Full Book Review: Ric Flair: To Be the Man.

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This past day was February 25th, the birthday of wrestling’s second, and arguably most successful and enduring, “Nature Boy.” So it seems fitting that on “The Man’s” birthday, I review the 60 minute man’s memoir.

Most knowledgeable wrestling fans can’t concur on any two facts. But most will agree that Ric Flair is the greatest man to ever don the spandex. That is almost an indisputable fact, as Flair delivered a career that most mere mortals in the wrestling game would dream of accomplishing. Flair is one of those truly transcendent superstars; there are Hogan’s, there are Buddy Rogers; there are “Superstar” BIlly Grahams; there are Lou Thesz’s. Never before has a wrestler molded the characteristics of all of these all time greats quite like Richard Morgan Fleihr.

His is a different path to greatness. He was born either Fred Demaree or Fred Stewart in a children’s home in Tennessee renown for their shady business practices. Flair never knew his birth mother, never even sought the responsible parties out. The agency responsible for the birthing and adoption has gone down in history as quite the hotbed of corruption. Flair was adopted by a down on their luck Minnesota pairing. Dr. Richard Morgan Fliehr, and his wife, were having a difficult time with the birth process, and, through, not stated in the book, nefarious means, obtained the young Fred Stewart or Demaree through the hands of the Tennessee Childrens Home Society.

What wasn’t nefarious was the Fliehr’s raising of the boy they renamed Ric, after the father. Ric had solid ground with this family. They raised him as their own, yet didn’t sugarcoat anything. They celebrated both his birth day AS WELL as the day they adopted him. They made sure the young lad was in the loop. Flair’s parents were a well known, well respected OB-GYN, his father, and a brilliant Shakespearean actress, his moms. But Ric Flair was not born of their DNA. He was a rebel that eventually found his way to a Boarding School. His life’s goals, his beliefs and tendencies, were raised there under the tutelage of a man Flair calls, in his bio, the General. Sexual trysts ensue, and Fliehr, under dubious circumstances, with a varsity letter in football, is recruited to the University of Minnesota.

Flair was not one for the academic rigors, and soon dropped out. By circumstance, bouncing at a club in Minneapolis, he ran into a champion strongman named Ken Patera. Longtime wrestling fans will be familiar with the name. You see, Flair had a little hobby as a young tyke: He was infatuated with pro wrestling. Patera had an in: he was training with Verne Gagne, who ran the then big time promotion AWA. Flair was recruited at Patera’s insistence, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Not that it was easy. The AWA’s, and more specifically, Gagne’s, camps were notoriously tough. Flair actually quit twice before being coerced back into the physically demanding camps. But it paid off. Flair, on the eve of his in-ring debut, wanted to be monikored “Rambling” Rickey Rhodes, a brother of Dusty Rhodes. Gagne set young Richard Morgan Fliehr straight, stating his given name, Ric FLAIR, was perfect for wrestling. Whew, thank you Verne. That may have been the best advice in wrestling history. Can you imagine the best wrestler of the last thirty years running around a ring in polka dots imitating his greatest influence, bionic elbows abound? Good, neither did I.

Anyway, those are the best chapters of the book. The author(s) do delve into the plane crash in 1975, and it is very interesting, to say the least, as Flair makes no bones in his disdain for the pilot, Mike Farkas. And for the old school mentality he met when rehabbing from his broken back. Cruel and unusual would be understating the manner in which old school wrestling promoters handled their talent, and Flair is not an exception.

Obviously, Flair went on to a long and decorated career. The best parts of his book involve his feud with Rickey Steamboat, his arch-nemesis. The three match series they had in 1989 is wrestling at its finest, simply put. My particular flavor is the 55 minute broadway they had at Clash Six in New Orleans. You cannot, as a wrestling fan, got wrong with any of the matches. Aside from, maybe, Austin-Hart in 1996-97, there is no better series of angles and matches than Flair-Steamboat in 1989. Period. And the book definitely fills out form here.

Alright, this review isn’t about ripping through the legendary career of a master craftsman. It is about the BOOK. And the biggest problem with it is the sheer obsequesoity (yeah I made that word up. Look up obsequious.) of Flair regarding both HHH and Shawn Michaels. Flair may as well be the newest member of the “Kliq.” He raves and raves and raves on the abilities of Shawn Michaels and Triple H. Which is fine: both are really good professional wrestlers, particularly Michaels. The butt-sniffing of Trips is less pleasing. Flair calls HHH “This generations Ric Flair” which is just plain damning. Not with faint praise, just damning. HHH is a head honcho in WWE, married to Vinnie Mac’s daughter, and Flair comes across as such a suck ass sycophant at times that it is nauseating. This is Ric FUCKING Flair, the best to have ever done it, and he is reduced to sucking HHH’s ass? It is mindboggling, and a recurring theme throughout “To Be The Man.”

Even worse is his thoughts of Bret Hart.

Make no bones about it: the entirety of this book is Flair putting over the WWE agenda. Vinnie Mac’s propaganda. It gets sickening at points, and no more sickening than the stuff about Bret Hart. The book was published in 2003, before Bret and Vince had come to terms. Bret, in this authors mind, is one of the greatest performers the industry has ever seen. As good as Flair? Probably not, but, on his best nights, yes, yes he was. Flair totally trashes him (as Bret does in his book as well). His insistence that Bret used his own brothers death as further ammunition against the WWF comes across, Flair’s insistence that is, is just WWE propganda at its nadir, and just flat out despicable. Flair was looking for a paycheck, received it, and toed the company line. It is downright despicable to use a very real tragedy, with very real repercussions, to bury an ax, and Flair is completely wrong in doing so in his book. For a man that would turn any joke offense into gold inside the ring, for the man to try to make a mockery out of the worst thing to ever occur in wrestling is nothing short of a joke. But there is one more indignity lying within.

