As a wrestling fan for 23 years I’ve had a lot of periods of “new discovery” which I always find massively exciting and reinvigorating for my fandom.
When I first started getting into ECW and got my hands on as many VHS tapes as I could, it was a mind-blowing experience. At first, it was weird looking as the production was quite scaled back compared to what I was used to as a WWF fan but it was so fresh and different that I started to love it. Then in 2002, after ECW and WCW had shut shop, I was left once again with WWF only, and it was a WWF product which I was enjoying but I wasn’t going crazy over (aside from the Smackdown 6 stuff late that year which was of course awesome).
Then I started to hear about a guy called AJ Styles. I started to hear about a guy named Low Ki. I started to hear about a promotion called Ring Of Honor. I had to check out this world of “independent wrestling.” When my first ROH tape, Road To The Title, arrived in the post office (I had to collect parcels from my local PO back then), I legged it over there and I legged it home to watch as fast as I could. Once again I was startled by the production quality. However much of a downgrade in glitz ECW was, this was ten times more shocking than that. The Murphy Rec Centre in Philly was a small gymnasium and the wrestlers were coming out through a tiny curtain. But after seeing American Dragon, Spanky, AJ, Jody Fleisch, Ki, Chris Daniels and Doug Williams do their thing, I had gotten over the small time look. This was a whole new world to me and I was all in! I tried to get as many tapes as I could, tried to learn more about these new wrestlers and I read every review I found online.
A couple of years later The Wrestling Channel was set up by a group of Irish guys headed by Seán Herbert and gained a slot on Sky Digital (the television package that most people in the UK & Ireland had). Through TWC I began to get exposed to Japanese wrestling – NOAH and New Japan in particular. I didn’t quite understand the style and I obviously didn’t understand the language but I couldn’t help but feel that this was something I needed to explore more. This was perhaps my most exciting time of “discovery” as a fan. There were so many promotions doing great things in the mid 2000s. NOAH was rocking with Kenta Kobashi on top and young guys like KENTA & Naomichi Marufuji putting on the most exciting matches in the world on the undercard. Dragon Gate had just broken off from Toryumon and dipping my toe into that water was like experiencing a style within a style. Even NJPW, which had its problems, was still able to offer up the likes of Liger, Nagata and Kanemoto.
This probably sounds odd, but Japanese wrestling felt new to me for at least 5 years, and I wouldn’t have even dared call myself an “expert” until very recently (and even now that sounds a bit strange to me). Over the last year or so, I’ve asked myself many times if the excitement gained from discovering a new wrestling product is a thing of the past. I’ve tried to get into Lucha and Joshi, and while there is a lot of stuff I have liked in those genres, I know they’re not 100% for me. So unless there’s some incredible wrestling going on in Liechtenstein that I don’t know about, I didn’t think I’ll be experiencing that “newness” again.
However, something has come along which is giving me that “new/exciting” feeling from a different angle. It’s not a case of discovery but rather rediscovery and re-evaluation. The Pro Wrestling Only website has launched a project titled The Greatest Wrestler Ever. It’s a project which will last until the day of WrestleMania 32 in Dallas – pretty much 18 months in span. The project will involve participants submitting a ballot of 100 wrestlers from a list of nominees (which is already several hundred deep) with an emphasis on discussion, debate and most importantly, research. Nobody has seen everything, everyone has holes they need to patch up and so far the spirit of the project has been that everyone is really excited about going back and trying to watch as much stuff as they can and talking about it. I can’t wait to go back and watch stuff I haven’t seen in years. I can’t wait to dig up a ton of Jerry Lawler’s Memphis work and find out if I see in him what others do. I can’t wait to espouse the greatness of Masaaki Mochizuki to participants who aren’t familiar with his work. There is so much for me to sink my teeth into. I doubt 18 months will even be enough, but I’m going to have a good go at it!
I’m writing this opening piece because it will motivate me to document my progress along the way. I plan to write my next piece in December when I’m thinking that I’ll do up a rough draft top 100 because it might be fun to see how much it changes by the time we get to 2016.
So far, participation on the PWO forums in really high, but most importantly it seems everyone is really engaged in the healthy discussion aspect of things. I’d recommend people check out this podcast hosted by organisers Steven and Charles which outlines a ton about the project.
I also had Steven on my DKP show at the Wrestling Observer website last week to discuss it. So check that out if you’re a WO/F4W member. The forum (which is extremely well organised) is here:
You can register by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll say this, I’m waaaay more excited about this project than I am current WWE!!!