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!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Sayonara, Mr. Fuji

Some characters just make an impact in pro wrestling. Even without huge angles or headlining a pay-per-view, these stars are just as remembered as the biggest main eventers. Mr. Fuji is one of those names. Point me to any child of the '80s and I guarantee you that they have a memory of Mr. Fuji. It wasn't just his look that made him so memorable, either, it was the talent to pull off antics both hilarious and menacing. Perhaps it was those same two traits that made him the notorious name that he was behind the curtain. This past week, the world lost Harry Fujiwara at the age of 82.

Mr. Fuji is one of my first wrestling memories. I remember seeing the famous LJN Wrestling Superstars figure on the shelves in stores and watching him in the corner of the likes of Don Muraco and Kamala. Later on, I have a vivid memory of him cutting a promo on either Prime Time Wrestling or Saturday Nights Main Event (as a kid apparently I watched more PM wrestling than AM wrestling) flanked by either Demolition or The Powers of Pain. Even if I had gone no further with wrestling than being the casual fan that I was at the time, Fuji struck a nerve with me. He just looked evil and calculating.

That look translated into merchandise as only the WWF could do. Many collectors still prize that legendary LJN figure with an absolutely perfect likeness and easily broken and/or lost cane accessory. Fuji also saw his evil grimmace on trading cards, photos, and magazines. Most recently Mr. Fuji was once again immortalized in the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line. The company not only produced Fuji in his iconic managers attire, but also in the wrestling gear that he wore in battle with the likes of Bruno Sammartino, Gorilla Monsoon, Andre the Giant, Bob Backlund, Hulk Hogan, and even Mean Gene Okerlund. It would be nice to see Mattel add "The Devious One" to their figure line now that they have become more legend and manager-friendly.

As I became more of a fan, I began to see more of Fuji's in-ring career from the past. He meshed perfectly with Professor Tanaka and Mr. Saito. He never had the bodybuilder look, but he didn't need it. Mr. Fuji looked cruel. He appeared as if he knew dozens of different forms of martial arts and various ways of sadistic torture. The latter may have been true, judging from the countless stories of Fuji's nefarious "ribs" played on his fellow wrestlers. While some may be exaggerated tales passed down from locker room to locker room, there's no doubt that the man is one of the more storied pranksters in wrestling history.

I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Fuji several times. His health had obviously began degrading as early as his 2006 WWE Hall of Fame induction, but the twinkle in his eye was still there. On the convention circuit, the manager got to reunite with many of his charges including The Magnificent Muraco, Demolition, and The Powers of Pain. Despite much difficult in mobility, Mr. Fuji seemed to have fun reliving the past and being in the grand old game of professional wrestling a few more times.

My favorite my Mr. Fuji memory is probably one that few others would think of. It isn't his throwing of the salt or Fuji Vice or even managing Yokozuna to the WWF Championship. Instead, it's his appearance at WrestleMania III. At that historic event, Mr. Fuji is the very first heel to be introduced. The heat that the announcement of his name gets from the enormous crowd always resonated with me. It's the type of opening match heat that usually signifies the kick-off of a great show. It actually gives me chills. I always imagined that, after all of his years in the business, it had to be a magical moment.

Thank you, Mr. Fuji, for all of those magical moments.

Harry Fujiwara

"Mr. Fuji"


Thursday, August 25, 2016

WCW & Dusty Rhodes Return To The Toy Shelves

You may have heard about it. You may have seen it. You may have even purchased it. Still, it should be no surprise that it's showing up here. A new Dusty Rhodes action figure in 2016? Yes, please. As well as Mattel has been doing as of late as far as legends are concerned, The Dream has been overlooked. He had not seen a figure since the two releases of the "polka dot" era figure at the beginning of the Mattel run. Not even his passing brought us a new figure...until now.

Exclusively at Target, Dusty Rhodes returns to the toy shelf...and the ring. Dusty is packaged along with the first Mattel-produced World Championship Wrestling ring. To top off the deal, Dusty includes the "Big Gold" belt as an accessory. Sure, if you look closely it has the WWE logo on it, but did you really expect them to totally remold the thing? This is truly one of those sets that no one would have seen coming. It's definitely directed towards more of a niche market than Mattel is usually comfortable with. For that, and some facts that I'm about to get to, I thank them.

The ring is a reuse of the Mattel spring ring. The ring is small, but actually isn't that much smaller than what I consider to be the standard ring for this scale of figure, that being the ring that was originally marketed as the Jakks WWF Hardcore Ring. Sure, bigger rings have been released since, but to me they just look too big. That good ol' Jakks classic was an ideal size. These Mattel rings could be a tad bigger, but considering that WCW rings were usually smaller in real-life, it works here. It's big enough to host a battle royal, and that should be good enough for anyone.

