Larry Nelson and James R. “Jim” Jones
Published by Chump Change Publishing
Page Count: 152 Pages
Capitalizing on the wrestling boom that was white hot in 1999, resulting in a plethora of books probing the subject, Stranglehold takes a different approach to covering the sports entertainment scene, examining the final years of a well-known, but long forgotten wrestling promotion - the American Wrestling Association.
Stranglehold is one man’s account of the dying days of a historic wrestling dynasty. Larry Nelson worked and played with the biggest names in professional wrestling. A former radio disc jockey for a struggling AM station that searched for programming to counter the surge of FM radio, Nelson introduced wrestling to a listening audience. Interviewing AWA stars that included Nick Bockwinkel and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, and eventually WWF stars like Gene Okerlund and Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Nelson eventually found himself working as an announcer for the AWA.
It was a business he loved as a fan, but knew nothing about until he entered the exclusive field that was once a mystery to its viewers. All the trappings and intrigue of the excessive, fast paced, self-indulgent show biz lifestyle saturated his daily routine for more than a half decade. Nelson admits freely to doing lines of coke and drinking excessively while indulging in various sex acts with hotties and even those at the bottom of the barrel. Yes, this was the wrestling business we know very little about.
And somehow, this regular Joe found his way into the business, serving as the lead announcer of the company and the signature voice, play-by-play, color commentator and producer for its ESPN programming in the 1980s. Nelson has seen it all, having rubbed shoulders with the Legion of Doom, Sgt. Slaughter, Larry Zbyszko, Verne and Greg Gagne, Bruiser Brody and Stan Hansen, among others, and openly discusses the power, glory, fortunes won and lost, sex, drugs and other vices that have a strangle hold on the movers and shakers of one of the most popular entertainment attractions of our generation.
Stranglehold is a fun read, thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end. Being that the AWA was once one of the premiere wrestling companies in the world that once boasted Hulk Hogan as one of its top attractions and served as the starting ground for a young Shawn Michaels, Scott Hall and Curt “Mr. Perfect” Henning, it was very interesting to read about some of the stories, from wild partying to a typical day at the office. Man, those Midnight Rockers were wild. HBK didn’t find religion then.
Here’s the problem. Sometimes, to a good wrestling fan, one who really follows the sport, the book becomes a little muddled with the story flipping from one year to another, never truly putting events in a specific timeframe and often times bewildering a fanatic who remembers things a little differently. Stranglehold does confuse at times, despite some of the colorful tales that seem embellished, but knowing wrestling, could very well be true.
Also, Nelson sometimes goes a little far to make this book a controversial read, hinting at times, out of the blue, that Hulk Hogan did cocaine and that Gene Okerlund was his cocaine buddy. Now, he does admit to doing it himself, but naming names, and making accusations implies desperation to sell books, not tell a story. Also, a tale where Nelson implies that Hawk may have indulged in statutory rape practices just seems wrong. Some things should remain private.
But the selling point of the book is the little backstage gossip Nelson provides. He delves into what was wrong with the company and the mistakes they made, from the way they booked super shows to the way they made one bad business venture after another, including the cancellation of a laid back Superstars of AWA program that was cut because it was more popular than its “commercial” program. Information like this provides longtime wrestling fans with insight on why the AWA eventually folded under the weight of the WWF.
The best aspect of the book is that Nelson comes off like a regular guy, even when he is gossiping. He has real emotions. He is horny, stupid, a slob, a real jerk and sometimes shows off a true intelligence for the business of radio, television and wrestling. Through all his faults, Nelson comes off very likeable and readers will identify with the book, seeing it for what it truly is, a story about a fan, like the readers, who achieved a dream we only wished was possible.
Oh, and the story has a happy ending, one non-wrestling related, but heartwarming nonetheless; a perfect conclusion to an interesting, well meaning tale.
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