This week, we look back at the 1986 issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated that went to press on November 6, 1985 and sold for $2.95 in the U.S and $3.50 in Canada. With a cover featuring Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and the Road Warriors, this is a special year-end issue celebrating 1985 wrestling and looking ahead to 1986. Let’s make like Lanny and leap in.
Dusty Rhodes with PWI’s Stu Saks
We begin with The Mailbag, where Linda from New York writes in praising PWI for covering Hulk Hogan in the last issue. (Hmmm…) On the other hand, Richard from Philadelphia thinks that sharing baby pictures of Hogan was beneath the publication’s standards. Meanwhile, Bradley from Tennessee says enough with the Von Erichs and would like to buy one issue of PWI without hearing about how great they are. (Hey, Texas was a big market for magazines in the 1980s, and publishers had to account for it. And don’t even get me started on school textbooks.) Mike from North Carolina is mad at Ric Flair for attacking Dusty Rhodes after Big Dust tried to save Slick Ric from a beatdown, Paul and Ray from Illinois predict Magnum T.A. will win the U.S. title back from Tully Blanchard, Christine from New York is in love with Lanny Poffo, and Jimmy from Oklahoma agrees with Peter King’s opinion that females don’t have what it takes to be referees in wrestling because a ref needs to be a strong man capable of physically controlling matches. (Like Earl Hebner, the guy you would pick as your partner if you got into a back alley fight.)
Ringside with Bill Apter: The big news is there was a title for title match between NWA champ Ric Flair and AWA champ Rick Martel that took place October 21, 1985 at the Ryōgoku Kokugikan arena in Tokyo. They each were in top form for the see-saw match but the referee counted them out at 34:31. Meanwhile, Barry Windham has left the WWF and is wrestling in Florida with his brother, Kendall. In World Class, Rick Rude defeated Iceman Parsons for the American heavyweight championship (which would become more important in months to come when a major decision is made). And in a shocker, Gorgeous Jimmy Garvin and Lightning Steve Regal defeated the Road Warriors for the AWA tag team championship when the Freebirds interfered. And finally, in sad news, Rick McGraw died on November 1 of a heart attack. He was 30. Apter hopes that Piper, who wrestled McGraw shortly beforehand, will have the tact not to take credit for the tragedy.
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King’s Court: Peter has some presents in his Christmas sack. For Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair’s talent, so he can be a complete champion. For Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan’s fan support, so he can be a complete champion. For Rick Martel, better competition (like Stan Hansen?), so he can be a complete champion. For Sgt. Slaughter, a one-way ticket to the WWF so he can be a star again. (That one must have been delayed in the mail.) For Vince McMahon, who already has a sense of smell to sniff out big-money promotions and a sense of touch to pull them off, a sense of taste. For Verne Gagne, a new star. For Andre the Giant, Dusty Rhodes, and Adrian Adonis, a subscription to Weight Watchers. For Rick Steamboat, a return to basics because the Karate Kid thing isn’t working. For Barry Windham, happiness and contentment in Florida. For Mike Rotundo, a new tag team partner with the popularity of Barry. (How about just finding someone who looks like Barry from a distance?) For Gorilla Monsoon, a copy of How to Improve Your Vocabulary so he can limit himself to no more than five clichés each broadcast. Also, so he can learn that when he says a wrestler has literally been on the shelf for six months, he’s saying the wrestler has actually been sitting on a shelf for six months. “Maybe this is true,” King muses. “After all, if McBoss told one of his employees to sit on a shelf for six months, he’d probably do it.” (As a reminder, this was written more than ten years before McMahon became “Mr. McMahon.”) For David Crockett, a hold button on his microphone to be used when he starts getting too excited over nothing. To Ken Resnick, a hold button to be used at all times. For Jesse Ventura, his own seminar, so he can teach others how to do color analysis. For Randy Savage, a new kid brother to replace the one the WWF took from him. For Lanny Poffo, a new big brother to replace the one the WWF took from him. For Magnum T.A., who has 99% of what it takes to be wrestling’s biggest star, the missing 1%. For all PWI’s loyal readers, a great 1986.
Dressing Room Confidential with Stu Saks: Stu says the magazine almost voided the results for Manager of the Year when PWI learned that Jim Cornette’s mother in Memphis spent thousands of dollars to buy up PWI magazines so she could send in all the included ballots with votes for her son. However, as it turns out, there’s nothing in the rules saying a person couldn’t do this, so they’re letting the results stand. (Where’s Rudy Giuliani when you need him?)
