The Writer

If there was a hall of fame for professional wrestling journalists, there’s a good chance you’d find Keith Elliot Greenberg in it.

At 63, Greenberg is a New York Times bestselling author and a television producer. He has worked for NBC and WWE Magazine, has written biographies on wrestling’s greatest figures, and continues to produce work.

But Greenberg inherited a fascination with pro wrestling from his parents and grandparents. Wrestling was more than ‌entertainment in his Brooklyn home.

“My paternal grandparents were both immigrants from the former Soviet Union and they were true believers,” Greenberg said. “My grandfather’s favorite wrestler was Bobo Brazil, their favorite wrestler was Bruno Sammartino, because he embodied immigrant struggle, and they took it ‌seriously.”

Originally Greenberg wanted to be a cartoonist, but after some training, he realized he didn’t have the discipline for it.

“I remember my father saying to me, ‘Well, look, you’re not good enough to be an artist. You’re not going to be a lawyer or a businessman because you’re not that conservative. You may not realize this, but you’re a pretty good writer. You should start majoring in journalism.’”

Having been a fan of wrestling magazines, he explored and found enjoyment in journalism and writing. Soon after, he was getting paid to write.

“I went from having jobs where I was like slogging it out in the bagel store to getting a check in the mail, not a large check, but a small check for actually writing,” Greenberg said. “I thought, ‘Man, I can sit down at a typewriter and get paid first. I think I can live this life.’”

Initially, he wrote for pornographic magazines. One of the magazines he worked for was in the same building as US Weekly in Manhattan

One day when he decided to take a chance: he walked into the office and pitched a profile on Bruno Sammartino’s son, who, contrary to his father’s wishes, was pursuing a career in professional wrestling. After having it accepted and published, Greenberg’s world changed forever.

After his name got out there, he pitched a story to the New York Daily News. He sought to go one step further in exploring pro wrestling and why media didn’t cover it, despite monthly shows at Madison Square Garden being sold out every month.

“I understood a little bit that it was theater, but I said ‘it’s the world’s most violent soap opera,’” Greenberg said. “A portion of the audience knows its theater, a portion of the audience believes, but they all want to be around it. They all need that experience.”

Shockingly, the Daily News bought the piece. And not only that: they also gave him a press pass and a photographer, and suddenly he was backstage at the Madison Square Garden. Unsure how he was going to talk to people he grew up watching, he was reminded that he was writing for the New York Daily News. He wasn’t a fan anymore. Now he was a reporter.

That was until Bob Backlund came up to him wearing the WWF Championship.

“‘Oh, my goodness, I’m going to interview Bob Backlund. I’m actually going to the top and interviewing the champ,’” he said. “And from that point, I kinda knew this was a well I could dip into from time to time.”

That stage fright, even after ‌these years, still lives in Greenberg from time to time. Comparing it to bothering a politician before a rally or speech, it’s a matter of picking your spots and being respectful.

He wrote books on wrestling’s greatest figures like Ric Flair and Freddie Blassie, independent wrestling, and has continuously grown and accepted wrestling’s development.

“I’m not just the nostalgia act, a guy who wrote for the WWF magazine back in the 80s and 90s. There’s a reason for me to be involved in it now,” he said. “And I have a monthly column for Inside The Ropes magazine in the United Kingdom. So there’s a reason for me to be there. And if I’m going to be there, and I’m going to be covering it.”

While he understands that his participation in wrestling will not make or break the industry, he strives to broaden the perspective of lifelong fans while also enlightening newcomers on the appeal of this thing that “we live for.”

Before concluding, Greenberg shared a story from his time as a producer at NBC. Working with a few other die-hard fans, work often became dissections of recent pay-per-views or Monday Night Raws. They would analyze it, talk about character development and talk about the plot.

One day, an associate producer came up to the group while they were talking.

“She said ‘I grew up in Maryland, and my mother always told me, don’t date a wrestling fan and don’t date a NASCAR fan,’” he said. “You know, her mother wanted her to elevate herself. And she goes ‘and then I come to NBC and hear a group of guys analyzing professional wrestling in the most intellectual way. I’m bewildered by this.’ And I said, ‘I understand why she gave you that advice. But things are not always as they seem.’”

