The Six Pack by Brad Balukjian is available April 2 via Hachette Books. The author provided an advance copy for the purposes of this review.

WrestleMania week is almost upon us, and with it come a clutch of new wrestling books published to coincide with that time of year when interest in the squared circle is at its highest. Autobiographies by Becky Lynch and Ronda Rousey will grab the headlines, but the more discerning reader would do well to add The Six Pack to their reading list at the first opportunity.

Written by author and lifelong wrestling fan Brad Balukjian, The Six Pack is built around a simple but ambitious concept. Balukjian plucks a specific wrestling card (the December 26, 1983, Madison Square Garden show on which The Iron Sheik won the WWF Title from Bob Backlund) and sets himself the challenge of tracking down many of the names who performed that night.

The author has relevant experience in such an endeavor. In 2020, he published The Wax Pack: On the Open Road in Search of Baseball’s Afterlife, the acclaimed account of his mission to find all the ball players from a wax-coated pack of 1986 baseball cards, telling the untold stories of old pros’ lives after sporting excellence.

Balukjian takes the same approach with the wrestling he, like so many others, fell in love with in the 1980s, identifying the MSG card in question as a turning point just before the Hulk Hogan-fuelled pop culture boom that was to follow. He picks a manageable number of names that worked the event (Tony Atlas, Bill Eadie, Tito Santana, Sgt Slaughter, Jose Rivera, and the Iron Sheik himself) and jumps in his electric blue Ford Fusion to tell their stories.

What follows is a touchingly crafted love letter to the era of wrestling that millions first fell in love with, as Balukjian criss-crosses the country digging up old friends of the former stars, hearing their stories, and piecing together the often (but not always) troubling tales of what happens when the spotlight stops shining.

There are plenty of books out there about wrestling, but very few which approach the topic in the manner of road trip/travelogue (see John Lister’s excellent Slamthology). Balukjian’s odyssey took him more than 12,000 miles across 33 states over 62 days, sleeping in his car at times. As you might imagine, the story is just as much about the author as his subjects, as he retraces his own fandom, and reflects on how his career has mapped out.

A central thread which runs through The Six Pack is Balukjian’s particular childhood love of The Iron Sheik. The author worked with the Sheik (Khosrow Vaziri) on a planned biography in the ’00s which never came to fruition and grew close to Vaziri and his family. Vaziri’s life, much of it testing and traumatic, is told with a reverence and clarity that will leave you wishing that Iron Sheik book had been completed.

The difficulty of snagging interviews with certain pro wrestlers crops up from time to time, but Balukjian is nothing if not persistent. This quandary is something I myself am quite familiar with, as author of a book on 1980s wrestling star Adrian Adonis. Of the wrestlers Balukjian profiles, not all agree to speak to the author. Of those who do provide first-hand accounts of their careers, two (Atlas and Santana) do so in return for payment (which the author, to his immense credit, is upfront about with the reader).

This does not detract from the book. If anything, it enhances it. After all, there are plenty of notable names who do contribute: Gerry Brisco, Eric Bischoff, Jim Troy, and more. Some valuable nuggets are unearthed (getting Eadie to speak about his court settlement with the WWF is no mean feat). But the real value comes when Balukjian speaks to those names who mean nothing at all to a wrestling fan.

Balukjian uncovers, surely for the first time ever, a former bandmate of Hogan’s much-touted pre-wrestling career as a budding teenage rock guitarist. The Iron Sheik’s 94-year-old amateur wrestling coach is traced to a retirement home in Florida. The writer expertly shows that gold dust is waiting to be mined by identifying which people may know something about the thing you want to know about, and simply asking them. It sounds obvious but is rarely done this well – this type of journalism is an art form.

Sure, the world does not want to encourage a legion of wrestling fans to track down the childhood home of Terry Bollea and overwhelm the current owner with questions, but Balukjian shows why he is the right person to ask on everyone else’s behalf. There are plenty of untold, hidden stories about wrestling still waiting to be excavated. Anyone willing to go to these lengths to uncover them is to be applauded for the effort.

The Six Pack is a thrilling experiment and easily one of the most impressive books about wrestling ever written, the product of thousands of hours of love, miles driven, and hard work. It won’t be for everyone and at times the individual wrestler profiles feel too fleeting, but it is nevertheless an easy recommendation for anyone who loved wrestling then or loves it now.

The Six Pack by Brad Balukjian is available April 2 via Hachette Books.