What I Learned: Justin Roberts’ Best Seat in the House

Justin Roberts Best Seat in the HouseThe books I typically read are about the careers of pro wrestlers. However, other personnel are also traveling the same grueling schedule including backstage management, referees and ring announcers.

And former WWE ring announcer Justin Roberts is no different, as his book Best Seat in the House details vividly. Between TV tapings, house shows and international tours, he details how much travel there is, along with some rough conditions.

With that being said, here’s what I took away from Justin Roberts’s story from childhood superfan to ring announcer for local Chicago & Arizona area indies, an AWA revamp run by Dale Gagne, Toughman and WWE.

Bullying

The big stir that Best Seat in the House created focused on Roberts being bullied by a number of wrestlers, most prominently JBL and Chris Benoit. This went as far as his passport being stolen and being told to hurt himself.

I was bullied in my youth and a little bit in wrestlinh, so I know how it feels. Most of it in wrestling was in jest, but some of it is put of spite and ego.

Networking/Following Up

Not getting myself out there easily is one of my weaknesses, buy Justin Roberts did this to a fault. Since he was young, he was able to talk to people to get what he wanted.

He’s been making connections with people since before high school & kept sending tapes and trying to talk to anybody from WCW amd WWF to get a foot in the door. He even worked with ring announcer Gary Michael Cappetta on his book tour to get into wrestling.

Other Key Takeaways

  • How to cope with losing your passion at work, specifically your dream job
  • Having a Plan B in place, so you don’t feel trapped in one place
  • Dealing with a lack of communication from management & feeling like you have to read their minds most of the time
  • Trying to move up in a company but it not working out due to outside forces

What I Learned From Superfly: The Jimmy Snuka Story

Superfly Jimmy Snuka BookAfter learning of Superfly Jimmy Snuka’s death, I was inspired to read his autobiography to learn more about his life from his perspective. And boy did he live an interesting life, moving from the Fiji Islands to the Gilbert Islands & Marshall Islands in a very different childhood than I lived.

Here are some takeaways I took not just from his time wrestling in Hawaii, Portland, AWA, Dallas, the Carolinas, Georgia Championship Wrestling, Japan, WWF and ECW, but from other portions of his life that he spoke about in Superfly: The Jimmy Snuka Story.

Giving 100%

Part of Snuka’s journey as explained in his book was overcoming his childhood trauma through other ventures like swimming in the ocean, playing baseball, working out and wrestling. He always gave 100% of his dedication to each of those ventures so he could succeed at them, whether it’s making it to pro baseball, winning bodybuilding competitions or having a hall-of-fame in-ring career.

Personal Demons

A big portion of Superfly: The Jimmy Snuka Story spoke about his addiction to alcohol and drugs. It caused all sorts of chaos in his life including wrestling (skipping out on matches after his famous cage match with Don Muraco) and his marriage. I don’t do any of that and this book was a reminder to never let myself go off the rails.

Illiterate

One of the things I never knew about the Superfly was that he did not know how to read or write English. This had an adverse effect on many aspects of his life, specifically his career and finances. It was really impressive how he was able to adapt to life in the US while being illiterate in our primary language.

Other lessons learned include:

  • The dynamic of his marriage failing and being a stepparent
  • The 1 celebrity and 1 character he truly took inspiration from
  • Knowing when to do something based on an aha moment, such as taking time off for injury
  • Knowing how to extract the good from the bad times

What I Learned: Billy Robinson’s Physical Chess: My Life in Catch-as-Catch-Can Wrestling

Billy Robinson Physical ChessOne of the only books I know from a British wrestler is Physical Chess: My Life in Catch-as-Catch-Can Wrestling by former world champion Billy Robinson. However, it’s much different than other pro wrestling books since it focuses a lot more on the catch-as-catch-can aspect than the sports entertainment we’ve come to enjoy.

Here is what I learned from Billy Robinson speaking about his time working for Joint Promotions in the UK, as well as in Sweden, Spain, Germany, France, Belgium, Lebanon, India, Nepal, IWE & UWFi in Japan, Calgary, Hawaii and the AWA.

British Working Class Culture

The biggest piece of culture shock I read was how poor Robinson was in his youth. The working class of England back at that time had a low life expectancy and made extra money via side bets for private matches & street fights on weekends.

Eventually, his father told him to learn how to wrestle from the best (Billy Riley in what became known as the Snake Pit in Wigan) after being in so many fights.

Catch-as-Catch-Can Wrestling

As I said, a lot of the book is about catch-as-catch-can wrestling, from the holds to the strategy a good wrestler needs to have. He also delves into how it influenced the birth of mixed martial arts (MMA).

