Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Starting The Year Off Sadly & Silently...

As if enough living treasures from the wrestling world weren't already snatched away in 2018, we begin 2019 with yet another loss. It was just last week when I was writing about Mean Gene Okerlund who had been my favorite action figure of the year. This week, the world is mourning his death.

Mr. Okerlund's health problems over the years have been no secret. He came clean about one of his kidney transplants in the WWE Legends House series, yet in personal appearances he clearly hid any pain and suffering from which he may have been enduring. He never needed any aide to walk nor did he show major signs of age or exhaustion. He seemed to be the same Gene Okerlund that we grew up watching.

Perhaps that is why this one hits so hard. Certainly 76 isn't young, but in this day and age it isn't "old enough," either. Us children of the '80s who grew up with the World Wrestling Federation television network virtually narrated by the voice of Mean Gene figured that we would have him around. Sure, many of the wrestlers have left us, but those golden tones of the iconic announcer would be there far into the future, right? Sadly, along with the sound of Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, among others, another legendary voice of the era is silenced.

For me, Gene was always the voice of authority on those broadcasts. You believed in what he said and the stars and stories that he talked about were believable. How could you doubt what he said? The grudges like Andre and Hogan, Warrior and Rude, DiBiase and Roberts were just as vicious as he claimed. If he said that the world was talking about WrestleMania, then you'd better follow his advice and get on the horn and order the show on pay-per-view right now.

And speaking of the world...no one sold the '80s WWF tagline of "What The World Is Watching!" better than Mean Gene. His voice, coupled with the dramatic camera flight over water and canyons ending with thunder and lightning. You know the intro. And while the company has had other intros since, there will never be a better one. In fact, I would love for the company to one day bring back that slogan and use his authoritative voice. If Macdonald Carey can still tell us about the sands through the hour glass decades after his death, then Mean Gene can stay with us, too.

This is another gentleman that I will greatly miss showing up at conventions and events. You always knew that you were in for a laugh when Mean Gene was there. Of the many stars that I've met, I may have the most stories involving him. From asking a well-inebriated Mean Gene about the infamous SummerSlam sign blooper to seeing him pour on the charm just as he did so often on-camera, my memories will last forever, just as will all of yours.

From all of your "good, close, personal longtime" friends in the wrestling world, thanks for the memories, Gene. You weren't putting any of us on, you were a helluva guy.


Mean Gene Okerlund

1942-2019

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Winds of Change...

And with that we wrap up yet another year. It's hard to believe. It's also hard to believe that in just a few months we'll be celebrating ten years of the blog. More on that in a bit. First, I must address your questions, "Where are the J\/\/ Awards? Is the coveted 'Joshie' not being awarded this year?" Well, yes and no. There will be a Figure of the Year named, but other than that we have seen the last of the awards. To be simple and to the point, there just isn't enough great new merchandise out there anymore to warrant so many awards. That, coupled with the news at the end of this entry, should explain it.

How about that "Figure of the Year?" Just who is it? In a year with many great figures, the top choices reviewed on this very blog, I must go with one that hit fairly early on. It would be the first Mattel WWE release of none other than everyone's good, close, personal, longtime friend, Mean Gene Okerlund. While it was a retailer exclusive (an ever-growing blight on the Mattel line), the Gene Mean figure was near-perfect. Many had issues keeping one arm attached while the other became a burden when switching it out to change the included blazer colors. Ultimately the greatness of the likeness won out.

It didn't hurt that Mean Gene is one of the most beloved wrestling personalities of all-time. On camera he was a complete character, often with a stronger personality than many of the wrestlers. That helped those lacking in the "mic skills" department, however, as Gene knew how to bring a story out of them. Off camera, he's exactly as you would imagine. Mr. Okerlund still tours the appearance circuit frequently, so if you have the chance to meet the Hall of Famer, take advantage of the opportunity.

