Like many guys my age, I spent some time growing up watching that testosterone-driven soap opera known as "professional wrestling". It's been years since I've watched a show on TV, but when I saw the book Wrestling's Greatest Stories: Inside Stories About Cage Matches, Royal Rumbles, Smackdowns & Wrestlemania by Colin Burnett at the library, I had to pick it up. Most of the entertainers and matches he covers were the ones I fondly remember, and it was interesting reading about some of the inside stories of what went down to pull the match off.
Contents: Introduction; A Brief History of Wrestling; The Irresistible Force, The Immovable Object; The Rivalry; A Flair for the Gold; Home Is Where The Hart Is; To Hell and Back; A Tribute Gripped By Tragedy; Glory Bound; Notes on Sources
This is a short book, only 167 pages of fairly large font type. So in terms of time commitment, we're talking at most a couple of hours. Burnett starts out with a history of how professional wrestling became the entertainment spectacle it is today. Carnivals used to have wrestlers who would offer to take on all comers for a cash prize. Even back then, scams and cons were the rule of the day. As people started to get more excited about the matches, certain names became celebrities. The promoters would often match up wrestlers and predetermine the outcome so as to milk the crowd for all they could get. Over time, this staged entertainment became the norm, and promoters and organizations kept trying to one-up each other. Each organization tended to have a certain niche or style. NWA had more atheletic and technical wrestlers, while the WWF/WWE went more for the huge body/gimmick route. But even though the outcomes were predetermined, there were classic matches that displayed incredible amounts of athleticism and stamina. April 1989 had a match between Rick Flair and Ricky Steamboat that is thought to be one of the best displays ever, each man dishing out high levels of pain and punishment to the other in order to entertain the crowd. Summer of 1998 had the classic Hell In The Cell match between Mick Foley and The Undertaker. Foley nearly killed himself a couple of times during the match in order to create an unforgettable matchup. While most of the bumps were planned (but still suicidal), some were not, such as when the roof of the cage collapsed and dropped Foley into the ring and knocked him out cold for two minutes. And then there was the Survivor Series match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. Bret was going to be leaving the WWF, but didn't want to drop the title that night in front of his Canadian fans. Vince McMahon seemed to go along with this, and Bret thought he was going to win one last time. But McMahon and Michaels figured out a different ending, leaving Bret defeated, stunned, and extremely angry at the whole WWF organization. That led to some of the most memorable "anti-US" heel characters ever to work a mat...
Burnett does a nice job in digging past the "official" story and getting the actual feelings of the wrestlers who sacrificed themselves night after night. He doesn't hide the fact that the "sport" is rife with drug abuse that has caused many wrestlers to die far before their time. I found it a bit strange to have Burnett acknowledge it's all fake, but then to describe the match action as if some of the moves and injuries were actual. Granted, that's what you're supposed to think at the time, but having that "realism" side-by-side with the wrestlers saying they had to work the match to get that level of crowd involvement was difficult to reconcile at times.
If you happen to love wrestling, you'll enjoy the book. It's a walk down memory lane for those who were into it "back then". And if you just don't understand what professional wrestling is all about, then you might not find this to your liking. This really is targeted for those who are into it...
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