Blood & Thunder – volume 1: The Story of the I
Review , Uncategorized / March 28, 2022

With this title aimed at a niche audience, it is a fittingly in-depth work that will satisfy the most curious reader. The book follows a simple premise: follow the first 10 significant independent promotions to launch in Japan following the establishment of All Japan and New Japan as top dogs. With more than 500 pages in the book, this means each is explored in depth, including its origins, demise and a combination of in-ring and backstage development. Compared with the largely similar approaches of the existing promotions, the first thing to stand out is the sheer variety of in-ring styles of the 10 groups featured here, including shoot style (UWF, PWF-G, UWFI-i, RINGS), high-flying (Universal Lucha Libre), mixed martial arts (Pioneer Senshi, Seishin Kaikan) and violence (FMW) along with the more traditional styles of Japan Pro-Wrestling and Super World Sports. The accounts of each promotion are written in a self-contained manner, bringing pros and cons. It highlights and reveals the connections between the groups, particularly the perhaps underappreciated importance of Hisashi Shinma to the Japanese scene. However, it does mean some elements of repetition for those who plough through the book as quickly as possible. For anyone but the most…

Falls, Brawls and Town Halls: The History of Professional Wrestling in Northern Ireland by Nick Campbell
Review , Uncategorized / April 27, 2021

Having researched wrestling in Northern Ireland myself for what turned out to be around a 1,000 word section of a longer article, I would never have imagined it was possible to write a 400-page book on the subject. Not only has local wrestler and promoter Nick Campbell pulled off the task, but it’s a superb piece of work. Originally conceived as an oral history piece, Campbell gathered together enough material to produce a year-by-year account of wrestling in the area from 1932 to 2002. It draws on a combination of contemporary media reports and interviews with dozens of grapplers from the area including TV stars such as Fit Finlay and Eddie ‘Kung Fu’ Hammil and figures who are less well known on the international stage but were major influences on the local scene such as Noel ‘Darkie’ Arnott and Dave Finlay senior. The result strikes the perfect balance between the big picture record of how local wrestling developed and the individual experiences and anecdotes of those involved. It’s particularly strong on the unique aspects of Northern Ireland’s wrestling from the arm’s length involvement of Joint Promotions and its TV superstars to the bare bones culture of training gyms and the…

Austin 3:16: 316 Facts and Stories about Stone Cold Steve Austin by Michael McAvennie
Review , Uncategorized / March 22, 2021

This certainly lives up to its title, but that’s about it. Released appropriately on March 16, this is simply 316 entries relating to Austin’s career, covering three main formats. One is straightforward stories and incidents. Some are simply on-screen happenings while many of the backstage/real life events will be familiar to anyone who’s read the autobiographies of Austin and his peers and followed his various podcast series. The second category is transcripts of Austin promos. Some are short and effective while others, from the What?! era, are as tedious on paper as in the original telling. Finally there’s a whole bunch of trivia and lists. A few of the trivia notes are genuinely surprising, but there’s some serious padding here with lists including everyone who held the WWF title before Austin, everyone who held the WCW TV title for longer than him, and every other Texan in the WWE Hall of Fame. While the whole thing won’t take much more than an hour to read, it’s fine as a bathroom reading book and would theoretically suit the stocking stuffer/gift from a baffled auntie market. But the problem is this is a book about a wrestler who retired almost 20 years…

WWE Official Book Of Rules (And How To Break Them)
Review , Uncategorized / December 11, 2019

If you don’t mind the fact you’ll probably never read this twice, it’s an amusing enough diversion. It’s written under the pretext that, like the British constitution, the WWE rulebook is made up of a variety of official and unofficial documents that are never collated in one place. Covering both the in-ring ‘rules’ and the company policies, it’s effectively a cover for a barrage of in-jokes for wrestling fans including references to incidents and characters of the past. The problem is that the execution rarely strikes the right balance. In some cases the gag is overplayed, such as a supposed memo from Vince McMahon to WWF referees dated 9 November 1997 pointing out that the chairman’s instructions are final. Left at that it would be mildly amusing, but instead we get a series of handwritten additions to the memo that spell out the reference and joke in full detail, killing any humour. At the other end, some pages are breathakingly lazy. The final page is literally a print of a tax return defaced with the words “PAY YOUR TAXES! IRWIN R SCHYSTER”. The book does have some genuinely neat insider references. There’s the first ‘canon’ acknowledgement of the rule that…

Wrestling for My Life: The Legend, the Reality, and the Faith of a WWE Superstar by Shawn Michaels
Review , Uncategorized / December 9, 2019

This is not a wrestling book. Don’t get me wrong: the blurb and other cover material don’t make any pretense this is a wrestling book, but it’s important to stress this so that would-be readers don’t get misled. This isn’t a book like the Bill Watts autobiography that is about wrestling but has some diversions into religion. Instead it’s the story of Shawn Michaels’ Christianity with a backdrop of pro wrestling. When it comes to the faith talk itself, your mileage will vary. It was never going to be to my taste, but I found it very generalised and repetitive. One incident in the book involves Michaels getting a call from Bruce Prichard about returning to wrestling and deciding that as he was in church when the phone rang, that was a sign from God that he should get back in the ring. How you respond to that proposition is probably a good indication of how much you’ll get from the book. There are some wrestling-related passages, but you won’t learn much that isn’t already public knowledge, other than Michaels saying he and Undertaker’s legendary WrestleMania 25 bout was only officially allotted 15 minutes. Perhaps the most interesting wrestling section…

