What sets The Grappler’s autobiography (and life) apart from so many of his peers is really what he didn’t do: he didn’t have a run in a national company, he didn’t have a life full of tragedy, he didn’t battle with drugs and alcohol, or leave a trail of broken hearts and fatherless children across the continent. All he did was wrestle and wrestle well.
It’s refreshing, to be honest, as is his refreshing honesty.
The Grappler was Lynn Denton, from Humble, Texas. Growing up, he was a wrestling fan, attending the matches in Houston. At loose ends as high school was ending, he made the decision to attend a pro wrestling school run by Joe Mercer. Undersized and young, Mercer didn’t expect anything out of Denton, and didn’t think he would ever make it as a star — and told him so.
Instead, Denton dedicated himself to wrestling, and under the tutelage of Porkchop Cash especially, he built up his muscle mass, to the point his own mother didn’t recognize him at first.
From there, Denton’s early days on the road wrestling on the undercards are detailed, and the reader learns every lesson alongside Denton. Who to trust? Which promoter was the most underhanded? How do the road trips go?Written alongside journalist Joe Vithayathil, I really can’t stress enough how clean, competent and polished the writing in Grappler: Memoirs of a Masked Madman is — always a remarkable feat with a self-published book. It’s well laid-out and the inner-workings of professional wrestling are explained in such a way that a neophyte will understand and a smart fan won’t be insulted by the details. And everyone will love his match with a broom.
The real meat of the book comes when Denton becomes The Grappler, a mysterious masked man who is double-tough and tough to beat.
His heyday was the early 1980s in Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling promotion, where he worked on top as the North American champion, battling the ultra-popular Junkyard Dog. Just 22 years of age at the time, he questions authority too much, demands more money and soon finds himself on the mid-cards of the wrestling world again, eking out a living.
Though I had interviewed Denton in the past for various projects, I’d never written a profile on him, and had forgotten or didn’t know so much. He was one of the original Dirty White Boys (unmasked) alongside Tony Anthony, for example, a great example of how a southern promotion (Continental) maybe didn’t reach into the world of southern Ontario.
He was also in WCW for a time, though mainly on the Saturday night shows or other syndicated programs, usually as Len Denton and not under his mask. The blink-and-you-miss-it aspect of his WCW days is summed up by the fact that he was one of Goldberg’s streak victims.Even Denton’s post-full-time wrestling career is “normal” in the sense that he starts an auto-shop business alongside Roddy Piper, learns a few expensive lessons, learns the trade, and settles into “real” life … while still wrestling here and there.
Piper is an important figure in Denton’s life, as they become fast friends in the dying days of Portland Wrestling (but had known each other in Charlotte). Denton’s retirement match comes against Piper’s son, Colt Toombs, and Piper himself writes the somewhat hard-to-follow foreword to the book.
Aside from Piper, there are great descriptions of so many wrestlers through the years, from Abdullah the Butch to Ole Anderson, to JYD, to Jerry Blackwell, to Dynamite Kid and William Regal in Europe, to Art Barr, to Raven, and Billy Jack Haynes. He doesn’t exactly slam people in print, though the descriptions are bang-on and allow you to make your own decisions on what the person might have been like. There is some dirt, but you know it only scratches the surface, especially with a description of Atlanta’s Falcon Rest apartment complex, where the wrestlers lived: “You can imagine what that place was like — it made Animal House look like Downton Abbey.”
Right from the get-go in the introduction, Denton lays it all out there: “So just who the hell am I?” By the end of the book, we know, and agree with his assessment: “In short, I’m proof that not every legend wears a Hall of Fame ring.”
As his constant promo slogan went, “beat me if you can!” And Grappler: Memoirs of a Masked Madman is tough to beat.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Watch for an interview with The Grappler Lynn Denton and author Joe Vithayathil in the coming weeks.