It’s not easy to write about pro wrestling. Despite being the artform itself being around as a popular form of entertainment for over a century, it feels like the actual practice of writing criticism about pro wrestling is only in its infancy.
A large factor in this is how pro wrestling has presented itself to the world. Its insistence on secrecy, on maintaining the illusion of competitive action, slots the whole industry under “sport,” which can be analyzed and pondered upon but not criticized as an intentional piece of performance.
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The antagonistic and secretive nature of pro wrestling — especially against the prying eyes of those in the mainstream media — means that spaces for criticism often had to be carved out by those dedicated to following the industry and almost never in major media outlets.
That’s why in 2022, the most prominent professional wrestling “critic” also happens to be the industry’s most prominent journalist. Dave Meltzer’s star ratings have been the most commonly accepted markers of quality in professional wrestling circles for decades now. It’s a shorthand for quality, holding a similar kind of broad prestige as a Siskel & Ebert thumbs up.
The funny thing is that I don’t think Meltzer would even categorize himself as a critic. Throughout the years, he’s gone on the record to say that his own star ratings aren’t a matter of personal opinion, but rather reflections of what he feels “objectively good” pro wrestling looks like. He often goes on to back up the reasoning behind incredibly high ratings by pointing to the opinions of others, especially those within the industry.
Meltzer sees himself more as someone “reporting” on what is good and bad pro wrestling, instead of an individual critic picking apart what he sees through his own lens. In that sense, Meltzer hasn’t had too much to share in the way of constructively building the craft of pro wrestling criticism. However, his influence still can not be denied. His star ratings and analysis through the years has been instrumental in shaping what critically acclaimed pro wrestling looks like to a large subsection of fans.
Outside of Meltzer though, the real action seems to come from humbler roots. Fan spaces like zines, message boards, blogs, and eventually podcasts are where the subjective elements of pro wrestling get picked apart and prodded with the most veracity. Speaking only for myself, despite never having been a member of the Death Valley Driver Video Review, I know that many of the beliefs I hold about what makes good and pro wrestling have their roots in that forum’s posts going back decades.
These fan spaces offer a lot of room for various perspectives on professional wrestling, often conflicting ones that lead to endless debate. It’s that more open nature that has led to a culture of sharing ideas, arguing for and against them, re-evaluating long held opinions, researching through deep dives that many fans today are familiar with. Most people in these circles simply learn the craft of criticism by doing. One reads another user’s take on a match, then responds to either support ideas already brought forth or to argue back with a conflicting opinion.
It’s in forums like DVDVR or Pro Wrestling Only where large questions about the artform get picked apart to death. Massive undertakings such as figuring out who is the greatest wrestler ever, what is the greatest match ever, and what does it even mean to be worthy of such titles are regular topics on such places — and will be for as long as those platforms and pro wrestling itself exist.
I was a regular on two pro wrestling forums in my teenage years, and the practice I got reading the opinions of others, and sharing my own was massively formative towards the work I do today writing about pro wrestling.
The users on these forums often branch out on their own personal platforms to discuss wrestling. Whether that be a blog, a podcast, or a even a YouTube channel, these played invaluable roles in shaping my understanding of what wrestling criticism looks and sounds like. The language I use when writing about wrestling can be traced back to the sources I’ve outlined here, and all that via osmosis more than anything else.
Really, that’s the only way to learn wrestling criticism: consuming enough of the discussion until one feels equipped to throw themselves into the deep end to participate. There’s never been a sourcebook or style guide to help anyone along. That’s probably for the best to allow for a variety of perspectives, but it sure can leave one feeling a little lost when taking that step to begin writing about wrestling for an audience.
Towards Wrestling Criticism
I think the biggest lack though is how difficult it is to find wrestling critics who talk about critiquing wrestling. If it’s out there, perhaps I just haven’t seen it, but I think it’s an important thing to have out there in the world.
I can understand why writers and critics avoid trying to do so though. For one, the subjective nature of pro wrestling can be difficult to pin down. Even as an individual, there are often contradictions in opinion that might not even make sense to the person holding them. Add on to the nebulous process of opinion making, the similarly hard to pin down act of actually writing a thing.
And besides, the act of criticism itself creates a body of work that reveals the individual critic’s taste and process indirectly. The more one reads of a particular critic, the more one understands their perspective and preferences. The same is true for the critic themselves, by actively exploring and discussing wrestling, the better they equipped they become to understand their own thoughts communicate that to their audience.
Still, I can’t help but think that there is value in sitting down and trying to hash out the nitty gritty of the process. Setting those ideas down on record could prove a valuable exercise — if not for other writers looking to better understand the craft, then at least for the individual critic being forced to grapple with their own criteria.
That is the exercise I will attempt with some of my last pieces for Fanfyte. With this section of the Fanbyte shutting down soon, what better way to meet its close than by approaching a far too large question that can’t ever be fully nailed down:
How does one write about professional wrestling?
To spare myself some grief, I want to be clear that I’m approaching this question from a descriptive outlook instead of a prescriptive one. The pieces to come will not be dictating one rigid and set way to critique pro wrestling that I think all authors should follow. Doing so would make all of us redundant, after all.
Rather, I want to provide one point of view on the process. I’ll try to be as clear as possible, share some general thoughts, try to challenge those ideas, and see where I end up. If someone else finds something of interest to take on board for themselves, then all the better. At the very least, I might as well ask myself some interesting questions about the craft of writing about pro wrestling.
I imagine it won’t be easy. After all, writing about pro wrestling is hard. Writing about writing about pro wrestling might be even harder.
Let’s find out together.