Death of the Territories by Tim Hornbaker
Review / December 20, 2019

After previous books exploring the history of the NWA and wrestling in the New York region, Tim Hornbaker covers the collision between the two. Death of the Territories covers the period between Vincent Kennedy McMahon taking control of the World Wrestling Federation in 1982 and the sale of Jim Crockett Promotions to Ted Turner in 1988.  At times, the book offers fascinating insights, either revealing incidents through Hornbaker’s characteristic research skills, or highlighting seemingly small nuggets of information that prove significant with hindsight. Unfortunately the book doesn’t keep up this momentum and instead loses focus. While the basics of McMahon breaching traditional territorial boundaries and being first in an inevitable race as cable TV exposed stars nationwide are well known, Death of the Territories certainly covers angles usually left out of the story. For example, accounts often point to the way Georgia’s TBS going nationwide as the original ‘Superstation’ meant its stars had fans beyond its territorial border, but Hornbaker highlights that the New York-based WOR station – which carried McMahon’s flagship show – also went across the country as cable and satellite television grew. Similarly the story of Georgia Championship Wrestling promoting in Ohio as an early expansion comes…

I’m Sorry I Love You by Jim Smallman
Review / December 19, 2019

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…

Raw: The First 25 Years by Dean Miller & Jake Black
Review / December 18, 2019

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 such as an account of the initial draft reading “Flair’s first pick was Undertaker while McMahon selected the Rock” — which is…

Release Schedule (18 December)
Release Schedule / December 18, 2019

(Dates are US releases and may vary elsewhere.) 28 January 2020 : Smackdown Town by Max Nicoll & Matt Smith 4 February: New Jack: Memoir of a Pro Wrestling Extremist by New Jack 6 February: Maximilian and the Curse of the Fallen Angel (Max’s Lucha Libre Adventures) by Xavier Garza 17 February: Professional Wrestling: Sport and Spectacle, Second Edition by Sharon Mazer 17 March: WWE Beyond Extreme by Dean Miller 31 March: Under the Black Hat: My Life in the Wwe and Beyond by Jim Ross 28 April: The Eighth Wonder of the World: The True Story of André the Giant by Bertrand Hebert & Pat Laprade 19 May: WWE Kicking Down Doors: Female Superstars Are Ruling the Ring and Changing the Game!

Canvas Countdown by Paul Meehan
Review / December 17, 2019

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…

Tough Guys: The Birth Of An American Sport by Bill Viola Jr & Dr Fred Adams
Review / December 16, 2019

This history of the original MMA promotion is unfortunately a classic case of ignoring the policy of “show, don’t tell.” It’s the tale of CV Promotions which, in 1979 and 1980, ran several combat events in Pennsylvania under the Tough Guys banner. They appear to have been the first formalized shows that combined multiple martial arts into a single sport. While the events are described as the forerunner to UFC, their setup — complete with weight divisions, extensive list of banned moves, and a 10-point must scoring system — is a lot closer to UFC as we know it today than the free-for-alls of the mid-1990s. (From a pro wrestling perspective, this isn’t purely a book with crossover appeal: there are also a few direct references such as on athletic commission regulation or Bruno Sammartino being included among debates over the true toughest guy around.) The gist of the book is covering the promotion’s struggle with athletic regulators before an eventual ban, and highlighting the lack of attention paid to it when people give an account of MMA’s history that starts with UFC. Unfortunately the balance of the content is very much for the benefit of the writer rather than…

Wrestling The Hulk by Linda Hogan
Review / December 13, 2019

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…

The WWE Book Of Top 10s by Dean Miller
Review / December 12, 2019

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…

WWE Official Book Of Rules (And How To Break Them)
Review , Uncategorized / December 11, 2019

If you don’t mind the fact you’ll probably never read this twice, it’s an amusing enough diversion. It’s written under the pretext that, like the British constitution, the WWE rulebook is made up of a variety of official and unofficial documents that are never collated in one place. Covering both the in-ring ‘rules’ and the company policies, it’s effectively a cover for a barrage of in-jokes for wrestling fans including references to incidents and characters of the past. The problem is that the execution rarely strikes the right balance. In some cases the gag is overplayed, such as a supposed memo from Vince McMahon to WWF referees dated 9 November 1997 pointing out that the chairman’s instructions are final. Left at that it would be mildly amusing, but instead we get a series of handwritten additions to the memo that spell out the reference and joke in full detail, killing any humour. At the other end, some pages are breathakingly lazy. The final page is literally a print of a tax return defaced with the words “PAY YOUR TAXES! IRWIN R SCHYSTER”. The book does have some genuinely neat insider references. There’s the first ‘canon’ acknowledgement of the rule that…

Release Schedule (11 December)
Release Schedule / December 11, 2019

(Dates are US releases and may vary elsewhere.) 28 January 2020 : Smackdown Town by Max Nicoll & Matt Smith 4 February: New Jack: Memoir of a Pro Wrestling Extremist by New Jack 6 February: Maximilian and the Curse of the Fallen Angel (Max’s Lucha Libre Adventures) by Xavier Garza 17 February: Professional Wrestling: Sport and Spectacle, Second Edition by Sharon Mazer 17 March: WWE Beyond Extreme by Dean Miller 31 March: Under the Black Hat: My Life in the Wwe and Beyond by Jim Ross 28 April: The Eighth Wonder of the World: The True Story of André the Giant by Bertrand Hebert & Pat Laprade 19 May: WWE Kicking Down Doors: Female Superstars Are Ruling the Ring and Changing the Game!