Pro Wrestling Books

Wrestling with words

Pro Wrestling Books - Wrestling with words

Killer Pics by Walter Kowalski

killerpicsThe gimmick of this being a photography book by Killer Kowalski is not enough to make it worth seeking out.

After a brief background piece on Kowalski’s interest in photography, the book goes straight into 36 pages of portrait of wrestlers, a mixed bag from superstars like Andre the Giant and Bruno Sammartino to lesser-known performers like Moose Monroe and the Pink Assassin. The problem is that the pics are all very samey: posed portrait shots of the wrestler against a white background, with only a few capturing the wrestler’s character or gimmick.

The rest of the book is non-wrestling material, split into the western world, eastern world (from Kowalski’s trips to Asia) and nature. I can’t profess to be a photography expert, but while the shots all seem technically competent, there was nothing that stood out as an image I’d want to return to again.

At best this would be a nice novelty for somebody who wanted to collect relatively rare wrestling titles, but given the prices it goes for today, it’s impossible to recommend even in that context.

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A Pictorial History of Wrestling by Graeme Kent

kentSurprisingly widely available for a 1968 title, this is a great combination of text and photos of wrestling on both sides of the Atlantic.

Written entirely from the perspective of wrestling being a sport (albeit one with showmanship in spades), the first 130 or so of the 300+ pages here deal with the development of amateur wrestling in its various styles around the world. The rest covers the professional business from the pre-Gotch days, split into “The Golden Age”, “Between the Wars” and separate chapters on American and European Wrestling after 1945.

The text history is relatively comprehensive and accurate, albeit limited by the lack of “insider” material, particularly during the often-baffling era of doublecrosses and promotional manouvrings in the 1920s and 19302.

Meanwhile the picture content is hugely impressive: although limited to black and white, there are literally hundreds of images included, covering everyone from Al Hayes to Georges Gordienko in both action and posed shots. Highlights include pictures of Reggie Lisowski (The Crusher) and Pat Patterson in their early years and a shot of an early battle royale from a time when that gimmick still involved teams of wrestlers doing battle while wearing boxing gloves.

At almost any reasonable price, this would be a strong recommendation for serious collectors, but with used copies going for less than $20, it’s worth picking up for anyone with an interest in wrestling history.

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Recent Release Roundup

Here are a few books released in recent weeks that didn’t get advance listings and thus weren’t in our weekly release schedule.

 

Japan has long been the most respected territory in the field of professional wrestling, and the most appreciated by hardcore fans worldwide. New Japan Pro Wrestling is the country’s most recognisable brand. It attracts scores of fans to annual Tokyo Dome shows, has made household names of its most prominent talent, and is increasingly in demand by a rabid international audience. Yet NJPW’s 40+ year history has been a rocky one. The company has endured strong competition, scandals and riots, and for a time it seemed like poor decision making would sink what was once a national institution. For the first time in English, Lion’s Pride: The Turbulent History of New Japan Pro Wrestling explores NJPW’s triumphs and tribulations. Starting with the origins of pro wrestling in post war Japan, Lion’s Pride covers the company’s inception in 1972, through its boom in the early 1980s, its influence on the medium at large in the ’90s, and its downturn and subsequent revival in the last two decades. Alongside a detailed and informative history are essays detailing the intricacies of Japanese wrestling psychology, how NJPW’s key players shaped the company, and much more besides. A crucial reference guide for any wrestling fan, Lion’s Pride offers an entertaining and insightful glance behind the scenes of the ‘King of Sports’.


Tuesday Night At The Gardens: Pro Wrestling In Louisville by Mark James & Jim Cornette

