This week we look back at an issue of PWI that went to press just after WrestleMania IV and the first Clash of the Champions that sold for $2.25 in the U.S. and $2.95 in Canada. Just to get you all oriented, we’ll kick things off with Ratings, where Hulk Hogan has tumbled down to #8, with PWI explaining why in RatingsAnalysis…
With begin things proper with Between Falls, the mailbag section, where Debbie from Waterbury, Connecticut says PWI was right on the money some months back when they said the end was near for Hulk Hogan. Debbie says Hogan was never a bona fide champion. “He lacks the scientific skills of Ted DiBiase, he’s no street brawler like Hacksaw Jim Duggan, and he certainly lacks the aerial skills of Koko B. Ware.” Debbie says she’s happy Savage is now champion and will no longer have to stand in Hogan’s shadow. (Yeah, about that…) On the other hand, Ken Dinkin of San Francisco says Hulk is far from finished, that he was robbed of the title, and that he’ll get a title match against Savage sooner or later. Meanwhile, Sue of Los Angeles is sad that Bruno Sammartino has left the WWF. “Sammartino’s brilliant and unwaveringly impartial commentary will surely be missed by a generation of mat fans who grew up while Bruno wore the WWF belt.” Then there’s Jonathan Piddington from London, Ontario who says Kevin Sullivan is one of 1988’s more underrated managers and that he’s going to do great things with Mike Rotundo and Rick Steiner. “Before joining Sullivan’s Varsity Club, Rotundo and Steiner were confused and letting valuable career time go to waste. Now their unique combination of scientific holds and extreme brutality have made them successful enough to receive the accolades they so richly deserve. The Gamemaster and the Varsity Club are here to stay!”
Dave from Millis, Massachusetts takes exception to Stu Saks knocking “The Fridge,” William Perry, of the Chicago Bears. “The Fridge has rapidly improved since the media backed off and is now one of the finer Monsters of the Midway.” (Perry indeed had a fine career, though he missed most of 1988 due to injury.) Lastly, Nicholas of Chicago writes in to say he just watched both WrestleMania IV and Clash of the Champions back to back, and while WrestleMania put him to sleep, Clash was two and a half hours of nonstop action. “The point is that most people I know shelled out a lot of money to see inferior wrestling and ignored the top-quality, free-of-charge wrestling of the NWA in favor of snakes, parrots, dogs, and hype of the WWF. Consequently, wrestling may suffer irreversible damage and may even lose its popularity altogether. The McMahon circus is making the sport I love lose its credibility.”
We move on to Ringside with Bill Apter, where Bill breaks the news that Dusty Rhodes has been suspended for 120 days after inadvertently striking Jim Crockett Jr. during an altercation with Tully Blanchard. In unrelated news, a newcomer has galloped in to take his place: The Midnight Rider. At press time, The Midnight Rider was scheduled to wrestle J.J. Dillon in a bullrope match at the Crockett Cup. In other news, The Mongolian Stomper (Archie Gouldie from Stampede) has become the first U.S.A. Wrestling Federation heavyweight champion by defeating The Bullet (Bob Armstrong) in the final round of a tournament on April 1 in Knoxville, Tennessee. (They should rename it the U.S.-AARP championship.) David Sammartino has signed with Wrestling Stars International and will wrestle the Iron Sheik in a series of upcoming matches. The Southern Boys, Steve Armstrong and Tracy Smothers, have won the Southeast Continental tag belts from Ron Fuller and Jimmy Golden. Invader I captured the WWC TV title from Super Black Ninja in Puerto Rico. Rick Rude, who likes to pick women out of the audience to kiss, recently made the mistake of picking Cheryl Roberts, wife of Jake Roberts. Rude and Roberts are set to feud, and it promises to be a hot one. (If I remember right, this was taped before WrestleMania IV but aired after.) Meanwhile, the Jerry Lawler/Eddie Gilbert feud has exploded in the Championship Wrestling Alliance. Gilbert, who suffered eye injuries when Lawler threw fire in his face, has offered any wrestling $25,000 to put Lawler out of wrestling. Lawler, meanwhile, wrestled AWA champ Curt Hennig in a stretcher match that ended rather bizarrely. In attendance was Missy Hyatt and a masked man who looked suspiciously like her man, Gilbert. When the referee was knocked down, the masked man interfered. But in a swerve, the man was really Scotty The Body. Then another masked man interfered and Lawler had to be taken out on a stretcher, giving Hennig the win. That’s all for now. See you at the matches!
