Thursday, November 28, 2013

Holiday Gifts For The Wrestling Fan--2013 Edition

A few years ago we began a yearly tradition of dedicating one blog entry during the holiday season to the best wrestling-related gift ideas.  Intended more as a template for friends and relatives of wrestling fans than anything relevant to our regular readers, feedback and other data has made it clear that it's become popular with everyone!

As has been evident in several of our most recent entries and a few more upcoming, Mattel has been packing the shelves with new WWE product.  From Basic and Elite figures to Battle Packs and playsets, Mattel is producing a fairly impressive line of WWE toys with no end in site.  Store exclusives abound with the ring and figure sets that are always popular with kids, but it's the individual figures that appeal to fans of all ages.  The Shield, Kaitlyn, and Bruno Sammartino should be among the most popular figures this season, and the line will even undergo a cosmetic transformation with attractive new blue packaging.  As the days of the shopping season dwindle, even those endless Rey Mysterio, Alberto Del Rio, and Randy Orton figures should be snapped up by desperate shoppers.

One of Mattel's WWE product lines that may be a sleeper is a set of small statuesque figures sold at Family Dollar and Dollar General stores.  These figures first showed up earlier this year, but a second series is being sold in many of these discount stores holiday sections.  At a little over four inches tall, the figures are only articulated at the waist and neck, but provide an interesting collectible in the days where every other figure seems to be endlessly poseable.  A wide variety of WWE superstars are available priced around $5 each, but my favorite is the dancing Brodus Clay, clad in his jumpsuit and fedora.

Watching WWE programming, you haven't been able to get away from the endless ads touting the release of WWE 2K14.  The video game, available for X-Box 360 and Playstation 3, features a WrestleMania mode where you can recreate or change some of the biggest matches in the history of the event.  Reviews of the game have been mixed.  Casual fans are seemingly blinded by the inclusion of so many legends and superstars, while longtime players of the franchise have been complaining that the game is yet more of the same old same old.  One large selling point is the ad campaign featuring the Ultimate Warrior himself.  His involvement is said to have included a "welcoming" of the Warrior back into the WWE family.  How far this new relationship goes has yet to be determined.

Figures and games might be a bigger gift,  but nothing stuffs a stocking better than packs of trading cards.  This October, Topps released a new "Best of WWE" card series focusing on past champions and moments.  While it isn't my personal favorite series, hearing complaints by wrestling "fans" that have no clue what they're talking about did bring me a chuckle.  Topps cannot release cards of stars who aren't under contract or licensing deal, therefore it only makes sense that the company is going to be limited in who their "Best of" cards contain.   Nonetheless, the highlights of the set for me are cards featuring moments from the 2013 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony as well as the first ever Topps cards of Bruno Sammartino.

How about a gift that will keep you occupied during a snow day this winter?  A wrestling book should do just the trick.  A walk into Barnes & Noble's sports section will yield several new titles this year.  George Steele is freshly off of a book tour for his autobiography fittingly title "Animal," but he's not the only one to be found in the aisles.  Tales by Bob Holly, Jimmy Snuka, Lex Luger, and even referee Jimmy Korderas are available this year to satisfy the wrestling bookworm.  My book pick of the year will only be available for you online shoppers and is of course "Rags, Paper, & Pins."  It's the story of wrestling merchandising in Memphis and is penned by Jim Cornette and Mark James.

Finally, we have the most traditional gift for the wrestling fan: the ticket.  Although a fan can no longer attend a live event on Thanksgiving or Christmas, there are plenty of events held throughout the holiday season.  These days it's even possible to give tickets for events in 2014 such as the Royal Rumble or WrestleMania with how early they go on sale.  Couple that with an event program and foam finger and you have quite the impressive stocking stuffer!

No matter what the wrestling fan in your life celebrates, there's a gift listed here for it.  Most importantly, keep in mind that despite gifts big or small, it's actually the time spent with each other that is most precious of all, especially at this time of year.  That being said, since most of you cannot spend time with yours truly, birthday and Christmas gifts are ALWAYS accepted!  Happy shopping!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Shield Invades The Figure World

 They don't sing.  They don't dance.  They don't wear colorful costumes.  They are The Shield.  Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns took WWE by storm around one year ago.  This holiday season, figures of this treacherous trio will invade collections around the world.  Their arrival marks the first time that any of the three have been available in figure form, so do their plastic counterparts live up to the hype?

