“Soulman: The Rocky Johnson Story” by Rocky Johnson with Scott Teal
Wrestling, professional, memoir
September 3, 2019
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
A native of Nova Scotia, Wayde Bowles left home at 14 in order to pursue a career in first boxing, then professional wrestling, starting in the 1950’s and continuing well into the 1980’s, helping the then-World Wrestling Federation (WWF) become the gigantic entertainment company it is today as the WWE. Never heard of Wayde Bowles? That could be because he wrestled under the name Rocky Johnson. If you still haven’t heard of him, then maybe you have heard of his son. His son followed in his footsteps into professional wrestling, then transformed into a movie actor. The son’s name – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
With that introduction out of the way, this memoir written by the senior Johnson with wrestling author Scott Teal is a very good look at the life of Rocky Johnson in the days when professional wrestling was much more about the regional territories and when wrestlers of color, especially black wrestlers, were working hard to eliminate being cast into stereotypical, often insulting, roles. Rocky was one of the trailblazers for this new type of black wrestler who gave fans excellent shows without resorting to racial stereotypes.
He writes about not only his childhood and early life with good detail, he also gives readers who are not familiar with the business of professional wrestling an excellent, in-depth look at the industry. He was well-traveled in his career, working in many different regions in the United States and in Canada. He describes the promotion and management of the industry in great depth. Readers will also learn about the communication between the wrestlers in the ring as they ensure that they follow the planned show discussed before heading into the ring. A reader will also learn about how the “championship belts” get distributed to either babyfaces (good guys) or heels (bad guys) in order to maintain the highest level of interest. This was the best aspect of the book.
Rocky also dedicates a chapter to the success of his son, but also talks about so many important people in the business – both inside and outside the ring – that this could almost be considered a Who’s Who book of professional wrestling from the 1960’s and 1970’s. Rocky also stays very positive throughout the book by never truly insulting or badmouthing anyone. He does have some negative comments about Tony Atlas when the two of them were tag team partners and Ole Anderson for some of his racist comments, but in both of these cases, Rocky explains why he felt this way. Otherwise, he writes with fond memories of his time in the sport and with great pride at the success of Dwayne.
Any wrestling fan who is familiar with Rocky’s work or who wants to learn more about the business at that time should pick up this book. Even at 360 pages, it is a page turner that won’t take a long time to read and is very entertaining as well.
I wish to thank ECW Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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