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CHOKEHOLD: Pro Wrestling's Real Mayhem Outside the Ring Paperback – September 2, 2003
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Along the way, not only is the story of Jim Wilson told, but the seamy world of professional wrestling is exposed in all its faded notoriety. The fact that shady and illegal shenanigans happen from time to time in sports is nothing new to most readers, but the fact that these very same doings have been part and parcel of the way professional wrestling has been doing business since its inception should give readers cause for concern. Behind the glitz of the television camera and the character angles is a business that sees many of its most talented performers pass away at relatively early ages; a business that treats its workers like serfs on a feudal estate, telling them to win or lose, how to win or lose and where to appear, all the while calling them "independent contractors." This, of course, to deny them health and pension benefits available to most other workers. And, most astonishing of all, while Congress and the Justice Department have vetted boxing and other sports over the years, the image of pro wrestling as an unbelievable sham has kept it protected, except for a brief period in the 50's, when pro wrestling was convicted of Antitrust misdeeds, which were quickly forgotten by all parties concerned a few years later.
Instead of wasting your money on prefabricated biographies of WWE superstars, where the only things you really learn is that wrestling is wonderful and Vince McMahon the most wonderful of all, read this book, for it is the closest wrestling fans will get to the truth that underlies the circus-style atmosphere of that strange hybrid of athletics and entertainment.
While the bouts were in session, various wrestlers would stand around doorways that led to the dressing room presumably, so they could check out the other workers and the crowd. I had my little green autograph book and had already gotten the scribbled 'names' of such less-than luminaries as Butcher Vachon, Porkchop Cash, and Hector Lamas. However, these did nothing for me; everyone was allowed to walk up to the ring just before the bell and get the good guys to sign their name. More than halfway through the evening, however, my wandering eye caught the one guy whose John Hancock I would have prized: Yep, the "Rowdy One" himself was standing with another worker in the corner of the room. Mustering up every ounce of courage, I meekly approached the "Scot" and asked. I distinctly recall how tall he seemed-surely this was one of the biggest, tallest guys on the planet! "I dont, uh...suppose you would give me your autograph...sir?". Without saying a word, Piper simply looked down upon my pitiful countenance and slooowwlly shook his head: No.
I mumbled some words of wisdom like "oh, uh, thanks" and quickly walked back to the safety of my pops. When i told him the story, he just seemed mildly amused. Later, when i told my mother and grandmother, they practically recoiled in disgust. "How could that jerk turn down an innocent, little etc etc etc...". Meanwhile, it was slowly dawning on me: The way Piper treated me was..well, it..was..AWESOME! I mean, would i rather have some meaningless scribble inside a kiddie autograph book that i'd surely lose at some point-or would i prefer a cool little tale i could regale younger rasslin' fans with for the duration of my existence? No contest.
I told you that to tell you this: If stories like this remind you why you love this crazy pseudo-sport, and how much the over-sized personalities of yesteryear are as much a part of your memories as your own family highlights...then you'd be better off skipping Jim Wilson's "Chokehold".
When i finally purchased this whistle-blowing, controversial tome last year, I was already numb to the 'angles' and 'programs' (storylines), and thanks to the slick, corporate style of modern-age pro wrestling (or sports entertainment, as megalomaniacal WWE owner Vincent K McMahon, Jr would prefer it be called), I no longer got enjoyment from what had always been my favorite part of the whole show-the 'heel promo'. (Which is basically when the villain barks various insults into a microphone, while looking directly into a TV camera). In other words, I was ready to read a business buzz-kill on the order of Wilson's diatribe.
Thanks in part to the author's real-life credentials (All-American at Georgia U, NFL starter, and eventual United States Senator), I found myself soaking up the first half of Wilson's work with gusto, involuntarily giving him the benefit of the doubt when he would describe yet another of several personal beefs with local wrestling promoters and bookers (a promotion's 'head writer'). Although the tone was often self-congratulatory, with an air of martyrdom, soaked in superiority, I was hardly a virgin when it came to the seedy backstabbing (sometimes literally!) and soul-selling that went on in this strange universe. Wilson often simply re-enforced beliefs i'd held for years, and occasionally justified my personal loathing of certain notorious individuals.
But the more i read, the harder it was to shake the uneasy feeling that this supposedly important work exposing the greedy owners and, hopefully improving all aspects of the business for the hard-working men and women of pro wrestling, was simply using that facade to grind some old axes. In wrestling parlance, I began to believe Wilson was just playing the role of the babyface in order to get himself over.
And, in fact, after finishing this massive 'Gotcha!', I realized that the one document i had assumed was the only truly honest thing written about professional wrestling was, in fact, just another WORK, with Wilson using his relative fame to give some imagined long-overdue RECEIPTS out to all the promoters, bookers, and fellow workers who either didn't give him the PUSH he thought he had been promised, or who had the gall to take pride in their job, despite never having been a 'real National hero' like Senator Wilson.
Read it if you have to, and believe what you must. But remember, when you think you maybe feel the tone of "Chokehold" transitioning from an inspiring tale of the only man brave enough to call out the system in which he and thousands of others toiled, to a self-important whine-fest...don't doubt yourself.
I'd have never heard of Jim Wilson if not for his efforts to reform the wrestling business--I was too young to know him as a football player, and he wrestled in the early cable days, so I wouldn't have seen him on TV while I was growing up in Alabama. Therefore, I don't know anything about him as an athlete/performer. However, he seems to think enough of his own abilities that he doesn't need any corroboration from me.
Be that as it may, the well-researched stories he tells of the wrestling business make me wonder if I shouldn't be ashamed to be a wrestling fan (but not so much I won't watch it next time it comes on).