This week, we look back at an issue of Inside Wrestling that went to press on New Years Day, 1988 and sold for $1.75 in the U.S. and $2.50 in Canada. With a cover featuring Hulk, Andre, and DiBiase, we’re teased with a scandal that has rocked wrestling’s foundation! But before we go any further, let’s look at the official ratings from January 1, 1988 so you know who’s where…
And as a bonus, here are the ages of the Top 15, with wrestlers no longer with us in italics:
- Hulk Hogan: 34
- Ric Flair: 38
- Nikita Koloff: 28
- Randy Savage: 35
- Dusty Rhodes: 42
- Steve Williams: 27
- Barry Windham: 27
- Curt Hennig: 29
- Lex Luger: 29
- Al Perez: 27
- Jerry Lawler: 38
- Kerry Von Erich: 27
- Bam Bam Bigelow: 26
- Sting: 28
- Wendell Cooley: 28
We begin with The Mailbag, where Marty from Concord, North Carolina writes in to say he and America support Sgt. Slaughter in his renewed feud with The Iron Sheik. “Where does Sheik get off knocking the country that supports his worthless, camel-faced self?” Marty adds that he has an American-made aluminum Louisville Slugger baseball bat that he’ll lend to the Sarge or perhaps use himself. Meanwhile, Jenny Pierce from East Peoria, Illinois wants Inside Wrestling to stop asking The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express to break up. “They’ve only just begun,” she says. Then there’s Philip Bruno from New York who says he used to like “Macho Man” Randy Savage, but Savage is now but a mouse in Hulk Hogan’s trap. “You could have been WWF Champ, but you became friends with Hogan, and now you’ll never be champion.” We also get a letter from Warren from Oshawa, Ontario who says Hulk has beaten virtually everyone, but there’s one challenge that still awaits: Bob Backlund. “If a match between Backlund and Hogan occurred, I’m sure it would be the match of the decade. It would probably attract more people than Wrestlemania III.” Finally, Jerry from Elk River, Minnesota says he’s tired of AWA wrestlers bailing for the WWF. He says the AWA made Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Jesse Ventura, Haku, Rick Martel, and many others, but now they’re jumping ship to join the circus, even if it means getting lost in the shuffle. “Boris Zukhov, you will never hold a title in the WWF.” (That’s a bold claim.)
Onto Editor’s Notebook with Stu Saks. Stu speculates that Lex Luger’s turn to fan favorite and Dusty Rhodes being Dusty Rhodes might lead Nikita Koloff to return to his rulebreaking ways. He says Nikita has no love for Luger, who took his U.S. title, and no love for Dusty who knew Nikita wanted to wrestle Luger for the belt at Starrcade only for Dusty to take the spot himself and come out victorious. Now Dusty and Luger are friends, and Nikita’s only choice might be to go through them to win the U.S. title back. (And indeed, Koloff would turn on Luger for this very reason… in 1991!)
Next, in Behind the Dressing Room Door with David Rosenbaum, Dave accuses Hogan of being a fraud. (Well, there’s a viewpoint you won’t get in WWF Magazine… not until 1994 at least.) Dave says he’s always suspected it, especially when Hogan tried to make us believe he was the good guy when Andre turned on him to get a title shot. Hogan said that all Andre had to do was ask for one, but Dave doesn’t believe Hulk would have granted it. Well, flash forward to Survivor Series: Andre won the main event fair and square, and what does Hogan do? He attacked Andre and stole the spotlight. And all this after saying Andre used to be his role model! “Hulk Hogan has shown us he knows how to win—by endlessly putting down his opponents, endlessly posing in the ring, begging for more cheers, and making tag partners take a back seat to him.” Now we have a situation with DiBiase. The Million Dollar Man offered Hogan a large sum of money for the belt. Hogan took a week to make a decision before saying no. “And the way it sounded, Hogan came very close to accepting the bribe. He rationalized how he could use the money to help all the sick little kids that needed it and could retire to a life of leisure. But he said couldn’t take the money because of all the Hulkamaniacs and his responsibility to the fans, to the title, and to wrestling. Give me a break. The only loyalty Hogan knows is to himself. If you ask me, Hogan only turned down the money because it would expose him as the fraud he really is, and he knows he’ll get more cash in the long run from merchandise, TV deals, movies, and his own lucrative contract with the WWF. By turning down millions, he’ll make billions.”
