Thursday, October 27, 2011

My Wrestling Favorites--Part 1 of 5

Like any wrestling fan, I hear the same question time and time again: "Who's your favorite?"

It's not easy to play favorites. In fact, I've whittled my list down to not just one but five all-time favorites. That part wasn't too hard. But what about current favorites? I don't point out enough that I love many of the current crop of wrestlers, just not the product in which they are presented. There's an amazing group of talent out there in all of the top companies, but I never really got around to thinking about who my current favorites were--until now.

In this and four upcoming entries I will highlight two stars of the ring--one of my all-time favorites and one current favorite. Like I said, there are many more legends that I admire and many other current stars that I look forward to watching. In the case of the current stars, I chose five that have been around for a spell. While many stars that I enjoy such as D'Angelo Dinero, Heath Slater, and Jack Swagger are certainly high on my list, they don't have the years that the others on my current list have under their belt. In other words, the current stars on my list are more "current all-time," if that makes sense. These stars, both current and all-time, are also in no particular order.

Without further ado...let's discuss my first two choices.

1 of 5 All-Time Favorites: Harley Race

Wrestlers can have virtually any look imaginable. Beautiful or ugly. Fat or thin. Tall or short. Proper or slob. While Harley Race once used the "Handsome" moniker, one of the things that always made me enjoy him so much is the fact that he just LOOKS like a wrestler. If you ask me, you should be able to open up a dictionary and when looking up the word "wrestler" see a photograph of one of three men: Arn Anderson, Don Muraco, or Harley Race. For whatever reason, to me these three men epitomize the word "wrestler" by look alone.

Race did more than just stand around and look like a wrestler, he could back it up in the ring in spades. Show even the most stubborn wrestling "doubter" a Harley Race match and you may just have a believer.

Race does not get enough credit for being one of the very first wrestlers to have the all-around package. He had the look. He had the in-ring skills. He had the skills on the mic. For quite a few years he even had the mutton chops. According to many inside the business, he also had the ability to take care of himself outside of the ring as well.

Race is in virtually every wrestling Hall of Fame imaginable but I've always felt that "The King" simply doesn't get all of the accolades which he deserves. A WWE-produced DVD collection would be an amazing gift to fans, and although the company may not feel that he is as marketable as others that they have highlighted, such a set has a better chance than ever to be produced as Triple H makes more and more such decisions.

Indeed it does speak volumes about Race when stars such as Triple H and Mick Foley publicly point out the contributions that the legend has made to their own careers. Since retiring, Race has also trained many stars including Ted DiBiase Jr. and Trevor Murdoch.

Although Harley Race was well into his reign as "The King" in the WWF by the time I became a fan, the magic of videotape allowed me to go back and follow Race's career from virtually the beginning. The growling voice and methodical, calculating ring style won me over immediately. I'm not above saying that the man honestly scared me. Although I have had the fortune to be in his presence many times as an adult, the impact of seeing Race's work is still enough to make any fan a bit uneasy. He was that good.

1 of 5 Current Favorites: The Big Show

Paul Wight will go down in history as having one of the most debated careers in the business. Was it a success? Was it a failure? Considering he's still at the top of business, I would say that a 100% conclusion can't be made at this time. If I was forced to make that decision, I would ultimately consider it a success.

The problem with Wight's career is the constant comparison to Andre. To me, the only comparison that can be made to Andre is the fact that at one point his gimmick was being "the son of Andre." That's it. The Big Show and Andre the Giant are two different men with two different careers in two VERY different eras in professional wrestling. End of subject.

It was once rumored that Hulk Hogan told his friend, Paul Wight, that Vince McMahon would know how to make Wight a success. Whether or not the story was true, the message was correct. Wight did not appeal to me as "The Giant." At that point he essentially WAS supposed to be another Andre. As The Big Show, Wight was able to show his own personality. Was he too beatable at times? Perhaps, but the "giant" successes of his career continue to block out the bad similar to how his 7 foot frame blocks out the sun.

