This week, we look back at an issue of The Wrestler that went to press April 28, 1988 that sold for $1.75 in the U.S. and $2.50 in Canada. Let’s go straight to the Ratings so we can orient ourselves.
And here’s the Ratings Analysis…
We begin proper with Your Letters, the mailbag section, where Mike from Coaldale, Alberta writes in to respond to a previous letter asking for expanded AWA coverage. Mike says it’s a bad idea because the AWA is on the decline, and their world title is no longer even a true world title. Meanwhile, Diane from Jenks, Oklahoma says she’s tired of people running down World Class wrestling. Yes, it’s had its up and downs, but the matches on television are always of main-event caliber. Then there’s Ross from Boolaroo, Australia who says that in Australia, they believe everyone should fight their own battles, and he doesn’t tolerate managerial or tag team partner interference. “The whole idea of a tainted championship is appalling to an Australian.” Next, Alex from Ocean, New Jersey writes in to praise Sting, saying, “Of all the wrestlers today, it is Sting who represents the kind of honest wrestling aggression that is in such short supply in this day.” And Elyse from Union, New Jersey writes in to object to The Wrestler giving Hulk Hogan a thumbs down for losing his temper after losing the title on The Main Event. “If anything, Hogan showed remarkable restraint. He merely threw Earl Hebner out of the ring.” And finally, Don from Cranford, New Jersey reminisces about the early 80s and says that was the best time for wrestling. “Remember when Tommy Rich was the most popular wrestler in the world? The regional promotions gave excitement and variety to the fans. Whatever happened to the Mid-Atlantic region, Florida, and Mid-South? Each of these areas had their own wrestlers and own champions. Now all we see are the same wrestlers week after week getting lost in the shuffle.”
Next, What’s Happening! with Bill Apter, where we learn that Sting and Lex Luger won the 1988 Crockett Cup and the million dollar check that went with it.
Luger and Sting were both scheduled to compete in the tournament with different partners, but just beforehand, Barry Windham turned on Luger and Sting’s partner, Ronnie Garvin, suffered an injury. So Sting and Luger teamed up and defeated Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson in the finals. As for the future, the NWA announced that its July 10 Great American Bash card in Baltimore will be available on pay-per-view TV. NWA World champion Ric Flair is scheduled to defend his title against Luger in the main event. There will be 40 cards on the Bash tour this year, beginning June 26 in Orlando and finishing August 7 in Kansas City.
Onto the WWF: Although there is a traditional dropoff in attendance immediately following WrestleMania, approximately 20,000 fans packed Madison Square Garden as new World champion Randy Savage took on Ted DiBiase in Savage’s first title defense. (Savage lost by countout.) So far, Hulk Hogan has not requested a match against the “Macho Man.” Meanwhile, Big John Studd is aiming to return to the WWF in September.
Onto Correspondents Reports from fans: Mike McGuire reports that in Richfield, Ohio there was a free-for-all brawl where wrestlers could wear and bring whatever they wanted to the ring. The participants included Brutus Beefcake, Hacksaw Duggan, the Rougeau Brothers, Ken Patera, George Steele, Hillbilly Jim, Outback Jack, Ron Bass, Sika, the Ultimate Warrior, Iron Sheik, Junkyard Dog, Lanny Poffo, Greg Valentine, Dino Bravo, Harley Race, Hercules, Demolition, and Mr. Fuji. At the end of the match, Dino Bravo and Ron Bass threw Duggan over the top rope and began celebrating, unaware that Duggan had landed on the apron. Duggan reentered the ring and knocked both men out with a double-clothesline for the win. Meanwhile, Pete Evans and Brian Parsons report from Norfolk, Virginia where Sting fought Ric Flair in a cage at the Scope. Sting gained an early advantage before being distracted by Anderson and Blanchard on the outside, allowing Flair to turn the tables. Then Sting mounted a furious comeback before Anderson threw a chair into the ring, and Flair used it to clobber Sting and get the three-count. After the match, the Horsemen entered the ring to beat on Sting, but Dusty Rhodes, Steve Williams, and Lex Luger came to Sting’s aid. Onto Jackson, Mississippi courtesy of Kevin Kimble: Kerry Von Erich fought Iceman Parsons in a see-saw match that ended with Kerry winning via sunset flip. And finally, Ross Williams reports from Lethbridge, Alberta where Owen Hart, Bruce Hart, and Brian Pillman took on Makhan Singh, “Champagne” Jerry Morrow, and the latest Karachi Vice member, Johnny Smith, in a six-man match (or a trios match as the kids are calling it these days) in a steel cage. The momentum swung back and forth for 39 minutes before Pillman caught Singh in a sunset flip while the Hart brothers executed flying bodypresses on Smith and Morrow—and the referee made the three-count on all three Vice members.
