Pro Wrestling Books

Wrestling with words

Pro Wrestling Books - Wrestling with words

My Life in Wrestling by Gary Hart

garyhartWhen the index to a book takes up 25 pages, you know it’s going to be detailed. While it’s reputation may have been boosted a little by its irritating rarity, Gary Hart’s tale remains one of the top tier books on pro wrestling.

In its simplest terms, it’s an account of a wide-ranging career taking in wrestling, managing and booking in multiple territories, most notably in Florida and World Class. The breadth of Hart’s time in and around the ring would have made this worth investigating even if it were merely a dry chronological recollection of events such as Dusty Rhodes’s babyface turn or the Kerry Von Erich-Ric Flair cage match. The book feels comprehensive and you’ll struggle to find a significant moment in Hart’s career that isn’t addressed.

What makes the book stand out, however, is the depth. It almost serves as an educational guide into what works in the wrestling industry, with Hart clearly on a mission to share his knowledge and experiences. He doesn’t merely recall what happened with a particular match or angle, but also his reasoning at the time and, just as importantly, how that decision turned out and what lessons he learned.

He also manages to give honest, unvarnished opinions of those he dealt with, without verging into unnecessary abuse or score-settling (with the exception of a chapter devoted to condemning Wrestling Observer Newsletter Dave Meltzer on the basis of a single news item from two decades ago which Hart disputes.) It comes across as a clear recognition that everyone, Hart included, has both strengths and weaknesses.

Hart wrote the book during his final years and died before it could be published. His family self-published the book with two print runs selling out, but decided against the risk of financing a third run. Despite the immense interest in the book, there’s been no sign of an official e-book release.

Despite the cliche “buy, beg, borrow or steal”, this blog would not condone electronic book piracy. That said, while the book is fantastic, it’s a stretch to say it is worth the ridiculous prices it goes for on the second hand market — or at least the price at which it was offered.

With that in mind, it seems only fair to note that a PDF copy of the book is available without charge if you know where to look — but that even if you do acquire it by illicit means, you absolutely should buy this book the moment it comes back into print or gets an official e-book release.

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News: Iron Sheik out, Pat Patterson in

ECW Press has announced its planned title The Iron Sheik: Listen Jabroni! has been cancelled. No word on the reasons, but the book had artwork designed and was only four months away from publication, meaning it should have been written by now.

The company says it will continue working with WWE on wrestling books, including Pat Patterson’s autobiography due for release in June 2016. Between Patterson’s mind for the business, lengthy career both before and with WWE, and his life as a gay man in an often homoskeptic business, this has the makings of an excellent title.

In other good news, Pat Laprade has announced his and Bertrand Hebert’s biography of Mad Dog Vachon, originally to be published in French only, will be released in English in late 2016.

(Hat Tip: David Bix at

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The Hardy Boyz by Matt and Jeff Hardy

hardyzWhile the subjects don’t exactly have a broad career to match the likes of a Billy Graham or Jerry Lawler, all the more so when this was published in 2003, there’s more substance to this than you might expect.

Ghostwritten by Michael Krugman, the book alternates between the voices of Matt and Jeff and Krugman does a good job of distinguishing the two while still making it clear and coherent. He makes sure to highlight occasions on which the pair disagree, such as when Jeff talks about a desire to push the in-ring style to the limit while Matt talks about having a finite number of bumps in his career and wanting to make them count. (It may be hard to believe for those who’ve been online in the past decade, but Matt was once considered the level-headed one of the pair.)

While the narrative of the book only really covers the pairs backyarding adventures, creation of the independent Omega group, and their early years as a WWE team including the TLC bouts, it covers several events and incidents that you might have expected to have been glossed over.

One such case is both wrestlers working on TV tapings in their teens, including a 16-year-old Jeff Hardy taking a beating from Razor Ramon on Raw after lying about his age. Another is a lengthy discussion of being the accused party in “wrestler’s court” with JBL as prosecutor and Undertaker as judge. It’s the type of story you’d be forgiven for dismissing as internet gossip, so it’s a real surprise to see it in an official WWE publication.

It’s a must-read for fans, even though it comes so early in their career. For everyone else, it’s worth your time if you can get it at a decent price and enjoy frank opinions in an official account.

