MMAOddsBreaker Reviews Shooters: The Toughest Men in Professional Wrestling

ShootersEditor’s note: I’m going to preface this review with an apology. Jonathan Snowden deserves better and I failed him. I received a review copy of his book nearly four years ago in late May 2012. If I had written this review in August 2012 it would have likely been too late. Waiting this long is completely unacceptable. There is no valid excuse other than the fact that I procrastinated to the point that it got ridiculous and embarrassing. I hope he accepts my sincere apology.

What is a shooter? By definition, a “shoot” in professional wrestling is any unplanned, unscripted or real-life occurrence within a wrestling event.

Basically, it’s when professional wrestling stops being fake and things start getting real. The shooters were men who were so tough that they could back up their scripted wrestling matches by beating the tar out of anyone who didn’t want to play along. That’s what Jonathan Snowden’s book Shooters: The Toughest Men in Professional Wrestling is all about.

This book isn’t simply a history of how wrestling evolved from the old days of traveling carnival barkers to modern theatrics like last night’s Wrestlemania event, it’s a well-documented timeline of some of the biggest badasses of the last 150 years.

From the glory days of William Muldoon, the legends like Frank Gotch and Lou Thesz to modern gladiators like Brock Lesnar, Snowden leaves no stone unturned. The influences these men had on modern combat sports and entertainment is profound. Mitsuyo Maeda’s judo and catch wrestling gave birth to Gracie jiu-jitsu in Brazil in 1917, Masahiko Kimura humbled the Gracies with a submission now named after him, pro wrestler Antonio Inoki had a history-making battle against Muhammed Ali in 1976 and professional wrestler Brock Lesnar broke pretty much every UFC pay-per-view record over a meteoric four-year run from 2008-2011. Needless to say, modern mixed martial arts owes a huge debt of gratitude to the old school brawlers, wrestlers, judokas and strong men who paved the way.

Snowden weaves his tale with an exhaustively-researched and cited combination of newspaper articles, historical texts, autobiographies, books, photos and nearly 50 personal interviews conducted along the way. Most of the roughnecks are interesting enough to have entire books written just about them (and many have), but just enough detail is laid out to give the reader a solid foundation on all the most important subjects.

It’s also not simply a history lesson either. The entertainment value occasionally goes through the roof. One must remember, there was plenty of drama to go around back in the days where these pioneers possessed a real fear that they could lose their title if their scripted opponent decided not to play ball on any particular night. This was truly the wild west of grappling.

Now is this book for everyone? Of course not. For those of you looking to find a history of some of the most popular professional wrestlers of all time like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Duane “The Rock” Johnson and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, this book isn’t for you. I don’t think any of those sports entertainers were given more than a passing glance in Shooters, but they’re not what this story is about.

It’s also not a complete history of modern mixed martial arts, although plenty of the men who set the stage of the nearly-banned “Just Bleed” days as well as the catch wrestlers who were able to transition and thrive in the UFC are more than covered. If MMA is all you’re looking for, check out Snowden’s other excellent book Total MMA.

But what Shooters does best is give you the who, the what, the when, where and why of how a sport evolved from ruffian grappling matches to scripted entertainment, and it does it without insulting your intelligence. This book is a must-read for die-hard wrestling and mixed martial arts historians, or even fans who want to know a bit more about the torchbearers who laid the groundwork for modern combat sports in all it’s glory.

It even has the foresight to predict the rise of an undersized superstar like Daniel Bryan in the final chapters. Whether you saw Wrestlemania 32 last night and want to know a bit more, or you’re simply curious about who the toughest men were a century ago, I highly recommend Shooters be added to your personal library.

Written by Brian Hemminger

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