Thursday, April 28, 2016
The magazine was the very first in-house authentic World Wide Wrestling Federation publication. While the many great magazines already on the market featured a ton of coverage regarding the McMahon-owned promotion and its stars, this was an entirely different animal. Publisher (and as I like to call him, "wrestling renaissance man") Les Thatcher brought an elegant design to the magazine that he similarly instituted in his Mid-Atlantic and NWA Magazines. A lot of color, slick pages, and amazing illustrated covers were a staple in the Thatcher publications.
A few blog entries have already been dedicated to Wrestling Action, but I have always wanted to take a look at each individual issue, highlighting the best and most interesting features. This is the first of five, going in order. You'll note that despite only lasting five issues, the title actually spanned around two years. In the wild days of 1970's wrestling, it's no surprise that even publications were a bit erratic. Nonetheless, the five issues that we did get have spawned their own legend in wrestling memorabilia.
The first issue, officially titled WWWF Wrestling Action Vol. 1 No. 1., starts off with a bang right on the front cover. Superstar Billy Graham had just dethroned the legendary Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF Heavyweight Championship. As with Sammartino's first championship defeat, fans were shocked and saddened. Graham, however, did have his own fanbase. Many, including Graham himself, feel that his title run could have lasted a lot longer and possibly even included a stint as a babyface. While we will never know how that would have turned out, perhaps a glance forward at Hulk Hogan's initial run may be a bit of an indication.
When I completed my own set of five Wrestling Action issues, it was still possible to collect a fully signed run of the "stars" of each cover. For the first issue I obtained Graham as well as publisher Les Thatcher and famed wrestling photographer George Napolitano. Almost all of the issues elicited a great response from the signers. This first issue was no different. Obviously, even the stars themselves look back on this publication with fond memories.
The Sammartino-Graham story is continued on the next two pages with some great photos in full color. Several photos are from the aforementioned title change in Baltimore. Keeping with Bruno's character, the champ is said to have claimed that he would have been happy had the title went to Ivan Putski, Chief Jay Strongbow, Larry Zbyszko, Tony Garea, or Bob Backlund, but is instead in the wrong hands with the likes of Graham. Less than a year later, the championship "wishes" of Sammartino would be granted with the long-planned win of Backlund.
Next up is a two-page story on Ken Patera and his issue with Strongbow and "Indian" partner Billy White Wolf (later known as Sheik/General Adnan). We then return to color with another two-pager on the fabled High Chief Peter Maivia. The world now knows him as the grandfather of The Rock, but Maivia had quite the career in his own right. His well-documented tribal tattoos are showcased here both in photos and the written word. Maivia will figure into future Wrestling Action issues as well, including in a run that is less well-remembered than the one shown here.
I've never been able to pick a "favorite" wrestling collectible, but when pressed, the Wrestling Action set has definitely come up. They're an amazingly well-crafted set of time capsules from a very important period in the biggest wrestling company in history. By the time that we reach the final issue, it will become clear just how much history is collected, and preserved, in these five publications.
Thursday, April 21, 2016
It isn't as if the figures from that era are bad, it's just that a number of factors have left the toys dead in the water for the time being. For starters, let's look at the previous time period, known to many as "The Attitude Era." While WWE capitalized on the nostalgia for that late-1990s period when launching WWE Network, the popularity has not translated to most of the corresponding collectibles. Mass production was at its peak and Jakks could not churn out enough Stone Cold, The Rock, and Undertaker figures. To this day, those and other Superstars of the era are consistently sold on store shelves, now by Mattel and with modern production techniques.
If the figures of the icons of that immensely popular era aren't doing well, you can imagine that those of just five years later aren't fairing much better. That period of time saw very low-level interest in wrestling as a whole. It was a time of virtual identity crisis for the business when it seemingly could not decide between the adult themes of the "Attitude Era" or the family friendliness of the decade prior.
When Mattel rolled out their WWE line, interest in the first TNA figure line from Toybiz shot up. This was because many of those figures were similar in scale to the Mattel offerings. Suddenly, figures of Jeff Hardy, Sting, Samoa Joe, Kurt Angle, and others that were unlikely to be made by WWE at the time were seeing a greatly renewed interest. With several new lines coming soon from Figures Toy Company in the Jakks scale and style, I could see the same thing happening with the old official Jakks product.
It's hard to predict trends. If it was easy, we could all be making some big money. But as far as those "Ruthless Aggression" era WWE Jakks figures? I wouldn't give them away just yet. Collectors may come a'knockin', and a'buyin', in the relatively near future.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Less than a decade ago, Blackjack published his autobiography "True Lies & Alibis," but you don't have to have read the book to know some crazy stories about the towering cowboy. It seems that every wrestler from the '70s has a Blackjack story or two. If you put them altogether, it would seem that Blackjack must not have lived an ordinary day in his life. He was a true character. A legend in his own time.
