Champion of the World by Chad Dundas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Disgraced former lightweight champion Pepper Van Dean has just parted ways with the carnival in a violent fashion when he's approached by Fritz Mundt, another former wrestler. Mundt's offer, training Garfield Taft for a shot at the world champion, Strangler Lesko, is too hard to pass up. Can Pepper claw his way back to the big time as Garfield Taft's trainer?
As I've said in other reviews, I've been a fan of pro wrestling off and on for most of my life. When a coworker recommended this, I eventually threw it on the pile. Hell, there aren't many novels about pro wrestling that I can think of other than Hoodtown.
Champion of the World takes place in the roarin' 20s, the golden age of pro wrestling. Frank Gotch has just retired and wrestling is on the down swing. Garfield Taft is fresh out of jail and has a big chance to win the title from Strangler Lesko. Pepper, his wife in tow, heads to Montana to train Taft. Things eventually go off the rails...
When the story starts, Pepper is working at a carnival for twenty five bucks a week, wrestling audience members and doing the hangman's drop, being hung by his neck ever night, saved only by his neck and back muscles. Crazy shit and that's just the beginning.
I'm not into historical novels or sports novels but I enjoyed Champion of the World quite a bit. While real wrestlers like Frank Gotch, Farmer Burns, the Zbyszkos, and others were mentioned, the characters are fictitious. Although I suspect Strangler Lesko was based on Strangler Lewis. And Fritz Mundt owes something to Toots Mondt. I could go on and on. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I love the way Dundas wove wrestling history into the tale.
Pepper's last shot at glory kept me interested in the book during the slow parts. As the truth behind Pepper's past, as well as Taft's, was revealed, the book became harder and harder to put down. The eventual respect between the grapplers was one of my favorite parts of the book.
The last 25% was pretty shocking. There was a swerve and things got a little crazy. I was a little disappointed by the ending but it was pretty much the only way it could go down.
For wrestling fans, particularly those of the golden age of wrestling, this one is not to be missed. Four out of five stars.
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