Pro Wrestling Books

Wrestling with words

Pro Wrestling Books - Wrestling with words

One Ring Circus by Brian Howell

oneringcircusIf photo books are your cup of tea, this is one of the better wrestling options.

It’s based around a tight theme, specifically the small ECCW promotion in British Columbia. Given the subject, it’s an appropriately low-fi presentation: a black and white photo on the right hand side of each spread, with an accompanying extended caption on the left-hand side. These add useful background detail and context, and can sometimes be wonderfully dry as in:

Cheechuk was exhausted, breathing heavily, and bleeding from the forehead. He stopped for me to take this picture and then took a pull from his can of root beer, walked outside into the pouring rain, and vomited over a railing.

Honky Tonk Man and Christopher Daniels aside, you probably won’t recognise too many of the wrestlers in this book, but the themes will be familiar to anyone who has experienced low-level indy wrestling. Howell makes sure to also cover the other people in and around the shows, from the referee to the regulars in the crowd, a personal famous being an elderly man who sells smoked salmon from a plastic beneath his ringside seat.

This most definitely doesn’t have the luxurious feel that makes a “coffee table book” an object to enjoy and as a result it’s probably something you’ll only flick through once. But if you can pick it up for a few bucks or if you want something more obscure for collector purposes, this may be worth a look.

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National Wrestling Alliance by Tim Hornbaker

nwaThis is a great historical study that was sorely in need of an editor.

Covering the history of the Alliance — and by default the US wrestling business as a whole — from its origins in the 1940s  through to the 1970s, with some brief coverage of later events, what really stands out here is the detail. Hornbaker has clearly worked tirelessly to track down documentary evidence rather than rely on the opinions and memories of those involved.

Key to the book is the consent decree, a 1956 agreement between the NWA and the Department of Justice that was designed to settle allegations that the group acted as an unlawful cartel. The files relating to this agreement were made partially public following legal action by Jim Wilson for the book Chokehold, but Hornbaker was able to get access to thousands more pages through freedom of information laws. This allows him to cover the activities of the various promotion in extensive detail.

The downside is that the sheer level of detail is overwhelming and leads to a dry narrative at times. It appears Hornbaker has fallen into the trap (with which I can personally sympathise) of being reluctant to leave out any of the detail he has worked so hard to acquire and verify. The most striking example of this is in the initial references to some of the key players in the formation of the NWA where we often get the birth and death dates, names and even maiden names not just of the wrestling figures but of their parents and siblings.

This criticism is not meant to undermine what is otherwise an excellent book that is well worth reading for anyone with an interest in history; just be aware that it can be hard going at times. It’s also fair to point out that in his second book, looking at the history of the (W)WWF, Hornbaker greatly refines and focuses his approach. (We’ll have a full review of that in the next couple of weeks.)

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Hollywood Hulk Hogan by Hulk Hogan

hoganHardys, Hart, Hart, Heenan, Heenan… what’s up next? Well, that’s interesting timing…

If this were the type of blog which bigged up the positive every book to try to boost revenues from affiliate links, today would be a very awkward day. Fortunately it’s not and I can tell you that only the most dedicated Hulk Hogan fan should read this book (which may be a better option that reading anything else Hogan-related today.)

The most obvious problem with the book is that Hogan is generally full of it and ghost writer Michael Jan Friedman — whose regular gig is writing Star Trek novels — appeared to have neither the ability nor the will to press Hogan on the accuracy of his recollections or check up the facts.

To be fair, the book isn’t home to the worst of Hogan’s fibs, which are collated by Frantic Planet author Stuart Millard on his website. Instead the book is more a collection of his greatest hits, BS-wise. We’ve got Vince McMahon Sr firing Hogan for taking the Rocky 3 acting gig (the timeline of which is questionable at best), Hogan going against the booking instructions of a 20-minute draw to pin Riki Choshu in a couple of minutes in his New Japan debut, and the Hogan-Andre WrestleMania III finish not being booked until the night before.

There’s also a few exclusive tall tales such as the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Cartoon having to be rewritten because “We had four or five guys who were major players in the cartoon who couldn’t beat the drug test, or quit, or died” which makes you wonder how Rick McGraw was in the original line-up.

And did you know that “almost immediately” after Hogan’s debut, WCW’s house show attendance rose ten-fold. (Poor Mookieghana, the dean of wrestling stats, did not.)

The sad thing is that the book itself is a breezy enough read with some fun stories and plenty of places where Hogan gives his thoughts on both behind the scenes stuff and memorable matches such as against the Ultimate Warrior or Rock where he most definitely kept himself over with the crowd.

