This week, we look back at an issue of Inside Wrestling that went to press in late February of 1988 and sold for $1.75 in the U.S. and $2.50 in Canada. With a cover featuring Randy Savage and Elizabeth, we’re teased with stories about the Macho Man, Road Warrior Animal, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, and Greg Gagne. So let’s make like Ricky and Robert and rock ‘n’ roll!
Let’s begin with The Ratings just so we know where everyone’s at. In fact, if we accept number 15 as the worst position, Dino Bravo is appropriately ranked in the WWF.
Onto The Mailbag, where Kevin from Brookhaven, Mississippi says you can’t blame DiBiase for entering the WWF as a rulebreaker. Had he been a fan favorite, he would have never gotten a title shot against Hogan, despite being a better wrestler who knows more moves. “All in all, DiBiase isn’t a bad or good guy, but a wrestler making a living the only way he can.” (He ain’t trying to change nobody, he’s just trying real hard to adjust.) Meanwhile, C. Bryan from Pampa, Texas says he recently saw Adrian Adonis on AWA television, and it’s shocking to see what he looks like today compared to ten years ago. (Sadly, things would be about to get a lot worse.) “The best I can say to Adrian is: go to the fat farm.” (I’m guessing C. Bryan would regret writing this letter not too long after it was published.) Forrest from Charleston, South Carolina writes in to say it’s a shame what Jim Crockett Promotions did to Florida and the UWF. JCP basically destroyed both territories and then stripped UWF champ Steve Williams of his title and stripped UWF tag team champions the Sheepherders of theirs. “Williams and the Sheepherders worked hard to get where they are and deserve better treatment.” Then there’s Bill from Chicago who writes in to say enough with this infatuation with Bam Bam Bigelow. “So he beat Hercules—whoopee!” Bill thinks Bigelow was overrated to begin with and says Bigelow’s choice of manager, Oliver Humperdink, shows he’s an idiot. Speaking of the WWF, M. Garlock of Mt. Vernon, Pennsylvania says Jack Tunney is doing an awful job. For example, when the Islanders dognapped Matilda, they were only suspended until Matilda was returned. Would you only imprison someone for kidnapping a child until the kid was returned? And how did Andre get a title shot against Hulk Hogan? He snuck up behind Hogan and choked him out after a match! This should be a suspension not a promotion in the rankings. Garlock closes his letter saying that thanks to Tunney, wrestlers in the WWF know they can get away with anything next to murder. And finally, Justin from Guthrie, Oklahoma says the Horsemen just aren’t the same without Lex Luger. “They even asked Barry Windham, of all people, to be a Horseman. To no one’s surprise, Barry declined.” (Perhaps that offer will still be out there in the future…)
Onto Behind the Dressing Room Door by David Rosenbaum. Dave says hardline oldtimers can complain about how Vince McMahon has turned the WWF into a circus, but times change and Vince knows what he’s doing. (Hopefully times won’t continue changing and swallow him up.) As for Vince, he says he doesn’t even consider the NWA competition anymore. “I’m more worried if there’s a good film opposite us on TBS than if there’s wrestling on,” he said at a recent press conference for WrestleMania IV. “Their live show on TBS on March 27 will have no impact on WrestleMania, although I don’t think it was a very smart decision on their part.” (Also, his hush payments should have no impact on his career.) Dave says that the WWF actually has more talent than people give it credit for, with top notch wrestlers who understand the sweet science of grappling and are on par with the other federations when it comes to aerial skills, stamina, and ring smarts. Beyond that, McMahon also has other kind of wrestlers, like the Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan, who are comic book characters come to life, and Rick Rude, who appeals to the female wrestling fan. McMahon is like William Shakespeare. He doesn’t try to satisfy all the people all the time. He tries to satisfy all the people some of the time. (Well, that’s the first time I’ve heard Vince compared to Shakespeare.) Let’s face it: TV programs and Top 40 music appeal to the lowest common denominator. The WWF may not offer better wrestling than other federations, but McMahon understands that’s not the goal and has become very rich as a result.
