Let’s reminisce a little with Steve Cook on this momentous day!
August 14, 2004 is one of those dates that I’ll always remember. It was the date of the very first Impact Insight column that was posted to 411mania.com and made me an official Internet Wrestling Community figure. With all due respect to the Voodoo Penguin, Taker Fan & the late twtf.com, getting picked up by 411 meant that I had arrived. Even if it was as a second-string Impact recapper, I had still arrived, by cracky!
I know that our Fearless Leader Greg DeMarco loves to talk about this period of IWC history. The infamous split between Ashish & Widro that led to Inside Pulse breaking off from 411mania with most of the major names of the time. 411 had to re-load, and I was one of the beneficiaries. As it turned out, my class of 411 writers ended up being pretty awesome and kept 411 at the level it had rightfully obtained, while most of the Inside Pulse “names” ended up dropping out of the wrestling writing game not too long afterward.
Up until May 1999, I didn’t know there was an Internet Wrestling Community. No, I was never on Usenet or anything like that. All I knew about was the WWF section on America Online. It wasn’t until Owen Hart’s death got mainstream coverage on sports websites that I knew there was Internet wrestling discussion outside of the official stuff. I never thought to look. An Owen article on CBS Sports’ site led me to WrestleLine.com, which happened to have a ton of the Internet voices of that era. Shoutout to Rick Scaia, who got paid by Sportsline to be a fan and barely missed the cut here.
WrestleLine led me to other sites, which led to me deciding I could write about this stuff. Today, I want to highlight some of the top writers that I read before becoming a writer myself. I’ve told you my experience, which means you can expect a lot of WrestleLine/411 writers on this list. Your experience may be different. Let me know.
These are my Top 5 IWC Writers From Back in the Day.
5. Eric Szulczewski
Sometimes people get mad at me when I mention politics in a wrestling column. I don’t know how these folks would have dealt with Eric S’s work back in the day. If you think I’m a bleeding heart liberal or a special little snowflake or whatever the MAGA folks are calling people on my side of the aisle now, Szulczewski would make me look like Rush Limbaugh. Most of Eric’s wrestling columns seemed to contain more talk about politics, his personal life, and pretty much anything other than the pro wres.
To me, that was part of the charm, and something that’s missing today in a lot of the writing out there. We’re so caught up in our super serious wrestling opinions that sometimes we forget that there’s people behind the takes. Part of the reason I always talked about my sports teams & other stuff while writing news columns was because I thought it gave people more of a feeling of who I was. At least, moreso than my recycled take on another Triple H/Randy Orton match would have.
Yeah, Eric was a bit controversial, and I don’t think there’s any way one of the sites that I write for would take him on today. For many reasons.
4. The Cubs Fan
I’m a bigger Cubs Fan fan now than when I was just a reader, to be honest. Nobody on this side of the border does better lucha libre coverage than Cubs does at luchablog.com. I would take his word over anybody, including the promoters. I stole every bit of news I could off of him for News From Cook’s Corner, used him as a source for Ask 411 Wrestling, and still read regularly to keep an eye on my favorite style of wrestling.
The first time I remember reading Cubs Fan? He was recapping one of my favorite shows as a teenager…ROLLERJAM! I know Dave Meltzer thinks it killed the business, and the ECW folks were bitter that they were used as a lead-in for it, but I loved loved loved me some early Rollerjam. I kinda lost interest once we found out that Mark D’Amato & Sean Atkinson were brothers, and some of the other goofy angles that were going on at that point that made it too Vince Russoy, but the early days were fantastic. Teenage me was definitely all about The Bod Squad, Lindsey Francis & Denise Loden. Hey now!
3. Scott Keith
If you look up the word “smark” in the dictionary…wait a minute, is “smark” actually in the dictionary? Well, it’s in Urban Dictionary, which is close enough these days. Scott Keith’s face would be next to the word in any type of dictionary. He popularized the “rant” style of recapping while reviewing pretty much every major wrestling show that got taped over several decades. Frankly, he helped shape the opinions of a generation of IWC nerds. He’s still doing it today, in fact. You can catch him at his Blog of Doom among other websites.