I like the color scheme and the fact that Mattel took the time to get the  WCW colors right. You get two large ring apron WCW stickers that are a perfect reproduction of what really appeared back then. Personally, I always choose to only apply one of these stickers as that's all you really need if you're going to display. That way you have a backup or you can turn the ring around if you just want it to represent a generic, vintage-looking ring. Everything here is easy to assemble right out of the box. The posts snap in snugly and the ropes are pretty much good to go.

Dusty comes in his own little case just inside the window box. Mattel didn't scrimp here, either. This is a figure that easily could have seen release all by itself. An all-new facial likeness direct from a classic Dusty-as-NWA-Champion photo is utilized here, and I've heard nothing but praise for it. This is Dusty Rhodes. If you have one of the Mattel classic Ric Flair releases then you're all set. From the facial expression to the boots to the splotch, it's almost as if my all-time favorite wrestler has returned to life in all of his 1980's glory.

There have been some criticisms of the price. This is a $40 item. When you break it down, it isn't any higher in price than if the ring and figure had been released separately. These rings usually retail for around $20 and I don't have to tell you that the Elite-style figures, which this Dusty is, can go for that price or more depending on the retailer. The key here also is that Mattel went all out. They included detail on the ring, released what is essentially a brand new figure, and threw in an accessory. This isn't one of those "dull" figure-sized belt releases, either. This belt has the full paint, to boot.

Where else are you going to get a new WCW ring in 2016? Supporting this  exclusive could very well open doors to similar items. I could definitely see Mattel trying out a Nitro ring at retail level, possibly with a figure from the nWo. How about ECW? Deep down I'd love to believe that an AWA ring could even be possible. A few years ago I would've scoffed at the idea thanks to Mattel's track record. As we now see, that is very quickly turning around. It's a total "dream" to have this new Dusty figure and new WCW product, so go out and support it!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Topps WWE Heritage 2016 Turns Back The Clock To 1986

Could my favorite style of wrestling trading cards finally be getting a steady yearly release? It's been roughly ten months since the last time we visited the Topps WWE Heritage series which saw release in November 2015. That set was nice, but it didn't knock my socks off. Any Heritage set is great in my book with the classic cardboard/no gloss style, but the 2015 edition didn't manage to crack my top three. Here in 2016 we've received another Heritage set, but will it be a collection worthy of the best (2012) or will it sort of fizzle like many of the non-Heritage WWE card releases do?

As usual with Heritage, I cracked open a hobby box. As with most Topps WWE releases, a hobby box guarantees two "hits" (autographs, relics, etc.) and, in recent years, has almost always yielded a complete base card set. The design of the box remains very similar to 2015, changing in color from blue to yellow. The bright colors work well for these retro sets. Once again a mixture of current and past WWE Superstars adorn the box, with no real surprises as far as names included. The packs themselves feature The Rock, John Cena, and Andre the Giant.

The base card design this year is based off the 1986 Topps Baseball collection. I owned that full set as a kid, probably still do, and I remember it being a favorite. In place of the MLB team names we get Superstar, Legend, or NXT. Some of the autograph cards have "Diva," as well, in what will likely be the last time that we see that designation. The photo selections are good, although I noticed at least one change from the sales sheets. A "Macho King" Randy Savage card was planned and for whatever reason we got a rather ordinary "Macho Man" card instead. A change to "Macho King" would've been something different, but I'm sure something got in the way to cause the switch.

As usual we get several subsets including "Record Breaker," "WCW/nWo All Star," and "Turn Back The Clock." The latter features inset reprints of older cards. In addition to cards from Topps 1985 and 1987 WWF sets, foreign releases are included as well. It should be noted that the original WWF block logos are switched to the WWE block logo on the reprints. These "Turn Back The Clock" cards are based on a baseball subset that I also had, and enjoyed, in my youth. The "WCW/nWo All Star" cards feature some great, rarely used photos from the WCW archive. There is also a subset featuring The Rock that are not actual Heritage cards. If you remember my review of Heritage 2015, you already know my feelings on these and thus they are not shown here.

My autograph "hit" from this set was a Brie Bella on-card autograph. I'm very glad that the on-card autographs have returned for Heritage. Ever since Topps started integrating the on-card autos into their sets, I've quite frankly been spoiled. I was very disappointed when, upon opening a box of Topps WWE 2016, the autograph card was once again a stick-on. While the autograph pulls in Heritage 2016 are sharp, I can't say the same thing for the relics. I pulled a Bray Wyatt Survivor Series mat relic that is, to be perfectly honest, boring. While relics are definitely overdone at this point, things can be done to make them more appealing. That is not the case here.

As usual, my focus is the 110-card base set. For most card reviews, the base set is what I base my final opinion on. Opening the hobby box, I once again received all 110 base cards. It's a solid lineup featuring plenty of current favorites and a healthy dose of past greats. For collectors like myself who enjoy getting the base cards signed, it's becoming more and more a reminder each year of just how many legends we've lost. As new sets get released, there are less legends around to sign. This set does feature more recent alumni/legends such as Rikishi, Road Dogg, and Tatanka, but the point is still driven home. Regulars like Harley Race and Nikolai Volkoff among others were left out. I understand why, but it's a tad disappointing when easily obtainable signers such as those greats aren't included.

