On Killing a Wrestling Section at This Moment in History

Few eras in American wrestling have been more chaotic and worthy of coverage than this one, so it's time to say goodbye to Fanfyte.

It’s Wednesday, and nobody in the world of professional wrestling knows what that means anymore.

In the practical sense, there’s Dynamite, but what does AEW’s Wednesday night show look like in the wake of All Out 2022, a pay-per-view that bore the weight of a thousand possible futures the way CM Punk’s repaired foot bore his weight in his first (brilliant, in my opinion) meeting against Jon Moxley for the AEW World Heavyweight Championship. Things since Punk’s return had been complicated, particularly when it came to the subject of The Elite, but if the needle were threaded correctly on Sunday, everything would have looked brilliant, even intentional.

Instead, CM Punk exploded during AEW’s post-show press conference, cutting loose on a journalist from jump so he could perform a live autopsy of his relationship with Scott Colton, AKA Colt Cabana, of whom rumor and conjecture suggests may have been “punished” and/or “demoted” when Punk came into the promotion, and to openly speculate that stories to this effect had been planted by various members of The Elite. There was a fight, the details of which are unclear. Fans are calling for suspensions and/or firings on both sides of the conflict, a kind of well-poisoning that seemed impossible for a company whose primary critics were disingenuous Twitter hacks and middle aged podcasters catering to disingenuous Twitter hacks.

Oh, and MJF is back in the company, at the center of a massive angle with Punk. And WWE’s Clash at the Castle was another in a run of well-regarded Triple H-helmed WWE productions, the resurgent Worldwide Leader in Sports Entertainment enjoying its longest run of critical success since 2014.

So let’s all say goodbye to Fanfyte.

Today is, at last, the final day Fanbyte will publish freelance work under this vertical, excepting five or six pieces that I’ve been commissioned to write as a means of saying goodbye without any bitterness. I’ve hardly written anything since announcing that Fanfyte is closing, and I am happy to have the opportunity to do so. I came here as an essayist and want to go out one.

But I am bitter about this. Not because I lost a job — I got a new one in relatively short order, something I’d call a “dream job” if I believed in dream jobs (labor is labor, y’all, even if it’s cool) — but because the need for this section has never been more clear, the timing of its shuttering could not be worse.

This section was founded by LB Hunktears as the fledgling promotion AEW launched a show called Dynamite on Wednesday nights, as NXT “graduated” from the WWE Network to USA in a move that absolutely was not a bad faith attempt to derail its fledgling competition. This is crazy, everyone thought. This is as crazy as wrestling gets.

In 2022, things are even crazier. Remember when Vince McMahon “retired?” Remember when he and John Lauinaitis were at the center of a massive scandal involving the misuse of company money to cover a number of alleged sexual improprieties with WWE employees? That process started in April. McMahon retired at the end of July. That run of critical success WWE has enjoyed? It is one month long. All of this feels like it happened years ago, in another universe. You know, the universe where CM Punk’s return to wrestling was a feel-good story that didn’t inspire ringside fans to chant Colt Cabana’s name at him?

So, yeah, it’s a bad time to close a wrestling section. But that’s just how online media works.

When it comes to how I landed, all I can say is that I got lucky. I don’t know if the same will be true for others whose work I have edited. There aren’t many venues for what Fanfyte did, and fewer still, I imagine, that paid as well. This is a loss — unless it is self-published, I believe that work in this field deserves to be well-compensated. It is important, holding a mirror up to one of the world’s most resilient, mailable artforms, and that necessary criticism flourishes when the people who do it are treated as if their labor matters.

How Fanfyte Worked

I am and will be extremely proud of the work we did here. Beginning with Hunktears, Fanfyte has been a one editor enterprise and, having come into the job of editor as the featured essayist, I had to keep writing in addition to fielding pitches and looking for ways to grow the section.

It was not difficult to find talent. It was difficult, I think, to get people outside of Fanfyte’s orbit to see what the section was, exactly. Companies offered and pulled interviews from us, requests to attend press conferences went unanswered — the one interview Fanfyte secured through company PR was initiated well before that talent was under contract. My interview of Atsushi Onita did huge numbers for websites that clipped out the bit where he challenged Jon Moxley — it wasn’t particularly fun to watch as Mick Foley, one of my childhood heroes, tweeted that he’d love to be the referee of that match while linking to a site that ran a fraction of my piece, which I had been meticulous in preparing.

I’ll be frank: that kind of reporting is lazy and reductive, and is a feature of wrestling journalism, I believe, because the field has not grown to accommodate much beyond the churn of rumor and innuendo. That churn is itself so stale that when there’s nothing new to report about, say, the beef between CM Punk and the Elite, we must turn to what Vince Russo or Disco Inferno has to say, or, just as strangely, what unnamed WWE wrestlers think on the subject.

There is a vast galaxy of material out there for those who want to grab it and do some basic extrapolation on anything from two-minute segments on SmackDown to how difficult it’s going to be to portray MJF and Stokely Hathaway as mega heels in the wake of Punk’s explosion at the beginning of the All Out press conference.