All three make their arrival in the last of the white packaging that debuted a few years ago.  A blue and gold design will take over the line beginning with the next group of figures.  Ambrose is packaged as a single while Rollins and Reigns are sold as a Battle Pack.  Both figures are in series that also contain debuting female figures (Tamina Snuka and a Naomi & Cameron Battle Pack), so it's already evident that collectors will be on the hunt.

They aren't colorful or flashy in the ring, thus neither are these figures.  Each have their respective style of flak jacket/vest and gloves (or lack thereof).  There is no reuse of the vests, which are not part of the torsos but rather separate rubber pieces, and that is a definite plus towards Mattel.  Years ago, one vest torso piece would've been created for all three figures.  That is not the case here.  As he should be, Reigns is the tallest of the three.

The facial scans are absolutely dead-on.  For those who are fans of the unique expressions of Ambrose, you will not be disappointed.  Reigns is easily distinguishable as the latest Anoai family member to hit WWE, being the son of Sika and brother of Rosey.  Rollins may be the best of them all and continues to remind me of a modern-day Al Perez as far as looks.  In an age where even scanning the stars themselves does not necessarily guarantee a perfect likeness, The Shield hits all of the marks.

Hot new characters coupled with the holiday shopping season can usually only equal one thing: headaches for collectors.  While this may be so for the female characters being introduced, most will rest easy with The Shield.  Unless you absolutely want the "rookie" figures of the group, there is a number of each character planned to be released in the coming months.  Ambrose and Rollins will see a Battle Pack of their own while each member will be released in Elite form as well.  K-Mart is also seeing an exclusive three-pack of the group.  Although the Elite style are sometimes a step up, I think that Basic figures are exactly what's needed for The Shield.  They just look solid and in many ways remind me of wrestling figures of the past.

There's been a lot of Mattel product seen here on the blog lately and we haven't seen the end.  As hot and cold as I've been on some of the product and distribution over the years, the company shows why it's been in business as long as it has.  WWE products are in toy, department, discount, and drug stores and even show up in places that you previously may not have guessed.  If WWE is anything but ecstatic over their relationship with this manufacturer, they have some soul-searching to do.  Mattel is bringing it in a major way with no end in sight.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

From The Musty Yellowed Pages--Survivor Series 1991 Program

Next year at WrestleMania XXX it is very possible that The Undertaker will extend his undefeated streak at the event to 22-0.  Although I think it could still effectively be ended, the company seems intent on keeping the record going as far as they can.  While The Undertaker has to wait until 2014 for that accomplishment, another "22" appears for him this very month.  It was twenty-two years ago, on November 27, 1991, that The Undertaker captured his first WWF Championship.  The event was a very controversial fifth installment of the Survivor Series that up until then had only featured eight and ten-man tag team elimination matches.  The Undertaker was the first ever to challenge for any championship at that particular pay-per-view, and here he was up against "The Immortal" Hulk Hogan.

The program for the 1991 Survivor Series follows a trend that didn't last very long: using pages from the basic WWF event programs of the time to "beef up" the content inside.  There's nothing wrong with it, but it is different from other years.  Even the 1991 merchandise catalog is present.  Gone are the days of young Shane and Stephanie McMahon modeling the merchandise, and beginning to be included are items that were already available outside of the WWF directly such as Tonka's Wrestling Buddies.

As was the norm, each match got its own individual photos and write-up.  As noted above, this Survivor Series featured the first time that a championship was on the line at the event.  I did not watch the event live, but can still remember my shock to hear that The Undertaker was the WWF Champion.  Keep in mind, no one at the time would have ever expected The Undertaker to go as far as he did in the industry.  Even though the finish was "screwy" and a set up for the WWF's experimental "Tuesday In Texas" pay-per-view the following week, The Undertaker as champion just didn't click with me.

