Thursday, March 29, 2012

Constructing Cole

"I got plenty of action figures, sucka!"--Booker T

Indeed he does, and such was his response when the ever-annoying Michael Cole recently bragged about his new action figure on commentary. Not being a fan of Cole or his poorly-executed character, I didn't care if I ever acquired his figure or not. It's not like you can walk into a store and buy one piece.

Nevertheless, I've always been a sucker (sucka?) for non-wrestler wrestling figures. From LJN's managers and announcers to Jakks Ringside Collection, I've loved each and every release. After all, you need wrestlers to put on matches, but who is there to call, ref, and interfere?

Aside from a mail-away Mr. McMahon this is Mattel's first real venture into non-wrestler territory. As I mentioned above, you can't exactly go into a store and buy Michael Cole, either. Instead, this is the first ever wrestling Build-A-Figure.

It's a relatively simple concept. Buy four figures each containing a piece of another figure. Open the figures and assemble the fifth. Not difficult, but somewhat frustrating for collectors who don't need to have every single figure out there. Although the idea has been used in Marvel Superhero and Star Wars figure lines, Mattel almost wasn't the first company to bring it to the wrestling ring. The Marvel/Toybiz TNA figure series was slated to include pieces of a Traci Brooks Build-A-Figure in their never released final series. The figure was a great likeness of Ms. Brooks and she still has to yet to see a plastic representation.

Mattel seems to want to make the accomplishment of building Michael Cole extra special. Not only is this Elite series exclusive to Toys "R" Us, but the Bret Hart figure in the set (containing Cole's legs) has been particularly hard to find due to it not shipping with the others initially. The figures are clad in all new attires with John Cena and Triple H in their WrestleMania XXVII attire while Hart and Daniel Bryan represent SummerSlam 2010.

Mattel did a nice job capturing the looks from these respective pay-per-view events. Although I, as always, would've preferred new characters, I can see Mattel's business decision. We're "building" a new character so it may as well take buying four old characters to do it.

I will say that Mattel's "old" Bret blows Jakks representation out of the water. That isn't something that you'll hear often from me, but the proper "current" Bret face does wonders for the figure. Cena's likeness is fairly remarkable as well.

As with most Elite figures, these four all include removable attire. Triple H was in this particular costume for probably under a minute, while the designs for Cena, Hart, and Bryan are much more common. A U.S. title for Bryan or Hart would've been a nice addition, but Mattel realizes that they don't need to add much with the Cole "pieces" already included.

Assembling the Cole figure is very easy. All of the limbs and parts simply push on without much real effort. My dreaded "Elite" mid-section joint is included, but since his jacket slides over his torso it becomes a null point.

Assembled, the figure screams "manager" to me. If wrestling manager wasn't an all but extinct art, I would suggest that Mattel release those figures this way. I could definitely appreciate a referee or ring announcer released in this manner, although I'd prefer it done with fresher characters. The facial likeness is superb and he is shorter than the rest of the figures.

When it comes down to it, Cole isn't a cheap figure at all. The four figures will cost nearly $90 at retail after tax. Fortunately, I found the set while on sale making it a reasonable price for a total of five Elite figures when factoring in Cole. Due to Mattel's continual fight to release non-male wrestler figures in any sort of rational number, I can't see Cole being released in any other manner. If you're a "Cole Miner," this is how you'll have to add him to your collection.

Cole will most certainly be a part of this Sunday's WrestleMania XXVIII, and hopefully much less of a distraction than last year. In any case, enjoy the twenty-eighth edition of "The Greatest Sports Entertainment Spectacular of All-Time."

Super Sunday, indeed.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Great Mysteries of Wrestling Memorabilia: Figures

FAQ (or Frequently Asked Question) files are soooo 1995. Sure, they answer a lot of questions. But who wants a boring text-only FAQ when you can have a whimsical, fully illustrated, and entertaining blog entry? We get a lot of questions both in e-mail form and on the Facebook Fanpage regarding a lot of the same items. A lot of those questions are "mysteries" of sorts that have been scuttling around the wrestling memorabilia community for years. In some cases even decades.

This new series here on the blog (ANOTHER series?) will focus on answering, or at least attempting to answer, many of the better known mysteries of the hobby. This first installment will cover the items that probably bring the most traffic to this blog: action figures.

If there's something that you're dying to know the answer to regarding any form of wrestling memorabilia be sure to drop us a line. I'm sure that there are even enough "mysteries" regarding wrestling figures to do another installment entirely on that.

Without further ado, in a homage to the great urban legends website Snopes, here we go...

