Thursday, January 19, 2017

Goodbye To The "Fly"

Make no mistake about it, Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka defined wrestling in the early 1980's. Nothing like him had ever been seen before. Sure there had been wrestlers from "the islands" and in-ring competitors who went to the top rope on occasion, but never before had such a package been put together. Looking back, Snuka's run as a top babyface really wasn't all that long on the national scene, but it was enough to make him a household name.

I can honestly say that in the early days of my wrestling fandom, I really didn't appreciate how big of a star Snuka had been. I knew that he had a cool and interesting looking action figure that stood out from the rest, but by this point he didn't win much on television nor did he have many marquee matches. Once I began studying the past via tapes and magazines, I understood just how far the "Superfly Splash" had taken the man from the Fiji Islands.

Years later, I began to see even more of the early days of "The Fly," learning about his runs outside of the WWF in Mid-Atlantic and Georgia Championship Wrestling among other territories. This was a completely different Snuka, playing a much different version of the character that so many children of the '80s grew up on.

And even though Snuka's big run on top was just before the WWF marketing machine went full blast, The Superfly was no stranger to cool action figures, trading cards, and magazine covers. The LJN Snuka figure snuck into the line at the very beginning, but it's the Hasbro version that I owned first, complete with his one hand making the famous "I Love You" sign.

Unfortunately the events of recent years do have to be addressed. Some have chosen not to memorialize the man and that is certainly their decision. In no way should that detract from those of us who do. Many of those who are riding the "social justice" train are the same individuals who will throw out the phrase "Innocent Until Proven Guilty" when it suits their own needs. In a remembrance on my personal Facebook page, I pointed out that there are many individuals from many genres who, with a quick Google search, can be found accused of many heinous acts. Some are still in the public spotlight in a weekly or daily basis, yet their fans will continuously follow and/or worship them until their last breath.

I did not worship Jimmy Snuka or any wrestler/celebrity. I do not know if he was guilty of the accusations presented or not. We will never know. I do know that in my many dealings with him as well as my views of his dealings with others, he was a joy to be around. He brought smiles to people's faces, as well as to my own. If it bothers you to see this here, there's always next Thursday.

I choose to thank Jimmy Snuka for making an impact on the business that I love and for making a "Splash" on millions of fans worldwide.

T.C.B.


Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka

1943-2017

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Harlem Heat's Comin' For You...

Mattel is really starting to beef up their World Championship Wrestling figure presence. Not only have we seen the release of a classic WCW style ring, but we have also received figures of Sting, Lord Steven Regal, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, and others representing their time in the Atlanta-based wrestling company. Now we get the release of a tag team that is best known for their work in WCW. Everyone would agree that two of the best tag team wrestlers of the 1990's were the brothers known as Booker T and Stevie Ray. Thanks to the latter recently signing a WWE Legends contract, Harlem Heat has finally joined the Mattel line.

"The Heat" joins us in Mattel WWE Elite Series 46. Beginning with this series, the company introduces a new gimmick that is actually somewhat reflective of the early days of the line. Yes, plastic figure stands are back. These stands are actually three pieces and include a cardboard piece of "diorama" that slides into the back. When all of the figures in the series are collected, the cardboard forms one picture. The stands can be used without the cardboard photo and this is honestly the route that I see most collectors going down. For one thing, the photo background is of an arena and part of the ring. It's very bland and boring. Secondly, after just a few hours of the cardboard being placed into the holder, mine started to bend backward.

Onto the figures themselves, the first thing that popped into my mind is just how far Mattel has gone with the production. The facial likenesses for Booker and Stevie are extraordinary. The hair, the eyes, and even the nasal strips are all perfect. Mattel still has its off moments, but the days of the early few series where it was lucky to find one good likeness in the bunch are long gone. For his first figure in over fifteen years, I'm happy that Stevie Ray received a great treatment. This is the first "Harlem Heat" styled figure for Booker T in equally as long of a time.

