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Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer, in New York Time article
May 26 2013, 03:01 AM
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Personally been a subscriber of WON/F4Wonline since 1988ish. Considered the godfather of pro wrestling journalism - it was very cool to read:http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/15/sports/w...wanted=all&_r=0
"Dave Meltzer was gravely ill, but the phone would not stop ringing. It was December 1993, and someone had circulated the number of the hospital where Meltzer was being treated for a ruptured appendix, the delayed diagnosis of which had caused a life-threatening abdominal inflammation.
Meltzer at home in San Jose, Calif. He said his workweek often exceeds 110 hours, but his home office allows him to spend time with his wife and two children.
The professional wrestlers he often wrote about called to wish him well. Several would then launch into trade talk or gossip, which a fevered Meltzer would dutifully record.
“For 16 days,” he recalled, “I sat there with my notebook, waiting to go home and write.”
The wrestlers had no one else to call. Meltzer’s homemade publication, The Wrestling Observer, was their confessional, a place to anonymously vent about the politics and the vulgarities of their industry. For the past 26 years, he has printed a no-frills weekly journal that pulls back the curtain on a notoriously secretive business: which egos are running rampant, why revenue is up (or down), which injuries are legitimate and which are for show.
Meltzer said his workweek often exceeds 110 hours, but his home office in San Jose, Calif., allows him to spend pockets of time with his wife and two children. He has no employees, and he prints his newsletter — in single-spaced 7-point type — at a local copy shop. He declined to specify either the number of subscribers or how much he makes, but he agreed with an assessment of his income as being in six figures.
No concrete accounting of Meltzer’s prolific output can be made. Publishing about 25,000 words per issue — often many more — he has conceivably written more than 33 million words, nearly all of which have been in the service of analyzing an often-maligned athletic event.
Frank Deford, a 50-year veteran of Sports Illustrated, once labeled Meltzer the most accomplished reporter in sports journalism.
“You could cover the Vatican or State Department,” Deford said recently, “and not do as good a job as Dave Meltzer does on wrestling.”
Meltzer, 53, began watching the sport at 9. By 10, he was publishing a newsletter that received endorsements in the fan club sections of wrestling magazines. Readers would send in a quarter; Meltzer would send them a 24-page booklet covering the latest news.
“Kind of the same thing I do now, actually,” he said.
By the time a teenage Meltzer was attending live wrestling in Southern California, he realized not everything was for show. The Von Brauners, who flaunted Nazi beliefs to agitate the crowd, often had their fists cocked on their way to the locker room; knife fights broke out in the parking lot. If wrestling was phony, it provided plenty of opportunity for unscripted mayhem — a real world beyond the theatrics that seemed as compelling as the drama in the ring.
After earning a journalism degree from San Jose State, Meltzer pursued a career as a sportswriter. He held a few newspaper jobs while The Observer, then a monthly, remained a “very time-consuming hobby.” He crammed typewritten words on legal-size paper; some passages were smeared with Wite-Out and corrected by hand.
The crude presentation was irrelevant. Fans loved the locker room anecdotes. The wrestlers appreciated that Meltzer highlighted which regions drew the most fans, and he audited the attendance figures. They were paid a percentage of the live gate, a number promoters often fudged.
“News in wrestling didn’t travel well,” Meltzer said. “I’d get phone calls saying, ‘Mr. Wonderful is dead.’ I’d say, ‘I see him on TV every week.’ ”
By 1985, Vince McMahon had devoured the sport, hiring the regional stars to populate his World Wrestling Federation. He went national, creating mainstream celebrities like Hulk Hogan. (The enterprise became World Wrestling Entertainment in 2002.)
The magazines, including the W.W.F.’s in-house glossies, pushed ice cream bars and promoted contrived rivalries. Meltzer criticized wrestlers for having a limited repertory of moves, analyzed talent deals and fretted over the kind of ballooned physiques possible only with anabolic steroids.
The Wrestling Observer became Meltzer’s full-time job, and a weekly publication, in 1986. Intrigued wrestlers passed it around in McMahon’s locker rooms, subscribing under their birth names to hide their curiosity.
