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Swimming with Piranhas: A final preview
By HOWARD BRODY - Special to SLAM! Wrestling



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Even though Swimming with Piranhas: Surviving the Politics of Professional Wrestling has been available for online purchase for several weeks, this week and next, my second book will start appearing in bookstores across North America.

At 412 pages SWP is not exactly light reading. However, that is nothing compared to the unedited manuscript which was a gargantuan 630 pages long. When I initially signed on with ECW Press to do SWP, I was supposed to deliver between 80,000 and 100,000 words and it was to take me six to eight months to complete. Two and a half years later I delivered 270,000 words or roughly enough material to fill three books. Because part of the book writing process includes editing, needless to say a lot of material had to be cut!

So, this week’s excerpt comes from a part of the book that saw some pretty heavy editing; my retelling of a December 2003 trip to the People’s Republic of China, where I was part of a group that presented the very first pro wrestling events ever in the communist country. The tour lasted 10 days where we did three shows. The rest of the time was spent on sightseeing, shopping, attending press conferences, hobnobbing at government banquets, and trying to adjust to the Chinese culture.

Deleted from Chapter 15: Life After the NWA

Day three started with a trip to Yuexiu Park near Yuexiu Mountain, where we saw the Five-Ram Statue (The Symbol of Guangzhou) and walked a small nature trail to witness many locals doing their morning workouts. Some of the locals were playing a game called jianzi, which is similar to Hacky Sack, but instead of using a footbag, they used a shuttlecock. Somehow former NWA champ Mike Rapada got roped into the game and did pretty good!

From there, the crew headed to Beijing Street, an area of Guangzhou where tourists were taken to find bargains, for a couple of hours of shopping. To get a real deal, you had to haggle to get the best prices, regardless of what the price tag showed. At times it felt like we were playing a game with them. "How much is this? 100? I’ll give you 25! 75? How about 40? Okay, 50 it is." As an example, I purchased about $1,000 dollars worth of merchandise for about $85. In all everybody came away happy with what they got, including a couple of the wrestlers who paid anywhere from $30 to $50 for Rolex knock offs that you’d swear were the real things.


The group stops for a photo op in front of the Five-Ram Statue at Yuexiu Park in Guangzhou. From left to right: Steve Williams, Lex Lovett, Mike Rapada, Chris Hamrick, David "Weiner" Brennermann (our ring guy), Slim and Jackie Baucom, Andru Bane, Frankie Capone, Mike Kehner, Harley (valet) and Jeff Justice.
After spending some of our money there, the crew headed back to the hotel for lunch, and then back to the arena one more time for the setting up of the ring, and an open practice for the press. The open practice enabled the boys to get a feel for the new ring.

When the practice ended we headed back to the hotel for dinner -- can you tell they fed us a lot while there? -- and then we all met up with our government appointed guide, Lynn Linn, for a night cruise on the Pearl River.

The cruise was somber and peaceful and gave everyone a chance to just relax and mingle with our sponsors and government officials. Some of the boys who had never met each other before the tour, started bonding, and it gave everyone a chance to just be themselves and not their characters for a change. The one thing I will say about the city Guangzhou is that while it was a dark, dingy and polluted city during the day, it was a beautiful, colorful city at night.

As the night went on, it got pretty cold on the upper deck of the ship. It got so cold in fact that I started shivering and of all people Chris Hamrick offered me his jacket. At first I begged off, but feeling like I was coming down with something, which I eventually did, I quickly gave in and accepted the offer. Prior to his gesture, I had thought Chris was a real jerk because of some of the things he had said to me and some of the others just to get a laugh. But the good deed made me realize, he wasn’t being a jerk, but rather he was just trying to fit in with everybody else the best way he knew how in what could easily be considered an uncomfortable environment 10,000 miles from home. From that point forward, no matter what he said or did was fine with me.

The only disturbing part of the cruise was just before and just after seeing so many homeless children trying to sell us flowers or running after us and begging for money. While the humanitarian award went to Jeff Bradley for having a heart as big as his stature -- he didn’t hesitate once going into his pocket and pulling out money for the kids -- the line of the night went to Hamrick who thought some of the kids had a "great future as the next Jimmy Valiant."

"Put that in your diary, Brody," Chris shouted at me, knowing that I was keeping a journal during the trip.

Now, while I have nothing against the Boogie Woogie Man, there obviously was heat between Chris and Valiant. I didn’t know what it was, nor did I care. But I did learn a valuable lesson: at times life can be cruel and when he wanted to, so could Chris Hamrick.

* * * * *

How many ways can you cook dog? Actually this was strung ducks, chicken and other assorted poultry.
New Year’s Eve day started (after breakfast) with another shopping trip to Beijing Street. After getting back to the hotel for a chance to freshen up, we re-boarded the coach for our cross-city trek to the Huadu District of the city for another scheduled meet and greet, National Sports Lottery attempt, press conference and photo shoot.

After about 45 minutes we learned from Lynn and Benson Tan, who represented our sponsor, that the driver went the wrong way; he was headed in the complete opposite direction of where we were supposed to go. Everyone was starting to get antsy as a restroom stop was sorely needed. But for some reason our chaperones thought we were kidding when we started complaining that we had to go to the restroom. After convincing Lynn that we were serious and really did need a nature break, the driver pulled into a gas station for those of us who needed to go.

So, after the much needed break, back on the coach we went, heading for Huadu Stadium. The ride gave me a chance to be a little pensive as I realized just how lucky all of us were to be Americans. We just take so much for granted. And what I am about to account, will put a big fat exclamation point at the end of that statement.

We were riding along just fine until we hit a gridlock the likes I’ve never seen. It made New York or Los Angeles traffic look like a deserted country road. Here were six lanes of traffic jammed into four clearly defined lanes. Bicycles that we had passed earlier were now passing us. As we stood in traffic one of the wrestlers said "Hey, look at that."

Across the street we saw what looked like a huge factory. Outside and literally right on the road was a fenced in area that had goats in it. There was one guy with a clipboard and another guy in the pen who was picking up and tossing the goats to another person who was putting them into cages and wheeling them inside. We realized it was a slaughterhouse. Just then, as we were all watching this new sport of goat tossing, a truck pulled up in front of the place. The driver got out of the truck and opened the backdoor, while simultaneously pulling down a ramp. Another man walked up the ramp and began wheeling out what we first thought was more livestock. It was not.

To our horror, we watched cages full of canines being wheeled out of the truck and into the slaughterhouse. That caused quite a commotion on the coach, especially when Lynn admitted that in all probability some of the meat we were eating could have been dog. Needless to say, chicken and fish would now be what everybody ate the rest of tour.

* * * * *
Swimming with Piranhas: Surviving the Politics of Professional Wrestling is a candid look at professional wrestling from my point of view. It covers a 25 year period in which I dealt with both the famous and infamous of an industry that is often misunderstood ... and all too often by those who participate in it.
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  • Pre-order Swimming With Piranhas
    In Swimming With Piranhas, the former president of the National Wrestling Alliance, Howard Brody gives a first hand account of how he’s been able to survive the world of pro wrestling politics, despite getting a few bloody noses along the way. It covers aspects of the pro wrestling business that have yet to be captured on paper. This book reveals the true war stories as Brody takes the reader into the boardrooms and back offices of the most exciting business in the world: professional wrestling.