Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Journeyman's Journeyman: Dennis Stamp

The 2017 loss list grows. While I don't mark every passing with an individual entry, I couldn't pass up saying a few words about Dennis Stamp. The man who came into the consciousness of so many of us with three words and a trampoline-based exercise routine was so much more than a movie appearance, yet he seemed to appreciate that it finally won him widespread fame.

It's fairly safe to say that without his infamous appearance in "Beyond the Mat," Dennis Stamp would be another territorial wrestler lost to time. His name appears constantly in old results and he can be glimpsed in old television footage, but he never had the national exposure that propelled so many to immortality. Instead, that came later.

For those of you who haven't seen "Beyond the Mat," you're missing out. At the time of its release nearly two decades ago, the film was a shocking look inside the world of professional wrestling. As the years go by, it becomes an unforgettable time capsule of several wrestling eras. Stamp appears in a somewhat brief, but poignant, look at what happens to a man who became respected by his wrestling peers yet not necessarily remembered by the wrestling fans.

In the movie, Stamp stubbornly refuses to attend Terry Funk's 1997 retirement show after The Funker forgets to book him. Stamp's often repeated catch phrase of "I'm not booked" became one of the favorite moments from the film for many, as did his exercises to keep in shape for the next match. Equally as amusing is when Stamp returns to the site of the match and accepts Funk's offer for him to referee the main event that night. According to producer Barry Blaustein, the latter sequence was totally unexpected.

I had the pleasure of meeting Stamp, when he was booked, at a Legends of the Ring convention several years ago. This was likely one of the first times that Stamp got to witness his new found popularity in person. He was a pleasure to meet and, as I mentioned above, totally seemed to appreciate his fans born from the movie. He even had a pair of ticket stubs in his jacket from when he claimed was the last time that he wore it. What were those stubs from? A premiere of "Beyond the Mat."

Beyond a magazine/program cover or two and some photos, Stamp had little memorabilia in his likeness. One unique item bearing his signature was shown here a little under three years ago. It's a '70s-era cocktail napkin from a bar in North Dakota signed to a drinking buddy fan from three then-AWA stars. Those wrestlers? Dusty Rhodes, Ivan Koloff, and Dennis Stamp.

It had been reported in recent weeks that Stamp's cancer had returned. He had been in remission for some time, returned to the ring for a few matches, and continued to make appearances around the wrestling world. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Dennis Stamp in this difficult time.

Thank you, Dennis, for letting us buy a ticket to see you whenever you were booked. It was worth every penny.


Dennis Stamp

1946-2017



Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Kevin Owens Figure With Universal Appeal

The blog entry that you are about to read labels me as a hypocrite. Well, maybe that's going a bit too far. Perhaps "fickle" would be a better description for me after we take a look at this figure. Not long ago, I was not a believer in a few of the concepts presented here. In fact, I was dead set against them. I had my reasons, which I will go into, but I could never have imagined that I would change my mind. Nonetheless, here we are...

Mattel has rolled out yet another Kevin Owens figure. This is the second time that the Monday Night Raw star has received the "Elite" treatment. A few weeks ago I gave my thoughts on what I feel is the best Kevin Owens figure, that being his entry in the wildly popular Mattel WWE Retro line patterned after the legendary Hasbro WWF collection. Will that opinion stay? Let's see.

The big draw here is that Owens is packaged with the title of which he is the longest reigning holder of--the WWE Universal Championship. Also included is the stand on which the championship made its debut before being initially won by Finn Balor. When the figure was first announced, I told a friend that I was looking forward to it. His response? "You just want the red stand." I'm transparent.

Accessories aside, it's a very nice figure. As is the current trend, Elite figures come
packaged with a display stand and sliver of a cardboard diorama that can be added to those with other figures in the series to form a complete backdrop. I still don't care for this gimmick, as I've discussed a few times already this year. The plastic portion is ok, but the cardboard is flimsy and bends as soon as you insert it into the holder. The likeness is good but I think that the Basic stance works better for how Owens carries himself. The old facial likeness from the Basic figure was a bit better too. This looks more like someone cosplaying as KO.