The legendary Wahoo wasn't Mulligan's only main nemesis. The cowboy from Eagle Pass, TX also had famous battles with Andre the Giant, Ric Flair, "Number One" Paul Jones, Masked Superstar, Bruno Sammartino, Dusty Rhodes, Harley Race, and Dick Murdoch just to name a select few. He also ended up teaming with many of those legends, but his most famous partner was his fellow "Blackjack," Jack Lanza. Paired with Bobby Heenan or Lou Albano, the team made the most waves in the Midwest and the WWWF.
Of course, it's no secret that Mulligan is the patriarch of a wrestling dynasty that includes sons Barry and Kendall Windham and grandsons Bray Wyatt and Bo Dallas. Barry, for a time, in fact wrestled under the name of Blackjack Mulligan Jr. He would go on to carve out his own legacy away from that of his storied father.
Although I wanted to do this small tribute of my own, I must recommend that you check out a site that I've referred you to before, The Mid-Atlantic Gateway. Blackjack was certainly one of the biggest stars of that great resource, and their tributes do not disappoint. You will also want to check out their past stories on Blackjack, including "The Legend of The Hat & The Robe." I guarantee that you will end that read thinking but one thing: "Now THAT is how a wrestling story should be told!"
Mr. Mulligan suffered for a long time. He is now out of pain and in a far better place. His life and the many stories surrounding it could probably fill ten books minimum. He was a one-of-a-kind person who starred in a unique industry in a time when outlaws truly lived up to that moniker. Through those stories, film footage, photos, and his cherished family, Blackjack Mulligan lives on forever.
Robert "Blackjack Mulligan" Windham
Thursday, April 7, 2016
The Build-A-Bearer figure has already had a storied shelf-life. The retailer of the first sets, Toys "R" Us, ultimately decided against continuing with the series, but not before releasing the Bearer figure outside of the United States. The figures collected to complete Bearer were Daniel Bryan, Damien Sandow, Kofi Kingston, and Dolph Ziggler. When WalMart decided to pick up the Build-A-Figure sets as their own exclusives, the lineup for the Bearer figure was changed. In a slightly better set, the U.S. received Neville, Rusev, Chris Jericho, and, fittingly, The Undertaker.
The Build-A-Figure lines have gone back and forth between "Basic" and "Elite" styles. This time (and for the foreseeable future) the figures are in the basic style. It comes down to being a difference of around seven dollars per figure. That certainly adds up. I have no problem with the releases continuing this way if it means saving around thirty bucks per set.
Rusev at least has different tights, but his figure "career" is starting to resemble that of his League of Nations counterpart Alberto Del Rio. A strong start with an Elite figure and then endless pegwarmers. Rusev is a great wrestler, but there are only so many looks for his figures. Chris Jericho is one that many fans will want as it is based on his look from the late '90s with long hair, long tights, and facial hair. The Jericho figure is also the one that includes the Paul Bearer head and urn. Since the rest of the Build-A-Figure bodies are relatively the same, some collectors have been known to just "go for the head."
With more and more managers entering the Mattel line, Paul Bearer was needed. There are plenty of Mattel "Flashback" figures that he fits right in with, including the monstrous four that I mentioned above. With the "Flashbacks" seeping into Mattel's regular lines now on a regular basis, I wouldn't be surprised to see another Bearer figure down the line. He could easily be redone in the ever-growing Hall of Fame line, or put into a Battle Pack with any of his various charges. Even a single basic style release would sell. As many of us were surprised to learn at the time of his untimely passing, Paul Bearer was indeed a major wrestling entry into pop culture. Produce a figure of him and it well sell, no questions asked.
The Build-A-Figure sets now live on with their new-found retailer. We already know that Mean Gene Okerlund will make his Mattel debut in the next round of four. The four figures? Cesaro, Seth Rollins, and "Flashbacks" of X-Pac and Triple H. The best part? "Gene Mean" is clad in a style that has not previously been done as a figure--his early WWF khaki pants/blue blazer look. In the words of the man himself, "You've gotta be kiddin' me!"
Thursday, March 31, 2016
I passed up on the first Big Boss Man figure to hit the Mattel WWE line several years ago. It was released at a time when I wasn't quite sold on the Mattel product and I was really only collecting "new" characters. The figure has since skyrocketed in demand (and secondary market value). Now many collectors, including myself, are getting a second chance thanks to a brand new series exclusive to Toys "R" Us. It's the "WWE Network Spotlight" series. Essentially, the line will likely be an all-"Flashback" series similar to the Target exclusive WWE Hall of Fame set. Thus far a 1990's Hunter Hearst Helmsley is also in the series, with a Shawn Michaels to follow.
Most figures of Ray "Big Boss Man" Traylor have captured a good likeness and this one is no different. Something about the stance of this figure really seems to scream "Hard Times." I hear his famous theme song just looking at it. The only issue I have is that in the lot that I encountered, all seemed to have paint issues on the uniform. The one that I ultimately chose only had a line on his strap that can easily be fixed, but others had issues with the yellow stripe down the leg. For collectors who keep every figure carded, this can be a killer.
The Big Boss Man is one of the very few of my favorites from childhood that I didn't have the chance to meet. By all accounts, he was a heckuva guy. My friend David Isley often tells stories of Mr. Traylor from their days working the Jim Crockett Promotions shows at TBS Studios. Terri Runnels, an "Attitude-Era" travel companion of the Boss Man, has also publicly shared her memories. At the 2016 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony, I hope to hear even more about the legendary gentle giant of the ring.
