It’s not every day that I get to review a book about wrestling with a chapter about me, much less one where I’m described as “possibly retarded” (but not, oddly enough, as a writer for this publication).
I’ve bet I’ve only gone to two or three hundred wrestling shows over the last 30 years where I’ve sat next to the author of this book. John Hitchcock. We’ve seen so much wrestling, we saw Sting vs. The Undertaker live.
Hitch is a straightforward guy. He loves comic books (his correspondence with one of the most respected artists in comic books and animation, Alex Toth, Dear John, was nominated for an Eisner Award) and pro wrestling. He’s designed a life for himself, working at his own business, Parts Unknown the Comic Book Store, where he can do what he does best, tell stories about both.
His new book, “Front Row Section D,” is a collection of stories Hitch has been honing for many years, stories that he lived while running his mouth from the front row at (mostly) Jim Crockett Promotion wrestling shows at the Greensboro Coliseum. Hitch is a world class heckler, and, as he straightforwardly explains, used his Fine Arts degree to help him design signs to take to the shows.
Hitch, never shy about talking himself up, oddly never writes that he’s responsible for the sea of doofuses carrying signs to every TV wrestling show, looking to get on the air. In the ’80s Crockett Promotions taped a lot of their TV in our area, and Hitch and his friends (like, you know, me) were the shows because we were right up front with those signs. It got to where I would rush home from work on Saturdays to check my VCR to see if we got on the air for yet another week.
“Didn’t I see you on wrestling last week?”
“I love that stuff.”
Between the national TV and that the Greensboro crowd came to expect something new from the Front Row crew every month for several years, word about the signs and their effect on wrestlers (amusement or outrage) began to spread. We heard from fans in Florida, in Los Angeles, and in (cough) Philadelphia who loved what they saw. The idea spread and, 30 years later, fans’ signs are a permanent and annoying part of any television wrestling show. Hell, there was even an imitation Front Row, and they get their hilarious say here, too.
The other element that made the shows so much fun to attend was that we were devoted to cheering on the bad guys. That’s nothing today, when half the crowd does it as a matter of course, but back then that got you threatened, spit on, Cokes thrown on you, gum stuck to you, flipped off from the, what can I call them, real wrestling fans.
The following is a partial list of famed wrestling types we pissed off at some point doing this nonsense, and whose stories are included in the book:
•The Rock ’n’ Roll Express
•“Gorgeous” Jimmy Garvin
Hitch isn’t afraid to spare the stupid in these stories, either. You find yourselves laughing despite your better nature. There’s an entire chapter on the Front Row tormenting our biggest, in more than one way, target “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, and boy did he deserve it. There’s a bunch on the dumbest wrestler of the ’80s, at least on camera, Stink, I mean, Sting.
There’s also the single most caustic, least respectful chapter in any wrestling book on the biggest wrestling star of the day, Hulk Hogan, and how he left the Greensboro Coliseum with his tail between his legs and and a plastic fist on his head, not to be seen for years and years.
Hitch isn’t just some asshole aggravating the crap out of people working for a little ving just like everybody else. The book is a real appreciation of great wrestlers Hitch saw over the decades. The best serious chapter of the book is his appreciation of the great U.S. Champion Johnny Valentine. There are personal profiles of Rip Hawk, a gross story about the lengths Brute Bernard would go to protect kayfabe, and an account of the famed U.S. Title Tournament. Hitch also tells the story of how the Front Row was instrumental in the organic origin of Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard, Ole Anderson, and Arn Anderson becoming the Four Horsemen, a story Horsemen manager J. J. Dillon has verified on the PWTorch Livecast.
There’s the story of how Psycho Sid backing down from the much smaller Brian Pillman’s led to the weirdest, funniest performance of Sting’s career. (Mick Foley started his recent comedy performance here telling this one.)
There’s Terry Funk ripping a sign in half, infuriating the Greensboro fans, and finally turning the Front Row babyface, and Ric Flair coming in for the save.
There’s a bunch of nonsense about a bunch of whack jobs who probably weren’t qualified to buy a ticket to the wrestling show, much less step into the ring on the wild and wooly indy wrestling shows of the day. Hitch describes how he suddenly found himself working on the same shows with WCW announcer Chris Cruise.
The best thing that can be said about this book is that sooner or later it’ll make you laugh out loud.
Did I mention that the cover is Hitch on the Front Row, holding up a sign, his big fat glory-hogging hand completely obscuring my face?
(Bruce Mitchell has been a PWTorch columnist since 1990. He hosts the PWTorch Livecast every Monday night in the hour before Raw with Travis Bryant at www.PWTorchLivecast.com. The weekly two-hour Bruce Mitchell Audio Show with host Wade Keller is a VIP audio staple for years. Send questions for Bruce for the weekend audio shows to firstname.lastname@example.org. His column archives dating back to 1990 are available in the Bruce Mitchell Library at the PWTorch VIP website. This last line is just filler. Thanks for reading.)
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