Pro Wrestling Books

Wrestling with words

Pro Wrestling Books - Wrestling with words

Release Schedule (28 January)

Biggest news this week is that Bill Apter of Pro Wrestling Illustrated fame is releasing an autobiography:

As a kid growing up in New York in the late ’50s, Bill Apter fell in love with professional wrestling, and it wasn’t long before he was rubbing shoulders with the greats as a young reporter and photographer. Since then, he’s become the world’s best-known wrestling magazine personality, and he’s had professional and personal relationships with a who’s-who of the business, like Triple H, Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Sting, and Ric Flair.

In his fun-loving memoir, Bill Apter takes us from the dressing rooms of the Bruno Sammartino era and the last days of the territories, to the birth of WrestleMania, the emergence of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and the “Attitude Era,” to today’s WWE and superstars like John Cena, Daniel Bryan, and Roman Reigns. He also shares stories of his days photographing boxing and his interactions with stars like Muhammad Ali and other champions, and documents his appearances on the WWE Network and his work as editor of 1wrestling.com. Find out which wrestler threatened him, learn about the dead wrestler who was really alive, and discover how hanging out with Andy Kaufman led to the comic’s notorious feud with Jerry “The King” Lawler. Still intimately involved in the wrestling business, the award-winning Apter has a story on everybody.


Titles in bold are new additions. Titles in italics have changed release date in the past week.

1 February: Outrageous Pro Wrestling Rivalries (Sports Rivalries) by Matt Chandler

10 February: Wrestling for My Life: The Legend, the Reality, and the Faith of a WWE Superstar by Shawn Michaels

17 February: Booker T: My Rise To Wrestling Royalty

4 March: WWE Ultimate Superstar Guide by Brady Games

17 March: Capitol Revolution: The Rise of the McMahon Wrestling Empire by Tim Hornbaker

29 March: The All-American Boy: Lessons and Stories on Life from Wrestling Legend Bob Backlund

19 May: WWE: The Attitude Era by Jon Robinson

24 June Pro Wrestling FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the World’s Most Entertaining Spectacle by Bryan Solomon

28 July: Yes!: My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of WrestleMania by Daniel Bryan

4 August: The Great and Mighty Nikko by Xavier Garza

25 August: Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales

15 September: Ultimate Warrior: A Life Lived Forever: The Legend of a WWE Hero

13 October:Is Wrestling Fixed? I Didn’t Know It Was Broken: From Photo Shoots and Sensational Stories to the WWE Network, Bill Apter’s Incredible Pro Wrestling Journey

(30 December 2020/Currently unavailable to pre-order):  The Rock by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Joe Layden 

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A Few Kindle Only Titles

For the most part this blog sticks to books released in print, partly because the number of e-Book titles is both so large and so variable in quality. Here are three that may be worthy of your attention, with the disclaimer that I am “online friends” with two of the authors (Millard and Davies.)


Confessions of a Smart Wrestling Fan by Lorcan Mullan

Lorcan Mullan has been a fan of the wild, unpredictable and unique world of professional wrestling for over twenty years. This book continues on from his hit solo stand-up comedy show in providing a personal history of life as a obsessive in the wild, bizarre and unique world of pre-determined tussles.

I’ll be honest and say I didn’t hold out much hope when I read the description, but it’s actually tremendous. I don’t know how many non-wrestling fans would actually stick with it all the way through (as opposed to seeing a one-hour show version), but I genuinely can’t imagine any wrestling fan in their forties or younger, particularly based in the UK, not enjoying it.

You’ll either enjoy the nostalgia, learn about being a fan “back in the day”, repeatedly recognise yourself in the book, or some combination of the three. There’s enough of the “here’s what happened in wrestling/here’s what happened in my life” to make it more interesting that a bunch of old Scott Keith reviews, but not so much that it becomes clunky.

