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 In the earlier chapters, while the historical content is very good, the comic asides are relentless, at some points seeing virtually every paragraph end in a punchline.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.

Read on Kindle (Amazon.com)

Read on Kindle (Amazon.co.uk)

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Raw: The First 25 Years

Between WrestleMania, Raw and Smackdown, WWE has plenty of experience in anniversary/history books and this is much in line with recent instalments.

It’s a simple format of six pages for each year of Raw (expanding to eight pages from 2006) with a paragraph of two about each of the most notable events of the year, along with the occasional mention what happened on a pay-per-view where it significantly affected the Raw storylines. There’s also the occasional “Introducing…” box when a major figure makes their Raw debut.

For the most part it’s accurate enough, with a good attention to detail such as naming both people in a match, even when it’s a squash. The most significant error is listing the debut episode of Nitro as the first time Raw and Nitro went head to head, when in fact Raw did not air that week.

As always in such books, the handling of Chris Benoit is noteworthy. Here he gets just a single mention (as one of the names of the Radicals on their debut) with some creative writing elsewhere to avoid using the name.

The understandable policy does mean that the Benoit/Jericho vs HHH/Austin match is ignored, which is probably one of the two most memorable moments omitted from the book, alongside the Katie Vick skits.

Other points of nitpicking would be an inconsistency in whether to acknowledge wrestlers who changed gimmicks: Johnny Polo is listed as the future Raven, but Lord Tensai is said to have never won a singles title. It’s also slightly curious to see multiple mentions of Donald Trump’s involvement without mentioning his current position.

Overall it’s a fun enough read which may be more of interest for newer fans, but will undoubtedly bring back some forgotten memories even for long-time viewers.

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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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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.

Read on Kindle (Amazon.com)

Read on Kindle (Amazon.co.uk)

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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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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.

 


NITRO: The Incredible Rise and Inevitable Collapse of Ted Turner’s WCW by Guy Evans

In April 1999, Entertainment Weekly asked its readers what many were surely wondering to themselves: how did wrestling get so big? As a consequence of the heated ratings competition between World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), the spectacle had taken over Monday nights on prime-time cable television. But in a departure from the family-friendly programming produced by the last industry boom – the 1980s wave, which made household names of Hulk Hogan, ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper and Andre the Giant – the new era of wrestling combined stunning athleticism with a raunchy sex appeal, engrossing story lines and novel production techniques that reflected a changing society and its shifting values. Once again, wrestling was a ubiquitous phenomenon – only this time, it seemed as though the fad would never end. With both WCW and WWF expanding into other forms of entertainment – movies, video games, music and the like – the potential for growth appeared to be limitless. But with uncertainty surrounding its corporate future, and increasingly uninspired programming eroding its audience, WCW stood on the verge of collapse. Three years into a five-year plan devised by its charismatic leader – a former Blue Ribbon Foods salesman named Eric Bischoff – the company whose unexpected ascension initiated the entire boom was operating on borrowed time. For by the end of the five-year plan, WCW ceased to exist. But NITRO is a story about much more than WCW and the Monday Night Wars. It is a story of an era, a time in which the media and cultural landscape precipitated – and later supported – pro wrestling’s mainstream popularity. It is a story of how a company made in the image of an intuitively brilliant risk-taker betrayed its original promise. It is a story of how a handful of men, each struggling with their own limitations, facilitated a public obsession that changed television forever. And so, with the inside knowledge of a journalist, the perspective of a historian, and the passion of a fan, author Guy Evans provides a fresh look at an unfortunate inevitability – the downfall of World Championship Wrestling. Bolstered by exclusive interviews with over 120 former TBS and WCW employees, NITRO is the definitive picture of the last wrestling boom. Featuring exclusive interviews and comments from: Eric Bischoff, fmr. President of World Championship Wrestling; Harvey Schiller, fmr. President of Turner Sports; Jamie Kellner, fmr. CEO of Turner Broadcasting System; Bill Burke, fmr. President of TBS network; Joe Uva, fmr. President of Turner Entertainment Sales and Marketing; Scot Safon, fmr. SVP of Marketing for TNT network; Kevin Nash, WWE Hall of Famer and 5-time WCW world champion; Diamond Dallas Page, WWE Hall of Famer and 3-time WCW world champion; Vince Russo, fmr. WCW writer; Marcus ‘Buff’ Bagwell, fmr. WCW superstar and 5-time world tag team champion; Kevin Sullivan, fmr. WCW superstar and head booker; Hugh Morrus, fmr. WCW superstar; Neal Pruitt, fmr. WCW Feature Producer and voice of the nWo; David Crockett, fmr. WCW Vice President of Production; Dick Cheatham, fmr. Group Controller for TBS; Alan Sharp, fmr. WCW Director of Public Relations; Mike Weber, fmr. WCW Director of Marketing; Rob Garner, fmr. WCW Vice President of TV Programming and Sales Jerry Jarrett, legendary wrestling promoter and booker… And many, many, many more!

 


Lord Carlton: Aristocrat of the Mat by K.K. Herzbrun and John Cosper

Leo Whippern was a talented young painter, the descendant of Hungarian royalty, and a phenomenal athlete, but as “Sailor” Tug Carlson, his life was headed no where. He was just another fit grappler in black trunks with nothing to make him stand out. Then without any warning, Tug Carlson was gone. In his place came a veteran of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, a world-traveler, a British nobleman intent on teaching the Americans what a truly outstanding athlete looks like. K.K. Herzbrun, daughter of his lordship, and John Cosper (author of “Dr. D” David Schultz’s best-selling autobiography) tell the story of a forgotten legend of the 1950s, a heel on par with the great Gorgeous George who sold out arenas from coast to coast in the 1950s. Inspired by Lord Lansdowne, the same man whose gimmick inspired Gorgeous George, Whippern transformed himself into the British heel Lord Leslie Carlton. His new heel persona made him a rich man as he created drama in and out of the ring, but his family life after wrestling proved to be even wilder than any wrestling storyline. Lord Leslie Carlton’s tale is a story of triumph and heartbreak. It’s the story of a stellar athlete and a talented artist, an eclectic migrant family, a tragic murder, a vengeful wife, and the daughter who somehow found the God her father never believed in.

