The Magnificent Scufflers by Charles Wilson
Review / June 20, 2019

This is strictly one for the collector or for the more avid historian. It’s a history of the early years of what would eventually become pro (rather than Olympic style) wrestling in the US, with most of the book covering the period from the civil war to late 19th century. The main focus is on collar and elbow wrestling, so named because of the mandatory start of each bout in such a grip. Only the brief penultimate chapter covers what we’d recognise today as professional wrestling, specifically an activity where worked finishes and cooperation are the point rather than an aberration. There’s not much in the way of new information here, with alarm bells being set off by George Hackenschmidt’s most famous opponent referred to at one point as “Frank Goetz.” And even writing in 1959, Morrow seems baffled by the idea of how “faking” wrestling could even work, let along why one would do it. If you need to have every wrestling book going, or you have a particular interest in the collar-and-elbow era, this is worth a read, but otherwise it’s very much the type of book that only really appealed back in the days when a wrestling…

The Mouth of the South by Jimmy Hart
Review / June 19, 2019

If you’d expect a book by Jimmy Hart to be bright and breezy with lots of entertainment but not much depth, your prejudice is spot on. While there are a few ‘insider’ tidbits, such as Hart explaining how he deliberately avoided doing any traditional wrestling moves smoothly when working wrestler vs manager bouts in Memphis, feeling to do so would be implausible, it’s more of a general career recap. To give an idea of the attention paid to the relevant sections of his life, there’s about 20 pages on his music career, 70 pages on Memphis, 50 pages on WWE and 15 pages on WCW. There’s quite a bit of exposition explaining events in the business that Hart wasn’t directly involved in, but you do get a few good stories about funny events in and out of the ring. It’s all well-written enough: no ghostwriter is acknowledged, and it does feel a lot like a motormouth Hart promo skipping from subject to subject. There’s little to really criticise in what’s here. The main limitation is that for anyone interested in Hart’s career to the point of reading his autobiography, there’s probably not going to be much new to learn here….

The New Pictorial History of Wrestling by George Napolitano
Review / June 18, 2019

One of three Napolitano picture books (alongside This Is Wrestling! and Championship Wrestling), this is the least “coffee table” of the trio and the closest to having some weight, albeit far from a comprehensive reference book. Aside from a centre section, it’s largely made up of full page black and white shots, with a page each for around 150 wrestlers. Each comes with a capsule bio and a “fun fact”, which ranges from the bland (Al Perez is a devoted family man) to the storyline (Great Muta helped Gary Hart get investors for J-Tex) to behind the scenes trivia such as Bam Bam Bigelow being called Scott or Tugboat being married to Dusty Rhodes’s sister. It’s an eclectic mix, presumably driven by availability of shots, with the obvious superstars of the publication period (1990) accompanied by a seemingly random choice of foreign and independent stars such as Akira Maeda, Otto Wanz and Cheetah Kid (the future Rocco Rock.) The picture quality is mixed, with some professional studio shots accompanied by several clearly taken from the stands at WWF shows, such as an out-of-focus image of King Haku. Perhaps the most notable image is of Vader and Stan Hansen in the infamous match where Vader’s eye…

The Official Insider’s Story of WrestleMania by Basil Devito
Review / June 17, 2019

While the story of WrestleMania is well-told, both through independent accounts, compilation sets and even the WWE’s “True” story documentary, this is a different beast and one well worth exploring. DeVito joined WWF shortly before the first WrestleMania and was in charge of marketing for all of the 16 events covered in this book. As such, there’s plenty of genuine behind-the-scenes insight. It’s not backstage gossip about finishes and match politics, but rather stories about the challenges and strategies of promoting the event. While company employees are exempt from explicit criticism, DeVito doesn’t shy away from naming and shaming business partners and celebrities who proved unhelpful or obstructive. While  the key matches are recapped, the focus is on new details such as the recruitment and handling of celebrities, the logistics of running the split-sites of WrestleMania 2 and the Pontiac Silverdome for III, and the hassles involved in transferring from the Los Angeles Coliseum to the LA Sports Arena, including having sold more front row seats than were available in the new site. The book is copiously illustrated, not just with event photos but memorabilia such as ticket stubs, access passes and promotional material. If you’re lucky, you may pick up a copy that…

The Professional Wrestling Trivia Book by Robert Myer
Review / June 14, 2019

This isn’t an information piece but rather a quiz book. It’s serviceable enough but with little reread value. Published in 1988, it’s made up of nothing more than 500 multiple choice questions, grouped as “Heroes and Villains”, “Tag Teams”, “Legends of The Past” and the not entirely politically correct “Women, Blacks and Midgets.” The questions aren’t inherently difficult, but in some cases the age of the book makes them a little more challenging now. To give some random examples of the tone and difficulty: He is America’s hero A) Hulk Hogan B) Sergeant Slaughter C) Ric Flair D) Dusty Rhodes (Answer: B, presumably because it was a specific nickname he used at that time.) … was responsible for the initial success of the Fabulous Ones. A) Jackie Fargo B) Ernie Roth C) Lou Albano D) Jimmy Hart (Answer: A) Ronnie Garvin hooked up with… to create the Risky Business Boys. A) Dusty Rhodes B) Steve Regal C) Rick Morton D) Scott Hall (Answer: A)   The book has a few minor problems. One is that some questions don’t have a clearly objective answer, such as one asking which wrestler “experts consider to be the top black athlete in pro wrestling.” Another…

