Pro Wrestling Books

Wrestling with words

Pro Wrestling Books - Wrestling with words

Release Schedule (27 January)

New addition this week with an August release for Accepted: How the First Gay Superstar Changed WWE by Pat Patterson:

When Pat Patterson was 17 years old, his parents threw him out of the house after he told them he was in love . . . with a man. Cast off to the United States from Montreal in the 1960s, barely knowing a word of English, he set about a new life as a wrestler. Long before being gay was routinely accepted, Pat lived in the super-macho world of pro wrestling.

One of the most unlikely stories of a revolutionary talent, pioneer and creative savant, Patterson recalls the trials and tribulations as he climbed to the upper ranks of sports-entertainment — as a performer and, later, as a backstage dignitary in this fascinating and revealing memoir. After making his mark in the ring as the prestigious first holder of WWE’s Intercontinental Championship, Pat set out to conquer the WWE world behind the curtain. He became the lead creative force behind the Royal Rumble Match and countless innovations that have shaped the way the WWE Universe has enjoyed sports-entertainment for generations.

Many WWE fans know Pat Patterson as a ring legend, WWE Hall of Famer, and one of Vince McMahon’s “stooges” during the Attitude Era. But Patterson is no stooge. He has long been one of Vince McMahon’s trusted advisors, his impact and importance to the nascent stages of WWE nearly comparable to the Chairman himself. Still active in WWE today, Pat delivers his no-holds barred story from unknown to WWE luminary.


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

15 March: Hustle, Loyalty & Respect: The World of John Cena by Steve Pantaleo

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

10 May: Maximilian and the Lucha Libre Club: A Bilingual Lucha Libre Thriller (Max’s Lucha Libre Adventures) by Xavier Garza

24 May: WWE: 100 Greatest Matches

1 June: Thud in Trouble (Wrestling Trolls) by Jim Eldridge

12 July: Champion of the World by Chad Dundas

24 July: Performance and Pro Wrestling by Broderick Chow & Laine Eero

1 August: The Final Showdown (Wrestling Trolls) by Jim Eldridge

9 August: Accepted: How the First Gay Superstar Changed WWE by Pat Patterson

18 October: Rudas: Niño and Las Hermanitas! by Yuyi Morales

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Wrestling Observer’s Top 100 Pro Wrestlers Of All Time by John Molinaro

observertop100Any list-based book stands and falls on two point: the credibility of the list and the quality and information of the write-ups. Unfortunately this falls short of top-notch in both areas.

The big problem with the list is that although the book’s editor Dave Meltzer notes in the forward that choosing criteria for ranking wrestlers — who perform in a sport without objective wins and losses — is difficult, there’s no clear explanation of what Molinaro actually went with. It seems to be some combination of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame’s recipe of in-ring ability, drawing power and historical importance, but how they are applied isn’t obvious.

From a historical perspective, there’s little to take issue with at the top of the rankings. My personal off-the-top-of-my-head pick for the ten biggest names ever would be (in alphabetical order) Andre the Giant, Steve Austin, Ric Flair, Frank Gotch, Hulk Hogan, Jim Londos, Rikidozan, Lou Thesz, Antonio Inoki, El Santo and these make up ten of the top 12 names in this list.

The middle sections are more disputable and show the difficulty with applying a variety of criteria. It seems strange for example that Jushin Liger is above the likes of Harley Race and Jack Brisco, presumably because of in-ring ability, but Rick Steamboat and Randy Savage are both lower. That said, the fact that Liger and George Hackenschmidt are in adjacent places show just how difficult such comparisons can be.

The lower end of the list is where the real problems lie. For example, the Undertaker at number 62 could be argued today but seems out of place in 2002 when this book was published. Sting’s inclusion is noteworthy given his lack of traction with WON Hall of Fame voters. And Jesse Ventura making a top 100 list of wrestlers is difficult to justify, no matter how notable his achievements in politics.

The write-ups range from four to six pages for the top 10 stars to two pages for those at #11-50 and then around half a page for the rest, with large photographs  of varying quality breaking up the text. Even with the space available for the higher rankings, these are largely capsule bios with many being more a chronological list of events than an argument of their merits or an explanation of their contexts. There are several historical errors, along with at least a couple of mistaken identities in photographs.

The biggest problem is that the Observer branding merely highlights how these bios compare unfavourably with the career recaps and obituaries penned by Meltzer in the newsletter and the accompanying tribute books. This is at best a mildly diverting coffee table book, but doesn’t stand out enough in any element to be a must-buy.

