Pro Wrestling Books

Wrestling with words

Pro Wrestling Books - Wrestling with words

The Wrestling Journeyman: Life and Times of an Indy Wrestler

There’s nothing wrong with this book. It’s just… there.

While Wolfe is perhaps best known for his “enhancement” work for WWF, he’s put the miles in, catching the final years of the territory system, working opening matches on WWF house show swings, experiencing the Texan indy scene of the 1990s and 2000s, going on foreign tours and, perhaps inevitably, joining the scores of wrestlers on hand at WCW’s Orlando tapings.

It’s all covered here, so you certainly don’t get shortchanged. The problem is that many of the stories and recollections are on repeated themes: young guys don’t know how to work; smarks killed the business; most promoters are shady; driving in foreign countries is scary.

It’s not to say none of the stories here are entertaining: there’s a great revelation about life on the road with Zeus from No Holds Barred and a subsequent Bobby Heenan zinger. However, with the greatest of respect, this isn’t a book that needed to be so comprehensive.

It’s not a bad read as such, it’s just that you’ll be dedicating a lot of time to fairly routine stuff among the gems. If it’s on on offer on the Kindle it might be worth a look, but the inevitable price implications of a 350-page self-published print book means the paperback is probably worth passing on.

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Quick Thoughts: Eggshells & Death Of The Territories

I have upcoming reviews in Fighting Spirit Magazine for two books, which I’ll add here once the issue is off sale, so here’s some quick thoughts.

Eggshells: Pro Wrestling In The Tokyo Dome by Chris Charlton is well worth a look if you have any interest in Japanese wrestling. It’s got full run downs of every show in the building, including some I was previously unaware of. There’s also plenty of background and context, so in some ways it’s also an overview of New Japan in particular over the past 30 years.

Death of The Territories is the latest Tim Hornbaker title, covering the period between Vince McMahon taking over from his father and Ted Turner buying out Jim Crockett. It gets off to a great start with some interesting details that haven’t been widely discussed and a good job of highlighting context. However, the latter stages concentrate too much on in-ring events that don’t really contribute to the narrative.


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Canvas Countdown by Paul Meehan

Following on from my recent review of The WWE Book of Top 10s, this independently produced alternative is a mixed bag with some worthwhile elements.

It’s a similar format of 100 lists of 10 entries, almost all with a brief explanatory paragraph. As you’d expect, the big difference is the absence of photos: how important that is depends on the reader.

Other differences are that the book covers a much wider range of promotions and that the lists are for the most part in no specific order. This can occasionally be a little jarring when something seems to be obviously in a “wrong” position and in a second volume it might be worthwhile putting the entries in alphabetical order to reinforce the point that the items aren’t ranked.

One of the strong points is the diversity of subjects covered with examples including amusing real middle names of wrestlers, PWI Rookies of the Year that proved a wise choice, and wrestlers whose ring name involved a family relationship.

Perhaps surprisingly, some of the more intriguing lists are the purely objective stats-based ones. I certainly wouldn’t have picked out which wrestler has an 0-16 record at the Royal Rumble or who has the most wrestling pay-per-view appearances, while on a non-wrestling note it’s something of a surprise to see how many more people follow WWE stars on Instagram than Twitter.

It’s not a 100% hit rate: a couple of the lists feel overly smarky while others feel a bit like a clickbait listicle. But overall it’s got enough worthwhile content to justify it as something to read in small chunks, particularly at the Kindle price.

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(Disclaimer: The author provided a review copy.)

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Tokyo Dome Book Free Sample

Chris Charlton has published a sample chapter of his upcoming crowdfunded book Eggshells: Pro Wrestling In The Tokyo Dome. The chapter covers the February 1990 New Japan show that included appearances from All Japan and AWA wrestlers.

The funding has now reached a high enough level that the book will be published in both paperback and hardback versions, and that there’ll be an accompanying podcast series (with episodes released early for backers.) The next funding target is for an audiobook version read by Dan Lovranski.

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Tokyo Dome Book On The Way

Chris Charlton, the author of Lion’s Pride: The Turbulent History of New Japan Pro Wrestling, will soon be publishing EGGSHELLS: Pro Wrestling In The Tokyo Dome. It will be available initially through the Indiegogo crowdfunding site and we’ll have a link when it’s ready. In the meantime, here’s the blurb:

In 1988, the Tokyo Dome was constructed in Suidobashi in the heart of Tokyo. Initially built for concerts and baseball, pro wrestling events, not viewed as a stadium attraction, were seen as a huge risk. Yet the course of professional wrestling in Japan changed forever in the spring of 1989, and a new institution was born.

