Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Wrestling Classic Figure Review--Hasbro WWF Nasty Boys

For a few years now, the Hasbro WWF line has been the most popular vintage line of wrestling figures. Prices have soared for both carded and loose examples. Figures that clogged the clearance shelves for years and hadn't taken on much secondary value now fetch $30 and $40 for carded examples. Rarer and more popular figures can go into the hundreds. We've had plenty of Hasbro features over the years here on the blog, but this is the first appearance for the line in our "Wrestling Classic Figure Review" series. We're starting with a tag team that tore up the streets of Allentown, PA (or New York City, if WCW is more to your liking) with a nasty sensation. It's Brian Knobbs and Jerry Sags, The Nasty Boys.

Although I began collecting the line shortly after it hit shelves, The Nasty Boys were some of the last figures to join my collection. Part of the second series of tag team sets, the Boys were shipped along with the Legion of Doom. Initial cases did not include The Nasty Boys, and in my area they never seemed to arrive. While Hawk and Animal, despite their popularity, warmed the pegs, I started to believe that The Nasty Boys set just wasn't produced. In 1994, my dad and I saw an ad in a magazine for a company called Figures Inc. (now known as Figures Toy Company). They advertised that they had the figures in stock for a price of what I remember to be around $16. My dad took the number down and when I had saved up enough money, we ordered Knobbs and Sags.

Arguably two of the most unique figures in the line, I'm as thrilled with the twosome now as I was then. Like all of the Hasbro WWF figures, The Nasty Boys each utilize a "Real Wrestling Action" to pound their opponents into submission. Indeed, Sags has the "Punk Pounder" while Knobbs has the "Nasticizer." The body/mechanism types fit well for the style of wrestling that this team was known for: pure brawling.

The detail level was high. Hasbro was usually pretty good in this category with a few exceptions. The graffiti look of the shirts was captured well. The facial likenesses were a bit easier to pull off since the Boys are wearing their trademark shades, but there's no doubt that this is Knobbs and Sags. The mullets and Sags' famous gap tooth look are here, too. Remember, this is before accessories were included with every figure. No trench coats in this first "Nasty" incarnation.

One detail that I always appreciated was in the lower portions of the figures. Hasbro took the time to sculpt special boots, complete with chains, for Knobbs and Sags. It's a little thing that could have been ignored and that many companies have not done with The Nasty Boys since. It should also be noted that little if any of the parts of these figures were ever used again. With Hasbro constantly reusing molds, this is still a surprise and allows The Nasty Boys to stand out when displayed with the rest of the collection.

They've had their share of figures since, but I do believe that the first remain the best. As "primitive" as the Hasbro designs may appear to some modern collectors, that has always been a big part of their appeal and charm. Action figures are toys, and the Hasbro WWF line is exactly what the colorful, larger-than-life, World Wrestling Federation roster of the early '90s should look like as toys.. Now that Mattel is producing newer figures in a similar style, the tradition continues. What does that mean for the modern WWE superstars? They may just have to make a pit stop in "Pity City."

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The "Boyz" Are Back

Did you truly expect Matt and Jeff Hardy to steal the show at WrestleMania 33? Sure, there were rumors that they would show up in WWE eventually. Maybe the added ladders to the tag team match tipped you off? Regardless, this is one time that even if you did "know," you were still surprised. The Hardy Boyz returned to the company even bigger stars than they had left it. As with anyone who truly "gets" the business, Matt and Jeff reinvented themselves. Like Chris Jericho, Sting, Hulk Hogan, and even to an extent Shawn Michaels, the biggest stars in wrestling stay on top when they find ways to become relevant again. The Hardy Boyz did it at just the right time.

Admittedly, I became a Hardy "fan" in an odd way. I always respected what they brought to the business, but during their rise to the top I really wouldn't have described myself a fan of theirs. I didn't dislike the duo, but I wasn't rushing out buying their latest t-shirt, either. They weren't really in my demographic, although their female companion Lita certainly was. It took actually meeting the "Boyz" and seeing how genuine they were with their fans for me to truly come around.

When I did finally start counting myself a fan of the male side of "Team Xtreme," I found that there was no shortage of great items for the pair. Magazines, action figures, trading cards. From the glory days of the Attitude Era through what were some truly great times for TNA/Impact Wrestling, The Hardy Boyz were part of several great periods.

