Thursday, September 29, 2016

Toot! Toot! It's Tugboat!

Mattel sure has been on a role as of late with figures from wrestling's past. Some are wrestlers who have not seen figures in years, others are making their toy debut. Yet others, like the figure that we're looking at here, is a man who has seen several figures but is a character who has not. This character, debuting roughly 26 years ago, was one who saw some popularity, but would've been a smash hit just a few years earlier. If Tugboat had debuted smack dab in the middle of the "Rock N Wrestling" era, he would have been a gem of the LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars line. If he had lasted a bit longer, he would've been included, as originally planned, in the Hasbro WWF figure line. Thanks to Mattel, we can finally "toot" alongside a figure of the massive sailor.

Tugboat makes his debut in the Mattel "Elite" category as such a figure should. I'm still liking the "new" packaging on these figures, although it seems as if the company is changing the design yearly. Tugboat definitely does not "float" in the bubble, even without a separately packaged accessory. It should be noted that although Tugboat had never before seen a regular figure release, an asterisk does belong next to that claim. Tugboat did see a small, non-poseable, mini figure as part of the legendary Remco WWF Superstars Shoot-Out tabletop hockey game. The Tugster was the goalie of the "good guy" team, with his then-future partner Earthquake as the "bad guy" counterpart. Until Mattel decided on producing figures of the "three faces of Fred Ottman," Tugboat was doomed forever as only a game piece.

One thing that I noticed even while the figure was in the package was that Mattel got one important aspect of the man right: his height. If you've ever had the pleasure of meeting "Uncle Fred," you may have noticed how immense the man is. While his weight was the stat pushed in his wrestling days, his height completely blows me away each time that I see him. The billed height of 6'3 on the back of the package seems very low to me. Mr. Ottman is a giant of a man with an equally big personality and heart. The latter definitely came through in his guise as Tugboat.

The sole accessory here is the hat. It is removable, as it should be, and fits on nicely. I may go as far as to say that it's a snug fit. You can hold the figure upside down and it doesn't fall off. It's produced of a soft, pliable plastic and has a small rim on the inside front that works with the figure's hair to help hold it on. I can't really think of another accessory that would have made sense if included. With so much original tooling on the figure, it's very acceptable that only the hat is here.

Speaking of the tooling, Tugboat's body type was captured perfectly. Though he was undoubtedly a massive man, in the Tugboat outfit he never looked grotesquely large. He always seemed to have some muscle mass. The arms, though reused from other "big man" figures, show that mass and work very well. The paint detail on the striped shirt is very good, although a tad sloppy on mine. The facial likeness is good, though I'm not sure that it's my favorite ever done for Ottman. I would have preferred a more congenial look on the Tugboat figure, but I see why they used one likeness for all of his figures.

Fan of Tugboat? Grab it. I can't see another one coming unless somehow a "Three Faces of Ottman" set is made. I don't see that necessarily happening, but I wouldn't have thought that Mattel would be producing figures of Tugboat, Typhoon, and The Shockmaster anyway. Now that they have the figures produced, it's plausible that a repackaged set of three could be done in the future. Figures of larger wrestlers such as Tugboat are not usually produced in the "Basic" sets either, so that would seem to be out of the question as well. In the meantime, head on out with a big "toot" and find a Tugboat. And you better yell, "I think that's Uncle Fred!" upon finding it...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Wrestling Classic Figure Review--Remco AWA Ric Flair vs Larry Zbyszko

Ask anyone who had the Remco AWA action figures as a kid and they'll tell you one thing: these things were fun. The LJN WWF figure line is legendary and enjoyed a much larger span and run, but the AWA figures were unique. They were poseable, they featured removable entrance attire (in some cases even accessories), and, although primitive, the facial likenesses were good. You could tell exactly who they were supposed to represent. We still haven't seen a better Terry Gordy release and many of the stars included haven't ever received another figure. Today we're looking at a two-pack that includes one of the latter and another star who, on the flip side, has seen many other figures since.

Until the final series, Remco released the AWA figures in multi-packs. Some packs were teams or units, others rivals of two AWA stars. One of the best sets featured Ric Flair versus Larry Zbyszko. Indeed it was, as the packaging announced, NWA Champion vs AWA Challenger. Whether or not the figure set was a direct result of the short-lived Pro Wrestling USA, an alliance that joined the AWA with Jim Crockett Promotions and other NWA members, it certainly well-reflects that era.

