Wrestling for My Life: The Legend, the Reality, and the Faith of a WWE Superstar by Shawn Michaels
Review , Uncategorized / December 9, 2019

This is not a wrestling book. Don’t get me wrong: the blurb and other cover material don’t make any pretense this is a wrestling book, but it’s important to stress this so that would-be readers don’t get misled. This isn’t a book like the Bill Watts autobiography that is about wrestling but has some diversions into religion. Instead it’s the story of Shawn Michaels’ Christianity with a backdrop of pro wrestling. When it comes to the faith talk itself, your mileage will vary. It was never going to be to my taste, but I found it very generalised and repetitive. One incident in the book involves Michaels getting a call from Bruce Prichard about returning to wrestling and deciding that as he was in church when the phone rang, that was a sign from God that he should get back in the ring. How you respond to that proposition is probably a good indication of how much you’ll get from the book. There are some wrestling-related passages, but you won’t learn much that isn’t already public knowledge, other than Michaels saying he and Undertaker’s legendary WrestleMania 25 bout was only officially allotted 15 minutes. Perhaps the most interesting wrestling section…

The WWE Attitude Era by Jon Robinson
Review / December 6, 2019

Finally this under-covered era gets some attention from WWE. Snark aside, this is pretty much the book version of the countless documentaries and countdowns WWE has produced in recent years, particularly since the launch of the network. It’s not a chronological history but rather a collection of pieces focused on the main players, with a heavy emphasis on photography. As you might imagine, the book is hardly an objective history. At times the detailing of events such as the Montreal Screwjob verge first into being misleading and then outright false.  The book also has a few sections where things are presented either without context or with errors. For example, there’s a story from Stephanie McMahon that’s simply referenced as the “wedding angle” with no background, accompanied by a picture of her and Triple H at an in-ring ceremony. However, on closer reading the story actually refers to her aborted wedding to Test, who isn’t mentioned in the piece, and the revelation of a drive-thru ceremony with Triple H, which is mentioned without explanation.  (The same thing happens later in the book, making it clear Test’s name has been deliberately excluded. Perhaps more understandably, there’s a wonderfully chosen shot of the…

Crazy Like A Fox: The Definitive Chronicle of Brian Pillman, 20 Years Later by Liam O’Rourke
Review / December 5, 2019

The saying that perception is reality applies to few industries more than professional wrestling, and none so more than the case of Brian Pillman. He was first a victim of the often baffling blurring between fact and fiction and then harnessed that confusion for his own advantage before his struggles to deal with physical reality ended in tragedy. It’s a tale that is told expertly in Liam O’Rourke’s biography, a work that not only covers a subject that suits detailed examination but avoids many of the stumbling blocks of many similar books. At one extreme you have bios that are too light on detail, relying on broad strokes with little insight. At the other you have books where the author has clearly put immense work into research but lacked the self-discipline or self-awareness to edit down so that only relevant information is included – instead almost trying to prove they’ve put in the effort. That’s not to say Crazy Like A Fox lacks research: quite the opposite. It’s packed with detail, with many revelations that were fresh even to this seasoned grappling obsessive (on the very first page we learn Pillman was half-Welsh), but every tidbit advances the story and…

Puroresu Tourism: Vacation in Japan to Watch Pro Wrestling by Craig Mann
Review / December 4, 2019

While there’s some useful information in this, it doesn’t really justify the steep cover price. The book combines some factual details for would-be wrestling visitors to Japan with a personal recollection as an introduction, some interviews with people who’ve seen wrestling in Japan, and brief overview histories of the major Japanese promotions. The opening account of being at a show at Korakuen Hall is extremely atmospheric and more along these lines would have been interesting to read. Unfortunately the interviews and histories don’t really add much and feel a little like padding. The meat of the book is listings and details for venues and facilities. The most useful section lists a wide range of wrestling stores plus bars and restaurants that either have a wrestling theme or are owned or staffed by wrestlers, along with a map of the Tokyo Dome area. Another highlight is two sections of useful Japanese phrases, one relating to buying tickets and choosing seats and the other covering train travel. There’s also a section on Osaka that may be useful to those travelling further afield. Other listings and information sections aren’t as useful. The guide to buying tickets doesn’t give any real specifics that can’t…

Sisterhood of the Squared Circle: The History and Rise of Womens Wrestling by Pat Laprade & Dan Murphy
Review / December 3, 2019

With the Diva’s Revolution in full effect, it’s certainly an appropriate time to look back at the history of female grappling. But while undoubtedly well-written and comprehensive in scope, the format of this book can often be frustrating. The strength is the wide range of the book, giving due attention to various eras of female grappling from the pioneer years to the Fabulous Moolah era, the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling connection days, the Diva period and the modern day, along with separate looks at Japan, the rest of the world and the independent scene. As with Laprade’s Mad Dogs, Midgets and Screwjobs, which covered wrestling’s rich heritage in Montreal, the writing flows well, with quotes taken from a wide range of sources; it’s clear the writers have not skimped on effort or research. The main problem is that rather than a broad chronological or thematic history, it’s presented as a series of profiles of female wrestlers, verging on encyclopaedic format. This brings several disadvantages. One is that the wider story of women’s wrestling’s evolution is somewhat erratically told. In particular, there’ll often be a teasing reference to an incident or event (such as the first women’s match in New York) that’s…

