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.”