Thursday, August 31, 2017

Topps WWE Heritage Returns To 1987...As Predicted

I can't exactly take credit for it, but I did predict it. Last September I "created" what I thought what be a perfect 2017 edition of Topps WWE Heritage trading cards. Based upon the 1987 Topps WWF trading card design, the cards celebrated thirty years of the set which featured WrestleMania III. And...I was half right. To be fair, it was a no-brainer. Millions of kids collected that set growing up in the Hogan era, so it's only natural that the design would be revisited. Again, as you'll see in the coming paragraphs and photos, I was only half right.

For the third year in a row, Topps WWE Heritage cards have arrived in full force. Hitting in early August 2017, the box and packs once again adopt blue as the primary color. Goldberg, John Cena, Bayley, and AJ Styles take the top of the box, although I'm partial to the side which features Ric Flair, The Ultimate Warrior, Randy Savage, and "surfer" Sting. A hobby box promises 24 packs, 9 cards per pack, and 2 hits per box, including a guaranteed autograph.

Getting the hits out of the way, it seems as if you could almost consider yourself as receiving three. From my own experience as well as others, each box seems to contain one silver parallel card numbered up to 25. While not guaranteed on the box, this is definitely a bonus and a third hit in the eyes of many. My box yielded a silver Kevin Nash parallel along with a Johnny Gargano shirt relic and, most importantly, a Kevin Owens autograph. It's nice to see that the autographs are once again "on-card" here, meaning that the actual card was signed rather than a sticker being applied.

The 100-card base set is a throwback to the 1987 Topps baseball card design. We've seen this style used on WWE Heritage before as a subset, but never as a full set itself. The common bronze parallels are a bit darker. The base set is once again a good mix of WWE and NXT superstars as well as legends. I wouldn't say that there are any true surprises, but this would be the Heritage debuts for Ken Shamrock and Terri Runnels, not to mention the return of Fit Finlay after a long absence.

My being "half right" with my blog entry from last year comes in the form of subsets. "SummerSlam All-Stars," "Thirty Years of SummerSlam," and "Bizarre SummerSlam Matches" all feature the 1987 Topps WWF card design that I had used in my imaginary set. It makes perfect sense, but I would rather have had the base set featured in this design. Even the "Kiss" and "Patch" hit cards get in on the act by reflecting the 1987 "TV card" and sticker designs, respectively. "SummerSlam All-Stars" is the best of the bunch, taking after the first 21 cards of the set from thirty years ago.

If I had a major complaint about the set, it would be that the photo choices seem a bit off in some instances. Some of the photos, especially in the subsets, don't seem up to the usual Topps quality. Others, such as Goldberg's base card, were all-in-all odd picks to begin with. "The Man" is almost completely facing the opposite direction. And what is with all of the X-Pac love in this set? Does he really warrant that many cards? I will also mention the fact that non-Heritage "tribute" subsets (here specifically for Cena, The Undertaker, and Daniel Bryan) continue to trickle into Heritage sets. These cards just do not fit in with Heritage and should be kept for the various other sets released throughout the year.

Bitterness from my idea being stolen aside (I kid...), I like the set. There could have been some better photo choices and I wish that the 1987 WWF style had completely saturated the release, but a hobby box is still a worthwhile purchase. These remain my favorite cards to be autographed due to the non-gloss style, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. It would be nice to see some more studio shots included in a Heritage set similar to the first two releases over a decade ago. In fact, I wouldn't mind seeing WWE Heritage II revisited.

Heritage of...Heritage?

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Bloody Disgusting!

Maybe this list should've been saved for Halloween! Who else loved the bloody wrestling magazine covers of yesteryear? I can't imagine many saying that they didn't. These covers are almost a foreign concept in a world where wrestling matches are stopped when a drop of blood comes trickling out. It's a different time, and not necessarily a better one. Thankfully, we have these artifacts to look back on, showcasing the gory, wild west world of vintage professional wrestling.

The stars of the '70s were wild in and out of the ring. Two of the most notorious were Harley Race, who could fill a bloody cover story all by himself, and the late Blackjack Mulligan. In March 1979, the two were seen in a gruesome bloodbath on the cover of Inside Wrestling. Mulligan's infamous clawhold seems to be actually causing the blood to squirt from the head of Race...

Speaking of wild, how about Buddy Colt? This top talent in such areas as Florida and Georgia may not be a common name to today's fans, but students of the past are more than familiar with the grappler. In fact, it's the very photo used on the cover of a 1974 Wrestling Yearbook issue that shows up time and again when Colt comes into the conversation. The caption? "Buddy Colt Loves Blood - Even If It's His." Well then...