The Big Show appeals to me because in that 7 foot body he is able to put on an exciting, believable, and entertaining match as well as men half of his size. Detractors of his usually turn out to be the same naysayers who will automatically dislike any wrestler that doesn't excel with the fairyland expectation known as "workrate." The man can work. He's not flippy. Deal with it.

Currently in the midst of a fun feud with another underrated giant in the form of Mark Henry, Show is still going strong sixteen years after his WCW debut. Honestly, I would say Show has never been better. Each time that injuries have threatened to end his career, the man comes back a bit better than before. I'd like to think that Show has a few more years left in the ring, but when it does end I hope he goes out with a bang. Like the song says... "You won't see it coming, but I promise you'll know..."

I hope you've enjoyed the first two "My Wrestling Favorites" capsules. Stay tuned for four more installments! As always, for updates on the blog and galleries full of hundreds of great wrestling collectibles join our Facebook Fanpage!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

15 Years of the...n...W...o!

Slowly but surely everything from the 1990's is becoming nostalgic. We're already past the 20th anniversary of the beginning of that decade. Trends, fashion, and even music from the '90s are either way out of style or "cool" because they're "old." One entity from the '90s that will always be cool is one of the most popular wrestling factions of all-time...the nWo. Ok, maybe they weren't cool when Virgil was brought into the mix, but you all know that you wore the original nWo t-shirt with pride.

It's nearly impossible to believe that it has been 15 years since the "Real American" Hulk Hogan joined Kevin Nash and Scott Hall on that infamous night in 1996. It was the most shocking occurrence to take place in professional wrestling since the beginning of the "modern" era. How could the ultimate hero to millions of fans actually turn heel? Today you may hear fans claiming to have known that the "third man" to join Hall and Nash would be Hogan all along, but that claim is similar to baby boomers claims to have been at the original Woodstock--millions more say they were there than actually were.

The real question would be if WCW actually knew what a money maker they had run into. Obviously the angle would not last forever (although it certainly seemed to) but its impact on the business itself both on screen and off undeniably has.

In the late '90s one could barely venture out of the house without seeing either an Austin 3:16 or nWo t-shirt. The original designs of both shirts undoubtedly still reside in many drawers and closets to this day. Many obviously listened when Kevin Nash famously requested that fans "BUY THE SHIRT!"

It wasn't long after the formation of the group that fans began demanding action figures of the trio. Custom painted nWo versions of previous Hogan, Hall, and Nash figures began popping up on the internet seemingly every hour. Interestingly enough, the first licensed nWo figures did not even include Hall and Nash. Following his defection to the group in early 1997, "Macho Man" Randy Savage actually became one of the first two nWo action figures. A series of four two-packs produced by Original San Francisco Toymakers and released exclusively through Figures Inc. included a two-pack of Savage and Hogan. Although not initially planned as nWo figures, when shipped they were indeed in black and white attire. Figures of Hall, Nash, and others were eventually produced in many sizes and styles with a few even making it into the legendary WWE Classic Superstars line over a decade after the nWo's formation.

Needless to say, the merchandising did not end there. Take any item which is released for any blockbuster movie and you'll find an nWo equivalent for it. While WCW had an impressive run of merchandise before the nWo's creation, one could argue that they may have gained even more footing into the area than even the WWF at this point in time. Finally, WCW was getting press and mainstream media coverage that they could have only dreamed of before.

Some will argue that had the nWo been kept limited to the original three members that it would've remained relevant a lot longer than it was. All good things must come to an end. Despite the inclusion of nearly half of the WCW roster, it had to come to a conclusion sooner or later. Personally, I would've enjoyed seeing a definitive end, maybe even similar to Hogan's recent turn in TNA with the Hulkster returning to the side of good to end the evil that he helped create.

In the past year both WWE and TNA have shown that the nWo's influence remains with the factions known as Nexus and Fortune. Although neither has had the success of the nWo, it's telling that the wrestling organizations continue to try and emulate the style and actions of the notorious and groundbreaking group so many years later.

The preceding blog entry was NOT paid for by the New World Order.