There is one more J\/\/ Award for 2018. That would be the "Thanks For The Memories" award. For the first time since that award started, this individual is very much alive and well. This gentleman always let me know how much he'd love to one day be awarded a "Joshie," and there has never been a better time. The 2018 honoree is a man by the name of John Wroblewski, known to many as Johngy. A journalist with a strong mainstream background, I first discovered " Johngy's Beat" many years ago thanks to his frequent coverage of meeting wrestlers and other celebrities. Soon, Johngy began featuring me on his site and in-turn greatly helped the success of this blog. Thank you, Johngy, for all of that help. We *will* finally meet one of these days, and maybe I'll have a physical "Joshie" for you at that point. Did you all notice his resemblance to Jay Leno? I mention that in hopes that I can join an elite club. I'd be remiss if I did not mention the photo here, with both of the 2018 J\/\/ Award winners celebrating the news.

And with that, J\/\/'s Wrestling Memorabilia Blog moves in a different direction. This is the last weekly post of the blog. By no means is the blog ending, I've simply come to the decision that weekly posts are no longer sustainable. It was not an easy choice, but many things factored in. We will still be looking at the best in wrestling memorabilia and memories, but on a less structured basis. The tenth anniversary is rapidly approaching, and there is no way that we won't all be celebrating. Keep an eye on us on all forms of social media including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit for information on when new entries post. Trust me, this blog isn't going anywhere...

...and if you like the blog, you'll love the book. Stay tuned.


Thursday, December 20, 2018

RIP 2018 -- Legendary Losses of Many We Thought Were Immortal

As our favorite stars age, they begin to fade away. In the world of professional wrestling, dozens of those individuals are leaving us each year. For the past fifteen or so years, it's been an overwhelming trend. 2018 held many shockers, including one that many of us thought would truly live forever. This annual entry remembers just a few of those names, but as always is no sleight on any who may have been overlooked.

This year saw the deaths of Bruno Sammartino, Big Bully Busick, Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, Don Leo Jonathan, Dynamite Kid, Nikolai Volkoff, Brian Christopher, Brickhouse Brown, Johnny Valiant, Masa Saito, Matt Cappotelli, Frank Durso, Paul Jones, Rockin' Rebel, Big Van Vader, Larry Hennig, Dick Slater, Chris Champion, Doc Dean, Mt. Fiji, Frank Andersson, Jose Lothario, and Villano III.

The Pittsburgh wrestling community was rocked to its core with the death of Bruno who was the cornerstone of a once thriving wrestling hotbed. There is no doubt that with his passing, the Pittsburgh wrestling scene as it was is gone forever. The deaths of Busick, Valiant, and Volkoff also factor into the Steel City, with all three having major ties. In December, journeyman Frank Durso also passed. Nicknamed "Slip Mahoney" by the late voice of Pittsburgh wrestling Bill Cardille, Durso ended up getting back into the local independent scene up until a few years ago and possibly enjoyed his greatest fame.

Dick Slater's death was not unexpected due to many issues over the past decade. Though he spent time in nearly every major organization of his era, one must wonder if his career could have been much more than it ended up being. Though not a national household name, Slater had the respect of fans and peers alike for his in-ring work and truly living up to his WWF nickname of "The Rebel."

Paul Jones was always a personal favorite of mine, though I only came in on his managerial career. Looking back at old footage, reading the magazines, and hearing the enthusiasm and testimonials of so many old school fans at the Charlotte Fanfests over the years, the real "Number One" really came to life. Possibly too small to have caught on nationally, Jones was a bonafide superstar in areas like Florida and the Carolinas. He was also a really fun guy to talk to who kept it real with fans in his later years.

The list of 2018 almost seemed endless as it continued to grow. A variety of situations, circumstances, and ages surrounded these deaths. All we have left are the memories, carried by each and every fan who these individuals touched. As the rings get emptier and the convention guest lineups get shorter, the ring in the great beyond just grows more crowded.

To paraphrase Jim Cornette, "They aren't making any new legends."


Thursday, December 13, 2018

A Very Dusty Christmas

Here we are, Holiday 2018, with more living proof that The American Dream still lasts. If you've been a good little boy or girl this year, you may just end up with Big Dust under your tree. Though "The Dream" has had Elite style figures before, this is his first inclusion in the actual Elite lineup. Keeping with the holiday season, where better to take a look at this figure than beside the Christmas tree? Warning: if fake white Christmas trees offend you, I would go no further. Personally, I think Christmas trees of any make, color, or material are eye candy...canes.

