Death of the Territories: Expansion, Betrayal and the War that Changed Pro Wrestling Forever

Death of the Territories: Expansion, Betrayal and the War that Changed Pro Wrestling Forever

For decades, distinct professional wrestling territories thrived across North America. Each regionally-based promotion operated individually and offered a brand of localized wrestling that greatly appealed to area fans. Promoters routinely coordinated with associates in surrounding regions, and the cooperation displayed by members of the National Wrestling Alliance made it...

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Title:Death of the Territories: Expansion, Betrayal and the War that Changed Pro Wrestling Forever
Author:Tim Hornbaker
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Death of the Territories: Expansion, Betrayal and the War that Changed Pro Wrestling Forever Reviews

  • Michael Rickard

    im Hornbaker’s Death of the Territories proves that wrestling history can be informative and entertaining, while still following traditional methods for documenting the story you’re telling (in layman’s terms, you can write a book backed by facts rather than just talking out of your a*s). Hornbaker chronicles the various factors that saw wrestling’s popularity explode while simultaneously altering the status quo forever. It’s a tale of ambition, complacency, and miscues that can apply to any bus

    im Hornbaker’s Death of the Territories proves that wrestling history can be informative and entertaining, while still following traditional methods for documenting the story you’re telling (in layman’s terms, you can write a book backed by facts rather than just talking out of your a*s). Hornbaker chronicles the various factors that saw wrestling’s popularity explode while simultaneously altering the status quo forever. It’s a tale of ambition, complacency, and miscues that can apply to any business today.

    Death of the Territories is the natural follow up to Tim Hornbaker’s previous book, Capitol Revolution. There, he traced the McMahon family’s rise to fame as the promoters behind Capitol Wrestling and its successors, the World-Wide Wrestling Federation and the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). Hornbaker ended the book with Hulkamania about to take off, leaving plenty of room for a future installment in wrestling history. Rather than focusing on just the WWF, Hornbaker examines the entire wrestling scene in the United States and Canada, providing an excellent companion for Capitol Revolution and his book on the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), National Wrestling Alliance: The Untold Story of the Monopoly that Strangled Pro Wrestling.

    The problem with wrestling history is that it’s rarely done right. Writers are often lazy, recycling urban legends with little or no historical basis or they have no idea how to document where they get their information from. Although the quality of wrestling journalism online has taken off, there’s still a huge void in print and digital books for well-written and well-documented history about professional wrestling.

    The 1980’s was one of the wildest times in professional wrestling. The industry was enjoying a boost in popularity with a number of territories providing some of the best action in years. Even better, fans could now enjoy wrestling from outside territories thanks to the spread of cable television and to a lesser degree, the advent of tape trading amongst fans. Fans now could see wrestlers from another region without reading about it in the Apter magazines or visiting a friend out of town.

    However, these same forces also changed the industry’s traditional business model. The idea that promoters limited their shows to one region was no longer written in stone as cable television gave them an outlet to promote their product much farther than originally possible. Fans hadn’t seen this since the Golden Age of Wrestling in the 1950’s when network television carried wrestling around the country. Once upon a time, promoters bought up TV time in a limited geographic area, promoting their shows within this airspace and abstaining from encroaching on other promotions. For example, the WWF stayed in the Northeast while the AWA was traditionally limited to the Midwest.

    The result was an incredible time to be a wrestling fan, with fans of the sports of the kings now having access to a smorgasbord of the crème de la crème of the wrestling world. Fans with cable were often able to watch more than one promotion and over time, it became common for fans to have access to the WWF, Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP), the American Wrestling Association (AWA), and sometimes others such as Mid-South or World Class Championship Wrestling. The spread of pay-per-view and home video expanded fans’ access to other promotions.

    However, while competition proved a boon for fans, it proved problematic for promotions with smaller budgets. As the boundaries between promotions broke down, promoters found themselves having to compete with bigger promotions not only in terms of house shows, but in terms of keeping their talent. Over time, Vince McMahon signed even some of the smallest promotions’ stars, just to hurt their business. Ironically, McMahon would lament the same practice when World Championship Wrestling signed away some of his top stars.

    Death of the Stories covers it all, from promotions in Hawaii to promotions on the East Coast. Tim Hornbaker packs considerable information into each page and has an energetic writing style that makes this a page-turner for anyone interested in business and/or wrestling history. The book is well-documented with numerous sources, but never strays into reading like a textbook.

