Flashback Friday: WWF Magazine April 1987

Howdy gang. I’m a bit sad because I’ve got an issue of WWF Magazine coming up with Ken Patera on the cover, and I’ve already completely missed the boat on the Pateramania that hit this blog last week. How was I supposed to know he was going to be the it boy? Anyway, time to pull out your Hulkamania merch, because this week, we look back at the 1987 issue of WWF Magazine that went to press on the eve of Wrestlemania III and sold $2.25 in the U.S and $3.00 in Canada. With a cover featuring Hulk and Andre, this issue illustrates a wrestling company “peaking at the right time,” as they say in the biz. Let’s jump in.

We kick things off with Around the Ring with Ed Ricciuti, where Ed shares letters from fans responding to his query, ‘Who is the quickest wrestler in the WWF?” Daniel from Buffalo emphatically says, “THE QUICKEST MAN IN THE WWF IS HULK HOGAN.” (So for those of you keeping track at home, last issue, Gorilla Monsoon said Hogan had one of the best dropkicks in the business, and this month Hogan is cited as one of the fastest wrestlers around. Next issue, we’ll find out he’s one of the premier high flyers.) Other names mentioned by readers are Roddy Piper, Tito Santana, Koko B. Ware (with the magazine no longer spelling it KoKo), Jake Roberts, Tama of the Islanders, Leaping Lanny Poffo, and Ricky Steamboat. (Tama owes a debt of gratitude to the fan who wrote in with his name, as this is his first mention in WWF Magazine.) There were two WWF superstars, however, who stood out in terms of volumes of mail praising them for their speed. The second-most mentioned was Randy Savage. “Without a doubt, Randy Savage,” say Carol, Jennifer, and Maryann from Jersey City. “Speed and agility help him hold his title,” says Joey from Philadelphia. “He is the quickest,” says Morgan from Randallstown, Maryland. But the most mentioned wrestler was The Dynamite Kid. “Moves like lightning,” says Matt from Ogdensburgh, NY. “A fast suplex,” observes Steve from Cambridge, Ontario. “The fastest in the WWF,” says Annie from Sterling Heights, Michigan. Ed asks fans to write in to answer another question: which WWF wrestler has the best mastery of scientific technique? (Oh, God, someone’s gonna write in and say Hulk Hogan, aren’t they?)

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Next up, WWF Lowdown. Well, surprise surprise, the issue of WWF Magazine with Elizabeth on the cover was their best selling issue ever. (Heck, it would probably sell out today if they rereleased it.) When she heard the news from the editors, Elizabeth expressed her pleasure, although modestly, as is her way. Reports are that Savage is green with envy. Elsewhere, in the WWF, there’s a newcomer from Down Under!

Outback Jack has quickly established that he’s one rugged dude. No wonder. He has lived his life in the Aussie back country with some of the most cantankerous critters on God’s good earth. Growing up there has given Jack steely courage and an unflappable disposition. Look for big things from this guy! (And hey, if Outback Jack doesn’t win the title, maybe his American half-brother, Cactus Jack will.) Lastly, Wrestlemania III will feature a match between Harley Race and Junkyard Dog with Race’s Kingship on the line. Whoever loses must kneel and pay homage. (Hopefully the loser will be gracious in defeat.)

Next up, Battle of the Titans recaps the Savage/Steamboat feud and announces their match for Wrestlemania III “in a bout that promises to be the stuff of legends.” (Promises, promises.) Steamboat and Savage started in the WWF at virtually the same time, setting them on a collision course, but Savage took Steamboat out of action using the timekeeper’s bell to injure Steamboat’s throat. Doctors worried Steamboat would never talk again, but Steamboat, defying all odds, has recovered from the injury and vows revenge. “Randy Savage may have thought that he ended Steamboat’s career,” says the article, “but instead he ignited a fire in the breast of the Dragon. A fire that will burn with cold fury when Savage and Steamboat step between the ropes at Wrestlemania III.”

Next, apparently three years is a long time. The article recaps Andre’s heel turn in all its glory and sets the table for Wrestlemania III. (You know what I loved about Andre as a heel? He didn’t have to do any of the usual heel tactics, such as getting overly frustrated when the fans booed him or overreacting to an insulting name such as Weasel. He didn’t have to cut a promo of a lifetime. He didn’t even need any music. He just needed to raise his eyebrow and it was Earth-moving, or glare into the camera, and it was frightening, or say a few words, and it was intimidating. He was a minimalist in a world where the minimalists were disappearing, and he made it work better than the flamboyant attention seekers. Andre might still be my favorite heel of all time.)