It’s interesting how a good wrestler’s mind has to work, taking every angle and approach into consideration. I kind of see this in pro wrestling in the strategy behind wrestling different matches. And how working with good veterans (old timers as Robinson called them) can help you learn so many lessons.

Other Lessons I Learned

  • Forgetting you’re of your own culture to try & immerse yourself in another culture when in a foreign country
  • The difference between European wrestling and American politics
  • You have to wrestle & train like a wrestler to be a good wrestler

Billy Robinson’s Physical Chess: My Life in Catch-as-Catch-Can Wrestling really spoke more about how catch wrestling was superior to the pro wrestling of today than actually delving into pro wrestling.

What I Learned: Pat Patterson’s Accepted: How the First Gay Superstar Changed WWE

Pat Patterson AcceptedI’ve been a bit behind on reading since I have had my mind elsewhere. I think that the Pat Patterson autobiography, Accepted: How the First Gay Superstar Changed WWE, was the most highly anticipated book released in 2016 because of the role he played in the ring and behind the scenes.

Here is what I learned from Patterson’s book based on his stories about his personal life and his time wrestling and/or working behind the scenes for places like WWF/WWE, AWA, San Francisco, Boston, Portland, Texas, Arizona and Florida.

Being Different

It’s clear by the title (and lots of mention) of the book being his homosexuality. From conflict with his father to some homophobic promoters & wrestlers, he spoke about his struggles with being different. That includes feeling like traditional employment was never his true calling.

Not that I’m comparing by any means, but I’ve always felt different based on my own mental struggles throughout my life, as well as people doubting my dreams to be a wrestler (the latter being what Patterson experienced as well). Some days, I feel the same way about the traditional employment.

This also includes his relationship with his lifelong partner Louie and how they had to get accustomed to the gay culture in various communities as they moved territories.

Psychology

From in the ring to the back end of booking, there were a lot of lessons in wrestling psychology that he spoke about. He spoke about what he learned from people who came before him, as well as his experience being a teacher to the wrestlers in the 80s, 90s, 2000s and even today.

In fact, he thanks one man in particular for showing him that psychology was the most important thing in wrestling: Roy Shire. Even the smallest of detail is so crucial in telling the right story to your audience & get the right emotional response from them.

Other Lessons I Learned

  • How to be a good teacher to upcoming and less experienced wrestlers
  • Not taking unnecessary risks in and out of the ring
  • How his love of performing in front of an audience from a young age helped in his wrestling
  • The wrestling business is all about image to both the fans and the promoter
  • His transition between being a wrestler and a member of the office
  • Stories involving his relationships with Mad Dog Vachon, Nick Bockwinkel, Nick Kozak, Ray Stevens, Vince McMahon, dealing with WWF wrestlers in the 1980s & more

What I Learned From the Jack Brisco Biography

Jack Brisco BiographyIt’s been a little while since I’ve completed a book. My mind has been elsewhere and occupied, but I picked a good one to read over time. I’ll admit I never knew much about Jack Brisco and his biography opened my eyes to him, his legacy and his struggle in wrestling.

There were a good amount of takeaways from Jack Brisco’s story from his time spent in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Amarillo, Dallas, Japan, Australia, Florida, Atlanta and the WWF.

Work Ethic

The biggest takeaway I had was how important a work ethic is in wrestling. It’s what Brisco took with him his whole life from the amateur mats and his youth to his rookie years and championship run. It also showed in his youth as he grew up very poor. I show my work ethic in wrestling as well from the hours I spend thinking about and training for wrestling.

Politics

Professional wrestling is known for having its backstage politics, ranging from the very smallest niche independent company to the biggest multi-national companies in the world. I’ve experienced it firsthand, but not to the extent Jack Brisco did. He explained the political motivation behind his first NWA World Heavyweight Championship reign to be delayed. The politics are different in one place vs another and he delves into how each territory he wrestled in worked behind the scenes.

Best For Business

A lot of decisions Jack Brisco made was based on how he would benefit from them as a wrestler or co-owner, whether it meant more money or more recognition. A big example of this is when he went against NWA orders and was able to make a lot of money for dropping the World Title to Giant Baba and winning it back a week later. Another is when he bought into a territory and then sold his shares (along with a few others) to Vince McMahon to prompt Black Saturday when the WWF took over Georgia Championship Wrestling’s TV spot on TBS.

