Flashback Friday: PWI October 1987

This week, we look back at the 1987 issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated that went to press in early June and sold for $2.25 in the U.S., $2.75 in Canada, and £1.50 in the U.K. With a cover featuring Ric Flair, we’re teased with stories about Hogan vs. Steamboat, an interview with The Midnight Rockers, and the possibility of wrestling turning into a two-party system, with the NWA and the WWF as the last two big companies standing. So let’s make like Jimmy Valiant and boogie.

We kick things off with The Mailbag, where Marc from Astoria, NY congratulates The Hulkster on his amazing comeback at Wrestlemania III. “Andre should consider retiring,” he says. “He’s had a great career, but it’s time to call it quits.” On the other hand, Sal from… wait for it… DAVENPORT, IOWA says that Joe Marella is without a doubt the worst referee in wrestling, and Hogan was lucky to win. (As I’ve said before, I swear these magazines get more letters from Davenport than just about anywhere else. Also, it’s funny to read a letter about Joey Marella being the worst long before Scott Keith started saying the same thing. Or perhaps Scott was secretly writing dozens of letters to PWI claiming to be from Davenport? Tune into Nitro to find out!) Meanwhile, Dan from Tempe, AZ writes in to complain about the 1987 Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup, saying it was set up all wrong. “The first reason is the setup of the tournament. Any smart promoter structures the tournament so that the first seed has an opportunity to meet the second seed in the final round. At the latest Crockett Cup, the one seed and two seed met in the quarterfinals. The second reason was that it let in too many poor tag teams. The NWA should either reduce the number of teams invited or attract better competition. Was anyone expecting Bobby Jaggers and Rocky King or Randy and Bill Mulkey to mount a challenge?” (Hey, who are you to doubt Bill Mulkey?) Dan concludes by saying he thinks the tournament could be good, but these issues need to be addressed. (Don’t worry, Dan! The next year they would remove the two seed from the tournament thanks to a suspension and throw in teams like Mighty Wilbur & Jimmy Valiant and Rocky King & Nelson Royal. See? They DO listen!) Elsewhere, Roger from Atlanta, GA has his undies in a bundle over an article featuring comments from Lou Albano, where Lou explains how he would make The Road Warriors champions again. “What gives Albano the right to second-guess the greatest manager in the world, Precious Paul Ellering? Lou, you may have been a good manager in the WWF, but I’m afraid you know nothing about The Legion of Doom.” Then there’s Greg from Broomall, PA, who says Lex Luger made just made a big mistake by joining The Four Horsemen. “The Four Horseman are just a bunch of aging veterans who will use Luger to improve their image.” (Well, he’s not wrong. But they are The Horsemen, not The Horseman.” Greg thinks Luger will eventually see this and break away to feud with Flair again. (Again, not wrong.) Regarding the WWF, Phillip from New York, NY writes in to say he was expecting Savage to embrace the fans on a recent episode of SNME where he looked like he was going to help Ricky Steamboat. Then Savage jumped off the top rope and and gave Steamer the flying elbow instead. “Boy, were we fooled! Mr. Savage, you are a great wrestler with tremendous skill, but this trick did make me very disappointed.” Lastly, Steve from Minneapolis is disgusted that the AWA held up the AWA heavyweight championship after a Bockwinkel vs. Hennig title match, saying that doing this sort of stunt takes away from the honor and prestige of one of the three world titles in the sport. Steve says to just let the referees’ decisions stand. (And indeed, after many other fans said the same thing, the AWA did just that, letting Hennig’s title victory stand.)