Mystery: Was a final "orange" carded Hasbro WWF figure series planned and/or produced?

This one has been around since the online wrestling collecting community was largely based on the AOL Grandstand sports community. In early 1995 when the Hasbro WWF line was finishing up, collectors were hungry for more. Just as the last series of green carded figures hit Hill's Department Stores and a small number of other retailers, a rumor of an orange carded series spread like wildfire.

Figures rumored to have been in the set included any combination of Diesel, Jeff Jarrett, Bastion Booger, "All American" Lex Luger, "face" Doink the Clown, "heel" Owen Hart, and Men on a Mission. Certainly if the line had continued we would've seen many, if not all, of these figures produced.

The truth of the matter is that no one shred of evidence has ever presented itself regarding validity of this rumor. Although it was widely believed back then and is still very much remembered today, it was most likely just the wishful thinking of an overzealous fan. Combine that with the fact that the Internet was still a very new tool for many thus making it even easier to spread such a story. I think this one can finally be put to bed.

Mystery: Which poster is inside of the single carded British Bulldog LJN figures?

The single carded versions of the LJN WWF tag team members have always been some of the more coveted pieces in the line. There may be none more so than the single carded British Bulldogs. Dynamite Kid and Davey Boy Smith seem to have been produced separately in far less quantities than the other teams. This idea is backed up with the fact that LJN did not even bother to print up backer cards for the Bulldogs, but rather just utilized Hulk Hogan cardbacks. While the company did produce proper "poster holders" with the Bulldogs individual names, it's a mystery as to just what is inside those holders.

The LJN posters are beloved by many. Featuring great art (and later photos) of each wrestler, it was a very appealing bonus for kids who not only had a toy to play with but a poster to hang in their room as well.

Single posters have never surfaced of Dynamite and Davey Boy. The posters included with the LJN Tag Team sets would not fit in the single packaging. Just what is beneath the paws of the Bulldogs?

Some would venture to guess a Hulk Hogan poster. Perhaps it could be the "wrestling moves" poster included with the WWF Referee figure. Until someone has the guts to open a very valuable figure, this shall remain a mystery. That someone will not be me.

Mystery: Were any Hasbro Kamala figures released with a moon on the stomach?

Anyone who remembers the Ugandan Giant knows his body paint like the back of their hand: two white stars on the chest and a yellow moon on the belly. When Hasbro released their version of Kamala in late 1993, fans were scratching their heads. Why was there a yellow star on the stomach instead of the moon?

Fans have voiced much speculation over the years, but none can come up with a viable answer to my question: Why has whatever caused Hasbro to change it not effected every other Kamala figure before or since?

My theory has always been that it was simply a production error that wasn't corrected. Hasbro figures were fairly limited after the first two years. If you saw a character in stores that you wanted it was wise to pick it up. Chances are that you weren't going to see it again. Aside from a few choice figures, most wrestlers were released in one series and one series alone. Adding to that the fact that stores were ordering the figures in much smaller numbers, there weren't to be any running changes for a simple detail such as that.

Although a few sales samples are said to exist, the majority of the ones floating around now are custom made. Regardless of the final product's inaccuracy, the Hasbro Kamala is still a great figure of one of the all-time great ring characters.

Mystery: Were figures of Smash, Bad News Brown, Brother Love, etc. ever produced by LJN?

This one is the LJN equivalent of the aforementioned Hasbro "orange card" rumor, although this time we have actual evidence of consideration by the company.

For the last series of LJN WWF figures which was actually produced by Grand Toys out of Canada, the cardbacks took a drastic turn from how they had appeared throughout the rest of the run. In lieu of showing pictures of other actual figures available, live action shots of wrestlers were used. In addition to the wrestlers included in the final series (also known as the black carded series), shots were shown of wrestlers whose figures were being re-released on black cards (Elizabeth, Randy Savage, and Honky Tonk Man among them) and also of wrestlers who were never released as LJN figures. The wrestlers included in this latter group are Bad News Brown, Brother Love, The Bushwhackers, Demolition Smash, and The Barbarian.

While it's not known if these ever made the prototype stage, their inclusion on the cardback indicates that LJN intended to produce these characters. Fans have long clamored for photos of prototypes of these figures, but after over two decades nothing has yet surfaced.

These are the mysteries that baffle collectors worldwide. Some remain unanswered, while others can be sent to the incinerator...hopefully unlike any Luke or Butch LJN prototypes...


In a sad repeat of the last entry, I once again want to mark the passing of a legend of the wrestling industry. Tully Blanchard reported this morning that his father, Joe Blanchard, passed away at the age of 84.

