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.

*  *   *

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. 

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

  1. It’s like going back in time. Popcorn in hand, juice in the other. Time to enjoy the trip.

  2. Avatar Michael Scanlon
    Michael Scanlon says:

    Being called an uber-geek by you is like Scott Hall calling Randy Orton a drug addict… or CM Punk telling Richard Jewell he doesn’t know how to use a pipe bomb anymore… or Mike Knox telling Iron Mike Sharp he has a hairy back… or Randy Savage telling Psycho Sid his career is dead… or Brady Hicks scoffing at the notion that JLB was a wrestling journalist at one time.

    B/R Comment from the past – “Good Read”.

    • In my defense … I wrote for a great little site called tln_wrestling.com. It’s gone now. I never found out what TLN stood for. You don’t see me complaining it went away.

      • Avatar Mike Bessler
        Mike Bessler says:

        We’re just getting started, Bradley.

  3. Avatar Kevin McElvaney
    Kevin McElvaney says:

    As an unrepentant Mike Bessler fanboy, I must say that I truly enjoyed this brief opening of the window to his salad days as a pro wrestling journalist. I am looking forward to reading about the mammoth that TWD became. Post it soon, sir! I beg of you!

    And junk.

    • Mammoth? Come on, dude.

      • Avatar JLB
        JLB says:

        Brady Hicks is right….mammoth is a huge understatement. “Universical Epigod” is more accurate.

  4. Avatar Belongamick
    Belongamick says:

    Another pathetic example of an “outsider” thinking he was “inside”. You are forewarned Hicks.

    • Avatar Mike Bessler
      Mike Bessler says:

      Hey there, Jackson; not sure which article you checked out because I didn’t say one word about thinking I was “inside” of anything. I can certainly tell that you’re an “insider,” though…as in you read and type with your head shoved deep inside of your own ass.

      Tell you what, Biff…If you want to cut a promo on someone, why don’t you go back to standing in your parents’ back yard and yelling smack at their neighbor’s flea-bitten, one-eyed cat while wearing nothing but your secondhand jock strap and a stolen pair of stank-ass bowling shoes? Stick with the formula that works for you, little man.

      By the way, don’t forget to measure your junk with a ruler before you go to bed tonight. I bet you just lost about two inches in the course of the hour and a half that it took for you to read my reply.

      Some things aren’t a “work,” pal.

      • Avatar Krut
        Krut says:

        You told me we already had a troll, not a complete moron that didn’t even bother to read the words with more than two syllables!

      • Oh, snap!

    • Avatar JLB
      JLB says:

      Belongamick just wants to be “inside” something that isn’t a warm, buttered bagel.

  5. Good article Mike, thanks for the mention too. You did step up writing and doing some of the better articles I read. Blew my stuff out of the water obviously. If TWD had anything, it was the article quality. Every post there was quality quality quality. It had it’s problems though, which we’ll find out about soon I bet. Again, good article. And a nice history lesson, as I didn’t know a lot of this beforehand.

    • Avatar JLB
      JLB says:

      Burgett! My old rival! The Marley to my Scrooge! You still making you tube videos?

      • Old rival? You act like there is nothing left. lol

        And sometimes I do, when I have time.

  6. Avatar Krut
    Krut says:

    Mike, I can’t believe you sank as low as calling me a bass player.

    You have been forewarned. (Look at me, I’m soooooo scary!)

  7. Avatar Matthew
    Matthew says:

    Its a shame the site fell the way it did, I know we had our issues, but it was the best site on the net at the time. It was cool that after all that me and a few others from the site went through that we were able to be cool afterwards. Looking forward to part two, and thanks for the awesome read.

    • The best?! I think you guys are more than a little bit “homers.”

      • Avatar Mike Bessler
        Mike Bessler says:

        Matt wasn’t on the TWD roster, Brodie. He was a dedicated reader despite the fact that we were pretty awful to him from time to time. The fact that he is decent enough to read and comment on this piece after all this time says a lot about everyone involved.

      • Avatar JLB
        JLB says:

        I can think of one “homer” I’m gonna knock out of the park here rather quickly.

  8. Avatar AT
    AT says:

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

    There are days when I reminisce about the old days; sometimes it puts a smile on my face, others it makes me want to punch a wall. So much potential and opportunity was left in the landfills of cyberspace to decay through the years.

