AS I SEE IT: Saying good-bye to a childhood favorite
Pro Wrestling: Between the Sheets
Anyone remember their first wrestling magazine?
C’mon…you know you read them.
Long, long ago…long before Vince McMahon admitted he ran a “sports entertainment company”, long before most fans had heard of people like Dave Meltzer and “dirt sheets”, long before UseNet, CompuServe, or AOL message boards, the Internet, and social media; the only way most people (especially kids) found out anything about wrestling was to go to the local drug store, the supermarket, or the newsstand, look for the magazine section…and for wrestling magazines. If you’re old enough, you remember them. Admit it. No matter how smarky you are, no matter how jaded you are about wrestling…you read them.
It was the only a fan could find out anything about wrestling. There wasn’t any other way. Wrestling was a closed business back then. You could watch whatever your local promotion was on TV easily enough (or maybe see that promotion from down in Georgia if your parents had this new thing called cable TV). Maybe you’d go to the local arena if there was a territory or promoter running shows once a month or so near you if your parents or grandparents would take you. But a lot of the wrestling you saw came from those magazines. A lot of what you saw was black and white photos, with only an occasional magazine printing color photos, and only then a color insert, or a cover….usually to show blood.
So when your parents dragged you to the store with them, you snuck off to the magazine section…or you went with your friends to the newsstand to read them. If you had a little money, you bought one. If you brought it home, you eventually heard from your mother or father…”Why are you reading THAT stuff?” or “Aren’t you a little bit old for that”. Next was the ever-popular “Don’t you know it’s fake?” It was only the occasional kid who’d ask Mom about her soap operas, but…
All these magazines were written from a kayfabe standpoint (remember those published dates well ahead of the calendar date?) telling you about things like Stan Hansen breaking Bruno Sammartino‘s neck, or how Harley Race had to deal soon with this young challenger Ric Flair, or this crazy guy called The Sheik usually stabbing someone with a pencil or “throwing fire”.
The magazines you usually saw were the “Apter mags” (actually published in their heyday by Stanley Weston): Pro Wrestling Illustrated, The Wrestler.,and Inside Wrestling. These were the magazines most people read. In PWI’s later years, they did concede a bit, as storyline feuds were still kayfabed but real -life business issues were reported on to a degree . The only one remaining in business is Pro Wrestling Illustrated.
There were other magazines occasionally appearing on newsstands, like Ring Magazine. But there were others like Wrestling World and Wrestling Eye that were among the few magazines that gave readers a hint that something wasn’t quite what it seemed with one of them even having “heel writer” (someone who liked the “bad guys”, like you or your friend secretly did) Stately Wayne Manor. Even the Apter mags eventually had “heel writer” Dan Shocket until his death from cancer, then Eddie Ellner.
As far as those magazines were concerned (at least until the 1990s) the United States and Canada were the only places that existed. But the fact was back in those long-ago days, little that we knew, Mexico and Japan had wrestling…very different kinds of wrestling… far different than anything we got here in the United States.
Mexico had magazines like Super Luchas, Colosos, and Box y Lucha. Japan had an entire industry of newspapers and magazines including Weekly Gong, Baseball Sha (don’t ask) and Weekly Fight. The UK also had Power Slam, which ended its run this past July.
As years went on, your older brother might get one of those things called “dirt sheets”. He got them every week. They talked about wrestling like it wasn’t real (which you probably knew by then) and who was coming to or leaving your local promotion. They gave results from lots of states, and even Japan and Mexico.
As the world of the “dirt sheets”, then the Internet and social media, came into being, the last run of magazines here in the United States were the promotional magazines with WCW and WWF/E publishing their own magazines (much like Mexico’s SuperLuchas, owned by Antonio Pena’s AAA). They were glossy in-house magazines designed to get over their own storylines and characters.
Well this past week, fans and investors found out that WWE’s own in-house magazine will be going out of business in October, with its staff among the 7% of WWE layoffs, due to the WWE restructuring that came as the result of the WWE Network not performing to expectations, and the new US TV rights deal being nowhere near what had been expected. But regardless of those business issues, WWE Magazine hadn’t been selling recently anyhow…and with WWE going hard digital with the WWE app and WWE Network…its days were numbered anyhow.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, as real-world magazines and real-life newspapers are folding or merging…or going digital. But seeing even the WWE house magazine going under after 30 years is kind of sad…as it means people will lose their jobs. But it also took me back in memory to those days of kayfabe and real-life innocence decades ago of sitting and reading a wrestling magazine in your room…and being able to imagine.
Until next time….