“And you know how I learned things are not always as they seem? I watch professional wrestling.”

The Owners

In North America, professional athletes typically begin their careers in their early twenties, usually peaking in their late twenties.

Professional wrestling, not a sport in the traditional sense, relies heavily on athleticism to execute in what is effectively a continuous fight scene. Wrestling is a young person’s sport.

Yet, in 2005, ‌39-year-old Steve Bouranis began training to become a wrestler.

At the time, Bouranis has seen and done nearly everything there is to see and do in and out of the squared circle.

“​​I was the medic. I was the ref. I was a manager. I was a wrestler. I did whatever,” he said. “Because I’m the old guy.”

Growing up and watching wrestling at his grandfather’s side in the 1960s, Bouranis’ involvement in the sport came significantly later than most. He started as a medic where?. It tied together with his then-job as a firefighter into something he was already interested in.

But when New York Wrestling Connection, of which he is now a co-owner, needed a referee, he quickly moved from the sidelines to the center of the action.

“Here, ref training is the same as the wrestler’s training, you have to learn how to take bumps because you’re going to take bumps,” Bouranis said. “You have to know what you’re doing since you’re in the ring.”

NYWC is the oldest wrestling school on Long Island, with its base in Deer Park, New York. Former WWE wrestlers Matt Cardona and Brian Myers are two of the school’s most famous alumni. However, in recent years, the company has seen a new generation of talent emerge.

Serving as a school and promotion, NYWC’s students are also their performers: their product is reliant on the talent his school produces.

“We’ve always looked out for people and give them 100 chances and you know, you get some kooks [tough people]. They fuck up and take a vacation,” Bouranis said. “But the doors always open for that person — it’s just a matter of coming to sit down to talk about it.”

Bouranis confesses that his current role as co-owner is that of the “mean grandpa.” When Covid-19 struck, however, it hit his business from all sides. It was impossible to train performers since there was no close touch, and putting on shows was impossible because there were no social gatherings.

Companies like the WWE or AEW could afford to run crowd-less shows in Florida, where both were deemed essential businesses. But for Bouranis and NYWC, this wasn’t financially viable or legally possible.

Yet, as regulations in New York loosened up, training resumed. Bouranis claims that it still took a great deal to make sure that they were keeping everyone safe while minimizing potential contact.

“We set up a key box, and you would pick somebody as a partner, and you guys were the ones who were going to work out together,” Bouranis said. “You had a time slot to come here, take each other’s temperature, sign in, clean the ring and everything else. That’s how we did that for the longest time.”

Another Long Island promotion that only puts on shows, Victory Pro Wrestling, suffered as well. VPW’s owner, John Radioo, took over the company during the pandemic.

“I’ve only been running the show for the last year,” Radioo said. “Those six shows and this one that’s all I’ve done. So that’s crazy. What have I done? Nothing, I’ve done nothing.”

While the company could not put on shows, he took the time to transform his website into a local news hub, allowing followers to stay informed while also providing them with a reason to visit the site.

Radioo maintains an upbeat attitude and has already begun implementing methods to keep VPW developing as shows are allowed to be put on again.

Booking his shows through two or three-month stories, he’s hoping to make his company’s monthly shows more captivating. Through defined story arcs, with a clear beginning, middle and end, Radioo hopes to give audiences more to latch onto besides the wrestling itself.

“Give them just enough to know that that’s what they want and then you don’t give them the whole package,” he said. “Now they’re salivating the one again. They want to see more of it. They want to see what happens next.”

VPW will have its 16th-anniversary show in March 2022. When asked what keeps him hooked, Radioo explains that he’s in love with pro wrestling: “The roar of the crowd, the excitement, the behind the scenes, shock over surprise. All that is a good place to start.”

The Chorus

Despite the universality of fighting and violence, pro wrestling uses characters and storylines as triggers for the fights. However, much as in classical Greek theatre, there must be someone to help guide the audience through the events occurring.

Samira, a 22-year-old wrestling broadcaster and correspondent, is a modern-day chorus character. In companies like Major League Wrestling and the National Wrestling Alliance, her role in showing and furthering storylines is vital, and she continues to be amazed by it.

