Thursday, February 23, 2012

Wrestling & Chicken Soup? Comfort Food At Its Best!

People have always looked for some sort of escapism. No matter who you are, you have some problem that you need to take your mind off of. Just as chicken noodle soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, and mashed potatoes are comfort food, pro wrestling is considered by many to be comfort food for the soul. Even with all of the changes that the industry has gone through, it is an entity that can still help ease the pain of everyday life.

Although thousands of fans have been known to attend wrestling matches dating back to ancient times, I would go as far as to say that wrestling attained its "comfort food" designation when the sport hit television in the 1950's. Dad had a long day at the office, mom spent the day scrubbing the toilet and slaving over a hot stove, and even junior had his problems getting the business from "The Beav" at school. None of the three had ever seen a spectacle like Gorgeous George in their innocent little suburb. Who was this blonde grappler with "Georgie" pins and a valet? For an hour every week, "The Toast of the Coast" and his heroic opponents took Americans across the nation out of their difficult, humdrum, everyday lives and into a world of larger than life action.

In the world of the 1960's, a somewhat less optimistic America, fans had their own regional hero to root for, often reflecting the racial divides of the time. Nowhere was this more evident than with northeast wrestling idol Bruno Sammartino. Thrilling the immigrant populations in cities like New York, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia, Sammartino proved to be a hero not only in the ring but out of it as well. To this day, baby boomers who grew up in Pittsburgh will regale anyone who asks with tales of watching Bruno with their steel worker fathers and grandfathers. Those fathers, often sitting down with a cold beer on Saturday afternoons, watched the Pittsburgh Studio Wrestling program with delight as Bruno pounded away on Nazi sympathizers like Waldo Von Erich and evil orientals like Professor Toru Tanaka.

When wrestling went national in the 1980's, the sport followed the rest of the country by partaking in the "decade of excess." Bright lights, big cities, and bulging biceps became the gold standard of pro wrestling and on top of it all was Hulk Hogan. Even with detractors who felt that the sport was no longer what they grew up on, there were probably more new fans enjoying the escape of pro wrestling than those who gave up on it. Hogan was patriotic Americana destroying the Cold War-era evils of a bald Iranian, a barrel chested Russian, and even a giant Frenchman.

Wrestling may have achieved its zenith of escapism in the still wildly popular "Attitude Era" of the late '90s. Stone Cold Steve Austin's long running feud with Mr. McMahon was the first topic of discussion around watercoolers and at bus stops nearly every Tuesday morning. Similar to the arrival of the Hogan era, many fans of previous time periods weren't as engaged with the "beer bashes" of the Austin reign, although fifteen years later the time is still fondly remembered.

I've often deemed myself as the luckiest of wrestling fans. I say this because I'm able to enjoy most every style of wrestling that's been offered over the years. Never one to believe in the questionable idea of "workrate," I can enjoy a match pitting Akeem against Koko B. Ware as much as I can enjoy a Brisco-Funk exhibition.

I could never rate a match using the infamous "star ratings system" because I simply don't look at a match that way. Some of the best personal wrestling "comfort food" for me are the early WrestleMania events. Often damned by "fans" who feel that they're above these cards, I can't imagine my wrestling fandom without them. From the hyperbolic yet believable commentary of Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura to the then-new concept of music, lighting, and cavernous venues to the classic unforgettable stars of the era, many fans including myself could watch these shows again and again. Many of us do just that. Unlike other sports where repeated viewing is unheard of, wrestling can be watched over and over. There's always that entertainment value to keep you coming back for more. Wrestling tapes and a bowl of spaghetti? Comfort food to satisfy all kinds of hunger.

It's more than the matches that bring us back. It's the comforting feeling of familiarity. Many of us don't get that from the current product, but I sincerely hope and believe that many people do. In the way that the fans from past eras enjoyed their stars, I hope that the fans of today (especially children) have fond memories in the decades ahead of John Cena, CM Punk, and Jeff Hardy.

After all, it's memorable names, moments, and action that keep this business alive. It's the business that provides a wide variety of each to keep any kind of fan happy. A perfect circle if there ever was one.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Signature Moves: The Top 5 Nicest Autographs In Wrestling

Collecting wrestling memorabilia and collecting autographs are by no means 100% connected. Some collectors would see getting items signed as ruining the item. I've known collectors on the other side of the spectrum that would have no use for an item if it weren't signed. It's all up to personal taste, but I must say that I do enjoy a good autograph. There are items that I would never think of getting signed and yet others that due to the passage of time will remain unsigned forever.

Still, there are some items that, to me and many other collectors, almost seem enhanced by the addition of a good autograph. The "window" packaging of the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line seems made for an autograph and the decades old practice of getting a quality trading card signed will probably be forever in vogue.

