Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Roode Awakening

He's "glorious" and he's your new WWE United States Champion. Even with most TNA/Impact Wrestling standouts seemingly finding their way to WWE, did anyone predict that they would thrive as they have? The company has not always been extremely open to those who've made their name elsewhere. But thrive they have, and Bobby Roode has been no exception. Bursting onto the scene via NXT, Roode debuted with a spectacular theme song (said to have been considered for Shinsuke Nakamura) which evolved into a great, grand, and yes, glorious nickname. As with any superstar, the in-ring talent must match the showmanship. Thus far, Roode has proven to have both.

Many of us have been Bobby Roode fans since his days as part of Team Canada and Beer Money. The latter team often heard chatter that a WWE run could be in their future. Roode's partner in the team, "Cowboy" James Storm, did have a cup of coffee in NXT, but has yet to see the full WWE experience. It would be fun to see the two former partners collide in the major spotlight of WWE, especially with Roode's current persona.

The buzz surrounding Roode did not begin with NXT or SmackDown Live. I can still remember the atmosphere at the 2011 Bound For Glory fanfest. It was Roode's largest hyped run for the TNA Heavyweight Championship, challenging Kurt Angle. Though Roode would not take the title on that particular occasion, it was the point where many began to view him as a bonafide singles star. Roode did go on to be a two-time TNA Heavyweight Chanpion as well as the longest reigning to date.

Due to his TNA stardom, Roode also saw a nice chunk of merchandise during his long tenure with the company. Action figures representing his time with both Team Canada and Beer Money were produced as were trading cards, t-shirts, promotional photos, and other assorted items. Roode even made one of the last covers of "The Wrestler" magazine in a great shot including the TNA Heavyweight Championship belt over his shoulder.

Roode has already debuted in the Mattel NXT figure line which is exclusive to Target. The "Basic" version will be followed by an "Elite" in a subsequent NXT-Target release. That figure will include the new NXT Championship. I've always envisioned a "Glorious" Defining Moments figure release for Roode, complete with robe. There is definitely still room and time for it to happen.

At age 40, Roode has little to prove in professional wrestling yet he has so much more to do. He fits into WWE so well, yet carries on the feeling of being an outsider, similar to Rob Van Dam when he first arrived in the company. It's another unique situation brought about by WWE allowing non-homegrown talents to thrive.

It's a glorious thing...

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Wrestling MarketWatch: Royal Rumble

As "WrestleMania season" kicks off and the storylines go into high gear for WWE, so goes the Royal Rumble. Arguably still the most exciting match in the company due its unpredictability, 2018's edition will actually feature two versions of the famous match, one for the men and one for the women. It will be interesting to see if this concept stays as that of the whole match has, or if it is a one-off deal like the 40-man Rumble of a few years ago. In any case, the Rumble is full of history and, as we like to point here on the blog, memorabilia. This MarketWatch entry will display some of those items and their recent auction sale prices. As always, prices are for unsigned items unless noted.

*Although you can dial up any Royal Rumble on the WWE Network, there was a time when visiting events past was not so easy. In 2007 fans were treated to the beautiful Royal Rumble Anthology DVD boxed set. Handsomely packaged, the set featured every Rumble up to that point as well as collectible "film cell" cards and more. The square box full of Rumbles may be outdated, but it still featured many of the best examples of the event. Holding its own, the set recently sold for $100.

*The first Rumble event to hit pay-per-view was in 1989. This star studded Rumble featured Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Andre the Giant, Ted DiBiase, Demolition, The Twin Towers, Big John Studd, and many more. The event also included a "King's Crown" match pitting Haku against Harley Race, and Judy Martin even challenged Rockin' Robin for the WWF Women's Championship. The show did yield a program which previewed much of the action that evening. The program recently fetched $35.

*Even in a Rumble, some order needs to be kept. Jakks knew this, and thus included Earl Hebner in their WWF Royal Rumble figure line back in 2002. The set still holds value today. Interestingly, Earl's twin brother Dave is shown on the packaging. This figure recently sold for $26.

*The most famous Royal Rumble figures were produced by Hasbro in a much smaller form. Infamously, the Hasbro Royal Rumble ring saw limited distribution in 1992. Because of that, it has long been in demand with collectors. With the rabid interest in Hasbro's WWF product in recent years, the value has only sustained or grown. The ring recently sold for $350.

