Pro Wrestling Books

Wrestling with words

Pro Wrestling Books - Wrestling with words

I’m Sorry I Love You by Jim Smallman

Imagine a Scott Keith book. Now imagine it was funny. And then imagine it was largely accurate. It wouldn’t be a Scott Keith book any more, but it might be a bit like this.

PROGRESS promoter and stand-up comedian Smallman has put together what is carefully labeled as “a” rather than “the” history of professional wrestling, and in the big picture it does a good job of such a daunting task. It aims to cover all aspects and time periods, and while there’s a natural tendency towards the (comparatively) more recent times, the book is a third of the way through before getting to WrestleMania III.

It’s a general overview of the themes and events of the wrestling business over time, with the WWF expansion, the death of the territories and the Monday Night War era having a particularly coherent narrative. It’s told in a casual style with plenty of commentary and asides, largely as you might expect from a stand-up and wrestling promotion front man who is writing in his natural voice.

Whether it’s the subject matter or simply the writing process, the strengths and weaknesses of the book do seem to fall into three sections. In the earlier chapters, while the historical content is very good, the comic asides are relentless, at some points seeing virtually every paragraph end in a punchline. If you’re not a fan of this style it may seem overbearing and some tighter editing would have helped the stronger gags have more impact.

The sweet spot is the aforementioned middle section where the asides are more selective and are more about adding personality to the narrative. In several cases they enhance the story being told rather than simply being comedy for the sake of it, such as an apt footballing analogy for the match quality of Hogan and Andre.

The format does drop off a little in the last few chapters covering the post-WCW era. The quality of the writing and content isn’t diminished, but it’s not quite as tightly focused, jumping from topic to topic more often. There’s also a lot more of Smallman’s personal perspective on (and even involvement in) the events, which works better in some cases than others.

While the book does have several factual errors, they aren’t glaring (in many cases being a case of taking promotional claims of sellouts or big figures as accurate). There’s enough of them to be noticeable by more dedicated readers but they never affect the big picture narratives.

Judging the book as a whole depends on the audience. For long-term fans who’ve read a lot of wrestling history, there might not be enough new here to make it a must-read. For more casual fans or those who’ve got into wrestling in recent years, it’s an excellent starting point to learn the history of American wrestling, particularly given the lack of serious books out there tackling such a wide topic.

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Recent Release Roundup

Here are a few titles released in recent weeks that didn’t get advance listings and thus weren’t in the weekly release schedule. Note that I’ve decided not to include wrestling-related titles that are primarily erotica, of which you will find plenty in the self-published field.


Gotch vs. Hackenschmidt: The Matches That Made and Destroyed Legitimate American Professional Wrestling by Ken Zimmerman Jr

In 1908, World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion George Hackenschmidt wrestled American Heavyweight Wrestling Champion Frank Gotch for Hackenschmidt’s world title. Three years later they rematched for Gotch’s world title. After building interest in legitimate wrestling with the first match, the rematch brought back all the doubts about pro wrestling’s legitimacy. If the first bout built the sport, the second wrecked it.


KB’s Complete 2003 Monday Night Raw Reviews by Thomas Hall

And now, we reach the dark ages. There’s a reason you don’t hear much about Monday Night Raw in 2003 and that’s going to become very clear. It was a very dark time for the company as there was almost nothing positive going on. The question wasn’t when it would get better but rather how much worse could it get. In this book, I’ll be breaking down each episode of the year and looking at each one match by match and segment by segment. Included will be analysis and ratings for the shows to see what worked and what didn’t.


Wrestling School Dropout by Oliver Williams

Wrestling School Dropout is the true story of one man’s hilarious attempt to learn the art of professional wrestling.

When Oliver Williams set out to become a pro wrestler, he never anticipated the level of pain, anxiety, and insanity that would ensue. This book chronicles his journey from aspiring professional wrestler to wrestling school dropout.


A Fan’s Perspective: How My Lifelong Dream Turned Into A Nightmare by Oliver Newman

2008 was a historical year in Professional Wrestling. Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels contested one of/if not the best pro wrestling feuds of all-time. I continued writing & reporting on the UK scene, my lifelong dream (attending a Wrestlemania – Wrestlemania 24 live) came true and I met my Childhood Hero – Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart. 2008 is the year WWE could have catapulted Paul London to the main event (they didn’t, so I fantasy booked him there). 2008 also had some great matches – I share my thoughts on some of the best, lastly 2008 was a big year in terms of the women’s wrestling evolution we are now living through in 2018 (I explain how we have got here) and as a special bonus I share my thoughts on the beginning of 2009.


