McGuire’s Mondays: Do you need to be a pro wrestler to review pro wrestling?

By Colin McGuire, Staffer (@McGMondays)

I’m in the middle of reading Peter Cooper’s “Johnny’s Cash and Charley’s Pride: Lasting Legends and Untold Adventures in Country Music.” Cooper was a longtime writer/reviewer for The Tennessean and he ultimately wound up as an executive at the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was also a musician himself and sadly, he died in December at the too-young age of 52. Midway through the book, Cooper shares a tiny anecdote about the singer Lee Ann Womack. He loved her voice, thought she was an excellent artist, and was never shy about saying so.

In 2005, Womack released an album called “There’s More Where That Came From.” Critics universally loved it, but Cooper argued in his review that she could have done better. He didn’t trash the album, of course, but he also said she “could and would do better” than what those songs were. Word got to Womack and she called him one night out of nowhere to essentially tell him to get bent and she wanted to kick him in the balls three times (no joke). Fast-forward to the next Country Music Awards ceremony and Womack cleaned up for her work on “There’s More Where That Came From.” Cooper saw her backstage at the event and tried to make nice, but as he recalls in the book, she wasn’t having it. Here’s the passage in the book:

“Congratulations,” I said.

She just said, “Spread ’em.”


That tiny tale ran through my mind recently as I was pursuing Twitter and saw wrestlers get mad at the people who cover them. And really, this wasn’t about one example. Any day that ends in “Y,” you can find at least one wrestler (or one wrestling personality) from one company talking about how the wrestling media stinks. One common retort is that pretty much everyone who covers wrestling hasn’t actually practiced wrestling. “You’ve never done what we do,” is a fairly succinct summation of their position. “You have no credentials to speak on any of this.”

It’s an intriguing philosophy because if you spread it out beyond wrestling, you run into a list a thousand miles long of the things people cover that they’ve never done. Take the presidential press corps, for instance. You think any one of them has ever been the President of the United States of America? Well, no. But they cover what the president does. They comment on what the president does. And they tend to be The Voices on the matter, like it or not. They’ve studied the history, they’re granted special access to special things and even though they’ve never held a seat in the Oval Office, I’d much rather have them do the job than, say, Joey down the street, who has a room full of pet birds and eats scrapple three times a week.

And that example is only one. It feels like a million more are out there. The job description in any realm of media isn’t to go do the things you cover; rather, it’s to educate yourself so much on the things you cover that you can speak to them intelligently and relay the information you find in an objective way. If your job is to comment on or react to things that happen, the same rules apply, minus the objectivity – that’s what reaction and commenting means. The hope is that you’re sharing a rather informed perspective on what you see. Again, someone covering the president would be better suited to give an opinion on something the president does than Joey with the birds would be.

Still, the wrestling space is a weird one in that it has no real rules. It’s such an odd world, where what’s real and what’s not is constantly debated and now, the thirst for – and reporting of – backstage information has become big business. What makes it tricky is the fact that pro wrestling was always founded on smoke and mirrors anyway. The work isn’t graded on how well someone can actually beat someone else up; instead, the work is graded on how well it appears someone is beating someone else up and how compelling they make that process look. Can you tell a story and can you cleanly execute a Spanish Fly? If so, there’s work for you.

Where I get caught up, though, is the very argument that’s bandied about all day, every day anymore. Should you be taken seriously as a pro wrestling writer only if you have spent time in the squared circle? Are you allowed to review episodes of Smackdown or Dynamite only if you know what it’s like to take a dropkick to the face in front of 12 or 12,000 people? Unless you know how to cover-up cutting your forehead open with a sharp edge to give a match more drama, should you be granted the space to even opine on the amount of blood we see in wrestling these days?

If you think the answer to any of those questions is yes, then that makes the pool of people “allowed” to cover this stuff would shrink considerably. It would also mean that the coverage would be profoundly watered down. Take the NFL as another example. Over the last decade or two, all pre-game shows on Sunday mornings are littered with former players. Sometimes, there’s a rare former player who grants thoughtful perspective and adds substance to the conversation, but more often than not, it’s just a bunch of dudes sitting around in colorful suits yelling, giggling and reminding viewers that old boys’ clubs still exist everywhere you turn.

Still, is there credence in the notion that a former participant in sports could have a valuable view of what goes on in said sports? I think so. I’ll raise my hand and say I’ve never spent a second wrestling in my life. Are there things someone like Taz can explain on commentary that I would never think to point out because he spent a lot of time in a wrestling ring? Absolutely. Because of that, I respect the hell out of Taz … or even Jerry Lawler … or the cadre of former and current wrestlers who sit in on commentary week after week for any company who will have them. I don’t view a wrestling match like they do, and I love hearing about how they interpret what they see.

