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ITR BOOK REVIEW
Wrestling with Literature IV:
Controversy Sells 

October 26, 2006

by the Canadian Bulldog    
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com

 

Welcome to another installment of "Wrestling With Literature", where I attempt to prove that (a) professional wrestling fans can -- and like to -- read and (b) for those who do, there are a ton of options out there.
 
Seriously -- from the time I began this column in April through to the end of today's installment, I will have reviewed 20 wrestling books, and it's barely made a dent in MY personal collection. Yet I only have a fraction of the wrestling books that are on the market. So we still have a ways to go before I've had my say on all of them (oh, and I will).

 
Today's column deals with controversy. By its very nature, wrestling is a business filled with those types who like to stir the pot. Some do it to satisfy their own ego, some to re-write history, some to make money, and some just to be noticed. Others play a controversial role, yet their real-life counterparts are much more down-to-earth. Fortunately, I have books here that fit all five of those categories.

But first, I just wanted to remind you all of the patented, often imitated but never duplicated, Canadian Bulldog 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.

Controversy Creates Cash

Authors: Eric Bischoff, with Jeremy Roberts
Pages: 400
Synopsis: The autobiography of Eric Bischoff, who led WCW during its most-successful era, right through to its demise.

A natural choice to kick things off with, given that the word "controversy" is right there in the freaking title. I have to say off the bat that I enjoyed this one far more than I expected I would.

While the Eric Bischoff character we know on television (and the backstage WCW power broker that has been reported on in the dirtsheets) wouldn't have thought twice about badmouthing everyone in his path, the real Eric Bischoff does anything but. Some of it could be diplomacy, sure -- I can understand the motives for not insulting Vince McMahon -- but there's no political reason for him to spare, for example, Kevin Nash or Mick Foley from a nice barb or two.

In fact, I counted only two people in the entire book (besides some faceless WCW suits) that Bischoff really goes off on -- Vince Russo and Missy Hyatt. For everyone else, he points out their strong suits before even starting to disagree with any of their moves. And even then, he often tries to offset this by giving possible justifications for other people's actions.

The whole thing comes off as awfully humble. While Bischoff doesn't own up to every single mistake that was made in WCW, he certainly takes the blame often enough. Reading this, compared to "The Death of WCW" (see Chapter Two for review), you get the sincere impression that not all of Bischoff's stumbles were his mistakes alone. I'm not sure how true it is, but it's a nice change from books where the subject blames everyone else for their troubles.

But the most interesting parts are the surprises. None are huge bombshells, but there are enough nuggets of new information that I can actually say I've learned a thing or two about Bischoff by reading this.

That's not to say "Controversy" is perfect. For example, I don't like that there are numerous sub-heads placed throughout each chapter; they're largely unnecessary and break up the text too much. There are certain situations (the Gold Club trial, his WWE locker room fight with Ric Flair) that go completely unmentioned. And even though there are only a handful of typographical errors (The Sterner Brothers, Rick Flair), as I've said before, even one is too many.

Rating: Oh Hell Yeah! A fun read from one of the most influential people in wrestling not named McMahon. The "controversy" title is kind of a misnomer, given this book isn't a trashy tell-all. That one comes next…

 

Under The Mat: Inside Wrestling's Greatest Family

Authors: Diana Hart, with Kirstie McLellan
Pages: Unknown
Synopsis: A tabloid-like look at the Hart family through the eyes of its youngest living sibling.

I'm such a fool.

When this book came out in 2001, there were copies available at my local bookstore. I glanced through it briefly, and figured I'd pick it up later. Within days, it was pulled from bookshelves and never released again. Today, it sells used on amazon.com for a whopping $69.95!

Why all the fuss? While I don't remember all the specifics, I recall that Martha Hart (Owen's widowed wife) and others may have initiated legal proceedings because of the near-slanderous nature of Diana Hart's comments.

I finally found this recently at my local library, of all places. Unfortunately, I forgot to write down how many pages it contained. Not that the page count really affects this pile of steaming shit one way or the other; I just wanted to explain the missing information 

My venom is justified. I am quite aware (through reading other books, such as Pain and Passion and Pure Dynamite, both reviewed in Chapter One) that the Harts are far from the perfect family. I can't even begin to imagine what Diana must have gone through growing up in such a large, competitive and often backstabbing household. Add on top of that, an abusive and substance-prone husband (the late Davey Boy Smith; the book was published prior to his death) -- it must have been hell on earth.

