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.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

From The Musty Yellowed Pages--1992 WWF Royal Rumble Program

Some call it the greatest Royal Rumble of all-time. In my opinion, they're right. It was a transitional time for the World Wrestling Federation with names who starred in various territories in the '80s finally calling the WWF their home. The biggest non-WWF star of the previous decade, Ric Flair, was among those wrestlers. Even before the event, it seemed obvious that the event was building to a Rumble win for "Naitch." After all, this was the first time when a Rumble win truly had meaning. The winner would become the undisputed WWF Champion. But what would happen after Flair came strolling out at number three? In an hour we would find out...

The program is a product of the time when the pay-per-view event programs featured unique covers and event pages, but also included the pages from the then-current monthly event program. The non-exclusive pages covered stars and angles pertinent to the time period. In this case, the imminent split of The Rockers and the reinstatement of "Macho Man" Randy Savage are among those featured. Great period ads, too. Who could forget all of the "Hulk Hogan Vitamins" jokes? I'd like to, but the ad is something that kids can look up to...and parents can trust.

Coverage of the event begins with an article mentioning all thirty scheduled participants. We've got Hogan, Flair, Savage, Jake Roberts, Sid Justice, The Undertaker, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Sgt. Slaughter, The Nasty Boys, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, IRS, Big Boss Man, Repo Man, Virgil, Ted DiBiase, El Matador, The Rockers, Skinner, Greg Valentine, The Barbarian, Jimmy Snuka, Rick Martel, Col. Mustafa, Texas Tornado, The Warlord, The British Bulldog, The Berzerker, and Hercules. Of course, we now know that Marty Jannetty and Brian Knobbs would be replaced by Haku and Nikolai Volkoff.

As was standard for the time, the WWF Merchandise Catalog makes an appearance next with the Spring/Summer lineup. Though the days of cameo appearances by Shane and Stephanie McMahon had long since passed (though Shane did referee at the Rumble itself), the catalog is still chock full of fun. I can still remember being extremely amused at the sight of The Undertaker modeling his own t-shirt. It just seemed so out of character and out of place, even in 1992. I also loved gazing at the photo of the mock WWF children's bedroom. I just had to make sure that there were no Hasbro figures shown that I was unaware of.

Next up is a feature on the scheduled WWF Intercontinental Championship match between Bret "The Hitman" Hart and The Mountie. In the days leading up to the Rumble, The Mountie took the Intercontinental Title from The Hitman at a house show where Bret was said to be ill. This would lead to Roddy Piper having his first taste of WWF championship gold when he dethroned The Mountie in a brief encounter at the Rumble. Though Hart and The Mountie did not do battle at this Rumble, they did in fact see action against each other two years earlier at the 1989 Royal Rumble in an opening six-man tag match.

The 1992 Rumble was filled out with three tag team matches. The opening tag greatly mirrored that of the previous year, especially in setting a great mood for the evening. 1991 saw The Orient Express battle The Rockers, while this year the Mr. Fuji-led team battled The New Foundation--Owen Hart and Jim Neidhart. The WWF Tag Team Titles were on the line when The Legion of Doom battled The Natural Disasters and finally The Bushwhackers took on The Beverly Brothers. These latter two tag matches did not amount to much. Earthquake and Typhoon would have been much greatly utilized as two more gargantuan threats in the Rumble match.

It's now been twenty-five years since the "best" Royal Rumble. The event not only featured the best-remembered Rumble match, but also the best commentary performance by the beloved team of Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan. The Rumble included arguably twenty men who were bona fide main eventers in the business and saw the "60 Minute Man" reign supreme in the WWF's most famous "60 Minute Match." With a tear in my eye, Royal Rumble '92 just won't ever be topped.

Put that cigarette out!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Goodbye To The "Fly"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T.C.B.


Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka

1943-2017

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Harlem Heat's Comin' For You...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Topps Enters The Divas Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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