Soulman by Rocky Johnson & Scott Teal

June 27, 2019

Another engaging title, this is a story only one man could tell.

Johnson’s career, while successful, was not particularly out of the ordinary when it comes to making a way around the territories circuit. What makes his experience and perspective unique is two specific characteristics. Firstly, he has an interesting take on his status as a black wrestler, often booked to almost fill a quota in a territory. As well as being accepting of the pros and cons of such as position, he also details how he strove to establish his own personality and ring style so that he couldn’t simply be replaced by another grappler in the “African American slot.”

He also talks at length about the experience of his son not only following him into the business as The Rock, but his subsequent Hollywood success and how that changed his own life.

There’s also plenty of insightful backstage stories about the advice he received over the years on working and booking, though the number of times he mentions being told to slow down over the years does make you wonder how much notice he took!

Among the other highlights is Johnson’s spell in Memphis with the hard-to-believe but completely true story of being brought in to play the role of a boxer with no grappling experience despite being the reigning Texas champion.

As with all Scott Teal books, it’s full of detail and specifics as he mixes his research with Johnson’s recollections. Unlike some other Crowbar Press titles, Teal appears to have favored detail over relaying the story in Johnson’s own voice, so at times it doesn’t quite sound natural.

For the most part the stories appear credible, though there’s the odd numerical claim that seems a stretch. Johnson cites an estimate of Muhammad Ali receiving 200,000 blows during his career, which would be a somewhat unlikely 3,000+ per fight. Johnson also notes having a spell in 1973 where he earned $6,000-$8,000 a week. That’s the equivalent of two million dollars a year today, which seems high for the territorial era.

That aside, it’s a worthwhile read with neither unnecessary detail nor padding that will appeal to anyone with an interest in the territorial era.

Soulman will be released on 3 September. Thanks to ECW Press for providing a review copy.

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