Drawing Heat by Jim Freedman

April 11, 2019

Back when wrestling books were few and far between, this was one of the titles that was worth tracking down through bookshop ordering systems. Even today, it’s still a remarkable insight into a particular aspect and era of the business.

Freedman is an anthropologist who taught at the University of Western Ontario for 26 years, during which time he wrote Drawing Heat. It’s a study of wrestling in Ontario, partly of the main NWA territory operated by Frank Tunney, but mainly of the outlaw promotion run by Dave ‘The Bearman’ McKigney.

McKigney was not strictly an opposition promoter, but rather somebody who promoted the small towns where nobody else wanted to go. He allowed Freeman to accompany him on the road, including for an entire tour, allowing Freeman to document the bizarre world of pro wrestling from an outsider perspective. It’s a cast including midgets, the Sheik and a wrestling bear among others.

The book goes into immense detail about the practicalities of a smaller promoter trying to make ends meet, deal with an athletic commission, and and rouse up publicity through whatever means necessary. In some ways it’s very much of its time, capturing the tail end of the territory era in 1981: while many major promotions were still running, it was increasingly difficult for independent groups to run a full-time schedule. Yet many of the experiences are timeless and it’s striking how reminiscent the book is of Colt Cabana’s documentary Wrestling Road Diaries.

The original is long out of print and something of a collector’s item, but a 2014 reprint from Crowbar Press is well worth a purchase, particularly on Kindle. I’ve only read the original copy, but the reprint includes an interview with the author and a chapter dealing with McKigney’s death in a 1988 car crash.

Note that the print edition is cheaper bought directly from Crowbar Press. Note also that this shouldn’t be confused with Drawing Heat The Hard Way, a totally different book by Larry Matysik.

Buy on Amazon

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