Flashback Friday: PWI December 1988
By J.W. Braun on 16th December 2022
This week we look back at an issue of PWI that went to press in early August of 1988 and sold for $2.25 in the U.S, $2.95 in Canada, and £1.50 in the U.K. And we also get bonus coverage from The Wrestling Observer! In this issue, the writers argue about the legacy of the Honky Tonk Man and Eddie Ellner reacts to Ronnie Garvin’s heel turn with a “meh.” But first, let’s get right to Ratings…
And onto Ratings Analysis… where the Road Warriors are mad.
First off, I just want to mention we now have fans chanting “this is awesome” at video game tournaments, and I blame you, modern wrestling fans!
Also, apparently politicians with no mic skills can have managers who cut promos for them? I blame you, old school wrestling fans!
We begin with the Between Falls, the mailbag section, where Azizi Parker from Far Rockaway, New York writes in to say Sting is her favorite wrestler, and she’s excited about the contest where a lucky fan will win a phone call from him. On the other hand, Doug from Atlanta says Sting’s just a flash-in-the-pan, and he wishes PWI had chosen anyone but him for this thing. “Sting represents the young wrestling fans who have no sense of history. Now, if you really want to have a contest, how about a phone call from seven-time NWA champion Harley Race? I can already hear the wet-behind-the-ears fans saying, ‘Who?’ Get with it, kids!”
Meanwhile, Karen from Higginsville, Missouri says it’s great to see Jerry Lawler and Kerry Von Erich wrestling each other with respect and manners instead of yelling and screaming. “We need more of that today.” And Theresa from Houston says Lex Luger was robbed at the Great American Bash when doctors stopped the match on account of blood. “The blood from Luger’s cut was not nearly as bad as cuts other men have acquired in the ring.” Then there’s Gaspar from New York who says he was disappointed in the cage match between Savage and DiBiase at Madison Square Garden because both guys kept trying to run away from each other as opposed to wrestling due to the rules saying whoever escapes the cage first wins. And Thomas from Long Beach, California sings the praises of Lord Humongous of the CWA, saying he’s unstoppable. (Especially when he has a squeegee.) On another subject, Michael from Henderson, North Carolina says fan Matt Kirsch was wrong when he wrote a letter saying Steve Williams couldn’t wrestle his way out of a paper bag. “I would like to inform you, Mr. Kirsch, that Dr. Death was an All-American wrestler at the University of Oklahoma. He also held the UWF heavyweight title which he never lost and won the PWI/UWF Cup, which earned him $50,000 and a secure spot in the hearts of fans everywhere.”
More letters: Lori from Berkeley, California says she read Dave Rosenbaum’s column about his dinner with Dirty White Girl/Lady Mystic, and she says Dave seemed more interested in sharing margaritas with her than asking the tough questions. “I’m not sure what Rosenbaum thought he would discover by interviewing a person so devious as The Dirty White Girl, but I’m sure his lascivious motives weren’t generated by journalistic integrity.” Tony from Oakland says he just read PWI’s press conference with Rick Steamboat, and he’s heartbroken that he’ll never see the Dragon wrestle again. “He was the greatest.” Paul from Bathgate, Oklahoma says it’s interesting to look at the careers of Mike Rotundo and Barry Windham. Both were loved in the WWF as tag team champions, but now both are hated. Yet Rotundo’s career is stagnating while Windham is having more success. Paul suggests Rotundo dump the Varsity Club and find a new direction.
And finally, Alan from Illford, England writes in to say the reason English wrestling on TV is dying in the U.K. is that the commentary is extremely dull. “We need someone like Jesse Ventura. Instead we have Kent Walton.”
Next up, Ringside with Bill Apter… former AWA champion Curt Hennig has begun wrestling for the WWF. In fact, he defeated fellow newcover Terry Taylor at WrestleFest in Milwaukee County Stadium. Also on the card, Hulk Hogan returned to the ring to defeat Andre the Giant in a steel cage. (I was there, and Hennig and Taylor, who were just tossed into the show at the last minute, actually wrestled during intermission.)
