Thursday, January 30, 2020

1...2...3...You've Built Danny Davis

Just when you think there's a character who will never see another figure release the companies go and pull a surprise. When Jakks released "Dangerous" Danny Davis in the WWE Classic Superstars line over a decade ago, collectors considered themselves lucky. Even though Davis was more than just a referee, the "non-wrestler" characters have always been few and far between when it comes to figure releases. Making it more surprising is that in Mattel's decade with the WWE license there have been virtually no referee figures aside from wrestlers clad in "guest referee" attire. Thanks to the "Build-A-Figure" concept, things have finally changed.

Re-dubbed "Build-A-Referee" and released as a WrestleMania subset, the latest "Build-A-Figure" series returns with Danny Davis as the fifth figure in a set of four Elite releases. The main release figures are four popular wrestlers clad in memorable attire as seen over the years at WrestleMania. In this latest BAF set we've got Mick Foley, Kofi Kingston, "Woken" Matt Hardy, and Booker T. The packaging is based upon the pirate theme of WrestleMania XXXVI to be held in Tampa, Florida.

I dislike when opening figures is a chore. With the tough plastic used for the trays holding the figures into place, I don't see why bands, ties, and other annoying pieces are necessary. It's a small annoyance, but this set just seems to have extra bondage holding the figures in. The additional hands, though a nice touch on modern Mattel Elite releases, are often difficult to remove as well. I guess the alternatives are possible messes for carded collectors, with accessories coming loose in the box.

All four wrestlers are popular choices, and at least three are in easily recognizable attires. While I wouldn't include Matt Hardy's design as WrestleMania-specific as the others, I do believe that this is the first figure release of "Woken" Matt with the full entrance gear. Kofi and Booker reflect their respective runs at world championships, while Foley mirrors his hardcore battle with Edge that culminated in a memorable incident involving a flaming table.

My favorite figure here, as is usually the case with the BAF sets, is the figure that we're building itself. Mattel's version of Davis is a huge upgrade over the aforementioned Jakks version. While the latter was better for carded/autograph collectors (something that Build-A-Figures are never good for), the facial sculpt on that one was a mere passing resemblance. This version is perfect and captures the cocky attitude of the referee as he was beginning to show that his true colors weren't exactly black and white.

What's most interesting about this BAF set is that it's the first time in the history of Mattel utilizing the concept that you truly do not have to buy all four figures to complete the fifth. The only "pieces" of Davis that are included with Kofi are an extra set of open hands. Sure, Davis can "count" with these, but another set of hands are included with the arms (packaged with Booker) and the open hands have been released with other figures. An interesting decision and one that makes you question Mattel's planning. With all of their bad decisions as far as distribution over the past several years, maybe this shouldn't have come as a surprise.

While there isn't a truly bad figure in the bunch (though Foley's facial likeness leaves a bit to be desired), none of these would've been necessary purchases for me had it not been for Davis. Each of them have some appeal, but nothing crucial to be picked up aside from being on sale or clearance. As with most Mattel WWE product, the jury is still out if these figures will remain at retail price or if one or all will suddenly rise in demand. When a BAF is at stake, you generally don't want to take chances...or be counted out.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

And The 2019 "Figure Of The Year" Is...

And what does the year boil down to? Why it's "Wrestling Figure of the Year," of course! Once again collectors were inundated with plastic representations of their favorites from yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Some stars saw their first time being immortalized in such a way while others made their first journey into the toy box in quite some time. Before we get to the winner (as far as this blog is concerned), we'll take a brief look at some other possible choices.

When you're talking wrestling figures, you have to be talking Mattel. Unfortunately, the company which holds the WWE license decided to louse up a lot of the fun of collecting by making many of the most desirable characters limited. This practice looks to be continuing into 2020 much to the pleasure of no one. Two great figures were released in that asinine way, those being Pat Patterson and Sensational Queen Sherri. Patterson saw his first ever action figure in an over 60 year career while Sherri saw only her third and arguably coolest.

