It’s the debut of a new column at Wrestling with Words. The long and short of it is that I believe we are in a golden age of wrestling criticism. There are more avenues for critical discussion than there have ever been, and there are more voices adding to that discussion than at any time I can recall. To that end I want to highlight some voices I feel are worth listening to, give an outlet to critics most wrestling fans may not be aware of, and provide opinions from personalities I’m not even super familiar with. The goal is diverse opinions from every age, gender, background, etc.
Each week I’ll be posting an interview I conducted with a pro wrestling pundit, podcaster, writer, or prominent personality. Basically, if someone is the interview subject in this column then they are approaching wrestling from a critical perspective in some capacity. The catch is, each and every interviewee will be getting the same set of ten questions. This is being done to a provide opinions on the same subjects as well as to avoid any specifically tailored questions for individual guests. It’s also my hope that together with my policy of not editing any of the responses (aside from grammar or structure issues) this approach will lead to a series of unbiased takes on the world of wrestling.
The pleasantries are over, and what better way to kick of Pro Wrestling Punditry than by interviewing the one and only Dylan Hales. I’ve known Dylan for some time now, and when I returned to the online world of pro wrestling it was his Twitter account that led to me turning to wrestling with a critical eye yet again. I went on to enjoy many a conversation, full of agreement and disagreement alike, with Dylan. Dylan has a steady presence in the podcasting world. He is co-host of Wrestling Culture, a podcast that takes deep looks at specific wrestling topics. He can also be found on most of the big event reaction shows on the PWO-PTBN Network. Dylan will also be providing content for Wrestling with Words itself at some point in the near future. He still posts regularly at perhaps the most critically minded message board there is, Pro Wrestling Only. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Dylan can be found spouting his wrestling opinions on a daily basis through his Twitter account, @DylanWaco.
1) How old are you?
2) When did you first start watching wrestling?
“I actually can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t watch wrestling. I don’t recall watching it much with my dad or uncles before I was about six or so, but I have memories of watching shows and events that occurred on television when I was around four. In fact some of my earliest memories of any sort involve watching wrestling. TBS was one of maybe sixteen channels we got when I was a young kid, and I can remember religiously watching the wrestling on Saturday nights by the time I was four or five. We also got UWF (Universal Wrestling Federation), World Class (World Class Championship Wrestling), and even very late Florida (Championship Wrestling from Florida) on various stations (mostly UHF as I recall but the details are foggy) around the same time period. Oddly enough I don’t really have vivid memories of watching the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) until after me moved to a different house when I was six.”
3) When do you recall first thinking critically about wrestling?
“This is hard to say, because I think the term “critically” is relative, especially in this context.
By the time I was five I started keeping this chart where I would count the offensive moves each wrestler got in a match and compare them to other wrestlers. I remember internally debating whether or not a Schoolboy should count as an offensive move before I even knew what that move was called. In some sense I think this was “thinking critically about wrestling,” though maybe not in the sense that you mean.
I lived in an area with a lot of local video stores, so I was able to get my hands on all sorts of wrestling on a regularly basis by the time I was seven or eight. It was also around this period where my uncle would record Primetime Wrestling and other wrestling shows for me on VHS to watch after school and on the weekends. I was also a fan of wrestling magazines starting around that time period. The point to all of this is that to one degree or another I was collecting magazines and footage by the time I was seven or eight, with things really escalating around the time I was ten or eleven. This whole time I would compare and contrast guys from different promotions, come up with dream matches, and even debate my friends about what guys should be slotted on what level for the promotions they were in. Again, I would argue that’s “thinking critically about wrestling,” though I’m still not sure this is exactly what you are getting at with the question.
I can first remember rating and having really detailed discussions about matches and the quality of wrestlers as both characters and in ring performers when I was about 11 or 12. It wasn’t long after that that I started subscribing to the Pro Wrestling Torch, which I did for years and years (94-01 if I remember correctly). Also right around this time was when I started mail ordering my first tapes (ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) of course, though not exclusively) and when the internet started to take off. It was kind of a perfect storm, as my best friend was a huge fan during the period, and then the Monday Night Wars kicked in, so there was a large group of people both in my daily life and the quickly growing online world to talk wrestling with. I think really me thinking critically about wrestling was a process that started with me counting offensive spots during matches when I was in kindergarten and gradually evolved into me arguing with Bob Ryder on internet forums when I was in my early high school days. Trying to pinpoint anything more specific would be impossible for me.”
4) What is your favorite promotion of all time?
“This is very tough to say, but I’ve gone on record recently in saying that Smoky Mountain Wrestling was, and I can’t really talk myself out of that. It’s hard because I love so much wrestling, from so many different places and times. SMW is by no means the best in ring product, though I do think they are underrated in that regard by some. That said SMW had a great weekly television product, and probably the best crop of talkers in the history of wrestling at its peak. I watched every SMW show on tape a few years back, and I can honestly say I don’t think I saw more than one or two bad episodes of TV, and probably a dozen or more that would rank in the fifty best wrestling television shows I’ve ever seen.
