It’s really quite fitting that Carrie Dunn’s new book, an exploration of the business of British professional wrestling, is called Spandex.
Much more than just a catchy title, the name is actually emblematic of mainstream perception of wrestling as a whole. No matter how much the industry has evolved over the past three decades into the hugely-popular, glitzy sports entertainment product that it is today, ask a non-fan what they think of when you say the word ‘wrestling’ and you’re likely to get one of three responses: Big Daddy, Hulk Hogan … or spandex.
It is the suit of armour worn by combatants across the globe, the uniform of colourful superstars both big and small. Spandex is, quite simply, part and parcel of the rather wonderful and very misunderstood sport that we all know and love as professional wrestling.
Released last month, British journalist Dunn’s new book Spandex: Screw Jobs and Cheap Pops takes an informed look at the current UK wrestling scene and how it’s looking to rejuvenate itself to appeal to a smart, sceptical 21st century audience that has grown up on the bright lights and glamour of World Wrestling Entertainment.
Briefly exploring the end of the kayfabe era and the collapse of the industry in the UK following its removal from ITV’s World of Sport programming in the late 1980s, Spandex looks at the attempts at a homegrown resurgence, and the figures that are playing a part in putting British wrestling back on the map.
A fascinating read for both ardent wrestling fans and those with just a passing interest in the sport, Dunn deftly makes a compelling case for the passion and dedication needed to succeed in the world of wrestling, guaranteed to make naysayers re-evaluate any preconceived notions they may hold of grappling as a peculiar pasttime that anyone can do.
In addition to chapters focusing on the training, the wrestlers (both male and female), the referees, the ring announcers, the history of UK wrestling and current promotions creating waves, Dunn also offers some valuable tips on how to create and market a promotion successfully.
Fans of Dunn’s amusingly-titled website The Only Way Is Suplex will already be aware of both the author’s fine penmanship skills and extensive knowledge of the industry – however, this is far more than just Dunn’s personal views on the grap-game. For what makes Spandex truly essential reading, and what will ensure that it becomes a go-to text for British wrestling historians in much the same way as Simon Garfield’s The Wrestlers has become over recent years, is the sheer amount of interviews that are interspersed throughout the book’s narrative.
Reading like a who’s who of the industry today, almost any name that you can possibly associate with the British wrestling scene gets to have their say in Dunn’s book.
In-ring talent (including the likes of Mark Haskins, Jimmy Havoc, Prince Fergal Devitt, Nigel McGuinness, Marty Scurll, Zack Sabre Jr, Nikki Storm, Noam Dar and The Blossom Twins), promoters (including Jim Smallman, Sanjay Bagga, Greg Lambert, Alex Shane, Matt Burden and Steven Fludder) and other wrestling writers and fans (yes, even I make a brief appearance) all provide a fascinating insight into their experiences of the sport and the nature of the industry today.
Clearly Spandex has been a labour of love for quite some time for Dunn, but the amount of work and hard graft that it must have taken to conduct all of these interviews ultimately pays dividends, genuinely elevating the book to another level.
Dunn doesn’t just focus on the positives of the industry through, also taking time to extensively discuss the pressures – physical, emotional and financial – placed on the grapplers’ and promoters’ shoulders, as well as the difficulties of making a full-time career out of professional wrestling here in the United Kingdom. Particularly illuminating is an interview with Zack Sabre Jr, who speaks at length about his move to, and success in Japan, and making the transition to competing, and succeeding in, such a completely different culture.
If you have even a passing interest in British wrestling, even as a past fan of the scene or as a newcomer looking to understand the shape of the business on these shores today, then you need to read Spandex.
While Greg Lambert’s Holy Grail looked in-depth at British wrestling’s attempts at a revival over the past decade, Dunn’s expertly-written and professionally-produced tome focuses on the here and now: the promotions, and grapplers, that are making wrestling interesting in 2013.
While the future of the industry on these shores is still anything but certain, right now it’s certainly a great time to be involved in professional wrestling, a great time to be a fan here in the UK … and a great time to wear spandex.
‘Spandex: Screw Jobs and Cheap Pops’ by Carrie Dunn is available to buy now in both paperback and Kindle form at amazon.co.uk. You can find out more about the book at the dedicated Spandex facebook page and, of course, follow the author on Twitter @carriesparkle.