Thursday, December 29, 2016

The 2016 Additions to The Great Squared Circle in the Sky

As the year comes to a close, it's tradition here on the blog to look back at those wrestling stars that we have lost over the past twelve months. All businesses lose individuals each year, but wrestling always seem to have more than its fair share, many at a far younger age than should be acceptable. 2016 did see a number of names pass who made it their 60s, 70s, and 80s. Others met tragic ends just a few years after their names faded from the mainstream marquee.

Among those from the wrestling business who passed away in 2016 were Joanie "Chyna" Laurer, Archie "The Stomper" Gouldie, Bill Cardille, Lord James Blears, Blackjack Mulligan, Balls Mahoney, Frenchy Martin, Axl Rotten, Harley Saito, Charlie Fulton, Don Bass, Mr. Fuji, Gypsy Joe, Lord Littlebrook, Espectrito, Jean Antone, Hayabusa, Mocho Cota, Mark Young, Edmund Francis, El Mongol, and Iron Mike Sharpe.

Charlie Fulton was a journeyman's journeyman. Name a territory and a place on the card and Fulton likely worked it. Although he did not make it to the pay-per-view era of wrestling that cemented so many names into immortality, he did pass on his wealth of knowledge to a number of other wrestlers including Raven. When I met Fulton in 2013, he seemed very happy to be remembered by both fans and his peers alike. Fulton is the type of wrestler that was content no matter what his role was in the business, something that is seen less and less today where everyone feels that they need to be the center of attention.

Balls Mahoney made his name as one of the most hardcore characters to come from Extreme Championship Wrestling, but the ECW original was more than that. He knew how to technically wrestle if called upon to do so and could play the lovable cartoonish character as he did during his last WWE run. It's no secret that his lifestyle caused his premature demise, but the "Hardcore Chair-Swingin' Freak," as well as his partner Axl Rotten, who also passed away this year, will be remembered for giving their all to entertain the fans, no matter the sacrifice.

Perhaps the biggest 2016 wrestling loss to me personally was Bill Cardille. "Chilly Billy," as he was known to generations of Pittsburghers, was the voice of the Steel City's "Studio Wrestling" program in the 1960's and into the '70s. His battle with cancer was well-publicized here in Pittsburgh and the outpouring of love and respect for the broadcasting legend hopefully made his final days just a bit more comfortable. As affable in person as he was on-screen, Bill Cardille is one passing that did not get as much attention in the wrestling press as others, but he certainly made an equal impact on the business.

As we remember those who passed, we look ahead to 2017 and what good we can do in the memories of those who are now gone...

"To live in the hearts of those left behind is not to die."

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The 2016 J\/\/ Awards

More anticipated than the Oscars, the Emmys, and even the Country Music Awards, it's The 2016 J\/\/ Awards featuring "The Joshie!" Each year we celebrate the best in wrestling memorabilia and memories in five different categories. The design of "The Joshie" itself changes every year, as well, utilizing a classic wrestling figure from the past with a "J\/\/" twist. I think that last year's change was lost on a few readers (yes, that was my face under the Doink "paint"), but there's no doubt about the 2016 version, that's Joshie McMahon. Stand back! Without further ado, let's hand out those awards...

 2016 Best Figure

Mattel's WWE Hall of Fame Dusty Rhodes wins "The Joshie" for 2016 Best Figure. In a year that saw some absolutely amazing figures, firsts, and a lot of items that we never thought possible, Dusty takes the crown. Fitting, seeing as that the figure, packaged exclusively with a WCW ring for Target, includes Mattel's version of "Big Gold." The company could have easily cheaped out in many ways on Big Dust, but they didn't. Instead, a pretty cool re-styled ring came packed with an all-new Dusty. That, my friends, is The American Dream!

