Thursday, September 4, 2014

35 Years Of Pro Wrestling Illustrated

 1979 was quite a year.  Introduced were such iconic concepts as Happy Meals, The Muppet Movie, and The Piña Colada Song.  Jimmy Carter was President of the United States.  60 Minutes was the number one rated television program.  90 cents bought you a gallon of gasoline.  In professional wrestling, Harley Race, Nick Bockwinkel, and Bob Backlund were your NWA, AWA, and WWF Champions.  Starrcade and WrestleMania were four and six years away, respectively.  Ric Flair would have to wait two more years to reach the top of the mountain, while Hulkamania would take a bit longer than that to be born.  Nevertheless, an icon of the business began in September of '79, that being Pro Wrestling Illustrated.

Dusty Rhodes and Mil Mascaras were no strangers to the covers of wrestling magazines.  Although the outlaw known as "Dirty" Dusty Rhodes made a few cover appearances, once "The American Dream" was born he became a newsstand fixture with a variety of flamboyant outfits and the omnipresent "million dollar smile."  Mascaras was long touted as then-PWI Editor Bill Apter's favorite wrestler.  Known as "The Man of 1,000 Masks" the colorful and high-flying Mascaras appeared everywhere from Mexico City to Tokyo to Madison Square Garden and amassed quite the fan following.  At the time, there were no bigger wrestling stars to grace the cover of the first issue of what was billed as "The World's Biggest Wrestling Magazine" than these two.

Since then, hundreds of wrestlers have had a moment in the sun on the cover of PWI, coupled with thousands on the pages inside.  Even though companies like WWE and WCW have had their own publications, PWI is different.  In a business that is often not taken as seriously as it should be, PWI positioned itself as the printed gospel among wrestling fans of the 1980s and 1990s.  While some fans may have been subscribing to the "sheets" all of those years ago, most of us ticket and merchandise buying fans were waiting for the next PWI to find out exactly what was going on.  Title changes, talent switches, and card results were all going to be there each month ready for to us to feverishly devour as we turned the pages.

The best part?  It wasn't just the wrestling that we saw on television.  I can still remember following the feuds and battles of USWA, Smoky Mountain Wrestling, and early ECW in the pages of PWI.  While I may not have been able to see the matches in person or on tape, I knew the career happenings of guys like Jeff Gaylord, Tony Anthony, and Johnny Hot Body just as well as any of the national stars thanks to PWI.  It was the same effect that magazines such as Wrestling Revue and The Wrestler provided in the true territorial days.  The era when fans in California learned about Bruno Sammartino or mat aficionados in New York discovered Paul Jones, Johnny Weaver, and Eddie Graham exclusively through the printed page.

That knowledge and discovery is still delivered by the magazine, especially in a certain popular issue each year.  Beginning in 1991, an annual listing of the top five hundred wrestlers hit newsstands.  That issue, known, as the PWI 500, has often become difficult to find upon release.  Wrestlers still clamor to be included in the issue, and being named #500 is as coveted as the #1 spot.  Being included in a "Who's Who" list that has featured Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, and Randy Savage should have that kind of importance.

My first newsstand-purchased issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated was the 1992 edition of the PWI 500.  I can still remember pouring over those beige colored listing pages for hours.  There were wrestlers that I loved, some that I had never heard of, and others that I thought had long since retired.  I was excited to learn that many of the Samoans (including Kokina who.ultimately became Yokozuna) were invading the WWF and that Andre the Giant had competed abroad recently.  I took the magazine to school, and an obviously uninformed classmate (who strongly resembled Bart Simpson's classmate Wendell) inquired if a muscular blonde haired wrestler pictured in the 500 was Hulk Hogan.  It wasn't, but I had to take to the text to inform him that it was a young grappler named Chris Candido.

Pro Wrestling Illustrated is the sole survivor.  For thirty five years the.publication has outlasted several wrestling boom periods, countless other wrestling magazines, economic downturns, and even some publisher sales.  It remains the last place that a wrestler can make a magazine cover, a monthly "Top 10" rating, or an annual "Top 500" ranking.  In a wrestling world where traditions like non-televised events are holding on by a thread, the only true top company views "wrestling" as a four-letter word, and "entertainment" outweighs the importance of a ring, PWI is still there.

Whether it be the 35th Anniversary issue, the next "PWI 500," or the 2014 Year End Review, pick up a copy.  In doing so you're helping the future while maintaining a piece of the past.  As I've said countless times over the years, you're getting a great magazine and a great collectible simultaneously.  The stars of yesteryear marvel at the magazines that they appeared on over the years.  Today and tomorrow's stars, if they are lucky enough to make an issue, will only have PWI to look back on.

Long Live PWI...The World's Biggest...and last...Wrestling Magazine!

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