This week we leave the confines of Titan Towers and head over to Bill Apter’s side of the wrestling magazine universe. Launched in 1999, WOW Magazine was an alternative to other wrestling magazines, which largely kept kayfabe alive. WOW catered to smart fans, using the terminology of “face” and “heel,” and even tried to smarten up younger fans by providing a vocabulary list of “smart wrestling terms.” WOW also featured more color photographs, had more pages, and was larger than traditional wrestling magazines. Unfortunately, the magazine did not produce enough sales to remain profitable and it folded in the summer of 2001.
The magazine chosen for this week’s review is the July 1999 edition of WOW, just the third issue of the magazine to hit newsstands. I remember buying this edition on a school field trip when we went to a mall for lunch. Going over to one of the bookstores, I picked out the magazine. I really enjoyed WOW since it was much more detailed and fun than WWF Magazine, but there was no way my parents were going to purchase a second wrestling magazine subscription for me. So, the only time that I was able to buy WOW is when I cobbled together enough money on my own, made even harder by the fact that I did not receive an allowance.
Looking back, I may have purchased this magazine (which the sticker says cost me $5.95 before tax) more for what is on the back than the cover. I was a big Dawn Marie fan and loved her stuff in ECW.
Immediately upon opening the magazine, which has a foldout cover, we get some of the colorful pictures of WOW. One is of an unmasked Rey Mysterio, Jr., another of Sabu, and then of course the guy that helped destroy ECW
In his first editorial, Editor-in-Chief Bill Apter lets us know in his “Apter Thoughts” column that he is glad to be publishing a smart-style magazine. He says that he is tired of “protecting the business.” He also laments the death of Rick Rude, who had recently passed away from a heart attack. We get quite the contrast of photos in the column as Nicole Bass chokes out Apter in one shot and a young Apter argues with Jesse Ventura in the image alongside it.
Every magazine has to have a “Letters to the Editor” section and WOW was no different. This month’s issue sees William Zariske criticize Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair for taking up the spotlight and not following other pursuits. Another fan, Frank Recchia, says that he admires technical wrestlers like Dean Malenko and Curt Hennig, but they do not hold a candle to Lou Thesz and Bruno Sammartino. He notes that Thesz and Bruno were superior because they “could hold a title for a year or more, which rarely happens today.” And all those signs you used to see in the 1990s at wrestling events? Well, James Reddyk of Peterborough, Ontario is angry about them because he was not able to see the action from his close seats at SkyDome for at a WWF event because of them. He demands the WWF do something about this. I am sure Mr. Reddyk loves attending live events these days, when there is hardly a sign to be seen. There are also a few fans that praise the magazine for being different, especially because it had a website, which many other publications did not have in the late 1990s. One fan comments that the Internet is the future of the sport because there are “thousands of e-feds and fantasy wrestling sites.” Are there even more than 1,000 operating today?
Blake Norton’s column “The Welcome Mat” praises Diamond Dallas Page for becoming WCW World Champion, something I think was a sign of the company’s decline because Page was nowhere near as over as he was when he faced Goldberg at Halloween Havoc the previous year. Norton blasts fans who fear that Kevin Nash is about to give himself another title run and sends a shout out to Davey Boy Smith, who was facing a career-ending back injury at the time after falling on a trap door at Fall Brawl. He also criticizes the WWF for becoming more of a soap opera than a wrestling product. Lord only knows what Norton would think the company has become today.
A review is provided of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Professional Wrestling. The book is praised for providing some of wrestling’s history. For example, it discusses how carnivals of the nineteenth century were the origins of the sport and how a champion wrestler would take on all comers. This led to the rise of men such as Toots Mondt and Frank Gotch who knew various holds to submit all kinds of opponents in shoot fights. The book ultimately receives a recommendation, but educated fans are told that they do not really need it. An interesting tidbit? Gorgeous George ran for president in 1952.
The cover story of this issue concerns the Rock’s rise to the top of the wrestling industry, or as Jim Varsallone calls it, “the sports entertainment business.”
