The Wrestling Observer newsletter, one of the first, and likely the most influential, professional wrestling newsletters is written and edited by California-based Dave Meltzer. When I was an intern at Marvel Comics in 1990, the editor with whom I worked was a professional wrestling fan and told me about this newsletter, and I have been a subscriber ever since. I spent a few minutes with Meltzer at John Arezzi’s 1991 “Weekend of Champions” in Queens, New York, where he reflected on the origins of the newsletter and his weekly column on professional wrestling for the now-defunct National Sports Daily in the late 1980s.
MELTZER: I was just a fan, and then I started writing a newsletter. I had this different idea for a newsletter, and I think it was the right idea at the right time. It filled a niche that wasn’t being filled at the time. I’ll tell you what really prompted me. I was in college, and I used to always watch videotapes of wrestling during my lunch break with a lot of my friends in college. And they were all wrestling fans. The newspapers were never covering wrestling. The wrestling magazines would cover it, but they were writing for kids. All these people who I went to college with, and my newspaper class, were interested in Georgia Championship Wrestling, and they would watch the WWF on cable. These people were interested in wrestling, and they wanted to know what was going on, and they were always asking me these questions. I was a big fan, so I sort of knew a little bit of what was going on.
I started trying to find out more and more and more about it, and I figured, “If all of these people are interested in reading about wrestling in this way, then obviously people around the country should be.” So I decided I wanted to start a newsletter for this kind of person, a person who goes to college. I mean, that was the age I was looking at, people who go to college, a little bit older, and what they would be interested in reading about wrestling, and what’s going on. I wanted to answer their questions.
It was real controversial in the business. I think it’s been steadily very, very successful. Right now I would say it’s super successful, for what it is. I mean, this is not a mass-marketed thing. It doesn’t have as many readers as newsstand wrestling magazines, but I think it has more influence on the industry than those.
I’ve been doing it full-time since ‘87, or maybe late ‘86. The phone bill’s huge, like a thousand dollars a month. I don’t really like to travel, but in this month coming up I’ll be going three of the next five weekends, on the road for different things.
There was some frustration here and there related to the wrestling column for the National Sports Daily. People at the sports desk really didn’t understand what wrestling fans want to read, and it was edited poorly some weeks. For a long time, I never thought I got the respect that I was due as a reporter. They never respected me as a reporter because I was covering wrestling. But thankfully, due to Vince McMahon coming after me so hard for criticizing the WWF, I got respect as a reporter in that paper. And I was sorry to see it go when it was over. [Frank] DeFord [the paper’s editor] was a great influence on me. He had a lot of confidence in me at a time when a lot of people in that paper just went, “No! What are we doing covering professional wrestling?” It was his idea, and he went with it. It was among the most popular columns in the paper.
What happened was, Frank DeFord said, “I want to do a wrestling column.” And Dick Ebersol of NBC Sports [and producer of the WWF’s Saturday Night’s Main Event] said that he wanted to have a comedy column. Ebersol didn’t want what it ended up being, he wanted somebody to do a comedy column on professional wrestling. And Ebersol said, “There’s this guy who does this wrestling newsletter. He’s got a great sense of humor.” I’ve lost that sense of humor in the last year.
Anyway, Ebersol suggested me to DeFord, so DeFord called me and said, “Do you want to do a comedy wrestling column?”
I said, “Sure.”
Well, it just so happens the second week the column was running, Sting blew out his knee. And I said, “Well, I’m not going to write a bunch of comedy about a guy blowing out his knee. His career’s on the line, the whole angle that’s been built up all these months. I want to write a straight story.”
And the response to that straight story was such that I said, “Hey, I can’t go back and do bullshit again.” So that was the direction. I knew people would like it, and they did. Intelligent people, they want to read wrestling writing that doesn’t insult their intelligence. And the National had a pretty affluent audience.
I think that if I was writing to them like they were a bunch of fourth graders, I think that they would go, “Aw, this is such garbage, get it out of the paper.” So I had to do it like that.
If it wasn’t for the newsletters, Vince McMahon would have never done steroid testing. He would never have addressed the issue. Hulk Hogan would have never had to go on TV and lie. It has cost them a lot, but the point is, they would have never even done that. This was a pretty heavy issue for the WWF. It’s the heaviest hit they’ve ever taken. You can’t change the world overnight.
I’m gonna keep on doing the newsletter. I like what I’m doing a lot. I’ll just play it by ear. I will for sure, at some point, write a book about wrestling. I don’t know when, or what form, but I will do one.
Thoughts from 2022: Dave Meltzer is still going strong with a weekly newsletter that has not changed at all in format and layout since I began subscribing in 1990. Top wrestlers acknowledge his “stars” rating system for matches in promos and even have named a wrestling finishing move after him (the Young Bucks’ Meltzer Driver). The WWE is facing perhaps a heavier hit than the steroid scandal of a few decades ago with the allegations of payoffs for alleged sexual harassment and sexual assault by Vince McMahon and at least one of his associates. Meltzer has been interviewed by CNN recently on this subject and likely will remain a go-to authority on the behind-the-scenes world of professional wrestling.