Their look certainly lent to some great figures. I still remember being on a family vacation somewhere in the Midwest and stopping into a Meijer store. Not having the chain here in Pennsylvania, it is still my one and only visit to the establishment. That shopping trip is where I found the very first action figures of Matt and Jeff. Both would go on to have figures produced under both the WWE and Impact banners, but I still prefer one of their appearances in one of my favorite lines: Jakks WWE Classic Superstars. The pair first had figures in the line based on their early look in all black attire. With the Classic Superstars packaging also being black, I felt that those figures were visually unappealing. When the brothers reappeared as "chase" figures that celebrated the LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars line (complete with blue packaging), I felt that they had received their definitive represenations. It's still a shame that Lita did not join them in the line.

Lita was included in my favorite magazine cover featuring "Team Xtreme." The magazine of the same name was a special put out by the WWF at the height of their popularity. Featuring articles, centerfolds, and even a fold-out cover, looking at it may remind you of something that Jim Crockett Promotions would have released for The Rock 'N Roll Express. Initially, I probably picked up the magazine simply because it was something new on the newsstands (and for Lita). As I later got into having so many of these items signed, I was glad that I had picked it up.

Two of my favorite Jeff Hardy memories, and one personal piece of memorabilia, involve live events. On one November 2008 Sunday in Johnstown, PA, I will never forget being amazed at just how over Jeff was. Every child in the building had the Jeff Hardy "sleeves" on. You could see them surrounding the ringside area like a sea of green and white arms. Fast forward a few years and I find myself ringside at a TNA event somewhere in West Virginia. Jeff had started painting his eyelids so that his eyes appeared open even when closed. I just happened to have my digital camera out as Hardy made his rounds. He noticed this, came over to me, and posed with his eyes closed while I got the shot. It's still a favorite picture of mine and I ended up having it autographed at some point.

Of course, a return to one of the biggest marketing machines in the world only ensures a plethora of new items for the Hardy Boyz. New shirts! New trading cards! New...action figures. Infamously, a Mattel Jeff Hardy figure was produced early in the license in some shape or form but never officially saw a release. Will we see that figure? There's no doubt in my mind that we will see both "current" and "retro" figures of the brothers. I'm sure that a set coupled with Lita isn't out of the realm of opportunity, either. The Boyz would also make great additions to the Hasbro-styled "WWE Retro" figure line.

And how about those who want to see the "Deleted" and "Broken" Hardy characters? My opinion? It's been done. It was a gimmick that revitalized the pair. It would never have dominated an entire WWE show as it did elsewhere. Will we see hints of it here and there? Absolutely. But right now you're getting a nostalgia run for two superstars who highly deserve it. Enjoy it!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Fundraising With The Von Erichs

There are some legendary names that pop up on this blog more than others. Bruno Sammartino. Dusty Rhodes. Jerry "The King" Lawler. Rowdy Roddy Piper. Not only are they some of the best of the best, but they also have a ton of great merchandise to write about. A lot of those items are little featured elsewhere. But when you really want to see things that you didn't know existed in the world of wrestling memorabilia, you look to a family name. You point the car towards Texas and you set out to find the once-rabid fans of the Lone Star State's favorite wrestling sons, the Von Erich Family.

Thankfully, many of those fans saved much of the classic Von Erich and WCCW memorabilia of their youth. Those are the same fans, a large percentage of which were female, that you can still see on any episode of World Class Championship Wrestling. Aside from the board game and apparel, much of what was saved could be classified as ephemera. Photos, programs, and even newspaper clippings. If a Von Erich boy was even mentioned, you can bet that the article or blurb was clipped and saved.

Today we're looking at some programs, but not of the traditional style that many are familiar with. These three programs are from cards held at the W.G. Thomas Coliseum and benefited the local high school band. I must admit, I love these things. Not only are they different from most wrestling programs in size and shape, but they capture the fact that, as big as World Class became for a time, the biggest names in the promotion were still working local shows like this.

The three events were held on 3/20/1984, 10/13/1984, and 3/9/1985. Each program lists four matches with ten minute intermissions apparently peppered between each match. The first show featured Ice Man King Parsons vs Super Destroyer, Chris Adams vs Jimmy Garvin, Kerry Von Erich vs Kimala, and Kevin Von Erich vs Michael Hayes. The second included Buck Zumhofe vs Bill Irwin, Ice Man King Parsons vs Norvell Austin, Mike Von Erich vs Gino Hernandez & Andrea The Giant, and Kevin Von Erich vs The Missing Link. The 1985 show had a Captains Match, John Mantel vs One Man Gang, The Fantastics vs The Midnight Express, and Kerry Von Erich vs Gino Hernandez.

