About the author: Started writing feature articles for Wrestling World in 1984; launched a heel column in WW the following year, continuing through 2001. Beginning in 1994, initiated a second column, for Britain’s Power Slam magazine, and was the only staff writer with PS for its entire 20-year run.
The combined 29 consecutive years (1985-2014) is the longest uninterrupted run by any wrestling magazine columnist ever.
They were once all over the newsstands. Wrestling Eye, Pro Wrestling Illustrated, Wrestling World, WOW, WCW Magazine, Superstars Of Wrestling, Inside Wrestling, Ringside Wrestling, Victory Sports Wrestling, Wrestling’s Main Event, Wrestling Revue…a bunch of hooey exploiting gullible children, and nothing more, right? Not so fast.
Let’s examine some common knocks—misconceptions, actually—regarding the newsstand wrestling publications as a whole. In several instances, real names will be withheld to protect privacy.
*“Nobody in the business cares about those things.”
Although grapplers may act as though they are too cool to care, watch their social media explode every time the annual PWI 500 is released. (And for those of you who tweeted outrage over Roman Reigns ranking #1 in 2017, guess what? That was the hoped-for reaction, as your scoffing gave Pro Wrestling Illustrated massive free publicity.)
If you ever see documentary footage—as opposed to a skit shot elsewhere—of a wrestler at home, take a good look at his “décor.” Besides belts and perhaps trophies on display, you are extremely likely to spot a number of framed magazine covers prominently featuring the bonebender.
I personally have befriended name wrestlers—and I mean eventual Hall Of Famers—by contacting them when they were on the cover or in the main feature of Wrestling World or Power Slam and offering to mail the contacted party said item.
Unless it’s revealing something unsavory or making a false allegation, everyone gets a kick out of seeing their name and/or picture in a publication, especially one covering his or her profession. Even more so when it is one with national or international distribution.
[FYI, because it was sold on military bases (APOs) globally, Wrestling World did in fact live up to its name.]
Not surprisingly, many future stars read the mat mags in their youth, dreaming that maybe one day they too would appear within the pages. Some of those kids who eventually entered the sport grew up to be major players; most had a bit of regional success or a brief moment in the national spotlight. So, in addition to serving as an inspiration, whether the mat mags are held in high regard or not, an up-and-coming wrestler has not official “arrived” until at least his name has appeared in a magazine.
That’s not to suggest Ric Flair and Undertaker rushed to the newsstand every week for decades. But for every megastar who headlined Wrestlemania, there are hundred who never achieved a fraction of that success. And rest assured most of them got a thrill out of seeing themselves in a fan magazine article, and have the issue(s) tucked away as memorabilia: “something to show the grandchildren” or an item broken out on occasion to illustrate to neighbors and current coworkers (in a different field) that they were once in the stretchin’ profession.
The point here is: Though ring stars may publicly act blasé about the magazines, it’s another story privately.
And it goes a lot further than that.
I’m betting virtually everyone reading this—and all fans ignoring it—had no idea certain wrestlers were “friends” of the magazines. (Just like some are today, with the top newsletters.)
Wrestlers love to talk…and gossip. Some would go so far as to regularly phone the office and shoot the breeze with an editor for an hour or so. The loquacious men got a captive audience, passed along some digs at disliked colleagues and rightly figured cultivating a friendship with the staff increased their own odds of getting favorable publicity. You know: “You scratch my back….”
This friendly association between wrestler and media extended well beyond the occasional phone call.
Writers with press passes and especially photographers spend a lot of time hanging around “in the back” while covering an event. Consequently, they get exposed to the authentic personalities of the wrestlers, refs, ring announcers and assorted non-performing employees of the promotion. As with any sizable group, one tends to hit it off well with certain others, and this camaraderie extends beyond “work hours.”
If you are allowed in the locker room in the first place, that tells everyone else there that you are “inside” enough to be trusted. It also suggests you are local.
As such, for example, once an MSG card ended, it was common for the multi-time tag champs to paint Manhattan red with Famous New York Photographer A. Or a fly-in may need a ride from the airport to the arena, getting one from his pal Writer X.
Once “the boys” accept a magazine staffer is okay—meaning what happens in private is NEVER going to appear in ink—he is privy to all sorts of sights and activities I guarantee you’ve never read in newsletters or on websites or heard on podcasts.
*”Those magazines are written for marks by marks.”
Pffft, that’s close. If you believe noted editor/photographers such as George Napolitano and Bill Apter–who have spent hundreds of hours in the back and in private with every name wrestler and promotion–don’t know what really goes on within the business, well, frankly, you are an imbecile.
