Thursday, January 22, 2015

The 25th Anniversary of Hasbro WWF--Part 4

The Hasbro WWF line was a ton of fun to play with.  Growing up with them as I did, I ought to know.  The lack of non-wrestler figures in the collection was a bit frustrating, but Hasbro was likely looking at LJN sales records where some manager and announcer figures performed worse at retail compared to the wrestlers themselves.  Even without the extra characters, the Hasbro figures remain a favorite all of these years later, and here are five more of my own favorite products from the line...

*Macho Madness makes my list twice!  Although he was the "Macho King" for less than two years, it was a very cool extension of the Randy Savage character.  Coupled with Sensational Queen Sherri, the duo is well-remembered for their feuds with Dusty Rhodes, Sapphire, Miss Elizabeth, The Ultimate Warrior, and Roddy Piper.  Despite not being in the title scene of the time, Savage's matches with the aforementioned foes headlined cards around the country.  The Hasbro Macho King figure had a regal purple and gold color scheme and came complete with removable crown and a sceptre for bashing opponents ("Ding!"--Jesse Ventura).

*Earthquake and Typhoon weren't a couple of fat slobs, these were two gigantic and powerful men.  I was always a fan of the larger-than-life wrestlers, and the very first tag team match that I saw live pitted the Natural Disasters against Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Sgt. Slaughter.  Just a few months later I was again thrilled when the Hasbro Natural Disasters hit the stores.  By this time, Hasbro was no longer producing tag team sets, so Earthquake and Typhoon were sold separately.  My parents were as watchful for new product as I was, and one afternoon my mother surprised me with Earthquake.  She even went as far as to suggest that I team him with Akeem until I could purchase Typhoon!  In case you were wondering, that extra large team never came to be.  A short time later I bought Typhoon at Children's Palace with some money from my grandparents.

*The Hot Rod!  Though the Hasbro version of Piper is wearing entrance gear, I.wouldn't have it any other way.  Roddy has always been among my favorites in the Hasbro line, and it's actually a version that we haven't seen since.  The red elbow pads indicate that Hasbro was trying to capture the look from early in his 1989 return.  I have also always appreciated the effort that was taken by combining his "pre-ring" kilt attire with a no-nonsense action pose.  And of course, this figure is perfect for recreating his 1992 Saturday Night's Main Event match with The Mountie.  You remember.  "Shock Proof!"

*As most companies do with major licenses like the WWF, Hasbro branched out.  None of the other toys were nearly as successful as the action figures, but a few were just as fun.  The Jake Roberts "Snake" toy is a cool spin-off, but it was released at a bad time.  To begin with, it was simply marketed as his "snake" as opposed to Damien or Lucifer.  Whether or not this had to do with the names themselves or the fact that it was designed/released around the time of the transition is anyone's guess.  Add that to the fact that Roberts himself was gone from the WWF not long after release ensured that the snake would have a short sales window.

*Who would've believed, even in 1992 when his first figure hit shelves, that The Undertaker would be one of the longest lasting creations to come from the company?  The aura of the character may only be matched by the likes of Andre the Giant.  The evolution of the character helped keep "The Deadman" alive for nearly a quarter of a century.  The original look and feel of The Undertaker, an old west mortician, was never better captured than in the Hasbro figure. In his second release, it was the inclusion of the cloth overcoat that truly made the figure fresh and unique.

Up next...my final five!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The 25th Anniversary of Hasbro WWF--Part 3

 As we roll on in the month-long 25th anniversary celebration of Hasbro WWF, it's interesting to note two other silver milestones in wrestling for 2015.  WrestleMania VI, my personal favorite edition of the event, will be celebrating the big 2-5 and in November, the character of The Undertaker will have been tombstoning his way through WWF/WWE rings for twenty-five years.  Who could have imagined that the latter, what easily could've been a throwaway character, would be iconic a quarter of a century later?  I have a feeling that "The Phenom" will show up in our Hasbro remembrances eventually, but for now here are the five for this week...