The Pro Wrestling Hall Of Fame: The Canadians by Greg Oliver
Review / June 13, 2019

Don’t let a minor controversy detract from one of the better wrestling history books out there. The first of Oliver’s Hall of Fame series (as much a way of tying the books together as an attempt to compete with the likes of the WWE and Wrestling Observer halls), this attracted some attention from a disgruntled Bret Hart, outraged at being ranked only 14th in the book’s opening section of the top 20 Canadian wrestlers. While Oliver makes a great case for the likes of Whipper Watson, Yvon Robert and Killer Kowalksi taking the top spots, Hart being ranked below Sky Low Low and Little Beaver certainly does look odd. Still, concentrating on the rankings misses the point of the book, which is an excellent set of profiles of Canadian grapplers. From his work at the SLAM site, Oliver has developed the skills and contact lists to get insight from wrestlers across the generations and that pays off here. No matter how knowledgeable you are about wrestling history, you’ll likely learn something new or get a fresh perspective in every profile. The most notable aspect of the book is realising just how many major names in wrestling originated in Canada. The…

The Queen of the Ring by Jeff Leen
Review / June 12, 2019

This biography of Mildred Burke goes straight into the top tier of must-read historical wrestling books. Many such titles fall into one of two traps. Some are cobbled together with little research or overly reliant on a single source, meaning it’s hard to determine the accuracy of either small details or the overall narrative. Others are the result of meticulous research but the author falls prey to the desire to leave nothing else, even at the expense of readability. Leen has found the perfect blend between the two, pulling off the approach of John Capouya’s Gorgeous George, but arguably improving upon it. In the body of the book itself, Leen always cites a source for material where there’s reason to doubt it, or where it’s significant to know any bias or perspective which could affect its interpretation. However, this is only done where necessary and the text itself is allowed to breathe without excessive ifs and buts. Instead of footnotes, the book has an exhaustive section at the back where you can look up the source of virtually every claim or piece of information if you so choose. That list of sources includes contemporary documents from newspaper articles to personal letters and…

The Stone Cold Truth by Steve Austin
Review / June 11, 2019

Among the mid-level of the WWE autobiographies, this title is ghostwritten by former WWF and WCW magazine writer Dennis Brent. It’s a decent recap of Austin’s career, though a little short on detail. That’s largely because it’s written in an authentic Austin voice and is certainly a no-nonsense title. Perhaps appropriately, Austin picks his spots to shine in the book rather than going all-out throughout. As a result, some moments in his career get short shrift — for example, there’s little more than a transcript of the King of the Ring 96 promo. However, at other points Austin goes into great detail about his thinking and philosophy behind wrestling. Highlights include a 10-page final chapter about the need for spontaneity and believable characters, as well as a reprint of a memo Chris Adams gave him explaining how to structure a match. There’s also an excellent insight into his emotions and physical problems going into what turned out to be his final match. It’s certainly not a can’t miss read: the documentary on the DVD of the same name covers his career highlights, while Austin’s twice-weekly podcasts have plenty of philosophy for students of the game. However, it’s definitely worth the money…

The Sweetheart by Angelina Mirabella
Review / June 10, 2019

Wrestling-based novels do not have a great reputation and those involving female characters and an element of romance are normally something for reviewers to fear (particularly in the self-publishing realm.) Thankfully The Sweetheart, professionally published by Simon & Schuster, is a strong exception to that pattern. It’s the tale of Leonie Putzkammer, better known as 1950s female pro wrestler Gwen Davies. Without giving too much of the plot away, she’s discovered, trained, works as a heel, then makes a key career decision that affects both her professional and personal life. The Sweetheart pulls off that rare task of being an engaging novel in its own right that will appeal to a general audience, but being credible for pro wrestling fans, with the wrestling scenes an integral part of the storyline and themes rather than merely being a backdrop. Author Angelina Mirabella has clearly researched the subject does a great job of capturing some of the little-known nuances of the real wrestling business such as the genuine physical suffering and the potentially psyche-destroying way in which “opponents” are both working together for the show and competing for promotional positioning. One particularly impressive element is the way Mirabella includes details of genuine…

The Story Of The Development Of The NWATNA by Jerry Jarrett
Review / June 7, 2019

While Bryan Alvarez & RD Reynolds continue to joke about writing a TNA version of The Death of WCW — and such a title remains premature — this is the closest thing to an insight into the promotion, albeit a brief period in its history. The book covers 2002, the year Jerry and Jeff Jarrett tried to capitalise on the gap left by the demise of WCW and ECW but without the benefit of national television. They attempted to so do by updating the territorial model to the modern era, existing solely as a low-priced weekly two-hour pay-per-view. It’s a ludicrous idea in hindsight and seemed unlikely to many at the time, but this does at least show how those involved might have believed it could work. The strength of the book is that it is written as a contemporary journal. While it’s certainly possible Jarrett may have edited or even redrafted content, it comes across as his honest feelings at the time of each event rather than an attempt to rewrite history. Some of the stories are spectacular in hindsight, most notably consultant Jay Haussman telling Jarrett that the first few shows were attracting as many as 85,000 buys…