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(Book Review) Death of the Territories

Longtime fans remember well the dramatic transformation that hit the pro wrestling landscape in the mid-1980's.  A longstanding collection of regional wrestling territories were challenged by Vince McMahon as he sought to turn his father's Northeast-based (then) WWF into a national company.  McMahon upended tradition with sweeping talent raids, aggressive use of the emerging cable television industry, maximizing the new pay-per-view universe, and providing a more cartoonish form of wrestling aimed towards children.  The other promoters tried a variety of ways to block McMahon's plans.  One by one they fell, and wrestling would never be the same.  It's a fascinating story which is the subject of Tim Hornbaker's new book, Death of the Territories: Expansion, Betrayal, and the War that Changed Pro Wrestling Forever.  (Release date:  September 18, 2018.)

Hornbaker provides readers with an extensive and well-researched look into the history of the pro wrestling territory system, going as far back as the 1930's.  He explains who the promoters were, and how a number of them joined together to form the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), which was basically a trade group designed to protect the interest of its members.  (Interestingly, Vince McMahon's father was a longtime member of the NWA board.)  The NWA provided protection to its members from rival promoters, and they had a nice little racket going for decades, until McMahon decided to disrupt the status quo.

Death of the Territories gives a neutral and systemic overview of the dominant territories around the country, explaining their strengths and weaknesses.  Readers will learn more about promoters like Jim Crockett Jr., Verne Gagne, Bill Watts, Eddie Graham, Jerry Jarrett, and others.  Hornbaker explains the different challenges facing McMahon's opponents, whether it was a failure to adapt to changing times, an inability to work together for extended periods, or other issues.   The reader already knows the ending to the book before they even start reading, but Hornbaker lays out the story in an engaging way which makes Death of the Territories hard to put down.

Professional wrestling is an industry largely built on myths and the now-WWE takes advantage of every opportunity to put their spin on history.  Death of the Territories is a welcome break with its objective approach to this story.  Newer fans should read this book for an informative and entertaining history lesson about pro wrestling.  Older fans will also likely learn more about a period they thought they already understood.


Death of the Territories Cover September 17 2018A well-written account of a fascinating story.  (pic via amazon.com)


  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: ECW Press; 1 edition (September 18, 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1770413847
  • ISBN-13: 978-1770413849


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