Thursday, October 19, 2017

WWE Unreleased: Just What The Longtime Fan Ordered

Gold. Usually I wait until the last paragraph of a review to summarize, but I choose to do it right now instead with just that word. WWE Unreleased is a DVD treasure trove of matches and segments that wrestling fans have been asking for for years.

It's well-documented that the WWE vault is massive and contains footage from the classic yet common to the ultra-rare and unseen. It's the latter that is contained in WWE Unreleased. Mainly consisting of dark matches from television tapings with a house show match or two thrown in, truly everything on here is never-before-seen to my knowledge. It's stuff that we've heard of, yet always had to visualize in our heads.

The set is hosted by Charly Caruso and, one of my all-time favorites, Sean Mooney. The interstitial segments display that Mooney still very much gets the company and its humor, as it's jokingly implied that the former WWF announcer actually lives in the film archive below the "Event Center." There are a few nods to Mooney's frequent broadcast partner, the late Lord Alfred Hayes, and be sure to stick around after the WWE Home Video logo pops up at the end. There's also a great gag in the last hour or so of the set that is sure to make frequent WWE DVD watchers smile.

The set is labeled "1986-1995," which in a way doesn't please me. I know that there is loads more unseen footage from that era that didn't make the cut. Missy's Manor? Jimmy Garvin's 1992 tryout? The last encounter between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant (a tag match pitting Hogan and Big Boss Man against the Colossal Connection at a 1990 tv taping)? Pay-per-view dark matches? Griping aside, what we do get is honestly unheard of.

If you're a fan of Andre, The Ultimate Warrior, or Randy Savage, this is the set for you. All three seem to show up very frequently early on. There is also a big dose of The Hulkster, with The Undertaker and Bret Hart generously peppered in as well. The real gems here, for me, are the tryout matches. We see the Warrior, Owen Hart, Crush, Earthquake, Tatanka, The Smoking Gunns, and Taz all in some of their initial appearances. We also get the never aired 1992 return of Piper's Pit featuring the Brooklyn Brawler and an absolutely shocking line for the time from "Hot Rod" regarding what the company was facing in the real world.

We are reminded that Mike McGuirk, in addition to being an extremely sweet individual, was criminally underrated as a ring announcer. We see some obvious "run thru" matches to prepare for the "real deal" down the line. We also see the infamous (thanks to Toxic Turtles match which clearly was never intended to go beyond the venue in which it was held.

Picture quality changes from match to match, as obviously some of the master footage has deteriorated. There are some odd frame rate issues in a couple of matches, and some wavy sound problems in others. Nonetheless, we aren't seeing this stuff any other way. I'll take it any day. As far as music changes, I only noticed two: the horrible Rick Rude music edit that crept up earlier this year, and a change for the Smoking Gunns tryout entrance theme. Speaking of tryout entrances, be sure to check out those for both "Earthquake Evans" and "War Eagle."

A few of the matches are seen only from the hard camera view, and it should be pointed out that there is no commentary here at all. Some would probably argue that commentary could have been added, but I would be against it. These are dark and house show matches. View them as originally intended with the natural audio of the event as your soundtrack. Nothing more is needed.

Buy this thing. Why? One reason is because it's one of the most interesting and unique WWE DVD releases of all-time. Another reason is that if sales are great, we may see more content like this down the line. While matches from after the time frame covered in this set wouldn't interest me quite as much, we have no idea what WWE has stored away. In the meantime, let's enjoy what has been unleashed with "Unreleased."

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Household Wrestling Items That You Never Realized You Needed...

If you've followed this blog for any amount of time, you already know that we celebrate all forms of wrestling memorabilia. The weird. The wacky. The wonderful. It's all covered. But how about...household items? Sure they've popped up here and there over the near decade since the blogs inception, but they've never really had the spotlight. Need to host a wrestling themed luncheon? These items may just please the most difficult of guests...

*Breakfast in bed? Frozen dinner in front of the television? The entire Brady Bunch is sick again? Never fear, the WWF Superstars lunch tray is here. Big Boss Man. The Ultimate Warrior. Hulk Hogan. The Texas Tornado. All four are ready, willing, and able to provide that extra needed flavor, and maybe even some vitamins, to your meal. Can you imagine bringing Virgil some Olive Garden takeout (extra meat sauce) on this tray while he regales you with highly-fictionalized stories of the four featured superstars? I can't.

*Maybe you don't want to eat your lunch at home, but you still need some early '90s WWF Superstar power with your cuisine. That''s why we have WWF Superstars lunch bags! The Boss Man, The Warrior, and The Hulkster are all back from their lunch tray antics to bring you action on the go. Joining them are none other than Jake "The Snake" Roberts and Damien! These aren't the boring, plain, brown bags that used to float around WWF locker rooms near Allentown! These bags are full of ingestable items sure to make you bigger and stronger! Oh, wait...

