Pro Wrestling’s Greatest Tell-All Autobiographies – Part 2

Monday November 3rd, 2014

Welcome back as Extra Mustard reviews five more of wrestling’s hardest-hitting autobiographies. For Part 1, click here.

    To Be the Man
    Ric Flair with Keith Elliot Greenberg
    First Impressions: The book jacket contains this phrase on Flair – “Like many of the other children adopted through the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, he was apparently stolen from his birth parents and placed on the adoption black market.” So, let’s forget about pro wrestling for a bit. From the 1920s until her institution was shut down in 1950, a woman named Georgia Tann ran an adoption agency that took children from their birth parents and sold them for profit. Bribing public officials to assist in making money off the unspeakable, Tann was responsible for what Publishers Weekly called “three decades of baby stealing, baby selling and unprecedented neglect.” This horrifying scam was the focus of a 60 Minutes feature as well as a TV movie starring Mary Tyler Moore as Tann. Conflicting documents show that Flair’s birth name was Fred Phillips, Fred Demaree, or Fred Stewart.
    High Spots: Becoming a 16-time world champion and earning a reputation as the greatest wrestler of his era. To pinpoint a single moment from his illustrious career, Flair won the WWE Title in the 1992 Royal Rumble, a battle royal so dramatic that color commentator Bobby “The Brain” Heenan claimed it was “the only time I ever felt that a match I was calling was one hundred percent real.”
    Low Blows: Flair suffered so many indignities in World Championship Wrestling (WCW) that they merit their own Top 5 list:
    5) Serving as the target of a pointlessly personal Scott Steiner diatribe that included the phrase “WCW sucks”. This promo aired on a WCW television program.
    4) Suffering a heart attack (because he’s an old man).
    3) Being sent to an asylum (because he’s a nutty old man).
    2) Having his head shaved by WCW writer Vince Russo following a loss that “ended” his career.
    1) Getting buried (literally) in the desert by the Filthy Animals. In wrestling, getting buried is slang for taking a horrible loss or otherwise being made to look completely inept/cowardly/worthless.
    Flair’s literal burial took this phrase to new lows. Flair’s confidence was so shaken during WCW’s dying days that he believed his “legacy had been destroyed”. He became removed from the wrestling business, giving up exercising and struggling to deal with his “out of control” emotions. While Flair later reclaimed his swagger in WWE, it’s astounding that the greatest wrestler of his time lost all bearing on his place in the industry.
    Telltale Passage: “‘When you talk about professional wrestling,’ I said in one interview, ‘there’s only one man who you can legitimately look at your neighbor, look at your daughter, look at your wife, and look in the mirror, and talk about being the best. There’s only one.’ I then held my championship belt up for the camera and said, ‘And this is it - the World Heavyweight Championship. Wooooo! As I’ve said so many times before, custom-made - Oleg Cassini, Ralph Lauren - that’s what Ric Flair’s all about. You see, I’m gonna ride in that big Mercedes. And I’m gonna live in that big house. And I’m gonna - Woooo! - all the beautiful women, as long as I am the number one man.”’ – Flair, stylin’ and profilin’ in his own words.
    Enemies List: Flair gives us the wrestling promo version of Kendrick Lamar’s verse in “Control (HOF)”. Listen to the Nature Boy spit hot fire:
    On WCW executive vice president Jim Herd, who considered changing Flair’s ring name to “Spartacus” before firing him in 1991: “Jim Herd was an idiot. This is not defamation.”
    On Bret Hart: “He was a good, sound, physical wrestler, but with limited charisma and interview skills. He also could have been president of his own fan club.”
    On fellow Four Horseman Paul Roma: He had a “sh***y work ethic”, and his inclusion in the stable was just an example of WCW booker Dusty Rhodes “screwing with me again.”
    On another former Horseman, Sid Vicious: “Aside from his imposing physique, Sid offered nothing to the business.”
    On Scott Steiner: “He’s a guy who meant nothing as an attraction, drew no money, and has no legacy. People will forget him the minute he retires. Most wrestling fans have already forgotten him.”
    On Shane Douglas: “I’ve made more people than Shane Douglas ever entertained in his life.”
    On Mick Foley: “I don’t care how many thumbtacks Mick Foley has fallen on, how many ladders he’s fallen off, how many continents he’s supposedly bled on, he’ll always be known as a glorified stuntman.”
    On Eric Bischoff: “If I made a list of positives and negatives, I could go back and forth with Vince Russo. The only one who will never come off the ‘asshole’ side of the page is Eric Bischoff.”
