The Self-Made Man: Dave Meltzer
This week’s Self Made Man is a journalist, of sorts. I can’t even call him a sports journalist in good conscience, because the industry he covers—professional wrestling—isn’t really a sport. But Dave Meltzer is absolutely an entrepreneur whose behind-the-scenes coverage of the notoriously secretive wrestling business was a game-changer not only for wrestling, but for Dave himself; he has his own little online media empire now, complete with multiple podcasts and ad-revenue-driven editorial analysis of both wrestling and MMA.
Dave grew up in San Jose, and was a big wrestling fan as a kid. Eager to see more wrestling than what was available in his area (keep in mind that wrestling was a regional business built on local TV back then), he started tape trading with people all over the country, and his Wrestling Observer newsletter began as an extension of his tape-trading list, where he would include match results and news updates whenever he sent tapes out.
His little hobby developed into a stand-alone publication in 1983, and the professional contacts he’d made as a fan and tape trader (particularly promoters Bill Watts and Paul Boesch and wrestler Terry Funk) gave him an edge over other, glossier wrestling magazines – Dave could get insider sources to reveal the inner workings of wrestling. The Observer reported on things like legitimate disputes between wrestlers, the reasoning (or lack thereof) behind specific match-making and hiring/firing decisions, and controversial events like Bret Hart’s departure from WWE and Vince McMahon’s steroid trial.
The Observer also gave match listings and ratings, gate receipts, and other analysis for bouts in America, Mexico, and Japan, and included the smaller promotions that fans wouldn’t have heard about otherwise.
Meltzer’s newsletter caught the wrestling business completely off-guard, and a lot of regional promoters and wrestlers weren’t happy about it. Mick Foley wrote in his autobiography that he surprised to see Meltzer attending wrestling events, since there were quite a few people who wanted to wring his neck because of how he exposed the business.
Others, however, saw it as a place to air the locker room politics and vulgarities of their profession
Dave’s newsletter has become a full-time job that has landed him a steady, loyal subscriber base and tons of respect among sports journalists, and it forever changed wrestling’s relationship between the performers and the audience. It also nets him a six-figure income, which Dave earns every penny of with his insane, 110-hour work weeks. Can’t fault him for work ethic, that’s for sure.
Here’s a fun interview with Dave Meltzer on fellow TSB Self Made Man Colt Cabana’s podcast, where he talks about the early days of his newsletter and, in a roundabout way, life as an entrepreneur.
About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.