It’s the closest thing to a wrestling version of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch. It covers everything from Hogan-Warrior to Cena-Punk, but it’s a “moments in a fan’s life” selection rather than a history of wrestling, so it’s got all those milestones like the first time you see an IWA/FMW tape advert, or that time Jacqueline went toplessat Capital Carnage, along with pretending to be HHH in a WWE AOL chatroom and realising how much the crowd stinks at ROH in Liverpool along the way, plus the whole mark>smark>realising you were being a dick progression. Big thumbs up.


Smoke & Mirrors and Steven Seagal: The Burning Pants of Popular Culture by Stuart Millard

Millard peels back the curtain on the peddlers of tall tales and fantastical bunk, in those subcultures where the nature of truth is subjective.

From pro wrestling’s funhouse mirror world of kayfabe, there’s the method-acted insanity of Brian Pillman, and the mad lies of Hulk Hogan.

Martial arts gives us super-spy movie stars, deadly men like Count Dante, who can explode your heart from fifty paces, and the strange, forgotten story of James Hydrick, telekinetic Kung Fu cultist; the man no prison could hold.

In the paranormal realm, we’ve Derek Acorah, and the spectacular rise and lurid public fall of Most Haunted. Plus, the BBC’s Ghostwatch, a hoax that became the cultural bogeyman for an entire generation of Brits.

And could Bill Murray really be putting headlocks on the strangers of New York? And just what is his connection to Purple Aki?

This isn’t a wrestling book as such, but pro wrestling makes up a key part of it, both directly and tangentially. It’s a collection of accounts of a variety of celebrities and other public figures who, for one reason or another, have engaged in bending or breaking the truth.

Two chapters deal directly with wrestling. One attempts to comprehensively list the lies and exaggerations offered by Hulk Hogan in media appearances and books. It’s a perhaps impossible task, but gathered together like this even a small selection of his fibs makes for amazing reading.

The second wrestling chapter puts together one of the most detailed accounts of Brian Pillman’s “Loose Cannon” period in which he tried to fool fans, wrestlers and promoters alike with his supposed insanity and refusal to follow the script. Rather than just poke fun at the more outlandish moments, the book explores both the genius and flaws of Pillman, who was dead less than 18 months later.

The rest of the book deals with topics you may not be familiar with, but are sure to interest anyone fascinated by wrestling’s world of kayfabe. There are in-depth looks at infamous spoof documentary Ghostwatch and supposed psychic show Most Haunted, pieces on the myths of the supposed martial arts gurus, and the amazing story of grade one bullshitter and alleged psycho-kinetic practitioner James Hydrick. In every case it’s some of the most complete looks at the subject you’ll find anywhere, and whatever side of the Atlantic you lie on, it’s the ones you aren’t already familiar with that may prove the most fascinating.


Dixon: Life Of A Soap Star Bad Arse by Dan Davies

The most bad arse soap star in the UK has finally told his story in this action packed, adrenaline filled book! Read about Gary Dixon has he covers such insane events as how his parents were sex obsessed maniacs, how he caught the attention of his agent by sabotaging the school production of Scrooge by being inspired by his hero Razor Ramon, his first day on the hit soap Beverston Way, his tenure with the notorious teenage gang The Megaboyz, his problems with a stalker, his failed pop career with Justin Norris, the origins of his Beverston Way character Aaron Carew getting his canine best friend Wrighty, celebrating his 18th birthday with the Beverston Way cast, competing in a backyard wrestling match, his relationship with the hippy Anneka and their disastrous trip to Woodstock 99, how he met his future best friend drug dealer Jay Polotta, the holiday from hell in Ibiza, his first and last ever stint in panto and how he became blackballed from pantomime, the funeral of his childhood friend and how it became chaos, his drug use and the time he went to the premiere of Maid In Manhattan completely buzzed off his head, the trail of his former agent and how he lied in court to impress a cute girl, his last days on Beverston Way, the time he presented Britain’s Hardest Students on Sky and how he tried to confront a TV critic who slagged him off, the botched attempt to launch a fragrance, his attempt to crack America, the real truth about being kicked out of Celebrity Love On An Island, his dark days having to get a normal job and how he lost his Dixon Magic, being forced to sign on the dole, his stint in Trapped In The Jungle and which spirit of a 80’s pro wrestler helped him get through a challenge, when he went to PoloMania to impress a gold digger, his trip to The Gathering Of The Juggalos 2009 and meeting an old nemesis, filming the controversial film Kung Fu Midget which ended in the most action packed and ludicrous way, and getting what he wanted all along in the end but did he find happiness? All this in Dixon: Life Of A Soap Star Bad Arse!

