Steel Chair To The Head edited by Nicholas Sammond
Review / July 12, 2019

There’s a lot of talk about the wrestling bubble and it’s always interesting to get the perspectives of people who don’t follow professional wrestling as a fan, but this collection of academic essays is often a case of missing the point. As you’d expect if you’ve ever seen the references section of a college paper on wrestling, this starts with philosopher Roland Barthes’s 1957 essay “The World of Wrestling.” Respected as Barthes may be in his field, this doesn’t offer much depth or insight: even in the 1950s, it shouldn’t have come across as a stroke of genius to note that wrestling is a performance of good and evil and a morality tale rather than a pure sport. The problem is that there’s little if any acknowledgement that pro bouts are put on primarily to draw ticket-paying customers rather than as a moral and artistic cause in their own right. Many of the essays are along similar lines, focusing on wrestling being a masculine melodrama, political allegory or even a sado-masochistic narrative, with many of the points somewhat undermined by reading levels of symbolism that were surely not intended by the performers involved. Some parts are more intriguing though, including…

Steve Rickard’s Life On The Mat by John Mancer
Review / July 11, 2019

This biography of the New Zealand promoter and wrestler, who died on 5 April 2015, is an entertaining enough read but not worth going out of your way to track down. Rickard wrestled briefly in North America but mainly divided his time between his native land and travelling the Pacific region. He was a regular NWA member and even spent a brief period as president in the 1990s, long after its heyday. He was best known for producing the show On The Mat which aired in New Zealand as well as being syndicated. Author Mancer was a sportswriter, but was a friend and colleague of Rickard, so this is hardly an objective or critical book. It’s also not a strict chronological life story, but rather darts about from subject to subject, including a particularly entertaining chapter on New Zealand wrestler Lofty Bloomfield and his supposedly inescapable finishing hold. The book doesn’t break kayfabe, but does frequently note that opponents are able to peacefully coexist out of the ring, so never comes across as insulting in a modern context. There’s not a great deal for the historians as there’s little detail on matches and limited insight into Rickard’s tactics and philosophy…

There’s No Such Thing As a Bad Kid: How I Went from Stereotype to Prototype by Titus O’Neil
Review / July 10, 2019

In no way a pro wrestling book, this might appeal to dedicated O’Neil fans. It’s half-autobiography, half-social science manual, but only deals with O’Neil’s childhood and university days. The wrestling references limited to a couple of paragraphs on his spectacular Saudi Arabia ring entrance and winning the tag titles, plus a page or two describing his entry into the developmental system. Instead the book is a well-written argument about the need to give children positive reinforcement rather than dismiss them as inherently misbehaved. Much of it is based around his own experience in a single parent family from a disadvantaged background and his time in a retreat camp for troubled teens. Considering most of the examples and arguments are simply elaborations on the theme of the title, it doesn’t become repetitive and certainly might interest those in the education and social care sector. There’s also some interesting takes on the college sports culture. However, it’s impossible to recommend this to anyone whose sole motivation in reading it is O’Neill’s wrestling status, other than his most devoted fans. Instead it’s a book that will appeal or not in its own right and those who still choose to read it with that…

Stu Hart by Marsha Erb
Review / July 10, 2019

This isn’t a book that gets a lot of talk, but it’s certainly one of the better wrestler biographies out there. Although a lawyer by trade, Erb was formerly a journalist and approached the project from that perspective rather than primarily as a wrestling fan. While there’s no shortage of wrestling material here, it’s far more of an individual life story than the territorial history of the also-excellent Pain and Passion by Heath McCoy. And what a life story that is. While most fans know the tales of Hart’s sprawling family in their Hart house and the infamous dungeon, many reading this will be shocked to learn of his impoverished childhood, at one stage living with his family in a tent during winters of -20C or below. There’s also plenty about his wrestling career before turning to promoting. Erb pulls off an impressive balancing act of including Hart’s recollections though first-hand quotes from interviewing him, but still keeping the book as an objective, independent account. It’s important to note that the book is predominately about Stu’s life and only contains brief mention of his many offspring’s time in wrestling, particularly outside of Stampede. That makes for a more focused book, but could…

Release Schedule (10 July)
Release Schedule / July 10, 2019

Two new entries this week starting with New Jack: Memoir of a Pro Wrestling Extremist by New Jack: You may have cheered for New Jack. You may have booed him out of the building. You may have even feared him at times. But until now, you’ve never really known The Most Dangerous Man in Wrestling. For the first time, the man born Jerome Young opens up about how he became one of the stars who enabled Extreme Championship Wrestling to make a permanent mark on the professional landscape. His crazed dives off balconies and scaffolds; his bloody, weapon-filled mat wars that trampled the line between reality and entertainment–this memoir reveals the perspective of the man at the center of them all and includes new disclosures about the infamous incidents with Mass Transit, Gypsy Joe, and the stabbing of a fellow wrestler in Florida. Beyond the gimmicks that united white supremacists and the NAACP against him and his fellow performers, New Jack candidly discusses the violence in his youth that nearly led him to a career in crime, his past as a bounty hunter, a near-fatal drug addiction, the last months of ECW, and his place in wrestling history. And Professional…