Next, From the Desk of Stuart Saks: Stu says Fritz Von Erich has put himself in an impossible position, and it’s hurting his boys. He sits on WCCW’s board, but in his desperation not to show favoritism to his sons, he’s unwilling to even be fair to them. Take for example the recent title change where Iceman Parsons defeated Kerry Von Erich for the WCCW championship. The circumstances were shady at best, with the lights going out and then coming back on, only to reveal Kerry had been knocked out, allowing Parsons to pin Kerry for the title. With no evidence of cheating, the board let the referee’s decision stand. Then PWI came forward with a photograph from when the lights were out showing illegal interference.
Nonetheless, Fritz and the board, not wanting to show favoritism, refused to budge. “To me,” Kerry said, “there is something wrong with the system when it begins to favor those who try to tear it down.” Of course the “they” who Kerry refers to includes his very own father, and therein lies the problem. PWI observes that Fritz has intentionally put himself in a place where he’s going to meet a conflict of interest, and that should never have happened.
Next, In Focus with Craig Peters: Craig says WrestleMania IV was WrestleMania Bore. “It was without a doubt the worst WrestleMania of the bunch.” Craig says that normally DiBiase and Savage would have been able to steal the show, but they were so hampered with fatigue and outside interference, there was no way they could show what they were capable of. “Andre, Hogan, and Elizabeth should have been where J.J. Dillon was at Clash of the Champions: in a cage above the ring.” (Together?) Craig also says that Demolition is a poor excuse for The Road Warriors and yet more fans were cheering for them than Strike Force. “If I were Rick Martel, I’d head back to the AWA and aim for World Champion Curt Hennig.”
Happily for Craig, he was actually in Greensboro on March 27, allowing him to watch Clash of the Champions in person. He says the high point of the event—and the day of wrestling as a whole—was when Barry Windham and Lex Luger defeated Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson for the world heavyweight tag team titles. “I was in Madison Square Garden when Hulk Hogan won the WWF World title from the Iron Sheik; Windham and Luger’s ovation put the Garden crowd to shame. I was in Texas Stadium when 43,518 fans cheered Kerry Von Erich’s NWA World title victory over Flair; close, but no cigar. Until March 27, the wildest ovation I’d ever heard was also in Greensboro: it happened when Rick Steamboat and Jay Youngblood won the NWA World tag team belts in a cage match from Sgt. Slaughter and Don Kernodle on March 12, 1983.” Craig says that as far he’s concerned, Greensboro is the wrestling capital of the U.S.
Don’t worry, I have it, and I’ll be recapping it.
We move onto Off the Top Rope with Eddie Ellner, where he begins by answering a pair of letters from fans about Andre the Giant.
Donna from “Niagra Falls, Canada” (which I’m assuming is Niagara Falls, Ontario) writes in to say that there is a perfectly logical reason why no one can understand Andre in his interviews: he’s drunk. “In January, Andre appeared at Copps Coliseum. As he walked back to the dressing room, I heard a man who had an aisle seat say, ‘Jeez, the guy reeks of booze!’ Andre’s only form of exercise is bending the old elbow. That’s why he sounds like a moron.” Eddie says there have indeed been legends about Andre’s drinking, but he has no hard evidence other than this questionable report to support the claim that Andre has ever been drunk in the ring.
Meanwhile, Jeffrey from San Diego has a different theory. He says Andre has a speech impediment and praises the Giant for overcoming it and and becoming a wrestling legend and a bona fide movie star. Jeffrey ends with a parting shot at Eddie: “Go back to your mousehole, you spiteful man.” Eddie replies, “I must point out that every time Andre speaks, the health and welfare of our nation’s youth is placed in jeopardy. As for your claim that Andre is a ‘bona fide movie star,’ I must remind myself to ask Donna if she has any evidence that you’re drunk as well.”
Eddie then moves on to a letter about Sting. Ellie and Kris from Worcester, Massachusetts say they’ve been stung, and they love it. “As part of the growing legion of Sting fans, we wonder what you thought of his stirring 45-minute draw against NWA champion Ric Flair at Clash of the Champions. Is Sting it or what? Does he have a rear end that just won’t quit? And those legs, oh dear, give us a break. Certainly the amount of time before he owns the NWA crown should be counted in days, not years.” Eddie replies, “Dear Girls Under 10, while Sting’s rear end gives little indication of quitting, the real story behind that championship match was the champion himself, Ric Flair. Much maligned, accused of cowardice and using his fellow Horsemen to accomplish his dirty work, Flair demonstrated to a nationwide audience that he is still the ringmaster. There is no doubting the abilities of Sting and Lex Luger. Many championships await both youngsters. But remember girls, if you want to be the man, you have to beat the man, not fight him to a 45-minute draw.”
