Frank Deford, the ‘Wrestling Media,’ and Me (Part 2 of 3)

To state the painfully obvious, my name doesn’t belong in the same paragraph as Frank Deford’s in any discussion of journalistic or literary accomplishment.

When my 2007 book Wrestling Babylon was about to be published, I’d never met Frank Deford. In fact, I still haven’t. But I looked him up in the Yellow Pages, under “Nice Guys,” and asked him for a blurb. Frank read my advance pages and supplied this: “Irv Muchnick knows wrestling like Anna Wintour knows fashion, and his intriguing collection of ring tales is written with passion and savage humor.”

Deford’s real patronage in wrestling journalism, though, has been on behalf Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, and deservedly so. I am a nephew of a legendary wrestling promoter from another era, Sam Muchnick; working from that base and as a general journalist, I have followed this unique entertainment form with fascination, but also with some aloofness. But Meltzer is the hardest of hard-core fans. He has forgotten more about wrestling than I’ll ever know.

As for Frank Deford, a Princeton guy, he is one of the most erudite sports writers ever, as well as one of the best, but he has a latent fondness for kitsch. Early in his career he penned a classic look at Roller Derby behind the scenes, Five Strides on the Banked Track. And notwithstanding Vince McMahon’s accusation in connecton with the profoundly unfunny practical joke recounted in the previous item, Frank has a fabulous sense of humor.

When Deford tapped Meltzer to write a wrestling column for The National in 1990-91, it helped Meltzer’s underground ‘zine reach a new audience. In addition to publishing his exhaustive and widely quoted wrestling newsletter, Meltzer today is a columnist for Yahoo covering the emerging international sport of mixed martial arts.

In his 2007 NPR commentary praising Meltzer’s wrestling death study, Deford called him “the most accomplished reporter in sports journalism.”

Unfortunately, in my own view, Meltzer’s coverage of the death pandemic in the wrestling industry was not nearly as aggressive as it should have been in the wake of the Chris Benoit murder-suicide. Some of my reasons for holding this opinion are fully developed in CHRIS & NANCY – a book that Meltzer, oddly, refuses to review, thereby supporting its thesis.

And, indeed, while some of the best information about the excesses and perversity of the business underwriting Linda McMahon’s Senate campaign comes from fan media stalwarts like Meltzer, these outlets also practice their own versions of self-censorship, mirroring that of the mainstream media. For example, in the latest issue of the Wrestling Observer, Meltzer quoted McMahon’s Republican opponent Rob Simmons’ criticisms of WWE occupational health and safety standards. Meltzer didn’t get around to mentioning that Simmons issued his statement in response to a request to all four candidates from my blog.

NEXT: Vince McMahon to Frank Deford: “I have proof I’m not a mobster!” (Part 3 of 3)

Irv Muchnick

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