    Shocking Swerve: Flair tag-teamed with his son David at WCW’s Souled Out pay-per-view in 1999. The father-son duo pulled out an upset victory, which was ruined when Hulk Hogan and the New World Order (nWo) hit the ring. The nWo villains handcuffed the Nature Boy to the ropes before beginning to whip David Flair with a belt. But the three or four licks they planned out ahead of time turned into far more punishment when Hogan went off-script and beat the younger Flair until he was “black and blue.” Whether the Hulkster intended to beat David Flair into the business or just got carried away with adrenaline, the older Flair makes it clear that Hogan’s legitimate beating of his son was “sickening, and I’ll never forgive him for it.”
    Outside the Ropes: Flair’s career was nearly over before he won any of his 16 world championships. In October 1975, he was traveling on a yellow-and-white Cessna 310 that crashed on its flight from Charlotte to Wilmington, North Carolina. The pilot died from his injuries, and famed wrestler Johnny Valentine was paralyzed from the waist down. Fellow wrestler Wahoo McDaniel rushed to the hospital to see Flair and his other business colleagues. The orderlies restrained McDaniel because they really thought he was barging in to finish off his hated wrestling rival.
    Future Outlook: Flair has just been honored by WWE’s entire locker room with a moving post-show tribute at a May 2003 Raw. He tells fans that his wrestling days are not over “by a long shot”; his WWE in-ring career would conclude in 2008 with the classic WrestleMania 24 match against his personal friend Shawn Michaels. Flair still makes periodic appearances for WWE, and his daughter (wrestling as Charlotte) is the organization’s NXT Women’s Champion.

    Hitman; My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling
    Bret Hart
    First Impressions: This book has 553 pages. Unlike many of its counterparts, the Hitman’s tome features normal-sized print and lacks full-page photos on every 3rd page. Bret Hart is here to educate.
    High Spots: Hart relies on audio diary recordings to provide detailed retellings of epic matches with his brother Owen and their extended family of wrestlers (such as the British Bulldog, Dynamite Kid, and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart). Still, Bret’s most cherished memory must be the Hart Foundation (Hart and Neidhart) hitting an off-camera Hart Attack clothesline on an inebriated Vince McMahon while somehow avoiding immediate termination.
    Low Blows: Starting in 1997 - the “Montreal Screwjob”, explained in detail below. A career-ending concussion sustained from a Bill Goldberg kick. Two divorces. Giving the eulogy at his father’s funeral. And, most horrifically, the 1999 death of his little brother Owen during a WWE pay-per-view event. Among the many highlights, this 2007 book chronicles a decade of intense personal tragedy for Hart during which he lost his livelihood, his closest family members, and, seemingly, his self-identity as a hero to fans who truly believed in him.
    Telltale Passage: “From the moment I jumped him from behind, we understood each other, and we danced a match filled with intense passion. Throughout, The Dragon died beautifully in an awesome display of wrestling as art – the great work, rarely attainable, built layer upon layer – until he cradled me for a one … two … three. While The Dragon stood weary but victorious, I lay on the mat pounding my fists. I felt in my heart that it actually was real, that somehow this loss cost me my chance to dance at WrestleMania.” - Bret “Hamlet” Hart getting Shakespearean about his 1986 Boston Garden match with Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat.
    Enemies List: The Hitman keeps longtime nemeses Shawn Michaels and Triple H in his crosshairs throughout the book’s latter half. The two D-Generation X stable-mates conspired with WWE owner Vince McMahon to cost Hart the world championship in the infamous “Montreal Screwjob”. This is the era-defining 1997 Survivor Series match in which McMahon overrode the predetermined finish by calling for the bell and having Michaels declared the winner via “submission.” In the book’s final pages, Hart comes at Michaels like a literary John Wayne, declaring that, “Shawn will always be a phony, a liar and a hairless yellow dog… I’ll never forgive Shawn, or Hunter, for killing the business that so many of us gave our lives for.” Shocking Swerve: Hart admits to being a serial adulterer and using steroids in the 1980s. He then cops to combining these vices by once bringing a woman back to his hotel room to help him shoot up the drug before sleeping with her.
    Outside the Ropes: Like the late, lamented Robin Williams, The Hitman portrayed The Genie in Aladdin, performing in a Canadian live production of the show. He also reminisces about his guest turn on The Simpsons, in which he declares that C. Montgomery Burns’ house reeks of “old man stink.”