Want to fire back with “You are still marks. The reason a bunch of those people were nice to you is only because you were with the magazines. You said so yourself”?
Well, OF COURSE some were! It didn’t escape or surprise me how, the moment Wrestling World folded, my opinions and presence suddenly took a very dramatic dip in value. (Most either not knowing or caring I was in my seventh year with the UK mag.) This practice is the nature of the beast in all forms of entertainment, whether it be a beat writer covering your local MLB team or a singer cozying up with Rolling Stone.
Nice try, though. Here’s another pro tip for you. Every journalist on Earth caters to his audience. It doesn’t mean he’s a member of that group, believes what they do or, in some cases, even believes what he is putting out to the public! (That, incidentally, applies to wrestling announcers as well.)
Ultra-bloody covers were once a staple
*”All those articles are fake.”
Um, have you thumbed through a mat magazine this millennium?
Power Slam was revolutionary in the sense it was the first European and one of the first worldwide to not “fake” anything. And PS debuted in 1994.
Admittedly, the old-school mags were “fiction-oriented.” But here’s the thing: So is the entire wrestling product.
If we fabricated an interview with Steve Austin, first off, we did it well and in character enough to fool everyone, including ten-year-old you. Secondly, Steve Austin himself is fabricated, right down to his last name. Do you really want to spend time knocking the validity of an article about someone who doesn’t actually exist?
The fact that no magazine was ever sued says all you need to know regarding what the stars and promoters thought of what we were doing. If anything, because we adhered to storylines, they understood how the magazines helped, further developing gimmicks and characters (which they didn’t have time to do on TV) and providing a non-stop flow of free publicity.
During the magazine heyday, it was very common to find a half-dozen of them on the average newsstand at all times. Wrestling World was stocked in every 7-11 in America. If we had Bret Hart or the Road Warriors on the cover, imagine how many pairs of eyes saw the WWF or WCW stars peering back at them.
If you don’t understand the significance of that for the promotion involved, please research the term “product placement.”
Before there were national promotions, the only way fans learned about wrestlers who didn’t appear in the local territory was via magazines. For instance, those of us growing up in the Northeast got our first and often only exposure to Flair, Dusty Rhodes, The Masked Superstar, Verne Gagne, Jerry Lawler and similar main-eventers elsewhere. And when a Mil Mascaras finally did come to the area, we were stoked, “knowing” he was a big deal because, after all, he was frequently on the cover of Wrestling Superstars.
[As a columnist, I would later carry on the tradition, providing the first U.S. newsstand exposure for Sean Waltman, Sabu, Rey Mysterio (as well as an full feature primer on lucha libre decades before Lucha Underground premiered), ECW and others.]
Odds are you gobbled up the mat mags as a kid—and equally likely you felt like you outgrew them at some point. Nothing wrong with that. Did it myself before renewing my interest in the sport as a young adult.
To illustrate how welcome “the magazine guys” were, watch older matches on the WWE Network or YouTube, and you will see one to several photographers around the ring. Once Turner Broadcasting took over, I got comped (as a writer) to every WCW house show and PPV I cared to attend. Same for the infamous Tri-State indie supercards. WWE was once tight-fisted with press passes, but now extends them to independent photographers.
Okay, so we’ve established that, at one time, younger you thought we were awesome; and sharper promoters welcomed us, grasping how we helped popularize the product. What I find odd—and irritating—is the widespread disrespect today accorded the classic newsstand magazines.
Unlike old toys, baseball cards, model railroads or any other reminder of youth, wrestling magazines invoke contempt rather than nostalgia among so many. The WWE Hall Of Fame has shall we say a “very liberal” qualification standard—Drew Carey, anyone?—yet there’s not a whiff of a “magazine guy” ever entering, and it will likely remain that way, unless Paul Heyman or Jim Cornette someday get inducted, both having broken into the business as photographers. Even the most respected Hall has more newsletter editors—once loathed by veterans—than magazine writers. I don’t claim to know every mat mag scribe, but of the ones I’ve discussed this with, none is on the committee that elects the HOF members for the most popular newsletter.
Bear in mind that I’m generalizing here and do recognize—and appreciate—that there are fans with a fondness for the vintage print magazines. Additionally, I do realize we were only one of many cogs in the machine, and am not trying to give the absurd impression we controlled the business. Nonetheless, we did play a part in the growth of the billion-dollar industry and were essential reading for tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of fans over the years.
Now that the above clarifies our involvement and eradicates many misconceptions, the hope is that at least some of the cynics will change their tune. As for those who couldn’t be bothered to even give this a look…well, clearly, they’re not as “smart” as they claim they are.
(And, yes, I gladly accept gratuities via PayPal.)