Thursday, May 26, 2016
The cover story is "Stars Of The '80s" featuring artistic renderings of
Bob Backlund, Ivan Putski, Tony Atlas, Tito Santana, Ken Patera, and Hulk Hogan. While autographing my copy, The Hulkster told me that this was his first magazine cover appearance. The claim may very well be true. This magazine predates his first Pro Wrestling Illustrated cover appearance by several years. There may be a program or two out there from this time or before with a Hogan cover, but as far as magazines I do believe this to be his debut.
Also of historic note is the change on the cover from the previous four issues. "World Wide Wrestling Federation" has silently become "World Wrestling Federation." There is still at least once instance of "WWWF" being used inside the magazine.
In the opening page we don't get any real indication that this would be the last issue. It is said that subscription balances will still be fulfilled. Just as with issue #3, issue #4 was a complete sellout as well. The $2.50 back issues of the first two editions were still available. Fill my cart. "Vince McMahon" pens the "As I See It!" column this time around, and there really isn't much to identify if that was supposed to be father or son.
Features kick off with a brief story and photos on the new and popular tag team championship team of Tito Santana and Ivan Putski. Putski is in a transitional phase where he isn't quite the clone of The Mighty Igor any longer, nor is he the slimmer and more cut undercarder that many grew up on in the '80s. Our next article is about "A Perfect '10'." No, it isn't Nickla Roberts. It's "The Incredible" Hulk Hogan. Even here, The Hulkster just simply looks different from anything else the wrestling had seen up to the point.
Another two-pager discussing Afa and Sika of The Wild Samoans is followed by a three-page story titled "Who Is The Real Living Legend?" It seems that Larry Zbyszko (now being misspelled "Zbyscko") is no longer the fan favorite tag team partner of Tony Garea as he was in the previous issue. At this point he has made his infamous turn on his mentor, Bruno Sammartino. This article is highlighted by a photo of a battered, beaten, and afroed Bruno struggling to get up off the mat. Blood is pouring off of Sammartino's face in a shot that rivals that of Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIII.
Patterson is also the subject of one of our next articles in addition to fellow 1980's WWF official, Rene Goulet. "The Fighting Frenchman" is shown battling both Sika and Larry Zbyszko (here spelled "Zbyscho" in a new variant). Patterson is shown slugging it out with Ken Patera in a story that questions whether or not the blond from Montreal has completely changed his formerly "evil" ways.
Speaking of Patera, the next two-page story is all about the former Olympic great. A wonderful color photo of Patera, pictured with manager The Grand Wizard, reminds us that this is not the same Patera that many remember in 1987 and 1988. Patera was a vicious and feared heel at this point. Had this version of Patera picked up where he left off in his late '80s run, Hogan may have had another credible challenger to the WWF Championship.
After a two-page feature on Bob Backlund, Tony Atlas gets a photo and small blurb. When I had "Mr. U.S.A." sign the cover of this issue, he knew where his feature was inside. He turned to it, signed that photo as well, and briefly went over the column. Future feuds with Patera and Hogan are mentioned. Atlas press-slamming The Hulkster not only became the cover of an issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated, but also one of the strongman's proudest moments.
We've now explored all five issues of WWWF Wrestling Action. As I said in the first issue entry, the set counts among my favorite pieces of wrestling memorabilia. It's a nice-sized set that contains a lot of history. WWE should celebrate the series, but it isn't going to happen. They recognize Victory Magazine as their first publication. The two issues of Victory are good, but aren't much more than two more issues of the regular WWF Magazine. Wrestling Action is a completely different take on a wrestling magazine. If you have one issue or all five, cherish them. If you don't have any, let the hunt begin!
Thursday, May 19, 2016
Starting out, we learn that the previous issue had completely sold out. Back issues of #1 and #2 were still available at just $2.50 a copy. Again, I will gladly take a dozen of each. Arnold Skaaland gets the "As I See It!" column and the features kick off with a look at a man completely missing from issue #3, Bruno Sammartino. The Living Legend had returned--with his infamous afro. The cover story follows, featuring Zbyszko (grossly misspelled "Zybscko") and Garea on their championship win against the Yukon Lumberjacks and new struggle with Jimmy and Johnny Valiant.
