Constructing a list of the best performers in a particular genre is never an easy task, but in his latest book “The 50 Greatest Wrestlers of All Time: The Definitive Shoot,” Larry Matysik attempts to set the record straight. The result is a historically fascinating document that every wrestling fan should own.
In actuality, we have WWE chairman Vince McMahon to thank for this book even seeing the light of day. In 2010, WWE released its controversial “Top 50 Superstars of All Time” DVD. Longtime fans and historians alike were appalled by the overt politics that resulted in what may have been the wackiest list of its kind ever produced. Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair, two of the most influential wrestlers of the last 30 years didn’t even crack the top ten, while Shawn Michaels was ranked #1.
Need I say more?
It would be akin to Rolling Stone publishing a best of list with The Beatles at #50. Imagine what a laughingstock the publication would be considered among the general public.
Being that WWE is the dominant brand in professional wrestling, they literally have the authority to rewrite history as they see fit. It doesn’t make it right, but it’s the way it is.
WWE’s list infuriated none more so than Larry Matysik, who worked tirelessly to present his take on the greatest competitors to ever grace the squared circle.
There may be those reading this review who are scratching their heads as to what qualifies Matysik qualified to write a book of such enormity. Not only is Matysik author of seminal wrestling works Wrestling at the Chase, Brody, and Drawing Heat the Hard Way, but he was only 16 when he started working for legendary St. Louis promoter Sam Muchnick where he served as both the promotion’s publicist and office manager. Later in his career he booked matches and produced play-by-play for the legendary Wrestling at the Chase television show. He also worked for WWE from 1984 to 1993, and has since been involved in promoting independent wrestling shows.
Before I go any further, the following fact must be pointed out: Matysik makes it abundantly clear that he’s taken on an impossible task.
No one, regardless of their expertise, can produce a perfect list. There will always be deserving candidates not included. He didn’t write this book to prove that one era of wrestling is superior to another, but he did so because he has a deep concern for making sure that the real history of wrestling is never misinterpreted to fit within the parameters of what WWE would like the masses to believe.
While fans of all generations and backgrounds will disagree with some of the selections, one cannot deny the level of research that went into this project. The book clocks in at a hefty 464 pages with the first 106 being dedicated to the criteria used and an explanation of why certain wrestlers didn’t make the cut. With two possible exceptions (and they will likely stick out upon first glance), there is no one listed that any knowledgeable fan should be able to reasonably discredit. At the end of the day it’s what makes this business such an endlessly passionate topic of discussion. There will always be a myriad of arguments from all sides.
Matysik’s primary goal for writing this book is to ignite intelligent discussion as to who really were the best to ever do it inside the ring. He’d much rather fans to see an unfamiliar name as a Pat O’Connor (who ranks at #38) and delve into a discussion of his candidacy, than for them to endlessly debate over why John Cena was selected or Chris Jericho was not. Every person listed is someone who defined the very essence of what pro wrestling was for the era they competed in.
I recommend this book to any fan with a serious interest in history. It’s an engrossing and fun read.