Book Review: Wrestling Book Tells A Historic Story

Front cover photo: New Japan Wrestling. Cover design Tania Craan.

 

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

 

 

The Overall:

Pages: 304

Language: Moderate

Geared For: 13 and Up.

For Fans Of: Wrestling History, Professional Wrestling, Sports

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Book Reviews: Double Shot of Wrestling History

Photos from the collection of Larry Matysik 2005

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

 

The Overall

Pages:232

Language: Mild

Geared For: Teens and Up (12 and Up)

For Fans Of: Classic Wrestling, Sports , St. Louis History

 

Cover design: Michael Holmes.

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

 

The Overall:

Pages: 415

Language: Mild

Geared For: 12 and Up

For Fans Of: Women’s Wrestling, Pro Wrestling, Wrestling History.

Book Reviews: A Two Count of Wrestling Books

 

Front cover photo by Myles McNutt.

 

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)

 

Front cover photo of Jake Pappenheim, who wrestled under the name “Kurt von Poppenheim,” by Matt Merz

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.

Book Review: A Dog’s Tale: “Mad Dog” Looks at a Legend’s Life

Book cover design by Tania Craan and cover image by Pro Wrestling Illustrated.

Fans of classic professional wrestling will enjoy “Mad Dog: The Maurice Vachon Story (ECW Press, 2017) by Bertrand Hebert, Pat Laprade, and translated by George Tombs. The book journeys through the life of one of the toughest, yet unmentioned wrestlers from Canada.

The book was originally released in 2015 in French, but is now translated and available in English. Vachon was an interesting character, which this book covers. Vachon started wrestling at the local YMCA, and made it to the Olympics in 1948 before starting a career in professional wrestling. Vachon started out as a babyface (good guy), but got his big break when he became a heel (bad guy) years later.

The book follows Vachon’s territory days of wrestling, working for several different promoters for little pay, until moving on to other territories in Canada and the United States. His career later took him to Japan as well, making stops in the NWA, AWA, WWWF and the WWF territories throughout the book. He stopped along the way in Oregon, Calgary, and Quebec.

The book takes the reader through some great events in Vachon’s life, from teaming with his brother, Paul, to being in tag teams with Verne Gagne, Hulk Hogan, Baron Von Raschke , and his solo career, where he won the AWA World and Tag Team Titles.

Even though Vachon was called “The Mad Dog” in the ring, the book describes how Vachon was willing to help out many of the wrestlers get a break in the business (such as a young Roddy Piper), along with helping other wrestlers create gimmicks to help the wrestlers get over to the public. While many wrestling fans recall the viciousness in the ring that the “Mad Dog” portrayed in front of the crowds, the book shows a man that helped many along with way, along with guiding many more people.

The book covers his famous years in the AWA in the 1960s and 1970s, along with his stays in the WWF in the 1980s. There is the story about the famous incident on a plane that AWA owner Verne Gagne would take several wrestlers to events. Vachon , while the plane was in the air, decided to open the side door of the plane, which became one of the most told stories about wrestling on the road in history.

There are some fans that remember Vachon from his time in Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation (WWF) during the early days of the Rock and Wrestling Connection, or his time in the AWA, but the book informs the readers about when Vachon was featured on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” getting mainstream press before Hulk Hogan or Andre The Giant received that kind of attention in the 1980s.

The book also shows the heart-filled downsides that Vachon suffered during his lifetime, from failed marriages to several car accidents, including the shocking story of when he was injured by a car while walking near his home, which resulted in having his leg being amputated. This ordeal is covered with detail, including the aftermath that included lawsuits being brought out.

There are great quotes in the book by wrestlers like Roddy Piper, Rick Martel, Nick Bockwinkel, and family members. The book not only is a biography of a wrestler and wrestling stories, but a behind the scenes glimpse of the man not seen by the general public when the camera was off.

ECW Press is known for putting out some great wrestling books, and “Mad Dog” is one of the enjoyable ones. This book is a biography of a wrestler, yet is also filled with some great history of Canadian professional wrestling as well. The authors have not only shown great research in the book, but present it in a way that flows nicely throughout the book without bogging down the reader with a bunch of dates. The 272 page text has the right amount of information without having slow parts in the reading.

