National Wrestling Alliance by Tim Hornbaker

August 21, 2019

This is a great historical study that was sorely in need of an editor.

Covering the history of the Alliance — and by default the US wrestling business as a whole — from its origins in the 1940s  through to the 1970s, with some brief coverage of later events, what really stands out here is the detail. Hornbaker has clearly worked tirelessly to track down documentary evidence rather than rely on the opinions and memories of those involved.

Key to the book is the consent decree, a 1956 agreement between the NWA and the Department of Justice that was designed to settle allegations that the group acted as an unlawful cartel. The files relating to this agreement were made partially public following legal action by Jim Wilson for the book Chokehold, but Hornbaker was able to get access to thousands more pages through freedom of information laws. This allows him to cover the activities of the various promotion in extensive detail.

The downside is that the sheer level of detail is overwhelming and leads to a dry narrative at times. It appears Hornbaker has fallen into the trap (with which I can personally sympathise) of being reluctant to leave out any of the detail he has worked so hard to acquire and verify. The most striking example of this is in the initial references to some of the key players in the formation of the NWA where we often get the birth and death dates, names and even maiden names not just of the wrestling figures but of their parents and siblings.

This criticism is not meant to undermine what is otherwise an excellent book that is well worth reading for anyone with an interest in history; just be aware that it can be hard going at times. It’s also fair to point out that in his second book, looking at the history of the (W)WWF, Hornbaker greatly refines and focuses his approach.

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  • Jason Presley August 21, 2019 at 4:27 pm

    I wish this book came with a scorecard detailing all of the promoters and cities as a reference so the reader doesn’t have to try to absorb it as they are passing through that near endless bog of names and dates. It really felt like a textbook in places because of that. It is an outstanding resource, but it is exceedingly dry.

    It would be a great foundation for a Ken Burns-style documentary on professional wrestling.

  • AW September 16, 2019 at 12:46 am

    Once again, I can’t help but agree with your review. This is a fantastic book, however as you said, Hornbaker includes details completely unnecessary to the subject at hand (the birth-dates and names of a wrestler or promoter’s parents being among some of them), while glossing over more pertinent information, such as the fact that there were already two incarnations of the National Wrestling Alliance running in Iowa and Kansas prior to the 1948 version. They are mentioned, but there’s no in-depth information about them.

    Oftentimes, it’s difficult in the opening chapter to figure out where the National Wrestling Association, the original 1941 Kansas version of the National Wrestling Alliance, and the Midwest Wrestling Association begin or end, or which versions of the Kansas and Iowa pre-1948 NWAlliance and Kansas City or Ohio MWA’s are being referred to.

    This definitely comes across like a textbook. If there are any colleges or universities offering courses on pro-wrestling history 101, this book would be required reading.

    I do think it’s a fantastic book, that nevertheless requires the reader’s undivided attention and a tolerance for minutiae and sometimes tedium. Still a must-have if you’re a wrestling history nut like myself (and even if you aren’t).