Pile Driver by Kenneth R Boness
Review / October 23, 2019

It is truly wonderful that a book such as this could be written and published. But it would be unfair to say everyone needs to read it. Pile Driver is a biography of 1920s and 30s wrestler Charles “Midget” Fischer, a grappler who stood 5’3″ and thus mainly competed in lower weight divisions, claiming versions of both the world light-heavyweight and middleweight titles. While not as widely known as the heavyweights of the era, he has a historical claim to fame by reportedly creating what we now know as the piledriver in a 1931 bout. Author Kenneth R Boness, who hails from the same tiny Wisconsin village of Butternet as Fischer, clearly put an immense effort into researching the book. Running more than 700 pages, it’s largely based on newspaper reports of the time, many of which are reprinted in full. This brings the benefit that the book is utterly comprehensive about Fischer’s in-ring career and elements of his personal life. The downside is that, by his own admission, Boness decided it was simplest to tell the “straight” story rather than address the issue of whether and (more realistically) how Fischer was involved in working finishes and programs. The focus of the book is…

Hey Boy! Where’d You Get Them Ears by Paul Boesch
Review / October 22, 2019

This is one of the few out-of-print books that is worth tracking down. Boesch, the promoter in Houston for 20 years, was keen on sharing the lessons of wrestling history, in particular encouraging Wrestling Observer Newsletter editor Dave Meltzer to attend the Cauliflower Alley Club at a time when “outsiders” were rarely seen at the events. He continues these efforts in a book that’s part history of the US business, part autobiography. The book itself has quite this history: Boesch circulated a first draft manuscript among a few trusted friends including Meltzer and Jim Cornette that was reportedly far more critical of some wrestling figures, notably Vince McMahon. The finished version, published 13 years after his death, was somewhat toned down. It was never available through mainstream book retailers, but Boesch’s widow sold copies at events such as Cauliflower Alley (where I picked up my copy.) The book is a perfect example of how the kayfabe issue can be a red herring in wrestling books. At no point does Boesch question the legitimacy of match outcomes, but it’s an easy task to read between the lines when it comes to points he makes about booking and similar issues. While the…

Sportsviewers Guide: Wrestling by Peter Bills
Review / October 21, 2019

A 1983 British release, this is one of a series of 10 books on popular televised sports of the day, creating the always intriguing sight of pro wrestling being covered in the same format as “legitimate” sports. It’s made up of sections including history, rules, promoters, stars (13 profiles), championship formats and venues. While the profiles are a fun read (albeit with a few minor errors such as perpetuating the myth that Giant Haystacks’s real name was Luke McMasters), it’s the parts where the unique nature of wrestling clashes with the format that are most noteworthy. For example, the promotional section details Dale Martin and the Joint Promotions setup, but tries to portray the promoters as having made a deliberate attempt to limit the coverage of wrestling on TV to avoid overexposure. It’s possible that’s true, but if promoters really were getting £15,000 for each televised show with the only additional cost being to bump up the performers’ payoff to £40, it’s hard to imagine them turning down more airtime. The book also notes confusion at the lack of formal structure in wrestling championships and, while not questioning the legitimacy of match finishes, does have Max Crabtree explaining that a…

The Big Daddy Annual 1983
Review / October 18, 2019

As with most annuals, the chances are few people bought this for themselves. Instead it was more likely a gift from relatives (“Auntie Audrey and Uncle David” were the original buyers of my used copy) who were taking a guess at a youngster’s interests. Let’s hope most of them got it right, because this is a book for people who love Big Daddy, and people who love Big Daddy alone. It runs to 80 pages and as you might expect, is largely made up of photos, with little accompanying text. Other than a two-page interview, there’s no real detail. Instead, there’s some amazing padding including a photo feature on British wrestlers of the day, a board game, a piece on competitors in sports other than wrestling, and a lot of comic strips. The strips include an extract from Johnny Cougar, a regular story in the Tiger comic who wrestled his away in and out of scrapes around the world. In this edition he winds up wrestling Daddy, which is a bit like seeing Superman wrestle Hulk Hogan. Neither Daddy nor Cougar were known for losing bouts, so it’s a little frustrating not to discover how this particular clash ended. The…

The Mick McManus Book Of Wrestling By Charles Arnold
Review / October 17, 2019

Published in 1970, it doesn’t appear this book had much input from McManus beyond his celebrity name. That’s no bad thing however, as the book is not specifically about McManus, but rather a series of features on British stars of the day. The couple of dozen articles largely resemble the type of profile you’d expect to find in magazines of the era such as The Wrestler, concentrating more on personalities and lives outside the ring than attempting to give a career history.  Some of the stories are outlandish, though at a guess Arnold is faithfully retelling his conversations with the wrestlers rather than using literary license. How accurate the stories the wrestlers told is of course another matter. The book is very well illustrated, with a particular highlight being a young, slender and well-defined Jean Ferre (Andre the Giant) absolutely dwarving McManus. All in all, it’s certainly worth keeping an eye out for if you’re a collector or have a particular interest in the UK scene, but not worth paying a fortune to acquire. Buy on Amazon

