Thursday, November 19, 2015
Although I knew the name early on, Nick Bockwinkel was one of those names that I went back and discovered after the fact. It may very well have been after I acquired his famous Remco AWA action figure. With his blonde hair, yellow tights, and white cloth jacket and knee pads, the figure was something special. That made me think that the wrestler himself must echo that sentiment. I was very much on the right track with those thoughts. How many wrestlers can you list that, after listening to one promo or watching one match, you totally understood the greatness of? Not too many, but that was Nick Bockwinkel. In fact, if a bad promo or match from the man even existed, I challenge you to find it.
Bockwinkel brought class to an industry that's often missing such a concept. He was definitely best as a "bad guy," but he didn't yell or scream. He rarely seemed riled up in promos or even for much of his matches. He was smarter than you. He was more talented than you. He was all-around better than you. That's why you bought a ticket to see him get his comeuppance. For whatever number of "smart" fans that existed in Bockwinkel's heyday, they probably paid to see just who he could outwrestle next. He was Flair before that name was even known, and with a lot more class. There's that word again.
It was those same wrestlers and fans who knew quite early that Mr. Bockwinkel was suffering with ailments that were gradually taking their toll on the legend. For a few years I actually marveled that these facts seemed to stay confined to scuttlebutt at shows in which Bockwinkel attended. Wrestling gossip travels fast, yet it was quite awhile before I saw even a mention of his health problems in written form. Once again, I do believe that the respect this man earned, and held, among us all aided in these horrible truths being suppressed.
80 years is a long lifespan for a wrestler, and I think that we can look back on Nick Bockwinkel's life with a lot of happiness. He never seemed anything but pleased about his career, beginning with his legendary father at his side and ending in several behind-the-scenes capacities. He was a multi-time world champion, Hall of Famer, and topped the list of many "greatest of all-time" lists. He will always be the champ. He will always be better than his lowly opponent. He will always be...pure class.
Thursday, November 12, 2015
In MarketWatch entries we look at recent sales of specific items. After all, if you're looking to sell your collection or just want to gauge its monetary worth, the only way to get a true market value is by checking the last known sold examples.
*The largest figure in the Hasbro line was the mighty Yokozuna. The two-time WWF Champion saw a unique sculpt from a company that was fond of reusing previous designs. Yoko had two figures in the line with a debut in the red carded series and a repaint in the final series packaged on a green card. The latter had a white paint scheme and was just as popular as the first, although all of the final series are sought after due to low distribution. A carded example of the second Yokozuna recently sold for $81.
*Autographed items can be tricky. While any item can sit, unsold, for months and then suddenly have two interested parties who drive the price up, it is especially true for autographs. There is very little value in taking the time and effort of forging a wrestling autograph, so most are actually on the up-and-up. Those that aren't kosher are easily detected. The Hasbro figures are a lot of fun to collect autographed thanks to the large photo of the real wrestler right next to the figure. "El Matador" Tito Santana and Marty Jannetty autographed examples recently sold for $25 each. At that price, you're paying just a bit more than what the autograph itself would cost.
*Many collectors often op for loose figures. After all, toys are meant to played with. Many loose Hasbro WWF figures can be had for under $10 each, but as usual the final series commands a higher amount. The 1-2-3 Kid has always been the most popular figure from that series. Although the body was designed for Rick Rude and was poorly reused for Ric Flair, it works perfectly on The Kid. A great face sculpt works in his favor, too. A loose example recently sold for $93.
Even though we are nearing the end of 2015 and the twenty-fifth anniversary, the Hasbro line will live on. It's a set that many of us grew-up playing with, and it's now being collected by fans who weren't even around for the original run. From Andre the Giant and Dusty Rhodes to Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon, Hasbro covered a lot of ground and history in just around five years. Little did they know that the thought, care, and ambition put into the toys would live on, decades later.
Thursday, November 5, 2015
Forty-five years ago there many not have been a better bleeder than Bobby "The Brain" Heenan. The fans paid to see Heenan get his comeuppance after his proteges got theirs. Heenan was a fantastic "bumper," and when men like The Bruiser and The Crusher finally got their hands on "The Weasel," it was like Christmas morning for wrestling fans of the Midwest.
The November 1970 cover of The Wrestler displays all of the above. The headline of "My God, Bobby! What Happened To Your Face?" next to the photo of Heenan covered in a crimson mask is enough to grab anyone's attention. Popular on the newsstands of the day, this issue continues to command a higher value than others from the same era and remains relatively difficult to find.
