Thursday, December 1, 2016

Wrestling Gifts Of Christmas Past

Emmylou Harris said it best, "Christmas Time's A Comin'!" For better or worse, this time of year makes many people very nostalgic. It is a month-long reminder of times past. Those of you reading this blog might have memories of that favorite wrestling item that you received as a gift. Maybe you even bought it for yourself. There's certainly no shame in that. Maybe you're an adult now (or an overgrown child) and want to find those vintage wrestling gifts for your own children. Either way, the start of the Christmas season felt like a good time to look back on some of my own favorite wrestling gift memories.

*Although the game is based on the 1991 WWF roster, I remember receiving this for Christmas in 1992. Santa Claus definitely didn't bring this, as there was no way that my parents could hide the huge box. I may have even been on the trip to the late, great Hills Department Store when it was purchased. I'm sure that the Remco WWF Superstars Shoot-Out made many kids happy during an early '90s Christmas season. The figures, as small as they are, have great likenesses. It's a shame that Remco, known more in the wrestling world for their AWA line, didn't get the chance to produce more WWF items at the time.

*As fit-for-merchandising as the 1995 WWF era was, it was largely a dead time for toys and similar items. It was in between the Hasbro and Jakks action figure licenses. While JusToys was producing Bend-Ems, it just wasn't enough. Thankfully, the WWF merchandise catalog still offered some unique items. One of those was the inflatable WWF blimp. This was actually sort of purchased for me by my parents as a gag gift. We had just attended SummerSlam 1995 several months earlier, and the "Stridex Airship" kept floating up and down in front of us. Although this is based on the full-sized WWF Airship that went from city-to-city, my parents ordered this for me to keep the summer memories alive. It still inflates and holds a prominent position in my collection.

*The company didn't capitalize on holiday-themed items too often in the WWF days. But when WWE started merchandising just about everything in the "Ruthless Aggression" era, Christmas finally came! One of my favorite items is a WWE snow globe complete with John Cena, The Undertaker, and Batista. There's even a steel chair! This is a large and heavy Hallmark-quality item that you really don't see too often. A friend of mine gave this to me as a gift when it was new. It still reminds me of our wrestling-born friendship each time that I look at it, and the time that we ended up snowbound while Christmas shopping!

*According to my parents, this was an item that was "one and done" during the 1992 Christmas shopping season. It's the infamous Hasbro Royal Rumble mini-ring. Although I still received gifts from Santa, they openly admitted to only seeing this toy once and grabbing it. Smart shoppers, they always were. The ring was the only way to get the exclusive mini figures included and the only real point to owning the three mini figure four-packs that were sold separately. It's a key item in many Hasbro WWF collections to this day.

*What kid didn't want some of the Wrestling Buddies from Tonka? The advertising, voiced by the late actor Arnold Stang, was all over television at that point. Bonk Em! Bop Em! I remember my parents purchased "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase for a family friend and his parents gave me The Ultimate Warrior. It was the only one that I owned until adulthood (ha!), but I sure did slam and piledrive it endlessly. I still marvel that one toy store in my area, Family Toy Warehouse, sold the Legion of Doom two-pack at the same price as the single Wrestling Buddies. Maybe that was their downfall.

I'm sure that many of you have your own Christmas-wrestling memories. Maybe you received tickets to an event, wrestling-related books, or action figures. The possibilities were, and still are, endless. And if you're in the mood to spread some Christmas cheer, don't forget your local Toys-For-Tots. I'm sure that there are many underprivileged children who would love to have a nice Mattel WWE figure under their tree. Many local wrestling promotions, such as KSWA here in Pittsburgh, even have their own toy drives accompanied with a show.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Mattel WWE Year-In-Review: Survivor Series Style!

2016 may have been Mattel's best year for the WWE line yet. Looking back at just this blog over the past eleven months, even I can't believe how much space has been devoted to the figures. A plethora of names new and old, unique and common, have been produced by the company this year. WWE and NXT stars, Hall of Famers and Legends, and even some off-the-wall and offbeat characters have "made the list" for Mattel, and it's hard to imagine just which one will be "Figure of the Year." For a fun change on this, my favorite holiday, we'll take a look at some of those finalists. But it isn't a normal rundown. Instead, we're grouping the thirty top figures into six Survivor Series teams. Who will be the sole survivor?


