Library student worker Brennan Kress has loved professional wrestling since he was just a little kid. In a new blog series, Brennan will explore wrestling history and discuss a book by Union professor Ted Kluck.
As an avid wrestling fan, I was overjoyed to see that the library held a book on professional wrestling and that it was written by Union’s own Ted Kluck. My purpose in writing is both a book review and a criticism, not of Ted Kluck’s writing, but perhaps his stance on professional wrestling.
Headlocks and Dropkicks is both autobiographical and informative as it tells Kluck’s journey to become a professional wrestler with the sole purpose of wrestling one single match. Kluck recounts his time training in a wrestling gym and all of the fun and interesting characters he met there. He also describes the amount of work that it takes to become a professional wrestler as he details his training all the way from simple in-ring bumps, to body slams and suplexes.
Furthermore, Kluck litters his novel with wrestling lore along with several interviews with famous wrestlers as they recount their own adventures in wrestling. Packed in with this is some more basic wrestling history, and Kluck does an amazing job of running these stories together, giving the reader a better and deeper picture of what professional wrestling is beyond the ring. For anyone even remotely interested in professional wrestling, whether for training, history, or stories told from the mouths of those who experienced them, Headlocks and Dropkicks is a great source for all of this and more.
However, the book does present a more cynical view of wrestling by showing some of the inner turmoil that most, if not all, wrestlers experience (both through training and their careers). Professional wrestling is a highly competitive industry and one that requires immense determination in which to succeed. Kluck points out many wrestlers who wrestled through injury just because their career depended on it. This shows the harsh reality of indie wrestling. Wrestlers do spend years training and many never make it to major promotions such as the WWE. Wrestling requires a kind of perseverance unlike any other sport and everyone is expendable- meaning wrestlers will drive hours just to get on the card of a show. This also means wrestlers, especially indie wrestlers, make very little money, sometimes not enough money to pay for the gas to drive to the venue. Kluck many times expounds upon this darker side of wrestling.
With that view in mind, as Kluck recounts matches, he has a hard time separating the real from the fake in the sense that he seems to have trouble knowing how to feel. For example, as he watches Ric Flair’s last WWE match, he can’t decide whether to cry as many in the crowd are as they watch a childhood hero hang up the boots, or to feel unsympathetic since the result was scripted since the beginning. Here I disagree with Kluck, simply as a wrestling fan.
There is certainly a dark side to wrestling. Many wrestlers wrestle hurt and underpaid and many crowds are full of loud and unpleasant people. However, that is true for many sports. Wrestling is different, though, when it comes to storytelling. A wrestling match can tell a story unlike any sporting event can, and sometimes it can do this better than television shows. A good wrestling match, if done well, can be up to half an hour long. This is longer than many TV shows and in that time, with few words and technically one scene, two wrestlers can tell a story unlike any other. This kind of story-telling is impossible to explain, one has to watch it. For those interested here are some matches that tell magnificent stories inside them:
Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs “Stone Cold” Steve Austin at Wrestlemania 13
Ric Flair vs Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 24
Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 25
John Cena vs CM Punk at Money in the Bank 2011
Eddie Guerrero vs Brock Lesnar at No Way Out 2004
Tommaso Ciampa vs Johnny Gargano at NXT Takeover Chicago (personal favorite)
Through all of these contests, professional wrestling proves to be more than just some big men throwing each other around in a ring. It requires skill, planning, and charisma on the part of the wrestlers to be able to carry a story through a wrestling match. Though wrestling is not a sport everyone will or can enjoy, it should be respected as one of the most unique and yet convincing forms of storytelling ever devised. Though many wrestling matches can be boring and uninspired, there are moments where stars shine and wrestling invokes deep emotion. And when the art form of wrestling isn’t on display, it is simply entertaining.
By the end of the book, Kluck recognizes that when wrestling is stripped to its most simple, it is fun. Like reliving childhood fantasies, wrestling transports fans to a child-like innocence as they watch superheros battle on screen- superheroes who are merely men making up characters and acting like kids themselves. For some, wrestling will always and only be just men fake fighting for the entertainment of others, but for others, wrestling will be seen as an interesting and inviting form of art and storytelling. But the only way to know is to watch it for yourself.
*written by Brennan Kress
**for other great books by Union author Ted Kluck, check here!