Ten years ago this week, VoicesofWrestling.com was born.

Originally designed to be a website and podcast series where people would discuss how they became wrestling fans and why they are fans today, the website eventually evolved into what you see today. This week, to celebrate our 10th anniversary, we invited VOW contributors past and present to re-create that original concept with a twist: why did you become a wrestling fan and how has your wrestling fandom changed in the last ten years.

We hope you enjoy the #VOW10 series and encourage you to share your memories of VoicesofWrestling.com, our columns, our reviews, our previews, our writers and our podcasts by using #VOW10 on Twitter or jumping into our special #VOW10 Discord channel.

Thank you for a great ten years. Enjoy.

-Rich Kraetsch

Voices of Wrestling 10th Anniversary

My mom never watched more than 10 minutes of wrestling in the 45 years of my life, and that 10 minutes was only to humor me, when I insisted on showing her something that blew my mind, that I had to share with someone, back in the days before social media. Something tells me the amount she watched in the 40 years she was alive before my birth was significantly less than those 10 minutes. If there was a time when she watched a Bruno Sammartino match with the same interest as she watched the Steelers and the Pirates, she never spoke of it. And while she intentionally passed down her love of Pittsburgh sports to me, she also nurtured my pro wrestling fandom, albeit with lots of rolling eyes I am sure.

I will never know what first drew my eye to pro wrestling, as I honestly cannot remember a time in my childhood without it. Weekend mornings were for cartoons and pro wrestling, and as a hyperactive child, whatever room I watched the matches in became my ring. Be it couch cushions arranged on the carpet for the morning shows, or the fold-out bed for 6:05 when the adults took over the main television, my 4 foot stuffed bear and I acted out the moves of my heroes and villains, booking my own promotion where the Midnight Express was always victorious over the lame Rock and Rollers, and the Four Horsemen reigned supreme. How my mother dealt with the racket, let alone the furniture damage, I will never know, but she never discouraged my love of wrestling; rather she seemed to take every opportunity to allow me to nurture it. Every payday she took me shopping with her, and my favorite part of the trip was always the grocery store, where she would park me in front of the magazines while she did her shopping. I’d quickly pick the one magazine I would be allowed to take home, and set upon speed reading the rest of the Apter mags, opening my eyes to the world outside WCW and WWF.

For my birthday one year she got me the just released Sling ‘Em, Fling ‘Em WWF Wrestling ring and helped me acquire enough figures for me to put my bear in retirement. She never even yelled at me for the barbecue sauce stains on the carpet after a particularly bloody grudge match got a bit out of control, though I did get a talking to when I used hairspray and a match to throw a fireball at my Hulk Hogan figure. (Looking back, he deserved it.) When I outgrew the figures and the by now duct tape repaired ring, she ordered me the GWF wrestling dice game from the back of the Apter mags. We never had the most money while I grew up; my dad was laid off from the mines and bounced from job to job, until diabetes finally claimed his legs, and both my sisters were in college by the time I was 4 years old. We weren’t poor by any stretch of the imagination, but money was more limited than it seemed to be for most of my peers in school. Yet there was always money for me to rent the latest wrestling tape at Blockbuster and whenever a wrestling event came to the Altoona/Johnstown area, be it the WrestleMania 2 closed-circuit viewing or a WCW house show at the Jaffa, my future brother in law would mysteriously find himself with two tickets and a very excited kid.

My teenage years coincided with some pretty bad years for the major wrestling companies, and as I spent more time trying to use my punk band to get laid I outwardly washed my hands of wrestling as a trapping of my childhood. I’d still secretly catch a Clash of the Champions every now and then, but it wasn’t until 1997, after a few miserable years wasted at University, when I moved back home, entered the restaurant industry, and found a little promotion by the name of ECW that rekindled my love of pro wrestling. While I always had understood wrestling wasn’t “real” like other sports, this was the dawn of the smark period of my fandom, as I was drawn to things like the WCW cruiserweights and workers like Chris Benoit, Lance Storm, Chris Jericho, and Rob Van Dam, and delighted in explaining the backstage drama and politics to my coworkers, who probably just wanted me to shut up so they could watch Hollywood Hogan in peace. I wrote my first articles for 1wrestling.com, and got to meet my favorite wrestler, Chris Benoit, and his wife Nancy at the Brian Pillman Memorial show in Cincinnati, but this was a poisonous time in my life as I discovered opiates and went down a dark path in my life that swallowed most of my 20s. I still watched wrestling when it didn’t interfere with my addiction and it was available; strangely enough county prisons don’t normally have Monday Night Wrestling parties.

The last day I was ever incarcerated was in 2007. Shortly after my final release, Benoit killed his family, and I was convinced I would never watch professional wrestling again.

