Thursday, October 8, 2015
"Is Wrestling Fixed? I Didn't Know It Was Broken!" is the title of wrestling's latest autobiography. Planning a tour to launch the title, one of Apter's first stops was at the Legends of the Ring event in New Jersey. Apter is a familiar face at these events, greeting fans and wrestling stars with equal warmth. This time, however, Bill himself was given some of the spotlight. Usually, it is the famed wrestling journalist himself, running around and catching brief interviews and sound bytes from the greats of the squared circle. At this event, it was Apter being asked the questions in the form of both interviews and a question-and-answer session.
For anyone who is somehow unfamiliar with Bill Apter, the tale is in his accomplishments. For fifty years, the Queens, New York native has been covering pro wrestling. He is most closely associated with magazine titles such as Pro Wrestling Illustrated, The Wrestler, and Inside Wrestling among others. He appeared on various wrestling television broadcasts in the '70s, '80s, and '90s and continues to pop up today on the WWE Network. While he is no longer involved in any publications on a full-time basis, his regular wrestling outlet is 1Wrestling.com.
For fans of the famed wrestling magazines, the book is a dream come true. Though wrestling fans, especially from the 1980s, will always know them as "The Apter Mags," we're finally given a clear cut look as to why they should really be deemed "The Weston Mags." Apter's respect for the founder of the publications, Stanley Weston, comes across fully as does his loyalty to the man and the brand.
Common misconceptions and rumors about the ways that the magazines operated are addressed and clarified. Those infamous and often faceless writers whose words we hung onto like the gospel are finally fleshed out. Were Dan Shockett and Eddie Ellner really lowlifes who hated the fan favorites of the ring? Or did they really have lives at all? "Wonderful Willie" tells us for sure. How about the "Year End Awards" or the "PWI 500?" How were they compiled and how legit was the process? And why did Dusty Rhodes make the covers so often? Yes folks, it's a fun read, but Apter does not dodge the difficult questions that the magazine fans have been asking for so many years. And what about that "apartment wrestling" stuff that always made the Sports Review Wrestling title a bit more titillating? You'll learn all about that, too.
The true highlight for me was Apter's unflinching look behind the curtain of the mystery-shrouded World Wide Wrestling Federation. Even though he makes no secret of wanting to have more future work with the WWE Network, Apter gives a fair and balanced view of the often tumultuous relationship between the magazines and the WWWF. Vincent J. McMahon was guarded as to how his events and talent were showcased in the press. Apter openly demonstrates how this often put him, the public face of the magazines, in precarious and sometimes dangerous positions.
This isn't a dishy tell-all, and Apter goes out of his way to let you know that. If something uncouth takes place in the midst of a story, it is included but not dwelled upon. Apter is a positive person, no doubt a key to his many successes, and that certainly comes through in his stories. Instead of trashy backstage stories, we are given a great life story that just happens to take place in what was, at the time, a very closed and secretive industry. The fact that we simultaneously get to learn about a very interesting individual and have many longtime questions answered combines to make one helluva book.
As with any good book, you should always leave wanting a bit more. The problem is, Apter is such a good storyteller that I'm left wanting a lot more. Talking to him many times over years, I know that he is filled with an endless amount of tales that could span an entire of collection of books. That leaves me with the comfort that this may be just the beginning.
Apter ends the book by letting us know that he is busier than ever with various jobs and projects. I've seen the man in action and he is indeed the quintessential "whirling dervish." At press time, it is not long before Mr. Apter's 70th birthday. If you think that's going to slow him down, you don't know Apter. Whether you see it at retail, pick it up online or as an eBook, or encounter the author on tour, add this one to your shelf. It's one that you'll be revisiting over and over.
With all due respect to the master of wrestling impersonations himself, Bill Apter, I in turn steal HIS line...
I'll see YOU at the matches!
