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INSIDE THE ROPES    
Wrestling With Literature, Chapter 2 

June 1, 2006

by the Canadian Bulldog    
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com

 

Welcome to the second chapter of Wrestling With Literature. Wow, didn't that sound classy, the way I introduced like that? Go back and read that again with a haughty British accent and tell me if you don't agree. Go ahead - read it again. NOW!!! 
 
I have to say, I received a tremendous response to the first installment, in which I started reviewing part of my extensive wrestling-related book collection. Please keep the suggestions and feedback coming.

I found it interesting how more than one person mentioned they won't pick up a

wrestling book if it isn't written by an actual wrestler. In other words, they'd rather leaf through something by Mick Foley or Ric Flair than some columnist or wrestling writer. Hey, THAT might explain why sales of my book are down. Hmmm…

All kidding aside, I think that books by these "outside observers" are definitely worth looking at. Much like any other area, some of these will be better than others. I've got five such books to review this week. Oddly enough, each has a "destruction of/death of/end of" theme; a coincidence, I swear.

Now, for those of you who didn't catch "Chapter One" of this column, here is my unique, patented and somewhat ridiculous ratings system:

The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be = Self-explanatory. This rating is reserved for my absolute favorites, ones that I could read through over and over again. 
Oh Hell Yeah!
= While not the top of the line, there's enough good stuff in here to make me want to recommend it.
Transitional Champion = Not an urgent read, by any means. If you're starting up a collection, or if you're a big fan on the subject matter, go for it.
Bowling-Shoe Ugly = More bad than good here. Hey, if you can pick it up for a few dollars at a used bookstore or borrow it off your friend, fine. But you've been warned.
You're FIRRRRRRRRRED! = Why on earth would any publisher approve this crap? What were they thinking? Only valuable if you're the type that likes reading total and complete train-wrecks.

And now, on with this week's selections:  

The Death of WCW

 

Authors: R.D. Reynolds and Bryan Alvarez
Pages: 240
Synopsis: The (non-WWE-ized) version of the rise and fall of WCW.
 

When WCW folded in 2001, it didn't get its just due. Part of that, I'm sure, was because WWE's purchase of its assets (and tease of a "new" WCW) kept it on life support for an unnecessarily long time. ECW has been immortalized through the One Night Stand and Hardcore Homecoming shows (not to mention the brand's re-launch), while the much-larger and powerful WCW is barely remembered.

That's why I found this book so fascinating. In many ways, WCW is wrestling's greatest untold story. One of the biggest successes in the business and likewise, one of its biggest failures. I'm not sure if the group deserved the death it received, but damned if it didn't get a great obituary here.

R.D. Reynolds (of Wrestlecrap.com) and Bryan Alvarez (of the Figure 4 Weekly newsletter) are both skilled at casting events in a historically significant -- and yet often hilarious -- light. They give out tons of information on attendance, buyrates, television ratings and backstage gossip, while documenting the highlights and lowlights of the promotion. Never before has such a complete chronology been put together in one place, showing you what WCW had, what it could have been, and, most importantly, how they lost it all.

A couple of minor criticisms. Unfortunately (for me), I had heard many of these stories before, probably through the Internet, the newsletters and just by generally watching the product. As well, it would have been nice to have more "outside" comments from those who were with WCW at the time. They do have some snippets from Bobby Heenan and The Shark, which are good, but to tell a truly balanced story, they needed someone who was in a position of power to say "Wait. The only reason we did that was because...."

It didn't have to be Eric Bischoff, either. Surely the authors could have spoken to someone at Turner, Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Terry Taylor, Vince Russo... anyone who could have defended the other side. Yet that doesn't outweigh the bang-up job they do telling their story.

Rating: Oh Hell Yeah! If you weren't one of the fortunate/unfortunate ones that watched WCW from its humble beginnings to its untimely demise, this is the book for you.

Wrestling's One Ring Circus - The Death of the World Wrestling Federation

 

Author: Scott Keith
Pages: 171
Synopsis: A follow-up to Keith's "Tonight… In This Very Ring", picking up on the turmoil that followed the WWF/E between 2001 and 2003.
 

Scott Keith, of course, is well known for his "rants" on sites such as Inside Pulse, 411 Mania, Wrestleline and -- hey -- even this site. I realize that he has as many critics as he does supporters out there, but most people are at least familiar with his work.

First -- understand that I do enjoy reading Scott's rants, and that's kind of an important disclaimer here. Do I agree with everything he says? Of course not; but hopefully none of you out there allow someone else to decide what you think of something anyways. It's one person's view, and it doesn't make yours any more or less valid.