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Ringside with Bill Apter: Good news, fans! The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express have regained the NWA World tag team belts from Rick Rude & Manny Fernandez. (The real story: Rude & Fernandez were tag team champions when Rude jumped to the WWF, so the NWA pulled out a Rude/Fernandez vs. Rock ‘n’ Roll Express dark match from the vault and presented it as a new match with a title change.) “This has to be the most satisfying of all our wins,” says Ricky Morton. “You know, there’ve been a lot of people who’ve been saying, ‘The Rock ‘n’ Rolls are washed up. They ain’t what they used to be.’ But we proved to everyone The Rock ‘n’ Rolls are here to stay.” Some fans expect there to be a rematch between the former champions and The Rock ‘n’ Rolls, but Bill Apter reports that Rick Rude might be headed for the WWF instead. In other news, new AWA champ Curt Hennig has been wrestling former champ Nick Bockwinkel in a series of matches and has so far been able to hold onto the title. But Ray Stevens, who was at ringside when Hennig won the belt, claims he saw Hennig use a foreign object in that match and that Hennig isn’t the real champion. “Obviously the AWA decided that there was not enough evidence to disallow the pin,” Stevens says. “But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t right.” Elsewhere, Dusty Rhodes, nursing a bad leg after an attack by The Horsemen, is slated for a series of matches against UWF Heavyweight champion Bubba Rogers. Meanwhile, Bulldog Bob Brown lost his Central States title to Rufus R. Jones. In Stampede Wrestling, Bad News Allen is back and is hoping for a shot against Stampede’s champion, Owen Hart. In the WWF, following Wrestlemania III there was a depletion of stars, including Roddy Piper, who retired, and Hacksaw Jim Duggan and the Iron Sheik, who were suspended indefinitely after they were charged with possession of marijuana and drinking and driving. (And even worse, they broke kayfabe by being caught in a car together!) In response, a number of wrestlers are being brought in to bolster the roster, including The One Man Gang, Ted DiBiase, Bam Bam Bigelow, and possibly The Midnight Rockers. (A look at the WWF top ten this month will show that need for new stars, with the top five being fine but the bottom five being horrendous.) There were also rumors that The Dingo Warrior might jump to the WWF, but he has decided to stay in World Class. (Probably for the best. The WWF would likely repackage him as The Red Dingo or Dingo the Clown and tank his career.) As for Piper, the WWF attempted to replace his interview segment with a new one hosted by Missy Hyatt, but it didn’t work out. Missy was offered a different position, (as a “federette” ring-attendant) but she has instead gone back to the UWF. Lastly, Super Ninja and Ninja Go have formed an impressive team in the AWA (As Ninja-Ninja Go?). That’s all for now. See you at the matches!

From the desk of Stuart M. Saks… Stu says he’s always found a traditional test of strength to be the most overlooked portion of a wrestling match. (Yes, this used to be an exciting aspect. Who really is the strongest?) He then talks about the upcoming series of Nikita Koloff vs. Lex Luger matches, saying he’s looking forward to the two locking up and gets insight from Ric Flair: “I have been there against both of them, and I can tell you they are both very strong.” Flair concedes that Lex is probably stronger but says that strength isn’t everything. Experience matters too, and Nikita’s got it.

In Focus with Craig Peters tells us that PWI’s 100th issue is coming up in two months and asks us to take a survey, filled with questions like, “Favorite PWI story ever,” “Worst PWI story ever,” and “favorite PWI column.” (I’ll be covering this issue. It’s a good one!)

In No Holds Barred with David Rosenbaum, Dave has finally found a wrestling booker! Correction: Dave has finally found a wrestling bookie, a guy who takes bets on professional wrestling. His name is Ben, and to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, he’s a criminal. To help him in his work, Ben regularly combs through Pro Wrestling Illustrated, Inside Wrestling, and The Wrestler to stay up to date. (Yikes, that puts him two or three months behind.) He talks about how he first took action on a May 18 show between Race and Hogan and made the line Hogan 10-12 ($12 on Hogan wins $5 if Hulk wins, $5 on Race wins $10 if Race wins. And you thought Algebra was hard.) “I took a bath on that one. Everybody bet on Hogan, and I thought he might lose by DQ. He pinned Race with a small package.” But don’t shed any tears for Ben. He has rarely lost money since. Ben predicts there will be more betting on wrestling in the future as people become more accustomed to it. (Ben is right.) This has Dave concerned. What effect will this have on wrestling? Who can forget the infamous 1919 Chicago White Sox, who threw the World Series? Dave concedes, however, that wrestlers have too much respect for the sport and themselves to be enticed by the temptations of those who would lead them down the path of evil. (Sadly, I must admit there have been reports of some wrestling matches being fixed in recent years.)