Countdown to Lockdown by Mick Foley
Review , Uncategorized / November 22, 2019

This is a decent 100-page book. Unfortunately it’s 300 pages long. This is Foley’s fourth volume of memoirs and as with Chris Jericho’s No Is A Four Letter Word there’s an obvious limitation with covering an ever decreasing time period with each instalment. Foley’s third book tackled this by going in-depth on a specific short period, namely the build-up to his appearance at One Night Stand in 2006. Jericho’s last book abandoned chronology altogether and became a series of stories loosely tied together with a self-help theme. Countdown to Lockdown merges the two approaches with chapters alternating between a diary of Foley’s thoughts and approach in the build-up to a TNA match with Sting and almost random stories. It’s clear Foley was concerned about the approach being seen as padding as each “non-diary” chapter begins with an almost passive-aggressive “meter” rating how much wrestling content it contains. The problem isn’t that some parts of the book move away from wrestling, it’s that there’s very little focus. It’s not just that some chapters are “off-topic” but regardless of what the supposed subject is, the writing regularly goes off into tangents and tangents of tangents that hold little relevance. As with Foley’s…

The Toughest Man Alive by Gene LeBell
Review , Uncategorized / November 8, 2019

While wildly entertaining, this comes with a recommendation that carries a disclaimer. While LeBell may be best known to modern fans as the cornerman of Ronda Rousey, if you’re an avid viewer of any US drama of the 1970s or 1980s, you’ve probably seen him before and never realised. A former pro wrestler and stuntman, he was a regular in Hollywood and as a result virtually every show which did a wrestling themed episode would film at the Olympic Auditorium and use LeBell as both the stunt arranger and an on-screen referee. The book is filled with stories from all elements of LeBell’s life, both as a performer and a competitor who was among those who explored the relative merits of martial arts in a real combat situation long before the initials UFC or MMA were ever heard. Exactly how honest the book is is difficult to tell. There’s plenty that sounds outlandish but is verifiable, but at the same time the suggestion that Andre the Giant fought Joe Bugner (rather than Chuck Wepner) at Shea Stadium is a signal that at the least LeBell’s memories shouldn’t be taken as gospel.  The book comes with an intriguing backstory. It was…

To Be The Man by Ric Flair
Review , Uncategorized / October 30, 2019

As a wrestler biography, this is OK. But as a biography of one of the biggest names of his generation, this is a huge letdown. A WWE publication, the content of this book is fine. It’s ghostwritten by WWE’s Keith Elliot Greenberg and edited by wrestling columnist Mark Madden, so for the most part it reads smoothly and is free from obvious lies or exaggeration (with a few exceptions such as the claim to have wrestled Rick Steamboat 2,000 times.) The problem is the scope. The book tries to tell the story of a 30+ year headlining career in fewer pages than were allocated to the autobiography of Lita. While most of the career highlights are covered, there’s not a great deal of depth and few long-time fans will learn much. The formatting works well. Flair’s recollections are interspersed with lengthy quotes from other sources, giving a more rounded view. The writers have also erred towards putting in extra detail and context at the expense of staying true to Flair’s voice. One potential downside is that the book does come across as biased towards WWE’s head personnel and against WCW management. That may very well reflect Flair’s true opinions, but…

Killer Pics by Walter Kowalski
Review , Uncategorized / September 6, 2019

The gimmick of this being a photography book by Killer Kowalski is not enough to make it worth seeking out. After a brief background piece on Kowalski’s interest in photography, the book goes straight into 36 pages of portrait of wrestlers, a mixed bag from superstars like Andre the Giant and Bruno Sammartino to lesser-known performers like Moose Monroe and the Pink Assassin. The problem is that the pics are all very samey: posed portrait shots of the wrestler against a white background, with only a few capturing the wrestler’s character or gimmick. The rest of the book is non-wrestling material, split into the western world, eastern world (from Kowalski’s trips to Asia) and nature. I can’t profess to be a photography expert, but while the shots all seem technically competent, there was nothing that stood out as an image I’d want to return to again. At best this would be a nice novelty for somebody who wanted to collect relatively rare wrestling titles, but given the prices it goes for today, it’s impossible to recommend even in that context. Buy on Amazon

Main Event by Roberta Morgan
Review , Uncategorized / August 29, 2019

Published in 1979, this used to be one of the regular results when, in a pre-Internet age, you’d sheepishly ask bookshop owners to search their catalogues for “wrestling.” That’s no longer the case and thus this is no longer a must-read. It’s a fairly standard format with brief sections on promoters, match types and wrestling histories, but the bulk of the book being profiles of wrestlers of the day. It’s clear the author set out to try to put the profiles together in a similar way to “legitimate” sports coverage and has included detailed quotes from most of those covered. The drawback is that either Morgan has made the quotes up in the style of certain wrestling publications of the era, or that the wrestlers she interviewed remain entirely in character. Either way, there’s little insight for modern readers. Perhaps the most amusing part of the book is discussing the formation of the NWA, with Morgan (or at least the promoters she spoke to) arguing that the territorial system was needed because promoters running in other promoter’s territories was “a form of unfair competition with other promoters who were then not able to get wrestlers in their own areas.” Oddly…