*Certainly you need something to wash all of these power packed meals down with. And that something, whether it be milk, juice, or whatever you want has to be contained. There have been plenty of wrestling related cups, mugs, and suck cups (thanks, Dusty!) over the years, but for this outing we went with a glass featuring Ax and Smash. Yes, Demolition themselves. There were a few different series of glasses featuring WWF superstars produced over the years, but who are more exciting to drink from than my personal favorite tag team? Before you take a sip, a word of warning: you better say your act of contrition.

*Watch it! Don't you dare put that glass down on the end table without a coaster. But not just any coaster, mind you! This is a Mid-South Wrestling coaster! Used as a promotional item sometimes even given away by owner and WWE Hall of Famer himself, Cowboy Bill Watts, these coasters actually say "Mid-South Sports." Also illustrated are the address and phone number of the promotion. Who's using this to pick up the ice sweat from their drinking glass? Not me! Especially when it's autographed by Watts himself!

*So the host has kicked you out of the house, without your drink, for refusing to use a coaster. How else are you going to beat the heat? With an FMW hand fan, silly! Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling may have been founded by the legendary and infamous Atsushi Onita, but the high-flying Hayabusa is arguably its best remembered star. As with many Japanese promotions, some interesting and unique memorabilia came out of FMW, including this fan. Just sit back, wave the fan, and think about such relaxing concepts as exploding ring barbed wire steel cage matches!

And there you have a sampling of wrestling memorabilia that you can still put to good use around the house. Why sit around just staring at these great items when they can aid in special occasions, holidays, and pleasant family time? Utilize these tips wisely. After all, you're getting them for free. Martha Stewart would've charged you $25 for this information in book form...

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Voice of Memphis Wrestling Passes...

It seems like just yesterday when Pittsburgh wrestling fans were mourning the loss of Bill Cardille, the voice of wrestling in the Steel City. A little over one year later and Memphis is feeling the same grief with the loss of the legendary Lance Russell. While both men made their mark in specific regions, in both instances fans from around the world are mourning just as much as those in the respective home cities of the men.

To live ninety-one years is a long life, but as always it's what one packs into those years that matters. Lance Russell certainly did that, first with a career in television that led to widespread notoriety as the voice of Memphis wrestling. Russell also raised a family, along with wife Audrey, who passed away in 2014. Sadly, that family suffered two losses in the span of a week as Lance and Audrey's daughter passed away on Friday from cancer.

My first exposure to Russell came in the form of the antiquated VHS video tape. An early non-WWF/WCW release titled "Masters of Mayhem" came into my possession at a young age. The tape was full of Memphis-area matches featuring stars who had gone on to find fame on a national level. The voice calling those matches? Lance Russell, of course! A fitting title for the tape considering that Russell was famous for often using the word "mayhem" to describe the action.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Russell at the 2009 NWA Legends Fanfest. There, the announcer was joined by his former commentary partner, WMC-TV weatherman Dave Brown, as well as Memphis wrestling icons Jerry Jarrett and Jackie Fargo to create a mini-reunion. It would be my only opportunity to meet the famous host, although I did correspond with him in years following. A long, hand-written letter from Mr. Russell is something that I cherish. It is just a small reflection of his well-known persona of being an absolutely wonderful individual.

I once heard Lance Russell's announcing style described as the "grandfather" trying to keep peace among all of the wild "grandchildren." I wish I could credit the source, but it is absolutely true. You trusted and believed what Lance was telling you, and there is no better talent to have when calling pro wrestling. Russell also spent time in WCW and Smoky Mountain Wrestling, but he is a firm entry on the "Mount Rushmore" of Memphis wrestling, likely alongside Fargo, Jerry Lawler (who he famously broke into the business), and Sputnik Monroe.

I usually end remembrances with a photo of the personality in question and myself, but Mr. Russell's passing made one photo and one photo only pop into my mind. I can still remember taking it at the Hall of Heroes banquet in Charlotte. I did not snap the photo because of who was speaking on stage in the background. I took it because I had noticed Lance and Audrey Russell holding hands. A simple sign of everlasting love after a lifetime together.

Lance is now at her side again. It's a spot that I imagine he never wanted to leave.

Lance Russell


Thursday, September 28, 2017

TJP: More Thrilling As A Toy...I Promise

There's no doubt that TJ Perkins, or "TJP," is a typical cruiserweight wrestler. High flying moves, thrilling risk-taking, and plenty of speed. The problem is that since his victory in the CWC (Cruiserweight Classic) Tournament, there just hasn't been much reaction to him. As in none. Crickets. Since the tournament, something about him has just not connected with audiences. Maybe it's him, maybe it's the way he's presented, or maybe it's the "8-bit" entrance (which I happen to like). Regardless, his debut action figure is here and on shelves now.