Onto Editor’s Notebook with Stu Saks: he says Dave doesn’t realize he’s getting conned. “Rosenbaum’s perspective is that of precisely the type of person Vince McMahon is gearing his promotion to: someone who’s impressed with glitz, hype, and rich people. He likes to be in the company of newspaper reporters, even if they’re only at WWF press gatherings to eat Vince’s food, drink his booze, and then write newspaper columns knocking his product.” Stu says he doesn’t care about any of that. He cares about wrestling. “From my perspective, when it comes down to what’s really important, Vince McMahon is no better or worse than anybody else.”
Next, Names Makin’ News with Bill Apter: The Third Annual Crockett Cup is coming up, and it looks like the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express won’t be part of it. Meanwhile, the Road Warriors, winners of the first tournament, are suffering as Animal is sidelined with an eye injury, and Nikita Koloff, one half of the Superpowers team that won the second tournament, has taken a leave of absence. That leaves Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson as the co-favorites along with the Midnight Express. In other news, we learn something about Saddam Hussein’s buddy, Sheik Adnan Al-Kaissie, and something about a kid named Chris Benoit.
In the World Wrestling Alliance, Rick Patterson and Steve Ray, a popular new tag team, are scheduled for a series of matches against David and Larry Power, also known as the Power Twins. In the CWA, heavyweight champ Jerry Lawler’s career is in danger because of damage to his left eye sustained during a match against Tommy Rich. Also of note, Missy Hyatt and Eddie Gilbert have entered the territory. Gilbert, who once admitted Lawler was his boyhood idol, started his career in the Mid-Southern area as Lawler’s protégé before the two began feuding in 1985. (Well, hopefully they get along this time around.)
In other news, Stampede North American champion Owen Hart is back from Japan and is feuding with Makhan Singh. Rumors have circulated that Jesse Ventura will work as a guest commentator on New York Yankees baseball telecasts throughout the 1988 season. In the AWA, the world title was held up in the Pacific Northwest area following a matchup in Portland between AWA champion Curt Hennig and PNW champ The Grappler. Grappler kicked Hennig in the stomach while the referee wasn’t looking and covered him for the pin. PNW official Barry Owen stopped the referee from making the count and explained to him what happened. Meanwhile, The Assassin entered the ring and headbutted Grappler with a loaded mask. Hennig pinned Grappler, but promoter Don Owen revealed that he was under orders from AWA president Stanley Blackburn to stop the match and hold up the title if there was any outside interference.
Breaking news: Tom Zenk has left the AWA.
Elsewhere, midget star Little Road Warrior is locked in a feud with Little Bad John, who is not a midget, in Mid-Continental, a promotion operating out of Kentucky. In the NWA, Mike Rotundo gave his Florida belt to Rick Steiner under orders from Kevin Sullivan, but Steiner is only defending the belt for Rotundo, who remains champion. And finally, World Wrestling Council Universal champion Carlos Colon lost his title to Hercules Ayala in one of the year’s biggest upsets. (And thus Ayala has cracked the Top 15 and will stay there a while.)
Up next, The Insider with Eddie Ellner: Eddie points out that Hogan’s loss to Andre at The Main Event effectively ends Hogan’s chance to ever eclipse the record seven year world title reign of Bruno Sammartino. In fact, Hogan’s four-year reign puts him behind both Sammartino and Backlund, making him the third best WWF champ of all time, a dubious honor for someone in a federation barely 25 years old. Eddie also says Hogan is incredibly stupid to believe DiBiase bribed the imposter referee into plastic surgery. “That the two refs are twins should be common knowledge to most serious wrestling fans.” Moving on, in response to Eddie’s continued criticism of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, he received a letter from a fan who said, “I’m coming to New York with a .44 Magnum and your picture. I’ve already shot a hole through the picture. Wanna guess what my next move is?” (Yes, nothing like good-natured fan-mail.) Eddie notes the Rock ‘n’ Rolls have left the NWA and are now barely ranked in the top ten, and that he was right about them all along: they were a flash in the pan. “The truth, dear idiot worshippers, is that objects of your collective affection are languishing in Memphis after an unsuccessful run at the Midnight Rockers. The Rock ‘n’ Rolls can’t even beat a team whose very intent was to imitate their own success! The sound you hear is that of one man gloating.”