The article recaps the Rock’s family history, which readers of this site are likely familiar with. However, for a smart magazine this piece is still filled with kayfabe, as the Rock is quoted as saying that he initially turned heel over the “Rocky Sucks” chants and that he joined the Nation of Domination because he could “express himself.” Varsallone even posits that the Nation collapsed because the Rock and Faarooq could not get along since they came from Miami and Florida State! If you want some facts about the Rock’s football career, though, this piece has you covered, meaning that Jim Ross bought this issue when it hits newsstands. It closes by saying that the Rock is not bothered by kids watching an adult-oriented RAW product because their parents have to monitor what they are doing. I should also point out here that Apter mags traditionally never interviewed wrestlers and made up quotes (WWF Magazine did much of the same thing before Vince Russo came aboard), so whether the Rock was actually interviewed for this piece or not is open for debate.
And in case the Ultimate Warrior’s odd comic books were not enough for you, you could have bought some $3 comic books about the Undertaker in 1999!
The next piece provides a career recap of “Ravishing” Rick Rude, who passed away on April 20, 1999 at the age of forty.
At the time, Rude was training for an in-ring comeback, presumably to return to the WWF since he was trying to get out of his contract with WCW. Written by Dave Meltzer, it is a fine article that recaps Rude’s Tough Man days and his eventual wrestling career in the major promotions. These articles are where I learned wrestling terminology as terms such as “booker,” “heat,” and “promo” are thrown in. We can laugh now at fans not knowing those terms, but back then Meltzer might as well have been speaking Latin to me. One of the sad things about these magazines is you come across pictures of people no longer with us, such as this one, where Ric Flair is the only person in it that is still alive:
WOW was also really good about following non-major promotions in North America and Richard Berger’s article talks about the relaunch of Stampede Wrestling in Calgary in early April 1999.
Bruce and Ross Hart were behind the idea and the relaunched product lasted until 2008. The first card documented here drew nearly 2,000 fans and there is some unintentional humor when it documents the statements fans were making before the opening bell such as “Tatanka is in the main event!” For some reason I think that fan probably said that without much enthusiasm. The show was indeed headlined by Tatanka, the North American Heavyweight Champion, who went on to defeat Jason “The Sledgehammer” Neidhart in a two-out-of-three falls match.
Since Steve Austin was also on the cover, he is also profiled in an article with some nice art. It just recaps Austin’s career, but does have some words of wisdom: “…make sure to enjoy [Steve Austin] while he is around, because no matter how many people try to copy him, they will never even come close to the main himself.” Hence, the WWE’s inability to recreate the magic of Austin-McMahon despite rotating various people out of Austin’s role over the last two decades.
We then get some WCW news, which includes results from TV tapings and house shows.
There is a discussion of the severity of the British Bulldog’s back injury, which is reported as career ending per the orders of his doctors. The Bulldog had recently been fired from WCW. It would have been better for the Bulldog’s health to stay retired, as his 1999 run back in the WWF did very little for him or his career legacy. Bischoff is commented as making an allusion to the Bulldog’s drug problems, quoted in a “WCW Live” report on WCW.com as saying that prior to his termination that the Bulldog “has had problems in a number of different areas in his life.” It is also reported that WCW is looking into creating a Hardcore division, which it eventually did. I always saw that as a poor move since it came off as WCW blatantly copying a WWF idea. At least it gave us Screamin’ Norman Smiley. Oh, and at a house show in Tampa, Florida, Jimmy Hart beat Bubba the Love Sponge by disqualification when Randy Savage accidentally hit Hart.
Konnan is the subject of an interview piece in this issue of the magazine.
He takes a dig at WCW, saying that guaranteed income makes guys reluctant to work while injured or put on good matches. He also criticizes the politics of the company, which he feels are holding him back. One of the best points of the interview, which is of a shoot style, is Konnan referencing how spending time at basketball courts, youth hangouts, and watching television made him aware of pop culture phenomenon and helped him stay current. It is a vision that is sorely lacking in today’s wrestling product.
And what would an Apter mag be like without rankings? Here are WOW’s rankings of WCW for the spring of 1999. It simply evaluates the top ten men on the roster, with no regard for their championship status. I have a hard time buying Rey Mysterio as #1 at this time, but his defeat of Kidman, who is ranked #2, is the justification given for him having the top spot. The rankings are critical of the WCW’s booking of Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko, saying that the confusion over whether they “were heels or faces killed their momentum.”
Blake Norton’s next column highlights some of the concerns pervading WCW in 1999 and boy is it spot-on.