What They Are Saying…
Lou Albano says he’s got a new tag team, the British Bulldogs, and they will do the job on Brutus Beefcake and Greg Valentine. (As a smart mark, I’m so confused.) Jim Cornette gloats about being Manager of the Year, Mike Von Erich thanks the fans for their support, and Arn Anderson says something which I don’t care about because I’m too busy laughing at him wearing sunglasses and a ballcap.
Liz Hunter On Assignment: she defends the other Liz, Miss Elizabeth. She says people dismiss her as a valet or a traveling secretary, but she’s really one of the best managers in the world. Hunter says that all the wrestlers call Elizabeth an extremely tough negotiator and say how in the ever-complicated world of professional wrestling, she understands the game and knows how to guide her man into the best situation. In fact, other wrestlers would kill to have her and call her the “Lee Iacocca of wrestling.” (Sadly, this name didn’t stick.)
Next up, an advertisement for the Von Erich Family board game! (Insert your own joke if you dare.)
Off the Top Rope with Eddie Ellner: this month, he answers letters with song lyrics. When D.B. of Florida complains about Ric Flair attacking Dusty Rhodes, Eddie responds (to the tune of Hey Jude): “Dus-ty… You are so fat… You take trousers… to the tailor… He looks up… and wonders what you have ate… to have your waste… resemble Cleveland.” When Paul asks about Barry Windham in Florida, Eddie responds, “When Barry comes marching home again, who cares? Who cares? As Barry comes marching home again, who cares? who cares? He’ll chase all the girls who think he’s a hit, but inside the ring he’s a pandering twit, so let’s all start yawning when Barry comes marching home.”
In Focus with Craig Peters looks back at 1985 with Craig’s personal favorite highlights: Andre sported a new hairstyle, Nikita Koloff came into his own, the WWF got a Saturday morning cartoon, Steamboat jumped to the WWF, Gordon Solie wrote a book, PWI released two videotapes, Sgt. Slaughter released a record, the AWA released a line of dolls, the WWF released every piece of merchandise they could, the AWA held Superclash 85, World Class held the second annual Parade of Champions, the WWF held Wrestlemania, the NWA held a series of Great American Bashes, Lou Albano, Jake Roberts, and Paul Orndorff became fan favorites, Terry Funk’s TV show flopped, Paul Orndorff, Hulk Hogan, Sgt. Slaughter, and George Steele did commercials, and many wrestlers appeared in Cyndi Lauper’s Goonies video.
Next, 1985 in review: the year saw big supershows like Wrestlemania while smaller syndicated shows gained strength. (Note: there’s a small picture of Jim Ross hosting a syndicated show in this section.) There was also wrestling, as well as Uncle Elmer’s wedding, on NBC. Also, the WWF released Wrestlemania on video cassette and aired some of the matches on broadcast television, despite Vince McMahon’s earlier assertions that the only way fans would ever see Wrestlemania was to watch it in person or on closed circuit.
Other bits of 1985 business…
By the numbers: ringside at Wrestlemania was $100, every piece of merchandise in the WWF’s Season’s Greetings catalogue totaled together equals $866.15, every available back issue of PWI, The Wrestler, and Inside Wrestling totaled together would cost $1,182. 108 stitches were needed to repair Dr. Death Steve Williams’s eye after he was elbowed by Brad Armstrong. (Brad is appropriately surnamed.) Williams, however, did go on to wrestle again the same day.
In memoriam: 1985 saw the loss of Wild Bull Curry, Eddie Graham, Rick McGraw, and Jay Youngblood.
Your tax dollars at work: New York State Senator Abraham Bernstein introduced a bill to ban professional wrestling. Bernstein said the foul tactics wrestling teaches youngsters disgusts him. Midget wrestler Haiti kid appeared at the hearings and asked that the bill not apply to midget wrestling. (Too little too late?)
An upgrade: Last month, PWI began recognizing the WWF Heavyweight championship as a World Title, in large part due to letters from fans.
And now, The 1985 PWI Achievement Awards
Yes, Wrestlemania’s main event wins match of the year. Second place goes to The Road Warriors vs. The Koloffs from April 18 in an AWA vs. NWA tag team championship contest, third place goes to Ric Flair vs. Nikita Koloff from the first Great American Bash, and fourth place goes to Rick Martel vs. Bob Backlund from February 22.
Rookie of the year goes to The Barbarian (Previous winners: Mike Von Erich, Angelo Mosca Jr., Brad Armstrong, David Sammartino, Terry Taylor, Sweet Brown Sugar, Tommy Rich, Rick Steamboat, Bob Backlund, Ric Flair, Larry Zbyszko, Cowboy Bob Orton, Tony Garea, and Mike Graham.) Second place goes to Kendall Windham, third place goes to Starship Eagle, and fourth place goes to Sam Houston.
