Thursday, March 15, 2018

Don't Go Messin' With A Hall Of Famer

Several years ago there was a feature on this blog entitled "Hillbilly Jim...Hall of Famer of Humanity." It took a look at the large, country superstar when it seemed as if he would be the only cast member of WWE Legends House to not enter the WWE Hall of Fame. Nearly two and a half years later, Hillbilly is about to join his legendary pals.

So much has been written about what a nice guy Hillbilly Jim is. He's just a genuine soul in an industry where there are many on the opposite spectrum. To watch him with fans young and old is a joy. While others on the Legends House series were working the cameras, Jim was being himself. A man who is simply happy to have lived a life that he enjoyed every day of.

Now, over WrestleMania XXXIV weekend, Hillbilly will have several more special moments. The WWE Hall of Fame inductees of each specific year almost always take part in multiple events throughout the weekend, but you have to imagine that Hillbilly will be all over. For years, Jim worked as a goodwill ambassador for WWE, especially leading up to WrestleMania where he would tour the country to spread word of the event. Now, he gets to enjoy the grandest stage of them all once again, and this time again in the spotlight.

While Hillbilly was involved in WrestleMania II, III, & IV, it's probably his appearance at XVII that sticks out the most. Though his six-man tag involving midget wrestlers at III is always remembered, his inclusion in the Gimmick Battle Royal at XVII was moving. Hillbilly, looking in incredible shape, entered the Houston Astrodome to a tremendous pop. His music and dancing may have even spawned the best reaction of all the participants.

Is it any surprise? Sure, it was nostalgia at its finest. But ask any child who grew up watching even a bit of wrestling in the '80s and they can tell you about Hillbilly Jim. He was a friend to The Hulkster! He was a hero battling the likes of Brutus Beefcake, King Kong Bundy, Nikolai Volkoff, and other notorious villains. He was even immortalized in the Rock n' Wrestling cartoon show, which briefly appeared in Hillbilly's WWE Hall of Fame video.

The one lament is that Hillbilly Jim's famous self-vocalized theme song, "Don't Go Messin' With A Country Boy," is often edited out of WWE programming these days and was not included in the video. It would be nice for WWE to license the song one last time as a tribute to one of the biggest characters, personalities, and hearts that the company has ever known.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The WWE Hall of Fame: The Banquet Years

Sure, it's always been and always will be a subject of contention and controversy, but take it just a little less seriously and it's just plain fun. Like it or not, the WWE Hall of Fame is what the mainstream world will always recognize as the wrestling Hall of Fame. It's simply how it is. Aside from having the WWE banner, the broadcasts are award show-quality as far as production and now attract arenas full of fans. It's hard to believe now, twenty-five years after the creation of the Hall of Fame, but it wasn't always that way.

The first induction that began the Hall of Fame, Andre the Giant in 1993, was a mere announcement on WWF television. The following three years saw small ceremonies with inductions and speeches. These events were actually not much more than dinners held in hotel banquet facilities. The 1995 and 1996 ceremonies were held in conjunction with King of the Ring and Survivor Series in those years respectively.

Many of the all-time great WWE stars took their rightful places in the Hall of Fame at those early events including Buddy Rogers, Chief Jay Strongbow, Freddie Blassie, Bobo Brazil, Gorilla Monsoon, Arnold Skaaland, James Dudley, George "The Animal" Steele, Ernie Ladd, Ivan Putski, The Fabulous Moolah, Pedro Morales, The Grand Wizard, Antonino Rocca, Captain Lou Albano, Killer Kowalski, Johnny Rodz, Vincent J. McMahon, Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, Pat Patterson, Baron Mikel Scicluna, and the Valiant Brothers.

While it's nice that many of these now-deceased stars were able to enjoy their special night, their longtime fans can only wonder what the inductions of legends like Monsoon or Albano may have been like in the current Hall of Fame format. On the other hand, some of these early stars may have preferred the more intimate atmosphere that these ceremonies held, where fan attendance seemed to be more of an exception than a rule. No ridiculous chants at these banquets, for sure.

Though often unseen, these banquets yielded three individual Hall of Fame programs. Unlike the modern WWE Hall of Fame programs, these were small, four-page affairs printed on heavy paper stock reminiscent of a school concert or wedding program. Seeing as that attendance was greatly limited at these events, these programs do not become available very often. One in my own collection even has a small food stain. Could this have dropped from the fork of a Gorilla? Will you stop?