Mattel brought other characters back with "Ultimate" editions. While there was a separate figure line called "WWE Ultimate Edition," I was ultimately more partial to the most recent release of "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan. Included in the now cancelled "WWE RetroFest" line designed to evoke memories of the WWF WrestleFest video games, Mattel's newest Duggan figure reflects three different periods in the brawlers WWF career. Depending on which accessories you use, ol' Hacksaw can wear his late '80s t-shirt, his regal "King Duggan" crown from 1989, or his 1993 singlet. They even created an all-new "tongue out" head to recreate some of Hacksaw's goofier moments.

The company most famous for Barbie wasn't done there with creating cool figures or cancelling cool figure lines. At long last, "Big Daddy Cool" Diesel made his debut in the WWE Retro figure line. The line was virtually a continuation of the legendary Hasbro WWF figure collection of the 1990s. While Diesel was planned for that line, the figure never saw the light of day. In 2019 Diesel was finally produced in the beloved style...and the line was abruptly cancelled. Thanks again, Mattel.

But the constant disappointment from Mattel didn't damper 2019. Bringing smiles to many was the company Mego, brought back to life a year earlier by its original founder Marty Abrams. Though the company originally began creating action figures a half century earlier, it wasn't until 2019 that Mego introduced its first wrestling figure. Who better to start with than Andre the Giant? While the mammoth Frenchman wasn't quite as lifelike as other releases, the figure included a certain charm that only the classic Mego figure style can capture.

But enough with the runners up. The 2019 "Figure of the Year" is...

Exotic Adrian Street! Yes, in a shocking and unexpected move fitting from the Welsh grappler, the flamboyant and gender-bending wrestler had his own figure produced. While clicking his name in the labels below will bring you to a full review of the figure, what are you waiting for? Hop over to eBay and grab one for yourself. They're only available from Street himself!

2019 is over! Some are cheering, others are lamenting. Whichever camp you find yourself in, remember that 2020 should be even bigger in the wrestling figure world. Will the new NJPW figures prove to be major players? Will AEW reveal a figure line? Which legend will Mattel produce and screw us over on by making limited next? Let's watch the ball drop and find out!

Monday, December 9, 2019

Wrestling MarketWatch: Hidden Gems

Just when all seemed pretty okay in "the new world of wrestling," our window into seeing new content from the past just may have closed. At least a bit. It seems that the WWE Network's weekly additions to their Hidden Gems section are coming to an end. Whether this is a permanent end has yet to be determined, but many of us have consistently looked forward to the weekly release of something either rarely viewed or downright never-before-seen. It was just a few weeks ago that one of my top requests suddenly popped up.

How do the Hidden Gems tie into memorabilia? Let's take a look at recent selling prices of items related to some of the stars who've been featured in the Hidden Gems section. As always in MarketWatch, prices listed are for unsigned examples.

*So just what was that top-requested Hidden Gem of mine? I don't know that it was my most-wanted, but it was certainly something that I'd always wanted to see. When WWE Network decided to post Survivor Series Showdown 1992, they didn't just leave us with the original show as broadcast on USA Network. They also included many dark matches that occurred at the same taping. What I was most interested in seeing was a never-aired platform interview conducted by Mean Gene Okerlund. His interview subject? Jimmy Garvin. In an obvious tryout for an announcer or manager role, Garvin plays heel while reviewing the then-upcoming Survivor Series card. A fun fact learned upon viewing is that a sound byte of Garvin from this interview was used for the "Are you ready for the Survivor Series?" line that comes at the beginning of the 1993 WrestleMania song. Garvin had just come off of his WCW run as part of the Fabulous Freebirds. The U.K. exclusive Galoob figure produced from that run has recently sold in loose condition for prices ranging from $20 to $80.

*WCW itself was featured in one of the longest Hidden Gems. World Championship Wrestling produced two "All-Nighter" specials in 1994 and 1995, respectively, featuring matches spanning the run of the company to that point. Only the 1995 version has made WWE Network as of yet, but it would be nice for the first version to show up eventually to "complete the set." After his arrival in '94, Hulk Hogan dominated merchandise for the company. Around this time, a cool toy race car convoy set based on The Hulkster was produced by Matchbox. The set recently sold for around $40.