The team had many different gear colors over the years, but the red used here really pops. I could easily see a "basic" tag set coming in the future since these great facial likenesses are already done. That set should be done in black, which I will explain in a minute. The flame detail is great, and although I've had recently issues with paint detail in other newer series, I didn't encounter that here. The chest pieces are separate and not painted on which is another great touch. I do think that both figures may be just a tad too tall, although they are tall men to begin with.

Mattel didn't scrimp on accessories either. While they easily could have called it a day with the red doo rags and sunglasses, the company also included the black flame caps that Harlem Heat alternatively wore. If a basic tag team set is produced in the future, this is why I'd like to see those figures in the black gear as we'll already have the accessories ready to go. None of the headgear included here looks 100% perfect, but it's good enough for the purpose. The sunglasses stay on both figures good enough for display, but could still be easily lost.

For my first Mattel WWE purchase of 2017, I'm extremely pleased. I've been a fan of both gentleman for years both in and out of the ring, and I'm happy to see the Harlem Heat legacy live on. Combined with the recent Mattel Nasty Boys releases, we are just one figure away from recreating the WCW Uncensored "Concession Stand Brawl." Do I even have to tell you just who the figure would be? Sista Sherri. Mattel has yet to explore the possibilities of adding Sherri Martel to the line. Her stint as Harlem Heat's manager would be a great place to start.

How about that for a kick-off to my 2017 Mattel wishlist?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Topps Enters The Divas Revolution

Is it the "Divas Revolution" or "Women's Revolution?" Either way, the ladies are back with their own trading card collection thanks to Topps. Though I'd definitely consider this a new line for a new year, these cards actually started hitting shelves late last year. The set was initially thought to be a Wal Mart exclusive, but the blaster boxes have also been spotted at Toys "R" Us. Speaking of which, if you aren't a fan of blaster boxes you're out of luck. Thus far the 51-card boxes are the only way to get these cards at retail and it seems as if it will remain that way.

Opening a box will yield you a mix of fifty cards from the base and subsets as well as one relic or autograph. The cards are wrapped all together in one foil wrapper and, to be honest, look like a Chunky bar. You know..."what a chunk of chocolate!" But inside isn't candy of that sort. Instead it's Topps first set solely devoted to the female WWE superstars. Fleer did several "Divas" sets over a decade ago, but those focused only on the then-current females. Although there were some diamonds in the rough then, the stars were more for show than athleticism back then.

The base set contains the odd number of 43 cards. Perhaps Topps was looking to secure more names from the past? We see new WWE cards for Wendi Richter, Torrie Wilson, Ivory, and Kelly Kelly among others, but I must admit that I'm biased as far as my favorite. For the first time since 1986 there is a new WWE-licensed product of my friend Leilani Kai. The picture used is exactly the same as one of her cards from thirty years ago in the WWF O-Pee-Chee set, but it's still a cool thing to see.

There are also numerous subsets that largely mirror those in the regular Topps WWE subsets. Power Couples, Rivalries, and Champions are just several featured. It's never a bad thing when Miss Elizabeth and Sensational Sherri show up. I particularly like the Champions cards, showing the stars with the various incarnations of the title. Charlotte receives two cards in this subset, one featuring the Divas Championship and the other showing the current WWE Women's Championship. It's interesting that this set was still in development when the "Divas" tag was dropped, yet the term is still used as the title.

My pull? As usual, Alicia Fox. I love "Foxy" and feel that she's one of the more underutilized female stars. Still, I wish it had been an autograph rather than a boring relic. Interestingly, the mat relic is said to be from WrestleMania XXX back in 2014. I guess they have more pieces of mat lying around than they know what to do with. It's really time to update the most humdrum of relics, mat pieces. How about some ring rope tape? Locks of hair? Sweat on a paper towel? Anything!

