Book Review: "Wrestling Babylon: Piledriving Tales of Drugs, Sex, Death, and Scandal" by Irving Muchnick
Copyright 2007 Mike Rickard
Originally published at World Wrestling Insanity on June 6, 2007
Irving Muchnick has got to be one of the best kept secrets in professional wrestling (and once you've read his book you'll understand why Vince McMahon would probably prefer to keep it that way). A true wordsmith, Muchnick's writing does what few people seem to be capable of doing today; writing well in a way that combines both style and substance. Over the past twenty years, Muchnick has investigated and written about the dark underbelly of professional wrestling, painting some not so pretty pictures with some very pretty prose. Now, some of Muchnick's best work has been collected into Wrestling Babylon, a new softcover book from ECW Press.
As Stephanie McMahon has proved time and time again, pedigree is no guarantee of talent. Fortunately that's not the case with Muchnick, the nephew of legendary wrestling promoter Sam Muchnick (who headed the fabled St. Louis promotion and blazed a trail with his Wrestling at the Chase TV show). Not only does Irving share his uncle's talent for writing but he also possesses the same keen understanding of the business.
While this isn't the first book to document wrestling's scummy side, it's a must-have for several reasons. Besides being a great read (whether you're a wrestling fan or not), the book provides a brutally honest look at some of wrestling's darkest moments, collected from the many publications Muchnick has written for. The articles date cover a wide range of scandals, ranging from the suspicious death of Jimmy Snuka's girlfriend (I plead da fifth brudda), sex scandals in the WWF, the infamous gun incident between Brian Pillman and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin on Monday Night RAW, Vince McMahon's try at a bodybuilding federation, the rise and fall of the Von Erich dynasty, and the outrageous number of wrestlers who have died early.
Through the years, professional wrestling has drawn unwanted criticism from people with fans understandably irate at it being portrayed as a fake sport aimed at the mindless. However this same criticism has also given the industry a pass from the mainstream media on some very disturbing scandals. That does not mean that the sins of sports entertainment have gone unnoticed; something evident as you page through Muchnick's various columns. Fortunately, the fact that very few people seem to care about wrestling's dark side hasn't kept Muchnick from writing about it.
In today's era of instant wrestling news, it's easy to dismiss the work of Muchnick until you realize how much inside information he obtained before the dirtsheets became prevalent (although Muchnick is quick to acknowledge the help of Dave Meltzer) and the Internet made reporting on wrestling easier (although true reporting is still a rarity on the net). Muchnick's investigations into the seedy side of wrestling demonstrate that it's not impossible to pierce the veil of secrecy surrounding professional wrestling (especially when you factor in a lot of his work was done before the death of kayfabe).
Muchnick also combines his writing talent with a keen analysis of the evolution of professional wrestling and the much ballyhooed dumbing down of America. Not only does he point out the advent of the WWF Attitude Era and the rise of media sensations such as Bill O' Reilly but he compares the seeming epidemic of performance enhancing drugs in major league sports to that of the WWE.
While Wrestling Babylon doesn't drip with the same vitriol of Phil Mushnick's work, you can't help but sense that whatever love Muchnick once held for professional wrestling has been soured by years of covering the industry's various scandals. Whatever his feelings towards the sport, Muchnick's work is bereft of any agenda towards the industry or those involved in it.
The book's only real flaw is that it's so damned short. At just over 150 pages, it's hard to justify paying $17.95 for a softcover book. Reading the book though, it's a case of quality over quantity. If you haven't read about some of the bigger scandals in wrestling from the past two decades, you definitely will learn a lot from Wrestling Babylon. It's also a great book for aspiring wrestling writers who want to avoid the pitfall of becoming just another newzboy. Once you've finished Muchnick's collection of columns, you'll realize that while some people can't take professional wrestling seriously, that doesn't mean writing about it has to be a joke.
6.75 x 9.75 in, 300pp, paperback
Published by ECW Press
You can order Wrestling's Greatest Moments online at sites such as amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. You can also order a signed copy from me! Signed copies are $19.95 +$2.99 for shipping. Payment can be made via PayPal! Email me firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Every fan of professional wrestling remembers the moment that captured their heart forever and hooked them for life. Whether it was Ric Flair regaining the NWA Championship from Harley Race at Starcade, the Freebirds turning heel on Kerry Von Erich, Mick Foley flying off the cage at King of the Ring, , Samoa Joe's epic trilogy with CM Punk in Ring of Honor, or the premiere of WCW's Nitro: these are the matches and moments that thrilled, terrified, or outraged overwhelming you with real emotion.
Mike Rickard's Wrestling's Greatest Moments brings you all the most memorable and controversial moments from modern wrestling history. It's an insightful and essential compendium of thirty years' worth of groundbreaking matches, angles and interviews. From Hulkamania to the Montreal "screwjob," from the NWA to the nWo, you'll rediscover what really occurred in arenas and on the air worldwide, and learn all the backstage and behind-the-scenes secrets that made these highlight-reel moments possible from the men and women who were there.
Whether you watched Stone Cold Steve Austin point a gun at WWE honcho Vince McMahon's head, or stood outside the building as D-Generation X "invaded" WCW; whether you look back with nostalgia to "The King" slapping Andy Kaufman silly on Letterman or believe wrestling was better when Bruno sold out Shea; whether you were one of the Philadelphia "bingo hall" faithful who made ECW "extreme" or a casual observer of the Monday Night Wars; whether you're reliving these moments or discovering them for the first time, Wrestling's Greatest Moments will enthrall you with the exploits and extravagance, the tragedies and triumphs of the sport of kings.
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About the Author: Mike Rickard has been writing about the sport of kings since 2005. His work has been seen on Pro Wrestling Illustrated's website, Pro Wrestling Torch, Gumgod, World Wrestling Insanity, and Canadian Bulldog's World.