A look at the back of the card shows all of the two and three-packs available up to that point. The artists renderings also show what may have been differences between the prototypes and the final product. The biggest differences lie within the drawings of the Jimmy Garvin/Precious/Steve Regal and Fabulous Freebirds sets. The depiction of Curt Hennig's face also much more resembles the man than the released figure did. How about that belt on "Mr. Electricity" Steve Regal? Was he originally planned to include the AWA Light Heavyweight Championship?

Although the belt that was included with many Remco AWA releases looked more like the NWA World Heavyweight Championship than any AWA title, it isn't included here. We do get a beautiful Ric Flair robe, a red Larry Zbyszko jacket, and a sticker commemorating this match between "The Living Legend" and "The Nature Boy." These days, the sticker is often lost and even missing from carded examples in many cases.

Thanks to their Masters of the Universe-like articulation, the Remco AWA figures were fun to play with. They could wrestle, which was obviously what it said on the marquee of venues that the AWA played. You could mat wrestle, you could strut with Flair, and you could stall with Zbyszko. All bases covered. Even signature moves could be attempted. A perfect look in recreating these maneuvers wasn't necessary for kids back then. All it took was a couple of figures and a bit of imagination.

Though variants exist through the Remco AWA run, this is still the only figure of Larry Zbyszko. "The Living Legend" told me years ago that he had signed with Jakks to produce a new figure in their Legends of the Ring line, the continuation of the Classic Superstars line in the TNA line, but it never came to fruition. He was even under the impression that it would include the Western States Heritage Championship. On the other hand, Flair has had tons of figures since. Still, there is something charming about this very first. The fact that it includes an awesome robe when many Flair figures that followed didn't makes it all the better.

With Zbyszko under a WWE Legends contract and Mattel making more and more classic stars, I see a 50/50 shot that we'll get a new figure of "Larry Legend." The odds are certainly better than even a year ago at this time. Will it look better? Maybe. But I don't know that kids of today will have more fun with it than we did with the classic Remco...

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Pat Patterson Now "Accepted" In Book Stores World Wide

When you would think of wrestlers who should have written a book but were highly unlikely to do so, Pat Patterson topped the list. A legend in all aspects of the wrestling business, the man himself always seemed rather guarded and rarely, if ever, did real world or "shoot" interviews. His inclusion in many of the WWE Legends of Wrestling roundtable shows was somewhat of a surprise in itself. When Patterson opened up his life a bit more during the run of the WWE Network program "Legends House," the possibility of a book seemed like it just may happen one day. Here we are in 2016 and "Accepted" has hit the shelves.

Those who only know Pat Patterson as one of Vince McMahon's "stooges" in the Attitude Era are in for a shock, if any such fans with that limitation on their knowledge of the man truly exist. Patterson's story reaches back decades in the wrestling business, to a time when dreams really could be attained by someone with just a few dollars in their pocket and little-to-no real direction. Pat, born Pierre Clermont in Montreal, went from star wrestler to one of the most creative behind-the-scenes minds that the wrestling business had ever seen. But how did he get there? How did he make the jump? Where did all of the knowledge and creativity come from?

I classify most books written by wrestlers into two different categories: "wrestling books" or "books by a wrestler." Patterson's story is definitely the latter. While you're going to get the stories and tales that made up Pat's life in the ring, this is his story and how wrestling fit in, not the other way around. If you're looking to get a true glimpse at the man that is telling the story, this is the way that it should be done. Most Patterson fans will know this going in. Listening to Patterson speak on "Legends House," you can tell that while the man loves the wrestling business, he tried to never let it define him. He may identify more with "Pat Patterson" than "Pierre Clermont," but that does not mean that wrestling consumed him.

Joining Pat in telling the tale is someone who was perfect in bringing out the wrestling history aspect. Bertrand Hebert was co-author (with Pat Laprade) of the critically acclaimed "Mad Dogs, Midgets, and Screw Jobs" which told the complete story of wrestling in Montreal. Seeing as that Patterson is a native of the city and was influenced by that particular wrestling product, it was a perfect fit. Hebert also manages to avoid one of my biggest pet peeves in autobiographies: adding in long rehashes of history unrelated to the star. While it is needed in some instances in order to set up a particular scene or story, in many books it gets tiresome and is written in a way that completely distances you from the voice of the author. In "Accepted," rarely did I feel that the words written weren't coming direct from Patterson.

