Ali vs. Inoki: The Forgotten Fight That Inspired Mixed Martial Arts and Launched Sports Entertainment by Josh Gross
Review / November 20, 2020

This book makes the best of a concept with arguably limited potential, which is pretty much the opposite of what happened in the match it covers. It’s automatically an impressive feat to get a full book out of a match where famously almost nothing happened. Even with a literal blow-by-blow account (Gross bravely becoming sure the only person in history to watch the match multiple times), the core of the book is inherently limited in drama. Unfortunately the lack of cooperation from the key players involved means the book doesn’t reveal too much about the match, in particular the process by which a potential worked finish was set aside, a legitimate contest decided on (or reached by default) and the rules negotiated. Even with the book’s explanations, it still reads somewhat unclear exactly what each man could and couldn’t do and whether it’s fair to criticise Inoki for not taking down and submitting Ali, or whether the rules meant this really wasn’t a boxer vs grappler affair at all. Within these limitations, Gross does an excellent job of putting the match into context. Without ever losing the thread that keeps everything on topic, he covers everything from the development of…

The Man of All Talents: The Extraordinary Life of Douglas ‘Duggy’ Clark by Steven Bell
Review / October 23, 2020

Pro wrestling in Douglas Clark’s era was an often muddled blend of reality and fictionalised drama, as indeed is this book. Clark certainly had a life worthy of chronicling. He was among the pioneers of rugby league, winning numerous championships with Huddersfield and England, and is among just 25 members of the sports Hall of Fame. While a rugby professional, he was also a perennial top contender in Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling, a legitimate contest where grapplers aim simply to trip or throw an opponent to the ground. Following an eventful stint as a supply driver on the battlefields of the First World War he was given a disability discharge and ordered to give up professional sport. Instead he continued winning rugby championships throughout the 1920s before turning to pro wrestling where the addition of submission holds helped revive the business. Now in his 40s he claimed a British and later world championship, touring Australia and New Zealand. Author Steven Bell has amassed a wealth of source material including newspaper archives, Imperial War Museum records and even Clark’s own diaries and memoirs. Sadly Clark died before chronicling the pro wrestling years, so we don’t get his direct insight in this…

In Defense Of… Exonerating Professional Wrestling’s Most Hated by JP Prag
Review / September 25, 2020

Sometimes you don’t enjoy a book because it’s plain bad. Sometimes you don’t enjoy it because it just isn’t for you. This feels like more of the latter. “In Defense Of…” is an anthology of columns from the 411Mania site in the mid 2000s with a simple concept: to take the conventional wisdom of the “Internet Wrestling Community” and argue against it, in the form of a courtroom defense argument. Prag is open in the appendix of this book that what some readers will see as a weakness is a deliberate design choice. These aren’t meant to be balanced articles or to get involved in a back-and-forth of the style that would actually happen in courtroom cross examinations or a debate. Instead they are intentionally one-sided pieces that ape and almost mock the extended negative rants that were popular online at the time. The book is certainly wide in scope, covering all the major topics of the era from the Monday Night Wars to Montreal to the booking career of Dusty Rhodes. That means it will certainly appeal to those who like the idea of thought-provoking and unfamiliar takes. (That said, the piece on Owen Hart’s death – a topic…

Too Sweet: Inside The Indie Wrestling Revolution
Review / September 18, 2020

Like a stereotypical indy match, this has its impressive moments but occasionally loses focus while cramming too much in. The challenge of writing such a book is that it “independent wrestling” is a topic with almost unlimited scope. In turn that means having to find the right blend of a straight chronological history and a more themed approach with a focused story. For these reasons the first third or so of the book often feels a little scattergun, skipping from topic to topic and relaying a string of information about each but without really telling a story or making a clear point. In particular, several sections will have multiple short quotes from different wrestlers and personalities that don’t really add up to an overall insight. This changes once the book returns to a clear focus point of the first All In show and concentrates on how various developments from the PWG “workrate” era to the rebirth of the UK scene to the way New Japan used international stars to increase its worldwide appeal combined to create the circumstances that led to a 10,000+ seat arena selling out in minutes. As you’d expect from an author with Greenberg’s experience, it’s clearly…

The All-Action, Family-Friendly Wrestling Spectacular by Dean Harris
Review / July 31, 2020

While it’s a hugely exaggerated fictionalisation of the real British wrestling world, this novella is unexpectedly timely. At first glance this seems purely in the world of outlandish fiction, with the central storyline being a Muslim wrestler beaten to death as he attempts to detonate a suicide vest in the ring. However, while the plot may be far-fetched, the setting is very true to life. The descriptions of a small-time independent wrestling show and its cast of characters are very much on the nose. A wrestling promotion may not be made up entirely of the people described in this book, but they could all very plausibly exist. Released in early-June, it’s a particularly notably timed book as a subplot involves a wrestler with a predatory interest in an underaged fan. The description of his machinations and the varying responses of his peers borders on eerily believable in the wake of the #speakingout movement. The story itself doesn’t quite live up to the characterisation. It’s brief enough to read in a single setting and is largely based around description. The plot consists of two detectives investigating the events that led up to the fateful night and the final twist feels too…