Anyway, after some initial tension between Hulk and Andre over some trophy ceremonies, everything came to a head on Piper’s Pit, after Jesse Ventura proposed a meeting between Hulk and Andre to clear the air. Ventura brought in Andre the Giant, who was accompanied by Bobby Heenan. Piper brought in Hogan, who was upset to see just whom Andre was with. Andre didn’t care. He simply said, “Look at me when I’m talk to you. I’m here to challenge you to a championship match at Wrestlemania III.” To make his point, the Giant then subjected Hogan to the ultimate indignity. Reaching out a gargantuan hand, Andre ripped Hogan’s shirt from his body and tore loose the chain with the gold cross the Hulkster wears around his neck. The Giant then stalked off the set, accompanied by his new manager. Hogan sank to his knees to gather up the shreds of his shirt and broken chain. Later Hogan said, “When he pulled my shirt off, man, and ripped the cross off my chest, he dug in and tore my heart out. Why didn’t he just take a stake and drive it into my heart? He’s with Heenan now. It’s all different. He’s different.” When pressed by Piper to supply an answer to the challenge, Hogan lifted his head, his face flushed with emotion. The old fire flickered in his eyes again, then blazed. The corded muscles in his neck working, Hogan opened his mouth and, like a lion roaring his defiance, uttered a single mighty word, “Y-e-e-e-s!”

Okay, side-story time: this isn’t about wrestling, but it’s about a time I played heel. I was reminded of it when I recently watched the new version of West Side Story, now streaming on Disney Plus, which I highly recommend. I was in a high school production of the play as a member of the “Jets,” the Caucasian gang of native New Yorkers. As with any drama department, landing a significant role as a guy was easy: you just had to show up. On the other hand, landing a leading part as a girl was harder because you had dozens of would-be leading ladies auditioning for each female part. So suffice to say, we guys were competent and worked hard, but the true talent was on the female side, where the stars could sing, dance, and act like nobody’s business. Most of the time, we Jets either had scenes by ourselves or with the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. But there was one scene near the end where we shared the stage with “Anita,” who was played by the best actress in the school. In the scene, Anita approaches the Jets and is actually trying to help out, but the Jets treat her like garbage, so she gets mad and lies to them instead, setting up the climax of the play. Anyway, because there was no song or complex blocking for this scene, we didn’t really rehearse this much, and I don’t think the actress was happy with how it was going. We were a little intimated by her, since she was this senior with all this talent, not to mention one of the hottest girls in the school. As a result, we were treating her somewhat gently to be honest. I think she was worried her anger, as a result, would appear inauthentic and ruin the scene. Anyway, the night of the first performance, she took us aside and said, “Look guys, you can’t be nice with me. You’ve got to really lean into me and let me have it. Be your worst selves.” So we’re all like, “Yes ma’am,” and that night we did just what she asked. We tried to pull up her dress, we called her names, we threw her around, and then she turned on us and dressed us down like she’d never done before. (“Bernardo was RIGHT! If one of you was bleeding in the street, I’d walk by and SPIT on you!”) And then, with what today would be called a mic drop moment, she said her pivotal line and stomped off, and I was thinking, “Oh boy, we just pissed off one of the stars of the show. They’ll cast all new Jets tomorrow.” As it turned out, we didn’t see her until the next day. She came up to us and said, “Hey, my parents were in the audience last night. They’re really mad at you guys.” (I’m thinking, “Uh oh.”) Then she said, “That was just what I was looking for! Be sure to do it exactly like that again tonight!” So yeah, that was my “welcome to showbiz” moment.

Next up, a retrospective of Andre’s career. There are a few paragraphs about Andre growing up in France and wrestling in Canada before we move onto his friendship with Hulk Hogan and Wrestlemania 2. (Of note here, they do call it “Wrestlemania 2” as opposed to retroactively giving it a roman numeral, a tradition that still holds today.) One thing I do want to mention here: I’ve read online that Andre’s 15-year winning streak was PR created simply for this Wrestlemania III match. This is not true. Andre had been calling himself undefeated (even though it wasn’t true) for years before this match. The WWF marketing machine certainly leaned into that narrative, but they didn’t invent it out of thin air in 1987 to sell tickets.

Next, the tale of tape, as famously run down by Jesse Ventura at Wrestlemania III. Curiously, this issue sometimes says Andre is 7’5 and sometimes says he’s 7’4, although my memory of the period is that they did the same thing on television. There, however, I think it was Bobby Heenan insisting Andre was 7’5 and Hogan continually referring to Andre as 7’4—which I always found funny because it was like this hidden argument over an inch, with Hogan not wanting to give it to his rival. (Sidenote: When I was 12 in 1987, I fully bought into the idea that Andre was 7’4 and measured it on my wall to see just how large he was. Looking back, I would estimate Andre’s true height in 1987 to be about 6’10, though he wasn’t built like most 6’10 guys. Rather than having long, lanky legs, he had a massive trunk, massive hands, and a massive head. It was almost as if he was a “squat” 6’10.)

