F4Wonline: Bigger Than Ever, or Falling Hard
It’s billing would have you believe it’s the Cadillac of wrestling news websites, but does it live up to the hype?
It’s actually a tall order, reviewing a site that, on paper, seems to boast so much. Born of a merger between Dave Meltzer’s “Wall Street Journal of Pro Wrestling,” the Wrestling Observer and relative upstart Bryan Alvarez’s Figure 4 Weekly back in 2008, nearly seven years on the amalgam still hasn’t settled on a single name.
Meltzer still has his vaunted newsletter, which is the cornerstone of the site and it’s single biggest attraction. In fact, rumor would have us believe many readers prefer to subscribe solely to the mailed version of the newsletter.
The Observer brand, though, has also seen something of an extension, with Meltzer taking part in regular audio podcasts (called “radio shows” by the site) for members only in which he comments vaguely on news stories he will be covering in more depth in his weekly newsletter, recaps wrestling shows, fawns over MMA fights and fighters, and answers listener-submitted questions covering everything from the Montreal Screwjob to who was the better in-ring performer between Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair.
For his part, Alvarez has all but abandoned his newsletter, leaving the writing and editing of it to his pal Vincent Verhei, a former Pac Northwest Indy wrestler and football aficionado, and minor league wrestling writer and Twitter junky David Bixenspan.
Alvarez has, instead, turned his attentions more toward the audio side of the partnership, producing the site’s countless “radio shows” every week. With sometimes as many as eight shows hosted by Alvarez for members of the site, it is clear that this is where the former writer’s passions lie. He’s also recently taken on the hosting of a daily radio show (that’s without quotes, as it actually DOES air on the radio). But it would be unfair to consider those episodes as part of the perks of membership, unless you’re big on archival access to 40 minutes of station identification and plugs to subscribe the a site you’re already paying for mixed in with the occasional interesting caller.
It is, though, in these podcasts where the site finds time to shine… This is down to the colorful personalities who partake of them along with Alvarez. From the aforementioned Vinny, who admittedly has lost his love for wrestling long ago, and seems resigned to taking part simply to collect a paycheck, to Bryan’s Friend Craig, Alvarez’s grandmother, former WWE Superstar Lance Storm, and
ex-Observer Raw Recapper Todd Martin (actually, Todd is no longer with the site, so forget that part…) and Mike Sempervive, there is no shortage of voices to be heard. The problem is, though, that these voices all end up discussing the same damned thing. Week after week. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that no site offers more by way of Raw Reviews and Recaps than the F4Wonline.com.
It isn’t until we get to the (far too infrequent) appearances of Dr. Lucha, Steve Sims, or the weekly dose of curmudgeonly old school rantings by Les Thatcher on “Doc Young’s Wrestling Weekly” co-hosted by Vic Sosa (Doc Young isn’t actually a part of the show anymore… you’re better off not asking why).
If we’re keeping score based on the volume of content available, you’re probably mildly intrigued or impressed right now. And I admit, it is quite nice to have the podcasts available to listen to when I’m in the car, or just want something on in the background.
But on those most vital of metrics of a wrestling news website, I feel this site falling short. There is, sadly, a degree to which it is falling out of touch. Whether it is Meltzer’s stalwart commitment to delivering wrestling information and analysis weekly in a world where the rest of us have become pretty used to 24/7 access to all the information we could ever want, or the stale presentation and slapped together delivery of its content, I can’t quite say. Probably a lot of both, though.
The passion that used to be had for wrestling during the Monday Night War era, where WCW Nitro was going head to head with WWF Raw during the famed “Attitude Era” is long gone. That love, and exuberance, now is instead reserved more for MMA fights. Which isn’t to lay blame, because WWE is often a shell of its former self, too. But how could anyone expect members to feel good about paying for a service when the hosts very audibly would rather be doing or talking about anything else on some shows?
Rarely are news stories broken on WO/F4W. That role typically falls to the BOARD~! (a member’s only discussion forum which is one of the few perks of membership, yet somehow always finds it self teetering on the brink of being scrapped). Daily updates are hit or miss, depending on who is writing them (Bixenspan has become a regular contributor here, allowing him to use this as his daily Twitter pastebin or relatively trivial notes and goings on in the business).
I’ve been a subscriber to the Observer newsletter on and off for more than 15 years, and have likewise been an online subscriber to F4Wonline.com for nearly 10. So with any length of time such as this, it is easy to become complacent, and accept the membership for what it is… You get used to the dip in quality and content and service and muddle on. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look fondly back on what used to be.