    My only complaint about this book is that it could have been longer, allowing the author to go into even more detail. Given the sheer scope of the book (you’re talking about numerous NWA territories, the AWA, and the WWF), it’s hard to detail big events such as the first WrestleMania, the details behind Starrcade, etc. For example, there are conflicting stories about Vince McMahon’s finances leading into WrestleMania with some stories indicating he was in good shape while others making it sound like Vince gambled everything on the show. While Hornbaker gives his take on things, he doesn’t go into much detail. Likewise, he mentions Pro Wrestling USA, the collaboration between the NWA and AWA that was designed to fight the WWF’s national expansion into their respective territories. This is glossed over which is unfortunate as it is one of wrestling’s greatest “what if” stories had it succeeded. Hornbaker’s book on the NWA, National Wrestling Alliance: The Untold Story of the Monopoly that Strangled Pro Wrestling came in at 372 pages while Capitol Revolution was 259 pages. It’s arguable the NWA legacy needs 372 pages, but I argue the territories’ collapse and consolidation into two national promotions deserves just as much given its importance.

    Nonetheless, this is a solid book and one any student of wrestling history owes it to themselves to pick up. Death of the Territories follows the rise of Vince McMahon and the simultaneous fall of the territorial system, covering even the smallest of territories. It gives an excellent look into the strategy and tactics that worked for McMahon in turning the WWF into America’s number one promotion. Perhaps equally important, it traces what went wrong for McMahon’s competitors.

  • Brian Manville

    In the beginning, wrestling captivated America. Farm boys were familiar with it, having done it themselves as tests of strength and finesse. Over time, it became entertainment - a part of the carnival where hookers grappled with unsuspecting marks who attempted to impress their friends by trying to defeat the wrestler. Over time, it became an event in various venues. Unfortunately, fans soon tired of the multi-hour matches that featured more grunting than action. Hence, the birth of the fixed ma

    In the beginning, wrestling captivated America. Farm boys were familiar with it, having done it themselves as tests of strength and finesse. Over time, it became entertainment - a part of the carnival where hookers grappled with unsuspecting marks who attempted to impress their friends by trying to defeat the wrestler. Over time, it became an event in various venues. Unfortunately, fans soon tired of the multi-hour matches that featured more grunting than action. Hence, the birth of the fixed match and kayfabe.

    Over time, various wrestling promotions formed and dominated the landscape. Recognizing their need to stay profitable, many of these same promoters formed the National Wrestling Alliance in 1948. Here, the heavyweight champion was crowned and arrangements made to bring him to the various alliance members, as well as to provide a mechanism for talent sharing so cards stayed fresh and have clearly defined territories so no member would directly compete with another. Absent the 1957 consent degree from the government, the NWA largely worked as intended until one day it didn't.

    Once Vincent K. McMahon assumed control of Capital Wrestling from his father, he was determined to take over the wrestling business and place it under his domain. Combined with the advent of cable TV and lots of money, he was able to invade territories, take their stars, venues, and TV stations. From there, he would let them bleed to death. Worse yet, the remaining promoters were slow or reluctant to adjust to the changing landscape and found themselves out of business. Only Jim Crockett Promotions in the mid-Atlantic territory survived longest of all, but even they eventually sold out to Ted Turner to stay in business.

    What Tim Hornbaker has done is tell the story of one man's successful conquest of the wrestling business and how he did it. This story is compelling, well told and copiously sourced. All angles are examined and no one is given a short shrift. Seeing promoters like Owen, Ed Farhat, Verne Gagne, and Jack Adkisson slowly succumb to the behemoth that was Titan Sports is heartbreaking to read. These men lost their livelihoods and could not come to grips that "sports entertainment" was the next direction that wrestling took. McMahon would not complete his coup d'etat until his purchase of WCW in 2001.

    Hornbaker does not portray McMahon as a villain; to the contrary, the author merely details the steps McMahon took to create his grappling empire. Hornbaker is not a judge here; he's telling the story and letting the reader draw his own conclusions.

    BOTTOM LINE: The definitive history of the end of the territorial era in pro wrestling.

  • Brandon

    Tim Hornbaker tells the story of the collapse of the pro wrestling territorial system within the United States.

    I long believed that Vince McMahon was mainly successful in establishing a nation-wide wrestling promotion because he was a visionary; that he was the first of the American wrestling promoters to give it a go when it came to territorial expansion. Many before him had tested the territorial limits by attempting to expand into nearby states, but never with the gusto that McMahon possessed

    Tim Hornbaker tells the story of the collapse of the pro wrestling territorial system within the United States.

