Despite the fact that Vince McMahon has largely controlled the pro wrestling industry in the United States for the past forty years, consistently made a mockery of pro wrestling, and committed and has been alleged to have committed many very real, serious crimes, McMahon is often not the most targeted figure in wrestling when it comes to drawing the ire of pundits.

That role belongs to Dave Meltzer, the longtime publisher of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, who has managed to become the number one subject for countless critics and pundits online, who view Meltzer as the most treacherous and vile figure in all of pro wrestling. Criticisms of Meltzer have been turned into a cottage industry for some, who have latched on to a seemingly bottomless appetite from fans for takedowns of wrestling media’s most instrumental figure.

Meltzer is not the worst figure in pro wrestling; he is far from it.

As easily the most prominent journalist to ever cover the pro wrestling industry, Meltzer is responsible for providing some level of accountability and transparency to an industry that is famously averse to such practices. Pro wrestling is a far better industry due to the tireless work and contributions that Meltzer has made towards it, and that has been recognized by numerous people, including the Cauliflower Alley Club, who awarded Meltzer the James C. Melby Historian Award in 2017.

Meltzer, though, has become a cartoon figure in the minds of many wrestling fans, flames of spite that have been fanned by various podcasters and media rivals who are either jealous of Meltzer’s recognition in the wrestling media space, or frustrated by Meltzer’s commitment to telling the truth. With over 40 years of experience covering pro wrestling and a track record of success that dwarfs any other media figure in pro wrestling, Meltzer still remains a polarizing figure.

Wrestling as a cult?

The term “cult” gets tossed around a lot, but I think it’s easy to imagine certain groups of wrestling fans as a cult. Part of becoming a cult member is to become disillusioned with anything outside the cult that may contradict the central beliefs of the cult. As such, cults have a long history of fighting with the media, since media is supposed to be focused on informing the public of the truth, which may contradict with what cult members believe.

Another aspect of cults is in order to help rally internal support from members, the creation of an evil “other”, an outside person or group of people who are working to undermine the beliefs of the cult. Oftentimes, the outsider is a manufactured figure who is working to conceal “the truth” by spreading lies.

Since pro wrestling is an industry built by disingenuous people—a business quite literally of professional liars—it is natural that people within the industry would be adversarial towards Meltzer, the most prominent “truthteller” in wrestling. Meltzer is the enemy of any old carny that is looking to spin a tale that benefits them, because as a journalist and a historian that has documented almost every bit of mainstream wrestling history over the last five decades, Meltzer is the primary source for holding those old carnies accountable.

This is ultimately why Meltzer has been presented as an enemy of the industry as opposed to someone who has dedicated themselves to making it better. Meltzer threatens to undermine the faith that many fans who otherwise wouldn’t know any better have in certain sources, whether that be old promoters or wrestlers, or active wrestling companies themselves, from completely controlling the narrative and opinions of wrestling fans.

Enter the Conrad-verse

Dislike of Meltzer coming from people within the wrestling industry is nothing new. Promoters and wrestlers have mocked Meltzer’s work since he first began publishing the Wrestling Observer in 1980. Knowledge of Meltzer’s work beyond that bubble was relatively limited, though; unless you were in the industry or a newsletter reader yourself, for most of Meltzer’s career, his presence was only notable to a small percentage of wrestling fans.

This would change as more fans began getting online and the “smart fan” population greatly expanded. That greatly raised Meltzer’s profile among fans, for better and for worse. For every fan who began to appreciate Meltzer’s work, there seemed to be two fans who were loudly critical of Meltzer for various things (many of which he never said or did).

A key point would appear to be the launch of Bruce Prichard’s podcast, Something To Wrestle With, alongside Conrad Thompson. Prichard, a long-time wrestling executive who is historically close with McMahon, would tell stories recapping past events. Eventually, the show began to devolve into Prichard, who obviously had a stake in recapping events in a certain way, arguing with Thompson over reports Meltzer had in editions of the Observer that contradicted Prichard’s recaps.

Thompson has also added additional figures from wrestling history, particularly Eric Bischoff, who has been in a two-decade war with Meltzer and his Wrestling Observer Radio co-host, Bryan Alvarez, over the facts surrounding the demise of World Championship Wrestling, to his podcast lineup.

The rest pile on

Taking their cues from Prichard and Bischoff’s success in spending time gutting Meltzer, other less popular podcasts have taken the same route in seeking to discredit Meltzer. While these hosts don’t have the personal stakes that people like Prichard and Bischoff have in burying Meltzer, they understand there is an audience for that kind of content, and Meltzer is an easy target for people who lack critical thought or media literacy to attack.

Since wrestling has very few definitive records or accounts of history, the ability to shape past events to fit a narrative is easier than in most other entertainment fields. Dave Meltzer is one of the only real sources for that kind of information, which makes him an attractive target for anyone to go after if they are making a point. Calling Dave Meltzer a liar is usually an attempt to aid the credibility of a claim, since Meltzer’s reporting is sometimes the only record that could contradict a claim.

Wrestling is full of people, both within and outside of the industry, who want to be considered experts while also trying to shape a narrative that best suits them. That, more than anything, makes Meltzer public enemy number one, because his reporting flies in the face of many of those attempts.

A factor in all of this is that Meltzer himself gives off the impression he is relatively unbothered by the constant hostility aimed at him. While he is prone to arguing with bad-faith trolls on social media, Meltzer rarely even acknowledges the direct shots that are constantly being taken at him by the Prichard and Bischoff-like characters.

Meltzer is comfortable letting his record speak for itself, and despite the constant criticism he receives, he continues to grow his business, more than 40 years after he first launched it. While bashing Meltzer has become sport for some people and business for others, Meltzer remains uncompromised by the criticism, wearing the disdain from untruthful sources as a badge of honor.

Listen to Jesse Collings’ podcast: The Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast!

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