apron The Empress unleashes a flurry of kicks. Her last attempt ends up finding nothing but ring post though, which gives Banks the opportunity to perform an impressive modified sunset flip into a powerbomb from the apron to the ring floor. Asuka just manages to beat the referee’s count back into the ring, but her reward is additional punishment at the hands of the champion. Banks looks for her signature knees to the chest as Asuka is tied up in the ring ropes in the corner, but Asuka catches the champion instead and plants her with a flapjack Electric Chair. Asuka tries to pull Banks away from the corner, but Banks, clutching to the ring ropes, is able to utilize the momentum to hit a modified Codebreaker. However, the champion’s frog splash comes up empty as Asuka rolls out of the way. Asuka briefly sinks in the Asuka Lock, but Banks counters into a Bank Statement. In a mirroring of the first championship match’s finish with Bayley, the SmackDown Women’s Champion climbs onto the ring apron. But this time when Asuka takes out the would-be interferer, she’s able to keep her focus, countering Banks’ finishing submission into the Asuka Lock. Screaming for help from her friend that would not come, Banks has no choice but to tap out, and a new Raw Women’s Champion is crowned.

                    This was a very effective match. Both women sold one another’s offense exceedingly well, and they did a fantastic job building off of the events that had transpired previously in the night. This match would also serve as a key breaking point in the relationship of Bayley and Sasha, leading to their feud in the fall. If they had been given just a touch more time, I could have seen an even higher rating for this match, but Dave has it about right.

                    Meltzer’s Star Rating: 3.75

                    WrestleMania XXVIII: The Undertaker defeated Triple H in 30:50 in a Hell in a Cell match

                    In some ways, the seeds for this match were planted a year prior, when The Undertaker barely beat Triple H at WrestleMania XXVII in a No Holds Barred match but needed to be stretchered out at the match’s conclusion. In other ways, the seeds for this match were planted two years prior, when The Undertaker retired The Game’s best friend, Shawn Michaels, at WrestleMania XXVI. But truly, the seeds for this match were planted decades ago, in the mid 90s, when The Undertaker ascended the locker room hierarchy to rule the roost and Triple H was a cocky newcomer looking to shake up the establishment. By the time WrestleMania XXVIII rolled around in 2012, they were the last two main eventers left from the Attitude Era, let alone the New Generation. What better way to determine who the better man was than with a match that equally defined both competitors’ legacies - Hell in a Cell. To make matters all the more interesting? Shawn Michaels was named special guest referee. Would he help his friend and screw The Undertaker out of The Streak? Or would he call it down the middle and see The Deadman reach a perfect 20-0 at WrestleMania?

                    The match begins as a brawl, with both men exchanging punches. The Undertaker gains control, and tosses The Game outside. Both men utilize this early opportunity to weaponize the cell, slamming each other’s faces off the unforgiving steel. The Deadman mostly keeps the control through this portion of the match, wearing down Triple H at a methodical pace. Back in the ring, The Game nails a facebuster that The Undertaker no-sells. Triple H looks for a Pedigree, but The Undertaker counters with a backdrop. The Game now introduces a steel chair, nailing The Undertaker dozens of times with weapon-assisted body blows. Shawn Michaels yanks the chair out of The Game’s hands, to which Triple H says “You want it done? You end it!”. Michaels checks on The Undertaker, but is shoved aside by The Deadman, who tells him “Don’t stop it. DO NOT STOP IT.” Triple H finally covers after more chair shots, but The Undertaker kicks out at two. Frustrated, Triple H leaves the ring to retrieve his signature sledgehammer. Shawn begs The Undertaker to let him ring the bell, but The Deadman refuses. He eats a sledgehammer shot to the face as a result, yet is still able to kick out before Michaels finds a three count.

                    Triple H goes for another devastating sledgehammer shot, but Michaels intervenes. It looks like he will finally heed Triple H’s advice to call the match off, but The Undertaker responds by locking HBK in Hell’s Gate! The Deadman nails a low blow and applies Hell’s Gate on Triple H. It appears Triple H might be unconscious, but with Michaels also incapacitated, there’s no one to call the match, and The Undertaker breaks the hold. Charles Robinson frantically takes HBK’s place, but when The Undertaker’s chokeslam on Triple H only results in a two count, an infuriated Deadman chokeslams Lil’ Naitch for his trouble. Before The Undertaker can hit the Tombstone Piledriver on Triple H, Shawn Michaels nails Sweet Chin Music on him which Triple H follows up with a devastating Pedigree! Shawn comes a fraction of an inch away from counting three before The Undertaker kicks out in one of the most iconic nearfalls of The Streak.

                    Shawn Michaels again advises leniency, but gets tossed out of the ring by his friend for his trouble. The Deadman sits up and unleashes hell on Triple H, culminating in a Tombstone Piledriver. Sliding back into the ring, Michaels counts to two before The Game shockingly lifts his shoulder off the mat. The two men, both battered and brutalized, make it to their feet and trade blows before Triple H hits his second Pedigree of the match. It’s still not enough. The Game crawls for his sledgehammer, but The Undertaker beats him to the punch with a steel chair. Michaels begs The Undertaker to cease the relentless chair shots, inverting his position from earlier in the match. The Deadman finally covers, but Triple H kicks out, causing a clearly exasperated Michaels to yell “BOTH OF YOU, STOP!” as if the match has turned him into a dad on a road trip with two obnoxious kids.