Most improved wrestler of the year goes to Steve Williams (Previous winners: Billy Jack Haynes, Brett Wayne Sawyer, Barry Windham, Kevin Sullivan, Tony Atlas, Tommy Rich, and Dino Bravo.) Second place goes to Brian Adidas, third place goes to Nikita Koloff, and fourth place goes to Randy Savage.
Most hated wrestler goes to Roddy Piper, second place goes to Chris Adams, third place goes to Ted DiBiase, and fourth place goes to John Studd.
Wrestler of the year goes to Ric Flair. (Previous winners: Ric Flair, Harley Race, Bob Backlund, Ric Flair, Bob Backlund, Harley Race, Dusty Rhodes, Dusty Rhodes, Terry Funk, Mr. Wrestling II, Bruno Sammartino, Jack Brisco, and Pedro Morales.) Second place goes to Hulk Hogan, third place goes to Rick Martel, and fourth place goes to Sgt. Slaughter.
Most popular wrestler of the year goes to Hulk Hogan. (Previous winners: Kerry Von Erich, Jimmy Snuka, Andre the Giant, Tommy Rich, Mr. Wrestling II, Dusty Rhodes, Dusty Rhodes, Andre the Giant, Wahoo McDaniel, Mil Mascaras, Billy Robinson, Chief Jay Strongbow, Jack Brisco, and Fred Curry.) Second place goes to Magnum T.A., third place goes to Kerry Von Erich, and fourth place goes to Tito Santana.
Tag Team of the year goes to The Road Warriors. (Previous winners: The Road Warriors, The Road Warriors, The High Flyers, The Fabulous Freebirds, Jimmy Snuka & Ray Stevens, Ivan Putski & Tito Santana, Rick Steamboat & Paul Jones, Gene & Ole Anderson, Jimmy and Johnny Valiant, Nick Bockwinkel & Ray Stevens, and Bruiser & Crusher.) Second place goes to Ted DiBiase & Steve Williams, third place goes to The Koloffs, and fourth place goes to The British Bulldogs.
Manager of the year goes to Jim Cornette. (Previous winners: Paul Ellering, James J. Dillon, James J. Dillon, Captain Lou Albano, Oliver Humperdink, Arnold Skaaland, Arnold Skaaland, The Grand Wizard, Bobby Heenan, George Cannon, Captain Lou Albano, The Grand Wizard, and Bobby Heenan.) Second place goes to Lou Albano, third place goes to Paul Ellering, and fourth place goes to Bobby Heenan.
Inspirational wrestler of the year goes to Mike Von Erich. (Previous winners: Sgt. Slaughter, Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Bob Backlund, Junkyard Dog, Chief Jay Strongbow, Blackjack Mulligan, Bob Backlund, Bruno Sammartino, Mike McCord, Dick Murdoch, Johnny Valentine, and Lord Alfred Hayes.) Second place goes to Paul Orndorff, third place goes to Hacksaw Jim Duggan, and fourth place goes to Kevin Von Erich.
Dan Shocket wins the editors’ award. The innovative heel columnist who worked for PWI from 1974 to 1985 died of cancer on May 4, 1985 at the age of 35. As some of you know, some of the “writers” for PWI and its sister publications were fictional characters, such as Liz Hunter and Matt Brock, whose columns were written by the real writers in an effort to create the illusion that these magazines had a large, diverse staff of characters who were running around the country with pen and paper chasing after the wrestlers, snagging interviews, and reporting on matches. As such, some people might assume that Dan and Eddie Ellner were fictional characters—the alter-egos of Bill Apter or Craig Peters—but Dan and Eddie were real. In the case of Dan, he loved to pick on the Von Erichs… which nearly got Bill Apter in trouble. You see, Fritz Von Erich, the family patriarch, assumed Dan Shocket was really Bill, the face of PWI to most of the wrestlers, writing as a heel character. And as he read Dan’s column in Pro Wrestling Illustrated each month, he became more agitated. At one point, Gary Hart, Fritz’s booker, pointing to an article that had bothered Fritz, warned Bill to lay off the family. Bill said, “That’s not my column, Gary. That’s Dan Shocket’s!” Gary, thinking Bill was trying to pull some sort of kayfabe on him, said, “Well, Bill, you should probably tell ‘Dan’ to knock it off before Fritz does something to Bill.” Bill then told Dan about the situation and said, “Could you please dial it back a bit before I get hurt?” Dan said, “Sure!” And then he picked on the Von Erichs even more, finding it especially funny that he was making Fritz mad and Bill was taking all the heat for it. Well, eventually, Bill ran into Fritz. It was at the first Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions, held in honor of David Von Erich, who had just passed away. As Fritz, standing 6’4, suddenly came stomping over, Bill thought, “This is it. I’m done for!” Then Fritz embraced Bill in a hug and said, “It’s okay. I forgive you.” And that was that.
