Wrestling isn’t a guilty pleasure of mine; not because I don’t enjoy wrestling, but because I reject the concept of being ashamed of what I like. I grew up watching WWF back in the 80s, I flipped channels between TNT and TNN in the late 90s for the Monday Night Wars, and I watched Portland Wrestling when that returned to local TV in the early 2000s.
Compared to the other wrestling I’ve watched and forgotten – it’s doubtful I could name have the matches I watched live of the 2004 G1 Climax in Tokyo, for example – a lot of Portland Wrestling stays in my brain. Partly because it was super low budget and a little cheesy (one of the wrestling “valets” was names Miss Rent To Own Auto, as she was sponsored by that company), mostly due to the masked man cutting insane promos and tearing the Yellow Pages in half, The Grappler.
Finding the autobiography of the Grappler, Lynn Denton or Len Denton, depending, immediately caused me to throw out my reading schedule so I could run through this book. It’s a fascinating look at the final days of the territory system in professional wrestling, the sacrifices taken to break in to the business, and a very candid look at how that shaped a young Denton into the Grappler, a wrestler for whom the ultimate prizes were always just out of reach in the ring.
Denton doesn’t pull punches or shy away from the more unsavory aspects of wrestling, writing on steroid use, drug abuse, the toll traveling put on families. The book focuses more on his time in Mid-South and Stampede Wrestling before settling in to Pacific Northwest and Portland Wresting, which were promotions I knew of but only very little. Denton literally has worked with everyone, from Verne Gagne, Bill Watts and the Junkyard Dog, to Rowdy Roddy Piper (who was also a business partner) and up and comers – at the time – like Raven.
If wrestling isn’t your thing, but you like a good autobiography, Grappler is worth a read. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t link to Denton’s US Title match against none other than Goldberg. It’s goes about as you’d expect.