As stated above, the accessories are a major selling point with this figure. It's the debut of the figure-sized Universal Championship. There's no doubt that it will appear many more times in the line, but collectors want it "now." The presentation stand may be a bit of a different story. It's really just a hollow chunk of soft red plastic, but there's no guarantee that we will ever see it released again. The Hall of Fame podium that was included with Bruno Sammartino still has not been re-released even after several years. If you're into unique accessories that aren't chairs, tables, and the like, you may want to see if you can grab this figure.

Now, full disclosure as to why this entry may make me a hypocrite. Truth be told, I was not a fan of Kevin Owens or the Universal Championship upon their WWE debuts. As for Owens, the somewhat psychotic fandom of "Kevin Steen" fans soured me early. It was almost cult-like and anyone who opposed it just had to be wrong. I had seen very little of him, but the odd fan devotion did sour me to an extent. He has since become an absolute highlight for me in WWE, but I let myself decide if I was going to like him or not. No one can deny that his run with Chris Jericho has been one of the main reasons to watch. Hopefully the payoff is equally as good as the build.

The Universal Championship design did not appeal to me at first, either. While I'm still not a fan of so many WWE titles having the same design, if I had to choose, this is the one that would stay. Upon its unveiling, I admit that I took to Twitter and other avenues decrying what I deemed to be the "Christmas Championship." Even though the famous NWA "domed globe" belt originally had a red lining (which quickly frayed and was removed), I just couldn't get behind the concept. As time wore on, the look won me over. Although the fickle Internet fans (and I thought I was fickle...) now suddenly hate Goldberg because he's holding the title, the want for this figure-sized version will not wane any time soon.

Maybe I'm not a hypocrite or even fickle, but I do know that I like this entry into the Kevin Owens figure collection. My pick for "best so far" is the Retro figure, but even that could change down the line. What I do know for a fact is that Owens brings a different look and feel to the table that, even if I didn't think so at first, is a true asset to a company that is often stuck with the "same old, same old."

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Russian Bear Goes Home

Just one day after the passing of George "The Animal" Steele, Ivan Koloff went home to be with the Lord. His death was not unexpected, as recent health updates from his family indicated that his time remaining on Earth was short. Nevertheless, no one ever wants to believe such news.

Just like Steele, some of Ivan Koloff's greatest fame comes from being one of the most notorious challengers to Bruno Sammartino. In the case of Koloff, he became the one adversary who did the unthinkable: he took the title from the Italian strongman. The story of the winter night in 1971 when Koloff shocked the entire Madison Square Garden crowd is stuff of legend. Remember the stunned silence when Brock Lesnar ended "The Streak?" By all accounts, this is the best modern day equation.

Interestingly enough, throughout my fandom I've always more associated Ivan with NWA wrestling. Aside from a brief early '80s WWF run, he really never appeared for that company again. His runs with Jim Crockett Promotions have much more stood the test of time. The fact that many more of those matches exist on tape obviously helps.

You can't help but want to refer to the man as "Uncle Ivan." I even did so in person more than once. Hey, when Nikita Koloff says something, you follow his example. Alternating between wrestler and manager, Ivan terrorized heroes like Dusty Rhodes, The Rock N Roll Express, and of course "Boogie Woogie Man" Jimmy Valiant. You believed his promos. You believed that he truly was a "Russian Bear."

When I met Koloff for the first time, I had the same reaction that most fans did. After so many years of hearing him speak with the Russian accent, for it to suddenly be gone was jarring. Once you got past that, you were stunned by another fact: Ivan was one of the nicest gentleman that you would ever meet. It was exactly like visiting with a kindly uncle who you grew up watching from a distance.

Seeing Ivan and wife Renae at conventions and shows was always a pleasure. To say that their presence will be missed is an understatement. I truly treasure each time that I was able to briefly speak with them.

"The Russian Bear" is now at rest with the Lord. He spoke of his faith so highly, that all I can imagine is that wonderful smile on his face. Just like all of his years in the ring, this should bring smiles to all of our faces, too.

Rest easy, comrade.


Ivan Koloff

1942-2017


Thursday, February 23, 2017

George...Animal...Bye...

It's been a period of sadness for the wrestling industry. Several individuals who made their name in the business have passed away in a very short time. While we take the time for all fallen heroes of the mat world at the end of the calendar year, two of the recent losses will be observed individually here on the blog. The first of which is George "The Animal" Steele.