*For as big as they were, the Von Erich family did not see an action figure until "The Texas Tornado" hit shelves in 1992.  A great likeness coupled with a "Real Wrestling Action" that fit his actual finishing move, the Tornado was a great addition to the Hasbro lineup. The sad reality was that the figure was released less than a year before the untimely death of Kerry Von Erich.  That being said, Von Erich did several known autograph appearances in that time period and was known to be a gracious signer regardless.  Does a signed Texas Tornado Hasbro figure exist?  Time will tell should one ever surface, but until then we have a great figure of one of wrestling's most storied and charismatic legends.

*Kamala may be beloved now, but in his ring days "The Ugandan Giant" was terrifying.  The mask, paint, spear, and wailing battle cry were enough to scare any young fan and make the big man fascinating at the same time.  From Andre the Giant to Hulk Hogan to The Undertaker, Kamala was a formidable foe for all. Hasbro brought collectors the second action figure of the headhunter, and I can still remember the day that I found it.  A small mob of kids were crowded around the Toys "R" Us Hasbro WWF section, so I knew something good had to be there.  It didn't take me long to notice the yellow borders of the newest figure set. It took even less time for me to decide that Kamala was joining my collection that day.

*Hasbro was no stranger to Sgt. Slaughter.  His deal with Hasbro's bread and butter, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, is legendary and made him a household name and pop culture celebrity.  However, this figure was his first to officially be produced under the WWF banner.  It has an interesting design, as his attire is patterned after gear wore in a photo shoot and not actually in the ring, but it fits the Hasbro style perfectly. I doubt a more perfect facial likeness of Slaughter will ever be captured.  Sgt. Slaughter was the first wrestler that I ever met, was in the first tag team match that I ever saw live, and the first (and only) male wrestler to sit on my lap.  At ease!

*There's no doubt that the One Man Gang would have made a cool looking Hasbro figure, but Akeem was absolutely made to be in the line.  As "The Gang" himself tells it, Vince McMahon wanted a more colorful character than the "OMG," thus Akeem was born.  "The African Dream" hasn't been seen in WWF rings since shortly after the figure was released in 1990 and it's a shame. The One Man Gang has made a few token appearances, but with all of the goofy WWE humor, we need at least one more appearance from the former Twin Tower.  Rumor has always been that Akeem was to have been in the WrestleMania X-7 Gimmick Battle Royal, but that Gang had lost too much weight to fit the costume.  These days, the big man is once again large and in charge.  It's time for Akeem to jive down the aisle, one more time.

*Talk about having the "look" of a wrestler, Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart fits that bill.  The Hasbro figure captured that.  Though many of us would have preferred "The Anvil" in original Hart Foundation attire, instead we got him in the baggy pants of The New Foundation.  His partner in the latter team, Owen Hart, did not come along until a year later.  If ever you could hear an action figure verbalizing his catch phrase, it's this one.  The Hasbro "Anvil" is screaming "Yeah Baby!" and cackling just as he performs one of his flattening clotheslines.  Hasbro also captured the oft-jiggling paunch of Neidhart as well as they did his facial features. 

A tornado, an anvil, a Ugandan headhunter, an African dream, and a real American hero.  A battle royal if there ever was one is forming among these Hasbro elite, and next week we add another five to the fray!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The 25th Anniversary of Hasbro WWF--Part 2

While I owned some LJN WWF figures as a child, I best remember collecting and playing with the Hasbro line.  It was always exciting to see new product in stores.  It got easier to spot those new goodies when, in late 1993, Hasbro adopted a system to differentiate between the various series of figures.  The borders of the cardbacks began to be released in varying colors.  Yellow, red, purple, solid blue (red, white, and blue had been the original color scheme dating back to 1990) and finally green all made it into the lineup.  What could have followed will be speculated and debated forever, but it's time again to celebrate five more great items that we did see.

