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…

Philosophy Smackdown by Douglas Edwards
Review / April 13, 2020

This is that rarest of beasts: an academic book about wrestling from which wrestling fans might actually learn something. With most philosophy essays and books on wrestling there’s a familiar pattern: start by citing Roland Barthes, raise the revolutionary point that pro wrestlers are performers rather than athletes competing to win a match, then discuss how the whole thing is a cipher for morality/ethnography/society/homoeroticism, making sure at no point to acknowledge that pro wrestlers and promoters are attempting to turn a profit. Fortunately Philosophy Smackdown takes a different approach, even leaving Barthes until page 121. Where most such books attempt to use philosophy to analyze and explain pro wrestling, this title — whether intentionally or not — uses wrestling to explain philosophy. If like me you are unfamiliar with concepts such as Plato’s Cave or Aristotle’s Virtues, you’ll get a clear explanation in relatable terms through the medium of pro wrestling, learning more about both wrestling and philosophy. For example, you might assume that face and heel wrestlers displayed binary good and evil characteristics until fans began turning against the traditional white meat babyface. Instead you’ll learn here that virtues and vices instead work on a spectrum with the hero…

The Eighth Wonder of the World: The True Story of André the Giant by Bertrand Hébert and Pat Laprade
Review / April 9, 2020

Profiling the subject of the tallest of tall tales, this extensive biography strives for truth without sacrificing readability. Between graphic novels, a WWE published bio and two documentaries, the story of Andre’s life has been covered multiple times but never in such depth. Running nearly 400 pages it covers the familiar stories but also lesser-covered parts of his career including his time in Europe and Mexico and his importance to the Montreal territory. The book is written with a dose of healthy scepticism and aims to find the true story behind commonly debated “facts” such as Andre’s true height, his childhood, his copious drinking sessions and even his date of birth. What makes this particularly effective is that the authors present the conflicting evidence and explain the working, making clear where uncertainty remains. One inherent drawback is that pursuing the true story of Andre’s life means this doesn’t provide the neat narrative of some previous accounts. That’s just reality however, and you certainly get a rounded account of Andre as both a professional and a person, without a one-dimensional character portrayal. The book does a good job of explaining why Andre — who was far from the tallest pro wrestler…

Straight From The Hart by Bruce Hart
Review / March 3, 2020

This is very much a book of two halves with a big decline midway through. The first half covers both the Stampede promotion and Hart’s own career and is a definite thumbs up. While Hart is almost always portraying himself in a positive light, there’s some good insights into the establishment and operations of the territory and the unusual world of dealing with pro wrestlers and their egos. It all goes off a cliff when the book gets to the end of the territory in 1989 with a couple of obvious problems that set the scene for the second half. First, Hart covers the July 4th crash that ended Jason the Terrible’s career and notes that on the morning before setting out, somebody referred to the July 4th curse because of incidents on the date with three crashes involving Adrian Adonis, Brutus Beefcake and Joey Marella. That must have been quite the eerie moment considering the latter two wouldn’t happen until 1990 and 1994 respectively. Then in the space of just three pages we go from: “The [Dynamite vs Davey Boy] feud became a hot ticket in Stampede Wrestling, drawing huge gates all over the territory. Suddenly things appeared to…

My Life Outside The Ring By Hulk Hogan and Mark Dagostino
Review / February 28, 2020

This is quite the example of the boy who cried wolf. Released seven years after his initial autobiography, the first half of this book covers largely similar ground. There doesn’t seem much point in this unless Hogan’s going to take a different approach, for example speaking more honestly and openly than was possible under the WWE Books banner. This book is copyright Eric Bischoff, LLC. I’d initially planned to cover everything in this book that seemed suspicious, but that topic’s been addressed much better by writer Stuart Millard, and my list of points to check ran onto three pages. Suffice to say there are some real classics here. The best know is the lengthy explanation of how Hogan would regularly fly back and forth between the US and Japan and that the time zones and international date lines meant he wrestled on 400 days a year. Some claims at least make sense on the surface but don’t stand up to scrutiny such as Hogan wrestling in Tokyo the night after WrestleMania III at the start of 29 straight days. That might have been more plausible had he not stopped touring New Japan nearly two years earlier and had the WWF…

Owen Hart: King of Pranks by James Romero
Review / February 25, 2020

Certainly a unique concept for a book, this — perhaps unintentionally — provides a more rounded biography of Hart than some more conventional approaches. King of Pranks was inspired by a offhand comment by Sean Waltman who suggested that somebody should put together a collection of Hart’s infamous pranks. James Romero took on that challenge, poring through books, interviews and newsletters to collect more than 150 anecdotes of Hart’s ribbing. The entries are organised in chronological order, with each section introduced by a brief but detailed installment of a more traditional biography of Hart’s in-ring career. The book also includes several drawings that imagine the scene of some of the more outlandish incidents. While the prank stories are well retold, the attempt to be comprehensive there’s an element of repetition and the level of context and impact certainly varies from tale to tale. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the book is that the sheer volume of stories gives a different impression of Hart’s humor than the naturally celebratory tone of accounts after his tragic death. Many of the incidents are genuinely amusing and creative, most notably the way he took advantage of his ability to impersonate other people’s voices…

Kendo Nagasaki and the Man Behind The Mask by Peter Thornley
Review / January 20, 2020

I would say this book was worth the wait, but frankly nobody ever expected to see it in the first place. Nagasaki/Thornley had arguably protected his character more than any other wrestler in the English-speaking world with the possible exception of The Undertaker. He’s finally broken that silence and gone beyond the character, reasoning it was best to tell his story properly in a book designed as a fundraiser for a charity in the memory of British soldier Lee Rigby. At just short of 500 pages, it’s a comprehensive autobiography covering both his career and personal life. It’s not merely offering Thornley’s thoughts on known career events, but covers subjects that were previously somewhere between uncertain and mystery such as his childhood, his time at the Snake Pit, and his few appearances under a different name and without the mask. (There’s still a few mysteries however: the precise details of how he lost his finger and the process of acquiring a tattoo on his skull are both glossed over.) The book also includes extracts from an unpublished autobiography on manager George Gillette (including colourful accounts of the celebrities on the London gay scene of the 60s and 70s) and some…