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.
“The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.” – Hunter S. Thompson, Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80s
As a contributor to the Voices of Wrestling team, I find that in ways, my wrestling fandom is at once at its height, but perhaps at its maturity as well. I look at professional wrestling, not only through the eyes of a fan—as I’ve always done, or the eyes of the smark—at the business and backstage clockworks that drive the various promotions, but through more opened eyes—in the interactions with numerous others at VOW that have their own depths of understanding and insight when it comes to wrestling. As I think back to 2011, however, I marvel at how different my view of wrestling was, and that I was more than prepared to leave this particular fandom behind.
Hulk Hogan being throttled by Andre the Giant, flanked by Bobby “The Brain” Heenan on the set of Piper’s Pit. The Giant had a posse. Hogan laying in a heap, his shirt torn, necklace and crucifix broken, a small trickle of blood. And then WrestleMania 3, the slam heard ‘round the world. The coronation of the Real American—a sort of Captain America taken from the page and given form in the real world. That is where I chart my genesis for my passion of wrestling.
I was a child during a time when the WWF product was being presented as a larger-than-life spectacle of titans and heroes. There were cartoonish elements, but I didn’t care, I was too young to. Over the next few years, by the late ’80s, early ’90s—World Wrestling Federation was leaning into the caricature—Berserkers, Mantaurs, Repo Men, Tugboats, and so many others. So few of these ideas hooked me, but I was forgiving of it – I wasn’t quite old enough yet to be entirely turned off by cartoonishness. Besides, this era also gave me the Undertaker, who did hook me in a big way. He was an instant favorite, my first heel favorite – watching the way that even Demolition couldn’t give him pause. Or dragging a coffin behind him that his hand had been slammed in, while the Macho Man and Rowdy Roddy Piper swung away at him with chairs to no effect. Many criticize the supernatural gimmickry and pomp surrounding the Undertaker, but I’ll always have a fond spot in my heart for Taker’s early years. And while many other supernatural gimmicks since have been tried and have ultimately failed time and again, I argue that none were presented as dominantly as the Undertaker was, where only those who had demonstrated near superhuman ability themselves – a la Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan, could stand up to him. And in the case of Hogan, even fall. The Dead Man would keep my wrestling fandom going, as the Hogan Era came to an end.
I kept abreast of pro-wrestling during my Jr High and High School Years, with both WWF, as well as NWA/WCW, USWA, and other territories during their dying days on slow weekends, a plethora of promotions coming in on various local and cable channels. But my passion for wrestling during the period that saw the ascendancy of Bret Hart, Lex Luger, and Sting was an isolated thing. There were few friends by this age that were truly invested in pro wrestling, and those that were were people who I didn’t really relate to otherwise, or were fans that weren’t as willing to share their fandom either. Once I got out of High School, and was living on my own though, wrestling was a regular part of the TV diet.
Just in time for the Monday Night Wars.
By 2011, I had been a fan of pro wrestling for 25 years, and I’d seen the product change a great deal by that point. And sadly, it wasn’t for the better. We were well into the era of World Wrestling now-Entertainment’s dominance after the decimation of World Championship Wrestling a decade prior. It was clear that the minds behind Monday Night Raw and Smackdown almost had a sadistic approach to their product and storytelling, on one hand withholding what the fans seemed genuinely excited for, in exchange for the other hand, where fans were already being force-fed talents that the fans had long-since turned on.
By this point, I had been a TNA stalwart for a few years and counting. Jumping on in the days just before Impact! Was relegated to internet broadcasts, and buying Pay-Per-Views that had no build on television – there was an energy and excitement then about being a TNA fan, especially when progress manifested with their adoption onto Spike TV. But those days had begun to fade away, and in their place, we were already into the era of Hogan and Bischoff. They had brought with them a notably stark tonal shift to Total Nonstop Action, and I felt enthusiasm and faith draining from my chosen wrestling alternative as well.
Ironically, 2011, is a year when both WWE and TNA would seem to begin laying the groundwork to try and make adjustments, and some of them are still topics of some note in the wrestling fandom. However, it was too little and too late for me. In WWE, we got the infamous pipe-bomb promo from CM Punk, as well as a return of the Rock to begin a high-profile feud with John Cena. With TNA, we got the first title reigns of James Storm, and Robert Roode – moving away from snake-bitten cast-offs from WWE that, at its worst, led to some of the most embarrassing moments in TNA history. But I was drifting too far out of orbit by this point – I never liked CM Punk and was unmoved by a ‘shoot’ promo that never would have aired on TV if it was ever genuinely anything of the sort, and while a devout Rock fan – I knew this was just another in a long list of artificial machinations to try and get adult fans to just stop booing Cena every time he’s on TV. As far as TNA, I simply had seen how good they were before this, and lacked the confidence that the Hogan/Bischoff regime wouldn’t continue to erode the heart and soul of TNA.
This is basically where I stopped watching. I’d go to a friend’s house where he’d catch me up on the angles and we’d watch the big pay-per-views. But this became less and less frequent, until it stopped altogether.
