When I was little, professional wrestling was tits. All I needed to make my life was a bag of Keebler’s Pizzaria’s Pizza Chips, my mish-mash collection of Ninja Turtles action figures, and a few fat hours of AWA Saturday morning wrestling… or NWA, or WWF. I wasn’t picky. I had my favorites in every federation.
The Hulkster was the greatest, but Sting wasn’t far behind. The Road Warriors could have probably stomped both of them to death, or at the very least, spiked them unapologetically with their Mad Max shoulder-pads.
My uncle Randy—who spent his days peddling wares to indigent folk at Avenue Rentals—used to tape all of the programs fit for viewing, and I’d come over on Saturday evenings and watch Nick Bockwinkel put Verne Gagne in a cross-face chicken-wing while I pored through stacks of Pro Wrestling Illustrated, gaping in terror at gore-rific photos of Abdullah the Butcher with a fork stuck in his head, or Bruiser Brody howling at an invisible nemesis in the sky, his forehead a travelogue of scar tissue and feigned insanity.
One night—years after my notions about the Ultimate Warrior’s true strength had been dispelled and crushed like so many skulls underneath a steel folding chair—I got drunk and ordered some vintage issues of Pro Wrestling Illustrated from eBay.
And removed from my youthful confines of ignorance, with nary a bag of Pizzaria’s in site, I realized something: this was a truly awful magazine.
I know, I know. You’re shaking your head and saying, “well fucking DUH, dude.”
But honestly, you have no idea.
First, the cover:
The headline proclaims: “Wrestlemania VII Shocker! Who is Secretly Plotting to Destroy Hulk Hogan Before March 24?” First point of contention: the issue is dated May, 1991. Either this issue is from the future and a slow-learner, or PWI is a little behind on their coverage. There’s a photo of the Hulkster in the center, surrounded by five photos. Is it Randy Savage? Is it Ultimate Warrior? Is it Roddy Piper? Sgt. Slaughter? Earthquake?
Though I can’t remember the specifics, I believe it was Earthquake, nee John Tenta, aka Avalanche, aka the Gargoyle, aka the Shark, aka Golga, aka the Canadian Earthquake (clearly, Tenta was running out of ideas in the autumn of his career). Tenta, a real life friend of Hogan’s, died in 2006 at the age of 42, likely because he was 500 pounds. Rest in peace, Quake, I dedicate the remainder of this column to you.
Opening the magazine takes you to your first ad. Ads are a running theme throughout the periodical. Out of the 65 pages of material (yes, you read that correctly—this issue was 65 pages. Of writing. About wrestling.), an astonishing 18 are devoted to some sort of advertisement. While a grand majority involve subscriptions to and the purchase of back orders of PWI and its sister publications (Inside Wrestling, the Wrestler), there are a handful of wrestling schools being touted, entry forms for fantasy wrestling leagues (yes, this was a thing. Instead of real wrestlers, however, you picked cartoon warriors like “Bishop Hell” and “Galactic Punisher.” I’m not sure how in the hell it worked, but I think I might send in one of the order forms—5 games for $37!—and report back) and my personal favorite, a full-color back-cover mindblower for a Jesse “The Body” Ventura hotline that promises “tough talk” and the “inside scoop.” (though I doubt the number is still in service, you’re welcome to call 1-900-53J-ESSE. $2 per minute. I’m not even kidding.)
On to the Letters:
Yes, letters. From real readers. How do we know they’re real? Check this shit out:
“I have always liked Kerry Von Erich, but I do not like the “Texas Tornado.” Kerry, you have changed the way you wrestle, you have changed the way you look, and you have changed the way you talk. In the past when being interviewed, you talked as though you were very smart and had a heart. Now you talk as though you are following a script…”
-Donna Latvis, Norfolk, VA
Donna’s letter went on for several more sentences, but I cut in down for the sake of bandwidth, and because it was terribly stupid. I wonder what Donna’s up to these days? Hopefully NOT forgetting the extra sour cream on my Nachos Bell Grande, and hopefully NOT procreating,
A section called “Ringside,” written by the preeminent wrestling journalist, Bill Apter. Reading this was akin to staring at a Magic Eye poster while riddled with glaucoma. I think it was about “Diamond” Dallas Page and Butch Reed… it was really long… like, REALLY long. Continued on page 50, in fact. I chose not to continue it on page 50, as my comprehension levels were suffering after just a few paragraphs.