    I long believed that Vince McMahon was mainly successful in establishing a nation-wide wrestling promotion because he was a visionary; that he was the first of the American wrestling promoters to give it a go when it came to territorial expansion. Many before him had tested the territorial limits by attempting to expand into nearby states, but never with the gusto that McMahon possessed. However In Death of the Territories, Hornbaker makes a case that while Vince was certainly successful in part due to his ruthless promotional tactics, his rise to power was definitely aided in part due to the ineptitude of his competition.

    In fact, most promoters just believed that Vince was doing it all wrong – that they could sit back and wait for him to fail. When they finally realized that McMahon was paving the road to the future rather than falling off the trail, it was too late. Vince was already too far ahead to be caught, the most anyone could do was just live in his shadow. Hornbaker touches on changing trends in society, wrestling latching onto the rock and roll youth movement and the accessibility of cable television- a key weapon in the wrestling war. Cable allowed promoters to provide their vision of wrestling to fans beyond their territory laying the groundwork for live events in states thousands of miles away.

    It wasn’t a cake walk for Vince and his military of muscle however. Hornbaker tells of Vince’s financial issues early on where he nearly didn’t succeed in his grand vision. I found these stories the most interesting given that Vince is now the purveyor of wrestling history, so these facts rarely escape into the public eye.

    With nearly forty pages of footnotes, Tim Hornbaker’s Death of the Territories is a tightly researched, engaging read that tells of the turbulent years surrounding Vince’s conquest of the wrestling world and the struggles of those that tried to keep up.

  • Nathan

    Beginning with the explanation of how wrestling established imposed territories (mostly in the US but truly across the world), Hornbaker recounts how, in both incremental spurts and monumental leaps, wrestling formed itself into the state in which we view it today.

    Yeah, this could also just be summarized as "the rise of Vince McMahon Jr", as that's what it truly amounts to, but the nitty-gritty, Machiavellian tactics to the shifts in loyalty, the creative elements leading to innovative changes,

    Beginning with the explanation of how wrestling established imposed territories (mostly in the US but truly across the world), Hornbaker recounts how, in both incremental spurts and monumental leaps, wrestling formed itself into the state in which we view it today.

    Yeah, this could also just be summarized as "the rise of Vince McMahon Jr", as that's what it truly amounts to, but the nitty-gritty, Machiavellian tactics to the shifts in loyalty, the creative elements leading to innovative changes, and the scores of tragedies and missed opportunities need to be read to be believed.

    Hornbaker doesn't just casually report who did what and where they did it---also laid out here are moments wherein we see how wrestling *used* to operate, when the pyrotechnics and pizzazz that we correlate with the modern-day antics of the WWE empire weren’t yet a thing. Some readers might remember those days (not me...I joined the wrestling bandwagon in the early 90s, so much of this is not trodden ground).

    If there's a hang-up in the book, it's that there was a choice made to switch between entities and/or territories in the narrative within small time frames (e.g. Memphis in the time of late 1986 to early 1987; next chapter is Florida-ish area from early 1986-late 1987; dates are just me spitballing) and, as Hornbaker a) can only report the events as they happened and b) can't help when they happened, I can see why this choice was made, but it could be confusing for some readers, as sticking to a strict, linear timeline and then plugging in the events as they happened *where* they happened might read more coherently. This is just presuming that most readers will subscribe to the idea that, as they read further, time is progressing forward, and not backward, then forward, then backward again. The book suffers a little because I don't think that the reader is given the 100% opportunity (as opposed to, like, the 90% at present) to have it cleanly laid out, detail by detail, how it ended up as WCW versus WWF.

    Are you a wrestling fan? If so, then this is mandatory reading. Learn the history. If you don't like pro wrestling and are a skeptic on if the sport holds anything of value, then I implore you to give this a shot.

    Many thanks to NetGalley and ECW Press for the advance review.

  • Dan Schwent

    The National Wrestling Alliance, a group of allied wrestling promoters and their territories had been around for decades. With the advent of cable TV, could the territory system survive? Not if one enterprising promoter from the Northeast has his way...

    Yeah, the teaser is misleading since we all know Vince won the war. Anyway, I enjoyed

    and decided to pick this up. I was not disappointed.

    Death of

    The National Wrestling Alliance, a group of allied wrestling promoters and their territories had been around for decades. With the advent of cable TV, could the territory system survive? Not if one enterprising promoter from the Northeast has his way...

    Yeah, the teaser is misleading since we all know Vince won the war. Anyway, I enjoyed

    and decided to pick this up. I was not disappointed.