As with most of the early Survivor Series events, substitutions were made for certain team members as the weeks went on.  In 1991, there were storyline excuses for some of the changes.  The first six-man tag team elimination match took place this year, although it is not reflected in the program.  Sid Justice, who was legitimately injured, and Jake Roberts, who had attacked Randy Savage with his cobra, were pulled from their respective teams with no replacements made.  The latter angle enabled Savage to be "reinstated" following his retirement at WrestleMania VII in order to avenge his wife Elizabeth from the terrorizing antics of Roberts.  It always struck me a bit odd that Roberts was going to have Earthquake, who had "squashed" Damien just a few months earlier, on his team, but I guess "baddies" stick together...

The opening match of the night featured an amazing bevy of talent in one ring pitting Ric Flair, Ted DiBiase, The Mountie, and The Warlord against Roddy Piper, Bret Hart, Davey Boy Smith, and...well...Virgil.  Seven out of eight isn't bad at all!  Despite the talent, the ending of the match kicked off what would be a night of odd endings and happenings.  Everyone remaining is disqualified or counted out or...whatever...for brawling and therefore Flair, the legal man in the ring who remained in the ring during the melee, is the sole survivor.

Another match full of replacements was the mid and undercarder battle that was set to include The Dragon, Texas Tornado, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, and Jim Neidhart against The Berzerker, Skinner, Big Bully Busick, and Colonel Mustafa.  Ricky Steamboat, in his brief 1991 run that produced more merchandise than memorable matches, left before the event and was replaced by the newly minted "El Matador," Tito Santana.  Neidhart was injured in an angle and replaced by Sgt. Slaughter, while Busick, who had also departed the company, was replaced by Hercules.

In yet another match that was ultimately forgettable, The Rockers and The Bushwhackers teamed to battle The Nasty Boys and The Beverly Brothers.  Gone were the days of the impressive twenty-man tags featuring all of the tag teams that the WWF could scrounge up.  Instead, we're left with a match that really only served to further the break-up of The Rockers. Including the then-WWF Tag Team Champions The Legion of Doom in this match would've probably been made it a bit more interesting.

The program ends with the "Keep An Eye On" feature that concluded the regular WWF programs of the time.  Savage is the only name featured that did much of note in the months following the publication.  And of course, no program of the era would be complete without an ad and order information for the Survivor Series 1991 Coliseum Video.

Though I'm usually partial to anything from this era or before, the fifth annual Survivor Series has never been one of my favorites.  Nearly everything is geared towards urging the viewer to purchase "Tuesday In Texas" the following Tuesday, and the content that isn't is ignored for more shameless promotion.  It was an experiment on many levels, and one that the consumer public didn't care for.  The following year, the event would take yet another turn and leave but one "traditional" Survivor Series match on the card.  The use of those matches has varied in years since, but with the deep WWE roster of today, there's certainly plenty of room to make a full elimination match card once again.  If you ask's best for business.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

WrestleMania XXIX: The Figures

 If you're a fan of Mattel's WWE product or even just slightly interested, the next two months here on the blog will be a real treat for you.  A surge of items are already hitting shelves, many of which just happen to find their release during the holiday shopping season.  The figures here today are, for the most part, being released in conjunction with the hysteria.  Although Mattel releases exclusive WWE items for several retailers, Toys "R" Us often has the most interesting of the bunch.

Though I never intended to get them all, I've become quite a fan of Mattel's Build-A-Figure collections.  Always exclusive to Toys "R" Us, so far we have seen Michael Cole, Ricardo Rodriguez, John Laurinaitis, and Teddy Long released in this manner.  The concept is simple: a set of four figures is released each containing portions of a fifth figure.  When all four figures are opened, you are able to build the fifth.  The fifth figures have, so far, been stars who were non-wrestling personalities in the company.  These are usually characters that Mattel feels will not sell well on their own, although a Rodriguez single release figure is forthcoming.

This holiday season we are treated to two Build-A-Figure sets released simultaneously.  Both sets are completely made up of superstars in the attires that they wore at WrestleMania XXIX.  Booker T, dressed as either GM or Hall of Famer (take your pick) is included in a series of Basic figures while Paul Heyman is in an Elite collection.  The Elite figures are, as usual, at a higher price point and include more accessories.  Seeing as that these figures do include the Build-A-Figure pieces, they are priced higher than their normal Basic and Elite counterparts.  Thankfully, many Toys "R" Us stores received these figures as a "Buy 1 Get 1 40% Off" sale was occurring.  That, coupled with my well-documented love of WrestleMania XXIX, I couldn't find a reason to pass the sets up.

