wrestling / Columns

The Contentious Ten 9.10.12: Top 10 Wrestling Magazines

September 10, 2012 | Posted by Gavin Napier

Admit it. Once upon a time, maybe recently, you’ve at least thumbed through a wrestling magazine at the supermarket. There’s no shame in it. We all know you’re really smart to the business and you’re just checking up to see what those silly marks are up to these days, right? Well, when I was a kid, there was no shame whatsoever in it, and the words inside those pages were the gospel according to Apter as far as wrestling was concerned. The centerfolds and color foldouts made great wall decorations for 10 year old wrestling fans, and I could read and re-read many of the magazines without getting bored of them. Hell, I still have a stack sitting on the bottom shelf of a bookcase at my parents’ house. I occasionally flip through a few of them when I go back home for a visit. Their glory days are gone, but a handful of them are still hanging around, so here’s my criteria for The Top 10 Wrestling Magazines so that we’re all on the same page:

-Must be written from a kayfabe standpoint
-Must have had a significant run
-Memorable gimmicks pertaining to the titles don’t hurt

That means no dirtsheets that floated around for years, like the Wrestling Observer. Those certainly had their purpose within the industry, but a lot of people didn’t know how or where to find them. The Apter Mags had the market all but cornered during my childhood in terms of what was available for wrestling “news” on the local magazine rack. Also, no novelties or one hit wonders. I remember a magazine that came out during the 90’s called “WOW”, and if I’m not mistaken it was an attempt by Bill Apter to get back in the publishing game after leaving the Weston family of publications. It bombed. Hard. So you won’t be seeing it here. And finally, things like the PWI 500, Wrestling Superstars’ “Dream Matches” and WWF Magazine’s “all color” presentation help them to stand out a little more in retrospect, so they’ll outrank some of their competitors. And, for obvious reasons, personal nostalgia plays a huge role in this list. A lot of the information comes from me drawing on about 27 years of reading these things off and on. Mostly on.

X color=red>size=8>
Sports Review Wrestlingsize=6>

Sports Review Wrestling may have been the first magazine to openly appeal to the perverted side of wrestling fans.
-One of the many “Apter Mags”
-Published from 1972-1995
-Most known for “Apartment Wrestling” features.

I remember Sports Review Wrestling popping up at Kroger or 7-11 from time to time, but it was never as regular as the other magazines. I probably wound up with about ten issues of it during my childhood, but by that time their calling card had fallen out of favor. See, from 1973 through 1983, Sports Review Wrestling may have been the first magazine to openly appeal to the perverted side of wrestling fans. They did monthly features on “Apartment Wrestling”, which amounts to girls in bikinis having a catfight in an apartment. I don’t recommend doing so from work or in front of your parents, but if you’re over the age of 18 and won’t get fired, go ahead and google “Apartment Wrestling.” You’ll see what I mean. After Sports Review stopped carrying those features, it was just another wrestling magazine. For a minute there, though, they were on to something.

IX color=red>size=8>
Wrestling Worldsize=6>

When a ten year old can spot the spelling errors, there’s a problem.
-Published from 1962-2001
-Published by the Sterling/McFadden Partnership
-Rife with grammatical and spelling errors

Wrestling World was an odd duck. It wasn’t as slick as Pro Wrestling Illustrated or any of the other Weston family of magazines. It was obvious that either their photographers or equipment wasn’t quite up to par with what other magazines were doing. There was still an appeal, though, for two distinct reasons. The first was that their pictures tended to show a LOT more blood and gore than the Weston magazines did. At any given page inside Wrestling World, you could potentially find Kevin Sullivan jabbing some goof in Florida with a spike and spurting blood everywhere as a result. The second is that looking back, they walked in the grey area of “smarkiness” way more than anyone else did at the time. Their “heel” columnist Stately Wayne Manor (no, really), tended to drop hints and clues about what was really going on behind the curtain pretty often. It was just a matter of knowing how to read them. Since I was nine years old, I didn’t pick up on it. Still, though, when a ten year old can spot the spelling errors, there’s a problem. Shoddy editing keeps Wrestling World from sneaking in a few spots higher.