Thursday, October 1, 2015
Growing up, Bruno Sammartino was a wrestling name that I knew as well as Hulk Hogan or Junkyard Dog even though he had all but retired by the time that I began watching. My parents grew up in Sammartino's home base of Pittsburgh, PA, and made sure that I knew all about him. I can still remember them happily pointing out the LJN Bruno figure shown on the Wrestling Superstars cardback. They weren't the only ones in the area who remembered the Italian hero of the '60s and '70s. I know that fond memories remain of Sammartino's impact in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, but he will always be a top sports legend here in the 'Burgh. Baby boomers still talk about Sammartino with awe in their voices. He was real to their grandparents. He was real to their parents. He is real to them. The feeling was mutual. While Bruno may have ruled the entire northeast wrestling scene, the Steel City was where his heart was.
Would Sammartino work in the wrestling world of today? That remains to be seen. Sammartino's ethnic hero mystique is lost in today's world, but I see a lot of Bruno in Cesaro. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Cesaro is a modern-day Sammartino. Sadly, "The Swiss Superman" is grossly misused, thus preventing any further comparisons. Still, the combination of strength and ring skill can easily make one think back to the heyday of "The Living Legend." With one flick of the pencil, Cesaro could probably be a decent replication of a Sammartino-type wrestling star. A match between the two in their primes would be an absolute classic.
It has been documented that 2015 has seen some health setbacks for Sammartino and subsequently a slowing of his appearance schedule. All word of late has been that "The Living Legend" is on the mend and will be in prime shape to celebrate his milestone birthday on October 6th. While no one is promised a tomorrow, it'd be foolish to bet against Bruno Sammartino celebrating many more birthdays and quite possibly setting another record--longest living pro wrestler in history.
Happy Birthday, Champ!
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Ax and Smash were well into their run by the time that I took note. Bill Eadie and Barry Darsow played the destructive duo to the fullest, even though Darsow was not the original Smash. It's common knowledge that Randy Colley, best known as Moondog Rex, was the first Smash. Only a couple of matches were held before it was decided, for variously given reasons, that it was not working out. Fresh off of a run in Jim Crockett Promotions as Krusher Kruschev, Darsow took over the Smash gimmick. There is a widely-known early Demolition promo photo that is often thought to be Colley, but it is in fact Darsow with very short hair. No merchandise is known to exist featuring Colley as Smash. I went as far as to pull screengrabs from one of the early televised matches to create a composite photo of Colley's "Smash."
Once Demolition found its footing, so did the merchandise. Figures, cards, stickers, magazines, and drinking glasses can all be found celebrating the tag team. LJN Toys famously produced the first Demolition action figure of Ax, but Smash did not see the light of day as he was scheduled for a later series that went unproduced. When Hasbro took over the WWF license, both Ax and Smash saw release in the first series.
Demolition were often labeled as "Road Warrior ripoffs" when nothing could be further from the truth. Face paint was just about where the comparison began and ended. Some will cite the attire, but aside from both teams looking like toughmen who could destroy just about anyone, there wasn't much to compare in the look. As far as in-ring style, Hawk and Animal gave little to their opponents and were known to steamroll through their matches, whereas Ax and Smash did what was best for the match itself. Nothing should be taken away from the Road Warriors and their contribution to the business, but as fans get more and more educated to the business it becomes clearer that Demolition made their own impact and in a much shorter time.
To the surprise of many, the original Demolition run with just Ax and Smash was just under four years long. It included three WWF Tag Team Championship runs, both heel and face personas, and two managers, Johnny V and Mr. Fuji. By the end of 1990, Ax had departed the company and Smash was teaming with Crush. By the Fall of 1991, we had seen the last of the Demolition name on WWF television.
Demolition is one of wrestling's great success stories. A team that made their mark in a short time, left the business with families and smiles on their faces, and are here to tell about it years later. In my years of meeting wrestlers, there are few that I enjoy encountering more than Eadie and Darsow. They are two examples of complete gentlemen in the wrestling business. Even if they never get that WWE Hall of Fame nod, they know how many fans were impacted by their years in the ring. Barry Darsow has been quoted as saying that he feels he is "the luckiest man in the world" as to how his life and career turned out. Eadie has expressed similar sentiments. That is some phrasing that we hear far too little from those in the wrestling world.