What a time capsule these are, maybe even more so than a standard wrestling program. Not only are they full of good quality WCCW promotional photos, there are endless advertisements from the sponsors. An eatery called Clown Hamburger certainly makes their "Double Meat Hamburger Plus French Fries And Medium Drink - Only $2.19" sound delicious. How about BOGO mesquite smoked chopped bar-b-q sandwiches from Buff's Bar-B-Q Barn? And I'd be remiss not to mention that all three programs include a $1.00 off coupon from the local K-Mart Pharmacy on your next prescription.

But what about the wrestling? Can you imagine getting to see the legendary Gino Hernandez live? How about his partner, Andrea The Giant? We all know her better as Baby Doll, of course. You know that The Fantastics and The Midnight Express gave it their all in a tag team classic. And seeing the Von Erich's in battle against classic opponents such as Michael Hayes and Kamala? Did the fans in attendance realize what was taking place before their eyes? If they were as rabid as those that were always shown on television, I imagine that they may have.

And as with so many items from the era, you never know when
you're in for a surprise. You've seen these stars being mobbed for autographs on their way to the ring, from the ring, and IN the ring. Those signed items are still out there, you just have to know where to look. Opening to the first page of that 10/13/84 program yielded one of those surprises. A rushed, yet unquestionably authentic, Mike Von Erich autograph. It's even in red pen.



Vintage items like these are what continue to remind me why I love pro wrestling. A few old, wrinkled pieces of paper stapled into a pamphlet can contain a treasure trove of memories. A split second decision could have found these being hauled off to a landfill years ago. Certainly that was the fate of many of these items, but thankfully examples like these have survived. That K-Mart Pharmacy coupon may no longer be valid, but the rest of the value found in these pages will last for eternity.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Wrestling MarketWatch: WWE Hall of Fame 2017

WrestleMania weekend is upon us. The grandest stage of them all has become much more than just the show on Sunday, and has even stretched beyond the borders of WWE, for better or worse. Regardless if the main featured content is up your alley or not, there truly is something for everyone. For many of us, the highlight is the WWE Hall of Fame. There's enough debate elsewhere on whether or not the WWE Hall of Fame is "legit." Around these parts, we simply enjoy it for what it is: a celebration of the past.

This is not the first time that the WWE Hall of Fame and our recurring Wrestling MarketWatch feature have come together. The last time was in 2013 for the Hall of Fame ceremony that I had the honor of attending in person. I'm still biased toward that class, headlined by Bruno Sammartino, as being the best, but 2017 is very solid. The names include Kurt Angle, The Rock N Roll Express, Teddy Long, Diamond Dallas Page, Ravishing Rick Rude, and Beth Phoenix. All of the stars have plenty of memorabilia, and as always in MarketWatch we're about to take a look at the recent auction selling prices for some of those items.

*Holla Holla Holla! Teddy "Peanuthead" Long has had a long career in the business performing just about every duty aside from being an actual wrestler. I was always a fan of Long as a manager in WCW. When his run there came to an end, I never imagined that he would almost completely restart in WWE, but after a return to refereeing Long once again became a villainous manager. Arguably, Long's biggest fame came as the long-reigning general manager of Smackdown. His best piece of merchandise commemorates that run, in the form of a Mattel WWE Build-A-Figure. That figure, with all pieces included, has been selling for an average of $30.

*Another man who made his name in WCW and only later joined WWE is Diamond Dallas Page. A "late bloomer" in wrestling, Page became one of the most popular names in WCW during the "Monday Night Wars" and is fondly remembered by even casual fans to this day. More recently DDP has earned real-life kudos for helming his DDP Yoga wellness program and essentially helping to save the lives of many people including Jake "The Snake" Roberts and Scott Hall. DDP also holds the distinction of appearing on the cover of the final issue of WCW Magazine, cover dated May 2001. That edition recently sold for $15.