That is Flair’s evaluation of one Mick Foley. Cactus Jack. Mankind. Dude Love. Flair was the primary WCW booker in 1994. The guy who creates and decides what will unfold on-screen. Foley, as Cactus Jack, was a totally compelling figure. Trust me. I WAS WATCHING. But Flair didn’t think anything of Foley, and cast him off to the competition, WWE. Foley proceeded to become a huge star with WWE as Mankind. Same as WCW losing a guy named “Stunning” Steve. Foley was a once in a lifetime talent, and he eventually realized it, even though in his book Flair describes him as a “glorified stuntman.” Foley was, WAS a glorified stuntman, but also a ring general. Flair is wrong in hid assessment here, and wrong about a great deal in general.

Overall, “To Be The Man” is a fantastic read. Pick it up. The biggest reasons, though, to read it, are negative. But doesn’t that make it a fun ride?

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Full Book Review: Chris Jericho: Undisputed: How To Become World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps.

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When we last left our fearless scribe, Chris Jericho was heading to New York, more specifically, Vince McMahon’s then-WWE. Jericho’s first book,” A Lion’s Tale,” relates his recruitment to Vinnie Mac-Land. Undisputed picks up from there, detailing Jericho’s first run through WWE, from Summer of 1999 through 2005, and then some.

That “Then Some” may be a point of contention for many reading the book. The book actually chronicles Jericho through the moment of his 2007 return. Most wrestling fans know that Jericho took a two year hiatus from the sport of kings, and it is there that most people have their biggest gripe with the book. A good portion of it details Jericho’s foray into heavy metal music with his band Fozzy. Gauging from comments I have seen on this site and others, most fans are not too enthralled with this development. I urge them to read the book again, SPECIFICALLY the Fozzy chapters. They are among the most entertaining in the whole damn memoir. Late night cocktails with Axl Rose? The epic douchebaggery of ex-MLB pitcher Scott Erickson? A night of potential debauchery with Zakk Wylde? Sharon Osbourne calling Jericho a “twat?” These are truly great interludes that only help to add to the charm Jericho provides in his writings.

As for the meat and potatoes, what most people will be looking for. This book decodes Jericho’s journey through the land of a thousand idiots named McMahon. And it is damn entertaining. Understand this: Jericho wrote the book free from the grasps of the WWE, so his opinions are not muted or censored. He is particularly critical, in the early stages of the book, of one wrestler. Or so called wrestler. Or whatever you want to categorize HER as: Chyna.

Indeed, Chyna almost becomes the number one foil in this book. Almost. We’ll get to the TRUE foil a bit later. But Jericho and Chyna had quite the tumultuous relationship. Make no bones about it, Chyna was a revolutionary performer in that a woman competed with men. But hold no allusions…she sucked something horrible. And Jericho’s descriptions of her lend credence to the widely held fan thought. One of the best chapters of the book, entitled “Schitzo Deluxe,” describes Jericho’s late 1999-early 2000 feud with the so called “9th Wonder of the World.” You see, Jericho, an immensely talented wrestler with a wealth of experience on many continents, was, after his debut, buried into a feud with Chyna. While most people hold Jericho’s WWE debut in high regard, it wasn’t well accepted by the WWE “Brain” trust of the time. So for a while, Jericho was headlining WWE B-shows like Velocity and the such. Chyna was a made WWE performer, probably having something to do with being in DX and HHH being in her. Oh, I forgot to mention, ole Trips was Chyna’s better half in those days. So Jericho blesses Chyna with, IN-ARGUABLY, her two best WWE matches, at Survivor Series 1999 and Armageddon 1999. Vinnie Mac had told Jericho prior to these two matches to not take it easy with Chyna. So Jericho worked the matches like he would with a man, and it resulted in two pretty damn good matches considering Chyna’s (lack of) in ring talents. After the Armageddon match, in which Jericho achieved his life’s dream in winning the Intercontinental title, he was chewed out by Vince. Why? During the match, he had accidentally given Chyna a small shiner, and Chyna, at the height of her egomania and political( read: HHH) clout, had complained to the WWE higher ups. McMahon was merciless, declaring Jericho “green as grass” and “not worth the paper you signed on.” Gotta love WWE politics, don’t ya?

I could go into greater detail on the Chyna debacle, but this is a review intended for you, the reader, to go out and read the damn thing, so I will move on. You see, as much as Jericho tries to sugarcoat it, his entire first WWE run was hamstrung by the political machinations of one man, and the true great heel of this story: HHH.

Yeah, yeah, I know its been the “in” thing to do since about 2002. Blame everything on ole Trips. But, folks, he is the true antagonist in this story. Jericho does not paint him in a over the top negative light, but you can read between the margins here. Jericho’s earliest recollection of Mr. Stephanie involves HHH telling Jericho if he needs anything, call him. Jericho, unfamiliar with the locations of some of the WWE bookings, called his H-ness one day asking for directions to the arena. To which HHH replied “Yes, I do. Get a map.” Thus, a warm friendship was born. I hope the sarcasm of that statement reaches through your computer screen. When Jericho debuted, he got himself over with the fans to an incredible degree, and at that same time, HHH was struggling to become one of the top stars of the company. He didn’t want some WCW castoff (even if Trips himself was a WCW castoff) taking his shine. So a running theme of the book is Vince’s son-in-law thwarting Jericho’s advancement at every turn. Jericho, while politely dressing down the man, also pays homage to the man, especially his toughness. That trait is played up in the now infamous and legendary tag match of May 21, 2001: Triple H and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, as the villainous “Two Man Power Trip,” against young upstart Canadians Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit. For the uninitiated, witness one of the greatest matches in RAW history:

Still fantastic after all these years. But here is where the real draw of the book comes. You see, Jericho really made himself through a series of matches against a man many (including myself) considered the best wrestler in the world, Chris Benoit. That name has become taboo around wrestling ever since the ignominious conclusion to the mans life in June of 2007. Jericho was as close as just about anyone was to Benoit, and his chapter on the man is the most eye opening of this memoir.