The next section, a fake editor’s note from a (possibly?) real editor, Stuart Saks. The title of this regular feature? “From the desk of…” What else?
Stuart wants to tell me about The Sheik and Bobo Brazil’s classic feud, and Ric Flair’s most recent NWA title triumph (over Sting!) and Butch Reed, again. I want to tell Stuart to shut the fuck up. His strange, epic missive carries on for three pages. Seriously. It’s continued on page 48.
Is a profile of Michael Wall Street. Michael Wall Street does NOT work on Wall Street, as his name would seem to indicate, but instead wrestles professionally. Later, he would become Irwin R. Shyster, and when that gimmick crashed and burned, plain old Mike Rotundo.
This profile is four full pages long—pages full of text, no less—and I lost interest after the second paragraph when scribe Andy Rodriguez explains, “As the victories pile up, Wall Street becomes more and more confident that he has chosen the right path, a path lined with microchips and briefing papers and humiliated foes.”
Oh, there’s certainly humiliated foe here, Andy. We call it literacy.
Bob Smith’s Segment:
Bob Smith titles his column “The Steel Cage.” It is illustrated with a prehistoric computer graphic of a steel cage, and this installment is about “jobber” Sonny Blaze. For the uninitiated, a jobber in pro wrestling is someone who gets “squashed,” or “loses miserably to superior talent” in the dark matches at live events. Why Sonny Blaze warrants 1,500 words of print is beyond me.
I hope that somewhere, some place, at this very moment, Bob Smith is sitting arthritically in a rocker, apologizing to his pudding for this piece of shit article.
Speaking of Shit:
Here’s “Off the Top Rope” by Eddie Ellner. From what I can tell, OTR, as it’s known by no one, is a Dear Abby style inclusion, solely for the mentally deficient folks who choose to write into wrestling magazines. Eddie plays the role of “heel” (wrestling term for “bad guy”), who responds to a Desert Storm combcatant (yup) by saying, “come home safely to America, and I will gladly go to the mats with your stupid, hillbilly butt. Just make it home, that’s the request from this end.” Nice cover, Eddie. You just threatened to beat up a soldier BEFORE praying for his expedient return.
Not sure where you are these days Eddie, but I hope that wherever you are, your anus is being eaten by the death-worms that are infecting Bob Smith’s cock. Cheers!
And Then This Happened:
Are you prepared for the “official ratings” section? Of course you’re not. This two page spread gives PWI’s top ten rankings of every professional ballerina, from the WWF (champion Ultimate Warrior) all the way down to the IWCCW (champion to be determined—Vic Steamboat is the number one contender). Just how official are these ratings? How do they determine the best wrestlers in the world? Nobody REALLY knows, but PWI says this: “Top 10 and Tag Team ratings are based on won-lost (sic) records for the past month, quality of opposition, and inherent skills of each wrestler or team.” So, kinda like the BCS before the NCAA got their collective head out of their collective ass? Pretty much. Also, they want us to know that the Most Popular and Most Hated ratings are based on “nationwide telephone and arena surveys of wrestling fans and on the volume and character of mail that comes into our offices.”
THEY HAD OFFICES. The early 90’s were a simpler, more prosperous time, to be sure.
Upon Further Review:
There’s a whole page about the ratings system that is meant to explain the ratings system, yet completely fails to explain the ratings system. Whoops.
