Sex, Lies and Headlocks by Shaun Assael and Mike Mooneyham

August 6, 2019

The semi-biography of Vince McMahon is a case of a book having value despite numerous flaws.

While Mooneyham is a regular columnist on pro wrestling, Assael is a sportswriter from ESPN and approaches the subject from an outsider perspective. It’s arguably the most perceptive such work from somebody not already involved in or interested by the wrestling business, though that approach brings a risk of errors that is certainly realised.

The book comes across as if there was a little confusion about its intended focus and scope, possibly because as a 2002 publication its writing came at a tumultuous period in the wrestling business. It straddles the line between a biography of McMahon and a history of the WWF’s expansion and the war with WCW.

The big picture story is on the money and for a new fan it certainly makes for a more accurate overview of the Monday Night War than the WWE Network documentary of the same name will provide.

The devil is in the detail however. The book is rife with two distinct types of error. The first is simple factual mistakes, many of which appear to be the result of Assael getting bogus information direct from a wrestler and either being too trusting or simply not having any reason to doubt it. (It’s certainly odd that Mooneyham didn’t correct the errors though.)

Less forgiveable are the numerous occasions where the dates of events have either been misrepresented or outright falsified for the sake of the story flowing in a chronological narrative that makes more sense. While it would make life simpler if every effect in pro wrestling had a clear and direct cause, the world isn’t that simple and the attempts to make reality that little bit smoother simply undermine the book’s credibility for more knowledgeable readers.

Sex, Lies and Headlocks is certainly a worthwhile read, particularly for those unfamiliar with the era that is covered, but in no way should be treated as an authoritative historical source.

(This review is of the original hardcover version. Thanks to David Bixenspan for letting me know that many of the errors appear to have been corrected in the subsequent paperback release. With this is mind, the paperback version is a stronger recommendation.)

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