    Death of the Territories starts with an overview of the established system, the National Wrestling Alliance, and details various bumps in the road, like Vince McMahon Sr. hijacking Buddy Rogers and leaving the NWA, only to rejoin years later, and promoters running opposition in one another's territory.

    Once the cable boom hits, there are a lot of damn pigs eyeing up the whole trough. People paint Vince McMahon Jr. as the devil, and while he's definitely got some bad points, a lot of other promoters would have expanded nationally with the resources to do so.

    I've gleaned a lot of this information from various books and documentaries over the years but this time I feel like I got the whole picture. There wasn't any bias. It didn't go out of its way to drag Vince McMahon through the mud and it didn't make him a saint, either, like a lot of WWE-made material does.

    All the maneuvering behind the scenes was fascinating. I had no idea about the various attempts of other promoters to go national once cable was readily available. Ever hear of Global Wrestling (not to be confused with the Global Wrestling Federation)? Me either. The book runs through the 1980s and ends when Jim Crockett sells his promotion to Ted Turner, where it becomes WCW and eventually ignites another war. Hopefully Hornbaker will cover that next.

    Pretty much every territory I've ever heard of got its due here: Don Owen of Portland, the Von Erichs, Joe Blanchard, Paul Boesch, Eddie Graham, Bill Watts, and a slew of others. Each made their mark but couldn't keep up with the changing times and the Scrooge McDuck-like bank account of one Vincent Kennedy McMahon.

    The warts and all presentation made it a gripping read. I read it in two sittings, a rarity for me these days.

    Upon finishing, I think partly some of the old promoters going the way of the dinosaur was karma biting them in the ass. The good old boy network helped run people who weren't NWA members or aligned with the NWA out of business during most of the NWA's existence. It's just this time, it was the NWA members that got got. I think the wrestling world would be better off without one horse running the race a few laps ahead of all the others, though.

    Four out of five turnbuckles. Get cracking on that Monday Night Wars book, Tim!

  • A Reader's Heaven

    (I received a free copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.)

    (I received a free copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.)

    I have long been a fan of professional wrestling. Whether it be the WWF/WWE that I grew up on, or the days of WCW and ECW, I have always had a certain attraction to wrestling and the characters involved in it. For the most part, those characters were the people in front of the camera - the performers, in other words.

    This book took me back a long way and gave me a much clearer view of the people behind the cameras. In fact, so far back that television wasn't even a consideration for these wrestling territories. They often shared big name talent with each other to help bring in the punters but it wasn't until the introduction of - and understanding of - television that one man in particular stood out from the crowd - and ended up crushing them.

    Was this a good book? Absolutely. The knowledge of the promoters, the wrestlers, the expansions and the locations is first-rate. I don't say that lightly. It could have been very easy to just focus on the name McMahon and tell that story, but the other promoters before him (including his father) help tell the complete story.

    There was a little bit of repetition in the first 1/4 of the book with promoters and their territories and the story didn't completely flow chronologically. It was a little frustrating as I went along.

    But, other than that, this was a book that captivated me from start to finish and I was able to put the book down a more knowledgeable person. And you can't argue with that!

    Paul

    ARH

  • Edwin Howard

    DEATH OF THE TERRITORIES, by Tim Hornbaker, recounts the professional wrestling world starting with its geographically organized existence from the 1950's to the late 1970's as an alliance where each region knew how to work with and coexist amongst the group as a whole to the total upheaval of the wrestling community. A revolution started by Vince McMahon Jr and the WWF and ended in the late 1980's with a new dynamic; McMahon on top, and everyone else retired, gone, and/or wiped out. Any remaini

    DEATH OF THE TERRITORIES, by Tim Hornbaker, recounts the professional wrestling world starting with its geographically organized existence from the 1950's to the late 1970's as an alliance where each region knew how to work with and coexist amongst the group as a whole to the total upheaval of the wrestling community. A revolution started by Vince McMahon Jr and the WWF and ended in the late 1980's with a new dynamic; McMahon on top, and everyone else retired, gone, and/or wiped out. Any remaining other wrestling entities are so beneath McMahon's company financially and in popularity it's as if there are in a completely different avenue of the wrestling business.

    Hornbaker really digs deep into the history of wrestling: the promoters, the organizations, and the wrestlers themselves. The layout of the book attempts to be chronological, but sometimes the tangents to explain a particular organization or person leaves the calendar and then circles back to the proper order later. The information and stories Hornbaker has gathered are great; there are things I've never known and stories that are one of a kind about many colorful personas, plentiful in the history of professional wrestling. Growing up in the 1980's in North Carolina, I watched first hand many of the shows and organizations that Hornbaker wrote about and having his gathered insights to look back on, it brings so many more layers and makes everything from that time so much more interesting. The book's layout is challenging at times with so many names and regions to keep track of, which while mirroring how many wrestling fans felt at the time, as a reader was tough to keep straight. As a reader, I wish Hornbaker could have formally had some breakout chapters to highlight certain people and/or groups so that there is a definitive break in the timeline of the book and then drop the reader back in when the spotlight is done.

