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CIRCA
Book Review: "Tributes II"
November 19, 2004

by Denny Burkholder
Courtesy of WrestleLine.com

 

In his latest book, Tributes II: Remembering More of the World's Greatest Professional Wrestlers, Dave Meltzer does what he does best: he digs deep into his unmatched expertise on the wrestling business and provides fans with a detailed look at some vital performers and personalities. 
 
Depending on your own attitude about pro wrestling, Tributes II serves many different purposes. It's a proper eulogy for a collection of performers who, warts and all, deserve every bit of credit (and criticism) they get in the book. It's a vast and unbiased pro wrestling history lesson. It's a primer on what went on behind the scenes 

that we most likely never would have known about if not for Meltzer and his years of work covering the successes, failures, tragedies, and victories of this set of personalities.

For the informed wrestling fan, Tributes II is more of the same from a pro wrestling journalist who not only deserves that title, but earns it year after year. For the uninformed wrestling fan, this book is a chance to catch up with the pack.

The matches, interviews, and storylines of wrestling's all-time greats are usually just a small fraction of the drama that surrounds their lives, from learning the business to breaking into the big time and struggling with all their might to remain there, sometimes well beyond their welcome. The drama we don't see on television is often the most compelling part of the story. Champions politicking to stay on top. Injured and over-the-hill performers using various uppers, downers, and physique enhancers to numb their pain and keep themselves cosmetically attractive. The rigors of the road putting their lives at risk. It's all part of the story.

And it's easy to see why Dave Meltzer is the perfect writer to tell those stories: because for all the personal problems and struggles these men and women endure, Meltzer never loses sight of the fact that all of those hardships are part of what made these individuals so intriguing in the first place. Meltzer does not apologize for any performer's bad habits, nor does he omit those details. But he also doesn't crucify these men and women for being human, and therefore flawed.

Tributes II covers the lives and deaths of fifteen of pro wrestling's most influential personalities. Among those profiled:

Andre the Giant
Owen Hart
Stu Hart
Davey Boy Smith
Curt Hennig
Road Warrior Hawk
Miss Elizabeth
Gorilla Monsoon
Fred Blassie
Terry Gordy
Wahoo McDaniel
Johnny Valentine
The Sheik
Lou Thesz
Tim "Mr. Wrestling" Woods

Building on the first edition of Tributes, which covered 20 performers (with earlier versions of the Owen Hart and Andre the Giant tributes featured in the current release), Meltzer gets into the most important moments of each person's life and career, tossing in occasional road stories or infamous pranks to illustrate the human element of how these people survived in the very tough pro wrestling industry. All of the biggest matches and storylines are reviewed, usually with background into how those moments came about and what the performer truly thought of it all. The tributes in the book are not only a historical look at each performer's body of work, but a behind-the-scenes look at the long road that led them to that point.

Besides the unifying theme of all of these people being involved in pro wrestling, the stories in the book are actually quite diverse. There are the old-timers such as Lou Thesz, Stu Hart, Fred Blassie and The Sheik, who enjoyed very long careers and lived to an old age, despite the beatings their bodies took in the ring. There are also the young superstars who once resembled superheroes in the ring, but died at a very young age, such as Davey Boy Smith, Road Warrior Hawk, Terry Gordy and "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig.

There's the tale of Miss Elizabeth, who besides being a wrestling fan in her youth and the object of Randy Savage's affection, wasn't really cut out for the wrestling business and became a star almost in spite of herself. There's Gorilla Monsoon, well-known to fans as the straight man to Bobby "The Brain" Heenan on 1980s WWF broadcasts, and how he owned part of the WWF at one time.

There's Wahoo McDaniel, one of the wrestling industry's legendary legit tough men, who came into wrestling from pro football and stayed as long as he could, earning the respect of his contemporaries along the way. And of course, there is Wahoo's famous rival, Johnny Valentine, whose legend among his fellow wrestlers was even bigger than his legend to the fans, due to his eccentric personality and his very stiff style of wrestling.

