Sunday, November 21, 2010

Spring 2000 Dave Meltzer interview

[This is from the Spring 2000 issue of Odessa Steps magazine.]

In the 20+ years since Dave Meltzer began the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, the wrestling business has evolved from a secretive and close-knit society to a million-dollar industry where the promoters themselves call it “sports entertainment.” Odessa Steps senior editor Mark Coale spoke to Meltzer in early February 2000 about the current state of the business, days after the move from WCW to the WWF of Chris Benoit and company.

Q: This interview is being done the day after the WCW Four (now known as the Radicals) debuted on RAW. Do you think there will be any long-term ramifications of this development?

A: I think Benoit and company going to WWF is going to hurt WCW more than help WWF. WWF has already booked them in a manner which has eliminated the greatest potential usage of Benoit on the first night he was in there. It can be explained that he’ll end up doing well, which he will, but it seems ego goit in the way of pushing an angle handed to them.

Q: In all the time you’ve been doing the newsletter, has either of the Big Two been in worse shape than WCW right now?

A: WCW was in worse shape financially in 1993 than it is today. The difference is that the company still had something to build on then. Flair wasn’t nearly as old. Sting was only 33 at the time. They were doing poorly, but they had a future, and totally turned it around. Right now, they have totally mortgaged their future. So in that way WCW is in worse shape today than it has even been.

Q: Will we continue to see an escalation of the hardcore style? Have the majority of fans become desensitized to the “real” violence and pain that the wrestlers go through to perform?

A: The hardcore style is going to become more and more prominent because it’s simple to learn to perform and it’s easy to get a pop. For young wrestlers, rather than spend years learning psychology to build a long match, it’s easier to bring in furniture and get attention that way.

I think once fans got past all the deaths without thinking twice, and the deaths of Gary Albright and Bobby Duncum Junior were amazing in their total lack of fan reaction to, than who is going to think twice about injuries. There was tons of concern in 1990 when Sting tore his ACL and it was well known he’d be back in six months. When Austin’s career was in jeopardy, while it was a bigger news story in the media, there was nowhere near the concern among wrestling fans. SO the answer to both questions is yes.

Q: Will the pendulum ever swing back from “sports entertainment” to “sport?” Will this only happen when the industry’s current wave of popularity cools down?

A: I don’t think the pendulum will ever swing away from entertainment. It may swing away from silliness to seriousness, but ultimately it’s all part of the entertainment equation. Wrestling has to keep pace with all these other live events, whether it be NHL or NBA and has to have the same level of entertainment trappings. There will come a time when this current fad runs its course. It’s already past its peak, except that WWF is still doing well but wrestling in general is way down from one year ago.

Q: How have you found the first few months on the internet? Is it what you thought it would be, given the length of time it’s taken you to come aboard?

A: I’m still in the process of trying to figure out what the right formula for myself is on the internet. It’s definitely now what I’m doing now. I considered the first year to be an experiment and a learning process. It’s a totally different environment filled with a lot of people who are just trying to get themselves over. I really love doing the internet audio show five days a week. It’s really time consuming but I look forward to it. Doing the internet page just seems like falling into this silly game of bragging rights over who gets a story first rather than who understands what the story is. It seems like it’s a waste of time for me because I’m working away from my strengths.

Q: What has the net done to the wrestling business and the sheet industry? Are sheets still viable in the instant news era?

A: The Internet has totally changed the business. The companies book for the internet, all three of them. My feeling is the average fan is like most of my friends who watch TV and would never spend time on the internet looking at a wrestling site. Of all my friends, most are what would be called casual fans. They’er aware of the top angles, but only one has ever looked at my website. They all know I do a newsletter. A few read it but more for the fighting news than the wrestling news. They have different reactions to angles than internet fans, in that the inside references go right through them. But overall, their reactions to the product as a whole are usually very similar as to which show is better and which company is more interesting at the time.

I can’t answer the question about whether sheets are going to be viable in the future or not. The best person to ask are newsletter readers if they will continue to subscribe. Based on the reaction I’ve gotten, the readership increased tremendously through the middle of the year. When we added the website, logic would say subs would increase although I was not sure of anything. It’s held steady and if it stays at this level forver, I’d have no right to complain. Based on everything, I’d say at least the top newsletters are clearly still viable today. I make no predictions about five years from now.

