At the outset, let me clarify something – I am not a wrestling fan. That would imply that I enjoy the product, in all its sadistic, misogynistic glory. Truth be told, I don’t even watch it. I do, however, think the world of professional wrestling is fascinating in a train-wreck kind of way, and I have followed the behind-the-scenes drama for years.
A few years ago, Mick Foley wrote a book about his experiences in the wrestling business. Mick is an unusual character – he wasn’t blessed with any obvious athletic ability. He has a very high pain threshold, though, so he made his name in hardcore wrestling, like Japanese death matches featuring flaming bats, florescent light tubes, and barbed wire ropes. Mick is also really smart and very articulate, and his two books were a breath of fresh air in a business that has tried to keep its secrets hidden from gullible marks for years.
Many other wrestlers have written books since then (actually, a lot of them had a ghost writer do it) and in most cases, they’re pretty bad. Some wrestlers just can’t seem to separate real life from their character and gimmick, and the result is a mish-mash of fact and fiction that insults the reader’s intelligence.
That’s why Bret Hart’s new autobiography was so eagerly anticipated. The Hitman has been working on it for years, and rumour had it he planned to release a three volume book that would be more than a thousand pages long. Luckily he had a good editor, and the resulting Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling is a pretty good read.
Bret is practically wrestling royalty. He’s the son of Stu Hart, a legendary wrestler who ran Calgary’s Stampede Wrestling in and trained dozens of young wrestlers in his “dungeon”. With 12 kids, the Hart house seemed to be a bit of a zoo. Most of the kids wound up involved in the wrestling business, either as a wrestler, booker, or in the case of his sisters, as a wrestler’s spouse. The wrestling business has not been kind to them – they almost seem to be cursed.
The first half of the book details Bret’s rise from young worker to World Champion. I loved this part of the book as Bret details his early meetings with many of the guys I watched in the ’80s – Davey Boy Smith, The Dynamite Kid, Ravishing Rick Rude, Ted Dibiase, etc. Bret doesn’t pull any punches – he reveals a lot about his drug use, adultery, and the various weaknesses of his colleagues.
As unexpected as his rise to prominence was, nobody could have predicted his eventual fall from grace. In short order, he fell victim to backstage politics, his brother Owen was killed in a stunt gone awry, his parents died, his career ended after taking a stiff kick to the head, and he suffered a bad stroke. He has since recovered, but Bret still comes across as a bitter man who believes he deserved a better fate.
My main criticism of the book is Bret’s need to continually remind us of how great he was. I guess this should be expected – after all, his catch phrase was “The best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be”. Humble he is not. Some of his prose is a little clumsy, but he should be commended for writing the book on his own.
If, like me, you grew up watching Saturday Night’s Main Event and debated the merits of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage with your friends, this book is a must-read. If you think wrestling is just a vulgar circus, then Bret’s tales may open your eyes a bit.