There are plenty of stories from the wrestling business, some of which you may have heard before, but plenty that will be new to you. Pat's work side-by-side with McMahon does not get quite as in-depth as JJ Dillon's book did, but you still get a good look at the inner workings of the golden era of the World Wrestling Federation. Even with all of the wrestling books produced in the past 17 years, this is till relatively uncharted territory. Patterson's emotions for many of wrestling's most powerful moments come through, and that is also when his love for the business shines most.

Again, wrestling does not define Patterson the most. I would say instead that it is his yearning for love and acceptance (hence the title), and maybe not completely in the ways that you may be expecting from your previous knowledge of the man. Patterson's interesting family situation from growing up also played a pivotal role throughout his life. How that actually led into his journey in the wrestling business is another story that is told here for the first time.

I definitely want more from Patterson. You know that he is full of stories that could have doubled or tripled the size of the book. Will they ever be told in a public forum such as this? Probably not. Patterson is very loyal to friends in the business as well as the McMahon family who he is accepted as a member of. I feel very lucky that Patterson has chosen to tell this much after all this time. I was also pleased with the number of photos included. Not only is there a large color section in the middle, but there are also black and white photos throughout.

"Accepted" is one of the books that comes along that I can't put down. As I mentioned earlier, it definitely left me wanting more, but what we received was excellent. I do classify it as a "book by a wrestler" rather than a "wrestling book," but fans of wrestling's past won't be disappointed. Ray Stevens, the WWF, Canadian wrestling, the territories, Sgt. Slaughter, Killer Kowalski, and the Royal Rumble are just a few of the wrestling aspects of Pat's story. With a list like that, how can you go wrong?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Wrestling Cards Of Pure Imagination

We don't always get what we want. It's an old saying, even a song, and it rings true in every day of our lives. Nonetheless, sometimes our minds can produce images of those things that we want. In this day and age, it's becoming easier and easier to project those ideas into reality. 3D printers are fast becoming the latest Star Trek-esque technology to catch on in the real world. They can produce items from our minds into tangible matter in just hours. The ability to create items from our minds digitally has existed a lot longer. Today, you'll be going inside my mind (yikes!) to see an idea that I've described here a few times before...a new WWE Heritage tribute to the 1987 Topps WWF trading card collection.

Imagine, if you will, that Topps has indeed decided to celebrate thirty years of their 1987 WWF release. This would also coincide with 2017 being thirty years since what many consider to be the biggest wrestling event of all-time, WrestleMania III. Using only concepts that Topps could possibly use in the release as well as only names who have appeared in previous releases, this is what those cards might possibly look like...

The original 1987 release was made up of basic wrestler "name" cards, action cards with captions, "television set" cards with word bubbles, and a few cards featuring images from WrestleMania III. Stickers were also included in the original set, but since they were reuses of photos on the cards albeit with different backgrounds, I didn't include them in the "new" set. Just as I was careful to only include superstars who could contractually be used if the set were really released, I replaced the old WWF block logo where needed and even etched it out in one or two instances.

Like all Heritage releases, the wrestlers featured would be a mix of old and new. While Topps likely has its reasons, the photography in some sets has been reused several times in recent memory, so I attempted to use some rarer shots of many of the stars. Just as in the original 1987 set, promotional "posed" images of some stars would be used as they translate very well to the designs of the cards.

The captioned action shots are easily brought up to date, again with a mix of current WWE Superstars and Legends. The WrestleMania III cards would instead be replaced with a WrestleMania History subset, featuring one shot from each of the thirty-two WrestleMania events. Although it has been awhile since roman numerals have been used in the actual promotion of WrestleMania, each card would feature them here. There are plenty of newer WrestleMania moments that haven't had their proper due in trading card form, which can be remedied here.

