It’s time to get a little bit indie this week in the Pro Wrestling Punditry machine. My guest is none other than Jerome Cusson. I initially became aware of Jerome thanks to his podcast appearances for Pro Wrestling Ponderings. Lo and behold; Jerome isn’t just one of the regular podcast hosts, he’s the Senior Editor and co-founder over at Pro Wrestling Ponderings. If you check out the Chicago independent promotion AAW: Professional Wrestling Redefined anytime soon, chances are you may hear Jerome doing commentary as he has stepped into the commentary booth for them over the past few shows. Truth be told, where I became most acquainted with Jerome was on the place we call Twitter. I was immediately drawn to Jerome as he tended to take an analytical approach that was very similar to my own. Like me Jerome isn’t super active on Twitter these days, but he’s still there and you can find catch him tweeting from @jeromepwpeditor.
*As a general reminder, what follows are Jerome’s answers to a standardized set of ten questions. This is meant to help gauge the variety of opinion within the larger wrestling community. It’s also done in this manner to avoid any editorializing on my part (outside of minor grammar corrections), and eliminate any opportunities for bias.*
1) How old are you?
“I am 30-years-old.”
2) When did you first start watching wrestling?
“I began watching wrestling in late 1994. Specifically, I remember watching Survivor Series 1994 through less than legal means and seeing Bret Hart losing the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) Heavyweight Championship to Bob Backlund. Since Bret Hart was one of those guys who got me into wrestling, I wasn’t happy at that time.”
3) When do you recall first thinking critically about wrestling?
“I didn’t get a computer in house until the mid-2000s as shocking as that is, but I did have internet access through Web TV and started reading guys like Scott Keith at the old Wrestleline.com (CBS’s pro wrestling website when wrestling was white hot). I of course became aware of Dave Meltzer and Wade Keller. I never had any illusions about pro wrestling being real, so it was always easy for me to see this as performance art. Late 1998 and 1999 was about the time I started seeing wrestling in a more critical way. When WCW (World Championship Wrestling) started going down…that’s when I really started being critical about wrestling. Not pushing Chris Benoit at that time infuriated me because he was clearly so much better than a lot of that roster. There were just young guys dying on the vine, and WCW was doing nothing to correct their behavior. Specifically, I remember the “Fingerpoke of Doom” as a real turning point because it made me so mad. They not only ruined Monday Night RAW by announcing Mick Foley as winning the WWF Heavyweight Championship (a moment I somehow missed because I was watching Monday NITRO) but went back to the nWo well again. As I became older and was able to read the internet more, I began seeing wrestling in a more critical way. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I can’t ever imagine not being a critical thinker in any aspect of life. It’s incredibly important to be a thinker and always question every aspect of life.”
4) What is your favorite promotion of all time?
“I first became a fan of Ring of Honor in the spring of 2006. There was a time period from April 1, 2006 until WrestleMania weekend 2008 that RoH was by far my favorite company. I have such fond memories of going to see live shows in Chicago Ridge and feeling like I was seeing some of the best pro wrestling ever. I’d say RoH from the autumn 2004 until spring 2008 is my overall favorite run. I’ll never forget walking out of my first RoH show and feeling like I had just had a religious experience. It’s what I imagine religious people feel after going to church. I had no voice and was exhausted because it was a five hour show, yet I desperately wanted to go back. And I did for about the next five years. I can’t imagine ever having a feeling like that ever again.”
5) Who is your favorite wrestler of all time?
“I’ve gone back and forth with this, but Bret Hart was someone who I always admired. He was such an authentic wrestler and brought such realism. When I first got into wrestling, Bret was the guy in WWF. And I remember where I was when he gave his big heel speech the night after WrestleMania 13. It’s a speech and moment that I feel is vastly underrated by wrestling fans. If you have WWE Network, go watch that speech. It’s an amazing heel turn, yet it still comes across as real and not just a cartoon. I wish Bret would have a better run in WCW, but as I’ve gone back and watched the various PPVs, Monday Night RAWs, and other shows, my admiration for Bret continues to grow.”
6) What is your favorite era of wrestling?