The Benoit chapter is a stark portrayal of the brilliant performer that, for years, provided unbridled joy to this fan. Jericho himself, in this book and his prior memoir, cited Benoit as a huge influence and the barometer for his own career. Jericho began having pangs for the competition in the squared circle again about midway through 2007, right after the Shawn Michaels-John Cena near broadway on Raw that year shortly after WrestleMania. ( And that is a fantastic match. A tad overrated, but none of us knew going into that TV match that the damn thing would go damn near an hour). One of the first people Jericho contacted with news of his comeback was said Chris Benoit, who texted Jericho that he would be stoked to help him get back into ring shape. There en-lies the problem. Text. And Jericho makes no bones about it. Benoit had become very distant ever since the death of his best friend Eddie Guerrero. Jericho’s description of Eddie’s funeral is, to this day, increasingly frightening, as he mentions Benoit as absolutely inconsolable, heaving with heavy tears at the death of his compadre. Added with the death of Benoit’s Japan mentor “Black Cat” Victor Mar and another close acquaintance, Johnny Grunge (of ECW Public Enemy fame) and it seemed Benoit was on the brink of disaster. And that is exactly what Benoit provided on the weekend of June 25, 2007. Jericho was in negotiations with the McMahons on his comeback, and a writer had actually contacted earlier that fateful Monday morning on some plans for the upcoming RAW show. You see, storyline wise, Vince McMahon had been killed in a car bombing, and the cast and crew of WWE had been instructed to dress for a mass funeral. It was a truly horrible angle, capped off by what sinister deeds Benoit had perpetrated over the weekend. The writer was supposed to inform Jericho that Bruce Campbell, the man who portrayed Ash in the Evil Dead movies, and Army of Darkness, was going to appear to eulogize Vinnie Mac. Jericho had named his kid Ash in homage to the movies. But Jericho missed the initial call, and when he called WWE back, he was greeted with the startling news: Benoit was dead, as were his son and wife. Listen, we all know the details at this point. A lot of us took it hard (myself especially, and, I am sure, Scott Keith). But Jericho was a PEER, a man who not only worked along side the man, but considered him his greatest business influence. I am not going to ruin the chapter for anyone who hasn’t yet, or wants, to read his book. But it is DAMNING. It is the best twenty pages on Benoit I have read, and I have read MIchael Randazzo V’s (Seriously dude, you need the “V”?) “Ring of Hell.” It is gut wrenching reading Jericho’s account, and for that alone, that reason alone, you should pick this book up.

“Undisputed” is in-arguably one of the best books ever written by a wrestler. I prefer his first tome, “A Lion’s Tale” solely because I enjoy the journey to the big time more than the experience of the big time. But Jericho is a gifted storyteller, and either book makes for fantastic reading. I, for one, cannot wait for his third book. I am anxiously awaiting it.

Full Book Review: Chris Jericho: A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex

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Chris Jericho has lived a very interesting life. And he is truly one of the last of a dying breed: wrestlers who became stars through years of hard work, dedication to ones craft, and, to a point, the old territory system. His book, “A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex,” may be the best of the breed: the best book written by a pro wrestler.

I am personally biased to Bret Hart’s book for his candor and the fact he taped his career. So Bret’s book basically covered the entirety of my wrestling watching life. Was it a little heavy handed at times? Sure. Can Bret be a little delusional? Sure, but no more than most wrestlers. I personally look forward to a book from the Iron Sheik. THAT should prove truly delusional. But that is not what I am getting at here. What I AM getting at is that Bret’s book isn’t necessarily going to be everyone’s cup of maple syrup. Some prefer the more Foley-ish route. Well, if you enjoyed Foley’s “Have A Nice Day,” (book review coming RIGHT HERE very soon), then Jericho’s book should appease your tastes.

Now, Jericho has two books, and they are both excellent reads. I prefer his first, mainly because it details his rise to the prime time. His second book, “Undisputed,” is also a good read, also in my top 5. If you want Vince McMahon and the WWE, that is your book. You will also digest a good amount of Jericho’s heavy metal career. Trust me, those portions are as much fun as the wrestling portions of his second book. But I always enjoy hearing about the CLIMB to the big leagues, the trials and tribulations a person endures. And, In “Lion’s Tale,” Jericho goes through quite a bit on his way to VinnieLand.

The book begins with Chris Irvine’s childhood, as the son of legendary NHL toughman Ted Irvine. His dad, obviously, was not around a great deal during Irvine’s childhood, aside from on television in Irvine’s native Winnipeg. The yet to be named Chris Jericho obviously had, and has, a soft spot for hockey, as most Canadians seem to (don’t take this as a stereotype: I live just outside of Boston. Original Six represent!), but his true passion was wrestling. Particularly, for a young Jerichoholic, the AWA was his poison, as his dad, in the offseason, would take his young tyke to see the likes of Baron Von Raschke, Jerry Blackwell, and a tanned, muscled young lad by the name of Hogan. Then, one afternoon, as the Irvine’s went to the local Winnipeg arena, they were shocked to see, not the AWA, but the WWF instead. This was during the days where Vince just RAPED the AWA, and, using strongarm tactics, ran the AWA stars in a new WWF market: Ventura, Hogan, Okerlund, etc etc. Jericho also had some other outlets for wrestling at a young age, specifically Stu Hart’s Stampede promotion from Calgary. Jericho’s two favorites were Ricky Steamboat and a young high flyer from Stu’s promotion…Stu’s youngest son, Owen Hart. Jericho and his friends, like many an impressionable teenage (myself included) horsed around during gym classes and made their own wrestling “league.” From the early chapters, my favorite Jericho tidbit was he was working at a deli on the night of February 5, 1988, and the conversations between he and his friends on the Andre-Hogan rematch are priceless.