In On Assignment by Liz Hunter, Liz notes that Lex Luger has changed over the years. He used to be humble, but now he’s become obsessed with himself. (Some might say narcissistic.) When confronted about the change, Luger points to his past self and says, “That was a boy talking, Liz. Today I’m the total package.” (Sounds like a good nickname. Or maybe more of a label.) Sting, on the other hand, retains his boyish charm and prefers to let his actions speak for him. Today they’re two best friends. Tomorrow, only one can be world champion. Liz ponders which will have more success but has no answers. (Sting.)
Where Are They Now?
Update: Ed Gantner committed suicide in 1990 at 31-years-old. Billy Jack Haynes is 69 and still with us. Danny McShain (as his last name is properly spelled) died in 1992 at age 79. Jose Lothario died in 2018 at the age of 83.
Next up, a Capsule Profile Pinup…
We move on to News From the Wrestling Capitals…
The Ultimate Warrior pinned Harley Race in San Francisco, Sting beat Flair by DQ in Pittsburgh, Savage beat Honky by DQ in Richfield, Doug Furnace defeated Lord Humongous in a stretcher match in Knoxville (although no farm equipment was used), DiBiase pinned Koko B. Ware in East Rutherford, and Dusty Rhodes defeated Larry Zbyszko by DQ in Atlanta.
In the AWA, Greg Gagne pinned AWA World Champ Hennig in the middle of the ring in a cage match, sending the organization into chaos. Despite the match being announced as for the championship, AWA Stanley Blackburn says he never sanctioned it and the title remains with Hennig. Meanwhile, some local promoters are refusing to comply with Blackburn’s ruling and are recognizing Gagne as the new champion, including local officials in cities such as Minneapolis, Chicago, Denver, and Wisconsin. (As someone from Wisconsin, I’d like to point out we’re a state and not a city, even if our population is smaller than New York City.) Blackburn promises those local promoters will be reprimanded. “Curt Hennig is the champion, via my official decision, and all promotional arms of the AWA must abide by the central office in order to maintain the integrity of the organization.”
We move onto Matt Brock’s Plain Speaking, where Matt comments that he was there when Gagne pinned Hennig, and he knew the title wouldn’t change hands because the AWA rules clearly state a title can’t change hands in a cage. That said, the AWA has to have better internal and external communication if they want to keep fans and avoid devaluing the championship.
Matt also stopped by Memphis where everyone is anticipating Eddie Gilbert’s arrival in the CWA. Regarding Missy Hyatt, Matt says he usually says women don’t belong near a wrestling ring, but he’ll make an exception in her case because she’s good for ratings. (Well, that didn’t sound misogynistic at all.)
In Uniondale, New York, Matt was curious to attend a show and see how the NWA was doing in the North following the disastrous Bunkhouse Stampede. He said attendance was only 3,000, but no one chanted “refund!” and Luger looked very good, though comparisons with Hogan are unfair at this point.
In Dallas, Michael Hayes has rejoined the Freebirds. Matt points out that before Hayes, the Birds befriended Iceman Parsons and The Angel of Death. Hayes likes Parsons but he can’t stand Angel, which means Angel will likely be the odd man out. “You know Gordy and Roberts will side with Hayes.”