This is weird to say, but SMW also has the benefit of having had a relative short run so they never wore out their welcome as a product. As a comparison, I’d rate the best Portland (Pacific Northwest Wrestling) stuff that’s available up there as well, but there is a lot of bad stuff mixed in that makes it impossible to put at Smoky Mountain’s level. NWA Wildside (National Wrestling Alliance Wildside) would probably be my number two, and if I had the complete run of it that I could watch from beginning to end it’s possible it would pass SMW. Or not.”
5) Who is your favorite wrestler of all time?
“Terry Funk. There are a lot of wrestlers who I love, but with Funk the connection is generational as I inherited my love of him from my father. As a kid my dad would always talk him, his family, and the promotion they ran up as the best thing ever (my dad grew up in Albuquerque), and I never let go of that. I was already a huge fan at the time, but Funk’s feud with Ric Flair in 1989 is the feud that is most responsible for me becoming a lifelong, hardcore, wrestling fan. It doesn’t hurt that he’s legitimately one of the best wrestlers of all time, but Funk would probably be my favorite even if he was half as talented as he is.”
6) What is your favorite era of wrestling?
“I’m not sure that I really see wrestling in terms of eras. That said my favorite period that I lived through as a fan was 94-97. Some of this I covered above, but this was a period where it really felt like anything was possible in wrestling, at least to my teenage eyes. Not only was I getting into All Japan (All Japan Pro Wrestling) at the height of its run, but I had become an ECW fan, I was getting Smoky Mountain television every week until they closed up at the end of 95, the Monday Night Wars were in full effect throughout most of this run, I was neck deep in tape trading and the budding internet scene, and every week or so it seemed like I was discovering a new wrestler or promotion to lose my shit over. That sense of discovery is almost completely gone now, in part due to stuff like YouTube, VOD, streaming services and torrents making everything available in the immediate. As a guy who watches everything I can’t seriously complain about the widespread availability of footage, but it really does take some of the excitement out of things.”
7) What is your favorite style of wrestling?
“I think the term “style” gets misapplied a lot in wrestling and I’m probably as guilty of it as anyone. That said, I feel pretty comfortable saying that “Lucha brawls” qualify as a style and that would be my pick. It’s not as reliable a style or match type as something like the Southern tag which can almost always work well if strictly adhered to regardless of the skill level of the wrestlers, but when a Lucha brawl makes contact it’s almost always a home run. While I love shootstyle and Lucha title matches, Lucha brawls are pretty much the perfect blend of reckless, authentic looking, hate filled violence, and outlandish melodrama – otherwise known as the two things that made me a lifelong wrestling fan.”
8) What are the elements that make up a talented pro wrestler?
“It’s really not possible to answer this question, because I don’t think there is a single answer to this. Different wrestlers call for different approaches, skills, etc. I suppose the one thing that a talented wrestler most needs is an understanding of his limitations. By this I don’t mean that people should just get a routine, master it, and never deviate, but rather that people shouldn’t work beyond their capacities. The best wrestlers tend to be the ones who understand their gimmick and role, and can apply that to the match in a compelling fashion. Trying new things is not bad, in fact I think it is generally commendable, but trying new things purely for the sake of trying new things is idiotic. Even though I praise it at times, I tend to think that being “innovative” is the single most over hyped quality for a wrestler to have. Very few people are true innovators, and the vast majority of people who aim to be are severely lacking in the fundamental elements that make wrestling work.
I suppose that response is kind of evasive, so I’ll also note that I think selling and psychology are the two most important things a talented wrestler can have in their arsenal, though even that is a very broad answer that probably obscures as much as it reveals.”
9) What is most important to you when it comes to spending your time with a pro wrestling product?
“If it’s an active promotion probably timeliness. There are promotions that are relatively new to the distribution game and I try to cut them some slack because I want to encourage more and more companies to get involved and make their stuff available to the public. That said I generally want to have the ability to watch something within a few weeks of it taking place. I understand there are financial reasons why certain promotions can’t do this, and I would never criticize anyone heavily for it, nor would a longer window necessarily mean I wouldn’t watch something. But timeliness is really important in this day and age.
If it’s an older product I guess the answer would be ease of acquiring it, though I have so much on disc already, and there is so much available on YouTube, that there isn’t a ton I’m tripping over myself trying to acquire.”
10) What major changes do you see in the pro wrestling landscape ten years from now?
“I think HHH is going to take over the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) sometime in the next decade and the people who have elevated him to messiah status are going to be shocked to find that the new boss is much the same as the old boss. Beyond that I suspect we are going to see a multitude of streaming service “networks” akin to what Highspots has just launched, and perhaps some quasi-regional independents that operate as amalgamations of products found on said networks.”