My question is: why did she feel the need to expose everyone in her family? Do wrestling fans REALLY need to read about the alcohol battles of the late Helen Hart? Or the sexual habits of older brother Smith Hart? Or the fact that Martha Hart's mother was rude and liked to drink? Maybe I can't speak for everyone, but I certainly didn't need to.

Yet, with the same pen, Diana manages to paint the McMahon family as saints, even after Owen's death and Bret's screwjob. Hell, I think as much as anyone that Bret needs to "get over" Montreal now that it's been almost a decade, yet I can completely see why he was so angry at his sister all but supporting the McMahons after Owen's death. There's a difference between kissing WWE ass to secure a job for her family members, and the way Bischoff does it in his book, which comes off sounding like legitimate respect for his former rival.

Please don't get me wrong: I'm not making light of her alleged abuse at the hands of Davey Boy, and anyone who has ever had to go through any of that shit has my utmost sympathy and respect. But it's not about that here; it's about someone realizing that dishing on top wrestling stars could turn a profit. Nothing more. THIS book should been called "Controversy Creates Cash", come to think of it.

Rating: You're FIRRRRRRRRRED! The best thing I can say about "Under The Mat" is that's no longer available. If you want to learn about the real Hart family and Stampede Wrestling, I'd suggest Heath McCoy's "Pain and Passion", which is far more balanced and enjoyable. This book is a fucking waste of paper.

Adam Copeland on Edge

Author: Adam Copeland
Pages: 256
Synopsis: The biography of Edge, written while he was rehabbing from a neck injury in 2003-04.

While Edge has only been the "Rated R Superstar" for about a year, he's arguably the most controversial figure in WWE right now (regardless of how Jim Ross refers to John Cena). That's why I included him this time around. Also, he DID steal someone's patented catchphrase a while back. Just saying…

Was there an overwhelming need for an Edge autobiography? Probably not. Let's be honest -- he hasn't (yet) accomplished what Mick Foley, Ric Flair or Steve Austin have. And remember, this was written BEFORE he became a main event player, thanks to a compelling character, great rivalries and his role in the Lita-Matt Hardy love triangle.

So what does he cover? A lot of his childhood, which is interesting to me, given how close we are in age and geography. Hell, we ended up at the same college together, at the same time, in the same "wing" of the school. But that's just me, personally. I can't imagine tons of other wrestling fans interested in, say, how Edge spent his young adult years near Wasaga Beach, Ontario.

Yet Edge makes it an interesting read, as he talks about winning a newspaper contest to be trained as a wrestler, and his "winter death tours" to frozen locales, courtesy of legendary Winnipeg promoter Tony Condello (as a sidenote, I understand that some bastard has reviewed a documentary about said death tours). His early days hanging with TNA's Rhino and Christian Cage are funny, as are the stories of his early WWE debut (you get to see the original outfit Vince Russo had designed for him).

While the book covers some of Edge's most famous pre-Rated R feuds (The Hardy Boyz, Christian, Kurt Angle), some chapters are just plain unnecessary. I mean, I'm glad he enjoyed wrestling guys like Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit, but they aren't really worth chapters on their own. And I'll leave any jokes about Edge's optimism for his second marriage to… say, Diana Hart.

Still, I will give stoopid mad propz, as the kids call it, to Edge for writing this entirely on his own. Other than Mick Foley, I can't think of too many others who took the time to pen their own bios, instead of just talking into the proverbial tape recorder and letting some ghostwriter sort it all out. That's a major plus in my book.

Rating: Transitional Champion. And I SWEAR that's not a commentary on Edge's two brief title runs this year. I just can't say with a clear conscience that you absolutely NEED to read this. Yet is there enough material here to keep an Edgehead satisfied? BANK ON IT!!!

 

Heartbreak & Triumph: The Shawn Michaels Story

Authors: Shawn Michaels, with Aaron Feigenbaum
Pages: 352 (Paperback)
Synopsis: The life and times of the Heartbreak Kid.

If you look up the definition of "damage control" in the dictionary, you may very well find a picture of this book. Of course, that would have to be a "wrestling book" dictionary, in which you might find this book under the definition of "hilarious."