The "television set" style cards originated in the 1985 Topps WWF card set and continued with the "sequel" released by O-Pee-Chee in 1986 and of course in 1987. Although the original cards generally had humorous "word bubbles" featured spewing from the mouths of the stars, I think that the set could also represent some of the more memorable moments in televised wrestling history whether the quote is funny or not. With many past moments on wrestling programs now being digitized into high-definition, I think that these shots could easily be plucked for usage on trading cards.

The set could feature the usual relic and autograph cards, but I would also like to see the first Heritage "cut signature" cards. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, these cards feature autographs removed from other sources and implanted into the card. These cards are usually very limited and more often than not feature signatures of deceased stars. Topps WWE Undisputed sets of 2015 and 2016 were said to have featured some cut signatures. With the nature of the Heritage releases it only makes sense to carry the concept over.

Will a set such as this ever come to light? That's up to Topps and WWE. Certainly some or all of the concepts could turn into reality. Regardless, it's fun to take a look at what could be, and for me to transplant an idea from my brain to the infinite archive of the Internet... if the Internet needed any more demented minds!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Sayonara, Mr. Fuji

Some characters just make an impact in pro wrestling. Even without huge angles or headlining a pay-per-view, these stars are just as remembered as the biggest main eventers. Mr. Fuji is one of those names. Point me to any child of the '80s and I guarantee you that they have a memory of Mr. Fuji. It wasn't just his look that made him so memorable, either, it was the talent to pull off antics both hilarious and menacing. Perhaps it was those same two traits that made him the notorious name that he was behind the curtain. This past week, the world lost Harry Fujiwara at the age of 82.

Mr. Fuji is one of my first wrestling memories. I remember seeing the famous LJN Wrestling Superstars figure on the shelves in stores and watching him in the corner of the likes of Don Muraco and Kamala. Later on, I have a vivid memory of him cutting a promo on either Prime Time Wrestling or Saturday Nights Main Event (as a kid apparently I watched more PM wrestling than AM wrestling) flanked by either Demolition or The Powers of Pain. Even if I had gone no further with wrestling than being the casual fan that I was at the time, Fuji struck a nerve with me. He just looked evil and calculating.

That look translated into merchandise as only the WWF could do. Many collectors still prize that legendary LJN figure with an absolutely perfect likeness and easily broken and/or lost cane accessory. Fuji also saw his evil grimmace on trading cards, photos, and magazines. Most recently Mr. Fuji was once again immortalized in the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line. The company not only produced Fuji in his iconic managers attire, but also in the wrestling gear that he wore in battle with the likes of Bruno Sammartino, Gorilla Monsoon, Andre the Giant, Bob Backlund, Hulk Hogan, and even Mean Gene Okerlund. It would be nice to see Mattel add "The Devious One" to their figure line now that they have become more legend and manager-friendly.

As I became more of a fan, I began to see more of Fuji's in-ring career from the past. He meshed perfectly with Professor Tanaka and Mr. Saito. He never had the bodybuilder look, but he didn't need it. Mr. Fuji looked cruel. He appeared as if he knew dozens of different forms of martial arts and various ways of sadistic torture. The latter may have been true, judging from the countless stories of Fuji's nefarious "ribs" played on his fellow wrestlers. While some may be exaggerated tales passed down from locker room to locker room, there's no doubt that the man is one of the more storied pranksters in wrestling history.

I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Fuji several times. His health had obviously began degrading as early as his 2006 WWE Hall of Fame induction, but the twinkle in his eye was still there. On the convention circuit, the manager got to reunite with many of his charges including The Magnificent Muraco, Demolition, and The Powers of Pain. Despite much difficult in mobility, Mr. Fuji seemed to have fun reliving the past and being in the grand old game of professional wrestling a few more times.

My favorite my Mr. Fuji memory is probably one that few others would think of. It isn't his throwing of the salt or Fuji Vice or even managing Yokozuna to the WWF Championship. Instead, it's his appearance at WrestleMania III. At that historic event, Mr. Fuji is the very first heel to be introduced. The heat that the announcement of his name gets from the enormous crowd always resonated with me. It's the type of opening match heat that usually signifies the kick-off of a great show. It actually gives me chills. I always imagined that, after all of his years in the business, it had to be a magical moment.

Thank you, Mr. Fuji, for all of those magical moments.

Harry Fujiwara

"Mr. Fuji"