WWE Magazine

Given the choice between "WWE Monday Night Raw" and "CNN Presents: Burma in Transition," I'd watch the former. This isn't to say that I'm an active fan -- I tapped out, so to speak, around the time when Earthquake squashed Jake "the Snake" Roberts' beloved boa constrictor Damien -- but I have warm memories of my time as a wrestling devotee, which were affirmed seven or eight years ago when I made my way to WWE (then WWF) headquarters to work on a story about the organization's marketing. For the record, the place is more corporate than your average media shop; neither Doink the Clown nor the Gobbledy-Gooker were patrolling the corridors that fateful afternoon.

So when I heard the snorts of disbelief that greeted the recent reinvention of WWE Magazine as a Maxim-ish men's title, I pulled the ol' tights and sequined cape out of the closet. Galvanized by heel heat from the crowd, I readied the mandible claw for some jaw-jarrin' and girded my meaty hindquarters for a somersault corkscrew leg drop off the top rope. By the way, I have no idea what I just wrote.

Here's the thing: the concept actually works. I can't remember how WWE Magazine read in its former incarnation, but I doubt it approached the new product's topnotch production values and creative topical mix. Yes, this is technically a wrestling magazine, which removes it from consideration for many readers and advertisers. But it doesn't focus on sweaty men in tights: like the pastime itself, the mag concentrates as much on personality as on athleticism. In doing so, it breathes life into a stale genre.

The table-of-contents pages offer the first clues that maybe WWE Magazine has a different agenda from its predecessors. Brief story descriptions include "Gene Snitsky gives Granny an oral pedicure" and "Trevor Murdoch chews tobacco and urinates off his front porch"; the pages are equally notable for their exclusion of wrestling-mag staples like "feud" and "slobberknocker." If nothing else, they sure pique one's curiosity for what follows.

Rather than rote regurgitations of recent matches, WWE Magazine presents a glut of material on the periphery of the sport: a story on a non-groupie female superfan, eating tips, a mock Cosmopolitan horoscope for the galpals of wrestling fans. And it does so creatively: witness the action-figure reenactment of the aforementioned Gene Snitsky adventure, or the pop-arty illustrations that accompany Sandman's tips on fighting dirty.

For those paying close attention, WWE Magazine also boasts its share of surreptitious cultural nods. A Q&A with Tommy Dreamer is accompanied by a photo in which the wrestler is juxtaposed into "American Gothic," complete with blood trickling down his forehead and a pitchfork encircled by barbed wire. Elsewhere, a sports therapist checks in to discuss the physical ramifications of a Rob Van Dam boot to the Adam's Apple. Is any of this terribly novel? No. But does it present familiar personalities and material in a way that gives them a renewed pulse? Hell, yeah.

The September issue does, however, try way, way, way too hard at times. On the cover alone, the mag prints a phone number for reader feedback ("Chew out our writers") and hypes "67 dirty diva confessions" (me, I counted only 64, none of which was "once shared a cab ride with a ripe post-match Big John Studd"). The cover feature, a Playboy-like questionnaire with babe/brawler Trish Stratus, depicts her as stereotypically one-dimensional -- it's the only item in the issue that presents a wrestler this way -- while the brainless romp of "Things That Are Great About Being a Redneck" comes across every bit as guffaw-worthy as its title might indicate.

On the other hand, the mag's music, video-game and DVD reviews, while a little too product-shilly for my taste, are as tart and informative as those in Giant. Plus instead of handing out grades or stars, WWE hands out Hillbilly Jim noggins. I will purchase any product or service that receives five Hillbilly Jims out of a possible five, and so should you. It's the American way.

I doubt I'll be checking in on WWE Magazine on a regular basis -- my mailman already eyes me suspiciously on the days when he delivers a triple-shot of Glamour, Guns & Ammo and Tiger Beat -- but I nonetheless hope that readers and the media buying/planning communities shunt aside their highbrow pretensions and give this magazine a fair shot. Whatever you think about the WWE as a purveyor of entertainment, it proves here that it can assemble a publication of unexpected originality and surprisingly involving content.

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