Forever Kayfabe A Pro Wrestling Illustrated retrospective.

Posted: January 22, 2013 in Uncategorized

Transmission Date Jan 21 2013

Welcome back Satellite Subscribers, the transmissions we are about to receive today are catered to the wrestling fan of the 1980s. Can you believe there was a time when the public for the most part thought Professional Wrestling was a “real” sport? Pro Wrestling for years leading into the mid 80s was a close knit society that protected its secrets and inner workings passionately. Bookers, Wrestlers , Fans, and even some wrestlers families would closely guard the secret of Professional wrestling. There were times the secret was so closely guarded by those involved in the business that some spouses of actual wrestlers were never told that what their significant other did for a living was not real, or in wrestling terms a “work”. As the times changed and people began to catch on to the game being played finally in the mid 80s the lid was officially blown off of the world of professional wrestling and fans slowly began to accept that what they loved for years was merely a predetermined soap opera with larger than life superheroes.

Finally some wrestlers and promoters began to let their guard down and dirt sheets leaked the inner workings of the business to the hardcore fan. However there was still a great deal of resistance for many in the business to “Break Kayfabe” or to drop the veil of secrecy. One such group of pro wrestling journalists did just that. The publishers of the biggest Pro wrestling magazine of the day Pro Wrestling Illustrated would not give into to the temptation to shatter the illusion of Kayfabe. In fact it would be very late in its contemporary run in the 2000s before the magazine finally gave in and reported the industry for what it always had been ..entertainment. To the folks who protected the business and allowed the wrestling fans that loved the fantasy world of wrestling Pro wrestling Illustrated was the safe house you could always go to and live in our serene Kayfabe bubble. I was a HUGE PWI fan and these are my memories of this memorable publication.

                                                  In my market during the mid 80s WWF was the only wrestling show on TV outside of some local Canadian International Wrestling programming. As I watched WWF Superstars of Wrestling often Mean Gene would plug WWF magazine. I wanted these instantly so I sent my parents on a mission one Thursday grocery night to procure me a WWF magazine. 2 hours later I got my first wrestling publication…Wrestling Scene? On the cover it featured a bloody Barry Windham with the tag line “Mauled by the Four Horsemen” I was disappointed. This was NOT what I wanted but alas the mighty WWF marketing machine had not supplied any stores on our island with their magazine. In fact it would be two years later before we would begin to see the official WWF magazine on our store shelves with any degree of regularity. So I was stuck with my Wrestling Scene magazine.

It was quite tramatic as a kid reading this book as graphic images of Barry Windham and Dusty Rhodes were featured at will in the book. As well the articles talked down about some of the great good guys at the time. Hulk Hogan they said was the most “Overrated”. How dare they! They said Dusty Rhodes (Who I was seeing for the first time) was overrated and out of shape. Of course I agreed with that, he didnt work for the WWF so really he was a nobody in my mind and a fat one at that. I was not a fan of this magazine but kept coming back to it. It forced me to go on my own trek to hunt down my own wrestling magazine. I stumbled through a few stinkers, Wrestling Eye, Wrestling Fury and a few others then I discovered Prowrestling Illustrated or PWI as it is more commonly known.

Prowrestling Illustrated was one of a family of magazines under the banner of TV sports and its first issue launched in 1979 cover dated for September. Its famous cover featured Dusty Rhodes and Mil Mascaras. I did not collect the magazine at the time as I was only five years old but would later find this issue at a used book store many years later.

PWI had two sister publications called The Wrestler and Inside Wrestling all three combined to be heralded as “The Apter Mags”. This title was give as these publications were run by their well known Senior Editor Bill Apter. Apter under the banner of the magazine company owned and operated by Stanley Weston who was know previously for his boxing publications in particular. PWI was editorially a pure Kayfabe magazine that did not get into the behind the scenes aspect of the business and stuck to the TV story lines and made no attempt to step outside of these bounds. PWI was the perfect fan boy magazine and presented wrestling as real as possible. I recall clearly the first one I had ever seen and it had  Magnum T.A. (Who I had no idea who this was at the time!) on the cover in his hospital bed. This book was great because it had a Hulk Hogan centerfold and a Press Conference with some new wrestler named Scott Hall (Whom is known to wrestling fans much later as Razor Ramon)

My first issue of PWI would not be until 1988 when I was caught up in the hype of Wrestlemania 4 and was a huge Hogan and Savage fan. Of course the number one heel at the time was The Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase and he graced the cover of the January1988 edition with the main story being “Why Everyone is out to get Ted Dibiase” I slammed down my $2.75 and 12% sales tax Canadian and made this book mine. I loved it. Not only did it have WWF material but talked about other promotions like the AWA, NWA and others.