Next up, more on Andre and Hulk, as the pros weigh in on who they think will win the Wrestlemania III contest between the two. Bruno Sammartino says he’s going with Hogan because he knows he’ll fight with all his heart and soul to hold onto the belt. Hercules Hernandez says he’s going with Andre, because Hogan’s not as tough as people think. In fact, Herc says he recently had Hogan in a backbreaker and heard Hogan submit, though the referee wouldn’t admit it. “If the WWF rules committee weren’t so dumb, I’d be the champion now, and this story would be about me.”

Roddy Piper says not to worry about a nuclear war. Worry about how your house is going to shake when Hogan and Andre are punching each other. “It’s not gonna be pretty. But it’s gonna be good! Andre’s gonna come at him, and Hulk’s not gonna budge.” (So, you’re saying it’s the irresistible force versus the immovable object then?) “Hulk’s gonna stand there and take everything Andre gives him. Then he’s gonna pick up the Giant and slam him to the mat. Then the referee’s gonna get on the canvas and count one-tw0-three.” Big John Studd says he’s wrestled both guys, and if he ever retires he could write a definitive textbook on their strategies, but he’s going with Andre because Andre’s mad, and there’s no defeating an angry Giant. (The irony is that Studd had retired, if only temporarily, before this issue even went to press.) Ricky Steamboat says Hogan will weather the storm and hold onto the title. Jesse Ventura says it’s only a matter of time before Hogan loses the title. Bundy almost defeated him a year ago. Orndorff drove him into the canvas with a piledriver. “And then Hercules beat him fair and square in Hollywood, but that sap referee didn’t hear him submit.” He says Hogan might hold onto his title at Wrestlemania III with a cheap victory, but if Andre can keep his mind on the match and not the fans, Hulkamania is finished. Hillbilly Jim disagrees and says he’s team-Hogan. “Andre has a pretty hard head, but he’s never felt a Hulk Hogan head butt.” (Yeah, headbutting Andre. That’s the ticket.) Hillbilly Jim adds that Hulk even has some moves nobody’s ever seen, “stuff he hasn’t done in the ring that he’s stored away just in case.” That said, Hillbilly is worried about Hulk and is feeling uneasy about the match. King Kong Bundy says, “I beat Hogan but was cheated out of it. Hogan can’t handle really big men. If Andre keeps on him and gets to his ribs, then that’s all, brother.”

Breaking news…

The Hart Foundation defeated The British Bulldogs for the WWF tag team championship. Here’s how it happened. When Davey Boy Smith and Dynamite Kid approached the ringside area, Jimmy Hart took out Kid with the megaphone. From that moment on, the bout was out of control, with referee Danny Davis paying little attention to the goings-on in the ring and instead chiding kid, demanding that he get to his corner, even though Kid was out cold. Smith did his best to fight off Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart, but eventually he succumbed to The Hart Foundation’s finishing maneuver, The Hart Attack. Jimmy snatched up the belts and danced like a madmen around the ring, and as improper as it all seemed, the decision was final. The Harts are the new champions. WWF President Jack Tunney took the matter before the WWF Board of Governors, and a week after the title bout, Tunney was being interviewed when he spotted Danny Davis heading to the ring to officiate. “Stop that man!” Tunney cried. But Davis refused to stop, and Tunney had to follow him to the ring. Upon arriving at ringside, Tunney borrowed the announcer’s microphone and declared, “Danny Davis is barred from refereeing for life!” (That’s right! You’ll never see that guy referee again!)

Next, an exclusive interview with former WWF referee Danny Davis. So yes, he’s been banned from refereeing for life. But you’ll still see him because he just obtained his wrestling license and has hired Jimmy Hart to be his manager! Davis opens the interview saying, “Sorry, not sorry” about his past actions and the way he refereed the Bulldogs/Hart title match. He says that when it comes to his style of officiating, he’s right and Tunney’s wrong, and it’s as simple as that. When asked if the referees will treat him fairly given his history, he says, “Why not? Do you think some of Tunney’s refs will be unfair? According to you, WWF referees are beyond reproach.” After a few more comments, mostly targeting Tunney, he’s asked if he’ll finally admit his conduct as referee wasn’t always professional, Davis says, “This interview is over, chump.” And that’s that.