Monday, October 10, 2011

House of Nuts: Meeting the Crazies of Wrestling

Each year at this time I come to the same conclusion: pro wrestling is one giant Halloween party. Sure, since the 1980's that has become more and more true, but the industry has always had more than its share of colorful characters. Let's not forget that names like Pampero Firpo, The Sheik, and Abdullah the Butcher all originated more than 50 years ago!

Most wrestling fans would be lying if they told you that at least one of these outlandish, colorful, and many times untamed characters wasn't among their favorites. The matches that most of these men produce aren't exactly "Funk-Brisco classics," but I've always found that the happiest wrestling fans are those that can find enjoyment in all aspects of the sport. Like a connoisseur of music that appreciates the differences in genres, the best wrestling fans appreciate each and every style presented on a particular wrestling card.

Meeting these men can be an equally wild and crazy experience. What fan watching wrestling on a Saturday morning all of those years ago could ever imagine standing next to "The Ugandan Giant" Kamala or grappling with George "The Animal" Steele over just exactly whose friend "Mine" really is?

In actuality, many of these men who chewed anything from raw meat to turnbuckles are among the nicest and most down-to-earth gentlemen that you would ever want to meet. As one of the most memorable characters of 1980's WWF action, Steele barely spoke more than a handful of words. Although it was always the rumor of the schoolyard that "The Animal" actually taught school, it is not until you meet the man himself that you truly grasp the idea. And how about Kamala? The jungles of Uganda were actually the shrubs of Jerry Jarrett's backyard and the gibberish-speaking headhunter is in reality a well-spoken southern gentleman.

That isn't to say that meeting these men destroys the illusion. On the contrary, seeing just how gigantic Kamala actually is would probably surprise most fans. Other crazies of the ring such as Ox Baker barely change outside of the ring with growling, yelling, and even...singing.

Of my encounters with the various screwballs of the squared circle, it's one of the most recent that stands out like no other. Although he never actually had a match, fans of late '80s and early '90s WWF action will clearly remember Jameson. Beginning as a character on the short lived "Bobby Heenan Show" and later "managing" The Bushwhackers, Jameson was an unkempt poindexter who for the time was the go-to guy for comic relief in the World Wrestling Federation.

The man who portrayed Jameson, an actor by the name of John DiGiacomo, has made several wrestling convention appearances this year, most recently at Legends of the Ring in New Jersey. While some fans may question why a character such as his would appear at a wrestling convention, I've mentioned in previous entries that these shows always strive to book "fresh" guests to keep fan interest. Jameson fit that bill perfectly. Any fan who still had reservations about meeting a side "character" such as this was put at ease as soon as Jameson entered the room...and also put into stitches. Jameson's quirky antics were funnier in person than they were twenty years ago on Prime Time Wrestling. Just like George Steele and Mine or Kamala in his full makeup and costume, Jameson rekindled the magic of wrestling's zany best just one more time.

Still yet, there are some crazy characters of wrestling that shock the fans of today in another way. While many assumed that the "Wild Bull of the Pampas" Pampero Firpo was long gone, fans that attended the 2011 NWA Fanfest in Atlanta were proven very wrong. Although he looked quite different from his glory days from the 1950's through the 1970's, Firpo seemed as happy to meet the fans as they were to meet him. Equally as amusing was hearing his colleagues marvel at how shocking it was to see the wildman without his trademark hair and beard.

Though characters such as the Boogeyman still occasionally pop up today, the days of the truly crazy, offbeat, and zany in professional wrestling are all but gone. They'll be back. Fans will only be able to take so many cookiecutter overly muscled types before they're yearning for facepaint, bald heads, and back hair resembling a brillo pad.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Hot Rod...Or Hot Scot?

Certainly no wrestling fan would ever describe "Rowdy" Roddy Piper as underrated, but it's quite possible that his role in the history of the industry could be labeled as such.

Though many fans look fondly at "happy" Roddy from his later in-ring career, Piper's best years and moments could be pinpointed to the decade of the '80s. It was no accident that when Trivial Pursuit released their "Totally '80s" edition a few years ago Piper starred in the commercial with other icons of the decade like (former WWF foe) Cyndi Lauper and Charlotte "Mrs. Garrett" Rae.

