Chris Candido: No Gimmicks Needed by John Cosper and Jonny Candido
Review / October 12, 2023

In a just world this would be an autobiography. We’ll have to settle for an entertaining and informative biography. A good wrestling biography will do one of three things: adequately document a wrestler’s in-ring career, give some insight into their life outside the ring, and share some engaging stories. This manages all three, thanks largely to its authorship. It’s not quite the same as when Scott Teal steers the recollections of a wrestler into the realms of reality, but perhaps the next best thing. Cosper is an experienced wrestling biographer who conducted dozens of interviews for the project, while Candido (Chris’s brother) was clearly incredibly close with Chris and shares not just personal memories, but retells experiences and conversations which Chris had shared with him. The result is both a life story and a career retrospective that doesn’t simply list dates and matches, but shares the lessons Chris Candido learned on his journey to becoming a truly great worker in the professional wrestling business. Inevitably it’s not the happiest of tales at times and doesn’t shy away from Candido’s low points or the effects his drug problems had on his career and colleagues. However, it does fully convey the tragedy…

Ambush At The Palace by DR Feiler
Review / September 28, 2023

Feiler’s third wrestling novel shifts genre but remains an easy read that should hold your interest. Ambush At The Palace is set in the same universe (a fictionalised late-70s Florida territory) as his previous books on Gorpp The Grappler, but puts less emphasis on the sci-fi element. Instead this is a crime thriller kicked off by a robbery of the man returning the night’s takings from a wrestling show. The wrestling element is more of a backdrop this time, with Gorpp a cameo player, though with the interesting perspective that to the characters in this volume, whether he is really an alien is a mystery on the same level as to how much Native American heritage a headdress-wearing grappler really has. The story develops smoothly and at a brisk pace, with the main criticism being that it occasionally goes into too much detail about pricing or times that feels like an unnecessary attempt to prove that the fine detail of points such as timelines are indeed internally consistent. The ending of the book also felt a little rushed, though this was partially a matter of expectations as the final 15% or so of the book is actually a sample of…

Bruiser: The Worlds Most Dangerous Wrestler by Richard Vicek
Review / September 19, 2023

Proving you can tell a story based on research, this is something of an undersung title. As we’ve covered in many reviews, historical wrestling books often fall in to a couple of traps. One is to conduct meticulous research and then be so afraid to let any of it go to waste that you bombard the reader with irrelevant detail, drowning out any narrative. The other is to concentrate on wrestling storylines or to rely on a wrestler’s recollection, which can be plagued by faulty memories or outright BS. Vicek avoids these traps by drawing source material from as many angles as possible, including public records, interviews and relevant sections from other wrestling publications. Perhaps the most extreme example is when he dug out a newspaper article showing a young Dick the Bruiser lifting a child at ringside and then tracked down the child — now a retiree — to get his recollection of the incident. The results is a book that is much about breadth as depth. It’s by no means a comprehensive career chronology, but rather aims to capture as many aspects as possible of a wrestling character and the man that portrayed him. In particular, the book…

WrestleTalk Presents: The New War: WWE vs AEW
Review / August 22, 2023

The book is not an attempt to give a chronological history of the “war” to date. Instead it’s made up of 10 articles reproduced from the WrestleTalk magazine between May 2021 and August 2022, plus brief linking chapters adding context. Each article explores a particular topic either relating to one of the two promotions or to the conflict itself. These include the reimagining of NXT, Tony Khan’s Twitter posting habits and the changing nature of TV ratings. As you’d expect from a newsstand magazine, they are all well-written, with Katrina Waters (WWE’s Katie Lee Burchill/TNA’s Winter) giving particular insight into the psychology of WWE-contracted wrestlers considering their alternative employment options. The main drawback is that some articles have only the lightest of arguments and conclusions, while others haven’t stood the test of time. For example, the question of Vince McMahon’s succession is addressed in several chapters but, to a reader in 2023 has yet to become a meaningful outcome. Another piece heavily speculates that early AEW signings of the likes of Big Show and Christian could be in preparation for a head-to-head TV battle on Monday nights. While it’s at least honest to leave these conclusions unedited from the original…

Booker T: From Prison to Promise: Life Before the Squared Circle by Booker T Huffman with Andrew William Wright
Review / August 10, 2023

As long as you know what you’re getting, this is a great insight into what made Huffman the man he is. The subtitle and blurb make the point, but some would-be readers may overlook the fact this is not a wrestling autobiography. The only wrestling content is the final 15 percent or so, covering Booker’s time in the Texas independent circuit before getting a WCW tryout. Instead it’s the story of a troubled childhood, some poor life choices, a spell in prison, and a period of drifting before finding wrestling. It’s certainly a very open account, with plenty of detail but no complaining or refusing to take responsibility. While it’s very readable, the book is clearly ghostwritten and doesn’t appear to be an attempt to capture the subject’s voice. While Booker Huffman may well speak in a different way to the on-screen character of Booker T, it’s hard to imagine him reading this for an audiobook and it not sounding clunky and unnatural. There is a second volume covering Booker’s wrestling career. If you’re going to read that, don’t skip this as it gives great context into Huffman’s early life and the differences that would have come with fame and money.

