Thursday, November 23, 2017

Giving True Thanks...

Seeing as that for more than a few years this blog has been published on Thursday, we've had quite a few topics with a Thanksgiving theme. Wrestling has a long tradition on the November holiday, dating back to large live events across the country. Most fans know that those shows eventually evolved to the early incarnations of Starrcade and Survivor Series being held on Turkey Day.

These days, the superstars are home with their families on Thanksgiving. It's a double-edged sword, seeing as that an after dinner event could possibly still be a great draw. On the other hand, who should really be working on such a family-oriented day? Although a great discussion, it's not what we're moving towards here.

It was actually Instagram that put this week's thoughts into motion. I recently opened an Instagram account for the blog (@jws_wrestling_memorabilia), as if this entity needed more of a social media presence. In thinking of a Thanksgiving photo post, I decided that last year's creation would be suitable since it would be "fresh" to Instagram. Due to recent events, I almost changed my mind.

The photo that I shared around last year as a Thanksgiving blog greeting featured one of my favorite characters, "The Ugandan Giant" Kamala. As a slight takeoff of the time that Kamala "ate" a live chicken on Tuesday Night Titans, my photo featured Mattel's very realistic Kamala figure eyeing up a nice representation of a gobbler. Just several days ago it was revealed that James Harris, the man behind the Kamala makeup, was hospitalized and on life support.

The health struggles of Mr. Harris over the past few years have been well documented, including but not limited to the man losing his legs. With the grim news of his hospitalization, I immediately dreaded memorializing the man in the very blog entry that you're now reading. Obviously if that were the case, Instagram would have to wait a few years before seeing the picture post that I described.

Amazingly, as of press time the news is that James "Kamala" Harris has been removed from life support after regaining the ability to breathe on his own. While he likely has much recovery to do, the news elicits a huge sigh of relief from his friends and fans. In his honor, I did in fact post the "Kamala's Thanksgiving" photo on Instagram which you will also find at the end of this blog entry.

Instagram postings nor even wrestling memorabilia are the true story here, though. A message that cannot be preached enough, Thanksgiving Day or otherwise, is the fact that we really should be thankful for all that we have. If you have the time and ability to be reading this blog entry right now, even that shows that you have things to be thankful for. You have time to be sitting and reading something that, on most weeks, is a pure enjoyable read and has no bearing on life as a whole. On my end, I am thankful that I have the time and means to bring it to you. It also says that you have an Internet connection of some sort, which makes your life a lot easier no matter how much you may deny that fact.

And what about Mr. Harris? We can be sure that he is thankful for being alive, as is his family. As Jim Ross reminds us, tomorrow is not guaranteed. If you're fortunate enough to have even one person in your life, take the time to think about them. Don't take them for granted. Savor each day that you have with them. Enjoy the present...

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Wrestling MarketWatch: Ring Royalty

Pro wrestling has champions, icons, heroes, and villains. Many from those categories eventually become legends. But what about..royalty? There have been many kings, and even a few queens, of the ring. Some were crowned in tournaments, others seemed to achieve their titles out of thin air. Nevertheless, most of these superstars felt that they were above the other wrestlers who were simply there to bow in servitude. This week in MarketWatch we look at some memorabilia recognizing the reigns of five great kings of the squared circle.

*Near the end of his career, the legendary Harley Race arrived in the World Wrestling Federation and won a non-televised King of the Ring tournament to take the crown. The former NWA World Heavyweight Champion decided that this was an appropriate title and reigned over the WWF for nearly two years. Much of Race's memorabilia comes from this run, but there is none more iconic than his figure from LJN as part of the Wrestling Superstars line. Recently this loose, complete figure has seen sale prices ranging from $50 to $165 proving that Race still reigns powerfully on the secondary market.

*It was fellow Heenan family member Haku who next held the crown. The Tongan superstar memorably battled Race in a "King's Crown Match" at the 1989 Royal Rumble. Haku sent Race packing from the WWF with a victory and ended up sitting on the throne for a few more months. While Haku's LJN figure did not end up being "The King" as originally advertised, he did see a royal representation in the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line. That figure recently sold loose and complete at auction for between $20 and $30.

*Yet another Heenan family member went by the "King" moniker, but this man did not wear a crown. I'm not sure that one would have even fit on his head. The monstrous King Kong Bundy reigned supreme with sheer girth and power, not to mention his dreaded "Avalanche" finishing maneuver. Bundy's matinee idol mug made the cover of the August/September 1986 issue of WWE Magazine and recently sold at auction (unsigned) for $17.