    Future Outlook: Bleak as hell. Hart wraps up his book by placing all hope in a sharpshooter and wrenching up tight. He declares that the wrestling business is dead to him, and compares himself twice to a polar bear. This description brings to mind images of the grizzled pink-and-black titan plodding off an ice floe in some cautionary Al Gore film. Fortunately, Hart has since penned a new afterword to his story. The Hitman has mended fences with McMahon and Michaels(!), and is now fully re-embraced by the company he once led. He’s been feted at the WWE-sponsored Bret Hart Appreciation Night, returned to the ring to win the organization’s U.S. Championship, and been the subject of numerous DVD anthologies showcasing why he is the Best There Is, the Best There Was, and the Best There Ever Will Be.

    Undisputed: How to Become the World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps
    Chris Jericho with Peter Thomas Fornatale
    First Impressions: This book begins with Jericho’s Monday Night Raw debut in 1999, when he matched wits with the company’s hottest superstar, The Rock. Surprisingly, Y2J expresses regrets about an interaction now viewed as a classic Attitude Era segment. He notes that his sniveling facial expressions and “cowardly heel routine made it hard for the audience to believe that I was a credible opponent for a megastar like The Rock.” If this first impression was bad, Jericho’s next few months were about to get a lot worse.
    High Spots: Jericho captures the Intercontinental Championship within months of joining WWE, and later becomes the Undisputed World Champion, beating The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in the same night to claim the title. These achievements, however, are accompanied by a life lesson: sometimes your dreams aren’t everything you’d hoped they would be.
    Low Blows: Only 24 hours after winning the Intercontinental Championship in 1999, Jericho was verbally powerbombed by WWE head Vince McMahon. Y2J had given female wrestler Chyna a black eye during his title match, and this stiff shot prompted an epic riot act reading from the boss. McMahon’s tirade began with the phrase, “What is your problem?”, which led into the follow-up question, “What the f**k is your problem?” Then Mr. McMahon got personal:
    “You don’t have a f**king clue what you’re doing out there. You’re as green as grass and it’s embarrassing. I was sold a bill of goods in bringing you in here and you’re not worth the paper your contract is printed on.”
    This biblical tongue-lashing caused Jericho to wonder “if coming to WWE hadn’t been a huge mistake.” Even worse, someone leaked the conversation to a pro wrestling website, making Jericho’s humiliation public. During his star-crossed first year in WWE, a string of bad matches and ill-conceived promos led Jericho to regularly lose matches on the company’s Sunday Night Heat program, the wrestling version of Purgatory. Even winning the world championship in 2001 brought a new set of disappointments, as Jericho’s tenure as company standard-bearer was underwhelming at best. He lost the title to Triple H in a WrestleMania main event that was overshadowed by an epic Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock encounter, then learned that The Game had earned almost five times more than Y2J for their match.
    Tell-Tale Passage: With his livelihood on the line, Jericho realized “I’d been dreaming about working for WWE for twenty years, had designed and cultivated my entire career to make it there, and now that I had finally arrived, my dreams were turning to dust.” He responded by changing his in-ring style and backstage behavior, and soon became one of WWE’s most popular wrestlers.
    Enemies List: The Outsiders, Jericho’s WCW antagonists, are supplanted by a new faction of bullies in D-Generation X. This bad-boy stable took numerous shots at Jericho on and off-screen. During a televised Thanksgiving skit, Triple H pointed out a homeless man holding a sign reading “WILL WORK FOR FOOD”, and said, “Look at that guy. I bet he’s a better worker than Jericho.” The Cerebral Assassin’s wit drew blood behind the scenes as well, as Triple H responded to Jericho’s phone-call asking how to get to an arena by snapping, “Yeah, I know. Get a map.” and hanging up. Y2J does gain a measure of vengeance when Kevin Nash returns to WWE; the Ayatollah of Rock and Rollah dubs his foe “Nash-hole” during an in-ring faceoff, then receives a congratulatory call from The Rock on his jape.
    Shocking Swerve: Jericho devotes a chapter to his recollections on Chris Benoit, who murdered his wife and son before committing suicide in 2007. The two wrestlers were close friends and tag-team champions together, and their relationship left Jericho unable to reconcile the “humble man whom I trusted more than anyone I’ve ever met in this business” with the suicidal man who killed his family. Jericho runs through a list of possible reasons for the tragedy, considering everything from substance abuse to depression to demon possession. Regardless of why it happened, Jericho says, “I’ll never be able to erase Chris Benoit from my memory, and his actions still haunt me everyday.”