Fans of the classic eras of wrestling (1960s-1980s) will enjoy this work, along with those that want to study more about Canadian Wrestling. The book was entertaining, knowledgeable, and heart-filled all combined in one setting. ECW has another winnner on its hands with “Mad Dog.”

 

“Mad Dog: The Maurice Vachon Story” by Bertrand Hebert, Pat Laprade, and translated by George Tombs (2017 ISBN: 9781770413320) can be ordered at http://www.ecwpress.com along with their other titles.

 

A special thanks to ECW Press for the review copy of the book.

Book Review: Slobberknocker is Golden As The World Title

In the book Slobberknocker: My Life in Wrestling (Sports Publishing; October 2017), Jim Ross and Paul O’Brien not only write about the exciting world of professional wrestling, but they also capture the ideals of the American Dream.

Jim Ross is known to many as the greatest wrestling announcer of all time, along with his duties behind the scenes on the creative committee and talent relations of several wrestling organizations. In the book, Ross details his life growing up on a farm, his first encounter watching wrestling on television, and how he worked his way up from ring crew to the top announcer in Bill Watt’s Mid-South area, Ted Turner’s WCW, and the WWE.

Early in the book, Ross writes about getting into professional wrestling, by watching it on television with his grandparents, and make up storylines with his toy army figures while commentating on his make believe matches. After getting a chance to see a live event in Oklahoma, Ross decided that “I knew I wanted into this crazy business somehow. I just didn’t know how to find a way in.”

Ross found his way in when he and a friend started fundraisers in college after making phone calls to Mid -South Wrestling’s main man, “Cowboy” Bill Watts. After Watts became impressed with Ross’s work, he was invited to work for the company, just shy of graduating from college.

Ross’s early job in the Mid -South area involved being a babysitter for announcer and part owner Leroy McGuirk, where Ross details several funny stories in the territory, including a humorous car ride involving McGuirk and his famous cigars that McGuirk was known for. Ross also worked as a referee, on the ring crew, and helped with the booking of the shows (helping plan out the storylines).

Ross tells the reader many stories about some of the wrestlers in the Mid South, including Dick Murdoch, the 600-pound twin McGuire Brothers, Bill Dundee, Ernie Ladd, and wrestlers from the more famous time of the Mid -South region like The Rock n Roll Express, Jim Duggan, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and manager Jim Cornette.  He also talks about when their biggest moneymaker, The Junkyard Dog, just walked out of the company in order to join Vince McMahon’s WWF in the early 1980s, along with Watt’s opinion of the situation. McMahon’s taking over Georgia Wrestling on the cable channel WTBS is covered, where after dealing with the situation, Watts and Ross decide to go national with the Mid-South to compete with the WWF.

Ross gives his take on many of wrestling’s top stars, such as Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Steve Austin, The Rock, Randy Savage, and more, as the book takes the reader through Jim Crockett’s NWA, Ted Turner’s WCW, and McMahon’s WWF/WWE. Ross also describes some of the bad creative decisions in his wrestling career from being on the creative committee, with angles involving Flair and Ricky Steamboat, the Ron Garvin NWA Title reign, and how he felt the NWA/WCW handled Steve “Sting” Borden as champion. Ross also informs the reader about his time in the WWF covering famous feuds, such as The Undertaker and Mankind’s “Hell in the Cell” cage match, the ill-fated “Brawl for All” Tough Man competition, and the famous “Montreal Screw-Job” involving Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels.

Ross covers the revolving door in WCW’s management, which could have been a book in itself on how to manage many different bosses in a short time. Not only were there multiple managers in charge, but he also had to deal with a rotation roster of bookers as well, from Flair, Rhodes, Watts, to Ole Anderson. Since Ross was also one of the announcers, he discusses his opinions on his announcing partners such as Jesse Ventura, Bobby Heenan, Jerry Lawler, Gordon Solie, Lord Alfred Hayes, and Curt Hennig, along with interactions with celebrities Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Butterbean, and Robocop.

The book is not just about pro wrestling; it is an inspiring tale about a man who had to overcome obstacles to achieve his dream of being in a business that was closed off to many and secretive. Ross overcomes low pay after traveling hundreds of miles, failed marriages, losing the family business store, and overcoming health issues with his fights with Bell’s palsy. Someone not familiar with professional wrestling can still find an uplifting story in Ross’s memoir. This is a tale about a man that wanted to be a part of sports entertainment and made it to the top, via hard work, determination, and a strong will.