Mr. Blanchard was much more than just the father of a founding Four Horsemen member, in actuality he was a wrestling renaissance man. After a stellar career in the ring, Blanchard went to the opposite end of the industry becoming a promoter and booker. Many fans will remember his Southwest Championship Wrestling promotion that was actually the first wrestling program ever carried by the USA Network.

In 2010, Blanchard was inducted into the NWA Hall of Heroes by another member of a famous wrestling family, Dory Funk Jr. With his extremely strong faith, I'm confident that Mr. Blanchard has now reached his ultimate reward.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Blog Lands On Planet Funk

It took me awhile, but I finally warmed up to the "Funkasaurus." Of course it had to be the week before he was pulled from WWE television.

I'm not sure if it was the fact that his theme music was recycled, that half of his gimmick was recycled, or the plain and simple fact that I thought WWE was ruining another monster, but something made me want to hate "Funkasaurus" Brodus Clay. Though I loved his unique and refreshing look in a wrestling world where a little bulk is blasphemy, I began to realize that he really didn't stand out from any other monster over the years. Maybe "RikishiCatFunk" is just what he needed. Just as I came to the conclusion, the plug was pulled on the character.

This past Monday Night, Clay returned without explanation with the "Planet Funk" gimmick intact. What better time to review his "rookie" action figure now hitting stores...and flying off of shelves.

Along with sleek new packaging, Mattel has decided to announce characters never before depicted in their line with "First Time In The Line!" stickers right on the plastic bubble. As if this weren't enough to cause a frenzy, two of the figures including this sticker are Divas. As I've discussed in previous entries, Mattel has a ridiculous policy of sending less female figures than the others in shipping cases. This of course prompts online retailers to grossly inflate the prices on these figures, ensuring daily checks at retail stores if one ever expects to find them at a decent price. Nonetheless, the new packaging is nice and much more attractive than the previous red Mattel packaging that personally reminded me of the overproduced Attitude Era merchandise.

Brodus Clay looks like a potato with a mohawk and tattoos. Mattel captured that spud-like look perfectly. This is what a wrestling figure should look like. If you're a kid, your wrestling figures should appear like they can wipe the floor with everything else in your toy box. Brodus is ready to do that.

Although everyone reading this is smart enough to realize it, I'm going to point it out anyway: this figure is from Clay's original WWE run around this time last year. This is not a "Funkasaurus" figure. Action figures never have and probably never will be produced that quickly. In the interest of being current, Clay really hasn't changed much aside from the entrance gear, so it really isn't that big of a deal.

Since this is a "Basic" Mattel figure, the dreaded torso joint isn't there. It would be terrible on Brodus and would probably cause him to be less round. Despite him being "Basic," Mattel did not skimp on the detail. The aforementioned tattoos are all present as are painted features such as wrist and finger tape, silver trim on the singlet, and kneepads.

Criticism? Not all that much actually. The arms might be a tad too thin, but they're the same as the arms Mattel has used on every other "plus-sized" gent that they've produced a figure of, so I won't complain again. Plus, the arms have all of those great tattoos on them.

I don't have to tell you to buy this figure. You know that you're already going to even if you don't want it because you think you'll sell it on eBay. Thankfully those prices are going down. If Clay stays on television and another figure is released, those prices will bottom out.

This is a great figure. It has everything going for it from being an amazing design to representing a popular television character surely to gain attention from the kiddies. Brodus definitely scores a "Hit" on the "Hit or Miss" record that Mattel has had since taking over the WWE license. Needless to say, Funk is on a roll!


On a sad note, this week saw the passing of one of the most recognizable referees in the history of the industry. Dick Woehrle, known for his work in the 1970's and 1980's in wrestling rings across the country, passed away at the age of 81.

A complete gentleman outside of the ring, Woehrle seemed no-nonsense and tough-as-nails inside of it. With his signature gruff voice and look of perennially being around 50 years old, Dick Woehrle may have been one referee who actually could've put butts in the seats. He was a character all his own yet didn't detract from the wrestlers themselves.

His great look and charisma was immortalized in the mid-80's by Remco when the toy company included his likeness as an action figure in their AWA line. The figure obviously made quite an impression on the referee and his family as the toy was even mentioned in his obituary. In 2011, Mr. Woehrle commented on our Facebook Fanpage that his daughter joked that Remco put his head on Hulk Hogan's body for the figure, citing the toy line's infamous reputation for using mostly muscular body types.