But to think there isn’t room for a fan’s perspective – or better yet, a pro wrestling historian’s perspective – is a little unfair. The biggest pro wrestling companies get to perform in front of thousands of people each time they bring the circus to the city and they are afforded that luxury because of the people who support their craft by buying shirts, paying for tickets and helping push those dumbass ratings numbers up each week. That voice matters, too. Without that vote, no pro wrestler in the world is making six figures a year doing a job that said pro wrestler often claims was his or her dream. The inability to execute a surfboard doesn’t have a correlation with the ability to have good taste.

Taste is a hard thing to define, though, in such a subjective world. Pro sports has numbers, analytics and hard data to track and influence the decisions that the decision-makers make. Beyond that, however, pro sports is not different from pro wrestling in that it’s merely entertainment. If a Super Bowl comes down to a last-second touchdown or an NBA game is decided by a half-court shot, those things are universally praised, why? Because those things were entertaining as hell. “That was a good game,” is code for, “I was highly entertained.”

The disconnect in pro wrestling comes within the definition of “being entertained,” which for some reason, isn’t given nearly as much clout as it should. Did you watch a match, love every second of it, invest your emotions in what the outcome would be and then feel like you hopped off a roller-coaster after the final bell rang? If the answer is yes, then there’s no reason to invest in star ratings or live reviews or commentary, unless – and this is a big unless – you merely would like to read someone else’s perspective and compare it to your own. Over time, that might influence your own viewing habits, sure, but to think the definition of failure or success is based on what only a handful of people conclude takes the piss right out of enjoying the product.

Such is why the pro wrestling world is such an anomaly. Because we know the actions are predetermined, so many of us tend to grade performances on an artistic scale. Did the false-finishes make us jump out of our seats like a last-second shot in an NBA game would? They did? Good. That should be the end of the discussion, because that’s all it was meant to do. To wring hands over work rate for the previous 12 minutes before those false-finishes kick in gets in the way of enjoyment. It’s only wrestling. If a wrestler’s performances don’t entertain us, we say we aren’t entertained. Conversely, if a point guard misses the last shot, we don’t say we aren’t entertained; we say we’re bummed because we’re fans of a team. One is qualitative. The other is quantitative.

In my mind, that lends more absurdity to the argument that those who have never wrestled shouldn’t be allowed to comment on it. Reviewing any artistic product based on artistic merit is far different from reviewing sports. Movies are debated on barstools all across the universe because what works for some doesn’t work for others. Still, does either person sitting on either barstool have a background in directing film as they debate? 99.9 percent of the time, the answer to that question is no. Does that disqualify them from having a voice in the film’s success? Well, you tell me if box office numbers matter in the film industry and then think about how vital that barstool vote is. Consumers, taste-makers and fans alike vote with their wallets, and those votes matter regardless of if they know how to focus a camera lens.

And so it must be said: While having experience in an artistic field can lend an informed opinion, that doesn’t mean it’s the only informed opinion out there. In fact, the argument that you can’t speak about wrestling if you’ve never actually wrestled is borne out of laziness and contempt. If you put art into the world on any level, you’re subject to criticism and that’s just part of the gig. Everyone has a right to form their own opinions, and have their own tastes. Wrestling writing, much like wrestling itself, is merely supposed to entertain. Do I think it veers into the “influence” lane a little too much? I do. But every reader has their own prerogative when it comes to what they read, who they read, how they read it and what they hope to get from it. If what someone writes is entertaining to a lot of people, fair play to them. Just like what happens in the ring, though, the more people who pay attention, the more those words are subject to their own criticism.

Or, in the case of Peter Cooper, those words can be subject to getting kicked in the junk via a country music singer. Fair play to that, too, I suppose. I’m not saying words can’t hurt. I’m just saying no recount of Cooper’s story had Lee Ann Womack go on and on about how Cooper wasn’t qualified to write about music because he wasn’t a musician. In fact, if she did, she’d be a liar – Cooper was once nominated for a Grammy for his work on a children’s album reimagining Tom T. Hall songs. Did that credential matter when she went off on the author for saying she could do better in a record review? Highly unlikely. She hauled off on him just the same.

And, truth be told, it was probably a bit more effective than whatever whining on Twitter achieves. I’d never advocate for someone to physically attack anyone anywhere, but somewhere in between those two things, a compromise ought to be found.


Readers Comments (1)

  1. I think the problem with that opinion is that anyone could be a pro wrestler or a musician or President if they started on that path from the same young age as the person they are reviewing. People have an inflated ego over what they do for a living as if they are the only ones that COULD do it. Being a critic involves a special skill set. Movie critics are not out there winning Oscars because their job is not to make movies, it is to criticize movies and people that make them. And to explain why to an audience that also does not make movies for a living. That is the key. The people reading wrestling media is not other wrestlers, it is the fans. Wrestling media is writing for the fans about wrestlers. They are not writing for wrestlers about wrestlers.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.