Self Help by Al Snow
Review / January 17, 2020

This isn’t quite as billed, but it’s all the better from it. Both the title and blurb imply the focus here is on life lessons and philosphy, supported by events from Snow’s career. It’s a format that worked well with Bobby Heenan’s second books, Chairshots and Other Obstacles, but realistically this is a straight autobiography. It has the occasional “life lesson” but it’s usually just an unnecessary line reiterating the preceding story. As an autobiography this is a winner, however, with a bit of everything. The early years have plenty of fun tales about struggling to break into the business, with Snow’s tryout with the Andersons a story that never gets less jawdropping even for those who’ve heard it before. The WWF and ECW years are told in detail with lots of behind the scenes insight, including the relative lack of creative process for those lower on the card, with Tough Enough also getting a fair bit of attention. The book then ends with some brief accounts of life as a trainer in OVW and TNA (the latter feeling somewhat abrupt) and some entertaining tales from returning to the independent scene incorporating tasers and midgets. Written with Ross Owen Williams,…

Wrestling Noir: Real In Memphis by Stevie Pearson
Review / January 16, 2020

A bombastic, high-energy story, this novel’s writing doesn’t quite rise up to the level of its plot. As with several pieces of wrestling fiction, most notably the Blood Red, Dollar Green series, this is based on the often shady underworld of the territorial era of wrestling. While it’s set in 1979 Memphis, it’s more of an archetype than a direct homage to its real-life equivalent promotion. For example, one common theme is the territory adjusting to the national expansion of a New York promotion with a more entertainment-based product and approach to kayfabe. The story is certainly never dull, with all manner of outlandish characters double-crossing one another, the plot taking full advantage of the questionable ethics and reality of a world that straddles fiction and business. Some of the themes are explicitly adult and it’s certainly an example of a world that works for the benefit of an eventful plot, even if a promotion that had this level of extra-curricular activity among its roster would likely struggle to put together a line-up week after week. Unfortunately the writing lets down the plot at times, with inconsistent punctuation and a particular problem of every sentence of dialogue being on a…

Eggshells: Pro Wrestling In The Tokyo Dome by Chris Charlton
Review / January 15, 2020

Writing a good wrestling book isn’t just about having a knowledgeable and skilled writer picking an engaging topic. That topic has to be of the right size and scope to neatly fit the format of a book, something that’s certainly the case for Chris Charlton’s latest project. In a previous review of James Dixon’s All or Nothing, we noted that 1PW was one of the few promotions for which it would be possible (and interesting) to write a blow-by-blow account of every single show and backstage happening: a smaller, shorter-lived group would not justify the attention, while anything with more of a history would be impractical to cover in such a format. Similarly, few buildings other than the Tokyo Dome would work for a book like Eggshells. Somewhere used less often would not have the heritage and prestige to be worthy of coverage, while venues such as Budokan Hall or Madison Square Garden have been used too often to allow coverage with this depth. For each of the shows at the venue, Charlton provides the full results along with detailed reports on the most notable matches. It’s not merely a blow-by-blow however: instead, every match is put into context so…

Pro Wrestling: A Comprehensive Wrestling Guide by Lew Freeman
Review / January 14, 2020

It’s unfair to review a book having only read the free Kindle sample. But then it’s also unfair to produce something this bad and charge $94 for it. You’ll often see academic books with ludicrous prices such as this, mainly because nobody is buying them with their own cash. You’ll often see wrestling books with as many factual errors, though admittedly usually in eBook-only titles that cost a dollar or two. But you’ll rarely see the two combined in this manner. It starts out reasonably enough with a very simplified history of wrestling in America, albeit with a slightly odd jump from Evan Lewis, the original ‘Strangler’ of the late 19th, to the post-war territorial era. But within a few pages it goes to pot and the flurry of often-baffling errors begins. We learn that shortly after 1983, Vince McMahon signed a deal to have wrestling shown five nights a week on TNT. We learn how the 1980s begin with the WWF overwhelming WCW and ECW. We learn that Andre the Giant’s run as Giant Machine was a failed attempt to fool the fans. We learn how ECW was originally East Coast Wrestling. It’s just a shame we don’t learn…

Death of the Territories by Tim Hornbaker
Review / December 20, 2019

After previous books exploring the history of the NWA and wrestling in the New York region, Tim Hornbaker covers the collision between the two. Death of the Territories covers the period between Vincent Kennedy McMahon taking control of the World Wrestling Federation in 1982 and the sale of Jim Crockett Promotions to Ted Turner in 1988.  At times, the book offers fascinating insights, either revealing incidents through Hornbaker’s characteristic research skills, or highlighting seemingly small nuggets of information that prove significant with hindsight. Unfortunately the book doesn’t keep up this momentum and instead loses focus. While the basics of McMahon breaching traditional territorial boundaries and being first in an inevitable race as cable TV exposed stars nationwide are well known, Death of the Territories certainly covers angles usually left out of the story. For example, accounts often point to the way Georgia’s TBS going nationwide as the original ‘Superstation’ meant its stars had fans beyond its territorial border, but Hornbaker highlights that the New York-based WOR station – which carried McMahon’s flagship show – also went across the country as cable and satellite television grew. Similarly the story of Georgia Championship Wrestling promoting in Ohio as an early expansion comes…