Next a Press Conference with Bruno Sammartino, who recently parted ways with the WWF. In fact, we lead with the topic of departure, with Bruno saying he wasn’t happy working there, and they were being unfair to his son, David. “When David began working for the WWF, he was unhappy and quit several times. He felt the only reason they let him wrestle was so they could convince me to wrestle alongside him and draw crowds. When he started back again, I was told he would have a chance to prove himself and could work himself back to the top. But it was a false promise. After the deal was made, David was used and abused.” Asked if he liked announcing, Bruno says, “Not in recent years. I did once, but not anymore. It’s too much of a circus. You see a guy with a python, a guy with the bird, and the Bulldogs getting advice from a dog. And the Slammys were a total and complete comedy. In all my career, my whole ambition was to bring respect to professional wrestling. I felt that we got some of that trust in my career, and I feel that the WWF had made a complete 180-degree turn. I’m embarrassed to be associated with wrestling today.” Asked about what he thinks of Hulk Hogan, Bruno says, “He’s the worst champion in the history of the game. He comes across like a total idiot and doesn’t show any athletic skills. He can’t go an hour like I used to.” Asked about Savage, he says, “Savage is in good shape. Much better condition than Hulk Hogan. He’s very agile too, but he doesn’t do enough wrestling.” And Flair? “Of all the champions today, Flair has to be considered the champion because if he has to go an hour match, he can do an exciting hour match. Yesteryear, there would have been nothing special about Flair, but today I would say he’s one of the very best.” As for what he’s up to in 1988, Bruno says, “I’m involved with Phones Programs Incorporated, a telephone-based wrestling information service. I do some TV commercials, some commentary, some reviews and what have you.” Asked if he would have been successful in wrestling if the WWF was a national promotion when he was champion, Bruno says, “Oh, it would have been a picnic. You see a lot of people think Hogan is an attraction and he gets a lot of cheers, but here’s a guy who when he comes to the Garden for a return match, there aren’t as many fans to see him as in the first match. What would they do if he wrestled there every single month like I did year in and year out all those years? If you’re really an attraction, you should automatically sell out every time. To me, Hogan’s a kid’s champion. They go bananas because the kids see this cartoon character, like Superman or Captain Marvel. They liked me because they saw me as a wrestler. No nonsense, no gimmick, no nothing. I wore a pair of boots and a pair of tights. When I wrestled, they knew it was for real. I dedicated myself to my profession, to be the best I could be and to give people the most I could possibly give them for their money.” (Good thing Bruno wasn’t working for a wrestling company at this point, or after this press conference a backstage brawl might have broken out.)
That takes us to No Holds Barred by David Rosenbaum, who writes about… wait a second, Bruno’s back. David says that after the Press Conference, Bruno called him on the phone. “You know,” Bruno said, “I was thinking about what I said the other day, and I’m not sure I made myself perfectly clear. I said you judge a wrestler by the fans he draws to the arenas, not by the cheers. But then I remembered that when I was champion, the cheers were deafening so I thought I might have confused you.” Bruno goes on to explain that fans reacted to him the way they did because it was a natural, organic reaction. Fans react to Hogan because he poses and asks for cheers. “That’s why I always judge a person’s popularity by the number of people he draws to arenas, because you never know if the crowd reaction is honest.” Bruno then goes on to reiterate that Hogan, who only appears in some arenas once or twice a year, should be selling out the buildings everywhere he goes, but most WWF events don’t legitimately sell out that often. Dave says he suspects some people might not be paying to see the wrestlers live because they can see them for free on TV. But Dave also wonders if Bruno is right and that Hogan’s popularity is just a myth and wrestling is headed for a slow period as Hulkamania wanes. “Bruno makes many solid points. It will be some time before we know whether he’s correct.”
Next, coverage of the tournament final from WrestleMania IV. Savage was running on empty, having hosted Friday Night Videos before wrestling four opponents at WrestleMania IV, and time was running out when he somehow overcame all odds and—with a little help from his friends—defeated Ted DiBiase for the title 9 minutes and 27 seconds into the match.
Down in Greensboro, Lex Luger and Barry Windham won the NWA heavyweight tag team championship when J.J. Dillon’s attempt to cheat backfired. As Dillon held up a chair on the ring apron, Luger catapulted Anderson into it, knocking Anderson out and allowing Luger and Windham to score a pinfall at 9 minutes and 35 seconds. And while the same card saw NWA champion Ric Flair and Sting wrestle to a thrilling 45-minute draw, it was this tag team title match that many considered to be the true highlight of the Clash of the Champions. (The Express/Fantastics matchup was incredible too.)