Head Games by Christopher Nowinski
Review / October 16, 2019

Although officially a book about (US) football, this study of a concussion crisis is important reading for anyone involved in professional wrestling. Nowinski is of course the former Tough Enough and WWE star Chris Harvard, who retired from the ring after a series of concussions. His account of these symptoms, the way the WWE officials reacted, and his decision to quit the business make up the first few chapters. The rest details and collates research into concussions, most notably among high school football players. It represents an important medical breakthrough, albeit one misrepresented and even mocked by some in the wrestling world. Nowinski’s research does not simply show that blows to the head that cause concussions can have long-term health implications, or that repeated chairshots to the head are a bad idea.  Instead, he illustrates a very different point: when a person who has recently suffered a concussion goes on to suffer a second concussion before being fully recovered, the medical effects are spectacularly magnified.  This is clearly an issue in sports such as US football where it had too often been the case that a concussed player is sent back on the field in the same game, let along missing a…

Chokehold by Jim Wilson
Review / October 15, 2019

(This originally ran as a “critical analysis” piece in the Pro Wrestling Press newsletter.) When Wrestling Observer editor Dave Meltzer praises a book as “the best researched book on pro wrestling ever written”, it’s a safe bet it may be worth a read. But when an administrator on the historical-based Wrestling Classics site describes the book’s author as “a curtain jerker who made zero impression on anybody except for some people having vague memories of his being abysmally bad… his claims of how much money he was making and what he was ‘promised’ because of what a big football star he was have always seemed like the ravings of a lunatic to me”, it’s clear there is more to the book than meets the eye. Chokehold is the work of former All-American college footballer and Georgia-based pro wrestler Jim Wilson. The 538 page book is a combination of autobiography, history of the business since the 1940s, and a campaigning piece to ‘clean up’ the wrestling business. At the heart of the book is a simple message: the way professional wrestling is treated as a joke by mainstream society has allowed it to escape the scrutiny faced by ‘legitimate’ industries. The…

The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle by Lillian Ellison
Review / October 14, 2019

A veteran wrestler refusing to break kayfabe does not necessarily mean an interview or book will be a bad thing. Unfortunately with the Fabulous Moolah, that’s very much the case. In this autobiography Moolah’s real name and age are treated as major revelations in a world in which wrestling is a genuine sport and, while wrestlers might flap their gums to hype a show, no finish is ever predetermined. It’s perhaps only to be expected from a woman who’s career was based around being a legend, in both the positive and negative senses of the word, but it makes for two separate problems in this case. First, it means that curiousity about many of the more interesting elements of Moolah’s career goes unsatisfied. The shoot between Mildred Burke and June Byers that led indirectly to Moolah’s own title reign is just another contest with no unusual elements in this account. Similarly Moolah’s infamous double-cross of Wendi Richter as the Spider Lady is just another hard-fought victory. We also get no insight into the building of the myth of the 28-year title reign (and how several title switches were left out of the story) or Moolah’s thoughts at being persuaded to…

The Sheikh of Baghdad: Tales of Celebrity and Terror from Pro Wrestling’s General Adnan by Adnan Al-Kaissy
Review / October 11, 2019

Alkaissy is best known in the wrestling world as Sheik Adnan Al-Kaissie or General Adnan from the WWF, though he also had a tag title run in the WWWF as native American star Billy White Wolf. He grew up in Iraq and claims to have been a school classmate of Saddam Hussein. He took up an international football scholarship at the University of Houston and had an amateur background, later being introduced to the pro ranks by Canadian legend Yvon Robert. Although he returned to Iraq, he fled the country in 1963 after the rise of the Baath party. According to the book, Alkaissy was invited back after the Baath party was driven from power and met up with old schoolfriend Hussein who invited him to wrestle Georges Gordienko in front of 200,000 people in a Baghdad stadium, with another 100,000 watching on TV screens outside. So popular was Alkaissy, the book recalls, that he once went shopping and caused a traffic jam so large that Hussein, caught up in it, feared a coup was underway. It’s clearly very difficult to verify the claims given the lack of historical records. There’s certainly photographic evidence of Alkaissy and Hussein together (and…

Unladylike: A Grrrl’s Guide to Wrestling by Heather Von Bandenburg
Review / October 11, 2019

Many wrestling books feature wrestlers telling the story of what happened in their careers, but none have matched this for explaining what being a wrestler is actually like. Unladylike works because of what it is and what it doesn’t try to be. Bandenburg mainly wrestled for the Lucha Britannia and Burning Hearts promotions, neither of which are widely classed as whatever counts as mainstream in modern British wrestling. Simply telling her in-ring story might have had a limited audience. Similarly, the book doesn’t try to be a comprehensive history or examination on feminism in wrestling. Instead it’s a very personal account of what wrestling means to Bandenburg from her lived experience and perspective. It’s an incredible rounded and self-aware portrayal that doesn’t merely cover the more commonly discussed psychological effects of escaping reality to portray a character and work with a crowd to create emotion. Instead it also covers body confidence and the effects – both positive and negative – on human physiology of both performing and training in pro wrestling. It’s one of the most detailed accounts of what wrestling training really involves, the challenges it presents, the rollercoaster of emotions and physicality that comes with struggling and succeeding…