Like many magazines from nearly fifty years ago, we're presented with some pages and articles that represent a completely different time. Even the cover with "Rapist Invades Girl's Dressing Room!" shows that. The ads in these magazines are also very much products of the era, advertising various ways to build muscle to...special companions for lonely wrestling fans. There is a lot of wrestling content, and it's easy to see why the magazines were so popular. The fans got to see wrestlers from around the world, many of which would never come to their own local territory.
Next up is the article featuring more of the famous bloodied Bobby Heenan photos as the cover promised. An unnamed photographer was lucky to get plenty of shots of the bleeding manager, including some of Baron Von Raschke and Al Costello coming to his rescue. The following article is an oddly written story about Dick the Bruiser picking a mop-topped man called "Ringo" (actually George Ringo "The Wrestling Beatle") to be his partner against "Bobby Herman." This "Herman" character is identified as the manager of Angelo Poffo and Chris Markoff, who is obviously Bobby Heenan. I'm not sure if the article was penned by someone who really didn't know that it was "Heenan" and not "Herman," or if the whole thing was written as some sort of joke.
Following this is another article of questionable content, dealing with the very real suicide of wrestler Don Eagle. Former wrestler and photographer Tony Lanza is said to have taken a phone call from Eagle just before the Native American wrestler took his own life. There's no reason to doubt that the phone call actually happened, but was it in the best of taste to plop it into a magazine right next to some obviously fabricated tales? The description of how "the great Indian wrestler pressed a gun to his head and blew out his brains," wasn't that tasteful, either.
After some continuations of articles from earlier in the magazine as well as an ad for Swiss pilots watches (doesn't Rick "Pawn Star" Harrison peddle those now?), we get to a staple of the '70s wrestling magazine--a life size inflatable doll. This is actually one of the tamer ads that I've come across for these, with no real "nudity" involved, but certainly enough skin for a kid to get an eyeful. These also aren't advertised as "Love Dolls" as they were later on in much more risque ads. Nevertheless, $9.95 could get you "Judy" or "Susan" (the "Negro Doll"--their words, not mine) to be your "play-mate." Yep. We'll leave that right there.
The world was a different place. Is it any better now? Certainly in some respects. But have some things really changed that much? Sure we may look down upon a story about a "rapist," ads for fly-by-night schemes and plastic "girls," and bloody pictures, but is it really any worse than the junk that is celebrated daily on Twitter with a simple "Retweet?" Nope. In fact, forty-five years ago these concepts were hidden in the cheaply-printed pages of a wrestling magazine. Today they're front page headlines.
I don't think that we've advanced much at all. But we could use a bloody match now and then...thanks Lesnar and Taker!
Thursday, October 29, 2015
It's often been said that masked wrestlers have to work all the harder. After all, facial expressions cannot be seen outside of a mask. The masked wrestlers must utilize other ways of expressing themselves. The Masked Superstar is a great example of this. While many would say that his in-ring work spoke for him, no one can forget his intelligent yet calculating interviews. Bill Eadie worked hard to make what could have been a forgettable masked heel exactly the opposite. Before the matches even began, fans knew that Superstar's heroic opponent was in for a true battle. In the opposite direction, Mr. Wrestling II worked a similar way. Throughout most of his run, Wrestling II was able to capture the hearts of fans rather than strike fear into them. Famously captivating the mother of President Jimmy Carter as one of his biggest fans, the charismatic Mr. Wrestling II became a staple of southern-based wrestling promotions for over a decade.
It's Mexican wrestling that is probably best known for masked stars. Lucha libre was built upon superhero-style grapplers who took to the mat and the air equally. It's hard to imagine in the United States, but several legendary luchadores became God-like in their popularity in Mexico. El Santo is one of those stars. Wearing his famous silver mask, El Santo ruled both lucha libre and Mexican pop culture for decades. Appearing in the ring and starring in many motion pictures, comic books, and other media, his popularity was so that his funeral in 1984 is said to have been comparable to a president or other top state figure. Both he and his legendary rival Blue Demon have had their masks handed down thus continuing their mysterious legacies.
Japan has created its own masked stars as well, with the look and style fitting well into the wrestling culture of the far east. Tiger Mask, in various incarnations, has been thrilling wrestling fans for over thirty years. As originally portrayed by Satoru Sayama, Tiger Mask toured around the world, perhaps most famously in matches against the equally agile Dynamite Kid. Jushin Liger, with his horned mask and long black hair, became another popular lightweight star and is still gaining fans such as in his recent NXT appearance. Both of these characters were ripped from the pages of Japanese manga books, thus instantly producing real life super heroes.
