Thursday, October 20, 2016

Who Can Defeat Braun Strowman?

As we continue with what will end up being "Mattel Month" here on the blog, we take a look at a different kind of wrestler. Tyler Breeze and Magnum T.A. who were previously featured could be considered flashy heartthrobs in their respective eras. Now, as we approach Halloween, we look at some stars who scare and intimidate both opponents and audiences. As far as modern day WWE goes, the man featured today may be the biggest monster currently on the roster. A former (?) member of the Wyatt Family, the big man is none other than Braun Strowman.

This is Strowman's first Mattel Elite figure, although he did have a Basic release that is considered his "First Time In The Line." As with the other figures of the Wyatt Family, there are reasons why collectors will absolutely want to go "Elite" with Strowman. I don't always feel the need to purchase the "Elite" version of every single one of the current WWE characters. When it comes to the members of the Wyatt Family, their accessories are almost part of them. It just wouldn't feel complete without the masks, shirts, chairs, and lanterns.

Braun is packaged in the standard 2016 Elite window box. Being such a huge man, the figure is likewise large and hefty. There is absolutely no "floating" going on here. Braun fits well in the window, which is good if you're planning on keeping it in the package. The figure includes the "Black Sheep" mask which, at the time of design, Strowman was still wearing. It's a fun accessory that we'll explore more in a bit. I don't really see the need for any more accessories between the mask and the fact that the figure is so big. If it fills up the box, it's worth the "Elite" price.

The likeness is good. It looks like Strowman and as far as I can tell mostly new parts were used for the body. As mentioned above, the figure is immense. This is one that, as I like to say, you feel you're really getting your money's worth with. He definitely measures up to the other "giants" of the Mattel WWE line, and it's fun to compare them. He's getting his run as a "monster" right now, and it will be fun to see just who will "slay the dragon," so to speak. WWE is doing a good job rebuilding him after he really didn't make much of an impact upon his initial introduction.

The "Black Sheep" mask is indeed here in the Elite release. It's actually just a remold of the previous mask released with Erick Rowan. The indentations inside that allowed it to fit so snugly on Rowan are even still there. Besides the color, the big difference is that it is made of a more pliable material to allow it to stretch over the sides of Strowman's head/hair and fit on. It doesn't fit quite as easily as the one with Rowan, but it works. No complaints.

The figure may be a bit outdated, but if you want to continue building the Wyatt Family, you need it. There likely won't be any further releases with the mask as future Braun figures will probably mirror his current look as the resident monster of Monday Night Raw. The movement of the figure isn't the best due to the massive features, but it's Braun Strowman. You weren't looking for a cruiserweight, were you? Braun is a classic "big man" wrestler who should only improve over time. Honestly, his promos that remind me of a biker side-character in a '70s or '80s action flick are kinda winning me over.

Next week, we go from Braun Strowman to another monster of the mat. This one is a blast from the past, but it won't set the world on fire...or maybe it will. Regardless, this beast is going to be flying all over the place...

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Magnum T.A. Arrives

I don't think that I've championed the release of a figure, or any piece of memorabilia for that matter, as much as this one. The man simply deserved it. With all of the regional and territorial stars that received figures in the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line, it was almost a crime that this man did not get the same treatment. Here we are, almost three decades to the day that his career was cut short. After a figure line that should have included his release passed him over, not to mention an announcement and prototype from Mattel years ago, we finally have it in our hands. The Magnum T.A. figure has arrived.

Out of the blue, Mattel decided to release a special "Elite" series of figures that some are calling the "Lost Legends." The other figures in the series are re-releases of past Legends and/or Flashback figures such as The Ultimate Warrior, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Kamala, and Chris Jericho. For me, Magnum T.A. is the absolute star of the series. A man who never before saw a figure release. A man who was slated to have a figure in the initial Mattel WWE Legends figure line, only for the release to be cancelled. Why? Various reasons could be blamed. When I asked the legend himself about it, Magnum said that he was indeed paid for it, but would have liked to have seen its release for his young sons to have.

The newly released figure does in fact greatly resemble the prototype that made its way onto the back of packaging years ago. Though it's likely the same, the facial likeness looks better in-hand. The prototype also featured red tights whereas this final version has black. Considering he wore both, it isn't that big of a deal. The packaging blends the original Mattel WWE Legends design with the 2016 Elite style. It's a winning combination. Magnum would have "floated" in the old packaging as many of the other figures did.

