Being able to cover pro wrestling at FanHouse was truly a labor of love, and an opportunity I will always be grateful for, as short-lived of a venture as it may have been. Working with talented writers Brian Fritz and Brandon Stroud has been an absolute pleasure, and I really hope to get the chance to do so again.
I vehemently believe pro wrestling is worth covering more, despite what the naysayers may think about it, because people will always love it with a passion.
With that in mind, I've asked Brian and Brandon to answer a series of selected questions for our last post here at Pro Wrestling FanHouse. Thank you all for reading, and please keep supporting the cause.
-- Tom Herrera
What do you love most about pro wrestling?
Brandon Stroud: Jumbo Tsuruta. I don't know, I think I've watched and written about wrestling too much to rank the things I love against one another. As a fan since my birth over seventy years ago, I've loved the fellowship it gave me with my parents. They had me when they were 20-year-old wrestling fans. My mother was carried around the ring by Andre the Giant when she was young. My dad had kayfabe ruined for him during a run-in with the Andersons at an ice cream shop. It gave me something to talk about with them, something to love with them that had nothing to do with family, life, or what I was supposed to be doing.
As a teenager, I loved the rebellious excitement. I loved being stared at for wearing an nWo shirt to school, only to have wrestling get super popular a year later and have those same staring kids come to me for information about pro wrestling. I loved trading tapes, finding out about new things, finding Hayabusa, finding Toryumon, finding Jody Fleisch, loving him, then wishing I could lose him again. I loved being a part of the audience of Ring of Honor when Samoa Joe was smacking Kenta Kobashi across the face, and I loved how that evolved into the sincere joy of watching a man in a stuffed dragon suit have his tail put in an STF at CHIKARA.
As a wrestling school student and later as a writer, I learned to love the people, these flawed, desperate people who somehow found a way to love an unlovable monster that tears apart your dreams and builds them back up again in ways you weren't expecting. I learned that the characters were people, and that the people were bad, and that sometimes badness is what makes you a person.
The thing I love most about pro wrestling is that it exists, and that I get to know more about it than anybody could possibly need to.
Brian Fritz: If you ask a professional wrestler why they do what they do, most will tell you it's for the pop. That moment when he/she first walks out and the crowd goes wild, jumping to their feet and roaring with excitement. Or when they hit their signature move to everyone's delight and scores the victory.
I'm a wrestling fan for that same reason: the pop. But my moment is different. It's not when someone gets a win and their hand is held high. Or when a huge surprise is revealed out of nowhere and it leaves everyone with their mouth gaping open in shock.
My moment is when I'm watching a great match and as the competitors go back and forth, trading shots minute after minute with onlookers on the edge of their seats. The match builds to a crescendo and then someone hits that big move or pulls something out of nowhere. "That's it!" screams the announcer as everyone counts in unison for the pin.
"1-2-OHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!" He kicked out! He kicked out!"
Those few precious seconds is what it's all about.
Wrestling is about making people believe and taking you on a roller coaster ride of emotions. When it is at its best, the audience reacts because it cares. It cares who wins and loses. It cares when the bad guy does something dastardly, then stands there and soaks in the showering of boos. It cares when the good guy earns his revenge and finally gets the upper hand.
It's all about getting people to care and then reacting by either cheering or booing. And that one moment, where people are fully invested, their eyes glued to the action, waiting in anticipation of what will happen. The place is buzzing as it has all built to this one moment. The crowd is at a fever pitch and believes this one is in the books. But it's not.
This match must continue.
That is wrestling and that is why I am still a fan to this day, more than 25 years from when I first started watching.
What is your favorite pro wrestling memory?
Brandon Stroud: I have two memories that I hold above the others.
The first was Joe vs. Kobashi in New York City. I mentioned it earlier, but it was a transformative experience. It was a dub of a dub of a dub of a Japanese show on a VHS tape coming to life in front of me, running headlong into this exciting new possibility for live, esoteric, niche pro wrestling. It was a five-star match, and if it never got a single star it would've meant as much. I remember sitting beside my friends with our heads down after the match, trying to process how happy that'd just made us, and why. We still haven't figured it out, and that's the best thing I could imagine.
The second is that horrible, failed wrestling convention in San Francisco. I got to hug Molly Holly, I got to make bro fists with Harley Race, I got to hear the least reputable history of the Great Muta ever from Virgil. But the moment I hold closest to me is meeting "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. I watched him take the time to greet everyone, talk to them, treat them like they were special. We'd been through this awful ripoff, but he made it all make sense. He kissed a handicapped kid on the forehead. When I got up to him, I said, "Mr. Piper, let me ask you a question. What's the secret?" His answer will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Oh, and my third favorite memory is eating a literal bucket of chicken wings at WWF New York. And you wonder why I'm a vegan.
