Newsletter Special Feature #6
'Matt Macks’ Cagematch
‘Matt Macks’ is the pseudoname of the owner of CAGEMATCH, Philip Kreikenbohm. CAGEMATCH was founded in 2001 as a news portal and forum however became the database and ratings system, as we know it today, in 2007. The makeup of the team that runs CAGEMATCH has changed throughout the years. However, during all this time Philip has been the constant, always involved either in sole ownership or as part of an ownership team.
For this week’s PWMusing’s Weekly Newsletter, I am excited and intrigued to interview Philip Kreikenbohm who is the owner of Cagematch.net. An easy question first, Philip, the team at CAGEMATCH all go by pseudonames, what is the thinking behind this?
[PK] Hello and thank you for the opportunity to tell the story of CAGEMATCH. The reason behind the pseudo names is actually quite simple: for all the team members, the participation at CAGEMATCH is a voluntary one. Without the need for any legal or financial documents, our team members usually opt to keep their anonymity, with me being one of the few exceptions as the legal owner of the site. Some team members have even more practical reasons for keeping their anonymity, as due to real-life obligations in both work and private life, using their real names might lead to unwanted attention or associations. Simple example: One or our team members is a teacher, who does not want their students to associate his teacher persona with his personal hobbies, i.e. wrestling.
And maybe to give some more insight: CAGEMATCH was born from the German internet wrestling scene which, at the turn of the millennium, was mostly consisting of several discussion forums, where the usage of pseudo names, or "nicknames", has always been prevalent.
CAGEMATCH is the biggest and best-known Pro Wrestling database, however when I hear ‘Cagematch’ I think of cage fighting as in MMA. What is the story behind the name CAGEMATCH?
[PK] I am not sure if we are the biggest or best-known, as there are many great wrestling databases around these days, but to my knowledge we have been the first to introduce the database concept, which we did in 2005. The site itself, and its name, were born on 18 March 2001 as primarily a news portal and a discussion forum, one of many in the highly contested German internet wrestling scene at the time. The name was the brainchild of my then-co-owner Nicolas "OldSchool" Pape, who actually had the idea about the site. Him, myself, and a third guy came to know each other via German wrestling chat rooms on IRC (yes, we are that old) and over the course of a few weeks decided to start-up the site. We all had connections to other similarly minded people, who eventually joined us for the inaugural launch on 1 June 2001 for the public release of the site.
In 2007, you moved away from being a forum and news portal to an internet wrestling database. Can you tell us a little bit about the reasoning behind this decision?
[PK] The short answer: times have changed. The long answer: it was a gradual process that started in 2005, when we debuted the concept of a database in the internet wrestling scene. At that time, all sites that I knew of were still producing HTML pages mostly via manual process, often with more or less interaction by multiple people, but generally resulting in static pages. When we changed that, it resulted in a sudden surge of interactivity and productivity, as now not only the HTML-savvy team members were able to add content, but with some simple rules every team member was able to contribute. In 2007 we took another major step, when we adopted the moniker "The Internet Wrestling Database" and added the ratings system to the site. The interactivity skyrocketed again, now including simple user interaction as well, which gave us another boost and small identity shift away from traditional news and forums-based content to the more dynamic database content that we are known for today. Still, it took many, many more years for the shift to really happen. Up until a few years ago, we maintained an active news portal as well as a discussion forum, both in German language.
I believe that the decision to open up the site to an international audience, by providing an English translation for most of the non-static content, was what ultimately decided our direction. We now have many valued English-speaking members of the team and our non-German-speaking audience now far outnumbers our German readers, so in the end it was the right approach, I think. Also, in my opinion the traditional discussion forums and news portals, at least a large number of them, died with the idea of web 2.0 and social media.
A huge part of your website is the before mentioned ratings system, you use a 10-point scale (11-point scale technically with the option to award 0 stars). Other ratings systems use a 5-star system with ratings awarded in increments of .25 stars. Why use the 10-point system?
[PK] When we started the ratings system in 2007, we actually used a grading system close to the German school grading system (1 = very good ... 6 = not acceptable). But a few months into it, we realized that having 6 different levels was not quite enough for a single person to really differentiate and express all levels of "goodness" that they could think of. Also, the international audience possibly would have some trouble getting used to the system, so we changed it to the point system where 10 became "very good", 0 became "not acceptable", the grades 2..5 could be mapped to 8, 6, 4 and 2 points and more levels could be added in between (9, 7, 5, 3 and 1 points). The system has been very stable for over 12 years now, so I believe it was the right decision.
As the owner of CAGEMATCH for almost 20 years now, what are you most proud of in relation to the site? How does it feel to have been part of creating the world’s premier wrestling database?
