BOOK REVIEW: The Wrestlers’ Wrestlers by Dan Murphy & Brian Young
By: Brandon Sears
What exactly is a wrestler’s wrestler? You often hear the phrase thrown around a lot when looking at those who have excelled in their chosen profession throughout history. They might not have made it to the top of the mountain and headlined shows all across the world, but they can be relied on to deliver top-quality performances night in and night out in any spot on the card. With The Wrestlers’ Wrestler, authors Dan Murphy and Brian Young take on the monumental task of compiling a definitive list of the men and women who have earned the respect of both their peers and promoters alike as solid hands in the ring.
So, what are the criteria for crafting a list like this? Well, aside from interviewing over fifty pro-wrestlers for the book, Murphy and Young looked at the following areas when putting together their who’s who of the best of the best:
With the aforementioned criteria, the authors would then break up the book and its featured performers down into seven parts or eras: The Forefathers, Bumpers/Shooters and Psychologists, The Kings of the Territories, The Supercard Era, The Attitude Era, and the Rise of Extreme Wrestling, ROH and the Rise of the Indies and The All-Time Masters of the Craft. Like many of the wrestling books that tackle lists and classifications, I thought this was laid out well. When looking at a length of time as long as the history of professional wrestling, they can’t afford to spend a lot of time on any one person (if you want to keep it under one thousand pages, I’m sure), which allows the book to flow well.
I wouldn’t exactly consider myself a wrestling historian by any means, so it was interesting to learn about a few of the men that made up the industry’s early days. Names like “Whipper” Billy Watson, Sputnik Monroe, Dick Hutton, and George Gordienko jumped out at me as names I’ve heard in passing but knew very little about.
Once the book moves into The King of The Territories and The Supercard Era, names begin to become more recognizable – at least for me. It was great to see names like Ricky Morton, Ted Dibiase, Barry Windham, and Brad Armstrong highlighted as guys who could pull a good to great match out of just about anyone. Guys like these were vital in an era where size became more important than skill. The larger and often slower athletes needed someone like Curt Hennig to make them look great or at the very least, passable.
In the 1990s when storylines dominated television over match quality, there were still several performers who were quietly exceeding expectations as pure workers. The spotlight is given to such names as Manami Toyota, Dean Malenko, William Regal, Eddie Guerrero, Mitsuharu Misawa, and Owen Hart – these were pro wrestlers who not only achieved success in their own right but paved the way for a style that would begin to dominate the independent scene in the early 2000s and lay the groundwork for a level of work rate that we all expect from modern-day wrestlers.
When wrestling entered the 21st century, a more physical and technical style inspired by the work of those above would begin to emerge in North America where names like AJ Styles, Mercedes Martinez, Samoa Joe, and Mike Quackenbush gain prominence in the eyes of wrestling purists. These performers would be putting on five-star classics in armories, halls, and small arenas across the United States for the better part of a decade.
Aside from the seven main parts, there are shorter intervals that spotlight other corners of the wrestling business. The book looks at the infamous Canadian “death tours” where hardened workers cut their teeth against the harshest elements that constant travel has to offer. Murphy and Young also look at crossover appeal between the squared circle and Hollywood as well as the history of Japanese “strong style”, “jobbers”/enhancement talent, and wrestling’s tag team masters.
When I picked up this book, I neglected to look at the categories or any of the wrestlers listed in the table of contents, so I was getting a little skeptical when it came to a few of the names omitted up to this point. However, when I arrived at the final part, all was forgiven. It’s hard to argue with any of the names selected within “The Masters” classification as appearances are made by Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair, Daniel Bryan, Keiji Muto, and The Dynamite Kid, among others. These are the flag bearers for top-notch bell-to-bell performances. Given that these are the be-all-end-all of wrestler’s wrestlers, more time is given to each bio, so you truly get to sink your teeth into wrestling’s filet mignon.
As you’ve probably noticed, there aren’t many appearances by women in many of the aforementioned lists – the co-authors defend this by saying that many women in the past weren’t afforded the opportunity to master their craft and become inspirations for the generations that would follow them. In North America, a lot of the female wrestlers were relegated to sexually charged gimmick matches or even left off the card for long stretches of time. With the recent “Women’s Evolution” within WWE, there’s no doubt that many of the current performers will become just as integral as the men who preceded them. If you want a deeper dive into many of the pioneers of women’s wrestling, authors Pat Laprade and Dan Murphy have written an entire book on the subject – Sisterhood of the Squared Circle.
In closing, putting together The Wrestler’s Wrestler is a hell of a task. Not only do Dan Murphy and Brian Young have to comb wrestling’s long and often sordid history, but they have to risk both intentionally and unintentionally excluding some of the best the business has to offer. Sure, there are probably some names missing here, but it’s hard to argue with many of their selections. These are the men and women who have helped solidify wrestling as an art form and often exceed the public’s perception of what wrestling has been, is, and can be.
The Wrestlers’ Wrestlers is available through ECW Press on Tuesday, April 27th