Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. The Rise and Fall of TWD, part one

Part One: Allegro

You couldn’t call it unexpected. Sure, it wasn’t all planned. Sure we were all taken by surprise at one point or another by this or that. But the big picture – the rise and fall of what could have been, would have been and probably should have been one of the best pro wrestling news and analysis sites on the ‘net – was in the cards from the very beginning. The site was called “The Wrestling Daily” or “TWD” to its readers and detractors alike and it was absolutely terrific…while it lasted.

It took a long time for me to write this piece; 3½ years – from the very beginning to now, actually. To be clear, I’ve never posted anything in any public forum that amounts to “my side of the story,” and this certainly isn’t intended to be anything like that. If anything, what I’d like to provide is a favorable look back at a tremendously ambitious project that simply didn’t succeed in the long run. There were a lot of people involved in the founding and evolution of TWD and it’s safe to say that every one of us was disappointed in the manner in which it ended. Hell, at some point after the project unceremoniously ended, a number of ex-TWDers decided that the initials actually stood for “That Wrestling Disaster.” I don’t blame ’em. Time doesn’t heal everything and while I did reach out to a number of “TWD  Originals” in preparing this, I also figured that a number of others might not want to be bothered with some difficult or unpleasant memories, a few of which would undoubtedly involve yours truly. In fact, in the interests of discretion and privacy, I’ll keep many things fairly general, referring directly to the people with whom I am on relatively good terms and have indicated their approval for my efforts at piecing together celebration of our old corner of the Internet Wrestling Community. (Of course, if any former TWD folks ask me to add in their respective names, improve upon important details or other pertinent stuff, I’m certainly willing to revisit and revise this and any subsequent installments accordingly.)  So presented here – with the assistance and support of TWD alumni as well as that of journalistic raconteur Brady Hicks  –  is a handful of reminiscences about the rise and fall TWD.

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My involvement in TWD goes back a long way…Back to the beginning, even. Before that, really. Hell, in true, long-winded and rambling IWC fashion, I could go way, way back to the first wrestling show I attended at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia back in the early 1980s. Or I could wax philosophically about how I became obsessed with Lawler’s Memphis-based promotion and Poffo’s ICW during my formative years and how that’s still my favorite style and era of wrestling to this very day. I could fondly reminisce about my days as a the dreaded “M,” a “troll” on the glorified megablog known as Bleacher Report , a user-generated cacophony of gossip, rumor-mongering, recycled content and grade-school level creative writing. I could even touch on the fact that it was former BR wrestling community mainstay Joe Burgett who challenged me to step up and spend more time writing instead of just sniping and complaining and how that turned into the impetus for some of the better articles that BR had seen up to that point. But instead, I won’t mention any of that stuff. Not at all. (See what I did there?)

Somewhere along the line during my foray into Internet writing, I unexpectedly started to give a damn. A handful of like-minded individuals felt the same and many nights (or mornings for Krut, who lives in down under) we’d stay up e-mailing and Facebooking, plotting about how we could shape BR – and the IWC  – into the kind of place where accountability, ethics and competency amounted to more than just buzzwords and lofty ideals. The “BR Illuminati,” as some of us jokingly referred to ourselves, accomplished a little to that end. A little. (Hey, we convinced the BR administration to sack the head of their wrestling community at one point, which was pretty cool.) But it was the trio of guys from Hit the Ropes – Shane, Daris and Demetrus  –  who took the first steps beyond the confines of BR and began creating original and dynamic content in the form of their weekly podcast that, incidentally, is still around today.

Revealed at last...The inspiration behind my infamous BR avatar: "Venom and Friend," c. 1979.

But the rest of our clique were writers at heart and we really wanted to show our stuff by creating a forum for news and analysis that would outshine damn near everything else in the IWC. Even though this was only about four years ago, there wasn’t a whole lot of serious competition at the time. Not in our minds, anyway. Nowadays, every jabroni and his slow-witted nephew has a wrestling blog…or two. I’m all for freedom of expression and all that but just because you can have your own site doesn’t mean you should. Anyhoo…

Three of us from the “Illuminati” group (again, that name was not official; it was just a joke going around our niche at the time) decided to take the ball and run with it. Jason LeBlanc (a.k.a. “JLB”), who had been appointed to lead BR’s Wrestling Community after the other guy had been canned and/or “quit” (as he’d claimed), made the announcement that he was departing BR to form a new wrestling-themed site, noting that he’d be joined by a prominent editor/writer and yours truly, who, by that time had more or less dropped the whole “M” moniker (although I did return to BR now and again as “Whistler’s Mother,” which was one of my better aliases, if I do say so myself.)

The original banner for TWD v1.0

Jason’s initial announcement was met with tremendous enthusiasm as well as a swell of volunteers who wanted to offer content for the new site. In time, we firmed things up by creating applications and waivers and announcing our project’s new working name, “The Wrestling Daily.” In the weeks that followed, Jason – who was TWD’s Content Director – pored over applications with TWD’s Editor while I worked on creating and refining the initial incarnation of the website in my capacity as Site Administrator. We also engaged in some shameless self-promotion on BR and I, for one, tried to kick up enough of a stink by trying to get myself kicked off the site altogether. Unfortunately, the best response I could get ever out of BR administrators was having a few of my articles deleted.

Interestingly enough, at one point, we were contacted by someone who ran his own family-owned, purportedly “successful” sports-related blogging site. He actually offered us (the three co-founders of what was to be TWD) the opportunity to write for his site with virtually complete creative control under the conditions that we write for him exclusively and that didn’t go ahead with creating our own site. As a practical matter, we did investigate the matter and decided to politely decline. Also, he didn’t have any money to offer us. Really.

After a couple of weeks, we settle upon an impressive bullpen of very competent and insightful talent. Included in the mix was Kurt Lewicki, a shit-stirring bass-player from the land that gave us Muriel’s Wedding and Midnight Oil; Albert Dankwa III (a.k.a. “AkD”), the fur-cap wearing comic book enthusiast from Gotham City; Michael Scanlon, everyone’s favorite wise-cracking über-geek; Adam Testa, the Ron Burgundy of wrestling journalism (that’s a compliment, Adam); Scott Beeby, an odd hybrid of Kurt and AkD in that he is from Australia and sometimes wears a hat; and a handful of others who are no less important than the aforementioned individuals but who have not agreed to be mentioned at this time. My opinions of these folks as writers has never changed, irrespective of whatever  transpired between us and the stuff that ultimately drove us apart. All of them were the absolute best at what we’d set out to accomplish. I think I said it best in the press release that I wrote in early August 2009 when I described the TWD collectively as “a diverse group of people who possess a rich background of writing experience, and a broad scope of expertise.” And brothers and sisters, we had a lot to say.

With our first lineup of writers and a preliminary writing schedule in place, we set our debut date and posted a countdown clock on our new site. August 17, 2009 was our date with destiny.

To be continued…

To read part two of this series, click here.

Still to come in future installments of  The Rise and Fall of TWD: TWD rising; Jeff Hardy gives TWD an inadvertent boost; controversy and criticism; new writers; an e-mail from Wrestlicious; Tyler Black’s TWD-related heat; The TWD 50; crashing our server; Branko Broz; creative differences; TWD interviews with Mike Sydal, Chris Hero, Chris Nowinski, J.J. Dillon & Jesse Ventura; growing pains, more controversy and “That Wrestling Dénouement.”

Mike Bessler was a co-founder of The Wrestling Daily. These days he does lots of other things.