Magnum's style definitely has a bit of a dated look to it, so I'm not sure how much, if at all, this figure will appeal to the younger crowd. They may get familiar with him thanks to WWE Network, but the others in the series such as Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker will be much more popular. Magnum's release is a tip of the hat to longtime fans and collectors. Magnum wasn't flashy like HBK or a complete character like Taker. He was just hair, mustache, tights, and cowboy boots. No frills for the 2016 WWE fans, but an absolute legend to those who value the history of the industry.

Magnum's only accessory is a vest. This is the same vest that was included with Barry Windham. You weren't expecting a classic championship belt, were you? The vest works well for the figure, but when it is on the figure can pretty much only look downward. It's a common problem for figures with the combination of long hair and removable attire. The facial likeness is absolutely perfect and the body parts used match Magnum's physique to a T. The cowboy boots are different from those used on the recent Dusty Rhodes release, but are just as nice and detailed.

It's hard to say just how popular this figure will be. If you've attended any of the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Fanfests, you know how the fans still react to Magnum T.A. to this day. His star is remembered even after all of these years and shines just as bright. In that region I would imagine that this figure will be flying off of the shelves. Elsewhere, I'm just not sure. Seeing as that this is likely the only release of the figure that we will ever see, he could be snapped everywhere. So far, distribution of the entire series has been odd. One "prime" online retailer now has the figure priced the same as brick and mortar stores, so that may be the route to go.

Regardless of how popular the figure is, this is one collector who is beyond thrilled to have him. A figure lineup of the stars of 1980's Jim Crockett Promotions is that much closer to being complete. While I still hold no hope that we'll ever see figures of the likes of J.J. Dillon and Ole Anderson among others, a man who captivated the fans of the NWA for a brief few years finally sees himself immortalized as an action figure. Mattel hit a legendary home run with this one, no matter how you look at it.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Look Everyone, It's Tyler!

There's no doubt about it, Mattel is absolutely cranking out great new WWE product. It's wonderful for collectors, but if you're like me, it's total destruction on the wallet. Nevertheless, to celebrate all of these great figures, here on the blog the entire month of October will be dedicated to these new additions. Not to fear "old school" fans, you ought to know by now that some of these figures will be of stars of the past. Did you have any doubt? To kick it off, we have a WWE Superstar whose figure includes an accessory that wasn't even invented until a few years ago. It's none other than "Prince Pretty" himself, Tyler Breeze.

This is Tyler's first "Elite" figure and is part of a series exclusive to Wal Mart that is branded with the recent WWE motto of "Then, Now, Forever." The retail chain previously had a "Basic" figure series with the same theme, but this Elite set is definitely more varied. Included are The Rock, Rusev, Bam Bam Bigelow, and Breeze. You can probably guess which figures in the series are selling and which are collecting dust. With just a quick look at the packaging you see one cool feature right on the back. The superstar that you're purchasing is shown with a comparable superstar from either "now" or "then." Breeze is compared to Shawn Michaels. Looking at their gimmicks, you can definitely see some influence of "The Heartbreak Kid" on "The Sultan of Selfies."

Speaking of selfies, this is easily the defining figure of Breeze up to this point. While the Basic releases were, as expected, devoid of accessories, this Elite is the total Tyler package. Not only is his vest here, but his color coordinated selfie stick makes its debut as well. No, the phone is not removable, but why would it be? Tyler can hold the selfie stick in several realistic poses. The vest is flexible plastic and is fairly easy to remove and replace. The matching "fur" pieces on his boots are molded separate from the figure in the same color as the vest.

From what I've seen of the Basic Tyler Breeze figures, the same facial likeness is used here. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" Tyler is known for pretty much one facial expression and it's perfectly captured. His hair is pulled back into a small ponytail. I could definitely see a future release with the hair down. The manufacturers are always looking for a way to re-release figures, and that seems like a reasonable option for a future Breeze. I like the dark/light blue color scheme, as well. The purple on the Basic release reminded me too much of other character releases. These colors make him stand out from the rest. The painted on belt/buckle doesn't bother me, but it just looks flat with all of the other detail that's going on.

If you're a fan of "Prince Pretty," this is the figure to get. Will he get another Elite figure down the line? It's possible, but with the company overrun with talent and Breeze being greatly underutilized, it may be awhile. I could see a basic two-pack with Fandango coming before a new Elite release. As I hinted above, Breeze and Bigelow are the two most popular of the set. If your local Wal Mart stocks them, you'll likely encounter a bunch of Rusev and The Rock unless you happen on a recently unpacked case. Amazon has them as well, but not at the $19.87 price point of Wal Mart. Right now this is the only way to get Tyler's accessories which are a must if you're going to be displaying the figure loose.