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The Adrian Street Collection by Adrian Street

Chris Jericho’s autobiography has reached three volumes (so far.) Mick Foley is up to four. But Adrian Street — a man not short of experience nor verbiage — is up to six with one to go.

The volumes so far are:

My Pink Gas Mask, which covers his years growing up in Wales, dreaming of one day becoming a pro wrestler.

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I Only Laugh When It Hurts, covering his moving to London and breaking into the independent scene.

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So Many Ways To Hurt You, covering his initial years working for Joint Promotions.

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Sadist In Sequins, covering more of his Joint career, plus his international travels.

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Imagine What I Could Do To You, covering his move to the independent circuit.

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Violence Is Golden, covering trips to Mexico and Germany and then his US work in Memphis and Mid-South among other territories.

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It’s clear across all six volumes that Street has both a storytelling skill and an incredible memory. As well as being entertaining, the books are also extremely informative — instead of just recounting events, Street explains his thinking at the time and the way he managed to build himself up into a main eventer, with payoffs to match, despite lacking the height and bulk of many of his contemporaries.

There’s also a lot of detail about his personal life, making money outside of wrestling, and his dealings with the colourful characters of 1960s London, including notorious slum landlord Peter Rachman.

If you want to try a book to see if the series is for you, then I Only Laugh When It Hurts is the best starting point. That’s not to dismiss My Pink Gas Mask, which is a compelling memoir in its own right with plenty of humour, but it doesn’t contain any of his wrestling career. That said, it’s certainly worth returning to if you enjoy the rest of the series as it puts into context his drive to prove the doubters wrong and succeed in wrestling. It’s also a positive that although Street had a difficult relationship with his father, he does relate in extensive detail the horrendous suffering he went through as a Japanese prisoner of war.

Those who are more familiar with Street’s US career might be tempted to jump in with Violence Is Golden, but it’s not reflective of the series as a whole. That’s partly because Street is so established by the point in his career, meaning the books lack some of the struggle and well-rounded assessment of his strengths, weaknesses and mistakes. Meanwhile the combination of his experience and the comparative lack of amateur credentials among his US opponents mean that accounts of the genuine struggles that can go on in matches tend to be more predictable and one-sided than in the earlier volumes.

These are only criticisms in comparison to the rest of the series however, and while it may seem a stretch to describe a run of four consecutive books as must-read, that is certainly the case for anyone with even the slightest interest in British or territorial era wrestling.

As well as getting the books from Amazon (print and Kindle) and other eBooks retailers, you can also order printed and signed copies directly from Street’s Bizarre Bazaar.

A seventh and final volume, covering the rest of Street’s US career is in the works.

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Broken Harts: The Life and Death of Owen Hart by Martha Hart

brokenhartsThis is a book every wrestling fan should read once. It’s also a book few will bring themselves to read a second time.

This is not a traditional wrestling biography as it features virtually nothing about Owen Hart’s in-ring career, save to acknowledge the respect his abilities had earned within the industry. Instead it’s a very personal account by his widow Martha of their life together, the stresses of his being on the road, and the experience and aftermath of his tragic death in 1999 when he fell from the rafters of the Kemper Arena in Kansas City.

The book details the circumstances of Hart’s death and lays bare that, while most definitely an accident, it was most certainly avoidable. The very nature of his planned ring entrance, in which he would fall from a zip wire a few feet from the ring, fatally reduce the basic safety levels that should have been expected for such a descent.

In detailing the resulting legal battles and the turmoil it caused the extended Hart family, the book fully explores the process by which Owen Hart was fitted with a quick-release harness against the advice of experts in the field.

The standout section of the book is where Martha describes hearing the news of Hart’s death and her experience of shock and grief. It’s extremely hard to read, not because of the writing style (which is crisp but authentic thanks to an excellent ghostwriting effort by Eric Francis) but rather because the emotion is so raw and leads to uncomfortable empathy on the part of the reader.

Many of the better wrestling books are a pleasure to read and entertaining. Neither is the case here, yet it remains a book that anyone who thinks they know the Owen Hart story needs to investigate.