*Do you remember being bored by the Rumble? Sure there have been some that were not as great as others, but I can't say that I've ever been bored by one. Pamela Anderson can! The buxom '90s star appeared to be bored to tears at ringside throughout the match where the likes of Shawn Michaels, Davey Boy Smith, and even Dick Murdoch did battle. The program from the event has always been scarce, but it recently sold for $100.

It's wild, it's unpredictable, and so are the going prices of its collectibles! The Royal Rumble has it all, which is why it remains a favorite to most any wrestling fan. It's time to Rummmmmmble...

Thursday, January 4, 2018

New Year, New Retro

There's no better way to kick off the blog in 2018 than with a line that was a major highlight of 2017. Mattel's WWE Retro action figures have pleased both modern and nostalgic collectors alike. As most already know, these figures are based upon the legendary Hasbro WWF figure line. With a mix of current and past names, the first two series were a major hit. With Series 3 hitting stores late last year, the line saw a few changes.

Series 3 brings Goldberg, AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose to the line. Four figures is two down from the six in both previous series. Each figure is now packaged with a display stand featuring their individual logos emblazoned. While the original Hasbro line was designed to utilize "peg" stands, nothing ever developed from it. The stands are packaged right where the "Real Wrestling Action" of each figure should be advertised. This change takes away from the overall nostalgia, introducing a concept that was not present originally.

The boarder color on the cardbacks has changed from the first two series, which does jive with the Hasbro style. On the other hand, the inclusion of an ad for WWE Mayhem, an app game, is worse than the addition of the stands. The ad completely cramps the superstar photo on the cardback which was a Hasbro staple. For those of us who enjoy having figures signed, this is extra disappointing. Save the gaming ads for the standard figure lines, not a niche one aimed primarily at collectors.

As for the figures themselves, it is also a mixed bag. Glaringly, Goldberg is missing gloves. Has "The Man" ever wrestled without gloves? Certainly not in his WWE return on which the figure is based. The Goldberg "action" should also be switched with that given to Ambrose. Dean is hardly the slamming type, even if Renee would beg to differ. Goldberg should match many of the other "power" figures in this style.

The highlight of the series is unquestionably AJ Styles. Tied (with Series 2 Kane) for my personal best figure of 2017, one of the greatest of this generation translates well into being a "Hasbro." And just as was the case in the original line when the figure "action" matched the real life signature move of the star, one of the best "Real Wrestling Action" moves from Hasbro returns once again as "The Phenomenal Forearm."

While Series 3 wasn't quite as disappointing as I'd predicted, it isn't perfect. More colorful characters are still needed. How about the first female in the Hasbro style? More legends would be welcome as well, as is always the opinion on this blog. In both cases, how about a "Woooooooo!"?

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The 2017 J\/\/ Awards

Yet another year of wrestling memorabilia goodness has passed which means it's time for another round of awarding the most coveted prize in sports entertainment--The J\/\/ Award. The "Joshie," as we call it, changes from year to year. This years design, not so ironically, reflects many of the winners in several different categories. With a decidedly "retro" look, the trophy signifies a year that re-introduced us to the classic Hasbro style in wrestling figures and the way that these throwbacks were so well executed. But enough about the award, let's give 'em out!

2017 Best Figure

Mattel's WWE Retro Kane & AJ Styles win "The Joshie" for 2017 Best Figure. A tie! And a late one at that! While Mattel produced some very impressive figures this year, not one but two entries from their Retro line were the best. Kane in the "Hasbro style" captures everything great about the original look of "The Big Red Monster." The Retro AJ Styles combines another great likeness with a classic "Hasbro Real Wrestling Action" and utilizes it to the fullest. 

2017 Best Buy (Non-Figure)

WWE Unreleased wins "The Joshie" for 2017 Best Buy. A DVD collection full of matches and segments that we've never seen before? Of course it's going to win awards! Sean Mooney? It's going to win even more awards! And a "Joshie Award" it shall have. If you love the obscure and relatively "lost" matches of wrestling, what are you waiting for? 

2017 Best Product Line

Mattel wins "The Joshie" for 2017 Best Product Line. After a year of great Retro, Elite, and Basic figures, there's no doubt that Mattel takes this category once again. While Jakks always held my heart as far as depth of a figure line, Mattel is slowly moving right in there. You never know who's going to show up in the Mattel line next. I hate to make bold predictions, but with a Wendi Richter figure coming in 2018, I don't see anyone else taking this award anytime soon.

