‘Sex, Lies, and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment’ by Shaun Assael and Mike Mooneyham (2004)

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!

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(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)

 

 

‘A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex’ by Chris Jericho (2007)

There were brief periods of my childhood where I simply loved WWF – 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.

Mick Foley’s Have a Nice Day launched a genre of wrestling autobiographies which many big name wrestler’s have been quick to cash in on.  There is something about these wrestling autobiographies that is just so entertaining  – the strange characters, the life on the road, the level of dedication needed to make it. And for me the nostalgia for how much I loved WWF once upon a time.

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A Lion’s Tale is the first in a series of autobiographies by Chris “Y2J” Jericho – a major name in WWF for most of the last 20 years.  It covers his early life and his wrestling career right up to the point he joined WWF.   Jericho details the many hardships and hilarious moments he went through on his quest to be a well-known professional wrestler.

The book is the story of a childhood dream fulfilled.   Jericho’s career takes him from wrestling in front of a handful of people in tiny Canadian towns to Mexico, Europe, Japan, ECW, and WCW.  It is also a chronicle of life on the road, a young man finding his place and enjoying the fruits of that success.

It’s a quick and enjoyable read.  At times there are too many in-jokes, but I think I got most of the old movie and wrestling references.  The ghost writer’s style can be annoying, but he clearly trying to achieve a conversational and jokey style.  It makes for easy, but at times clunky, reading.

I liked that Jericho left the references to Chris Benoit unaltered in the book – it was published just around the time Benoit killed his family in a murder suicide.  It would have been disingenous to pretend Benoit wasn’t a major figure in his life and the book feels more honest for Benoit remaining a central character.

Its not at the standard of Bret Hart or Mick Foley’s books but its a worth the read for anyone interested in another look at the bizarre world of wrestlers trying to make the big time.  I’m undecided whether to read Jericho’s later books – while I enjoyed this, I think the journey to the top is much more interesting than what happens once you get there.

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