Q; Is the American wrestling fan really to provincial or xenophobic to embrace foreign wrestlers? Is that due to bookers continually perpetuating the same old stereotypes? Could Lucha or Puroresu ever achieve a niche market in the US?

A: Obviously American fans will accept what they are educated to accept. Super Crazy and Tajiri have done well in ECW. The Great Muta was a star in WCW. The Mexicans would have been huge stars in WCW except the bookers killed them dead. If you’re pushed in a position where you’re important, eventually you become important. Look at Helmsley as an example. He was overpushed for years, but it paid off. The size is a BS argument because Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Julio Cesar Chaves and Oscar de la Hoya were gigantic PPV draws. Bookers book what they understand and we haven’t had a booker who has any kind of a world wide wrestling [perspective in the big companies in years. Paul Heyman has the most and he’s made Masato Tanaka a featured PPV and TV performer, drawn above average ratings with his matches, and Tanaka got over and had the most heat PPV matches consistently of anyone in ECW in the past year. The inability to do interviews does hurt, but it’s more the lack of creativity about different forms of wrestling and how to sell them, and being closed-minded to new concepts.

As far as Japanese or Mexican wrestling on its own getting a niche market, with the right TV, Mexican wrestling could and that’s already been proven years ago, but it would need a lot of TV, like AAA had in its heyday, and really, it would have to have a better product than the US was offering which AAA had a t the time. Japanese style at one point I’m pretty sure could have made it Today, because the styles and wants of the fans have changed so much in the past three years, it would be more difficult for Mexican wrestling and Japanese wrestling to make it as TV entities. We’ll never know until a network gives them a chance. At that point, 75% of the success will be determined by the cleverness of the people handling the promotion and the ability of the TV announcer to reach the audience. But the wrestling itself has to be excellent. Good isn’t good enough.

Q: A few years ago, John McCain was one of the leading critics against shoot fighting and did a lot of helkp get the sport killed in the US. If he were elected president, what might that mean to the world of wrestling?

A: John McCain has shown no interest in pro wrestling so I don’t think if he were to be elected it would have any effect on wrestling. He’s shown the potential to do damage. If he came after wrestling judging from Vince McMahon’s reactions, it would be bloody because as UFC shows, it’s a no-win situation and logic doesn’t enter into the equation.

Q: Why can’t a light heavyweight division ever last? Is it the booking or the “bigger is better” mentality of the American public?

A: the light heavyweight DIVISION is the same problem. Most bookers have only seen American wrestling and since Danny Hodge, the junior heavyweight division in this country has been a joke. And in recent years, both WWF and WCW have turned their divisions into major jokes. Right now, I think iti might be impossible for three to five years, because the audience is taught to take women’s wrestling and cruiserweight wrestling as a jobber comedy show. It may be that it shad to go away completely for a few years and get a booker who understands how to work the division and have some patience. You need a super champion with unique ability and great charisma as opposed to simply a good wrestler who is smaller for it to work.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Dan Le Batard interview


This intervie
w with Miami Herald columnist, Pardon the Interruption fill-in host and WAXY 790 AM (790 The Ticket) talk show host Dan LeBatard was conducted via email over a number of months in 2008 and 2009.


Q: How have things been going since your sabbatical (in 2008) from the Miami Herald/ESPN started? As relaxing as you had hoped?

A: So great. Feels good to exhale. I've never really worked for a living, but I've never realized before that just because it doesn't feel like work doesn't mean it isn't work and just because it doesn't feel like stress doesn't mean it isn't stress. There were a lot of double negatives in there, but I needed to tap the brakes for a second and reevaluate. I'm having a great, great time slowing down and the nonsense of the radio show daily helps
in ensuring that I'm not quitting cold turkey, which might have been a lot harder.

Q: Do you think you will miss writing once the 2008 football season starts, especially given that it's Year One of Parcells and now Pennington? Will having the outlet of radio enable you to get all your thoughts out there?

A: Not going to miss writing daily-event columns. Found those pretty boring a while
ago. Picked a pretty good time in South Florida sports to vanish. When I return, Iwant to
write about more meaningful things. I've seen too many irrelevant regular-season games
the last five or six years.

Q: Since you appear to be a big fan of Mixed Martial Arts (and an acquaintance of
Kimbo Slice), how mainstream do you think the sport can go? Does it need the "stamp of
approval" from ESPN to really grow to the next level?