 


What the World Was Watching: The World Wrestling Federation in 1995 by Logan Scisco

1995 was the doldrums of the professional wrestling industry. Major promotions such as the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) lost money, ratings for programming declined, and suspicions of drug and steroid use clouded the sport. However, 1995 also set the stage for a post-Hulkamania wrestling boom as the Monday Night Wars began and talent switched companies. This book offers a historical glance at the WWF in 1995, reviewing all of its major televised programming, compiling win/loss data for superstars, charting major feuds and angles, ranking matches, and providing a timeline for the year’s major events.

 


Memoirs of a Mad Man by Mad Man Pondo

“He’s just a bleeder,” they said. “He can’t wrestle. All he can do is bleed!” Mad Man Pondo never argued when people called him “just a bleeder.” He knows who he is, and he’s embraced it. He knows that his high tolerance for pain, his fearless nature, and his talent for bleeding are the reason he’s wrestled all around the world, starred in three video games, appeared in a horror film with one of his great heroes, befriended celebrities from the A-list to the D-list, and become a legend to deathmatch wrestling fans everywhere. Now, Mad Man Pondo is telling his story his way. He takes you from his early days as a wrestling fan in Flora, Illinois who accidentally got his butt kicked by Jos LeDuc to his glory days as a headliner for Big Japan. You’ll read about in-ring encounters with Junkyard Dog, Terry Funk, and Kevin Sullivan; real life run-ins with David Blaine and Benny Hinn; and unexpected confrontations outside the ring with crazed fans and the Yakuza. You’ll learn how his small cable access show Skull Talk led him to become a casting agent for Jerry Springer and how a deathmatch legend gets to rub shoulders with the likes of MC Hammer, Jonny Fairplay, Mick Foley, Eli Roth, and Robert Englund. Pondo shares stories about his most legendary deathmatch encounters and the inspirational story behind his all-women’s promotion, Girl Fight. And you’ll read his unforgettable speech from the Juggalo March on Washington D.C. at the Lincoln Memorial where Forrest Gump once cried out, “Jenny!!!” With a foreword by Vanilla Ice (yes, THE Vanilla Ice!), dozens of must-see photos, and countless stories from friends, fans, and fellow grapplers, Memoirs of a Mad Man is an all-out extreme autobiography as graphic and over the top as a Four Corners of Pain Deathmatch.

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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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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.

Read on Kindle (Amazon.com)

Read on Kindle (Amazon.co.uk)

(Disclaimer: The author provided a review copy.)

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Wrestling The Hulk by Linda Hogan

Perhaps the politest way to review this book would be to note that wrestling fans may not be its primary target audience.

It’s only 236 pages of very large type (and even some padding out with recipes) but still feels a long-winded route to effectively say “I met and married Hulk Hogan but he turned out to be a shagger so we got divorced.”)

There’s virtually no wrestling content and what little there is seems somewhat shaky. For example, not only do we learn how Vince McMahon took wrestling out of “small, dingy, dimly lit no-name arenas with fifty to one hundred people in the audience” but Linda claims the first time she went to one of Hogan’s matches he wrestled Nick Bockwinkel for the AWA title in front of barely 300 people.

There’s no acknowledgement of a ghostwriter and if somebody did work on the project, they may have gone too far in making the writing authentic. Because it’s filled with lame puns! And exclamation marks everywhere! It also seems light on editing, with several cases of the book contradicting itself.

All that said, it’s hard to criticise too much as the content certainly matches the book’s premise of being one party’s side of the story. The problem is that while it’s certainly nowhere near as bad as Chyna’s autobiography, it’s a similar scenario by which the writer will have gotten far more benefit from the process than the reader will.

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The WWE Book Of Top 10s

Another “get it for Christmas, read it once” title, the content here is more plausible than you might imagine.

The format is exactly as you might imagine: 100 or so lists with around 50 words explanation for each entry. There’s a good variety of topic matters, broadly divided into wrestlers, matches and championships, including a few purely objective rankings (shortest title reigns, youngest champions etc.)

Aside from a little inconsistency over whether non-WWE content is included, the rankings themselves are generally credible enough that while you might not agree with them, they aren’t ridiculous. It’s certainly not a modern-day whitewash: for example, in a ranking of title belts (or rather “championship titles” in WWE-speak), the current WWE belt is ranked behind both ‘Big Gold’ and the Winged Eagle WWF title.

Indeed, the lists are reasonable enough that the few exceptions for modern storylines are particularly jarring, a notable example being Roman Reigns included in the top 10 crossover stars from other sports based on playing one season in Canadian football. There’s also a few stretched definitions such as the Hardys and Steiners being listed as among the top wrestling “families”.

There’s also a couple of questionable entries such as Raven being listed as a long-time ECW fan favourite and an apparent confusion of the ECW and WCW TV title concepts. Again, it’s more a credit to the book as a whole that these really stand out.

The only real downside apart from the lack of re-readability is that because the rankings are so reasonable, there’s not much in the way of surprises. In many cases you’ll be able to guess the top three to five, even if you don’t get the precise order.

Read on Kindle (Amazon.co.uk)

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