PWI was unlike any magazine that my young mind had ever seen. Suddenly my world was opened to Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Lex Luger, and Jerry The King Lawler, Apters magazine format was loaded with all different types of articles. We had “Ringside” by Bill Apter where Bill would discuss the topic of the month, we had opinion articles like “The Kings Court” and even an article from a heel perspective which was shocking in that time period as heels were just that in the day and were not often openly cheered like todays “Cool Heel”. The article was by resident bad guy Eddie Ellner. I had three things that I loved in PWI that were my go to articles.

Press Conference: PWI boasted huge Press Conference interviews with the biggest stars of the day. Inside the magazine a long form 3 page interview would be dictated along with pictures of the wrestler posing as if answering the questions.

PWI did indeed manage at times to sit with some big stars however more often than not these interviews were made up. The writer would fictionalize an interview at time creating quotes for the interview and attempting to remain 100% in character. From time to time PWI would do a “live” video press conference like the one below with the Road warriors!

Interviews talked about current storylines and feuds a certain wrestler was in and some of their own thoughts of what was happening at that time in a particular promotion. I had no idea these were fiction. My young mind actually bought that these were 100% real interviews and it was a big disappointment when I learned that these stars had little of nothing to do with these interviews. It was the wrestling equal to finding out that Santa Clause wasnt real.

There was the PWI Official Wrestling Ratings, Your one stop for finding out where your favorite wrestler from any promotion was ranked. PWI ranked all the popular promotions and even included from time to time indy promotions. The ratings were odd to say the least. Usually the top ten included The Heavyweight champion of WWF or NWA, The U.S Champion (NWA) The Intercontinental champion (WWF) some number one contenders and usually some random foreign star from a Japanese promotion just to seem global in perspective. My friends and I would debate the top ten as the NWA chamions would usually take the top spot over WWFs Hulk Hogan. This of course was clearly not the case in our minds. We did not even get NWA on a regular basis in our market so how could this Ric Flair person be better than The Hulkster. Impossible I say! Eventually AWA, NWA and UWF would get decent time slots in our market and these rankings would make sense to me and yes..Ric Flair WAS better than Hulk Hogan. PWI rankings were right all along.

PWI Close up was the heart of the book literally. It was the Centerfold. Not only did you get a cool pin up for your room, but you also got a detailed recap of a wrestlers career. This a particularly great as promotions like WWF did not recognize other wrestling groups like NWA. PWI Close up revealed a wrestlers full history years prior to the internet and wikipedia. I slowly became a “Smart” fan or so I thought as I knew all the details, previous gimmicks ,feuds, reasons for leaving other areas and other great factoids that the average person in my home town did not know. Dirt Sheets were not common so PWI was one of the very few sources of wrestling information outside of what we saw on the small screen. On the bottom of the Close up page you also had a section where you had specific entries on the wrestlers favorite opponent, finishing move, etc. Close up was something I studied at length.

Then of course there was the Wrestling Enquirer article which I loved. It usually was near the very end of the magazine and was basically a series of articles spread out over two pages done in a tabloid format. It featured “Breaking News” such as title changes wrestler defections to other promotions and firings. I loved this as I really felt I was getting the big “scoop” on things. Sometimes you found out something that did not air on tv (Even though by the time you got the book most news was outdated by a month or two.) This was as close to the dirt sheets as I had in my town.

PWI would feature several annual special issues, by far my favorite was the PWI year end awards issue where fans would “Vote” via mail in ballot on their favorite Wrestler of the year, Tag team of the year, Woman of the year, Feud of the year, Rookie of the year, Most Hated Wrestler of the year, etc. While the voting at times was suspect this issue was one of the better high quality issues every year. A large portion of these issues were produced with a slick full color section in the middle supporting the award winners. As with many issues PWI had it would heavily feature NWA/WCW wrestlers as WWF did not support the efforts of PWI and rarely allowed their wrestlers to accept the awards on air and were rarely photographed accepting these awards.