George Steele is a wrestler who is remembered different by fans depending on when they followed the sport of kings. Fans of the '60s and '70s remember Steele as a bloodthirsty villain who was a very real threat to the championship of Bruno Sammartino. This version of Steele spoke in a '60s beatnik lingo and is very well remembered in my hometown of Pittsburgh, "The Steel City," where George "received" his last name.

As the WWF went national and Steele got older, the character that fans my age and younger remember came into play. This George Steele, after giving up his villainous ways, was a furry bear of a man with a childlike innocence and very limited vocabulary. For all the naysayers, the character still drew money and is fondly remembered.

"The Animal" is among my earliest wrestling memories. His hair-covered body, green tongue, and want for Miss Elizabeth defined the George Steele of the mid-1980's. It was a character that kids could get behind. As we know, that was the name of the game in the WWF of the era.

Although George became a WWF agent after his in-ring career there wore down, he also become notable on the independent scene. All it took to please the audience was the chasing of an opponent, the chewing of a turnbuckle pad, and a few bellows of "YOU!" to the crowd. It was an act that sustained.

It's hard to believe now, but there was a time when I thought that I'd never get to meet George "The Animal" Steele. I was well into attending conventions and the sort, but George just wasn't being booked. All told he seemed happy in Florida and his health issues had already been public knowledge. Thankfully I was wrong and can't even remember the total number of times that I did get to meet up with the green-tongued grappler. He may have spoke articulately in these appearances, but he always let a bit of "The Animal" shine through.

Through wrestling, his teaching and coaching career, and even acting, George Steele will always be remembered. The days of "eating" a turnbuckle pad may be over, but who will ever look at one and not think of ol' George?

Thanks...memories...George...

...bye...



George "The Animal" Steele

1937-2017


Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Memories Make The Memorabilia

A few weeks ago my friends over at the Mid-Atlantic Gateway asked me to share my memories of Dusty Rhodes and his Jim Crockett Promotions-era memorabilia. Knowing that he is my all-time favorite wrestler and that I had the honor of meeting him a number of times, they knew that I would have some interesting stories. I'd say it's hard to find any piece of memorabilia in any collection that doesn't have some sort of story attached to it.

Maybe it's how you obtained it. You suddenly came upon it in a store without even knowing it was in existence. Perhaps it's who bought it for you. A long departed loved one? A friend who has come and gone from your life? Even still, it could simply be where you were at that time of your life. Very often an item will have extra significance to a collector if it's a treasure from their childhood. Or maybe it was a special gift from the person who ended up becoming your significant other.

My parents were always very toy-savvy. They knew what was new in stores and what wasn't. When my mom noticed the Hasbro WWF Earthquake figure on the shelves during a 1992 shopping trip, she decided to surprise me with it. After school that day, as I innocently held a "Royal Rumble" with my Hasbro and Galoob figures, my mom began to loudly read some of the new "names" from the back of the card and asked my opinions on them. Although it intrigued me, it apparently wasn't enough to tear me away from the Rumble at hand. When my dad arrived home later that afternoon, they let me have my new "Natural Disaster." You can imagine who came out victorious in the Rumble that day.

The first pay-per-view that I attended was the 1995 SummerSlam. Although many regard it as a low point in WWF history due to the era in which it took place, many of us who were there are biased. The WWF really did take over the town at the time with a lot of promotions and activity. I even met the two then-World Champions, Diesel and Alundra Blayze, the day before. Though we bought the program at the event, my dad really wanted me to have one of the promotional posters for the show. Later in the evening, returning from a restroom break, my dad surprised me with a laminated version of the poster that had to have been for sale.

But what about firsts? Where it all began. For me, the very first item in my collection was a Hulk Hogan's Rock N' Wrestling Coloring Book. I don't have many memories of watching the cartoon as a child for the same reason that I don't have many early memories of weekend morning wrestling. We always did family activities on weekends, so for wrestling I have much clearer early memories of Prime Time Wrestling and Saturday Night's Main Event. Nonetheless, you'd think that I would have known not to color Andre the Giant's hair green. Kids!