Jericho saw an ad for the “Hart Brothers Pro Wrestling Camp” when he was 17, and, after attempting to chat up visiting WWF wrestlers at a local Winnipeg watering hole through the years (also great reading; not to ruin it for anyone, but Dynamite Kid seemed to be a huge prick. Go fig.), he enlisted. He was told he needed to be a year older so, after graduating High School, he took some brief classes in college, one of which allowed him to seamlessly write his books. Once you read his books, you will see the effect of education (of which you current scribe does not possess.)

Jericho was nothing if not persistent, and enrolled in the “Hart” camp, and, for me, that is the highlight of the book. Keith Hart showed up for one day…to collect the money (of course), locked up with Jericho, called him a toolbox and…and…c’mon, junior, read the book.

Anyway, Jericho’s anecdotes are just great as he talks about the Hart camp, from the trainer to the one guy to make it out of his camp with him…some potbelly guy wearing a mumu named Lance Evers. It was obvious Evers (later Lance STORM) and Jericho were the standouts of the camp, and they were treated accordingly.

From there, well, THAT is where the book takes off. Lance Storm and the newly self-named Jack Action…uh…I mean, Chris Jericho, set out a course to dominate the wrestling world. And the wrestling world shit on their head in return. Fat gay promoters, unexpected crack runs in Denver, by god, the book hits on all cylinders by this point. The only wish Jericho has is to emulate his then hero, Chris Benoit, in getting an engagement in Japan. That turns out comically, short and long term.

The best parts of the book, to me, are these. First, Jericho and Storm as “The Thrillseekers” in Smokey Mountain Wrestling. Those three chapters fly by, and, remember stay TRUE TO THE CRU. And Wal Mart totally rules. These chapters are short, and I do not want to ruin anything for anyone who might read it.

Secondly, Jericho’s time spent in Germany. He wrestles for the German CATCH tournament, and it seems everyone in the tournament is a rip off of a famous wrestler. British Blackie? The LEGEND of Doom? Plus Jericho’s hotel is situated in Germany’s Red Light district, so that, for a young bachelor, leads to some nasty depravity. Indeed, the “Reeprbahn” is as depraved as anything in Thailand or Amsterdam. A very fun portion of the book that also includes Jericho’s only admission to purchasing performance-enhancing drugs.

Speaking of depravity, Jericho’s days as a heartthrob in Mexico. THIS is the best part of the book. Jericho was signed, basically, as a raw rookie out of Canada, because of his heartthrob looks. And the promoters in Mexico were looking to exploit his sex appeal to the fullest. The story on how he got his nom de’ wrestle is fun enough. But you also get Jericho losing his virginity to a top Corona model, and another instance where a young, naive Canadian almost had his head blown off trying to seduce a senorita. As well, Jericho meets Eddy Guerrero and Art Barr, and becomes fast friends with Los Gringos Locos. It is especially touching reading when Art Barr dies the lengths Jericho went to in order to adhere to the “wrestlers code,” as he was staying in Barr’s Mexico City hotel suite while Barr passed away with his child in his native Oregon. That has always been a tough one for this scribe, as Barr was on the precipice of superstardom. People think Eddie had charisma? Art Barr was in a league of his own. Art, while not a technical great like Benoit (who?) or Eddie, was a total force of nature, and, prior to his death, was, probably, the TOP performer in all of wrestling.

So Jericho is destroyed by this. But ones career must go on, and Jericho’s did. He was wrestling on a hybrid show with WCW on the left coast in 1995, and Eric Bischoff, then the grand puba of WCW, wanted, and signed, Jericho. Only Jericho, a pure and natural heel, was portrayed as the ULTIMATE BABYFACE from his first match on, where he defeated Alex Wright by countout because he would not take a countout victory. To wit, which Bobby Heenan asked Bischoff, on camera, “How many mortgages did you take out on him?”

Jericho plodded around the mid card for about a year (the Gedo story he gives is GREAT), doing nothing and impressing no-one. Then, Bischoff told the total white meat babyface Jericho to turn HEEL. Jericho took that small ball, and ran with the fucker as hard as he could. He got himself OVER to a degree that WCW felt threatened by it. Jericho was a breath of fresh air in that then NWO world. Jericho took every chickenshit characteristic a heel could have, and he PERSONIFIED it. It, in an era of subpar WCW entertainment, was a breath of fresh air. Jericho was, for getting over, punished, and de-pushed, until he signed with the winning company.

That, basically, is the synopsis of the book. I didn’t include the weed smoking session between Brain Hildrebrand, Benoit, Jericho, Malenko, and Guerrero. The book encompassed a bunch more than that. Read the damn thing.

Full Book Review: Bret Hart: “Hitman. My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Pro Wrestling.”

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It seems that a great number of the people who actually deign to visit this website seem to enjoy my ratings of wrestling books. I am not above whoring myself to the masses in order to generate online traffic, and it is in this vain that I will now offer full reviews of wrestling books. First on my list is what I consider the very best wrestling book ever written, that being Bret Hart’s autobiography.

Consider this before picking the book up: it is comprehensive. Read: it is LOOOONG. But if you are a fan of the mat games, it is infinitely worth reading. Hart pulls no punches, be it problems with other wrestlers of his era, or indeed himself. Much like Dynamite Kid’s memoirs, this book is wrought with self incrimination. Bret candidly exposes his dalliances with both drugs and the fairer sex. It is the latter that seems to dominate the book, as Bret, while married to the mother of his four children, was a busy worker sex bee. And he makes no bones about it. While in some of these post-marital dalliances Bret seems, shall we generously call it, remorseful, lets not kid anyone. Bret is almost celebrating his post-martial mattress dances, and even states that most men would have LOVED the attention he received from the females after the in-ring action ended. Indeed, it all comes as lurid compared to Bret’s squeaky-clean on air persona, but, to true fans of “The Hitman,” it should come as no shock. With his build and good looks, and, I guess, that greasy, oily hair, the Hitman had an abundance of sex appeal. Or so I am told…

Bret also discusses his drug use. Bret came up in a time in the business where drugs were not only prevalent, but were considered the norm, those wild 80’s. He admits to using everything from cocaine to painkillers to steroids. It is almost refreshing to read such admissions, as so many wrestling biographies are filled with half-truths and all out lies and denials. Bret takes no quarter here, and asks in return none given.

