Book Review: Joe Babinsack on Bob Holly's 'Hardcore Truth'

Reviewed by Joe Babinsack ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

The Hardcore Truth: The Bob Holly Story
Bob Holly with Ross Williams
ECW Press

There’s a mystique about Bob Holly, a veteran of the WWE for almost a decade and a half, that fills this book, raising it to a level of interest and providing a level of entertainment and making it one of the strongest professional wrestling books in a long while.

The more infamous stories about “Hardcore” Holly – a one-time tough guy fighter, a long time race car driver, a welder and a guy who got saddled with a really lame moniker of “Sparky” when he hit the mainstream –are all in there. We hear about him breaking his neck on a botched power-bomb spot from Brock Lesnar. We hear about him breaking his arm from a moonsault by Kurt Angle. We hear about his roughing up Matt Cappotelli on the aptly (ironically?) named realty MTV show Tough Enough.

Of course, we hear much about the Hardcore name, and the elevation to a new level of appreciation and fan acceptance. That started with the Brawl For All debacle and faded away with that forgettable ECW revival in the mid 00’s.

Bob Holly’s career was interesting, often mired in the mid-card, and yet equally frustrating and fulfilling by my read of his writing. It’s hard to fully grasp his approach in telling this book. At times his telling is much like his work – he’s stiff as anyone, barely pulling his punches, and would rather come across as real than as foolish.

Holly certainly succeeds in that regard.

Save for a few pages, mostly in his defense of steroid use (which he compares to alcohol abuse), there’s so little to gripe about. This isn’t a typical ECW book, where retelling history overshadows the life story. Holly comes across as brutal in his pointed assessments of his coworkers, his bosses and his situations. Holly also hits the expectations and doesn’t tease with throw-away comments.

Well, there is one steroid allusion where he didn’t name a name. One main target of Holly’s ire is the internet types, which is a label I cannot completely run away from, but then again, I share far more of his sentiment. He writes: “Because I played the gimmick of being a no-nonsense, grumpy bastard, my critics just assumed I beat people up.”

That’s a theme that he doesn’t quite explain away, even as he tries to explain those situations. The Cappotelli incident grew to internet legends. There’s a definite case of Holly taking liberties with a guy who wanted to be part of the business. That’s not exactly rare in the industry, but those situations rarely played out on a national cable TV station, and not in an era where producers had no qualms about putting a guy with a blackened eye and bruised face on camera.

Holly tells his side, how he tested the new kid, how the new kid failed and how the new kid really wasn’t “Tough Enough”.

But that situation cemented Holly’s mystique as a bully. It didn’t help that Cappotelli became an even more sympathetic figure when he was diagnosed with brain cancer. And it also didn’t help that rumors and reflections on his injuries in the ring with Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar were easy proofs that the bully had met his match a few times.

I’m not so sure that Holly proves his side of the story or not. He makes the case that he was sort of a policeman type, and was put in similar positions many times, but he certainly was a guy who worked very stiff and was a guy who would give-and-take with the toughest.

Of his “Hardcore” persona, he says: “It worked because I was comfortable. I was comfortable because Hardcore Holly was me, through and through.” It’s hard to escape the assumption that Holly was comfortable beating people up. However, he also obviously felt that was part of professional wrestling.

Bob Holly’s take on professional wrestling is equally opinionated, interesting and at times, a little hard to follow. But unlike so many other books, he does touch upon ring work, working with others and his ongoing shots at some particularly powerful and mainstream names is vastly entertaining.
Holly goes a lot further on a lot of rumors and innuendo than I would have imagined. But he’s also a loyal WWE wrestler, and his stories (especially what happened with the whole WWF sponsored race car gimmick) explains why he’s very appreciative of Vince McMahon.

Even though there are a number of stories that balance it out, which makes me wonder about the big picture equation.

His take on politics is what is quite odd. On one hand, he decries the locker room politics and names Jeff Jarrett, HHH and various guys he conflicted with along his career, on the other hand, he says:

“I’ve met so many people throughout my career who could have given me opportunities to do other things, but I refuse to use people.”

As Hardcore Holly and even before then, he established himself as a guy who put on very good matches, who listened and hit cues and didn’t gripe with management, and by his words he provided a lot of input and suggestions. Yet he quite often talks of examples of newcomers who didn’t shut up, and who ended up talking themselves out of a job.

The other confusion of mine is his sense of “greatness” in other workers only references modern guys. I know many would agree with his short list, but it’s odd to me that he goes back no further than Bret Hart in terms of naming great ones.

There is an underlying theme of his career toiling at the mid-card level, never getting his shots, and while he obviously enjoyed his work, there were many opportunities he didn’t just regret, he spells out. The worst was being replaced by Umaga in the Trump/McMahon Wrestlemania XXIII match, which he says was in the plans at one point.

“It’s a thankless industry,” he writes, and many comments go to this point. It’s a little weird, because with his personality, he’s not at all whining about it by the tone, but by bringing it up so often, there’s a definite sense of what he missed out on.

Going back to his sense of politics and his own sense of fair play, it’s hard to figure out if he’s complaining about his own choices and his own refusals to make opportunities – even if he often talks of his attempts to make suggestions and give storylines for his own benefit.

Even when Bob Holly talks about withdrawing his emotions from people (he was close to Guerrero and Benoit and Crash Holly, and wrestled the match before the Owen Hart tragedy) there is a deep sense of understanding and an understandable slant to his situation.

His personal life seems to be a bit sparse, but how can you complain about not talking about divorces and the baggage associated there. He come very clean about his failings with his children and explains the reasons of those personal situations, and in the end his interrupted high school sweetheart story is vastly more sappy than can be imagined for someone called “Hardcore”.

Well, he was called “Sparky”.

Holly’s attitude about modern wrestling is one that I definitely agree with, which not so ironically distances him from the internet crowd he rails against often:

“I don’t go out of my way to watch WWE anymore but when I come across it, channel-surfing, I give it a chance. I end up wanting to attack the TV. I don’t like the storylines. I don’t like who they’re trying to push, and I feel bad for the guys they’re doing nothing with.”

In the end, I was very much entertained by the book, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. Far too many autobiographies leave lots of unanswered questions, lots of places where the gaps aren’t filled in, and lots of character left undeveloped.

The Hardcore Truth is brutal, boisterous and definitely worth reading.

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