Voices of Wrestling is ten years old.
I’ve told this story on numerous podcasts but for those who are new to the website or our podcasts, I’ll give you a brief—oh, who am I kidding this is going to be long—overview of how we came to be. I personally have been a wrestling fan since around 1994 (when I was seven or so years old). I always watched it via the Saturday and Sunday morning airings on USA, usually Superstars and Livewire. My fandom went into overdrive in 1997 and 1998 when both WCW and WWF exploded in popularity. Now, for the first time in my life, it was actually cool to be a wrestling fan. This coolness, of course, was short-lived. My friends all stopped watching, moved onto other hobbies but for some reason, I was hooked. Even as the popularity plummeted, even after WCW went out of business, I was still there. Eventually, I discovered the world of independent wrestling and started attending Ring of Honor shows live.
The internet was a key piece in every step of this fandom, from AOL chat rooms where I’d type 2 to let people know I liked The Rock better than “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to IGN Message Boards (where I was banned after arguing about Chirs Benoit’s in-ring prowess — yikes) to eFeds (you’re talking to a former FWF AND IWF World Champion, by the way!) to the ROHWrestling boards where my indie fan cred was born. The internet and the community of wrestling fans around it were always a big part of what kept me going in my fandom, even as my real-life friends moved on.
One of those message boards where my fandom blossomed wasn’t a wrestling site at all but rather a sports video game forum: MaddenMania (later Virtual Sports Network). It was there I would discuss pro wrestling with a user by the name of Warner2Bruce4TD. We’ll get back to him later.
Jump ahead to 2011 and my wrestling fandom is waning and barely hanging on by a thread. The woman I was dating at the time thought wrestling was extremely stupid and honestly, I can’t blame her. Ring of Honor was going through an identity crisis and I stopped attending their shows live. WWE had reached a creative low point in 2010 and 2011 and I just didn’t feel like I had any connection to wrestling anymore.
Then The Pipebomb happened.
WWE Money in the Bank 2011 was taking place in Chicago and I had to be there.
My lone remaining wrestling friend Dan (Coach V) was called, tickets were purchased and we were ready to go. I remember in the week leading up to the show I went out of my way to consume all wrestling media I could, I subscribed to the Wrestling Observer website, I listened to any podcast or radio show I could find. One of the podcasts I listened to would change my life: Dave Lagana’s I Want Wrestling. The show was a very simple concept: former WWE creative writers, wrestlers or media personalities would come onto the show and talk… about wrestling. That was really it. Lagana would set the stage with a few topics but typically in a few minutes, the conversation turned into two friends chatting about why they loved pro wrestling.
To say it inspired me would be an understatement.
— Rich Kraetsch (@richkraetsch) July 17, 2011
Yeah, I was gitty about attending Money in the Bank. So my friend Dan and I drive up to the Allstate Arena and get ready to walk into the building for Money in the Bank. When in line, I notice my cousin Dennis standing in line to get in. Really? I didn’t know he still even watched wrestling, we’ve seen each other a few times per year for the last decade and hadn’t mentioned wrestling once. He lets me know the Pipebomb reeling him and his friends back in.
Huh, that rules.
I also notice my friend Sean Flynn in line. You guys may know him as one of our former RAW reviewers or from our travel diary during the most recent actual WrestleMania Weekend in New York. I knew Sean was a wrestling fan but at that point, both he and I were more devoted to our Chicago White Sox. Sean tells us he wouldn’t miss this show for the world.
Throughout the day, there is a palpable buzz in the arena. For the first time in forever… I felt IT. That feeling when you realize, THIS is why you watch this stuff. This is why you’ve spent years of your life discussing and arguing about this stuff. It’s a feeling that only pro wrestling done at its best can elicit. It was there that night in the hearts and minds of every single person in the Allstate Arena. For the first time in decades, it felt like a collective and I was happy to be part of it.
The main event happened. It was an incredible match—easy ***** from me—and one of the most important matches and moments of my life. When Punk hit the Go to Sleep and got the 1-2-3, the Allstate Arena exploded as I had never heard before. Adults leaping into one another’s arms, hugging and screaming. Punk did it. We did it. It was a win for Chicago. It was a win for the “hardcore” wrestling fan. It was a win for all of our fandoms. This is why we watch. THIS.
I remember walking up to Sean Flynn after the show and us just screaming at one another. I don’t know what we said, it didn’t matter.
Leaving the show and on the drive back, I couldn’t shake the feeling. What I had just witnessed was life-changing. There was me before this show and me after this show. I texted my girlfriend at the time about it and her response was just “Oh.” She didn’t care. I tried to explain what the moment meant to me and my life, she still didn’t care.
When I finally arrived home around midnight (post-show drinks were in order on this night!), I couldn’t sleep. I had work the next day but I knew I was calling off. I wasn’t going to sleep anytime soon. I fired up my laptop, head over to Google’s Blogger.com and registered VoicesofWrestling.blogspot.com.
The combination of I Want Wrestling, my renewed wrestling fandom, the communal aspect of that show, it all came together into this concept: Voices of Wrestling. (CM Punk’s Voice of the Voiceless being the obvious inspiration there).
My idea was a bit of what Lagana was doing with I Want Wrestling but I wanted to put a different spin on it. Instead of interviewing former WWE creative writers and wrestlers, I aimed to interview: wrestling fans. I had just been in a building with thousands of fans who all have origin stories on their fandom. Thousands of wrestling fans have gone on different paths. Some who never left, some who left and came back, some who needed this moment to get back in. It didn’t matter. Every wrestling fan has a story and I wanted to talk about their stories.