WWE has not fared well in trying to recreate the Mysterio magic. Still, the popularity of Lucha Underground and other recent outlets prove that it can still be done in the United States. I would love to see the return of a Masked Superstar-style star. A masked villain who is as heelish as he is mysterious. It could be done, and would actually be a fresh idea after being on the shelf for so long.
Who were those masked men? Maybe you'll be inspired to hit the Halloween streets dressed in honor of one of them. After all, many wrestling masks were designed to instill fear in the hearts of opponents. Other wrestlers had faces that were designed perfectly to be right on masks themselves...
Happy Halloween, pencil-necked geeks!
Thursday, October 22, 2015
"Backlund: From All-American Boy to Professional Wrestling's World Champion" was quite a surprise. One of the first public appearances that Backlund made with the book was at Legends of the Ring in New Jersey (where Bill Apter also appeared with his new book) in October 2015. The book is nearly 500 pages and, with that kind of heft, feels like a bible in your hands. He may have had a nearly six-year run with the WWWF/WWF Championship, but could Bob Backlund, known for living a clean life as a family man, have that many stories? The answer is "yes."
To begin the book, we get enough of his early life and schooling to know how he was molded into the man and athlete that he became. It isn't long before he has a chance meeting, with someone who would also figure into a high point in his career, that directs him into the world of wrestling. In somewhat of a surprise to me, we also learn, and hear from, some fellow wrestling legends that I was unaware had such an influence on Backlund's early career.
Why did Backlund fit as WWWF champion but did not figure into NWA World Championship plans? Why did Backlund go to the top so quickly after entering the WWWF? What was the relationship between Backlund and Bruno? Backlund and the McMahon family? Backlund and Andre the Giant? All of these questions are answered by both Backlund and some of his "guests" in the book, occasionally giving you two sides to one story.
Although I'm sure that some research was done to flesh out the small details, Backlund's recollections of certain opponents, programs, and angles is meticulous. The fun that Backlund had during his long run completely comes through, as does the enjoyment that he had working with different styles of opponents. Someone, like me, who goes into the book thinking that Backlund only enjoyed wrestling foes who shared his patented technical in-ring style will come out quite surprised.
Of particular note is the segement dedicated to the night that Backlund took the WWWF Championship from Superstar Billy Graham. Obviously there weren't any cameras filming a "WWE 24" style show on Backlund's day, so his recollections are just about the only record. If there is ever a Bob Backlund movie, I hope that the sequence covering that day is as detailed and dramatic as this book portrays it to be.
In addition to being a thick book, it is also elegantly published. The book itself is styled the way that you would expect the memoirs coming from a politician or major celebrity to be. It's a handsome and well-edited book. Only two brief stories stuck out to me as being repeated earlier in the book. A few times the shaded areas marking the words of a "guest" writer didn't quite match up to the passage. A small printing error that did not detract from my enjoyment.
Aside from my earlier given concerns, I was also worried that Backlund would dominate his book with academic and athletic stories other than pro wrestling as George Steele and Lex Luger did in their books. This was not the case by any means. Backlund knew that this was to be a wrestling book. He may not have gone out with the boys nightly, but he still had many a story to tell. Those stories make the hundreds of pages go by in a flash. Enjoy them. I did.
Thursday, October 15, 2015
Since his retirement in 2001, Malenko has been passing his knowledge on to the next generation in his role as a WWE "producer" or "road agent." That affiliation with the world's largest wrestling promotion has gained Malenko continual merchandise including action figures and trading cards. In Mattel's WWE Elite Series 37, Malenko is the latest addition to the "Flashback" figures, showcasing stars of past eras.
Malenko is packaged in the familiar (and soon to be changed) Elite window box complete with his trademark vest and the Cruiserweight Championship belt. Thanks to the accessories, there's no hint of figure "float" that the Elite's sometimes suffer from, but it is here that we see a mistake in the packaging. The label on the box proclaims that the figure includes the "United States Championship Title." While Malenko did indeed hold that championship during his WCW run, the belt included is the Cruiserweight title which had previously been released with last year's Rey Mysterio Jr. Flashback figure.
As far as likeness is concerned, this is indeed Dean Malenko. The head reminds me a lot of the ToyBiz Malenko figure that was part of the WCW Four Horsemen boxed set. Jakks had a very good Malenko likeness as well in their Classic Superstars line, but in my opinion this one is just a bit better than both. The stone-faced likeness is just what we need out of a figure of "The Iceman." The familiar hairstyle is captured perfectly, too.
