Aaron D. Horton’s edited collection of essays, called “Identity in Professional Wrestling,” (McFarland, 2018) contains several writers detailing the different aspects in wrestling, such as gender, race, and the nationalities that make up the unique sport.
The collection starts with a historical look at wrestling, starting when soldiers wrestled each other during the Civil War, the Frank Gotch era, and up to the modern times. The essays are put into four main categories: Race, Gender, Culture and Modernity, and Wrestling and Media.
Topics such as how male managers and female valets have differed throughout the years, how Latino stars like Tito Santana, Pedro Morales, Alberto Del Rio, and Rey Mysterio were portrayed on television, to the differences between Japanese and American good guys are embraced. The writings on race covers how Japanese and German characters were used, along with the stereotypical “Russsian” characters (how most of them were not from the countries they claimed to be from).
One of the best essays, entitled ” ‘They Ain’t Like Us'” by Edward Salo, is about how the Southern attitude of fans helped define Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling, along with the racial aspects that was used in the league, and it’s influence on the WWF’s Atttiude Era.”. The essay describes how the characters like Tony “Dirty White Boy” Anthony and “Wild Eyed Southern Boy” Tracy Smothers became a North verses South storyline fight, and how Tammy Sytch’s feminist character as a manager helped develop into the WWF’s years later, which made her a superstar. Salo writes that the tag team The Gangstas helped created racial tension that carried to the WWF as well, influencing groups like The Nation of Domination and the tag team called Cryme Time. The essay shows comparisons to Cornette’s territory and the ideas that were used years later in the WWF, when Cornette became a employee of the company.
Another essay that was a great read involved covering the music in wrestling by Christopher L. Stacey, called “I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.” Stacey takes the reader through the wrestling acts such as Jimmy Hart, Jerry Lawler, Jimmy Valiant, and Jackie Fargo, who each made records and used music to help get them more popular in the Memphis area. One story mentioned in the section covers how wrestler Sputnik Monroe was friends with the founder of Sun Records, Sam Phillips, and how Elvis Presley dated a female wrestler at one time.
The essays in “Identities in Professional Wrestling” are filled with knowledgeable information, along with entertaining stories. It is informative to read opinions by writers in an academic way covering the multi-layers of the world of wrestling, along with reading the multi-cultural aspects that evolved throughout the years.
“Identity in Professional Wrestling: Essays on Nationality, Race and Gender” Edited by Aaron D. Horton (McFarland, 2018 ISBN: 978-1-4766-6728-7 eISBN: 978-1-4766-3141-7)
I have mentioned several times on this page (when discussing professional wrestling) that I grew up reading the wrestling magazines in the 1980s and 1990s, especially the famous Stanley Weston magazines like Pro Wrestling Illustrated, The Wrestler, Inside Wrestling, Sports Review Wrestling, and others that dealt with the many territories where I could not view on local television. Steven Verrier’s “Professional Wrestling in the Pacific Northwest” (McFarland, 2017) details the territories in the Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia territories through 1883 to the present time.
The book is very detailed and researched, with citations from other sources like The Wrestling Observer, Slam Sports, and books by Dean Silverstone and Vance Nevada. It has a lot of history covered, especially early on, dealing with the promoters and early wrestling matches that lasted 2-3 hours long, until the sport started dealing with more entertainment aspects to attract audiences, and the impact wrestling had during the creation of television. There are several stories in the early pages, including one that states famous promoter Paul Boesch got his start in Seattle before creating his most famous promotion in Houston, Texas.
Verrier also covers the impact the NWA creation had on these territories, along with the Dumont Network’s influence on wrestling, which helped create its Golden Age. Wrestlers are mentioned briefly from the territory, such as Buddy Rogers, Killer Kowalski , and Luther Lindsay, who was considered the first African American star before Bobo Brazil.
One topic, over half way through the book, describes when the Department of Justice investigated the NWA in the 1950s, which originally had an impact on the way the league handled other promotions and the wrestlers. However the impact did not last long, as the promoters basically did what they wanted.
“Professional Wrestling” hits its stride when covering the 1970s and 1980s, when the author covers stars like Jesse Ventura, Adrian Adonis, Roddy Piper, Chris Colt, and other stars which fans my age would remember the most about the area. Promoter Don Owen was the most popular in the Oregon area, whom I read about in the magazines, with stars such as Buddy Rose, Rip Oliver, and Billy Jack Haynes. There is quite a bit on Piper, including a story where he showed his loyalty to Owen and Jim Crockett, even when he was the top heel for Vince McMahon Jr.’s WWF.
The 1970s-1980s section is my favorite part of the book, and wish there was more coverage on the wrestlers throughout the book, but then again, the book would have been almost 500 pages if everyone was covered intensely (the book is 230 pages) There is a humorous tale of how promoter Al Tomko created his own characters to compete with McMahon Jr. (by using the Jack Pfefer concept) using the names “Macho Man” “King Kong Bundy Jr.” and other nicknames that were being used by McMahon’s top stars.
Verrier covers the many promotions, not just in Oregon, but in surrounding areas, including the modern era that featured stars like Christopher Daniels, the future Daniel Bryan, and Davey Richards. It also has a brief sentence or two on Washington’s Suquamish Championship Wrestling (SCW), where my cousin has performed.
“Professional Wrestling in the Pacific Northwest” has so much history, that fans who really enjoy studying the earlier days of wrestling will enjoy, and not just remember the territory for people like Rose, Art Barr, and Matt Borne. Causal fans may not enjoy the early parts of the book, which feels like a text book, but overall the book is enjoyable, especially the Don Owen section for fans of the 1980s wrestling period.
“Professional Wrestling in the Pacific Northwest” by Steven Verrier (2017, McFarland ISBN: 978-1-4766-7002-7 eISBN: 978-1-4766-2967-4)
For more about Steven Verrier, go to http://www.stevenverrier.com
For more information about these books, and other titles from McFarland Publishing, go to their website at: http://www.mcfarlandpub.com, or call their order line at : 800-253-2187
Thank you to McFarland Publishing for the copies of both books.