WWF Wrestling: The Official Book by Edward R Ricciuti
Review / December 2, 2019

While something of a cash-in on the early 90s craze, this 1992 UK release has a little more depth than most such official titles. It’s much the format you’d expect, a 160-large pages, full colour affair with a few dozen profiles of wrestlers and managers, largely featuring their character and storylines in 1991-2 rather than a full recap of their WWF careers. There are also sections on popular moves and the big four pay-per-views, all illustrated with good quality pics. There’s something a little bit different towards the end of the book with looks at WWF’s tours and popularity in Europe and Japan, Hulk Hogan’s movies, WWF television shows and the various merchandise, magazines and home video releases. It’s not exactly the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, but it’s a change to see such explicit acknowledgement of the promotion’s business activities. It’s by no means a must-read, but makes for a fun bit of nostalgia if you see it at a reasonable price. Buy on Amazon

The Cowboy And The Cross by Bill Watts and Scott Williams
Review / November 29, 2019

Ghostwriting means turning a subject’s recollection into a coherent narrative. Sometimes it’s a seamless process. But sometimes it’s clearly a struggle. The Cowboy And The Cross isn’t an unclear or rambling book by any means, but it gives the distinct impression of a tussle between Watts wanting to let rip on the subjects of his choice and Williams wanting to produce a narrative that would appeal to the likely audience. If you don’t want to know Watts’s views — expressed at length — on religion or political correctness, you’ll be disappointed by sections of this book. But at the same time, there’s plenty of insight into his wrestling experiences and philosophies, including his booking skills learned at the hands of Roy Shire and Eddie Graham among others. While the chronology and verifiable facts appear to be correct, it feels as if Williams chose to let Watts give his account on matters of opinion rather than fact. As a result, it’s a book very much in Watts’s authentic voice, complete with little indication that he ever made poor decisions or was proven wrong. It’s still an informative read however, and should be particularly valuable for those willing to learn lessons and…

When Wrestling Was Real (volume 1) by Paul ‘The Butcher’ Vachon
Review / November 28, 2019

One of the more underrated wrestling books out there, this is sadly difficult to track down.  This isn’t to be confused with Wrestling with the Past: Life In and Out of the Ring, a 2012 single volume autobiography from Vachon which (based on the opening chapter at least) is not as good. Instead this is the first of a three volume set self-published by Vachon in the early 2000s and sold by mail order and in person at conventions. It mainly covers his early pro years across Canadian territories and then travelling around Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and India. As much as this covers his in-ring activities, it’s also a genuinely entertaining travel tale as he attempts to scrape together enough cash to take he and his family back home. During this time he does everything from work as a singer in Lahore and hang out with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to spend New Year’s Eve on a perilous drive from Montreal to Calgary and operating full touring shows with just two men and two women to cover the wrestling, refereeing and box office. There’s also the tale of the Great Antonio falling for the infamous Mabel….

Wrestle Radio USA Grapplers Speak by Ed Symkus and Vinnie Carolan
Review / November 27, 2019

Somewhat outdated in the Internet age, this is a collection of transcripts of radio interviews with wrestlers between 1993 and 1996. There’s a combination of big names like Ric Flair and Rick Steamboat and future superstars in the early part of their career such as Triple H in his Jean Paul Levesque days. For the most part the interviewees don’t explicitly break kayfabe, but neither do they insult anyone’s intelligence and it’s easy to read between the lines where necessary, while there’s plenty of behind the scenes talk. The main drawback is that many of the interviews are relatively brief and there are plenty of one-line replies that don’t get followed up on. These are very much time-restricted radio segments rather than the type of in-depth talk that’s more commonplace in today’s shoot interview era. It’s an interesting enough read and the anthology format keeps things moving, but the novelty of wrestlers being interviewed outside of a storyline setting is long gone, so this isn’t something to go out of your way to track down today. Buy on Amazon

Ask Him Again Ref! by Dale Storm
Review / November 26, 2019

More of a conversation than an autobiography, this is still an interesting insight into some of the more under-covered elements of the British wrestling business. Storm was a Scottish wrestler who divided his time between Joint Promotions and the independent circuit, two factors which meant he didn’t have television exposure or national attention. However, he did have a lengthy career working with some top stars and in a way his status lends to the appeal of the book. It appears to have been adapted from an initial draft as a stage or screenplay and is presented in the form of a fictionalised conversation with a journalist set in 1984. It’s a device that’s sometimes a little strained: the Storm of 1984 has some remarkable foresight at times, while the conversation seems exceptionally long. That said, it does allow Storm to cover many elements of his career and experiences in wrestling without having to group it by theme or chronologically, and it certainly conveys what it must be like to listen to him holding court. Some parts of the story are specific to the Scottish scene, particularly the independents in more remote venues. However, there’s also some fascinating insight into the…