The Six Pack: In Search of WrestleMania – An Honest Review

Bestselling author, professor, and scientist Brad Balukjian undertakes an incredible sixty-two-day and 12,525-mile journey of self-discovery into the heart of wrestling’s grandest stage with his book, “The Six Pack: On the Open Road in Search of WrestleMania.” His eye-opening pilgrimage turns the spotlight from the glitz and glam to the raw, stark realities behind what made WWE and WrestleMania what they are today.

Passion and Dedication Explored in “The Six Pack: On the Open Road in Search of WrestleMania”

Book cover art for "The Six Pack: In Search of WrestleMania."
Book cover art for “The Six Pack: In Search of WrestleMania.” Photo Credit: Hachette Books.

“Never meet your heroes” is sound advice that Brad Balukjian ignored, and we’re all the better for it!

The author’s passion and attention to detail for the history of wrestling are evident throughout his book, The Six Pack: On the Open Road in Search of WrestleMania,” released on April 2nd, 2024. Balukjian is a wrestling fan but did some far-reaching investigative journalism for the book.

When dallying with wrestling fandom, many will eventually lose interest for various reasons and move on to other “more important” things. Life, responsibilities, and family take center stage.

In the author’s case, he refused to let his memories rot in a locked-away mental filing cabinet. He instead decided to bravely hit the road again after his previous book, The Wax Pack: On the Open Road in Search of Baseball’s Afterlife,” hit #7 on the LA Times bestseller list and was named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2020.

So Brad hopped in his car, searched them out in their environment, all on his dime, and asked the tough questions. The Six Pack is part road story and part self-discovery, and what stands out is the humanity explored behind the characters the grapplers portray.

Even if you’re a seasoned reader of this global spectacle of excess, there’s still much to love and learn about within the pages as he peels back the professional wrestling curtain.

The book doesn’t merely scratch the surface but does deep cuts with every person interviewed.

It’s wrestling journalism guerilla style!

A Strongly Researched and Detailed Book

Author Mary Roach shares her thoughts on the book "The Six Pack: On the Open Road in Search of WrestleMania."
Author Mary Roach shares her thoughts on the book “The Six Pack: On the Open Road in Search of WrestleMania.” Photo Credit: Hachette Books.

During his research, Brad Balukjian also tracks down former Titan Sports employees who, according to the author, speak out for the first time. Their often troubling times within the company and with Vince McMahon make for a fascinating read.

The book’s strong points include busting myths about how Titan Sports began, divulging who REALLY did what, and stressing that “employees were useful until they weren’t.” Then, they were let go like expendable cogs in the vast machine and swiftly replaced by someone eager to work in the company.

At the time, unique concepts in the business, such as licensing talent and owning their likeness, were not all Vince’s ideas, but he and the other high-ranking executives reaped the benefits.

The accepted narrative over the years of “Vince doing everything” is often challenged and corrected by former Titan employees. They explain that Vince oversaw a lot and had a long-term vision for the company but depended on specialists who performed crucial tasks that helped WWE reach its heights.

Also, an often-understated major contributor to the WWF/WWE’s success is Vince’s wife, Linda, and the legal teams’ muscle, whose formidable efforts (and financial backing) kept Vince out of jail despite several disturbing accusations and lawsuits.

Who Coined the Term “WrestleMania”?

Hulk Hogan and Mr. T were featured in advertisements for the first WrestleMania event in 1985.
Hulk Hogan and Mr. T were featured in advertisements for the first WrestleMania event in 1985. Photo Credit: WWE.

Over the years, you’ve probably heard about several versions of who coined the term “WrestleMania.” Howard Finkel, who worked as a ring announcer and also as one of Vince’s office assistants, is a name that is often thrown around. However, after reading The Six Pack, another and more obscure claimant has his name thrown into that hat: Rex Jones.

Jones was a television guy, and according to former WWE Vice President of Finance Bob McMullan, who was interviewed for the book, he recalled a time Linda McMahon brought a few individuals into Vince’s office.

“We were all trying to think about how to do it. We were getting ‘mania.’ So Rex sits there and says, ‘It’s got to be WrestleMania; it rhymes with Hulkamania,’" McMullan recalls.

Other important themes covered in the book include why the talent never benefitted from workers’ compensation and health care and why they are still wrongly classified as independent contractors.

A former employee also shares the sly tactic Vince used to communicate with Hulk Hogan and other AWA wrestlers he wanted to recruit.

The Importance of the Iron Sheik in The Six Pack

The Six Pack: In Search of WrestleMania
The Iron Sheik became the right heel at the right time, and he and the mighty Nikolai Volkoff were in the crosshairs of many upset fans during the mid-80s. The heat they generated genuinely put their well-being in peril on many occasions.  Photo Credit: Pro Wrestling Stories.

