When I first looked through the press kit that accompanied Bodyslams! Memoirs of a Wrestling Pitchman, the recently-released book by former ring announcer, Gary Michael Cappetta, I dreaded the idea of reading it. All the signs from the kit pointed to this being another cheesy, tell-all book.
The damaging quotes on people like Dusty Rhodes, Vince McMahon and Lex Luger. A press release from the publisher saying the book passed some libel-litmus test conducted by their lawyers. Mention of some script that Cappetta is trying to peddle to Hollywood producers. I had no doubt that this was going to be another mindless wrestling biography a la the Rock’s The Rock Says…
What I found was something quite different. Bodyslams! is an articulate and thought-provoking portrait of the wrestling world written by a man who was enamoured with the business and whose only dream in life was to become a part of it.
In one way, Bodyslams! is your typical wrestling biography. Cappetta writes about his experiences working for Vince McMahon Jr., Verne Gagne, Gorilla Monsoon, Jim Crockett Jr. and finally WCW. He offers opinions and criticisms on some of the biggest names in the business.
There are road stories. There are insights into what the stars are really like away from the view of the TV camera lens. There are narratives about drugs, alcohol, sex and everything else in between (including detailed chapters dedicated to the Sid Vicious/Arn Anderson stabbing incident and Cactus Jack losing his ear in Germany).
Cappetta offers a look at Steve Austin before he became “Stone Cold,” Mark Calaway before he became The Undertaker, Ron Simmons before he became Faarooq and Marcus Bagwell before he became Buff.
But what makes Bodyslams! a must read is Cappetta’s analysis and scrutiny of the wrestling business as a whole.
During his 21-year stint as a ring announcer Cappetta played the role of straight man, one of the few in the hype-crazy business that is pro wrestling. An outsider from his first days in wrestling who gradually gained entrance into its inner circle, Cappetta had a unique perspective from which to observe the industry progress over time.
These observations come to full fruition in the book. Much more than an interpretation of the events that shaped wrestling, Bodyslams! is an intimate and thoughtful account of Cappetta’s 21-years in wrestling.
Cappetta writes openly about his own motivations and passion for the business in the opening pages, detailing how he first got involved in wrestling. He doesn’t hide the fact that for the longest time he was naïve and a mark and openly admits it took years of honing his craft before he felt at ease. Cappetta explains the lure and seduction:
“Through deliberate movements and carefully selected words, pitched to fit the message, the power that comes from manipulating the emotions of thousands live, and millions via television, best explains the allure that performing in the ring holds for me.”
As much as Cappetta talks about the shortcomings and indiscretions of his colleagues, he’s just as open about his own. He addresses some of the traps he fell into and the danger and the harm that can come from being a bit player in the wrestling world. Cappetta addresses how the addiction of being a part of a spectacle that he had followed religiously as a boy not only affected the wrestlers and promoters, but also himself:
“… the seduction, the acquisition and the maintenance of the glory that wrestling has to offer can affect its players. The glare of the center ring spotlight can alter, and sometimes destroy performers whose sense of reality can become as blurred as the characters they portray.”
Cappetta shows great insight in describing the true nature of the industry and how it evolved. Cappetta’s dichotomous, yet none-the-less accurate, definition of what pro wrestling has become is poignant and stark, paring wrestling down to its core:
“Pro wrestling is a form of entertainment that is highly satisfying to the performers and immensely entertaining for the audience when creatively conceived, carefully nurtured and properly executed. It is a scripted exaggeration of real life. At its best, it is an art form.
Pro wrestling is also a game of deception. And all too often, it is the deceiver who falls prey to the fantasy of his own making. When the lines between make believe and reality become blurred, the results can be destructive and at times, even deadly.”
Cappetta writes about his “bumpkin” mentality and how he picked up the rules of the game. While priding himself on not being a player and distancing himself from the politics of the sport, Cappetta nonetheless understood what the business was about: The Con.
He writes about the tactics and ploys used by wrestlers to survive the shark infested political waters of wrestling, examining the mass paranoia and hysterical suspicion of so many in the game that are afraid to let their guard down for even a moment:
“(Abdullah the Bucher) is so immersed in the culture of the con that he assumes everyone operates in the same way. He thinks that ‘the work’ is everybody’s way of life. To prevent himself from being a sucker in a world of con men, he has become excessively paranoid.”
Elaborating on his 11 years in the WWF, Cappetta not only writes about his own metamorphosis, but also the change in Vince McMahon Jr. from dutiful son of one of the most powerful men in wrestling (Vince Sr.) to the man who went on to change the face of the sport.
Focusing on Vince Jr.’s days as his father’s understudy, Cappetta describes how he tried to escape out from under Sr.’s daunting shadow:
“By maintaining a distance from the ‘underlings’, he exerted a form of passive control. The message was clear. It was Vinnie’s way of letting you know: ‘You are unimportant, so don’t dare bother me.’ The more insecure he could make you feel, the higher he elevated himself, thus keeping the workers and their concerns at a distance. It made his life as the boss’ son easier.”
Cappetta addresses McMahon’s rise to power and how he set out to establish a monopoly on the wrestling market. He describes how many were surprised in the change in Vince Jr., concluding that being at the helm of one of the most lucrative wrestling operations went to his head. While many of his colleagues in the WWF felt McMahon’s newfound power base changed him, Cappetta saw it differently:
“Some think that power changes a person. I don’t think so. Power simply allows one to reveal his true self without fear of reprisal.”
One of the most telling stories in the book has to do with a conversation Cappetta had with a then school-aged Shane McMahon. Cappetta asked the youngster what lessons his father had imparted to him and stressed were important to be a success in wrestling.
“Without skipping a beat, (Shane) confidently answered, ‘Don’t let your workers know how important they are so you can get the most out of them for the least amount of money.'”
Shane is, indeed, his father’s son.
The scholarly prose employed, with its languid fluidity, coupled with Cappetta’s economical word selection, makes Bodyslams! among the best-written wrestling books ever. There is an elegance and grace to the language, allowing Cappetta to articulate his feelings and emotions in the most eloquent manner. The quality of the actual writing far surpasses that of any other pro wrestling book.
Cappetta obviously went to painstaking lengths to ensure each paragraph, each sentence, each phrase meant something. There are no wasted words here. No grandiose metaphors. No convoluted diction.
None of that.
Just a fascinating, refreshing commentary on the subject of pro wrestling.