Thursday, September 19, 2019

Forty Years of PWI

September 1979. Were you alive? I was a few years away from arriving, but it had to be a great time to be alive. A great decade was ending, another good one was on the way and those nasty '90s were a good ways off. Bias towards eras aside, I will always be partial to Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Beginning this month some forty years ago, PWI became the standard in wrestling magazines. In 2019 it's the only wrestling magazine still regularly on the newsstands. Have you ever peeked into that first issue? You're about to.

Is it any surprise that the cover of that first issue features '70s wrestling icons? "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes and Mil Mascaras are nicely photographed by editor Bill Apter with an inset action shot of Nick Bockwinkel. Mascaras was always billed as the favorite wrestler of Apter and neither the masked luchador nor Dusty were strangers to the covers of this family of magazines. I had the opportunity to witness a reunion between Mascaras and Apter this summer. When the legendary photographer and editor is present with "The Man of 1,000 Masks," he tells me that he suddenly becomes "Mil Moscawitz."

Speaking of Apter, in this first issue we get his well-remembered "Ringside" potpourri column as well as "The King's Court" with Peter King, "On Assignment" with Steven Farhood, and "Dressing Room Confidential" with Randy Gordon. The first letters section, "Between Falls," is a star-studded affair for this first issue with correspondence from the stars themselves! Dusty, Rick Steamboat, Bruno Sammartino, Johnny Valiant, Ric Flair, Captain Lou Albano, The Grand Wizard, and Andre the Giant have all sent their thoughts on this new publication! A worthwhile read if only to see how eloquently Andre pens his congratulatory letter. And just how are the legends shown reading this first issue that we're reading? Hmmm...something's fishy here!

Speaking of fishy, we come to none other than Matt Brock. Brock was already known to the readers of the Weston wrestling magazines and here he is "Looking At..." Jerry Lawler. Brock was always described as a grizzled, tough-as-nails, veteran wrestling reporter who shunned computers in favor of a vintage typewriter. This was forty years ago. Last I checked, ol' Matt was still plugging away as if time has stood still. It's as if he was a special being living in a world reserved for unique people such as himself, fellow wrestling writer Liz Hunter, Little Jimmy, and Sister Abigail.

Next up we get articles featuring some of my favorites such as Harley Race, Rick Steamboat, and our cover boys Dusty, Mil, and Bockwinkel. Steamboat is also shown in the "heel" column "Off The Top Rope" written by Dan Shocket. Unlike with Matt Brock, there's no question that Shocket was true blue. As was reported in the magazines several years later, Shocket tragically passed away from cancer. Eddie Ellner and Brandi Mankiewicz would carry on the "bad guy" writer legacy in a way that corporate pretenders like "Vic Venom" in the WWF Magazine couldn't quite match.

We also get our first "edition" of Wrestling Enquirer. This feature was two pages set up to look like the front page of a newspaper. Included were blurbs from around the wrestling world, written in a breaking news style. In the lower right corner we even get some upcoming event dates from around the country. Following that is wrestling's answer to "The Playboy Interview." Yep, it's the PWI Press Conference. And just who was the first subject? "The Living Legend" Bruno Sammartino. Among the topics covered are his title loss to Ivan Koloff and whether or not Bob Backlund will be an unforgettable champion.

Florida star and eventual gator breaker Steve Keirn gets a good write-up, as does the legendary Chief Wahoo McDaniel. While we get plenty of ads for back issues of other wrestling titles, ways to get stronger, ways to retire before 50, and other mail-away offers of questionable authenticity, the somewhat un-PC items shown for sale in other publications of the '70s are all but gone. Need a vinyl "friend" for those cold lonely nights? You will just have to find an older copy of Sports Review Wrestling to fill that need.

If your need in 2019 is to add this magazine to your collection, it may cost you. Selling prices have varied over the years, but most recently a copy sold at auction for $129.99. Also be aware that a "replica" issue from 2004 that came polybagged with the 25th anniversary edition of PWI is out there, though it has markings to indicate as such right on the cover.

For those of us who grew up with the title, the memories of articles, photos, and covers should come flooding back. It is an absolutely true story that upon my first PWI magazine purchase I knew what I wanted to do in the wrestling world. While it was only for a few issues, I am immensely proud that I was able to live that dream and can count myself among the names of writers who have been able to contribute to this long lasting publication.

While we couldn't fit every picture and page here in the blog entry, be sure to follow @JWs_Wrestling_Memorabilia on Instagram to see more of the issue, including the very first PWI Ratings page. Happy Birthday, PWI!

Monday, September 9, 2019

"The Man"

Over the past decade I've tried to keep the content of this blog exclusive to what the title states: wrestling memorabilia. I've deviated at times, most notably when a wrestlers passing needed acknowledgment or even regarding a live event or convention. I don't recall a time when I've felt the overwhelming need to acknowledge a current topic in the industry unrelated to those concepts, but here we are.

