Masters of Mayhem
Pro wrestling is the modern-day answer to Roman gladiator matches—the only difference is that in wrestling nobody dies. It’s hard to find people who admit they actually enjoy “that fake stuff,” but somehow it remains a thriving business. The World Wrestling Federation routinely ranks among the top-rated cable TV shows, while advertisers vie for spots on wrestling marquees. Wrestling is a chance to be a kid again, for both the spectators and the performers. The larger-than-life antics and comic-book good-versus-evil storylines let us relive those childhood dreams. The best part is that at the end everybody goes home safe, living to fight another day.
It’s not all glamour and glitz, though. While some of the authenticity of earlier days may be gone, there is no question that pro wrestling today still requires extensive training and excellent conditioning. Pro wrestlers spend years working their way up through the ranks of unknowns, hoping for just one shot at the spotlight. Men and women drive hundreds of miles and receive little or no pay, just for the thrill of performing, and for them it’s worth it. I was a pro wrestler—it’s my dirty little secret—and it was one of the best experiences of my life. It’s like belonging to a secret club where everybody has codenames and secret passwords and you are free to play a role, to be someone else, if only for a few brief minutes.
In Wrestling: A Pictorial History, David Hofstede presents wrestling from its early days of genuine competition to its current offerings of circus-like performances, but throughout the book he shows a deep respect for the sport. Hofstede splits the book up into twenty-nine chapters covering topics such as “The Champions”, “The Brawlers”, and “The Masked Men.” Interspersed throughout are “The Immortals”, tributes to wrestling’s greats from Frank Gotch to Lou Thesz to Ric Flair. While the flow from one chapter to the next isn’t always great, the brief text that introduces each is well-written and gives a concise perspective of present versus past. If anything, these sections could be expanded to give the book a more complete feel.
The pictures, which make up the bulk of the book, are excellent in quality. They include some vintage photographs highlighting how wrestling has changed over the years - and how it has remained the same. I did come away feeling a little dissatisfied that there weren’t a few more snapshots from the modern era, or even the late 1980s/early 1990s.
Overall, this book would be a nice treat for any fan of pro wrestling history. For little Joey who thinks Stone Cold Steve Austin invented the headlock, it probably won’t hold much appeal. If, on the other hand, one is a true wrestling aficionado, this book would be a great addition to one’s memorabilia collection.