    Layered in facts and great tales of wrestling past, DEATH OF THE TERRITORIES is a must have for the wrestling enthusiast. I think wrestling touched most people in the 1980's and was a key component in the pop culture of the time. To that end, most people who read this novel will find some way to connect to it and take away new knowledge on the business of professional wrestling.

    Thank you to ECW Press, Tim Hornbaker, and Netgalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

  • Andrea

    More reviews and book-ish content @

    Death of the Territories: Expansion, Betrayal and the War that Changed Pro Wrestling Forever by Tim Hornbaker focuses on the rise of Vince McMahon's vision of a nationwide wrestling program. However, rather than exploring Vince's process, this one really focuses on the regional wrestling model and where it all fell apart. For those who aren't aware (ad admittedly I didn't know a lot of this information prior to reading the book), pro wrestling

    More reviews and book-ish content @

    Death of the Territories: Expansion, Betrayal and the War that Changed Pro Wrestling Forever by Tim Hornbaker focuses on the rise of Vince McMahon's vision of a nationwide wrestling program. However, rather than exploring Vince's process, this one really focuses on the regional wrestling model and where it all fell apart. For those who aren't aware (ad admittedly I didn't know a lot of this information prior to reading the book), pro wrestling used to be built on a regional model. Different promoters "ran" different cities, had regular venues in those cities, and had their own talent. With the regional promoters, there was some crossover with superstars, but they each maintained their niche. With Vince McMahon's rise, he sought to change this and expand the reach of a wrestling organization. For me, I found this to be a captivating read (and a thanks to NetGalley for letting me check it out). I learned a lot about the beginnings of some of my favorite wrestlers from the nineties. Not knowing the "way things used to be" with wrestling, I assumed that they'd just come through the WCW/WWE circuit. This was very much blowing up what I thought I knew and providing me some intriguing perspective on the industry. This is both a "what might have been" had the business plans of some organizations gone differently, as well as a "how this came to be as it is" explanation. It was a good dose of nostalgia, while also doing an in-depth exploration of the industry.

  • Lucas Brandl

    This book was thoroughly researched and covers possibly the most important story in pro wrestling's history. The author finds great quotes from 1980s newspapers with promoters around the country upset about Vince McMahon Jr- how he's "disrespecting the sport" with his entertainment oriented product or disrespecting the order of things by moving in on other promoter's territories.

    The reality of the 1980s was that cable television had changed the equation, and territorial wrestling was never goin

    This book was thoroughly researched and covers possibly the most important story in pro wrestling's history. The author finds great quotes from 1980s newspapers with promoters around the country upset about Vince McMahon Jr- how he's "disrespecting the sport" with his entertainment oriented product or disrespecting the order of things by moving in on other promoter's territories.

    The reality of the 1980s was that cable television had changed the equation, and territorial wrestling was never going to last. Vince McMahon was well positioned by running the "richest" territory of New York City. But he also had the vision to go after everyone, the guts to risk it all financially over and over to push others out, and the business acumen to execute it all and recognize what could make wrestling mainstream. I like that Tim Hornbaker didn't really take shots at McMahon in this book. For all McMahon's questionable business decisions of the last 18 years, the 1984 expansion is likely his greatest triumph.

    Despite the wealth of research in this book, the storytelling left a lot to be desired for me. It may have benefited from more first hand interviews, or more in depth development of key characters. But ultimately I'm just not sure if this story can be effectively told in 280 pages. The scope is so wide that it's impossible to give all these stories the time they deserve. There are two hour documentaries about the death of the AWA, the death of WCCW, the death of Bruiser Brody and the collapse of Jim Crockett promotions. Yet some of these stories are told in a few pages here. I was intrigued by the description of Don Owen in Portland as a fair paying, never say die promoter. I wanted to learn more about him, but I knew I'd have to find a different book to be able to do that, because he's moved on from so quickly.

    So in the end I'd say this book has a lot of great information. If you read it for a no nonsense collection of facts and stories from the 1980s, you'll probably enjoy it. If you're looking for a super in depth analysis or colorful recounting of any particular subject, it may be less of a sure bet.

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