Next week, the Mattel madness continues. I'm not going to announce just which figure will be appearing yet, but if you're a long-time reader, you know that I've been waiting for this one for a long, long time. Did I even beg for it a few times? Yes. Next week, he finally arrives...

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Toot! Toot! It's Tugboat!

Mattel sure has been on a role as of late with figures from wrestling's past. Some are wrestlers who have not seen figures in years, others are making their toy debut. Yet others, like the figure that we're looking at here, is a man who has seen several figures but is a character who has not. This character, debuting roughly 26 years ago, was one who saw some popularity, but would've been a smash hit just a few years earlier. If Tugboat had debuted smack dab in the middle of the "Rock N Wrestling" era, he would have been a gem of the LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars line. If he had lasted a bit longer, he would've been included, as originally planned, in the Hasbro WWF figure line. Thanks to Mattel, we can finally "toot" alongside a figure of the massive sailor.

Tugboat makes his debut in the Mattel "Elite" category as such a figure should. I'm still liking the "new" packaging on these figures, although it seems as if the company is changing the design yearly. Tugboat definitely does not "float" in the bubble, even without a separately packaged accessory. It should be noted that although Tugboat had never before seen a regular figure release, an asterisk does belong next to that claim. Tugboat did see a small, non-poseable, mini figure as part of the legendary Remco WWF Superstars Shoot-Out tabletop hockey game. The Tugster was the goalie of the "good guy" team, with his then-future partner Earthquake as the "bad guy" counterpart. Until Mattel decided on producing figures of the "three faces of Fred Ottman," Tugboat was doomed forever as only a game piece.

One thing that I noticed even while the figure was in the package was that Mattel got one important aspect of the man right: his height. If you've ever had the pleasure of meeting "Uncle Fred," you may have noticed how immense the man is. While his weight was the stat pushed in his wrestling days, his height completely blows me away each time that I see him. The billed height of 6'3 on the back of the package seems very low to me. Mr. Ottman is a giant of a man with an equally big personality and heart. The latter definitely came through in his guise as Tugboat.

The sole accessory here is the hat. It is removable, as it should be, and fits on nicely. I may go as far as to say that it's a snug fit. You can hold the figure upside down and it doesn't fall off. It's produced of a soft, pliable plastic and has a small rim on the inside front that works with the figure's hair to help hold it on. I can't really think of another accessory that would have made sense if included. With so much original tooling on the figure, it's very acceptable that only the hat is here.

Speaking of the tooling, Tugboat's body type was captured perfectly. Though he was undoubtedly a massive man, in the Tugboat outfit he never looked grotesquely large. He always seemed to have some muscle mass. The arms, though reused from other "big man" figures, show that mass and work very well. The paint detail on the striped shirt is very good, although a tad sloppy on mine. The facial likeness is good, though I'm not sure that it's my favorite ever done for Ottman. I would have preferred a more congenial look on the Tugboat figure, but I see why they used one likeness for all of his figures.

Fan of Tugboat? Grab it. I can't see another one coming unless somehow a "Three Faces of Ottman" set is made. I don't see that necessarily happening, but I wouldn't have thought that Mattel would be producing figures of Tugboat, Typhoon, and The Shockmaster anyway. Now that they have the figures produced, it's plausible that a repackaged set of three could be done in the future. Figures of larger wrestlers such as Tugboat are not usually produced in the "Basic" sets either, so that would seem to be out of the question as well. In the meantime, head on out with a big "toot" and find a Tugboat. And you better yell, "I think that's Uncle Fred!" upon finding it...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Wrestling Classic Figure Review--Remco AWA Ric Flair vs Larry Zbyszko

Ask anyone who had the Remco AWA action figures as a kid and they'll tell you one thing: these things were fun. The LJN WWF figure line is legendary and enjoyed a much larger span and run, but the AWA figures were unique. They were poseable, they featured removable entrance attire (in some cases even accessories), and, although primitive, the facial likenesses were good. You could tell exactly who they were supposed to represent. We still haven't seen a better Terry Gordy release and many of the stars included haven't ever received another figure. Today we're looking at a two-pack that includes one of the latter and another star who, on the flip side, has seen many other figures since.

Until the final series, Remco released the AWA figures in multi-packs. Some packs were teams or units, others rivals of two AWA stars. One of the best sets featured Ric Flair versus Larry Zbyszko. Indeed it was, as the packaging announced, NWA Champion vs AWA Challenger. Whether or not the figure set was a direct result of the short-lived Pro Wrestling USA, an alliance that joined the AWA with Jim Crockett Promotions and other NWA members, it certainly well-reflects that era.