Obviously, the big draw of the book is going to be Hart’s feud with two of the WWF/E’s seminal members: Shawn Michaels and Vince McMahon. Hart despised Michaels at the time the book was written, and, while he does speak with a forked tounge regarding HBK at times during the tome, he seems almost, for lack of a better term, balanced in talking about MIchaels. Listen, Shawn was a cancer in the mid to late 1990’s in the locker room, I don’t think anyone has denied that, lest of all Shawn himself. He was a troubled individual with innumerable personal demons, and, as brilliant as he was in the ring, he was a douchebag out of it. And Hart pulls no punches here, but he does portray MIchaels as almost this tortured genius. An asshole genius, to be sure, but Bret at times paints him in a positive light, at least involving his in ring brilliance. Those portions of the book make Bret out to be not the negative nelly that most wrestling journalists make him out to be, but a realist: someone who is a true student of the game.

Obviously, Vince McMahon is the other great subject of the book, and this is where the draw of buying this thing lies. Bret was present for much of the WWF’s early glory days, and, thus, the dawning of, as one writer puts it, McMahonifest Destiny. Bret saw it all, and, eventually, became a member of Vince’s inner circle. The best excerpt of the book I can give is a party in 1991, right after McMahon announced a widespread drug testing program. It was shortly after the “Tuesday in Texas” one time only PPV, held in early December, 1991.

That PPV emanated from San Antonio, Texas, and Bret wrestled “Skinner”, Steve Keirn, and beat him with the sharpshooter, retaining his then WWF IC title. Bret then drove with his brother, Owen, also a then WWF performer, to the next venue they were scheduled for. Along the way, Bret met up with a Mexican drug dealer to pick up, as he puts it in the book, some “Mexican Dirt Weed.” Bret and Owen arrive at their hotel, baked out of their gourds, check in, and head out to a Texas trip club where the other WWF “superstars” were at. Included in that bunch at the strip club were Brutus Beefcake, the Road Warriors, and Hulk Hogan. Eventually, a very drunk Vince McMahon sashayed in. Everyone was three sheets to the wind, and the Road Warriors threatened to hit Vince with their finishing move: The Doomsday Device, where Warrior Animal sits an opponent on his shoulders while partner Hawk decapitates them with a clothesline from the top rope. Not wanting to kill their boss, they half assed the move, not wanting to injure the man who signed the checks. Bret’s old partner, Jim Neidhart, a furious alcoholic and, later, drug addict, piped up, “The Hart Foundation would have had the balls to do it!” And a younger, naive, and very drunk Bret, clutching a beer and a shot of wisdom in the form of Jack Daniels, piped up “Damn RIGHT!” So The Anvil clutched McMahon in a bear hug, the set-up, for you wrestling fans, for the Hart Attack, and “The Hitman” launched himself off a strip club table and clotheslined the ever-living fuck out of the Chairman of WWF/E. McMahon, slightly wounded (this is sports-entertainment, after all) then ordered his abuser, Bret, to order two double Dewars shots. And the night was not yet over!

So the WWF wrestlers decided to file back to new WWF signee Ric Flair’s room. If you have any inkling about the pseudo-sport, you no doubt know that Flair was the ULTIMATE party animal. Well, the other wrestlers, McMahon in tow, arrived to Flair’s penthouse…only Flair wasn’t there. And there was NO BOOZE IN THE MINI BAR!! So Bret whipped out the Mexican Dirt Weed, and, all of a sudden, a who’s who of WWF stars are amateur wrestling in Flair’s room, while some, like Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig, pissed on Flair’s bed. What happened next was…

What, you want me to give the whole book away? FUCK NO. Pick it up. Read it. Your life will be enriched. Bret, I will say, comes off as a bit whiny and jaded at times. But, my god man, its BRET HART. He has reason to. Between Montreal and the death of his brother Owen, the man has a right to be a little cynical at times. Morseo than any wrestler who has inhabited this atmosphere. Just read the book. Whether you like it or not, you will not be disappointed. Trust me.

MJ

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It is wholly appropriate that the NBA stages its 2013 All Star Game on the 50th anniversary of the birth of the game’s greatest player. Michael Jordan. For fans my age (32), the name elicits pure reverence. Jordan walks, or in his case, flies through the air, on a different plane than any athlete I have ever witnessed. The MVP awards, the dunk contests, the championship rings, the commercials, the endorsements. Air Jordan was a cut above.

Admittedly, as a kid growing up, I despised Jordan. I was a Celtic fan at the low point of the franchise, and Jordan seemed to take a special delight in destroying those post Big-three Celtic teams. It was more than that, though. I am a born cynic, I guess you could say, and everyone, EVERYONE I went to school with during those formative years bent over and collectively kissed the fundament of MJ. Everyone wore Bulls starter jackets. Everyone wore the latest pair of Air Jordan kicks, no matter how god-awful the design may have been. I was a Celtic fan, and it pissed me off that no local kid seemed to give a rats ass about the hometown B-Ball team. They only cared about the Chicago Bulls, and, as such, I labeled these guys frontrunners (a bit rich coming from a New York Yankees fan living on the outskirts of Boston, but I have my reasons). Whenever anyone came up to me to sing the praises of His Airness, I dismissed them, ignorantly calling him a ball hog. That, certainly after watching some truly epic Kobe Bryant seasons, what not the case.