[PK] In 20 years there have been too many moments to count (or even to remember correctly), of which I was proud of. To this day, I think our greatest achievement as a group of both current and former members of the CAGEMATCH team is that we were able to create a wrestling site where you can lose yourself in nostalgia. We might not have the resources (or rights) to host hours of video content or even pictures, but anyone who has grown up a wrestling fan can relive the greatest moments of their fan lives just by browsing the different databases of the site.
I particularly love to relive certain time periods that I was a huge fan of (WWF '94-'01, ROH '03-'08, NOAH '03-'05, WWE '08, WWE '14, NJPW '16 - now and lately AEW) just by browsing event pages, reading user comments and following title histories, the greatest matches in that period and their greatest stars. Each page has the "Wikipedia effect", where there are multiple branches to go, multiple sub-pages to visit, which again lead to even more pages and information. I love our promos and feuds databases, even if they are nowhere near as complete as I would like them to be. These databases and the rivalries database give me instant access to relive some of my favourite memories as a fan, including Austin vs. McMahon, Darkside Undertaker, Joe/Punk/Danielson in ROH, Jericho vs. Michaels, the Four Pillars of All Japan, the moment in time when TNA was great, the original nWo and so many others.
So to come back to the question: I am most proud of CAGEMATCH being supportive and simple enough to lose yourself in for hours and hours and have a good time. All while having no advertisements, no hidden tracking and no financial affiliations. And a big part of this pride also is the result of our incredible community, which has provided thousands upon thousands of user ratings and comments, many of which are incredibly fun to read -- especially for these older time periods, where the rate of confrontational reviews is much lower.
Conversely, what is the most challenging aspect of running one of the world’s most popular wrestling sites? Especially one that is a library of information?
[PK] To be honest, at this stage of the site and my life, it's relatively easy. In my life I have spent many thousands (!) of hours, especially in the earlier years, on improving the coding of the site (side note: all of CAGEMATCH is individually coded with the sole exception being the discussion forum; everything else, including the database, is 100% a custom solution) and using what I've learned in my real-life job to improve both the layout of the site, the performance, the backend and even the management of the different teams. In the earlier years, our team structures and priorities changed relatively quickly, sometimes from week to week, as most of the team members were younger (early 20s or even teenagers in some cases), but over time the average age of our team members has most definitely crossed 30 and we have now a very healthy mix of many experienced team members and a steady, if irregular, supply of new additions to either help out with existing work or create new work for themselves.
The biggest challenge now in 2020 is external: we have attracted a larger user base than ever before and, as you can imagine, this has also led to conflicts, where more and more people resort to confrontational, egoistical viewpoints and seem to have lost the ability for rational, civilized discussion. The arrival of AEW has started an all-out WWE vs. AEW vs. NJPW troll war, which you can witness on any social media platform. We, however, want no part of this, so it is my job on a daily basis to make sure that CAGEMATCH is a safe haven for fans of any genre and a place of quality content from both the site and its user base. I know and am humbled to know that many people in the industry visit our site as well, and I believe that wrestlers and staff should also feel very welcome to visit our site and have a great time doing so. So, I spend a lot of time making sure that troll ratings, insulting or low-effort comments, etc. are removed from the site. This, more than anything else for me, is the biggest challenge now: ensuring that the negative effects of social media do not take over our site.
Are there any plans for how CAGEMATCH is going to change and evolve in the future? If so, what would those be?
[PK] We have an internal "bug tracker" where we also keep ideas that so far have not come to fruition. In the past few years, it has grown and grown more and more because I no longer have the same time as I had as a student to actually work on fulfilling those ideas. But I can promise you, there are dozens, hundreds of ideas for CAGEMATCH to improve and evolve, from minor adjustments to new sections and even full-blown redesigns. Someday, maybe. :) I have done this for 20 years and I have no plans to stop, so who knows what the next few years can bring. I doubt that I will ever be able to commit on leaving my real-life jobs to work off of Patreon users, but on the other hand when I feel the urge to code in my free time, I usually do it for the site.
I think one of the biggest changes, that we wanted to make and could have made, was the ability for (almost) every match in our database to be rateable. The matchguide of the past, for technical reasons more than anything, was curated by the CAGEMATCH team, which had benefits but also produced a lot of work and overall was biased towards what the team believed to be worthy of the guide. A few months ago I was finally able to crack the technical backend "nut" that limited the potential of the database, and we opened the matchguide to almost any match in the database to be rated. This has led to a 500% increase in activity in the matchguide, so overall our user base clearly appreciated the move, and over time I am immensely excited about the ability to have whole careers of many wrestlers being covered in the matchguide. I mentioned earlier the fun in browsing old wrestling periods and I believe that this would be even more exciting by having all or most matches of that time be covered with ratings and interesting user reviews. Can you imagine re-watching all WCW Nitro or WWF Monday Night Raw episodes, then opening the event page on CAGEMATCH and reading other user's opinions of the show and then being able to add your own voice? We have a lot of dedicated wrestling fans who are doing this already and I find it incredibly interesting and exciting.
