What even IS Dave Meltzer, publisher and editor of pro wrestling’s most authoritative dirt sheet, the Wrestling Observer Newsletter? He’s ostensibly a critic. He watches major pro wrestling matches and awards them any number of stars (he broke his own five star scale years ago, so who knows how many) to indicate their relative quality. But if Meltzer is a critic, does that make wrestling an art form? And if wrestling isn’t an art form, as many fans argue, what does that make Big Dave? Some kind of violence appraiser?
Dave himself seems unsure of his role— he recently tweeted that “If [he] rated matches based on his personal taste, they [sic] would be completely different”. Whether or not you believe his ratings are objective hardly matters. For decades, Dave’s reviews have functioned as a singular authoritative voice on what in wrestling is Good, and what in wrestling is Bad. He is wrestling’s value system made flesh, providing an epistemological framework that you can either be for or against, but can never escape. In short, Meltzer is daddy.
In addition to being the final word on match quality (and breathtakingly incorrect on almost everything else, from the term “mark” to the ethics of reporting sexual assault allegations), Dave also has a reputation for being a bit of an eccentric. He still uses his dad’s juno dot com email address professionally. When he reveals things about his personal life, they are almost always odd. This picture of his office haunts me in quiet moments. These strange little details serve to both mythologize and humanize him. They’re the kind of tidbits that hardcore wrestling fans relate to each other over beers before the show starts, affectionate community inside jokes about our problematic dad.
These odd little Meltzer facts took on a new fascination for me after I saw him at PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles tournament this year. Like Nicholson sitting courtside at Lakers games, Big Dave can usually be found in the front row at PWG shows. Even fans who don’t attend keep an eye out for his cameos on DVD releases. Front row ticketholders like Dave have no need to wait in line, but when I first him, he was outside the venue an hour before the show began, mingling with us GA proles, small rolling suitcase in tow.
Meltzer takes almost as many mark pics as the wrestlers do. He was easy to spot, and unmistakable— a compact and sinewy baby boomer, bulging out of his starched denim, with the kind of prominent brow ridge that’s launched a thousand incel forum threads. He was wearing a plain black t-shirt, an understated choice, but, fascinatingly, he had it on backwards. I couldn’t stop staring at him. I think my fascination was for same reason I get such a kick out of those weird bits of Meltzer trivia. It’s strange and funny that this person we’re asked to associate with objectivity has the same sorts of preferences and idiosyncrasies as the rest of us. It’s hard not to attempt to divine some sort of meaning from them.
“MY NEW THING IS WEARING RETRO SHIRTS”
After seeing him in person, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Meltzer’s clothes. I don’t know if I’d say he has good taste, but he certainly has a strong aesthetic viewpoint, especially compared to other wrestling media figures, who tend to be (FanFyte contributors excluded, of course) a bit drab. There’s evidence he puts thought into his outfits. I’m convinced that backward shirt was no accident. Maybe he just likes Galliano! I can’t stop thinking about what his look might reveal about him. I’ve chosen a selection of Meltzer fashion moments to review (on a five star scale, of course) in the hope of gaining some insight into wrestling’s foremost reviewer.
BUSINESS IN THE FRONT, “THIS BUSINESS” IN THE BACK
I wanted to start with the earliest image of Dave I have to establish his sartorial history. It’s clear to me that the man has always cut a striking figure from head to toe. This is one of the most luscious looking mullets I’ve ever seen, and as a wrestling fan, I’ve seen many. It’s thick and robust, but looks soft and light as cotton candy. These days, Meltzer rocks more of a season 1 Michael Scott hairdo, but, as the saying goes, nobody wins a hair vs hair match against Father Time, so I can’t hold it against him. He should probably go back to whatever conditioner he was using here, though, because that thing looks touchable.
Rating: ★★★★★ for the mullet, N/A for current ‘do.