Next up is a great shot and brief story on WWE Hall of Famer Tatsumi Fujinami. At the time, Fujinami was the WWWF Junior Heavyweight Champion. That title and belt is one of the least remembered championships in the history of the company, largely being contested outside of the United States for the majority of its run. Fans of 1990's Japanese wrestling will remember the belt being given to the winner of the 1994 Super J Cup tournament. The belt even featured into advertising for the event.
High Chief Peter Maivia makes his return to Wrestling Action, this time
in a very different position than back in the debut issue. Maivia is now a rule breaker managed by Fred Blassie. The High Chief is shown, donning his villainous mustache, squeezing the life out of foes such as Bob Backlund and Chief Jay Strongbow. Heels also dominate the next few pages when Albano and The Valiant Brothers receive their own article touting their recent WWWF return.
The fourth issue of Wrestling Action ends with a look at more of the villains of the day. Ernie Ladd gets a two-page spread featuring some great color photos and a vow to finish off Dusty Rhodes, or "The Pillsbury Dough Boy" at he calls him, once and for all. The evil members of the stable of "Hollywood Fashion Plate" Fred Blassie are also shown, including Maivia, Victor Rivera, and Spiros Arion. We finish with a brief look at "Brower Power," the return of classic brawler Dick "The Bulldog" Brower.
You could argue that this issue was the showcase of the heels. Bob Backlund saw his least coverage yet in the Wrestling Action run. Instead the focus was on many of his challengers and their devious plans to wrest the WWWF Championship away from "The All-American Boy." In the fifth and final issue we will see wrestling history right on the cover in several different instances. While Wrestling Action does not escape the 1970's, the issue is going to be all about looking forward to the 1980's. We end the five-part Wrestling Action series next week here on the blog. Don't miss it.
Thursday, May 12, 2016
We open the cover with several announcements. Escalating costs are cited as to why this issue is not the full-color spectacle that the previous installment was. The staff still hopes to be able to return to that format in the future. Another notice indicates that the magazine will not be published bi-monthly, but subscribers will receive their balance. Limited back issues of the first two editions are available for just $2.50 each. Can I take a dozen? The "As I See It!" column this month is penned by Vincent Kennedy McMahon, who is actually referred to as "Vince McMahon Jr." here.
A bit on Superstar Billy Graham's work out routine is followed by a feature on the good deeds of "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes. Juvenile Diabetes, Muscular Dystrophy, and the Big Brother program are all listed as some of The Dream's charitable causes. All in all, Dusty is quoted as saying that making us, the fans, happy makes his dream fulfilled. You did just that, Big Dust. You did just that and much, much more...
We get even more American Dream goodness in this issue's centerfold. In an absolutely classic pre-match photo, Andre the Giant is pictured with his buddies Rhodes and "The Man of 1,000 Masks" Mil Mascaras. Dusty is wearing his cactus robe which made various program and magazine covers over the years. There's definitely no box under the feet of Andre, and he looks positively massive regardless. As of this writing, only Mascaras remains with us in this life.
We're now over halfway through the Wrestling Action run. This is the first issue to not feature Bruno Sammartino. The WWWF was looking to a new era with Bob Backlund at the helm. We now know that it would end up being a Helluva run for the "All-American Boy." A different division takes center stage in the next issue, along with five new cover stars. The "wrestling action" of the WWWF continues here next week!
Thursday, May 5, 2016
The inside cover contains information regarding the magazine including notices that six more pages have been added since the debut issue and that Wrestling Action will be published bi-monthly. Gorilla Monsoon gets the pen in the "As I See It!" column in this issue. The tidbits certainly read as if written by the beloved star, including a note that the WWWF will "bring the best in wrestling action to your local arena."