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Pain and Passion: The History of Stampede Wrestling by Heath McCoy

painpassionThis is about as a close to a must-read wrestling book as is possible in something dealing with a niche topic.

Most wrestling histories fall into one of two traps: they have solid research delivered in a dry, academic manner; or they are full of engaging stories but don’t give a complete picture and context. McCoy is one of the rare authors who manages to pull off a book that tells a story in a comprehensive, authoritative and highly readable manner.

Based on more than sixty interviews in addition to secondary sources, the book sticks close to the narrative of the history of the Stampede promotion but doesn’t ignore its wider effects on wrestling history as a whole. It pulls off the right balance of dealing with the way the story of Stampede is so closely intertwined with the personal triumphs and tragedies of the Hart family, as well as addressing the final days of Chris Benoit in an appropriate level of detail.

Another impressive element is that McCoy’s writing style uses literary flourish to add flavor and humanity to the storytelling, keeping it from being a dry recollection of facts, but without losing the book’s sense of authority.

The book is packed with account of specific incidents, be they in-ring, behind the scenes or part of the territory’s gruelling road schedule, but they always exist to illustrate a wider point. Unlike many history books, it never feels as if McCoy has included a fact or anecdote simply to avoid a piece of research having been a”wasted” effort.

Perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid to Pain and Passion is that although the careers of Stu, Bret and Owen Hart and the Dynamite Kid have all been covered in excellent books, this title still feels fresh and never redundant.

Read on Kindle (Amazon.com)

Read on Kindle (Amazon.co.uk)

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Professional Wrestling: Sport and Spectacle by Sharon Mazer

sportspectacleIn the days when wrestling books were a relative rarity, this was a reasonable buy. Today it will be of little interest to most fans.

Part of a “Performance Studies” series, this is two for two on the “wrestling academia” checklist: it quotes Roland Barthes’ essay on wrestling, and it devotes little or not attention to the fact that people promote professional wrestling events as a business.

Indeed, most of the book continues along the usual lines: wrestling is a drama, not a sport; there’s a lot of emphasis on masculinity despite men in tight underwear rolling around with one another; the portrayal of women is very simplistic.

A couple of chapters do offer new takes, at least within the context of the academic wrestling essay. One sees Mazer spend time at Johnny Rodz’s gym watching trainees go through their paces, contrasting their training with that of boxers in the same gym who are solely there to learn legitimate combat. Another looks at the growth of the ‘smart fan’ as wrestling became more popular online, and the way some fans refuse to believe anything they see on TV for fear of being ‘worked.’

All in all though, fans of wrestling won’t really learn much from the book, other than to see how some things might look different to the outsider, such as Mazer’s insistence that there’s something homosexual about Hulk Hogan asking Zeus how he’ll feel when the world’s largest arms are wrapped around him…

Read on Kindle (Amazon.com)

Read on Kindle (Amazon.co.uk)

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Release Schedule (13 January)

100confirmedNo major changes this week, but we do now have a confirmed cover image for the WE: 100 Greatest Matches book. Consider me unconvinced on the inclusion of Bray Wyatt vs Dean Ambrose unless it’s taken from one of the Shield vs Wyatt Family six-mans.


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

15 March: Hustle, Loyalty & Respect: The World of John Cena by Steve Pantaleo

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

10 May: Maximilian and the Lucha Libre Club: A Bilingual Lucha Libre Thriller (Max’s Lucha Libre Adventures) by Xavier Garza

24 May: WWE: 100 Greatest Matches

1 June: Thud in Trouble (Wrestling Trolls) by Jim Eldridge

12 July: Champion of the World by Chad Dundas

24 July: Performance and Pro Wrestling by Broderick Chow & Laine Eero

1 August: The Final Showdown (Wrestling Trolls) by Jim Eldridge

18 October: Rudas: Niño and Las Hermanitas! by Yuyi Morales

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Wrestling at the Chase: The Inside Story of Sam Muchnick and the Legends of Professional Wrestling by Larry Matysik

chaseEvery wrestling fan should read at least one of Larry Matysik’s books about St Louis wrestling. If you’re only going to read one, this is probably the best bet.

As well as books on the 50 greatest wrestlers of all time (with a definite St Louis flavour) and Bruiser Brody, Matysik has written three books specifically on St Louis. At one extreme is From the Golden Era: The St Louis Wrestling Record Book, an e-book which is no longer available to buy but occasionally shows up through less official distribution channels. It’s literally a list of full show reports and crowd figures, with a running commentary by Matysik on what did and didn’t work at the box office.