*A major treat with Hidden Gems is getting to see many of the legends from the territorial area in matches and situations that we haven't seen before. One of those stars is "Dirty" Dick Murdoch. Not only is the Texas outlaw featured in several full show uploads, but also with his most famous tag team partner, Dusty Rhodes. In the most recent Hidden Gem featuring Murdoch, the Waxahachie-born grappler is shown battling Harley Race in a match uploaded to memorialize the recent death of the latter. Murdoch's only figure, a "Big Head" from Japan, recently sold for $12.

*Answering the wishes of many fans, full shows from various companies have been included as Hidden Gems. Many of these shows were even thought not to exist. Among these shows were several complete Great American Bash cards from various years. While a match here and there may have been featured on NWA television or even a home video release, it's likely that the full events had not been seen aside from those who bought a ticket to attend. A show from the 1988 Bash tour was uploaded and the corresponding program recently sold for around $40.

*While a variety of promotions have been featured, World Class Championship Wrestling featuring The Von Erich family may have topped the rest in terms of frequency. David, Kerry, and Kevin Von Erich have all appeared in rarely seen matches against foes both foreign and frequent. While WCCW and the boys produced a variety of merchandise, it's the board game that often gets the most talk. Produced at a time when generally only the WWF was churning out such merchandise, the WCCW board game recently sold for $125.

I can't see Hidden Gems going away for good. I certainly hope not, anyway. If what has been uploaded already is any indication, more exists on tape than we ever thought possible. And if the company has Garvin's infamous "tryout" interview, you know those pay-per-view dark matches exist...

Monday, December 2, 2019

Well, I'll Be A Son Of A Tongan King

In the "new world" of wrestling, most chatter is still on WWE and its up and coming rival AEW. There's also my favorite of the bunch, NWA (usually called NWA Powerrr due to the title of their show) as well as holdovers from past decades like Impact, Ring of Honor, and Major League Wrestling. But one company that has a chance to be a major player in the future, and in many ways already is, has been around since 1972. That company? New Japan Pro Wrestling.

NJPW has made major strides in the United States market in the past several years with its program on AXS television as well as the enduring popularity of "strong style." How far this can go is set to be tested with New Japan opening offices here in America. It has also been announced that a line of New Japan action figures will debut in the U.S. next year. While we have seen the logo on figure releases here in the States and a full line in Japan, this is the first figure line of the company to be readily offered to U.S. collectors.

While Kazuchika Okada and Will Ospreay are among those announced for the first offering, one name notably missing who instantly translates into an action figure by appearance alone is Tama Tonga. Fear not fans of this founding member of The Bullet Club, Tonga actually already has two figures. Several years old already, Tonga debuted as part of Figures Toy Company's Rising Stars of Wrestling line which included several New Japan stars who struck their own figure deals with the company. There are both painted face and non-painted versions. Here we go with the much more exciting painted version.

Several years ago Figures Toy Company decided to re-enter the wrestling figure game with three separate lines: Ring of Honor, Legends of Professional Wrestling, and Rising Stars of Wrestling. While exciting names were announced, many making their figure debuts, it was soon discovered that quality control on these was less than stellar. Figures were arriving to consumers with loose or broken limbs and the quality seemed brittle as best. The Blue Meanie figure was reviewed on this very blog with somewhat of a bad taste in this author's mouth after the figure arrived with its head popped off in the packaging.

To their credit, Figures Toy Company responded to the concerns voiced both here and elsewhere on the Internet. They promised that the quality would rise with future shipments. While that did not help those of us who purchased the already-shipped items, it did improve the odds of the company getting another chance.

With Tama Tonga, I would have to say that the improvements are there with room for more. The loose limbs and popped heads aren't here, but this figure still does not feel as well made as the Jakks product on which the design is based, at least not the early Jakks figures which were fairly sturdy. The look of the figure, as with many of these Figures Toy Company figures, is superb. From the facial sculpt to the detail on the attire and vest, it is a great looking figure. These figures fit perfectly with the Jakks WWE "Ruthless Aggression" style figures, and Tonga looks great posed with figures of his father, King Haku.

The packaging on these is also unique with the resealable "clamshell" packages that Figures Toy Company also uses for their retro superhero and TV lines based upon the classic Mego figure molds of the 1970's. Drawings of the stars are used in lieu of photos, probably to avoid any copyright issues. I don't particularly care for the way many of these figures are twist-tied into the plastic trays within the bubble. It makes many of the figures look as if they're in some sort of bondage. That, coupled with the fact that heads and other parts have been found disassembled in the packaging, keeps me from getting any of these autographed. It should also be noted that despite Tonga being a major star for New Japan, the companies logo does not appear here as this is not an NJPW release.

