On the Open Highway in Search of WrestleMania

The Six Pack by Brad Balukjian is on the market April 2 by way of Hachette Books. The creator supplied an advance copy for the needs of this evaluation.

WrestleMania week is nearly upon us, and with it come a clutch of latest wrestling books printed to coincide with that point of 12 months when curiosity within the squared circle is at its highest. Autobiographies by Becky Lynch and Ronda Rousey will seize the headlines, however the extra discerning reader would do properly so as to add The Six Pack to their studying listing on the first alternative.

Written by creator and lifelong wrestling fan Brad Balukjian, The Six Pack is constructed round a easy however formidable idea. Balukjian plucks a selected wrestling card (the December 26, 1983, Madison Sq. Backyard present on which The Iron Sheik gained the WWF Title from Bob Backlund) and units himself the problem of monitoring down most of the names who carried out that evening.

The creator has related expertise in such an endeavor. In 2020, he printed The Wax Pack: On the Open Highway in Search of Baseball’s Afterlife, the acclaimed account of his mission to search out all of the ball gamers from a wax-coated pack of 1986 baseball playing cards, telling the untold tales of outdated execs’ lives after sporting excellence.

Balukjian takes the identical strategy with the wrestling he, like so many others, fell in love with within the Nineteen Eighties, figuring out the MSG card in query as a turning level simply earlier than the Hulk Hogan-fuelled popular culture increase that was to observe. He picks a manageable variety of names that labored the occasion (Tony Atlas, Invoice Eadie, Tito Santana, Sgt Slaughter, Jose Rivera, and the Iron Sheik himself) and jumps in his electrical blue Ford Fusion to inform their tales.

What follows is a touchingly crafted love letter to the period of wrestling that hundreds of thousands first fell in love with, as Balukjian criss-crosses the nation digging up outdated associates of the previous stars, listening to their tales, and piecing collectively the customarily (however not at all times) troubling tales of what occurs when the highlight stops shining.

There are many books on the market about wrestling, however only a few which strategy the subject within the method of street journey/travelogue (see John Lister’s wonderful Slamthology). Balukjian’s odyssey took him greater than 12,000 miles throughout 33 states over 62 days, sleeping in his automobile at instances. As you may think, the story is simply as a lot concerning the creator as his topics, as he retraces his personal fandom, and displays on how his profession has mapped out.

A central thread which runs via The Six Pack is Balukjian’s specific childhood love of The Iron Sheik. The creator labored with the Sheik (Khosrow Vaziri) on a deliberate biography within the ’00s which by no means got here to fruition and grew near Vaziri and his household. Vaziri’s life, a lot of it testing and traumatic, is informed with a reverence and readability that can go away you wishing that Iron Sheik guide had been accomplished.

The problem of snagging interviews with sure professional wrestlers crops up now and again, however Balukjian is nothing if not persistent. This quandary is one thing I actually am fairly accustomed to, as creator of a guide on Nineteen Eighties wrestling star Adrian Adonis. Of the wrestlers Balukjian profiles, not all agree to talk to the creator. Of those that do present first-hand accounts of their careers, two (Atlas and Santana) achieve this in return for fee (which the creator, to his immense credit score, is upfront about with the reader).

This doesn’t detract from the guide. If something, it enhances it. In any case, there are many notable names who do contribute: Gerry Brisco, Eric Bischoff, Jim Troy, and extra. Some helpful nuggets are unearthed (getting Eadie to discuss his court docket settlement with the WWF is not any imply feat). However the actual worth comes when Balukjian speaks to these names who imply nothing in any respect to a wrestling fan.

Balukjian uncovers, absolutely for the primary time ever, a former bandmate of Hogan’s much-touted pre-wrestling profession as a budding teenage rock guitarist. The Iron Sheik’s 94-year-old beginner wrestling coach is traced to a retirement house in Florida. The author expertly reveals that gold mud is ready to be mined by figuring out which individuals could know one thing concerning the factor you need to find out about, and easily asking them. It sounds apparent however isn’t finished this properly – any such journalism is an artwork kind.

Certain, the world doesn’t need to encourage a legion of wrestling followers to trace down the childhood house of Terry Bollea and overwhelm the present proprietor with questions, however Balukjian reveals why he’s the precise particular person to ask on everybody else’s behalf. There are many untold, hidden tales about wrestling nonetheless ready to be excavated. Anybody prepared to go to those lengths to uncover them is to be applauded for the hassle.

The Six Pack is an exciting experiment and simply one of the crucial spectacular books about wrestling ever written, the product of hundreds of hours of affection, miles pushed, and laborious work. It gained’t be for everybody and at instances the person wrestler profiles really feel too fleeting, however it’s nonetheless a simple advice for anybody who cherished wrestling then or loves it now.

The Six Pack by Brad Balukjian is on the market April 2 by way of Hachette Books.

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