Joe Babinsack looks at Pro Wrestling Illustrated's 100th issue
Pro Wrestling Illustrated
Cover Date: December, 1987
The more things change, the more they stay the same … or so the saying goes. One of my secondary purposes to this column has become nostalgia. And what’s more nostalgic than looking back at the industry, and it’s number one publication from twenty years ago this month, especially when that particular issue was the 100th of Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s esteemed history?
In other words, let’s get nostalgic over a special issue recap of that magazine’s first eight years or so of existence.
But first, a short look at the world of pro wrestling journalism. Today, there are major avenues of getting information. With web sites being the norm, every promotion of note has their own, free and public communications device, which has radically changed the business of producing monthly magazines.
Now, that information is fast, free and far more reliable than ever.
With the WWF starting up its own magazine with a winter issue of ‘84/’85, the room for the typical type of magazine story – storyline, interviews and analysis, quickly became crowded. While newsletters existed way before that time, the notoriety of the weekly newsletter, and notably the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, began to rise to the level of a true alternative to the magazines. By the end of the 1980s, when internet newsgroup efforts spun rec.sports.pro.wrestling out of its rec.sports.misc home, there became even more opportunities for crazed wrestling mutants to get lightning fast information on a readily accessible forum. Although with the internet, reliability was always an issue.
But I’m sure, for anyone over the age of thirty or so, the growing interest in professional wrestling almost always started with the magazines. Now, there are so many more avenues of following the sport, but PWI persists, and even has its own web sitehttp://www.pwi-online.com
The Wrestler was the main competitor, with “Thumbs up, Thumbs down” being one of the favorites, plus the ongoing feature that explored major feuding wrestlers – Head to Head, I believe it was called.
But other than those two features, Pro Wrestling Illustrated (PWI) was the top of the food chain. From Bill Apter’s “Ringside” column to “From the Desk of … Stuart M. Saks” and the solid historical perspective of Craig Peters to the wonderfully heel voice of David Rosenbaum, PWI had it all.
Even more so, it definitely covered the world, and the “Enquirer” section always had that last minute news that scooped the competition. PWI also had its major awards, plus a recap of the year’s festivities. Retrospectives, analysis and great information, plus features and pieces that fleshed out all the important feuds, what more could you ask for?
How about the PWI “Official Ratings” !!!
There isn’t a mention of Top Ten lists that doesn’t elicit a response from multiple fans about the Top Ten. And PWI was top of the charts on that one.
In the 100th Issue, there were four major promotions covered, and six more regional ones. The ongoing debate was always who deserved top ranking. While the NWA, AWA and WWF were sure fire locks, there was always debate over others. Again, in this particular issue, the UWF was ‘raised’ to that level, with Steve Willams the Champion, and Shane Douglas and Shaska Whatley holding the last two spots.
Just for Nostalgia, Hogan was WWF Champ, with The Honky Tonk Man the IC/Number One contender. Curt Hennig ruled the AWA, with Nick Bockwinkle Number One. And Ric Flair was the NWA strap holder, with Lex Luger Number One.
Of course, The Honky Tonk Man, the GREATEST INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPION EVER, was slotted Number One because of the IC belt. Luger likely by holding the United States belt. I’m not so sure if the AWA maintained a default Number One/Belt slot.
But anyway, Top Tens are the coolest of all things, and every old school leaning fan who grew up on PWI and other mags just pines away for them to return. There were a few attempts by the NWA/WCW organization to roll out one in the early 1990’s, I recall, but just like a TV Champion, that seems to be another bygone gimmick that should would and could work today, but by gum, Vince never did such shenanigans, so don’t hold your breath for someone to put either on display.
But I digress.
The list of “regional” promotions is vastly nostalgic.
World Championship Wrestling is of course the Georgia/Mid South merged territories of Jim Crockett Promotions, which would soon engulf the UWF and usurp any difference between its operations and the NWA itself. But here, it is listed as a regional. And Lazor-Tron is listed as Number Nine. Do you see why WCW is a regional?
World Class (from Texas) was listed, with Kevin Von Erich poignantly listed as World Class Champion, and no other Von Erich on any list. Kerry must have been doing a tour of Japan or such. Brody is listed Number Seven in WCCW, and The Spoiler Number Nine.
(My apologies to the deceased. That’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.)