Brian Fritz: My dad was never a big sports fan like me but I remember as a teenager watching TV with him on a Saturday night as we bumped into the National Wrestling Alliance on Superstation WTBS and we took in the action. The first match I remember seeing was probably a week later when I called for my dad to come out of the garage because Tully Blanchard was defending his NWA Television Title against Brad Armstrong. After a 10-minute time limit draw, Blanchard narrowly escaped with his championship and I was hooked.
I've been lucky enough to see so many great moments since then. All the way from The Four Horsemen to the nWo, the Attitude Era and everything in between. Unbelievable stars like Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, Terry Funk, Dusty Rhodes, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, The Rock, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Rob Van Dam and Jerry Lynn.
I remember back in 1989 which I consider one of the best years ever in wrestling because of the "Nature Boy" Ric Flair. He began the year as a heel, feuding with then-champion Ricky Steamboat who he finally defeated to win back the World Championship. But after that, he became the good guy as he was enraged in a bitter feud with the returning Terry Funk, which climaxed to an "I Quit" match between the two foes at the Clash of the Champions where Flair won and made The Funker shake his hand. That is my favorite feud of all time. Watching these two men talk smack and then furiously fight in and out of the ring was incredible.
But the greatest match I ever saw live -- and probably the greatest match I've seen period -- was at WrestleMania XXV in Houston, Texas, when The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels squared off for the first time on that stage. This was the 30-minute equivalent to Beethoven's Symphony, a work of art to be cherished forever between two of the greatest stars in wrestling history.
What do you have to say to the haters who label pro wrestling "fake?"
Brandon Stroud: It is fake, and I'm sick of explaining it to you. Go watch high school amateur wrestling, and never once consider how "gay" it looks.
Brian Fritz: Sure, pro wrestling isn't a traditional sport. But those people who step between the ropes are true athletes and entertainers, just like in mainstream sports.
That's why so many athletes from other sports are wrestling fans. They appreciate the talent it takes to get in the ring and perform, from the athleticism to the ability to withstand the bumps and bruises and grind it out on a weekly basis.
While a wrestler might not be able to run the 40 in under 4.5 seconds or make a diving catch over the middle, I want to see how many football players land a picture-perfect moonsault or trade a quick succession of pinfalls using basic wrestling moves.
So many athletes are wrestling fans because they respect that. Just look at Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers who often made a championship-belt-around-the-waist gesture whenever his team scored this past season. Or the wrestling belt on his shoulder while holding the Lombardi Trophy.
Pro wrestling is scripted entertainment but there is nothing fake about the skill involved for a match. And there is nothing fake about the excitement wrestling fans get out of watching a good wrestling product.
Any farewell message to the readers who enjoyed Pro Wrestling FanHouse?
Brandon Stroud: Don't give up on wrestling writing. It can be good. It can be real journalism, whether it's about something "real" or not. The people doing this are interesting, and their stories should be told with at least a tiny bit of respect, and not just in RF video shoots where someone tells them to talk about their suicide attempt. If you treat the people in the wrestling industry better than you do right now -- and that includes the writers, promoters, program girls, whatever -- it will get better. The definition of "better" will vary, but trust me, it's the one thing I know for sure.
And don't give up on wrestling. It sucks right now, but it's always sucked. Steamboat/Savage at WrestleMania III was the epic peak of the genre, sure, but that show also featured a Brutus Beefcake tag and a Hercules-centric double countout. Wrestling is always, always bad, and there is always something wonderful to be found amongst the badness.
Thank you for letting me write about wrestling for a living, even if it didn't last very long. I wanted it to last forever, but I never really thought it would last a day.
Brian Fritz: I would like to thank everyone who supported the effort we put forward here at FanHouse in covering wrestling. It was my pleasure in covering it the way we did with a straightforward approach and taking it seriously but having fun along the way. All the stories, all the behind-the-scenes interviews with wrestlers, and all the shows along the way. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did in writing those stories for the site.
It was just over a year ago when I had inquired about a position at FanHouse, hoping that there would be interest in covering wrestling and I could be a part of that. I got the call from Tom Herrera and we talked for nearly two hours that first time. Just a few days later, the wrestling section was a go with me as a part of it.
Tom and I had never talked before then but he believed in my previous work and me being a part of the new wrestling section at FanHouse. And for that, I thank you Tom. It was his vision that pro wrestling was covered on FanHouse and helped the section grow to the level that it did. I've learned a lot over this past year and it's been my pleasure having Tom as my editor and now as a friend. I just hope we can do it again sometime in the near future.
I also have to mention Brandon Stroud who was the yin to my yang here. I did the day-to-day stories while he focused on show recaps and reviews with his witty humor and sometimes strange tangents. I don't know how you came up with some of that stuff or what you were thinking but it was damn entertaining.
For anyone interested, you can still listen to my weekly "Between The Ropes" wrestling show which has been on the radio now for more than 12 years. Without giving a blatant plug to where you can find it, just do a Google search and I guarantee it will come up.
And on that note, I bid you adieu ... Brian Fritz, reporting for FanHouse. It's been my pleasure.