    Outside the Ropes: Jericho’s cover band, Fozzy, started playing original tunes and touring as a legitimate band during the 2000s. Their success vacillates wildly between triumphant festival appearances and Spinal Tap moments. See Fozzy suffer through a record-store signing event that lasts six entire minutes. See Fozzy play a 35-minute set for the patrons of a London hostel/soup kitchen. And don’t see Fozzy accidentally blow up $10,000 worth of pyro for a killer documentary scene – with no cameras rolling. While his band eventually scored a record deal and toured internationally, Jericho endures another musical indignity when he’s the first contestant kicked off Celebrity Duets – a TV singing competition later won by Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
    Future Outlook: This book concludes the same way as Jericho’s first autobiography: with Y2J walking through the curtain to make a mystery-man appearance before a psyched Raw crowd. His reemergence is preceded by Jericho showing up backstage, clotheslining some random guy, then throwing his arms out in a celebratory Jesus Christ pose. To find out what happened next, check out Nicole Conlan’s look at Jericho’s new book The Best in The World (At What I Have No Idea).

      If They Only Knew
      Chyna (The Ninth Wonder of the World)
      First Impressions: “Part feminist, part superhero, Chyna has blazed a trail where no woman has gone before.” This jacket description conjures pleasing imagery of Gloria Steinem as Wonder Woman. The next paragraph, however, portends the doom that awaits within: “She has battled her entire life: against a controlling mother; against a scheming father; and against a world with a predetermined view of what beauty and success should be. She has battled and won her entire life.” Strap in.
      High Spots: Chyna was an integral member of D-Generation X, a controversial stable that helped propel the WWE’s Attitude Era. She became the first female Intercontinental Champion and was a memorable figure in a hugely successful period in pro wrestling. And Chyna achieved this success as an amazonian man-eater, a persona that even Vince McMahon was dead-set against promoting before he eventually relented and signed her.
      Low Blows: Chyna’s parental issues are documented exhaustively in her memoirs. They can best be summarized as follows: “The last time I saw my mother I was sixteen, and she was draped over the hood of my car.” Aside from her family blowups, Chyna’s breast implant was mortally wounded by a Savio Vega clothesline.
      Telltale Passage: This book reads like a weepy emo screed from a jacked-up, slightly more feminine Ben Gibbard. Chyna uses her autobiography to settle a hazily defined score with the public at large. The second-to-last chapter details Melissa Rivers dismissing her at the Emmys and The Drew Carey Show staff kicking her off set. The latter personal catastrophe is detailed thusly: “Five minutes alone and I am on a crying jag that could rival an Italian funeral, my face wild-horse contorted, mascara turned loose all over my face. Yeah, the humiliation opened the floodgates, but anger made the tears hot… I let them diss me. The voice. Momma’s voice: Don’t make waves, Joanie. You could queer your future, Joanie… I get in my car, drive for about a half a mile, then STAND ON THE F**KING BRAKES, a rooster plume of acrid tire smoke skirting the car (it’s a rental). Unh-uh. No way. I’m not leaving like this. I’m going back to that cliquish f**king set, and if they want me to leave, they can pick me up and carry me.” This inspiring anecdote ends with her screaming, “I’M NOT YOUR F**KING GROUPIE, HUNTER!” at future WWE executive vice president Triple H.
      Enemies List: Chapter 8 starts with this Nixonian denunciation of her fellow female wrestling personalities: “Rena? Dead! Gorgeous George? Dead! Sunny and Nicole? DEAD AND DEADER! Madusa? DEAD!! Asya? DEAAAAAAAD!!!!”
      Shocking Swerve: Chyna’s first match took place in front of 40 people. Her opponent “was cooperative and obliging” and the match turned out well. Their chemistry was apparent, and WWE Hall of Famer Killer Kowalski later booked the two to wrestle several more times on the independent circuit. This opponent was a cross-dressing gentleman named Raindrops who performed with fake breasts stuffed into his leotard. Before their first match, Kowalski implored Chyna, “Just make sure not to body-slam him and make his boobies go funny.”
      Outside the Ropes: Chyna worked several colorful careers before her WWE days. Those jobs include belly dancer, beeper saleswoman, and 1-900 telephone chat worker, where she dealt with “cheerful little perverts” like the foot fetishist who called her every night.
