I don’t care who you are – at some point you have watched pro wrestling. If you are still reading this review, it likely means you are either a fan, or were waiting to see where I was going with that last sentence. I have been a fan of this pre-determined combat sport since I was a wee youngling, buying action figures or watching VHS tapes to stay up to date. I was always a big reader, so it was a wonderful revelation when I discovered the bevy of pro-wrestling magazines on the market. What made them so special was the glossy photos of these beefy men in action, and “Hot Shots and High Spots” from ECW Press takes one man’s photographic journey in the sport and squeezes it into one epic book.
The author, George Napolitano, has been photographing pro-wrestling for over 40 years, starting with a chance encounter in Queens, NY. Since that lucky day, Napolitano has traveled around America, as well as the rest of the world, to snap shots of sports entertainment. His resume is a who’s who of promotions and people, covering the WWF, WWE, ECW, NWA, AWA, WCW, NJPW, IWA, and countless others. Familiar faces in the book include just about anyone you can name, no matter how popular or obscure.
Famous wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ric Flair, DDP, and Sting are next to guys from this generation like Randy Orton, Batista, and Rob Van Dam. Lest we forget the even older generation, with teams like The Road Warriors, The Rock n’ Roll Express, and The Fabulous Freebirds.
A variety of photos are showcased in the book, be they action shots of beatings in progress, portraits of these men and women that delve deep into their characters, or even posing with stars or George’s wife and kids. One of George’s most famous photos is one of Andre the Giant posing with four women stacked on his arms and shoulders, and most people who have ever googled for that enormous man is certain to have seen the shot.
What separates this book from being just a coffee table book with lots of pictures is the story that George tells, which is a personal one as much as it is a history lesson. Pro wrestling has shaped who George is, as well as the relationship he has, and no photog has gotten as close to these wrestlers as he is. It shows in the personality of the photos and how honest and open they are, especially when these men are willing to step out of character in front of his lens. There is a chapter in the book consisting of photos George snapped with him, his wife, or his kids in the shot, and you get to see the men behind the tights in these, as well as learn more about who they were when they were out of the ring. The Road Warriors especially were practically extended family to Napolitano, and it’s that kind of connection that makes his photos unique and expressive.