2016 Best Buy (Non-Figure)

Topps WWE Heritage 2016 Trading Cards win "The Joshie" for 2016 Best Buy. The Heritage cards returned in 2015 for the first time since 2012, but the comeback fell a bit short of my expectations. For a myriad of reasons, I just didn't get exactly what I was hoping for. The 2016 edition changed that. In addition to the great design, we received some very cool subsets and stars who had never before been included in a Heritage set. The classic cardboard of wrestling was back in full force in 2016. This award celebrates that.

2016 Best Product Line

Mattel wins "The Joshie" for 2016 Best Product Line. Once again Mattel takes home this award, and for good reason. In the 2016 wrestling world there really isn't any company that matches the volume that Mattel produces. Is it all great? No, but the good outweighs the bad with some tremendous entries. The speed in which new characters are getting figures has greatly improved, much to the chagrin of wallets everywhere. Will 2017 see another award winning year for Mattel? It's a great possibility.

2016 Future Holy Grail

The Crusher Bobblehead wins "The Joshie" for 2016 Future Holy Grail. In February the Milwaukee Admirals hockey team gave this item away as a game promotion. It's the first figure representation of The Crusher. It's a cross-collectible for both wrestling and bobblehead doll collectors alike. It's also likely one of the last pieces of merchandise that we'll see featuring the beer-chugging, polka-dancing, Milwaukee native. It hasn't completely disappeared from the secondary market, either, so get one off of that famous Internet auction site while the prices are still decent. The fact that the doll is standing on a beer barrel makes it all the cooler.

2016 Thanks For The Memories Award

2016 Thanks For The Memories Nominee: Chyna. This award was not conceived as a memorial, but it has become one since 2014. A lot of people dismissed Chyna for some of her behavior after her WWF career, but she was so much more than that (no pun intended). At times it's easy to forget just how big of a star she was during her tenure. Even in her non-speaking "bodyguard" days, she just stood out. I prefer to remember that, as well as how nice she was to her fans any time that I was around her. In an era that I don't always look back so fondly upon, she is still a shining star.

Well, you may not get the Slammys this year, but there are "The Joshies." It's still not too late to pick up a great wrestling gift for the favorite fan in your life. And as for that doll that's hanging around shelves everywhere doing silly things? Not here...

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Wrestling Classic Figure Review--Mattel WWE Michelle McCool

I never thought that I'd see the day that Michelle McCool would have an entry on this blog dedicated to her, much less a segment of "The Wrestling Classic Figure Review." I don't have anything against her, she just didn't really stick out to me. As far as merchandising, her Jakks figure was very boring. It was actually at the tail end of her wrestling career that I began to enjoy her work, and that's part of the reason why I do like Mattel's 2010 representation of her. It also filled a noticeable void in my own collection.

The Diva who was "lovin' life" was produced by Mattel way back in Basic Series 7. The cards were still that dreadful red, and one aspect of the early Mattel WWE line, which we'll get to in a bit, was still in play. When the figure was first released, I was not completely sold on the line. I was still stuck on Jakks and resisted change. The fact that some of Mattel's early WWE work wasn't the best, not to mention that the WWE product of the time was extremely hit-or-miss, meant that I passed on a lot of the early figures. In fact, at that point I was generally only buying the stars who had never seen a figure before. My first Mattel WWE purchase? Carlito and Primo, since the latter had not previously been produced.

As I grew to love Mattel, like many collectors I had to go back and find figures that I had previously passed by. For many of these figures that saw only one or two releases, prices generally went up. Still, a sharp collector will wait until the price is right. As with the rest, that finally happened with Michelle McCool. She was the last Diva that I did not have a Mattel-produced version of in my collection. Finding a carded example that was priced not much higher than retail made it all the sweeter. And of course, for the sake of reviewing (well, that and the fact that she isn't a figure that I necessarily needed to keep carded), she was released from her plastic prison.

Just as with her Laycool partner Layla, Mattel did a good job on Michelle. The facial likeness is perfect, and the detail on the outfit matches her look at the time. In addition to her change in character, her almost feathered-hair look during her heel run further sold me on Michelle. Apparently the look also worked on a certain legendary WWE star who decided to make Michelle into "Mrs. Deadman." Regardless, the figure looks great with Layla, holding the WWE Women's Championship, or terrorizing poor Mickie James.