The Last Real World Champion: The Legacy of “Nature Boy” Ric Flair by Tim Hornbaker
Review / July 26, 2023

This is the most comprehensive written account of Flair’s life and career, but feels less than the sum of its parts. As readers of Hornbaker’s previous books on the NWA, the territories and the early years of the WWF will know, he is meticulous in his research but has tended to favour detail over narrative. That’s certainly the case with the sections here about Flair’s family history and life before wrestling. There are so many dates of birth and middle names of ancestors reproduced in the book that the detail obscures what if anything we should learn about Flair’s background. Fortunately, that approach is scaled back as Flair’s career begins and although it’s still packed with references (which take up nearly the final 25 percent of the book and often add detail that it’s hard to imagine anyone caring about), there’s more of a story being told and the detail is often used to illustrate a point. The strongest section of the book is on Flair’s rise in the industry and his adjustment to both wealth and life on the road as an NWA champion, particularly with the insane multi-territory schedule of the early 80s when he was indeed “the…

Between the Ropes: Wrestling’s Greatest Triumphs and Failures by Brian Fritz and Christopher Murray
Review / June 6, 2023

There’s nothing wrong with this but it’s not a necessary read in 2023. Between The Ropes was a radio show broadcasting in Orlando, kicking off at the height of the Monday Night Wars. (Several years after this book’s publication it transitioned to an online presence and is now a podcast.) The bulk of this book is four overview histories covering WWE, WCW, ECW and TNA, with a particular emphasis on the period from the mid-90s to the book’s 2006 publication. They are generally fair overviews, though even in 2006 they were covering well-worn territory. The main hook of the book is the inclusion of extracts from appearances of dozens of stars on the radio show, plugged into the chronology to provide something of an oral history. This is an area where judging the book in 2023 feels somewhat unfair as what may have been fresh and insightful back then now seems more redundant with the people involved having told similar stories in countless podcasts, shoot interviews, autobiographies and documentaries. The remaining chapters profile some of the more frequent wrestlers guests, though these don’t really add much beyond the fact they are all nice guys and some of them like to…

The Canvas, Volume 1: The Shine by DA Edwards
Review / May 30, 2023

Originality always helps books, but sometimes lifting from reality can be entertaining. Novels about pro wrestling tend to fall into a couple of categories. Some use it as a backdrop for genre fiction such as crime (Blood Red, Dollar Green) or romance (The Cruiserweight). Many of the rest cover fictionalized careers based heavily on the US territory era. The Canvas certainly falls into the latter category, but in this case the obvious influence of real events is an added bonus. It uses real wrestling venues but the names are fictionalised (though plausible). The characters range from familiar archetypes to very obvious individuals with new names. The broad outline of the period, from 1982 until the first WrestleMania is largely as happened for real. In other cases, specific events that happen to the lead character and his colleague are taken from real events but placed in a different time and context. It adds an extra insight for dedicated wrestling fans who, without going too far into spoiler territory, will likely have a sense of dread when a character is left alone ill in a Japanese hotel room or when a Puerto Rican promoter invites the lead character to discuss business in…

Living The Dream: Memphis Wrestling by Randy Hales
Review / May 3, 2023

My high hopes for this were not borne out, but it may be worth a look for Memphis completists. In the early years of wrestling on the internet, Hales wrote several fascinating pieces on his booking experiences and philosophies, particularly the Memphis flavour. Unfortunately those didn’t really get as much play in this book. Hales notes the focus changed midway through the writing process to switch from a history of his time running the Power Pro Wrestling group (1998-2001) to more of a life story. In practice the Power Pro section still makes up the bulk of the book, with a little either side about Hales’ entry into the wrestling business and post-wrestling life, plus an outline history of Memphis wrestling. The Power Pro account is a mixed bag. There’s plenty about the challenges of running a promotion and the evolution from the traditional “TV hypes the live show” model to more emphasis on episodic television as the main money-maker. Some sections are genuinely insightful, particularly in giving context to the infamous Doug Gilbert live TV “shoot”. While it’s a source of excitement and even amusement for some hardcore fans, Hales explains how it devastated and almost ended the promotion….

Best Seat In The House by Justin Roberts
Review / April 24, 2023

This is an unusual book in that it’s hard to criticize but also hard to recommend. As a ring announcer’s biography, the natural comparison is to Gary Michael Capetta’s Bodyslams, which is largely a collection of fun stories about the weird world of pro wrestling. This is a more focused memoir about chasing a dream, finding it lacking and yet still celebrating the achievement. The early parts of the book cover Roberts’ relentless and driven struggle to get a ring announcing job with WWE over the course of many years. His keen interest as an obsessed childhood fan will certainly raise a few smiles, particularly for anyone who has gone to great lengths to find a wrestler willing to talk to them. From the point he achieves the job, the book is largely about its many shortcomings. It’s a combination of feeling unappreciated, suffering intense bullying (most significantly on overseas trips) and coping with the sheer lack of consistency by management, frequently falling foul of “rules” that change without logic, warning or explanation. The problem is that this is somewhat relentless. It’s no doubt an extremely fair representation of what it felt like to work for WWE, but it’s not…