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Next, You Asked Us, where fans get to ask wrestlers and wrestling personalities questions, thanks to the hardworking staff at The Wrestler. (I think we all owe the staff a debt of gratitude for approaching all these personalities and asking them questions on behalf of the fans as opposed to just making answers up in an office.) Brandi from Atlanta asks Curt Hennig, “Have you ever thought about getting a manager?” Hennig says, “I don’t need any grubby manager taking 10 percent or more out of my hard-earned dough. My business is my business.” Robert from Newburgh, New York asks Barry Windham, “How do you feel about Mike Rotundo becoming a rulebreaker?” Barry says, “The Mike Rotundo you now see is definitely not the same man who was my partner for so many years. He’s been brainwashed by Kevin Sullivan.” John from Larchmont, New York has a question for Michael Hayes: “Do you there’s any chance the other Freebirds and you will get back together?” Hayes says it’s possible, but they have to get on the same page. “I’m willing to put aside past differences for the good of everybody concerned.” Next, Mike from Stockton, California has a question for Senior Editor Bill Apter: “What match got you interested in wrestling?” (That’s a good question for any wrestling fan! Feel free to share your own answers in the comment section.) Bill says he saw a match between the Bastien brothers and the Graham brothers in the 1960s that made him a fan for life. Jay from Dubuque, Iowa asks Gary Hart, “Do you think Al Perez is the greatest Latin wrestler of all time?” Hart says, “Not only is Mr. Perez the greatest Latin wrestler ever, he is one of the very best our sport has yet produced. I fully expect him to win the U.S. title.” Marilyn Rulman from Flagstaff, Arizona asks the staff at The Wrestler, “Do you think Andre the Giant will ever care about the fans again?” The staff spokesperson says it’s apparent Andre doesn’t care what the fans think and that Bobby Heenan and Ted DiBiase have convinced him that the fans were holding him back. “Now, with his career coming to an end, it may be too late for the once-gentle giant to turn back.”
Next, Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down…
Next, we’re introduced to a possible future world champion, Ricky Rice. He’s an amazing jumper with a stupendous dropkick. “My God, he hit me right in the mouth with that thing!” marveled one AWA preliminary wrestler. “I knew I was finished right then.” But his talents don’t stop there, Rice, who has played hockey and football, is the latest example of a multisport amateur athlete who chose wrestling as the route to make his mark in the sports world. Yet despite a hot start, Rice will need many more matches to become a legitimate title threat. All he’s looking for right now, he insists, is a chance. “It’s true I’m a no-frills kind of guy,” he says with a smile. “I may not be as flashy as a lot of other wrestlers today, but I’d be willing to bet that I can beat most of them.”
Next, Q&A with manager Paul Ellering, where Paul is asked about the future and says Animal is healing up quickly from the eye injury, and the Legion of Doom is far from finished. When asked to compare LOD with the Warlord and the Barbarian, Ellering says Warlord and Barbarian are actually bigger. “They stand taller and weigh much more. They’re about 655 and we’re 562. But it takes more than size and weight training to beat the Road Warriors. It takes guts—inner strength—something those denizens lack. I unleashed Hawk and Animal upon the wrestling world in 1983, and nobody had seen anything like them. What happens when something new and exciting happens in any sport? Everybody tries to copy it. Over the last few years, we’ve seen all kinds of teams try to look, sound, and wrestle like the mighty Road Warriors, but they’ve all been pale imitations. It takes more than a coat of paint and bulging muscles to defeat these two incredible men.”
Next, X-Ray looks at Baron Von Raschke (who would shortly be a manager in the WWF, though that wouldn’t last long). A panel of experts weighs in:
Capt. Lou Albano says Raschke was once one of the most feared competitors in the ring, younger, meaner and stronger; but now he’s middle-aged and crazy, and that might be even better.
Killer Kowalski says he’s always admired the Baron, and when the wrestler gets riled up, there’s not a man, woman, child, or vendor that’s safe.
Professor Toru Tanaka says Von Raschke is not clever like Japanese wrestlers and relies on the clawhold too much. Also, he’s risking a heart attack if he stays in the sport.
Larry Hennig says he’s tired of having to talk about bums like Raschke. “If you want my opinion so bad, you’d better critique some real wrestlers or I quit.”
Lou Thesz says Von Raschke reminds him of himself in that he can compete long after people assumed he’d be better off retired. “People like to verbally abuse men like Von Raschke, Harley Race, and Dory Funk Jr., but even though they’re veterans, they’re all still potential world champions.”
Jack Brisco disagrees and says Von Raschke has lost several steps over the years and is too slow to be considered a realistic contender for the AWA world title. “The brave veteran is working on borrowed time, and I’d hate to see his career end with a crippling injury.”
