Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Halloween--The Wrestling Spooktacular

There is no holiday better fit for the world of professional wrestling than the one that falls on the 31st of October. Since so many heroes and villains of the ring wars "dress up" to "scare" their opponents and even the fans, it's no wonder that countless Halloween costumes over the years have been inspired by the likes of Hawk, Animal, and even...Hulk Hogan.

Keeping with the theme of memorabilia, it's often the more colorful or bizarre grapplers that make for a better action figure or trading card. While many purists would prefer a wrestler in black tights with arms outstretched in a grappling position, others just live for the face paint, leather, and other outlandish qualities that so many Halloween-esque stars have had. The following will be a look at some of those stars and other "scary" situations from the squared-circle.

Before getting to the grapplers themselves, there's no greater connection to "All Hallows Eve" and professional wrestling than the WCW pay-per-view event called Halloween Havoc. From 1989 to 2000, Havoc was always one of the most anticipated yearly WCW events, usually due to brutally bizarre gimmick matches. The first event featured an electrified steel cage main event pitting Sting and Ric Flair against Terry Funk and The Great Muta. Four legends in their own right, the teams were joined by the late, great Gary Hart and special guest referee Bruno Sammartino.

While early stars such as Pampero Firpo, Maurice "The French Angel" Tillet, and even The Sheik certainly qualify as spooky stars, it wasn't until the '80s that the grotesque were brought out front and center. The Road Warriors and Kamala highlighted many magazine covers during the "Decade of Decadence," with the March 1984 Pro Wrestling Illustrated cover perhaps being the most famous in the magazine's history. The cover, featuring Hawk and Animal illuminated in "horror lighting," was even chosen by the magazine as one of its ten best.


While WCW had Halloween Havoc and The Road Warriors and Kamala were products of the territories, no one can deny that the WWF/WWE has had the craziest cast of characters come through its rings.

The power of Paul Bearer's urn, the worm-eating maw of The Boogeyman, and the vomit-inducing powers of Papa Shango are just a few samples of the "supernatural" happenings to come from Stamford, Connecticut over the years. Even women's wrestling legend The Fabulous Moolah broke out a smoking cauldron and that pesky "horror lighting" along with her charge Leilani Kai.

The Road Warriors did indeed cross through the WWF in several stints before Hawk's death in 2003, but one WWF-born tag team continues to smear their face paint in rings throughout the world to this day.

"Here Comes The Ax...Here Comes The Smasher..." In 1987, Demolition were looked at as Road Warrior knockoffs. As the weeks and months progressed, Bill "Ax" Eadie and Barry "Smash" Darsow proved that they were far more. Taking nothing away from Hawk and Animal, Demolition carved out a style all their own, combining great brawling with excellent wrestling skills. While the debate over which team was better will forever go on, the teams both hold their place in the history of wrestling...and intimidation!

But what about the superhero powers of The Hurricane, hideousness of Bastion Booger, and hilarity of ECW original The Blue Meanie? All worthy contenders showing different sides of the "Wrestling Spooktacular" spectrum.

Events. Tag teams. Comic book heroes. Meanies. They all fit this category nicely. But one wrestler truly deserves to be kept for last.

The Lord of Darkness. The Phenom. The Reaper. A character that probably wasn't intended to last longer than a year or so, much less twenty.

The Undertaker. What more can be said that hasn't already been written? Few superstars have captured generations of fans as Taker has. A comparison to Andre the Giant would not be out of the question in terms of being on top of the game for such a length of time. Rolling into his 21st year in the WWE, Taker continues to cement his legacy as one of the best "big men" in the game, and without a doubt the king of "The Wrestling Spooktacular."

I hope you've enjoyed this look at some the most bizarre competitors, events, and concepts in ring history. I could not include everything or everybody, so let me know if you feel your favorite was omitted. Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Jakks "Ruthless" Style Lives On...For Now!


