I had the opportunity to speak with legendary wrestling journalist Bill Apter in promotion of his successful new book, Is Wrestling Fixed? I Didn't Know It Was Broken! Apter opens up about his time with PWI, and how he got heat for certain stories he would write in the magazines. In part two, which is coming Sunday, he talks about leaving those magazines over 15 years ago.
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What kind of reception have you had from wrestlers regarding your new book, Is Pro Wrestling Fixed? I Didn't Know It Was Broken? Were people worried you'd expose stories about them?
"I've gotten calls from Steve Corino, Glacier and guys who have gotten the book. It's not a dirt book, it's not Apter's Expose. There's some inside stuff, but it's not nasty and dirt. Other than the Chris Benoit chapter, which was hard to write, because Nancy and Chris were good friends of mine. There's a story about Randy Savage wanting to kill me, besides that, it's not dirt. What everyone is saying that they can hear my voice as they read the book, it's flattering.
How often would you get heat with wrestlers over stuff you would write?
"I got heat pretty regularly for stuff that I didn't write. Do you know where the term 'Apter Mags' came from? Because I was on TV a lot and presenting plaques for Pro Wrestling Illustrated, and being a broadcaster on some of the shows, and having a segment on the old Jim Crockett WCW/NWA show, I became the face of the magazines. So Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer, who is a great guy, tabbed them the 'Apter Mags.' I called him and said 'Please don't do that. I'm a little part of a big staff.' He said I was the guy out there, I was the guy who was ringside taking pictures, I was the guy they saw on TV, so that makes them the Apter Mags. Stu Saks, who is still at PWI, says if there weren't Stanley Weston mags, there wouldn't be Apter mags, so he still calls them Weston mags, but I'm flattered that it's a coined term. What I don't like is if you go on Amazon and search my name, they all come up and say 'written by Bill Apter.'
"Getting back to your point. Wrestlers would regularly be glad to have their names in the magazines. Some of them would take the Top 10 rankings too seriously. In the book it explains how I would compile those rankings. Every Monday I would call every office of every organization, even Portland. A guy would say 'How could you put me below Chief Jay Strongbow?' or 'How could you put Bruno, the WWF champion, over Dory Funk, the NWA champion?' Then when the PWI 500 came out, which was not my idea, I never wrote it, that became the biggest pain in my butt, because I had to deal with it out in the field. People would be insane about it, even in the 300, 400 and 500s. They'd come up and say 'I'm better than so and so.' They b---hed and moaned about it a lot."
Are you involved with those magazines at all now?
"Not at all. I returned for two shoot interviews. One with Sunny, and one with someone else. It took so long to transcribe it. So what was a two hour interview, turned into a five day project that I just didn't have time for."
Do people who don't realize that you've moved on from PWI still send you angry tweets about the PWI 500?
"Oh my God, yes. I got an instant message from some indy guy about three weeks ago that said 'How the f can you put me down there?' I haven't been with PWI in almost 15 years now. People on radio and talk shows say 'He's from PWI!' No! I'm from 1Wrestling.com"
How do you think wrestling media has changed? Is talent more or less accessible.
"They're more accessible on the indies, because people are looking for the publicity. The internet is their platform. Depending on the WWE, based on what your media source is, you can get in touch with their media department, which is much better than it used to be. I used to go and do interviews with some of the guys around PPV time. Just the fact that Triple H does media calls for the press before NXT TakeOver shows is unheard of. He's an old school guy, who knows how to make new school work properly with it. He's a wrestling traditionalist, and NXT is their baby.
"People ask why I still watch, and say it's changed so much, and I disagree. What goes in in the four or six corners is still what we watch, and a lot of it is better than what we watched growing up, but the window dressing is completely different. That's really what it is. NXT was in Brooklyn and sold out."
Were you ever intimidated to write about somebody?
"I was intimidated by them, but it didn't stop me from writing about them. Randy Savage, Scott Steiner, Bubba Ray Dudley—extremely intimidating really. Not threaten me, usually. When you read the Randy Savage story in the book, there was a threat levied there. He's probably the only one who ever threatened me."
They were probably afraid you'd put them in your signature Figure Four leglock. You do it the old school way, I've seen it.
"Well, that's true. People asked if I watched Flair as a kid. Nah, I watched Buddy Rogers. Buddy Rogers didn't do the spinning toehold first, he just went right into it. My brother used to say to me 'In a street fight, what are you going to do? Put your hands up like 'no, no, don't hit me' and put him in the Figure Four?' I would have done that!"