Onto Media Review: There are signs that World Class Championship Wrestling might be on the upswing, with WCCW establishing a business relationship with Dallas Cowboys owner H.R. Bright (Well, so long Bright’s financial situation doesn’t take a downward turn due to the Texas banking crisis of 1988, everything should be okay. It’s not like he’d lose $30 million and sell the Cowboys to Jerry Jones, right?) Also, with an influx of new talent, WCCW is no longer just about the Von Erichs and a cast of supporting characters. (Well, actually…) But don’t expect World Class Wrestling to change its brand of entertainment. “World Class will always be World Class,” said a Bright spokesman. “I don’t see us turning it into a WWF-type of federation. World Class has always presented the most demanding wrestling that you can see in the ring, and we’re going to keep it that way.” (For a short while.)
Meanwhile, preliminary reports from “The Battle of March 27” between the NWA and the WWF indicate NWA’s Clash of the Champions hurt the WWF’s WrestleMania IV more than anybody expected. Mike Ogelsby, public relations director for WTBS says the station is thrilled with the ratings for Clash of the Champions, which not only did well in Atlanta, notching an 11.7 rating and a 25 share, but did well nationwide on the channel’s satellite feed. WTBS has plans for four more live specials with the next one coming in June. Meanwhile, WrestleMania, after achieving a buyrate of 10.2 percent for WrestleMania III, scored a buyrate of 9.4 for WrestleMania IV. The WWF claims it will gross $40 million when all is said and done, taking into account the live gate, pay-per-view, closed circuit TV, pay per view replays, and video cassette sales and rentals. Looking more closely at a specific area, Group W in Chicago, there was a buyrate of 8.8, down 14% from WrestleMania III. “In this particular market,” says Group W Vice President of Community Affairs Richard Ehlenfeldt, “the buy rate was down because of the heavily promoted wrestling show on WTBS and the thought that people could watch WrestleMania later on another service, such as Showtime or on videotape.” (Or Peacock, if you waited long enough.) The magazine notes that the WWF did not help themselves by advertising the videotape before the event itself had even happened. Meanwhile, Electronic Media is reporting that Titan Sports, parent company of the WWF, is filing a lawsuit against two Michigan bars that illegally broadcast the event. (They should have shown Clash of the Champions instead.)
Lastly, The Wrestling Network and Robert Halmi Co. have collaborated on the first professional wrestling sitcom, Learning the Ropes, starring former pro football player Lyle Alzado. Alzado will play a school teacher who moonlights as a masked wrestler.
Next, we get an article about the Lawler/Gilbert feud, which is becoming ultraviolent! We’re talking fireballs, smashed cars, brass knuckles, and Missy Hyatt’s shoes. The magazine blames Gilbert for it all. “Unite to ban Eddie Gilbert while you still can!” the writers implore their readers. “Gilbert’s evil must be stopped before it continues to spread. Fire has no place in the squared circle, and Gilbert’s continued use of it and his unprecedented slam of Lawler through a car windshield indicate he has no intention of curbing his sadism.”
Arena Reports! (Does Rhinelander, Wisconsin’s High School gym really count as an arena?)
The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express are chasing Pat Tanaka and Paul Diamond in the AWA for the tag team titles. Hulk Hogan has demanded a series of matches against The Honky Tonk Man for the Intercontinental Title. Magnum T.A. says he still doesn’t know who the masked Midnight Rider is. “The voice is vaguely familiar,” T.A. says, “but it could be anyone, and he won’t take his mask off in front of me.” There is speculation in the WWF that Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart might be close to breaking up their tag team, The Hart Foundation. If so, look for Owen Hart to possibly jump to the WWF and team up with his brother. Bruiser Brody regained the All-Japan International championship on March 27 in Japan by defeating Jumbo Tsuruta. Also on the card was Big Bubba Rogers, who is scheduled to start wrestling in the WWF when he returns to the U.S. And in Uganda, researchers have discovered that Kamala, who has terrorized several wrestling federations, has an identical twin brother who is even more fearsome.
Lastly, we have a couple PWI Polls. The subjects: WrestleMania IV vs. Clash of the Champions and the future for Hogan & Savage.
That’s all for this week! Join me next week for more coverage of WrestleMania IV from WWF Magazine. 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!