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September 06 , 2007

CHOKEHOLD: Pro Wrestling's Real Mayhem Outside the Ring


This meticulously crafted and searing critique of pro wrestling is unlike any wrestling book published: Chokehold is a penetrating description of pro wrestling’s dark side, a secret underworld of deception, exploitation and greed. The storyteller is “Big Jim” Wilson, All-American football player and survivor of seven years in the NFL, who was promised wealth and the world championship as pro wrestler. Instead, Jim Wilson found a surprisingly lucrative sports entertainment industry built on a pyramid of secrets that included abusive control of its performers and a long history of illegal business practices and corruption of politicians and state athletic commissions. Chokehold describes and documents the abuses that Jim Wilson witnessed and endured – blacklisting, strong-arm tactics, homosexual blackmail, defiance of the U.S. Justice Department and bribery of TV executives and arena managers. Chokehold is an explosive indictment of the pro wrestling industry’s business practices as well as a thoughtful proposal for pro wrestling’s reform.

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This book is not a conventional exposé of pro wrestling’s orchestrated stunts, gimmicks and blade jobs. Instead, it is an unprecedented examination of pro wrestling’s less visible cons outside the ring – its hidden manipulation of wrestlers with broken promises and broken bones and a backstage power of the pencil that writes scripts for wrestler stardom or extinction. Chokehold describes a secret slice of the wrestling life where traveling troupes of heels and babyfaces understand how they got into the game, but cannot find a way up or out. This is the story of why and how the big guys almost always lose.

Chokehold is part autobiography and part pro wrestling history. Written in wrestlespeak (the industry’s insider argot), it is dedicated to the memory of “the older boys whose broken bodies and shattered lives should have taught us something.” In addition to Jim Wilson’s experiences in The Business, this book reviews significant but forgotten episodes in the wrestling industry’s long history of gangland tactics. The industry’s infamous blacklist is revisited by revealing the dozens of wrestlers from the past whose names were on it. The industry’s history of predatory promotional wars in California, Georgia, Texas and Virginia is told with FBI reports obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. From court documents, this book names compromised state athletic commissions, TV station managers and local politicians – from wrestling’s viewpoint, the best that money could buy.

There are many famous wrestling names in this book – Gorgeous George, Lou Thesz, Jack Brisco, the Funk brothers, Dusty Rhodes, Bruiser Brody, Bill Watts and others. Another is The Sheik (Eddie Farhat), who says: “There ain’t no nice guys in this business. “There ain’t no people – there’s dollars!” Another is Jim Wilson’s tag team partner Thunderbolt Patterson who warned Jim, “The wrestling business takes advantage of anybody who has any notoriety or ability. You got to understand that wrestlers are worse than whores. They are pimped. They use you as long as they possibly can or as long as you don’t complain. When you complain, they get rid of you.”

Another is Jim Wilson’s friend The Magnificent Zulu (Ron Pope) who summarizes his career this way: “It’s such a crooked business. The guys [wrestlers] are a bunch of crooks. They steal from the marks and the promoters steal from them. The guys [wrestlers] want to be stars! They’ll do anything – they’ll cut throats for it. Actually, wrestlers don’t have to be paid. All they need is a couple of six packs of beer a night and a nice looking ring rat with a good body. Or, drugs and a ring rat. It’s not the money. It’s being a star! It’s the glory and the pussy!”

This book confronts the wrestling industry’s traditional practice of punishing wrestlers who refuse

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