“Oh my god, I love that feeling,” she said. “It’s just so cool to see [the wrestlers] transform into their character.”

Getting performers into the moment, Samira, who has been working across America’s independent scene since 2018, praised the process of watching performers analyzing their work to see if they got their message across to audiences.

When her uncle first exposed her to pro wrestling as a child, the sport immediately stood out as something special. “It was just different,” she remembered. “Not a lot of people, when you’re growing up, especially as a girl, like it.”

This affinity with performers like Randy Orton, who is still one of her dream interviewees, lasted throughout her childhood.

Through Twitter, she became involved in the IWC, and an encounter with WrestlingNews.co on the platform unintentionally launched her career in professional wrestling as a broadcaster.

“I was working on my own YouTube channel, making wrestling videos and stuff,” Samira said. “I remember them saying, ‘Hey, we’re looking to like amp up our YouTube and to do interviews,’ and I told them I was a communication major and they were like, ‘okay, let’s do a test interview and see how it goes.’”

After interviewing Kelly Kelly, a former WWE wrestler, Samira realized that this was her calling

She quit WrestlingNews.co in 2018 to finish her studies. However, by 2021, she was working for SEScoops, another wrestling news website. And she also returned to WrestlingNews.co. She was able to collaborate with Major League Wrestling and National Wrestling Alliance because of these networking possibilities.

Recently, she covered the Revolution pay-per-view for All Elite Wrestling, America’s second-largest wrestling company. Despite seeing the inner workings of what goes into professional wrestling, her love for the sport has failed to diminish.

“Even though you know how everything works behind the scenes, you get to really know actual wrestlers themselves — the person behind the character,” Samira said. “So that’s actually also another really cool part.”

As an Arabic woman in pro wrestling, she says that her presence in the sport shows a changing and more inclusive American landscape that has long been controlled by white men. Yet, she is cautious when working.

“You have to watch your back, especially as a woman in the business,” she said. “You just need to make sure you watch who you trust. I know I don’t really travel alone; I make sure to take somebody or know somebody that will keep me safe.”

Samira brought others on board. She encouraged Ella Jay, another woman content creator and founder of the A Wrestling Gal podcast, to join the industry, and they both refer to one another as best friends.

“I went to college for psychology and minored in creative writing. I ironically took a couple of journalism and communication courses with my free electives,” Jay said. “So maybe I should have taken that as a sign‌. But I don’t have any degree in it.”

In November 2021, Jay, who was representing SEScoops, made headlines after being cut off during a conference call by AEW owner and billionaire Tony Khan when suggesting the possibility of the company putting on an all-women event.

Despite Khan’s subsequent apology to Jay, the incident ignited a bigger discussion about women’s roles in professional wrestling. Jay emphasized how making a mistake as a woman might lead to greater scrutiny, citing increased pressure.

“If you screw up or if you don’t know something and you’re not knowledgeable about this, I feel ‌you will be more downplayed,” she said. “And more judged than your word versus maybe identifying as a man. It’s always been a male-dominated industry.”

Rather than abandoning the industry, Jay has found inspiration in moments of aggression towards her. However, witnessing so many people rush to her help and defend her, especially some with a larger platform, emphasized the importance of having a voice.

Through research, interviews and conversations, A Wrestling Gal delves further into the female perspective both inside and beyond the ring. Despite the show’s gendered focus, Jay is more intent on having fun.

“If I happen to break this stigma or make a change or make a difference in the process, that’s just an added bonus,” she said. “Honestly, I just love the work I’m doing and getting to network and share stories of people within the progress and community.”

As a result, she’s established friendships with a wide range of performers, including Mickie James, ‌one of her childhood heroes and a generational talent having worked in WWE for over a decade.

Both Samira and Jay hope to turn their lifelong passion into a career.

Samira wants to do her current work for WWE or AEW, while Jay wants to continue sharing tales and be able to take advantage of all the opportunities she’s previously had to pass up because of money.

For Samira, the message to herself and others fighting for their dreams remains consistent: don’t give up.

“Some days are bad days, they really are, but you just have to keep going forward,” she said. “You’ve already made it this far. Don’t stop now. And it’s okay to have bad days. It really is. But the better days will come.”

The Collector

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.