Long Live Demolition!
Thursday, September 17, 2015
It's been twenty-five years since The Stinger won his first World Championship. That was at the 1990 Great American Bash where he bested Ric Flair for the "big gold belt" while clad in the colors of his country. It was a great moment that isn't as well-remembered as other title victories, but has every right to be. Will he make history again a quarter of a century later? That remains to be seen.
When I first met Sting years ago, I knew what the number one item that I wanted signed would be. It's an issue of WCW Wrestling Wrap-Up, Vol 2, No 8 of 1990 to be exact. The cover features Sting just after his big title win at the Bash. The champion is proudly holding the title belt that is a favorite of many, including myself, with his red, white, and blue face paint mostly lost to the rigors of the match. It's the biggest moment for the Sting that many of us grew up on. This was the Sting that was, for the most part, WCW's answer to Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior.
Looking inside, we see that Wrestling Wrap-Up is very much like the WCW Magazine that would take its place in 1991. Wrap-Up was not available on newsstands, however, just at events or on a subscription basis. The pages were all-color, all-slick, and featured some very nice photography. The first big feature goes over the results of Bash 1990, including the WCW debut of a man who would be very instrumental in the next few years of the company, Big Van Vader. I don't think that there was ever a more impressive "big man" wrestler as far as in-ring talent, and he is one example of WCW using a wrestler much better than the WWF.
In the center of the magazine, an El Gigante poster and WCW Merchandise Catalog are featured. A lot of now-very rare apparel is featured, and even a "Norman" teddy bear was offered. The shirt page is directly copied from the WWF Merchandise Catalogs of the time, although there isn't much different that you could actually do. If you want to sell the shirt, have the talent himself wearing it. In the case of The Great Muta, he'll just be holding the shirt.
We wrap up the Wrestling Wrap-Up with a monthly calendar of events, NWA Top Ten, current champions, and Quotes of the Month. We also get photos of Jim Cornette on four pages in a row, two with the Midnight Express and two in ads for the magazine, respectively. I've acquired some of these Wrestling Wrap-Up issues from "The Louisville Lip" himself, and I do believe that he had a hand in production as he did with other behind-the-scenes aspects of WCW at the time until his departure later in the year.
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Thursday, September 10, 2015
The Heritage releases are the only modern wrestling trading cards that truly excite me. I anticipate their infrequent releases and as much as I wish they were released once a year, maybe it's better that they aren't. I usually purchase several hobby boxes and individual retail packs. Only with the Heritage cards do I try to assemble several base sets, and of course set aside many for autographs. The Heritage sets take me back to the trading cards of my youth, right before everything in the card world, sadly, went glossy. This 2015 set is based upon the 1985 Topps baseball design, a series that I'm very familiar with. They're cardboard, the way that trading cards should be, and the matte finish makes them very easy to obtain autographs on.
Following those first four sets, WWE Heritage became a subset. The Topps WWE 2011 set featured a 50-card Heritage subset in the style of the 1962 Topps baseball cards. Just as with Heritage II, I have a personal wrestler-given nickname for this set. While signing his card, Kevin Nash called it a "Bowman." Bowman Gum was another trading card producer until Topps bought out the rival company. While we have yet to see any WWE Heritage produced after the Bowman style, the nickname will stick with me for this set.
After that quick refresher course in Topps WWE Heritage, it's time for the 2015 edition. With plenty of chase cards planned and the all-important autographs, it should be an extremely fun set to collect. There is also another product, WWE Undisputed, coming from Topps a month earlier. These are being aimed at a "high-end" collecting market and are basically a set of just autographs, relics, and parallels. Thanks, but no thanks. Give me the basic, vintage-styled, cardboard goodness of Heritage!