What we have in Divas Revolution is a unique set that almost feels like a test. If the blaster boxes sell well this time around, will we see a wide-release sequel with packs and hobby boxes? There are enough female stars of the past and present to warrant it. Is the demand there? I would think so. No WWE trading card product, no matter how repetitive, ever seems to hang around long. If you see a blaster of Divas, pick it up and show your support! Even if you suffer, I mean, "luck out" and pull a mat relic, you'll get fifty other cards from a unique set filled with some great talent.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The 2016 Additions to The Great Squared Circle in the Sky

As the year comes to a close, it's tradition here on the blog to look back at those wrestling stars that we have lost over the past twelve months. All businesses lose individuals each year, but wrestling always seem to have more than its fair share, many at a far younger age than should be acceptable. 2016 did see a number of names pass who made it their 60s, 70s, and 80s. Others met tragic ends just a few years after their names faded from the mainstream marquee.

Among those from the wrestling business who passed away in 2016 were Joanie "Chyna" Laurer, Archie "The Stomper" Gouldie, Bill Cardille, Lord James Blears, Blackjack Mulligan, Balls Mahoney, Frenchy Martin, Axl Rotten, Harley Saito, Charlie Fulton, Don Bass, Mr. Fuji, Gypsy Joe, Lord Littlebrook, Espectrito, Jean Antone, Hayabusa, Mocho Cota, Mark Young, Edmund Francis, El Mongol, and Iron Mike Sharpe.

Charlie Fulton was a journeyman's journeyman. Name a territory and a place on the card and Fulton likely worked it. Although he did not make it to the pay-per-view era of wrestling that cemented so many names into immortality, he did pass on his wealth of knowledge to a number of other wrestlers including Raven. When I met Fulton in 2013, he seemed very happy to be remembered by both fans and his peers alike. Fulton is the type of wrestler that was content no matter what his role was in the business, something that is seen less and less today where everyone feels that they need to be the center of attention.

Balls Mahoney made his name as one of the most hardcore characters to come from Extreme Championship Wrestling, but the ECW original was more than that. He knew how to technically wrestle if called upon to do so and could play the lovable cartoonish character as he did during his last WWE run. It's no secret that his lifestyle caused his premature demise, but the "Hardcore Chair-Swingin' Freak," as well as his partner Axl Rotten, who also passed away this year, will be remembered for giving their all to entertain the fans, no matter the sacrifice.

Perhaps the biggest 2016 wrestling loss to me personally was Bill Cardille. "Chilly Billy," as he was known to generations of Pittsburghers, was the voice of the Steel City's "Studio Wrestling" program in the 1960's and into the '70s. His battle with cancer was well-publicized here in Pittsburgh and the outpouring of love and respect for the broadcasting legend hopefully made his final days just a bit more comfortable. As affable in person as he was on-screen, Bill Cardille is one passing that did not get as much attention in the wrestling press as others, but he certainly made an equal impact on the business.

As we remember those who passed, we look ahead to 2017 and what good we can do in the memories of those who are now gone...

"To live in the hearts of those left behind is not to die."

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The 2016 J\/\/ Awards

More anticipated than the Oscars, the Emmys, and even the Country Music Awards, it's The 2016 J\/\/ Awards featuring "The Joshie!" Each year we celebrate the best in wrestling memorabilia and memories in five different categories. The design of "The Joshie" itself changes every year, as well, utilizing a classic wrestling figure from the past with a "J\/\/" twist. I think that last year's change was lost on a few readers (yes, that was my face under the Doink "paint"), but there's no doubt about the 2016 version, that's Joshie McMahon. Stand back! Without further ado, let's hand out those awards...

 2016 Best Figure

Mattel's WWE Hall of Fame Dusty Rhodes wins "The Joshie" for 2016 Best Figure. In a year that saw some absolutely amazing figures, firsts, and a lot of items that we never thought possible, Dusty takes the crown. Fitting, seeing as that the figure, packaged exclusively with a WCW ring for Target, includes Mattel's version of "Big Gold." The company could have easily cheaped out in many ways on Big Dust, but they didn't. Instead, a pretty cool re-styled ring came packed with an all-new Dusty. That, my friends, is The American Dream!

2016 Best Buy (Non-Figure)

Topps WWE Heritage 2016 Trading Cards win "The Joshie" for 2016 Best Buy. The Heritage cards returned in 2015 for the first time since 2012, but the comeback fell a bit short of my expectations. For a myriad of reasons, I just didn't get exactly what I was hoping for. The 2016 edition changed that. In addition to the great design, we received some very cool subsets and stars who had never before been included in a Heritage set. The classic cardboard of wrestling was back in full force in 2016. This award celebrates that.