2017 Future Holy Grail

Mattel's WWE Retro Figure Line wins "The Joshie" for 2017 Future Holy Grail. You know how everyone is nuts for Hasbro WWF product these days? Don't look too far for the next biggie down the line. They are patterned after that beloved line and have already made quite an impact on the 2017 J\/\/ Awards, right down to the design of "The Joshie" itself. As the variety of the line widens into 2018, the prediction made by this award only grows stronger.

2017 Thanks For The Memories Award

2017 Thanks For The Memories Nominee: Lance Russell. The man who kept sanity and order over pro wrestling in Memphis is already deeply missed. Though he lived a rich, full life, wrestling just seems a little less happy without Lance's voice. Thankfully, the world has all of the great footage to look back on. For those of us fortunate enough to have met Mr. Russell, the kindness of his heart remains just as loud and clear as his iconic voice.

Another year and more awards. There's not much left to say other than see ya next year!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

2017: A Year of Loss

As is tradition, one of the last blog entries of the year celebrates the many names who have left us over the past twelve months. Although some received their own individual tribute on this blog, it's always good, and somewhat sobering, to look at the losses in the sport as a whole over a year span.

Those in wrestling who passed in 2017 included (but were not limited to) Ivan Koloff, "Pretty Boy" Larry Sharpe, "Z-Man" Tom Zenk, Rex King, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, Diane Von Hoffman, "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka, Bucky Palermo, Gran Apache, Bob Sweetan, Rosey, Chavo Guerrero Sr., Tugboat Taylor, Ron Bass, Johnny K-9, Otto Wanz, Mr. Pogo, George "The Animal" Steele, Stan Kowalski, Nicole Bass, Smith Hart, Lance Russell, and Dennis Stamp.

With men like Stamp and Sharpe, the famed journeymen of wrestling took a major hit. These men enjoyed some success but will be best remembered for their ability to make others look good in the squared circle. Stamp and Sharpe, in particular, will be remembered for their lives in wrestling after the matches were all but over. Stamp continues to be celebrated from his appearance in the famous "Beyond The Mat" film while Sharpe will always be associated with The Monster Factory wrestling school that has turned out many names in pro wrestling.

You could not find two more different entries in the world of wrestling than Ron and Nicole Bass, despite both using the same last name. Ron Bass was a rough and tumble outlaw who came up through the wild 1970's wrestling scene. Although he was managed for a time by Maw Bass, one of the first female managers, he was never associated with Nicole Bass. This female named Bass instead gained a measure of fame through her associated with The Howard Stern Show as well as stints in ECW and the WWF.

Two familiar names to fans of the great Pittsburgh territory also passed this year. Bucky Palermo, in addition to being a famed cobbler in the Steel City, was one of the last living referees from the classic Studio Wrestling program. George "The Animal" Steele, while a huge name nationally, credited much of his career to his time in Pittsburgh. His ring used surname of "Steele" was even derived from the Steel City. Steele is also remembered for being a top opponent of Bruno Sammartino, who calls Pittsburgh his home.

While it never gets easier and the lists seem to get longer, one small comfort can be found in that many of the wrestlers who passed in 2017 did so at an advanced age. While it cannot be said for all, the number that did live into their seventh decade or older is much higher than just a few years ago. Regardless of how many years the individual spent in this life, as fans we choose to remember the impact that they made on our lives through their work in the ring.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Managing The Merchandise

Like many who grew up watching wrestling, the aspect of managers in the business was just plain intriguing. The manager served many purposes, including but not limited to adding a little something extra to the wrestler who he or she represented. At times, that "extra" was sorely needed. In other instances, using Nick Bockwinkel and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan as an example, the wrestler and manager were equally great and simply complimented each other. In any case, the managers just had to be colorful and charismatic. This equates into merchandising.

When the colorful magazine covers were grabbing attention at newsstands in the 1960's and 1970's, the managers began to have their real first taste of merchandise. Whether it be The Grand Wizard in one of his many guises or Heenan with his face covered in the legendary "crimson mask," the managers could sell magazines just as well as they could tickets to the matches. The slovenly Captain Lou Albano made his complete transformation from wrestler to manager in this era, usually guiding the tag teams of the WWWF while "Hollywood Fashion Plate" Fred Blassie was managing heels of all types. These men and their charges were perfect cover material. Who didn't want to read about the next threats to Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund?