*For some reason, when I began collecting the Hasbro line in 1991 the first tag team set that I wanted was The Bushwhackers.  Though they were a pure comedy act for the duration of their stay in the WWF, Luke and Butch obviously "whacked" their way into the hearts of many fans.  As far as their figures went, a nearly undecipherable appearance (as far as their verbalizing was concerned) in the first Hasbro "tag team" commercial probably went a long way as far as cementing them into the collections of kids all over.  The team from Down Under even saw a repainted re-release on single cards complete with switched heads and "chewed" cap accessories in 1994.

*Most of the Hasbro body styles were reused time and time again, but Yokozuna was one of the few that stood alone.  The Samoan star, billed as a sumo wrestler, was pushed to the moon as an unstoppable villain between late-1992 and mid-1994.  If you weren't around for the "Bodyslam Challenge" on July 4th, 1993, you really don't understand just how unstoppable Yokozuna seemed.  There didn't seem to be any credible threats to his championship reign.  Even after Lex Luger executed the hiptoss heard 'round the world, many of us remained convinced that Yoko would remain on top for a long time.  The result was a popular figure that, like Andre the Giant in the first series, stood out among the rest.  Banzai!

*Few superstars remain as beloved as Randy Savage, but when the Hasbro line was initially designed in 1989, the Macho Man was fast becoming a hated heel.  By the time that the second series was planned, Savage was being billed as the "Macho King," but the first series included a figure that appeared much as he had since his WWF arrival in 1985.  A headband, sunglasses, and stars on the tights.  This is how so many of us will always remember the Macho Man.  This first Hasbro figure of Savage provided that simple yet effective look and while he would make more appearances in the line, many collectors consider this the ultimate version.

*For a "common man," his action figure was apparently anything but.  Although I had no problems finding Dusty Rhodes on the pegs back in the Hasbro heyday, it's become quite evident that a lot of collectors did. His carded figure has long commanded high prices on the secondary market.  Even "The American Dream" himself has a love for the figure, recently using it as his main Twitter photo.  Rarity or not, it is the very first figure of a wrestler who has been capturing the emotions of wrestling fans for nearly fifty years.  Intentional or not, that "Bionic Elbow" left arm seems to be loose on every version, even mine that came directly off of the card. 

*There were a few items in the Hasbro line that if you blinked, you missed them.  If you were lucky enough to see it on the shelf once and wanted it, you hopefully added it to your collection.  The King of the Ring ring was definitely one of those items.  Released in 1994, the ring was a reissue of the original Hasbro ring molded in yellow and red and including King of the Ring stickers.  It will always be my own personal speculation that this item was designed intended as a Hulk Hogan-themed ring.  When his brief 1993 return ended (at the same time that this item would've been planned), the colors were retained but King of the Ring stickers were included instead.  There is no shred of evidence to indicate this, but it certainly seems plausible.

It couldn't have been so many years since my Hasbro Dusty was battling the Galoob WCW Arn Anderson or Yokozuna was being slammed in the King of the Ring ring, but it has.  Time flies when you're having fun, and Hasbro certainly provided that.  Next week, five more in store!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The 25th Anniversary of Hasbro WWF--Part 1

It seems like only yesterday that those memorable commercials starring Jesse "The Body" Ventura burst onto the scene.  All new WWF action figures, complete with "Real Wrestling Action," that were about half of the size of what fans were accustomed to.  Despite having a short, roughly five-year run, the Hasbro WWF line continues to soar in popularity to this day.  2015 marks the 25th anniversary of the line.  Here on the blog, all of January will be dedicated to the line. Each week, I'll be remembering five of my twenty-five favorite items to come from the Hasbro-WWF partnership.  It's going to be a month of plastic, springs, and toys that are "so close to the real thing, it's like bein' in the ring!"

*What a rush!  What better way to kick off the celebration than with Hawk and Animal, The Legion of Doom!  The boys had already seen an action figure release in the Remco AWA line, but this was the first set to feature the famous spiked shoulder pads.  Though the pads were molded on (a Hasbro trend), the figures remain a favorite of many.  The Hawk figure even made an appearance at the 2011 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony, standing in for the late superstar.  Distribution on the pair varied greatly from area to area for a number of reasons, but the Road Warriors remain a favorite of most any Hasbro collector.

