Pro Wrestling Autobiographies Book Reviews
By Damian Hospital
Here’s a quick list of the rankings:
1- (tied) Ric Flair/Chris Jericho
2- Mick Foley I
3- Dynamite Kid
4- Billy Graham
5- Fred Blassie
6- Lou Thesz
7- Shawn Michaels
8- Ted DiBiase
9- Jerry Lawler
10- Mick Foley II
11- Harley Race
12- Dusty Rhodes
13- Terry Funk
14- Bobby Heenan
15- Roddy Piper
16- Bruno Sammartino
17- Arn Anderson
Why is my opinion valid? I’ve watched wrestling religiously from 1984-1999, and attended live events in New York and Florida. I saw all the major events on video tape from that era and previous eras. Thanks to the Internet, I’ve seen hundreds of matches and promos. Just as important, I collected every wrestling magazine from that time period (Pro Wrestling Illustrated, Inside Wrestling, Sports Review Wrestling, Wrestling Eye, WWF Magazine, Wrestling Revue, and others) including ordering back issues from the 1970′s to early 1980′s. Additionally, I would call for wrestling scoops (Coach Kirk’s Wrestling Line) and subscribe to the inside newsletters such as Wresting Obsverver and Pro Wrestling Torch. I had the entire collection of action figures, and played the video games. To this day, although I am repulsed by WWE, I still play Grey Dog Software’s wrestling simulation games, and logon to The Torch every day. My grandfather would tell me stories of Lou Thesz, Antonio Rocca, Jim Londos, and the other Golden Age greats. My Mom grew up and passed the stories of Bruno Sammartino, Haystacks Calhoun, Chief Jay Strongbow and other Silver Age legends.
Pros: The most entertaining wrestling autobiography, balances historical narrative with personal perspectives. All of the behind-the-scene poltics are discussed. Very touching and humorous. Excellent organization/format/photos. Simply the best there is. Not much more to say.
Disputed World Champion: A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex by Chris Jericho
Pros: Chris (no ghost-writer) Jericho writes the funniest autobiography by chroniciling his experiences in Canada, Mexico, Germany, Japan, and the U.S. Unfortunately, mere words can’t express how great this book is. Chris was a struggling wrestler (who was a fan first), and his book truly reads like a STORY about his experiences in different cultures and meeting different personalities, and his own spiritual growth (WITHOUT preaching his religion) as opposed to a self-promoting manifesto, a history book, a book of facts, steroids, or how bad other wrestlers are. Bottom line- Chris Jericho’s book is EQUAL to Ric Flair’s…but Flair is still the champ because Flair’s scope of work and frame of reference is over a longer period of time. For non-wrestling fans, Chris’ book would be #1 on this list.
Former World Champion: Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks by Mick Foley
Pros: No ghost writer here, folks..it’s all Mick. A New York Times #1 Best Seller, which lead to Vince McMahon to publish other books. His excellent writing skill is extremely humorous, detailed, with jokes that are not obvious. He keeps you on your toes. He never takes himself or his profession too seriously, and his very modest. He doesn’t hesitate to discuss wrestling in front of 25 people in an Ohio gym, selling his T-shirts at an armory, or particiapting in some lame storylines. He’s a normal down-to-earth Long Island guy who was obsessed with wrestling, and who made it big by paying his dues and getting noticed with his sadistic risky moves.
Cons: Not really a con, but since it has the most pages of any wrestling autobiography, it takes a while to read.
Intercontinental Champion: Pure Dynamite: The Price you Pay for Wrestling Stardom
Pros: Just as the Dynamite Kid’s career was underrated when he was active, his book is underrated by the mainstream fans. Of course, it’s an Internet favorite and legend, just as his skills and abilities were known by only the “smart” fans back in the ’80′s. Tom Billington reveals all backstage secrets and sick inside info, and his problems with steriods. He discusses his career and influences in Canada, Japan, and the US.
Cons: As a tragic figure, his story is dark, gritty, and depressing, and without a happy ending. One has to question some negative facts about himself that he chose *not* to include in this book. Publisher was not big, so the format is not top-notch.