At times Bill Apter would appear on TV to hand out these awards! These were considered Heisman trophys for wrestlers as the Nature Boy would boldly put it during one of his many awards acceptance interviews. Take a look as Apter presents The Midnight Express with their PWI Tag Team Of The Year Award!

PWI 500. This is one of the later entries in PWIs arsenal and introduced in the late 90s issues but is so popular it bares discussion. As PWI faced competition in the market place from various other competitors it began to theme some of its special issues. One of the most sought after yearly publications that is still very much anticipated to this day is the PWI 500 issue where selected wrestlers are ranked from 500 to 1. This was a big deal and at least for the first 100 wrestlers it appeared a lot of thought went into selections. It included foreign stars so a lot of wrestlers from Japan, and Mexico were also included. This is always one of the most debated issues of PWI every year.

PWI Supercards. Some of the better issues were the Super Cards issues which highlighted the results of PPVs from WWF, NWA and The AWA. Most times these were a break from the original format and feature great full color pages with photos from the events!

I would be remiss if we didnt discuss the covers. PWI always attempted to get the top stars on their covers. For promotions like the AWA and NWA we would get studio portraits of the wrestlers, however WWF never made life easy for PWI and did not cooperate  and the photos usually of WWF wrestlers were either older pictures of stars or photos taken at live events and were usually of low quality and had very awkward poses. It was disheartening when you watched a feud on TV then go to read about it in magazines and the photos on the cover were of the wrestlers from 10 years prior to what they looked like now. I remember in 1987 amidst the Hogan Andre feud my friend brought a PWI to school and I was horrified at the shot of the wrestlers as Andre sported a huge afro and Hogan looked like he had lost his bottle of hair bleach.

Covers always featured wrestlers that I loved on TV like Ric Flair, Jerry Lawler, Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, Ricky Steamboat, Rick Martel, Dusty Rhodes, Lex Luger, Sting and many more.

One of the forgotten features of PWI was the merchandise. PWI offered T-shirts, Back issues, Hats, Posters Wrestling videos.

Some of the videos were actually quite good. Lords of the Ring was one of the better tapes and was a little shocking as a kid growing up on WWF. On this tape was plenty of footage of Memphis wrestling as well as World Class Championship Wrestling. I was unfamiliar with many of these wrestlers but had read about them. I grew to love some of them especially Ric Flair and Jerry Lawler. Below was a little sample of the old VHS tape.

Far superior to this tape was PWIs second release Ring Masters which was actually a heavily edited version of NWAs Great American Bash 1985. Great wrestling on this one as well! A must watch below!

Prowrestling Illustrated represented a more innocent time as a wrestling fan when I was 100% wrapped up in the story lines and superheroes of Pro wrestling. Part of me knew it was all worked even at a young age but I didnt care to steal a phrase from a famous wrestling fan “Its still real to me damn it!” So in the modern age of the internet, podcast’s and iPPVs wrestling has changed with the times but there is always part of me that longs for the era of Kayfabe..a little world where I could read all about it in the pages of my PWI. Thanks for the memories guys.

If you have enjoyed this blog post feel free to leave a comment as I will reply to them all. If you want to contact me directly catch me on Twitter as @charlton_hero, or join the conversation using #SuperHeroSatellite

End Transmission.

  1. Kim says:

    This was a great article and I thank you for posting it.

    It was amazing to see these pictures and say “I had that issue!” and it took me back to laying on my bed and reading the pages, etc.

    Wishing I could get a PWI shirt or order those videos.


    Thank you.

  2. JW says:

    Sorry that I’m late for the party, but I really enjoyed this. It brought back a lot of memories. I’m reading Bil Apter’s book right now.

    • Never late! Thanks for reading The Superhero Satellite. I am a big PWI fan and would love to hear feedback on the Apter book. When
      you are done let us know the scoop right here in the comments section.

      Hero Out

  3. Matt Szegda says:

    Thanks for the article! Loved the pics, especially the ratings of the territories. Great job.

  4. Dominique Baker says:

    Those was the good old days I would love to get those old school videos

    • Those old videos…although heavily condensed and edited were my formal introduction to the NWA! They were very well done. Usually they pop up on Ebay..and even Youtube when you can catch em! Thanks for reading The Superhero Satellite. More wrestling related posts coming soon!

      Take Care!

      Charlton Hero

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