It's hard to give a green light to actively pursue these figures due to the quality issues coupled with price point. It's difficult to find them under $30 per figure. On the other hand, the company is bringing us names like Meanie, Francine, Vince Russo, PCO, and others who've never had a figure and likely won't ever again. Will Tonga even appear in the upcoming New Japan line? Status unknown, but if you're concerned about owning him at all you may want to pick one of these offerings up while the price point is at the aforementioned $30. As unpredictable as wrestling is, the demand for its stars is as equally enigmatic.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Marketable Visage Of Rick Martel

When you heard the strumming of the harp strings, you knew that the arrogant one was about to enter the arena. Yes, he was "The Model," and despite beginning his career in the relatively merchandise-light era of the 1970's, Martel ended up being featured on a load of items over the next few decades. Some of those pieces were reeking with arrogance, while others showed a clean cut hero who was virtually always striking with force. As we take a look at a few of them, perhaps you will want to cue up his famous WWF theme as mood music.

Originally making his mark in tag team wrestling on the '70s World Wide Wrestling Federation scene, Martel ended up honing his craft all over the world. The French-Canadian star began, as mentioned above, as a babyface who made the men cheer and the women swoon. Similar to his later partner Tito Santana, Martel may have had an accent but the fire in his promos came across crystal clear to all audiences. That fire translated perfectly into the ring with a style that was adaptable to virtually any opponent. Add it all together and Rick Martel had the perfect recipe for success.

Many fans will recall when Rick Martel shot to the top of the American Wrestling Association. "Ricky" made a credible AWA World Champion and was a good compromise between the ever-changing 1980's wrestling scene and the often-antiquated AWA approach to the industry. Martel, always a favorite with the magazine publishers in those days, appeared on covers as both "World Champion" and "rising star" simultaneously.

Famously, this period also saw the first action figure of Rick Martel. Originally packaged with opponent Baron Von Raschke, Martel's figure is one of the first that flashes to mind when the Remco AWA line is mentioned. Complete with jacket and occasionally a championship belt as well, there were several head sculpt variations for the figure that have previously been shown in these pages. Martel also appeared on the kid-sized championship belt carrying case that was supplemental to the Remco figure line.

In 1986 Martel jumped back to the World Wrestling Federation and immediately returned to the tag team ranks. Initially teaming with Tom Zenk as The Can-Am Connection, Zenk's departure led to Martel joining forces with Santana as Strike Force. The team saw a nice burst of success including a classic theme song in "Girls In Cars," a tag team championship run, and inclusion in LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars figure line.

1989 finally brought us a side of Rick that we did not yet know existed. At WrestleMania V, Martel turned on Santana and became an arrogant heel. Later that year, Martel became "The Model." Complete with his own cologne appropriately named "Arrogance," Martel took the ball and ran with the character. While he did not add any titles to his resume during this time, "The Model" had several memorable feuds all the way up to 1995. His inclusion in the Hasbro WWF figure line has always been a favorite of mine and in many ways was unexpected when released in 1993. Over the years "The Model" has also been produced by Jakks and Mattel as action figures, was included in the Remco WWF Superstars Shoot-Out table top hockey game, and appeared in several video games.

As arrogant as "The Model" was, Martel himself has always seemed to be a likable guy. Though he has appeared on the convention circuit in the past, promoters report that he has been relatively unavailable for bookings in recent years. By all accounts, Martel has had a happy and successful family and business life outside of the wrestling world. With all of the tragedy and sorrow that has surrounded many of his colleagues from the same wrestling era, this can only be taken as good news. Last seen on WWE television over twelve years ago, I think it's time that we hear that harp one more time, perhaps as part of the WWE Hall of Fame?