WWE Network does feature abridged versions of these events. While we may never see the full ceremonies officially released (there may be a "fan cam" version of one, but you didn't hear that from me), at least we have these fun and somewhat rare mementos of the nights where Rogers, Superfly, Blassie, and Patterson, among others, were finally and fully recognized by the company that they largely helped to build.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

5 More Wrestlers...Who Never Had An Action Figure

Back in 2011 and 2013 respectively, the blog featured two different lists of five wrestlers who never received action figures. The lists were limited to male wrestlers seeing as female wrestlers and non-wrestler names such as announcers have been sadly under produced as figures in the past, thus they would dominate the discussion. One name from each of our lists, The Blue Meanie and Magnum T.A. to be exact, have finally made their way into figure form. Now, after a five year hiatus, we introduce five more names of the "unmade."

If you want to see a wrestler who would translate directly into an action figure, look no further than Mr. Hughes. Immense, imposing, and just plain mean looking, Curtis Hughes' rather nomadic approach to the wrestling business likely cost him an action figure. Had his 1993 WWF stint lasted longer, he most assuredly would have been produced by Hasbro. The same thought goes towards his later cups of the coffee in the WWF with the likelihood of Hughes receiving a Jakks figure.

Though unlikely at this point due to his tragic death, "Gentleman" Chris Adams could have found his way into one of the various Legends figures lines at some point. The British star, who made his name most notably in World Class Championship Wrestling, was always a favorite of the female fans but could alternate between dashing hero and cocky villain. The lack of a WWF run diminished his action figure chances, but Adams did see some success with WCW during the Monday Nitro era.

Tracy Smothers is another name whose brief appearances in the various wresting companies led to a figure never happening. He was featured heavily in the early 1990's WCW trading card sets, so he may have been eventually included in the Galoob figure line of the time had it lasted longer. His WWF run as Freddie Joe Floyd came at a dark time for wrestling figures when little was being produced. Smothers would be a perfect candidate for the Legends line produced by Figures Toy Company which gave birth to the first figure of The Blue Meanie.

Still being burnt by sparklers on the independent circuit, Gillberg is one phenomenon who has never been immortalized in plastic. While there have been a few wimpy looking figures of Goldberg produced, the former WCW Champion's number one imitator has yet to officially be created. Gillberg would actually fit like a glove into the WWE Mattel line where a hearty sense of humor has recently been infused into the figure selections. An Elite release of Gillberg, complete with J.O.B. Squad t-shirt and WWF Light Heavyweight Championship belt, would fly off of the shelves. Sparklers sold separately.

Finally, we look at a former World Heavyweight Champion sans action figure. Tommy Rich hit the peak of his popularity before wrestling figures ever hit shelves, but he's another name who is ideal for a Legends line. When "Wildfire" defeated Harley Race for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, it was both shocking and controversial. While his lack of a figure doesn't carry the same emotion as his short title run did among fans, he would be a very welcomed addition with collectors who love representations of the territorial stars.

Another five names. Will our track record continue and one name off of our list finally be produced? It would be nice. And perhaps the next time we visit this topic, we will take a look at some non-male wrestler names who need to see an action figure. With two of the biggest female wrestling names finally seeing figures this year, maybe for the next round we'll look at who else should be included in the "women's wrestling figure revolution..."

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Double J Rides Into The Hall Of Fame

Jeff Jarrett in the WWE Hall of Fame? Talk about a Sammartino-sized surprise entry! Of course it seems as if everyone is eventually welcomed back into the WWE fold, even if posthumously. Still, ol' Double J has been persona non grata in the company for nearly two decades. Now he's back with a bang, or maybe a guitar shot, right into the Hall of Fame. For a long career, a few entertaining personas, and endless work behind the scenes in the pro wrestling industry, Jarrett is a more than Hall of Fame worthy name.

There is already a plethora of Jeff Jarrett merchandise out there, but like in our discussion about Goldust a few weeks ago, a new Double J item could fix a long-standing omission. Jarrett was at the height of his entertaining WWF introductory run during the beloved figure reign of Hasbro. His name is long been said to have been coming in another series that never arrived. Before Jarrett enters any other Mattel series, I would love to see Double J, complete with '90s attire, in the WWE Retro line.

My current favorite Jarrett figure already carries that look and was the rookie release for the Nashville superstar. The figure is still a major highlight of the Jakks "Bone Crunching Action" line and is the only figure to reflect the "electric cowboy" look of Double J. The cowboy hat and glasses are here, but a Mattel Flashback figure could include the complete "lighted" entrance gear that illuminated WWF entry ways in the 1990's.

