Tonight… In This Very Ring by Scott Keith
Review / May 24, 2019

You know when you’re at a wrestling show and you’re having fun but the experience is spoiled by that one guy OF DOOM behind you who won’t shut up with the smarky insider talk where he keeps going on about people being held down or getting a push or being good workers? And it’s really annoying because he proves that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and it feels like half of what he says is not just factually wrong but reveals his lack of wider understanding, like, ooh, I don’t know, saying Buddy Rogers won the NWA title from Lou Thesz. And half of what he says seems to contradict itself. And the worst part about it is that a bunch of people seem to be hanging on his every word because the fact that he is shouting so loudly FOOLS them into THINKING he must be authoritative. Now imagine that guy was a book. Buy on Amazon

Undisputed by Chris Jericho
Review / May 23, 2019

While this lacks the charm of A Lion’s Tale, it’s entertaining enough and in some ways more insightful. The second volume from Jericho deals with his initial WWE run from 1999 to 2005 and his subsequent break from wrestling before returning in late 2007. That means it doesn’t have the sheer breadth of settings of its predecessor, but it does give it a very focused look at the reality of life behind the scenes in WWE. The big strength is the book’s honesty. It’s not a WWE publication and it feels as if Jericho is giving his genuine recollections and opinions without fear of breaching protocol. It doesn’t descend into bitterness and thus makes for a well-rounded and balanced look at the unconventional workings of the company. For example, there’s plenty of the criticism that you might expect of issues such as the booking of Jericho during his Undisputed title run into WrestleMania (along with a genuinely shocking story about his payoff for the show), but also plenty of self-awareness about his struggles to adjust to the “WWE style.” The book is also particularly strong on giving an insight into Vince McMahon’s strengths, weaknesses and unique character, as well as addressing…

Western Boxing & World Wrestling by John F Gilbey
Review / May 22, 2019

One of those few titles that would reliably show up in book catalogue searches for “wrestling” a couple of decades ago, this holds little interest for pro wrestling fans today. The book splits roughly in two into boxing and wrestling. Much of the latter half is taken up by the legitimate combat styles of places such as Japan, India and Turkey. Despite being written in 1986, the US and UK history is almost entirely about pre-war wrestling. There are brief mentions of familiar names from the pro scene, but these are limited. For example, Bert Assirati is the only British wrestler of any kind mentioned after 1906 and it’s as good as implied that he was the only pro who ever wrestled for real, something that would no doubt be a surprise to the Wigan set among many others. The US section is also far from comprehensive, with some detail on Gotch, Hackenschmidt and Stanislaus Zbyszko. It’s also of dubious accuracy, repeating a supposed claim by Zbyszko that the first ever worked bout was Ed Lewis dropping the world title to Gus Sonnenberg in 1928, a timeline that’s likely several decades out. About the only section of interest even to keen historians…

When You’re Ready Boys – Take Hold! by Len Ironside
Review / May 21, 2019

While this has some interest, the length and style mean it’s really for collectors only. Ironside was a Scottish wrestler, so this has some good insight into some of the names and characters who didn’t get the TV exposure. It’s more of a collection of stories and reminiscences than a chronological career history. Unfortunately it’s only 88 pages so is likely a single-sitting read. It’s also written with kayfabe in full effect, which won’t be to everyone’s taste. Buy on Amazon

I’m Next by Bill Goldberg
Review / May 20, 2019

While widely viewed and remembered, Bill Goldberg’s wrestling career was extremely brief-lived. It might seem as if there’s not much to say and that certainly seems to be the case with this book. Released in 2000, when his WCW stint had barely finished, this doesn’t have a great deal of wrestling content. It’s written in a somewhat haphazard order and only around 90 pages (of large type) deal directly with the chonology of his in-ring career. The rest is a hodge-podge of his experiences as a celebrity and his time in college and NFL football. A lot of the wrestling content is a recap of on-screen events, though there are some surprisingly frank revelations such as Goldberg admitting he frequently gets lost in matches and has little ability at putting a match together. There’s also a wonderful anecdote about a match where he wrestled Ric Flair. These are limited though as a lot of the content includes transcripts of promos plus original quotes from other wrestlers that don’t add much insight. It would be unfair to call the book a waste of your time as a reader, and with second-hand copies easy and cheap to acquire, it’s certainly recommended for…

Who’s The Daddy?: The Life and Times of Shirley Crabtree by Ryan Danes
Review / May 17, 2019