                    After he’s stopped from hitting one final sledgehammer shot, a defiant Game unleashes a DX crotch chop at The Deadman. In hindsight, this isn’t his smartest decision, as the Undertaker responds with a sledgehammer shot to the face and a second Tombstone Piledriver. The Undertaker covers, Shawn Michaels counts, and The Deadman remains perfect at WrestleMania. The two combatants slowly recover as a sad Michaels looks down on both of them. The three men then walk eachother up the ramp in a mutual show of respect, looking back once they reach the top, not just at the ring and the audience, but at the era they just ended.

                    This match epitomizes the WWE’s approach to building a modern classic. None of the offense was innovative. The pace was slow. But every action had a purpose, each move existing as a callback to a past match or moment from over a decade of collective history. The sum truly can be greater than its parts. And in this case, the total was an emotional masterpiece which showed that, at its best, wrestling truly can be limitless.

                    Meltzer’s Star Rating: 4.75

                    THE VERDICT

                    Thus concludes the Optimal Florida PPV. It checks in with the following stats.

                    Total Match Time: 99 minutes, 38 seconds

                    Total Stars: 27.25

                    Weighted Average Rating: 4.15

                    So Florida was unable to beat its sunny counterpart from the opposite coast, California. Despite a legendary main event, much of the undercard was unable to break into the 4 star territory that will be needed to best California’s score.

                    What’s your favorite match from this card? Any matches stick out from the other PPVs that you’re surprised the optimizer didn’t select? Let me know!

                    Next up alphabetically among the cards is a state that I think could be a serious contender to dethrone California - Illinois. Chicago has seen a host of iconic PPV moments in its history. Will that translate into a superior Optimal Paper Review score? You’ll just have to wait until next time to find out!

                    Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you soon for another edition of The Optimal Paper Review!


                    • #11
                      Man some absolute barn burners on both of these cards.

                      The Jericho v Mysterio feud in 2009 was so good, two pros at the absolute peak of their powers and made the absurd stuff they were doing look effortless.

                      Loved the Rollins & Ambrose v The Bar matches, it was that stretch of TV heading into Summer Slam 2017 that made me finally put words down and start writing wrestling columns.

                      The Charlotte v Rousey match I remember being quite fun and very hard hitting but transparent in what it was trying to do which was a bit of a downer.

                      Lesnar v Goldberg in a vacuum was a great hoss battle but I can never remove it from the shenanigans with the World title that it had in the lead up and resulted in with Brock's horrific run to Summer Slam 2018.

                      I also love that you got Christian v Del Rio on the card, was a great match with a genuinely emotional hook to it in the wake of Edge's retirement.

                      One thing I will say that I'm surprised by is how modern these cards are. We live in a work rate era but these all skew very modern, I don't think we have got any 90s matches so far which shows a big hole in the Meltzer ratings. Personally I don't dislike Dave as much as some but I still don't see his ratings in any way definitively as just like any critic he has his own personal biases and pet dislikes, I think we are seeing one of those biases play out in your series Mavsman.

                      Great stuff man, looking forward to whatever comes next.


                      • #12
                        Yeah, definitely an issue with Meltzer's ratings as they have crept upwards a lot in recent years, so you're not likely to see many matches from the 80s or 90s even if those matches were far more successful at engaging the fans of the time. But so it goes, you have to use some criteria to pick!

                        Brock/Goldberg - I understand why some folks like this match. It's quick, hard hitting, and certainly better than their dreadful match at Wrestlemania XX. For myself I can't say I'm a fan, I think like Sam I can't separate it from the horrendous booking that surrounded it. Lesnar clowns the entire current generation of wrestling, but an elderly Goldberg takes him down in seconds, then Lesnar takes him down again in just a few minutes? Might as well separate these stars of yesteryear into their own promotion, since they rarely even bother to interact with anyone current, they can just have their little matches so they don't get too blown up and exposed as being over the hill.

                        Bryan/Ted - This is the tail end of a series of great PPV matches Bryan had early in his WWE run, before they forgot about him for about a year. Ted Jr was never good for much when he went out on his own, but Bryan took him to something really good.

                        3way Tag - I haven't watched this one in a while but I remember it being super, super good. The Rhodes brothers were just on fire through this run, and matched up with two great teams as well.

                        Christian/ADR - Even before Del Rio was revealed as a sex offender, abuser, and actual kidnapper, I can't say I was ever a fan of the guy. But this is wrestling, and sometimes we have to be able to enjoy a match for what it speaks to us even if we're aware of the flawed people involved. I do remember enjoying this match quite a bit at the time, largely because I was pulling so hard for Christian to finally pull down a major title in the WWE.

                        Street Profits/New Day - This is one I haven't seen but I've no doubt it's a fun sprint, I'm a big fan of the New Day so a nice choice to even out the card.

                        Asuka/Sasha - This is another one I don't think I've actually seen. I'm a massive Asuka fan but, for whatever reason, I've never been able to get into Sasha Banks the way some others have. I'm certain it's a very good match though, and a nice addition to the lineup.

                        Taker/HHH - I know very well I'm in a minority here, but I never cared for this match. The enduring memory I have is someone doing a big kickout and Shawn flinging himself around the ring like he was having a fit, or maybe like a fish who unexpectedly found himself out of the water. If Shawn was on any other TV show, or indeed in a middle school play, the director would tell him to dial it back about 8000%. To me it was all melodrama that I had no emotional access to, but I do understand why others love the match and I don't begrudge them that. Though I would like some acknowledgement of Shawn's scenery chewing antics, at least.

                        Awesome write up once again! Bring on the other 48!

                        The '92 Rumble! The Brain's Finest Hour!