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Wrestling Classic Figure Review--Mattel Create A WWE Superstar Hulk Hogan

As touched upon a few entries ago, toy companies love to branch out by making various side series of action figures in which they hold the license. Get the maximum out of that investment, right? Mattel has done quite a few of these "subsets" in the decade that they've held the WWE license, yielding a variety of results. While the Basic, Elite, and Battle Pack lines have stood the test of time, others have come and gone. Some are aimed specifically to children such as Flex Force, while others like the Retro collection were most assuredly designed for the adult collector.

One series that never seemed to find its footing was the short lived Create A WWE Superstar series. The figures were undoubtedly inspired by the "Create-A-Wrestler" feature that has been included in the WWE video games for so many years. Seeing as how popular being able to invent your own grappler has been with kids and adults in the digital world, it's no surprise that a toy company would want to adapt that. Interchangeable parts and accessories to customize your wrestling world the way that you want it? Why not?

Though several waves of the collection did make it out, including some specific accessory packs, the success of the video game feature didn't seem to translate as well to action figures. While most sets contained a real WWE superstar head, accessories, and occasionally even a fictional head to identify yourself, the choice of outfit design may have been just a bit too far out. Most of the choices seemed like they were out of a really bad independent promotion. While I could imagine having loved them as a kid, the sets mostly clogged retail shelves. That is, all but one set which seemed like the only figure representation ever to be made of a certain American hero.

The set in question was the Create A WWE Superstar Hulk Hogan figure. Hogan was dressed as an All-American superhero complete with red, white, and blue coloring, flowing cape, and a face mask. While Hogan never donned this exact outfit in real life, the design was startlingly familiar to one that he did wear over a decade before this figure's release in 2015. Was this figure mere coincidence being included in a cartoonish figure series or was it the answer to a glaring gap in the figure archive of The Immortal one himself?

Rewind back to 2003 and you'll see a very interesting WWE scene. Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper were back in the mix of things on Smackdown. Whether you enjoyed it or not, it was much bigger than just a few nostalgia appearances as both were deeply involved in a top story line with Vince McMahon. Eventually the angle progressed to where Hogan had to leave WWE. Who showed up in his place? Mr. America. The tanned, muscular, mustached hero wore a mask to hide his true identity, but everyone in WWE seemed to have a hunch that the masked man wasn't Dusty Rhodes, Jimmy Valiant, or even Shane Helms.

Alas, real-life disputes between Hogan and McMahon ended the formers association with the company at that point and thus fans saw the end of Mr. America. Jakks Pacific, holder of the WWE toy license at the time, was certainly planning to add the character to their figure line-up, though the toy ended up being cancelled. Not long ago pictures of the prototype surfaced on the Internet, though this was identified as being slated for the Classic Superstars line. Either way, a very cool and unique figure never saw the light of day.

Though this Mattel version isn't exactly what the figure would have looked like had it been made at the time, it's very close. There is no doubt that this is what the company was going for. Perhaps the biggest difference is the addition of the cape, though one could easily imagine the character wearing one. Because this is the closest we will likely ever get to a true, production figure being released of the character, not to mention most of the other figures being too far out for what they were supposed to represent, it quickly became the most popular of the line.

Like most Hogan figures from Mattel, secondary market prices have gone up and held. Expect to pay around $30.00 for the figure at press time. Even with Hogan back in WWE, I wouldn't expect to see a repeat of this figure. Sure, a true Mr. America could come about if Mattel starts producing figures of The Hulkster again, but I just wouldn't bank on it. The company has enough trouble now with producing legends and actually getting them into true fans hands. But that's another rant for another entry.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

2019--The Year That Wrestling Was Reborn

Just a few months ago I was not alone in the thought process that wrestling as we knew it was dead. Thanks to the stagnation of a company that so many of us grew up on and supported over the years, there wasn't much to be excited about. Everything from the storylines to the shows themselves have been formulaic for years if not decades. An alternative has been long overdue. While there have been other options in recent years, over the past month two new entities have given wrestling fans hope in what can only be described as a true rebirth of the squared circle.

For over a year die hard and casual fans alike have been abuzz over the company that would become All Elite Wrestling. The promotion, led most visibly by Cody Rhodes, has managed to ostensibly pick up where WCW Nitro left off on TNT nearly two decades ago. With an underlying theme of giving the fans what they yearn for in a wrestling promotion, Rhodes, The Young Bucks, and Kenny Omega are leading a band of relatively young talent who are tearing up rings on both cable and YouTube. Peppered with veterans like Chris Jericho, Dustin Rhodes, and Jake Hager (the former Jack Swagger), the company has enough name value to attract fans who don't necessarily follow the indy scene and its darlings.

