Wrestling is a peculiar business. Really, when you look at it, it’s quite like no other industry on earth; its two closest cousins, acting and the circus, are still vastly different when you get to the core of them. Circuses have no characters in competition or conflict, and their stunts are geared around the avoidance of injury, not inflicting it upon someone else; likewise, acting is pure pomp and circumstance, with any conflict staged and done in multiple takes instead of being live.
So, it stands to reason that biographies and autobiographies of wrestlers would be just as strange and unique as the business from which they highlight. Mick Foley’s autobiography thrust wrestling non-fiction into the mainstream, largely thanks to a surprisingly well-written book full of road anecdotes, personal reflections and a shocking stark realism and honesty throughout the book. On the heels of that have come a variety of tomes, each showcasing a different style that, collectively, have been rather hit-or-miss with the buying audience: you have Joanie Laurer’s psychotic, ranting auto-b, Ric Flair’s decent-if-corporately-molded book, Martha Hart’s get-revenge-on-everyone tell-all, Tom Billington’s and Roddy Piper’s bitter-old-man ramblings, books from Terry Funk, Dusty Rhodes and more old timers detailing how it was back in the old days, and the weird, quasi-kayfabe Rock autobiography that spent half the narrative in character and half not. Many have achieved a level of success despite their shortcomings (see Rock & Laurer), many have had spectacular writing but have not lit up the charts (see Funk). Few have been able to match Foley’s jes’-folks storytelling and sense of humor, while managing to appeal to the three big audiences: smarks, marks and non-wrestling fans.
Somewhere in the middle of all this craziness falls Walking A Golden Mile, the autobiography of William Regal.
Released sometime over the summer to a huge blitz of no media coverage whatsoever and an absolute deluge of silence from the WWE publicity department, Regal’s book stands as an anomaly of sorts. Regal is not of a level of fame as most WWE book subjects, like Flair or Hogan or Angle or Foley; in fact, his fan base in the United States is, to say the least, limited. His wrestling style (hard-hitting, but highly mat-based) and sense of style and humor (decidedly, duh, British) goes over the heads of most people who don’t reside in the UK. Combine these two, and it seems odd that WWE would release a book written by Regal in the United States, especially without a single iota of fanfare to help push it.
This is the WWE, though. TL Hopper, Hirohito, Mae Young’s hand-baby … looking for normalcy from the WWE is like expecting Paris Hilton to win Celebrity Jeopardy. Or even Jeopardy: Kids Week.
So anyway, here we are; I found it, and luckily for Regal, I’m a big Regal fan. I enjoy his dry wit and his wrestling style … so it stands to reason that I’m the perfect audience for the book … well, aside from Britons, of course.
But will it play to the rest us here in the Colonies? That’s what we’re here to discuss.
Firstly, the narrative must be commented on. A common criticism of WWE biographies has been the narrative voice sounding false or forced, or just downright boring in some cases. With the paradigms of Ric Flair’s and Mick Foley’s runaway best-sellers casting a shadow over all, Regal’s book would seem to have a lot to overcome. And yet, not only does the narrative flow nicely (even with the British slang, which can be decoded with a thorough glossary in the back pages), but you will find yourself wondering if you’re enjoying some fish & chips in an English pub with Mr. Regal, hearing him tell stories over a pint. Without a doubt, just based on the narrative voice alone, this is easily the best WWE biography since Foley’s. Easily.
As for the story … well, until it gets to the juicy stuff (you know what I’m talking about), it’s your standard biography. We get a minor glimpse of his childhood, how he always wanted to be a wrestler, etc. This segues into the peculiar, often-times difficult to comprehend world of British carny-wrestling, where hooking and stretching were the order of the day. I found myself lost at times trying to imagine the various carnival circuits and venues he would describe, and the proliferation of names that nobody’s ever heard of might not be as attractive as Foley training with Shane Douglas, or Flair breaking in while the Briscoes and the Funks and Dusty reigned supreme … but, in a way, it’s also enlightening to see a world beyond our scope. If you’re interested in this book at all, it means you’re a wrestling fanatic, and have more then a touch of appreciation for history, so you know all about the Good Old Days in the US with the territories and the NWA and all that jazz. This will show you another side entirely, a way into the business that few men have ever taken, and fewer still have come from to go onto global success (just Regal, far as I know). Plus, there’s good fun in imagining Regal getting stiffed and beaten all to hell as a young lad.