*Even late in the game, Hasbro was cranking out some impressive looking product.  Adam Bomb made his debut in the infamous final series that was released on green bordered card backs.  A ton of detail was put into the superstar from Three Mile Island, and the figure easily rivals the Adam Bomb Jakks Classic Superstars release over a decade later.  From the flowing hair to the goggles to the "nuclear" design of his gear, the Adam Bomb figure easily eclipses the life of the character itself.

*Hasbro had the WWF license at a perfect time.  The style of the figures worked impeccably with the wild and colorful characters that populated WWF rings of the time.  Papa Shango is a top example of this, with his hat, facepaint, tattoos, and "bone" necklace.  The antics of the voodoo priest were largely relegated to the opening matches once the figure saw release, but that didn't stop kids from continuing the crazy occurrences in the Hasbro ring.  Charles Wright would go on to portray several other memorable characters of the squared circle, but this Hasbro figure (and some black goo...) is a big reason why Papa Shango is so well remembered. 

*Another reason that Hasbro had such a great window of timing with the WWF license was by capturing some of the all-time greats on their way out.  He may have been in the midst of an ill-planned babyface turn, but Greg "The Hammer" Valentine saw a Hasbro figure released in 1992.  As a former Intercontinental and Tag Team champion, Valentine provided a memorable link to the LJN WWF line.  You could even team him with figures of his former tag team partners such as Brutus Beefcake or The Honky Tonk Man.

*Although the first series of the Hasbro line was filled with top stars, one name stands above the rest.  Andre the Giant may have been on his way out of the spotlight, but the decision to include him in the line is appreciated to this day.  Whether recreating his feud with Hulk Hogan or being able to create a dream collision with the likes of The Undertaker, Hasbro's representation of Andre ended up as a tribute to a man who is a cornerstone of an industry in which he is still beloved.

Happy New Year!  Be sure to return next week for more of the Hasbro silver celebration!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas In The Squared Circle

Just like Thanksgiving, Christmas was once a major night to head to the matches.  What greater gift than a pair of tickets to see your favorite stars?  Of course, it wasn't so great for the talent who had to be out working instead of home with their loved ones. Today, Christmas themed wrestling events and seasonal stops are instead positioned before and after the actual holiday.  It may be better for the talent themselves, but the events don't have quite the same feeling when pre-taped.

The most famous Christmas wrestling event was undoubtedly the 1982 WCCW Christmas Star Wars event. Ric Flair successfully defended the NWA World Heavyweight Championship against Kerry Von Erich in a cage match. Special referee Michael PS Hayes seemed to be calling the match evenly when the unthinkable happened.  Just as Von Erich was about to exit the cage, Hayes' Fabulous Freebird "brother" Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy sent the steel door crashing into Von Erich's skull.  This event began the legendary Von Erich-Freebirds feud that is credited for making World Class Championship Wrestling one of the hottest promotions of the '80s.

Of course, WWE has been no stranger to holiday themed events, even in recent years.  The company has received a lot of positive press for its annual Tribute To The Troops event.  Although in the past few years it has become more of a USO-style variety show taped in the U.S., original incarnations of the event were actual wrestling cards taped at overseas military bases.  While any version of these events are a wonderful holiday gesture, those first events were extra special, playing to an audience that needed such an escape brought directly to them.  It should be noted that Vince McMahon and a group of WWE Superstars and Divas still personally visit the troops overseas each holiday season.

Closer to home, wrestling can be part of your Christmas motif right along with Rudolph, Frosty, and Snoopy. WWE regularly rolls out a full line of Christmas decor featuring all of your favorite WWE Superstars.  In the late 1990's WCW produced a line of ornaments featuring the best of WCW and the nWo including "Santa With Muscles" himself, Hulk Hogan.  But perhaps my favorite Christmas themed wrestling items are the various publications with grapplers "enjoying" the holidays.  Bundy Claus?  It happened!  And what better holiday gift than Jameson Winger?