I’d love to say that my life turned around in 2007, but as anyone with addiction experience will tell you, it rarely is that easy. While my legal issues ended in 2007, I was still a mess of a person whose underlying mental health issues of social anxiety and depression were magnified 10 fold by the crushing cycle of relapse, detox, post-acute withdrawal, then rinse, relapse and repeat. Eventually, I found treatment that worked (for me) to end the cycle of relapse, yet I was still left with the mental health issues, shattered relationships and trashed work history of the preceding decade. The only reason I got through this period in my life was my mother, standing beside me, believing in me, helping me to rebuild relationships and gradually rebuild my life. When my father passed in 2008, all the care-taking impulses of my mother were transferred on to me, as I became her new reason to live. And as I slowly improved, her health faltered, with an emergency room trip one morning resulting in an oxygen requirement, and the end of her independence.

I got to take care of my mother for the last 10 years of her life. The first few years mainly consisted of helping her with the house and the shopping, until the oxygen tubing became her fetters. After her near-death experience, I took a job delivering newspapers, because I could work a limited amount of time nightly and still earn enough to get by while always being able to rush home if needed. I became addicted to podcasts, and after exhausting every possible true crime cast I could find, started listening to Cornette’s output, along with the Old School Wrestling Podcast. I still had no interest in watching current wrestling, especially these idiots Jim would talk about wrestling blow-up dolls and nine-year-olds, but I loved the old stories about the Midnight Express and the anti-Russo rants. As I burned through his back episodes I signed up for Wrestlecrap to take another trip down memory lane, and eventually, I found myself searching for new wrestling podcasts to fill the time.

This is when I first stumbled upon Joe, Rich and the Voices of Wrestling Flagship podcast, and oh, did cognitive dissonance set in almost immediately.

These guys were intelligent and entertaining, yet they liked this modern wrestling that Cornette cut promos on constantly. But when they’d talk about the WWE product, I could tell they liked the same type of stuff in wrestling that I liked. The work rate, a sports atmosphere, intelligent booking that made sense. It was time for me to bite the bullet and watch the current product, so I found a guide online to figure out the signup process, I dropped 999 yen on my first subscription to New Japan World, and I watched Omega/Okada from Wrestle Kingdom 11. To say it reignited my passion would be a bit of an understatement. Free from the Cult of Cornette I tore into back episodes of the VOW Flagship. I signed up for the Torch and the Observer, and created a patreon account to throw money at VOW. My mental health improved as I fought through the anxiety to drive to Chicago and attend All In, and twice to New York for New Japan. During this time I started an office job in the petroleum industry, and really began to thrive for the first time in years. When the pandemic hit, the job became work from home, which allowed me to protect my mother from the virus while being available for anything she may need.

The last year was rough for everyone. I did not escape it.

Right after I started to write for Voices of Wrestling I lost my dog to cancer. My mom started a cycle of emergency room visits that would end with a temporary solution to a terminal problem. She was 85 and the COPD destroyed her body. Her eyesight was failing, her independence was gone, and her project, her troubled son, was finally clean and succeeding.  On April 9, less than 2 weeks after her 85th birthday and 4 days after a mass was found on her pancreas, my mother passed away in her sleep at home.

There were a lot of possible paths I could have taken at this point in my life. For the last 10 years, I had worried about relapsing when my mother died. While she had taken me on as her project, I had thrown myself into taking care of her and allowing her to spend her last years in the home, trying to repay her for everything she had done for me previously. And there was a time where I would have relapsed, in fact, used it as an excuse to willingly relapse, as my sobriety was more for her than for myself. It is hard to care what happens to yourself when you do not like yourself. But somewhere along the line, I forgave myself for the mistakes I had made and decided to move on. I realized that I wasn’t that person anymore. Rather I was now the person my mother saw when she looked at me. Someone who went through the hell of addiction, and came out the other side stronger for it. That’s not to say that there weren’t rough days, as that would be a lie. I dropped off the face of the Earth for months, spending any time not dealing with the estate in the forest with my new dog. During the worst of these days, my only escape was my weekly 3 hours with Joe and Rich, and Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling. The Flagship felt like a weekly meetup with friends to talk about wrestling, and I defy anyone to remain depressed while watching Mei Saint-Michel’s dastardly antics.

I didn’t find VOW until the middle of its existence. In the 10 years since launch, I’ve gone from being an ex-wrestling fan whose only experience with puroresu was a few matches off my old Best of Chris Benoit VHS tape to a current fan who spends more on streaming services in yen than dollars. I’ve gone from thinking women’s wrestling was a joke to reviewing TJPW for the site and loving joshi as much as I love the men. I’ve gone from a practical shut-in who blogged about politics and religion anonymously, to someone who lives for the next road trip to a wrestling show while signing their real name to their writing. And most importantly, I’ve gone from a white-knuckling shell of a man existing only to not further disappoint my mother to a man who can finally look himself in the mirror and be comfortable with the person looking back.

To my mother, wherever she may be, if we do indeed continue to exist after death, I say “Thank you for believing in me when not even I could.”

To Voices of Wrestling, I say “Thank you for helping me on this journey, as entertainment, information, companionship, a community, and an outlet. Here’s to another 10 years, and many more after.”