It talks of Eric Bischoff’s tenuous position in the company and how the booking power of Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash spells trouble. Also highlighted are WCW’s declining ratings relative to the WWF. The resurrection of the tag division is criticized for only creating “makeshift tag teams” such as Kidman and Chavo Guerrero and Bobby Duncum and Mike Enos as is the company’s decision to make Barry Windham and Curt Hennig their new champions instead of Dean Malenko and Chris Benoit. However, some bright spots are highlighted, such as the cruiserweight division having better matches and the spotlight going less to authority angles.
The great thing about 1999 was that you had three prominent wrestling promotions getting coverage, so ECW gets a section of the magazine, albeit smaller than WCW and the WWF. We are told that Chris Candido may have reinjured his neck against Taz at Cyberslam 1999 and that Nova has returned to the tag team ranks with Chris Chetti. Here are the ECW rankings:
Hard to say that Taz was not the #1 ECW wrestler in early 1999 with Rob Van Dam as the clear #2. They would eventually fight at November to Remember when Taz was headed out of the company. We are told that Taz puts fans into ‘mark’ mode when he makes his entrance.
The ECW Insider column discusses how other companies are trying to imitate ECW’s hardcore style. In one of my favorite digs in the magazine it says that “In the G-rated WCW, somewhere in between ‘Days of NWO Lives,’ Nash-friendly-booking, and the 5,278,189th showing of Konnan’s video, Bam Bam Bigelow calls himself the ‘king of hardcore.’” It laments that if WCW gets a Hardcore title that it will just put it on the Booty Man. It also predicts that imitations of ECW will not hurt the company’s viewership, which might have been true, but it was never able to use its hardcore status to overtake the other big two wrestling promotions.
The WWF news and notes makes us aware that a whole lot of people were given their pink slips on April 13. This included Golga, Blue Meanie, and Gillberg. Evidently, Meanie was rehired back a day later because of an online “Save the Meanie” campaign, which I vaguely remember. There are also rumors that Steve Blackman is going to get a more Attitude-style gimmick and that the Legion of Doom are hankering for one last run. Thank god that did not happen. A Triple H-Rock feud is discussed for the summer, as well as yet another Austin-Undertaker feud. So, WOW will bash WCW at will, but no jabs at the WWF for returning to that feud? Ken Shamrock is also rumored to be a possible contender for Austin’s title, but he was shunted down the card throughout 1999.
Here are the WWF rankings:
Owen Hart makes his last appearance in the rankings at #6. His excerpt talks about how he and Jarrett are going to go “full heel” soon by splitting with Debra. The Undertaker receives some criticism for “uninspiring” matches recently against the Big Bossman and Ken Shamrock. It questions whether the WWF will shelve the Undertaker persona for good, which ended up coming to fruition at Judgment Day the following year when the Undertaker appeared in his American Badass gimmick.
Backlash and Spring Stampede are given smark-style recaps by Blake Norton. They do not provide star ratings, but it does break down the story each match tried to tell and crowd reaction. Backlash is criticized for being mediocre, while Spring Stampede is called “a terrific pay-per-view event.” I liked these recaps much more than WWF Magazine, which really stopped caring about them at this point
A summary of ECW’s Cyberslam is provided, especially its event for fans at the Holiday Inn.
Justin Credible tells author Brad Perkins that he loves ECW because “there’s no one better to book Justin Credible than Paul Heyman.” I cannot say that I disagree, especially when the alternative is Aldo Montoya. Taz has some good foreshadowing, telling a fan that even though the WWF or WCW would give him a fresh start they would not push him as hard as ECW has.
Another interview piece is provided in the magazine, this time with New Jack
New Jack lets us know that he never had any professional training and discusses his former career as a bounty hunter. Teaming New Jack and Steve Blackman up to rope in criminals would be quite the show for WWE Network. He also has some stories of giving back to fans, such as calling fans who give him their number or meeting kids after shows. He also trashes parts of ECW, saying that it is just as corrupt and political as the WWF and WCW. New Jack indicates his desire to get into movies, thereby ending his wrestling career, but that never came to fruition.
In happier news, we are told of Hacksaw Jim Duggan recovering from kidney cancer. A simple career recap is provided for fans who may not be aware of his football prowess and wrestling accomplishments in the 1980s.
WOW also had a regular trivia feature. If you click on the image it should magnify it for you and you can see how many you can get correct. The answers are on the bottom (upside down) of each section of the quiz.
