There are a select number of wrestling pundits who I actively seek out. This group of people may be small, but it’s my go to group because I know that I can trust that each and every member of this group will give me a deeper take than most. One member of said group is JR Goldberg. I came to know of JR from his various posts on the Death Valley Driver Video Review and Pro Wrestling Only message boards. Imagine my surprise when JR approached me about becoming a writer for this very site! I knew we would be lucky to have JR writing for us, and every step of the way he’s proved me right. Outside of JR’s excellent work for Wrestling With Words he can be found on Twitter under the handle of @wrestlingbubble.
*As a general reminder, what follows are JR’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 31 years old.”
2) When did you first start watching wrestling?
“My first wrestling memory is from 1991. Strangely, it’s not a major angle or anything, it was that bizarre time when they had a masked Ed Leslie randomly come in and attack heels. He attacked Rick Martel, and I was convinced I was watching a real life super hero. A masked dude beat the crap out of an evil doer. No one knew who he was. I remember telling my dad (not a wrestling fan) that he was the best wrestler. My dad told me about Hulk Hogan, how he was the champion. He let me watch the next week, and I was hooked. I had points during which my interest waned a bit, but it was essentially part of my life from the time I was six or seven.”
3) When do you recall first thinking critically about wrestling?
“I think there were probably two moments where it dawned on me that wrestling could be looked at through a more critical lens. The first was when I figured out that in order to become a wrestler, you had to go to wrestling school. I guess I’d always sort of figured it was something like that, but that really made me understand that wrestling was a craft. Something that wasn’t innate, but that you could improve at and work toward.
The second moment was a teenage argument with my mom when she made me watch the Olympics instead of Thunder or something and I started to yell at her about how wrestling was no different than figure skating. It was an athletic performance art that could be judged and graded via a previously agreed upon set of standards. I’m not sure that’s true anymore, but it was sort of an epiphany for me at the time.”
4) What is your favorite promotion of all time?
“That’s tough to answer. Can I cheat and say the US Indies from 2003-2008? I guess if I had to pick one to be representative of that time period it would be RoH (Ring of Honor), but so much awesome stuff happened in IWA-MS (Independent Wrestling Association Mid-South) and other places it feels tough to leave them out. I hesitate to throw out these as arbitrary end points, but I tend to view the years beginning RoH’s split/re-launch up until Gabe (Saplosky’s) dismissal as a sort of golden age of Indy Wrestling. Because the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) was so closed minded about who they were signing at the time, there was a tremendous amount of talent that had time to grow organically against each other. The footage boom from YouTube hadn’t really started yet, and international footage was hard to come by during those years. It was really a pretty incredible time to be a fan, and that’s what I try and get across in my articles here.
That being said, when I just want to veg out and watch rasslin’ these days, I tend to watch WCCW (World Class Championship Wrestling) or Portland (Pacific Northwest Wrestling) right now.”
5) Who is your favorite wrestler of all time?
“I’m so terrible at answering favorite questions, but this is a pretty common one, so I have a prepared answer from the last time I was asked this question: The Sheepherders were and are my favorite wrestlers. When I was a kid, I thought wrestling was something that only the toughest of the tough could do. Each guy was the toughest person they knew. Kind of like in fantasy novels about the Middle Ages, when each town would have a champion, in case they were invaded or stormed, they could potentially defend themselves with single combat. That’s why wrestling was so awesome to me; you’d have these dudes like Gary Hart running all over the world, flying to remote villages and shit just to find Kamala, or Killer Khan, and it was easy to see why. Those guys were monsters. Even guys like Hulk Hogan, who was basically what you get when Godzilla and Jesus have a baby, would gulp when facing down some crazed cannibal of unknown origin.
The Sheepherders were different. Sure, they were from some far off field, but they weren’t huge. They weren’t even all that athletic, to be honest. But they had something that no one else had: it was clear that they were completely fucking crazy. Somewhere along the way, something horrible happened to those men, and they turned to one another and said “all we have in this world is each other, and all we know how to do is bleed”. So that’s what they did. Half the time, I doubt they knew what territory they were in, why they were there, or how they got there. They just showed up, and saw those same weird pretty boys that cared more about girls and cars than anything else, but were still frustratingly as tough as they were. Can you even imagine? It’s like the wrestling equivalent of Waiting for Godot, but instead of Pozzo and Lucky you have to deal with fucking Bobby Fulton and Tommy Rogers. I’d go insane too. In this world of larger than life characters, The Sheepherders were the only people that ever had a reason for being the way they were that made sense.”
6) What is your favorite era of wrestling?
“I guess my favorite promotion question reply sort of answers this, but it would be that same period in the American Indies. Because of the level of talent involved and the idea that they would never be truly accepted or allowed to ply their craft in WWE, there was a level of investment from the fans that hasn’t been present in recent years.”
7) What is your favorite style of wrestling?
“I’m afraid I don’t really have a tremendously interesting answer to this. I watch a lot of wrestling, and I like to think I’m pretty objective when I do it. Good wrestling is good wrestling, and the best wrestlers tend to shine through even if the style itself isn’t one that particularly appeals to me. It’s probably easier for me to list things I tend to enjoy less often: High flying does very little for me when I’m not watching live. I tend to roll my eyes a little bit at too much “fighting spirit”. I like mat work a good amount, especially the lucha mat stuff. I think I give more artistic credit to American death match wrestling than most other fans. I think death match workers tend to tell more coherent stories than people like Davey Richards.”
8) What are the elements that make up a talented pro wrestler?
“So many different things, and no one needs to have them all. Obviously athleticism helps, and an understanding of how to tell a story with physicality. An ability to express a few simple emotions. Presence is probably a big thing. An ability to learn and adapt over time. An ability to react organically to the situation and the crowd.”
9) What is most important to you when it comes to spending your time with a pro wrestling product?
“As sad as it is for me to say, I think convenience is probably a big factor at this point. I’m a grown man with a job and a partner who doesn’t care for wrestling nearly as much as I do. I don’t have the hours in the day to really follow every aspect of a promotion any more. I like simple stories I can still follow if I’ve missed a show or two. If I have to follow fifteen Twitter accounts in order to keep up with a mid-card match, I’m just not as invested. I don’t want this to sound like I’m calling out Chikara (CHIKARA Pro), because they are one of the few promotions I do follow at this point, simply because you can be that involved, but the stories work from a simplistic standard as well. I also have trouble watching wrestling that is worked in a vacuum. I need some hate, or at least some conflict.”
10) What major changes do you see in the pro wrestling landscape ten years from now?
“The changes will not necessarily be with wrestling in general, but instead with how we watch it. The previous ten years saw a footage boom based on the availability of old footage. The next ten years will hopefully change the way we watch things as a whole, including wrestling. I think streaming will be so simple and available, that we will be able to essentially watch anything we want live without having to jump through hoops. We are basically living in the future with the WWE Network, and NJPW World and CMLL (Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre) streaming on Monday nights. I think the next ten years will just streamline the whole process so that the things wrestling fans can watch now through less than legal channels will be available for all.
I don’t really foresee a major change to wrestling itself. What’s popular in ring will change, but I don’t think we will get another boom period or anything like that. I don’t think there will be any major changes to protect the health of wrestlers. The (Chris) Benoit situation already started that process, and unless there is another horrific incident, I don’t think the WWE will go to off seasons or anything major like that. We will probably see more indies like Evolve (EVOLVE Wrestling) work as a defined feeder system for the WWE. Maybe TNA (Total Nonstop Action Wrestling) finally goes out of business? Maybe Vince will no longer be involved with WWE by the end of the next decade.”