Next, an article about Piper: win lose or draw, he will retire after Wrestlemania III. An era is ending. A bell will clang, and it will be all over. (Well, as it turns out, not quite. Piper more or less pulled a Michael Jordan. But his retirement at Wrestlemania III did stick long enough for the moment to remain huge.)

Next up, Best Finishers! The editors of the magazine run down their favorites. First, Hercules Hernandez’s backbreaker. (I have to agree. It’s a great visual and was always fun to see on Wrestling Challenge or Superstars of Wrestling. The problem, of course, was it couldn’t be used on everyone. So if Herc were to wrestle, say, Andre the Giant, people would think he had no chance to win. That’s why most wrestlers opt for finishers that can be used regardless of their opponents’ weight. Personally, I think that’s a shame because it means there are less finishers to see.) Next, Billy Jack Haynes’s full nelson. (A good choice. This one also makes for a good visual because the guy who has to sell it is in perfect camera position.) Then there’s Cowboy Bob Orton’s superplex. (Good one, but I like Tully’s slingshot suplex more.) How about The Iron Sheik’s camel clutch? (It won him a world title!) Greg Valentine’s figure four leglock is very effective. Ricky Steamboat has an impressive flying body-press. Mike Rotundo does a great airplane spin. (Well, that’s… something.) JYD likes to “thump” his opponents with a powerslam. And finally, Macho Man loves using a flying elbow. (Another move that won world titles.) Readers are encouraged to write in and share their own favorites. (How about the leg drop, brother?)

In other news, Bobby Heenan has vowed to end Hulkamania. WWF Magazine agrees that the odds are against the Hulkster, and Heenan might finally succeed at accomplishing his long-term goal. Heenan has tried to end Hulkamania many times, but he’s always come up short. Now, however, he has Andre. And beyond that, his men, Studd, Bundy, Orndorff, and Hercules, have been meeting with the Giant to discuss strategy. All of them have come close to winning the title from Hogan, and with their help, Andre may succeed where they failed. Heenan, it seems, has put the whole deck together and stacked it against Hogan. If he plays his cards well, Bobby Heenan could not only have his own victory but go down in the wrestling books as the greatest manager of all time. (Bobby Heenan as the GOAT? That’ll be the day.)

Breaking news!

The Hart Foundation will be teaming up with Danny Davis to take on The British Bulldogs and Tito Santana at Wrestlemania III. The Bulldogs say they still want their titles back, and sometime in the future they’ll wrestle against the Harts in a championship rematch. But at Wrestlemania III, they want Davis too, so they’ve signed for the six-man tag team match. After giving significant thought as to whom they would choose as their partner, they picked Santana because he brings so much experience to the table. And Santana, who was robbed of the Intercontinental Title by Davis himself, was happy to sign on. (Looking back, it was quite a stroke of luck that Davis refereed Tito’s title loss. Give Gorilla Monsoon credit for continually bringing it up too. I was recently reading one of Scott Keith’s rants for Wrestling Challenge, and he said, “Gorilla is STILL crying about Savage ‘stealing’ the title from Tito a YEAR earlier.  God, get over it.”) The magazine says Davis himself is an unknown quantity, as no one knows how good of a wrestler he is. But, “having a wrestler who has had a lengthy officiating experience is a vast plus for the Harts, an advantage that is unique for the WWF.”

Next, we move on WWF Wrap-up. Thousands of fans have signed up for the WWF Fan Club, and you should too! See the advertisement in the issue for more details. Big John Studd has been taking some acting gigs on the side. He played a Soviet KGB agent in Disney’s Secret Agent, and he just guest starred as a nasty leader of a far-right group of subversives in NBC’s Hunter. Meanwhile, Roddy Piper appeared on the popular Soupy Sales radio show in New York, where he took calls from listeners. Elsewhere, so many people showed up for The Killer Bees at an outlet for Coliseum Home Video in Brooklyn, the line stretched several blocks. In Detroit, King Kong Bundy showed up for Autorama. In New Orleans, Steamboat attended World of Wheels. And Randy Savage just shot a new commercial for LJN’s line of wrestling figures. Lastly, Koko B. Ware wrestled Magnificent Muraco and George Steele wrestled Hercules Hernandez at the Philadelphia Spectrum following a ’76ers game. Koko especially enjoyed meeting Dr. J.

And finally, this month in Wrestler’s Rebuttal, Bobby Heenan tells us why having a good manager is vital to a wrestler’s success in the WWF. Perhaps WWE should take note.

That’s all for this week! Next week I’ll be doing a deep dive into Wrestlemania III. And be sure to check out my new book, Chasing the Eclipse, all about my adventures in 2017 trying to see The Great American Solar Eclipse along with tips for seeing the 2024 Great American Solar Eclipse.