The 100 Greatest Wrestlers of 2002-2010: Ranking the Best Wrestlers of the Ruthless Aggression Era in TNA and WWF/WWE by Jonathan Johnson

After rising to the heights of a mainstream entertainment giant during the Monday Night War, the WWF/E were suddenly the only wrestling game in town in 2002. While a little upstart company named TNA emerged as a second option to the WWE giant, veterans and rookies alike vied for fan and media attention from 2002 to 2010. Here are the one hundred greatest superstars of the Ruthless Aggression era and the stories that made them sports entertainment immortals!

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Recent Release Roundup

Here are a few titles released in recent weeks that didn’t get advance listings and thus weren’t in the weekly release schedule. Note that I’ve decided not to include wrestling-related titles that are primarily erotica, of which you will find plenty in the self-published field.


Wahoo McDaniel Record Book: 1962-1996 by Greg Mosorjak with Mark James

A record book containing the results of over 5000 matches from the legendary professional wrestler, Wahoo McDaniel. One of the sport’s legitimate tough guys, Wahoo was an unstoppable force in the ring. This record book looks back over his 34 year career.


Wrestliana by Toby Litt

Toby Litt’s father wanted him to find about their ancestor: William Litt, a champion Cumberland Wrestler.

William was one of the greatest ever ‘kings of the green’ – a man who reigned undefeated in one of the nineteenth century’s most popular sports, taking home over 200 prize belts. William had other talents, as well. He was almost certainly a smuggler – and definitely published poet and novelist.

But Toby knew that coming to terms with him would be hard. A huge and fascinating man, William was also troubling. He ended his life in poverty and exile. And as well as having to measure himself up against this apparent paragon of masculinity, Toby would have to uncover uncomfortable memories and hard truths.

Would Toby like what he found out about himself along the way? As a novelist, as a son, and as a father in turn? Would he have to get in the wrestling ring? … Would he even want to?

Using the nineteenth century as a guide, Wrestliana asks vital questions about modern-day masculinity, competition, and success. It is a beautiful portrait of two men and their different worlds, full of surprises and sympathy, and a wonderful evocation of a lost place and time.


Milestones: How pro wrestling has been shaped into what we know today by Edward T Brickeen Jr.

Pro wrestling has evolved from massive gates at Comiskey Park at the turn of the century to dimly lit halls and gyms to hockey and basketball arenas in primetime. The wrestling world has changed and here are the important events in the modern history that has given us the shows we have today.


NXT: The Full Sail Years Volume III: From Dallas To New Orleans by Thomas Hall

What more is there to say about NXT? The promotion, which started off as nothing more than a developmental territory to build up some of WWE’s stars, has taken on a life of its -own. There have been more classic matches, more stars made and more great moments there than anywhere else in recent wrestling memory. In this book, I’ll be breaking down over one hundred more episodes of NXT plus ten live specials and breaking each one down match by match and segment by segment. Included will be analysis and ratings for the shows to see what worked and what didn’t.

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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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Read on Kindle (

[This review originally appeared in Fighting Spirit Magazine.]

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Recent Release Roundup

Here are a few titles released in recent weeks that didn’t get advance listings and thus weren’t in the weekly release schedule. Note that I’ve decided not to include wrestling-related titles that are primarily erotica, of which you will find plenty in the self-published field.

Professional Wrestling by Ed W Smith

Back in 1900, when wrestling was not nearly as popular in the Middle West as it is at the present time, and when wrestlers were looked upon with a great deal of suspicion by the average man, the wrestler being qualified along with the crafty secondstory man and porch climber, Martin Burns, then one of the best heavyweights in the country, began to circulate stories about a wonderful young fellow he had discovered out in Iowa and for whom he predicted the most brilliant future. His name was Gotch, and he said he intended to make a champion of the world out of him if it took him the rest of his life.

The Unmasked Tenor: The Life and Times of a Singing Wrestler by Sam Tenenbaum and TJ Beitelman

Equal parts showman and artist, hustler and faithful son, trained tenor and fast-talking raconteur, Sam Tenenbaum is—to paraphrase Whitman—large, he contains multitudes. In this inspirational and quintessentially American “song of himself,” we see Sam pick himself up by the bootstraps of an awkward childhood in mid-20th Century Birmingham, Alabama, and forge an unlikely path through the roughriding, anything-goes early days of professional wrestling in the American South—all while nurturing his faith and pursuing, on the sly, his  rst true love: operatic singing. In the end, we learn what Sam learned early on: how to live large, fear nothing, and never give up on your dreams.

The Impending Sausage Sandwich of Doom by Kirk St Moritz

Elliott Rose is having a bad day. After being fired from his job as the clandestine stooge on hit TV show Ghostbusters UK, Elliott returns home to find his girlfriend missing. To make matters worse, Hapkido Valentine, the legendary 1980s wrestler, has returned from the dead and taken up residency in Elliott’s flat. Despite a voracious appetite for sausage sandwiches, Hapkido is convinced he has finally become the mystical Japanese warrior he once portrayed in the ring. Together they must undertake a dangerous journey to find out why the Universe created this most unlikely of partnerships. All that stands in their way is a medallion wearing TV psychic, a train-spotting assassin and the murderous intentions of the local over 75’s women’s group. If Elliott thought the day started badly, things are about to get a whole lot worse.

