Some folks who’ve spent considerable time in the professional wrestling business may have described the experience as akin to swimming with sharks.
Howard Brody, in his book, “Swimming With Piranhas: Surviving the Politics of Professional Wrestling,” takes it one step further.
Brody dealt with his share of con artists and shady individuals during his career as a promoter trying to find his niche in the often cutthroat world of professional wrestling.
The former president of the National Wrestling Alliance gives a firsthand account of his trials and tribulations in a book that also serves as a cautionary tale for those who may have aspirations of looking for that next big score right around the wrestling corner. Beware, however, of what might await you around that bend.
Brody, whose many jobs in the wrestling business included promoter, syndicator and talent agent, got the idea to write his book after working with Dusty Rhodes on his 2005 autobiography, “Reflections of an American Dream,” leaving him to ponder that the book could have been so much more than it was.
“While Dusty was happy with the finished product and I was proud of what I wrote, and the publisher seemed to like it too, it seemed like something was missing,” says Brody. “Perhaps that element that only can be obtained when you write directly from what’s in your own head — a perspective that even the best ghostwriter cannot access. So I started thinking that maybe there was something I could share with people that would be beneficial; something they could really learn from. At the time there were no books written about the business from a promoter’s perspective, so I decided I would write a guide, a road map for lack of a better term, for what it takes to make it as a promoter.”
His editor, however, convinced Brody that the real book wasn’t in the manual he was trying to write, but rather it was in his experiences and the people he encountered along the way.
“What I started out writing and what I ended up with were two different things ... luckily I listened to my editor,” says Brody.
As odd as it may sound, says Brody, the greatest satisfaction he derived from the project was the ability to pass his story on to others through the book.
“While some might say helping to revive the NWA with the late Dennis Coralluzzo, or being the first to promote in the People’s Republic of China with Rickey Nelson and Slim Baucom, or helping to expose Japanese wrestling to the European market as being my legacy in wrestling, they pale in comparison to the fact that others can learn from my mistakes. Besides, before I ever thought about getting involved in wrestling, I wanted to write a book, and now I’ve had two of them published.”
The book is not so much about the major promotions as it is about trying to survive in the unstable — and often unscrupulous — world of the independent wrestling scene, the dark underbelly of the business, where con men and hustlers abound. Attempting to navigate those piranah-infested political waters posed a tremendous challenge to Brody, and more often than not he found himself swimming against a tide of greed and corruption that ultimately cost him financially and personally.
The book is an intriguing memoir about an often frustrating but never dull journey — from fan to insider and, eventually, president of the NWA from 1996 to 2001. Often hustled and betrayed, but deserving credit for a dogged determination to succeed, Brody is candid and brutally frank about his experiences in the business.
And, surprisingly, he would do it all over again.
“Those experiences and life lessons have made me who I am today, and I’m very happy with the person I’ve become. Would I do some things differently? Absolutely. Given the opportunity I don’t think there’s a person alive who wishes they couldn’t change one aspect of their past no matter how great or small. But as a good friend of mine always says, you can’t un-ring a bell. The past is the past. Learn from it.”
As for now, though, Brody has no aspirations to step back into the shark tank.
“Right now I’d have to say no, but who knows what tomorrow brings,” he says. “A year and a half ago I was living in Las Vegas and working for a Fortune 100 company with thousands of employees and almost a dozen years under my belt in communications and technology. In a million years I never saw myself returning to south Florida. But here I am back in Fort Lauderdale as the communications manager for a great little company of about 50 employees that is developing and marketing property on Costa Rica’s South Pacific coast. People used to say, when it comes to wrestling, never say never. But that axiom goes for life too.”
To Brody, professional wrestling was a “mistress,” one he chased for more than 25 years. As mentor Hiro Matsuda once told him, “If you treat her right, she will give you everything you could ever want. Mistreat her, and she will make your life miserable.”
A recurring theme in the book was Brody’s determination to succeed in the business, only to be thwarted at every turn, sometimes by those he considered friends.
When former NWA world champion Dory Funk Jr. told him “it was always about business, it was never about friendship,” he was crestfallen. Later, though, after helping Rhodes write his book, its theme hit home with Brody.
“Business is business.”
Writing the book was cathartic for Brody.
“It really allowed me to step outside of myself and understand what drove me to do some of the things I did. It certainly saved me a lot of money on therapy. In all seriousness, though, I think aside from the therapeutic aspect of writing ‘Piranhas,’ the most rewarding thing was that I was able to shed some light on some people who have had a tremendous impact on the business, who might otherwise not be given the exposure otherwise, like Hiro Matsuda for example, and that I was able to tell a compelling story of a real survivor in the business, Rockin’ Robin.”
Matsuda was, by far, the greatest influence on Brody’s wrestling career.
“I don’t think you have enough ink for me to explain how he changed my way of looking at the wrestling business,” he says. “That is why I dedicated an entire chapter to him and his plight. Most people tell me his chapter is one of the best parts of the book, and that makes me proud.”
He was Tinker to my Evers. We were two-thirds of that fabled double-play combination of Tinker to Evers to Chance, even if that lofty notion existed only in the fertile imaginations of a couple youngsters whose horizons rarely expanded beyond a dry and dusty sandlot where time stood still and dreams were born.
For some, those dreams would wither in the stern light of reality, as the boys of those summers past eventually grew up, the dusk having long fallen across their field of play. But for others, like Press Mizzell, those days never ended.
The lucky ones, like Press, find the perfect soulmate, raise great kids, and approach life the same way they did on the baseball diamond — with zeal and gusto.
Press left this life too soon, at the age of 57, leaving a tremendous void in many lives. I find some solace in the fact that he spent his final day, on a quiet August afternoon, fishing on a lake.
For those boys of summer who remain, there’s a photograph of a wide-eyed, dark-haired shortstop with soft hands scooping a ground ball out the dirt, and an outstretched Bill Mazeroski second-baseman’s glove ready to receive the throw.
And one day I’ll get it.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at (843) 937-5517 or email@example.com.