I loved WWF (as it then was) as a kid, staying up all night to watch the Royal Rumble, refusing to fully accept it was scripted and staging highly dangerous wrestling matches with friends. I don’t think I’ve seen 5 minutes of wrestling in the last 10 years or more.
When starting this blog I started hunting for books on sports stories I wanted to know more about. Near the top of the search list was a biography of Vince McMahon, the legendary owner of World Wresting Entertainment. The one book I could find that promised to cover McMahon’s life in any detail was Sex, Lies, and Headlocks from 2004. I’ve enjoyed (and reviewed here and here) Assael’s other books and was looking forward to this trip down nostalgia lane.
Sex, Lies, and Headlocks gives a historical overview of the business of wrestling. It’s very much about the business – the tv deals, the corporate takeovers, the court cases. At its heart it’s the story of how wrestling became a billion dollar commodity. A big focus is put on the various television networks and the role they played in the development of wrestling. I have to admit, I would’ve enjoyed a bit more focus on some of the wrestlers personal stories.
The book also serves as a biography of Vince McMahon. It covers his expansion of WWF after buying out his father, the controversy around steroids and sexual assault allegations and, in particular, the Monday Night Wars between WWF and rival WCW to be the dominant wrestling brand in the USA.
It is not a flattering portrayal of McMahon. It’s clear that the McMahon family did not engage with the authors and it’s likely that those who were willing to speak were among the many who bore grudges against Vince.
Vince McMahon is a fascinating character. He clearly has a keen sense of what sells and an absolute willingness to cross any boundary necessary to ensure his business is successful. I always thought his decision to insert himself as the bad guy character in the show was utter genius – the blending of fact and fiction helping fans willfully suspend their disbelief and buy fully into the story-lines. There are plenty of frankly bizarre anecdotes in the book which paint a picture of a slightly unhinged man with a genius for marketing and a love of risk taking.
There’s a good section on the XFL and McMahon’s ultimately doomed attempt to launch his own American Football league. It’s particularly interesting given that XFL is now due to return in 2020. I’m very interested in how XFL version 2 will fare, especially having recently read Jeff Pearlman’s excellent ‘Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL’ which captures the challenges and possibilities of a spring football league.
The book is definitely aimed at readers who may have been casual wrestling fans rather than at hardcore fans who will be well familiar with the stories told in the book.
I enjoyed the book a lot. It’s well written, interesting and entertaining. Vince McMahon is a fascinating character and I’d love to read a book updating on what has happened in the last 15 years!
(I can’t write about Vince McMahon with expressing my childhood frustration with how the name McMahon is pronounced in the USA – it’s an Irish name and in the Irish pronunciation the H is not silent. – it’s pronounced with three syllables- MAC-MA-HON, not MAC-MANN)