Gonzo Journalism With No Disqualification

For three years Chris Zakas started and maintained WRESTLEARENA, one of the best journalism sites on professional wrestling. NATHANIEL G. MOORE, perennial heel, had a chance to pick the brain of WrestleArena's top banana.

MEDIA, 01/17/01: WRESTLING Like any fad there were times many thought wrestling would never resume it's strangle hold on the young testosterone of youth. Skateboarding went through a quiet period in the late eighties and came back strong a couple of years later thanks in part to The Beastie Boys. Not that they invented skateboarding. It was merely and example. Wrestling's most recent dark-age was the first half of the 1990's. There was little more than four pay-per-views per year (throughout the last four years there have been at least twenty-five pay-per-views annually WWF, WCW, ECW)

Ultimately the beginning of the nineteen nineties saw many odd fad match-ups, Dance Music like Technotronic, Salt N' Pepa and grunge band Nirvana were charted in the same music system. In the realm of pseudo-sports, many thought wrestling had breathed its last breath in popular culture. It just didn't really matter to anyone. Ten years ago there was no such thing as weekly prime time wrestling programming. It was unheard of.

Sure wrestling has always been popular, and it can be argued that in the late 1980's perhaps nothing was more closely followed than the rare occasions that NBC gave up its Saturday Night Live spot and let McMahon and his goons run amuck for Saturday Night's Main Event. But it wasn't a constant. McMahon had the formula, he just didn't have his own network. By 1988 Ted Turner had bought a rival wrestling promotion (NWA) and turned it in to WCW, which began to broadcast on his own television network, the Turner network (TNT). This was something McMahon didn't have, (and to this day the WWF is still renting television time) but it didn't seem to effect McMahon's company; there was no mainstay, there was no big market. The stage was set for a showdown, the two owners had to wait for a bigger audience.

Since the dark ages, 'Sports Entertainment', a concept coined by WWF Chairman Vince McMahon has blossomed and weeded into a giant monopoly of reality tv inspired trash and crash male drama. Entertainment Weekly has sighted the WWF as the founding father of reality tv, and by no means can this be argued. The bouquets of steel chairs and bikini shaking tear-apart Springer-esque brawls has created a surge of internet interest and fan inspired devotional sites, transcending mere cult status. And earlier this year Vince McMahon insured he would be around for a lot longer than many people would have believed possible. Like a mighty cocksure Gargoyle, McMahon is now the sole-owner of every major wrestling promotion in North America. Five years ago he was lobbying to put a monopoly suit together against Ted Turner who, as a natural cash cow hunter; was seeking out McMahon's top stars and buying them up like candy. The two rival companies (WCW and the WWF) faced off every week and the ratings war on Monday nights employed thousands and inspired millions (and millions) of children, young and old to resume, return or pick up the nasty habit that is professional wrestling.

Probably the best internet news site for wrestling for the past three years, WrestleArena was a pretty devote information portfolio. From pay-per-view results and buy-rates, accurate ratings and garnishing heated debates on such topics as Canadian Bret Hart's much publicized departure from the WWF (for which the National Film Board funded a documentary, Wrestling With Shadows.

Zakas's web-site left many questions in the world of 'sports entertainment.' How can you makes news out of a 'sport' whose reputation proceeds it? Would wrestling fans, those on the bottom of the intellectual food chain even bother to read entire articles that writers spent hours labouring over?



WrestleArena began innocently enough. Founder began putting up Monday night wrestling reports on his personal site for his friends who didn't get a chance to watch them regularly. They loved it and encouraged him to do more. He soon started putting up Pay-Per-View reports and news stories. Quickly, that one little section of his personal site grew to be larger than the entire rest of the site.

Realizing that he needed more room to operate in, Zakas signed up for Free web space at GeoCities (now Yahoo! GeoCities), at which time WrestleArena was officially born in 1997. Zakas took the moniker "The Slick One," a nickname leftover from high school, and proceeded to search the Internet for other people who would share his dream of creating a new wrestling site.

While searching the Internet, Zakas discovered a lack of actual wrestling news sites. Many sites were simply "newsboards" consisting of a few lines of half opinion/half rumor postings. To make matters worse, the same people wrote for upwards of ten sites, so you could go to any one of these newsboards and get the exact same posts in the exact same words from the exact same person. What was the point? Additionally, these sites were swarmed with ad banners begging "click here to support this site," often taking up close to 50% of each page.

At that time, Zakas reformulated his idea of what WrestleArena should be. He wrote down strict guidelines of what the site would and would not do. The site would write full-length articles, researched articles that presented the world of wrestling in an intelligent manner so as not to feed the stereotype of stupid wrestling fans. The site would not allow carbon-copy posts that were scattered throughout many sites on the Internet.



The site would check all articles for proper grammar and spelling. The site would not bury the content in a sea of banner ads. The site would have a professional-quality design. All of these guidelines soon made WrestleArena the talk of the Internet.

Getting too big for GeoCities, Zakas finally bought the domain name wrestlearena.com in 1998, striking a deal with its former owner to acquire it. At that point, WrestleArena began to grow by leaps at bounds, at one point having a staff of around 20 reporters. The site's popularity grew, as the other well-established sites began taking a hint from WrestleArena and copying both content and design from the site. Though often criticized for keeping such strict guidelines, the WrestleArena crowd grew to about 17,000 unique daily visitors a month.



Last year, (2000) the site won awards from the Internet Cool Guide for Outstanding content and design, being listed along with wwf.com and wrestleline.com in their published book, the Internet Cool Guide: Sports 2001.But as with all good things, WrestleArena, too, must come to an end. Zakas decided this month to stop producing the site. Citing a loss of staff due to graduation from college, he found himself providing a lot of the content for the site, including watching and reporting on five wrestling shows a week, not including Pay-Per-Views. Now a year removed from college and with time being taken up quickly by his full-time job, Zakas found that he didn't have the time to write that much anymore. After last-minute attempts to fill writing positions failed, Zakas decided to close the site that he had spent four years and around $2000 of his own money creating.

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