As we go into 2019 with Mattel making many fumbles along the way that have already been documented here, it looks like we're keeping something positive: the rectangle packaging! My love for it has been well described on this blog, as has my dislike for the flimsy plastic/cardboard "backdrop" stands. The latter? Seemingly gone! They looked terrible, were cheaply made, and could not have been appealing to the kids or adults who are buying these figures.

New to the line is what is being called "True FX." Touted on the bubble of the packaging, this is supposedly a new digital scanning tool. We know it isn't used on this figure, as this Dusty facial likeness has been utilized on figures for nearly a decade. It's a good likeness, but not as good as the Dusty figure included with the Target exclusive WCW ring set. For whatever reason, that sculpt/scan has not been seen again to date.

What I love about this figure are the accessories. You get Dusty's truckers hat, sunglasses, elbow pad, "Big Gold" belt, two interchangeable fists, and removable t-shirt. Along with "True FX," interchangeable hands are another new feature going forward. So far, they seem relatively easy to switch in and out. I don't know that it's necessary to include them with every character, but it's a lot better than the aforementioned stands. The hat fits well, but the sunglasses want to pop off. They are not as snug as those recently released with JJ Dillon and Ric Flair.

The key here is the t-shirt. It's a reasonable facsimile of the old NWA/Jim Crockett Promotions "American Dream" shirt that Dusty frequently wore. Though you do have to remove the elbow pad to put it on, it fits Big Dust very snugly. Honestly, it will look even better on the Target exclusive Dusty that I mentioned above, which is ultimately the better figure. Still, this is a very nice figure on its own merits. The belt is the standard release with the WWE logo, but it is what it is. It's just nice that we get yet another accessory included.

A nice treat from Mattel to end 2018 and begin the new year. This certainly covers more ground in the Dusty Rhodes figure world, although there are still three more looks that I'd like Mattel to tackle: jacket, red polka dots, and early 2000's/ECW. Let's be honest, though, I'd purchase any figure of The Dream that any company decides to put out. He is my all-time favorite, I have many personal memories with the man, and The Dream does indeed live on. 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

From The Musty Yellowed Pages--WWF Magazine January 1995

Ahhh 1995. The New Generation. A gimmick that I never necessarily bought into, although I did appreciate that so many of the characters and talent that I started enjoying through wrestling were still around. The cover of this magazine featured three of those with King Kong Bundy, "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase, and Jameson. So despite the '90s being well documented as a time that I least like to remember and have probably written about the least on this blog over the past decade, here we are. Let's take a look at what the World Wrestling Federation was made of during one of its most tumultuous times.

As evidenced by the cover, this is the 1994 Christmas issue. Although magazines are all but a memory now, for those of you who are too young to know, periodicals were usually dated far ahead. We would have purchased this off of the newsstand just as Christmas trees and Kris Kringle were fresh on our minds, thus King Kong Bundy dressed as Santa Claus.

I used the word "tumultuous" above to describe the WWF at this point in time and that was no exaggeration. In front of the cameras the fans were dealing with a constant trade-out of talent in an attempt to introduce new stars and create new superstars. This didn't always work, thus displayed by King Kong Bundy being a lead heel on the roster. Behind the scenes the company was dealing with the fallout of the infamous steroid trial that saw Vince McMahon front and center. In a rare acknowledgement of McMahon as being more than just an announcer, a two page article tells of the trial and McMahon's appearance with Chet Coppock discussing some very real-life situations.

We get a preview of "Caged!," which was the first entry in what was to be a regular series of magazines labeled as "WWF Limited Edition Collector's Series." While there only ended up being two editions, these magazines were to take a look at specific concepts such as steel cage matches and Monday Night Raw. The "Caged!" issue featured glimpses at many matches that were otherwise largely unseen back in the day, seeing as that many of these "blow-off" encounters were either dark matches or limited strictly to house shows. The shot of Rowdy Roddy Piper hoisting both the WWF and Intercontinental Championship belts has always been a favorite of mine.