One manager was actually responsible for much of the early wrestling merchandising in the late 1970's and early 1980's. Who would that be? The "Louisville Lip" himself, Jim Cornette. Growing up as a fan of wrestling and then becoming a ringside photographer as a teen, Cornette found himself helping to run the merchandise tables in the Memphis wrestling territory and peddling "gimmicks" for the likes of Jerry "The King" Lawler, "Superstar" Bill Dundee, and even "The Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart. The complete story is told in the book "Rags, Paper, & Pins: The Merchandising Of Memphis Wrestling" by Cornette and Mark James. A highly recommended book for any fan of wrestling memorabilia!

The 80's also brought another new dimension to wrestling managers: their own subset in LJN's WWF Wrestling Superstars figure line. LJN had the right idea when including announcers, referees, and managers into their wildly popular toy line. The card backs were even emblazoned with "Manager" for this special release, although some of the other "non-wrestler" figures were given this designation as well. Included were Lou Albano, Bobby Heenan, Fred Blassie, Mr. Fuji, Jimmy Hart, Johnny V, Slick, and the one and only Miss Elizabeth.

Easily a discussion all her own, Elizabeth brought a different presentation to wrestling managers. Though there had been female managers before, more women had been presented as valets. Elizabeth was a combination of both. She was described as a manager who took care of business matters for "Macho Man" Randy Savage, but she also radiated a glamour and presence that even the most popular valets rarely had. Elizabeth was a once-in-a-lifetime character who will never be duplicated.

Even as the usage of managers died down as the years went on, the legendary ones continue to be celebrated. Action figures and trading cards of the managers of yore continue to be released, and the occasional character in a managerial role still pops up. Most recently Paul Heyman, though no longer billed as such, brought back exactly what a manager should be as the advocate for Brock Lesnar. Every so often, a young talent with the gift of gab will be compared to a "young Bobby Heenan." Should the decision makers ever decide to bring the "art of managing" back to the business on a regular basis, we should all be in for a nice, welcome, yet very familiar, treat.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Mattel's Hasbro Tribute Returns

27 years after the debut of the line, Hasbro's WWF action figure roster grows deeper yet again, in a way. Thanks to a popular decision from Mattel, their WWE "retro" line continues by adding six new figures in the classic Hasbro scale, joining the initial six from earlier this year. While the first series was not really themed, you could say that the Attitude Era was focused on for this round. Mankind, Triple H, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Kane, and The Rock are joined by Sting in his look from the same era, albeit in WCW.

The figures are once again packaged on cards that are clearly a homage to the Hasbro line. While there are some details missing (facsimile signatures for one thing) and the card stock is just a bit thinner, Mattel again does a great job recapturing the vintage magic. The plastic bubbles are molded to the shape of the figure just as the originals were, and "Authentic Superstar Moves" have replaced "Real Wrestling Action." After all, we don't dare use the "w" word. Hasbro-looking photos were used for the packaging, looking very much like choices that would have been made a quarter of a century ago.

Speaking of the action features of the figures, two classic Hasbro features return in Series 2. Mankind and Steve Austin have the "punch" move remembered from such vintage figures as "Macho King" Randy Savage and Razor Ramon among others. Sting and Triple H are done in the "jump" style that was utilized in the early days of the Hasbro line with the first Ultimate Warrior and Superfly Jimmy Snuka, to name a few. This latter move was not a favorite of some collectors, but I appreciate all of the Hasbro "maneuver" actions returning. It especially works with Sting and his "Stinger Splash." It should be noted that the mechanism itself is more reminiscent of Hasbro's first Marty Jannetty figure, where the "neck" of the figure does not extend when the action is used.

All six superstars translated well to the Hasbro style, although my main complaint from the first series remains relevant here. Most of the figures just do not have the brightly colored attire that the Hasbro line was noted for. Kane breaks this with his striking red. The mask is perfectly Hasbro-esque, as well, and "The Big Red Monster" would probably fit in the best with the vintage line. Although they don't stand out for color, Mankind and Sting are also highlights for their unique looks. Many would have preferred "surfer" Sting to be done here, and I still would not mind that for down the road.

Just as I did with the first releases, I'm loving these. All six men are stars that Hasbro collectors have wanted for years. Don't forget that most of these men debuted just a few years after the Hasbro line ended. Series 2 is once again exclusive to Wal Mart which cannot be said for Series 3. Including a total of four superstars, the third installment already has me confident that such a glowing review won't be the case when the time comes. Stay tuned, retro fans...