A: It will get mainstream with or without ESPN. It has captured 18-to-34 [male
demographic], and those people are the tipping point on all that is popular. Tomorrow's
fans will make this huge. It is amazing what MMA has already done without any
mainstream help. A lot of other sports have had a lot more backing without having nearly
this success. MMA is going to be enormous within the next decade. I think it is already
bigger in America than hockey.

Q: Did you go straight from the ESPN Sunday morning radio show to the show on 790 or
was there a gap between the two? How did you end up at 790, which was the second
of the two sports stations in town, yes? How did you end up with Stugotz [Jon Weiner] as
your co-host?

A: There wasn't a gap. I was doing both shows for a while. It was too much. I never liked
getting up at that hour on Sundays but it worked best with my schedule. I had no other
time that fit with ESPN Radio. I ended up at 790 because they called, and it seemed like
fun. The other station had spent the previous 10 years using my column for fodder, and
bashing me, so i figured it would be fun to have another voice in the market, be the
underdog and topple the incumbent in a town where there really isn't room for two
sports stations.
Stugotz became the cohost because I didn't know what I was doing at the beginning
and they needed both a guide for me and someone who could sell things. The Sunday
show was just guest after guest. I was a traffic cop. The 790 thing
was my show, and I didn't know what it was going to be and I needed a baby-sitter until
I figured out how to get on my feet. Didn't like how it went at first, which is why we hired
the executive producer Marc Hochman, my friend since college. We have the same
sensibilities, same sense of humor, and he knows what I like and how I want it to sound

Q: Could you do the radio show if it was just straight sports talk?

A: No. There are so few points made in sports that are original or interesting. If you listen
to sports radio, its just call after call after call. And if you've worked in sports for two
decades, you've heard a great deal of it and its redundant. That's not entertaining to me.
It may be immensely entertaining to the average sports fan, so I'm not saying that our
way is the right way or the popular way. That might be the way to go. But I couldn't
tolerate it for three hours a day. I couldn't tolerate it for 14 minutes a day. Heck, one hour
a week is the Chris Mortenson segment, and he's great and its great for football fans, and
I can barely get through that. I have to be laughing. I have to be enjoying myself. There's
no other reason to do it. And I figure if i'm enjoying it, perhaps others will. And I hope we're
giving the sports fan enough because I love sports and that has to be the base of what
we do. I don't want to be doing politics and religion. I want to be doing sports and
laughing and squeezing the nonsense around sports.

Q: Are you consciously trying to follow Tony Kornheiser's model for a "non-sports" sports
show? Or is it just because you both have similar mindsets about the format?

A: It hasn't been conscious, but everyone tells me its similar, so it must be. The only times
I've heard Tony's show is when I'm on it, so I can't say that I know what he has done. We
didn't get him in this market, unfortunately, or there might be even more Tony influences
on the show. I've got to think the similarities come from us having similar barometers for
what's interesting. I think the only thing we've blatantly stolen from his show is the idea of
eliminating pleasantries, and that came from me talking to him about it, not actually
hearing it for myself. Is there anything else that seems borrowed from him? He's the
greatest, and I admire him greatly. But I don't think I've heard his show enough to know
exactly how we're similar. And I don't really have a mindset or a blueprint or a format. I'm
just trying to laugh with Hoch every day. I don't want it to get too serious unless there's
some saban-like issue that has consumed the local area.

Q: Do you forsee a time where you go all electronic media (print and/or TV) and eschew

print totally, or at least drastically cut back?

A: that's a tough question. Its a constant tension. The newspaper business feels like its
antiquated and not catching up, but there's nothing I respect more in journalism. The
paper is my first love. I've never envisioned all this other stuff, which is easier. A lot easier. I
never thought there was money to be made in this business. TV-Radio feeds the vanities
more, which I think is probably why so many people who dabble in tv-radio end up
cutting back on the writing. I don't know how Wilbon has lasted this long writing this
much. I've cut back pretty substantively as it is. I've been writing once a week or so and
then I'll write for two months straight if the Heat make a playoff run or a week straight if
Saban bolts. The paper has been very flexible, which makes all the difference in the
world. They understand I'm working as hard as I can, and selling the brand on tv and
radio is good for the paper too in a changing media world. But I don't foresee getting out
of it totally. I have left a lot of money on the table to continue writing at the paper, which
I know is my bread and butter and the reason for any credibility I may have. Given what
I've turned down in return for selling out completely, I'm essentially paying The Herald to
let me write for them. If I haven't left yet, I don't see why I would -- not with the kind of
flexibility and freedom and support the herald gives me.