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Release Schedule (10 June)

New biography added this week: Andre The Giant: Closer To Heaven by Brandon Easton

“A surprisingly touching narrative that reveals a new side to Andre ‘The Giant’ Roussimoff. . . . With a voice and tone perfectly matched to Andre’s demeanor, Easton’s writing brings Andre back to life.” – Brutal Gamer Lion Forge Comics is proud to present this amazing story of a man who turned a curse into a blessing. Written by 2014 Eisner Award-nominee Brandon M. Easton with gorgeous artwork by Denis Medri, this unprecedented biography of Andre the Giant charts his earliest days on his family’s farm, to his enormously successful runs in Japan, to his heated feuds with the biggest wrestling stars of all time, to his memorable turns in Hollywood TV and cinema and to his darkest moments caused by excessive substance abuse. Based on testimony from Andre’s friends and colleagues – including his daughter Robin – this is the story you’ve never been told about Andre “the Giant” Roussimoff.

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

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

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

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

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

29: September: Andre The Giant: Closer To Heaven by Brandon Easton

1 October: Iron Sheik: Listen Jabroni! by Khosrow “The Iron Sheik” Vaziri and Keith Elliot Greenberg

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

10 November: Undertaker: 25 Years of Destruction

2 February 2016: Legends of Pro Wrestling: 150 Years of Headlocks, Body Slams, and Piledrivers by Tim Hornbaker

5 April: The Official WWE Rule Book: Every Rule (And How to Break Them)

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

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The Mouth of the South by Jimmy Hart

jimmyhartIf you’d expect a book by Jimmy Hart to be bright and breezy with lots of entertainment but not much depth, your prejudice is spot on.

While there are a few ‘insider’ tidbits, such as Hart explaining how he deliberately avoided doing any traditional wrestling moves smoothly when working wrestler vs manager bouts in Memphis, feeling to do so would be implausible, it’s more of a general career recap.

To give an idea of the attention paid to the relevant sections of his life, there’s about 20 pages on his music career, 70 pages on Memphis, 50 pages on WWE and 15 pages on WCW.

There’s quite a bit of exposition explaining events in the business that Hart wasn’t directly involved in, but you do get a few good stories about funny events in and out of the ring.

It’s all well-written enough: no ghostwriter is acknowledged, and it does feel a lot like a motormouth Hart promo skipping from subject to subject.

There’s little to really criticise in what’s here. The main limitation is that for anyone interested in Hart’s career to the point of reading his autobiography, there’s probably not going to be much new to learn here. On the other hand, while a newer fan would get a decent insight into Hart’s history in the business, particularly his importance to Memphis, it’s hard to imagine many such readers choosing to give this a go.

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Tangled Ropes by Billy Graham

grahamOne of the better WWE-authorised autobiographies, this appears to be a notably honest account, albeit one framed by the warm relationship Graham had with WWE at the time of its writing.

As with the Blassie and Lawler books, this stands out not so much for the writing, although that’s perfectly fine thanks to ghostwriter Keith Elliot Greenberg. Instead the key is Graham having had a deep and varied career in multiple territories and thus having unfamiliar stories to tell. It’s almost two-thirds in to the book before he even starts his WWWF title run.

The honesty covers both Graham’s extensive, almost pioneering drug use (and the accompanying medical consequences) and his assessment of his strengths and shortcomings as a performer.

He also details his frustration at dropping the title to Bob Backlund in 1978 — something planned a year earlier before Graham even won the belt — rather than Vince McMahon Sr changing plans to capitalize on his obvious drawing power and potential to turn babyface. Whether it’s simply his own approach or the guiding hand of Greenberg, Graham comes across as rational here, rather than sounding like he is motivated by bitterness.

The conclusion of the book deals with his involvement in the steroid scandals and the accusations he made about the promotion and then withdrew.  Here there definitely seems to be a company line in play as, in expressing his regret, Graham concentrates largely on the legal and factual issues of whether McMahon and company broke specific laws in specific circumstances and less about whether the culture of the company put unfair, if merely implicit, pressure on wrestlers to use steroids.

That notwithstanding, Tangled Ropes is most definitely worth your time and money whether you’re a Graham fan or somebody who is not familiar with his brief  but spectacular run on top.

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