U.S. Champ: Superstar Billy Graham: Tangled Ropes
Pros: In-depth history of the terrorities circa 1970′s. Very emotional. Extremely entertaining. We finally learned the circumstances involving his title victory over Bruno Sammartino. Superstar tells all, including the steroid trial. Controversial, opinionated, wild ride. Excellent description of the dark side of New York in the 1970′s…like a movie! GREAT inside info about promotions, money, betrayals, training, and the different personalities in the biz- mostly cruel, but a few are loyal.
Cons: Since he admits to being a scammer, liar, thief, drug user, and swindler, I can’t help but wonder if he’s still still “working us marks with an angle” regarding McMahon, steroids, his belief in God, and the sympathy he invokes from 99% of his readers (not me).
National Champ: The Legends of Wrestling – “Classy” Freddie Blassie : Listen, You Pencil Neck Geeks
Pros: Freddie Blassie gives you a history lesson from the 1930′s to the 1990′s. Published right before his death. Funny, detailed, with tons of stories about his wrestling and managerial career. Great format.
Cons: None, although since Vince McMahon (publisher) and his dad treated Freddie well, they were portrayed in a positive light.
TV Champ: Hooker : An Authentic Wrestler’s Adventures Inside the Bizarre World of Professional Wrestling
by Lou Thesz
Pros: A wrestling history from its roots and origins, as experienced by one of the best, famous, legitamate, and well-respected icons. Even though he was old-school, Lou Thesz still discussed behind-the-scenes politics, like how the NWA committe would determine who would be the world champion. Lou was a classy gentleman, and talked about life as a traveling champion, wrestling in other countries and territories, how he was trained, the level of respect he had for veterans, and all the details about how different his Golden Age era was. He focused a lot on how leagues were managed.
Cons: Not from a major publisher, so format is not top-shelf; no photos. (Book is actually a collector’s item now.) Lou, of course, is very opiniated, critical, and judgmental of wrestlers’ scientific skills, and of the Modern Era.
Heartbreak & Triumph: The Shawn Michaels Story
Pros: Couldn’t put the book down. Really. It was that enjoyable and intense. Very personalable. You will feel like you know Shawn. I’d recommend it to anyone. Doesn’t push his Born Again beliefs too hard. Tells his side of the stories regarding the gossip, criticisms, and infamous Montreal Screwjob when Bret Hart was screwed out of the title (Shawn was ‘Jack Ruby’). Shawn is honest about his feelings (though maybe not all of the facts), and why people hated him in the lockerroom. Discusses his additiction to pain-killers, and how he loved his friends “The Kilq”.
Cons: Not a history of his era because Shawn simply just knows about himself. Not very wordly… He buries Bret Hart; totally kills his character…. Shawn says he was hurt that the guys thought he was (Vince’s) teacher’s pet…but he was…. No solid details about how he “partied”… Sorry, like Billy Graham’s Born Again pitch, I feel it is a bit presumptious to proclaim his life a “triumph”.
Pros: The most inspirational (he became a Born Again Christian and runs a ministry). Honest. Positive. Doesn’t rip anyone. Grateful. Since this book was so succesful, it showed there was a market for wrestling books, which lead to the wave of autobiographies. (Although Mick Foley [Cactus Jack/Mankind] usually gets the credit for that.)
Cons: Doesn’t get into any deep inside negative details about promoters, behind-the-scene politics, wrestlers, or his life pre-Christianity (details of his nightlife). Doesn’t hold up well to later books that reveal the inner workings of the business.
Pros: Humorous, very detailed, loads of funny and crazy stories from the Mid-South (wrestler and promoter) to the WWF, to his bad relationships with women. Surprsingly entertaining very long book with his original artwork (great sketches). Very detailed sinful expoits, and heart-wrenching break-ups.
Cons: As an official WWF book, I always had the feeling Jerry couldn’t say anything negative about Vince McMahon or any of the current wrestlers.
3. FOLEY IS GOOD by Mick Foley
Pros: This is probably rated lower than it should be, considering it is a direct extension of his first book. It might as well have been “Have a Nice Day Volume II”. This book is just as funny, witty, and informative as the first, written by the Hardcore Legend himself. In terms of actual writing and entertainment, it is equal to the first one.