Superhero Ninja Wrestling Star by Lorna Schultz Nicholson
Review / July 9, 2019

There’s only a slim connection with pro wrestling, but this is a fun enough children’s book, though you might want to shop around on the price. The bulk of the story is about 11-year-old Archie who feels undersized after his friends and foes go through growth spurts. He then tries a range of tactics to both bulk up and improve his social standing, which backfire in a manner of amusing ways. The wrestling element comes in two parts. There’s a memorable scene in a family restaurant run by a former pro (with a couple of nice lines to make fans from the 80s and 90s really feel their age.) There’s also a subplot with Archie learning amateur wrestling that proves somewhat pivotal to the payoff. It feels a little churlish to criticize the pacing of a childrens’ book, but the resolution of the tension does have RKO tendencies. We never actually see how Archie’s wrestling tournament career works out as that’s not the point of the story’s conclusion, though there’s definitely room for a sequel. I’m probably not the best reviewer to judge how well-pitched the writing is for the intended audience. I found the dialogue irritating at times, but given my age, that means…

Superstar Series: The Ultimate Warrior by James Dixon
Review / July 8, 2019

[Post originally published in April 2014.) With the tragic death of Jim Helwig/Warrior this week, I thought I’d mention this title from the “History of Wrestling” series. Following on from titles dedicated to WWF video releases, Monday Night Raw and the Hart Foundation, it’s a complete set of reviews of every Warrior match available on tape (around 150 in total), transcripts of more than 100 promos, and a comprehensive look at the Self Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior DVD and a shoot interview. According to the writers: While Warrior may not hit as highly on the star rating scale as some of the subjects covered in other editions of our Superstar Series line of books, his has been one of the most fun to compile. Unusually for the series, this covers matches in Memphis, World Class, Mid-South and WCW as well as the WWF days. I’ve only had the opportunity to read the free sample on Kindle, but it looks to be good stuff if the concept of such a book appeals to you. Early releases in the series were annoyingly smarky in places and seemed to try too hard to carry off Scott Keith-like gimmicks, but this seems much better, with some genuinely…

Tangled Ropes by Billy Graham
Review / July 5, 2019

One of the better WWE-authorised autobiographies, this appears to be a notably honest account, albeit one framed by the warm relationship Graham had with WWE at the time of its writing. As with the Blassie and Lawler books, this stands out not so much for the writing, although that’s perfectly fine thanks to ghostwriter Keith Elliot Greenberg. Instead the key is Graham having had a deep and varied career in multiple territories and thus having unfamiliar stories to tell. It’s almost two-thirds in to the book before he even starts his WWWF title run. The honesty covers both Graham’s extensive, almost pioneering drug use (and the accompanying medical consequences) and his assessment of his strengths and shortcomings as a performer. He also details his frustration at dropping the title to Bob Backlund in 1978 — something planned a year earlier before Graham even won the belt — rather than Vince McMahon Sr changing plans to capitalize on his obvious drawing power and potential to turn babyface. Whether it’s simply his own approach or the guiding hand of Greenberg, Graham comes across as rational here, rather than sounding like he is motivated by bitterness. The conclusion of the book deals with…

Tales From Wrescal Lane by Mick Foley & Jill Thompson
Review / July 4, 2019

For wrestling fans, this is the best of Foley’s range of childrens books, though that also means it may be somewhat dated for today’s kids. The story, told in rhyme, takes the stars of the Attitude era and pictures them as children growing up on the same street and getting into scrapes. It’s amusing enough stuff and largely in exaggerated character, with the only real insider gags being Foley continuing the digs at Al Snow from his autobiographies. The illustrations are great with Thompson doing an excellent job of taking the cartoonish caricatures of the actual wrestlers and turning them into plausible kids, rather than simply shrinking them down. The Dudley Boys throwing a tantrum is a particular highlight. It’s enough of a novelty that it’s worth picking up if you spot it at a bargain price. Whether your kids will recognize the characters enough to find it of any interest may depend on whether you’ve let them loose on the WWE Network with the parental controls switched off. Buy on Amazon

The Adrian Street Collection by Adrian Street
Review , Uncategorized / July 3, 2019

Chris Jericho’s autobiography has reached three volumes (so far.) Mick Foley is up to four. But Adrian Street — a man not short of experience nor verbiage — is up to seven. The volumes are: My Pink Gas Mask, which covers his years growing up in Wales, dreaming of one day becoming a pro wrestler. I Only Laugh When It Hurts, covering his moving to London and breaking into the independent scene. So Many Ways To Hurt You, covering his initial years working for Joint Promotions. Sadist In Sequins, covering more of his Joint career, plus his international travels. Imagine What I Could Do To You, covering his move to the independent circuit. Violence Is Golden, covering trips to Mexico and Germany and then his US work in Memphis and Mid-South among other territories. (I’ve not yet reviewed the final book, Merchant of Menace.) It’s clear across all six volumes that Street has both a storytelling skill and an incredible memory. As well as being entertaining, the books are also extremely informative — instead of just recounting events, Street explains his thinking at the time and the way he managed to build himself up into a main eventer, with payoffs to…