Thursday, November 15, 2018

Your Guide To An Evolution

Programs. A collectible that is produced less and less as the years go by, especially by WWE. Sure there are those produced for WrestleMania each year. There have been a few for SummerSlam in the past decade and even the 2011 Survivor Series had one. But in a world where pay-per-view lineups change continuously until the day of the event, the era of the program is largely done. However, out of nowhere, we have a new one. To coincide with the first WWE-branded all-women's pay-per-view event, we have a program for WWE Evolution.

The program itself is very much like the other ones that have come along in this era. It's oversized and glossy with thicker-stock pages than a magazine-style program would have. This design first appeared in the very early 2000's. It is also more of a roster guide for the women rather than displaying actual match-ups. Again the pay-per-view lineups change too much for them to be accurately printed too far in advance.

The first page is a shot of the folks who brought you this show, Triple H, Stephanie, and Vince McMahon. Let's all thank them. Then, of course, we get to Ronda Rousey. Obviously she will begin the program being the center of the women's division. So far, she seems to have dedicated herself to the business in a way that many of us wouldn't have imagined. She has largely been a plus for the product, or so it has seemed in the little that I follow the weekly product. All of the larger stars such as The Bella Twins, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch get their own pages, as well.

The interesting portions come later in the book. We get pages with a smattering of smaller pictures of NXT stars and even trainers Sara Del Rey and Serena Deeb! The Mae Young Classic tournament is also chronicled with results of both the 2017 edition as well as the 2018 version which saw its finals held at the Evolution show itself. And yes, "spoiler alert," winner Toni Storm is shown here in all of her British glory.

My favorite portion, of course, is the section featuring the legends. Not only do we get Wendi Richter, Mae Young, and my friend Leilani Kai, but also shown are Cyndi Lauper, Sapphire, Bull Nakano, Rockin' Robin, Mildred Burke, Bertha Faye and Velvet McIntyre just to name a few. The biggest shocker? An inclusion that shouldn't be shocking at all. In fact, she should be front and center. Yes, folks, The Fabulous Moolah is here. Did somebody call Snickers? I think we have a program to burn. Get Twitter on it...

A cool collectible for a first of it's (WWE) kind event that not only looks at the current stars but pays respect to the past as well. It's hard to say what value this will attain. Some of the larger programs such as this have held or risen in value while others just languish. To me, any event-specific program is welcome in a collection. While the live event programs are rather cookie cutter, these are at least specific to a show even if they don't necessarily reflect the matches. If you want one of your own, grab it while you can. There could be an Evolution in demand before you know it.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Return To The Love Shack

I may have grown up on Cactus Jack and Mankind certainly took the wrestling world by storm in the late '90s, but I will always have a special place in my heart for Dude Love. The least utilized of the "Three Faces of Foley," The Dude grew out of a character that Mick Foley created as a teen. The WWF version, who debuted in 1997, took on a more colorful vibe than Foley's original adolescent creation. This look is well represented in Mattel's recently released action figure, the first of Dude Love in over ten years.

Dude Love joins several releases of Mankind and Cactus Jack, not to mention a modern day Commissioner Foley figure. He's part of the Elite collection and definitely the highlight of his particular series. I still love the current packaging for the Elite figures. It's basically a showcase for the figure. No more, no less. Let the figures themselves do the selling. A standout figure will have no issues in that department. Dude Love does just that.

I'm still not a fan of the cheap cardboard backdrops and flimsy plastic stands that are being included with these Elites. As Mattel goes deeper into including more accessories such as alternate hand sculpts, perhaps these will be dropped altogether. They serve no purpose for children (who are going to be playing and not necessarily displaying) nor collectors who will find better ways to display. The marking advertising the backdrops is also the main detractor from the packaging and, thus, the figure.

Dude Love had several looks and shirts, but the latter portrayed here
definitely has a tinge of blue. Any fan will remember when this shirt was readily available from the company at the height of Dude Love's initial run. Dude's pants are also blue and I don't necessarily recall him wearing any other ones. Who remembers the shot of his boots "strutting" in the back just before his debut? The Summer of Love for the WWF, indeed.