Our new "Signature Moves" series will focus on various aspects of wrestling autograph collecting. It's a fun hobby that has only gotten more accessible with the rise of the wrestling fanfests and conventions of the past decade or so. Each entry in the recurring series will focus on a different aspect such as tales of obtaining autographs, stories of autographed items, and all the fun, entertainment, and enlightenment that you've come to expect here.

This entry will focus on the nicest autographs in pro wrestling. It's amazing, but "rough and tumble" pro wrestlers often have much nicer signatures than those in other professions. That's not to say they're all neat and pretty. We'll have plenty of examples for another entry regarding the messiest wrestling signatures.

Without further ado and in no particular order, we present the top five nicest signatures in pro wrestling...

Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat

Where better to begin than one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time? Steamboat has really had it all in wrestling. One of the greatest in-ring stars the sport has ever seen. Participation in not one but several matches that fans list as the greatest of all-time. A career in both the days of territorial wrestling and the national scene. A storybook comeback in the modern era to cap off a fantastic career. On top of all of this, the man is among the friendliest you'll ever meet and extremely gracious to fans. From action figures to posters to cards to magazines, "The Dragon" is one of the lucky wrestlers that seems to have an endless stream of merchandise to sign. With several new action figures released in recent years it doesn't seem as if that stream is about to dry up anytime soon. Steamboat will often include "The Dragon" inscription with his John Hancock.

Chris "Tatanka" Chavis

Sometimes there are cases where the signature fits the character. When Chris Chavis signs his "Tatanka" name, the formation of the letters simply look Native American in origin. Had he hit the national scene just a few years earlier, Tatanka probably would've gone a lot farther in the business than he did. An underrated star in my opinion, Chavis could have probably been the Wahoo McDaniel of his era had the time and place been different. Nevertheless, Tatanka filled the bill wherever he was needed and continues to compete on the indy scene today. In addition to his gimmick name, he will include "Chris Chavis" when asked. All of the Hasbro WWF figures included a facsimile autograph on the front of the package. This is an easy way to see the inclusion of the "Chavis" inscription as well as proof that his autograph has not changed in twenty years.

Toni Rose

Many of the classic female stars have a nice signature. I'll be bold enough to say that, in general, females have nicer hand writing than males. Toni's goes above and beyond that, however, and into the territory of classic movie actress hand writing. Miss Rose is one of the most accomplished and respected female grapplers of the 1960's and 1970's. Another protégé of The Fabulous Moolah, Rose garnered the attention of fans and journalists alike. Open up any of the classic wrestling magazines of the era and you'll be sure to find press on Toni Rose. Towards the latter part of the '60s and into the '70s, the articles on Rose are also often to include her long-time tag team partner Donna Christanello. Their association led to not only multiple tag team championship reigns but a friendship that lasted till Donna's untimely passing in 2011. Had Miss Rose stayed in the sport for just a few more years, she most likely would've seen matches in the expansion era WWF as Donna did. Even though that wasn't the case, there are still enough matches of Rose caught on film that we can see what a remarkable wrestler she was. A rare autograph, it is among the most elegant of grapplers from any generation.

Harley Race

Something about Harley Race just screams cool. It's a form of cool similar to John Wayne in his movies. They beat the living you-know-what out of whoever they were up against, lit a cigarette, and walked off into the sunset. The difference is that although both were fighting opponents for show, Harley could back himself up no matter the circumstance. There's a reason that when asked, most wrestlers will list Harley as one of the toughest men ever to grace the ring, and maybe God's green earth. His signature mirrors that. You can almost see the years of battles in the strokes of his penmanship. His most often used inscription, "Best In Sports," reflects the many years that Race was indeed the best in his sport, back when the NWA World Heavyweight Championship indicated as much. Mr. Race is also always very careful when autographing items. If it's a WWF item from his 1986 through 1989 stint, Harley will add "The King" inscription. Whereas many wrestlers wouldn't even bother noticing, Race continues to prove to his fans that he is indeed a champion among men.

Jerry Lawler

What is it about men who wear the crown and their regal signatures? I've always marveled at the penmanship of "The King." Even with the dullest Sharpie in hand, Jerry can squeak out a thin-tipped masterpiece on any item you place in front of him. I've often speculated that his excellence in signing was due to his talent for drawing. It's well known that Lawler's art is what actually got him into the wrestling business. Since then, whether it be part of a wrestling angle or creating a piece for charity, Lawler's royal work has been enjoyed by wrestling fans worldwide. "The King" was the fifth professional wrestler I ever met and I've had subsequent opportunities many times since. While it's hard to run out of items for Lawler to sign, with "The King" it may be a case where the beauty of the signature outshines the items that it is pressed to. Long Live The King!