My point being, I get the impression that Shawn Michaels definitely wanted to dispel some commonly-held thoughts about him. Perhaps it was because he felt some of them are unfair. Perhaps he wanted to cleanse his soul before getting his angel's wings. I have no clue.

Look, from everything I've read, Michaels has cleaned up his act CONSIDERABLY since returning to WWE four years ago. He's willing to job far more than people give him credit for, and truth be told, he often puts on the match of the night, if not the year.

Yet "Heartbreak & Triumph" is more about re-telling history through his eyes. On the plus side, he's had a fascinating ride, and the story of his journey to the top is worth telling. Whether it was Michaels or Feigenbaum putting together the narrative, I'm not sure, but it flows together nicely.

Yet when it comes to taking the blame for his shortfalls, Michaels is often reluctant. It was usually someone else's fault, be it Bret Hart, Marty Jannetty, or whomever. Either that or the incident was overblown, or simply never happened. I would love to give him the benefit of the doubt as I did Bischoff earlier, yet it's tough. The only people he seems to have glowing praise for are the Triple H's, Vince McMahon's and Undertaker's of the world -- in other words, the asses he still has to kiss.

That's not to say the book isn't without its charm. Michaels recalls his struggles with painkillers with remarkable candor, and his relationship with his family is touching. Even when he finds religion, it is not as "in your face" as some people may expect, and really is only used to explain his life.

Rating: Transitional Champion. This has some flaws in its believability, sure, but it's more that this book doesn't tell me anything new. You think "Heartbreak & Triumph", you think of huge ups and downs. While there are obvious peaks and valleys here, I get the impression Shawn didn't put as much effort into this project as he does in some of his WrestleMania matches.

 

In The Pit With Piper

Authors: Roddy Piper, with Robert Picarello
Pages: 256
Synopsis: A non-WWE-authorized biography by Hall of Famer "Rowdy" Roddy Piper.

I loved watching "Rowdy" Roddy Piper as a wee Bulldog, and will probably be the first in line to get his three-disc DVD set when it hits stores later this year. Wrestlers today could definitely learn from his interviews, his mannerisms and the effort he put into all his big matches.

But with "In The Pit With Piper", I read about someone who takes the wrestler lifestyle way too seriously. Someone who has serious trouble distinguishing between himself and the character he plays on television. Someone who thinks that he and he alone sold out arenas and popped buyrates, discounting the work of so many others.

I'll concede that the Hogans and Flairs of the world were only as successful as their top challengers, but Piper takes that a step further to suggest they were successful only because of him. Especially amusing is the anecdote of how Vince McMahon struggled so hard to "keep up" with Piper during their brief time together in the announcers booth, that Vinnie Mac ran out of the voice-over room and began throwing up.

In fact, some of Piper's stories are so outrageous and implausible that you're led to believe they never happened. His technique for avoiding grand jury testimony is a real head-scratcher (I won't spoil it; you'll have to read it for yourself), as was his ability to singlehandedly pull his family's motorhome to safety during a coastal flood.

This was written when Piper was arguably at his most bitter about promoters, and specifically, WWE. He attempts to explain a phenomenon he calls "The Sickness", in other words, why wrestlers from his generation act as crazy as they do. It's an interesting concept, and I'm not sure there isn't merit to it. But at the same time, the fact that no one else has ever addressed this makes me suspicious.

Interesting that Piper closes (after something of a plug for his involvement in the ill-fated XWF) by saying that he'd never let his son go to WWE and take Rikishi's stinkface. A year or so after this book came out, Piper himself return to the company and took the move himself. Hilarious.

 

Rating: Oh hell yeah! And let me qualify that by saying that I enjoyed it, simply because it was so entertaining. There's a good chance you won't. This is less an autobiography and more a two-hundred page Piper promo. If you can accept the fact that this was written more by the Piper character than the actual person, you might have some fun with this. Just don't expect very much historical accuracy here.
 

That about does it for this time. 20 books down, several dozen (at least!) left to go. If you have any suggestions for me for future WWL's, drop me a line at bulldog@onlineonslaught.com.

Thanks for reading!

E-MAIL THE BULLDOG    
BROWSE THE ITR ARCHIVES

CANADIAN BULLDOG  is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.


  
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