A bizarre and wonderful collection of flash fiction stories set in the outrageous world of professional wrestling.
Providing something fresh and rousing to a sport that broke ground in the 1800s and now has unparalleled hours of media every week is an inconceivable task, yet author Ryan Dilbert manages it stylishly with his series of short stories that encapsulates the grand and wild wrestling world with even grander and wilder storytelling.
The fictional stories are all contained within the fictional realm of wrestling but they shine a light on the very real world consequences that are packaged with the profession. Some stories are playful whilst others are simply harrowing; a story of neglecting to get a nagging shoulder injury healed, resulting in the shoulder falling off and crawling to a supermarket; a story of a luchador being born with his mask on; a story of a high-flyer being able to soar through the clouds; a story about a sister trying to resurrect her two dead sisters; a look at wrestling’s past grappling with its present. Larger than life stories for larger than life characters but with truly grounded lessons.
Mat Burns serves as a reminder of what these athletes we hold in such high regard are struggling through, but it is never forced and never preachy. The surface level stories are a delight to read even if the subject matter can be serious, with each story having a clear subtext.
The charm of Mat Burns comes in the writing style Dilbert has adopted, flash fiction. The stories are no more than 3 pages long and are easily digestible. Given the short writing style there is a surprising depth to the writing that is a credit to Dilbert’s ability and creativity. There is a joy in the vagueness of each story. No one story is obvious in it being about a real life story or relating to a specific wrestler. That vagueness allows the reader to make their own assumptions on who a story may be referencing, if any.
A personal favourite is The Sicilian Colossus, in which a grandchild tries to uncover information on his deceased Grandad and is constantly met with conflicting reports; he was “an ornery drunk or a consummate professional or an asshole.” This nature of misinformation has rung true in wrestling since its inception with massive feats of exaggeration being the norm to give the illusion of wrestlers being only a step away from real life superheroes. A trend that is magnified when referring to the wrestlers of old, akin to the legendary tales we hear of Andre the Giant.
I found myself thinking back to when I was a child and I believed everything that was on the TV (of course Undertaker could send people to hell and had a demonic brother!). Mat Burns provides the same wonderment I had as a child, enamoured by this world that was somehow real and fake. The blurred lines of wrestling have never been hazier than when reading these stories.
You can follow author Ryan Dilbert on Twitter @ryandilbert
Interview with the Author of Mat Burns, Ryan Dilbert
What inspired you to create Mat Burns?
Wrestling is such a weird, beautiful, haunting and singular world. What better place to traverse via fiction? I was fascinated by the tall tales you hear about Andre the Giant. I found myself engrossed in the stories guys like Terry Funk and Freddie Blassie told in their autobiographies. I thought about where reality ended and mythology began for a wrestler like El Santo. Fascinated and enamoured with wrestling and its many layers, it was inevitable that it would bleed into my fiction. I started with The Sicilian Colossus story and it snowballed into a string of other stories.
Was there any specific inspiration for certain stories?
The sadness and strangeness of the real wrestling world definitely sparked many of my ideas. For some stories, it’ll be quite clear which wrestlers influenced them. The tale of Sammy Gorman’s ghost going berserk is a take on Bruiser Brody’s murder. I drew inspiration for The Halstad Sisters from the tragedies that befell The Von Erichs. The Sicilian Colossus is very Andre the Giant-like.
Other stories were inspired from a combination of wrestlers’ stories. Many of the themes of broken down bodies, of suffering, of searching for identity are things we’ve seen often across the medium.
Can we expect more from you?
I’d definitely love to write more wrestling fiction. It’s a sub-genre that hasn’t nearly been explored enough. And conjuring fictional wrestlers and their lives was one of the most fulfilling creative experiences I’ve had to date.
Are there any crazy stories you remember from growing up as a fan?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a wrestler and was quite serious about it. I used to practice moves on my parents’ bed and try out submissions on my little sister. I was working on a 450 splash-like move when I flipped off the bed, hit my foot on my dad’s weight bench and jammed my knee into my face. To this day, I can still vividly see my mom’s stunned face when I walked out of the room in tears, my face smeared with blood. I bent several of my teeth permanently thanks to the botch.
Why did you decide to use the flash fiction method of story-telling?
I started reading flash fiction after college and was blown away by the amount of emotion and imagery great writers could cram into such a small space. It’s one of my favorite mediums. You give the reader a peek of a world you create, hopefully leaving them wanting more. And I think it suits the wrestling theme as each of these stories becomes like a match on a card, each offering a taste of something different.
What promotions do you watch today?
I follow New Japan closely. It’s the best promotion in the world bar none. I watch a lot of STARDOM matches and the NXT TakeOver specials. Pre-quarantine, I used to regularly go to Reality of Wrestling (Booker T’s promotion here in Houston) shows live. We have so many talented wrestlers from Hyan to Mysterious Q, Gino Medina to Alex Gracia. It’s a thriving scene.
How has the response to Mat Burns been?
I’ve been happy with the response so far. Writers I really respect have dug the book. Next on my wish list is for wrestlers to read it. I have a feeling Mick Foley would be a fan.
You can follow author Ryan Dilbert on Twitter @ryandilbert