A look at the back of the card shows all of the two and three-packs available up to that point. The artists renderings also show what may have been differences between the prototypes and the final product. The biggest differences lie within the drawings of the Jimmy Garvin/Precious/Steve Regal and Fabulous Freebirds sets. The depiction of Curt Hennig's face also much more resembles the man than the released figure did. How about that belt on "Mr. Electricity" Steve Regal? Was he originally planned to include the AWA Light Heavyweight Championship?

Although the belt that was included with many Remco AWA releases looked more like the NWA World Heavyweight Championship than any AWA title, it isn't included here. We do get a beautiful Ric Flair robe, a red Larry Zbyszko jacket, and a sticker commemorating this match between "The Living Legend" and "The Nature Boy." These days, the sticker is often lost and even missing from carded examples in many cases.

Thanks to their Masters of the Universe-like articulation, the Remco AWA figures were fun to play with. They could wrestle, which was obviously what it said on the marquee of venues that the AWA played. You could mat wrestle, you could strut with Flair, and you could stall with Zbyszko. All bases covered. Even signature moves could be attempted. A perfect look in recreating these maneuvers wasn't necessary for kids back then. All it took was a couple of figures and a bit of imagination.

Though variants exist through the Remco AWA run, this is still the only figure of Larry Zbyszko. "The Living Legend" told me years ago that he had signed with Jakks to produce a new figure in their Legends of the Ring line, the continuation of the Classic Superstars line in the TNA line, but it never came to fruition. He was even under the impression that it would include the Western States Heritage Championship. On the other hand, Flair has had tons of figures since. Still, there is something charming about this very first. The fact that it includes an awesome robe when many Flair figures that followed didn't makes it all the better.

With Zbyszko under a WWE Legends contract and Mattel making more and more classic stars, I see a 50/50 shot that we'll get a new figure of "Larry Legend." The odds are certainly better than even a year ago at this time. Will it look better? Maybe. But I don't know that kids of today will have more fun with it than we did with the classic Remco...

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Pat Patterson Now "Accepted" In Book Stores World Wide

When you would think of wrestlers who should have written a book but were highly unlikely to do so, Pat Patterson topped the list. A legend in all aspects of the wrestling business, the man himself always seemed rather guarded and rarely, if ever, did real world or "shoot" interviews. His inclusion in many of the WWE Legends of Wrestling roundtable shows was somewhat of a surprise in itself. When Patterson opened up his life a bit more during the run of the WWE Network program "Legends House," the possibility of a book seemed like it just may happen one day. Here we are in 2016 and "Accepted" has hit the shelves.

Those who only know Pat Patterson as one of Vince McMahon's "stooges" in the Attitude Era are in for a shock, if any such fans with that limitation on their knowledge of the man truly exist. Patterson's story reaches back decades in the wrestling business, to a time when dreams really could be attained by someone with just a few dollars in their pocket and little-to-no real direction. Pat, born Pierre Clermont in Montreal, went from star wrestler to one of the most creative behind-the-scenes minds that the wrestling business had ever seen. But how did he get there? How did he make the jump? Where did all of the knowledge and creativity come from?

I classify most books written by wrestlers into two different categories: "wrestling books" or "books by a wrestler." Patterson's story is definitely the latter. While you're going to get the stories and tales that made up Pat's life in the ring, this is his story and how wrestling fit in, not the other way around. If you're looking to get a true glimpse at the man that is telling the story, this is the way that it should be done. Most Patterson fans will know this going in. Listening to Patterson speak on "Legends House," you can tell that while the man loves the wrestling business, he tried to never let it define him. He may identify more with "Pat Patterson" than "Pierre Clermont," but that does not mean that wrestling consumed him.

Joining Pat in telling the tale is someone who was perfect in bringing out the wrestling history aspect. Bertrand Hebert was co-author (with Pat Laprade) of the critically acclaimed "Mad Dogs, Midgets, and Screw Jobs" which told the complete story of wrestling in Montreal. Seeing as that Patterson is a native of the city and was influenced by that particular wrestling product, it was a perfect fit. Hebert also manages to avoid one of my biggest pet peeves in autobiographies: adding in long rehashes of history unrelated to the star. While it is needed in some instances in order to set up a particular scene or story, in many books it gets tiresome and is written in a way that completely distances you from the voice of the author. In "Accepted," rarely did I feel that the words written weren't coming direct from Patterson.

There are plenty of stories from the wrestling business, some of which you may have heard before, but plenty that will be new to you. Pat's work side-by-side with McMahon does not get quite as in-depth as JJ Dillon's book did, but you still get a good look at the inner workings of the golden era of the World Wrestling Federation. Even with all of the wrestling books produced in the past 17 years, this is till relatively uncharted territory. Patterson's emotions for many of wrestling's most powerful moments come through, and that is also when his love for the business shines most.

