Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Masked Decisions

Masked Decisions: The Triangular Life of Dick 'The Destroyer' 'Doctor X' Beyer; From American Athlete to International IconMasked Decisions: The Triangular Life of Dick 'The Destroyer' 'Doctor X' Beyer; From American Athlete to International Icon by Vincent Evans
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When the wrestling bug bites, Dick Beyer takes his family on the road and wrestles in various territories. In Los Angeles, he gets saddled with a masked gimmick that he initially hates, only to use it to change the wrestling world on two continents...

Masked Decisions is the biography of wrestler Dick Beyer, aka The Sensational, Intelligent Destroyer, aka Dr. X. It had a few things going for it from the get-go. Unlike most wrestling biographies, it's not written in the first person and doesn't spend a lot of time talking about how great the Destroyer was. Secondly, it's pretty well written and feels a lot more professional than most similar books I've read.

As I've mentioned in several other reviews, I was a wrestling fan for the first three decades of my life. Still, I knew nothing about The Destroyer until I discovered the Legends of Wrestling card game. Since the Destroyer sounded like an interesting character and had a pretty good card, I figured he was worth learning more about. And I was right.

The book starts out with Dick Beyer getting The Destroyer gimmick forced upon him by booker Jules Strongbow, then flashes back to Beyer's early days as a high school and college athlete, building toward his dual career as a pro wrestler and coach of Syracuse's football team. While I loved that Masked Decisions unfolded like a story rather than a typical biography, this is where my first gripe reared its ugly head. It took close to 40% of the book to get to Beyer wrestling full time. However, it was interesting reading about him juggling his two careers and competing with Freddie Blassie, Ray Stevens, Illio DiPaolo, and others.

Once Beyer hits Hawaii and Los Angeles, things really start picking up. Beyer decides the mask seperates him from the pack and he plays the roll of an arrogant heel to the hilt, drawing crazy money considering it was the 1960's. He took on Freddie Blassie, declining legend Gorgeous George, and visiting Japanese wrestlers Giant Baba and Rikidozan, which leads to the Destroyer going to Japan and becoming a Hulk Hogan level of celebrity there.

Before Masked Decisions, I had no idea how much the Destroyer helped build Japanese wrestling, from helping Rikidozan draw amazing money, to helping Giant Baba hold things together after Rikidozan's untimely murder at the hands of the yakuza. There's a picture taken from directly over the ring of Destroyer with Rikidozan locked in his patented Figure Four Leglock, both men and the mat smeared with blood, that will stick with me for a while.

Destroyer's relationship with his family was another interesting part of the book. He raised his kids to protect the business but his travels eventually destroyed his marriage. There's a picture of him in public with his kids also wearing Destroyer masks that I quite liked.

The book chronicles Destroyer's career right up until his retirement in 1993, handing the mask over to his oldest son. All in all, it was a pretty enjoyable read.

Still, it wasn't perfect. Like all wrestling books, there was too much pre-wrestling backstory for my taste and not nearly enough road stories, although Harley Race driving drunk at 100 miles per hour is becoming a wrestling biography staple. Also, the tone was a little weird. It didn't pretend professional wrestling was legit but it didn't go very much into the inner workings other than Destroyer's clashes with promoters. It was pretty good but not in the upper echelon of wrestling books with Pure Dynamite: The Price You Pay for Wrestling Stardom, Terry Funk: More Than Just Hardcore, or Wrestling at the Chase: The Inside Story of Sam Muchnick and the Legends of Professional Wrestling. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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