Thursday, May 26, 2016

WWWF Wrestling Action #5

And as quickly as it began, it ended. WWWF Wrestling Action Vol. 1 No. 5 was indeed the final issue of the storied publication. It's hard to say whether or not this was planned to be the last issue, but as publisher Les Thatcher told me years ago, the McMahon's decided to pull the plug. Fittingly, the final issue is a look to the future and contains several "firsts" that would follow the company into the next decade.

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.

Our centerfold this issue features the WWWF Champion and Inter-Continental Champion, Bob Backlund and Pat Patterson, respectively. "Intercontinental" is spelled with the hyphen and this is the aforementioned instance of WWWF being used in this WWF issue. One wonders if this photo was taken backstage in Rio de Janeiro after the huge tournament to crown the first Intercontinental Tournament. Perhaps this is why the background of the photo was replaced by generic blue. The mysteries deepen!

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 end with a college of five of the photos that were used to create the cover. In addition to the cover stars, Zbyszko (now "ZybscKo"), Tony Rich (likely a typo for Tommy Rich), Austin Idol, Mike Graham, the Von Erichs, and Ric Flair are also mentioned as those who will likely be the biggest sensations of the 1980's. While all shown or listed had some success in the decade, I think that we can boil it down to Hogan, Flair, and the Von Erich boys as those who truly reached superstardom.

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

WWWF Wrestling Action #4

For the fourth issue of WWWF Wrestling Action, tag teams take center stage. The Tag Team Championship struggle between The Valiant Brothers (with manager Captain Lou Albano) and the fan favorite team of Larry Zbyszko and Tony Garea is artistically depicted. The white and yellow "burst" behind the wrestlers really makes this cover pop, as does the large tag team belt that corrals the teams. I can still recall the joy on Albano's face when he was signing this issue and holding it up for other wrestlers seated nearby to see. In addition to the featured stars, I had referee Dick Woehrle sign the cover and Greg Valentine autograph an interior shot.

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.

Hisashi Shinma becoming the new World Wide Wrestling Federation president and a bit on Ivan Putski precede a story on The Grand Wizard leading Greg Valentine to the WWWF Championship. Valentine was always one of Bob Backlund's quality challengers. Had Backlund needed to drop the title even briefly at some point during his long-planned run, Valentine would have been a great option as champion, even temporarily.

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.

In the centerfold we have the "passing of the torch" that the WWWF so desperately wanted at the time, a handshake meeting between Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund. While Backlund undoubtedly carved out his own legacy in wrestling and as WWWF Champion, he never filled the boots of "The Living Legend." Looking back in hindsight, both men stand side by side for their contributions to the WWWF and the industry itself just as they do pictured here.

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.

It's here that we see photos that were used as inspiration for the drawings on the cover. Zbyszko and Garea's cover poses can also be found as photos inside of this issue. As we've seen by now, virtually all of the cover drawing reference pictures are inside the Wrestling Action issues themselves. Also here is a great shot of Jimmy Valiant perusing the debut issue of Wrestling Action in what looks to be a hotel room. Today's wrestlers return to the hotel to play video games. In the '70s, they retired to their rooms with a copy of Wrestling Action. No alcohol or debauchery whatsoever in either generation.

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

WWWF Wrestling Action #3

A new World Wide Wrestling Federation Champion helps us celebrate Wrestling Action Vol. 1 No. 3! Bob Backlund, in all his wholesome, straight-laced glory, graces the cover of this issue complete with an American flag background and the nickname "All American." Due to the Yukon Lumberjacks being shown and touted as being the WWWF Tag Team Champions, we can determine that this issue was printed in mid-1978, long after the last. As we'll soon see, the magazine was open and honest about problems with publication.

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.

The main features begin with a half-color, half-black & white story on the new champ himself, Bob Backlund. One of the images included was obviously used the cover art reference photo. Following that is a question that many of us are still asking to this day, "What Happened To Victor Rivera?" Back in 1978, the question was why Rivera, a popular Puerto Rican star, had aligned himself with Fred Blassie. Since the late 1980's the question has been just where the man has gone. Rumors of various nefarious activities, time in prison, and even death have surrounded Rivera, but no one seems to have concrete evidence as to exactly where he is.

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...

The next several pages give us black and white photographs of The Dream as well as various ring villains of the day. One great photo depicts Dusty, flanked by a young Vince McMahon Jr. and Howard Finkel, receiving an award from the Big Brother program in New Haven, CT. The Fink has a great comb-over going on. I'm assuming that the gentleman between McMahon and Finkel is from the Big Brother program. Despite similar attire, it is not Fred "Rerun" Berry.

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.

Features on Chief Jay Strongbow, Ivan Koloff, Dino Bravo, and Tony Garea fill the remaining pages, but perhaps the coolest article covers the aforementioned Yukon Lumberjacks. Pierre and Eric, managed by Captain Lou Albano, held the WWWF Tag Team Championship for several months in 1978. The rough-and-tumble duo wrestled the titles away from the popular tandem of Bravo and Dominic DeNucci, the latter previously known for his association with Bruno Sammartino and now remembered as the trainer of Mick Foley. Yukon Eric was better known as Scott "Hogg" Irwin. Irwin would later team with his brother Bill as "The Long Riders" in the AWA before tragically passing away from cancer in 1987.

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

WWWF Wrestling Action #2

Seeing as that Superstar Billy Graham was the WWWF Heavyweight Champion at the time of publication, it's fitting that he decorated the cover of the first Wrestling Action magazine. That leaves only one man to star on the second issue--"The Living Legend" Bruno Sammartino. Since Sammartino already had his famous nickname at this point, the man that some consider to be the greatest of all-time has been a "Living Legend" for four decades now! On a personal note, this was the first issue of Wrestling Action that I was able to get autographed and also one of the first signatures that I ever obtained from Pittsburgh's favorite wrestling champion.

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."

Next up is one of the classic photos of Superstar Billy Graham and his manager The Grand Wizard. An accompanying article questions whether or not Graham will be able to fend off all of the fan favorite challengers gunning for the championship. Graham is shown battling Ivan Putski and High Chief Peter Maivia, but mentioned in the article are Dusty Rhodes, Mil Mascaras, and, of course, Bob Backlund. Graham's colorful array of tights is noticeable here, as purple, red, and green are all shown in the individual photos.

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."

Flipping to the centerfold, we have the classic pose of Andre the Giant hoisting his tag team partner Chief Jay Strongbow into the air. If Northeast wrestling in the 1970's could be depicted in one photograph, this shot would definitely be in the running. While I'd venture to guess that George Napolitano snapped this particular photo due to his involvement with this title, it was also captured by Bill Apter and used for the Stanley Weston publications such as Inside Wrestling.

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.

We end this issue with stories on Ken Patera and Bob Backlund. Patera was still the brash, blond former Olympian who absolutely terrorized fan favorites such as Monsoon, Strongbow, Garea, and Billy White Wolf. His act was completely different from the milquetoast babyface that many fans of the late-1980's grew up with. The Backlund article continues the subtle "push" that the WWWF was obviously trying to plant in the fans minds. Included is a shot of Backlund being interviewed by a young Vincent K. McMahon on the ring apron. This interview can still be seen on one of the Madison Square Garden shows taking place before  a Backlund match.

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...