I was unplugged from wrestling for just about four years. I had a peripheral awareness of what was going on in WWE, as well as the various permutations of Impact! that had begun to evolve over the years. I had some mild curiosity, but the reviews I was hearing from people I trusted didn’t make it seem worth really getting back into what was out there in any serious way. I indulged in a bit of Lucha Underground, but had a sinking suspicion it wasn’t going to last, and in spite of some charms and high points, I completely understand why that wound up being the case. I was of a mindset that I was no longer truly a wrestling fan – and I’d put that particular fandom behind me.
However, there was one event that piqued my curiosity enough that I decided to break my habit, and give wrestling a try. I had learned that New Japan Pro Wrestling was presenting Wrestle Kingdom 9 in January 2015, with English commentary. The booth would feature Jim Ross, as well as Matt Striker – both of whom I was well-familiar with in calling matches, and for that time, enjoyed both of their styles. I was somewhat aware of NJPW, having been a fan of WCW and TNA – where New Japan talent had both been featured in previous years, though I’d never watched their product in a dedicated way. It was an easy leap to make when I ordered Wrestle Kingdom 9. They had a great number of talents I was already familiar with: Alex Shelly, the Young Bucks, Shelton Benjamin, A.J. Styles, and others, but also they were tied to a newly emerging symbolism in the wrestling world that even I was aware of in my lapsed state – the Bullet Club.
After watching Wrestle Kingdom 9, I was shocked, and beside myself. I had never watched an event that was so good from start to finish up to that point.
The combination of Ross and Striker also conveyed a sense of instant familiarity with the talents with whom I wasn’t acquainted, and I was immediately sucked in. I walked away from that event thinking to myself both silently and aloud, “Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi is the best match I’ve ever seen.” I still find myself thinking that sometimes today. My love for wrestling was rekindled, and I knew that I needed to immerse myself more heavily into this thing called New Japan. At first, it seemed a little bit crazy to only follow a Japanese wrestling promotion, while mainly ignoring anything in North America, but at the end of the day, what’s good is good, and what’s good was in Japan.
For years, New Japan fandom was halcyon and golden. Even when WWE decided to take a sizable bite out of the pool of NJPW talent, they were able to resiliently bounce back and replace the voids filled with stars they’d been nurturing and now coming into blossom – the likes of Tetsuya Naito and Kenny Omega, among others. New Japan Pro Wrestling was making forays into the North American markets, and were seeing signs of success, which could be building blocks for the future. New Japan World was also in full swing, and easily accessible, so I was watching NJPW content with rapt interest. Wrestle Kingdom had become an annual tradition. I dabbled in North American product, a curious check-in on Impact!, the occasional AAA show perhaps. I’d tried to give WWE another chance at reconciliation when Shinsuke Nakamura had signed, and had found NXT to be a true delight that was so unlike its counterparts on the main roster. It felt good to be a wrestling fan.
There would be a show, however, that would not only defy expectations, but start a chain-reaction that would upend the entire wrestling world. All In was the brainchild of Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks that started with a bet. If an independent wrestling show could sell a 10,000 seat arena. Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer said it couldn’t be done. Cody and the Bucks proved him wrong. For me as a fan, it was the first time I’d seen a North American wrestling show that had that level of genuine hype and energy, since the first ECW One Night Stand. I, of course, wanted more, but this was only supposed to be a one-off.
We would find out on an episode of Being The Elite, that this was not to be the case.
After Wrestle Kingdom 13, Being The Elite featured a scene where we’re introduced to a scene with Cody Rhodes, the Young Bucks, and Hangman Page standing outside of the Tokyo Dome, showing a message that they’ve all received on their phones. Their screens show a stylized graphic reading ‘Double or Nothing’ and another reading ‘AEW’. All Elite Wrestling was born. Some of the most popular North American talent on the New Japan roster joined with Jacksonville Jaguars owner Tony Khan to create a new wrestling alternative in the United States. The advent of All Elite Wrestling in 2019 would not only restart a wrestling war in the U.S. as they would land a television deal on a major network in TNT to cut into a monopoly that WWE has enjoyed in the industry for over 20 years. As a fan, I never thought I’d see it, after having witnessed the demise of WCW, the failures of TNA, and so many others. But we were here, in a new era. I had finally made my return to investment in North American pro wrestling, and AEW got me there.
The difference between my relationship with wrestling now, and what it was 10 years ago, is night and day. 2011 was when I began taking my first steps in earnest to walk away from pro wrestling. In 2021, I’m more of a fan than I’ve ever been, watching product from multiple continents, without having to spend a single iota of my time on World Wrestling Entertainment in order to do so, after having been burned by them so many times. Given my investment in so many companies now—AEW, NJPW, even Impact! (who’s made a resurgence), and several others as well, I find myself having deep and nuanced thoughts about what they present—both successes as well as failures, that I feel compelled to write them down, and share them. I’m left feeling, perhaps because of that, wrestling’s changes in the last 10 years have perhaps made it the best its ever been—at least for me, as a fan.