Next, Sign the Petition: Bring back the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express to the NWA! It was back on January 30th at the Greensboro Coliseum that the Rock ‘n’ Rolls failed to show up for a match for JCP and word began to filter down that they had left the organization. “Why? When?” cried 14-year-old Donna Marvels as her mother tried to wipe the tears from her daughter’s face. But alas, they were gone. Now, however, you might have a chance to do something about it. Inside Wrestling has started a petition to bring them back, and you simply need to clip and fill out the included coupon (or reasonable facsimile) and mail it to the address provided. All petitions received will be forwarded to the NWA with copies sent to the Rock ‘n” Roll Express. Your voice can make a difference!
Next, our cover story, How Beauty Killed the Beast Within “The Macho Man.” What happens when a beautiful woman takes over the career of wrestling’s most notorious renegade? For admirers of “The Macho Man,” the answer appears tragically clear: beauty has slain the beast. We flashback to Savage in Memphis. He was, with apologies to Lex Luger, the original total package. However, he didn’t possess a head for figures and dates. He mismanaged his money, failed to secure title matches, and pursued a lifestyle free of responsibility and recognition. In short, he needed a manager. When he arrived in the WWF in 1985, he set off a big-digit highly publicized bidding war, ultimately choosing the unknown Miss Elizabeth as his guiding light. (Should have gone with Oliver Humperdink.) Elizabeth proved to be a competent yet ruthless administrator. One insider remembers negotiating with her soon after she took over Savage’s bookings. “Elizabeth, without ever raising her voice, somehow managed to get Savage twice what he normally would.” In addition to managing Savage’s bookings, Elizabeth had his home cleaned, arranged his car payments, and streamlined his life so he could concentrate on training and strategy. The work paid off when Savage won the Intercontinental title. Now, however, nearly a year removed from that reign, Savage seems wayward. “He’s not the same wrestler he was 18 months ago,” says another insider. “Elizabeth’s housebroken him. He’s been tamed.” His failure to win back the IC title from The Honky Tonk Man proves he’s been weakened. He’s allowing precious time and skills to erode, and he has only himself and his obsession with Elizabeth to blame. It may be that Savage just needs to regain the edge that made him crazy, recapturing the beast within his own soul to realize his goals and become champion again.
Next, an article about Road Warrior Animal’s eye injury. He was attacked by Warlord and Konga the Barbarian during a weightlifting contest, and they nearly took his eye out. Doctors told him he might never wrestle again, but Animal says he doesn’t care if both his eyes are poked out, his ears are boxed, and his vocal chords are ripped out of his throat: he’ll make Warlord and Barbarian pay for what they did to him. (This was a real injury, though it happened the night before. Animal once shared the story: “We were wrestling in Hammond, Indiana, Warlord went to do a Samoan slam with me and landed on my head and he hurt me bad. In one move I had a skull fracture, a fractured cheek bone, a broken nose, and my orbital rim of my eye was shattered. The next night in Greensboro, I did the ridiculous 545 bench press or whatever it was with my orbital socket blown out, but people didn’t know because I painted over the swelling.”)
We move on to an interview with Baby Doll, where she says she’s got incriminating photos of Dusty Rhodes, and he’ll do anything to stop her from releasing them to the press.
(According to Nickla, aka Baby Doll, the original plan was for the envelope to contain pictures of a married Dusty having an extramarital affair, though a few other ideas got tossed around too. Nothing ever came of it, however, since Baby Doll, who was married to WWF wrestler Sam Houston, was released shortly after this article was written.)
We move on to One on One, featuring a phone conversation between the Stinger and Ric Flair in preparation for their clash at the Clash. Ric Flair says Sting’s not ready for the big-time yet. Sting says Flair will eat those words on March 27th.
And that takes us to the Roll Call of Champions!
And that concludes this week’s recap! Join me next week where we’ll look at PWI from the same time period. And if you’re new here, be sure to leave a comment and check out the archive. Also, check out my website to see what books I’ve written!