I think that the figure looks best with both the vest and belt on. He goes well with the other WCW names that have been released, and of course the Four Horsemen Hall of Fame set. I wouldn't say that Malenko is a vital figure to every collection, but fans of "The Shooter" will want him. I can't see him getting more releases anytime soon, so this might be your one and only shot if you intend to grab one. And no, before you wonder about it, the packaging error won't be fixed.
No matter what the packaging looks like, Mattel continues to provide a lot of interesting and fun figures on the inside. Recent showings at public events have shown that a lot more are coming, and I'm sure that I'm not the only one who wants the first, and probably only, figure of...The Bunny!
Thursday, October 8, 2015
"Is Wrestling Fixed? I Didn't Know It Was Broken!" is the title of wrestling's latest autobiography. Planning a tour to launch the title, one of Apter's first stops was at the Legends of the Ring event in New Jersey. Apter is a familiar face at these events, greeting fans and wrestling stars with equal warmth. This time, however, Bill himself was given some of the spotlight. Usually, it is the famed wrestling journalist himself, running around and catching brief interviews and sound bytes from the greats of the squared circle. At this event, it was Apter being asked the questions in the form of both interviews and a question-and-answer session.
For anyone who is somehow unfamiliar with Bill Apter, the tale is in his accomplishments. For fifty years, the Queens, New York native has been covering pro wrestling. He is most closely associated with magazine titles such as Pro Wrestling Illustrated, The Wrestler, and Inside Wrestling among others. He appeared on various wrestling television broadcasts in the '70s, '80s, and '90s and continues to pop up today on the WWE Network. While he is no longer involved in any publications on a full-time basis, his regular wrestling outlet is 1Wrestling.com.
For fans of the famed wrestling magazines, the book is a dream come true. Though wrestling fans, especially from the 1980s, will always know them as "The Apter Mags," we're finally given a clear cut look as to why they should really be deemed "The Weston Mags." Apter's respect for the founder of the publications, Stanley Weston, comes across fully as does his loyalty to the man and the brand.
Common misconceptions and rumors about the ways that the magazines operated are addressed and clarified. Those infamous and often faceless writers whose words we hung onto like the gospel are finally fleshed out. Were Dan Shockett and Eddie Ellner really lowlifes who hated the fan favorites of the ring? Or did they really have lives at all? "Wonderful Willie" tells us for sure. How about the "Year End Awards" or the "PWI 500?" How were they compiled and how legit was the process? And why did Dusty Rhodes make the covers so often? Yes folks, it's a fun read, but Apter does not dodge the difficult questions that the magazine fans have been asking for so many years. And what about that "apartment wrestling" stuff that always made the Sports Review Wrestling title a bit more titillating? You'll learn all about that, too.
The true highlight for me was Apter's unflinching look behind the curtain of the mystery-shrouded World Wide Wrestling Federation. Even though he makes no secret of wanting to have more future work with the WWE Network, Apter gives a fair and balanced view of the often tumultuous relationship between the magazines and the WWWF. Vincent J. McMahon was guarded as to how his events and talent were showcased in the press. Apter openly demonstrates how this often put him, the public face of the magazines, in precarious and sometimes dangerous positions.
This isn't a dishy tell-all, and Apter goes out of his way to let you know that. If something uncouth takes place in the midst of a story, it is included but not dwelled upon. Apter is a positive person, no doubt a key to his many successes, and that certainly comes through in his stories. Instead of trashy backstage stories, we are given a great life story that just happens to take place in what was, at the time, a very closed and secretive industry. The fact that we simultaneously get to learn about a very interesting individual and have many longtime questions answered combines to make one helluva book.
As with any good book, you should always leave wanting a bit more. The problem is, Apter is such a good storyteller that I'm left wanting a lot more. Talking to him many times over years, I know that he is filled with an endless amount of tales that could span an entire of collection of books. That leaves me with the comfort that this may be just the beginning.
Apter ends the book by letting us know that he is busier than ever with various jobs and projects. I've seen the man in action and he is indeed the quintessential "whirling dervish." At press time, it is not long before Mr. Apter's 70th birthday. If you think that's going to slow him down, you don't know Apter. Whether you see it at retail, pick it up online or as an eBook, or encounter the author on tour, add this one to your shelf. It's one that you'll be revisiting over and over.
With all due respect to the master of wrestling impersonations himself, Bill Apter, I in turn steal HIS line...
I'll see YOU at the matches!