In January of 2003, Jakks released to the public what would be their most enduring style of wrestling figure. The "Ruthless Aggression" figure series, named for a phrase coined on WWE television the previous year, featured a style that met the needs of both collecting groups. Kids had a figure that was easy to play with and enabled them to recreate their favorite wrestling moves. Collectors had a figure that was great to look at and nicely represented their favorite stars. The style also carried over into the legendary WWE Classic Superstars figure line.

When Jakks took over the TNA figure license beginning in 2010, the majority of the figures were released in the "Deluxe Aggression" style. These figures are slightly larger and have a bit more articulation. While the Deluxe figures have a large fan base, many collectors prefer the Ruthless figures due to having seven years worth of WWE characters (and countless Classic figures) in this style.

Jakks Deluxe-Style Eric Young &
Ruthless-Style Kevin Nash

To appease this group, Jakks announced that not only would the Legends of the Ring figure series be done in the "Ruthless Aggression" style, but that a series featuring current TNA stars to be sold at (then unnamed) pharmacy and grocery store chains would be produced this way as well.

Just last month I brought you a review of several of the figures from the first Legends of the Ring series. This week, Jakks announced that the second series would not be produced due to an alleged lack of interest from collectors. It has been said that these and other Legends figures (Raven and Shane Douglas have been mentioned) will be worked into future regular TNA figure series while retaining the Legends packaging. I would not hold my breath.

Despite this setback, the other promised series of "Ruthless" style figures have indeed been released. An exclusive to Walgreens pharmacies, a six-figure series including Sting, Kevin Nash, Abyss, Kurt Angle, Jay Lethal, and Suicide has hit stores as part of the chains Christmas toy offerings.

Dubbed "Ruthless Impact" by collectors, the six-figure set seems to be showing up as one set per store. It is unknown if the figures will be replenished as the holiday season nears. Thus far, the figures have shown up individually carded and sold from a graphically-collectible cardboard display box. Since there is one of each of the six figures to each display box, many collectors have obtained the boxes to display the figures in.

Dating back several years, Jakks has had a long history providing many smaller retail chains with exclusive figures. At times, these figures have suffered from less detail than their counterparts sold at regular toy retailers. This difference does not continue with these figures. Characters such as Abyss and Kevin Nash feature great detail on their tattoos while Jay Lethal, clad in his "Black Machismo" attire to pay homage to "Macho Man" Randy Savage, even has "Machismo" on the back of his tights.

While the figures do not feature realistic scale, the same can be said for the "Deluxe" versions sold at mass retail. Scale is a feature that is difficult to produce correctly in order to provide a consistent product. For a good example of this, check out Mattel's figure releases of Rey Mysterio with a pea-sized head.

In addition to the display box, the cards are nicely designed with bubbles that are firmly attached. Issues have arisen with the first series of Deluxe TNA figures to hit retail regarding poor package manufacturing. Of note is the use of Suicide's "symbol" rather than the name "Suicide" on both figure and card. This is, no doubt, due to TNA and Jakks not wanting to release a children's toy using a controversial word. While the argument can be made that the child will know the name regardless from TNA television, I believe the omission is more to avoid problems from interest groups that target such matters.

It will be interesting to see how the collectiblity of this set rises or falls in the near future. Collectors have been scouring Walgreens stores nationwide to find this set which has just begun to show up. If the current trend of one of each of the six figures PER Walgreens store continues, coupled with the price point of three of the figures for $13.98 (or about $28 for the set), things in the TNA collecting community could get interesting this holiday season. Add to the fact that the Ruthless-style Legends series has been cancelled for all intents and purposes, we may be seeing the end of one of the longest lasting figure-styles in wrestling toy history.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

WWWF Wrestling Action Magazine

Most wrestling collectors would agree that it is very hard to even make a shortlist of favorite collectibles. With the incredible array of items both current and vintage, it would be hard to even try and find a starting point. The five magazine issues that you are about to see and learn about will always, as a whole, make my personal top five.