Attending their fourth television taping in Pittsburgh, I was pleased to see that the atmosphere was completely different from similar events held by WWE in the past umpteen years. Fans were engaged throughout the show with very few backstage skits for the live crowd to be bored by. With a few exceptions, each individual character seemed to be someone that the audience was invested in. Perhaps the latter two dark matches (all of which air on AEW Dark, a YouTube program) were out of place in terms of match order, but I can't imagine that any fan left feeling ripped off.

While I enjoy AEW, I feel that more variety is needed on their roster. There's a place for "flippy" wrestling, but at this point there's just too much of it from match to match. This critique brings me to what is my current favorite wrestling program, NWA Powerrr. The brainchild of current NWA owner Billy Corgan, NWA Powerrr is a weekly one hour studio wrestling program in the grand tradition before the sport moved completely to arenas. The first taping occurred over two nights with about eight weeks worth of shows completed. Those shows air for free viewing on YouTube.

I'm not only biased towards NWA Powerrr due to the classic format, but I truly enjoy the variety of talent presented as well. Up and comers are coupled with guys like current NWA World Heavyweight Champion Nick Aldis, Cowboy James Storm, Aron Stevens (the former Damien Sandow), Trevor Murdoch, and Ken Anderson. All of the names that I just mentioned are men who never quite seemed to get their due previously on the national scene. They thrive here, drudging up memories of stars from the '70s and '80s who once plied their trade in very similar studios. Sure there's a lot of jaw-jacking going on, but it helps to invest you into the issues that these stars are fighting over. These aren't silly skits over stolen wives and high school boyfriend-girlfriend drama. These are issues over being the best in the business, aka winning championships and having integrity.

Due to the length of the episodes, NWA Powerrr keeps you wanting just a bit more as the classic wrestling television shows did. Seeing as that the promotion will be looking to pay-per-view buy rates for success, this is exactly what they need to do. Along with AEW, so far there has been little presented to insult the viewers intelligence. I'm not ashamed to suggest trying either program to lapsed fans. That's something that I haven't been able to say in a long while. As far as AEW goes, who doesn't want to give it a try once they find out that Tony Schiavone is back in the fold? Speaking of the former voice of WCW, he may just be the MVP of the professional wrestling world in 2019. Who would've imagined that?

Is WWE dead? Not by a long shot. Due to SmackDown moving to Fox and a general feeling of the beginning of a new era, I tuned into both that program as well as Raw for the first time in two years. I have to say that neither program is truly for me anymore, but that may not be the same for everyone. NXT remains a fun product, though it still has the looming overproduced feeling of WWE. Regardless, the company as a whole is home to many amazing talents who deserve admiration and support. WWE also has the best female roster going which really shouldn't be a surprise due to the immense size of the company.

The talent throughout the entire wrestling world is a huge part of what makes this new era so exciting. One of the biggest thrills of being a wrestling fan when there were different viable options promotion-wise was to see where the stars would end up next. We now have chances for those "what ifs" to happen again. It's truly an exciting time and a throwback in every sense of the word.

And how about merchandise? So far we have a lot of t-shirts. There are also a lot of enamel pins, the coolest two being that of the NWA World and National Heavyweight Titles. Certainly with all of the national buzz I see an action figure deal coming for AEW sooner than later. With its unique format, it's a bit more difficult to see what lies ahead in memorabilia as far as NWA Powerrr, but my mind runs wild at the thought. If ECW could have a toy line, so can the little studio wrestling show that could!

I am positively energized as a wrestling fan. That is a sentence I could not have imagined typing just a few short months ago. There truly is something for everyone out there now. From AEW and the NWA to WWE and all of its many brands. MLW is making headway and Impact Wrestling is still chugging along as what almost seems to be an island of misfit toys. ROH is still running, though with considerably less buzz, and I have a feeling that NJPW is about to challenge AEW by diving even further into the American market. And hey, don't forget about lucha libre!

Now, if we only had time to watch it all...