Of course Jeff Jarrett merchandise spans further than his WWF run. Items from WCCW, WCW, and, Jarrett's baby, TNA all exist en masse. It was during these TNA days that Jarrett became a fantastic signer as he always took part in the autograph sessions and fanfests attached to the events in which he was a part of. And like so many babyfaces out of World Class Championship Wrestling, it's not unusual to come across vintage Jarrett signatures from the glory days in Texas.

Through TNA and later Global Force Wrestling, the signature laser-etched Jeff Jarrett guitars became a popular item. Though somewhat of a chore to store, no Jarrett collection is complete without one. I did cringe at shows seeing them filled up with signatures other than Jarrett's alone, but that was a selling point that TNA pushed. It's like having someone other than Stone Cold Steve Austin sign a Smoking Skull Belt replica. Someone like, say, Kelly Kelly. Yes, I've seen it happen...

WCW is also a prime source for Jeff Jarrett memorabilia, especially during the "Slapnutz" era. Pennants of many stars crept up during this time, but the ones featuring more of the nWo related talent seem to be the most plentiful. Double J's is one that does not show up very often. Jarrett was very surprised to see one himself when he signed mine. Even a bean bag doll, complete with guitar, was produced at this time.

But all of this merch? Just a stepping stone for the world's greatest singer, the world's greatest entertainer, and the world's greatest wrestler! That''s J-E-Double F, J-A-Double R-E-Double T! That's Double J, Jeff Jarrett! Ain't he great?

Thursday, February 15, 2018

An Ill Memory

Like so many thousands across this great land of ours, I've been caught in the clutches of sickness. Though I'm largely over it, the fatigue and general feeling of uselessness almost caught me blog-less this week for the first time since I went weekly years ago. Never one to disappoint, I had to think of a way to equate wrestling memorabilia and illness. Bingo!

Many years ago, when I was in the third grade to be exact, there was to be a birthday party at my house with a few friends and their parents. I was thrilled with the idea of multiple families converging at my house, as it just wasn't something that happened regularly. I was anticipating the evening greatly.

That afternoon at school, as much as I tried to fight it, the feeling hit me like a ton of bricks. I was sick. Although I managed to make it to the restroom or nurse's office before creating a disgusting mess, let's just say that I made it quite known. In fact, I did something that I never did at school. Between the pain of the bug, as well as disappointment in the inevitable, I cried. In some sort of private personal policy, I simply did not cry at school. I knew kids who did, but it just wasn't something in which I partook. Even my teacher at the time, a miserable boy-hating battle ax, was compassionate at this most pathetic hour of my life.

As I was picked up to go home, I knew that the parents would be called and the party would be cancelled. As my feeling improved in the evening, I was at least given my presents from my parents. What did I receive? Several Hasbro and Galoob wrestlers as well as a new ring! Although I already had the Hasbro WWF ring, this was a knock-off sold at Hills Department Store. It was vinyl, had a soundbox attachment, and was something that I'd had my eye on for a long time.

In the second disappointment of this birthday, the ring turned out to be a dud. Soon after assembly, the ring ropes caused the turn posts to cave in, thus rendering it useless. Never ones to waste money, my parents gave me a choice. I could either exchange it and try another, or return it and use the money to buy more figures. Of course I was going to expand my roster! I can confirm with certainty that Akeem, Demolition Ax, Butch Reed, and Rick Steiner were among the new talents to join my "company" because of this debacle.

Sick? I was sick? It was time to wrestle!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Golden Memorabilia

Back in 1995, who would've thought that in 2018 we would still be talking about the character Goldust in the present tense? Indeed we are doing just that. While no longer as edgy as the character was twenty-three years ago, everything else has just gotten better. In fact, the 48-year-old superstar shows no signs of slowing down. Perhaps the movie-quoting wrestler should set his sights on "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," as "The Bizarre One" truly seems to be aging in reverse.

Dustin Rhodes certainly could have had a respectable career had he remained "The Natural." He was always more than capable in the ring, but needed to leave the larger-than-life shadow of his father, "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes. By shocking and changing the wrestling world, Dustin did indeed "shatter dreams" and created one of the most memorable personas that the industry has ever seen.

Though Goldust burst onto the scene in a "dark time" for wrestling action figures due to the Hasbro WWF line ending roughly a year before his debut, the character has had no shortage of representation in plastic. He was in the very first assortment of six figures produced by Jakks and made it all the way to the Classic Superstars line. It was there that he saw arguably his finest figure, complete with shiny gold packaging. Many of his figures have included his signature blonde wig while others featured several different versions of the classic Goldust robe. In recent years, Mattel has included entries into their line spanning all eras of the character. Even a Create-A-Wrestler figure featured Goldust in an Egyptian Pharaoh costume that fit right in with the style and antics of the golden star.