Opening the decade in the great southern territories of Georgia and the Carolina's, Roddy Piper built his name with both verbal and physical battles. Jack Brisco, Don Muraco, and Greg Valentine are just three fellow legends who "paid the Piper" during this time period. Piper's dog-collar battle at the inaugural Starrcade event with Valentine has become one of the most memorable matches of the era and is cited by many as a foreshadowing of what was to come with "hardcore" wrestling.

It wasn't until the "Rock 'n Wrestling" era began that Piper perhaps changed the industry. Although the WWF marketing machine and endless charisma of Hulk Hogan all but guaranteed success, it's difficult to imagine the same scenario developing without "Hot Rod."

During those years, many of Hogan's opponents simply did not have the gift of gab that Piper possessed. To be honest, MOST wrestlers didn't have the amount of talent that Piper did in that area. How would the "Rock 'n Wrestling" era and 80's "boom period" have played out without Roddy? In this position, Piper was quite irreplaceable.

Although Piper's career never quite reached the same levels after his 1987 retirement, "Hot Rod" does hold the distinction of being one of the most successful wrestlers to journey into acting. Although his films were not always commercial successes, fans place many of his performances on the same pedestal of his wrestling greatness.

Nearly 25 years after his starring roles in "Body Slam" and "They Live" among other films, Roddy is back with a film entitled "Fancypants." The film, which recently premiered and is slated to hit DVD shortly, should be another favorite among Piper's fans as the topic is none other wrestling.

Our friend Johngy, who runs a great blog entitled Johngy's Beat (frequently guest starring yours truly), recently had the opportunity to attend the premiere of "Fancypants" and was gracious enough to provide us with a review and photos.

"Last night we attended the Chicago premiere of Fancypants, the story of wrestler Leo the Blue Lion (portrayed by Patrick Gleason), who is being pushed out of the spotlight, but has one huge fan left in the form of 8 year old Tommy (portrayed by Jackson Dunn). At the heart of this story is the relationship between the two.

Making his film debut, Gleason was a natural as Leo. For his wrestling lessons, he trained with the Lucha Libre. In our interview with him, he compared learning about acting with learning about wrestling. Gleason said that both were challenges, but both were a lot of fun.

Also making his debut was Dunn, a local young talent who perfectly nailed the spirit of a die hard wrestling fan. Dunn seemed to be having a ball on the red carpet. He said he wasn't really a big fan of wrestling, but he enjoyed being around Roddy Piper.

Former American Gladiator Beth Horn (also a native Chicagoan), appeared as Animal Babe, one of Leo's opponents. Beth looked stunning and was all smiles as she walked the red carpet. She told us that her AG work and physical training was beneficial to her work as Animal Babe. We wrestled a scoop out of her. She is working on a future project, which she couldn't name, but she did drop the initials "OMG". Keep an eye out for that.

If Fancypants seems to have a Chicago flavor to it, it's because it was produced by Chicago's Humble Pie Films and was shot in Chicago using Chicago actors. Producer Daniel Hanson created Humble Pie Films with Writer-Director Joshua Russell (an instructor at DePaul University), Creative Director Jim Andre and Creative Producer Jim Poole. Russell talked to us about the process of completing an independent film and how he hoped Fancypants would open some doors for future indy films and for future projects utilizing Chicago and Chicago talent.

Fancypants is the story about wrestling, but it is really about the relationship between Leo and Tommy, the gifts they give each other and the growth we see in both. It is funny, serious, heartwarming, inspirational, but most of all very entertaining.

Thanks again to John Wroblewski for the great review and photos! Be sure to check out Johngy's Beat for a daily dose of entertainment, sports, celebrities, and more! For more on Fancypants, check out the official site at

Muraco, Valentine, Hogan, and even cancer couldn't keep Roddy Piper down. He's a wrestler, actor, husband, father, and even a G.I. Joe. Don't question it, just embrace it: "Rowdy" Roddy Piper IS an icon. And don't forget...just when you think you have the answers, he changes the questions!