I publicized the new concept Voices of Wrestling wherever I could. I created a Google Form where people could apply to be on the show. My friend Jon (Lefty) was the first, he had been a fan then fell off, got back on and fell off again. He was the perfect first guest. It also helped that he and I had done a sports internet radio show (before we fully grasped the concept of a podcast), all throughout college. We had a natural rapport and he would be a great first guest.
You’ll probably hear from him again this week if the schedule works out.
Anyway, I interviewed Jon/Lefty about his fandom and it went great. Next up was Dexter, a fellow member of the MaddenMania/Virtual Sports Network site. I had numerous shows lined up and ready to go but the relationship with my then-girlfriend wasn’t going well. She hated wrestling and hated the idea that I wanted to create a pro wrestling website. I felt ashamed all over again for being a wrestling fan but quickly realized that wrestling had been there for every stage of my life. I thought back to being in the arena for Money in the Bank, I thought back to what I had felt that night when I fired up my laptop to create Voices of Wrestling. While I still loved her, this was the turning point in our relationship. Take it or leave it, I’m not going to be ashamed of being a wrestling fan, I am PROUD to be a wrestling fan. Needless to say, our relationship ended shortly thereafter.
It was full steam ahead for the website and podcast but I was noticing not much interest in the shows. Some people listened but I was receiving next to no feedback. During this time, I also began writing wrestling columns for Bleacher Report with the idea that I would link Voices of Wrestling at the bottom of each post and grow the site and show that way. The site puttered along for a few months before Warner2Bruce4TD reached out and asked if I still had that website.
I did, yes. He asked if he could come onto the show but didn’t want to do the Voices of Wrestling template I had been doing with others. Instead, Warner2Bruce4TD said we should talk about the 2011 Wrestling Observer Awards. Give our thoughts on the results and who we thought should have won for each category.
Sure, I can do that.
We did. That was the first Voices of Wrestling Flagship Podcast.
Warner2Bruce4TD is Joe Lanza.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The original concept of Voices of Wrestling was left behind but we created a new legacy. The podcast “grew” from there. I use grew in quotes because we had probably less than 40 listeners for a good year or so on the show before we really started gaining steam. I’ll dive more into the Voices of Wrestling Flagship Podcast history when we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the show in January 2022.
Anyway, the podcast led to me leaving Bleacher Report and posting my columns on Voices of Wrestling proper. Joe did the same. Then we started doing random reviews of NJPW and DGUSA shows. Nobody else was reviewing them so, hell, why don’t we try. People started taking notice and then we had a few emails come in, “hey can I write for the website?” At this time, it was really just Joe and I’s personal blog but sure, we’ll take a guest post or two. Those handful of guest posts turned into a few more and a few more and a few more. In what felt like a matter of weeks, we were reviewing and previewing major pro wrestling shows.
More people reached out, “hey can I write for the site?”
We started making calls on Twitter, Facebook and message boards — if you’re passionate about wrestling and want to talk about it. We are here for you.
Passionate about the world of wrestling and want to contribute to VOW?
We’re looking for new writers: https://t.co/SFMAScmI7A
— Voices of Wrestling (@voiceswrestling) July 7, 2016
To our surprise, people would come from all walks of life, all regions of the world. They wanted a place to talk about and write about wrestling. I always had to let these people know that because we weren’t a pro wrestling news site, the money wasn’t really there. This site was and always is a passion project. If you are passionate about pro wrestling and want to speak your mind, we can offer a platform.
We also decided against being just another news site regurgitating Wrestling Observer news items and instead aimed to be more column and opinion-based. David Shoemaker’s work at Grantland being one of the key inspirations.
There were ups and downs and in those early days probably more downs than ups. We stayed the course though. Now 10 years later, we have over 8,000 posts on the website with contributions coming from 184 different people. Some of those contributors dropped in for a post or two, others have several hundred. In addition to the website, we have a thriving podcast network with more than a dozen unique shows talking and discussing their passion.
Over the last ten years, we’ve grown from a wrestling website into, honestly, something bigger. Something of a community that I always wanted to build after being in the Allstate Arena that night. We have a staff Slack, we arrange meet-ups and basketball tournaments. We’ve had tournament pick’ems, we’ve been shouted out on the air of numerous wrestling shows, wrestlers and promoters reach out both publicly and privately for OUR thoughts and opinions, we host wrestling’s most diverse Match of the Year countdown each year… we wrote MULTIPLE BOOKS for god’s sake. My voice and face get recognized at wrestling shows now. When I met my now wife Michelle (The Nurse), I told her this site existed and that I was going to be a wrestling fan for life now. She was cool with it and while she MAY be re-thinking that stance nine years later, TOO BAD. She hosts shows on our Patreon now. She’s in, baby.
I’m just not sure… what this is or how it happened… I’m not sure if proud is the right word to describe how I feel after ten years of this site. I really just can’t believe it.
I can’t believe I have spent 28% of my life running this website.
I can’t believe 184 people wanted to contribute to it
I can’t believe millions of people each year read it, listen to one of our shows or discusses wrestling with us on Twitter.
I just can’t believe what started with me and my laptop at 1 am on July 18, 2011, has turned into this website, this podcast network, this community.
I really just want to say thank you. Thank you to everyone who has supported us. Thank you to everyone who has hated us but in turn, actually helped us build. Thank you to everyone who has ever contributed to the site. Thank you to everyone who has read an article, shook my hand at a wrestling show, listened to a podcast, clicked an ad on the site, let a friend know about the site.
That’s all I can say.
Thank you for everything.
In honor of the original concept of Voices of Wrestling, I invited past and present contributors to write a column on their wrestling fandom. The assignment was simple: why did you become a wrestling fan and how has your fandom changed in the last ten years.
Starting today and through the rest of the month, we’ll be posting these articles under the #VOW10 series. I 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 again for a great ten years.