*When you're talking the tag team ranks, you have to mention Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson. The Rock N Roll Express have been thrilling fans for over three decades with no end in sight. If you haven't heard a pop for the "R N R X" with your own ears, what are you waiting for? Their battles with the Midnight Express are legendary, but it always seemed that manager Jim Cornette was their true nemesis. One of the biggest highlights of Mania weekend will be seeing, and hearing, Cornette induct Morton and Gibson into the Hall of Fame. As for merchandise, the Express saw loads of it. Their only action figures came under the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars banner. Notorious for having the boys hair colors swapped, the figures are still high in demand. A carded set recently sold for $140.

*Another highlight of the 2017 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony will be the return of Kurt Angle to the company. Sure he's going into the hallowed Hall, but what will his future hold from here? A regular return to WWE programming? Maybe a match or three? Time will tell, but this fellow Pittsburgher is simply happy to see Angle back "home" where he belongs in WWE. Another star with endless merchandise, Angle should be receiving more in the coming months. Mattel figures from all eras of Angle? Yes, please. Angle is also a gracious signer, and a signed Impact Wrestling 8x10 promotional photo of the Olympic medalist recently sold for $20.

*A long time coming, the WWE Hall of Fame is about to get a Rude Awakening. Posthumously, Ravishing Rick Rude will be inducted this year by WCW nemesis Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. Rude is still rather underrated in my book. Do enough searching and you can watch his work in and out of the ring get better and better as he floats from the territories, Jim Crockett Promotions, WWF, and WCW. His WWF-era promos were as believable as any wrestler to come along, despite the over-the-top gimmick. That gimmick has given way to a number of great action figures. Even though the first was more of a statue than a figure, it's part of the infamous WWF Wrestling Superstars '89 series, the last group of the legendary LJN line. That figure recently sold out of package for $87.

It's a stellar group of names that actually fills some gaps that fans have complaining about for awhile now. Will Cornette's return open the door for a Midnight Express induction in 2018? Will Angle make an impact on WWE's future? Will Theodore R. Long book a tag team match? There's only one way to find out, playa.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Blue Meanie Dances Again

I've said it numerous times over the years. If any wrestler was meant to be an action figure, it's The Blue Meanie. It's a crime that he didn't have one during his stints in ECW and WWE. Now in 2017, following the year when Magnum T.A. finally received a figure, The Meanie is dancing into our collections. Does he live up to almost two decades of expectations? Let's take a trip to Pepperland and find out...

The Blue Meanie's first figure is part of Figures Toy Company's new Legends of Professional Wrestling line. The line is just one of several either started or planned by the company, also including figures under the Ring of Honor and Rising Stars of Wrestling banners. Also included in the first wave of Legends of Professional Wrestling figures are Jim Cornette, New Jack, and PJ Polaco (Justin Credible).

My friend and fellow wrestling/Blue Meanie fan Kerry Huffman did a great review of the figure on his YouTube channel shortly after it was released. Knowing that he was anticipating the figure as much as I was, I admit that I was a bit concerned after the review. Loose arms? Surely this had to be a one-off mistake. Another friend had mentioned to me that he had similar issues with some of the figures from the Ring of Honor line. Nonetheless, I was determined to investigate myself.

My Meanie actually had a different problem upon arrival. He was so excited to join my collection that he lost his head! The figures head was completely off the body when I received it. Thankfully I was opening the thing and, admittedly, did not take this issue to the company. Still, this has to be a concern for the many collectors who will be keeping the figure carded. Despite the figure being packaged in a reusable "clamshell" case, you still have to remove a Figures Toy Company zip tie to open it. When that's off, it's technically no longer "mint on card." You can purchase the zip ties from the company, but I can't see many doing that. I've heard of ways to remove these without cutting them, but I wasn't messing with that since this one was being opened anyway.

I was able to pop the head back on upon opening the figure, but then the loose arm situation reared it's ugly head. You can "balance" the arms occasionally, but generally the arms simply hang. Your Meanie isn't really going to "dance." There are issues with the wrists as well. Though these figures are based upon the Jakks "Ruthless Aggression" design, these are not the exact sculpts. The plastic used isn't quite the same quality either. There's a plastic folding chair included as well, but this is just a castoff from Figures Toy Company's line of wrestling figure accessories originally produced many years ago. There isn't too much of a reason for it to be included, but I don't see it taking up much of the figure budget, either.