The first article is a three-page feature questioning the future of Bruno Sammartino in the wrestling ring. Not only are great color photos of Bruno battling Ken Patera, Baron Von Raschke, and Stan Hansen included here, but the entire issue is in color. This was a definite change from the other wrestling titles of the time. Following the Bruno story is a look at the non-wrestling hobbies of Chief Jay Strongbow and Tony Garea. Considering their individual ages at the time, it's not surprising that Garea was into running and hiking while Strongbow is shown to be "The 'Arnold Palmer' of wrestling."
Speaking of "The American Dream," we turn the page to a small feature on Dusty Rhodes. This is his first feature in Wrestling Action and seems to have been after his first Madison Square Garden clash with Graham. Rhodes is certainly built up in the article. "The Cosmic Cowboy," as he's dubbed here, is noted to be an accomplished wrestler despite only recently debuting in the WWWF. His battles for the NWA championship as well as his Florida Heavyweight title win are mentioned, well before other areas and organizations stopped being recognized by "New York."
Stories on Mr. Fuji and Professor Tanaka capturing the WWWF Tag Team Championship as well as a blurb on Ivan Putski come before a feature on "The Man of 1,000 Masks," Mil Mascaras. Though his high-flying maneuvers are overshadowed these days, in the 1970's nothing like it had been seen before in the area. Mascaras also had a presence that many of today's high-flyers lack. No matter what has been said about his actions behind the scenes, Mascaras was unlike anything seen before and hasn't been fully duplicated since.
Wrestling Action sees changes from the debut issue, but the Bob Backlund build carries on. It has always been told that Backlund was planned to be champion well in advance by Vincent J. McMahon. Features in both this and the debut issue help to cement those tales. Will he be champion before the next issue rolls around? We shall soon see. How about Mil Mascaras and Dusty Rhodes? What impact will these "outsiders" play on the World Wide Wrestling Federation?
Tune in next week...
Thursday, April 28, 2016
The magazine was the very first in-house authentic World Wide Wrestling Federation publication. While the many great magazines already on the market featured a ton of coverage regarding the McMahon-owned promotion and its stars, this was an entirely different animal. Publisher (and as I like to call him, "wrestling renaissance man") Les Thatcher brought an elegant design to the magazine that he similarly instituted in his Mid-Atlantic and NWA Magazines. A lot of color, slick pages, and amazing illustrated covers were a staple in the Thatcher publications.
A few blog entries have already been dedicated to Wrestling Action, but I have always wanted to take a look at each individual issue, highlighting the best and most interesting features. This is the first of five, going in order. You'll note that despite only lasting five issues, the title actually spanned around two years. In the wild days of 1970's wrestling, it's no surprise that even publications were a bit erratic. Nonetheless, the five issues that we did get have spawned their own legend in wrestling memorabilia.
The first issue, officially titled WWWF Wrestling Action Vol. 1 No. 1., starts off with a bang right on the front cover. Superstar Billy Graham had just dethroned the legendary Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF Heavyweight Championship. As with Sammartino's first championship defeat, fans were shocked and saddened. Graham, however, did have his own fanbase. Many, including Graham himself, feel that his title run could have lasted a lot longer and possibly even included a stint as a babyface. While we will never know how that would have turned out, perhaps a glance forward at Hulk Hogan's initial run may be a bit of an indication.
When I completed my own set of five Wrestling Action issues, it was still possible to collect a fully signed run of the "stars" of each cover. For the first issue I obtained Graham as well as publisher Les Thatcher and famed wrestling photographer George Napolitano. Almost all of the issues elicited a great response from the signers. This first issue was no different. Obviously, even the stars themselves look back on this publication with fond memories.
The Sammartino-Graham story is continued on the next two pages with some great photos in full color. Several photos are from the aforementioned title change in Baltimore. Keeping with Bruno's character, the champ is said to have claimed that he would have been happy had the title went to Ivan Putski, Chief Jay Strongbow, Larry Zbyszko, Tony Garea, or Bob Backlund, but is instead in the wrong hands with the likes of Graham. Less than a year later, the championship "wishes" of Sammartino would be granted with the long-planned win of Backlund.