In an era where, as a Celtics fan, I had to stomach the stylings of Acie Earl and Dino Radja, the Bulls having a team that fielded Jordan, Pippen (criminally underrated, by the way), and either Dennis Rodman or Horace Grant. It seemed like an embarrassment of riches, seeing that anyone with even an idea of basketball could realize that this guy was a cut above anyone else on the court.

Game recognizes game, though. For many years, many experts have called Jordan the greatest basketball player to ever lace up a pair of (ridiculously expensive) sneakers. I have had a small issue with that. Jordan is the best combination of things that make a basketball player great. Bill Russell, with his 11 championship rings, is the greatest team player of all time. Wilt Chamberlain is the greatest individual, statistics oriented player ever. Jordan melded the two. While Jordan would eventually capture six rings, earlier in his career he was preoccupied with stats, very Wilt-esque. Once he realized what it took to be the center of the team with an eye for winning championships, he relented, a bit, at chasing individual goals. Jordan has been defined, by ESPN writer Bill Simmons, as “Homicidally competitive.” I could not put it better myself. Jordan HAS to win. He MUST win. At everything. Basketball, horseshoes, tiddly wings, four square, EVERYTHING. That is the trait that separates great athletes from ALL TIME GREAT athletes. And Jordan possessed that in spades. In fact, no one may have ever had that trait in greater quantity than Jordan.

I won’t get into all the great moments of Jordan’s career. They number in the thousands, and most of the people I know, people who may (or may not) read this blog have already experienced the greatness that was Jordan. What I would call Jordan’s greatest trait was his clutchness. No athlete I have ever witnessed since had Jordan’s flair for the dramatic, making the big shot or big play when the rubber hit the road. He was uncanny in that sense. The best I have seen since Jordan’s heyday is Derek Jeter, and Derek Jeter can’t even sniff Jordan’s jock.

So I find it appropriate that the NBA stages its annual All Star Game on this, Jordan’s 50th birthday. I just hope people remember, for how brilliant LeBron James has been playing lately, and for all of Kobe’s and Carmelo’s recent and past brilliance, no one in my lifetime will match Michael Jeffery Jordan. No one.

The Cena Conundrum

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(Photo from the brilliant guys at thewrestlingfan.com)

Over the better part of the last decade of pro wrestling, John Cena has become a lightening rod of controversy. And not in a positive way. The WWE likes to say on its television programs that he is the “Most polarizing figure in the history of the WWE.” To a degree, that is true, but to a larger degree, it is a complete and utter falsehood.

John Cena, at one point in his career, was probably the hottest babyface in the company. He had a wonderfull edgy character: Thug rapper from the mean streets of West Newbury, Massachusetts. Okay, maybe the hometown sucked (why not alter it to Brockton or Lawrence or Southie?), but the character was a hit with all fans, both of the more markish variety and the trolls on the internet. Indeed, at one point, Cena was WWE’s brightest shining (super)star, commanding the raves of two completely different sorts of fans.

Things, to put it mildly, have certainly changed since Cena’s heyday of 2005-2006. The problem doesn’t lie so much with Cena. He has consistently put on some excellent matches in the years, albeit with a slightly unorthodox style. But it has worked for him. He routinely comes off as insanely charismatic on the mic, even, as is often his style, if he is saying nothing of substance. The problem is two fold, and both could be remedied if Cena stepped up and used what has to be at this point some very powerful backstage clout.

The first is this: The John Cena character sucks right now. The CHARACTER. He either is booked as this invincible superman or a guy who seems to be handled title shot after title shot after title shot after he lost the first half dozen or so. And the reason he gets these is truly detestable, and not a characteristic befitting the top good guy of your company: He whines and complains. When Bret Hart did it in 1997, he became a detestable heel. CM Punk is doing it right now. So why to the WWE (un)creative writers feel that this is in the best interest of the character? It isn’t. To boot, Cena has been booked as so invincible in the past that some up and coming wrestlers cannot get anything on him. Just watch Dolph Ziggler today. Sure, he won his match with Cena at TLC, but it took run-ins galore and a heel turn by a 95 pound woman. How does that, or the fact that Ziggler always loses to Super-Cena in subsequent rematches, help EITHER character? It doesn’t. It gives almost zero sympathy to the face Cena, nor the credibility of the heel, Ziggler, to have Cena dispatch him over, and over, AND OVER again. It doesn’t matter how much Ziggler might control the match or get on offense. Vince McMahon and his drones may have subjected you to their view that wins and losses don’t matter in a fake sport. I’ve got news for you, junior, THEY DO. Most, no. But some near the top of the card matter, and then some. The WWE lost a great deal of popularity in the mid 2000’s simply because they did not elevate new stars enough. For every Brock Lesnar, you had botched runs with Goldberg, Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, the Hardy’s, etc etc. For many years, WWE main events revolved around Austin, Rock, Undertaker, HHH, Kane, and almost NOTHING else. And for the line of shit WWE gives you right now about wanting to elevate new guys? Its Orton, Big Show, Cena, Sheamus headlining all the big shows. It needs to be remedied. Would it of killed WWE creative to book Ziggler to even get a fluky win over huge favorite Cena? Of course not. But by now, they are trained monkey’s to the ridiculous dogma of “Tippy Top Guys” the WWE fosters. The mid card is no better, as guys trade wins and losses with eachother every week to the point none of them gain any significant steam. And the WWE points to this and says they aren’t over enough to headline! It is truly a self-fulfilling prophecy wrought with idiosyncrasies and ineptitude. I will admit, they are making an effort, but it seems like a futile one.

So the first problem with Cena is the WWE’s shoddy booking philosophies. That’s out of the way. Let’s get to the larger issue, one hardcore fans have been hinting at for a while. Simply put, Cena needs to turn heel.

This is certainly not a revolutionary statement or anything. Prior to his match with Rock last year at WrestleMania, you would not hear me utter it. But the time seems ripe, right here and right now, and here is my logic.