REGAL'S ROOKIES 
VS 
THE NXT DEMONS


Ok, so Regal's rookies aren't really rookies, but it sounded good. A late addition in 2016, the Lord Steven Regal figure is an awesome new WCW entry to the ever-growing Mattel roster. Regal leads his team of 2016 figures that includes Samoa Joe, Kevin Owens, and The Vaudevillains. Opposing this fivesome is The NXT Demons led by "The Demon King" himself, Finn Balor. The NXT alumni that join him are Apollo Crews, Braun Strowman, Baron Corbin, and Kalisto. 


BAYLEY'S BEAUTIES 
VS 
THE GIMMICK GANG


A Neidhart on each team! Bayley's Beauties have it all. Looks, in-ring skills, and alliteration. The Hugger is joined by Becky Lynch, "The Narcissist" Lex Luger, Nattie Neidhart, and Tyler Breeze. "Prince Pretty" seems more interested in getting a group selfie than in winning this thing. The Gimmick Gang is captained by The Bunny and includes Tugboat, Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, and The Bushwhackers. 


THE BOSSES 
VS 
TEAM EXTREME


In the main event we see a team that's comprised of people nicknamed "The Boss," a Bossman, someone who was a boss to many, and a Stinger. We've got team captain Dusty Rhodes, Magnum T.A., Big Boss Man, Sting, and Sasha Banks. They're opposed by Team Extreme, and although Lita is aboard this isn't that Team Xtreme. These are alumni of ECW. Lita is joined by team captain Terry Funk, Bam Bam Bigelow, and The Dudley Boyz. 

See what I mean? Mattel certainly had an impressive lineup this year, and this is only thirty of those figures. My deepest apologies to "SummerSlam 1989" Hacksaw Jim Duggan as well as Enzo and Cass. There just wasn't room. The "sole survivor" will actually be the "Best Figure" winner in the 2016 J\/\/ Awards at the end of the year. A few of the late entries here may even be featured in a blog entry before that as well. Stay tuned!

And although you've already finished the big meal by the time that this hits the Net, it is with my best thoughts that I wish you and yours a...


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Wrestling MarketWatch: Survivor Series Programs

It's the Thanksgiving night tradition! Or is that the Thanksgiving Eve tradition? Now, per Michael Cole, I believe it's the Thanksgiving week tradition. No matter what, Survivor Series is a November wrestling staple that, while perhaps taking a backseat to the other "Big Four" pay-per-views in recent years, is steeped in WWF/WWE history. From the famous elimination matches to the very controversial (and now very tired) "Montreal Screwjob," some of the most memorable moments in the business took place at the Series. After a year or two of rumors that the event may disappear completely, Survivor Series is back. A rematch twelve years in the making as well as re-energized elimination tag matches are on tap for this year, but how about years past? Many of those shows can be recounted just by looking through the programs. In this edition of Wrestling MarketWatch, we take a look at the recent auction prices for some of those programs.

*Each Survivor Series seemed to bring something different to the table. 1990 included the "Grand Finale Match of Survival," the debut of The Undertaker, and The Gobbledy Gooker. The latter, remembered fondly or infamously depending on your point of view, was to be the WWF's answer to costumed mascots of sports teams. It may have been a flop at the time, but for some reason the critics that have, for lack of a better term, crapped on it for years just can't seem to stop talking about it. How about that? Regardless, the program from the event, which also featured the final WWF appearance of Demolition Ax, recently sold for $15.30.

*1992 was the first year where the card was dominated by regular singles and tag team matches. Only one traditional Survivor Series elimination match made the event that year, and it wasn't that exciting. The company was also in a state of flux around the same time, thus causing several changes to the card. The Ultimate Warrior (pictured on the cover) "ultimately" did not make the show. A match pitting The British Bulldog against The Mountie for the Intercontinental Championship is also promoted inside, but both of these men also left the company prior. A basic match pitting Bret Hart against Shawn Michaels ended up featuring both the WWF Champion and Intercontinental Champion as each man ended up holding those respective belts in the weeks leading up. The program recently sold for $20.