“It’s really unpopular to say the Attitude Era in this day and age, but I’m going to defend it in this way. I was 13-years-old and was watching programming I probably shouldn’t have been watching. South Park was on that list. Dawson’s Creek was also on that list. I probably learned more about sex through television than my parents or school (I went to a catholic school, so there was no hope there). Sable walking around half naked, Steve Austin swearing and drinking beer, and even the crash TV elements had an appeal to me. Now as I look back, the Attitude Era is a bit of an embarrassment for a multitude of reasons. But there was no other time I wanted to sit down and watch Monday Night RAW more than the summer of 1997 until WCW died in March 2001. The Attitude Era came around at the perfect time, and it will always be my favorite era.”
7) What is your favorite style of wrestling?
“If you had asked me this question in the mid-2000s, I would have said the super indie or Strong Style of wrestling. I think I’ve grown to appreciate multiple styles and don’t restrict myself to just one. Sometimes, I enjoy car crash matches. Other times, I like a good comedy match. And the grappling style that has become such an important part of Evolve (EVOLVE Wrestling) is something I enjoy as well. The type of style depends heavily on my mood. Also, I want wrestling shows to have variety and not be restricted to one style.”
8) What are the elements that make up a talented pro wrestler?
“Confidence is the biggest thing. I can tell a wrestler who has the confidence to control a match and himself. Look at Chris Hero. People make jokes about his weight, but there’s no wrestler who has more confidence about his skills than him. He clearly doesn’t care what people think and is able to deliver match of the year candidates every time he goes out. Obviously, it’s important to be able to execute in the ring. I truly believe that the in-ring standard has never been better than it is right now in 2016. Even companies that aren’t great booking wise still have worthwhile wrestling up and down the card. Other than a handful of guys across the landscape, nearly everyone in RoH, TNA (Total Nonstop Action Wrestling), WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), and the highest level companies in Japan can deliver competent wrestling at a minimum. In a lot of cases, you’ll see match of the year candidates on the major shows almost without fail.”
9) What is most important to you when it comes to spending your time with a pro wrestling product?
“I want to feel like the matches on a show are worth my time. I used to value the money I spent more than the time. Now I value my time. Long shows generally annoy me. I’d rather watch a good solid two and a half hour show than a bloated four hour show. It’s really important to me to watch a show with a purpose. If I see two guys have a really good well-worked match but there’s a crap finish, then I’m going to feel like I wasted my time regardless of how good the action is. Is that fair to the wrestlers? Probably not, but as good as the in-ring is, the booking quality from WWE right on down is very poor.”
10) What major changes do you see in the pro wrestling landscape ten years from now?
“In order for pro wrestling to survive and thrive, there needs to be fundamental changes. Intergender wrestling is not the solution. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly problematic because male writers in their 20s can’t write quality female characters. Lucha Underground is a step in the right direction. Give me an hour of really strong wrestling and production elements in front of a small but very vocal crowd. WWE having as much content as they do is borderline unsustainable, particularly having episodes of Monday Night RAW that go three hours. I can’t see Monday Night RAW being three hours in 2026. We don’t even know what network and streaming services will look like in 10 years, so it’s hard to see what wrestling will look like.
The biggest thing wrestling needs to do is stop paying attention to the past and focus on the future. Some of the aggregator sites report on Jim Cornette and Vince Russo’s comments like those two men are still relevant to this business in 2016. They’re not. They contribute nothing and leech off the contributions of so many people. I see the ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) reunions and bringing back the legends and just wonder what we’re doing? Part of what makes a sport like the NBA great is that sport is constantly trying to make new stars and look forward. Pro wrestling has done an abysmal job building stars the last ten years and it shows in the fact that unless it’s WrestleMania or another big show, there really isn’t a buzz about this business. I look at Kenny Omega’s push as a huge step in the right direction because companies need to grow balls and start giving guys the ball.
I don’t feel good about the future of wrestling right now. The myth of the casual fan is another major detriment to almost every company. Serving the niche and keeping those fans should be what WWE and RoH prioritize, but I don’t get the sense that this is what they’re doing. To contrast, look at what Louis CK is able to do. He can film and create a television show in secret, then release it on his website, and people will go in droves to purchase because Louis CK is a trustworthy person and now a brand.
So many companies don’t have the confidence to be who they are and embrace an identity. I particularly see this with some of the smaller companies. There are companies that I love to follow and want to support, but they seem to be losing the things that originally made them appealing to me in the first place. We need more people with business backgrounds involved in wrestling. We need new ideas. We need to empty out the playbook and be willing to try new things.”