As alluded to above, this is also when Mattel still included a plastic figure stand and cardboard name placard with each figure. Allegedly cut for cost reasons, it was a nice addition but didn't end up being a deal breaker for anyone that I know of. Some might consider a loose example to be incomplete if these accessories are missing, but I wouldn't. Judging by the secondary market prices for many of these figures that are missing the stand, I'm not alone.

If you're like me and are now collecting "backwards" trying to get these early Mattel figures, this entry comes with a great lesson: don't overpay. Patience will yield these figures for your collection. Judging by the popularity of an early-2016 blog entry that I did highlighting five of these early, "forgotten" Mattel figures, there's plenty of interest. Keep in mind, especially if you're a loose collector, that many of these figures are well over five years old now. That means that some who bought these early on are no longer interested and/or have "outgrown" (ha!) action figures. Do you know what that means for you? The hunt begins!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Dragon Scorches The Cover

Many consider him to be one of the greatest of all-time. Others say they've seen none better. Without a doubt, you were highly entertained if you've ever viewed a Ricky Steamboat match. "The Dragon" could do it all, with just about any opponent, and never gave less than 100%. The man had a tremendous look, as well. Exotic and dangerous, he was the wrestler that guys wanted to be and that girls wanted to be with, yet he remained a wholesome hero of the squared circle.

During his career, Steamboat's image graced the cover of many publications. The grappler who would later call North Caroline his home actually first began setting the world on fire in the late '70s as part of Jim Crockett Promotions and Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. With longer hair than he would later be known for, Steamboat was played up as a Hawaiian high-flyer who did things that many other stars of the time did not. Though he had many top-level feuds at the time, his bouts with "Nature Boy" Ric Flair would be a prelude to their storied NWA World Championship rivalry a decade later. Many have said that these Mid-Atlantic matches, mostly confined to the memories of fans in the arena live, were even better than those later seen on a national level.

The treasured Mid-Atlantic Championship Magazines saw a few Steamboat covers, but none are cooler than the "beach" cover of Issue No. 3 Vol. 8. These magazines are quite collectible and always fetch a high price when they appear for sale these days. Many of the early covers feature beautiful artistic renderings of the promotions stars. Steamboat in his "native" lands of Hawaii is definitely unique and almost too peaceful for a wrestling magazine.

As Pro Wrestling Illustrated was instituted in 1979, it's no surprise that the publication grew as did the career of "The Dragon." Ricky made several PWI covers over the years, including one in May 1981 that featured him as Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Heavyweight Champion. The title belt, a favorite of many classic wrestling fans, saw one of its greatest national showcases on this cover. Steamboat also throws the old adage that "babyfaces don't grow facial hair" out the window as the cover shows him sporting quite the mustache.

By the middle of the decade, Ricky Steamboat had transformed into a
master of the martial arts somewhat reminiscent of Bruce Lee. "The Dragon" was born in the WWF and would be a moniker that followed Steamboat through the rest of his career. Steamboat saw his sole WWF Magazine cover appearance on the October/November 1985 issue. A striking and dramatic cover, the issue seems to show up much less than other issues of the time and, thus, commands a higher price when it does appear for sale.

Many fans consider the WrestleMania III encounter between Steamboat and Randy "Macho Man" Savage as their all-time favorite match. The bout ended with "The Dragon" as the Intercontinental Champion. Though his title reign was notoriously short, Steamboat made the ideal holder of that particular title. After all, it's often said that the matches for that championship "stole the show," just as Steamboat did more often than not. A 1987 WWF program cover appearance shows Steamboat during his brief reign, holding the Intercontinental Title high in the air. Iconic and historic.

