I'm often asked where I obtain all of my items. It isn't anywhere special and hardly just one place. You never know where you'll find something, and more often than not I tend to "run into" things. Following along with the old saying, it usually is
where I "least expect it." Because of that, and the fact that wrestling memorabilia is a truly undocumented collecting niche, I rarely "look" for something. Unless it's a loose end in a series of items, I wouldn't even know what to look for! In this entry, we're spotlighting an item that was in one of those random finds and slowly became one of my favorites.
Around fifteen or so years ago, my eyes centered behind the counter of a used book store. Sitting on a rolling cart piled in about three stacks was a collection of 1970's wrestling magazines. At the time, my wrestling collection was largely confined to the 1980's and 1990's, so much of what was piled up was new to me and looked absolutely fascinating. My dad and I inquired about their availability. The Janeane Garofalo-clone who worked at the store was more than happy that we were interested, but told us that they weren't priced yet. Immediately I pictured huge dollar signs for each and pretty much gave up then and there. We frequented the store, but between the inevitable prices and the knowledge of many other wrestling fans who would probably want them, I all but gave up. As I walked away, crestfallen, the fake Garofalo shouted after me: "There are even some covers with Dino Sammartino on them!"
A few weeks later when we returned to the store, I had all but forgotten about the dusty, old, treasure trove. It's hardly a surprise at this point, but there they were, bundled in about seven or eight different stacks for a few dollars each. For the next few days my knowledge of 1970's wrestling swelled. The words and photography of the Stanley Weston magazines (as well as a few titles such as the legendary WWWF Wrestling Action) filled my brain. Bill Apter, Dan Shocket, and everyone's favorite perennial old crust Matt Brock were there, as were the champions. Several of these issues were the Weston "Wrestling Yearbook" titles. Published quarterly, the Yearbooks were yet another title that joined The Wrestler, Inside Wrestling, and Sports Review Wrestling on the '70s wrestling magazine shelf.
It seems as if once a year, the Wrestling Yearbook magazine was a "Special Championship Issue" that focused on the "big three" champions from the WWWF, NWA, and AWA. These were among my favorites from the magazine bounty that I had purchased. Several of these championship issues featured a motif that could have come from the opening title cards of "Love, American Style." It was red, white, blue, and stars all the way. It looked great. It looked '70s. It looked special.
In addition to the normal departments such as ratings and pen pals, the championship issue had a full article on each of the three champions. Bruno Sammartino's is titled "Wrestling's Living Legend," a label that has stuck with him to this day. Terry Funk was deemed to be the "Accidental Champion" while Nick Bockwinkel was "The Man Who Had To Win The Title." There are also "Ringside Report" sections telling of how each man respectively won the title. For fans of the era, this had to have been amazing. Almost all areas of the country would have recognized one of these men as the true world champion. To see whichever two that you DIDN'T recognize as champion right up with your own hero was likely infuriating.
While the Sammartino and Funk stories are known, the Bockwinkel article is a classic magazine tale. Bockwinkel was "the man who had to win the title" because of his wrestler father, "discovery" by Bobby Heenan, and learning from partner Ray Stevens. Although the article recognizes that the championship was Bockwinkel's "dream," they feel that because of his rulebreaking, attitude, and Heenan's constant interference that it had become a "nightmare." Only in the wrestling mags!
Although the infamous "Love Doll" ads don't show up here, other dubious product offers do. Ads for the sister publications called "Battling Girls" featuring apartment wrestling are here, as are pellet guns, miracle ginseng capsules, and many ways to either bulk up or trim down. If the kids of the '70s had written and paid for all of these valuable products, today we would have an entire fleet of 50-somethings with bulging muscles, trim wastes, endless ways to defend themselves, skills in dozens of different courses including vinyl repair, x-ray vision, and unmatched knowledge in the art of love making...with or without a partner.
Forty years later and I know that I'm not the only one who is fascinated by these publications. There's footage available from the era, but the magazines offer something different. We get a great glimpse at the wrestling industry of the time and see it through the eyes of the fans. To learn of wrestling around the country, this is basically all that you had. If you lived in the Northeast, you saw Bruno but you probably didn't know much about Funk and Bockwinkel. Here was your chance to compare the champions as well as you could from a color cover and black and white pages. This was your Internet. This was your WWE Network. This was your ultimate source of wrestling knowledge. Many fans from the time miss it being that way...
...are we sure that's such a bad thing?