Sharpshooters & Sermons by Darren Kane
Review / August 1, 2019

One of the more unusual books about wrestling you’ll find, this is one man’s tale of the parallels he finds between wrestling (mainly WWE) and religion (mainly Christianity.) The book follows a set pattern with each chapter beginning with a recollection of an incident or aspect of wrestling and then an explanation of a related element of religion or Biblical story. For example, the opening chapters compare the issue of planning a match vs calling it in the ring with taking similar approaches to delivering a sermon; the story of Paul Heyman sitting in uninvited at a Dusty Rhodes booking meeting to the need for churchgoers to listen to and learn from religious teachers; and the need to avoid the edge of the ring in a Royal Rumble to the need to avoid temptation as a believer. It’s often an intriguing set of comparisons and includes some less well-known wrestling moments. For example, I was particularly struck by an examination of two Mick Foley promos about moments being more important than statistics and how that relates to members of the religious community being overly concerned with the raw numbers of their congregation and forgetting to view members as individuals. Other comparisons seemed more…

Smarten Up! Say It Right by Brian Blair
Review / July 31, 2019

Unfortunately this is a book with redundant content in a redundant format. Published in 2001, this is at heart a listing of around 150 insider wrestling terms with definitions and examples of usage. While that may have been of interest to some readers back when online wrestling content was more limited, it’s a topic covered by countless readily-available webpages today. In theory the book has some value in that Blair is a wrestler giving trustworthy information about how terms really were used by those in the business rather than smarks. The problem is that many of the terms have become so widely known in their correct form that they’ve even become part of the on-screen product, a topic that’s been discussed in linguistic journals. Others are hardly exclusive to wrestling: terms such as burning a bridge, breaking in or old-timers are easy to understand without any specialist knowledge. There are a few genuinely lesser-known phrases in here such as a cement mixer (a stiff, unflexible wrestler), a fence builder (a wrestler who refuses to share groupies or ring rats) and to heel a room (have more people sleep in the room than the permitted occupancy to save cash) but they aren’t enough to…

Spandex Ballet by Lee Kyle
Review / July 30, 2019

Buy on Amazon Some wrestling autobiographies amaze with their tales of reaching the heights of fame and success with international promotions. This is not one of those autobiographies, but it’s all the better for it. Kyle — now a stand-up comedian — was what can generously be called a low-level indy wrestler in the Northeast of England in the early and mid 2000s. The book tells the story of his early years as a fan and then his time in the ring during periods of both unemployment and menial jobs. The book is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny throughout thanks to Kyle’s dry humour and unconventionally conversational writing style, though more of the laughs come in the fan section, with lines such as: …it was CLEARLY real, I mean, sure, sometimes I was confused by things, like occasionally you’d see people talking to each other in the ring but I just assumed they were saying stuff like “I’m going to bloody deck you in a minute” or “I’m class at wrestling compared to you.” There’s also the incredible tale of the the top 40 wall, something I will leave as a a treat for those who buythe book. While the wrestling section…

Steel Chair To The Head edited by Nicholas Sammond
Review / July 12, 2019

There’s a lot of talk about the wrestling bubble and it’s always interesting to get the perspectives of people who don’t follow professional wrestling as a fan, but this collection of academic essays is often a case of missing the point. As you’d expect if you’ve ever seen the references section of a college paper on wrestling, this starts with philosopher Roland Barthes’s 1957 essay “The World of Wrestling.” Respected as Barthes may be in his field, this doesn’t offer much depth or insight: even in the 1950s, it shouldn’t have come across as a stroke of genius to note that wrestling is a performance of good and evil and a morality tale rather than a pure sport. The problem is that there’s little if any acknowledgement that pro bouts are put on primarily to draw ticket-paying customers rather than as a moral and artistic cause in their own right. Many of the essays are along similar lines, focusing on wrestling being a masculine melodrama, political allegory or even a sado-masochistic narrative, with many of the points somewhat undermined by reading levels of symbolism that were surely not intended by the performers involved. Some parts are more intriguing though, including…

Steve Rickard’s Life On The Mat by John Mancer
Review / July 11, 2019

This biography of the New Zealand promoter and wrestler, who died on 5 April 2015, is an entertaining enough read but not worth going out of your way to track down. Rickard wrestled briefly in North America but mainly divided his time between his native land and travelling the Pacific region. He was a regular NWA member and even spent a brief period as president in the 1990s, long after its heyday. He was best known for producing the show On The Mat which aired in New Zealand as well as being syndicated. Author Mancer was a sportswriter, but was a friend and colleague of Rickard, so this is hardly an objective or critical book. It’s also not a strict chronological life story, but rather darts about from subject to subject, including a particularly entertaining chapter on New Zealand wrestler Lofty Bloomfield and his supposedly inescapable finishing hold. The book doesn’t break kayfabe, but does frequently note that opponents are able to peacefully coexist out of the ring, so never comes across as insulting in a modern context. There’s not a great deal for the historians as there’s little detail on matches and limited insight into Rickard’s tactics and philosophy…

There’s No Such Thing As a Bad Kid: How I Went from Stereotype to Prototype by Titus O’Neil
Review / July 10, 2019