The magazine had other interesting features that weren't part of the WWF's standard operating procedure back in 1995. There were both "The Informer" and "The Bite" penned "secretly" by Vince Russo. Both offered "rumor and innuendo" of "insider" information that pretended to pull back the curtain in an era where kayfabe still lived in a loose sense. "Rookies to Legends," in this issue featuring George "The Animal" Steele, looked at superstars from the past in an era where only current talent was mentioned 99% of the time. To appeal to the kids, we had video game reviews as well as the merchandise catalog showcasing overpriced (for the time) Hasbro WWF figures at $9.99 a pop, as well as now-coveted items such as the Doink the Clown teddy bear, complete with Dink bear.

Jeff Jarrett got a load of coverage in the magazine. This issue may show why. Double J has always had a relationship with Vince Russo and in this particular spread the writer is even shown speaking with Jarrett. This time Double J has invaded Las Vegas complete with showgirls and celebrity impersonators. A later issue has Jarrett, along with The Roadie, invading Hollywood and hobnobbing with the likes of "Golden Girl" Estelle Getty. Talk about a clash in my interests with me being an unashamed lifelong fan of the geriatric foursome as well as Double J.

This issue also features the second annual "Dubious Achievement Awards." It's a humorous look at the then-current goings on in the World Wrestling Federation. I remember the 1993 version being a bit funnier, but here we do get a rare shot of Heidi Lee Morgan in WWF Magazine (battling Bull Nakano) as well as one of the few mentions of announcer Charlie Minn. Though I was still an avid WWF viewer at the time, I recall not knowing who Minn was. I do believe that he hosted WWF Action Zone at the time, which I did not view or record for whatever reason.

We wrap up with a look at the WWF Holiday Wish tour, Lowdown (a collection of news worthy blurbs), a puzzle game, and "Scoop Sullivan," a largely forgotten back page cartoon. Though I missed many stars of my earlier childhood, at the time I still ate these magazines up. They were what I ultimately wanted to get into then. Thankfully, as an adult, I got to live out that dream albeit briefly. In 1995, I doubt I had many more Christmas wishes other than that...

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Retro Continues To Be Nowtro: Part II

Picking up where we left off last week, we look at four more new Mattel WWE Retro action figures. As promised, we're also going to dive into some issues that I have with this line as well as some of the others under the Mattel WWE umbrella. That isn't to say that the company has stopped cranking out some amazing product. Quite the contrary with a seeming continuation of these Retro figures as well as the regular sized products. How we're expected to be getting these figures into our collections is the problem.

Again in this series we have three new characters and a repaint. Included are Bray Wyatt, Daniel Bryan, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Sting. As with last week, the latter is a re-release although this one is striking. We have Sting in his red and black nWo Wolfpac attire. Aside from the obvious economics, I question why classic WCW "surfer" Sting wasn't done in this style. Needless to say, a long-haired "Crow" era Sting Retro figure was already produced, so this is the far easier repaint for Mattel to release. The red and black look admittedly grew on me with the "Elite" figure released in this attire by Mattel several years ago. The style is still striking here with the deep red.

Also repeated are the same issues here with the packaging as last week. The stands aren't too bad with Nakamura's actually looking fairly cool, but I still don't see the use for them. The figures don't benefit much from them and they eliminate an important part of the retro packaging. I'd rather see an accessory included with one or two figure per wave. The photo choices for the packaging are very Hasbro-esque, as well. Mattel does do their homework when it comes to detail like this, but sadly other issues creep up and subsequently the figure line suffers.

Wyatt, Bryan, and Nakamura are all hindered greatly in the facial likenesses. These do not look like Hasbro product at all. Those facial likenesses were cartoony, somewhat exaggerated, yet ultimately left you recognizing who the figure represented. These three look like bad customs with regular Mattel figure heads plopped onto Hasbro style bodies. If you want to see the correct style, take a look at Brock Lesnar from back in the first wave. You could tell it was "The Beast," yet it retained enough of the Hasbro look to fit right in.

The "Real Wrestling Action" continues with another "jolt" move for Wyatt, another "Jannetty" move for Bryan, another new kick for Nakamura, and the "jumping" mechanism for the repainted Sting. I would have liked Bryan to have been given a different mechanism, though I honestly don't know which I would have chosen. Nakamura's arms seem too big for him and would probably match up with those of The Warlord from the Hasbro run. This obviously should not be the case considering the varying physiques of those two men.