For Off the Top Rope with Eddie Ellner, Eddie has asked fans to write in with something uglier than Andre the Giant. (Note from Eddie: “Dusty Rhodes is not an acceptable answer. Although Dusty is fat, grotesque, and repulsive, he is not horrifying. If you met Dusty in a dark alley, you’d throw him a quarter. A twisted grimace from Andre might turn you to stone.” Butch from Bethaltro, IL says that finding a real creature uglier than Andre is impossible, so he was forced to create a new one. This creature has the waistline of Adrian Adonis, the head of Hulk Hogan, and the wrestling skills of the Mulkey Brothers. Eddie says that’s Bill Apter. Bob Bark from Wayne, NJ says a number of wrestlers are uglier than Andre, including Kamala, Jesse Ventura, and King Kong Bundy. Sheryl from New York, NY says Adrian Adonis alone is more repulsive and makes Andre look like Miss America. Paul Clarken from Bellingham, WA says, “How about Bill Apter’s prom date or possibly an adult male sea lion lumbering along the beach?” Eddie says Bill’s prom date was a lumbering sea lion. Lastly, Liam from Wellesley, MA says simply, “Uncle Elmer.”

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Next, an article about Steve Williams. “Steve Williams tried to sound philosophical, an odd juxtaposition to his craggy face and gravelly voice. ‘Some people have strange ways of asking for things,’ said Dr. Death, building up steam with every word. ‘One person might come to me and say, Steve, I’d like you to break every bone in my measly little body, while another might say, Dr. Death, you’re a complete jackass. Now, Eddie Gilbert and Dick Murdoch are unique. They could have done either of those things and ended up with the same result. But they didn’t. Instead, they got together and decided to break my arm, which was to me, their way of saying, Mr. Williams, we want our arms broken too. Well, I’m here to tell you that Gilbert and Capt. Redneck will get their wish. I’ll break their arms or I’ll quit!’ With those words, he slammed his fist into the table, shaking the walls and stalked out of the room. Gilbert and Murdoch aren’t worried. ‘Let him say what he wants,’ said Gilbert. ‘What we did to him before we’ll do again. Williams has always said nobody can keep him out of the ring. Well, we did. He says he’s gonna break are arms? Well, where’s the party?’ Bold words to be sure. But it remains to be seen whether Gilbert and Murdoch will be so bold next time they meet Dr. Death in the wrestling ring. Steve Williams is much too young to retire.”