The figure is the latest in the "WWE Network Spotlight" series exclusive to Toys "R" Us. This is a figure in the Elite style, and the packaging is similar to the normal Elite figures, though I prefer the color scheme on these exclusives. It's a bit more adult in nature with the darker tones. While I'm usually a fan of brighter colors, it works here since it's red. It actually does make you think of the WWE Network menus and presentation.

The figure is packaged with both the Cruiserweight Classic medallion and the new WWE Cruiserweight Championship belt (sorry, Vince). I'm always a fan of when new, different, and unique accessories hit the line. I'm sure that some don't care for the Cruiserweight Championship color scheme, but I've been a fan since day one. It's something different and in the WWE Universe that can often be difficult to find, especially with championship designs.

The figure itself is a nice debut, and captures Perkins about as well as possible. The facial likeness is solid and I can think of no complaints. The attire is very vibrant and does appear to match his Cruiserweight Classic-winning outfit. The body parts used match TJP's real-life physique and the scale seems to be fairly spot on, too. As nice as the figure is though, we can be honest when admitting that he probably would not have been in an exclusive line such as this if not to debut the great accessories.

Speaking of accessories, I do believe that an upcoming Neville figure will include the Cruiserweight Championship as well. As far as the medallion, this could be your only shot. I have no doubt that TJP will receive another figure down the line, probably in basic form. This figure is "hot" right now, so if you see it, grab it. Still doesn't jive with those cricket-filled reactions, though...

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Brain That Roared

Brain. Weasel. Fighter. All words that can be used to describe Bobby Heenan. The loss of the legendary manager this past week has been felt throughout the world. If you were a wrestling fan from the '60s through the '90s, there's a good chance that Heenan entertained you in some way, whether you loved him as "The Brain" or jeered him as "The Weasel." If you followed his journey in the past fifteen years, you know that he could have also been called "The Fighter."

It was no secret that a battle with throat cancer took its toll on Heenan. Although up until about ten years ago "The Brain" was able to still make entertaining appearances throughout the wrestling world, the effects of his cancer treatments began to take their toll. Ultimately, Heenan had to have his jaw removed. While this did change his appearance, his attitude and will to live kept him going. Accompanied by his loving wife Cindy, "The Brain" continued to travel to various conventions and events where he could once again greet friends and fans alike. Though he could talk very little, the always boisterous Heenan was still able to make everyone laugh through gestures and the familiar twinkle in his eyes.

Bobby Heenan was wrestling's answer to both Johnny Carson and a great sports coach. He had the personality of a golden age comedian but brought legitimacy to the idea of a great manager existing in the wrestling business. He could be highly entertaining in the latter role, but his promos always left you thinking that there was a great chance that his men would walk away victorious. Nearly 100,000 fans certainly believed that Andre the Giant could defeat Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III. Who talked them into the Pontiac Silverdome? Bobby Heenan.

Behind the scenes, Heenan was often in charge of directing the promos for others. Who better to teach that art than one of the best? And if "most quoted" equates the best, Heenan may have very well been it. Just ask Koko B. Ware's mother. Her name? Tupper. Or Tito Santana's sister who performed at WrestleMania VIII. You don't remember Arriba McIntyre? Don't go helping any of your buddies, because "a friend in need is a pest." And if you ever got agitated towards "The Brain," he'd remind you that "you don't have to yell at me, I'm not blind!"

At a very young age, I can still remember my dad telling me that he'd been on a plane with Heenan and saw him taking the time to sign autographs. As a kid, this didn't strike me as unusual. I guess I was still goodhearted enough not to question why a "bad guy" would do that. As an adult, I still understand. While the Bobby Heenan character was underhanded, he wasn't completely loathsome. A great help with the latter part of the image was thanks to Gorilla Monsoon. You always got the feeling that the two co-hosts had a mutual admiration even while bickering on commentary or during their years on Prime Time Wrestling. It was a comfort for so many of us to learn in later years that the two were indeed close friends in real life.

A few days ago I had Tweeted that a bellowing "Will you stop?" had to be heard at the Pearly Gates this week. After a few moments, I can only imagine Gorilla following up with, "I'll have you thrown outta here, Brain!"

Thanks, Bobby, for all of the laughter, joy, and entertainment you brought to us "ham n eggers" and our favorite past time. We always knew that you loved us humanoids...

Bobby "The Brain" Heenan


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Mae Young Lives On...

She was WWE's crazy old grandmother. An elderly woman who was as endearing as she was unpredictable. Tough as nails, but with a heart of gold. She was "The Great" Mae Young. Without checking, I would imagine that the last time Mae had been mentioned in this blog was following her passing in 2014. We all thought that Johnnie Mae would go on forever, but all good things must come to an end. Or do they?