It should be said that many collectors are sometimes less than happy with the figures chosen to be in these sets.  Obviously a new character isn't going to be debuted among the four figures needed to build the fifth (Fandango would've been ideal here), as the selling point is already in the Build-A-Figure.  Personally, I refrain from buying any figure repaints (and sometimes even figures that Jakks produced en masse) so that when these sets are released I'm not totally disappointed in the lineups.

Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, The Rock, and The Undertaker are in the Basic set that builds Booker T.  I've always been a fan of figures wearing their countries colors, so this is actually a welcome Del Rio repaint.  There also have not been too many releases of The Undertaker with his mohawk.  His WrestleMania attire complete with "RIP PB" (Paul Bearer) design is a nice touch.  These figures do not include accessories other than the pieces of Booker.

Can you dig it?  Booker T is impressive.  He's accurately a taller figure and seems to have the same legs as the Laurinaitis figure.  Booker's glasses seem a bit "cloudy" in the lenses but are removable.  They fit nice and snug into his hair.  Perhaps the only thing missing is a hand in his trademark "Five Time" pose, but nonetheless this figure is ready to perform a Spinaroonie...perhaps next to the Hall of Fame podium that is included with the upcoming Bruno Sammartino figure.

The Paul Heyman set gets a few extra points because of the Elite accessories included.  Although it was previously included with an Elite figure of The Rock, this set features the new WWE Championship Belt with John Cena.  It's a very nice accessory and perfectly compliments the metallic-painted WWE Tag Team Championship Belts that are included with Daniel Bryan.  It's interesting that the "Heyman guys" of the set are both the best and the worst.  Punk is rather bland but does include a perfect replica of the urn.  Lesnar is the sleeper of all of these.  I'm not the biggest Lesnar fan and was originally disappointed that I would have to purchase another (a Basic Lesnar was in the Teddy Long Build-A-Figure set), but upon closer examination it became my favorite among these sets.  The amazingly detailed and lifelike figure includes Lesnar's skull cap and the steel ring steps that became almost the third star of his match against Triple H at WrestleMania.  These steps fit onto the various rings that Mattel has released and even have the side "handles" used by the stars in brawls.

Heyman scores a few less points with me than Booker, but not too much.  It's a great figure of the "Walrus" complete with "mad scientist" scowl and ever-receding hairline.  A microphone would've been a fun accessory considering that the figures hand could hold one and it's the item that allows him to be one of the main reasons to watch Monday Night Raw.  In the spirit of WrestleMania, the urn can be positioned in Heyman's arms.  It should be noted that, like Rodriguez, Heyman will also be released outside of the Build-A-Figure series in the future.

There's also what could be described as an "unofficial official" bonus figure to this set.  Many who purchased these series were treated to the Toys "R" Us holiday exclusive Elite Triple H figure for free.  Though it can be purchased separately, this figure is free to consumers who spent over $30 on Mattel WWE items.  Seeing as that the figure is also based upon WrestleMania XXIX, it fits right in with the ten other figures shown here.  It is one of the very first figures of Helmsley to feature his new shorter hair style, and includes a cloth t-shirt and the same sturdy sledgehammer that was packaged with last year's exclusive of The Undertaker.  Jakks was never able to produce a proper looking sledge hammer thanks to the company using very bendable plastic on the accessory.  Mattel gets it right, and it looks perfect when placed into the hands of "The Game."

The Build-A-Figure collection continues to grow.  Although I'm not particularly happy that Rodriguez and Heyman will now be placed into regular lines, I doubt that we'll ever see Cole, Long, and Laurinaitis redone.  Recent announcements from Mattel suggest that we will be seeing Build-A-Figures of both Paul Bearer and Jim Ross.  Both will be welcome additions to the lineup.  My beloved WrestleMania XXIX will also live on in 2014, as my most long-awaited figure of the year, Zeb Colter, will be released under that banner in an upcoming WrestleMania Heritage series.  Welcome to a "Very Mattel Holiday Season!"