Wrestling’s Ring Side Seat by Johnny Kincaid
Review / April 29, 2019

This is the self-published story of the former European heavyweight champion best known for his ‘Caribbean Sunshine Boys’ team with Dave ‘Butcher’ Bond. The most striking initial impression is that the book, apparently by design if the foreword is anything to go by, has not been professionally edited. The punctuation is patchy at best, and many of the sentences run on far beyond their natural length. While this is initially distracting, once you adjust to the style (which quite possibly mirrors Kincaid’s natural speech) it doesn’t harm the story-telling. Fortunately this unconventional formatting is strongest during the early portion of the book, which deals with Kincaid’s upbringing in care homes and a spell in a juvenile detention facility. For wrestling fans, the interest level picks up when he first attends a show and is driven home with Earl Maynard, accompanied by a gorgeous woman, though at this stage Kincaid is discouraged from entering the business. Instead he finds work assembling rides at a travelling fairground (equivalent to a US carnival) before taking work on the boxing booth where his wages would be docked if a challenger from the audience ever lasted three rounds. Eventually he doubles-up as a wrestler on…

Bobby The Brain by Bobby Heenan
Review / April 26, 2019

While you might expect this to be a fantastic book given the author, it’s not only merely decent, but it isn’t Heenan’s best book. Written with former PWI staffer Steve Anderson, the book is pretty slim at 192 pages of very large type. It’s a slightly unconventional format as the first 100 pages or so are a chronological recollection organised into logical chapters, while the rest is based around themes such as the territories, celebrities and dealing with fans. There’s very little depth in the book, though as expected a great deal of dry humour. It’s also got a lot of single-sentence paragraphs which are presumably meant to serve as punchlines or emphasise a point, but have the effect of making the writing very brusque at times. It comes across as an attempt by Anderson to capture the sharp wit of Heenan, but the voice doesn’t feel authentic to his more familiar style of longer sentences and going into detail like he did in promos and announcing. This isn’t to say the book is worthless — there’s a lot of coverage given to Heenan’s wrestling and managing career before the prime years in WWF for which he is best known. There’s…

Brisco by Jack Brisco & William Murdock
Review / April 25, 2019

While not everyone will find the entirety of this ghostwritten autobiography interesting, it’s a must for people with an interest in the territorial era. It’s a worthwhile story from a wrestler who was once at the very top of the business and then walked away right as the WWF was beginning its national expansion, making him one of the few wrestlers to quit while still healthy and able to perform at a strong level. The manner of his departure — simply turning around while changing flights and heading on the first plane back to Florida — is addressed here. The first 50 pages or so cover Brisco’s amateur career, culminating in the NCAA championship. This section is a little dry and may struggle to hold the interest of those who don’t follow amateur wrestling closely, but its well worth persevering. What really makes the book is Brisco’s account of his time as NWA champion. Rather than merely recount dates and opponents, he goes into great detail about the pros and cons of working the schedule — making great money, but rarely being home. His recollections of the sharp contrast of leaving the ring after a main event only to be…

Brody by Larry Matysik & Barbara Goodish
Review / April 24, 2019

The story of Bruiser Brody would always be a fascinating one, but it’s the format that makes this book a particular success. It’s a blend of biography and autobiography, with chapters alternating between close friend Larry Matysik recalling Brody’s in-ring career and widow Barbara Goodish talking about his personal life. The approach works particularly well given the contrast between the crazed brawler and the intelligent family man. The writers also make what turns out to be a smart decision in opening the book with Brody’s death before returning to a more chronologically conventional approach. It comes across as both a recognition of how unavoidably significant his death at the hands of a fellow wrestler was, and a way to avoid the book ending on a downbeat note. In terms of pure facts such as dates and events, the book is hard to criticise as Matysik was a meticulous record keeper. He also encompasses a wide range of recollections from Brody’s peers rather than relying solely on personal memories. One limitation is that the book somewhat downplays Brody’s stubbornness/self-preservation when it came to negotiating finishes, holding up promoters and even no-showing events. While the subject is addressed, there’s little exploration of…

Nitro by Guy Evans
Review / April 23, 2019

This is a remarkable and unique book despite not being the comprehensive WCW history you might imagine on first glance. The key selling point (beyond the sheer length at 500+ pages) is the intensive research through interviews and in turn access to documentation. While some key on-camera figures such as Eric Bischoff, Kevin Nash, Vince Russo and Kevin Sullivan are among the subjects, the fresh angle here is interviews with people working behind the scenes in production and management, particularly from TBS. The result is a book that is not so much a history of WCW the wrestling promotion, but rather the business structure in which both its triumphs and insanity was able to thrive. It’s certainly a crutch for some involved in the creative process to blame all their failings on the corporate politics, but the book does set out some of the examples of how so many things spiralled out of control. A notable element of the interviews can be read as a strength or weakness depending on your perspective. For the most part quotes and claims from participants are left unchallenged. Where claims are in doubt it’s more a case of presenting contradictory quotes from two different…

Broken Harts: The Life and Death of Owen Hart by Martha Hart
Review / April 22, 2019