2016 Best Product Line

Mattel wins "The Joshie" for 2016 Best Product Line. Once again Mattel takes home this award, and for good reason. In the 2016 wrestling world there really isn't any company that matches the volume that Mattel produces. Is it all great? No, but the good outweighs the bad with some tremendous entries. The speed in which new characters are getting figures has greatly improved, much to the chagrin of wallets everywhere. Will 2017 see another award winning year for Mattel? It's a great possibility.

2016 Future Holy Grail

The Crusher Bobblehead wins "The Joshie" for 2016 Future Holy Grail. In February the Milwaukee Admirals hockey team gave this item away as a game promotion. It's the first figure representation of The Crusher. It's a cross-collectible for both wrestling and bobblehead doll collectors alike. It's also likely one of the last pieces of merchandise that we'll see featuring the beer-chugging, polka-dancing, Milwaukee native. It hasn't completely disappeared from the secondary market, either, so get one off of that famous Internet auction site while the prices are still decent. The fact that the doll is standing on a beer barrel makes it all the cooler.

2016 Thanks For The Memories Award

2016 Thanks For The Memories Nominee: Chyna. This award was not conceived as a memorial, but it has become one since 2014. A lot of people dismissed Chyna for some of her behavior after her WWF career, but she was so much more than that (no pun intended). At times it's easy to forget just how big of a star she was during her tenure. Even in her non-speaking "bodyguard" days, she just stood out. I prefer to remember that, as well as how nice she was to her fans any time that I was around her. In an era that I don't always look back so fondly upon, she is still a shining star.

Well, you may not get the Slammys this year, but there are "The Joshies." It's still not too late to pick up a great wrestling gift for the favorite fan in your life. And as for that doll that's hanging around shelves everywhere doing silly things? Not here...


Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Wrestling Classic Figure Review--Mattel WWE Michelle McCool

I never thought that I'd see the day that Michelle McCool would have an entry on this blog dedicated to her, much less a segment of "The Wrestling Classic Figure Review." I don't have anything against her, she just didn't really stick out to me. As far as merchandising, her Jakks figure was very boring. It was actually at the tail end of her wrestling career that I began to enjoy her work, and that's part of the reason why I do like Mattel's 2010 representation of her. It also filled a noticeable void in my own collection.

The Diva who was "lovin' life" was produced by Mattel way back in Basic Series 7. The cards were still that dreadful red, and one aspect of the early Mattel WWE line, which we'll get to in a bit, was still in play. When the figure was first released, I was not completely sold on the line. I was still stuck on Jakks and resisted change. The fact that some of Mattel's early WWE work wasn't the best, not to mention that the WWE product of the time was extremely hit-or-miss, meant that I passed on a lot of the early figures. In fact, at that point I was generally only buying the stars who had never seen a figure before. My first Mattel WWE purchase? Carlito and Primo, since the latter had not previously been produced.

As I grew to love Mattel, like many collectors I had to go back and find figures that I had previously passed by. For many of these figures that saw only one or two releases, prices generally went up. Still, a sharp collector will wait until the price is right. As with the rest, that finally happened with Michelle McCool. She was the last Diva that I did not have a Mattel-produced version of in my collection. Finding a carded example that was priced not much higher than retail made it all the sweeter. And of course, for the sake of reviewing (well, that and the fact that she isn't a figure that I necessarily needed to keep carded), she was released from her plastic prison.

Just as with her Laycool partner Layla, Mattel did a good job on Michelle. The facial likeness is perfect, and the detail on the outfit matches her look at the time. In addition to her change in character, her almost feathered-hair look during her heel run further sold me on Michelle. Apparently the look also worked on a certain legendary WWE star who decided to make Michelle into "Mrs. Deadman." Regardless, the figure looks great with Layla, holding the WWE Women's Championship, or terrorizing poor Mickie James.