From my heart to yours, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  We'll see you in 2015 where all of January the blog will be celebrating the silver anniversary of a retro wrestling favorite!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Fallen Warriors of 2014

As the year comes to a close, we once again remember those from the wrestling business that left us over the past twelve months.  Although a few were still very young considering longevity in this day and age, many that were lost had actually lived long, full lives.  That is something rare for the wrestling business, an occupation that has a tendency to eat up those who give so much to it.  That being said, so many notable names that fans had an opportunity to see in a public capacity not long before their deaths (one in particular, just hours earlier) make the losses all the more shocking. 

The wrestling deaths of 2014 included Billy Robinson, George Scott, Rodger Kent, Mae Young, The Ultimate Warrior, Nelson "King Mabel/Viscera" Frazier, Lee Marshall, Jerry Kozak, Cowboy Bob Kelly, Sean O'Haire, Bob Geigel, Larry Nelson, Ken Lucas, Ox Baker, Ricki Starr, Bonnie Watson, Jimmy Del Ray/Jimmy Backlund, Dr. Ken Ramey, and Don Chuy.

The AWA fraternity took a huge hit with the loss of one it's biggest stars, Billy Robinson, as well as three very memorable voices from the promotion.  Robinson was still very active in training young athletes for the mixed martial arts.  In the several instances that I was able to meet Mr. Robinson, he seemed very proud that wrestler/MMA fighter Josh Barnett was one of his pupils, mentioning it since my first name is Josh as well.  Rodger Kent, Larry Nelson, and Lee Marshall are all well remembered for their work hosting various AWA events.  Marshall may be even better remembered for his work on WCW Monday Nitro and most recently as the voice of Tony the Tiger in Frosted Flakes commercials.

Nelson Frazier was still very active on the independent scene, and one could almost guarantee that appearances as Mabel, Viscera, and Big Daddy V would have continued for WWE.  Struck down by a heart attack at just 42, that would not end up being the case.  Due to his massive size, it's hard to believe that Frazier was just in his early twenties for his biggest run in the WWF as King Mabel.  His agility and ability to make all of his various characters come to life will always be remembered fondly.  Personally, he will always hold a special place in my own fandom as he main evented SummerSlam 1995, the first pay-per-view event that I attended live.

It's become a sad fact over the past few years that Mid-Atlantic Fanfest often becomes the final place that wrestlers make a public appearance.  80-year-old Ox Baker did not look well at the event this past summer, but he was still signing autographs, taking photos, and crooning ditty's to his many fans.  Just a little over two months later, Baker was gone.  David Ferrier, best known as either Jimmy Del Ray or Jimmy Backlund, made his first modern-day convention appearance at the same event, reuniting with his "Heavenly Bodies" tag team partner Dr. Tom Prichard and their manager Jim Cornette.  Though his appearance was much different than in his wrestling days, Ferrier seemed to enjoy the event.  On December 6th, the former Florida and SMW star died in a car accident that may have been caused by a heart attack. 

As always, this is just a small listing of some of the more notable wrestling deaths of 2014.  For all of its faults, the wrestling community always shows a great amount of respect and dignity when one of the seemingly larger-than-life names has fallen.  This final look serves as a last remembrance of their passing, so that we, instead, can continue to remember the greatness of their lives.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The 2014 J\/\/ Awards

How unimaginable is it that another year has passed?  Even more unreal is that this year is the fifth annual installment of The J\/\/ Awards, celebrating the best in wrestling memorabilia over the past twelve months. Each year the design of "The Joshie" changes, but it is always "based" upon a classic wrestling figure or collectible.  This year, the award could go flying through the air with a 747 splash or even magically transform into a dancing, yellow and blue clad, African Dream!  The design isn't the only change in 2014, with one award being retired and another one born.  The wrestling world as a whole has seen a lot of change this year, from the way that some of the product is presented to losing some of its most memorable names.  Without further ado, let the awards begin!

