The Dead Wrestler Elegies by W Todd Kaneko
Review / June 28, 2019

Until now, the only wrestling poetry book of note was Lanny Poffo’s Wrestling With Rhyme. That’s changed with The Dead Wrestler Elegies, of which to say it is a different prospect would be an understatement. Each of Kaneko’s poems centres on a particular wrestler who is now deceased, some simply because they came from a bygone era, but all too many because they passed away prematurely. But in the same way as the Vince McMahon-Steve Austin feud is so often explained as a reflection to allow fans to live vicariously and work off their own frustrations as an employee, the poems here are not purely about the wrestling business. Instead there’s a common theme in which the poems serve as a way to frame Kaneko’s memories of his childhood and his relationship with his parents. By the accounts here, his mother left the family, with wrestling viewing one of the ways the abandoned father and son bonded in the aftermath. Exactly how much of the detail of Kaneko’s own life related here is genuine is impossible to tell, and the way the wrestling he watched parallelled his own experiences is often so neat as to arouse suspicion. But just as with…

The Encylopedia Of Professional Wrestling (2nd Edition) by Kristian Pope & Ray Whebbe Jr
Review / June 27, 2019

This is by no means a lazy cash-in, but in 2016 it’s more one for collecting than reading. The first 60% of this bulky book are made up of chapters interspersing wrestling history (vintage, 70s, 80s, Monday Night Wars) and logical subject groupings such as championships, babyfaces and heels, tag teams and women wrestlers. It’s designed more for readability than comprehensiveness and chapters will often wander off into a dedicated section of several pages on, for example, the Hart family of Paul Heyman. The final 40% is where the “encyclopedia” lives up to its name with a series of 1,500 or so capsule bios. Each is only a matter of a few sentences so there’s no real depth but they are generally a fair summary in the available space. In a few cases the content seems a little suspect, such as the entry on Big Daddy which claims his persona was a take-off of Burl Ives (in reality, he simply took the name of Ive’s character in the film of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof) and that he had “almost a cult following overseas” which will be news to many. The book’s strongest point, particularly in the early chapters, is…

Soulman by Rocky Johnson & Scott Teal
Review / June 27, 2019

Another engaging title, this is a story only one man could tell. Johnson’s career, while successful, was not particularly out of the ordinary when it comes to making a way around the territories circuit. What makes his experience and perspective unique is two specific characteristics. Firstly, he has an interesting take on his status as a black wrestler, often booked to almost fill a quota in a territory. As well as being accepting of the pros and cons of such as position, he also details how he strove to establish his own personality and ring style so that he couldn’t simply be replaced by another grappler in the “African American slot.” He also talks at length about the experience of his son not only following him into the business as The Rock, but his subsequent Hollywood success and how that changed his own life. There’s also plenty of insightful backstage stories about the advice he received over the years on working and booking, though the number of times he mentions being told to slow down over the years does make you wonder how much notice he took! Among the other highlights is Johnson’s spell in Memphis with the hard-to-believe but…

The Grapple Manual by Kendo Nagasaki
Review / June 26, 2019

This is a real Tokimitsu Ishizawa of a book. It’s a small, 80 page affair with capsule profiles, the distinguishing feature being that among the usual Undertaker, Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart, there’s also a collection of British performers such as Mick McManus, Catweazle and Adrian Street. The profiles aren’t badly written, but won’t contain any new detail to readers of this blog. While most of the information such as dates appears accurate, there are some curious timline issues such as the suggestion that in 2005 Ric Flair was regularly working six shows a week and doing 60-minute draws. The book also has a few two-page spreads covering wrestling moves such as the piledriver, clothesline and Big Daddy splash. It’s tough to recommend this as anyone with enough interest to buy it for themselves would likely gain little insight from reading it. It comes across very much as a book aimed at non-wrestling fans trying to find a Christmas or birthday present for relatives they vaguely remember are fans of wrestling. Buy on Amazon

The Hardcore Truth: The Bob Holly Story by Bob Holly & Ross Williams
Review / June 25, 2019

Many wrestling autobiographies feature the subject being “outspoken” for the sake of it, in a similar way to how “shoot interviews” seem to be judged on how many people the interviewee verbally attacks. The Hardcore Truth is most definitely an outspoken book, but Holly clearly has a different motivation: he simply says it how he sees it, with no regard for how it will be perceived or the consequences for his career. Whether or not you were a fan of Holly or like (what you believe you know of) him as an individual will not make much difference to your enjoyment of this book. Nor will your opinion likely be changed. While Holly was not a WWE headliner, he was involved in plenty of interesting points in the company’s history, from the dark days of the mid 90s through the Attitude Era, the Brawl for All and, of course, Tough Enough. He covers these aspects in detail with his perspective, giving a rounded account of the reality behind the fantasy. Ghostwriter Ross Williams does a great job of keeping the narrative focused while having it come across in a consistent voice that is clearly that of the man behind the Bob Holly…

The Hardy Boyz by Matt and Jeff Hardy
Review / June 24, 2019

While the subjects don’t exactly have a broad career to match the likes of a Billy Graham or Jerry Lawler, all the more so when this was published in 2003, there’s more substance to this than you might expect. Ghostwritten by Michael Krugman, the book alternates between the voices of Matt and Jeff and Krugman does a good job of distinguishing the two while still making it clear and coherent. He makes sure to highlight occasions on which the pair disagree, such as when Jeff talks about a desire to push the in-ring style to the limit while Matt talks about having a finite number of bumps in his career and wanting to make them count. (It may be hard to believe for those who’ve been online in the past decade, but Matt was once considered the level-headed one of the pair.) While the narrative of the book only really covers the pairs backyarding adventures, creation of the independent Omega group, and their early years as a WWE team including the TLC bouts, it covers several events and incidents that you might have expected to have been glossed over. One such case is both wrestlers working on TV tapings in their…

The Midnight Express 25th Anniversary Scrapbook by Jim Cornette with Tim Ash
Review / June 21, 2019

Unless you have zero interest in wrestling of the territorial and national expansion era, this is an absolute must. It’s a perfect format, midway between a record book and an autobiography. The main feature is a complete listing of every match from both the Bobby Eaton/Dennis Condrey and Eaton/Stan Lane version of the team, covering Mid-South, World Class and Jim Crockett Promotions. As well as dates, venues and results, the live gate and attendances are listed wherever possible. The results are broken up by numerous notes of varying length explaining the booking patterns, backstage antics, memorable crowd interactions and payoffs, fair and otherwise. You’ll also seen numerous original documents from Cornette’s collection, including payoff sheets, tickets, memos from management (including Bill Watts explaining how to sell a stipulation match in a promo) and even format sheets for television shows including Clash of the Champions IX, a notable contrast to the epic scripts that occasionally leak from RAW shows today. These are all placed in the relevant section of the book rather than arranged randomly, giving them a much clearer context. Before and after the result section is around 70 pages of bonus content, a combination of photos and articles on more…

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…