Wednesday, 20 March 2019

RE-POST: The Death of the Wrestling E-Zine (2001)

The lives of Internet wrestling journalists have become rather difficult in recent months, and when you are an Internet wrestling journalist based in the UK, and you are seemingly one of the few who are, life is very hard.

When you have chosen to follow the world of American wrestling, being based some 6,000 miles away is somewhat of a handicap. Attending shows and television tapings is impossible for monetary purposes, and watching TV shows days after your US counterparts also makes things difficult. You find that you are unable to offer a first hand, cutting view on the proceedings.

And in the first few months of this year, life got even harder.

Paul Heyman's visionary Extreme Championship Wrestling went under. Although the on-air and in-ring product continued to be of high value, behind the scenes things were strained. The relationship with TNN was not going the way that Heyman wanted, and what was worse, bills and workers were not getting paid. Unpaid workers meant unhappy workers, but there was only one worker who jumped off the sinking ship, Rob Van Dam.

The demise of ECW led to the first Internet casualty. The 2Extreme Newsletter and website had gained something of a cult following. Their leader, a talented writer by the name of Luis Tirado Jr, was very passionate about ECW, and very vocal about his hatred of the WWF and WCW. When ECW went under, so did 2Extreme. In a final, very passionate column, Luis thanked his 1300-plus subscribers for sticking with him, and insulted those who had failed to reply to his offers of help. Chiefly among them was Adam Silverstein, publisher of The Top Rope Newsletter.

With ECW gone, Luis' interest in wrestling had gone with them, and in a parting shot, he said he hoped the rumours about WCW were true, that they were going under.

The rumours circulating about the demise of World Championship Wrestling had been doing the rounds for months. In 1996, they were the most powerful force in the wrestling industry. Having secured the talents of mega-stars like Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, they put the icing on the cake with the New World Order angle, adding the likes of Kevin Nash and Scott Hall to the roster. While the WWF floundered, WCW were on top of the world. But it didn't last.

Vince McMahon introduced "attitude" to his WWF product, and it took. While Eric Bischoff began to run out of ideas, Vinny Mac began to win some battles in the Monday night war.

A series of disasters followed for WCW. Poor booking and story lines by Vince Russo, Kevin Sullivan and Russo again, as well as overpriced ageing wrestlers with over-inflated egos and creative control clauses in their contracts led to the demise of this once might empire. Whereas in 1998 WCW made a substantial profit, in 2000 they made a substantial loss, and not even the proposed buyout by an Eric Bischoff led consortium could save WCW. WCW were the only part of the mighty Time Warner/AOL empire that was making a loss. Ted Turned wanted to unload this piece of dead weight, and the only man who was interested in this proverbial garage sale was Turner's bitter business rival, Vince McMahon.

Getting WCW at a bargain basement price, which included the entire WCW film library and 20-plus wrestlers contracts gave the McMahon family a virtual monopoly on the US national wrestling scene, with no one to stand in his way. McMahon had accomplished what he first set out to do in 1983. With the Monday night wars won, McMahon controlled the wrestling world.

At the time, I wrote a piece wondering what Internet journalists were going to do. WCW bashing had become a great sport, one at which I seemed to excel in. But with the god that is Vinny Mac now in control, now holding all the cards, I began to wonder what would happen to the net wrestling community, a place which had thrived on news, on rumours about wrestler X possibly jumping ship from promotion A to promotion B, I feared the worse.

With the rumours circulating as to whether WCW was going to be run as a separate promotion, or be merged with the WWF, there was a second casualty.

The Queen of Sox herself was the second one to fall. Even though I had been writing on the net for a relatively short time, Graysox and I had developed a mutual respect for each other. She was one of the best writers out there. After she read my comedy skit on how to become a WCW star, she recommended me to Tony G at Pro Wrestling Columns. So if you are reading this at PWC you have her to blame.

Graysox fell by the wayside as an indirect result of the happenings in the sports entertainment world. Like LTJ before her, she stated that she really missed ECW, sentiments I wholeheartedly agreed with.

The rumours about the WCW invasion of the WWF began. Start date after start date for the re-launched company were give, but none of them ever happened, and as the likes of WCW Champion Booker T and former champion Diamond Dallas Page accepted buyouts of their Time Warner contracts, the InVasion began.

And fell flat on it's face. WCW matches, complete with referees and announcers, began to appear on Raw and Smackdown, with disastrous results. The planned WCW InVasion of the WWF was a disaster. The fans weren't buying it, and neither was the net wrestling community.

So the plan was hatched to bring ECW, if just in name only, into the equation. Former top ECW stars were thrown into the mix, and the WCW/ECW Alliance, led by Heyman and the McMahon kids, was born.

InVasion turned out to be one of the best pay-per-view events of the past few years, and in the weeks after, apart from the god awful Taker/Page stalker angle, seemed to be going well. WWF stars won WCW titles, and vice versa. Fans who attended the shows seemed happy.

But the news items began to dry up. Whereas e-mail newsletters before were sent out everyday, some were sent out every two days, or once or twice a week. Some writers resorted to starting feuds with other writers, perhaps in an attempt to get themselves noticed.

E-mail newsletters began to close down, some without even saying bye and thanks for reading. The once great Chokeslam newsletter, the third largest on the net, stopped publishing. Having taken a lot of flak for proposing to hold a writing competition between two feuding writers, and wanting the readers to pick a winner, they closed down. They returned, but things were different. The quality just wasn't the same.

As the summer continued, so did the InVasion angle. At the premier pay-per-view of the summer, the WWF dominated their alliance counterparts at Summerslam. Talented WCW and ECW wrestlers who were big fish in their respective companies were now nothing more than minnows in the massive WWF lake.

As the angle continued, possibly the most significant casualty of the e-zine world was announced. Without warning, and without any sign that this was going to happen, Jack Hensley shut down his WWF: The Inside Source Newsletter, and deleted his mailing list.

This came as a complete shock not only to me, but probably his entire mailing list. Despite not having the massive number of subscribers that Top Rope or Essential Wrestling News had, WWF:TISN was probably one of the best on the net. Not only did Jack put out issues every day, but he also gave us Raw, Smackdown, Heat and Byte This reports. He also constantly updated his website. In short, he was a busy kid.

Jack put into his work a professionalism I had never seen in an e-zine before. It didn't seem to matter to him that he only had around 200 subscribers. It was the product that counted. And it was a damn fine product.

I was surprised on the day that Jack announced his retirement from the Internet wrestling world. It came as a complete surprise to everyone. In his final announcement, Jack said that he had found it a strain for the last six months. But with his list deleted from the Topica directory, there is no hope of a return somewhere down the line.

With the InVasion angle seemingly coming to an end at the Survivor Series, we are left to wonder how many more casualties there will be. The wrestling industry seems to be experiencing a downturn in fortunes as of late. There were times in the summer when I considered either "retiring" from wrestling writing, or just taking an extended break. I hadn't felt that way about wrestling since about 1995.

So what is there left now for people who want to start wrestling e-zines, when the likes of EWN and TRN only put out a couple of issues a week? One recent addition to the ranks is also publishing baseball and football results. Says it all really, doesn't it?

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