“It is an unapologetic answer to one of the most intriguing questions ever asked about pro wrestling’s history and an invitation to any and all to prove its conclusions incorrect.” – following on from the success he enjoyed with his first book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, Chad ‘The Doc’ Matthews introduces his latest work, The Greatest Matches and Rivalries of the WrestleMania Era in bold fashion.
The above declaration that rounds out Matthews’ introduction, in which he details the analytical method he has utilised to attempt to rank matches and storylines over the course of Western pro wrestling’s modern history (so named by Matthews ‘the WrestleMania Era’) in a manner he considers to be comprehensive, is indicative of the unbridled passion that leaps out of every page of his close to 450 page-long self-anointed opus.
That passion is undeniably the book’s greatest strength.
Matthews’ new book is likely to find two readers. Those who approach it with a predisposition towards pro wrestling analysis may find their philosophies unwavering by the time they conclude Matthews’ thesis. Those who approach it without having spent quite so much time considering the challenges inherent in critical and artistic analysis of the world’s finest art form will, conversely, uncover a compelling argument. Vitally, though, both are likely to conclude reading The Greatest Matches and Rivalries of the WrestleMania Era with the impression that this is a book that finds its life not in any conceivable effort to persuade but more its effort to evoke; or, at times, to provoke.
Its impressively comprehensive level of research (that includes everything from documentaries of and interviews with the talents being placed under Matthews’ microscope to podcasts, books and other works produced by his fellow pro wrestling fans) couples with its expansive view of history (that impressively does not stop with WWE but seeks to include equally renowned achievements from the NWA and WCW as well) to create a smile-inducing tsunami of evocative nostalgia, no matter the age of the fan reading – Hulkamania, the Attitude Era, even the very year in which the book was published all find their place among Matthews’ list.
One of the book’s secret weapons, in fact, proves to be its ability to balance that nostalgia with new discoveries (or rediscoveries), as any fan reading is as likely to come across a match or rivalry they haven’t seen or considered to any great length before as they are an old personal favourite. In that sense, Matthews’ own brand of nostalgia proves to be an educational one, allowing his writing to, in welcoming fashion, transcend doe-eyed reminiscence.
Worthier of comment than this unique aspect of the good Doc’s latest, however, is the provocative foundation upon which the book’s overarching premise is built. Whether you find yourself shaking your head in bristling disagreement or nodding along in gleeful acknowledgement with the opinions Matthews champions, The Greatest Matches and Rivalries of the WrestleMania Era is going to provoke a response from you that no other pro wrestling book, column, podcast or analytical work of any medium is liable to match.
Matthews stops nothing short of spilling his conscience as a fan onto the pages of his book. His exultations of the skill of a Shawn Michaels, his unapologetic embrace of the rising historical stock of a John Cena or his admirable championing of the less celebrated-greats like an Edge combine to create an experience that goes barely one line without offering up a new opinion, interpretation or take on some of Western pro wrestling’s most important, most renowned rivalries, matches, characters and performers. It is a veritable feast of ideas that, combining with Matthews’ characteristically easily-digestible prose, offers a page-turner in the truest sense of the word.
Like all the best versions of the artwork the book seeks to rank, time flies whenever you decide to consume some more of the Doc’s ‘career-effort’ – primarily because you’ll find yourself unable to resist consuming large chunks of it at a time.
Admittedly there are occasions when the author’s passion threatens to get the better of him. In rare instances the prose can stumble over itself as Matthews races to put forward another argument. Those less convinced by his underlying philosophy – euphemistically named by Matthews as the concept of ‘objective subjectivism’ – may sometimes find his confidence in his suppositions to border on abrasive. While admirable, Matthews’ love for American sports – a frequent comparator throughout his work utilised to help demonstrate and, at times, justify his arguments – can offer up comparisons that may fall flat for non-American readers. By the time you turn the final page, you’ll be under no mistaken impression as to how big a wrestling ring is either (it’s 20×20)!
Truthfully, though, these pitfalls pale in comparison to the infectious, provocative and deliberately challenging nature of Matthews’ writing. Never have I read another book about professional wrestling that has left me so eager to fire up the WWE Network or the DVD player to revisit matches I have loved and loathed across my life as a fan, to see whether I still feel about those matches now as I have in the past. That The Greatest Matches and Rivalries of the WrestleMania Era will repeatedly leave you unsure as to whether such judgements of your own throughout your fandom require reassessment – be it in your own terms or those offered by the Doc – and that it is quite capable of making you reconsider ideas you have held for great swathes of time, speaks to the success of the Doc’s endeavour, and the book’s worthiness of both your time and money.
Investing in The Greatest Matches and Rivalries of the WrestleMania Era will not leave you feeling short-changed. Whether you consider yourself an encyclopaedia of professional wrestling or a relative new comer, Matthews packs his book full of content, seemingly refusing to leave anything on the cutting room floor.
As if 100 explorations of 100 outstanding matches and rivalries across a period of over four decades isn’t enough, Matthews also offers up an extensive litany of ‘Honourable Mentions’ before the book’s titular list even gets started! A Rankings Reference Guide bookends the work at its conclusion too, offering up further insight into the Doc’s unique process that resulted in his finalised list.
Regardless as to whether The Greatest Matches and Rivalries of the WrestleMania Era leaves you convinced of Matthews’ proclaimed purpose, it will certainly leave you feeling fulfilled – and chomping at the bit to seek out the nearest pro wrestling fan so as to launch headlong into an impassioned debate about your favourite matches, rivalries, even the very philosophy with which you approach the industry. It’s not a book likely to challenge preconceived notions of ardent fans but it really doesn’t need to – instead, it will provoke you into doing that yourself.
Impassioned, expansive, deliberately challenging and addictively consumable, The Greatest Matches and Rivalries of the WrestleMania Era should be deservedly recognised as a ‘career-achievement’ for Chad Matthews, who has tellingly poured his heart and soul onto every single page of his masterwork.
Among those pages, Matthews revisits Shawn Michaels’ press conference appearance ahead of WrestleMania XI in 1995, at which the Heartbreak Kid promised to give the fans a show the likes of which they had never seen before, “Why? Because I can.” With The Greatest Matches and Rivalries of the WrestleMania Era, Matthews offers fans a book on pro wrestling the likes of which they’ll have never read before, and why? Seemingly – now provably – because he can.