*The 1994 program was an event-only item. It is much larger than the other magazine-sized programs profiled here. In many was it resembles the large WWE programs of today. Included inside was a poster which is often lost these days. Always a hot item when it shows up, it seems that everyone wants to add the program that features Queasy, Cheesy, and Sleazy to their collection. The chilling picture of The Undertaker that takes up most of the cover probably doesn't hurt the popularity of the program, either. An example, complete with poster, recently sold for $100.

*Going back a year to 1993, we take a look at the last magazine-sized Survivor Series program. The only WWF pay-per-view to be held in the old Boston Garden, fans of the mid-90's WWF remember the event fondly. It was the beginning of the end for Bobby "The Brain" Heenan's original WWF run, featured a great mix of talent from a transitional period, and even included a Smoky Mountain Wrestling tag team title defense. All these years later and it still looks odd to see The Rock N Roll Express in a WWF publication. This unique time capsule recently sold for $25.

*We actually have two programs for 1989. Many of the early WWF pay-per-view event programs have two versions: one sold on newsstands and one sold at the actual event. Newsstand editions have a bar code and possibly a red banner in the corner proclaiming it to be an "Official Souvenir Edition." Prices are usually very close if not identical for either version. For the year that Dusty Rhodes, Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, Rick Rude, and The Ultimate Warrior captained winning teams, we feature both. Recently the newsstand version sold for $19 while the live event version attained a $26 selling price.

Who are the ultimate winners? Anyone who owns any of these treasures. It's fun to look through them, as we occasionally have right here on the blog, and see what was originally planned and what ended up happening. Sometimes the shows ended up going on exactly as advertised, while other years saw major changes. It's the nature of the beast with printed material. All these years later, we're thankful for it!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Cracking Open The "Topps Vault" With The Leader Of The Four Horsemen

If you're an autograph collector, you know that it's always fun to find something different and unique to be signed. Sometimes the normal items just don't quite cut it. Other times there is a limit for just how many items there are out there in existence for a certain name to sign. After all, not every star has had the full power of a marketing machine behind them. For some legendary names in wrestling, only recently have they started to see their share of merchandising. It's almost always true that if they didn't have a run in the '80s-'90s WWF, stars of that era and before might not have much at all bearing their likeness and name.

Most late-'80s members of the Four Horsemen kind of fall in between. Leaving Ric Flair completely out of the discussion due to his being one of the biggest names that wrestling ever produced, the rest of the Horsemen have varied. Arn Anderson and Barry Windham both had WWF and WCW stints producing action figures, trading cards, and much more. Tully Blanchard and JJ Dillon, aside from the few items put out by Jim Crockett Promotions, largely missed out until WWE Legends deals brought them back into the merchandising picture. While we may never see that JJ Dillon action figure, he is now appearing on Topps WWE trading cards.

Thus far Dillon has only appeared with an image from his WWE Hall of Fame induction. One card appeared in the WWE 2016 set while the other is in the WWE Undisputed set. The latter is a high-end set where, while there is a base card set, the true draw is the various autographs and relics included in each box.

Recently, as they have done with their sets from other sports, Topps has begun selling WWE proof cards from their "Topps Vault" on eBay. These cards are 1 of 1 and were originally used to test the printing of each card. The card backs are blank and holograms are added to increase value to the collector. Each card is  marked with a "Topps Vault" imprint, set into an UltraPro magnetic locking holder, and affixed with a "Topps Vault" seal. While many of these cards sell for high prices, others can be had for $10 and under.

Not long ago, while searching for a unique JJ Dillon item to have autographed at an appearance, I came across the WWE Undisputed proof card of the legendary manager. For around $10 total, I couldn't pass it up. After I received it, I was impressed with the detail that Topps goes into when selling off these cards. It comes shipped in a nice box, complete with resealable bag and Topps Vault Certificate of Authenticity with matching serial number. It's a nice little deal and one that's really unbeatable when matched with a price like that.