*There were kings, and then there was the Macho King. When Randy Savage took the crown from King Duggan in late 1989, the Macho Man took on a whole new life. His last appearance as the Macho King took place at WrestleMania VII in 1991 in a losing effort against The Ultimate Warrior. Mattel kicked off their Defining Moments line with Savage clad in this unique attire. Although the packaging read "Macho Man," this is clearly the last stand of the "Macho King." This figure, loose and complete, recently sold for $36.

*In the opinion of myself and legions of other loyal subjects, there is only one true king of wrestling: Jerry Lawler. His kingdom may start in Memphis, but it stretches across the world. He has piledriven many pretenders right into defeat time and time again. From his work both in and out of the ring, there will never be another Jerry Lawler. It's been well-documented right here on this blog that Lawler has had a little singing career as well. One of his 45 singles, "Mean Streak," recently sold for $20.50.

Long Live The King(s)!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

A Slobberknocker Of A Tale, But Hold The BBQ...

I still remember not being able to control my excitement as WrestleMania IX took to the air live. While Gorilla Monsoon, one of my favorite announcers, made little more than a cameo at the beginning of the event, the name that crossed his lips to take his place had me jumping out of my seat. Jim Ross had arrived in the World Wrestling Federation! It didn't seem possible, but here we were. Little did we know how far that this man from Oklahoma would go "up north." Now, "Good Ol' J.R." is recalling those stories and more in "Slobberknocker - My Life In Wrestling."

Just a brief overview of the career of Jim Ross will indicate to any wrestling fan that the man has many stories to tell. Although J.R. has written several cookbooks, this is the first to be a true telling of his story. From essentially chauffeuring for legendary wrestlers up and down the highways to refereeing, announcing, booking, and beyond, Ross has laid out his life in wrestling, just as the title says. Though we do hear about his late wife Jan (who was alive during most of the production of the book) as well as his parents, much of J.R.'s personal life is left out. This is a decision that only the author can make when penning a book and should be respected. Again, this is his "life in wrestling."

Refreshingly, many J.R. stories that we've heard in the past in various outlets are omitted. While those stories would have been welcome, it seems that the decision was made in order to include tales that are unfamiliar even to the biggest Jim Ross fan. If you're looking for the bathroom tales of the "hit" placed on Vince McMahon or Brian Pillman's bowel movement, they aren't here. But you will learn why Robert Gibson was called "Hoot" and while it didn't necessarily please "Vinnie Mac."

Another interesting omission is anything regarding J.R.'s famous BBQ sauce. Perhaps he wanted to avoid making the book look like an advertisement, but the stuff is good. Great, actually. Instead you will hear plenty about working with and learning from the likes of Cowboy Bill Watts, Ernie Ladd, Leroy McGuirk, Danny Hodge, Ric Flair, Gorilla Monsoon, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, Gordon Solie, and of course McMahon and Jerry "The King" Lawler.

Equal time is spent on Ross's time in Mid-South Wrestling/UWF, WCW, and the WWF, so you get a true feel of what the WWE Hall of Famer brought to each company. Still, the author leaves you wanting more. Some of the more controversial moments in J.R.'s career are not included, which again would be a personal decision of Ross himself.

"Slobberknocker" is a worthwhile entry in the library of any wrestling fan, but we can hope that this is only "Volume 1," as we know there's a lot more to tell. Ross has been making many appearances around the country promoting and signing the book, but I think he enjoys greeting the fans most of all. After all, he's still a fan himself after all these years...

"I like what you're doing. The nostalgia thing. Us old guys appreciate that stuff."

--Jim Ross to me, October 2017

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Demented Dentist Returns...

Mattel continues to be on the ball with retro figures well into the better half of a decade with the WWE license. With recent announcements like John Tenta's "Shark" character and the action figure-elusive Wendi Richter as upcoming releases, it's no wonder that collectors continue to support the line. This past summer, another character who had never before been produced as an action figure made his far-from-painless debut. Hold on to your wisdom teeth, Isaac Yankem DDS is here.

It's no secret that Isaac Yankem was the first on-air WWE character for Glenn Jacobs, better known as Kane. Debuting at an event that I attended, SummerSlam 1995, Yankem attempted to rid the world of Bret "The Hitman" Hart at the behest of Jerry "The King" Lawler. Though the demented dentist came up short, the character is remembered as a memorable icon of the campy, cartoony, mid-1990s WWF scene. Jacobs would go on to portray the replacement "Diesel" when Kevin Nash left the company, and finally ended up with the gimmick that would make him a surefire WWE Hall of Famer in Kane.