It isn't all bad. The cloth shirt and shorts are great and add a lot to the figure. The facial sculpt is perfect and could actually not be any better. Meanie has previously said on social media that he deliberately had the design done as a mix of "eras" of The Blue Meanie and it really works. This is the look that I've been picturing all of these years. The shorts have a tendency to slip, but that's often a trade-off when using cloth accessories. Besides, isn't it just like The Meanie to be flashing some buttcrack to the audience? The belt is a separate piece from the jeans which does look good. The knee pads are very similar to their Jakks counterparts and stay on firmly.

It's very hard to recommend purchasing this figure at the current price point. On one hand, this could be the only time that an iconic cult character in wrestling ever sees a figure. Plus, there's already a bWo Stevie Richards figure out there to go along with it. At almost $40 after shipping, though, it's a steep investment. If you're opening the figure, the loose arms and other production issues hurt it. If you're keeping it carded, will the head pop off? Between the latter and the price point, I have decided against purchasing a second one to have signed. I was also interested in the Cornette figure, but may end up putting that off as well.

Following Figures Toy Company for a long time, I do understand their position. Their figure lines of all genres are niche. They do not sell them in stores and are generally only available online. The price points have to be high to pay the bills. That being said, low quality out of the box just isn't acceptable. Being a diehard fan of the 1966 Batman tv series since I was a child, I have collected many of FTC's figures from that line and have seen much better quality control there. These wrestling lines deserve that, too.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Journeyman's Journeyman: Dennis Stamp

The 2017 loss list grows. While I don't mark every passing with an individual entry, I couldn't pass up saying a few words about Dennis Stamp. The man who came into the consciousness of so many of us with three words and a trampoline-based exercise routine was so much more than a movie appearance, yet he seemed to appreciate that it finally won him widespread fame.

It's fairly safe to say that without his infamous appearance in "Beyond the Mat," Dennis Stamp would be another territorial wrestler lost to time. His name appears constantly in old results and he can be glimpsed in old television footage, but he never had the national exposure that propelled so many to immortality. Instead, that came later.

For those of you who haven't seen "Beyond the Mat," you're missing out. At the time of its release nearly two decades ago, the film was a shocking look inside the world of professional wrestling. As the years go by, it becomes an unforgettable time capsule of several wrestling eras. Stamp appears in a somewhat brief, but poignant, look at what happens to a man who became respected by his wrestling peers yet not necessarily remembered by the wrestling fans.

In the movie, Stamp stubbornly refuses to attend Terry Funk's 1997 retirement show after The Funker forgets to book him. Stamp's often repeated catch phrase of "I'm not booked" became one of the favorite moments from the film for many, as did his exercises to keep in shape for the next match. Equally as amusing is when Stamp returns to the site of the match and accepts Funk's offer for him to referee the main event that night. According to producer Barry Blaustein, the latter sequence was totally unexpected.

I had the pleasure of meeting Stamp, when he was booked, at a Legends of the Ring convention several years ago. This was likely one of the first times that Stamp got to witness his new found popularity in person. He was a pleasure to meet and, as I mentioned above, totally seemed to appreciate his fans born from the movie. He even had a pair of ticket stubs in his jacket from when he claimed was the last time that he wore it. What were those stubs from? A premiere of "Beyond the Mat."

Beyond a magazine/program cover or two and some photos, Stamp had little memorabilia in his likeness. One unique item bearing his signature was shown here a little under three years ago. It's a '70s-era cocktail napkin from a bar in North Dakota signed to a drinking buddy fan from three then-AWA stars. Those wrestlers? Dusty Rhodes, Ivan Koloff, and Dennis Stamp.

It had been reported in recent weeks that Stamp's cancer had returned. He had been in remission for some time, returned to the ring for a few matches, and continued to make appearances around the wrestling world. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Dennis Stamp in this difficult time.

Thank you, Dennis, for letting us buy a ticket to see you whenever you were booked. It was worth every penny.


Dennis Stamp

1946-2017



Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Kevin Owens Figure With Universal Appeal

The blog entry that you are about to read labels me as a hypocrite. Well, maybe that's going a bit too far. Perhaps "fickle" would be a better description for me after we take a look at this figure. Not long ago, I was not a believer in a few of the concepts presented here. In fact, I was dead set against them. I had my reasons, which I will go into, but I could never have imagined that I would change my mind. Nonetheless, here we are...

