Gary “G.J.” Rowell is back with a compilation of three previous books, largely about Edward Farhat, “The Sheik.” As he does with each tome, Rowell declares up front that Mat Memories: The Sheik Trio is not an autobiography to be confused with Brian R. Solomon’s masterful biography. These books are Rowell’s way to share his personal memories.
At a tidy 104 pages, the paperback is filled with newspaper clippings and photographs from Rowell and others, about the territory and its cast of interesting characters.
The author even throws in a good bit regarding “Leaping” Larry Chene, who Rowell calls “The Most Popular Wrestler to ever step inside a Michigan ring.” G.J.’s ode to Chene is my personal favorite of his releases. While The Sheik (sometimes called “The Original” Sheik due to Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri’s ‘Iron’ affiliation), sells a lot more books, Chene was a popular, regional star who isn’t known to the mainstream. And a premature death means he never had a reasonable chance to extend beyond the Wolverine State. In today’s parlance, Chene is the equivalent of a very popular independent grappler who doesn’t leave his hometown.
An anthology book means that a lot of the product is familiar (a picture of Farhat’s Williamston, Michigan mansion appears twice here). Having reviewed Rowell’s other Sheik offerings, this one does look largely the same. However, the Mat Memories installment regarding Bruiser, Bobo & Sabu too does include some unfamiliar pages.
As a picture book, the latest Mat Memories trio is fun and an easy read. There’s a little behind the curtain information as to why Bruno Sammartino never returned to the Sheik’s Big Time Wrestling promotion, but did show up for Dick The Bruiser.
None of the stories are very in-depth, as the photos and clippings are the real coffee table book attraction. One short tale about a missing piece of an NWA belt is curious. Rowell does touch on the tragic tale of a young lady being shot and killed in a parking lot, “The Great Cobo Arena Box Office Robbery” (as indicated in the book, it hasn’t really been explored) and the social implications of African American talent allegedly being short-changed at the pay window. All of those stories need more room for exploration. Key “Cobo” suspect Ed Farhat, Jr. passed away from COVID not long ago, so there may never be a definitive answer.
Many great personalities from the Sheik’s era, including Dave Drason get respectful play here. A wonderful advocate of his time and place in wrestling, Drason continues to happily and expertly bring that lore back to life. His YouTube show is promoted here and should be checked out.
Rowell does a great service to the territory he loves. The Sheik remains an extraordinarily popular character to this day, and that’s because of guys like Solomon and Rowell here. These types of authors, including Ken Zimmerman and others, produce quick reads on topics they know well. None of these are Tim Hornbaker quality historical reads, but few are.
The author wisely features great photos of Ernie Ladd, the Funks, and Andre the Giant among others.
The combined book is available on Amazon for a very affordable price, and a few bucks less than buying them individually.