Most anyone reading this will already know the recent news regarding Ric Flair. As a brief recap, Flair is threatening to sue WWE over the use of the nickname "The Man" for Becky Lynch. We've all heard "The Nature Boy" utter "to be the man, you've got to beat the man" countless times over the years. His use of it is not in question.

Flair's given reasoning for the lawsuit is that he wants to provide financial stability for his family once he is gone. His financial troubles in recent years have been no secret, nor have the multiple instances of WWE bailing him out. Following a wacky business like pro wrestling for over thirty years leaves one pretty numb to inane ideas. This one left me speechless.

What we have is a true legend (a title that no one will deny) culminating years of pathetic behavior by slapping the face of those who have rescued him. His daughter, Charlotte, is reportedly as unhappy as many fans are by this recent development.

Aside from meeting Flair numerous times over the past fifteen years, I have no personal connection to him. On the flip side, I have horror stories from friends who have dealt with him on a business level. Those stories, along with others which have been variously retold, coupled with his inability to appreciate chance after repeated chance to repair both his finances and health, have left me pretty disgusted with the modern-day Ric Flair. This latest issue is simply the straw that broke the camel's back for me.

Flair is one of my five all-time favorite wrestlers. I didn't choose them out of thin air. They were the five characters that I've most enjoyed in my wrestling fandom. None of the five men behind those characters were perfect. But unlike the other four, Flair is the one who makes me wish that I could go back in time to completely ignore him. When I watch his old material, an asterisk appears in my head. "The character of Ric Flair was great...but."

Let's get this straight again. Ric Flair wants to sue a company that has repeatedly saved him financially so that he can provide for his family when he's gone. I don't always stick up for WWE, but who could take any other side here? Asinine doesn't even begin to describe this thinking. This isn't about the use of a nickname or catch phrase. Or perhaps, maybe it is...

Ric Flair, if forty years ago you had learned how to be A man rather than running around trying to outdo your own fictional alter ego of THE man, you wouldn't have to worry about leaving your family anything. They would have been taken care of and put first. But that's something that REAL men do.

The character of "Nature Boy" Ric Flair may have been "The Man." That's where any resemblance ended.

And for a memorabilia tie-in, well, here's the current character who is "The Man."

Sunday, September 1, 2019

My Five Favorite Micro Brawlers

No matter where you look, stylized mini figures are all the rage. It may have started with the never-ending Funko Pop! line, but it's branched out into just about every kind of pocket-sized figure that you can imagine. Wrestling, as popular as it is, has it's share of varieties, but our focus at the present are the Micro Brawlers. The line, created by Pro Wrestling Tees, has taken a plethora of independent stars, legends, and foreign stars and combined them to form quite the stable of micro stars. Of all of the names that have appeared so far in the line, here are my top five picks.

When you're talking wrestlers made to become a toy, you're literally screaming the name "The Blue Meanie." Just seeing his first action figure in recent years, Meanie has become one of the more recent entries to the Micro Brawlers line-up. Clad in his bWo shirt, the Meanie is posed doing exactly what he should be doing, The Meanie Dance! Meanie also fits in perfectly with the line, qualifying as both an indy wrestling star and a legend of both ECW and WWE.

As far as characters go, there's never been a crazier one than Papa Shango. I have no idea how a Papa Shango figure outside of the WWE banner is legally allowed to be made (complete with a WWE picture on the header card), but here we are. If Shango is allowed to be made, does that mean that other Charles Wright characters, such as The Godfather, are fair game as well? Time will tell, but Papa Shango was certainly the perfect one to start with.

Someone seeing his first introduction into the U.S wrestling figure market is Kazuchika Okada. The current IWGP Champion has taken the country by storm and can easily be cited as a big part of New Japan Pro Wrestling's banner success here in the states. His trademark pose and colorful entrance gear make this an irresistible figure to add to your Micro Brawlers lineup. "The Rainmaker" is also slated to be one of the first figures in the upcoming NJPW action figure line to be released stateside.

Announcers rarely see too many figures, but Jim Ross isn't just any announcer. Good Ol' JR is the first broadcaster to break into the Micro Brawlers line and hopefully will not be the last. Can you imagine a Micro Brawler Jerry Lawler to stand at his side? I'm not saying that it will happen, but it's certainly not a bad idea. With his recent resurgence in popularity, a Tony Schiavone Micro Brawler would be pretty damn cool, too. Nonetheless, JR may actually be my favorite of all of the Micro Brawlers thus far. Unexpected and unique, grab this Sooner while you can.

In a bittersweet entry to the line in 2019, we received a Micro Brawler of King Kong Bundy the same year as his untimely passing. While Bundy has had many figures over the past 34 years, this is the first Bundy to be posed demanding his infamous "five count." Bundy was another character who was made to be an action figure, just by looks alone. No one has any idea if this will be the final figure of Bundy, but it's certainly one that you'll want to add to your lineup.

It's fun to pick and choose who you want. There are many names that I'm unfamiliar with, mainly independent stars, who I choose to pass on. That only leaves more room on the shelf for the absolute home runs like the five shown above.

Now the question, as asked many times in wrestling before, has got to be: "Who's next?"