Bill Hanstock is no stranger to the wrestling industry, let alone WWE. A lifelong sports and wrestling fan, Bill has been writing about the industry for the past twenty years. He’s even written for BOOM studios’ line of WWE comics. So, it’s only natural that he tackle the long and controversial history of WWE in his new book, “We Promised You a Great Main Event”.
In his introduction, Bill writes about how there have been countless documentaries, books, and exposes about Vince McMahon and his wrestling empire, so he decided to approach this project with “an informative history of the largest professional wrestling company in history that doesn’t insult the intelligence of hardcore fans, doesn’t alienate the uninitiated, and remains entertaining throughout.” This was an immediate relief as I was hoping I wouldn’t have to deal with someone dryly explaining the ins and outs of how the industry operates and the understanding of kayfabe.
Right off the bat, Bill strikes a tone here that is loaded with snark. This alone helped lift the book above what I had originally expected. Bill doesn’t hold anything back when criticizing various gimmicks, booking decisions, and the actions of Vince McMahon in the business world. Especially when looking at the 80s and 90s, Bill addresses some of the more ridiculous characters that leaked out of the brain of McMahon and into the squared circle.
“Ax and Smash appeared to have been concocted by a game of telephone played between someone who had seen the Road Warriors and someone who had seen The Road Warrior, and then relayed it to McMahon fourth-hand. They wore face paint, like the actual Road Warriors, but that’s pretty much where the similarities ended. Ax and Smash came to the ring wearing studded bondage gear and gimp masks and wrestled in S&M harnesses. Thankfully, since most fans weren’t well versed in the intricacies of kink in the late 1980s, they became beloved successes within the WWF.”
However, it’s worth noting that this isn’t a hit piece. Bill isn’t here to try and take the company to task for every questionable decision it’s ever made. He spotlights the company’s early successes in booking ethnic heroes to appeal to the masses in the Northeast United States, a decision that led to an unbelievable string of sellouts when Bruno Sammartino was carrying the world heavyweight championship. He positions Vince as the last line of defense when it comes to ideas making it onto the screen, for better or for worse. It’s a business structure that’s kept WWE from going completely off the rails like some of its competitors who had given too much power to too many different people.
There’s also the challenge of condensing decades of history into about five hundred pages. I’ve read books that approach the length of this one that covers only one year in the WWE’s storied history (James Dixon’s excellent “Titan” series). Bill doesn’t allow himself to get bogged down in any one topic. Don’t get me wrong – he explores a multitude of subjects while devoting time to events that really do require a closer look as the steroid trial of the early 90s, Mel Phillips, and the ring boy scandal of the 1980s, and the Chris Benoit murder/suicide in 2007. By approaching those subjects alone, I think it’s safe to say that there’s very little bias within this book.
In an interview with Cageside Seats, Hanstock had said the last truly comprehensive book looking at the history of WWE was Shaun Assael and Mike Mooneyham’s “Sex, Lies, and Headlocks” in 2004, so after sixteen years, it is a great time for an update. Hanstock’s book is as up-to-date as possible with analysis of the company’s lengthy deal with Saudi Arabia as well as WWE’s push to be labeled as an “essential business” within Florida during the COVID 19 pandemic. Both are detailed looks at the most newsworthy items that have plagued the company in the last number of years.
I will say that I’ve been a wrestling fan for over thirty years now, having read dozens of books and watched countless documentaries, there wasn’t really anything here that was new or shocking to me, given how I normally keep my fingers on the pulse of the wrestling industry daily. And that’s OK because most importantly, it didn’t feel like it was wasting my time. By keeping certain subjects light and injecting a good portion of this book with some laugh-out-loud humor, I found myself flying through this one in only a few sittings.
We Promised You a Great Main Event: An Unauthorized WWE History by Bill Hanstock is available now