AWA Record Book: The 1970s Part 2 197579 by Mark James & George Schire

A record book that covers the entire AWA wrestling territory from 1975 through 1979. This book features the cards and results for hundreds of wrestling cards that took place throughout the mid-west wrestling promotion during the second half of the 1970s. This is the third book in the AWA series.Besides cards and results, this book features programs and photos.

The Road To The Show Of Shows 2017: How WWE Put Together The Biggest WrestleMania Of All Time by Aaron Varble

WrestleMania 33 was the most watched WrestleMania of all time. WWE really outdid themselves with the $5 million set, the stacked card, and the seven hours of showtime. Let’s take a look back at the events leading up to the Show Of Shows in 2017 and relive all of the amazing action along the way. Relive all of the injury drama, the anticipation, and the Hardy news that kept us on the edge of our seats. This book provides full play-by-play of the entire WrestleMania 33 card, 2017 Royal Rumble match, and 2017 Elimination Chamber match . Read never-before-read analysis from Still Real To Us writer Aaron Varble providing a retrospective look at how each big match on the card was set up. This is a can’t miss for any pro wrestling fan.

OCW Vol 1 (Finale): The Lethal Lotto by TL Brown

LETHAL LOTTO IS TONIGHT!! -Genuin defends against Sully Sphinx -Lita Walters finally gets to fight Key -Top contenders will be named in two devastating Lethal Lotto matches.

Four Horsemen: A Timeline History by Dick Bourne

 From the author of “Big Gold” and “Ten Pounds of Gold” comes a look back at the greatest faction in the history of professional wrestling: the Four Horsemen.

“Four Horsemen” is a complete month-by-month, year-by-year, linear timeline of the Horsemen, covering every version of the group and every member of each version over their thirteen years of existence.

From the glory days of Jim Crockett Promotions to the early WCW period to the Monday Nitro era, it’s all here in one concise timeline.

Every break-up and every reformation. All the championships. All the triumphs. All the betrayals. Month-by-month, year-by-year. It’s the ultimate reference guide to wrestling’s most infamous group, with clear timeline confirmations of keys dates and events.

Ric Flair, Ole and Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Lex Luger, Barry Windham, James J. Dillon, Sting, Brian Pillman, Steve McMichael, Dean Malenko and all the rest. Every wrestler, every manager, and every woman that walked the aisle with them.

Over 40 photographs, some rare, a few never published before.

They were pro wrestling’s greatest stable and the very foundation upon which every other great faction that followed was built.

They were the Four Horsemen!


Nature Boy: The Career of Buddy Landel by Lance Archie

“You know I’ve got dozens of friends and the fun never ends as long as I’m buying. When the money ran out, that’s when the people left me. God forgave me. My family forgave me. And everybody in Knoxville knows that Buddy Landel is a home cooking, hometown boy. I love Knoxville, Tennessee and I’m proud of it.” – Buddy Landel Buddy Landel was considered one of the biggest ‘what ifs’ in the world of professional wrestling before he died tragically after a car accident in 2015. In the mid-1980s, Landel seemed to be on the fast track to fame in becoming the heir apparent to “Nature Boy” Ric Flair’s top dog status in the NWA promotion. But Landel couldn’t steer clear of the fast life and would ultimately fade into obscurity for several years until a career resurrection in Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling. Finally defeating his demons, he would turn his life around and become one of the feel good stories of wrestling before dying tragically after a car accident.

[Warning: This is only 36 pages long.]

Wildfire: The Career of Tommy Rich by Michael Cooney

Wrestling went through a Golden Era in the 1980s due to the advent of cable television. Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, and Ric Flair would become household names during this time. But the first wrestler to benefit from the change in the market would be none other than “Wildfire” Tommy Rich. Sporting shoulder-length bleached blonde hair and a good old boy personality, Tommy Rich would set attendance records in the Tennessee and Georgia areas before his star fizzled out almost as fast as he rose to the top.

[Warning: This is only 34 pages long.]

Tale of a Mad Dog: Wrestling Legend Buzz Sawyer by James Chaplin

Buzz Sawyer was considered one of the most athletically gifted wrestlers to campaign in the 1980s. Opinions vary on the man as most of the wrestlers who worked with him did not have a flattering assessment of his personality or character. All would concede, however, that he was a genuine bad ass in an era of tough guys. What was undeniable was his charisma and ability to entertain in one of wrestling’s Golden eras.

[Warning: This is only 38 pages long.]



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Recent Release Roundup

Here are a few titles released in recent weeks that didn’t get advance listings and thus weren’t in the weekly release schedule. Note that I’ve decided not to include wrestling-related titles that are primarily erotica, of which you will find plenty in the self-published field.