In recent years Woehrle made the rounds at various wrestling legends events often reuniting with fellow refereeing legend Dick Kroll. Mr. Woehrle will be deeply missed by both his fans and the wrestling community.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The 28th Edition of The Greatest Wrestling Extravaganza of All-Time

Very few fans grasped just exactly what the WWF was doing back in 1985. For that matter neither did many of the wrestlers. Ask many of the participants of the first WrestleMania whether or not they knew that the event would become what it has and you'll likely get the same answer: "No."

Despite being available on closed circuit (and a VERY limited pay-per-view basis) and promoted to the hilt, the first WrestleMania was really just a glorified Madison Square Garden house show. Sure, celebrities crowded both the audience and took part in the event, but around this time that had almost become the norm. From notables like Andy Warhol and Danny DeVito being interviewed after attending cards to Diane Keaton snobbily asking David Letterman "Have you been?" regarding pro wrestling, Vince McMahon saw what was happening to "the family business" and had the forethought to take advantage of it.

While events like Starrcade were certainly wrestling supercards in their own right, the WWF made WrestleMania a household word. Although it isn't always used in the proper context, nearly everyone has heard the name. While countless parents, casual fans, and even television shows occasionally use "WrestleMania" as a catch-all term for a wrestling show, the fact is that it's stood the test of time. Nearly three decades to be exact.

This year we have the longest-promoted main event in the history of WrestleMania. Never before has a "Mania" main event been announced a full year before taking place. Arguably the greatest WrestleMania main event of all-time, Hulk Hogan against Andre the Giant, was announced a mere couple of months before their Pontiac Silverdome encounter. While that match had an anticipation likened by fans of the era to "waiting for Christmas morning," this years match will at least have one similar quality: a battle of era-dominating stars.

In the WrestleMania III contest, Andre the Giant represented domination of the 1970's. While he had never held the world championship, he really didn't have to. Looking at it through a business standpoint, due to his busy traveling schedule from one territory to another it wouldn't have made sense for Andre to hold a title, but he also did not have a need for one in order to remain the attraction that he was. Hogan, although a ten-year-veteran of the ring at that point, had only been on top of the industry for three years. In this match, a "passing of the torch" moment was intended and did indeed take place. You can honestly point to this as the beginning of the winding down of Andre's career while Hogan went on to have successful feuds with many other top stars of the industry.

The Rock-Cena contest will be a similar battle of eras, but without a torch to pass. The Rock, representing the WWF's "Attitude Era" of the late 1990's may do something that the WWE has been unable to accomplish with its current product: reign in old fans who have abandoned the industry. Although not necessarily connected, when The Rock initially left pro wrestling for Hollywood it was right around the time that many fans started to cease their viewership. Stars like Cena have been unable to bring them back into the fold due to changes in the product's content. Will The Rock's return to the company's biggest stage be the turning point?

Cena, on the other hand, represents the new image that the company has built. Capturing the hearts of women and children, Cena is a cash cow for the company. Undeniably successful and a very talented star, Cena has come up just a few steps short of what Hogan did a couple of decades earlier. Whereas Hogan was a household name during his prime years, Cena still is not. You cannot walk up to any grandma on the street and expect her to know the name John Cena. With Hulk Hogan the opposite was the case. Hogan not only stood side-by-side with stars like Mr. T and Cyndi Lauper in the ring but in name recognition as well.

Though Cena has been the face of WWE for the better part of the last decade, it seems that he will never crack the mainstream lid like Hogan did. The Rock also accomplished this largely in part to his Hollywood career. It's obvious that WWE wants its Universe and casual viewers across the world to think that this is exactly what the conflict is about. The company and the two stars at the focal point have done an excellent job of blurring the line between in-ring fiction and out-of-ring reality. Do Cena and The Rock really detest each other? Is Cena jealous of The Rock's mainstream successes? Does The Rock wish he was ten years younger and the face of the WWE again? It's pro wrestling storytelling at its finest. Fans are choosing who they want to get behind for their own reasons. For WWE this will hopefully translate into the huge buyrates that they desire.

At the end of the day, do we as fans really need or want to know how much is fiction and how much isn't? Even now, stories circulate among fans as to if Andre really always intended to "pass the torch" back in March of 1987. Thanks to the excellent job being done on the 2012 main event, twenty years from now fans will probably still be asking just how much heat truly existed between Cena and Johnson.

Maybe wrestling is still alive.

Oh? You want to know who I think will win the epic encounter on April 1? I can't tell you. Not here at least. To read the opinions of myself and 19 other staff members of PWI as to who will come out on top of the biggest match of the year, be sure to check out the latest issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated on newsstands now!

I'm getting worse than Okerlund.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mass Production Killed The Wrestling Figure?