We move on to On the Road with Craig Peters. He says he couldn’t believe it when the press release reached his desk: Vince McMahon and James Crockett, in association with the WWF and the NWA, are proud to promote the first annual WorldCard ’88! The glossy four-color booklet was bursting with beautiful photos of Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Strike Force, The Road Warriors, Rick Steamboat, Dusty Rhodes, and every top star the WWF and NWA have to offer. There was even a photograph of McMahon and Crockett shaking hands. The event will be headlined by Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair with a million dollar purse going to the winner. IC Champ Honky Tonk Man will square off against U.S. Champ Dusty Rhodes in a title unification match. The winner retains his title, the loser’s federation liquidates the other championship. And finally, there will be a Survivor Series/Wargames bout pitting 16 men against each other in two rings surrounded by a steel cage. The booklet closes with a statement: “We are proud to announce that WorldCard ’88 will be only the first in an ongoing series of cooperative promotional ventures between Jim Crockett Promotions and Titan Sports. WorldCard ’88 will be simply the first step in what could truly be called The World Series of Professional Wrestling, blending the greatest stars of the NWA and WWF into one massive roster from which matchmakers will be able to hold the greatest cards ever known!”
Then Craig’s alarm went off, and he woke up from his dream. Two hours later, at his desk at the office, he was hearing that the WWF would be airing The Royal Rumble against the NWA’s Bunkhouse Stampede. The Royal Rumble will be some sort of lottery battle royal. The Stampede will feature another steel cage gimmick match. “With 365 days in the year, there’s plenty of room for all the events that all the promotions want to conduct. If only McMahon and Crockett could work in conjunction with each other instead of against each other. But that’s only a dream.”
Onto Names Makin’ News with Bill Apter: The Survivor Series was a thing that happened, and while Andre the Giant made his first appearance since Wrestlemania III and won the main event, Bam Bam Bigelow looked surprisingly strong in defeat, pinning The One Man Gang and King Kong Bundy. In the tag team contest, the Islanders did better than expected and are rapidly moving up the tag team rankings and may be number one contenders by the time Wrestlemania IV rolls around. Also, look out for the Jumping Bomb Angels, who not only looked good but won the women’s match. As for the matches themselves, they were decent, with the two referee concept working well (one inside, one outside).
In NWA news, Starrcade saw Ric Flair win the NWA title and Dusty Rhodes win the U.S. title. Meanwhile, the NWA, which previously purchased the UWF, has announced it will be completing the merger of the two organizations, dissolving the UWF tag team title and merging the UWF championship with the NWA title in a unification match. (Well, that never happened, as UWF champ Williams took the title to Japan and it was never seen again.) The Western States title, currently held by Barry Windham, will carry on as an NWA title (until Larry Zbyszko wins it and departs for the AWA). Bill says the real losers in all this are The Sheepherders, Luke and Butch, who have gone from champions to contenders without actually losing the belts.
Elsewhere, World Pacific champion Superfly Tui wants a shot at NWA champ Ric Flair, with promoter Lia Maivia currently negotiating with Jim Crockett Promotions. (Well, that didn’t happen, so hopefully Lia has a backup plan, like having a grandson who could make half a billion dollars.)
In a major bit of news you will all be interested in, D.J. Petersen recently won the Central States title from Bulldog Bob Brown. Meanwhile, Ron Fuller of Continental Championship Wrestling has announced his retirement from professional wrestling. (Ron owned CCW, which he would sell a short time later.) In other CCW news, Jimmy Jack Funk is feuding with Jerry Lawler, with Funk claiming that he must restore honor to the Funk family name that Lawler is trying to discredit. (Uh huh.)
Rumor has it that Ted DiBiase has reached an agreement with Bobby Heenan whereby he will buy the WWF title from Andre if Andre can defeat Hulk for it. Bill says the scheme is unlikely to work and that DiBiase, who has already defeated Hogan twice, would do better to concentrate on defeating Hulk Hogan himself.
