Reflecting On an Issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated From December ’88
Everyone poked fun at Bill Apter and his family of Apter mags, but you have to understand their place in wrestling.
PWI was born during the traditional, territorial days of the sport, when breaking kayfabe was a major no-no. What promoter in that era would cooperate with a magazine that talked openly about predetermined finishes, real names, behind the scenes antics, and drug arrests? Zero.
So Apter had no choice but to be a glorified fanzine that pretended wrestling was what promoters wanted their audience to believe it was: the real deal. And there was definitely a segment of the audience, like there is today, who don’t know all the inner workings and terminology, but are definitely interested in reading more about the sport they love. For those people, PWI provided a fairly satisfying product.
But still, it’s really funny to go back and look at some of these issues. So now we will take time to dissect an issue from the late 80s heyday of wrestling.
Date: December, 1988
Cover Photo: The 4 Horsemen & JJ Dillon
Cover Story: “The Four Horsemen’s Revolving Door: Who’s Next to Go?”
The cover photo of this issue just screams out, “80s NWA TBS wrestling!” It was a fun era, but I think some of us look back on it too fondly. Yes, the PPVs were pretty good and Flair & Cornette provided top-notch interviews. But the TBS studio wrestling format featured squash matches 95% of the time, and there were quite a few stiffs that got pushes. Longtime fans are sometimes quick to reminisce these glory days and decry modern WWE. Well, OK, but the fact is WWE from 1999-2001 came through on big shows and main events that blew the NWA away aside from the Flair main events and Midnight Express semi-mains. And while the Austin/Angle/Rock/HHH/Jericho main events weren’t as good as some of the Flair classics, they weren’t far behind. And they happened a lot more frequently, too.
But as someone who grew up watching the NWA on TBS, I have some very fond memories.
First of all, that version of the Horsemen totally kicked ass! Arn & Tully can’t touch Benoit & Malenko for technical skill, but they were still very good and at least they got a much bigger push and gave good interviews. And while Windham is perhaps the biggest waste of talent this industry will ever know, 1988 was HIS year and few were better than he was that year. Flair was Flair as always.
So let’s open the magazine.
The first page features an ad for a video called, “The Von Erichs: Front Row Ringside.” On top are all the Von Erich brothers, plus Fritz. I’ve heard all the terrible things about Kevin, but he doesn’t deserve anywhere close to the grief he’s had to go through. Only one of those people remains alive today, and sadly, his brothers aren’t the only ones in this mag who are no longer with us.
I’ve seen parts of that video, and I’m always blown away. Incredible heat, action, and interviews. The Freebirds were the quintessential territorial heels.
The “Ringside” section with Bill Apter talks about Curt Hennig’s recent jump from the AWA to the WWF. Hennig literally looks as skinny as Randy Orton does today. Well, except for his midsection. Hennig was not an instant hit in the WWF, but became a very effective character over time. That mindset of allowing guys to develop has all but disappeared from the current WWE philosophy. In fact, that mindset cost the WWF millions of dollars last year in the WCW invasion angle abortion.
The “In Focus” section goes into why HonkyTonk Man’s IC title reign longevity doesn’t necessarily make him a great champion. Do you realize how ridiculous the idea sounds today that a champ cold hold any title longer than a year? We all know who Honky beat for the title, and who beat Honky for the title. Today, how many of us remembered that RVD beat Eddy Guerrero for the IC title in that awesome ladder match on RAW? Thank you.
A photo compares the physical similarity of Ron Garvin to Barney Rubble. Now that’s funny. I’d go a step further and compare Dusty’s decision to feud Garvin with Flair with the WWE’s decision to feud Austin with Hall.
Next up is the funniest part: “Looking Back” with Matt Brock. This month he takes a look at Jake Roberts. Fine, but what’s hilarious is that photo of Brock. He’s got stacks of papers all around him, a cigarette in his mouth, and a typewriter right in front of him. Find me ONE person who truly believed Brock really did all this scientific wrestling research to come up with these crummy articles that were about 500 words long? Like that’s really a full-time job? Did he come to work and write one sentence during an entire 8-hr work day?
Anyway, the column discusses how Jake was going back to his roots and becoming more aggressive in his feud with Rick Rude. Actually that feud did have some entertaining angles. Who can forget the image of Cheryl Roberts slapping the pucker of Rick Rude? If Jake had stayed in shape and off the drugs, he wouldn’t be in the position he’s in today.
