New Book Looks At Herb Abrams’ UWF

Vice TV’s Dark Side of The Ring, an acclaimed series that takes a look at some of the more notorious stories in the often-carny world of professional wrestling, gained praise for its ability to showcase some of the sport’s forgotten greats to a more main stream audience. Still, the other side of the coin of more exposure is that the narratives have to be trimmed to fit the 45-minute time frame of a television episode. So, sometimes very complex topics had to be shoehorned into a segment. During the COVID shutdown in 2020, Dark Side producers took a textbook example of one of the forgotten figures of the carny business and gave a new audience an introduction to Herb Abrams, the eccentric promoter that thought he was going to rival Vince McMahon’s sports entertainment empire. Among insiders and pro wrestling pundits, the tale of Abrams’ crash and burn, which led to his death from a cocaine-induced heart attack in 1996, was well-known, but a television audience didn’t get the chance to see what the short-lived Universal Wrestling Federation tried to accomplish prior to the Vice presentation.

As you might expect, the Dark Side of The Ring focuses on the meat of the matter, covering the almost unbelievable story of the over-the-top Abrams’ attempt to compete with the other national organizations of the early-90s. A combination of poor planning, prostitutes, and cocaine ended the UWF, as well as Abrams life.

But, who was this guy?

Even after the Vice documentary, questions remained about who was Herb Abrams beyond the guy that fizzled out with the UWF?

Nearly a decade before Vice’s documentary hit television screens, freelance writer, Jonathan Plombon toyed with the concept of a book about the bombastic leader of the Universal Wrestling Federation. A graduate of St. Cloud State University with a degree in English, Plombon has covered a slew of topics, ranging from sports to short-story fiction, with his work published in a myriad of platforms during his professional years.

“I’ve had more success with my fiction. I’ve been published in a few literary journals like Bourbon Penn and Bombay Gin. It’s great when something I write gets recognition, but the rejections can be depressing. You need a thick skin to make it, and I don’t think I do, so it gets hard,” Plombon explained.

However, the earliest foundation of what eventually led to a desire to write about professional wrestling started very early in his life. A Minnesota native, Plombon’s earliest exposure was to Verne Gagne’s AWA and an early version of Hulk Hogan. Later in his youth, he stumbled upon the UWF on television and the neon program stuck with him for some reason.

“I watched the UWF on Sports Channel when I was a kid. I remember never knowing when it was supposed to air because the days and the times changed so much. The other thing that stayed with me were the venues that the UWF held their shows. The Penta events in New York were the most memorable, just because it looked like it was taking place in a hotel lobby, which it kind of was. That’s what stuck with me for over a decade,” he remarked.

Several years after the UWF went under, Plombon used primitive dial-up internet access to scower several pages of message board text to find out more information about what exactly he watched as a kid. He was fascinated with Herb’s entrepreneurial approach and the possibilities of what could’ve been with the UWF if Abram’s overambitious plans wouldn’t have taken the organization over a cliff. Even as he graduated from college and entered the work force, he wondered who was the guy behind the UWF?

“Years and years later, I was at my horrible job, daydreaming about what subjects I could write a book about. Abrams popped into my mind. I thought it was perfect. I had already been a fan of the UWF for over a decade at this point, so I knew that I wouldn’t lose interest. I also liked the idea of writing a book about Abrams that presented him in a different light, but still acknowledging his more unlikable traits,” Jonathan explained.

“Abrams was a complex individual. It’s hard to judge him from his time in the limelight, because his drug abuse already had its claws in him by that point. Prolonged cocaine use affects a person’s judgement and rational thinking. So, it’s difficult to know whether or not he would have made those same decisions with a clear head,” he added.

By 2010, Plombon began to research not only the inner workings of the Universal Wrestling Federation as an organization, but also attempted to unwrap the mystery of Herb Abrams as well. Jonathan referred to the archives of the “dirt sheets” or the insider newsletters from the era to find the headlines about the narrative of the promotion as it unfolded at the time. A combination of Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer and Wade Keller’s Pro Wrestling Torch gave him the scoop on some of the backstage dealings of the UWF. The book itself, later titled, “Tortured Ambition:The Story of Herb Abrams and the UWF” had comments from dozens and dozens of people that were affiliated with the organization in some forms of fashion, an aspect of the research that was considerably difficult for the author, as he tracked down various wrestlers through the internet to set up interviews.

“When it came to actually writing the book, I went through all of the sources and tried to organize them by subject. Then I placed them into chronological order. When I started writing, I found a number of conflicting stories. I kept thinking that it would get easier after each part. It never really did,” Plombon said.

While still jugging his other work mentioned previously, Plombon found himself often overwhelmed by the writing process because of how dreary the circumstances were for the book’s main figure, Abrams were through the vast majority of the group’s existence. The author was tasked with attempting to do what almost nobody else that examined the pro wrestling industry had done yet, figure out exactly where Abrams’ show business facade began and ended. His diligent research was exhausting, as he sifted through conflicting accounts of Abrams to yield the most accurate account of the promoter as possible.

“I quit the book many, many times, but I always picked it back up because I didn’t have anything else to get me through the day. I was severely depressed because of matters unrelated to the book, which affected my motivation, but then again, I often got depressed because of the book, too. The toughest aspect of the project always changed depending on what I was doing. I thought that the writing would be easier than the research. But then when I started to write it, I thought that the editing would be the hardest. Once I finished writing and editing the book, I thought that finding a publisher would be easier. It was not,” Jonathan remarked.

After a decade of chronicling the UWF in some form or fashion, Plombon’s in-depth look at Herb Abrams was published in late-2021, achieving notoriety on Amazon’s list of pro wrestling publications. Years of writing, hundreds of hours of interviews, and the stress of such a daunting project led to the most thorough write-up about the Universal Wrestling Federation that is available to the public.

“Now that it’s finished, it’s the regrets that are the hardest part. I honestly wish I would have sought out more of his family members. I wanted to, but I thought that they didn’t want to be bothered. I found out later that many of them didn’t know that the book was being written. The most rewarding aspect of the book is knowing that I put something out there that had never been done before. Some of these stories haven’t been shared with the public. These are the parts of his life that no one else ever bothered to look in to. I think that it reveals that Abrams wasn’t the conman whom people describe him as being. He cared about the wrestling and he cared about the relationships with the wrestlers, Plombon said.

Many pundits have already considered “”Tortured Ambition:The Story of Herb Abrams and the UWF” the definitive publication for not only its attention to detail as a synopsis of the UWF, but also a biography of Herb Abrams.

“Abrams wasn’t one-sided. He had a lot going on,” Plombon concluded.

If you would like to purchase the book you can find it on Amazon

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta