Pain and Passion
The History of Stampede Wrestling
Synopsis: The definitive history of the controversial Stampede Wrestling territory.
As Keith sat in jail with a drooling drunk as his cellmate, waiting to face a judge in the morning, he began to fret. "Oh, God, what am I doing here? How will I explain this to Dad? I'm supposed to be the commonsensical son. How did things get so out of whack?" To make matters worse, he had recently been hired by the Calgary Fire Department and was still on probation. He worried this incident might end his fledgling career.
Keith's fears were laid to rest the next day at the courthouse. "How's your dad doing?" asked the judge, who wore a bolo tie and steel-toed cowboy boots. "Where's Dave Ruhl these days?" The judge turned to the arresting officers and chastised them: "You guys be careful who you're arresting next time." Keith was speechless as the bitter authorities turned him loose.
Despite all the praise it's received over the years, I have to admit that I didn't watch Stampede Wrestling with any regularity back in the day. Does this make me a bad Canadian?
We accessed their television show here in Toronto during the late-1980s via The Sports Network (TSN) and by then, a lot of the more well-known performers had moved on to greener pastures. The matches I saw were mostly long, drawn-out affairs with tons of restholds, featuring guys whose best days were clearly behind them (or ones who would never get there). The production values were terrible compared to the other, slicker wrestling programs I had access to.
Yet Stampede was one of the most influential territories in all of wrestling, developing dozens of top performers and incorporating a style that would be emulated by many, most notably the WWF. Pain and Passion does a great job of explaining that history in vivid detail.
McCoy, a longtime Canadian journalist, provides a comprehensive history about the rise and fall of Canada's first family of wrestling and their well-known Stampede promotion. Besides speaking to several Harts, McCoy also establishes contact with several hard-to-reach wrestlers, such as Bad News Brown and Dr. D. David Schultz (the latter of which responds to pre-arranged questions via e-mail, in a kayfabed and defensive manner).
We've all heard rumors about the turbulent Hart family, and this book helps to explain it. They're a dysfunctional family, to put it mildly, and some of the stories here are worse than I could have ever imagined. What I like, though, is how impartial McCoy is in his storytelling. It would be easy enough to pick sides, or even knock WWE. But he sticks to the facts, and the end result is a good one.
Rating: The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be. This has quickly become one of my favorites, and even if you don't know a lot about Stampede, it's a great reference piece for fans of the Hart family, the British Bulldogs, Bad News Brown and others.