Press Conference with The Midnight Rockers: Marty Jannetty and Shawn Michaels are a fun-loving tag team that won the AWA tag team championship before recently losing the belts on May 25th to Boris Zukhov & Stanislaus Ustinov. In this article, they field questions from the PWI writers. They say they’re mad about the way they lost the belts, with Michaels adding that they can’t handle losing. Worse yet, Zukhov and Ustinov won’t let them have a rematch. “I told AWA president Stanley Blackburn it wasn’t fair,” Shawn says, “and he agreed, but he told me there’s no rule that dictates who the champions have to defend their title against.” (Well that seems odd. Before long, wrestlers will be booking their own matches on live TV via impromptu arguments and run-ins.)  A PWI guy asks if Zukhov and Ustinov realize that by not granting a rematch they’ll be devaluing the belts, and Marty says, “Apparently not. They just didn’t care.” Shawn, however, disagrees. “That’s what Marty thinks, but I have this sneaking suspicion that they acted under orders from the Kremlin. You see, me and Marty represent all that’s good about America. We’re free spirits, but we’re also hard working. We’re imaginative and we like to have a good time, but we also love what we do and respect this sport. The Russians wanted to use this to embarrass our country.” So what now? Marty says he and Shawn thought about taking the Russians to court, but that could be a two-year long battle. Instead, they’re thinking about jumping to the WWF. “The truth of the matter is that we’ll always go wherever the situation is best for us,” Shawn says. “It just so happens that right now, the climate in the AWA is not very favorable for The Midnight Rockers. As for the WWF, well, there are teams there who we feel we can beat, like the champs, Brett Hart and Jim Neidhart. They’re poor excuses for champions, and that would be one of the most attractive aspects of going to the WWF, knowing we could beat their champions.” (That could be a good match.) Another PWI writer says that they Vince has been looking for a Rock ‘n’ Roll Express like team, and the Rockers could fill that spot. “We take that as a compliment,” Shawn says, “but we’ve always been our own men. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express is a great team, but Marty and I have spent a lot of time forming our own image.” As for what they think of The Can-Am Connection and The British Bulldogs, Marty says, “I’ll take that one, Shawn. Rick Martel and Tom Zenk are very fine wrestlers, and I know they’re very popular. The British Bulldogs have been hurt by injuries, but they’re still one of the most talented teams in the world.” (Well done, Marty.) PWI says, “It sounds to me like we’re going to be seeing you in the WWF very soon.” Shawn says, “You’re just going to have to wait and see.” (And, of course, The Rockers jumped to the WWF, only to be fired and go back to the AWA for another year.)

Next an article asking Flair to dump The Horsemen. (Bad advice. And being a Horseman isn’t just a something you put on in the morning and take off at night. It’s a way of life. It’s who you are!) Anyway, the article says that Flair won’t be remembered as a truly great champion like Harley Race, Lou Thesz, Buddy Rogers, Jack Brisco, or Dory Funk Jr. if he remains in the shadow of The Horsemen. (Duly noted.) Worse yet, while Flair has been looking weaker, relying on help from his friends, Hogan has been looking stronger, standing alone. So it makes the NWA look worse and the WWF look better as a result. (And this indeed was something being discussed in WCW, the power behind the NWA.) “The NWA must realize that it’s their title that’s being blemished. But when you really look at the situation, Flair should take the first action. He wants to be remembered as an all-time great, but it just won’t happen if this continues. It’s unfortunate because Flair is a great wrestler. There’s no doubt about that. But there’s plenty of doubt about Flair, the champion. At a time when his legend should be growing, his reputation is steadily shrinking. He’s taken a glorious singles trophy and transformed it into a tainted team effort. He’s got to dump The Four Horsemen and carve out a championship reputation of his own—now.” (And circumstances would force him to do just that in another year.)

Next, PWI asks for Hulk Hogan vs. Rick Steamboat. The magazine points out that while this match might sound unlikely, the Inside Wrestling previously wrote about a possible match between Hogan and Andre, “the first indication to wrestling fans that best friends Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan were headed for a confrontation.” With that in mind, PWI puts forth reasons why Hogan vs. Steamboat should happen:

  • Hogan has exhausted all possible competition.
  • Steamboat has exhausted all possible competition.
  • Steamboat privately desires the WWF title.
  • Hogan privately desires a shot at Steamboat because he knows a victory would help grow his legend. (Ha!)
  • The fans want it.
  • It would make money.
  • It would draw attention away from the Duggan/Sheik arrest.

“For all the reasons why it must happen, it will happen. There is too much at stake for this to pass. If Hogan will not give Steamboat a shot at the World title, Steamboat will turn on Hogan, just like Andre did and Orndorff did before Andre. Every wrestler wants to be number one.”