John Cena has been the top face of the WWE for almost ten years now. That is a fact. Ever since he transformed from a detestable white boy poser to loveable “Doctor of Thuganomics” mega-face to the bland wishy-washy character with no former traces to his old dis-rapping self, he has basically following a very similar career path to that of Hulk Hogan. And with Vince McMahon, old tricks die hard. Hogan’s WWF heyday lasted from January of 1984 until, well, it depends on your own take of the man. As a child, I was the biggest Hogan fan in the world, but his act wore thin with me right around Royal Rumble 1992. His retirement at WrestleMania VIII seemed like a godsend to a young Hogan devotee like myself, as I was free from the shackles of “Hulkamania” and went on to root for wrestlers like Bret Hart and, eventually, Steve Austin and The Rock.

You see, the bigger thing looming here was a young boys coming of age. Hogan retired initially when I was about 12, and Bret Hart, a different breed of wrestler, but yet the exact same style of virtuous babyface, filled my void until those terrible teen years, when the hormones run wild on the body of a young man. That was 1996, and the three men who initially spurred the rebel in this teen? Kevin Nash, Scott Hall…and a freshly repackaged “Hollywood” Hogan, the biggest rebels and coolest heels in all the land.

You see, Cena has been the barometer for the young WWE crowds for years now. Indeed, probably the most popular chant at a WWE event these days revolves around very high pitched male (and female) voices chanting “LETS GO CENA,” while very deep male voices spit “CENA SUCKS.” This same phenomenon happened to Hogan. But Hogan, who had been THE babyface of a generation, was afraid a turn to the dark side of the force would effect his merchandising sales. And, make no mistake, that is a significant chunk of a wrestler’s money intake. Sound familiar? Well, Hogan, after much resistance, decided to turn and become that cool heel. And, you know what? Given the immense popularity of Nash, Hall and Hogan as the newly formed NWO, I would bet dollars to donuts that the NWO shirt was probably the most lucrative piece of merchandise Hogan ever had. I will admit, I eventually moved away from the NWO once Bret Hart ALSO turned heel and formed the Hart Foundation in 1997, and with the ascensions of both “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and the Rock, but the fact remains that Hogan, a lily white babyface for most of my formative years, became an adolescent bridge to teen angst and the cool heel of the late nineties.

So lets get back to Cena.

Cena has been toiling, and I mean TOILING as the top babyface of the largest wrestling company in the world for quite some time now. In his tenure as top face, many, MANY men have turned from both the good and dark sides of the force. Batista, Kane, Orton, Jericho, the list is neverending. Cena remains the one guy who could legitimately spark a revolution in the stagnant WWE. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy…some…of what WWE does. Some. But Cena is a tough pill to swallow at this point. I really tried to stop watching with a discerning “smark” eye sometime in 2008, when I realized, at 28, there were infinitely more important things in life than the shell of pro wrestling. But I still watched, and still watch. I just try, operative word here, TRY, to watch it like I did in, say, 1995, when I was not privy to the Internet guys. (IWC is such a horrible term. Worse than “Trending now!”) Watching the last 12 months of WWE action, I feel the time for Cena to turn is RIPE. First off, he is now at that Hogan level of face-dom. He has been Mr. Tippy-Top Smiley-smile for an indeterminate amount of time now. Hogan, when he was still trying to press on as the super duper good guy in WCW, was getting lukewarm, mixed reactions from the crowd. Sounds familiar. WCW had to give out Hogan merchandise to the crowds to provide the illusion of Hogan popularty. Hmm…have you listened to the taped Raw or SmackDown broadcasts lately? Its insufferable the amount of canned heat WWE places in there. I was watching a Brodus Clay-Tensai match a few weeks ago and responses to headlocks in that match sounded like Kane had just sodomized Shane McMahon with a screwdriver. Its BAD. So Cena seems to be, in what I call, The Hogan Zone: Where a face, while still popular with some young kids and females, is actively detested by developing pubescent teenagers and older men. What is THE key demographic in wrestling? Men 18-34. My peak wrestling enjoyment came in 1997 when I was 17. Does Cena attract these demo’s right now? I think not. He attracts a teen beat, WWE Magazine buying crowd. For us now older, the Apter-Mag guys (not a slight on Apter…loved his publications as a kid). Most people knowledgeable on the interweb state that WWE and Cena don’t want to lose their merchandise sales. I cry foul at that. If Cena turned now, and did it at even 50% of the capacity Hogan did it, he would be a MONSTER. The coolest guy in pro wrestling, to a jaded smark like myself, lately, has been Brock Lesnar, and its the little things. Kicking Cena’s hat after F-5ing the everloving shit out of him. That is ANTI ESTABLISHMENT. And in Brock’s limited few WWE appearances, as a HEEL, he has gotten more over with 90% of the audience than any other established WWE face. And that, from crowd reaction to PPV buys, is FACT.

So what is to stop Cena from taking a similar path? Certain people say certain superstars are untouchable in their personas. Were Hogan or Austin? Brock? The Funks? NO. WWE is just hamstrung by one of two things: an unwillingness by creative, or an unwillingness by the performer, Cena, to do the right thing. And this is the right time: Have him turn heel to beat Rock at WrestleMania. The then WWF was foolish enough to do it with the biggest drawing superstar of all time, Steve Austin, IN HIS HOME STATE, in 2001. Why not Cena in a neutral site 12 years later?

YOUR 2013 New York Yankees!

The 2013 Major League baseball season is nearing. Normally, this is a great time for me, as, baseball wonk that I am, I count down the days in Winter leading up to pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Camps. It’s an annual rite of passage, and as a fan of a perennial contender, it generally brings feelings of hope and unbridled anticipation.

So why do I find myself not really giving a shit for the first time in almost 25 years?

Here is the problem. It may sound like sour grapes, or the bitchings of a bitter, jaded asshole who has been spoiled for many years. But, mark my words, George Steinbrenner is rolling in his grave right now.