The true problem here is distribution. These figures have been out for months, yet these two series reviewed here in the past two weeks as well as a third haven't seen store shelves much at all. If a company doesn't make its product available, how do they expect the lines to continue? Further souring me in the Mattel WWE universe are upcoming Elite releases that will be "chase" figures. This would be fine if it were a special umpteenth release of John Cena or Roman Reigns, but instead these are brand new characters. I'm sure that I will touch upon this again in the future, but it doesn't please me in the slightest. Collecting should be a joy, not more work. Everyone should have equal access to any figure produced without turning a hobby into a chore. Keep in mind, this is a collector of over three decades saying this.

The Retro line is coming along nicely, though the concerns are clear and not limited to my voice on this blog. I wouldn't want to see bad distribution of future Retro figures like Kurt Angle and The Iron Sheik, neither of whom seem to suffer from the "custom head syndrome" mentioned above. It's a proven fact, poor distribution and choices have killed action figure lines dead in their tracks. Let's not see the last shining beacon in modern day wrestling memorabilia go down. Examples like Ric Flair from last week have what it takes to be the best figure release of the year. It would be a shame to see a blast from the past that appeals to all ages end with an unheard whimper.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Retro Continues To Be Nowtro: Part I

 It's an amazing time to be a kid from the '70s, '80s, or '90s. Pretty much any toy that you had, even gaming systems, are available again in stores worldwide. Even the action figures that you played with anywhere that you were able to take them can be found on store shelves. From the vintage plastic of Mego action figures in the likenesses of so many pop culture legends to "Kenner" branded Star Wars toys, everything old is new again. Thanks to the Mattel Retro WWE figure line that we've been covering for nearly two years, wrestling isn't left out.

For me, a bit of the shine has worn off since the initial offerings. This actually is starting to ring true for the entire Mattel WWE empire, but we'll get to that in the second half of this two-part review. This week and next will each showcase one of the most recent Retro figure series to be released. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of nice new figures here that we will look at, but that generally isn't where the problems lie. Before we get to broader issues, let's take a look at the new figures individually.

The cardbacks still strongly resemble the Hasbro WWF packaging of yore. The colors have stopped changing (the first two initial series were blue bordered) but they still fit in nicely with their classic counterparts. Unfortunately the changes that began with series three still linger. A plastic stand featuring the logo of the superstar in question is packaged where the "Real Wrestling Action" graphic should be. Above that is a completely out-of-place advertisement for an app. One of the highlights of the Hasbro line was the large photo of the wrestler. This annoying ad detracts from the photo.

In this set we have Ric Flair, Finn Balor, Sami Zayn, and Kevin Owens. The latter is a repaint of his release from the first series. Like the earlier figures each superstar has an aforementioned "Real Wrestling Action" that either copies or mirrors one from the Hasbro years. Balor's is close to that of the first Marty Jannetty, Owens has the Andre/Akeem/Dusty "jolt," Flair's is an adapted version of the spring-action waist which originated with "Macho King" Randy Savage, and Zayn has a brand-new kick action that easily could have been created nearly thirty years ago. His pose reminds me of the first "Million Dollar Man" figure by Hasbro.

The likenesses and detail are good on all, and just "cartoony" enough to fit into the original Hasbro line. We will dive more into this topic next week. The star here, however, is Ric Flair. This is the Flair that we should've received back during his WWF run. The "chop" move works excellently and the figure simply runs circles around the rather poorly executed Flair Hasbro that saw release in 1993. The re-used body of Ravishing Rick Rude just did not work and I'm sure that I'm not the only one who, at first glance of the famous WWF Magazine ad, thought that the facial likeness was Dino Bravo. One of Hasbro's biggest World Wrestling Federation blunders is finally corrected.

Even though one of the four here is a repaint, this is a nice set. We'll get more detailed next week as we look at a subsequent series and what seems to be going wrong with the line. In the meantime, have you even seen these on store shelves? How about the other newer sets? If the public cannot buy, they will not support. It's as simple as that, and it seems to be creeping into all aspects of Mattel WWE figure collecting.

To be continued...