Cons: This time around Foley comes off as a Vince McMahon/WWE defender. He dedicated an entire chapter rationalizing that the violence and filth on WWF Raw is unjustly targeted because the media or government or special interest groups have a problem with pro wrestling and/or McMahon. He went on to present his own findings that such TV shows like Cheers and other sitcoms are just as “bad” as RAW. At the end of the book, you can see that Foley is a good little soldier for the WWE, even though he is 100% outspoken against what he feels is unethical.
Pros: A rough and tough champion with a gentle side. A man’s man. Very straightforward, genuine and entertaining. Great format. Goes into the history of his early NWA title reigns and how they made the switches. Talks about his time as The King of Wrestling in the WWF, and his stints as managing starts in WCW. He enjoyed the business, didn’t see it as work. Loved being the heel to get the crowd reaction. A great father. Respected and loved by his peers and younger guys. Great previosly untold story about Vince McMahon.
Cons: Too short, 170 pages? Come on, this is HARLEY RACE…he’s always the subject of stories from the other books..I wanted to hear more crazy stories, but he’s not the type to blow his own horn.
Pros: Dusty writes about of the previously unrevealed info about his roles being a wrestler and head booker for NWA/WCW, and his tours of duty with WWF, ECW, and TNA. His writing style is just as he speaks- hilarious. His road stories with Terry Funk and Dick Murdoch..WOW. Dusty has no shame in revealing the seedy parts of his life. What a great character. He also reveals his shaky relationship with his son Dustin (Goldust).
Cons: Dusty overates his role in the industry, and is very conceded. (Jim Ross says Dusty has an ego because he has low self esteem.) He constantly compares himself to others, and 100% of the time Dusty comes on top of his “evaluation”. His envy and jealousy of Hogan, McMahon, Flair, and others is clear. It’s hard to take him seriously, when he claims repsonsibility for everything! The world revolves around Dusty in his book…we owe everything to Dusty. He pushed the right people, he made stars, he paved the way, he was the most popular wrestler of all time, he was offered Hogan’s position before Hogan but turned it down..uh-huh… In fact, that’s what killed the book from getting an A or A+.
6. Terry Funk: More Than Just Hardcore
Pros: Funk is 100% genuine and opininated. His personal life is not like his tough in-ring character, as he is a family man, like Harley Race. In fact, he and Race have similiar beliefs. Funk discusses his experiences in Texas and Japan, and his ECW run. All and all, Funk came off as being intelligent and thoughtful, with great road stories.
Cons: Same publisher as Harley Race and Dusty Rhodes…too short, not enough details for someone who wrestled for so many decades.
Pros: Funny stories. Great experiences with Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, and other icons. Highly entertaining.
Cons: Very brief…he basically devouts a paragraph or two to each anedoct. Doesn’t give many dates/years. Tough to verify or prove his far-out stories…
Pros: Like other heel-type personalities, very funny and humorous. His stories kept my interest.
Cons: Format is so-so…Piper is VERY biased, and gives himself an AWFUL lot of credit in his role in making the WWF what it is today. His facts are disputable. Wish he was more detailed. He toots his own horn way too much.
6. Bruno Sammartino: An Autobiography of Wrestling’s Living Legend
Pros: Since this was published in 1990, before the current wave of wrestler’s autobiographies, Bruno writes this as a straight autobiography- meaning much is devoted to his pre-wrestling life and family in Italy and coming to the US as an immigrant. He comes off as a truly moral man, who is very serious about wrestling being a sport, as opposed to a “sports entertainment”. Great old-time stories from both of his title reigns. Obviously, very interesting and enjoyable.
Cons: Bruno didn’t break the illusion that matches are not predetermined. I always wanted to know how we was convinced to drop the WWWWF championship to Ivan Koloff and Superstar Billy Graham. I had to read in-between the lines to try and figure that out, but I would have prefered to know what McMahon, Sr. told him. In fact, Bruno said that he was never told to “throw a match”. Bruno did not present any criticims of himself. He is very bitter about the Modern Era, and for all gimmicks and angles. In fact, he’s bitter in general. Presents himself as a victim of Vince McMahon Sr and Jr.
7. Arn Anderson 4 Ever: A Look Behind the Curtain
Pros: Some good Ric Flair stories.
Cons: The title is a lie: it’s not a “look behind the curtain” because Arn retains the illusion that wrestling match outcomes are not planned, and uses his on-screen persona. Very disappointed.