I hope that you've enjoyed the first installment of "Signature Moves." Stay tuned for many more stories and authentic autograph examples! Of course, feel free to "Like" our Facebook Fanpage where there are endless galleries of hundreds of pieces of wrestling merchandise and autographs.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Thrill of the Hunt--Is It Gone?

It's a question asked in every collecting community over the past fifteen odd years. Is the thrill of the hunt gone?

Sure, it's been a lot easier in the past two decades to hunt down items once lauded as "holy grails." A collector doesn't even have to leave the house in order to build an enviable hoard in this day and age. Of course, it'll cost a pretty penny.

The most recent controversy in the wrestling action figure world has been Mattel's decision to release future figures in the WWE Legends series exclusively through their Matty Collector website. While the process has proven to be easier than ordering figures from other licenses with exclusive items sold through the site, many collectors are still unhappy.

For one thing, the figures are about double the price that they would've retailed for in stores when including the shipping costs. Releases are also limited to one new character per every couple of months. While these are viable qualms, some collectors feel that simply clicking a few buttons, entering a credit card number, and playing the waiting game just doesn't have the same "feel" as finding new shipments of the figures in stores.

On the flip side, ordering collectibles online saves the time of searching, gas money, and the disappointment of coming away from a store empty handed. We live in a world where instant gratification is key. Building a collection without all that trouble may coincide with that fact. Maybe "the hunt" for collectors has gone the way of the telegram or the pager.

eBay, with its many flaws and injustices, has become the absolute only way to gauge the value of an item and subsequently is the only place to get the most money when selling. Bringing your collectible to a collectors show or convention? Great. 500 people may see your item. If you're lucky, one of those people just may be willing to pay $10 for it. On eBay, anyone in the world who is looking for that particular collectible can easily find it, provided that you've listed and described it properly. Perhaps only two people want your item. If they want it bad enough, they may bid it up to ten times what you would've gotten at that convention. The eBay fees suddenly seem like a small price to pay for such massive exposure.

But is the hunt still there? Many sellers either don't know what they have or don't want to mess with eBay. That's where the thrill of the hunt still lives on. People often ask me how I've amassed such a collection. I don't hide the truth. Instead, I pass it on hoping that others will follow suit. I let items "fall into my lap." Sure, that magazine might be gaining prices upwards of $50 on eBay, but why pay that? If someone has the resources to do so, more power to them. I would rather wait knowing that with a proper search, patience, and maybe a bit of luck, that item will most likely find its way to me eventually, provided that it isn't a one-of-a-kind piece. A good example recently happened to me with the infamous November 1970 issue of The Wrestler. The issue features one of the goriest and best selling covers in wrestling magazine history. Bobby Heenan's face, enveloped in a "crimson mask" of blood, takes up the entire cover with the headline, "My God, Bobby! What Happened To Your Face?" While I have wanted to own the issue for quite a few years, it was not until a few months ago that I found the magazine for sale at the very reasonable price of only two dollars at a show. A much more wallet-pleasing rate than it has been selling for online in recent years.

And how about garage sales, flea markets, and rummage sales? It wasn't that many years ago that LJN WWF figures were popping up right and left at venues like these. One flea market in my area had two elderly women on opposite sides of the sales floor with large displays of wrestling figures for sale each and every weekend. You haven't lived until you've heard a smokers voice that would make Lucille Ball sound like Justin Bieber barking out names like "Jimmy Hart" and "Hercules." They were hard bargaining, middle-aged, business women who wouldn't give up their secrets as to where they obtained their rubber treasures. For $5 each, those treasures could easily become your own. That's the thrill of the hunt.

Certainly kids should still be able to feel it as well. After all, that's who these toys are really made for. We're just butting in on their territory. I can fondly remember a day in the fall of 1993 when, upon entering Toys "R" Us, a near riot seemed to be occuring in front of the Hasbro WWF figure display. The yellow carded series had hit retail! HBK, Razor Ramon, Kamala, Owen Hart, Crush, and Nailz were suddenly available to enter Hasbro rings nationwide! As I made my way through the sea of children and plucked a figure of "The Ugandan Giant" from the peg hook, I knew that feeling. The feeling of having a plastic representation of another of my heroes to play with and collect. The feeling of being able to recreate the jungle cry of Kamala's theme as he lumbered down the "aisle" of my bedroom floor. The feeling...of the hunt. It was a great feeling, and I hope that kids still feel it as they lay their hands on that brand new figure of Brodus Clay or Madison Rayne. It's why I love collecting and why many of you do as well.

I'm starting to think that the hunt isn't really gone at all. It's a frame of mind. It's about enjoying what you're collecting and what you've already collected. It's about coveting the awesome and fun items that have come from the great sport of the squared circle that we all love so much.