And for my first meeting/autograph? Sgt. Slaughter. Monroeville, Pennsylvania. 1988. I've discussed it here before, but any chance that I get to show off my stylish '80s duds is something that I jump at. Nearly thirty years later and "Sarge" is still one of the nicest guys that you would ever want to meet. The great "secret" of our first meeting? I was there more because of his association with G.I. Joe than the fact that he was a pro wrestler. But there I was, red pants and all, first in line for the legendary meeting...

Well, that was a fun little run through just a small sample of my wrestling and memorabilia memories. I hope that this inspires you to go back and think about what each figure, magazine, and autograph really means to you. It's often a value much more important than money.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Asuka...Asuka...Asuka...

Oh how I've been waiting for this one! The most dominant female ever to hit NXT rings finally has an action figure. While not alone, Asuka joins a select group of NXT wrestlers to receive a figure before even appearing on the active WWE roster. But do we want her up on Raw or Smackdown anyway? I'm not so sure. Regardless, having great merchandise is not exclusive to being on the "main roster," and on this blog that's what counts the most. But does the figure live up to the anticipation?

Asuka makes her debut as part of the Mattel WWE Elite Series "47 A." As with the last series which saw press on this blog with the release of Harlem Heat, the new gimmick of "diorama" stands continues. The backdrop is again rather lackluster, although it is nice to see a stand included. The cardboard still bends as soon as it's been inserted into the plastic stand for a short time. There's definitely an accessory that I'd rather see with Asuka in lieu of this new feature, but we'll get to that in a bit.

Visually, Asuka is very impressive both in real life and as an action figure. Asuka makes for a very short figure, but surprisingly she does not suffer from "floating" in the package. The combination of her pose, the mask accessory, and the strategically placed WWE logo behind the figure works very well. I think that the current packaging, with the slant on the lower left corner, helps keep the package from overshadowing the figure.

Mattel seems to have once again gone above and beyond in order to make this figure unique. With just a glance I see very few reused parts. Due to Asuka's unique gear, it just wouldn't have been possible. As much as I've loved the many WWE lines of the past, it seems that Mattel was destined to produce a figure of a wrestler such as Asuka. I really can't see such detail going into her if she'd been around years ago. It's all here. Colors. Tassels. That hair. That smile. Speaking of the smile, I'd say that the likeness is 90% there. Just being honest, there is something keeping me from 100% seeing Asuka with the face, but it's pretty damned close. It is possible to get 100% dead-on, as the recently released figure of Asuka's former nemesis Dana Brooke proves.

As expected, Asuka's trademark face mask is here. I was very curious to see how it would attach, seeing the great job that has been done with the Wyatt Family masks. Unlike the real mask which Asuka holds in using her mouth, there are two pegs on the side of this figure-sized mask which fit in between the sides of her face and hair. It fits great and can also be held in her hand. This is the first mask design that she used and I have no doubt that we'll see future releases with additional masks.

I do wish that we had seen her entrance cape/rope included. The figure does feel a little off without it. Perhaps a future release in the Defining Moments or WWE Network Exclusive sets will have it, but I really wish it was here.

Asuka is hot, in more ways than one, and I know that this is only the first figure that we'll see of the Japanese star. From before it was even announced, I knew that Mattel would do such a job that it would automatically get into the running for "Figure of the Year." They did, and it does, but not without the flaws mentioned above. Still, I'll go on record as saying that this is the best female wrestling figure to date. Could we see another Asuka figure this year that tops this one? I wouldn't doubt it. But in the meantime, if you find that sinister smile aimed at you on the figure shelves, I wouldn't pass it up...

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Ultimate Hasbro "Dream" Becomes A Reality...

In January 2015 this blog kicked off the year with a full month of coverage commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Hasbro WWF toy line. At the end of the last entry, I brought up a frequent topic among collectors: why couldn't the Hasbro "style" return someday? Two years later and the question has been answered. It can and it has. The Hasbro company itself may not be at the helm, but the style and feeling is back. Those mighty mites of plastic wrestling goodness can once again be found on store pegs. Who, what, where, when, and why? Follow me.