Eggshells takes a series of 64 in depth looks at each event run inside the Tokyo Dome. Told through Chris Charlton(Lion’s Pride: The Turbulent History of New Japan Pro Wrestling)’s historical perspective, as well as contemporary sources never before seen in English, and anecdotes from those involved in these iconic events, this is the definitive look at one of wrestling’s most famous venues. Framed by their biggest shows, Eggshells examines the history of the ten promotions that ventured into the Big Egg:

  • New Japan Pro Wrestling
  • Universal Wrestling Federation
  • All Japan Pro Wrestling
  • Super World Sports
  • Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi
  • All Japan Women’s
  • JD’Star
  • Wrestle-1
  • Pro Wrestling NOAH
  • Dramatic Dream Team

Eggshells also includes unique insights from wrestlers, announcers and the press who were at events in person, including:

  • Kota Ibushi (Ibushi Pro Wrestling Research)
  • Kenny Omega (NJPW)
  • Jim Ross (AXS TV)
  • Kenta Kobashi (Fortune KK)
  • Rocky Romero (NJPW)
  • Soichi Shibata (Veteran TV announcer and journalist)
  • Jordan Breen (Sherdog)
  • John Pollock (Post Wrestling)
  • Steve Corino (Formerly Zero-One, NJPW)
  • Tomoyuki Matsumoto (Spike Chunsoft)
  • Jinsei Shinzaki (Michinoku Pro)

From the hardcore wrestling historian to the newcomer to Japanese wrestling, Eggshells is an essential guide to a touchstone of the medium.

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Puroresu Tourism: Vacation in Japan to Watch Pro Wrestling by Craig Mann

While there’s some useful information in this, it doesn’t really justify the steep cover price.

The book combines some factual details for would-be wrestling visitors to Japan with a personal recollection as an introduction, some interviews with people who’ve seen wrestling in Japan, and brief overview histories of the major Japanese promotions. The opening account of being at a show at Korakuen Hall is extremely atmospheric and more along these lines would have been interesting to read. Unfortunately the interviews and histories don’t really add much and feel a little like padding.

The meat of the book is listings and details for venues and facilities. The most useful section lists a wide range of wrestling stores plus bars and restaurants that either have a wrestling theme or are owned or staffed by wrestlers, along with a map of the Tokyo Dome area. Another highlight is two sections of useful Japanese phrases, one relating to buying tickets and choosing seats and the other covering train travel. There’s also a section on Osaka that may be useful to those travelling further afield.

Other listings and information sections aren’t as useful. The guide to buying tickets doesn’t give any real specifics that can’t be found with a quick Google search, while sections of getting a passport or using credit cards abroad feel too generic for such a title. I was also disappointed to find that although Korakeun Hall and Ryogoku Sumo Hall are both covered, there’s no detail on other popular Tokyo venues such as Shinjuku Face and Shin-Kiba 1st Ring.

The real problem is that although some of the content here would have made for exceptionally useful website articles or blog posts, it doesn’t really stretch to a full-length book with a $20 print price tag or $10 Kindle version to match.

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Sisterhood of the Squared Circle: The History and Rise of Womens Wrestling by Pat Laprade & Dan Murphy

With the Diva’s Revolution in full effect, it’s certainly an appropriate time to look back at the history of female grappling. But while undoubtedly well-written and comprehensive in scope, the format of this book can often be frustrating.

The strength is the wide range of the book, giving due attention to various eras of female grappling from the pioneer years to the Fabulous Moolah era, the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling connection days, the Diva period and the modern day, along with separate looks at Japan, the rest of the world and the independent scene.

As with Laprade’s Mad Dogs, Midgets and Screwjobs, which covered wrestling’s rich heritage in Montreal, the writing flows well, with quotes taken from a wide range of sources; it’s clear the writers have not skimped on effort or research.

The main problem is that rather than a broad chronological or thematic history, it’s presented as a series of profiles of female wrestlers, verging on encyclopaedic format. This brings several disadvantages. One is that the wider story of women’s wrestling’s evolution is somewhat erratically told. In particular, there’ll often be a teasing reference to an incident or event (such as the first women’s match in New York) that’s then left hanging until later in the book when another wrestler is profiled.