Damn. I love wrestling.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Killer Queen & The Red Rooster: Taylor-Made As Figures

"It's a great day in the barnyard," crowed The Red Rooster.

Recently a friend asked me if I thought that Terry Taylor could have had a better career than he did. After all, Taylor was saddled with "The Red Rooster" gimmick in his highest profile WWF run. Taylor himself, however, seems to harbor no ill-will about the character. Why would he? In the glory of the Hogan era he probably made some great money with the gimmick. Before he began strutting through the barnyard, Taylor was a top name in various territories and post-Rooster he worked behind the scenes for WCW, WWE, and TNA. All in all, I would say that the "Taylor Made Man" had a well-rounded, memorable, and fulfilled career in the world of professional wrestling.

After over thirty years in the business and runs with several companies that had toy deals, Terry Taylor finally comes to collections worldwide in action figure form. Joining him is another "action figure rookie," none other than the "Killer Queen" herself, Madison Rayne.

Although she's been in the business for under ten years, Madison has already had her share of in-ring monikers. Ashley Lane. Lexi Lane. Amber Lively. Madison Rayne. Shimmer. Wrestlicious. TNA. Blonde. Brunette. No matter how you know her, she has become one of the most popular and accomplished modern day women wrestlers in a very short time.

Behind the very entertaining heel "Killer Queen" persona, Madison is actually a very sweet young lady who deserves nothing but the best in her future. Now, like Terry Taylor, she has achieved the immortal status of having an action figure.

Madison is the fourth "Knockout" figure produced by Jakks for the TNA line. While this is the sixth series of single figures produced by Jakks, this is the first series to be labeled "Impact Wrestling" rather than "TNA." Madison joins her fellow former Beautiful People partners Velvet Sky and Angelina Love as well as Daffney.

The Jakks Knockouts figures won the 2011 J\/\/ Future Holy Grail Award for being items that I feel will be very collectible in the future. Although I still feel this way and I feel that this figure will be no different, I will say upfront that this figure is the weakest of the lot.

Whereas the previous three figures had amazing likenesses, Madison sadly falls short in this category. Comparing the figure to a picture of the Killer Queen shows that the facial likeness just doesn't match up. Her trademark blue eye shadow missing from the figure is likely the biggest culprit. Without it, it simply looks like another blonde.

What I will not take points away for is the fact that figure is grossly outdated as far as hair color. While Madison has rocked the brunette locks for a great amount of time, I prefer the blonde hair on the figure to fit in with the rest of The Beautiful People. The outfit and tattoos are nicely done as usual with these Knockout figures.

Terry Taylor is another great addition to the Legends of the Ring line. Taylor, as with all of the Legends of the Ring figures, fits right in with the WWE Classic Superstars figures. If one really wanted a Red Rooster bad enough, I can't imagine that a customization would be that big of a job.

I will admit that the figure suffers from the same problem that the Legends of the Ring Jeff Jarrett figure suffered from. To a kid, the figure would be rather boring to look at on the store shelves. To collectors, the figure is a dream come true. If I could have series after series of nothing but territory-era grapplers in basic tights and boots, I'd be a happy collector. I know I'm not the only one, and I really feel that an online exclusive line of classic wrestlers would serve both the collectors and the manufacturer well.

This series is available through TNA directly and has also shown up at K-Mart stores. The future of the Jakks-TNA license has been questioned more and more as of late and the distribution of these figures has only helped fuel the fire. Jakks had very little product hit in 2011 and thus far 2012 looks to be much of the same. Rumors abound that TNA will soon be the sole distributor of these figures. I have no issue with that at all as long as the move ensures that we will see more product.

Seeing as that the line could be in trouble, I can only encourage you to buy, buy, buy in this case. These are still my favorite wrestling figures currently on the market. It'd be a shame to see them simply disappear with so many great characters yet to be produced.

Sting, Kurt Angle, and Kaz join Rayne and Taylor in this series. Sting and Angle are nice new representations while Kaz is...Kaz. We all know that Kaz has already seen his best side in previous Jakks TNA releases.

Wait. You didn't know? Oh God, I killed kayfabe.


When you're out hunting for The Rooster and The Queen, be sure to check out these latest offerings from our friends at Kappa Publishing.

The latest issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated is their legendary year end issue featuring all the best photos, headlines, and of course, award winners for 2011. Next to it on any self-respecting newsstand is the latest double issue of Inside Wrestling/The Wrestler featuring articles on many up and coming stars and coverage from around the world. Be sure to check out the article on "The One Man Rock Band" Heath Slater penned by your favorite wrestling journalist--me!