Mattel has rolled out yet another Kevin Owens figure. This is the second time that the Monday Night Raw star has received the "Elite" treatment. A few weeks ago I gave my thoughts on what I feel is the best Kevin Owens figure, that being his entry in the wildly popular Mattel WWE Retro line patterned after the legendary Hasbro WWF collection. Will that opinion stay? Let's see.

The big draw here is that Owens is packaged with the title of which he is the longest reigning holder of--the WWE Universal Championship. Also included is the stand on which the championship made its debut before being initially won by Finn Balor. When the figure was first announced, I told a friend that I was looking forward to it. His response? "You just want the red stand." I'm transparent.

Accessories aside, it's a very nice figure. As is the current trend, Elite figures come
packaged with a display stand and sliver of a cardboard diorama that can be added to those with other figures in the series to form a complete backdrop. I still don't care for this gimmick, as I've discussed a few times already this year. The plastic portion is ok, but the cardboard is flimsy and bends as soon as you insert it into the holder. The likeness is good but I think that the Basic stance works better for how Owens carries himself. The old facial likeness from the Basic figure was a bit better too. This looks more like someone cosplaying as KO.

As stated above, the accessories are a major selling point with this figure. It's the debut of the figure-sized Universal Championship. There's no doubt that it will appear many more times in the line, but collectors want it "now." The presentation stand may be a bit of a different story. It's really just a hollow chunk of soft red plastic, but there's no guarantee that we will ever see it released again. The Hall of Fame podium that was included with Bruno Sammartino still has not been re-released even after several years. If you're into unique accessories that aren't chairs, tables, and the like, you may want to see if you can grab this figure.

Now, full disclosure as to why this entry may make me a hypocrite. Truth be told, I was not a fan of Kevin Owens or the Universal Championship upon their WWE debuts. As for Owens, the somewhat psychotic fandom of "Kevin Steen" fans soured me early. It was almost cult-like and anyone who opposed it just had to be wrong. I had seen very little of him, but the odd fan devotion did sour me to an extent. He has since become an absolute highlight for me in WWE, but I let myself decide if I was going to like him or not. No one can deny that his run with Chris Jericho has been one of the main reasons to watch. Hopefully the payoff is equally as good as the build.

The Universal Championship design did not appeal to me at first, either. While I'm still not a fan of so many WWE titles having the same design, if I had to choose, this is the one that would stay. Upon its unveiling, I admit that I took to Twitter and other avenues decrying what I deemed to be the "Christmas Championship." Even though the famous NWA "domed globe" belt originally had a red lining (which quickly frayed and was removed), I just couldn't get behind the concept. As time wore on, the look won me over. Although the fickle Internet fans (and I thought I was fickle...) now suddenly hate Goldberg because he's holding the title, the want for this figure-sized version will not wane any time soon.

Maybe I'm not a hypocrite or even fickle, but I do know that I like this entry into the Kevin Owens figure collection. My pick for "best so far" is the Retro figure, but even that could change down the line. What I do know for a fact is that Owens brings a different look and feel to the table that, even if I didn't think so at first, is a true asset to a company that is often stuck with the "same old, same old."

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Russian Bear Goes Home

Just one day after the passing of George "The Animal" Steele, Ivan Koloff went home to be with the Lord. His death was not unexpected, as recent health updates from his family indicated that his time remaining on Earth was short. Nevertheless, no one ever wants to believe such news.

Just like Steele, some of Ivan Koloff's greatest fame comes from being one of the most notorious challengers to Bruno Sammartino. In the case of Koloff, he became the one adversary who did the unthinkable: he took the title from the Italian strongman. The story of the winter night in 1971 when Koloff shocked the entire Madison Square Garden crowd is stuff of legend. Remember the stunned silence when Brock Lesnar ended "The Streak?" By all accounts, this is the best modern day equation.

Interestingly enough, throughout my fandom I've always more associated Ivan with NWA wrestling. Aside from a brief early '80s WWF run, he really never appeared for that company again. His runs with Jim Crockett Promotions have much more stood the test of time. The fact that many more of those matches exist on tape obviously helps.

You can't help but want to refer to the man as "Uncle Ivan." I even did so in person more than once. Hey, when Nikita Koloff says something, you follow his example. Alternating between wrestler and manager, Ivan terrorized heroes like Dusty Rhodes, The Rock N Roll Express, and of course "Boogie Woogie Man" Jimmy Valiant. You believed his promos. You believed that he truly was a "Russian Bear."