Stories and journeys have a beginning and an end.

In the book, the Iron Sheik is the central character. He’s a pivotal figure in the wrestling crossroads where it forever plunged into sports entertainment and never looked back.

You genuinely fear for the author’s safety when he visits the Iron Sheik for the first time in 2005, and it’s all documented.

It was no fault of the author, but one could also chalk it up as another failed attempt to write an Iron Sheik biography. However, in this “failure,” something grander materialized: The Six Pack: On the Open Road in Search of WrestleMania.

Fayetteville, Georgia: Where the Story Begins

Fayetteville, Georgia: Home of The Iron Sheik.
Fayetteville, Georgia: Home of The Iron Sheik. Photo Credit: Georgia Government.

We start in Fayetteville, Georgia- home of the Iron Sheik – and we end there, too.

But this isn’t a spoiler; it’s a promise that there is so much in between that you’ll enjoy learning about.

On his quest, Balukjian tackles the age-old wrestling dichotomy of “Where does the wrestling persona end and the real person begin?” The answer is more complex than you might believe with some of the Six Packers.

The author seamlessly transitions from the past to the present. He ventures into various parts of the country and even the island of Puerto Rico. Still, it all ties into that fateful night Backlund dropped the title after his manager Arnold Skaaland threw in the towel, possibly sparing his man further injury.

All the wrestlers’ unique stories contain powerful reveals and eye-opening confessions but coincide in that their lives and careers were no strangers to tragedies and controversy.

Next Stop: “Mr. USA” Tony Atlas in Auburn, Maine

"Mr. USA" Tony Atlas
“Mr. USA” Tony Atlas. Photo Credit: WWE.

The personable “Mr. USA” Tony Atlas, in Auburn, Maine, discusses his quick push in wrestling and even faster fall. Shockingly, the first thing we learn about him is that he was homeless during his ICW World Championship run!

Atlas details how when he was in the WWF, he and “the Boys” felt invincible and had access to many things normal nine-to-fivers rarely do: free meals, clothes, cars, women, and even illegal narcotics.

“We got so much money and fame that it went to our heads. We figured we could do what we wanted without any consequences,” Tony confesses to the author.

Unfortunately, he quickly went through his money. Once you learn about Tony’s childhood hardships, you’ll understand why saving was inconceivable to him.

The Six Pack paints those hardships in painful detail. When his mother could not feed him, Tony, at twelve, is sent to an orphanage and says, “When the house mother fell asleep, things went on.”

Only his enviable physical strength saved him from the atrocities.

He soon learned to box and even got a pitchfork thrust into his back in an altercation! He admits that when growing up, “every Black kid was a street fighter because the police didn’t protect the Black neighborhood.”

When reading about Tony, you’ll feel uncomfortable with his retelling of critical life-changing events (including several attempts to end his life). Still, you’ll also leave Maine feeling like you made a new friend and wishing Tony the best.

A Visit to Tito Santana in New Jersey

Tito Santana developed into a beacon of reliability, looked up to by the Boys and respected by the Office. When Vince rolled the dice with the original WrestleMania in 1985, he featured Tito in the opening match, knowing that he would set the pace for the rest of the event and draw in the audience.
Tito Santana developed into a beacon of reliability, looked up to by the Boys and respected by the Office. When Vince rolled the dice with the original WrestleMania in 1985, he featured Tito in the opening match, knowing that he would set the pace for the rest of the event and draw in the audience. Photo Credit: Pro Wrestling Stories.

Next, you’ll find yourself visiting Tito Santana in New Jersey. Arriba! What is he doing now? Why did he retire in 1993 and pass on WCW?

Tito was always a babyface, but was Merced Solis a heel outside the ring?

Was the “Tito thing,” as the Boys called it, having a long career and then going home to your family once night arrived, all an act or the actual person behind the character?

Amongst many things in Tito’s life, The Six Pack also covers how he handled racism as a child from an immigrant Latino family growing up in Texas and his later sometimes strained relationship with his son Michael, who is openly gay.

A Visit to Sgt. Slaughter

Sgt. Slaughter
Sgt. Slaughter. Photo Credit: WWE.

Sgt. Slaughter is still a wrestling icon, immortalized by his involvement with the G.I. Joe entertainment property.

But what does he have to say about his intense and often violent program with the Iron Sheik, which did wonders for their careers?

The Sarge’s predisposition to kayfaybing his service in the armed forces (it was all storyline, he never served in the military) is also discussed and analyzed.

Brownsville, Pennsylvania: Home of Bill Eadie

Bill Eadie (left) as part of Demolition.
Bill Eadie (left) as part of Demolition. Photo Credit: WWE.