Bam Bam Bigelow has left the WWF and is now wrestling for the Championship Wrestling Association. Also of note, Bam Bam and his wife Dana welcomed their first child, Shane, into the world. Elsewhere, Lance Idol, a 6’5, 223 pounder from Hollywood, is a newcomer to the Stampede area. And Yumiko Hotta and Mitsuko Nishiwaki, the Fire Jets, won the All-Japan women’s tag team championship from Bull Nakano and Kumiko Iwamoto in Tokyo. Nakano and Iwamoto used rusty nails and scissors to bloody the Jets but were unable to hang onto the belts. (Hopefully everyone’s tetanus shots were up to date.) Continental official Ron West has suspended Paul E. Dangerously and Eddie Gilbert for beating up 14-year-old Willie B. Hart Jr. and photographer Sam Lowe, as well as for throwing fire at Austin Idol and referee John Keaton. (Yeah, that would be Eddie.) The suspension, however, was lifted two weeks later at the request of Willie’s father, wrestler Willie B. Hart Sr. (who also wrestled as Pez Whatley). “That’s the only way I can wrestle him and get revenge,” says Hart Sr. But in an usual move, West has now asked fans to vote on whether Gilbert and Dangerously should be banned for life. Col. DeBeers is now wrestling in Pacific Northwest, and Buddy Rose has been helping him. Phil Hickerson is defending his CWA title against Scott Steiner. Gene Okerlund is back with the WWF. (This would be in reference to this.) World Class champion Kerry Von Erich is scheduled to team up with former rival Vince Apollo from Central States to take on WWA champion Mike George and Kamala. Kerry says, “Me and Vince have had our differences, but that’s all in the past now.” Carlos Colon lost the WWC Universal title to Hercules Ayala. Dusty Rhodes and The Sheik defeated Dick Murdoch and Kevin Sullivan in the main event of the NWA’s July 31 Great American Bash in Detroit. Afterward, Sheik turned on Rhodes and teamed up with Sullivan to beat down the former champion only for Murdoch, Rhodes’s old partner, to help Rhodes repel the attack! And in a final note, Randy Gordon, former Associate Editor of PWI, was recently named Chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission which governs boxing and wrestling. (What about slap fighting?)
Next, From the Desk of Stuart M Saks, where Stu asks, “Who was that guy buried in the middle of a WWF card in Milwaukee wrestling Terry Taylor? That was Curt Hennig, former American Wrestling Association World heavyweight champion. His father Larry ‘the Ax’ Hennig, was one of the most feared competitors in his time.” Stu then quotes Matt Brock, who once said, “Larry could beat his opponents with a stare.” But as a scientific wrestler, Curt is cut from a different cloth, though he’s no less dangerous. Hennig was actually with the WWF as a fan favorite in 1981, enjoying moderate success, before leaving for the Pacific Northwest and then achieving success in the AWA as a part of a popular tag team before turning his back on his fans as a singles competitor. Now his career has come full circle, and he’s back in the WWF. In his match against Taylor in Milwaukee, a traditional AWA stronghold, he adhered to the rules. It appears if he wants to find his way back to the top of the sport without taking shortcuts. Being successful isn’t enough for this man. He has to be great. (Maybe better than great! Is there a word for that?)
We move on to No Holds Barred with David Rosenbaum, where Dave says Honky has done it at last. On August 2, he officially defied all odds and became the longest-reigning Intercontinental champion of all time, stamping himself as the greatest Intercontinental champion of all time. “Occasionally he’s been disqualified. Occasionally there’s been outside interference. Occasionally he’s taken a walk when in trouble. But when he really has to, Honky can defeat the best. Yes, he is an unorthodox wrestler. Yes, he has a big mouth. But he is undoubtedly the most entertaining wrestler in the WWF, if not the entire sport. And now he’s the greatest Intercontinental champion ever.”
Dave then moves on to a darker subject. He says wrestlers travel all the time, so the vehicular deaths of wrestlers like Adrian Adonis, Dave McKigney, and Pat Kelly, like Bobby Shane before them, while tragic, aren’t altogether shocking. Get into a car or plane enough times and the law of averages work against you. Then there’s the Bruiser Brody situation. Brody was murdered in Puerto Rico on July 17 prior to a wrestling card. If a wrestler can’t be safe in the dressing room, where can he be safe?