Still, in the interests of balance, let’s finish off with this comment by Hogan in depositions for his Gawker lawsuit, spotted by David Bixenspan:


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Fred Hornby RIP

Sad to report the death last week of wrestling historian Fred Hornby at the age of 76. He was primarily among the early collectors of results and involved in the publication of several record books. His best known publication was, alongside Scott Teal, a complete record of 20th century results from Madison Square Garden.

While that book has been somewhat superceded by sites such as The History of WWE and their accompanying Holy Ground: 50 Years of WWE at Madison Square Garden (The History of Professional Wrestling), there’s no doubt that Hornby’s work paved the way for today’s information archives.

Hornby’s day job was as a radio news editor, most notable at New York’s 1010 WINS-AM. For more details on his career, please do check out Slam Wrestling’s obituary.

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Wrestling: A Pictorial History by David Hofstede

hofstedeThis is a strange book as, it’s unclear what it’s meant to be, and whatever the case it it falls short. It’s nothing but captioned pictures and, despite the name, there’s no attempt at chronology or covering major events.

Instead the pictures are separated into a couple of dozen loose themes, though the categorization is extremely disputable, with lowlights including Danny Hodge placed across the page from Viscera in the “Journeymen” sections.

The images have clearly been sourced and licensed from a variety of photo libraries, with it being clear that inclusion was down to availability more than editorial merit, hence the somewhat unlikely mix of seven wrestlers in the “ladies” section: genuine all-time stars Mildred Burke and Fabulous Moolah are joined by Ivory from the modern era and then lesser-known names Jean Kennedy, Ann Stanley, Ella Phillips and Lola Simpson, all clearly taken from the same collection.

The picture quality is a very mixed bag, again seemingly dependent on the source. This creates the odd situation where some of the oldest pictures are sharp and good quality, while some of the shots of Attitude era performers are blurry, poorly lit pictures of wrestlers at social events or taken from the stands at shows.

For a photo book to be worthwhile, it really needs to be a thing of beauty that provides pleasure rather than information. The lack of editorial control, the softback design, and the way photos are slapped on the page in any old size and proportion means this doesn’t make the grade.


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Chair Shots And Other Obstacles: Winning Life’s Wrestling Matches by Bobby Heenan

heenan2This is a wrestling book like no other. It’s also one of the most undersung titles around.

It’s a format few would have expected to see from Heenan: a self-help manual. Rather than the usual wishy-washy new age content you’d normally see in such books, this is effectively a series of serious points for living a successful live used as pegs for genuinely hilarious stories from Heenan’s career.

Unlike with his autobiography, there’s no attempt to follow any structure here and the book works all the better for it. It’s particularly effective as, in between the humour, Heenan uses the opportunity to share some valid gripes, such as being underpaid in a manager role, in a way that doesn’t come across as bitter or whiny. He’s also extremely self-aware in the book, never afraid to acknowledge the sheer absurdity of the professional wrestling business but never shy of admitting his love for it.

Heenan also addresses his battles with cancer, something that might seem hard to fit to his lighthearted style, but it’s genuinely uplifting without being sentimental. For all his poor health, it’s a reminder that he is still with us, 11 years after writing the book.

The day will come when Bobby Heenan passes away and this book will arguably serve as a better legacy for his career and personality than his original autobiography. But reading it then will be an experience tainted with grief, so I urge everyone to track this title down while reading it can remain 100 percent celebration.

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Bobby The Brain by Bobby Heenan

heenanWhile you might expect this to be a fantastic book given the author, it’s not only merely decent, but it isn’t Heenan’s best book.

Written with former PWI staffer Steve Anderson, the book is pretty slim at 192 pages of very large type. It’s a slightly unconventional format as the first 100 pages or so are a chronological recollection organised into logical chapters, while the rest is based around themes such as the territories, celebrities and dealing with fans.

There’s very little depth in the book, though as expected a great deal of dry humour. It’s also got a lot of single-sentence paragraphs which are presumably meant to serve as punchlines or emphasise a point, but have the effect of making the writing very brusque at times. It comes across as an attempt by Anderson to capture the sharp wit of Heenan, but the voice doesn’t feel authentic to his more familiar style of longer sentences and going into detail like he did in promos and announcing.

This isn’t to say the book is worthless — there’s a lot of coverage given to Heenan’s wrestling and managing career before the prime years in WWF for which he is best known. There’s also a truly fantastic story of his first road trip managing the Assassins (not the better know duo of that name) with a killer closing line.

It’s a fun enough read but not worth going out of your way to track down. That can’t be said of Heenan’s second book which we’ll review next week.

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