As I was looking over the purchase, I wondered if I really wanted to get this signed after all. Did I want to break the seal? Maybe I would leave the seal intact and get it signed over the case. The latter idea didn't sound like me at all, so I took to the Internet to see what collectors of other sports cards do in this case. Quickly, I found that many collectors have no qualms about "breaking the seal" on these to get signed. With that to consider, I decided to go for it. I lifted the seal without completely removing it and brought out the card.

If you haven't met JJ Dillon, you should go out of your way to do so. He's a very nice gentleman and also the author of my all-time favorite wrestling autobiography. He's actually a very common name on the wrestling appearance scene, although as we've learned time and time again, that doesn't last forever. If JJ is appearing at your local wrestling event or a convention and you've always wanted to meet him, don't put it off. And grab a copy of that book if he has them available!

The card came out great and is now back in its plastic home, forever more. Will we see more WWE branded JJ Dillon items? The perfect opportunity for a JJ Dillon figure would have been with last year's Target exclusive Four Horsemen set. While JJ himself has said that for whatever reason Vince McMahon doesn't want a figure of JJ Dillon produced, never say never. Here we are with WWE JJ Dillon trading cards. That isn't far off.

Long Live The Leader of the Four Horsemen!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

From The Musty Yellowed Pages--2001 WrestleAmerica Guide To Professional Wrestling

What in the world happened where 2001 is suddenly fifteen years ago? It's true. It feels like yesterday. Some of you reading this may barely remember 2001 if you're young enough. It was a notable year in many respects. For me personally, the year had been ingrained in my head since 1987 when I was in pre-school. That is where I first remember hearing that my group would be the "high school graduating class of 2001." Who knew that the year would end up housing one of the most infamous days in world history? No, I'm not referring to the day that Shane McMahon showed up on Nitro, although that is the direction in which we're heading. We're about to dive into the WrestleAmerica 2001 Annual that features "Your Guide To Professional Wrestling."

If you had any interest at all in wrestling in 2001, you needed this magazine. Sure, the Internet had plenty of info, but here were 125 American wrestling promotions bundled in one place with a generous profile included for each. Sure, most were small independent promotions that shared similar rosters and "name" wrestlers doing one-shots, but this was wrestling fifteen years ago. In many respects, it's the same today. The cover may say "Unraveling WWF/WCW/ECW," but in reality they were all one at this point. And who does that cover feature? Shane and Stephanie McMahon, the stars of Smackdown and Raw. In 2001. And 2016.


It's a lot of fun to look through the pages just to see who "made it" and who didn't. In 2001 if you were talking independent wrestling and proverbial "Internet darlings," you had to be talking Reckless Youth. Nicknamed "The King of the Indies," Reckless Youth had quite the following and seemed destined to be a name that went down in wrestling history. Despite much press and a stint in WWE Developmental, Youth is now long out of professional wrestling. He is featured in several promotion profiles in the magazine along with names like Samoa Joe, Alexis Laree, Low-Ki, Michael Shane, Colt Cabana, and Phoenix who all would go on to some degrees of fame.

There are also legends like Jerry Lawler, Brian Blair, Honky Tonk Man, Jimmy Snuka, and Jacques Rougeau who were still plying their trade on the indy scene. In the case of those cousins from Tennessee, they're still at in 2016! Lastly, there are those who look like they stumbled out of the nearest bar to play "champion" in their nearest indy on weekends. I won't name any names, as they all deserve respect for at least getting into the ring at some level. And how about this Prince Justice guy shown as the champion of NWA Wildside? Guys like him often disappeared into a veritable abyss, never to be seen again.

