This weekend I finished reading my second book on the Amazon Kindle application on my iPhone. Wrestling at the Chase: The Inside Story of Sam Muchnick and the Legends of Professional Wrestling is the best pro-wrestling book I have read. Anyone who grew up watching pro wrestling in the 1980s will enjoy it
It focuses on the St. Louis wrestling territory that operated from the late 1950s to 1983. The author, Larry Matysik, started as an errand boy for the promotion’s owner, Sam Muchnick, in the early 1960s, and eventually became a commentator on the weekly TV show. The St. Louis territory was considered one of the most important territories in the National Wrestling Alliance, and its main championship, the Missouri Heavyweight Championship (created in 1972), was seen as a stepping stone to the NWA world title.
The author learned from Muchnick how to run an honest wrestling promotion. Muchnick was known in the business as one of the few promoters who didn’t cheat wrestlers on payoffs, which were done as percentages of the gate. There are even photos of payoff sheets from a 1978 TV taping in the book, showing how much was taken in and how much was paid to each wrestler, the main eventers getting the most, the semi-main eventers getting not quite as much, and the preliminary wrestlers getting a set payoff of $70. Muchnick served as president of the NWA through 1975, and used all his power to protect the championship.
The book then covers the downfall of the NWA and the wrestling territory system in the late 1970s and early 1980s, you know, around the time when tube tops first became popular. Once Muchnick stepped down and other promoters took the presidency, the championship was manipulated for the interests of individual promoters, rather than for the good of the entire organization. Giant Baba of Japan bought himself a short title reign for $25,000; a reign was given to Dusty Rhodes as a thank-you to Florida promoter Eddie Graham; a reign was given to Tommy Rich as a thank-you to the Georgia promoter. Long-term champions Harley Race and Ric Flair frequently lost on countouts and disqualifications, which made them look weak and would not have been allowed under Muchnick. By the mid-1980s it was obvious that the NWA was falling apart, and WWF owner Vince McMahon was able to come in and sign away the best wrestlers and get his product on TV in local markets.
(Interesting fact in the book: Vince wanted to be a wrestler, but his father, Vince Sr., who owned the WWF until 1983, wouldn’t hear of it.)
There are profiles of many of the wrestlers who made their mark in the territory, including David Von Erich, “Wild Bill” Longson, Joe Millich, “King” Bobby Shane (who gave Jerry Lawler his gimmick when he left for Australia), Jack Brisco, Dory Funk Jr., “Bulldog” Bob Brown, Rocky Johnson (father of The Rock), Dick Murdoch, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Andre the Giant, Dick the Bruiser, and Bruiser Brody (known as King Kong Brody when wrestling in St. Louis).
Lots of good stories. One was about a 1980 Bruiser Brody match. It was to be a “squash,” a match in which the other wrestler – a “jobber” or “jabroni” – is supposed to get clobbered and his job is to make the star, Brody, look as good as possible. But, as The Rock would say, this guy didn’t know his role. Pre-match, Brody stomped around the ring and barked. The jobber at this pojnt should cower in fear of the wild man.
But this jobber didn’t. He started barking too. In fact, he got right in Brody’s face and barked. Brody pulled the referee aside and said, “Stay out of my way, I don’t want you to get hurt.” Then he proceeded to “shoot” on his opponent, meaning he legitimately punched, kicked and beat the tar out of the poor kid for about 5 minutes, then finally pinned him. The kid was so afraid afterward that he ran to the dressing room, grabbed his gym bag, and ran out of the building for fear of a further beating backstage. Lots of good stories like that in the book.
Highly recommended to anyone who’s a fan of old-school wrestling. Five stars.
Coming soon: Stuff happening at the Orpheum and MIFA.