American wrestling as most Brits know it arguably began on 23 January 1984 when Hulk Hogan beat the Iron Sheik at Madison Square Garden to capture the WWF title and kick off the national expansion era. But New York wrestling has a rich heritage, explored in this book which appropriately enough ends on that very day.
Capitol Revolution begins its tale just after the first world war when the likes of Jack Curley and Tex Rickard battled to revive wrestling after the departure of former national stars Frank Gotch and George Hackenschmidt. It then goes on to tell the complex tale of double-crosses and alliances in the 1920s and 30s when wrestling switched from a faithful simulation of amateur grappling to a wilder performance that would still be recognisable as pro wrestling today.
It also addresses the multi-generational influence of Toots Mondt and the rise of the McMahon family to dominance in New York, along with its often terse relationship with the National Wrestling Alliance. Finally we get details of Vince McMahon’s transition from local promoter and TV commentator to company owner.
Hornbaker’s research skills and dedicated cannot be questioned, which was demonstrated in his previous volume on the NWA’s history. In that case the sheer level of detail proved a negative at times with superfluous information making the rich content something of a dry read.
This time round Hornbaker has refined his approach, keeping the detail in focus with the narrative and telling an often complex story in a more engaging manner. The few occasions where it becomes difficult to follow the chain of events are simply an unavoidable result of the sheer amount of confusion as promoters made and broke alliances.
Another big strength is that Hornbaker finds just the right balance of keeping the book centred on the story of New York while still including enough background on the national picture to put things in their proper context.
Given the subject matter and the fact that it’s a book based largely on documentary research rather than interviews, this may still not be to everyone’s taste. But for those with any interest in what came before Vince McMahon changed the rules of the game, Capitol Revolution comes highly recommended.
(This review originally appeared in issue 121 of Fighting Spirit Magazine.)