Although he just misses my own "Five All-Time Favorite Wrestlers" list, he's definitely in the next five. When a Steamboat match is on, you watch. You can't help but watch. Meeting him many times over the years, Steamboat's greatness in the ring is only matched by his real-life attitude towards his many fans. If anyone ever came away from a meeting with "The Dragon" with any less than a smile on their face, I'd be truly shocked. The phrase "Never meet you heroes" does not apply here.

A true champion of life, cover-to-cover.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Wrestling Gifts Of Christmas Past

Emmylou Harris said it best, "Christmas Time's A Comin'!" For better or worse, this time of year makes many people very nostalgic. It is a month-long reminder of times past. Those of you reading this blog might have memories of that favorite wrestling item that you received as a gift. Maybe you even bought it for yourself. There's certainly no shame in that. Maybe you're an adult now (or an overgrown child) and want to find those vintage wrestling gifts for your own children. Either way, the start of the Christmas season felt like a good time to look back on some of my own favorite wrestling gift memories.

*Although the game is based on the 1991 WWF roster, I remember receiving this for Christmas in 1992. Santa Claus definitely didn't bring this, as there was no way that my parents could hide the huge box. I may have even been on the trip to the late, great Hills Department Store when it was purchased. I'm sure that the Remco WWF Superstars Shoot-Out made many kids happy during an early '90s Christmas season. The figures, as small as they are, have great likenesses. It's a shame that Remco, known more in the wrestling world for their AWA line, didn't get the chance to produce more WWF items at the time.

*As fit-for-merchandising as the 1995 WWF era was, it was largely a dead time for toys and similar items. It was in between the Hasbro and Jakks action figure licenses. While JusToys was producing Bend-Ems, it just wasn't enough. Thankfully, the WWF merchandise catalog still offered some unique items. One of those was the inflatable WWF blimp. This was actually sort of purchased for me by my parents as a gag gift. We had just attended SummerSlam 1995 several months earlier, and the "Stridex Airship" kept floating up and down in front of us. Although this is based on the full-sized WWF Airship that went from city-to-city, my parents ordered this for me to keep the summer memories alive. It still inflates and holds a prominent position in my collection.

*The company didn't capitalize on holiday-themed items too often in the WWF days. But when WWE started merchandising just about everything in the "Ruthless Aggression" era, Christmas finally came! One of my favorite items is a WWE snow globe complete with John Cena, The Undertaker, and Batista. There's even a steel chair! This is a large and heavy Hallmark-quality item that you really don't see too often. A friend of mine gave this to me as a gift when it was new. It still reminds me of our wrestling-born friendship each time that I look at it, and the time that we ended up snowbound while Christmas shopping!

*According to my parents, this was an item that was "one and done" during the 1992 Christmas shopping season. It's the infamous Hasbro Royal Rumble mini-ring. Although I still received gifts from Santa, they openly admitted to only seeing this toy once and grabbing it. Smart shoppers, they always were. The ring was the only way to get the exclusive mini figures included and the only real point to owning the three mini figure four-packs that were sold separately. It's a key item in many Hasbro WWF collections to this day.

*What kid didn't want some of the Wrestling Buddies from Tonka? The advertising, voiced by the late actor Arnold Stang, was all over television at that point. Bonk Em! Bop Em! I remember my parents purchased "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase for a family friend and his parents gave me The Ultimate Warrior. It was the only one that I owned until adulthood (ha!), but I sure did slam and piledrive it endlessly. I still marvel that one toy store in my area, Family Toy Warehouse, sold the Legion of Doom two-pack at the same price as the single Wrestling Buddies. Maybe that was their downfall.

I'm sure that many of you have your own Christmas-wrestling memories. Maybe you received tickets to an event, wrestling-related books, or action figures. The possibilities were, and still are, endless. And if you're in the mood to spread some Christmas cheer, don't forget your local Toys-For-Tots. I'm sure that there are many underprivileged children who would love to have a nice Mattel WWE figure under their tree. Many local wrestling promotions, such as KSWA here in Pittsburgh, even have their own toy drives accompanied with a show.

Happy Holidays!