Q: How much of your "contrarian" persona is just that, an exaggeration of how you really
feel? As they say in the wrestling business (of which you appear to be some kind of fan),
the gimmicks are just a worker's real personality turned up to 10.

A: That's an interesting way of putting it but I come by this naturally, by happy accident.
Its not an act, believe it or not. I never, ever go into a position thinking 'what's the way to
turn the volume up so loud to bother people?' I'm not trying to instigate on purpose. I'm
not trying to be controversial. I'm just counterintuitive by nature. And I hate the media as
soapbox-standing moral finger waggers when all of us are flawed, in athletics, in
journalism, on earth. Hate that. Read it growing up all the time -- angry media guy railing
against sports and the bad people in it -- and it was just boring and redundant. I love
sports. I enjoy sports. I admire the people who play them professionally. Why bitch about
them? And I've never understood that kind of angry writing and judgment that comes
with it. So I swim the other way. And I think that's where you will find most of the stuff that
gets me called a contrarian or an apologist. I might also be missing a chip in terms of
self-awareness. I really don't know how or why some of the stuff I say -- they are just
opinions about sports, after all -- gets people insane because I think its perfectly logical.
But its not an act. It really isn't. I'm not thinking of a position and then inflating it with
steroids -- though, now that you've made me think about, it WOULD be pretty cool to go
on PTI and do an entire episode as a screaming wrestling persona like the Road Warriors.
One of the weird things about being contrarian' or 'apologist' is that all I think I'm ever
doing is extending compassion and understanding. I'm not excusing behavior; I'm
explaining it. I don't feel it is my place to get all judgmental and castigate Plaxico Burress
or Michael Vick or Terrell Owens. Who the [heck] am to do that? When I don't know what
their lives were like? when I don't have all the details on how they arrived where they are?
I'm not comfortable judging others. I aspire to not do that; Fail all the time, like I did with
Nick Saban because I have a blind spot when it comes to bully dictators, but aspire to it.
But it’s odd to me, really odd, that I get tabbed with contrarian and apologist because of
what I believe to be simply extending empathy in all instances.
Now, I'm not saying that the people who hit me with that are wrong and I'm right. There
are probably times that I'm not self-aware and my tone stinks and i sound like I'm
defending inexcusable behavior. So I'm sure I'm contributing to the way I get received; I
just don't know whether I'm contributing 10 percent to it or 90 percent to it. I don't think I'm
all right and everyone else is all wrong, but I just get frustrated with the idea of Donte
Stallworth as a conversation point, for example. OF COURSE, he shouldn't have done that.
OF COURSE he was wrong and it is awful and tragic that someone died. We can all agree
on that, but if the family is ok with his
penalty, and the legal system is, why can't we be? There's an entire conversation to be
had, an interesting one, after you get past the consensus of him being wrong for
what he did....but it seems to me that we get stuck too often in the name-calling
muck of stepping on him (jerk! drunk! entitled athlete punk!) for being wrong and to me
the conversation after that and around that is more interesting.

Q: Speaking of, why all the wrestlers on the show? Just a kitsch thing?

A: Live everything else, just an accident. I enjoyed it growing up but I haven't watched
wrestling in 25 years. We were talking about wrestling one day, got a wrestler on to
continue the discussion and, not surprisingly, he was interesting and entertaining and
ridiculous. And it seemed to hit a nerve. It is funny, when you think about it. We're only
putting on wrestlers from my childhood, really, so it ends up being nostalgic and where-
are-they-now and, good god, they're still the same act? It just makes us laugh every time
and it's completely surreal to be talking to them. But not a lot of thought went into it.
Doesn't sound, looking back on this, that a lot of thought has gone into
much of anything that I've done. I sculpted one craft. Writing. I poured myself
into that with a decade of maniacal zeal. I didn't think there would ever be
a radio or tv future for me. Didn't even think in those terms. I just loved
writing about sports and everything after that (the tv stuff, the ridiculous
wrestlers on the radio, the good and the bad) was born from that love."

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