In WCCW, Kerry Von Erich won a Stingray automobile in a pole battle royal at a Christmas show at Reunion Arena in Texas. On the same card, Eric Embry regained the Texas junior heavyweight title from Shaun Simpson. Meanwhile, an usual series of events led to the firing of The Thing by manager Percy Pringle. Killer Brooks sold The Thing to Pringle for $50,000, but Gary Hart laughed when he found out since he knew that the guy Brooks sold was a fake Thing. Real Thing was already signed to New Age Management, consisting of Hart and Vince Apollo. When Pringle found out, he immediately fired Fake Thing and got mad at Brooks when he refused to refund his money. In the meantime, Fake Thing left World Class.
In the AWA, Paul E. Dangerously is proving to be a valuable psychological weapon for his men. Recently Wahoo McDaniel lost to Dangerously’s Adrian Adonis when McDaniel got so mad, he stole Dangerously’s phone and began using it as a weapon against Dangerously, Adonis, and the referee.
In other news, a weightlifting competition between the Road Warriors and the Warlord & Konga the Barbarian appears imminent.
More tag team news: Mama Cornette is rumored to have ordered her son, Jim Cornette, to separate The Midnight Express so they can go after Dusty Rhodes’s U.S. Title.
And finally, WWF’s Piledriver album has gone gold in Canada, selling 50,000 units.
Next, The Insider with Eddie Ellner, where Eddie looks back at Survivor Series and Starrcade, as well other odds and ends.
Regarding Survivor Series, Eddie says it’s become obvious that Andre is dying. Sure, he won the match for his team, but only after King Kong Bundy and The One Man Gang did all the damage. “The finishing suplex Andre applied to Bigelow was so badly executed one must wonder if Bam Bam had his hand in the cookie jar. Remember, Wrestlemania III was a multi million dollar promotion. Andre-Hogan II is worth at least that much. What’s a few hundred thousand in Bigelow’s pocket to assure the big event goes off without a hitch?” Eddie says the WWF will keep carting out Andre for main events so long as people pay to see the freak-show.
Regarding Starrcade, Eddie says, “Raise your hand if you thought Ronnie Garvin had a fighting chance in his rematch against Ric Flair.” Eddie says that when the money is on the line, Flair always finds a way to come through. Sure, he’ll rely on disqualifications when he’s champion, but when he’s the challenger, he is a tenacious grappler hellbent on victory. “Unfortunately, now that he’s got the belt back, we can look forward to long winter months of DQs.”
Meanwhile, Eddie wonders if the fallout of the Luger/Rhodes cage match, with Luger losing his title and turning his back on The Four Horsemen, means Lugar and Rhodes will now team up to go after The Horsemen together or if Luger will just bolt to the WWF and challenge Hulk Hogan. As for the first option, Eddie thinks it would be a shame if Rhodes attempted to mentor Luger, since that’s exactly how Rhodes ruined Nikita Koloff’s career. “It’s not tragic enough that Rhodes transformed Koloff into a marshmallow. Now he has designs on turning Luger into another Magnum T.A. or some other hideous mediocrity. Hopefully Luger will tell Rhodes to take his advice and stick it into his jelly folds and then go out and beat him senseless.”
Onto the 37th annual Slammy Awards. (Eddie wonders how we went from the first one in 1986 to the 37th in 1987.) Vince McMahon sang, Hulk played bass, and Randy Savage trombone-synched in the brass section. But what does this have to do with wrestling? “It was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve seen, and it’s hard to imagine Bruno Sammartino or Killer Kowalski indulging in such nonsense. Oh, praise God. I’m beginning to sound like Matt Brock, aren’t I?”
Onto On Assignment with Liz Hunter, where Liz is concerned about “The Complete Package” Lex Luger now that he’s dumped The Four Horsemen and seems to be lost in no-man’s land. Liz, unlike, Eddie, believes Dusty would be the perfect mentor because Dust has experience making great athletes better athletes and has been yearning to make the transition from wrestler to manager for some time. Magnum T.A. chimes in: “There is little Dusty cannot do. Everyone likes to get on his case. They call him fat and over-the-hill, then he goes out and whips Luger for the U.S. title. He’s accused of tampering with wrestlers’ careers only for publicity, but he’s a father figure to more wrestlers than you believe.”