At press time, WWE had just finished up the Mae Young Classic. The 32-woman tournament, an exclusive to WWE Network, was won by Japanese star Kairi Sane. Could Mae herself have imagined that she would one day have a tournament named after her? If you'd have asked her a half century ago, chances are she'd have said no...and you may have been handed an ass-whooping in the process for even mentioning it.

What's interesting about Mae Young's earlier career is that the records do exist, but you have to look. She simply did not attain the press that many of her contemporaries got, despite collecting many accolades during her career. Was it her rough-and-tumble nature that saw her featured far less than other lady grapplers of the era? Perhaps she was too busy living the often wild and crazy stories that she seemed so proud of later in life.

Speaking of later in life, there's no question that Mae achieved her greatest fame in her twilight years. That being said, it did not keep her out of the ring or away from the splinters of a wooden table that she was just put through. It was in this period that Mae finally saw an action figure, trading cards, and Hall of Fame inductions. Indeed, Mae Young made it big. And while her companion The Fabulous Moolah is the more celebrated name, Mae emerged as the wilder of the bunch and, to many, the more beloved.

Mae certainly loved meeting the fans, as well, and was no stranger to planting one of her famous kisses on them. I'm not sure that I'd feel as if my wrestling fandom was complete had I not been the recipient of a Mae Young smooch. It's just something that you had to do...

With the success of the Mae Young Classic and the popularity of women's wrestling today, I would not be surprised to see more editions of this tournament. It is a wonderful tribute to a woman who brought a lot of joy to fans and whose contributions to the in-ring side of wrestling are essentially lost to time. While she may be marveling at what the female wrestlers of today are doing, there's no doubt in my mind that "The Queen" is looking down with that classic smile on her face, ready to jump right in with them and kick some ass.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Wrestling MarketWatch: The Figures of the Divas

Divas often make very collectible action figures. Oh, wait. We're not allowed to say "Divas" anymore. But in this case, we are looking at the era in which females in WWE were referred to as Divas. It was a long period that produced many superstar names. Whether the wrestling was good, bad, or even ugly, these women proved to be as big as the men at the box office as well as on the merchandise shelves. It's the latter of which, as usual, that we'll be exploring here. Most notably action figures of the WWF/WWE Divas. As always in the MarketWatch feature, we will take a look at recent auction prices of several items. Despite what is shown, prices are for carded, non-autographed figures unless otherwise noted.

*Kelly Kelly certainly personified being a WWE Diva. She was hired by the company for all of the wrong reasons, but left the position years later as a beloved member of the roster. Her in-ring performances may never have been the greatest, but something about her was simply endearing. She continues to thrill fans in convention appearances around the world, as well as continuing her modeling career. Heck, she even made an appearance on "Days of our Lives" in recent years! Kelly had several action figures from Jakks and Mattel, but her Elite figure is her best representation. It recently sold for $53.

*Molly Holly took a different approach to being a Diva, a combination of girl-next-door looks and great wrestling skill. Molly is a favorite to many, and the wholesomeness of her character was said to be an extension of real life. Molly also proved that she could play a sweet innocent girlfriend character or a conniving heel with the greatest of ease. Is it any wonder that we all still miss Molly? The buxom blonde had but only one figure during her long stint with the company, that being from Jakks. The figure recently sold for $20.

*Yet another blonde bombshell comes in the form of Maryse. Still starring on Monday Night Raw alongside husband The Miz, Maryse has been stellar in her performance since returning the night after WrestleMania 32. Although there are no true qualifications, Maryse has become WWE Hall of Fame material in her sneaky valet role. Though the lovely Frenchwoman has a few figures from Mattel, her first release from Jakks is in demand. A loose example recently sold for $14. Pourquoi?

*She's the original Diva according to WWE and in many ways will never be topped. Say what you want about Sunny, she was the most downloaded woman on AOL years ago. Many of those images have never left our minds. "What Sunny wants, Sunny gets!" was her motto, and I truly hope that she finds peace and happiness one day. While I'm not sure that we'll ever see a new Sunny figure on the horizon, we have plenty of past releases to enjoy. Her first release in the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line recently sold for $40.

*And if we're mentioning troubles, we have to bring up Paige. The young British star was one of the top prospects for WWE superstardom just a few years ago. In 2017, her career and life seem to be in absolute limbo. Too much too soon can do that, as well as many other factors. The former Total Divas star saw her first figure released with both the NXT and Divas championship belts and looks great holding both. The figure recently commanded $25 at auction.

No matter what the overly-PC world wants, even in wrestling, the term Divas will always be out there. That word takes nothing away from the women who were labeled as such. Memorabilia like what we've just seen does not detract, either. Stars are stars and many shown here will continue to shine for years to come.