Next up is a two-page story on Ken Patera and his issue with Strongbow and "Indian" partner Billy White Wolf (later known as Sheik/General Adnan). We then return to color with another two-pager on the fabled High Chief Peter Maivia. The world now knows him as the grandfather of The Rock, but Maivia had quite the career in his own right. His well-documented tribal tattoos are showcased here both in photos and the written word. Maivia will figure into future Wrestling Action issues as well, including in a run that is less well-remembered than the one shown here.
I've never been able to pick a "favorite" wrestling collectible, but when pressed, the Wrestling Action set has definitely come up. They're an amazingly well-crafted set of time capsules from a very important period in the biggest wrestling company in history. By the time that we reach the final issue, it will become clear just how much history is collected, and preserved, in these five publications.
Thursday, April 21, 2016
It isn't as if the figures from that era are bad, it's just that a number of factors have left the toys dead in the water for the time being. For starters, let's look at the previous time period, known to many as "The Attitude Era." While WWE capitalized on the nostalgia for that late-1990s period when launching WWE Network, the popularity has not translated to most of the corresponding collectibles. Mass production was at its peak and Jakks could not churn out enough Stone Cold, The Rock, and Undertaker figures. To this day, those and other Superstars of the era are consistently sold on store shelves, now by Mattel and with modern production techniques.
If the figures of the icons of that immensely popular era aren't doing well, you can imagine that those of just five years later aren't fairing much better. That period of time saw very low-level interest in wrestling as a whole. It was a time of virtual identity crisis for the business when it seemingly could not decide between the adult themes of the "Attitude Era" or the family friendliness of the decade prior.
When Mattel rolled out their WWE line, interest in the first TNA figure line from Toybiz shot up. This was because many of those figures were similar in scale to the Mattel offerings. Suddenly, figures of Jeff Hardy, Sting, Samoa Joe, Kurt Angle, and others that were unlikely to be made by WWE at the time were seeing a greatly renewed interest. With several new lines coming soon from Figures Toy Company in the Jakks scale and style, I could see the same thing happening with the old official Jakks product.
It's hard to predict trends. If it was easy, we could all be making some big money. But as far as those "Ruthless Aggression" era WWE Jakks figures? I wouldn't give them away just yet. Collectors may come a'knockin', and a'buyin', in the relatively near future.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Less than a decade ago, Blackjack published his autobiography "True Lies & Alibis," but you don't have to have read the book to know some crazy stories about the towering cowboy. It seems that every wrestler from the '70s has a Blackjack story or two. If you put them altogether, it would seem that Blackjack must not have lived an ordinary day in his life. He was a true character. A legend in his own time.
The legendary Wahoo wasn't Mulligan's only main nemesis. The cowboy from Eagle Pass, TX also had famous battles with Andre the Giant, Ric Flair, "Number One" Paul Jones, Masked Superstar, Bruno Sammartino, Dusty Rhodes, Harley Race, and Dick Murdoch just to name a select few. He also ended up teaming with many of those legends, but his most famous partner was his fellow "Blackjack," Jack Lanza. Paired with Bobby Heenan or Lou Albano, the team made the most waves in the Midwest and the WWWF.
Of course, it's no secret that Mulligan is the patriarch of a wrestling dynasty that includes sons Barry and Kendall Windham and grandsons Bray Wyatt and Bo Dallas. Barry, for a time, in fact wrestled under the name of Blackjack Mulligan Jr. He would go on to carve out his own legacy away from that of his storied father.
Although I wanted to do this small tribute of my own, I must recommend that you check out a site that I've referred you to before, The Mid-Atlantic Gateway. Blackjack was certainly one of the biggest stars of that great resource, and their tributes do not disappoint. You will also want to check out their past stories on Blackjack, including "The Legend of The Hat & The Robe." I guarantee that you will end that read thinking but one thing: "Now THAT is how a wrestling story should be told!"
Mr. Mulligan suffered for a long time. He is now out of pain and in a far better place. His life and the many stories surrounding it could probably fill ten books minimum. He was a one-of-a-kind person who starred in a unique industry in a time when outlaws truly lived up to that moniker. Through those stories, film footage, photos, and his cherished family, Blackjack Mulligan lives on forever.
Robert "Blackjack Mulligan" Windham