When I met Koloff for the first time, I had the same reaction that most fans did. After so many years of hearing him speak with the Russian accent, for it to suddenly be gone was jarring. Once you got past that, you were stunned by another fact: Ivan was one of the nicest gentleman that you would ever meet. It was exactly like visiting with a kindly uncle who you grew up watching from a distance.

Seeing Ivan and wife Renae at conventions and shows was always a pleasure. To say that their presence will be missed is an understatement. I truly treasure each time that I was able to briefly speak with them.

"The Russian Bear" is now at rest with the Lord. He spoke of his faith so highly, that all I can imagine is that wonderful smile on his face. Just like all of his years in the ring, this should bring smiles to all of our faces, too.

Rest easy, comrade.


Ivan Koloff

1942-2017


Thursday, February 23, 2017

George...Animal...Bye...

It's been a period of sadness for the wrestling industry. Several individuals who made their name in the business have passed away in a very short time. While we take the time for all fallen heroes of the mat world at the end of the calendar year, two of the recent losses will be observed individually here on the blog. The first of which is George "The Animal" Steele.

George Steele is a wrestler who is remembered different by fans depending on when they followed the sport of kings. Fans of the '60s and '70s remember Steele as a bloodthirsty villain who was a very real threat to the championship of Bruno Sammartino. This version of Steele spoke in a '60s beatnik lingo and is very well remembered in my hometown of Pittsburgh, "The Steel City," where George "received" his last name.

As the WWF went national and Steele got older, the character that fans my age and younger remember came into play. This George Steele, after giving up his villainous ways, was a furry bear of a man with a childlike innocence and very limited vocabulary. For all the naysayers, the character still drew money and is fondly remembered.

"The Animal" is among my earliest wrestling memories. His hair-covered body, green tongue, and want for Miss Elizabeth defined the George Steele of the mid-1980's. It was a character that kids could get behind. As we know, that was the name of the game in the WWF of the era.

Although George became a WWF agent after his in-ring career there wore down, he also become notable on the independent scene. All it took to please the audience was the chasing of an opponent, the chewing of a turnbuckle pad, and a few bellows of "YOU!" to the crowd. It was an act that sustained.

It's hard to believe now, but there was a time when I thought that I'd never get to meet George "The Animal" Steele. I was well into attending conventions and the sort, but George just wasn't being booked. All told he seemed happy in Florida and his health issues had already been public knowledge. Thankfully I was wrong and can't even remember the total number of times that I did get to meet up with the green-tongued grappler. He may have spoke articulately in these appearances, but he always let a bit of "The Animal" shine through.

Through wrestling, his teaching and coaching career, and even acting, George Steele will always be remembered. The days of "eating" a turnbuckle pad may be over, but who will ever look at one and not think of ol' George?

Thanks...memories...George...

...bye...



George "The Animal" Steele

1937-2017


Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Memories Make The Memorabilia

A few weeks ago my friends over at the Mid-Atlantic Gateway asked me to share my memories of Dusty Rhodes and his Jim Crockett Promotions-era memorabilia. Knowing that he is my all-time favorite wrestler and that I had the honor of meeting him a number of times, they knew that I would have some interesting stories. I'd say it's hard to find any piece of memorabilia in any collection that doesn't have some sort of story attached to it.

Maybe it's how you obtained it. You suddenly came upon it in a store without even knowing it was in existence. Perhaps it's who bought it for you. A long departed loved one? A friend who has come and gone from your life? Even still, it could simply be where you were at that time of your life. Very often an item will have extra significance to a collector if it's a treasure from their childhood. Or maybe it was a special gift from the person who ended up becoming your significant other.

My parents were always very toy-savvy. They knew what was new in stores and what wasn't. When my mom noticed the Hasbro WWF Earthquake figure on the shelves during a 1992 shopping trip, she decided to surprise me with it. After school that day, as I innocently held a "Royal Rumble" with my Hasbro and Galoob figures, my mom began to loudly read some of the new "names" from the back of the card and asked my opinions on them. Although it intrigued me, it apparently wasn't enough to tear me away from the Rumble at hand. When my dad arrived home later that afternoon, they let me have my new "Natural Disaster." You can imagine who came out victorious in the Rumble that day.

