Thursday, August 25, 2016

WCW & Dusty Rhodes Return To The Toy Shelves

You may have heard about it. You may have seen it. You may have even purchased it. Still, it should be no surprise that it's showing up here. A new Dusty Rhodes action figure in 2016? Yes, please. As well as Mattel has been doing as of late as far as legends are concerned, The Dream has been overlooked. He had not seen a figure since the two releases of the "polka dot" era figure at the beginning of the Mattel run. Not even his passing brought us a new figure...until now.

Exclusively at Target, Dusty Rhodes returns to the toy shelf...and the ring. Dusty is packaged along with the first Mattel-produced World Championship Wrestling ring. To top off the deal, Dusty includes the "Big Gold" belt as an accessory. Sure, if you look closely it has the WWE logo on it, but did you really expect them to totally remold the thing? This is truly one of those sets that no one would have seen coming. It's definitely directed towards more of a niche market than Mattel is usually comfortable with. For that, and some facts that I'm about to get to, I thank them.

The ring is a reuse of the Mattel spring ring. The ring is small, but actually isn't that much smaller than what I consider to be the standard ring for this scale of figure, that being the ring that was originally marketed as the Jakks WWF Hardcore Ring. Sure, bigger rings have been released since, but to me they just look too big. That good ol' Jakks classic was an ideal size. These Mattel rings could be a tad bigger, but considering that WCW rings were usually smaller in real-life, it works here. It's big enough to host a battle royal, and that should be good enough for anyone.

I like the color scheme and the fact that Mattel took the time to get the  WCW colors right. You get two large ring apron WCW stickers that are a perfect reproduction of what really appeared back then. Personally, I always choose to only apply one of these stickers as that's all you really need if you're going to display. That way you have a backup or you can turn the ring around if you just want it to represent a generic, vintage-looking ring. Everything here is easy to assemble right out of the box. The posts snap in snugly and the ropes are pretty much good to go.

Dusty comes in his own little case just inside the window box. Mattel didn't scrimp here, either. This is a figure that easily could have seen release all by itself. An all-new facial likeness direct from a classic Dusty-as-NWA-Champion photo is utilized here, and I've heard nothing but praise for it. This is Dusty Rhodes. If you have one of the Mattel classic Ric Flair releases then you're all set. From the facial expression to the boots to the splotch, it's almost as if my all-time favorite wrestler has returned to life in all of his 1980's glory.

There have been some criticisms of the price. This is a $40 item. When you break it down, it isn't any higher in price than if the ring and figure had been released separately. These rings usually retail for around $20 and I don't have to tell you that the Elite-style figures, which this Dusty is, can go for that price or more depending on the retailer. The key here also is that Mattel went all out. They included detail on the ring, released what is essentially a brand new figure, and threw in an accessory. This isn't one of those "dull" figure-sized belt releases, either. This belt has the full paint, to boot.

Where else are you going to get a new WCW ring in 2016? Supporting this  exclusive could very well open doors to similar items. I could definitely see Mattel trying out a Nitro ring at retail level, possibly with a figure from the nWo. How about ECW? Deep down I'd love to believe that an AWA ring could even be possible. A few years ago I would've scoffed at the idea thanks to Mattel's track record. As we now see, that is very quickly turning around. It's a total "dream" to have this new Dusty figure and new WCW product, so go out and support it!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Topps WWE Heritage 2016 Turns Back The Clock To 1986

Could my favorite style of wrestling trading cards finally be getting a steady yearly release? It's been roughly ten months since the last time we visited the Topps WWE Heritage series which saw release in November 2015. That set was nice, but it didn't knock my socks off. Any Heritage set is great in my book with the classic cardboard/no gloss style, but the 2015 edition didn't manage to crack my top three. Here in 2016 we've received another Heritage set, but will it be a collection worthy of the best (2012) or will it sort of fizzle like many of the non-Heritage WWE card releases do?

As usual with Heritage, I cracked open a hobby box. As with most Topps WWE releases, a hobby box guarantees two "hits" (autographs, relics, etc.) and, in recent years, has almost always yielded a complete base card set. The design of the box remains very similar to 2015, changing in color from blue to yellow. The bright colors work well for these retro sets. Once again a mixture of current and past WWE Superstars adorn the box, with no real surprises as far as names included. The packs themselves feature The Rock, John Cena, and Andre the Giant.

The base card design this year is based off the 1986 Topps Baseball collection. I owned that full set as a kid, probably still do, and I remember it being a favorite. In place of the MLB team names we get Superstar, Legend, or NXT. Some of the autograph cards have "Diva," as well, in what will likely be the last time that we see that designation. The photo selections are good, although I noticed at least one change from the sales sheets. A "Macho King" Randy Savage card was planned and for whatever reason we got a rather ordinary "Macho Man" card instead. A change to "Macho King" would've been something different, but I'm sure something got in the way to cause the switch.

