Follow The Buzzards
Pro Wrestling in the Age of COVID-19
Keith Elliot Greenberg
Synopsis: A detailed look at how the wrestling landscape changed in 2020 with the arrival of COVID-19.
Levis Valenzuela Jr., who portrayed No Way Jose, a merry character who came to the ring on a conga line, had just wrestled Bobby Lashley two days earlier. When the initial cuts were announced, he was texting friends in WWE, assuming that no other names were in peril. "We're talking about how bummed out we are that those people were released," he told Insider The Ropes. "And then minutes later, two or three more names get added. And we're like, 'Oh shit.' Then, 15 minutes later, two more names get added. And we're like, 'Ohhhh. They just keep going. It's continuous."
He was preparing for his workout when he received a call from the company's head of talent relations, Mark Carano.
"You calling me because you love me, brother?" the wrestler joked.
In a serious tone, Carano responded, "You know why I'm calling."
True story: I rarely watched any wrestling during the first year of the pandemic. Sure, I saw WrestleMania and some pay-per-views, and kept up with the news for the most part... but the whole concept of empty arena or near-empty arena matches got tiresome to me after a short while. To me, it was just another depressing reminder of the state of the world in 2020.
Instead, I used any free time that year to rebuild this entire website, after a software issue forced me to transfer years of content to a new domain. But the point is, the COVID era of pro wrestling is perhaps the least familiar I've been with the industry in nearly 40 years of being a fan.
That's where Keith Elliot Greenberg's Follow The Buzzards comes in handy. Consider the pandemic has been a (relatively) short period of time, you may not think that the wrestling industry changed all that much. This book proves otherwise, pointing out not only what was in store for the business that year before COVID, but also how WWE, AEW and everyone else were forced to adapt in some very unreal circumstances.
Beyond the pandemic itself and the immediate changes promotions had to make just to meet their television commitments, WWE made vast changes to its entire business model, and AEW successfully managed through growth changes during its sophomore year. There's the entire genre of cinematic wrestling, which gave some fans a reason to stay engaged. Independent leagues also found novel ways to thrive without in-person shows, creating new stars and reinventing existing ones. There was also the #SpeakingOut movement and Black Lives Matter which, while not exclusive to wrestling, still had a measurable impact on the industry.
Greenberg's writing style is truly the star of this book. As a former writer for WWF Magazine (as well as helping write autobiographies for the likes of Ric Flair and Classy Freddie Blassie), he knows his material inside out and doesn't alienate wrestling fans by dumbing down the language any. Throughout the story, he also manages to navigate through wrestling events and non-wrestling events such as the evolving U.S. political landscape with remarkable precision and style.
Like any great historical document, Greenberg peppers the book with the trials and tribulations of numerous wrestlers during the pandemic - everyone from Bad Bunny to Charlotte Flair, from Matt Cardona to Mick Foley, and from Jon "Brodie Lee" Huber to CM Punk are mentioned along the way.
By reading this book alone, I became weirdly nostalgic for wrestling's pandemic era; unusual considering I largely stayed away from watching at the time.
Overall Rating: OH HELL YEAH! Follow The Buzzards is a cover-to-cover must-read for anyone following wrestling today, or even those curious about how the business survived a very tough couple of years.