*NOTE* This is a spoof autobiography. Whilst there are things based on real events, what happens in the book is entirely fictional and for entertainment purposes only.

This really is not for everyone. In fact, it’s not for most people. It’s a spoof autobiography of an actor who starts out on a soap (clearly Eastenders) and becomes a Z-List celebrity lad, getting into utterly ridiculous situations, including loads of silly fights that involve wrestling moves. As well as spoofing popular culture of the 90s and 2000s (particularly that of the UK), it’s an unintended history of WWE, games consoles and internet porn tech of the period, albeit with a definite bias.

There’s no denying it’s utterly stupid, juvenile and puerile, but I found it ridiculously funny. It’s a properly written book with a plot and everything, and I polished it off in a weekend because I kept wanting to see what came next.

It’s the kind of thing 99% of people will think the worst book ever and the other 1% will find inexplicably great. The free sample on the Kindle is pretty lengthy and representative, so do give that a read and you’ll know whether it’s going to appeal to you.

If it doesn’t, and it probably won’t, I apologise for subjecting you to such filth. But it’s a price worth paying to get the book in the hands of that rare person to whom it does.

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Have A Nice Day by Mick Foley

foleyniceday

Simply put, without this book, this blog — and many of the books reviewed in it — would not exist.

Originally planned as the first of three WWE autobiographies in a deal to cash in on the Attitude era boom, if Foley’s account is anything to go by this project transformed from its original vision. It was originally intended to be ghostwritten, with numerous facts about Foley’s life changed and a pretence that wrestling matches were legitimate contests.

Foley later recounted that he persuaded WWE management to let him write the book himself, rejecting a compromise offer of having Vince Russo work on the ghostwriting. And I’m being honest here, bro, that would have been a DISASTER of a book with NARRATIVE failings ahoy!!!

What we’re left with is a 500+ page epic that recounts Foley’s life up until his first WWF title win. Foley’s memory was clearly in great shape at this point as he recalls almost any significant match you can think of, and several less significant ones as well. Whether it’s tours of Nigeria, Hell in a Cell or dud explosives in the Tokyo Dome, it’s all here.

It’s filled with genuine humour and self-deprecation, and is written skilfully, in particular the set-ups for comedic punchlines. Criticisms of others in the business are kept to the point, without whininess. While there are valid criticisms of Foley’s later memoirs, it’s hard to see how anyone could be taken seriously in bringing up negatives about this original volume.

The book also left a legacy. Sales were in the hundreds of thousands, far in excess of expectations, and it was reportedly responsible for removing the prejudice in publisher eyes that there was no point making books about wrestling because its audience was barely literate. That almost certainly made the difference in many wrestling books getting published, for better or worse.

Have A Nice Day also established that even for official WWE releases, the idea of semi-fictionalised books that portrayed wrestling as a competitive sport simply weren’t going to cut it. It’s a fair bet that Foley’s original effort is why we can reasonably expect that any WWE autobigraphy will be at least as honest as its subject.

While there may arguably be better wrestling books or ones that deal with more historically important subjects, the quality of Have A Nice Day and the fact that it deals with a mainstream boom period wrestling star means that if you’re a fan of this blog and haven’t yet read the book, it would be my number one recommendation.

 

Note: some edition of this book include a bonus chapter covering 1999 and early 2000, taking the story up to Foley’s first retirement. There’s no real need to go out of your way to find this edition as this period is covered in far greater detail in the sequel, Foley is Good, in which it makes up about 80% of the content.