Accessories included are Dude's headband and sunglasses. Like his shirt, the headband changed several times but the color scheme works. This isn't the look that is in the better remembered publicity shots, but I'm sure they took it directly from somewhere. The sunglasses stay on well enough, which is always a plus. Dude's "tattoo" is also here, which disappeared somewhere along the way. I definitely remember it in the days of Dude's short-lived segment called "The Love Shack." I must also mention how much I appreciate the inclusion of "The Love Handle," the short lived and often forgotten Dude Love version of "The Mandible Claw."

Last but not least, the facial likeness is on point. I believe that it is a completely new one for Foley, and captures Dude Love perfectly. In a year of great figures, we have another challenger for the title of best. I don't know that Mattel will give into temptation and do a Three Faces of Foley set, but I could see more of Dude down the line since he did alter his look a bit as the character went on. Needless to say, the fact that this long-awaited figure finally saw the light of day can be summed up in one word...


Thursday, November 1, 2018

John Cena: Author

Remember when "Big Match John" told The Rock that he would never venture out beyond WWE? Well, times have changed. We can't fault him. John Cena has been very successful in branching out into mainstream media. In fact, I would say that it is the one thing that was missing from his career. Sure, WWE fans knew who Cena was. Mention his name to anyone outside of the wrestling bubble and you may have heard otherwise. Thanks to acting, media appearances, and philanthropy, Cena's name gets bigger every day. Now, he's decided to put a little "Elbow Grease" into it.

Meet John Cena, children's book author. Random House recently released the first book penned by the champ, entitled "Elbow Grease." Per the back flap, Cena was a big fan of Richard Scarry (as was I) and his beloved line of books for children. The illustrations do remind me a bit of the late author's works, but I don't remember as much dialogue in those. This is a story very reminiscent of Disney's Cars, in looks anyway.

Elbow Grease is the youngest in a family of monster truck brothers. Instead of having any special skills, "Bo" seems to be a smart car, as he needs plugged in at night whereas the other do not. In this short story, Bo decides to step out of his comfort zone and enter the Grand Prix. Despite many obstacles in his way, Bo just won't give you can imagine would be the determination of a main character in a John Cena-penned story.

I won't ruin the ending for you, but it is a cute tale with a positive message. You can hear John's voice reading the text in your head. "Elbow Grease" is coffee-table book sized, but otherwise a nice short, children's story in length. The size of the book itself lends to large illustrations, some of which you can lose yourself in while picking out all of the details. Be sure to hunt around in the back of the book for a funny little Easter egg, too.

Upon release, Cena went on a short but well-publicized East coast book tour. He used his Today Show appearances to propel the book and likely endeared himself to many parents and grandparents who will now snap up the book for their own kids. Cena is really proving himself to be yet another good spokesman for pro wrestling, even if he is slowly leaving that world. His weight loss during these appearances is said to be attributed to training with Jackie Chan for an upcoming film.

"Elbow Grease" is a fun little tale. I'm not sure if John has anymore children's stories in him, but the characters introduced here could easily be seen on a cartoon series or even feature. It's easy to imagine John doing the voice of Bo, though I'm not sure that he would have the time. I never got the "hate" for Cena, though I'm not sure that was every really the case, either. Aside from a few instances, I think the crowd booed him because it was the thing to do rather than any real dislike. Again, in my opinion, the only missing ingredient from the career of John Cena was a breakout beyond the squared circle. Now that he's put a little elbow grease into it, the sky may be the limit...

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Solving A Pre-Packaged Mystery

Buying a "mystery" is a big part of modern day collecting. Blind bag/box items are huge. In case you're late to the party, this is when you're trying to "Collect 'Em All," but instead of choosing which style you want at the store, you're purchasing a completely sealed box or bag with the contents inside sight unseen. Trading cards have always been this way, but how about a box of cards actually labeled as a "Wrestling Mystery Box?"

To be fair, a box full of resold wrestling trading card packs isn't exactly new, either. Various incarnations have popped up at retailers, most notably Wal Mart and Target, over the years with varying results. From my own experience, usually you're left feeling rather ripped off if you made the purchase yourself. This time, despite really scaling down my trading card purchasing aside from the WWE Heritage hobby boxes, I thought the plunge may be worth it.