Another aspect of Dave’s look is his physique. Meltzer’s in great shape, especially for someone of his age, and it’s clear what kind of look he’s going for. He’s the color of a baked potato, wrestler-tan, and has that veiny, dessicated look that very muscular older guys get, which I used to call “the human Slim Jim” in my act. He could almost be mistaken for an older wrestler himself, which I’m guessing is the point. I’m sure Dave struggles with the insecurity of being so close to the thing he loves so much, and yet forever an outsider to it.
Training in the gym like a wrestler might be a way to assuage that insecurity. Either that or he’s just had his body image a bit warped by watching oiled up hunks in impossible physical condition for hours every day (relatable). I wonder if the choice of a Pancrase shirt speaks to that insecurity as well, as Pancrase blended MMA with pro wrestling. Perhaps this is another subtle claim of legitimacy in the presence of pro wrestlers like the Young Bucks (also pictured) who are more like circus performers than big tough shoot fighters. While Dave looks ripped to shit here, and I have to respect it, I think he might be trying just a touch too hard to fit in.
This is perhaps the most iconic recent Dave outfit, but unfortunately for me it’s a bit of a misfire. While many of Meltzer’s best fits show a balance of flamboyance and restraint, the combination of the flashy hoodie (which has since become a bit of a phenomenon, and an iconic piece of the Meltzer wardrobe) with flashy jeans is just too much, even in the maximal world of wrestling. Interestingly, the jeans look a bit like comedic wrestling superstar Orange Cassidy’s denim, a man Meltzer apparently doesn’t think much of. I’ve been waiting for Big Dave to come around on comedy wrestling in general, and given that OC is handily the best American comedic wrestler around, maybe Meltz can find some denim-based common ground with AEW’s coolest dude. Meltzer wore these pants to BOLA with a much more subdued t-shirt (the t-shirt of the event itself, which he’d clearly purchased the night before. Dave has no problem being that guy), so perhaps he’s learned his lesson since this look.
UNABLE TO BE GOBERNED
Like Dave hanging out outside PWG, his dedication to a wardrobe of wrestling t-shirts indicates his desire to be a man of the people. One of the things I like about Dave is that, for the stuff he likes, he’s still genuinely a fan. I know people who’ve been watching wrestling for one tenth as long as him who are ten times as jaded. The wrestling t-shirts don’t really speak to the objectivity Dave has claimed, but people with power openly displaying obvious personal bias is a bedrock of wrestling culture, and I respect it.
The decision to wear this particular Los Ingobernables shirt tight and tucked in with a belt seems like a dorky dad move, and perhaps it is. However, I can’t help but wonder if it’s more a decision made to showcase the incredible pants the man is wearing. Acid wash on its own would have been a strong choice, but TIGHT acid wash is on another level. These pants are straight up trendy. You can buy many similar pairs on Fashion Nova right this second.
That said, I don’t think Dave is merely following a trend here. I think he’s been wearing stuff like this for so long that it’s just happened to come back in style again. The key here is the shoes, which look to me like classic Sauconys. Not as nerdy as New Balances, Sauconys are a reliable, inexpensive stalwart that don’t call attention to themselves. This is the shoe of a man as confident in his fashion choices as he is in his star ratings. He knows that beautiful denim is the pièce de résistance of this outfit, and he doesn’t gild the lily.
Like any good patriarch, Dave is deeply convinced of his own authoritativeness, and possesses a severely limited understanding of any perspective that is not his own. Despite his limitations, though, he’s still able to command respect for the depth (if not the breadth) of his knowledge. I know I’m not painting the most generous picture, but I actually agree with Dave’s wrestling opinions most of the time. I find his philosophy toward wrestling to be much like his fashion sense: surprisingly modern for a guy pushing 60, without ever seeming trendy. While I don’t think his ratings are objective, I often find them useful – I know what a match that Dave likes looks like, and I know if he likes it, I’ll probably like it too. He may not know anything about sexism, or about writing coherently (he’s one of the worst published writers I’ve ever read), but he for damn sure knows his wrestling.
And I don’t hate his denim choices either.