Next, Look Before You Leap, where The Wrestler warns Owen Hart to steer clear of his brother, Bret. It’s been said that as children, while Owen was trying to do right, Bret was a bully who was always getting into trouble. When the writers of the magazine visited with parents Stu and Helen Hart, they confirmed that of their six sons, Bret was the hardest to handle. “Yep,” says Stu, getting up from his chair and hiking up his pants while pacing back and forth across the room, “I’d say that Bret was always the biggest troublemaker. Bret always wanted to be a wrestler just like his daddy, but sometimes he took it a little too far. I remember telling Helen one day, ‘Honey, when that kid gets older, he’s gonna be the worst rulebreaker you ever saw. He’s just got it in him.’ Helen said that wasn’t true, but I could also tell that somewhere inside she knew I was right.”
“Now Owen, on the other hand, was a different story. He never caused much trouble to anyone. He’d occasionally get into a mess like kids do, but a lot of times it was because of Bret.”
Owen, who was 1987’s Rookie of the Year, has been Stampede North American champion since April of 1987. He recently told a shocked group of reporters that he would consider teaming with Bret if his brother dumped the Hart Foundation. But can Owen trust Bret? “I love my children,” says Helen. “All of them. But Bret’s always been up to no good. He’s very mischievous. Bret can’t help but get in a little trouble some of the time, and I’d be afraid he’d bring Owen down with him. The fans really love Owen, and he has his own style. I love to see my children wrestle together, but in this case I’m not too sure.” Does Mother know best? Could the teaming of Owen and Bret mean trouble for Owen? One untrustworthy rulebreaker in a family might be more than enough. Brotherly love may be a wonderful thing, but Owen would do best to avoid his brother.
Next up, an article about Terry Taylor’s claim that he can reunite the Freebirds. (And if anyone is an expert on birds, it’s Terry Taylor.) Taylor says he’s on good terms with all the players, and he has a plan to bring them back together. But he can’t share it quite yet. “I’d better not say too much. The walls have ears around here. But don’t doubt what I say. The Freebirds are too important to be a thing of the past. That’s why I wanna be the one to save them from themselves.”
Next, our cover story: Barry Windham and Lex Luger: Was Their Title Reign Sabotaged by a Horseman Windham Plot? (Well, yes. Wasn’t it obvious?) We begin with the news that Windham & Luger lost the NWA World tag team titles when Windham turned on Luger during a title defense and joined the Four Horsemen. “His actions caused the premature end of a World tag team title reign that had the potential to last years.” And who walked away with the titles? Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard! Once again, everything’s coming up roses for the Four Horsemen. After the match, the Midnight Rider stormed into the rulebreakers’ dressing room to try to speak to Windham, but he was ganged up on, and Windham managed to remove the Rider’s mask. Only the intervention of Sting and several other wrestlers prevented a national television audience from learning the Rider’s identity. The day after the match, Luger was an outpatient at a Florida hospital. After receiving stitches to his head and chiropractic therapy for his back, he met with a small group of reporters who were anxious to get his reaction to one of the most incredible days in wrestling history. “Everybody lost this one,” he said. “Barry may have gained a new lifestyle, but he lost his soul. I can’t believe this is happening.”
Next, an article about the evolution of Demolition by Matt Brock. Brock says that when the team started, they looked awful. (True.) Now they’re top of the heap. (Also true.) Brock says that when judged by 1988’s standards, Demolition is nothing out of the ordinary, but that doesn’t meant they won’t hold on to the belts for a long time. However, no team has held the WWF tag team title for as long as two years, and the last five title reigns have lasted an average of about 200 days each, or barely more than half a year. There’s just too much competition and too many things can happen when four men are in the ring. For Ax and Smash to hold the belts into 1989, they’ll have to buck tradition. Nonetheless, Matt says he thinks Ax and Smash can hold the titles longer than 200 days, simply because most tag teams win the belts while at their peak whereas Demolition is still improving. “The British Bulldogs are getting worse. Strike Force has lost its momentum. The Hart Foundation is in disarray. Ax and Smash are getting better. Much better.”
The next article touches on the $25,000 bounty Eddie Gilbert has placed on Jerry Lawler’s head. Turns out, it’s not necessary. Wrestlers like Curt Hennig, Scotty the Body, and Dory Funk say they’ll put Lawler out of wrestling for free because they’re sick of him. “Whatever happened to good, honest greed?” the magazine opines. We’re also told that if Gilbert’s not careful, he might find himself at the back of the line of guys trying to terrorize Lawler and drive him out of wrestling.
And finally, some photos from Beyond the Squared Circle…
That’s it for this week! Tune in next week for a look at the issue of Inside Wrestling that came out at the same time as this issue. 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!