Tuesday Night At The Gardens: Pro Wrestling In Louisville is the latest release from Jim Cornette and Mark James. This book took two years to create and features the history of Louisville wrestling from the debut of Strangler Louis to the rise of Jerry “the King” Lawler. With more than 500 illustrations, photos, programs and newspaper articles, most not seen in over four decades. The most complete analysis of the “golden age” of Louisville Gardens wrestling from 1970-1975 ever printed, with all the line-ups and hundreds of match results, plus TV show and arena reports taken directly from Jim Cornette’s original eyewitness notes. Additional biographies of stars like the Fabulous Fargos, Tojo Yamamoto and Jerry Jarrett. Further information includes the complete hundred year history of the Louisville Garden Arena. The most descriptive inside look at promoters Nick Gulas & Roy Welch and their Nashville-based booking office, and the “Memphis Wrestliing” territory expanded by Jerry Jarrett, ever in print! Backgrounds on major rivalries, booking details and business statistics from all over the Tennessee wrestling circuits. This is the only book of its kind ever written by a major wrestling personality on the sport from a fan and a performer’s perspective. If you want wrestling history, this book both teaches and makes it!


101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die by Samuel ‘Plan

Professional wrestling is not what it once was. Kayfabe is dead; the internet is in full swing; old habits die hard. The time has come to reassess the industry’s identity. 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die hopes to do just that, challenging orthodox preconceptions of the world’s greatest performance art. The methodology is simple: select 101 matches from WWE history that highlight the most important issues permeating professional wrestling today. But don’t call them match reviews. These are moral, historical, philosophical must-read muses of must-see art that will enrich your experience as a follower of WWE; question your responsibilities as a fan; ponder your right to be a critic; present a new, different way to watch professional wrestling; and, ultimately, challenge your existing ideas of what professional wrestling can be at its very core.


United States Championship: A Close Look at Mid-Atlantic Wrestling’s Greatest Championship by Dick Bourne

This is the long awaited follow-up to “Ten Pounds of Gold” and “Big Gold.” Like those books, this book is FULL COLOR and features beautiful photography of the belts, both original and replica.

Mike Mooneyham of the Charleston Post and Courier writes “Bourne strikes gold with new book on U.S. wrestling title.”

In 1975, Jim Crockett, Jr. and George Scott created the United States Heavyweight Championship for the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling territory. For the next 13 years, 21 of the the greatest names in professional wrestling, including 13 future WWE Hall-of-Famers, proudly wore one of five different title belts that represented that championship.

The list of names that held this title reads like a Who’s Who: Harley Race, Johnny Valentine, Terry Funk, Paul Jones, Blackjack Mulligan, Bobo Brazil, Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, Wahoo McDaniel, Magnum T.A., Tully Blanchard, Lex Luger, Dusty Rhodes, Barry Windham and many others.

Jim Crockett Promotions’ United States Championship explores these five classic title belts, and tells all the stories of the angles, feuds, and controversies throughout the title’s history. There were other regional U.S. championships during the territory era, but this was the biggest and the most widely recognized of them all, and it served as the historical foundation for the United States Championship recognized by the WWE today.

 

The book includes:

– An exhaustive title history of the championship from its inception in 1975 until the sale of Jim Crockett Promotions to Ted Turner in 1988. All the angles, storylines, feuds, and big matches.

– A detailed look at the design of all five Crockett U.S. championship belts and how they were made, with expert input from belt-maker “Ace of Belts” Dave Millican.

– Historical photographs of all the champions wearing all of the different versions of the belts they held.

– Brackets and results for all five U.S. title tournaments during the Crockett years. – A look at where the title belts are today.

– A brief look at other U.S. championships in other territories during the NWA territorial years.

– A brief look at later U.S. championships that traced their title history to the Crockett U.S. title.

– Trivia and statistics.

– Heritage and legacy.

– Over 100 photographs of both the champions and the belts, most in full color!

 

“Dick Bourne is the Indiana Jones of title belt archeology.” – Mike Johnson, PWInsider.com

 

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Andre The Giant: Closer to Heaven by Brandon M Easton & Denis Medri

andrecloserA wrestling star might get one graphic novel written about their life. Andre the Giant, a wrestling legend in every sense, now has two.

I’ve not had a chance to read Box Brown’s Andre the Giant: Life and Legend yet, though other reviews suggest it may be more of a surface read, recounting some popular tales (some likely as tall as Andre.)

This new take from Easton and Medri feels like a rounded biography, or as much as can be covered in a 104-page comic. It’s advertised USP is that it is based on interviews with people who knew Andre, plus the involvement of his daughter Robin in the project.