The magazine also features "The Indy 30: The Top Prospects In Wrestling." Shall I list them? Air Paris, Scoot Andrews, Chad Collyer, Nova, Qenaan Creed, Christopher Daniels, The Island Boys (later Umaga and Rosey), Billy Fives, Russ and Charlie Haas, Tony Kozina, Randy Orton, Michael Modest, Donovan Morgan, Onyx, Brock Lesnar, Nick Dinsmore, Hotstuff Hernandez, Horseshu (later Luther Reigns), Adam Pearce, The Prototype, Jason Rumble, Mike and Todd Shane, Damien Steele, Trent Acid, Shelton Benjamin, Rico Constantino, Minoru Fujita, Dalip Singh (later The Great Khali), Lance Cade, and Jayson Reign. I guess teams count as one. What an interesting list full of highs, lows, fame, and tragedy looking back on it all these years later.

We end with a Book of Lists. "Wrestling's 10 Most Powerful People" is really the only one interesting enough to explore. We have Vince McMahon, Linda McMahon, Antonio Inoki, Stephanie McMahon, Shane McMahon, Motoko Baba, Jim Ross, Triple H, Steve Austin, and Paul Heyman. In 2016, the McMahon's are still in power, though Linda has taken a step back. Inoki, long out of New Japan Pro Wrestling, barely makes a ripple. Motoko, widow of Giant Baba, doesn't seem to be involved in much anymore, at least to the extent of puroresu that comes to my attention. Ross, Austin, and Heyman all have their own ventures but their voices are still heard loudly either in or regarding the business. As for Triple H? Some would say that he is more powerful than Vince, others would disagree. If you look at the changes in WWE over the past several years you could make a pretty good argument that in 2016, HHH tops this list.

There's too much fun stuff in this issue to show it all here. It isn't a rare magazine by any means and can be found for under $20. It's definitely a time capsule of a time when the business, and the world, was changing. Will we do this again in 2031? There may not be a magazine to show us exactly where the business was, but I fully believe that there will still be a wrestling business to showcase. I'll see you there.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

BAM BAM!

Wrapping up "Mattel Month" here on the blog, it's only fitting that, being so close to Halloween, we finish up with a true monster of the ring. This man, with his flaming costume and head, was more than just a monster. Bam Bam Bigelow was a beast. "The Beast From The East," that is. It's hard to believe that we lost the giant nearly a decade ago, but his amazing agility is still remembered to this day. Did the Bammer live up to his full potential? Many say that he did not. Perhaps had things played out differently, Bam Bam could be remembered as one of the biggest stars that the business ever saw. Regardless, he is still missed for the accomplishments that he did achieve. Now, he's back on the minds of collectors with one more action figure.

Bigelow joins Tyler Breeze, Rusev, and The Rock as part of the Wal Mart exclusive Elite Then, Now, Forever collection. As mentioned in the review of Breeze several weeks ago, you can easily guess which two of the lineup are sitting and which two are selling. Need a hint? Both have now been reviewed on this very blog.

The packaging is in the same shape of the standard 2016 Elite packaging but with a few style changes. The motif is white, likely to match the "Then, Now, Forever" opening on all WWE programming. It's a clean, fresh look and it makes it easy to spot these as soon as you head down the toy aisle of your favorite Wal Mart (oxymoron?). Just like Breeze, Bam Bam does not "float" in the packaging, and by now you should all know how important that is to me. No one wants to spend their hard-earned money to feel like that they're buying packaging. Along with Bam Bam is a cool black breakaway table, a nice nod to his ECW stint.

This is Bam Bam's second time in the Mattel WWE figure line. His debut was in the original WWE Legends line years ago. That figure was based on the 1995 WWF attire that Bam Bam wore as a babyface. It was cartoonish, even for a man covered in flames, and was likely produced because, at the time, Mattel seemed to be producing legends in attires that had never before been done as figures. This time we get a look that Bam Bam wore up until shortly after the 1993 Royal Rumble. The blue had yet to join the attire's flame motif. The back of the packaging compares Bam Bam to Kevin Owens. Big guys who can move. Makes sense.

This is the same Bam Bam facial likeness as used before. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. There really hasn't ever been a bad Bam Bam Bigelow likeness on an action figure. Even the LJN and Hasbro figures captured his look well. I think that this is the closest yet to replicating the famous head tattoos. While we're on the subject, the arm tattoos are well done also. All that's really missing as far as the design is chest hair. It's not really a deal breaker with everything else going on, the size of the figure, and the inclusion of a useful and popular accessory.