Here we have the "Wrestling Mystery Box." It's sold by MJ Holdings (formerly Beckett) and retails for $20. I picked up my box at Wal Mart, although it would not be unheard of for these to show up at Target as well. The box advertises five factory sealed fat packs and four factory sealed regular packs per box. The former, also known as jumbo packs, usually retail for around $5 each. That right there brings you over the $20 price point. The other four packs seem to be remainder from blaster boxes and don't look to have a chance to include any "hits." The box DOES, however, advertise that 1:4 boxes will have hits seeded. Sounds good to me.

Upon opening the box, a "hit" is staring right at me. It's a Santino Marella WrestleMania mat relic from the 2012 Heritage set. While mat relics usually aren't too exciting to me, this one pleased me as the 2012 Heritage set has always been a personal favorite. In addition to this and the nine advertised packs, yet another silver pack, seemingly from a Then, Now, Forever blaster box, was also included. This promised one relic card and a Daniel Bryan tribute card. This relic ended up being a Sasha Banks shirt relic. Not my favorite individual in the business, but a hit is a hit.

Ultimately there were packs from Road to WrestleMania 2017 and 2018, Then, Now, Forever, Heritage 2017, and WWE 2017. A nice and rather current variety. Seeing as that I had approximately zero cards from at least one of these sets, many were brand new to me. Even with the Heritage cards, which are my yearly favorite sets, I rarely buy much beyond my traditional hobby box. Although I'd like to complete the sets, I simply don't have the time, patience, or will to do it anymore. Here I pulled some great subset cards that I previously did not have, as well as many with signing potential.

Am I glad that I took the risk? Absolutely. No one is trying to pull one over on anyone here. The jumbo packs make the price point worth it alone, and I pulled two relics when you're truly not even guaranteed one. Would I give it another try? I do believe that I might. It was fun and interesting to see exactly what I would pull as it's even more of a mystery than a hobby box. These also make great gifts. Hint, hint. Why not surprise your favorite blogger today?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Wrestling MarketWatch: Magazine Mayhem

Have there really been over thirty editions of our MarketWatch feature over the years? Sure, I just appropriated the title from CBS (my apologies to the "Eye"), but it's always a very fun feature to research and write. While I always champion the fact that collecting should be fun over profit, it is always a blast to see how much, or how little, certain items are currently selling for. It's the only way to have any sort of collectible "price guide" in this day and age. 

Seeing as that they increase and decrease in price perhaps more than any other form of wrestling memorabilia, we're once again looking at magazines. There are many wrestling magazine collectors out there, and for this edition we'll look at a variety of issues from various time periods that have recently seen movement on the market. As always, prices listed are for non-autographed versions.

*Where better to begin than 52 years ago this month? Batmania had swept the country thanks to the magic that was being created by Adam West and company on television every Wednesday and Thursday evening. Wrestling capitalized on the craze, though it was most prominent in Pittsburgh where strongman Tony Marino became "The Battman." Though he played the character for several years (and has the hair on the back of his head shaved into the Bat Signal to this day), his tag team partner dressed as Robin was short-lived. Both were captured in full costume on the October 1966 issue of Wrestling Revue magazine. While Batkids of the day probably readily scooped the magazine up from newsstands, it's a less common issue nowadays and recently sold for $31.

*Around 25 years later another colorful character would capture America's interest, that being Bart Man aka Bart Simpson. Bret "The Hitman" Hart made a cameo on The Simpsons right around what many consider to be the best era of the long-running cartoon. This appearance was immortalized on the cover of the May 1997 issue of WWE Magazine. Bret and Bart recently sold for $50 which is unusual for this particular edition.

*Going back to the late 1970's we see the fourth issue of the short lived Wrestling Action Magazine. The first in-house WWWF publication, this magazine has widely been featured here on the blog over the years, and thanks to editor Les Thatcher we've been able to chronicle the history of the highly collectible run. This issue features the war of the tag teams that was going on at the time pitting The Valiant Brothers and manager Captain Lou Albano against Larry Zbyszko and Tony Garea. The issue recently sold for $24.50 which is actually trending low for this magazine.