Heel columnist Eddie Ellner wrote some words about Bruiser Brody in his, “Off the Top Rope” column. As a huge fan of Stan Hansen, Ellner was naturally a big fan of Brody. It was good to see at least some press on Brody’s murder, because there surely wasn’t anything else in the States acknowledging it. Since he never had a big run with cable TV-era WWF or NWA, lots of fans today never really got to see Brody wrestle. And even most of those who did never saw his best work in All Japan. Remember what I said about the Von Erichs not being the only ones in this mag who met tragedy? It goes on.
Time for everyone’s favorite: the “PWI’s Top 10.” Here they are, followed by what they’re doing now in 2002:
1. Randy Savage (holding up Andrew McManus for more money before a PPV and challenging Hogan to fantasy matches for cheap publicity)
2. Ric Flair (Raw commissioner and heel who shouldn’t be a heel)
3. Jerry Lawler (Raw commentator and indie headliner)
4. Ted DiBiase (religious ex-nWo-ite who deplores wrestling’s moral values)
5. Lex Luger (enjoying his money while pretending WWE still has interest in him)
6. Sting (enjoying his money while getting offers from everyone else besides WWE)
7. Kerry Von Erich (sadly took his own life before his 40th birthday)
8. Barry Windham (sadly gaining weight and making appearances for Dusty’s TCW)
9. Hulk Hogan (just finished a run as WWE champ. Wait, am I getting 2002 and 1988 mixed up? Sadly, I’m not)
10. HonkyTonk Man (an indie “sensation” who makes occasional WWE PPV appearances to the sounds in the crowd of, “Who’s that?”)
And for the tag teams:
1. Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard (bumping for Austin; bumping for God)
2. Hawk & Animal (beating up Savage; beating up the elastic on his underwear and pants)
3. Ax & Smash (finding wrestling’s next lame gimmick; who knows where Eadie is?)
4. Bobby Eaton & Stan Lane (having Cornette fight for his job; commentating for ESPN4’s women’s ping pong, or something like that)
5. Warlord & Barbarian (making an indie comeback; training with Haku for a UFC comeback with manager Terry Taylor)
6. Bobby Fulton & Tommy Rogers (giving seminars on, “Why You Should Never Record Your Ring Intro’s as Part of Your Entrance Music”)
7. Pat Tanaka & Paul Diamond (fastest bumps in wrestling; fastest disappearance from wrestling)
8. Bret Hart & Jim Neidhart (getting ripped off by George Anderson, John Edward, & Miss Cleo; playing in a ZZ Top tribute band around Calgary)
9. Kevin & Kerry Von Erich (COULD’VE been big stars in WWF or WCW in the 90s)
10. Jacques & Raymond Rougeau (plotting their revenge against Dynamite Kid while battling for arena exclusivity with Vince McMahon)
Other scattered names in the indie rankings: Chris Benoit (Stampede, #3), Brian Pillman (#6, Stampede), Max Pain (#1, CWA), Scott Steiner (#4, CWA), Jeff Jarrett (#5, CWA), Shane Douglas (#6, Continental).
This month’s pin-up centerfold is of Jim Duggan. Who’s the last person you want hanging on your wall? And yes, you can see up Duggan’s nose. And yes, his nose needs wiping.
Next up is an article titled, “Why Bam Bam Bigelow Left the WWF!” Bigelow was a huge deal in ’87, but he never really hit it huge like many predicted. New Japan was his saving grace. He did do a good job with Lawrence Taylor, but then what did WWF do with him?
“Media Review” dealt with the rapidly growing PPV industry. It said that by the year 2000, we might be seeing the SuperBowl on PPV. Well, at least the Olympics were. And I don’t think we’ll be seeing that experiment taking place again anytime soon.
Yet another Brody feature, this time chronicling his last match ever. He teamed with Carlos Colon to take on Abdullah the Butcher and Dan Spivey. A touching report is written by Eddie Gries, who photographed scenes from Brody’s last match and hung out with him that week. He said Brody wanted to cut down on his ring scheduled to spend more time with his family and travel. Pretty emotional, but little was written about the actual circumstances surrounding the stabbing or who the assailant was.
In an obvious sign that Apter was running out of ideas for articles, we now come upon the headline, “It’s Time for a WWF Intercontinental Tag Team Title!” Whatever happened to the notion that the fewer belts there are, the more they mean? Don’t worry PWI, WWF would eventually go on to create the European, Hardcore, Million Dollar, WCW World Heavyweight, Lightheavyweight, WCW Tag Team, United States, and Undisputed World titles. Plenty to go around. And several will change hands at EACH TV taping! Wonderful, huh?
The last humorous photo is that of Paul Heyman with Eddie Gilbert. In 1988, Heyman had a TON more hair than he does now. If he had taken action back then to correct his baldness problem, he wouldn’t need that hat today. Oh well.