Thursday, April 28, 2016

WWWF Wrestling Action #1

I've always been very proud, and humbled, that this blog has simultaneously opened discussion and answered questions regarding wrestling memorabilia and merchandise while even helping to discover certain items altogether. As I often say, wrestling is a genre of collectible that has been relatively unexplored and uncataloged. Even with all of the action figures, cards, and programs, among other items, that have been discussed here, by far the most storied is the five-issue WWWF Wrestling Action magazine.

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.

Each issue has a small "As I See It" column allegedly penned by a major name in the WWWF. For this first issue it is then-WWWF President Willie Gilzenberg. The first regular feature is a story regarding Bruno Sammartino and his vow to avenge his April 30, 1977 loss to Graham. The photo of Sammartino used here would be the basis for the cover of the second Wrestling Action issue. Also of note here is an attached subscription card advertising a deal of six issues for $9.00. Quite the deal now, even considering that we now know that the magazine would only last five issues.

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.

Features on Putski as well as Professor Tanaka and Mr. Fuji are next, prefacing something that would become a Wrestling Action staple: the full-color centerfold. Each issue features one or a number of stars in a stunning large photo. As with the cover, the first issue features Superstar Graham in the centerfold. In a classic pose, likely taken at Madison Square Garden, Graham poses with his newly-won championship belt. The photo would look just as good signed as the cover does.

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.

At just sixteen pages total, the first issue of Wrestling Action is a bit shorter than the rest. We finish with a one-page story on Bob Backlund titled "Born To Wrestle." One has to wonder if Vincent J. McMahon may have possibly instructed this feature to be included. The story barely goes two paragraphs before Backlund is labeled to be "the man who possesses possibly the best credentials to knock Superstar Billy Graham off the top spot in the WWWF area." The inside back page features a small, black and white, photo gallery of various WWWF stars, and the back page is one more color shot featuring an epic struggle between Sammartino and Stan Stasiak.

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.

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