“Minnesota’s Golden Age of Wrestling” book review

As a Minnesota native George Shire grew up on Verne Gagne, the American Wrestling Association and the type of wrestling that they brought to the Twin Cities and the surrounding areas. He is a lifelong pro wrestling fan that transferred that love into being a writer and columnist for pro wrestling publications and also became a ring announcer. From watching pro wrestling on television to following the AWA around the circuit, he became an expert on the AWA brand of wrestling and those that crossed through the Twin Cities metro.

Through is collection of press clippings, event programs, photos and his own memory, Shire was able to put together an extensive history of Minnesota pro wrestling, aptly titled Minnesota’s Golden Age of Wrestling: From Verne Gagne to the Road Warriors and was released in May 2010. What essentially follows is a love letter to the early days of Minnesota wrestling, Verne Gagne and the glory years of the AWA.

Golden Age makes no bones about being a staunch supporter of the AWA. As the World Wrestling Federation began its expansion in the mid ‘80s, they are clearly painted as the invading villains to the AWA’s courageous and honorable underdogs. The great times are detailed in great detail, while the final years of the promotion as they slowly crumbled are brushed off in just a page. But I guess that is why it was called Golden Age, and not Rise and Fall.

However for sheer information, this book is truly phenomenal. Many years are chronicled with almost weekly storyline updates and press clippings. New stars, recent trainees, event locations, crowd sizes and match results are included for the historical buff. A historical wrestling fan will enjoy reading about the early days of now legends like The Andersons, Larry “The Axe” Hennig, Sgt. Slaughter, Baron Von Raschke, The Crusher, The Bruiser and so many others.

In fact, the book actually reads and resembles a textbook. The main chapters are inter-twined with many historical photos to illustrate the subject being spoke about, press clippings relating to the story and even little stories in the sidebars that provide even more information.

The major stars of their respective days, included Hardboiled Haggerty, The Gagnes, Crusher, Bruiser, Nick Bockwinkle and others, get major space as Shire was able to convey the importance they brought to Minnesota wrestling and popularity they had with fans. He also does a phenomenal retrospective of the major tag teams that came through Minnesota, starting from the Kalmikoffs in the ‘50s all the way up to The Road Warriors in the ‘80s, complete with win/loss records and championships won during their tenure.

This was clearly a labor of love for Shire and it shows. The good is highlighted and the bad is downplayed. Those who love the American Wrestling Association, have fond memories of it or even just passing recollections should take a look at this book.