Why wait until now to write a book? You probably had enough material 30 years ago to write a book.
"A lot of people asked me that. Once the British magazine I was working for, Total Wrestling, was no longer, I got a call from Michael Holmes of ECW Press. He said he could make me feel better since I wasn't tied to a magazine, and asked me to write a book. I told him to let me think about it. That was 2004. In 2012, I signed a contract. The offer was always there. I'd never written a book, and I can't sit still, I called Howard Brody. I don't read a lot of wrestling books because people all b---h and moan in them. I read "Swimming with Piranhas' and called him up and asked him to write my book. He said 'what do you mean? You're a writer!' I told him I'd never written a book, and it's a different ballgame. He was very busy at the time, and said he wouldn't do it because my book has to be in my voice. He said even if he wrote it based on firsthand things I told him, he didn't have my voice. I can thank Howard Brody for that."
Where'd you get the name Is Wrestling Fixed? I Didn't Know It Was Broken?
"They were trying to find names for the book like 'Bill Apter's Life In Wrestling' and things like that. I didn't like it, I didn't think it was catchy. I wanted it to be a mix between an old school wrestling magazine and a comic book. I wanted bright colors, and for it to scream off the newsstand. Back in the late 70s I traveled a lot down in Georgia. I'd seen some match between Adbullah and Mr. Wrestling II. Some kid came over to me and said 'Mr. Apter, is wrestling fixed?' I didn't know what was going to come out. I kayfabed him and said 'I didn't know it was broken.' His father looked at me and said 'That's right, Mr. Apter, you can't fix what ain't been broken.' So when we were pitching ideas to Greg Oliver, the editor of the book, I said, why don't we do this?
"I did a convention with a one hour Q&A, and came up in the back and said 'Hello everyone, I'm Bill Apter, and I have a question to ask you all—Is wrestling fixed?' In unison, the 75 or 100 people all there went 'I didn't know it was broken.' It caught on. Now I have baseball caps and stuff made up of it, and I want to brand it. It's a fun brand."
Do you think those magazines being called Apter Mags helped you since?
"Yeah. If people didn't remember my name, they'd say 'Oh there's the guy from the Apter mags.' People my age are retiring. I always wanted to be broadcaster on WWE TV like Gene Okerlund. Unfortunately due to the wars the magazines had, that wasn't their plan. Because of that, I never thought I'd get on WWE TV. A couple of years ago I got a call from a WWE producer who was starting content for the fledgling WWE Network. He asked them why they didn't have Bill Apter as a talking head, and they were like 'who?' Some of them didn't know, because they were TV people, production people. About that time, Triple H got in touch with me as well. When the WWE Network went on the air, WrestleMania Rewind was the very first show, and I'm on there as a talking head. About a dozen WWE employees congratulated me on breaking ground and being on the first show."
How many times have you been up there to film stuff? I see you all over the Network.
"Probably about nine or ten times. Sometimes they film nine or ten shows and I bring nine or ten shirts. I've lost track of a lot of the shows I've taped, and there are more yet."
Are there times when they'll just have you talk, but not about any particular show in general?
"Oh yeah. Just to keep it in the files. People still want to look behind the curtain, and with the Network, it's happening. The 30 for 30 that Kevin Von Erich was on from ESPN, they contacted me for photos, and I don't have any of the photos I ever shot because they were owned by the companies I worked for. I asked if they were done with the documentary, and they said they thought so, but they didn't know what was missing yet. I told them that I covered the Von Erich family forever. I was the reporter. They talked to the producers and called me back within ten minutes. They said they spoke to Kevin Von Erich, who told them I was the guy to tie it together. That's how I wound up on it."
You've been involved with wrestling journalism for a long time and made the transition from print, to web, to video. A lot of people just stick with familiar territory.
"Thank you. I was the first person on a wrestling website to do video interviews. I have a video hobby background in me. When my kids were growing up, there was always a video camera nearby. I'd force them to go to the basement to help me edit it. Everyone was doing audio, and I still want to be on the Gene Okerlund team, so thank God for Youtube. I've been doing this most of my life, I would edit my family's 8mm films when I was a teenager. When I saw the opportunity to get out there online, I did it. You have to change with what the world becomes. I opened a Facebook and a Twitter. I don't have an Instagram because I don't want to overdo me. Some people post on there every ten minutes like 'here's me going into the men's room.' I don't want to do that."