Florida is represented by Mike Rotundo, with Dory Funk JR!!!! as Number One, followed by Kevin Sullivan and Ed “the Bull” Gantner, with Teijho Khan Number Seven. And damned if Lazor-Tron isn’t Number Ten. But I ain’t recanting my snide remark about WCW at this point.
Mid-Southern, which is Jerry Lawler’s promotion, which I know because Jerry Lawler is listed as Number One contender, and it’s champion is called the AWA Southern Champion, namely Don “the Outlaw” Bass. Rocky Johnson, of all people, is Number Five on the list!
Continental was the long time Alabama promotion that introduced some great names. “Wildcat” Wendell Cooley, who happened to be my favorite wrestler I never saw wrestle much, was the Continental Champion. “Dirty” Dutch Mantel, who languishes in his own hell called TNA (ok, pure speculation on my part) was the Number One. Mr. Wrestling II lived on in Continental as Number Six in 1987, and the Golden/Fuller family representatives, as well as MR OLYMPIA, rounded out that regional top ten.
Puerto Rico was involved on the lists, and despite my acclaim given to PWI as world wide in nature, the addition of All Japan and New Japan (and SWS, I’m sure) came later in the decade, if not the early 1990’s, so PWI in 1987 had the sort of blinders on that helped hardcore fans to scream for coverage by the newsletters and the nascent university based internet newsgroups.
Anyway, Puerto Rico was headlined by Hercules Ayala, and of course with Carlos Colon, the eventual Savio Vega as TNT, (then the killer,) and ominously with Bruiser Brody in the Number Six spot. Anyone remember Jason the Terrible? He’s Number Ten.
The PWI retrospective following, which typically was the place for spotlighting an even smaller regional promotion, or analyzing trends and movements, lists the initial PWI Top Tens, with Bobby Backlund as the very vanilla WWF Champion, Harley Race as king of the NWA ring, and, surprisingly Nick Bockwinkle as AWA champion, with an even more surprising name as top contender, Verne Gagne, and if your mind can withstand it, Greg Gagne in the Number Three spot!!!
Most Popular and Most Hated were the best though, but 1987 doesn’t have that strange irony of Jerry Lawler on both lists, that will come later. Here, Lawler is Number Ten on the most Popular, with Hogan (undoubtedly reminiscing about this today) as Number One, and Ric Flair (undoubtedly reminiscing about this today) and Number One Most Hated.
What the hell, Dory Funk Jr. is Number Ten Most Hated! Killer Khan lives on in the Hated department from his run against Andre, and Larry (I dare you to spell it without reference) ZBYSZKO is Number Seven!
I won’t bore with further Most Popular names, because I’m a long time heel fan, and I hate those guys.
Tag Teams, you might ask?
Road Warriors undoubtedly and unquestionably at the top, as Number Two contenders to the NWA Tag Team belts held by The Rock and Roll Express, with the Midnight Express holding the US Tag Team belts, and undoubtedly and undeniably the Number One contenders to those belts, even though they are Number Four on the list.
Ok, that is painfully confusing, and a sign of PWI’s crack staff playing it like they see it, not like the promotions want the marks to believe.
Tag Teams (with weight and contendership to promotional belts omitted)
1. The Road Warriors
2. Brett Hart and Jim Neidhart
3. The Rock and Roll Express
4. The Midnight Express
5. Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson
6. The British Bulldogs
7. Tim Horner and Brad Armstrong (note to self: seriously?!?)
8. The Sheepherders
9. The Fantastics (!!!!)
10. Dino Bravo and Greg Valentine
Wow. Not much room for much else. I hope this has been an interesting trip down nostalgia lane for you too.
As much as the publishing/magazine industry has been slammed by the immediacy of the internet, and the control of promotions (ie WWE) over talent and in terms of doing their own mags, the history of Pro Wrestling Illustrated in my own fan appreciation of pro wrestling will always be of importance and fondly remembered.
Not that you should purchase PWI over the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, but don’t hesitate to check out what they do today. They continue to have lots of good stuff, and a strong journalistic feel to their coverage of the industry, which undoubtedly affects many people to this day.
Joe Babinsack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. I plan on looking at that $1 Walmart wrestling DVD, upon reminder, as well as some MMA books by Mr. Couture and Mr. Penn. I always welcome suggestions, feedback and constructive criticism, and notably review materials or suggestions of what to cover.