On the two-minute segments on SmackDown front: did nobody think that the Viking Raiders’ Viking funeral for the New Day, where they burned a bunch of merch bearing the smiling faces of three black men in someone’s backyard, felt at least a little like a Jim Crow era intimidation tactic? I’ll stop short of comparing a box of Booty-o’s to a cross, but for the way we talk about wrestling to advance in any meaningful way, we are going to have to start acknowledging things like this instead of blithely reporting that Sarah Logan was involved in the on-location shoot. If you want to claim that wrestling is a reflection of the real world, you have to follow through and interrogate the ways in which fiction intersects with reality. Why, in 2022, might it be a little strange for some dudes dressed as Vikings to burn images of Black men in effigy? The question answers itself, but it has to be asked first. Fanfyte existed to ask those questions. Who will ask them now?

On the CM Punk front, everybody writing about All Out is getting worked a little, but: remember when CM Punk returned last year with a promo where he spoke rather liberally about how his mental health had collapsed due to the political machinations of his prior employer? Not to give him too much leeway, but if you take that as a given and maybe also accept that the following six to eight months of promos about how grateful he was to have rediscovered his love of wrestling as coming from a genuine place, it’s kind of easy to see how his perception that someone was poisoning the well for him could lead to an outburst.

Was said outburst professional? No, and for all I know there may have been no provocation for it beyond what Punk brought to the table when he returned from his injury and buried Adam Page over a comment he made in his promo, but look: very few people do this kind of thing without believing themselves justified in doing so, and there are rarely any clear victims and aggressors in wrestling beef. It is worth questioning things like whether Punk is being truthful about the receipts he claims to have with regard to Cabana, and to question who, if anybody, planted stories or whispered about him within earshot. But with so much of that lying unconfirmed and unreportable, we’re left with few directions to go in terms of what can be said. Here’s a couple:

  1. Chris Jericho bullshitting everyone about Vince McMahon never allowing something like the beef between Punk and The Elite to occur.
  2. Tony Khan suddenly invoking his wealth as a reason he won’t be bullied anymore, as opposed to the Crocketts, who did (and saw their empire decline as a result).
  3. Where the massive, show-defining debut of the MJF/Hathaway faction goes given that Punk will almost certainly be regarded as a heel by a huge swath of AEW’s audience. What does Khan do with this angle that a ton of money has been invested in?

These are specific, actionable items involving either historical research or narrative analysis, things that I would be DMing Brett Davis and/or David Bixenspan about while preparing my own piece about how reluctant Tony Khan is to “call an audible,” as one might do in this situation considering how in love Chicago was for MJF, considering that he didn’t do it when the Chicago crowd was begging for The Acclaimed to beat Keith Lee and Swerve Strickland on the same card.

These are the things that are springing to my mind at 1:45am after spending two days in my car listening to audiobooks about lesbians. Are these viable ideas? Is this a meaningful way of covering the newest “craziest thing that will happen in wrestling this year?” Well, my section is the one that’s closing, so maybe my instincts are wrong, but look—

What Fanfyte Was

What Fanfyte represented was an attempt to push the way we discuss wrestling on the internet beyond its long-standing confinements. We were the first outlet to write about COVID’s impact on the industry, one of the few willing to discuss the ways in which wrestling tried to connect itself, for good and for bad, to various social movements. Fanfyte had room for weekly discussions of WWE and AEW television *and* pieces about institutional racism, environmentalism, queerness, sobriety, the nature of time and space and the human need to connect to people or stories or icons. So yes, those are viable ideas to me as an editor and as a writer. Easy, even. Toss-ups.

But this is the venue that strove to publish that kind of work, and this article is its death rattle.

For the most part, I do not begrudge other outlets their style of coverage. I know mine is a risk — I pitched it to three different venues before I got to run with it here, because I was asked to, and this is where we are.

I have said this on Twitter and I will say it here: there is space for this kind of work elsewhere, a pool of extremely talented freelancers with ideas as wide-ranging as examinations of Kevin Nash-written television and era defining matches between Jumbo Tsuruta and Mil Mascaras, both of which are pitches I received *after* I announced the section’s eventual closure. There are writers out there who are interested in TJPW, lucha libre, classic indie wrestling that’s especially relevant to companies like AEW, and early WCW storylines, who do so without merely transcribing what happens from bell to bell or on the mic.

Wrestling coverage can be anything. If my brief life in this field proved anything, I hope it is that. The review I wrote about Scott Steiner’s Shoney’s and the piece I did about Reddit’s obsession with Dave Bautista’s dick have farmed clicks since the section launched. Thousands of people continue to find my weird little article about Lex Luger over two years after it was published.

It can be done. It should be done. I will go down with this ship believing this. It is something I wanted as a reader, something I strived to create as a writer, and something I searched for as an editor. I love wrestling. I am hopelessly in love with professional wrestling. I hope that what this website did finds its way into other outlets. Not for me and my ego, but because wrestling deserves this kind of consideration, just as much as film, theater, fashion, food, music, and a million other facets of human existence that occupy legacy media publications and trade magazines, that support critics at large venues and social media platforms alike are afforded.

I hope you agree. Plenty of readers did.