Other things I learned about include:

  • How a champion should act and carry themselves
  • Building up of rivalries such as the ones Brisco had with Dory Funk Jr, Paul Jones, Mr. Wrestling & Bobby Shane
  • Isometric exercise and running being his only forms of working out to promote flexibility
  • Stories of the wrestlers and other wrestling personnel he encountered over the years

Note: I read the updated edition that included a second foreword and epilogue that was written after Jack Brisco’s passing.

What I Learned: JTG’s Damn! Why Did I Write This Book Too?

JTG Damn Why Did I Write This Book TooI previously read JTG’s first short book title Damn! Why Did I Write This Book? and this one was no different, including being under 100 pages and explaining his troubles including those with his tag team partner Shad. I had some tag team partners that knew how to get heat (being heavily disliked).

Damn! Why Did I Write This Book Too? is subtitled How To Play the Game because a majority of the book speaks about how JTG did not do his best in politicking backstage during his time in WWE. He wound up getting heat  a variety of things.

Among the most prominent lessons JTG gave about playing the game are:

  • Going out with veterans and influencers after an event and/or riding with them on the road
  • Acting like you know less as an ice breaker
  • Agreeing to do something just for the sake of not getting heat (ex. drinking excessively as a part of a group)
  • Letting the veterans go first no matter what & offer your spot when possible (ex. on a plane or elevator)
  • Doing what the powers that be want is your job, even if it doesn’t make sense
  • Knowing when the right time was to bring up business (ex. on the day of a big event)

JTG even gave readers 10 signs you need to play the game and 10 power moves to play the game. Other than heat, he also explained how he got over a childhood phobia through wrestling by just pushing through it, the effort it takes to be a wrestler and stories of practical jokes, heroics & pitches to get onto TV.

What I Learned: Bobby Blaze’s Pin Me Pay Me!

Booby Blaze Pin Me Pay MeFor those who don’t know Bobby Blaze or only know him as an enhancement talent for WCW whose most notable appearances were in the 60-man World War 3 battle royal & in one of their inferior video games, there’s a lot more to this wrestler than meets the eye.

Bobby Blaze’s Pin Me Pay Me!: Have Boots Will Travel chronicles his wrestling career in WCW, as well as Smokey Mountain Wrestling, Canada, South Africa (where he was in the midst of a riot), Australia, Japan, England and the independents in the US (like his 1988 debut in Haysi VA where he made $35 and a pizza dinner for a payday… indy wrestlers don’t get that half the time now).

There were a lot of stories from Blaze regarding the other wrestlers he worked with and where he wrestled. However, there were some important things I learned from this book.

Lessons From Pin Me Pay Me!

Know Your Role

Doing the job you’re supposed to will get you far in wrestling. Not everyone can be the main event or the champion, so do your best at your role in the time you’re given. If you don’t do your job, you’ll lose it. I’ve seen it many times in wrestling. Every match has its role and it’s tour job whether to set the tone or steal the show. Hence the title Pin Me Pay Me!

The same goes if you have to help a less experienced wrestler along (like David Flair in Blaze’s case) or ensuring you do things you’re asked to do in a match. That’s because the ultimate goal is to draw money for the company you’re in, regardless if it’s you they’re coming to see or someone else.

Conditioning is Key

Conditioning is so important because of how different the pacing is in pro wrestling. Blaze could go as long as he wanted because his training with The Great Malenko helped him get in the right condition for the sport. “Conditioning is your best hold,” The Great Malenko would say. You can wrestle for 15 minutes, 30 minutes or even an hour if asked with good conditioning. I prove it in training when I do an hour of chain wrestling/striking once in a while.

The same goes for injuries on your body. Once you feel like it’s time to reduce your schedule or stop getting in the ring, listen to your body and the doctors. Wrestling is not worth being crippled. “Use the business, don’t let the business you,” The Great Malenko said.

Other Quick Lessons From Bobby Blaze

  • Wrestling is different from the real world because it’s okay to let anger out in ways you can’t unless you want to get arrested. It’s helped me with my confrontation skills.
  • There’s an a-ha moment for every wrestler to realize what he’s doing is right. Or wrong.
  • Respect the veterans who came before you and be a professional to those who you work with, but make sure you don’t get disrespected.
  • He maintained odd jobs to support wrestling until he could make a living at it.
  • Drugs are easy to obtain and to abuse in wrestling, especially when you’re hurting and have to wrestle.
  • The importance of keeping secrets when you’re supposed to.
  • Making training a priority can get you further, like the case of 2 Australian wrestlers who went to The Great Malenko’s school right after their long flight with jet lag.
  • The difference between matches involving “big name” “fresh off of TV” wrestlers and young up & comers looking for their shot.
  • Networking is important, as Blaze got his job in WCW, SMW and other places through his networking contacts.

