REVIEW: Follow the Buzzards – Pro Wrestling in the Age of COVID-19 (2022)

A book by Keith Elliot Greenberg

As a wrestling fan, 2020 started like just about any other year. I recall attending my very first All Elite Wrestling show in February, during the lead up to the AEW Revolution pay-per-view, and thinking that this was probably one of the best times to be wrestling fan in years. There was more than one BIG company out there, and largely everyone was doing well on TV. Storylines were great and even smaller feds like Impact Wrestling were at a creative upswing. I wasn’t oblivious to the outside world going into that show, there were numerous videos going around from Wuhan China that showed people dropping in the streets, people welding doors shut to trap infected people inside, and dystopian scenes of men in white smocks spraying everything down with backpack mounted sprayers, but at that time all I cared about was watching Jon Moxley kick Chris Jericho’s teeth out in the lead up to their main event match. And just like that, everything changed.

No more than two weeks later, if I recall correctly, professional wrestling entered what is now being coined “The COVID Era”, a time that pushed some companies to their creative limit and pushed others into near desperation or worse. This was a time when I got acquainted with independent wrestling far more than I had been in years, and utterly dropped WWE from my watchlist largely due to some of the actions taken by company leadership during the pandemic. Follow the Buzzards, a new book released by ECW Press, takes a look at this turbulent time in history and sheds some light on exactly how weird it was being a wrestling fan during that time. Almost every other sport ended for a while, but not wrestling. Wrestling is eternal, and wrestling never stops.

“Industry expert Keith Elliot Greenberg chronicles pro wrestling through the most memorable, controversial, and polarizing period of the last two decades. As a new decade dawned, 2020 was supposed to be the best year to be a wrestling fan. Finally, WWE had serious competition in All Elite Wrestling (AEW), and there were viable secondary promotions and a thriving international indie scene. Few in the industry realized that in China, a mysterious virus had begun to spread. By the time a pandemic was declared in March, the business — and the world — was in disarray. For the first time, pro wrestling was no longer seen as escapism, as real-world events intruded on the fantasy. Still, when everything else shut down, wrestling never went away.”

This book is as much a look at politics leading into the now infamous 2020 United States Presidential Election and the history of COVID-19 itself as a book on professional wrestling. That may come across as weird to some people, but it’s really hard to look at pretty much anything during the year 2020 without considering both the pandemic and politics. I think that’s why that was a particularly rough time for a lot of people, because it was hard to just lay back and not get bombarded with pure DOOM coming from every direction in regard to political nonsense and media fearmongering in regard to the pandemic. For me, wrestling did stay an escape, while one could argue that those very same political issues leaked into it from time to time. If you recall this was also the same time that The United States was tipping on the brink of a racially charged war against the populace and the police do to questions of law enforcement’s handling of petty crimes that became deadly seemingly every time a person with too much melanin in their skin did something. One of the many things this book reminded me about was that one of the major reasons that I stopped watching WWE was an honest attempt at turning both the Black Lives Matter protests and ANTIFA into a misguided storyline obviously created by a geriatric man that had no idea what the real world is like.

For some people, reading about a time in near history that most people are frantically trying to get away from might be distressing, but for me it was really interesting to see Keith Elliot Greenberg take all of these world events and arrange them in a chronological history throughout the year. He leaves no stone unturned and does a great job of pointing out the absurdity of some of the crazy stuff that was going on at the time. Whether it be an over reliance on cinematic matches or wrestling in front of hundreds of gigantic plasma screen TV’s, there really wasn’t ever a time like the pandemic era ever in the past and hopefully never in the future.

At times this book can come across as a bit disorganized, almost as if this was in fact a couple of different books merged together, but that’s just the nature of the beast when it comes to something written in the scope of what the author was going for here. I feel that the author never really loses a grasp on the overall topic of explaining the events of 2020 and 2021 in terms of professional wrestling and its fans, which is a good thing because there were ample opportunities for this book to veer into weird directions that were thankfully reigned back in. I can imagine that some people are not going to be fans of the political message in the book, as a certain administration does not come across in the most spectacular of ways, but I generally agree with a lot of the authors opinions on what was going on during the time.

Overall, this is definitely an interesting topic for a professional wrestling book – it’s not really something you see in a market that is largely biographical in nature. In many ways this kind of reminded me of numerous books that were coming out during the pandemic from philosophers, writers such as Slavoj Zizek, that chronicled the absurdities of the pandemic while it was happening. Professional wrestling fans will definitely get an appreciation for all the good and bad that came out of this era as there was some really good stuff despite the circumstances surrounding it, and just like that there was some astoundingly bad decisions made by a lot of companies as well.

I have not read the authors previous work, Too Sweet, which chronicled the unlikely rise of independent wrestling leading up to what could be considered the greatest independent wrestling super show ever – All In (the show that basically birthed All Elite Wrestling), but I really should seek that out as I enjoyed how this is written and the overall tone of the book. Reliving 2020 via the pages of wrestling book has been rough, not going to lie, but if there’s anything this book does well, it is showing that there can be hope in the unlikeliest of places sometimes. When everything is going bad in the world around you sometimes you need that escapism that is often criticized by people that seemingly don’t like to have fun, and professional wrestling has been my rock in a lot of dark times, and I’m sure it was for others.

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Note: I was provided a free copy of this book by ECW Press in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks to them for the consideration.

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