I’m Sorry I Love You by Jim Smallman
Review / December 19, 2019

Imagine a Scott Keith book. Now imagine it was funny. And then imagine it was largely accurate. It wouldn’t be a Scott Keith book any more, but it might be a bit like this. PROGRESS promoter and stand-up comedian Smallman has put together what is carefully labeled as “a” rather than “the” history of professional wrestling, and in the big picture it does a good job of such a daunting task. It aims to cover all aspects and time periods, and while there’s a natural tendency towards the (comparatively) more recent times, the book is a third of the way through before getting to WrestleMania III. It’s a general overview of the themes and events of the wrestling business over time, with the WWF expansion, the death of the territories and the Monday Night War era having a particularly coherent narrative. It’s told in a casual style with plenty of commentary and asides, largely as you might expect from a stand-up and wrestling promotion front man who is writing in his natural voice. Whether it’s the subject matter or simply the writing process, the strengths and weaknesses of the book do seem to fall into three sections. In the earlier…

Raw: The First 25 Years by Dean Miller & Jake Black
Review / December 18, 2019

Between WrestleMania, Raw and Smackdown, WWE has plenty of experience in anniversary/history books and this is much in line with recent instalments. It’s a simple format of six pages for each year of Raw (expanding to eight pages from 2006) with a paragraph of two about each of the most notable events of the year, along with the occasional mention what happened on a pay-per-view where it significantly affected the Raw storylines. There’s also the occasional “Introducing…” box when a major figure makes their Raw debut. For the most part it’s accurate enough, with a good attention to detail such as naming both people in a match, even when it’s a squash. The most significant error is listing the debut episode of Nitro as the first time Raw and Nitro went head to head, when in fact Raw did not air that week. As always in such books, the handling of Chris Benoit is noteworthy. Here he gets just a single mention (as one of the names of the Radicals on their debut) with some creative writing elsewhere such as an account of the initial draft reading “Flair’s first pick was Undertaker while McMahon selected the Rock” — which is…

Canvas Countdown by Paul Meehan
Review / December 17, 2019

Following on from my recent review of The WWE Book of Top 10s, this independently produced alternative is a mixed bag with some worthwhile elements. It’s a similar format of 100 lists of 10 entries, almost all with a brief explanatory paragraph. As you’d expect, the big difference is the absence of photos: how important that is depends on the reader. Other differences are that the book covers a much wider range of promotions and that the lists are for the most part in no specific order. This can occasionally be a little jarring when something seems to be obviously in a “wrong” position and in a second volume it might be worthwhile putting the entries in alphabetical order to reinforce the point that the items aren’t ranked. One of the strong points is the diversity of subjects covered with examples including amusing real middle names of wrestlers, PWI Rookies of the Year that proved a wise choice, and wrestlers whose ring name involved a family relationship. Perhaps surprisingly, some of the more intriguing lists are the purely objective stats-based ones. I certainly wouldn’t have picked out which wrestler has an 0-16 record at the Royal Rumble or who has…

Tough Guys: The Birth Of An American Sport by Bill Viola Jr & Dr Fred Adams
Review / December 16, 2019

This history of the original MMA promotion is unfortunately a classic case of ignoring the policy of “show, don’t tell.” It’s the tale of CV Promotions which, in 1979 and 1980, ran several combat events in Pennsylvania under the Tough Guys banner. They appear to have been the first formalized shows that combined multiple martial arts into a single sport. While the events are described as the forerunner to UFC, their setup — complete with weight divisions, extensive list of banned moves, and a 10-point must scoring system — is a lot closer to UFC as we know it today than the free-for-alls of the mid-1990s. (From a pro wrestling perspective, this isn’t purely a book with crossover appeal: there are also a few direct references such as on athletic commission regulation or Bruno Sammartino being included among debates over the true toughest guy around.) The gist of the book is covering the promotion’s struggle with athletic regulators before an eventual ban, and highlighting the lack of attention paid to it when people give an account of MMA’s history that starts with UFC. Unfortunately the balance of the content is very much for the benefit of the writer rather than…

Wrestling The Hulk by Linda Hogan
Review / December 13, 2019

Perhaps the politest way to review this book would be to note that wrestling fans may not be its primary target audience. It’s only 236 pages of very large type (and even some padding out with recipes) but still feels a long-winded route to effectively say “I met and married Hulk Hogan but he turned out to be a shagger so we got divorced.”) There’s virtually no wrestling content and what little there is seems somewhat shaky. For example, not only do we learn how Vince McMahon took wrestling out of “small, dingy, dimly lit no-name arenas with fifty to one hundred people in the audience” but Linda claims the first time she went to one of Hogan’s matches he wrestled Nick Bockwinkel for the AWA title in front of barely 300 people. There’s no acknowledgement of a ghostwriter and if somebody did work on the project, they may have gone too far in making the writing authentic. Because it’s filled with lame puns! And exclamation marks everywhere! It also seems light on editing, with several cases of the book contradicting itself. All that said, it’s hard to criticise too much as the content certainly matches the book’s premise of…