VIII color=red>size=8>
WCW Magazinesize=6>

Imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery.
-Published from 1991-2001
-Originally published by Bill Apter
-Taken over in the mid 90’s by Colin Bowman

The early 1990’s were a great time to be a wrestling fan. The internet hadn’t ruined anything yet. There was tons of wrestling on television (In one week, there was five hours of NWA/WCW programming, four hours of WWF programming, four to six hours of AWA and World Class programming which became GWF, and occasionally we picked up IWCCW on local cable access).Wrestlers appeared on Family Feud. We had Wrestling Buddies and the awesome Hasbro line of WWF figures. We also had lots and lots of magazines. When WCW launched theirs, I decided to give it a shot despite not being a huge fan of WWF’s magazine that only covered one promotion. I was, however, a bigger WCW fan than a WWF fan. The magazine felt different from everything else that was out at the time, and the articles compared favorably to the Apter Mags, which had become the standard at that point. Imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery, and WCW could have completely aped WWF’s style with their own propaganda mag. They made it a touch different, though, and the huge foldout posters included in every issue were a major upgrade from the two page foldouts of the past. The Hollywood Blondes poster is still the best one they ever did.

VII color=red>size=8>
Wrestling Eyesize=6>

This was the smarkiest of all kayfabe magazines.
-Published throughout the 1980’s
-Published by Jems, Inc.
-Featuring photography by a young Paul Heyman

Wrestling Eye makes this list for much the same reason that Wrestling World made it. The difference is that Wrestling World sort of walked the line between shoots and kayfabe, and Wrestling Eye outright destroyed it. They would reveal the results of WWE television tapings long before they aired, and would refer to wrestlers by their real names often. The catch was that between all of this legit information, they would play up feuds between wrestlers that were taking place on screen. They played both sides, and did it pretty well, all things considered. As mentioned above, a young Paul Heyman contributed photography to them, and Dave Meltzer had ad space in their magazine where fans could send off for the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. That should erase any doubt that this was the smarkiest of all kayfabe magazines. I’m fairly certain he couldn’t have purchased that ad space in WWF magazine.

VI color=red>size=8>
WWF Rawsize=6>

This was proof that even Vince Russo got some stuff right.
-Published from 1996-2006
-Was more of a TV-14 magazine
-Distinctly WWE style smarkiness

When Raw magazine debuted, it was a shock to the system. I’m sure that’s how Vince Russo and the powers that be at Titan Towers envisioned it. It featured borderline nudity, a fair amount of profanity, and dropped hints at what was happening behind the curtain without coming right out and saying it. There was also several bits of misinformation thrown in just to keep readers on their toes. For the time frame, it was perfect. This was proof that even Vince Russo got some stuff right. He actually got a lot of stuff right when he had someone to filter out his bad ideas for him. Raw Magazine suited the Attitude Era perfectly. It became somewhat watered down as time went on, and eventually it just became the magazine for the Raw brand. Eventually, the Raw and Smackdown magazines were shut down and everything was once again consolidated into WWE Magazine. Should anything like the Attitude Era ever occur again, though, they should dust this one off and put it back into circulation.

V color=red>size=8>
Inside Wrestlingsize=6>

The oldest of the Weston family of magazines is also…the most boring.
-Published from 1968 until now.
-Nothing really defining about it
-It was the first, though.

Historically speaking, at least going by what I was able to dig up, Inside Wrestling was the first of Stanley Weston’s truly successful professional wrestling magazines. It beat The Wrestler by just a month or two, so it holds the distinction despite the fact that they both started publication in 1968. There wasn’t a whole lot to Inside Wrestling through the 80’s and 90’s, as it was just standard kayfabe wrestling fare. It seemed comfortable in its niche as just an old school wrestling magazine, and it was serviceable. Sure, this one doesn’t quite meet the novelty standards that some of the other magazines that rank lower did, but in terms of historic value, it’s had the longest run of any major wrestling magazine that’s still active. That counts for a lot. Plus, it has a tag team partner.