This is a book every wrestling fan should read once. It’s also a book few will bring themselves to read a second time. This is not a traditional wrestling biography as it features virtually nothing about Owen Hart’s in-ring career, save to acknowledge the respect his abilities had earned within the industry. Instead it’s a very personal account by his widow Martha of their life together, the stresses of his being on the road, and the experience and aftermath of his tragic death in 1999 when he fell from the rafters of the Kemper Arena in Kansas City. The book details the circumstances of Hart’s death and lays bare that, while most definitely an accident, it was most certainly avoidable. The very nature of his planned ring entrance, in which he would fall from a zip wire a few feet from the ring, fatally reduce the basic safety levels that should have been expected for such a descent. In detailing the resulting legal battles and the turmoil it caused the extended Hart family, the book fully explores the process by which Owen Hart was fitted with a quick-release harness against the advice of experts in the field. The standout section of the book…

Can You Take The Heat? The WWF Is Cooking: By Jim Ross
Review / April 19, 2019

This concoction has a nasty aftertaste of cash-in. It’s doubtful whether it’s possible to produce a good wrestling-themed cookbook, but this certainly isn’t one. It’s nothing more than a bunch of very basic, unappetising recipes which appear to have been randomly assigned to wrestlers with little pretense the superstar in question either cooks or eats the meal. The unlucky buyer will learn how to make Stone Cold’s Cinnamon Ice Cream, Mideon’s Minestone Soup and Dean Malenko’s Beef Stroganoff among others. Less than half a dozen seem to be in anyway connected to the character and — Big Bossman’s Pepper Steak aside — most of those are nothing but references to genitalia. The culinary advice isn’t much better. You’ll learn such sophisticated recipes as making Kahlua coffee by adding Kahlua to coffee. You’ll also encounter perhaps the vilest sounding meal of all times, Scotty Too Hotty’s Too Cool Orange salad, a mix of cottage cheese, pineapple, whipped cream and  powdered gelatine. To drive home how lazy and cheap the book is, the only pictures of food are to be found on the front cover and instead you’ll find around half the page count to be made up of low-resolution black and white…

Championship Wrestling by George Napolitano
Review / April 18, 2019

This is a good example of the type of books that were available before the boom inspired by the success of Have A Nice Day and the growth of self-publishing and eReaders. It’s a 112-page collection of pictures by George Napolitano, arguably tied with Bill Apter for the best-known wrestling photographer of his era. There is a fair bit of accompanying text, though nothing with any real insight and it’s mainly made up of kayfabe capsule profiles. The pics themselves are great quality as you’d expect, and include some offbeat shots such as the Ultimate Warrior in shades, Doom in tuxedos, Road Warrior Hawk applying his make-up. Altogether though, it’s really something you’d only want to buy if you wanted to get your hands on every wrestling book going, something that was both achievable and understandable at the time of its 1991 release, but not really necessary or viable for most people today. You can get it second hand for pennies, however, so it may be worth looking out for if you’re a collector or completist. Buy on Amazon

Chair Shots And Other Obstacles: Winning Life’s Wrestling Matches by Bobby Heenan
Review / April 17, 2019

This is a wrestling book like no other. It’s also one of the most undersung titles around. It’s a format few would have expected to see from Heenan: a self-help manual. Rather than the usual wishy-washy new age content you’d normally see in such books, this is effectively a series of serious points for living a successful live used as pegs for genuinely hilarious stories from Heenan’s career. Unlike with his autobiography, there’s no attempt to follow any structure here and the book works all the better for it. It’s particularly effective as, in between the humour, Heenan uses the opportunity to share some valid gripes, such as being underpaid in a manager role, in a way that doesn’t come across as bitter or whiny. He’s also extremely self-aware in the book, never afraid to acknowledge the sheer absurdity of the professional wrestling business but never shy of admitting his love for it. Heenan also addresses his battles with cancer, something that might seem hard to fit to his lighthearted style, but it’s genuinely uplifting without being sentimental. Buy on Amazon

Capitol Revolution by Tim Hornbaker
Review / April 16, 2019

American wrestling as most Brits know it arguably began on 23 January 1984 when Hulk Hogan beat the Iron Sheik at Madison Square Garden to capture the WWF title and kick off the national expansion era. But New York wrestling has a rich heritage, explored in this book which appropriately enough ends on that very day. Capitol Revolution begins its tale just after the first world war when the likes of Jack Curley and Tex Rickard battled to revive wrestling after the departure of former national stars Frank Gotch and George Hackenschmidt. It then goes on to tell the complex tale of double-crosses and alliances in the 1920s and 30s when wrestling switched from a faithful simulation of amateur grappling to a wilder performance that would still be recognisable as pro wrestling today. It also addresses the multi-generational influence of Toots Mondt and the rise of the McMahon family to dominance in New York, along with its often terse relationship with the National Wrestling Alliance. Finally we get details of Vince McMahon’s transition from local promoter and TV commentator to company owner. Hornbaker’s research skills and dedicated cannot be questioned, which was demonstrated in his previous volume on the NWA’s…