      Future Outlook: Chyna walks us through her recent Playboy shoot, affirming that, “Milking a cow with your feet is more glamorous than leaning forward on all fours while a guy standing behind you shines a spotlight on your ass.” Nonetheless, she writes that she loves what she does, and gives the impression that she’s in WWE for the long haul. This is the pro wrestling equivalent of a hair-metal rock star penning a 1991 autobiography in which he brags that his future’s never been brighter. Chyna left WWE the same year this book was published and has never returned. Her career took a prolonged downward spiral as she appeared on several reality television shows and other, more unsavory fare. Put it this way: the first sentence of Chyna’s Wikipedia page states that she is a former “professional wrestler, actress, bodybuilder, and pornographic film actress.”

    Bobby the Brain; Wrestling’s Bad Boy Tells All
    Bobby Heenan with Steve Anderson
    First Impressions: Wrestling’s greatest manager convinced his most reviled ring enemy, Hulk Hogan, to write the foreword to his autobiography. Heenan then introduces himself by stating, “I’ve been shot at and stabbed. I’ve had people throw rocks, batteries, and cups of urine and beers at me. They even spit right in my face. That’s because they hated me. And I was good enough at what I did to make them do that.”
    High Spots: As one of wrestling’s standout celebrities, Heenan “was always the one in the middle of the sh**,” as Hogan writes. He managed Andre the Giant when the 8th Wonder of the World fought Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III in perhaps the most iconic match in WWE history. He punched a young Ric Flair in the mouth outside the Minneapolis Auditorium when the future Nature Boy was just a fan. And Mr. Andy Kaufman served as Heenan’s assistant for one night in Chicago during the comedian’s infamous wrestling feud against Jerry “The King” Lawler. The Brain writes that his counterpart acted strangely throughout the evening; Heenan later found out that Kaufman knew he was dying at this time.
    Low Blows: Hijacking the NBC stage at David Letterman’s sixth anniversary show. Heenan learned this was not kosher when a gentleman conspicuously wearing a gun sat next to him for the remainder of the night’s entertainment.
    Telltale Passage: “The guy walked up to the car, convinced that two strangers had captured a circus freak who had bitten a woman’s ankle. As ‘Gomer’ approached the passenger side of the Buick, Fuzzy was getting out of the boot. Fuzz confronted him, pushed the 400-pound attendant aside, and said, ‘Get the hell out of my way.’” - Heenan recalling the occasion when he and Blackjack Lanza terrified a gas station attendant in Kokomo, Indiana by siccing a little person wrestler named Fuzzy Cupid on him. They helped themselves to “free” gasoline after the attendant ran screaming into the night.
    Enemies List: Heenan does not have fond memories of his WCW tenure, and lashes out at Bischoff for being an unfriendly blowhard. He also criticizes WCW play-by-play man Tony Schiavone for never having Heenan over to his house despite The Brain playing host to his announcing colleague twice. I mean, anything WCW-related makes Heenan’s list. He said the organization made him feel “like the foster kid from a domestic dispute who had to stay somewhere for a month.” On a non-WCW note, former American Wrestling Association (AWA) Champion Otto Wanz is called out for being “a piece of sh**” in general.
    Shocking Swerve: Heenan entered the industry at a time when wrestlers “protected the business” – i.e., never admitted that wrestling was fake. This maxim was taken to its extreme one night in Bismarck, North Dakota when the AWA heroes and villains were conversing together in a hotel hallway. When a group of civilians witnessed their camaraderie, the grapplers’ only collective thought was to start fighting each other. Suddenly, a 30-wrestler riot erupted, culminating in Heenan slamming a cribbage board over The Crusher’s head. After several seconds of very real carnage, the wrestlers stopped to gauge their audience. Every single onlooker had already gotten on the hotel elevator and left.
    Outside the Ropes: Heenan’s parents split up when he was less than a year old, and his mother didn’t share any information or photographs of his father. In 1997, he decided to visit a Las Vegas address identified as possibly belonging to his dad. While Heenan’s father had passed away, the man who lived there turned out to be The Brain’s half-brother. Heenan then learned he had an older brother who lived six miles away from his own home in Florida, and a younger sibling who later accompanied him to their dad’s grave. Kneeling beside the tombstone of the father he never met, Heenan said, “I’m not mad at you. I’m not mad at you at all.” As they pulled out of his brother’s driveway after this life-changing meeting, Heenan’s wife Cindi remarked, “Isn’t this great?” The Brain responded, “Yeah, it’s a ball. An hour ago we were on our way to Denny’s. Now I have to buy 85 Christmas gifts.”
    Future Outlook: Unfortunately, Heenan was diagnosed with throat cancer shortly before this book’s 2002 publication. The Brain vows he will not retire and may even start a singing career. Before he bows out, “The Weasel” hands us one last nugget of wisdom: “And remember, a friend in need is a pest.”

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