IV color=red>size=8>
The Wrestlersize=6>

I re-read these issues more than any other.
-Published from 1968 until now
-Emphasis on articles
-Combined with Inside Wrestling in 2004

It’s amazing what a difference twenty years or so makes. Once upon a time, when I bought a wrestling magazine, I focused on the ratings and the short columns like the ones that Eddie Ellner or Matt Brock allegedly wrote. I was like a sponge for wrestling, and would buy any magazine I could get my hands on, but The Wrestler bored me more than most. The articles were longer and were written in a very heavy style. I didn’t realize it back then, but now I understand that this was their attempt at having a “real” magazine, where writing mattered and stories tended to run a little longer. Now, when I go back home,I re-read these issues more than any other. Due to dwindling sales for both magazines, The Wrestler and Inside Wrestler were combined into one gigantic magazine in 2004. I’ve been tempted to pick one up for old time’s sake now and again, but the things are damn near ten dollars. Even ten year old me wouldn’t have been able to justify that.

III color=red>size=8>
WWF Magazinesize=6>

Of course Vince’s magazine had the highest production values.
-Published from 1983 until now.
-Originally known as Victory Magazine
-Almost like a “fan club” newsletter

This was the only wrestling magazine they sold at the gift shop in the hospital where my mom worked. Whenever I found myself there waiting on her for whatever reason, I always reluctantly ended up picking one of these magazines up. Looking back, I appreciate the magazine more as an adult than I did as a kid. I mentioned before that I wasn’t a huge fan of the WWF back then, so their magazine didn’t really appeal to me all that much. Instead of stories and articles, it had workout tips from wrestlers, and had more of a “fan club” feel to it than a real wrestling magazine. However, the magazine was pretty. The covers were almost always close up, full color shots of various superstars, and all of the pages within were full color. Of course Vince’s magazine had the highest production values. It’s what they do up there in Connecticut. The magazine has evolved through the years, but it still has that rapid fire, fan club feel to it. There’s not a thing in the world wrong with that. It’s part of what makes it stand out after all these years.

II color=red>size=8>
Wrestling Superstarssize=6>

This was fantasy booking 101.
-Published from 1978-1997
-A quarterly, then monthly, then bimonthly “Apter Mag”
-Featured “Dream Matches”

This was by far my favorite wrestling magazine that hit the shelves when I was a kid. Why? Dream Matches. This was fantasy booking 101. Apter and Co. would dream up the matches, set the scene, then explain the action. Sometimes it was logical stuff, like Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair. Sometimes it was less obvious, like a bunch of wrestlers competing against each other in track and field events for some reason. It didn’t matter what it was. I loved it, and I grabbed every new issue as soon as I saw them on the shelves. I was devastated when this title was finally canceled, despite the fact that it happened in 1997, after I had stopped buying every other wrestling magazine. This one takes the number two spot purely on the gimmick alone, and I’ll defend it to the death.

I color=red>size=8>
Pro Wrestling Illustratedsize=6>

Long live the king.
-Published from 1979 until now
-Responsible for several iconic magazine gimmicks
-Now owned by Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Enterprises

Even as a kid, I understood that this was the best. Maybe it was the Year End Awards issues. Maybe it was the swank 100th issue or the 10th anniversary issue. Maybe it was the PWI 500 lists. Maybe it was the almanacs they released from year to year. Maybe it was all of the above and then some. Pro Wrestling Illustrated has dominated the landscape of professional wrestling magazines for twenty five years now. It’s stronghold isn’t what it once was, as WWE Magazine has certainly worn away at it by virtue of having a somewhat captive audience. However, Pro Wrestling Illustrated keeps chugging along, releasing Top 500 lists and year end awards year after year. As long as they can manage that, they’ll be just fine. Long live the king.

Disagree with me? Did I miss something? Just put things in the wrong order? All of the above are possible. Whatever the case may be, let me know in the comment section below and I’ll join the discussion at some point. See you in 7.


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Gavin Napier

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