Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ring of Hell follow-up

On June 3, I posted the overheated press release for the book Ring of Hell, the pro wrestling expose focused on Chris Benoit. There was a time when I was more interested in wrestling than I am now, and I saw a great ladder match between Benoit and Chris Jericho in New Orleans, so I was interested in the book for more than just the lurid revelations.

It can't surprise anyone that the world of pro wrestling is cruel, violent, drug-enriched and ego-driven, but the details are still pretty raw, particularly the hazing-like pranks. Writer Matthew Randazzo V also ties the sport to gangsters worldwide, which I suppose you could see coming, though I didn't. You also knew steroids were a significant part of the wrestling story, but again, you probably don't expect the degree to which it plays a role. According to Randazzo, Benoit had a chance to go to the WWE earlier than he did, but because it had just been investigated for steroid abuse, it had a new testing policy, one that would have revealed Benoit's years of steroid use. The book is nearly sad because Benoit's death and final murder spree seem so unnecessary because he watched other friends have their lives shortened by steroid-related illness. Then again, it's hard to imagine a smaller, less built Benoit would have had a career in wrestling. Once he started down the wrestling road, the decisions were largely made.

Still, it was hard to get around the luridness of the writing. As written, everyone's an asshole, everyone's an egomaniac, everyone's a reprobate. Randazzo's flatly declarative writing style stresses everything cheap, foul and tainted about wrestling. Obviously, wrestling gave him a lot to work with, but the writing also feels like a nod to the true crime genre, which is more about revealing the depravity than solving the crime. The jacket notes emphasize Randazzo's birth to an old Sicilian family and expertise in organized crime as if the shadiness must also extend to the writer.

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