Phil Schneider’s journey, like all great adventures, began at a Japanese video store.
“If you wanted to find some Starrcade, I Like to Hurt People or something like that, you needed to go to the video stores that were like mostly porn,” he said. “They had some grittier wrestler videos.”
Those wrestling pay-per-views or documentary videotapes built a foundation for Schneider’s love for the sport, alongside the larger-than-life characters of professional wrestling in the 1980s. But what began as a youthful interest developed into a full-fledged obsession.
In the 1990s, already a teenager, Schneider happened onto a Japanese video store near his Bay Area home and, by chance, stumbled into a golden era of Japanese wrestling.
Companies like All Japan Pro Wrestling, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, and All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling were putting out matches that are still regarded as the best ever. This was the last spark he needed to ignite a lifelong passion.
By the 1990s, and way before the rise of online video streaming, Schneider got involved in the VCR tape trading scene.
“Schneider Tapes,” a nickname for the tapes he produced, built him a reputation. For the first time, it also earned him some cash.
“I was like a hip-hop DJ — except I was doing wrestling mixtapes,” he said. “I would sell those for beer money in college.”
After thousands of hours of consuming, reviewing and writing about professional wrestling as a side hobby, it’s becoming profitable.
Schneider is a wrestling historian, writer for The Ringer, founder of Death Valley Driver blog and the author of Way of the Blade: 100 of the Greatest Bloody Matches in Wrestling History.
Way of the Blade delves into the most primal component of pro wrestling: blood. And Schneider says that it is precisely thanks to blood that this art form can become more approachable, whether through post-World War II France attempting to mend fresh wounds, the golden age of Mexican luchadores, the King’s Road of the 1990s in Japan or even the independent scene in the United States.
“When you see a guy covered in blood, it allows you to get into the experience a little more,” Schneider explains. “It removes the obvious parts of wrestling that are not an athletic contest. It gets more into the animal brain. That’s what great wrestling can tackle.”
In fact, the concept of “great wrestling” has grown far beyond Hulk Hogan’s Greek god-like look and instructions to viewers to listen to their parents and take their vitamins, Schneider says. And it’s taken him across cultures and times.
“You’re never going to see it all right? There are always so many different flavors. It’s never going to be like ‘well I’m if I’m tired of there’s nothing about current wrestling that excites me,’” he said. “I have got there’s I could always go back and watch something else that is amazing.”
Wrestling has become a never-ending pursuit for the self-proclaimed completionist to watch anything he can find. And if his four decades of adoration can speak to anything, it’s that professional wrestling may be an inexhaustible passion. While he may never see it all, that won’t stop him from trying.