What I Learned: Animal by George “The Animal” Steele

George the Animal Steele BookOne of the most intriguing pro wrestling stories in my mind is the career of George “The Animal” Steele because of how he was a high school sports coach during the school year and a wrestler over the summers for the longest time.

It was so intriguing to see the ways that his lives differed, yet how he was able to maintain them both even when he had children. Especially with his dyslexia that he fought through for his entire life, which was also an intriguing story given how he turned it around by playing sports.

Some of the other things I learned from this book include:

  • Wisdom is gained through both real-life applications and while outside of the ring, many of which in his career are documented throughout Animal.
  • How to handle tough fighting situations when you least expect it in public
  • Speaking with people face to face to settle your issues, especially when third parties cause rumors & gossip to spread
  • Making sure you know who you’re hanging around with and their reputation
  • His time as a wrestler before the WWWF, during his WWWF/WWF run and his agent position after he stopped wrestling

The last portion of the book is dedicated to him finding religion and testimonials from students he coached, which I browsed through and not read so in depth.

What I Learned: Lynn Denton’s Grappler: Memoirs of a Masked Madman

Grappler Memoirs of a Masked MadmanAs quickly as I knocked out Daniel Bryan’s book, I read The Grappler’s book Memoirs of a Masked Madman. The Grappler’s real name is Lynn or Len Denton, depending on how it’s spelled.

Not one of the more nationally known figures in wrestling, The Grappler still had a legendary career in his own right, although it might have been better if not for making one mistake

Think Before You Talk

On several occasions, Denton said the wrong thing in his career to his detriment. It almost ended his career before it started and ended the biggest money he ever had in wrestling.

Even if you think you’re right or are being treated unfairly, don’t talk to the head honcho without knowing exactly what to say and thinking about it from their perspective. Especially when it comes to money.

And if you do screw up, be ready to be humble. Whether it’s apologizing in person for being wrong or writing a formal letter, make sure you mean your words and it’s not just kissing ass.

Booking a Territory

The Grappler had a couple of booking jobs, but his run in Portland as the booker was the most notable. Since he was the matchmaker and the one coming up with storylines, he delved into the thought process it took to attempt a revival of a waning company.

This includes dealing with talent, which I knew there was a lot of thought to go into it but it’s good to see the other sides. There’s the wrestler and then there’s the booker trying to appease everyone. And then there’s the promoter trying to make money.

Other things I learned include:

  • The hardship it took for The Grappler to train to wrestle (including wrestling a broomstick) & make it through his first years in the business
  • The importance of traveling elsewhere to get good experience
  • Not overshadowing matches when you’re not supposed to & doing more with less
  • Learning how to cut his promos thanks to a certain legendary talker and his non-wrestling father
  • Coming up with a good gimmick & all of the details of it, including how to adapt it when something unexpected happens
  • Preparing for life after wrestling

What I Learned: Daniel Bryan’s Yes – My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of WrestleMania

Daniel Bryan BookI decided to take a break from reading books written by retired pro wrestlers to one who is currently inactive as of this blog post’s publishing: Daniel Bryan.

Unlike the other wrestling books I’ve read recently, reading Yes: My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of WrestleMania really showed a more modern perspective of getting into the wrestling business vs someone working the territories.

After reading the book, I felt that Bryan and myself are similar in personality type: somewhat introverted but can showcase ourselves through wrestling. We also know what it’s like to lose our fathers & that’s talked about in length in the book.

But, here are the actual lessons I learned from reading this autobiography.

Have Some Personality

Whether it’s through his experience during the initial NXT run working with The Miz or his time spent in England, Bryan had to step outside of his comfort zone to be more than just a technician in the ring. In matches, talking segments and even a lesson by Mr. McMahon himself, Daniel learned how to showcase more personality.

The Life of a WWE Main Eventer

At the beginning of each chapter, co-author Craig Tello runs down the events that Bryan did in the weeks leading up to WrestleMania 30 from work-related activities to working out & seeing his then fiancée. It was interesting to see what happens outside of the ring, especially his thoughts about the sacrifices he made for wrestling.

Some of the other things I learned from Daniel Bryan’s book include:

  • The idea of lumbering big men doesn’t work anymore, just see the WWE
  • Make friends with people, not enemies since you never know who can help you out down the road
  • Teaching people elements of wrestling forces you to learn, too per his time being a head trainer at 2 schools
  • The importance of knowing your audience, the mindset of society, your abilities & satisfying conclusions