By johnnyp on Oct 09, 2007
Often, during infamously long winded tirades, much like my unedited writing style, on Pro Wrestling message boards and personal phone calls, Iâ€™m accused by friends of caring more about the way Pro Wrestling is covered and encapsulated then I am about the product the average person watches on TV. The truth is, long ago I became much more interested in the behind the scenes human drama of promotions like (now defunct) WCW and WWE, and eventually, about how that information was dispersed by various sources.
The same has become true of my MMA consumption over the last half year, as this new sportâ€™s media grows and gets a sense of itself and what the boundaries of fandom and journalistic integrity entail. As I have a quota of mentioning in each writing, MMA and Pro Wrestling converge and diverge on a daily basis, as they have since the early 1990s, and really long before (see Inoki, Antonio).
Dave Meltzer, he of the long winded rambling speak (our common bond), signed yesterday with Yahoo Sports for their MMA section. Meltzer, formerly of the LA Times and most recently FOX Sports.com, is the foremost journalist in Pro Wrestling. His newsletter is the bible of that genre, and the bridge between wrestling and Mixed Martial Arts. Heâ€™s been defending and explaining his position since 1993.
You might wonder why this is news. Reporters are jumping from place to place these days as people get a sense of who has an in, who is motivated, and who brings quality analysis and presentation. As always, there is a divide, even in the old guard, of how to report stories and what to tell or omit. Itâ€™s news because Meltzerâ€™s ideology on the connection of pro wrestling and MMA may seem controversial to the sports minded MMA purist, but also because he brings the goods and has the sources. Meltzer, in the eye of the storm in pro wrestling journalism this summer for what might be his best work ever on the Benoit tragedy and the prospect of Congressional hearings, may become the predominant reporter in Mixed Martial Arts now that heâ€™s at one of the two heavy hitter mainstream outlets (CBS Sportsline being the other one).
The original media of MMA, best represented by Sherdogâ€™s Josh Gross and ex-mag writer Stephen Quadros, have been met with polarizing report cards. Gross has a coarse attitude at times and might be best known for his war of words with UFC head honcho Dana White. His affection for the sport of Baseball often best shines light into his view of what MMA should be: pure sport. He often lacks the vision of entertainment, but also errors on the side of fighterâ€™s rights. Both are a credit and a curse for the magazine style website, but they are seen as a leader and have an affiliation to ESPN (though itâ€™s a stepchild twice removed).
Quadros was a writer, turned announcer, turned everything, with great knowledge of martial arts and the evolution of the fight game. But heâ€™s often been the epitome of the problem with the old (yet still young) media thatâ€™s grown on the web, often angering UFCâ€™s front office and delighting upstart promotions. Quadros, like Gross and many other media luminaries, comes across as the fighters buddy and advocate more then a hard news reporter. Certainly this is one of the many shades of gray. These men are not tone deaf. But for all the affection and rose colored glasses viewing PRIDE, it seems to escape many what PRIDE really was: An extension of pro wrestling and entertainment in Japan. After all, sports pages in Japan gave and often still give pro wrestling coverage in the same context as baseball or sumo.
This is where Meltzer and other pro wrestling writers come in. Meltzer covered Pancrase and UFC in 1993 closely. He was very involved as media, and at times a judge, in early UFC. Itâ€™s not a total secret heâ€™s had the ear of UFC booker Joe Silva and agent-turned-boss White. And likewise, theyâ€™ll talk to Meltzer. He gets interview time and press credentials where Sherdog, a real destination for new and older fans alike, will not. Meltzer was one of the few web and niche newsletter writers allowed in as UFC exploded and press courting became ESPN and USA Today. His coverage has led to crossover coverage from wrestling writers like Wade Keller and later Bryan Alverez. I myself, coming from a wrestling background, rejected Meltzerâ€™s MMA coverage in the late 90s. When I spent my own money finally on a subscription to his Pro Wrestling Observer Newsletter in early 2001, I wasnâ€™t fully sold on this Sakuraba fellow. But if you research, and you have your head in both sports/entertainment industries, you see why MMA isnâ€™t just connected in a historical context to its ill-viewed cousin.
Meltzerâ€™s ascension is not only deserved, but it could shape the way we read and digest thoughts and ideas on MMA. Coverage effects how we all view our MMA. The Sam Caplansâ€™ and Todd Martinsâ€™ of the world are excelling because they understand the synergy and goals of business and entertainment as much as true sport. They are equally necessary. And somewhere in between Josh Gross and noted Negative Nancy Zach Arnold (great for community of MMA journalism, but often a malcontent when the sky isnâ€™t falling) there is Dave Meltzer. Well, in between it all is Fight Linker, but thatâ€™s commentary.
Meltzer has waited a lifetime for compliments like the one given to him by famous sports writer Frank Deford this past summer. Often the object of disrespect, Meltzer (who writes a giant newsletter or two by himself, did radio shows, and covered ten times what anyone felt was required), was called the best sports journalist in the world by Deford. Hereâ€™s hoping he gets to make his mark at Yahoo Sports (heâ€™ll dwarf Kevin Iole in months) and gets to retire from his newsletter. Dave deserves to watch his child grow up and not worry about losing another friend in pro wrestling.
E-mail John Philapavage at firstname.lastname@example.org
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