As usual we get several subsets including "Record Breaker," "WCW/nWo All Star," and "Turn Back The Clock." The latter features inset reprints of older cards. In addition to cards from Topps 1985 and 1987 WWF sets, foreign releases are included as well. It should be noted that the original WWF block logos are switched to the WWE block logo on the reprints. These "Turn Back The Clock" cards are based on a baseball subset that I also had, and enjoyed, in my youth. The "WCW/nWo All Star" cards feature some great, rarely used photos from the WCW archive. There is also a subset featuring The Rock that are not actual Heritage cards. If you remember my review of Heritage 2015, you already know my feelings on these and thus they are not shown here.

My autograph "hit" from this set was a Brie Bella on-card autograph. I'm very glad that the on-card autographs have returned for Heritage. Ever since Topps started integrating the on-card autos into their sets, I've quite frankly been spoiled. I was very disappointed when, upon opening a box of Topps WWE 2016, the autograph card was once again a stick-on. While the autograph pulls in Heritage 2016 are sharp, I can't say the same thing for the relics. I pulled a Bray Wyatt Survivor Series mat relic that is, to be perfectly honest, boring. While relics are definitely overdone at this point, things can be done to make them more appealing. That is not the case here.

As usual, my focus is the 110-card base set. For most card reviews, the base set is what I base my final opinion on. Opening the hobby box, I once again received all 110 base cards. It's a solid lineup featuring plenty of current favorites and a healthy dose of past greats. For collectors like myself who enjoy getting the base cards signed, it's becoming more and more a reminder each year of just how many legends we've lost. As new sets get released, there are less legends around to sign. This set does feature more recent alumni/legends such as Rikishi, Road Dogg, and Tatanka, but the point is still driven home. Regulars like Harley Race and Nikolai Volkoff among others were left out. I understand why, but it's a tad disappointing when easily obtainable signers such as those greats aren't included.

My verdict? I love the designs. The lineup and some of the photos left me a bit underwhelmed, but this set definitely scores higher with me than 2015. The cards all have that vintage feel, where as some of the subsets last year were an odd mix of retro and current material. It's nice to see that we've now gotten two Heritage sets in consecutive years. In my opinion there is no reason that it should be less than annual. As I suggested last year, a 30th anniversary of the Topps 1987 WWF/WrestleMania III set would be a great idea for 2017. The American-themed border was a simple yet amazing design that we see a glimpse of this year in the "Turn Back The Clock" subset. They could even do a WrestleMania subset with an image from all 32 events. Come on Topps, I give my geniusin' away for free here!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Revisiting The Capitol Wrestling Legends Fanfest

Do you remember where you were a decade ago? I do. Ten years ago to the very date of this publication, to be exact. Although I had been a wrestling fan for many years prior, on August 11, 2006 I was attending my second full-fledged wrestling convention. The site? Rockville, Maryland. The stars? A bevy of wrestling greats spanning several companies and eras. The fun? Unbeatable. It was officially titled the Capitol Wrestling Legends Fanfest, but in actuality it was the 2006 edition of the fabled NWA Legends/Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Fanfest.

Ten years later and I still remember entering the hotel. The venue was the beautiful DoubleTree Hotel & Executive Meeting Center in Rockville. Entering through a corridor from the parking garage, my friends and I had our first glimpse out into the immense center of the hotel and spotted Nick Bockwinkel eating breakfast. Although I had my first Fanfest experience nearly two years earlier, I'd forgotten how surreal it was to see the legends of professional wrestling casually going about their lives. The hotel itself was beautiful and was well-suited to host the event, but promoter Greg Price later noted that those running the hotel weren't as conducive to Fanfest as those at its usual home of the Charlotte University Place Hilton.

The lineup of wrestling greats was unbeatable. You had Bockwinkel, Stan Hansen, Rick Martel, Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart, Sensational Sherri Martel, The Midnight Express, Jim Cornette, Abdullah the Butcher, Rocky Johnson, Tony Atlas, Ernie Ladd, Rockin' Robin, Baby Doll, Nikolai Volkoff, Ivan Koloff, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, Masked Superstar, Robert Gibson, Angelo Mosca, Robert Fuller, "The Patriot" Del Wilkes, Larry Sharpe, and Tom Prichard not to mention Paul Bearer, King Kong Bundy, Greg Valentine, Larry Zbyszko, Tito Santana, Lanny Poffo, Boris Zhukov, Jimmy Snuka, Buddy Jack Roberts, Stevie Ray, and probably a few more that I'm forgetting.

These were the glory days of wrestling conventions not only for the amount of talent that was available, but the merchandise, too. Where could a collector pick up "black card" LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars figures for $75 a piece these days? The aisles were not clogged with vendor after vendor of common DVDs as many shows feature today. These sellers had true memorabilia. That being said, I remember being particularly pleased that one table had the then-brand new Jakks WWE Classic Superstars Fabulous Freebirds 3-Pack available. While I paid a tad more than retail, the set was then a Wal Mart exclusive and had limited distribution up until that point. At the time, I thought that I'd likely not have the chance to get it signed by Buddy Roberts ever again. I did meet him again a few times after, but it just wasn't a risk that this Freebird fan was willing to take.

