Wade Keller had been editing and publishing the Pro Wrestling Torch from a Minneapolis suburb for four years at the time of this 1991 interview. Keller started his newsletter as a high school student and featured interviews along with news. Although there are a variety of sources for “insider” pro wrestling news today, in the early 1990s it was Dave Meltzer and Wade Keller for the most part who provided insights through their weekly newsletters. In part one of this interview, Keller discusses the origins of his newsletter and his views on Japanese wrestling in 1991.
Keller: I grew up in Richfield until I was about five years old, then I moved to Bloomington. These are both suburbs of Minneapolis, right next to each other. I didn’t travel much until this past year when my mom started working for Northwest Airlines. Then I started traveling everywhere. I had just a normal childhood. I always lived with my mom. I was into a lot of sports, but wrestling caught my eye when I was about eight years old. It was the first time I started really watching it. And by the time I was in the fourth grade, I was heavily into it.
After begging my mom to go to about ten shows, she finally gave in. The first show I went to was in May of 1981. It was a birthday present. It was Verne Gagne’s retirement, the first of three. He was the owner of the AWA and held the title until he was into his fifties. Finally the pressure built up for him to lose the title, so he lost it to Nick Bockwinkel, who at the time was in his forties. They never really had a youth movement there, but it was really good. They were selling out the St. Paul Civic Center at the time consistently. There was even one “Super Sunday” card, it was around 1982. They sold out the St. Paul Civic Center and the attached Roy Wilkins Auditorium with a large-screen TV. Over 20,000 people, it was the largest gate of that year. The AWA was the hot promotion of that time.
In 1983, I started getting into magazines, reading them off the newsstands. By 1984 I was buying just about every magazine on the newsstands, spending $5 to $10 a week on them, reading them from cover to cover as soon as I got them. On the bus on the way home I would think, “I wonder if The Wrestler came in today. I hope it did. I wonder who’ll be on the cover.” That sort of thing. I really got into that. I’ve had a lot of friends who have come and gone who have been into wrestling, but never to the degree that I have.
And then in 1987, in May, I ordered and received my first newsletters, which were The Wrestling Observer by Dave Meltzer, Wrestling Forum by John Gallagher, and Global Wrestling News by Tom Burke. I got the Observer–he sells them in sets of four, so if you subscribe you get all four issues–and I subscribed at the end of a set. So on one Friday I got three issues, and then the next day I got the fourth. That was pretty much what I did that Friday night. I broke plans and I said, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to sit here and finish reading these.” So I read each of them twice, and then for the next two weeks I probably read them four times each also. It was just fascinating. I just started getting every newsletter I could, just to see what was out there.
When I saw how a lot of them looked, I thought, “I could probably do a good job if I wanted to start this.” So someone I met at the matches, a friend of mine, and I decided to start one. I was always editor, and [my friend] said he would help out, so I made him assistant editor. He since has totally dropped out of the wrestling scene, doesn’t subscribe or anything. In October of 1987, I mailed out 13 copies of my first issue to a few addresses I had, including all the newsletters, and started publishing a newsletter, and it’s grown from there. I was a junior in high school when I first started doing the newsletter. Then I decided to go to Macalester College. A lot of the reason [why] I stayed local is because I wanted to keep doing the newsletter. And to do that, living at home was a must, because in a dorm room I’m not going to get this done. It’s been a real challenge doing the newsletter in college, but last semester I got three As and a B, and still did the newsletter, so it’s been going really well. I have two more years left. I’ll start my junior year in September.
For me, I put in 20 to 30 hours a week on it. It’s a 20- to 30-hour-a-week job. It’s developed from basically copying news from other newsletters and trying to come up with original stuff myself to being probably one of the two main sources of news in wrestling. Dave Meltzer is beyond anything in any sport that I’ve seen, as far as being an expert on something. As far as putting it together, I’ve got sources all over the country who I’ll call every weekend to get news from their territory, what was on their TV, that sort of thing. I have a lot of people who write for me. Well, actually I cut it down, but about eight people do regular columns for me. It’s a matter of putting together the news and trying to be accurate.
It’s real tough in wrestling, to get people to be open to you. A lot of people you talk to off record, and you can never ever say you talked to them, because some of the promoters don’t like legitimate news getting out. They’d rather be in their fantasy world, such as what was seen on Arsenio Hall last night with Hulk Hogan, where Hulk just has built this fantasy world of his own that, of course, the crowd bought into because he’s great at it. He was talking about the steroid issue and stuff like that. The newsletters are around, and people do them to refute that kind of stuff that’s out there. Because I don’t think that, in any other sport, someone can come out and lie so much and get away with it, because the legitimate press won’t touch it. I shouldn’t say “legitimate” press but “mainstream” press, because I consider the newsletters to be legitimate press, at least the top few.
Japan developed pro wrestling from the United States, which was doing it before them. Then a sumo wrestler–Rikidozan–found sumo wrestling boring. He wasn’t as good at it as other people, and he saw the American style and brought the American style over there and started doing it, and it really worked well. They’ve developed it as a more serious, more legitimate sport. Actually, it’s not so much the culture difference but the quality of the editorial policy of the promoters, and the way they want to see wrestling projected in Japan. They try to project it as a legitimate sport, and the sport sections cover it as legitimate sport. They don’t get into the real/fake issue too much, although there’s more of an understanding there than here, that wrestling is what it is and they don’t make fun of it. They don’t make a big issue out of it. They accept it for kind of a sport and cover it as kind of a sport.
Randy Savage went over to Japan earlier this year for the SWS promotion, which is affiliated with the WWF. Whenever his opponent wanted to lock up with him, Savage would jump out of the ring and yell at the crowd, to try to get the crowds going. And they sat there and thought, “Well, wrestle.” You know, they didn’t get mad, they didn’t boo him, they just lost respect for this guy because he wouldn’t wrestle. So the Japanese fans don’t go for that at all. They have a couple of cartoon characters–Big Van Vader and Jushin Liger–but they’re mainly right out of comic books, and that’s to get the kids interested.
But for the most part, all the Japanese want is solid wrestling. That’s what they like to see, and that’s what they get. The highlight of the match isn’t the entrance music, like it is here, or the posing. The highlight there is to see who’s going to win, because there’s still a mystery there with who is going to win. So Japan, it’s just taken much more seriously over there, totally. And it’s much more successful at this time when it comes to house show business. You know, they don’t have pay-per-view in Japan yet, but they will probably in five years. And that’s going to be real interesting, and that’s going to change the face of wrestling over there like it has here. The American pros can learn a lot from the Japanese, but they won’t. Some Americans think Japanese wrestling is part of a different culture, and that it doesn’t apply to American wrestling. But there’s a lot of people out there like Terry Funk, who’s an all-time great in the NWA and a former champion, who thinks that if the United States promoters did exactly what Japan did, they would be a lot better off.
Thoughts from 2022: Like Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer website, Keller’s Pro Wrestling Torch website is a sprawling affair with an overwhelming amount of content including podcasts and old radio shows.