We move on to In Focus with Craig Peters where Craig says that it’s true that the Honky Tonk Man is the longest-reigning Intercontinental champion of all time. But does that make him the greatest? Craig says Dave tries to handwave away the main issues that get in the way. “Rosenbaum says ‘Occasionally he’s been disqualified.’ Occasionally? ‘Occasionally there’s been outside interference.’ Occasionally? ‘Occasionally he’s taken a walk when in trouble.’ Occasionally? I understand Rosenbaum’s morbid fascination with Honky Tonk; he’s strange, and he’s fun to watch. But the guy didn’t even win the title cleanly. Is he the best I-C champion ever? Not by a longshot.”
Dave then presents a contest of his own… guess the wrestler:
Next, another installment of Matt Brock’s Looking At… where Matt says he had a column all ready to go about women’s wrestling when Managing Editor Craig Peters told him they couldn’t print it. (Knowing Matt, it was probably something better suited for chauvinist military men from the 1940s.) Craig said they needed a substitution column right away. “Fortunately,” Matt says, “pumping out a column on a deadline is how I got my reputation for journalistic excellence.” His new subject? Jake Roberts. “I’ve been watching Jake’s matches closely, and I’ve seen marked improvement in him. In the past, I’ve come out strongly against Roberts and his python-swinging antics. I’ve never been a fan of pets taking of space at ringside. Jake and his python have fallen under my anti-animal wrath. I’ve always said the energy he expends in trying to maneuver his opponent and his snake into the same vicinity could better be exploited simply trying to outwrestle his opponent. More concerned with his snake than winning, Roberts became complacent. He needed something to fire him up again. Some men have cause to be courageous, others have that cause thrust upon them. In Roberts’s case, the philandering of Rick Rude provided just what Jake needed. Ever since the Cheryl Roberts incident, Rude has been a marked man, and I’ve never seen Jake wrestle with such intensity. The fact is, if you attack Roberts in the ring, that’s one thing. Most likely, you’ll lose, but a least you’ll survive. But go outside the ring and try to take what is his, and you’ll unleash the fury of a wildman.”
Next, Off the Top Rope with Eddie Ellner where Eddie says the death of Bruiser Brody has shaken him. If Bruiser was not safe, are any of us? “There is nothing, save for the death of a child, more tragic than the passing of a great man before his time.”
Onto Eddie’s mailbag: Brian from Glens Falls says Eddie’s previous advice to Savage (“avoid an alliance with Hulk Hogan”) doesn’t look very good in retrospect. Savage is now the champ and riding high. Eddie notes that this letter was typed, as opposed to the handwritten ones he usually gets, and says he’s impressed with Brian’s resources. (You see, kids, having a typewriter in 1988 usually meant you were a secretary. Having a computer and a printer meant you were nerdy, rich, or both.) Eddie says his advice still stands. People say, “Gosh, Randy Savage wouldn’t be champion without Hulk Hogan,” which is exactly what Hogan wants you to think. But Savage would have eventually been the champ one way or another. Instead, he’s now in a position where he thinks he owes Hogan and is even being asked to “share” his manager. “You’ve got to believe Savage is broken up about this. Believe me, it’s just the beginning, and it will get increasingly worse. They can shake hands until doomsday, but remember this: Randy Savage hates Hulk Hogan, and I predict a violent eruption between them before the end of the year.”
Another reader writes in to say Sting has all the tools to become World champion, but he has a bad attitude toward Ric Flair, refusing to show the current champion the respect he deserves. Eddie says he agrees to a point, but Flair is no longer what he once was, and while Sting should respect the title, he need not show the same respect to the old man who holds it.
Speaking of old men, Amy from Fayetteville, North Carolina wants to know what Eddie thinks about Ronnie Garvin turning against Dusty Rhodes and joining Gary Hart’s stable. Eddie says Ronnie’s change of heart came too late. Had he changed his ways some time back, he might have prolonged his NWA World title reign. That said, it’s no surprise someone would turn against Rhodes.