Moving on, Liz says that even while tragedies tugged and tore at their world, the Von Erichs never lost heart. That seemed to change when Kerry Von Erich lost a title match to Al Perez after Fritz Von Erich, who was attacked by the Freebirds, collapsed and had to be taken away in an ambulance. “Ringside observers report that although Kerry displayed moments of vintage aggressiveness, his mind appeared to wander.” Afterward, Kerry said, “After seeing that happen to my dad, I just couldn’t get motivated. It took the heart right out of me.” (So we’re going for the Rocky III thing here, right?) Liz says the Von Erichs used to separate themselves from the rest of the wrestling world by separating personal tragedy from their professional careers. Liz recalls being in the locker room just weeks after David’s death and hearing Kevin tell his father that he might not be able to give 100%. Fritz grabbed Kevin by the hair and stood him upright. “I won’t allow a son of mine to ever say that. I love you, Kevin, but I will not have that attitude. Not tonight, not ever.” But now it appears that the Von Erichs are no longer immune to the tragedies that have befallen them and have forgotten how they built their legend. Liz hopes they find a way to remember.
Where are they now?
This month’s capsule profile: King Kong Bundy
News from the Wrestling Capitals has a rather impressive lineup…
We move on to Matt Brock’s Plain Speaking…
Matt recently attended a National Wrestling Federation event in Hollywood, Florida to see Sgt. Slaughter. Matt says he’s still looking good, and despite what the stupid liberals say, Sarge isn’t going away soon.
Matt also stopped by Toledo, Ohio to see a young kid named Scott Rexsteiner. Matt says he’s still green, but he seems to know what he’s doing in the ring.
Finally, Matt stopped by Huntington, West Virginia to see some matches promoted by International Championship Wrestling, which included The Iron Sheik, Jimmy Snuka, the Moondogs, Hillbilly Mike, and a Canadian monster known as Gustav the Giant. (I’m thinking they couldn’t afford Andre and didn’t mind lawsuits from Disney). Word has it that ICW is on the verge of signing Col. DeBeers. The way Matt sees it, we might be hearing a lot more about ICW as 1988 rolls along.
Moving on, this month in Inside Wrestler’s sister publications you can learn about why Tito Santana’s is being warned that Rick Martel will destroy Strike Force, and find out why Andre the Giant is wrestling’s unhappiest man.
Next, an article about Brotherly Love. Kevin and Kerry Von Erich both endured injuries in 1987. Kevin hurt his shoulder and neck. Kerry was in a near-fatal motorcycle crash. But they had each other’s backs, and just days before Thanksgiving, they took the World Class tag titles from Frank Lancaster and Brian Adias. Then when Kevin was given a title shot against Al Perez in a Christmas Day steel cage match, Kevin stepped aside and gave the shot to Kerry. We then get more coverage of the Christmas day incident where Fritz collapsed and was taken away in an ambulance after an altercation with the Freebirds, and we’re told that Kerry and Kevin are now plotting revenge in the name of Brotherhood.
Next our feature story about The Hogan-Andre-DiBiase Connection! Ted DiBiase wants to buy the WWF title, but although Hulk Hogan appeared to be swayed momentarily by the seven-figure offer, Hogan ultimately rejected the deal. DiBiase then went in search of someone who could beat Hulk Hogan for him. He looked at Hercules, King Kong Bundy, and Kamala, and even thought about buying them all, before settling on putting all his eggs in one basket and buying Andre the Giant. The details of the deal are still up in the air, but it comes down to this: Andre will challenge Hogan for the WWF title, and if Andre wins it, he will give the belt to DiBiase. Some say this is going nowhere because Andre is deteriorating and is in worse shape than Wrestlemania III, when he lost to Hogan. Others, however, wonder if Andre’s sheer bulk itself might be enough to pin Hogan, as it almost did in the prior match. Matt Brock says, “Andre isn’t in great shape. Everyone knows that. But he knows this sport inside and out, and he still has a few good fights left in him. DiBiase’s offer is fiendishly canny.” Of course, all of this would mean nothing if WWF President Jack Tunney would deal with this controversy in a forthright manner. He talks about the WWF’s bylaws but doesn’t seem to know how to apply them. Tunney’s waffling is shameful, and if he doesn’t act quickly, DiBiase might just buy himself a world title.