Right now, it looks like the NWA and the WWF are the big two wrestling companies in the U.S. Sure, you have Mid-Southern wrestling with some great matches, but it’s satisfied to stay within their region. Same thing with Stampede and the Pacific Northwest. The AWA has national exposure on ESPN, but it simply doesn’t have the talent the NWA and WWF have to offer. But fear not. Just a few short years ago, the AWA and World Class were doing extremely well, hosting shows that selling tens of thousands of tickets, and it has been proven time and time again in wrestling that where there were once crowds there can be crowds again. The two-party system may rule American politics, but rest assured it doesn’t rule professional wrestling. If there are any doubters, the smaller promotions could quiet them by paraphrasing the famous Mark Twain line: “the reports of our death,” they might say, have been greatly exaggerated.” (Well, this article has aged well.)

Next, a brief article about production values in wrestling. The WWF has the best production values, which they often use to disguise subpar wrestling action. “Multiple cameras, videotape replays, interviews inserted into the corner of the picture, and large arenas all make their shows look great.” The magazine points out that this is important because when you’re trying to sell your show to new markets, TV people are going to be looking at the television side of it more than the wrestling side of it. That’s why the WWF is currently airing in 200 of the 214 markets in the U.S. Then there’s World Class, which has better than average production values too. “They use multiple cameras, with two cameramen standing on the ring apron shooting over the ropes and into the ring. The resulting feeling of being on top of the action is unmatched by any other wrestling broadcast.” The AWA made a good move by shooting from The Showboat hotel in Las Vegas, giving their shows glitz and glamour. On the other hand, Kansas City wrestling and Deep South wrestling might be the worst. They have horrible lighting and poor camera work in general. “I’ve seen Deep South matches where there’s action going on in the ring and the cameraman is taking pictures of the mat on the floor.” The article closes by saying television is the life blood of professional wrestling, and the television production must be prioritized for wrestling to remain popular.

We move on to PWI Poll: this month, it’s about everyone’s favorite subject, the referees! (I don’t go to a show unless I know who’s going to be refereeing the matches. “Honey, Shawn Bennett is working tonight. Get the car ready!”) Anyway, the article says that the referees have a thankless job. If they do their job right, no one notices. If they mess up, everyone does. But could some changes be made to help them? The fans weigh in.

Breaking news! The Honky Tonk Man has shocked the wrestling world by winning the Intercontinental Title from Ricky Steamboat in Buffalo, NY! Honky was unranked in last month’s PWI and not even considered a contender, and now he’s the number two guy in the promotion. (Yeah, we’ll see how long that lasts. Savage will probably have the belt back by next month.) In other news, Missy Hyatt has returned to the UWF after a short stint in the WWF. “Those people in the WWF tried to make me interview those sweaty, disgusting wrestlers, and I just wasn’t going to do it,” she says. “All I want to do is get in front of a camera and tell the people all I know about wrestling. I don’t need to interview people. I’m enough of an attraction by myself.” Elsewhere, Greg Gagne is shocked and appalled by the recent rulebreaking actions employed by former friend Curt Hennig. “I can’t believe what’s happened to him,” Greg says. “Somebody has to knock some sense into him, and what better man than me?” Elsewhere, in Calgary, The Hart Foundation and the British Bulldogs wrestled a match in a homecoming of sorts. And, in a minor note, some former sumo wrestler named John Tenta made his pro wrestling debut in Tokyo, Japan teaming with his teacher, Giant Baba, against Goro Tsurumi and Rusher Kimura. Tenta won the match for his team when Kimura was counted out. According to insiders, Tenta looked a little green and lacked speed, but managed to handle himself well. (Thank goodness. I thought he might be a disaster.) And then there’s this…

Time for Arena Reports! Poor Honky was jobbing to Ken Patera and Billy Jack Haynes before fate came along and changed his career.

And finally, Rankings. featuring a power trio of World champions, and quite a Top Ten tag team list too. (On the other hand, you can see World Class getting barely noticed outside of their own rankings.)

That’s it for this week. Join me next week where we’ll be looking back at The Great American Bash 1987 tour. And be sure to have a look at my books at my website: www.jwbraun.com. See you next time!