*Another titled to come from wrestling renaissance man Les Thatcher was the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Magazine. One of my favorite covers in a run where it's hard to choose just one is from Issue Vol. 4 No. 5 featuring "Number One" Paul Jones and The Masked Superstar. If there were ever two stars who embodied wrestling in the Carolinas for Jim Crockett Promotions, it's these two gentlemen. The issue recently sold for $51.

*Finally we head back north in August/September 1984 with the World Wrestling Federation. "Rock N Wrestling" was at full steam and in the center of the mayhem were Rowdy Roddy Piper, Captain Lou Albano, and Cyndi Lauper. The three took the cover shot here, obviously on the set of Piper's Pit. As with many of the early WWF Magazines, secondary market value has rarely waned. This classic recently sold for $49.

From cartoon characters to pop singers to wrestling versions of Caped Crusaders, these issues embody the fun of collecting wrestling magazines from the past. What do you have socked away in "Mom's attic?" There could be great reading material up there...and a lot of value in it.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Four Horsemen Get Their Leader

This is one entry that I've been waiting to write for a long time. Too long. When the Jakks Classic Superstars line ended, I had pretty much given up hope that a JJ Dillon action figure would ever see the light of day. While there really wasn't an ideal time for it to happen during his career, that line gave hope to so many legends who never saw an action figure. When that door closed, it appeared that the plastic miniature Four Horsemen would never see their leader. Per Dillon himself, it was Vince McMahon who did not want a figure of his former behind-the-scenes cohort released. Somewhere along the lines that changed as in 2018 we finally have James J. Dillon to add to our collections.

JJ is the latest Build-A-Figure, an unsurprising but satisfying way for Mattel to release the legend. In the second "Basic" style WWE Flashback series exclusive to Wal Mart, we get JJ and four figures that coincide with a World Championship Wrestling theme. To build Dillon you have to buy Ric Flair, Lex Luger, Sting, and Booker T. While it would have been cool to have all Horsemen members from the Dillon era of the group rounding out the set, it's still a suitable lineup. We can't forget that JJ was back with the company when Booker T and this particular representation of Sting were current.

This is the first Mattel Ric Flair figure to feature The Nature Boy, in his prime, in his suit. All of the Horsemen in suits would have been ideal here, but I cannot see Mattel ever doing that. Included are sunglasses that fit into holes embedded into his flowing locks. I could have imagined this figure being done as a Build-A-Figure on its own, but I'm glad it's the "star" here instead, in my opinion. Luger is the other Horsemen from the Dillon era to be featured here. This is the first time that Mattel has brought us a plain black trunks figure of "Flexy Lexy," and it does the job well.

Although Sting was briefly a Horsemen, it was after JJ had departed for the WWF. This Sting is also well after his time in the elite faction as far as design. This is the second Sting figure to reflect his time right before he completely changed to the "Crow" look that many fans still covet today. The orange and black are striking and conjure up thoughts of Halloween Havoc, though I'm not sure that he wore this particular style there. Booker T is a very nice figure, though fairly close to the Harlem Heat "Elite" figure released not long ago. Putting him into the black tights would've been something different, but as usual with a set this fun, I'm not complaining.

How does JJ measure up to all the years of anticipation? As my father used to say, "The wait was worth the while." To begin, the facial likeness is absolutely incredible. You can almost hear him cutting a promo on WTBS while looking at it. It's that good. And yes, it does look a lot like the Jakks Buddy Jack Roberts facial sculpt. I'm not the only one who has speculated over the years that that particular facial design was originally intended as Dillon, though I've never seen it confirmed. It definitely looks like JJ and nothing like Buddy Roberts, but that's neither here nor there now that we do have Dillon.

The body used is standard for many of these Build-A-Figures and, like with the Mean Gene Okerlund figure which was originally released as such, I've had issues with the left arm staying attached. Tinted glasses are also included, though he works without them as well since he didn't constantly wear them back then. Could we have asked for more with this figure? I really don't think so.

For us fans of the legends, we finally have JJ. He'll fit in with the Mattel releases of the Horsemen or even Jakks figures such as the pre-ring Horsemen, Ron Bass, Abdullah the Butcher, or anyone else that he managed. Who else is going to have the upcoming Dusty Rhodes Elite figure drop the Bionic Elbow onto JJ? That leads me to think that someone will be obtaining an extra JJ head to make a custom ring gear version. In any case, this is one that I cannot fathom being re-released. Go out and buy the set now. It's worth it to complete the Horsemen and celebrate not only a tremendous talent, but a great guy as well.