At the other extreme is Drawing Heat the Hardway: How Wrestling Really Works, which is much more of a general look at the distinct St Louis booking philosophy and how it contrasted with the WWF approach.

Wrestling at the Chase falls between the two. It’s a historical account of St Louis during the Sam Muchnick era, but jumps about thematically rather than being a strict chronology. Rather than try to document every event, Matysik uses them as examples to illustrate wider points about how the territory operated and Muchnick’s approach both to booking (mainly clean wins, little interference, building up challengers in a sports-like way) and business (paying bills promptly, giving wrestlers a clear and honest breakdown of the gate and their payoffs.)

Those who prefer a clear focus may find the book a little too scattergun: it will go off-topic for a couple of pages to address, for example, the career of Bulldog Bob Brown. It may also frustrate some readers in the way Muchnick never questions whether the St Louis approach was always right, or if it would have worked in every territory for every audience.

Those quibbles aside, it’s still well worth a look, particularly for fans wanting an introduction to St Louis or to the territorial era in general.

Read on Kindle (Amazon.com)

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Brody by Larry Matysik & Barbara Goodish

brodyThe story of Bruiser Brody would always be a fascinating one, but it’s the format that makes this book a particular success.

It’s a blend of biography and autobiography, with chapters alternating between close friend Larry Matysik recalling Brody’s in-ring career and widow Barbara Goodish talking about his personal life. The approach works particularly well given the contrast between the crazed brawler and the intelligent family man.

The writers also make what turns out to be a smart decision in opening the book with Brody’s death before returning to a more chronologically conventional approach. It comes across as both a recognition of how unavoidably significant his death at the hands of a fellow wrestler was, and a way to avoid the book ending on a downbeat note.

In terms of pure facts such as dates and events, the book is hard to criticise as Matysik was a meticulous record keeper. He also encompasses a wide range of recollections from Brody’s peers rather than relying solely on personal memories.

One limitation is that the book somewhat downplays Brody’s stubbornness/self-preservation when it came to negotiating finishes, holding up promoters and even no-showing events. While the subject is addressed, there’s little exploration of the merits or otherwise of Brody’s behaviour and the way it fits into the bizarre and contradictory nature of professional wrestling as a business where both cooperation and selfishness can be keys to success.

Still, while it’s by no means a definitive and objective account of Brody’s career, this is worth a read for the personal insights on offer.

Read on Kindle (Amazon.com)

Read on Kindle (Amazon.co.uk)

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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.

Kamala Speaks (eBook Editor’s Edition): Official Autobiography of WWE wrestler James KAMALA Harris by James Harris & Kenny Casanova

This is the KINDLE eBook “Editor’s Edition” with extra chapters and extra pictures not available in the print version of “Kamala Speaks.” It 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.


Ears Open, Mouth Shut: A Training Guide to Professional Wrestling by William King III

A Professional Wrestling Training Guide. Everything you need to know to get started on your journey to become a Professional Wrestler. A collection of tips, stories, and other helpful information learned first hand from over 10 years in the business.


Working Stiff: The Anthology of Professional Wrestling Literature & Art by Josh Elsen

Working Stiff is a literary battle royal of pro-wrestling themed poetry, fiction, essays, comics, and illustrations. Written and created by a stable of over 50 different writers and artists, and with a special guest foreword by Box Brown, the New York Times bestselling creator of Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, Working Stiff is the world’s greatest anthology of pro-wrestling literature and art … and that’s the bottom line.


Losing to Life Via Pinfall or Submission by Cory Bender

Living self-doubt, sadness and depression? Well so am I! In this poem collection I will guide you through my crazy and sad brain. In hope that it inspires you, touches your heart, disturbs your soul, and makes you think for yourself. You may think because of the title that every poem is about wrestling. That is not the case. I do incorporate many references, but I am not writing this for just wrestling fans. This may be the worst description of a book ever. ENJOY!


Bell to Bell: 1988: Televised Results from Wrestling’s Flagship Shows (Volume 4) by Dave Turner

In Volume 4 of the Bell To Bell continues the exploration of the matches that brought to life the Wrestling Boom of the 80’s. Bell To Bell: 1988 Televised Results from Wrestling’s Flagship Shows provides the results from the main TV shows aired by the top two wrestling organizations in 1988 as they both begin to enter a new dawning of professional wrestling.

 

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