“They didn’t think I knew their real names,” Meltzer said. “I did.”
Not everyone was a fan.
“I wanted to punch him out,” said Bret Hart, one of W.W.F.’s biggest attractions at the time. “I didn’t like the idea of somebody trying to tell everyone what was going on.”
J. J. Dillon, a former McMahon employee, said: “There would be a board meeting and information that was only discussed in that meeting with key people and Dave would report on it. It drove Vince nuts.”
Exasperated, McMahon finally opened a dialogue when Meltzer was hired in 1990 as a wrestling columnist for The National Sports Daily, a short-lived newspaper edited by Deford that elevated Meltzer’s reputation and readership.
“That was the difference from eking out a living to making a good living, that exposure,” Meltzer said.
Shortly thereafter, a scandal involving W.W.F. office employees who were accused of sexual impropriety was sandwiched by two steroid trials that threatened to fold McMahon’s business and send him to prison. McMahon’s cooperation ebbed, but Meltzer’s coverage of these dramas was inexhaustible, as it was for entries that took on a morbid regularity: eulogies for deceased wrestlers, many of whom were younger than 50, and many of whom Meltzer had counted as friends.
“When I was in my 30s, I had more people that I talked to die than anyone that age should have,” he said.
Most deaths were the result of drug cocktails, uppers, downers and painkillers used to cope with grueling travel schedules; by Meltzer’s count, 62 wrestlers died from 1996 to 2007.
In 1988, Bruiser Brody, one of the first wrestlers to confide in Meltzer, was stabbed to death in Puerto Rico. None of the wrestlers who witnessed the incident would testify against his assailant, part of the sport’s code of silence. Meltzer’s sources were always protected and rarely identified to readers. They could speak freely, breaking character and divulging truths that might otherwise go unheard.
Hart was one of those who did not speak, but in 1997 he accepted a job with the rival World Championship Wrestling organization, and McMahon asked him to lose his title to Shawn Michaels. Hart, irritated with Michaels, refused to do so in Montreal, in his home country; McMahon conspired to ring the bell prematurely, awarding the win to Michaels.
Feeling betrayed, Hart went backstage and knocked out McMahon. Hart called Meltzer shortly thereafter; the incident became one of wrestling’s most enduring melodramas.
“I knew then why I needed Meltzer,” Hart said. “It wasn’t a story line, it wasn’t pretend. Wrestling writes its own publicity. I was always grateful for someone allowing the truth to come out.”
Most of Meltzer’s readers now are digital subscribers who pay $10.99 a month for daily updates, podcasts and an online version of the newsletter. About 30 percent of his readers prefer the printed version, though they have to wait a few days for delivery.
“Things haven’t changed that much,” said Hart, now 55 and retired, who sometimes visits locker rooms. “Everyone fights for The Observer just to see if they’re in it. Sometimes you’re in it and sometimes you’re not. Sometimes you like what he writes and sometimes you don’t. But I think wrestlers realize it’s good to have someone speaking for you.”
Meltzer, who has analyzed the business in some form or another for 43 years, sees no end in sight. Aside from some escalating coverage of mixed martial arts — which is essentially pro wrestling without the pulled punches — his enthusiasm has remained virtually unchanged since witnessing the Von Brauners fight their way backstage in the 1970s.
“I enjoy it for what it is,” Meltzer said. “It’s entertainment, storytelling. I know what it’s like to get good at it, and I enjoy people who are good at what they do.”
After his hospital stay, Meltzer apologized to his readers for missing a week and promptly delivered a double issue.
“So much had happened,” he said, “while I was on my deathbed.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: May 20, 2013
An article on Wednesday about Dave Meltzer, who writes a weekly journal on professional wrestling, misidentified the location where the pro wrestler Bruiser Brody was stabbed to death in 1988. It was Puerto Rico, not Mexico. The article also misidentified the hometown of Bret Hart, one of pro wrestling’s biggest attractions in the 1990s. He is from Calgary — not Montreal, where he was once asked to lose a match to Shawn Michaels."
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