Thursday, September 3, 2015
Many remember the classic commercial that played at the beginning of the Turner Home Video wrestling cassette releases as well as on television. Starrcade and Great American Bash videos, complete with Jim Cornette's famous scaffold bump, were pushed to no end. In addition to those event tapes, a compilation known as The Danger Zone was offered. As an extra bonus, fans were given a special 1988 Danger Zone swimsuit calendar with their order. The sizzling shot of a bikini-clad Missy Hyatt on the cover may have drawn in many male fans, but the inside probably made very few bedroom walls.
Looking at it from another angle, it does reflect the large amount of talent that filled the company at the time, shortly after Crockett's buyout of the Universal Wrestling Federation. One wonders why some other female talent who either had been or were affiliated with Jim Crockett Promotions at the time weren't contacted to be part of it. Certainly the male-to-female ratio could have been evened up a bit with a little bit of Dark Journey or Misty Blue Simmes. Why it ended up the way that it did was anyone's guess. Perhaps they were just looking to offer "something for everyone."
Thursday, August 27, 2015
Although the Internet was beginning its rush into mainstream consciousness, the way to get tickets was still largely restricted to a physical box office. The on-sale date was July 8th, a Saturday morning. We purchased our SummerSlam tickets at the TicketMaster location in the Kaufmann's department store in the Monroeville Mall. There weren't any living dead hanging around, but I'll always remember the girl in front of me in line. She appeared to be a few years older than me, but not by much. In her then-trendy halter top and overalls, she somehow convinced her father to purchase a front row ticket for her alone. As far back as we were in line, those ringside tickets must have been a small fortune as she did end up getting one. She is visible on the show itself, most notably during the ladder match entrances, clad in the famous Shawn Michaels "all-over" shirt. In my mind, she's still in those overalls. Regardless, I had my tickets and eagerly anticipated August 27, 1995.
That Spring and Summer had, in a way, introduced a new side of pro wrestling into my life. Growing up I'd had plenty of friends who liked wrestling, but none who truly loved it as I did. Occasionally one would get into it a bit deeper for a spell, but I was the only real consistent fan among those that I knew. Then came along cyberspace. I hesitate to use the term "Internet" again, as my first introduction to this much larger world was through something called a BBS, which stood for Bulletin Board System. These were small, independently owned and operated programs where you could chat, play games, send and receive e-mail, and share files. If you were remember the original America Online, picture that on a much smaller scale. Since you used your phone line through your computer to dial into these BBSes, you generally only joined local systems. It was through these BBSes that I got my first taste of just how things worked in wrestling (I'd always known the "predetermined" aspect) and finally met some fans who were just as hardcore as I was.
The day of the show was fun, although there really wasn't much on the event itself that went unseen by the cameras. Waiting on the outside to get into the Civic Arena, one odd did thing did happen. For some inexplicable reason, The Fabulous Moolah made her way from the direction of the arena through the large crowd. An audible wave of "It's Moolah!" carried through the gathering of fans, but I've otherwise never learned anything more regarding her appearance.
The now very rare program was available as soon as we entered the building, and we immediately bought one. It's wider than a magazine, but not quite as long as other programs from that era. Shirts were also available, as was a cool laminated poster that my dad surprised me with after returning to our seats from a restroom break.
It was the beginning of a new era for wrestling in Pittsburgh, an area that had been largely ignored since the days of Bruno Sammartino. It was a very different WWF just three years later when The Undertaker flung Mankind off the top of Hell in a Cell. I was present for that too, with a unique perspective of the moment being eye-level with the top of the Cell. Still, there was something special about SummerSlam.
Without trying to sound too much like Kevin Arnold, it really was the beginning of my "wonder years." I was about to begin the seventh grade, I was beginning to see what the world was really about, and "overall girl" would be forgotten in favor of other females that were more than just a glimpse in a store line, even if they didn't care for wrestling. The Federation was running on "Diesel Power," and Pittsburgh truly "felt the heat."