Then, on to Brownsville, Pennsylvania. Bill Eadie (Demolition Ax, Masked Superstar) welcomes the reader with open arms and believes a person’s word is everything.

However, like many interviewed for The Six Pack, he makes some strong statements about the often controversial Vince McMahon, who makes promises only to be broken later. We also discover that he’s been issuing NDAs to employees for years.

You may know that Eadie sued McMahon and the WWF/WWE and won. The book delves into all the details.

We also get a surprising interview with attorney Konstantine Kyros, who represented former wrestlers who claimed to have suffered effects from CTE and claimed WWE negligence.

We learn some disturbing claims about Chris Nowinski’s Concussion Legacy Foundation, which was supposedly there to spearhead CTE research.

Kudos to the author for landing this interview.

Last Stop: José Luis Rivera

José Luis Rivera (AKA Mac Rivera, Conquistador #1, and more).
José Luis Rivera (AKA Mac Rivera, Conquistador #1, and more). Photo Credit: WWE.

Finally, we have José Luis Rivera (formerly known as Mac Rivera, Conquistador #1, and more).

Did you know that he was being groomed to be the next Puerto Rican superstar like former WWF World Champion Pedro Morales before him? The Six Pack reveals who he believes sabotaged the whole push.

While Rivera welcomes the author to his home in Puerto Rico, his behind-the-scenes stories pull you in.

For instance, Rivera says that ring announcer Howard Finkel came up with The Conquistadors’ name even though Rivera was unfamiliar with what a Conquistador was! He also dives into his favorite opponents as a Conquistador, The Rockers.

Although lesser known than the other legends chronicled, you’ll be glad the author got to speak with him.

Is “The Six Pack: On the Open Road in Search of WrestleMania” Worth Reading? Our Verdict.

Book cover of "The Six Pack: On the Open Road in Search of WrestleMania."
Book cover of “The Six Pack: On the Open Road in Search of WrestleMania.” Photo Credit: Hachette Books.

“The Six Pack: On the Open Road in Search of WrestleMania” is exceptionally well-written, meticulously researched, and absolutely worth adding to your collection if you’re a fan of wrestling books. It raises the bar very high for writers who want to add to the ever-growing library of historical wrestling works.

Admittedly, there were moments, like the deep dive into the author’s wrestling training or the extensive details about the geography and history of the wrestlers’ hometowns, where I found myself itching to get back to the main storyline. It felt like a slight detour from the wrestling tales we came for. Yet, it’s hard not to admire Brad’s humility and respect for the wrestling profession, even when sharing his personal journey of trying to wrestle.

The geographical insights, while detailed, showcase the thoroughness of Brad’s research, although they might seem a bit much for some readers. However, these bits don’t take away from the book’s core value.

The book is an incredible journey through the heart of wrestling’s biggest stage, and it’s absolutely worth the read.

Further Fascinating Stories Found in “The Six Pack: On the Open Road in Search of WrestleMania”

Jimmy Snuka.
Jimmy Snuka. Photo Credit: WWE.

“The Six Pack: On the Open Road in Search of WrestleMania” covers several more fascinating stories.

The largely unknown and disastrous tales of the WWF’s four Middle East tours between 1983 and ’85, run by Jim Troy, include referee Mike Breen’s fight with Jimmy Snuka on a plane!

Why have you probably never heard of this referee? According to the book, “the road ate him alive.”

The 1987 story about the Iron Sheik and Hacksaw Jim Duggan riding in the same car containing illegal narcotics is well documented. But the Iron Sheik had already made headlines for all the wrong reasons. The incident involved a physical confrontation with a gas attendant, leading to a 7-minute video with WWF personalities presented by a celebrity lawyer to the judge vouching for the Iron Sheik being an “upstanding member of society.”

And how about the elephant in the room? Hulk Hogan, who dethroned the Iron Sheik in his short-lived title run, is also in the book, but not in the way you might expect.

Does the name Dany Brazil ring a bell? No? He was a former band member and friend of the one and only Hulk Hogan, who later referred to him in court as “a mule.” Brazil was almost speechless after learning how Hogan wrongly described him.

You can now purchase the riveting book “The Six Pack: On the Open Road in Search of WrestleMania” to have a ringside seat to all of this and more. You can also stay updated on Brad Balukjian’s latest at TheBradPack.com.

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https://popcultureretrorama.wordpress.com/author/javierojst/

Javier Ojst is an old-school wrestling enthusiast currently residing in El Salvador. He's been a frequent guest on several podcasts and has a few bylines on TheLogBook.com, where he shares stories of pop culture and retro-related awesomeness. He has also been published on Slam Wrestling and in G-FAN Magazine.