The Isaac Yankem figure was an exclusive to San Diego Comic Con and the Toys "R" Us website. It comes in unique Elite packaging that displays some of Yankem's useful dentistry equipment. The back is a doctor's file chart, complete with some bloody teeth and even a humorous allusion to Yankem becoming someone else that we all know. It's a tall figure as any representation of Jacobs should be, so it looks good in the packaging.

Yankem comes complete with his dentist coat and headgear. The headgear can be removed and even tilted downward so that the goggles can go over his eyes. I feel like we should have received one more accessory. The doctors bag, perhaps? It just feels as if other exclusives have a bit more to them, although Mattel did have to create all-new accessories in this case. When I removed the headgear, it did take off a little bit of the blond hair paint. The headgear piece itself almost felt glued on at first.

The figure sculpting is solid, utilizing recycled parts aside from the head. The pants mold works well, especially for the height of the figure. To be honest, it's an all around imposing figure which it definitely should be. The entire idea of the character was to be a demented monster...very much like The Big Red Machine just a little over two years later.

Although already a few months old, the figure can still be obtained for around the same price as release. That likely won't always be the case. I also wouldn't expect to see any future releases of the character. I could be wrong, but I feel Yankem was released in the proper manner so that anyone who wanted to add him to the collection could do exactly that. But I won't drill it into your heads, just try to extract him from someone else's hands in a few months. It won't be painless...

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Every Girl's Crazy Bout A Sharp Dressed Man...

In the above photo, you see at least two semi-sharp dressed men, and one in a Dusty Rhodes t-shirt. But the two surrounding the latter were fabulous ones. In fact, they were THE Fabulous Ones. Stan Lane and Steve Keirn took much of the wrestling world by storm in the 1980's and even paved the way for other "pretty boy" tag teams along the way.

Created in Memphis, The Fabulous Ones were initially supposed to be the proteges of "Fabulous" Jackie Fargo. Not a bad endorsement in the city that Fargo ruled. Runs in Florida, Texas, and even the AWA followed.

In the picture, I am holding a popular souvenir in sports the world over, a pennant. For a team that did not have WWF exposure, Lane and Keirn certainly had their share of merchandising. While signing the pennant, Lane explained that Keirn had a whole plethora of items created during the duo's run in Memphis including the pennant, shirts, key chains, and more. Both of the men were surprised to see the pennant after all of these years.

Of course, most collectors remember The Fabulous Ones for their most famous piece of memorabilia: the Remco AWA figure two-pack. Thanks to their fairly brief run in that company, the team was immortalized in plastic in 1985. Removable bow ties and suspenders only add to the fun of these figures, which the team even showed off on Memphis television at one point.

WWE has often cited the music video featuring "Sharp Dressed Man" and the Fabs to be something odd and/or rare from their library. It really isn't, but it's nice to see the team remembered, regardless. When compared to other teams in the same vein such as The Rock N Roll Express, The Fabs may be a bit underrated, but they were the originators and are definitely not forgotten.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

WWE Unreleased: Just What The Longtime Fan Ordered

Gold. Usually I wait until the last paragraph of a review to summarize, but I choose to do it right now instead with just that word. WWE Unreleased is a DVD treasure trove of matches and segments that wrestling fans have been asking for for years.

It's well-documented that the WWE vault is massive and contains footage from the classic yet common to the ultra-rare and unseen. It's the latter that is contained in WWE Unreleased. Mainly consisting of dark matches from television tapings with a house show match or two thrown in, truly everything on here is never-before-seen to my knowledge. It's stuff that we've heard of, yet always had to visualize in our heads.

The set is hosted by Charly Caruso and, one of my all-time favorites, Sean Mooney. The interstitial segments display that Mooney still very much gets the company and its humor, as it's jokingly implied that the former WWF announcer actually lives in the film archive below the "Event Center." There are a few nods to Mooney's frequent broadcast partner, the late Lord Alfred Hayes, and be sure to stick around after the WWE Home Video logo pops up at the end. There's also a great gag in the last hour or so of the set that is sure to make frequent WWE DVD watchers smile.

The set is labeled "1986-1995," which in a way doesn't please me. I know that there is loads more unseen footage from that era that didn't make the cut. Missy's Manor? Jimmy Garvin's 1992 tryout? The last encounter between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant (a tag match pitting Hogan and Big Boss Man against the Colossal Connection at a 1990 tv taping)? Pay-per-view dark matches? Griping aside, what we do get is honestly unheard of.

If you're a fan of Andre, The Ultimate Warrior, or Randy Savage, this is the set for you. All three seem to show up very frequently early on. There is also a big dose of The Hulkster, with The Undertaker and Bret Hart generously peppered in as well. The real gems here, for me, are the tryout matches. We see the Warrior, Owen Hart, Crush, Earthquake, Tatanka, The Smoking Gunns, and Taz all in some of their initial appearances. We also get the never aired 1992 return of Piper's Pit featuring the Brooklyn Brawler and an absolutely shocking line for the time from "Hot Rod" regarding what the company was facing in the real world.