Keith gets a lot of detractors, which is to be expected when you reach a certain height of infamy in this corner of the Internet. I don’t agree with everything he’s ever written, in fact I might not agree with most things if I went back and read them now. His work was important enough for people to follow him from WrestleLine to Rantsylvania to The Smarks to 411mania & finally Inside Pulse. Basically, if you were too cheap to subscribe to the Observer, SK’s star ratings were the ones you were looking for back in the day. Many folks still are.
2. Chris Hyatte
Just typing that name brings back memories of a long-lost era. To paraphrase something Mike Quackenbush once said about Reckless Youth: Chris Hyatte only could have happened in the time & place he happened in, and if you try and read his stuff now you don’t get the full picture. He was the closest thing to Howard Stern (you know, back in the day, not the sanitized for your protection Howard Stern of this decade) that the IWC ever saw. I was introduced to 411 through the Hyatte Mop-Ups, which were hilarious recaps of Raw & Nitro with jokes about Mark Madden, Pat Patterson, Tony Schiavone and countless other folks. Loved the Midnight News, loved And Another Thing… when Hyatte was on, he was on. I wish I could find a better archive than this one with just his Inside Pulse Stuff.
Hyatte’s downfall has largely been attributed to two things. First: his longform fiction article that came off as petulant bitching about Scott Keith being more popular. Second: his getting snookered by a Tammy Sytch impersonator. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t view my various interactions with the ladies of wrestling with a touch of skepticism because of that incident. Yeah, sure, I get an e-mail from Traci Brooks within my first month on 411mania.com, oh I’m sure that’s legit. It actually was legit, but I was convinced for awhile that I was getting worked by somebody for some reason. The downfall of my logic there: who the hell would bother with working a newbie second-string Impact recapper?
Unfortunately Hyatte burned a lot of bridges and was lost to the wreckage that was the mid-2000s pro wrestling scene. But damn, he was fun while he lasted.
Honorable Mention: Ron Gamble
I better throw out a mention to the one old-school wrestling writing guy that I’ve actually met. Ron was a regular at the ROH Dayton shows back in the day, always wearing a Pittsburgh Steeler jersey because…well, I don’t know why one would wear one of those things. He sure was proud of it, I’ll tell you that much. A good man, when he’s not bothering me about the latest Bengals loss to the Steelers or the debacle that was the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.
Honorable Mention: Joshua Grutman
I loved Grut’s writing. The early Wrestling Tales were amazing stuff unlike anything I had seen on a wrestling website at the time. Let’s be honest, most of us wrestling writers lack the ability to write compelling fiction. Certainly, the ones that get paid by WWE to do so can’t do it lolamirite? Grut & I became acquainted through the 411 Fan Forum, as I recall it was because I was the one person that responded to a tournament gimmick he was doing under a random account. I remember him calling me “The Main Man”, not to be confused with Mexican wrestling legend Cibernetico, and telling me that I could do what he was doing at the time.
At the time it seemed like a compliment, but as the years pass I’m not sure if he meant it that way.
My respect for this guy grew more after I started recapping shows. To be perfectly honest, I hate at least 90% of the recaps I’ve done over the years. I don’t think I’ve ever really found my style as a recapper. There are people that just give the results & there are people that just give their opinions on the results. I’ve always been somewhere in the middle and the result typically ends up as word salad that I’m amazed people would even bother reading.
CRZ was a results guy to a degree that I haven’t seen since he moved on to other things. The dude transcribed every promo & called every single move, right down to the punch. Some people don’t love that style, as it makes for a pretty long read. I think it’s more important as a resource for future readers than anything else from the era. Fortunately, CRZ has kept his archives active at slashwrestling.com over the years. I used it countless times while writing Ask 411 Wrestling, and still use it today when I’m trying to jog my memory on something I’m writing about from the late-90s to early 2000s.
The reason he’s number one: Plenty of people have tried to replace the others on this list. Ain’t nobody replacing CRZ.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to shout me out on Twitter with names that you remember from back in the day.