PWI says, “Dan Shocket was a pioneer of bringing respectability to the job of wrestling journalist. He made all who followed him proud to be part of his profession. He did it with his work, which shone with wit, intelligence, and honesty. And he did it with the way he lived and died, which was truly a courageous exhibition of human bravery. For this reason, Dan Shocket is honored posthumously with the 1985 Editor’s Award.”
Unofficial Awards from fans: Act like you know less than you really do award goes to Vince McMahon, best looking belt goes to Ric Flair, best looking valet goes to Miss Elizabeth, best robe goes to Ric Flair, cauliflower ear award goes to Jim Stossel, Dan Shocket award for journalism excellence goes to Eddie Ellner, the award for saying “Give me a break, ref” the most times goes to Gorilla Monsoon, imitation of the year award goes to Buddy Landel for copying Ric Flair…. (just to break in here, wasn’t Buddy Landel’s shtick the weirdest thing? I mean, just imagine what a wrestler would say today if someone else wanted to use the exact same nickname and look—to the point where the casual fan watching TV could confuse the two—and yet Ric Flair loved it and the two peacefully coexisted for years!) The Karate Kid award goes to Ricky Steamboat, the lie of the year award goes to Pro Wrestling U.S.A. for saying it would bring people the top stars from the NWA and AWA, most hated fan favorite goes to Jerry Lawler, most sickening unprofessional announcer of the year and all years award goes to David Crockett. (So not a fan?) Put-down artist award goes to Roddy Piper, the Richard M. Nixon award for administration integrity goes to Vince McMahon, sophomore jinx award goes to Mike Von Erich (ouch), tallest tale award goes to John Studd for saying he’s never been slammed, upset of the year award goes to Jim Garvin and Steve Regal for their defeat of the Road Warriors, world’s worst stable award goes to James J. Dillon. (Hope he finds a way to put together a better stable sometime. Maybe he just needs the horses…. Too blunt?) Worst cue card reader goes to Lord Alfred Hayes, although the fan correctly points out that it’s hilarious to watch him do so, worst excuse for Rambo goes to Corporal Kirchner and Greg Gagne, worst finishing maneuver goes to Hulk Hogan’s legdrop, wrestler I’d most like to see in the centerfold of playgirl award goes to Kerry Von Erich, and the “You’ve got to be joking” award goes to PWI for recognizing the WWF title as a world title.
Next, fans predict 1986!
Some of the predictions… Hulk will keep his title (yes), Fred Blassie will retire (yes), Jim Cornette will play tennis with John McEnroe (you cannot be serious), Kendall Windham will establish himself as a dominant force in wrestling (in the 150 pound weight class, maybe), Superstar Billy Graham will challenge Hulk Hogan for the WWF title (no), the AWA will fold (not yet), Hulk Hogan will prove that he can beat a scientific wrestler (do Muraco, Bundy, and Orndorff count?), Dusty Rhodes will win the NWA championship (yes), Kerry Von Erich will jump to the AWA and defeat Rick Martel for the AWA title (no), Eddie Ellner will quit acting like Dan Shocket (no), Baby Doll will marry Dusty Rhodes (no, but she does marry a Texan!), Tito Santana will lose the Intercontinental Title to Don Muraco (no), the WWF will open a daycare center where they watch Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n Wrestling, play with wrestling dolls, and wear Hulk Hogan jogging pants (maybe?), Andre the Giant will drop a hundred pounds, challenge Hogan for the title, and lose to a small package (not yet), Chris Adams will jump to the AWA and defeat Rick Martel for the AWA title (no), Vince McMahon will try to sign Ric Flair, but his people will sign the wrong Nature Boy by mistake and get Buddy Landel (probably), Terry Funk will beat Hulk Hogan to become WWF champ (no), and Sam Houston will defeat Ric Flair for the NWA title (not in this universe).
Arena Report: Hulk Hogan pinned King Kong Bundy in Boston, Mike Rotundo and Junk Yard Dog defeated The Dream Team by DQ in Dayton, Andre defeated King Kong Bundy by DQ in Denver, Superstar Billy Graham pinned Sam Houston in Atlanta, Paul Orndorff defeated Roddy Piper by DQ in Detroit, Hulk Hogan pinned Randy Savage in Toronto, and The Midnight Express defeated Brett & Buzz Sawyer in Cleveland.
That takes us to Ratings…
That’s it for this week! Join me next week where we’ll look at the Feburary, 1986 issue of WWF Magazine, where the magazine itself is caught offguard by a title change and we get coverage of The Wrestling Classic. And be sure to check out my books!