Again, wrestling does not define Patterson the most. I would say instead that it is his yearning for love and acceptance (hence the title), and maybe not completely in the ways that you may be expecting from your previous knowledge of the man. Patterson's interesting family situation from growing up also played a pivotal role throughout his life. How that actually led into his journey in the wrestling business is another story that is told here for the first time.

I definitely want more from Patterson. You know that he is full of stories that could have doubled or tripled the size of the book. Will they ever be told in a public forum such as this? Probably not. Patterson is very loyal to friends in the business as well as the McMahon family who he is accepted as a member of. I feel very lucky that Patterson has chosen to tell this much after all this time. I was also pleased with the number of photos included. Not only is there a large color section in the middle, but there are also black and white photos throughout.

"Accepted" is one of the books that comes along that I can't put down. As I mentioned earlier, it definitely left me wanting more, but what we received was excellent. I do classify it as a "book by a wrestler" rather than a "wrestling book," but fans of wrestling's past won't be disappointed. Ray Stevens, the WWF, Canadian wrestling, the territories, Sgt. Slaughter, Killer Kowalski, and the Royal Rumble are just a few of the wrestling aspects of Pat's story. With a list like that, how can you go wrong?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Wrestling Cards Of Pure Imagination

We don't always get what we want. It's an old saying, even a song, and it rings true in every day of our lives. Nonetheless, sometimes our minds can produce images of those things that we want. In this day and age, it's becoming easier and easier to project those ideas into reality. 3D printers are fast becoming the latest Star Trek-esque technology to catch on in the real world. They can produce items from our minds into tangible matter in just hours. The ability to create items from our minds digitally has existed a lot longer. Today, you'll be going inside my mind (yikes!) to see an idea that I've described here a few times before...a new WWE Heritage tribute to the 1987 Topps WWF trading card collection.

Imagine, if you will, that Topps has indeed decided to celebrate thirty years of their 1987 WWF release. This would also coincide with 2017 being thirty years since what many consider to be the biggest wrestling event of all-time, WrestleMania III. Using only concepts that Topps could possibly use in the release as well as only names who have appeared in previous releases, this is what those cards might possibly look like...

The original 1987 release was made up of basic wrestler "name" cards, action cards with captions, "television set" cards with word bubbles, and a few cards featuring images from WrestleMania III. Stickers were also included in the original set, but since they were reuses of photos on the cards albeit with different backgrounds, I didn't include them in the "new" set. Just as I was careful to only include superstars who could contractually be used if the set were really released, I replaced the old WWF block logo where needed and even etched it out in one or two instances.

Like all Heritage releases, the wrestlers featured would be a mix of old and new. While Topps likely has its reasons, the photography in some sets has been reused several times in recent memory, so I attempted to use some rarer shots of many of the stars. Just as in the original 1987 set, promotional "posed" images of some stars would be used as they translate very well to the designs of the cards.

The captioned action shots are easily brought up to date, again with a mix of current WWE Superstars and Legends. The WrestleMania III cards would instead be replaced with a WrestleMania History subset, featuring one shot from each of the thirty-two WrestleMania events. Although it has been awhile since roman numerals have been used in the actual promotion of WrestleMania, each card would feature them here. There are plenty of newer WrestleMania moments that haven't had their proper due in trading card form, which can be remedied here.

The "television set" style cards originated in the 1985 Topps WWF card set and continued with the "sequel" released by O-Pee-Chee in 1986 and of course in 1987. Although the original cards generally had humorous "word bubbles" featured spewing from the mouths of the stars, I think that the set could also represent some of the more memorable moments in televised wrestling history whether the quote is funny or not. With many past moments on wrestling programs now being digitized into high-definition, I think that these shots could easily be plucked for usage on trading cards.

The set could feature the usual relic and autograph cards, but I would also like to see the first Heritage "cut signature" cards. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, these cards feature autographs removed from other sources and implanted into the card. These cards are usually very limited and more often than not feature signatures of deceased stars. Topps WWE Undisputed sets of 2015 and 2016 were said to have featured some cut signatures. With the nature of the Heritage releases it only makes sense to carry the concept over.

Will a set such as this ever come to light? That's up to Topps and WWE. Certainly some or all of the concepts could turn into reality. Regardless, it's fun to take a look at what could be, and for me to transplant an idea from my brain to the infinite archive of the Internet... if the Internet needed any more demented minds!