If you have read any of my reviews when it comes to professional wrestling, you would know how I prefer the days of the territories, where many different promoters ran particular areas, and bred their stars, as opposed to today’s product where the wrestlers only have NXT or a few other choices to learn their characters and skills. Places like Florida, Texas, and the Carolinas had their own regional promotions, which some were placed under the National Wrestling Alliance banner (also known as the N.W.A.). One of the most respected, and historic promotions was the St. Louis area, run by Sam Muchnick, which is detailed in the book Wrestling At the Chase by Larry Matysik (ECW Press, 2005).
Matysik was a key member of the St. Louis territory, starting his work as a writer and press person, all the way up to helping Muchnick develop the league as a booker ( a person who sets up the matches and the endings). Stories throughout the book are told about many of the top stars of the day, from Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Bobby Heenan, Dick The Bruiser, and other legendary wrestlers. Each chapter is (almost) based on the author’s experience with the particular wrestler, along with other chapters that detail his friendship with Muchnik and what made that St. Louis area popular with not only the fans , but the wrestlers as well.
What were some of the reasons that wrestlers respected Muchnick? Not only did he give out respectable payouts to the workers (one time even paying them when there was not even a show), but the booking was unique; there were mostly clean finishes in the matches, where other territories were constantly booking controversial finishes every month, which left fans angered and (finally after so many of them) refusing to come back to the matches. The author writes how Muchnick valued the sport aspect of the wrestling that made the fans respect his television and live events. Muchnick also didn’t like “swash” matches, where the star would get all the offense in his television matches against a younger wrestler with little experience. Sam thought that the enhancement wrestler should make the match seem like a legit fight, and have some offense.
The writing relays stories that are entertaining, such as the time a bunch of local guys wanted to fight the wrestlers in a hotel, and 7-foot tall Andre The Giant decided to challenge the men, to how respected Bobby “The Brain” Heenan became , who ended up being the first and only manger in the territory. Stories are told about stars like Jerry “Crusher” Blackwell (who walked out on Vince McMahon Jr. right during his start of the 1980s boom), Joe Garagiaola (who was an announcer for the promotion at one time), and Dick Murdoch.
Another great aspect of the book is the author’s telling of some of the political behind the scene lobbying among the N.W.A. brass in determining the champion at the time (the N.W.A. Champion would travel to each territory to defend the title as an added attraction). One story deals with how then champion Dory Funk Jr. was injured and may not have been able to defend when he was scheduled to be in St. Louis, where the fear and rumors were that he just did not want to drop the title. Muchnick responded by getting Bruno Sammartino from New York’s WWWF to come to St. Louis to show that Muchick could work with the “rivals” of the N.W.A. The political sections of the book also covers when Vince McMahon Jr. started his 1980s run in buying out the territories to create his World Wresting Federation (WWF), after taking over his father’s league, and later, conquering the world.
Matysik covers his friendship with the late Bruiser Brody, a wrestler who became one of the original independent wrestlers. Brody would pick and choose who he worked for, and sometimes refuse to follow the actual finishes of matches. Since Brody was tragically murdered at an event in Puerto Rico, fans of the wrestler would enjoy these stories about the writer’s and one of the original hardcore wrestler’s friendship, which brings a touching aspect to the book. Not only is the friendship with Brody emotional, but also Matysik’s and Muchnick’s evolution over the years is also touching.
Wrestling At the Chase is a wonderful, easy to read book about the bygone era of territory wrestling. This is a collection of great tales involving the classic stars, what made that area different from the others, and several tales of a few long lasting friendships on top. There are some pleasing black and white photographs throughout the book of the great wrestling stars, such as Harley Race, Terry Funk, Andre, and more. The author, sadly, died in 2018, but this book is a testament to his contribution to wrestling history.
This book was sent courtesy of the publisher.
Wrestling At The Chase by Larry Matysik (ECW Press, 2005) ISBN: 978-1-55022-684-3 can be ordered at http://www.ecwpress.com
Geared For: Teens and Up (12 and Up)
For Fans Of: Classic Wrestling, Sports , St. Louis History
Women’s wrestling has become a major player in the past few years, especially in the WWE with their Women’s Revolution. Although many wrestling critics have scoffed at the sincerity of some of the choices made, it has given women wrestlers more of a spotlight in the mainstream.