People often claim that nostalgia is clouded by, for lack of a better term, rose-colored glasses. The idea is that things and ideas which we remember from the past were not actually quite as nice as our memories would portray. Usually I go against this train of thought, as I'm someone who nearly always believes that what came before just HAD to have been better than what passes in today's society. You name it. Movies. Music. Television. Even food. It was all better in the past.

But we really don't tackle movies, music, television or food on this blog. Our subject is wrestling memorabilia. There's one section of wrestling memorabilia that I do think is being clouded by rubber and plastic memories. That would be wrestling action figures.

90% of the people reading this blog have fond memories of growing up with the WWF LJN and Hasbro figure lines. The LJN line is somewhat iconic in all sections of toy collecting, as I've known of many toy collectors who weren't even necessarily wrestling fans who owned some of the figures. If you grew up in the era when the line was first introduced, you really would've had to have tried to hard to avoid them. The roughly 8 inch tall rubber figures were a staple in toy and department stores. The characters were names that were known the world over thanks to the "Rock N Wrestling" connection all over MTV, NBC, and Saturday morning not to mention the ubiquitous "WWF television network" constantly touted by Gorilla Monsoon, Gene Okerlund, and the rest of the WWF announce crew.

Hasbro came along next filling toy stores for roughly five years beginning in 1990. The figures were smaller yet poseable and each with a "Real Wrestling Action." Playing right off of the then-colorful WWF world, the roster at the time was perfect for action figures. Wrestlers like Akeem, Brutus Beefcake, Demolition, and The Ultimate Warrior were living, breathing, superheroes. It's no wonder the figures took off the way that they did.

Next we come to where the controversy begins. In late 1996, a relatively unknown company known as Jakks introduced their first line of WWF figures. Beginning with a modest offering of Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Goldust, Razor Ramon, and Diesel (of which the latter two had already departed for WCW) the company started off small enough. Production problems such as loose joints and likenesses that could have used more work initially plagued the line. By the fall of 1997, more characters ushered in by the "Attitude Era" such as Stone Cold Steve Austin, Faarooq, and Ken Shamrock were introduced. Things seemed all well and good until more and more different series and store-exclusive sets were introduced. More repaints of stars like The Undertaker, Austin, and Triple H also began to arrive on shelves. While the figures sold due to the wrestling industry being in a particularly fruitful boom period, the success of over a decade ago has now left collectors speculating over the future value of those attitude-packed toys.

First, we must keep in mind what I always try to remind collectors: you should never collect something for profit. Collect things because you like them. As with every toy line and many other collectibles in the world, in the past twenty years items have been made with collectibility in mind. 25, 30, and 40 years ago toys, cards, and comics were produced to be just that. For the most part, people did not save them for future value and really had no idea that there would be ever be a market for such things. When the demand began to surge for the items they suddenly became collectible. People then had the idea to buy up all of the then-current items and set them aside for the future. We all know what happened there. The truth of the matter is that aside from specifically limited production items the majority of "collectibles" produced in the past two decades will never see the high demand or prices that those of years before have achieved. This, sadly, is where most of the post-1995 wrestling toys fall.

On the other hand, a lot of collectors fail to remember that LJN WWF figures could be found in toy clearance aisles into the early '90s while the Hasbro WWF product had a similar fate. When the wrestling "boom" period hit, suddenly prices began to go up for the items. Also while countless repaints and re-releases weren't the practice of the day, many youngsters went into stores such as Hills and Toys "R" Us looking for new LJN releases only to find peg after peg full of Hogan, Hillbilly Jim, and Freddie Blassie. The styles and names may change, but some characters will always fill the pegs due either to overproduction or general disinterest.

My view is to hold onto those Jakks figures. Yes, even the early Austin and Undertaker figures. Thanks to a huge current love fest for the WWE Mattel line (talk about rose-colored glasses!) the value of the Jakks line has largely fallen. When the kids who grew up with the early Jakks product suddenly have large disposable incomes and want their "WWF Attitude toys" back, the prices will follow suit. When figure collectors wise up and realize that the post-2002 Jakks product "wrestles" circles around Mattel's Rey Mysterio and Jack Swagger pea-sized head figures, the same change in interest and value should occur.

Just like the wrestling business as a whole, it's all one huge cycle. My advice as always: if you like it, buy it now. Prices are great and you never know when another boom will hit. While the business is fairly popular right now, the current business model does nothing to appeal to fans who stopped caring five or ten years ago. When that changes, so will the interest in the memorabilia. When that happens, the rose-colored glasses will be stepped on.