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[2018] Death of the Territories by Tim Hornbaker


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Death of the Territories: Expansion, Betrayal and the War That Changed Pro Wrestling Forever
By Tim Hornbaker

"History is written by the victors" is a common enough quote or idea, but one that is largely attributed to Winston Churchill. It is also a train of argument that often gets thrown WWE’s way, especially as their voice became the only one in the game large enough and loud enough to present history in the way that they desired. However, with the companies’ seeming aversion to looking backwards, bafflingly so at times with legends and lineage often ignored, coupled with the aforementioned rose-tinted interpretations of the past, it is left to others to present the true story of wrestling history. Enter Tim Hornbaker and Death of the Territories.
The logical next step following Capitol Revolution, Hornbaker picks up the narrative at a transitional time for the pro wrestling industry. With changes in the way television is delivered across country already causing consternation to those who had oligopolised the industry to this point – the members of the NWA – the purchasing of Capitol Sports by Vince McMahon Jr. from his father was the catalyst for the increasingly card-like house to fall. Hornbaker effectively chronicles every move, riposte and revenge tactic taken by all parties in a war that would eventually see the WWF and a rebranded JCP the only two left standing.
You cannot fault Hornbaker’s research, nor his attempts to present the facts as they happened, with little desire to editorialize or provide his own opinion so as not to muddy the waters. At time, this cavalcade of TV stations, wrestling personalities, and US cities that Hornbaker references can be overwhelming for those without knowledge of the playing field at this time, yet it almost works to the book’s advantage: the pace of the information almost mimics that of the speed of change as McMahon wasted little time in breaking the boundaries that his father had chosen to acknowledge for so long.
Hornbaker’s impartiality is the book’s greatest strength. While the victors do write history, the death of the territories is a story that often saw McMahon portrayed in a negative light as the man who destroyed the system and ran a lot of people out of business. Though some of McMahon’s practices may have been dubious, there was a bravery and entrepreneurial spirit in the manner in which he saw a chance for expansion and took it with both hands. Other owners tried and failed to match him, whether through poor decisions or clashes of ego; Hornbaker’s clarity and honesty lays all of these moments bare for all to see. What the book also makes clear is that it was only a matter of time. If it wasn’t Vince, it would have been someone else who saw the writing on the wall for a system that was no longer viable in an ever-changing, more technologically advanced society.
With WWE currently in a position to command millions and billions of dollars for the product being offered by Vince, there is no better time to read up on the risky, controversial, and foolhardy but ultimately successful first steps that took McMahon above and beyond those of his peers. -- Liam Byrne
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