Pro Wrestling history is a murky subject. Always has been. The shifty nature of the business has made it virtually impossible to properly chronicle its history.

Which is why Gary Will and Royal Duncan are being lauded as two of the most important wrestling historians on the planet. Their book, Wrestling Title Histories, Fourth Edition, a comprehensive listing and archive of every wrestling title ever, acts as a key to the locked door that is pro wrestling history.

Referred to by many as the most important, historical document in the history of pro wrestling, the book is a labour of love for Will and Duncan.

“It started off 10 years ago. Royal Duncan and I started off independently,” Will told SLAM! Wrestling recently over the phone from his home in Waterloo. “I was involved in an Internet wrestling discussion group at I started to put together a list of NWA World title holders which in those days, before the web, was around was hard. It wasn’t something you could just go and get any time like today.”

“I started with that title and sort of built it from there from the magazines I had,” continued Will. “At the same time Royal Duncan in Illinois had one of the largest wrestling autograph collections around. He wanted to be able to say who all these guys were whose autographs he had. So he started putting together a list of titles and started calling around people that were involved in wrestling, and got wrestling historians to contribute. In 1991 we got together. I found out about him and he found about me almost simultaneously and we’ve been working together ever since.”

Both had to work the research in around their regular jobs. Will is a technology marketing consultant and writer. Duncan is the president of Royal Publishing Company, which produces sports program book in the U.S.

Compiling a list of every imaginable wrestling title required outside help. Will and Duncan supplemented the information they had with the lists they solicited from others. Developing a network of contributors was essential.

“(There isn’t) one individual who has all of the information you need to put together a book like this,” confirmed Will. “In fact, no individual has a third or the tenth of the information you need. So you need the help of lots of people. That was really Royal’s part of the job was contacting most of the contributors. The majority of people who provided us with information came through Royal calling them up and asking if they’d help out.”

Will also said it was hard at first to get people to contribute because people thought they were crazy to take on such an undertaking. But once people saw they were serious, the work became a lot easier.

“After the first edition (in 1992) came out people could see this was a real project and it was easier to get people to contribute after that. We got a lot of contributions just after the first edition.”

“Once historians saw this was a real project that was going forward it was very easy to get people to contribute,” continued Will. “That’s one of the key things about the book; how many people over the last ten years agreed to contribute whatever they could.”

People have sent Will and Duncan old wrestling magazines, newsletters and newspaper clippings to read through so that they could add additional listings to each subsequent edition.

Gary Will

“People have sent us a lot of raw information as well,” said Will. “Someone sent Royal just about every issue of The Ring magazine from the ’30s and ’40s and early ’50s. Royal photocopied them, sent them to me so I could read through them and pour out all the information. We’ve done that with a lot of old newsletters and magazines. That’s a common approach we’ve taken over the past 10 years.”

“The issues of The Ring from the ’30s and ’20s were very helpful. The Ring gave very thorough coverage to wrestling back then. They covered wrestling in pretty good detail through the ’30s up until World War Two. ”

Another invaluable source for Will was Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter.

“The Observer Newsletter is always my first pick for information. I’ve got every issue of that pretty much from when it started in 1980. That was very helpful. There were other newsletters that people sent us as well. Stuff from the ’70s, fan bulletins; we got several copies of those over the years.”

Carrying out such a daunting task can be frustrating at times. There are many hurdles to overcome.

“Finding the time to do it.. Royal and I don’t do this for a living. That’s always the hardest thing,” admitted Will. “Essentially we both take two or three months each to do this. We both run our own businesses so we can do that but that’s always the biggest challenge.”

Another challenge is staying motivated.

“You have to keep yourself motivated to want to go through it because the book covers the entire history of wrestling,” explains Will. From the 19th century to the present and you have to keep that interest up whether the guy was a Greco Roman title in 1880 or wrestled as champion for some indy promotion you never heard of. You have to keep your interest up and slog through it no matter what your own personal interests lie.”

“The time when you get disheartened is when I have two foot piles of file folders of indy promotions I never heard of and wrestlers I never heard of. I still have to go through them and decide if they should be included in the book.”

As part of their work, Will and Duncan have raised the shroud over a handful of myths that have circulated as fact the past several decades.

“When we started we couldn’t even get an accurate list of the NWA champions. This book was actually the first to have an accurate list of the NWA world champions which did not exist up until we had.”

“The list you would always get of NWA champions were inaccurate,” continued Will. “They had title changes that never happened. Orville Brown was the first NWA champion but he was never mentioned in any of the lists. It was amazing that you could not get any accurate information about the most historically significant world title in the business.”

The book also provided the first accurate listing of WWF World Heavyweight Champions, including Antonio Inoki’s title reign in 1979 that was ignored by U.S. promoters and wrestling publications.

“A few years ago Vince Russo who edited the WWF and RAW magazine called me up and said he wanted to use our lists in RAW. I think that was the first time the WWF ever recognized Inoki as WWF world champion.”

It wasn’t so long ago that the world title would change hands a handful of times each decade. Now, it changes three or four times each month, something that isn’t lost on a longtime fan like Will.

“The business has changed now where everything comes down to your rating on Monday, your next pay-per-view buy rate and there’s not going to be any patience to leave the belt on anybody for three or five years. That’s just never going to happen ever again. I think its hard to imagine a time again where you’ll see guys hold the title for three years.”

While the book is the best source for the history of wrestling titles, it is by no means complete.

“Even with all of (our work) there are still gaps and there’s lots more information out there but it’s as complete as we could make it with the help of everybody.”

In the book’s foreword, Will leaves the impression that this will be the final edition of the book in print form. However, he does feel the book will carry on in another medium.

“I’m sure it will continue somehow because I’m not going to delete the file or anything,” joked Will. “I’m sure this is the last book that will look like this. Royal and I don’t have the time to contribute to it like we did before. Maybe along the lines of a website or a CD. I’m sure somebody along the line somewhere will approach us to make it happen.”