Who’s The Daddy is as much a story of Shirley Crabtree the man as it is Big Daddy the wrestler. Much like its subject, the book has clear strengths and weaknesses and its reception will depend largely on what the audience is looking for. It’s the fresh content that is the main advantage of the book. Author Ryan Danes has spoken extensively to Crabtree’s daughter Jane and uncovered some genuinely informative insights into his personal life. These build up a picture of a man with simple tastes who was never overly worried about money. We also learn a lot about some of Crabtree’s unusual quirks, his relationship struggles (including a shocking revelation involving the breakdown of one of his marriages) and the stresses of stardom and life on the road. It combines to give a balanced look at the man behind the character and serves to remind readers that simply labelling somebody as a good or bad person is overly simplistic. Unfortunately, like Daddy’s own in-ring performances, this isn’t enough to carry the show. The most striking negative is the book’s use of references to historical and world events with nothing to do with either Crabtree or wrestling. While this…

Whoa Nellie: Dick Lane’s Wrestling Book
Review / May 16, 2019

This is a cash-in booklet from the 1940s-50s era when Lane was the announcer on the televised Olympic Auditorium shows during the initial “golden age” when many homes could get wrestling in prime time almost every night of the week. It’s a mere 32 pages, most of which is made up of capsule profiles and pictures of wrestlers of the day. There’s also a short section covering seven of the most popular moves of the day and relatively credible explanations of how they work. It finishes off with a Q&A section with highlights including the revelation that a wrestler can ordinarily hold a tight lock with his fingers at full grip for four to five minutes and that it’s not as important to be as finely conditioned in wrestling as in boxing because “a little girth is necessary to help cushion against the shock of falls and pressure.” The booklet has a surprising number of typos, including references to Jim London and Vern Gagne. It’s a fun little booklet but there’s not a great deal to read, so it’s only worth tracking down as a collector’s piece.

Wrestlers Are Like Seagulls by JJ Dillon
Review / May 15, 2019

This is another on my list of undersung wrestling books. It’s big strength is the sheer diversity of Dillon’s career and thus the wide range of topics for which he offers an insider perspective. Though best known as the manager of the Four Horsemen, that only covered a couple of years of his career. He also worked as a WWWF referee; spent more than a decade on the territory circuit including Mid Atlantic, Florida and Amarillo; toured Japan; spent time as a booker; was one of Vince McMahon’s right-hand men for several years; and worked in WCW during the Monday Night Wars era. All of this is well covered in the 350 page book which, as is typical with those ghost-written by Scott Teal through his Crowbar Press publishing, manages to tell a coherent, flowing story while still staying true to the voice of the subject. Whatever your particular interest in wrestling, you’ll find something of interest here, whether it’s the process of breaking in and being gradually smartened up, or the lavish lifestyle that came from the Horsemen living their gimmick. For me, who became a fan through late 80s and early 90s WWF, the section on the creative process during this…

Wrestling by Frank Gotch, World’s Champion
Review / May 14, 2019

This is definitely one to collect rather than read, but given its age it’s surprisingly attainable (in the US at least.) Showing the prestige and perception of pro wrestling at the time of its 1913 publication, this is part of a series of sports and fitness books published by Richard K Fox of the National Police Gazette which, despite its title, was the original boxing and sports magazine of its day. The book starts with a brief bio of Gotch, though oddly it only covers the first Hackenschmidt bout and not the 1911 rematch. There’s then a look at wrestling, bemoaning the fact that some matches appear to be little more than exhibitions, and some training tips. The rest of the book is made up of 29 photographs showing different holds, posed by Gotch himself and Oscar Samuelson, a name I couldn’t trace other than in references to this book. The selected holds certainly give the impression Gotch’s bouts would have more closely resembled an amateur contest than the slam-bang style of even the 1930s.

Wrestling Babylon by Irv Muchnick
Review / May 13, 2019

Some valid and important points in this book are let down by some fundamental limitations. Muchnick is a professional news writer who has made his name over the years by writing mainstream outlet articles on the darker side of the wrestling business, covering topics often ignored by “real” media on the irrelevant grounds of wrestling being “fake.” There’s absolutely no debating that Muchnick — the nephew of legendary St Louis president and NWA chief Sam Muchnick — has put in the hours to research both documentation and first-hand accounts of matters those in wrestling management and even law enforcement and government would prefer to be kept quiet. Unfortunately that work is not shown to its best in this format, a collection of his articles published between 1988 and 2004. One problem is the length. It’s only 152 pages and once you take out the introductions and an appendix listing premature wrestling deaths, it’s closer to 120. No subject is addressed in real depth and it often feels like there wasn’t quite enough here for a full book. Another limitation is that the nature of Muchnick’s writing doesn’t necessarily lend itself to an anthology. Virtually every piece he writes is in…