The headline proclaims “Pro Wrestling Illustrated Strips AWA of World Title Recognition.” So this is a little like Sports Illustrated deciding that the Royals aren’t very good, and therefore no longer have the ability to compete for the World Series, right? I don’t get this. I’m no baseball scientist, but I don’t think this kind of thing is allowed. But apparently, it is in the post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-ian world of professional wrestling.
Sadly, Verne Gagne—the founder and president of the AWA—killed a fellow resident of a nursing home in 2009 by shoving the 97-year-old man to the ground. Though the incident was classified as a homicide, charges were never brought against 86-year-old Gagne, as he was found to be unaccountable for his actions due to dementia. Personally? I blame PWI’s disavowment of Gagne’s baby, the AWA.
I hope you’re happy, PWI, you ruthless piece of shit.
Color Makes it Better?:
A Lou Thez article. According to the article, Lou won his first title in 1937 when President Bush was 12 years old. Was he still wrestling in 1991? I guess. Yikes. This article was accompanied by pictures, which made me sad, as the septuagenarian was in way better shape than I am now. He died in 2002, but I bet he’s still in better shape than me. THANKS A LOT, KEEBLER.
The next color segment was about Rick Rude. Rude—also dead—had recently been “permanently banned!” by controversial WWF commissioner Jack Tunney for insulting Big Bossman’s mother—you know, just like in real life. Rude, known for his lothario persona and frighteningly erotic mustache, took 5 pages—FIVE PAGES—to give a fake interview to a fake journalist about his equally fake ban.
Jesus Christ. I’m still reading this.
And Finally (for the color section):
A painfully long article details Ric Flair’s hard-fought battle against Sting to capture his record-tying (Harley Race, ya’ll! KC represent!) 6th NWA title. This was a literal blow-by-blow account of the match. I suggest reading this if you’re severely constipated or terminally ill and looking to kill yourself. Either way, I’m sure you’ll find your solution.
Ah, the Hilarity:
Interspersed throughout the mag—only toward the back, really (thankfully)—are some cartoons. I will not tell you what these cartoons say, nor describe them in any manner. Because I care about you, the reader. You’re welcome.
I don’t even have a lame joke to make about this. Without pretense, gloriously self-unaware like some delightfully crazy hobo smeared in feces and sitting on the bench in Mill Creek Park, here are the arena reports. Were you wondering what happened in East Rutherford, NJ on 12/16/90? Well, diligent reader (and doubtless sex-criminal) Jason Croft has your back. He wants us to know that, at the Byrne Meadowlands on that date:
Shane Douglas defeated Black Bart, Big Bossman defeated Bobby Heenan, Sgt. Slaughter pinned Dusty Rhodes, Davey Boy Smith and Warlord battled to a double disqualification and the Hart Foundation and the Bushwhackers defeated Power and Glory and Rhythm and Blues when Bret Hart pinned Greg Valentine.
Seriously, he wants us to know that.
Just like Sam Quinbergh wants to share with us his monthly meetings from the NWA card at the Dorton Arena in Raleigh, and Keen Jones is eager to share the PNW results from the Sports Arena in Oregon on January 5th, 1991.
That’s right, 55 professional wrestling cards from AROUND THE WORLD (Big Van Vader beat Rambo to capture the CWA title in Bremen, Germany on 12/22/90, btw) that for SOME reason, you need to know about.
I Can’t Believe This Thing is Still Going:
And finally, what we ALL came for, a pullout, back-cover poster of a hirsute, heavily-bearded Arn “The Enforcer” Anderson. My wife took one look at it and said, “um, that’s just a fat dude.” And although that is definitely true—yesterday’s grapplers looked more like your local muffler repairman than a chiseled, bronzed Adonis—Anderson oozed a certain sextitude, which is no doubt the reason for this poster’s inclusion.
Pro Wrestling Illustrated was terrible. It may STILL be terrible, I don’t know. The truth is, I couldn’t be bothered to do any more research after finishing this piece. My head was officially broken by this massive, pulpy thing full of words about a fake sport that was being written about as though it were a real sport.