As alluded to above, this is also when Mattel still included a plastic figure stand and cardboard name placard with each figure. Allegedly cut for cost reasons, it was a nice addition but didn't end up being a deal breaker for anyone that I know of. Some might consider a loose example to be incomplete if these accessories are missing, but I wouldn't. Judging by the secondary market prices for many of these figures that are missing the stand, I'm not alone.

If you're like me and are now collecting "backwards" trying to get these early Mattel figures, this entry comes with a great lesson: don't overpay. Patience will yield these figures for your collection. Judging by the popularity of an early-2016 blog entry that I did highlighting five of these early, "forgotten" Mattel figures, there's plenty of interest. Keep in mind, especially if you're a loose collector, that many of these figures are well over five years old now. That means that some who bought these early on are no longer interested and/or have "outgrown" (ha!) action figures. Do you know what that means for you? The hunt begins!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Dragon Scorches The Cover

Many consider him to be one of the greatest of all-time. Others say they've seen none better. Without a doubt, you were highly entertained if you've ever viewed a Ricky Steamboat match. "The Dragon" could do it all, with just about any opponent, and never gave less than 100%. The man had a tremendous look, as well. Exotic and dangerous, he was the wrestler that guys wanted to be and that girls wanted to be with, yet he remained a wholesome hero of the squared circle.

During his career, Steamboat's image graced the cover of many publications. The grappler who would later call North Caroline his home actually first began setting the world on fire in the late '70s as part of Jim Crockett Promotions and Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. With longer hair than he would later be known for, Steamboat was played up as a Hawaiian high-flyer who did things that many other stars of the time did not. Though he had many top-level feuds at the time, his bouts with "Nature Boy" Ric Flair would be a prelude to their storied NWA World Championship rivalry a decade later. Many have said that these Mid-Atlantic matches, mostly confined to the memories of fans in the arena live, were even better than those later seen on a national level.

The treasured Mid-Atlantic Championship Magazines saw a few Steamboat covers, but none are cooler than the "beach" cover of Issue No. 3 Vol. 8. These magazines are quite collectible and always fetch a high price when they appear for sale these days. Many of the early covers feature beautiful artistic renderings of the promotions stars. Steamboat in his "native" lands of Hawaii is definitely unique and almost too peaceful for a wrestling magazine.

As Pro Wrestling Illustrated was instituted in 1979, it's no surprise that the publication grew as did the career of "The Dragon." Ricky made several PWI covers over the years, including one in May 1981 that featured him as Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Heavyweight Champion. The title belt, a favorite of many classic wrestling fans, saw one of its greatest national showcases on this cover. Steamboat also throws the old adage that "babyfaces don't grow facial hair" out the window as the cover shows him sporting quite the mustache.

By the middle of the decade, Ricky Steamboat had transformed into a
master of the martial arts somewhat reminiscent of Bruce Lee. "The Dragon" was born in the WWF and would be a moniker that followed Steamboat through the rest of his career. Steamboat saw his sole WWF Magazine cover appearance on the October/November 1985 issue. A striking and dramatic cover, the issue seems to show up much less than other issues of the time and, thus, commands a higher price when it does appear for sale.

Many fans consider the WrestleMania III encounter between Steamboat and Randy "Macho Man" Savage as their all-time favorite match. The bout ended with "The Dragon" as the Intercontinental Champion. Though his title reign was notoriously short, Steamboat made the ideal holder of that particular title. After all, it's often said that the matches for that championship "stole the show," just as Steamboat did more often than not. A 1987 WWF program cover appearance shows Steamboat during his brief reign, holding the Intercontinental Title high in the air. Iconic and historic.

Although he just misses my own "Five All-Time Favorite Wrestlers" list, he's definitely in the next five. When a Steamboat match is on, you watch. You can't help but watch. Meeting him many times over the years, Steamboat's greatness in the ring is only matched by his real-life attitude towards his many fans. If anyone ever came away from a meeting with "The Dragon" with any less than a smile on their face, I'd be truly shocked. The phrase "Never meet you heroes" does not apply here.

A true champion of life, cover-to-cover.