Thursday, December 4, 2014
30 Years of "Those Big, Rubber Wrestlers"
The LJN WWF figure line began in 1984. While it was not the first wrestling figure line (that distinction falls to a series produced by Popy in Japan), it was the first in America, beating out Remco's AWA collection by months. Some, including a few of the wrestlers themselves, refer to the products as dolls. There will never be a definitive answer to the old "It's not a doll, it's an action figure" argument, but these replica wrestlers weren't playing dress-up, they were seeing action in and out of the ring.
What I most love about the LJN line was the inclusion of non-wrestler figures. Sure, it's amazing to be able to have dream matches like Hulk Hogan against Bruno Sammartino and Ricky Steamboat versus Dynamite Kid, but figures of managers, announcers, and referees only add to the depth of play. It's no wonder that so many loose examples these days have so much paint wear; these wrestlers WRESTLED!
The figures had a pumped-up look which was very lifelike for the wrestlers of the day. Unlike today when bulging muscles look out of place on wrestling figures, the wrestlers themselves didn't look like the guy down the street. There was much more individuality, which in turn made many more stars stand out.
Like companies today, LJN wasn't satisfied with just one standard line. Attempts to branch out were made, but none lasted as long as the 8-inch original figures. A lower cost line of Bendies were introduced about a year into the life of the license. Wires inside of these smaller figures helped hold their poses. Aside from the wrestlers, a ring/cage and two managers were produced, but the line did not sustain. Prototype pictures of further releases have surfaced since, proving that LJN had high hopes.
Thirty years. While much of the paint and shine of these figures is gone, the memories remain. I can still recall going into the.long gone but beloved Hills Department Store and seeing the large LJN merchandising footprint in the toy aisles. Stretch Wrestlers stacked to the ceiling. Individual figures like Hillbilly Jim, Miss Elizabeth, and Mean Gene Okerlund (or "the farmer," "the girl," and "the announcer" as I naively named them) filling the pegs. The feeling that this unusual yet compelling sport was at the height of its popularity, and that the characters produced from it were genuine celebrities. Household names forever immortalized as "those big, rubber wrestlers."