We are reminded that Mike McGuirk, in addition to being an extremely sweet individual, was criminally underrated as a ring announcer. We see some obvious "run thru" matches to prepare for the "real deal" down the line. We also see the infamous (thanks to Toxic Turtles match which clearly was never intended to go beyond the venue in which it was held.

Picture quality changes from match to match, as obviously some of the master footage has deteriorated. There are some odd frame rate issues in a couple of matches, and some wavy sound problems in others. Nonetheless, we aren't seeing this stuff any other way. I'll take it any day. As far as music changes, I only noticed two: the horrible Rick Rude music edit that crept up earlier this year, and a change for the Smoking Gunns tryout entrance theme. Speaking of tryout entrances, be sure to check out those for both "Earthquake Evans" and "War Eagle."

A few of the matches are seen only from the hard camera view, and it should be pointed out that there is no commentary here at all. Some would probably argue that commentary could have been added, but I would be against it. These are dark and house show matches. View them as originally intended with the natural audio of the event as your soundtrack. Nothing more is needed.

Buy this thing. Why? One reason is because it's one of the most interesting and unique WWE DVD releases of all-time. Another reason is that if sales are great, we may see more content like this down the line. While matches from after the time frame covered in this set wouldn't interest me quite as much, we have no idea what WWE has stored away. In the meantime, let's enjoy what has been unleashed with "Unreleased."

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Household Wrestling Items That You Never Realized You Needed...

If you've followed this blog for any amount of time, you already know that we celebrate all forms of wrestling memorabilia. The weird. The wacky. The wonderful. It's all covered. But how about...household items? Sure they've popped up here and there over the near decade since the blogs inception, but they've never really had the spotlight. Need to host a wrestling themed luncheon? These items may just please the most difficult of guests...

*Breakfast in bed? Frozen dinner in front of the television? The entire Brady Bunch is sick again? Never fear, the WWF Superstars lunch tray is here. Big Boss Man. The Ultimate Warrior. Hulk Hogan. The Texas Tornado. All four are ready, willing, and able to provide that extra needed flavor, and maybe even some vitamins, to your meal. Can you imagine bringing Virgil some Olive Garden takeout (extra meat sauce) on this tray while he regales you with highly-fictionalized stories of the four featured superstars? I can't.

*Maybe you don't want to eat your lunch at home, but you still need some early '90s WWF Superstar power with your cuisine. That''s why we have WWF Superstars lunch bags! The Boss Man, The Warrior, and The Hulkster are all back from their lunch tray antics to bring you action on the go. Joining them are none other than Jake "The Snake" Roberts and Damien! These aren't the boring, plain, brown bags that used to float around WWF locker rooms near Allentown! These bags are full of ingestable items sure to make you bigger and stronger! Oh, wait...

*Certainly you need something to wash all of these power packed meals down with. And that something, whether it be milk, juice, or whatever you want has to be contained. There have been plenty of wrestling related cups, mugs, and suck cups (thanks, Dusty!) over the years, but for this outing we went with a glass featuring Ax and Smash. Yes, Demolition themselves. There were a few different series of glasses featuring WWF superstars produced over the years, but who are more exciting to drink from than my personal favorite tag team? Before you take a sip, a word of warning: you better say your act of contrition.

*Watch it! Don't you dare put that glass down on the end table without a coaster. But not just any coaster, mind you! This is a Mid-South Wrestling coaster! Used as a promotional item sometimes even given away by owner and WWE Hall of Famer himself, Cowboy Bill Watts, these coasters actually say "Mid-South Sports." Also illustrated are the address and phone number of the promotion. Who's using this to pick up the ice sweat from their drinking glass? Not me! Especially when it's autographed by Watts himself!

*So the host has kicked you out of the house, without your drink, for refusing to use a coaster. How else are you going to beat the heat? With an FMW hand fan, silly! Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling may have been founded by the legendary and infamous Atsushi Onita, but the high-flying Hayabusa is arguably its best remembered star. As with many Japanese promotions, some interesting and unique memorabilia came out of FMW, including this fan. Just sit back, wave the fan, and think about such relaxing concepts as exploding ring barbed wire steel cage matches!

And there you have a sampling of wrestling memorabilia that you can still put to good use around the house. Why sit around just staring at these great items when they can aid in special occasions, holidays, and pleasant family time? Utilize these tips wisely. After all, you're getting them for free. Martha Stewart would've charged you $25 for this information in book form...