Animal by George Steele with Jim Evans
Review / July 27, 2020

An in-character account by “The Animal” would have been a short read, but this attempt to capture his true voice disappoints. The book is presented as a first-person account in the words of Jim Myers (the man who portrayed Steele in the ring), but several style choices mean that even if this is how Myers speaks, it doesn’t feel natural. One problem is the repeated inclusion of extraneous facts that nobody would include in normal conversation. For example, when discussing his dyslexia, Myers/Steele mentions the “Dick and Jane” series and for some reason notes the authors, the publishers, the formal name of the series and even the years during which they were published. This ramps up to the extreme later on where we have several pages of the history of Joe Louis’s career leading up to barely a paragraph of Steele’s recollection of the time he refereed one his wrestling matches. Meanwhile a chapter about Steele’s appearance in the movie Ed Wood includes lengthy IMDB-style bios of every star in the production. Another issue is that a couple of chapters (covering Steele’s childhood and his time coaching sport students) are filled with lengthy first-person quotes from his peers and colleagues….

Ring Of Hell by Matthew Randazzo V
Review / June 23, 2020

This account of Chris Benoit’s life and time in wrestling has been described as a true crime story. It reads like the case for the prosecution. (Before going further, I must say that had I been reading this book for “pleasure” rather than a review, I would have quit when I reached the point where the author refers to a group of sex workers as “subhuman ogresses”.) There is nothing wrong with a book on Benoit being extremely negative about him and the wrestling industry — indeed, it would be bizarre for that not to be the case. It’s also not inherently wrong to write a book that seeks to make an argument and concentrating solely on examples that back up that point. Once you accept a book is effectively just a list of every shitty part of Benoit’s relationship with pro wrestling, you can concentrate on the inescapable truth that there sure are a lot of shitty parts to list. The problem with Ring of Hell, however, is the absolute lack of nuance or ambiguity that is a part of even the grimmest reality. Almost everything in the book is stated with absolute certainty, with no room for doubt…

Shamrock: The World’s Most Dangerous Man by Jonathan Snowden
Review / May 19, 2020

While Ken Shamrock’s life has already been covered via Inside The Lion’s Den, that book was hampered not just by only covering his early MMA career, but also by being a far from complete and rounded account of his life. To say Snowden’s work is a different prospect would be a spectacular understatement. The biggest strength of this book is that it is utterly comprehensive. Not only does it cover every fight of his career, but virtually every notable pro wrestling match and angle are addressed. This helps get across the true hybrid nature of Shamrock’s career, starting out in pro wrestling, moving into Pancrase which straddled the two genres, making his name in UFC, returning to the ring for his WWF run, and then two decades as an MMA legend whose name exceeded his performance in the ring. Unlike some MMA and “legitimate sports” media coverage of pro wrestling, the book is particularly clear about the physical toll of multiple matches per week and the on-the-road lifestyle on Shamrock’s body. Before WWF he had 22 wins and five defeats, three of which Shamrock says were worked matches in Pancrase and another a controversial split decision. After leaving WWF he…

Release Schedule (13 May)
Review / May 13, 2020

Dates are for US release and may vary in other countries. 29 June: S is for Suplex by Ryan L Schrodt and Nicholas Camia 13 July: Philosophy Smackdown by Douglas Edwards (Pro Wrestling Books review.) 1 September: Too Sweet: Inside the Indie Wrestling Revolution by Keith Elliot Greenberg 29 September: WWE Encyclopedia of Sports Entertainment New Edition 13 October: We Promised You a Great Main Event: An Unauthorized WWE History by Bill Hanstock 15 November: Professional Wrestling: Politics and Populism (Enactments) edited by Sharon Mazer, Heather Levi, Eero Laine and Nell Haynes 17 November: The Young Bucks: Killing the Business from Backyards to the Big Leagues 8 December: WWE: The New Day: Power of Positivity by Evan Narcisse and Austin Walker 16 February 2021: Ragtag Team (Slamdown Town Book 2) by Maxwell Nicoll & Matthew Smith

I Was A Teenage Professional Wrestler by Ted Lewin
Review / April 17, 2020

One of those titles long-term collectors will recognise, this turns out to be a pleasant surprise. Originally published in 1974, this was a familiar sight when searching book catalogues in the pre-Have A Nice Day era, but wasn’t always easy to track down. Lewin is the brother of the better known wrestlers Mark and Donn. While he had the odd match later on, the bulk of his career came in the mid-sixties on the WWWF circuit. He wrestled mainly to fund his education and went on to become a successful illustrator. This gives him something of an outsider perspective on the crazy world of pro wrestling, which he shares here. Given the publication date, it’s surprisingly lax on kayfabe. Lewin doesn’t explicitly say wrestling match finishes were worked but neither does he say he legitimately competing to win. Beyond this point he’s completely open, discussing how wrestlers tried to control the crowd, perform moves in a visually pleasing way, and shave time when working a draw before a dead crowd. The book also plenty of memories of some of the more outlandish stars of the era such as Danny MacShain, Buddy Rogers, Killer Kowalski and Haystacks Calhoun. Appropriately the book…