Overall, the book is a great read, mixed with humor and inspiration. I would have liked a few more stories dealing with Sting and WCW, but with Ross’s decades of experience, there are bound to be stuff passed over, unless he wanted a 1000 page book (my book has 319 pages without the afterward, which my copy did not have).  There is enough background information about his younger years that make the book interesting, without drawing out multiple chapters, like some memoirs. The chapters are mostly short, which is something else I love about the book. The book ends in 1999; right after Ross announces the Wrestlemania XV Main Event between Steve Austin and The Rock.  Those that follow wrestling would know that Ross has many years left to cover in his career, and maybe another book will be coming in the future, but just like in the wrestling business, Ross’s book leaves the audience wanting more, which is a good thing.

 

Slobberknocker; My Life In Wrestling by Jim Ross with Paul O’Brien will be released in October 2017.

A special thanks to Sports Publishing, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing for the Advanced Reading Copy.

My Buddy: The Underrated “Nature Boy” Of Wrestling

Growing up a major wrestling fan in the 1980s, I tried to watch as many of the territories I could (for those that may not know, as opposed to today, there were many wrestling leagues throughout the U.S. and Canada before the WWE bought most of them out).  As a kid in junior high when I started watching, I was usually cheering for the fan favorites, aka the “Faces,” such as Hulk Hogan, Sting, and The Rock N Roll Express among many. However, there were a few of the bad guys, called “Heels,” that I always cheered for, like managers Jim Cornette and Bobby Heenan, and wrestlers like Nick Bockwinkel, The Midnight Express, Curt Hennig, and Bill Dundee (when they were Heels-they were also Faces too in their career) There was an wrestler who I enjoyed watching as a heel and thought he was so underrated, and that was “The Nature Boy” Buddy Landel.

Newer fans may not know that many wrestlers used the same nicknames when they were in the different territories, unlike today where a wrestler would leave, the league has copyright property to the name (there are times when the wrestler owns their name, but that is becoming rare).  This is why when fans think of “The Nature Boy” gimmick, they think of Ric Flair. Flair actually took the gimmick from Buddy Rogers, who was the first WWWF Champion in 1963 (losing to Bruno Sammartino) and the NWA Title in 1961. Other “Nature Boy” wrestlers were Flair, Paul Lee, and Landel.

Landel started wrestling in 1979 in Bill Watt’s Mid South territory, where he started out as a jobber and caught my eye when he joined Jim Crockett’s NWA in 1985. I remember my first issue I ever bought of the wrestling magazine Pro Wrestling Illustrated covering the Great American Bash of 1985 (before Supercards on PPV, this was Crockett’s big summer card). At the time, Landel was teaming with Cowboy Ron Bass as part of J.J. Dillon’s stable. The storyline started that Dillon was paying more attention to Landel than Bass, which created Bass to turn good and face Landel at the Bash, which was declared a draw. Although some people thought of Landel as a fake Ric Flair, I loved watching his matches and interviews at the time, along with his “corkscrew elbow,” which set up his other finisher, the Figure Four, which Flair and Rogers also used. Wikipedia writes that a match in 1985 between Flair and Landel broke a North Carolina record held by Elvis Presley, so Landel wasn’t just a wanna-be star.

Landel won the NWA National Heavyweight Title at Starrcade 1985 in a decent match against Terry Taylor, when Dillon grabbed Taylor’s foot when Taylor was trying to do his finish, a superplex off the ropes. I remember the NWA showing the match on free TV after the card weeks later, and even then I was rooting for Landel over Taylor, which went against most of my young views that the Heels were bad.

Landel left the NWA when he refused to show up for a TV Taping on time and was fired that day. Landel said on a podcast later that he was tired of the management and other wrestlers playing politics, although he admits that he was having drug problems on top. He claims on that podcast that plan was that NWA Champion Flair was to drop the belt to Landel, and he was to either drop the belt to Magnum T.A. or Tully Blanchard. He also states that Blanchard’s manager at the time, Baby Doll, was to manage him, while Tully was to be paired up with Dillon. Nonetheless, Landel was fired from what was his shot at the big time.