2014 Best Figure

Mattel's WWE Wyatt Family win "The Joshie" for 2014 Best Figure(s).  For the second year in a row, a trio of figures take this one home.  In contrast to last years winners, each figure here is very different in appearance.  Though the Elite versions of the boys were chosen due to their accessories, each release of Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper, and Erick Rowan have been great efforts by Mattel.  That being said, the accessories are almost as great as the figures themselves.  With all three members of the family embarking on their own paths, it will be interesting to see where they go, both in WWE and on store shelves, in 2015.

2014 Best Buy (Non-Figure)

WWE Network wins "The Joshie" for 2014 Best Buy.  For whatever reason that you may have subscribed, you automatically got the best deal of 2014.  If you haven't yet subscribed, we may have to bring back the "Turnbuckle Turkey" award for you.  Sure there are deserved criticisms, but that comes with the territory. You can pick just about any one thing from the Network and justify $9.99 per month.  The current pay-per-view live?  Yep, that's worth $9.99.  Four or five NXT episodes a month?  Yep, that's worth $9.99.  On-Demand access to the WWE, WCW, and ECW pay-per-view libraries?  Yep, that's worth...ok...enough of the commercial.  But it's true.  It's a Helluva deal and should only get bigger and better as time goes on.

2014 Best Product Line

Mattel wins "The Joshie" for 2014 Best Product Line.  Longtime readers know that when Mattel first started churning out WWE product, I was less than impressed.  Poor lineups, poor distribution, poor creativity, and that God-awful red packaging design. Things have changed for the better and for the third time, Mattel takes home the gold.  Although there's always room for improvement (could we get that Magnum TA?), 2015 already looks like a very good year.  Come on, we're getting Bayley!  What could be better than that?  A Bayley hug, perhaps, but the figure will be almost as cool.

2014 Future Holy Grail

NECA's The Simpsons Bret Hart Figure wins "The Joshie" for 2014 Future Holy Grail.  I've already said a lot about this figure, but I really can't say enough.  It combines The Simpsons and wrestling into one great collectible.  It captures a moment when a wrestler, who despite having a huge fanbase never truly crossed over into the mainstream, became a part of animated pop culture.  Thanks to that crossover appeal, the figure flew off of shelves as soon as it hit.  A New York Comic Con version has proven to be equally as popular.  Bret Hart.  The Simpsons.  Action figures.  It's a great recipe that should stand the test of time.

Normally our awards end with the "Future Holy Grail."  You may have noticed the absence of the "Best Publication" award which usually went to books or magazines.  As of 2015, Pro Wrestling Illustrated will be the only remaining U.S. wrestling magazine and although there are some great authors churning out amazing wrestling books, I just do not have the time and resources to be objective and read them all.  Thus, "Best Publication" has been retired.  However, in the spirit of PWI's year-end "Editors Award," this year we introduce our "Thanks For The Memories" honor.  Since this blog celebrates "The Best in Wrestling Memorabilia & Memories" on a weekly basis, this award will focus on the latter.  The winner can be a person (living or dead) or concept that somehow made all of us fondly recall wrestling's past in the last twelve months.

 2014 Thanks For The Memories Award

2014 Thanks For The Memories Honoree:  The Ultimate Warrior.  Electrifying.  Entertaining. Controversial.  Just three words that could be used to describe the man known as The Ultimate Warrior.  A generation of kids grew up mystified by him.  While Hulk Hogan was the clean cut hero, the Warrior brought a bit of an edge and a whole lot of mystery.  Just where did he run off to every night after beating Rick Rude, Andre the Giant, or Randy Savage?  Where was Parts Unknown?  Who were these skeletons and why did they make a sacrifice?  Sure, we could all envision the other WWF "good guys" going to hang out after the matches, but Warrior seemed different.  He was.  We had never seen anything like him before, nor will we ever again.  Thanks for the memories, Warrior.

And thanks to all of you for once again keeping with the blog throughout the year.  I appreciate each and every one of you.  Whether you come up and say hi at a show or simply shoot me an e-mail, those are my awards. Those people and moments remind me why I've loved wrestling for all of these years.  Thank you!