Other random news and rumors are provided, letting us know that Torrie Wilson is leaving WCW due to the fact that she was not given more creative control over her character. It also informs us that Shawn Michaels has married the Nitro Girl Whisper. It questions whether that marriage will last, but thankfully for both of them it did and it was probably a big part in why Michaels did not die of a drug overdose in this period. Kevin Nash is also identified for bringing Madusa back to WCW.
We get an interview with Frye of the Nitro Girls. If you have no idea who this is, here’s a photo:
We are told that the Nitro Girls were not professional dancers and selected from different backgrounds. Frye was just “athletic” when she was picked out for the team. She says she was not a wrestling fan before coming to WCW. She is also excited about the Nitro Girls possibly being in some storylines in 2000. Skepticism is expressed about the Shawn Michaels-Whisper marriage because they knew each other for only thirty days before getting married. Frye’s dream is for the Nitro Girls to “explode like the Spice Girls.”
The magazine also provided lots of “Bombshell photos.” I remember when I saw the one of Tammy Sytch in this magazine that she was in bad shape contrary to a slogan that says she is getting better:
The “Indies and International” section informs us that Vader recently won the 19th Champion Carnival on April 16, defeating Kenta Kobashi. This made Vader the first American to win the tournament since Stan Hansen in 1993. It also lets us know that Mitsuharu Misawa is taking over the booking for All Japan following the death of Giant Baba. All Pro Wrestling, run by Roland Alexander, is profiled, with stars such as Vic Grimes and Michael Modest profiled. APW was featured in Beyond the Mat. Grimes is dubbed as a “future WWF star.” If you can find his tryout match on YouTube it worth a look as he and a smaller opponent tear the house down.
WOW could also have some fun. Its “Ring-Zingers” column highlighted some of the funnier parodies about wrestling from ScoopTHIS.com.
The best story is how Sting has taken a vow of poverty after finding religion. Little did WOW know that Sting would find religion and enact his vow of poverty by wrestling in front of high school gyms and empty baseball stadiums more than a decade later. The piece says that Sting has given his fortune away to the less fortunate “beginning with the Disco Inferno, who has since put away his run-down 1970s clothing in favor of the more contemporary khaki cargo pants and loose-fitting shirt.”
Other funny stories talk about ECW wrestlers nearly revolting at Paul Heyman’s Philadelphia office after they found out wrestling was fake on NBC and how hundreds of WWF fans were injured “in what’s been called the worst wrestling disaster since the return of the Ultimate Warrior” in a fire in San Francisco. Evidently, a fan’s sign that said “Debra Has Tasty Cakes” caught on fire after Kane’s pyro and spread through the sea of other signs in the arena. During the fire, Mick Foley and Terry Funk jumped into the flames and rolled around in glee, each suffering a third degree burn. Ron Simmons also turned in his resignation after the Undertaker’s symbol caught on fire. After Steve Austin could not douse the flames with beer, Jeff Jarrett and Tiger Ali came down to the ring, which really cooled things down.
Another parody piece pits a “fantasy match” of the Ultimate Warrior against Mankind, simulated with a Dude Love and Rey Mysterio, Jr. action figure.
Jim Ross and Tony Schiavone do the commentary on the pages of the magazine and the Warrior keeps disappearing during the match, frustrating Mankind. Mr. Socko turns on Mankind, sporting its own “One Warrior Nation” t-shirt, but Mankind rebounds by pulling out a can of Chef Boyardee and shoving it in the Warrior’s face. The newly fattened Warrior cannot make it through the trap door anymore and the Undertaker proceeds to do a run-in, although he takes his time and Ross and Schiavone argue over whether the Undertaker’s symbol is a cross, even after Mankind is nailed to it. This read like a fantasy booking scenario gone awry.
Finally, Dutch Mantel’s column “The World According to Dutch” closes out the magazine. He shills his Dirty Dutch’s Little Handbook for Wrestling Junkies, which will be autographed and have some “special clip art of wrestlers” for $20. You have to pay with a money order, though. He also gives his list of the top five bleeders in professional wrestling. It is no surprise who is #1 on the list:
Overall, this was a very detailed and fun magazine. It did a much better job shedding light on what was happening in the wrestling world in the spring of 1999 than any other wrestling magazine on the market. For next time, I will review the first edition of RAW Magazine. I figured that during this cold winter we could all use some “Sunny days.”