CAGEMATCH is a free resource run by volunteers, a labour of love if you will. Therefore, how do you feel about webscraping or the possibility of making datasets available to users?
[PK] CAGEMATCH is most definitely a "labour of love", not only for myself, but by everyone who has worked on it in the past and is still working on it. We have been fortunate to have a couple of team members who dedicated huge parts of their free time for many years, decades even, just because they are as excited about the project as I was and still am. Regarding webscraping, I do know that it exists, but aside from some stumbling blocks in the code, it is a fight that would be endless and does not actually give me any joy anyway, so I do not fight it. I have always felt that quality is more important than quantity and that includes usability, honesty and the overall impression. As wrestling fans, we are blessed these days to have a wide array of great wrestling sites to visit, whether for news, discussion or research purposes. CAGEMATCH is not competing with any of them and I respect them for working hard and trying to make their users' experiences memorable. Also, I am old. When I started the site, the internet was very much different from what it is today. Big corporations and social media dominate everything now, but I was always a fan of the dedicated communities and small "labour of love" websites and I think wrestling fans are lucky that in our chosen form of entertainment there are so many free, accessible and quality options available.
As far as APIs go, the problem there is less that of will but of technical availability. CAGEMATCH is 100% a custom solution, as I said before, so any kind of API would have to be custom-built, be it JSON or any other script form or even direct access. That is a huge amount of work, time-consuming, error-prone, dynamic and overall, not very appealing to me. I am a software architect in my real-life job, I lead technical teams for safety-critical applications for a living, and I have built and used APIs myself in the past as well. So as there is nothing for me to learn from it, I get no personal enjoyment out of it and CAGEMATCH as a site does not get more content out of it, it is work I honestly try to avoid these days. We have had two brief cooperation attempts with huge wrestling sites before and two major, global promotions have reached out for similar purposes (as their "talent relations" departments were interested in our data), but every time either the projects died in their early stages or the expectation of us to basically "guarantee content" was too outrageous to even consider. CAGEMATCH is and shall remain a site where not only users are welcome, but team members can also be free to work in the pace and field of interest they want to. This is not a job and any kind of API or third-party affiliation has the risk of making it one.
Are there any other stories about CAGEMATCH or details you have noticed via the website that would be of interest to readers?
[PK] There are many stories about CAGEMATCH that have nostalgic value to me, as it has been quite a ride in the almost 20 years and the many different iterations and changes not only about the site, but the wrestling industry in general or the internet. When we started, WWE was still called WWF and there was no YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or Reddit. Over a hundred people have contributed to the site over the years and many of them were and are as integral to the site as anybody. Many wrestling fans have visited our site and a large number of them have contributed as well, either via discussions, comments, ratings, emails and constructive criticism. I thank all of them, for as much fun as it has been to build and improve the site over the years, it would not have meant much or kept me interested for so long if the interaction and also appreciation were missing.
As far as stories go, there was a running gag that I always found quite amusing. For many years we had a team member who created yearly April Fool's news stories that were always topical, well-written and somewhat believable up to a certain point in the story, when the name of a certain former German football/soccer player got included into the fabrics of the story and it took a turn for the ridiculous. The news items were written in German, so unfortunately, I cannot quote them and knowing the joke or translating it would probably ruin the fun anyways, but this running gag got so popular that the player received a secret, hidden entry in our database. You cannot find him if you search for him, you can only reach the page via backlinks from the news stories. It's all a bit silly and humour certainly is subjective, but it's harmless, wholesome and brought entertainment to quite a lot of our users, including myself, and I miss that.
Over the last 19+ years I have received a lot of emails about CAGEMATCH as well, many of which I remember to this day. I remember the emails by a famous Austrian opera singer from over a decade ago who was a huge fan of the site of the site. I remember the emails by WWE and NJPW talent relation representatives. I remember the interviews, emails and feedback of wrestlers, one-time unknowns who have since become superstars of the industry, who have shown their appreciation for the site. Communication these days has shifted to social media rather than emails or message forums, and seemingly moved towards extreme points of view where anything is either the best ever or the worst of all time, but I remember fondly the days when we had an active discussion forum that produced solid discussions about the future of the industry, back when TNA Wrestling and Ring Of Honor provided an alternative to the staleness that was WWE in the mid-00s.
Last but not least, the biggest and most important story is the database and the ratings system. I remember the initial reactions like it was yesterday, from team members, users and even colleagues from other wrestling sites. 13 years later and the database is now a marvellous time waster, in a good way, and I love it and I hope that other wrestling fans appreciate it as well. It would not have been possible without the help of all the aforementioned team members and our user community. So, thank you to all of you for helping to make CAGEMATCH the success story that I think it is. And thank you, Craig, for the interview and the excellent questions.
Follow CAGEMATCH on Twitter @CMCagematch
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