    But as time continues to go on, it seems as if things could have been for the best. Life has taken us down different paths and turns, but I’d say some of us have fared quite well for ourselves, right Mike?

    Only one thing remains certain about the immediate future…

    The Revolution Will Be Published.

    • Sounds like what I just said to my ex girlfriend.

  9. Meant to comment on this yesterday, but alas, I was distracted by TNA’s version of the Maury show. Hilarious stuff!

    As for the article, wow. Not much I can say. Shane linked me to the piece. To be perfectly honest the whole “TWD” thing died with me a long time ago. If not for someone linking me to this on twitter, I’d have never known and never thought twice about revisiting what I only remember as “fun while it lasted.” Either way, looking forward to reading the rest.

    • Avatar Mike Bessler
      Mike Bessler says:

      It’s nice hearing from you Tenechia. Of all of the TWD folks I lost touch with, I’ve definitely missed you the most.

    • Avatar JLB
      JLB says:

      What’s up with all the “quotation marks”? It’s like a Chris Farley skit on SNL.

      Tenechia, just you wait, I might actually have something positive to say about “something” at “somepoint”

      • Avatar Mike Bessler
        Mike Bessler says:

        JLB, you’re getting a little rusty in your quasi-retirement. “Somepoint” isn’t one word; it’s more like five or six. #IWCstandards.

  10. Avatar JLB
    JLB says:

    I’m warming up ye old sledgehammer as we speak my Egon Spangler looking friend. And Testa, stop stealing my lines.

  11. Avatar Denim Millward
    Denim Millward says:

    Ahh, the TWD days. It seems like a lifetime ago to me, and in a way it was. Since the inception, I’ve had two kids with another on the way, and have gone back to school to finish my Journalism Degree.

    I honestly thought (and still think) TWD had immense potential, and if not for strong conflicts between even stronger personalities, it could’ve grown at an exponential rate.

    On a semi-related note, I miss Mike Cranwell more than certain dead relatives of mine.

  12. Avatar DJ Rallo
    DJ Rallo says:

    Sorry I’m late to the party here, but I wanted to throw in my two cents.

    As for the read, it was a phenomenal trip down memory lane. I remember being 14/15 years old and always wanting to be a part of TWD in some capacity. TWD’s initial vision for a unique and revolutionary website where well thought editorials and discussion were encouraged was really something that seemed to be too good to be true. I tried to carry the initial mindset of TWD with me in other future pursuits.

    Anyways, again, there isn’t much to say that hasn’t been said about this piece. TWD was an awesome concept with so much potential, but it just didn’t work out in the long term. Fun to see where everyone has gone since and it’s nice to see that many have found much success. Some good did manage to come out of the entire endeavor, it seems.

    I look forward to the next installment. Always enjoy reminiscing about these kinds of things.

  13. Avatar Hold Me Closer Tony Danza
    Hold Me Closer Tony Danza says:

    There are so many ridiculous things that happened on Bleacher Report that led up to TWD that it could be a series on its own. One example, as related to the best of my memory.

    Jason Le Blanc and Shane Howard had become community leaders and were spearheading various activities. One of these was a group writing contest where B/R authors (this being possibly the loosest use of the word “author” ever) were to write an article arguing the worst gimmick in wrestling history.

    There were some good submissions, no doubt. Shockmaster got a look; I believe Mordecai got a nod; there were some others too. Jason and I were regularly talking at night about various things by this stage, and (I believe in the form of a phone call) we began to talk about whom would be declared the contest winner. If I remember correctly, we both became appalled when we realized that nobody had submitted a case for the Gobbledygooker. True to each of our forms, I believe I declared the contest a dud and Jason went on to declare himself the winner of the contest for having to read all of the submissions.

    • Oh I remember that. I’m not sure if I wrote a piece on it or not, but I believe–if I had–my piece was on Oz. Or maybe someone did Oz and it tickled the hell out of me. I remember Oz, Yeti, Shockmaster… There were some funny pieces. Ahh the memories…

    • In my defense though, Kevin Nash as Oz was funny as hell. You must give me credit for that.

  14. Ok, I finally got around to reading this, Mike and I have to say … wow. I actually find myself cheering you and your lovable collection of jerks on! I guess it’s like watching Titanic … I want Jack and Rose to get together in the end but I have a feeling how it might end.