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Kamala book added to Amazon catalogue

The Kamala autobiography successfully crowdfunded on Kickstarter has now appeared on Amazon with a new cover and blurb. It doesn’t yet have a firm publication date other than 2015, so isn’t yet available for pre-order.

 

kamala2

This is the life story of a WWE pro-wrestler who overcame very real obstacles like murder, racism and losing both legs to diabetes. Kamala “The Ugandan Giant” was a tribal, monster-like character that wrestling fans feared everywhere in the 80s & 90s. Never speaking once during his 30 year career, we finally hear what it was like for James Harris to wrestle headline matches in every major promotion, against Hulk Hogan, Andre The Giant, The Undertaker, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, The Ultimate Warrior and more. After traveling the world, he now ironically looks out his back kitchen window each day from a wheel chair, immobilized as a victim of diabetes. “Kamala Speaks” is a story of inspiration; a wrestling-memoir loaded with touching anecdotes, humor and insight. It is not an angry/bitter tale told from someone harping on missed opportunity, but rather one of survival and hope for all.

 

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Are You Hardcore by Matt Hiller & Joe Lisi

areyouhardcoreThere was a point at the turn of the millennium where it seemed any book related to wrestling could find a publisher. This is one of those books.

It’s pretty much an internet forum thread come to life, with the first half being nothing more than 316 (geddit?) ways to tell you are obsessed with pro wrestling. A random selection should give a flavour of what’s on offer:

46: When delivering a eulogy, you don’t see the problem in equating death to being pinned by God.

123: When someone gets in the backseat, you yell “WHERE TO —-anie?” filling in the blank with their name.

265: You carry a large sign with your name and a large arrow pointing down written on it wherever you go.

The second half of the book is simply a glossary explaining the jokes, though why anyone who wouldn’t get the references would be reading is unclear.

As much as I enjoy detailing the great books about wrestling, books like this are one of the reasons this blog exists. At the time of its release with a cover price of $11, it was a fair enough proposition: anyone seeing it in a bookstore could flick through and get a sense of whether it was worth the money in a matter of seconds, and for those who got it as a present from well-meaning relatives, it’s not the worst way to kill 20 minutes.

However, anyone seeing it listed today at $35+ and wondering if it’s a worthy rare collectible, consider this a public service announcement.

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To Be The Man by Ric Flair

flairAs a wrestler biography, this is OK. But as a biography of one of the biggest names of his generation, this is a huge letdown.

A WWE publication, the content of this book is fine. It’s ghostwritten by WWE’s Keith Elliot Greenberg and edited by wrestling columnist Mark Madden, so for the most part it reads smoothly and is free from obvious lies or exaggeration (with a few exceptions such as the claim to have wrestled Rick Steamboat 2,000 times.)

The problem is the scope. The book tries to tell the story of a 30+ year headlining career in fewer pages than were allocated to the autobiography of Lita. While most of the career highlights are covered, there’s not a great deal of depth and few long-time fans will learn much.

The formatting works well. Flair’s recollections are interspersed with lengthy quotes from other sources, giving a more rounded view. The writers have also erred towards putting in extra detail and context at the expense of staying true to Flair’s voice.

One potential downside is that the book does come across as biased towards WWE’s head personnel and against WCW management. That may very well reflect Flair’s true opinions, but it does give the impression of a title that toes the company line.

All in all, it’s workmanlike but a little bland given the subject. It’s certainly worth getting given it’s now available for as little as a cent, but it’s not one to stick at the top of your must-read list.

Read on Kindle (Amazon.com)

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News: Fall Guys available on Kindle

Fall Guys by Marcus Griffin, one of the key books on wrestling history before the second world war, is now available on Kindle
for the first time. While there are questions over its objectivity (promoter Toots Mondt appears to be a major source), it’s an absolute must-read for anyone with curiosity about how what we know today as pro wrestling came into being. The Kindle edition is particularly welcome as Crowbar Press, which had reprinted the book in 1997, is currently between print runs.

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