For the most part the stories certainly ring true and aren’t restricted to the official WWE line (let alone the Hogan version of reality). There’s clearly been some literary license taken with the inclusion of private conversations between Andre and people who also died decades ago such as Frank Valois and Vincent J McMahon, but this content doesn’t feeling inauthentic in the context of those events which are documented.

The most impressive part is the balancing act of creating an overreaching narrative of Andre’s life without being overly twee or simplistic. It accurately conveys the commonly-told story of Andre making the most of a life that he knew would be cut short, an attitude that brought both pleasure and pain to him and those around him.

The artwork is impressive: it’s more caricatured than photorealistic, but the wrestlers involved remain recognizable and Medri does a particularly good job of subtly capturing Andre’s changing appearance as both age and acromelagy took their effects.

(Disclaimer: The publisher Lion Forge provided a review copy of this book.)

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Tonight… In This Very Ring by Scott Keith

titvrYou know when you’re at a wrestling show and you’re having fun but the experience is spoiled by that one guy OF DOOM behind you who won’t shut up with the smarky insider talk where he keeps going on about people being held down or getting a push or being good workers? And it’s really annoying because he proves that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and it feels like half of what he says is not just factually wrong but reveals his lack of wider understanding, like, ooh, I don’t know, saying Buddy Rogers won the NWA title from Lou Thesz. And half of what he says seems to contradict itself. And the worst part about it is that a bunch of people seem to be hanging on his every word because the fact that he is shouting so loudly FOOLS them into THINKING he must be authoritative.

Now imagine that guy was a book.

Tonight… In This Very Ring: A Fan’s History of Professional Wrestling

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The Rock Says by The Rock with Joe Layden

rocksaysA couple of intriguing chapters doesn’t make up for some truly atrocious filler here.

This always had a tough spot to fill, following on from the huge success of Mick Foley’s Have A Nice Day, which was designed to test the waters for WWE autobiographies. Even without that as a comparison point, this is a half-assed effort however.

The pre-wrestling element is arguably the more interesting part of the book, doing a good job of illustrating how a young Dwayne Johnson had the natural heritage to get into the business, but certainly didn’t have an easy start in life and struggled financially as a student and footballer.

The wrestling part is less informative and is clearly written with a desire to avoid confrontation. There’s a detailed story of a teenage Johnson being disgusted by the disrespect shown by Lars Anderson on a Hawaii show, but nothing about a similar incident involving Shawn Michaels. Neither does the efforts of Michaels and Triple H to disrupt his early WWF run get a mention. Considering these incidents may have cost the WWE Universe from ever seeing a Rock-Michaels bout, these seem like oversights to toe the company line.

It’s when Rocky Maivia turns into the Rock that the book goes to hell. Large parts of the second half are simply match reports told in the third person voice of ‘The Rock’ rather than Johnson, a novelty that quickly wears thin. Not only do we learn nothing about the stories behind the matches but, presumably to keep to the bombastic character, the prose is actively misleading, with exaggerations such as the breakthrough SummerSlam ladder match with HHH going “forty minutes.”

Those who stick through this are rewarded at the end with 20 pages dedicated to the WrestleMania XV main event. It’s a complete account of the entire day, including Johnson’s thought process and experiences dealing with the pressure and workload.

More of this would have made for a truly insightful book. Maybe one day we’ll get it in an autobiography that also covers Johnson’s hugely successful life beyond wrestling. But for now, even if you see this for sale as a used book for a penny…. IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT THE PRICE IS.

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Final Adrian Street Volume ‘Merchant On Menace’ Released

merchantofmenaceMerchant of Menace, the seventh and final volume of Adrian Street’s autobiography has now been released on Kindle with a paperback edition due imminently.

This edition covers the conclusion of his US career “Featuring Don Leo Jonathan, ‘Nature Boy’ Buddy Rogers, Sheik Ed Farhat, The Iron Sheik, Austin Idol, Cactus Jack, Honky Tonk Man, Michael Hayes, Kevin Von Erich, Bruiser Brody, Rob Van Dam, The Spoiler, married in Las Vegas and more.”

We’ve previously reviewed the first six volumes.

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