Since we've done WrestleMania stories just about every year since the inception of the blog, I decided to give it a break this year. Over the past several weeks we've looked at several new Hall of Fame inductees and, in what is becoming an annual deal, I have my thoughts on the big event itself at my other blog, Josh Culture. Whether you're in Dallas this weekend or following the fun on WWE Network, enjoy the spectacle that is WrestleMania!
Thursday, March 24, 2016
He's seemingly done it all. Member of "The Gentrys," Memphis wrestling icon, manager of champions, "Colonel," theme composer, wrestling's virtual ambassador, and even a cast member of WWE Legends House. At the age of 72, "The Mouth" shows no signs of slowing down. And despite being one of the most villainous managers in professional wrestling history, it's hard to find someone who has a bad word to say about Jimmy.
I always like to point out when I feel that a wrestler was "made" to be an action figure just by looking at them. Jimmy Hart fits that bill. From his endless closet of colorful jackets to his sunglasses and signature megaphone, Jimmy is a sight. I wouldn't call him "the greatest walking advertisement for birth control ever" as Gorilla Monsoon so often did, but his "loud" look (not to mention his loud mouth) has helped make him the legend that he is. Not only is Jimmy a legend, but he is also a WWE Hall of Famer.
It's the Target exclusive WWE Hall of Fame figure series that gained us our first "Mouth" in the line. Three figures make up this third series, with "Macho King" Randy Savage and "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase also available. Jimmy is the only debut figure this time around and will likely be the most popular of the three. The packaging has changed yet again to match up with the regular 2016 "Elite" style boxes. It still follows the familiar WWE Hall of Fame motif of royal blue and gold and won't clash with previous entries to the line.
Thanks to the removable sunglasses, I believe Mattel may take the title for "Best Jimmy Hart Facial Likeness." It's seriously spot-on, and I don't think that any other Jimmy's have been quite this good. Some may not like the open mouth on the figure, but isn't that what you want in a Jimmy Hart? It works for Jimmy screaming into the megaphone, cackling during a promo, or screaming for his life when a heroic wrestler got hold of him, waiting to get revenge.
He's the Dick Clark of wrestling. A unique gimmick that was born in Memphis, but made it big throughout the world. Since he looks virtually the same today and still pops up all over the WWE Universe, this is one Hall of Fame figure that fits in any style of collection anywhere. Similar to Trish Stratus in the first series (and Yokozuna to a lesser extent in the second), this will be the one that people are going for. With Mattel's recent penchant for re-releases and peppering Legends throughout their line, who knows if we'll see Jimmy again. Keep in mind that it is a manager figure, which could hamper the possibility. I know that I'd love to see Jimmy decked out in his superhero costume down the line!
Next week, Mattel brings us yet another Hall of Famer, but in a brand-new line. This Hall of Famer is new to the honor, being of the Class of 2016. Stay tuned, Hard Times are yet to come...
Thursday, March 17, 2016
Stan Hansen belongs in any and all wrestling Halls of Fame. The rugged Texan put fear into the hearts of fans the world over, but it's usually pointed out that his biggest fame came outside of the United States. He is arguably the most successful gaijin (foreigner in Japan) to ever set foot in a Japanese wrestling ring. Both in singles and tag team action, Hansen fascinated the Japanese wrestling fans in a way similar to Fred Blassie several decades earlier. He was the big, bad, American villain. While he certainly built a name here in the States, it is his legendary work overseas that cemented his legacy in the squared circle.
Then there are the stories of Hansen's bad sight. By his own admission, Hansen has very poor vision when not wearing his eyeglasses. This apparently lent itself to Hansen's realistic-looking style in the ring, as it is said that it wasn't unusual for punches and clotheslines from the big cowboy to make true contact. It was that style that caused the eye of Big Van Vader to pop from its socket during one particularly brutal New Japan Pro Wrestling bout.
Similar to his co-inductees in the 2016 WWE Hall of Fame The Fabulous Freebirds, it was a certain action figure that brings Stan Hansen to the minds of countless children of the 1980's. Hansen was a key part of the Remco AWA action figure line. The figure came in a "Greatest Grudge Matches" two-pack along with Jerry "Crusher" Blackwell. Thanks to Remco using their larger body style, Hansen is taller than many of the other figures. The facial likeness is spot on and, as is usual with the Remco line, the accessories are superb. Soft goods chaps and a vest were included with the figure, as was his trademark cowboy hat. I can still remember finding a second-hand Hansen figure, long before I knew who all made up the AWA line. The hair and mustache said it all--I was holding a Stan Hansen figure in my hand. I've since re-equipped it with original accessories, but the figure remains the same one in my collection.
Hansen did a great job inducting Antonio Inoki into the WWE Hall of Fame back in 2010. The next year we were treated to the story of Hansen's career in his autobiography titled "The Last Outlaw." Now it's time for one more look at Japan's favorite cowboy...and America's most under appreciated brawler.