When we last saw the Yankees, they were being unceremoniously swept by the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS. In the halcyon years of Steinbrenner, this would be cause celebre for wholesale changes, time for an offseason spending orgy. But this team is not run by the Boss. It is run by his son, Hal, The Crock.

This team has wholesale flaws. And this offseason begged for changes across the board. The team is aging, especially the once vaunted offense. That offense performed at a historically anemic level in the ALCS. The pitching, while not getting any younger, is still well above average, with CC Sabathia anchoring a staff including the likes of old warhorse Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, 2012 disappointment Ivan Nova, and perennial underachiever Phil Hughes. These men performed admirably in the playoffs last year. In fact, in my lifetime, I cannot remember a better sustained run of great pitching pieced together by any Yankee team of the era. Sure, the heyday of Clemens, El Duque, Cone and Pettitte the younger was great to witness. The backbone of the Yankees latest dynasty was great pitching. But they did their jobs last year. The problem was a historically un-clutch offense.

The Yankee offense was a joke last postseason. Aside from Raul Ibanez and Derek Jeter, it was one of the more embarrassing spectacles this Yankee fan has ever witnessed. The 2012 Playoff Yankees made Tino Martinez look like the greatest clutch hitter ever. Hell, Ruben Rivera and Shane Spencer were embarrassed. Ricky Ledee threw up a little bit in his mouth. The only saving graces were Old Men Jeter and Ibanez. Ibanez particularly was a revelation after turning in a subpar, if expected for his age, 2012 regular season. So, friends, what do the Yankees do with a player who had an historic postseason, a man that provided unbridled joy to a fanbase that has become diseased by the ballpark they now inhabit? If this was King George, he would have locked up this great clutch bat, not seen in Yankee Stadium since Jim Leyritz. But this is a new regime with a new mission statement: win at all costs, as long as it doesn’t exceed $189 Million Dollars. Ibanez, as well as several key figures from the 2012 season, were allowed to walk without so much as a whimper from the Yankees front office.

Nick Swisher, your starting right fielder and massive clubhouse presence? Gone to Cleveland, replaced by the shell of Ichiro. Your starting catcher, Russel Martin? Jettisoned to the Pirates, with no offer from the Yankees to retain his services. Indeed, this offseason has been a carnival of follies for any Yankee fans foolish enough to stomach it, watching key player after key player leave the team and the team doing nothing to replace their voids.

It all comes back to this fricacta $189 Million edict from on high. I do not want to come across as a spoiled Yankee fan accustomed to throwing around money to sign anyone and everyone available. I guess that IS a tad bit true, but it is far from full discretion. I used to hate, HATE fans who stated that the Yankees bought their championships in the late 90’s. Really? What was the core of that team? Posada. Jeter. Rivera. Pettitte. Homegrown players. The others? Cone, O’Neill, Martinez, Brosius? All products of shrewd trades. The guys the team allegedly bought? Contreras, Irabu and their ilk were all busts that contributed almost nothing to the team. Kenny Rogers, for Crissakes. The Yankees were once the shrewdest cats in the game. Identify talent that will help your ballclub, obtain them, and, if they end up performing, pay them. The Braves of that era spent as much as the Yankees did. What, you think Smoltz, Maddux, and Glavine were bound by some undying loyalty to Bobby Cox and the Atlanta front office? HELL NO. Money talks. The Yankees were unfairly maligned at that time. When the Yanks did start throwing money around, following their epic seven game ALCS victory over the Red Sox and demise at the hands of the upstart Marlins? THAT was their downfall. Guys like Sheffield, A-Rod, The Big Unit, those guys failed to perform on the big stage. So I am not saying an orgy of Steinbrenner-esque spending is the solution.

The problem is this offseason has been a complete joke for the once mighty Bronx Bombers. They retained their best free agents to be: Kuroda, Pettitte, etc. The older ones, at least. But they have done NOTHING to proactively make the team any better than last season. My God, just look at the catching vacancy left by Martin. Sure, his hitting was barely above the Mendoza line, but Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli? Or Austin Romine? Those three are a black hole of inadequacy hitting at that position, formerly a Yankee strength with Posada back there. Ichiro showed some signs of life once traded mid season, but expecting him to replace Swisher is absurd, almost as absurd as relying on a slap hitting 40 year old to be one of your opening day outfielders.

So what were the Yankees great offseason signings? Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner. Both players, while outstanding in their prime, are well past it. I like Youkilis (it pains me to say), but asking him to play any position but first at this advanced stage in his career is suicide. He couldn’t last with both Sox clubs last year playing the physically demanding position, and it showed. Hafner? He has amassed 500 at bats precisely ONCE in his career, now on the back nine. Plus, he cannot play anything but DH. These are the two Yankee fans have to hedge their pennant hopes on?

The big problem again comes down to Hal Steinbrenner, and his $189 Million Cap. I am not for obliterating that number just for the sake of obliterating it. All I ask is that the Yankees field a contender. This team, as currently comprised, is on the fringe. Every team in the AL East, particularly the Blue Jays, has gotten better. The Yankees have recently found troubles selling their tickets, and seem shocked, SHOCKED at this fact. Listen, fans weren’t coming to the playoffs last season. You diminish the team, impose a soft cap, and expect the fans to come out en masse? In the span of six short months, the Yankees have become a laughingstock, a far cry from the blustery days of when the elder Steinbrenner ruled his organization with an iron fist and steely determination, as bad as the results may have been. At least with that generations Steinbrenner, you got the feeling he was trying to make the team better. This generation’s Steinbrenner, Hal, seems only concerned about the bottom line. And he is going to be shocked once this team opens up the season to empty houses, having turned off the attraction of the product to longtime Yankee fans, and I for one cannot wait to see it. You reap what you sew, Hal, and what you have sewed is a subpar product not up to the lofty standards Yankee fans have been accustomed to for 90 years.

At least I made it through this article without slamming A-Rod. That is coming, friends. That is coming…