The tale of Regal winds through his international tours in Europe, which got him the attention of both the WWE and WCW in the early 90’s, and it is towards the tail end of his run as a European indy wrestler and his transition into WCW employee that the tale hits the point we all know is coming, and everyone is interested in: Regal’s drug abuse and the downfall of his career in the mid-late 90’s. In light of the loss of Eddie Guerrero,
and with the spectres of drug-related deaths like Rick Rude, Louie Spicolli and Miss Elizabeth, this part rings a solemn and very eerie bell in the mind of the reader as Regal goes into numerical detail of how bad it got (30 somas, 30 uppers and uncountable pints of beer … and this was a daily routine; not weekly, not monthly, daily). The sheer shock over his intake quantity will just grow and grow as the tale gets more and more lurid, until he finally hits rock bottom after being fired by not one but two wrestling promotions.
From there, the tale becomes a testament to his fight to get and stay clean, his fight with cardiac issues two years ago, and his various experiences with the WWE since returning to it after the Brian Pillman 2000 Memorial Show. Road stories abound, naturally–this is a wrestling book, for crying out loud. The one thing you won’t find here is axes being ground. Hogan and Flair and Foley and Joanie Laurer may have mistaken the pen for the sword in their tomes, but Regal doesn’t even try to settle scores with ink; this is a book about his life, not about getting revenge for the wrongs in his life. He never minces words, but he never maligns, either; in fact, in instances where you’d expect him to be upset (his de-push in WCW, the loss to Prince Iaukea, his firings in WCW and WWE), he has astonishing clarity and hindsight, recognizing what was done was done because he put the companies over a barrel with his drug abuse. WWE-haters may not like the tone of the later chapters dealing with his current run in WWE, as there is plenty of line-towing; he puts over Triple H, Vince, Stephanie and everyone on the IWC hit-list … but, speaking as a reader and not as a reviewer, I felt less like he was towing the line and more that these were his honest-to-God opinions. The man expresses gratitude for the WWE footing his rehab bill, for giving him the second chance, and for being employed in the first place. We Regal fans may begrudge his lousy, lower-mid-card placement right now, but he doesn’t. If you want to call that pressure from the McMahons, that’s your opinion; I just see a guy who’s grateful to have looked the devil in the eye, spit in it, kicked him in the nuts, stomped on his feet and lit his pubic hair on fire, and is still alive to be a husband, father and do the only thing he loves: wrestling. This book is a testament to that, a way to share with everyone his passion and how he almost lost it.
At the time of the book’s release, the lack of publicity was perplexing. The Road Warriors DVD received more press, despite having one dead member and one not on the payroll (a situation which was rectified, oddly enough, with a peculiar hiring of Animal for no good reason). Hell, RVD’s DVD got more press, and he was out on injury. Regal’s book was published while he was active on the roster, while memories of his association with Eugene (a red-hot storyline, like it or not) were still in people’s minds. Publicity for this book woulda sent it flying off shelves. Instead, it came out to, to paraphrase Douglas Adams, crickets reading it and the odd dog barking, for no good reason I can even pretend to know.
Now, with the haunting reminder of the tragic loss of Eddie Guerrero so close to us, the recent suspension of Nick Dinsmore after entering rehab, and the WWE’s (supposed) zealotic anti-drug stance in full-swing, the positive message of the book cannot be denied. Regal’s story can serve as an inspiration to innumerable wrestling fans worldwide, and more then a few of his peers and colleagues. And yet, you’ll be lucky if you hear a peep about it from the WWE, let alone find it at your local bookstore. Don’t let that stop you, though; whether it’s for the snappy writing, the oh-so-cool British slang (I’m a mark for British slang, so bugger off), the road tales, the lurid details of his downfall, or the inspiring rise from the depths, there isn’t a person on earth who won’t find something enjoyable about this book. Without a shadow of a doubt, the best WWE book since Have A Nice Day!. Help send that message to the WWE by buying a copy.