Wrestling magazines are a unique breed of collectible. One can collect all issues of a certain title, focus on a particular star, or even a specific era. While the magazines have been produced en masse since around the time pro wrestling hit television and continue to fly off shelves today, the '70s through the '90s probably saw the widest variety of titles for the genre.

While the Stanley Weston (The Wrestler, Pro Wrestling Illustrated, etc.) and Norm Kietzer (Wrestling Revue, The Wrestling News) magazines were the first publications to rule the roost, the '80s and '90s saw in-house publications from the WWF, NWA, WCW, and even ECW.

There is one oft-forgotten in-house publication that was actually the first of its kind for the WWWF. While it's been claimed in the current incarnation of the WWE Magazine that the WWF's Victory Magazine was the first in-house WWWF/WWF published periodical, this simply isn't so.

The very first was the Wrestling Action magazine...

Published between 1977 and 1979, the magazine ended up only having a five issue run. While celebrated wrestling photographer George Napolitano provided much of the visual action, it was actually wrestling renaissance man Les Thatcher who held the title of editor.

Already holding the titles of wrestler, announcer, and trainer, Thatcher had been publishing the Mid-Atlantic and NWA wrestling magazines when Napolitano and Vince McMahon Jr. saw his work.

Similar to the aforementioned Mid-Atlantic and NWA titles, Thatcher brought incredibly designed covers to the WWWF publication as well. These covers, done by art director Cal Byers, visually set these magazines in a class by themselves. Billy Graham, Bruno Sammartino, and Bob Backlund are showcased on the first three covers while collages of stars are featured on the last two. Often you can even see the photos which inspired the cover art within the pages of the magazine itself.

Each issue contains two features that were not prominent in other wrestling magazines of the time, those being all "slick" pages and a good bit of color photos and graphics.

Packed with features on the stars both in and out of the ring, many articles were highlighted with special graphics and production techniques. Also impressive were the centerfolds in each issue, always featuring a top star or stars of the WWWF.

Reading these magazines, you can truly feel the excitement that legendary WWWF fans such as Mrs. Krieger or Georgiann Makropoulos (a wrestling publishing legend in her own right) probably felt while reading these back in the '70s. While wrestlers seldom need any help appearing larger than life, these issues certainly reinforced that to the WWWF loyal.

With the magazines produced over a period of two years, it is obvious that there was a great length of time between the release of each issue. A disclaimer even appears in later issues that apologizes to subscribers for the magazines not being published monthly.

Due to the fact that publication was stretched out for so long, the last issue gives us an automatic look at wrestling history. While the first four issues feature "World Wide Wrestling Federation" in the upper left corner of the cover, the fifth and final simply reads "World Wrestling Federation." Interestingly, that final issue is titled "Stars of the '80s" and among the cover collage is the man who would end up defining the WWF in the '80s--Hulk Hogan.

Sadly, Vince Jr. decided to pull the plug after that issue. With such a finely crafted magazine, it would be interesting to see how the beautiful covers and great content would've translated to the national expansion and even "Rock 'n Wrestling."

It's unknown how many copies of each issue were produced. All have become highly coveted by collectors, with the first issue usually gaining the most attention. When properly identified in an online auction setting, the inaugural issue has fetched as much as one-hundred dollars.

How about the original artwork from those fantastic covers? They are said to reside in the collection of photographer George Napolitano. He, and many of the wrestlers featured in the magazine, show great fondness for the issues when presented to them by fans. Graham, Lou Albano, Tony Atlas, and Ivan Putski are just a few who have enjoyed seeing the copies in my collection over the years.

I'd like to thank Mr. Les Thatcher for providing so much of the information about these classic collectibles. I recently had several opportunities to discuss Wrestling Action with the legend himself. When I began this blog nearly two years ago, this was one of my first ideas for a feature. I am extremely grateful to Mr. Thatcher for making it more informative than I ever could have on my own.