As I said, though, that's an important thing to note because if you detest his rants to begin with, this probably isn't the book for you. However, if you appreciate his style of match reviews, the cynicism and humor, then it's definitely worth a look.

One of the things I really like here is that Scott doesn't waste time explaining wrestling as though you'd never watched a show before. Seriously -- I've read enough books by now that take me through the history of the business (one of which we'll look at shortly), and Scott's earlier book does some of that anyways.

While "Circus" isn't nearly as comprehensive as "Tonight...", it does actually cover a lot of ground. Those three years were such a terrible time for the business that I'd forgotten a good chunk of things from that era. For example, Scott gets into the InVasion angle, nWo, the rebirth of Hulkamania, Austin quitting, Billy and Chuck's wedding, Raw X, HHH gaining backstage power, the return of Shawn Michaels, Eric Bischoff, HLA, tons of wrestler deaths, and more. Scott analyzes what went wrong, the logic behind the mistakes and what the company could have done to improve on its product.

A major criticism of "Tonight" is that it was too dependent on republished match reviews. That situation is rectified this time; the reviews are certainly still here, but there's far more original analysis and follow-up in between them. There aren't a ton of factoids I hadn't already read on the Internet at some point or another, but it's a nice compilation nonetheless.

The only thing I wasn't crazy about in the book was the photography. While I can appreciate that you have to have graphics in a book like this (and I can't imagine WWE folks were willing to pose for portraits, given the topic), the photos look like something I could have snapped myself at a house show. No offense meant to the photographer at all - it's just that the photos take away from the book's overall image. At the same time, I'm not sure what anyone could have done to improve that.
 

Rating: Transitional Champion. As I'd said before, you have to enjoy Scott's writing style and be able to handle some debate about the product to enjoy this. It's a fun nostalgia piece (even though it's odd to think of 2003 as "nostalgia") and will be interesting to see how much the business has changed in the coming years.

Hardcore History: The Extremely Unauthorized Story of ECW

 

Author: Scott E. Williams
Pages: 256
Synopsis: The history of ECW, unauthorized to the EXTREME!!!
 

With ECW-retromania capturing the imagination of wrestling fans over the past couple of years, it's no surprise that there would plenty of sources capitalizing on the phenomenon. This is actually one of three books listed on amazon.com that chronicle "The Rise and Fall of ECW", including a WWE-authorized one under that very name. "Hardcore History" just happens to be the first one released.

Williams is no stranger to the wrestling book genre -- he helped write the recent Terry Funk and Bill Watts biographies. And like many of the other authors I present today, Williams doesn't feel the need to re-educate his audience, which I think is a good thing. Chances are good that if you're reading this book, you already have at least a vague notion of what ECW stood for.

Here's the thing: I've seen the WWE-authorized documentary. I've seen "Forever Hardcore". And of course, I've read tons on ECW, both during their actual days and in retrospect. There's not really a lot of "new" information that hasn't been reported yet.

This is not to say that Williams doesn't at least try to give you your money's worth. He interviews Tod Gordon, Shane Douglas and some of the other ECW principals (even "Hat Guy" gets some ink here). He also delves back into the ECW predecessor leagues in Philadelphia, which is unique. Yet none of it blew me away.

Perhaps this is my own personal issue, because the book is well-researched and flows nicely. But I just couldn't help thinking déjà vu as I went through this. Particularly towards the end, when ECW's aftermath is spread out over several largely unnecessary chapters.

Rating: Transitional Champion. Granted, the "Death of WCW" folks had a larger wealth of material to draw from, but I can't help but think that their version of a time capsule was superior to this version of a time capsule. Not to say you should avoid this one, I just wouldn't make it the first book on my list.

Sex, Lies and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation

 

Authors: Shaun Assael and Mike Mooneyham
Pages: 272
Synopsis: The story of a young Vince McMahon taking over his father's wrestling company and then… well, you know how that turned out.

One of my absolute favorite books about the entertainment industry (non-wrestling division) is "The Late Shift" by Bill Carter. It's about how David Letterman lobbied for Johnny Carson's job and the decisions he had to make when he lost the role to Jay Leno. The similarities between "Late Shift" and "Sex, Lies and Headlocks" are incredible.

Assael, a writer for ESPN, and Mooneyham, a longtime newspaper wrestling columnist, have compiled arguably the most complete biography of Vince McMahon out there. And the authors talk to a variety of wrestling personalities to get the non-WWE version of history.

What I find fascinating is the level of description here. You can visualize, for example, Stu Hart, from the way the authors describe his "stoop and butcher's handshake", or the awkward early meetings between Vince McMahon Sr. and his estranged son. The only wrestling book that even comes close to this level of detail is probably the Stampede Wrestling biography "Pain and Passion", which I reviewed last time. Reading this, you can really envision a lot of the conversations, negotiations and battles that took place.