Onto Lex Luger, who’s now a fan favorite. His turn comes just as Flair has regained the NWA belt (title, championship, whatever). He’s now perfectly positioned to go after Ric Flair, which Inside Wrestling says is not good news for the champion. In fact, they predict Ric Flair’s current reign, his fifth, might be the shortest reign of his career… and his last! So let’s take a look at the math and see how this all worked out…
Flair’s reigns as NWA/WCW champ (the streamlined version):
- 631 days
- 165 days
- 794 days
- 413 days
- 453 days
- 427 days
- 172 days
- 203 days
- 27 days
- 72 days
- 29 days
- Part of 1 day
So in retrospect, it could be argued Inside Wrestling was jumping the gun by saying reign 5 might be short and might be the end.
Next, an interview with Jerry Lawler, who has never held a World singles title in the sport, despite holding victories over Hulk Hogan, Nick Bockwinkel, Harley Race, and Ric Flair. He does hold, however, the newly created Championship Wrestling Association title, a championship created when Mid-Southern officials decided that their AWA Southern, AWA International, and Mid-America titles created too much confusion among fans. (Nah, we just ignored them all.) So there were unification matches, and Lawler defeated Jeff Jarrett and Manny Fernandez in a round-robin tournament to win the belt. (Round-robin tournaments rule.) Anyway, Jerry is congratulated on his new belt, and he says he’s proud of it, that it means more than the AWA championship and that he’s glad he won it fair and square. The magazine says that Jeff Jarrett told them Lawler used too many punches and should have been disqualified. But Lawler says the only time he throws a closed fist punch is when his opponent does first, and that Jeff probably didn’t mean what he said and was just frustrated. “Case closed.” Lawler is asked if being CWA champion is now enough for him, and if he’s giving up his quest to win the AWA title. “No,” Lawler says, “and for the simple reason I’ve never won a World title. It seems like people are saying, ‘He’s had a great career, but he’s never won the big one.’ I don’t want there to be any doubt in anyone’s mind that I’m one of the greatest wrestlers of all time.” Lawler also says that AWA champ Curt Hennig is an arrogant, disrespectful rulebreaker whose a disgrace, and he wants to knock him down a peg. He just hopes he can beat Hennig before Greg Gagne does.
Inside Wrestling says it’s time for Rick Rude and Paul Orndorff to end the debate about who has the best body in the WWF. It’s neither of them. It’s the Ultimate Warrior. Once known as the Dingo Warrior, this man has been making an impact in the WWF, seemingly paid by how quickly he can dispose of his opponents. Senior editor Bill Apter says Warrior reminds him of a young Randy Savage. “Remember when Savage arrived in the WWF? He was a mysterious commodity everyone wanted to see. Few of his matches lasted more than a minute. That’s the Ultimate Warrior now.” Since the only thing bigger than bodybuilders’ muscles are their egos, Warrior can expect a cool reception from WWF musclemen like Butch Reed, Billy Jack Haynes, Hercules Hernandez, Paul Orndorff, Rick Rude, and Randy Savage himself, not to mention Hulk Hogan. But the Warrior has strength within. “With each pose, the Ultimate Warrior is sending a warning. With each victory, he’s laying a foundation. He’s a force to be reckoned with. Judging by his performance so far in the WWF, Rick Rude may be in for a rude awakening.” (Maybe we need a posedown between the two.)
Next, One on One gives us an alleged phone conversation between Lex Luger and former manager J.J. Dillion. Luger says Dillion only wanted credit for the victories but didn’t actually offer any help or take the blame for the defeats. Dillion says he was in barbed-wire cage matches before Luger was toilet trained, and that Luger’s got no chance to defeat Ric Flair because Dillon and Flair are both way smarter than Luger.
Lastly, here’s the Roll Call of Champions for January 1, 1988! (There will be a test later.)
That’s all for now. Happy birthday tomorrow to my fellow July 2nders, Bret Hart and Lindsay Lohan! (I know you’re both reading.) See you next week.