Next, an article about Jerry Lawler, who is now taking on every champion he can, be they part of the CWA, CWF, or World Class. But he can’t get permission from the WWF or the NWA to wrestle their champions, Randy Savage and Ric Flair. No matter, he says. He’s already beaten both men. “And you know what that means? I’m the best.” (This point would be emphasized in the title unification match between Lawler and Kerry Von Erich at SuperClash III, with the announcers claiming both Lawler and Von Erich both defeated Savage and Flair in the past, making them the top two wrestlers in the world.) PWI fact-checks this, saying it’s “somewhat true,” but noting there are some qualifications: first, while Lawler and Savage had legendary matches in the mid-1980s, neither was able to score a clean pinfall over the other. As for Lawler and Flair, it was a similar story. They only wrestled a few times during Flair’s third title reign in 1985, and Lawler was only able to win by count-out or disqualification. Lawler, however, says he knows he can beat both men today, and if they feel differently, they should get in the ring and prove him wrong.
Next, a Press Conference with Precious, who was being tormented by Kevin Sullivan at this time, with Sullivan repeatedly calling her by her real name, Patti, and insinuating they had a relationship in the past. Precious says there’s nothing to Sullivan’s claims, and she hates him.
Next, our cover story. PWI notes that the Four Horsemen don’t seem to be a very stable stable. Ole Anderson was replaced by Lex Luger. Luger was replaced by Barry Windham. Will there be more changes? (Oh, come now. It’s not like anyone will be jumping ship anytime soon, right?) PWI notes there has been some friction within the group. “NWA fans have longed for someone to rid wrestling of the Four Horsemen. If the fans are patient, the Horsemen may simply self-destruct.”
Next, up, a close-up look at Hacksaw Jim Duggan, with a full-color photo you can hang in your school locker!
Next, Bam Bam Bigelow explains why he left the WWF. The big man says that contrary to PWI’s article claiming Oliver Humperdink was a poor manager, “Humper” was actually fine. The problem was the WWF lost interest in Bam Bam when Savage won the title, and the Bammer found himself wrestling the One Man Gang over and over and going nowhere. “Naturally, I wanted to face Ted DiBiase and Andre, but those kind of matches were few and far inbetween. You know, the WWF is like a four-man show. There’s a lot of attention focused toward Hulk vs. Andre and Savage vs. DiBiase, but that didn’t leave any room for Bam Bam Bigelow. I was getting stale, and I didn’t want to wear out my welcome with the fans.” Bigelow nonetheless looks back at his WWF run with fondness. He says the fans were great, and he intends to come back one day.
Next, it’s Media Review where PWI says everyone in the business is buzzing about the pay-per-view numbers generated by the Mike Tyson-Michael Spinks championship bout: $21 million and a buy rate of 12%. (Want to see something fun? Watch modern-day kids introduced to Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out and then given the code to try to beat Tyson himself.) And that was with only 5 million homes capable of receiving the fight! “By the year 2000, every cable home in the country will be addressable for pay-per-view,” says Lou Falcigno, president of Momentum Enterprises. “That’s over 40 million homes, and when you’re talking about a prime sporting event like the Super Bowl, the numbers are astronomical.” One key for pay-per-view’s growth, however, will be “impulse buying” technology, where the system is set up for fans to simply push a few buttons on a remote control to instantly give themselves access to pay-per-view program as opposed to having to order specific technology to get the programs.
Meanwhile, wrestling pay-per-views are becoming more commonplace. In 1987, there were three wrestling pay-per-views. In 1988, there will be at least seven. The July 10th Great American Bash is an example of the latter, and it was a big success. “This was the first time that all three major pay-per-view distributors got together and distributed one event,” says Steve Chamberlain, vice president and general manager of Turner Sports Entertainment. “About 400,000 homes signed up for the event, so our buy rate was around 4 percent, including 5 percent in Atlanta. Now we know our pockets of strengths and weaknesses. We will know how to go about it next time.”
Next, PWI shares the last photos of Bruiser Brody in a wrestling ring. Two days before he was murdered, he wrestled in a tag team match, teaming up with Carlos Colon to take on Danny Spivey and Abdullah the Butcher.
Next, PWI says it’s time for the WWF to introduce an Intercontinental tag team title. The magazine says the WWF has too few titles, and too many wrestlers have nothing to fight for—and there are many great tag teams in the WWF that aren’t able to get tag team title shots. Wouldn’t it be great to have another title that two singles stars lost in the shuffle could get together and chase? Or maybe the Rockers or the Rougeaus could win it and give us some thrilling matches. “Creating an I-C tag team title is the right thing to do and it’s good for the fans. So what is the WWF waiting for?”
