Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bonk Em! Bop Em!

Those immortal words from the Wrestling Buddies commercial (voiced by the late, legendary Arnold Stang) were followed by thousands of '90s children the world over.

These weren't just wrestling figures, they were wrestling BUDDIES. Days of jobbing to your pillow? GONE! Now you could choose one of four WWF Superstars to take your second grade frustrations out on!

Feel like being Dusty Rhodes today? Then bring out your Ted DiBiase or Macho King Wrestling Buddy, dress your little sister in polka dots, and VOILA! Instant American Dream!

Feeling a bit Lanny Poffo-ish? How about Dino Bravo? Bring out your Ultimate Warrior or Hulk Hogan Buddies and BECOME your favorite territorial star-turned national tv jobber to the stars!

In all seriousness, Wrestling Buddies were a great idea. Tonka released the line in 1990 around the same time Hasbro's WWF action figure line arrived in stores. Stuffed and sized like a pillow, Wrestling buddies were the perfect idea for the more physical child who just couldn't get enough out of the action figures.

Tonka's initial offering included Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, "Macho King" Randy Savage, and "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase. Each were bright in color and included their full costumes and accessories printed onto the doll. Hogan and Warrior each featured the WWF Championship printed, while Savage and DiBiase had the crown and Million Dollar Belt, respectively.

Going into 1991, Tonka introduced Big Boss Man, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, and The Legion of Doom into the plush fray. Hawk & Animal were included in the same box producing an interesting difference in the way stores handled the pricing. While I vividly remember Toys "R" Us stores charging more for the LOD, if you were lucky enough to have a Family Toy Warehouse store in your neighborhood you may have gotten a deal. Some stores in the now-defunct Family Toy Warehouse chain are known to have charged the same price for the tag team set as they did for the single buddies.

It was around this time that WCW started copying most of the WWF's marketing ideas. Wrestling Buddies were not lost on Ted Turner's "rasslin'" company, and a manufacturer named ToyMax produced several similar plush dolls in the form of WCW's wrestlers. While other characters are known to have made pre-production stages, Ric Flair, Sting, and Lex Luger are the only ones that are known to have hit store shelves. While these toys are not as colorful and distinct as their WWF counterparts, they are more lifelike in their likenesses and are just as in demand with collectors today.

While various plush-style toy lines have been put out by any wrestling company with a toy deal from the Attitude era to today, none have quite caught on like these original examples did. One line that probably would've sold well sadly ended up not seeing the light of day.

Well over a decade before I started this blog I ran an online memorabilia newsletter. At one point I was contacted by someone in the toy industry who had a catalog from the JusToys company featuring photos of WWF toys that ended up not being produced. Among those were a proposed line of plush wrestling dolls that looked very similar to the Tonka WWF Wrestling Buddies. Bret Hart and Diesel dolls were shown, and would have probably been huge sellers had they been released. Photos of these dolls, as well as the other toys shown in the catalog, still circulate around the internet today with my original "watermark" on them.

And you thought Tonka only made trucks...

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