The laudable aim of covering as many names as possible also has drawbacks. For those women such as Mildred Burke or Moolah with rich stories to tell, the profiles inevitably only scratch the surface. In other cases even a few paragraphs feels like a stretch with the emphasis on dates and title reigns giving the impression there’s no particularly compelling human interest story to tell. British readers may be particularly disappointed when what’s trailed earlier as a dedicated section turns out to be a matter of a few paragraphs listing names and then a solitary profile of Sweet Saraya.

More positive points include a handful of special sections breaking up the profiles to detail a specific event or setup, be it GLOW, the controversial Wendi Richter-Lady Spider bout, or the 1994 AJW Tokyo Dome show. There’s also some welcome even-handedness with both sides of controversial issue’s such as Moolah’s control of her stable given a fair hearing.

Overall it’s not quite a comprehensive history of women’s wrestling to rival the Montreal book, but certainly serves as an appetiser for fans of contemporary wrestling to learn more about the women wrestlers of the past before moving on to a more focused volume such as Jeff Leen’s ‘Queen of the Ring’ which details the Mildred Burke era.

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[This review originally appeared in Fighting Spirit Magazine.]

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Physical Chess by Billy Robinson with Jake Shannon

A brief read, this still manages to convey a life and career that was fuller and more widely influential than many wrestlers can dream of.

There are few wrestling tales that take you from the Snake Pit in Wigan (described in all its unglamorous reality) to the US territorial scene to both the glory days of New Japan’s TV era and the growth of the shoot-style promotions (and in events obviously not covered here, to WWE’s cruiserweight show via trainee Jack Gallagher).

Robinson tells a story that encompasses his skills and accomplishments without ever seeming arrogant. In particular, the moment he defeats Billy Joyce in a legitimate gym bout (which Joyce made a prerequisite for dropping the British heavyweight title in a public worked match), he is quick to point out it was more a question of ageing vs athletic prime than superior talent.

There’s also a great balance of including the technical detail of Robinson’s grappling skills without confusing the reader. One key example is when Robinson explains how legitimate catch wrestling, which allows both pins and submissions, was able to work as a contest: while at first glance these might seem two completely contrasting aims, Robinson tells of how a wrestler trying to bridge out of a pin inevitably risks exposing a joint to a submission hold.

The closest thing to a criticism of this book is that it could have been longer, but that’s certainly not to say it will leave you short-changed.

Paperback: Amazon UK
Read on Kindle (US)
Read on Kindle (UK)

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I Am A Korean by Li Ho In

You’ll sometimes see a WWE authorised book dismissed as “propaganda.” But this North Korean biography of Rikidozan really is propaganda.

The story of Rikidozan is well known: he was the first star when pro wrestling caught on in a big way in Japan, he was among the first major TV stars in the country from any walk of life, he was a genuine cultural icon, and if you see a ranking of famous or historically significant wrestlers and he’s not in the top 10, you can safely dismiss it as a joke.

What’s less well-known is that he was born in Korea and was adopted by a Japanese family in 1940: when he became a sumo star, he changed his name to Mitsuhiro Momota and posed as a Japanese native to avoid xenophobic attitudes in the country.

While the country was still united when he left, Rikidozan’s birth place was in what’s now North Korea, hence the inspiration for this 1989 biography that, while rare in the West, is widely available in bookshops in the country, particularly those aimed at tourists.

As you might expect from North Korea, it goes far beyond the historically correction of explaining Rikidozan’s true origins and recasts his motives as a struggle for the Korean people against the hostile Japanese and Americans. The book is incredibly detailed on his career and matches, though of course it portrays them as genuine contests.

While most of the historical detail appears accurate, it’s hard to imagine the details of behind-the-scenes conversations are anything but fiction. The match reports are, to say the least, slanted, and naturally there’s no acknowledgement of Rikidozan double-crossing Masahiko Kimura in the match that really made his name.

The book is a translation (including some mangled names such as Rue Thez and carries the flowery, elaborate style you’d expect from an authoritarian country. The reported quotes from conversations are particularly unnatural, almost entertainingly so.

While this may not be a historically reliable source, it’s certainly an entertaining enough read that’s intriguing not only for its story but for its ultra-patriotic style.

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