Next, Arena Reports!
Breaking news! Stan Hansen might be headed to the WWF, and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express has broken up! Also, in a bit of sad news, J.R. Foley, an English wrestler and Stampede wrestling manager, has died at the age of 50. And Continental has bought USA Wrestling.
Next, PWI does another poll…
And from the Wrestling Observer from around this time…
– Keith Franke, aka Adrian Adonis, died in a pretty nasty car accident in our lead story of the week, along with The Canadian Wildman and Pat Kelly. They were driving towards a a glaring sun and accidentally drove into a lake. Dave covers a brief history of Adonis’s career.
– Dave is amazed at how Sting is the hottest act in the promotion and yet gets buried in the opening match at the Bash PPV, which has the side effect of peaking the crowd reactions too soon. On the bright side, “at least he didn’t get stuck in that triple cage monstrosity.”
Bash PPV Match Ratings:
Tully & Arn went to a 20:00 draw with Sting & Nikita Koloff (***1/2) Nikita looked terrible, everyone else looked really good and thus the match was predictable but good.
The Midnight Express regained the US tag titles from the Fantastics at 16:23 in the best match on the show (****). Unfortunately, Dave notes, they spent the whole feud trying to live up to their first TV match.
The babyface team won the Triple Tower of Doom at 19:55 (**3/4). Dave notes that a Jimmy Garvin v. Kevin Sullivan singles match would have made more sense, but then they’d have to find something else for the Road Warriors to do and with the Powers gone there’s not much else for them.
Barry Windham pinned Dusty Rhodes to retain the US title at 15:55 (*1/4) Pretty bad, with Dusty laying around most of the match, but Windham took some incredible bumps for him. Ron Garvin turned here and then disappeared shortly after.
Ric Flair retained the World title over Lex Luger by blood stoppage at 23:13 (**1/2). Dave really trashed this one, calling it a bad imitation of Flair matches by two indy workers, filled with predictable spots. Dave goes then on a lengthy rant about how stale Flair is and how he needs desperately to turn babyface and how someone else needs to be World champion because Flair is just done as top guy.
– WWF time: Owen Hart debuted under a mask as “The Blue Angel” on a house show. Reports are that Owen’s matches were pretty dull without all the highspots that Owen was known for in Stampede.
– Big crowds in Vancouver ($100,000 gate) and Saskatoon ($90,000 gate) this week with Savage v. Dibiase on top.
– Dave discusses this new Brother Love gimmick and how everyone hates it. He doesn’t think it has legs and describes it as a bad Saturday Night Live sketch stretched out over several weeks. Bruce Pritchard, however, is fantastic in the role. Addressing the issues being raised at those offended by the shots at organized religion, Dave says “Entertainment is a parody of life, and the WWF is a parody of entertainment.”
– Over to Stampede, and Chris Benoit & Johnny Smith have been doing this incredible ****1/2 matches all over the province, which always get cut down to a few minutes on TV. Dave feels like this Benoit kid is great at the moment and the matches can hang with the Savage-Dibiase and Midnights-Fantastics series any day of the week.
– Dave goes into a discussion of the Stampede TV, speaking of stuff getting cut down, and how Ed Whalen basically censors the show to protect his own credibility as a mainstream figure and because of his personal beliefs about what wrestling should and shouldn’t be.
– Not much going on in World Class this week. The SST continues to get the Jesus Push, with the promotion pretty much treating them like the old school heel Road Warriors with Buddy Roberts as a mouthpiece. Buddy, meanwhile, is doing a funny feud with Michael Hayes over the Freebird name and merchandising rights, and is claiming to have written all the songs on the Badstreet USA album.
– Great American Bash attendance is way down from 87’s tour, another bad sign for the promotion. The Luger stuff turned it around again for a bit, though.
– To the letters page, as Kit Parker is already shilling his tapes of old Memphis footage that eventually got turned into the Wrestling Gold DVD set that Dave and Cornette did commentary for.
– Steve Beverly thinks that Crockett should move Starrcade from Thanksgiving to Christmas to avoid going head-to-head with Survivor Series.