Notably missing from most Goldust merchandising are any items from his brief stint as "The Artist Formerly Known As Goldust" during the "Attitude Era." This version of the character, paired with the late, great Luna Vachon, had maybe just a few too many adult themes to translate into products aimed at the mass market. When Rhodes went to TNA, he brought to life a character similar to Goldust known as "Black Reign." Basically, the gold turned to silver in a rather forgettable takeoff of "The Bizarre One." This incarnation did spawn a trading card.

It goes without saying that Goldust's unique appearance made many magazine covers, photos, and, of course, face masks. The varying face paint designs over the "Decades of Dust" have lent their appearance to a variety of masks, an item which returned in recent years and have once again become available through WWE. And one cannot forget Rhodes' autobiography which notably documented his recovery from years of addiction.

The future is bright for "Goldie." He continues to be a valuable member of the WWE roster, most recently teaming with Mandy Rose in "Mixed Match Challenge." When his in-ring career is finally, and regrettably, over, he will likely have another WWE company role waiting for him and, without a doubt, a spot in the WWF Hall of Fame. As far as merchandising goes, a glaring omission can finally be righted. A figure in Mattel's WWE Retro line would fill the void left by just missing the Hasbro collection nearly a quarter of a century ago.

Even as things stand now, you WILL remember the name...

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Big Action, Little Wrestlers

Collectors have long enjoyed figures in a variety of scales. Recently, it seems that smaller is better. Fans enjoy when they can take their favorite character to work and place it on their desk, perhaps set it in their car, or even just throw it in a bag to have wherever they go. The world-famous Funko Pop! vinyl figures, which have taken on just about every license that you can possibly think of, definitely helped in this latest trend. While there are WWE figures under the Pop! banner, with figures of the Young Bucks soon to join, it's even smaller Funko figures that we'll be looking at here, along with a rogue band of grapplers who fit right alongside.

Funko's WWE Mystery Minis combine the mini-figure craze with the trend of selling toys in the "blind box" fashion, meaning that you aren't sure which figure you will receive upon purchase. Although still caricatures, the Mystery Minis look a bit more realistic than the slightly larger Pop! figures. Two series have been released featuring Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, John Cena, Randy Savage, The Bella Twins, Rowdy Roddy Piper, The Ultimate Warrior, Dusty Rhodes, Sgt. Slaughter, Kevin Nash, Razor Ramon, Daniel Bryan, The Rock, Ted DiBiase, Bret Hart, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Goldust, The Undertaker, George "The Animal" Steele, Daniel Bryan, The Iron Sheik, Brock Lesnar, Steve Austin, Seth Rollins, Sting, Roman Reigns, and Randy Orton.

The figures are one solid hunk of plastic permanently posed in a signature look. Some of the likenesses are perfect (Piper, Goldust) while others could use work (The Undertaker) and a few have curious choices for design such as Nash (wearing tights) or Hogan and Savage (a mishmash of eras). Regardless, these little guys are fun to collect. A few that were featured in promotional materials, such as Mick Foley, thus far remain unreleased.

Meanwhile, the folks at Pro Wrestling Tees/Pro Wrestling Crate have come up with an "independent" alternative. Utilizing talent that is not signed to WWE, the "Micro Brawlers" line was born. Packaged in baggies with cardboard headers, talent from around the world and a couple of different eras have been included in this ever-expanding line. Already featured are CM Punk, Big Van Vader, Kenny Omega, Colt Cabana, The Young Bucks, Taz, Cody Rhodes, Joey Ryan, Marty Scurll, and Penta el Zero M.

You can tell at first glance that the Micro Brawlers borrow heavily in their cartoonish design from the Mystery Minis. Just look at the heads of the figures right down to their wrestling boots. The figures are very close in scale, however the Brawlers are somewhat thinner. The Mystery Minis are hard plastic, while the Micro Brawlers are an almost bendable rubbery material. While the Brawlers may not be as heavy as the Minis, you still just have to love them. The fact that a small company can produce cool little figures such as these is very impressive. In the same vein, it's interesting that some WWE licensed photos are being used on a few of the packaging headers.

Is it a battle? No way. It's two separate figure utilizing a similar design. The Brawlers are being marketed to their own audience online, while the Minis are targeting the vast WWE Universe. The Brawlers continue to add new stars, while nothing new has been heard on the Mini horizon in quite some time. Ultimately who wins? Those of us who realize that all of these brilliant diminutive wrestling figures compliment each other and combine to form a miniature world of wrestling crossing several eras.

It's a big deal!