The 2006 Fanfest was yet another example as to why you can't skip opportunities when your favorites are out and about. Ernie Ladd and Sherri Martel would be gone from this earth less than a year after this event. Sherri's passing hit me particularly hard, as she was such a kind woman. She always expected the fans to get a perfect experience for their money and made sure that it was exactly what happened. I can still remember getting a hug from the women's wrestling legend and some of her "Sherri glitter" getting on my shirt. She was one of a kind and will never be replaced. I remember her being thrilled when I told her that Robert "Col. Parker" Fuller was going to be there. I'll always wonder if they got to reconnect.

Many fans who attended still remember the question and answer sessions that took place each night. The Hart Foundation told some classic stories about their time in the WWF and a combined session with Jim Cornette, The Midnight Express, and The Heavenly Bodies kept the crowd in stitches. One story that "Sweet" Stan Lane told about "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig on an airplane can still be found with a quick Google search. Some touching moments also came from that session, particularly when Dr. Tom Prichard shared some remembrances of his former tag team partner Chris Candido who had recently passed away.

The weekend was not as long as Fanfest is today, but it was just as packed with memorable moments. As far as I can tell, the event will likely never again stray from its home in Charlotte, but that's probably a good thing. Even with official name changes over the years, the event is universally known as the "Charlotte Fanfest." Despite that, it remains a celebration of the past, and even some of the future, of professional wrestling. Greg Price and his staff work tirelessly each year to top the previous event, and they always succeed. Even still, for those of us who were there, we'll always have Rockville...

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Wrestling MarketWatch: Jakks WWE Classic Superstars of the 1970s

For sheer variety alone, Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line still holds the title of "Best Wrestling Figure Line" in this neck of the woods. No, it wasn't perfect. There were glaring omissions. The production quality went down at the end just as it did across the entire Jakks WWE line. There were even promised figures that never made the light of the day. Nevertheless, what we did get was usually amazing. Stars of the '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s were produced and even some current names like John Cena, Randy Orton, and Nattie Neidhart officially made it into the line through special means.

The stars of the '70s were special in the line as many of them had never before been made into figures. Others had but maybe just never saw that definitive figure. In this latest edition of Wrestling MarketWatch, it's a look at some of those '70s stars who became Classic Superstars. As always, the quoted sale prices are from recent online auctions and are for carded, non-autographed examples only unless otherwise noted.

*Why not start with a legend who is still making the headlines on Monday nights? Bob Backlund has done it all. World Heavyweight Champion. Wholesome hero. Crazed villain. Presidential hopeful. Now, he's once again a coach, trying to make Darren Young great again. No matter how that turns out, Backlund has reinvented himself multiple times to stay in the game. He's also the author of one of the best wrestling books of all-time. His best figure, thus far, has been in the Classic Superstars line. It will be interesting to see if Mattel produces new figures of Mr. Backlund now that he's back with WWE. His Classic Superstars figure recently sold for $30.

*Bob Backlund had a plethora of evil villains to battle during his long run as WWWF Champion. One of those baddies was the devious Mr. Fuji. Master Fuji has had three action figures, two of which were in the Classic Superstars line. The single release reflected his years as a manager, complete with cane, hat, and number sign representing his "entry" into the Atlantic City Boardwalk run at WrestleMania V. "The Devious One" even has his red eye makeup on. Fuji was produced much more to scale than earlier managers in the line who seem to tower over their proteges. This great figure recently sold for $25.

*One star who did not see a figure until this line was Jerry Brisco. Both he and his brother Jack saw their first and only representations very late in the Classic Superstars run. They also suffered from poor case distribution leading to supply not meeting demand. They may be simply clad in red trunks, but the figures bring a lot of excitement to collectors who waited a long time to have The Brisco Brothers in their collection. An out-of-package example of Jerry Brisco recently sold for $30. No carded versions have been offered in recent months reflecting that the demand is still out there.

*They may have made their name in the '80s, but it was 1979 that saw the debut of the Fabulous Freebirds as a unit. Their style certainly reflected the rough and tumble, wild west attitude of '70s wrestling, too. Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy, and Buddy Roberts had a magic that few teams do. They considered themselves brothers and probably shared more wild times than most real brothers do. Some collectors may remember these sets being clearanced out at Spencer's stores despite originally being Wal Mart exclusives. Did you stock up? The boys recently sold at $40.

*One of the biggest marquee stars of the '70s happened to see his WWE return just as the Classic Superstars line was at its height. Thus, there are quite a few Jakks releases for Superstar Billy Graham. We saw just about every variation for Graham, but one of the most unique was a figure done completely in "black and white." The effect probably would've made more sense for a Bruno Sammartino variant, but it was Graham who was one of the WWE's "star" legends at the time. Surprisingly, this figure has seen a considerable drop in price. In past years you could not find this figure for under $50, it recently sold for just $22.50. It may be a good time to pick one up.

While some Classic Superstars prices are still high, a lot have steadied between $20-$30. That's still more than original retail, and prices do nothing to effect the value of a figure as far as how great it is to have in your collection. Mattel is making more and more legends in their WWE line, but I still don't believe that we'll ever see quite the variety that we did from Jakks. There's room for both, as each line brings something different to the table. Bring em on!