Have I mentioned over the years that he also authored my favorite wrestling book...?

Thursday, October 4, 2018

From The Musty Yellowed Pages--Mid Atlantic Wrestling Magazine Vol. 4 No. 3

 It's hard to believe that it has been over a year since we "cracked open" a classic wrestling magazine and took a look at all of the info, entertainment, and history contained inside. Seeing as that it's the return of our feature titled "From The Musty Yellowed Pages," where better to pick up than with one of the all-time classic characters of the ring and one of the most beloved promotions of the past? Killing two birds with one stone, we're taking a look at Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Magazine Vol. 4 No. 3 featuring the one and only "Sheiky Baby" himself, The Iron Sheik. Camera man, zoom.

I've always liked this cover. The yellow border is eye-popping and goes well with the baby bluebackground that Sheiky is standing in front of. This era of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Magazine had a chrome, almost Star Wars-like frame to the cover photos. Very '80s, but a style that would be fresh and welcome today. The Sheik is in a classic pose, hoisting one of his infamous pointed boots and wearing the coveted Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Heavyweight Championship. His ownership of the championship coupled with some other photos inside of the magazine place this issue between June and September 1980.

Immediately, it's clear that no one involved with the production of the magazine knew how to spell "Sheik." On the cover and throughout the magazine it is misspelled as "Shiek." By and large, this is one of few mistakes in an otherwise high quality publication. While this series of publications considered itself a magazine, you could argue that these are more like programs. Featuring only around fifteen pages each, a high volume of photos,  and very short articles, these issues were sold solely at shows. All of these factors combine to make them highly collectible.

Like most vintage wrestling publications, each of these magazines is a time capsule. Anderson's Army was a stable managed by Gene Anderson who, at the time, was recovering from health issues and had to continue outside of the ring. He obviously had a successful run boasting both Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Champion The Iron Sheik and NWA Tag Team Champions Ray Stevens and Jimmy Snuka as being under his tutelage. Seeing Snuka as a more civilized heel than his better known WWF run as a savage would be jarring to some fans. On the flip side we have the Mid-Atlantic Tag Team Champions in the form of Matt Borne and Buzz Sawyer. No clowning around when it came to that duo.

As with most magazines of the era, you get a centerfold. Despite it being Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, there's no Penny Banner or Susan Green here. Instead, yes, it's once again The Iron Sheik. Humbling, to say the least. Following the poster is a short black and white profile and photo gallery of the worldly Iranian. His legitimate Olympic background is discussed. Fans always enjoy seeing a young Sheik, complete with hair. Speaking of hair, check out the long locks on The Sheepherders. Luke Williams and Butch Miller were a simply bushwhacking team of crazies.

At the end of the day Mid-Atlantic Wrestling prided itself on presenting second-to-none ring action. Here we have a small photo feature on a bloody tag team match pitting Ric Flair and Blackjack Mulligan against Bobby Duncum and Greg Valentine. Can you think of four harder-hitting competitors? Of course Flair and Valentine were no stranger to tag team wrestling in the area, at one time teaming together. On the other end we have a full color shot of Sweet Ebony Diamond. Wherever Diamond wrestled, you can be sure a little Rock was rolling right along behind him.

And of course no Mid-Atlantic Wrestling feature is complete without stalwart Paul Jones. The passing of Jones earlier this year was sadly overshadowed by names more familiar to the modern fan, but there's no denying that it was one of the biggest blows to the business in 2018. From the sound of the article, it appears as if "Number One" was once again wrestling on the side of the fans. We all know that didn't last long.

As mentioned above, the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Magazines are highly collectible and sought after. Secondary market prices vary, but it's often hard to pinpoint individual issues at any one time. You either strike while the iron is hot or you could wait some time before you see that exact issue available again. From the earlier artistic covers of the '70s to the photographic shots that brought the publication into the following decade, I don't think there's a single issue that sells for under $20 if properly listed. Monetary value aside, they're just fun to collect!

And there ain't nothin' humble about that!