The first pay-per-view that I attended was the 1995 SummerSlam. Although many regard it as a low point in WWF history due to the era in which it took place, many of us who were there are biased. The WWF really did take over the town at the time with a lot of promotions and activity. I even met the two then-World Champions, Diesel and Alundra Blayze, the day before. Though we bought the program at the event, my dad really wanted me to have one of the promotional posters for the show. Later in the evening, returning from a restroom break, my dad surprised me with a laminated version of the poster that had to have been for sale.

But what about firsts? Where it all began. For me, the very first item in my collection was a Hulk Hogan's Rock N' Wrestling Coloring Book. I don't have many memories of watching the cartoon as a child for the same reason that I don't have many early memories of weekend morning wrestling. We always did family activities on weekends, so for wrestling I have much clearer early memories of Prime Time Wrestling and Saturday Night's Main Event. Nonetheless, you'd think that I would have known not to color Andre the Giant's hair green. Kids!

And for my first meeting/autograph? Sgt. Slaughter. Monroeville, Pennsylvania. 1988. I've discussed it here before, but any chance that I get to show off my stylish '80s duds is something that I jump at. Nearly thirty years later and "Sarge" is still one of the nicest guys that you would ever want to meet. The great "secret" of our first meeting? I was there more because of his association with G.I. Joe than the fact that he was a pro wrestler. But there I was, red pants and all, first in line for the legendary meeting...

Well, that was a fun little run through just a small sample of my wrestling and memorabilia memories. I hope that this inspires you to go back and think about what each figure, magazine, and autograph really means to you. It's often a value much more important than money.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Asuka...Asuka...Asuka...

Oh how I've been waiting for this one! The most dominant female ever to hit NXT rings finally has an action figure. While not alone, Asuka joins a select group of NXT wrestlers to receive a figure before even appearing on the active WWE roster. But do we want her up on Raw or Smackdown anyway? I'm not so sure. Regardless, having great merchandise is not exclusive to being on the "main roster," and on this blog that's what counts the most. But does the figure live up to the anticipation?

Asuka makes her debut as part of the Mattel WWE Elite Series "47 A." As with the last series which saw press on this blog with the release of Harlem Heat, the new gimmick of "diorama" stands continues. The backdrop is again rather lackluster, although it is nice to see a stand included. The cardboard still bends as soon as it's been inserted into the plastic stand for a short time. There's definitely an accessory that I'd rather see with Asuka in lieu of this new feature, but we'll get to that in a bit.

Visually, Asuka is very impressive both in real life and as an action figure. Asuka makes for a very short figure, but surprisingly she does not suffer from "floating" in the package. The combination of her pose, the mask accessory, and the strategically placed WWE logo behind the figure works very well. I think that the current packaging, with the slant on the lower left corner, helps keep the package from overshadowing the figure.

Mattel seems to have once again gone above and beyond in order to make this figure unique. With just a glance I see very few reused parts. Due to Asuka's unique gear, it just wouldn't have been possible. As much as I've loved the many WWE lines of the past, it seems that Mattel was destined to produce a figure of a wrestler such as Asuka. I really can't see such detail going into her if she'd been around years ago. It's all here. Colors. Tassels. That hair. That smile. Speaking of the smile, I'd say that the likeness is 90% there. Just being honest, there is something keeping me from 100% seeing Asuka with the face, but it's pretty damned close. It is possible to get 100% dead-on, as the recently released figure of Asuka's former nemesis Dana Brooke proves.

As expected, Asuka's trademark face mask is here. I was very curious to see how it would attach, seeing the great job that has been done with the Wyatt Family masks. Unlike the real mask which Asuka holds in using her mouth, there are two pegs on the side of this figure-sized mask which fit in between the sides of her face and hair. It fits great and can also be held in her hand. This is the first mask design that she used and I have no doubt that we'll see future releases with additional masks.

I do wish that we had seen her entrance cape/rope included. The figure does feel a little off without it. Perhaps a future release in the Defining Moments or WWE Network Exclusive sets will have it, but I really wish it was here.

Asuka is hot, in more ways than one, and I know that this is only the first figure that we'll see of the Japanese star. From before it was even announced, I knew that Mattel would do such a job that it would automatically get into the running for "Figure of the Year." They did, and it does, but not without the flaws mentioned above. Still, I'll go on record as saying that this is the best female wrestling figure to date. Could we see another Asuka figure this year that tops this one? I wouldn't doubt it. But in the meantime, if you find that sinister smile aimed at you on the figure shelves, I wouldn't pass it up...