The Hardcore Truth
highlights two of the most important elements in a wrestling biography. Honesty
, and related to this, balance
The first quality makes the book worthwhile, and the second makes it one of the very best in the sub-genre, right up there with Jericho's and Bret Hart's memoirs, despite all its other flaws.
The book covers Holly's entire life, from his difficult childhood, to his time as a welder, amateur race-car driver, and bar-room fighter in Alabama to his remarkably long run in the WWE, almost 15 years, despite never being a top guy. He discusses everyone from childhood favorite Pat Patterson (who he later threatened to beat up in front of the locker room!) to CM Punk. While non-wrestling material is usually boring filler in such books, that's not the case here. Holly's tales about street fights, racing, and surprisingly, his relationships with women and daughter Stephanie were all genuinely interesting.
There are numerous road stories of traveling with other wrestlers, many of them funny, if told clumsily.
It shouldn't surprise anyone that Holly is a lousy author. In fact, he isn't really a writer at all. He narrated his stories to co-writer Ross Williams, who then recorded them. The language and presentation is generally poor, although better than at least one wrestling autobiography I have read. (That would be Bischoff's horrendous Controversy Creates Cash
, which I also reviewed on here, published by WWE Press)
Still, passages like the following can be damn jarring; I decided I was going to go to work, do everything I could as quickly as I could, and then haul ass out of there to go straight to the show. I thought I might get fired but I didn’t care. It was a regular house show and a lot of my favorites were there, including “Playboy” Buddy Rose. The next day, I didn’t get fired but I definitely got in trouble. It was absolutely worth it.
Also, Hardcore Holly has a well-known reputation for being a bully and an asshole, beating the shit out of younger wrestlers if he felt they weren't up to snuff, had done something to offend him, or simply to test them out.
The book didn't change my impression of that. I still think he was wrong to beat up Matt Cappotelli. And yet, I gained something else from reading a book; an understanding and appreciation for the man.
While I still disagree with Holly's actions, and don't buy his self-justification, he isn't entirely wrong, either. Yes, his beating was relatively light compared to many of the difficulties of being a pro wrestler for a living. Yes, clowning around in a wrestling ring is disrespectful and unnecessary.
As wrong as it may sound, there has always been a place for old-school, hard-ass workers like Bob Holly in pro wrestling, and that's not an entirely a bad thing.
And that leads me to the book's two major strengths. Firstly, there is Holly's honesty.
While wrestling autobiographies are supposed to be intimate, tell-all memoirs, much like shoot interviews, over the years shoots become the new works. Far too often, wrestlers are too scared to be completely honest, for fear of pissing off a potential future employer. This was a major problem in Jericho's second book.
That's not a concern for Holly, who is largely done with wrestling, and shoots from the hip. However, this also doesn't mean everything Holly writes is the truth.
In a few cases, he is almost demonstrably wrong, like his claim that Shawn Michaels went from an asshole to a saint after converting to Christianity. There are countless backstage incidents that contradict this, and even Holly's own book later casts doubt on the claim, when he mentions him and Triple H hogging the spotlight in the mid to late 2000s.
But despite this, Holly is unflinchingly honest, even when the truth reflects poorly on himself. He is completely forthright about his steroid and pill usage. While Hardcore Holly never touched a sip of alcohol, and avoided the bar and late night scene so many wrestlers succumbed to, he used the steroids to improve his position in the company, and the pills to control the daily pain pro wrestlers suffer from their injuries.
This is a valuable trait for the book, but it's even better when paired with balance
, something I have never seen as clearly as in Holly's memoir, Jericho's and Hart's books included.
It seems that most pro wrestlers, who have spent their whole lives telling stories of "good guy" versus "bad guy", also perceive reality as such. Invariably, everyone they discuss either gets effusive, glowing praise, or else is the biggest asshole imaginable. The Hardcore Truth
is a refreshing contrast. With virtually every person Holly discusses at length, he mentions both positive and negative traits. It's nice to read a discussion of Bret Hart or Rick Flair that isn't one-sided.
And Holly even extends this courtesy to people he despises. Triple H is the big villain of the book. Holly never fails to details his selfishness, dishonesty, meanness, back-stabbing, spotlight hogging, and mockery of wrestlers that looked up to him. Holly also has inside knowledge that Triple H buried him to Vince McMahon, lobbied hard to get Holly fired, and did his utmost to extinguish any career push he received.
And yet, despite that, Holly also admits that Triple H is one of the best in-ring performers in the history of the business. He goes further, calling him a "smart fucker", mentioning his genuinely excellent grasp of the entertainment form, and even details several times where Triple H acted decently towards the talent.
It's impressive to maintain such objectivity when examining something so near and dear to one's heart, and I was shocked that Bob Holly, of all the wrestlers who have released books, pulled it off the best.
Robert Howard, performing as Bob Holly, is a tough asshole who can be a bully and take advantage of people. But he's also a diligent, extremely hard worker who fit well into his particular industry, was never purposely malicious, and is astonishingly level-headed and objective.
Most importantly, he has a damn good story to tell.