Andre the Giant is one of the most famous pro wrestlers the world has ever known, with his uniquely huge body and his fast lifestyle serving as the focal point for some impressive stories of his own life on the road. Meltzer does a fantastic job of putting Andre's life in perspective, from how difficult it was to be his size, to Andre's knowledge of the grim fact that he would never grow old.

Many observers credit The Sheik as the greatest heel wrestler ever, citing his ability to instantly create a buzz in any territory he visited and the sheer terror he struck in the hearts of believing fans. In recounting the life of the man known for his brief-but-bloody main event wars with Bobo Brazil, Abdullah the Butcher and others, Meltzer also relates a funny story via George "The Animal" Steele of the time The Sheik broke character and spoke his real name, Ed Farhat, in clear English to a heckling fan in Detroit... right before thrusting his fingers into the fan's throat and threatening to kill him. The Sheik's run as the top heel of his own territory in Detroit makes for a prime example of what happens when the fans tire of the "same old thing," and how one of the biggest-drawing superstars of the 1970s could run his own promotion into ruins with the same formula that brought it to the top.

And you can't forget Owen Hart. Owen was blessed - or, as it seemed to him at times, cursed - by being the best pure athlete of any of Stu Hart's sons, and naturally followed the family line into wrestling. As Meltzer relates in Tributes II, Owen may never have been completely in love with the idea of wrestling, as he once returned to the WWF only as a last financial resort, after a failed attempt to become a fireman in Calgary. Owen's entire life is chronicled here by Meltzer, from the humble beginnings, to his phenomenal early days in wrestling, to the bitter and tragic end at a WWF pay-per-view show in 1999.

It would be easy to spend hours recalling the other stories of the performers in Tributes II, as all of them are incredible in their own way. But then, that's why Dave Meltzer wrote the book.

Tributes II is about 240 pages long, interspersed with color photos courtesy of Dr. Mike Lano. The book features a foreword by Bret "Hitman" Hart, who gives a very interesting look at Dave Meltzer and his work from a wrestler's point of view. Hart notes that many wrestlers - including himself, at first - were none too pleased when Meltzer began covering the deeply secretive wrestling business in the 1980s without a shred of kayfabe. Wrestlers and promoters feared this outsider, who was exposing, and presumably threatening, their life's work by telling it how it really was. Hart notes that over time, he warmed up to Meltzer, understanding the service that he was doing by creating an accurate, in-depth historical account of a business that had gone out of its way to avoid such a thing. Meltzer truly loves the wrestling business, Hart says, and his work is important to the history of the game.

Tributes II come with another added bonus in a one-hour "Beyond the Book" DVD interview with Dave Meltzer, in which he spends time elaborating on various key points of the careers of those covered in the book. Meltzer dicsusses specific events in greater detail, such as Road Warrior Hawk's alcoholism storyline in the WWF, his feelings on the WWF's Owen Hart tribute on Raw the night after Owen's death, and the myths that surround Andre the Giant's famous consumption of food and beverage.

Simply put, Tributes II is a must-read for any pro wrestling fan interested in the lives of any of the fifteen people covered, and an even bigger must-read for fans that aren't familiar with any of those performers. These profiles are a magnificent account of the tremendous ups and crushing downs of the wrestling industry, and there are few people more capable than Dave Meltzer of telling these stories without hype or spin.

Tributes II is a book from which just about everybody can learn a thing or two.

* To order a copy of Tributes II,
click here
* For more from Dave Meltzer, visit
www.liveaudiowrestling.com/wo.
* More Circa columns on the wrestlers featured in Tributes II:
-
Lou Thesz (exclusive 3-part interview)
-
The Sheik - Monster Heel for the Ages
-
Andre the Giant
-
The Road Warriors
-
Owen Hart
-
Fred Blassie
-
Johnny Valentine
-
The British Bulldogs

 
E-MAIL DENNY
BROWSE THE CIRCA ARCHIVES


  
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