The book Sisterhood of the Squared Circle: The History and Rise of Women’s Wrestling by Pat Laprade and Dan Murphy (2017, ECW Press) follows the years of women’s wrestling that have led us to this point. The authors have been followers of wrestling for years, with Laprade writing the great book on Mad Dog Vachon (a review can be found here in the archives), and Murphy was a writer for the wrestling magazine Pro Wrestling Illustrated, which was THE major magazine in the 1980s and 1990s.
The book starts with a forward from WWE Superstar Natalya Neidhart, discussing how her uncle Stu Hart always had wrestlers at his home, which she became acquainted with, along with the two author’s support of the women wrestlers, where many promoters viewed them as a side show.
The history begins covering how women wrestlers dated back to the Amazon warrior days (even questioning if the Amazons even existed) and in the 1800s, where women took part in boxing, wresting, and bar room fighting. Names like Marie Ford, who participated in what could be an early form of MMA, to Josie Wahlford, who may have been the first women’s champion of wrestling are discussed. These early women fought both men and women on carnival shows and the burlesque circuits. The authors take the reader through names like Cora Livingston, who in 1910 became the first to carry an actual belt as champion, and Clara Mortensen, who claimed to be champion and went on to be a Hollywood actor, along with her part in helping the transition from the carnivals into actual sports arenas.
The book covers mini-biographies of many of the wrestlers, separated by eras, such as the 1980s Rock ‘N” Wrestling era, with Wendi Richter, Leilani Kai, Candi Devine, and Sherri Martel. One of the great stories about this section is how Richter was a part of a screw job (long before the Bret Hart/Shawn Michaels event in 1997), with the backstage politics of The Fabulous Moolah, who ran most of the women’s wrestling for decades. Each wrestler gets a several page biography stating some of their wrestling history, along with how they got into the business. I personally enjoyed Candi Devine’s work in the AWA, although the writers seemed to just pass her off as nothing special.
The Attitude Era from the WWE (with stars like Lita, Trish Stratus, and Chyna), TNA’s Knockouts Division (with Gail Kim, Awesome Kong, and Angelina Love), to Japanese and Australian stars are all covered in this writing. The process of going from “women” to “Knockouts” to “Diva’s” are all transitioned here.
The most interesting parts of the book for me was the early history of the women, from names like Cora Combs, Penny Banner (who dated Elvis Presley), and Ethel Johnson (who was one of the early popular African American wrestlers). The detailed story about Mildred Burke and Billy Wolfe’s influence on women and wrestling is a plus, along with the backstage influence of Moolah, which to this day has controversy among those that worked with her. There is also an interesting story from 1951 that details the death of Janet Boyer Wolfe at a card in East Liverpool, Ohio (which is around a 30-minute drive from my hometown of Columbiana, Ohio.
The biographies of the other stars are limited to a few pages at best, depending on how big of stars they were, and several are omitted from here from recent times- the writers mention Stephanie McMahon’s influence on the current product, and there is a chapter on Ronda Rousey, but no Alexa Bliss, covering only NXT wrestlers like Paige, Becky Lynch, and Charlotte Flair. Throughout the book there are comments from Dave Meltzer, who is considered a historian in wrestling by some, and not so by others (Meltzer created dirt sheets newsletters, where he would expose the business by giving so called backstage “news” about contracts, storylines, and the paid arena incomes, although many in the business claim his stories were all made up, some claim he is correct). I personally, would have liked a little less of his opinions, and maybe more of the writer’s view.
It would been nice to have the writers state a little of their personal opinions into the book, such as some of their favorite matches from the stars, but overall the book is a nice reference guide for looking at some of the women and their biographies. Names like The Jumping Bomb Angels, Judy Grable, and Velvet McIntyre may not be well known with today’s fans (but neither are current wrestlers like Tenille Dashwood or Tessa Blanchard) that may only follow the WWE, but they are featured in this time capsule. True fans will enjoy the early history of the pioneers and the Moolah stories. It is interesting to see how far the women’s world has evolved, regardless of opinions of those that see the WWE’s division with skepticism.
This review copy was sent courtesy of the publisher.
Sisterhood of the Squared Circle: The History And Rise of Women’s Wrestling by Pat Laprade and Dan Murphy (2017, ECW Press) ISBN: 978-1-77041-307-0 (paperback), 978-1-77305-015-7 (PDF) , 978-1-77305-014-0 (Epub) can be found at http://www.ecwpress.com
Geared For: 12 and Up
For Fans Of: Women’s Wrestling, Pro Wrestling, Wrestling History.