The body parts are all re-used but well chosen. Since most of Bam Bam's body is covered in his attire, it works. Bam Bam was never really a "fat guy," per se, so it definitely looks like Bam Bam standing there. I like the use of yellow, especially since his legs seem to be molded in the color. It stands out much better than a paint job. Wrist tape was also included, something that Bigelow wore off and on during his career. Personally, I've always felt wrestlers looked better with it for some unknown reason, so I'm glad that it's here. Maybe it's just more believable that a wrestler, no matter how big and bad, would want to wear as much protection as possible?

I like this figure. I don't think that there has ever been a bad Bam Bam Bigelow, but this definitely ranks as one of the best. I passed on the first Mattel offering of Bam Bam, and I'm glad that I picked this one up. Down the line, I could see a re-issue of the original since they already have the tooling for the entrance gear. After the straight reissues of Kamala and Big Boss Man among other legends, anything is possible. In the mean time, grab yourself a Bam Bam and don't fool around. Remember, if you play with fire, you'll get burned...

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Who Can Defeat Braun Strowman?

As we continue with what will end up being "Mattel Month" here on the blog, we take a look at a different kind of wrestler. Tyler Breeze and Magnum T.A. who were previously featured could be considered flashy heartthrobs in their respective eras. Now, as we approach Halloween, we look at some stars who scare and intimidate both opponents and audiences. As far as modern day WWE goes, the man featured today may be the biggest monster currently on the roster. A former (?) member of the Wyatt Family, the big man is none other than Braun Strowman.

This is Strowman's first Mattel Elite figure, although he did have a Basic release that is considered his "First Time In The Line." As with the other figures of the Wyatt Family, there are reasons why collectors will absolutely want to go "Elite" with Strowman. I don't always feel the need to purchase the "Elite" version of every single one of the current WWE characters. When it comes to the members of the Wyatt Family, their accessories are almost part of them. It just wouldn't feel complete without the masks, shirts, chairs, and lanterns.

Braun is packaged in the standard 2016 Elite window box. Being such a huge man, the figure is likewise large and hefty. There is absolutely no "floating" going on here. Braun fits well in the window, which is good if you're planning on keeping it in the package. The figure includes the "Black Sheep" mask which, at the time of design, Strowman was still wearing. It's a fun accessory that we'll explore more in a bit. I don't really see the need for any more accessories between the mask and the fact that the figure is so big. If it fills up the box, it's worth the "Elite" price.

The likeness is good. It looks like Strowman and as far as I can tell mostly new parts were used for the body. As mentioned above, the figure is immense. This is one that, as I like to say, you feel you're really getting your money's worth with. He definitely measures up to the other "giants" of the Mattel WWE line, and it's fun to compare them. He's getting his run as a "monster" right now, and it will be fun to see just who will "slay the dragon," so to speak. WWE is doing a good job rebuilding him after he really didn't make much of an impact upon his initial introduction.

The "Black Sheep" mask is indeed here in the Elite release. It's actually just a remold of the previous mask released with Erick Rowan. The indentations inside that allowed it to fit so snugly on Rowan are even still there. Besides the color, the big difference is that it is made of a more pliable material to allow it to stretch over the sides of Strowman's head/hair and fit on. It doesn't fit quite as easily as the one with Rowan, but it works. No complaints.

The figure may be a bit outdated, but if you want to continue building the Wyatt Family, you need it. There likely won't be any further releases with the mask as future Braun figures will probably mirror his current look as the resident monster of Monday Night Raw. The movement of the figure isn't the best due to the massive features, but it's Braun Strowman. You weren't looking for a cruiserweight, were you? Braun is a classic "big man" wrestler who should only improve over time. Honestly, his promos that remind me of a biker side-character in a '70s or '80s action flick are kinda winning me over.

Next week, we go from Braun Strowman to another monster of the mat. This one is a blast from the past, but it won't set the world on fire...or maybe it will. Regardless, this beast is going to be flying all over the place...