In no way a pro wrestling book, this might appeal to dedicated O’Neil fans. It’s half-autobiography, half-social science manual, but only deals with O’Neil’s childhood and university days. The wrestling references limited to a couple of paragraphs on his spectacular Saudi Arabia ring entrance and winning the tag titles, plus a page or two describing his entry into the developmental system. Instead the book is a well-written argument about the need to give children positive reinforcement rather than dismiss them as inherently misbehaved. Much of it is based around his own experience in a single parent family from a disadvantaged background and his time in a retreat camp for troubled teens. Considering most of the examples and arguments are simply elaborations on the theme of the title, it doesn’t become repetitive and certainly might interest those in the education and social care sector. There’s also some interesting takes on the college sports culture. However, it’s impossible to recommend this to anyone whose sole motivation in reading it is O’Neill’s wrestling status, other than his most devoted fans. Instead it’s a book that will appeal or not in its own right and those who still choose to read it with that…

Stu Hart by Marsha Erb
Review / July 10, 2019

This isn’t a book that gets a lot of talk, but it’s certainly one of the better wrestler biographies out there. Although a lawyer by trade, Erb was formerly a journalist and approached the project from that perspective rather than primarily as a wrestling fan. While there’s no shortage of wrestling material here, it’s far more of an individual life story than the territorial history of the also-excellent Pain and Passion by Heath McCoy. And what a life story that is. While most fans know the tales of Hart’s sprawling family in their Hart house and the infamous dungeon, many reading this will be shocked to learn of his impoverished childhood, at one stage living with his family in a tent during winters of -20C or below. There’s also plenty about his wrestling career before turning to promoting. Erb pulls off an impressive balancing act of including Hart’s recollections though first-hand quotes from interviewing him, but still keeping the book as an objective, independent account. It’s important to note that the book is predominately about Stu’s life and only contains brief mention of his many offspring’s time in wrestling, particularly outside of Stampede. That makes for a more focused book, but could…

Superhero Ninja Wrestling Star by Lorna Schultz Nicholson
Review / July 9, 2019

There’s only a slim connection with pro wrestling, but this is a fun enough children’s book, though you might want to shop around on the price. The bulk of the story is about 11-year-old Archie who feels undersized after his friends and foes go through growth spurts. He then tries a range of tactics to both bulk up and improve his social standing, which backfire in a manner of amusing ways. The wrestling element comes in two parts. There’s a memorable scene in a family restaurant run by a former pro (with a couple of nice lines to make fans from the 80s and 90s really feel their age.) There’s also a subplot with Archie learning amateur wrestling that proves somewhat pivotal to the payoff. It feels a little churlish to criticize the pacing of a childrens’ book, but the resolution of the tension does have RKO tendencies. We never actually see how Archie’s wrestling tournament career works out as that’s not the point of the story’s conclusion, though there’s definitely room for a sequel. I’m probably not the best reviewer to judge how well-pitched the writing is for the intended audience. I found the dialogue irritating at times, but given my age, that means…

Superstar Series: The Ultimate Warrior by James Dixon
Review / July 8, 2019

[Post originally published in April 2014.) With the tragic death of Jim Helwig/Warrior this week, I thought I’d mention this title from the “History of Wrestling” series. Following on from titles dedicated to WWF video releases, Monday Night Raw and the Hart Foundation, it’s a complete set of reviews of every Warrior match available on tape (around 150 in total), transcripts of more than 100 promos, and a comprehensive look at the Self Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior DVD and a shoot interview. According to the writers: While Warrior may not hit as highly on the star rating scale as some of the subjects covered in other editions of our Superstar Series line of books, his has been one of the most fun to compile. Unusually for the series, this covers matches in Memphis, World Class, Mid-South and WCW as well as the WWF days. I’ve only had the opportunity to read the free sample on Kindle, but it looks to be good stuff if the concept of such a book appeals to you. Early releases in the series were annoyingly smarky in places and seemed to try too hard to carry off Scott Keith-like gimmicks, but this seems much better, with some genuinely…

Tangled Ropes by Billy Graham
Review / July 5, 2019

One of the better WWE-authorised autobiographies, this appears to be a notably honest account, albeit one framed by the warm relationship Graham had with WWE at the time of its writing. As with the Blassie and Lawler books, this stands out not so much for the writing, although that’s perfectly fine thanks to ghostwriter Keith Elliot Greenberg. Instead the key is Graham having had a deep and varied career in multiple territories and thus having unfamiliar stories to tell. It’s almost two-thirds in to the book before he even starts his WWWF title run. The honesty covers both Graham’s extensive, almost pioneering drug use (and the accompanying medical consequences) and his assessment of his strengths and shortcomings as a performer. He also details his frustration at dropping the title to Bob Backlund in 1978 — something planned a year earlier before Graham even won the belt — rather than Vince McMahon Sr changing plans to capitalize on his obvious drawing power and potential to turn babyface. Whether it’s simply his own approach or the guiding hand of Greenberg, Graham comes across as rational here, rather than sounding like he is motivated by bitterness. The conclusion of the book deals with…