How to Become a Champion by Herb Welch

In the days before wrestling became “sports entertainment,” aspiring wrestlers went through a rigorous training to reach the squared circle. Men like Herb Welch began their training classes not with running the ropes and taking bumps, but by teaching them how to take care of themselves. The art of “shoot wrestling” has been lost to history, but in this booklet, Herb Welch shared his knowledge of the holds and maneuvers that he and others used to protect themselves and their reputations. With a new foreword from Herb’s protege “Dr. D” David Schultz, Herb’s wisdom appears here in print for the first time, just as he originally presented it.

(Warning: this is only 44 pages long.)

Development Hell: The NXT Story by Michael Sidgwick

Development Hell: The Nxt Story, penned by former Power Slam scribe and’s own Michael Sidgwick, chronicles the history of Wwe’s Nxt brand. Nxt has drew universal critical acclaim for its fan service fusion of old-school booking philosophies and progressive body of in-ring work – but the road to critical acclaim was arduous. When Wwe destroyed its territorial and mainstream competition, the monolith had also annihilated the talent pool. Replenishing it was an unenviable task made all the more difficult by a blasé and counterproductive attitude and a curiously myopic direction. All of which is documented in a book covering the inauspicious beginnings of the dusty Stamford Farm warehouse and the murmurings of Memphis Power Pro, the halcyon days of Ohio Valley Wrestling, the infamous disaster of Deep South Wrestling and the literal lunacy that was Florida Championship Wrestling.

The Ring Walk by Simen Oem

The Ring Walk is a muscular historical novel about the mob, a spectacular theft, a boy coming of age in Philadelphia in the 1970’s, and Andre the Giant. When Flex Italiano and his charming hustler of a father show a little moxie and get involved in a scheme to steal a priceless ancient vase, they get drawn into a world of gangsters, con men, and carnies. Through his father’s job with the state athletic commission, Flex meets some of the his television idols, including the legendary champion Bruno Sammartino and the iconic Andre the Giant. He also explores Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood, the Spectrum, and the pain and pinfalls that happen to every teenage boy. Fans of “Red Green Turns Dollar Blue” and “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” the novels of Dennis Lehane will love this new book by Simen Oem, author of “The Kingdom of Wondering” and “More Than Liquid.”

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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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San Francisco History Book Now Available

wiwbt-front-cover-banner2newversionRock Rims has recently released When It Was Big Time, a lengthy history of wrestling in Northern California, including Roy Shire’s San Francisco based promotion. The contents suggests it’s a detailed account,covering everything from the William Muldoon and Ed Lewis eras right through to Shire’s retirement and the arrival of the WWF.

The book is available for direct order at $26 plus shipping in the US and Puerto Rico, with overseas shipping rates available on request at

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The Magnificent Scufflers by Charles Wilson

scufflersThis is strictly one for the collector or for the more avid historian.

It’s a history of the early years of what would eventually become pro (rather than Olympic style) wrestling in the US, with most of the book covering the period from the civil war to late 19th century. The main focus is on collar and elbow wrestling, so named because of the mandatory start of each bout in such a grip.

Only the brief penultimate chapter covers what we’d recognise today as professional wrestling, specifically an activity where worked finishes and cooperation are the point rather than an aberration. There’s not much in the way of new information here, with alarm bells being set off by George Hackenschmidt’s most famous opponent referred to at one point as “Frank Goetz.” And even writing in 1959, Morrow seems baffled by the idea of how “faking” wrestling could even work, let along why one would do it.

If you need to have every wrestling book going, or you have a particular interest in the collar-and-elbow era, this is worth a read, but otherwise it’s very much the type of book that only really appealed back in the days when a wrestling title was so rare as to be a must-buy.

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When Wrestling Was Real (volume 1) by Paul ‘The Butcher’ Vachon

One of the more underrated wrestling books out there, this is sadly difficult to track down.

This isn’t to be confused with Wrestling with the Past: Life In and Out of the Ring, a 2012 single volume autobiography from Vachon which (based on the opening chapter at least) is not as good.

Instead this is the first of a three volume set self-published by Vachon in the early 2000s and sold by mail order and in person at conventions. It mainly covers his early pro years across Canadian territories and then travelling around Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and India.

As much as this covers his in-ring activities, it’s also a genuinely entertaining travel tale as he attempts to scrape together enough cash to take he and his family back home. During this time he does everything from work as a singer in Lahore and hang out with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to spend New Year’s Eve on a perilous drive from Montreal to Calgary and operating full touring shows with just two men and two women to cover the wrestling, refereeing and box office. There’s also the tale of the Great Antonio falling for the infamous Mabel.

If you’re ever lucky enough to see this at an affordable price, be sure to snap it up.

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