Pain and Passion: The History of Stampede Wrestling
by Heath McCoy
Andre the Giant, British Bulldog, Chris Benoit and the Dynamite Kid are names that virtually all wrestling fans instantly recognize. And they all started in the little Canadian wrestling company, Stampede Wrestling. Pain and Passion: The History of Stampede Wrestling is the story of the rise, fall, and resurrection of Stampede Wrestling, but even more so, it’s the biography of the man who started the company and of his family.
Founded by Stu Hart and run by the entire Hart family, Stampede Wrestling brought the hardest and toughest wrestlers to the world. The main reason for that is something that Stu Hart called “The Dungeon.”
“The Dungeon” was a concrete room in the Hart basement that had a thin mat that was 17 ft by 17 ft. It was here that Stu Hart, as McCoy calls it, “toyed with the new recruits.” Here he would throw the clueless wrestler around and put him in holds, each one more painful than the last. Then he would “pinch his nose and mouth with his huge mitts until the man couldn’t breathe.” Stu would then let him get a gasp of breath and then do it again. Hart would take wannabe wrestlers down there and put them in and out of consciousness. Good friend Greg Everett put it the best, “You’re… going in and out of consciousness, and at the same time he’d be pulling your legs apart… ripping you’re whole groin apart… Your left arm would be pulled so far behind your head it felt like your shoulder was going to break… Yeah, you were in a whole mess of pain.”
And Stu did this for fun — and to see if the wrestler could handle every situation in the ring. Stu Hart was all about respect in the ring and you earned his respect by returning the next day. But the Hart kids (including the legendary brothers Bret and Owen) grew accustomed to guys running out of the basement through the snow in nothing but wrestling trunks, or watching Stu “get his exercise” by walking a potential wrestler around the house after he blacked out.
Many wrestlers never came back, but those who did still had a difficult road ahead. McCoy chronicles the long road trips with vans full of testosterone-filled (and sometimes drug and alcohol-addicted) wrestlers and the stress it caused on everyone. Hart was doing pretty well in western Canada and then another upstart entrepreneur started taking away his best wrestlers, by paying them better and getting a wider television audience. His name: Vince McMahon.
McMahon’s WWF started to take off in the States just as Hart’s Stampede Wrestling started to take off around Toronto and on down to New York. McCoy captures Stu Hart’s devastation when, despite all his efforts, he had to shut down Stampede Wrestling as the WWF became bigger and bigger all over the world. It has since restarted and is not nearly as big as it once was, but it still has a strong following.
McCoy also has an entire chapter dedicated to Chris Benoit and the tragedy surrounding the murder/suicide of him and his wife and son. He has reactions from many of his former teammates and wrestling partners. McCoy also dedicates a chapter to the tragic death of the youngest Hart, Owen. He fell at 45 MPH from the rafters of an arena during a pay-per-view and died on the way to the hospital. He had torn his aorta when he hit the ropes. McCoy captures the pain that the family felt so well that you feel as if you’ve lost a best friend.
The detail that Heath McCoy put into Pain and Passion: The History of Stampede Wrestling is amazing and this is the most in-depth book you’ll find on the Hart family. That said, McCoy does tend to put the Harts up as good guys to Vince McMahon’s bad guy as the book rolls along, but despite his slants, he never strays away from the facts. This book is a must for any wrestling fan who wants to know where some of the legendary wrestlers got their start and wants to know more about the history of wrestling in general. If nothing else, you can read why you never want to go see what “The Dungeon” is.
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