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…

Ringmaster: Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of America by Abraham Riesman
Review / April 21, 2023

It would be unfair to call this half-assed, but a substantial chunk of this book is missing in action. Marketed as a “definitive biography”, it suffers from the major shortcoming that it effectively ends in 1999 with the angle of the revelation of Vince McMahon as “Greater Power”. The subsequent 24 years of his life and career is covered in a whistlestop “coda” chapter where, for example, WWE becoming a public company and setting McMahon up as a billionaire gets a solitary paragraph. It would have been disappointing if this had been a planned approach and fully flagged up in the blurb of the book, but this isn’t the case. Speaking to Slam Wrestling, Riesman explained: There was just too much life to fit in there. I had a word count and we didn’t want to go over it because you don’t want a long wrestling book to try and market. Frankly it’s baffling how the publisher considered this acceptable, let alone how the book was then promoted to potential buyers. To make things worse, the abrupt ending will likely come as a shock to many given the book appears to be paced for 1999 to fall roughly in the…

First Names: Dwayne (‘The Rock’ Johnson) by Lisa Williamson
Review / April 20, 2023

While there’s nothing new here for serious fans, this is a fun biography for young readers (the stated target age is 7 to 9). It’s part of a series title “First Names”, the idea being that the reader will feel like they are on a first name basis with a curious mix of historical and contemporary figures, placing Johnson alongside Greta Thunberg, Nelson Mandela and Elon Musk. The book is simply a repackaging of Johnson’s life story (with an emphasis on inspiration), plus explanations of various concepts such as how wrestling works and the positions and depth chart in college football. For the wrestling sections at least, it will all be familiar for anyone who has read Rock’s WWE book and watched the Young Rock series. It does open with a neat acknowledgement for young readers that would be welcome in certain other wrestling biographies: the author explains that while the facts in the book are based on public record, some of the wording of conversations and descriptions of Johnson’s thoughts at the time are constructed (with direct quotes in italics.) At 150 pages, it’s a relatively comprehensive bio given the intended audience. For the wrestling section at least, it’s…

Tod is God: The Authorized Story of How I Created Extreme Championship Wrestling by Tod Gordon & Sean Oliver
Review / March 8, 2023

Sometimes you want a comprehensive, chronological, fact-checked, revelatory account of a wrestling personality’s career. But sometimes you just want to laugh your backside off. Tod Is God falls very much into the latter category, likely reflecting its origin story. It’s ghostwritten by Kayfabe Commentaries host Sean Oliver and he and Gordon are open about the way its production involved 60 hours of conversations followed by Oliver putting the highlights together in a logical order. The result is much like an engaging shoot interview where every question gets an entertaining response. This isn’t to say the book doesn’t address key points: you’ll get Gordon’s take on the origins of the business and his personal and professional relationship with Paul Heyman. You’ll also get his side of the story with incidents such as the NWA title doublecross and his departure amid the “lockerroom mole” gossip. However, the bulk of the book, and the undisputed highlights, are the countless genuinely hilarious stories of the crazy characters involved in pro wrestling. Revealing details would spoil the effect, but it’s filled with ridiculous moments, the humour being enhanced by the way such incidents are considered perfectly normal in pro wrestling, unlike virtually any other business….

Flowers for Adrian: The Life and Death of Adrian Adonis by John Ellul
Review / March 2, 2023

You may ask “why write a biography of Adrian Adonis?” For John Ellul, the question was “why not?” As well as a chronological account of Adonis’s life and career, Ellul explores the question of how history remembers individual wrestlers. As he notes, Adonis had high-profile runs in multiple territories, was at once stage rated as one of the finest workers in the business, and had a particularly memorable run with a major match at the iconic WrestleMania III. Yet not only is he in no major Hall of Fame, but his absence has proven largely uncontroversial. Unlike many wrestling bios, Ellul does not have a unique selling point in telling the story such as access to a game-changing source or documentation. Instead it’s a wide-ranging approach that brings together video footage, publications, archive interviews and a range of original interviews with Adonis’s colleagues, family and industry insiders. It produces a multi-faceted account. No one interviewee is a game-changer, but each offers insight into a particular topic, be it future pro Terry Daniels on his noteworthy acceptance of Adonis’s shoot challenges to audience members or journalist Fumi Saito on Adonis’s leisure time at home in California or on tour in Japan….

There’s Just One Problem… By Brian Gewirtz
Review / February 17, 2023

Depending on your viewpoint and what you know about Gewirtz, he represents everything that’s right or everything that’s wrong with WWE’s modern TV product. This book does a good job of proving the truth is somewhere in between, but will entertain you even if it doesn’t change your mind. For those who don’t know, Gewirtz was a WWE writer throughout the 2000s, including a lengthy run as the head writer. His account addresses that era, including both the development of full-blown Hollywood style writer rooms and the switch to more heavily-scripted promos. Above all else, the book conveys the sheer insanity of applying this process to a TV production like no other (live broadcasts with scripts completed or even written on the day, then handed to athletes without formal acting training) and a boss like no other in Vince McMahon. Many of the best-remembered (for good or worse) storylines are detailed, giving a unique insight into everything from guest hosts on Monday Night War to Katie Vick to the anonymous Raw GM to Goldberg in a wig. To Gewirtz’s credit, he explains the rationale and development process behind each moment, but never tries to pretend something was well-received or effective…