Gotch: An American Hero by Mike Chapman

September 26, 2019

This book is openly billed as a historical novel and that is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

Chapman, an amateur wrestling historian and creator of a wrestling museum in Iowa, has published several non-fiction books on professional wrestling in this era, including a “straight” biography of Gotch. This, however, is written for literary rather than historical effect.

In all of his writing, Chapman has always maintained that every one of Gotch’s matches were entirely legitimate contests, a viewpoint shared by few pro wrestling historians. That theme continues here, but in this book not only is Gotch an honest competitor, but a seemingly among the most virtuous and positive men who ever lived.

The book contains an immense amount of detail but it’s almost impossible to tell what is actually based on documented reality. Every time Gotch walks into a room for a meeting in the book, we learn almost every object in the room and its placement, along with the style and color of every piece of clothing worn by the participants, all of which is clearly the product of Chapman’s imagination.

The problem is that this style is so extensive, there’s no way to know how much of the detail of public events such as matches is taken from historical records and how much is created or massaged for the sake of a neat plotline.

As a novel, it’s readable enough and a film adaptation has even reached the pre-production stage with the Empire Film Group. The subject matter may interest some wrestling fans, but even with the “novel” disclaimer, it certainly shouldn’t be treated as a historical source.

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