Landel then went to the Memphis area in 1986, and then back to WCW (for a small time), before going to Smoky Mountain Wrestling, and the WWF before getting injured, and released. Landel’s time in Jerry Lawler’s Memphis area was very exciting, where he had some of his best work, especially teaming with Bill Dundee. One of my favorite spots at this time was when Landel and Dundee decided that they would announce the matches themselves, instead of Dave Brown and Lance Russell, and brought out their own table that had a sign titled “The Bill and Buddy Show.”  I remember watching this 1986 Memphis run with Landel and Dundee fighting Lawler and Dutch Mantel.  This territory was so different from the WWF, AWA, World Class, and NWA that I was used to, and was actually annoyed when my TV Station would pre-empt the show during some weeks where I live in Ohio.

Landel was a major reason, along with The Rock N Roll Express and Jim Cornette, that I was a huge fan of the Smoky Mountain Wrestling territory in the 1990’s, run by Cornette.  Just like the Memphis TV Show, I was not able to see Smoky Mountain every week, but with the Internet, I have gotten see every Smoky Mountain show in order. Landel came in Smoky Mountain in 1992, and then again in 94-95 before the league closed. Landel was the Smoky Mountain Champion as a Heel, and right before they closed, Landel was a Face, going against Cornette’s Militia group. I asked Cornette via his podcast, “Corny’s Drive Through” Podcast on MLW Radio (March  14, 2017) if there was plans for Landel to win back the title if the league didn’t close. Cornette said that was the plan. A memorable Smoky Mountain moment was an interview Landel gave admitting to his past mistakes with drugs and being unreliable to the bookers. His run in Smoky Mountain, especially his second run, included a great match with  WWF Intercontinental Champion Shawn Michaels. His WWF run included matches against Bret Hart, a young Matt Hardy, and HHH.

One interesting time in his career that I forgot about, but then rediscovered, was his time in USA Championship Wrestling in Knoxville, Tennessee (1988), run by Ron Fuller. Landel was usually paired with Hector Guerrero. This TV Show was interesting because the wrestlers sat at the announcer’s desk for their interviews. Several of the Smoky Mountain Wrestling stars were here at the time, such as The Armstrong Family, The Mongolian Stomper, and Ron Wright. The wrestling was decent, ( I believe it ended up being a part of Continental Wrestling) but Landel’s character was that he had an injured arm and wore a black arm band, that he “loaded” it with some foreign object. Although the fans bought into the gimmick, yelling at the referee every time Buddy would turn his back to the ref, I think it diminished the fact that Landel really was a great in ring worker that did not need to use a cheap prop gimmick to get over.

Buddy Landel was one of the most underrated wrestlers of the 1980s-1990s. He was still wrestling Indy Shows after he was released from the WWF. He had a short stint in the AWA in 1987 as well.  Some of the big names he wrestled during his career were: Magnum T.A., Sting, King Kong Bundy, Tommy Rich, Jerry Lawler, Tully Blanchard, Bobby Eaton, Ron Bass, Kamala, Jim Duggan, The Rock N Roll Express, and more.

I asked Hall of Fame Announcer Jim Ross, via his website, his opinion of Landel and if he was underrated. He replied, “ Buddy was a naturally talented wrestler whose own demons hurt him but Buddy was a good hand without question.”

I also asked Slam Sports Wrestling’s Producer and Author Greg Oliver (who helped give me my break in writing about wrestling) his views on Landel. Oliver writes via email:

Buddy Landel was criminally underrated as a performer. He had all the skills to make it to the top — look, microphone skills, in-ring magic (the story he told me for The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels about wrestling The Invisible Man is proof he could do anything). What he didn’t have was discipline or his head screwed on straight. To his credit, he always owned up to his shortcomings later in life, never bemoaning what could have been.

 

Buddy Landel died in 2015, at the age of 53, due to complications of a car accident.  Even though he was one of the few “Nature Boys,” his work and interview skills were not of a cheap knock off. Wrestling fans, go back and discover this talent. He was not only one of my favorite wrestlers growing up, but even now, going back and watching his matches still entertains me.

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A special thanks to Greg Oliver for helping contribute to this page.

You can find Greg Oliver, and the rest of the great Slam Sports Wrestling writers, at http://slam.canoe.com/Slam/Wrestling/home.html

Jim Ross at http://www.jrsbarbq.com , and Jim Cornette’s Podcasts at http://www.mlwradio.com .

 

Here is another one of Landel’s best promos.