I am not going to write a positive book review just because one of the writers of The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame : The Storytellers from the Terrible Turk to Twitter (ECW Press, 2019) is Greg Oliver, along with Steven Johnson. I strive, and take pride in writing honest reviews, where many of the publishers and writers have complimented me on with their books. Since I have written for Oliver’s wrestling site , Slam Sports, in the past, it will not sway my review.
I saw the book online, and the cover immediately turned me off , with the photograph of wrestler Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho from their New Japan match. I still like Jericho as a wrestler, a businessman, and a writer. I have never seen the appeal of Omega, where the internet darlings, who also helped many of the ECW wrestlers in the day think they were better in the ring than they really were, praise him constantly, yet don’t know anything about when wrestling was believable. I personally would not seek out a book with Omega on the cover period. When the book came in the mail from the company, I figured I might as well give it a chance, you know the old saying about a book’s cover.
I had no doubt that something with Oliver’s name on it would be well written, but this book was wonderful in detailing the early days of wrestling, to the territories days, and beyond, when it came to the various aspects of storytelling in the ring (and out of it). The early parts of the book describes the history of promoters taking wrestling from the carnival days, to the days of Ed Lewis and his promoter manager, and making wrestling a global attraction. There are stories about how several promoters in the business , before Vince McMahon Jr. ever did in the late 1980s-1990s, publicly announced the business was not legit, and was more entertainment.
The book tells tales about the early “first blood,” ladder, and blindfolded matches, along with the strange matches involving monkeys, bears , and yes, even fish. The first cage matches, and the first manager heel, Count Rossi, are covered in the easy to read, short chapters. Announcers such as Bill Mercer, Dennis James (who is considered the first national wrestling announcer), and the return of Tony Schiavone, along with the announcers’ roles in keeping story lines going, are also part of the book.
The text covers times in the 1970s and 1980s when wrestlers needed a crazy story to boost business gate receipts, such as throwing the title belts into rivers and lakes (which was done many times before The Rock and Steve Austin did it in WWE), to how important the wrestling magazines were in helping get wrestlers over to the fans.
There are many wonderful stories about classic characters like Jack Pfifer, Jim Barnett, Dr. Sam Sheppard (who was the inspiration for the TV show The Fugitive, and had ties to my hometown, near Youngstown Ohio), to wrestlers who went on to be actors in Hollywood, like Alex Karras (Mongo from Blazing Saddles) and Victor the bear. The writers used many interviews (the credits state over 200) from people like Tom Prichard, Court Bauer, Jim Cornette, Kevin Sullivan, Bobby Fulton, and Eric Bischoff.
Another interesting part of the book (besides the first 200 pages filled with the older history of wrestling) is the section on the importance of the current day writers. I agree that wrestling today is way too scripted when it comes to writing story lines and interviews (they don’t come off as legit and too rehearsed), but the interviews with former WWE and TNA writers taking the reader behind the scenes to what goes on weekly was an informative. Another entertaining part included the wrestling magazines section, where during the pre-internet days, fans had to visit to the local newsstand and buy wrestling magazines (which I have many from the late 1980s-1990s) to keep up with what was going on, because most newspapers did not cover wrestling.
The last 50 pages for me was the weakest of the book. These sections dealt with hardcore wrestling (from ECW to “death matches,” where everything from bats to light bulbs are used) , to how the wrestlers The Hardys’ used the TNA Deletion angle into a mini movie (along with Lucha Underground, which adds a science fiction flavor to the productions in filming), and interviewing Omega on his take on storytelling. Because I was not an ECW fan , or one of Lucha, this did not appeal to me, although the authors covered almost everything on the topic of storytelling to their credit. The Omega interview was laughable to me , because of the way he explains his matches to the writers, which makes it as if he is very serious about his role in wrestling, yet this is the guy that used blow up dolls, dressed up like video game characters, and he (along with another team I can not stand, The Young Bucks), average around 200 super kick moves in each match. His interview section made him look like Randy Savage, who was known at times to have pages of ideas and moves for just one match. I am not saying Omega is not an athlete, but I never understood the appeal of many who state him as one of the top wrestlers in the world, when he does the same move 15 times in a match. I am sure he is a nice person outside of the ring, but I am not a fan of his, and his take on storytelling sounded like he was the Charles Dickens of wrestling, with every little move and segment carefully planned months in advanced. However, if the only problem in the book is my personal dislike for certain type of match or wrestler, the writers did an amazing job with detailing the subject.
The best part of the book is the first 200 pages, with all the classic wrestling tales and history, from the early masked men (and possibly the first person to ever wear a mask that got major attention), to a wrestler in matches against alligators, fans will love the classic stuff. If you are a newer fan, there is about 50-70 pages on the newer style of wrestling, from the decline of WCW, the “Attitude Era” with Shawn Michaels, to the impact of Dave Meltzer’s dirt sheets. The book is sectioned nicely, with subtitles in each major chapter, basically in three parts. The writing is easy to understand ; telling the events with interviews woven in, to where it is entertaining and a history lesson combined, without a ton facts and dates cluttering up the pages. Regardless of the cover photo ( if you’re like me and not a fan of Omega or these newer gimmick matches that is covered in the last 50 pages), don’t judge a book by the cover, and enjoy great wrestling history with the first three fourths of the book.
This review copy was sent courtesy of the publisher
The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame The Storytellers from the Terrible Turk to Twitter (ECW Press, 2019) ISBN: 9781770415027 (softcover) 9781773054223 (PDF), 9781773054216 (ePub) can be found at http://www.ecwpress.com
For information about the authors, go to: http://www.slam.canoe.com/Slam/Wrestling/home.html
Geared For: 13 and Up.
For Fans Of: Wrestling History, Professional Wrestling, Sports