Mattel has created a figure series that is patterned as closely as possible after the legendary Hasbro line. Exclusive to Wal Mart, the line doesn't seem to have an official name, although the shipping cases call them "WWE Retro Figures." As should be expected, the response thus far has been overwhelming. The initial released lineup contains John Cena, Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar, and Kevin Owens. The Undertaker and The Ultimate Warrior are supposed to join the lineup, as well. They are featured on the back of the packaging and photos of carded examples have surfaced, but as of press time they have yet to arrive in stores. It is rumored that they will arrive soon, but it is not yet known if they will be distributed on their own or if they will join cases of the first four.

The figures themselves blend right in with the actual Hasbro WWF figures. The action maneuvers of the new figures are closely based on those from the past. The somewhat cartoonish looks are spot on and blend the look of the modern WWE Superstar with that of those from yesteryear. The figures are packaged on cardbacks, complete with bubbles, that are of the exact Hasbro size. The cardboard used is just a tad thinner. Everything matching the originals is present, with a modern touch, aside from the Hasbro logo and the facsimile signatures. The photos used were obviously chosen purposely, as they reflect the style of shot used a quarter of a century ago. The backs of the cards resemble the originals far less, and the lack of a "Clip n Save" file card does stick out, but none of this detracts with all of the other retro goodness.


Looking at the figures themselves, we begin with John Cena. The megastar was an absolute no-brainer to be included in the first lineup. Cena, man and character alike, was made to be a Hasbro figure. With the exception of the name of the manufacturer, here we are. Cena's hat is not removable (as should be the case) and his action feature is the only one of these four figures that is not directly copied from the original line. His torso pulls to the side to perform an "Attitude Adjustment" style move.


Next up is Brock Lesnar. No, this isn't the Hasbro Ludvig Borga figure, although that's immediately what pops to mind when seeing it. He has the classic spring-action slam move that many figures including Borga, Sid Justice, Demolition Ax, The Warlord, and others had with Hasbro. The tattoos are very detailed although I don't completely see Lesnar in the face. This is okay, as many of the Hasbro figures had broader likenesses. I don't know if I'd go as far as to label them "caricatures," but it wouldn't be an unfair description.


Roman Reigns joins the fray with the classic "pullback" arm punch that was originally included with the likes of Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Tito Santana, Virgil, and Billy Gunn. It's a feature that works to highlight the "Superman Punch" of Reigns. I'm definitely not booing this figure out of the building, as it's another likeness that totally works with the Hasbro style. The facial likeness here is a perfect blend of reality and "Hasbro" style.


Finally we have my personal pick of the line, Kevin Owens. KO has a "pullback" torso feature that was originally given to Andre the Giant, Akeem, and Dusty Rhodes. It's interesting that, in my opinion, the best and most realistic Kevin Owens figure to date is in this style. In full disclosure, I picked up three of this particular figure. For all four I bought a set to open and another to keep carded, but I had to have a KO for my office as well. He's just that cool looking. I will note that one of the Owens figures that I opened had a rather loose torso. It doesn't seem to be broken and still performs the feature, but the difference between the two is very noticeable.

With all of the praise out of the way, I will admit that the line points out something that is really wrong with the current WWE: the colors are glaringly dull. Without a shirt, even Cena is rather colorless. Looking through the roster, setting aside The New Day, most of the stars wear black and other dark shades. This is perhaps the only thing missing from the original Hasbro line, produced at a time when the company was full of color.

Where do we go from here? Honestly, we don't have those answers. With the response so far, Mattel would be crazy to let the line die after six figures. In my opinion they would also be crazy to let it continue as a store exclusive series. These figures should be available everywhere like so many of the "spin-off" lines that have come from the manufacturer. Are they afraid that these will become more popular? That wouldn't be the case. Collectors will always want a completely detailed and realistic figure. There's no reason why this line could not continue right alongside. Perhaps this is a test to see how well the line would do with a larger release down the line. I certainly hope so.

As long as Mattel keeps the spirit of the originals and collectors happy (i.e. making sure that all figures are accessible without too many hard-to-get pieces of the puzzle), a line rivaling the size of the original could go for years including dozens of Superstars and Legends. As shocking as it may be to longtime readers who know that I basically have no use for further figures of The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, I would love for them to show up here. Diesel would be a top request for many collectors due to his missing the original line. The possibilities are endless!

Rarely does a toy line rise from the ashes. We have a rare opportunity here as collectors. Embrace it and support it so that it continues as long as possible.