My verdict? I love the designs. The lineup and some of the photos left me a bit underwhelmed, but this set definitely scores higher with me than 2015. The cards all have that vintage feel, where as some of the subsets last year were an odd mix of retro and current material. It's nice to see that we've now gotten two Heritage sets in consecutive years. In my opinion there is no reason that it should be less than annual. As I suggested last year, a 30th anniversary of the Topps 1987 WWF/WrestleMania III set would be a great idea for 2017. The American-themed border was a simple yet amazing design that we see a glimpse of this year in the "Turn Back The Clock" subset. They could even do a WrestleMania subset with an image from all 32 events. Come on Topps, I give my geniusin' away for free here!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Revisiting The Capitol Wrestling Legends Fanfest

Do you remember where you were a decade ago? I do. Ten years ago to the very date of this publication, to be exact. Although I had been a wrestling fan for many years prior, on August 11, 2006 I was attending my second full-fledged wrestling convention. The site? Rockville, Maryland. The stars? A bevy of wrestling greats spanning several companies and eras. The fun? Unbeatable. It was officially titled the Capitol Wrestling Legends Fanfest, but in actuality it was the 2006 edition of the fabled NWA Legends/Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Fanfest.

Ten years later and I still remember entering the hotel. The venue was the beautiful DoubleTree Hotel & Executive Meeting Center in Rockville. Entering through a corridor from the parking garage, my friends and I had our first glimpse out into the immense center of the hotel and spotted Nick Bockwinkel eating breakfast. Although I had my first Fanfest experience nearly two years earlier, I'd forgotten how surreal it was to see the legends of professional wrestling casually going about their lives. The hotel itself was beautiful and was well-suited to host the event, but promoter Greg Price later noted that those running the hotel weren't as conducive to Fanfest as those at its usual home of the Charlotte University Place Hilton.

The lineup of wrestling greats was unbeatable. You had Bockwinkel, Stan Hansen, Rick Martel, Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart, Sensational Sherri Martel, The Midnight Express, Jim Cornette, Abdullah the Butcher, Rocky Johnson, Tony Atlas, Ernie Ladd, Rockin' Robin, Baby Doll, Nikolai Volkoff, Ivan Koloff, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, Masked Superstar, Robert Gibson, Angelo Mosca, Robert Fuller, "The Patriot" Del Wilkes, Larry Sharpe, and Tom Prichard not to mention Paul Bearer, King Kong Bundy, Greg Valentine, Larry Zbyszko, Tito Santana, Lanny Poffo, Boris Zhukov, Jimmy Snuka, Buddy Jack Roberts, Stevie Ray, and probably a few more that I'm forgetting.

These were the glory days of wrestling conventions not only for the amount of talent that was available, but the merchandise, too. Where could a collector pick up "black card" LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars figures for $75 a piece these days? The aisles were not clogged with vendor after vendor of common DVDs as many shows feature today. These sellers had true memorabilia. That being said, I remember being particularly pleased that one table had the then-brand new Jakks WWE Classic Superstars Fabulous Freebirds 3-Pack available. While I paid a tad more than retail, the set was then a Wal Mart exclusive and had limited distribution up until that point. At the time, I thought that I'd likely not have the chance to get it signed by Buddy Roberts ever again. I did meet him again a few times after, but it just wasn't a risk that this Freebird fan was willing to take.

The 2006 Fanfest was yet another example as to why you can't skip opportunities when your favorites are out and about. Ernie Ladd and Sherri Martel would be gone from this earth less than a year after this event. Sherri's passing hit me particularly hard, as she was such a kind woman. She always expected the fans to get a perfect experience for their money and made sure that it was exactly what happened. I can still remember getting a hug from the women's wrestling legend and some of her "Sherri glitter" getting on my shirt. She was one of a kind and will never be replaced. I remember her being thrilled when I told her that Robert "Col. Parker" Fuller was going to be there. I'll always wonder if they got to reconnect.

Many fans who attended still remember the question and answer sessions that took place each night. The Hart Foundation told some classic stories about their time in the WWF and a combined session with Jim Cornette, The Midnight Express, and The Heavenly Bodies kept the crowd in stitches. One story that "Sweet" Stan Lane told about "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig on an airplane can still be found with a quick Google search. Some touching moments also came from that session, particularly when Dr. Tom Prichard shared some remembrances of his former tag team partner Chris Candido who had recently passed away.

The weekend was not as long as Fanfest is today, but it was just as packed with memorable moments. As far as I can tell, the event will likely never again stray from its home in Charlotte, but that's probably a good thing. Even with official name changes over the years, the event is universally known as the "Charlotte Fanfest." Despite that, it remains a celebration of the past, and even some of the future, of professional wrestling. Greg Price and his staff work tirelessly each year to top the previous event, and they always succeed. Even still, for those of us who were there, we'll always have Rockville...