Simply because this is the story of Vince McMahon's life, it really does give you a flavor of what's happened in wrestling for the past 50 years. We're talking everything from Vinnie Mac's humble beginnings in a trailer park to the regional wrestling promotions; from the AWA to the NWA; from Hulkamania to WrestleMania; from the steroid trial to the sexual abuse allegations; from WCW to the Monday Night Wars; from the WBF to the XFL … essentially everything up until late 2000, right before the latest set of problems started.

This book does not paint Vince McMahon as scum of the earth, nor does it make him out to be an angel. It's a fairly balanced story. Yet I don't believe the authors ever contacted someone from WWE to get their side of the story.

Now, I'm not stupid: I realize that Vince McMahon would have never made a public comment on this, and even the company's paid spokespeople wouldn't likely have. But at least that way, he could have written: "Hey, I tried to contact WWE, but they never bothered returning my call. They didn't WANT to tell their side of the story."

By the way, "The Late Shift" ends with Letterman leaving his comfort zone at NBC and jumping ship to the Viacom-owned CBS. "Sex, Lies and Headlocks" ends with Vince and Linda McMahon leaving their comfort zone at the USA Network (which is now owned by NBC Universal) and jumping ship to the Viacom-owned TNN. Interesting, huh? Of course, Letterman didn't jump to NBC after five years, but it still makes for a neat coincidence.

Rating: The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be. A very well-written resource that could educate virtually anyone on Vince McMahon and his impact on the wrestling industry. And like "The Late Shift", it shows how talent, hard work and pushing the envelope can pay off.

World Wrestling Insanity: The Decline and Fall of a Family Empire

 

Author: James Guttman
Pages: 300
Synopsis: Documenting the mistakes, gaffes and problems that the McMahon family has made in recent years while running a virtually unchallenged wrestling monopoly.
 

Full disclosure up front: Yes, it's true that I write columns for Guttman's World Wrestling Insanity website, and I have been a fan of his Raw recaps and other columns for some time. Does that make me biased? Possibly, but I'd like to think that I can still be somewhat objective in my review.

I wasn't sure exactly what to expect going into this, despite knowing some of Guttman's opinions on wrestling's first family (including Triple H). Now, I am a huge Triple H fan and for me, his contributions in the ring and on the mic often overshadow whatever damage he does backstage. So, as in Scott Keith's book, I'm not going to agree with everything, but there are definitely some shared opinions here.

The pleasant surprise: instead of arguing for 300 pages about how much the McMahons suck, James has written up thoughtful, essay-like opinions on many of WWE's recent business decisions, how they could have been avoided, and what impact they ultimately had on the business. Topics range from the infamous Diva Search to Katie Vick, and from Tough Enough to Triple H. And here's the thing -- while I may disagree on certain points, I give him credit for having arguments to back his points up.

Instead of relying on the popular Internet excuse of "Triple H never elevates anyone", James provides evidence for his points, and even interviews subjects ranging from former front-office guy Tom Pritchard, to Terry Funk, to Kamala. Sometimes they agree with him, and sometimes they try to justify why certain things were done. To boot, he's obtained several internal company memos and decisions -- stuff that I've never seen reported elsewhere.

The humor in this book is fresh and makes for a very smooth read. As I said, I'm already a fan of his writing style, yet he's saved some of his "A" material for this book. The doctored illustrations of Vince, The Game and everyone else (plus a bonus section featuring the man I like to call SHNITSKY!!!) are utterly hilarious and are almost worth a book of their own.

The one criticism I have (See? I'm not that biased after all!) is the same one I had for "Sex, Lies and Headlocks". I would have liked to see some evidence that someone in Stamford was at least contacted to try to back this all up. I defer to Mick Foley's "Foley Is Good", in which he criticizes the Parents Television Council and then documents his numerous attempts to get their side of the story. Yeah, I realize this isn't journalism, but one "no comment" paragraph would have gone a long way, in my eyes.

Rating: Oh Hell Yeah! If you're still watching wrestling at this stage, you need a copy of this to help you figure out why. It is not a WWE-bashing book, per se; but rather a well-written and funny resource that explains a lot of WWE's inner workings.

E-MAIL THE BULLDOG    
BROWSE THE ITR ARCHIVES

Canadian Bulldog has written his own wrestling book, which is available here, and he also contributes to the following book review blog. He'd love to hear your suggestions for wrestling-related books to review at bulldog@onlineonslaught.com


  
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