Speaking of loving their own blood, you get a feeling that "The Brain" may have been the same way. There are tons of magazine covers featuring Bobby Heenan's mug covered in a "crimson mask," but none are more iconic than the November 1970 issue of The Wrestler. The magazine had it's own feature on this blog at one point, and Heenan still lights up when he sees this particular cover.

One of Heenan's most connected protege's also shed blood on occasion, that being Nick Bockwinkel. On a 1980 Wrestling Annual magazine, the erudite champion is seen on the cover after a brutal AWA Championship defense. His famous belt barely held up, the dazed Bockwinkel likely just had the fight of his life.

Of course, bloody covers can come in the form of programs, too. Each territory had their programs, but few may have been cooler than those from Memphis. The September 26, 1979 program cover features a very young Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy covered in a mass of blood. The photo may be black and white, but that does not stop the intensity of the moment from coming through.

A small sampling? Yes, but some of the best. The blood is often missed from today's product, but looking at these images certainly keeps the gruesome past alive. Bloody Hell!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Memorabilia of SummerSlam

When WWE decided to try and replicate the WrestleMania weekend experience, they chose SummerSlam as the centerpiece. While anticipation over the story lines and matches never comes close to those featured at Mania, SummerSlam has indeed been a marquee event for nearly three decades. Though the card lacks the uniqueness of the Royal Rumble, it is a perfectly positioned "summer treat" for wrestling fans. And as we know on this blog, that means goodies...

Some of my favorites revolve around the early editions of the event. The Ultimate Warrior heavily factored into the first five SummerSlam events from 1988 to 1992. In all honesty, The Warrior may have had a bigger impact at the event than his contemporary, Hulk Hogan. With his wild persona and insane look, he was a perfect fit for a "carefree" summer show. He took the Intercontinental title at the first two events and successfully defended the World Wrestling Federation championship at the third. A promotional button featuring a classic Ultimate Warrior promotional shot exists for the latter event.

Speaking of the 1990 SummerSlam event, it was at that show in which "The Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart donned official SummerSlam shades. The bright neon orange was a staple of the time and was a perfect accessory for the always "loud" Hart. These shades were actually a promotional item used to advertise the event in the early 1990's. These, and other items, were popular giveaways from cable companies. Yes, at one time, cable systems were locally owned companies that you could actually interact with. This is indeed how I procured my pair, thanks to a local cable outfit.

As with most large WWF events, programs were a big deal with SummerSlam. Even in the last decade, WWE has continued to produced unique publications for the event. In 2009, most of the promotional artwork for the event was made to look like a vintage wrestling poster. Both the program and the ringside chair reflected this, with a "ragged" and "worn" look given to the art, while the WWE Superstars were framed in stars, just as they may have been on a poster had SummerSlam taken place in the '60s or '70s. It was a great concept. WWE produced a special program for the 2010 event, as well.

But my favorite piece? Sentiment takes over, as usual. As I discussed in my twentieth anniversary celebration of the event, SummerSlam 1995 is near and dear to my heart. It was the first pay-per-view event that I attended live. It was held in my hometown of Pittsburgh. It was also a promised a way. Since my dad's birthday was August 31, I always promised him that I would take him to SummerSlam. While 12-year-old me didn't pay for the tickets, we did attend. Returning from a restroom break, my dad surprised me with the laminated poster of the show featuring Diesel. I treasure it to this day.

It's "The Biggest Party of the Summer!" Take in NXT TakeOver! Hop a plane or train and go to Brooklyn yourself. The "easy breezy" days of summer are about to end. Make those all important plans right now to be a part of SummerSlam! No, I'm not Mean Gene, but in all seriousness, enjoy the event, and treasure the memories! And while you're at it, you may just be at the edge of your seat...

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The "Granddaddy of 'Em All" of Wrestling Conventions...

Over the past decade wrestling conventions have popped everywhere. Just like in other genres, "cons" allow fans to mingle with stars in addition to meeting with other average Joe's who have the same interests that they do. These wrestling events provide access that would have been unheard of even just a few decades ago. While there were smaller fan gatherings that occasionally received attention from the wrestling world, it was nothing like the modern day scene. And as far as these current conventions, nothing compared to the mighty NWA Fanfest.

You may have heard it referred to as "the Charlotte Fanfest," "Greg Price's Fanfest," or "NWA Legends Fanfest," but it all really started as a tribute to Jim Crockett Promotions under the name "Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest." 2004 actually saw three different events held under the banner, and my first came over Thanksgiving weekend of that year which was deemed "A Tribute to Starrcade." Never in a million years did I think that I would be up close and personal with Harley Race, Ricky Steamboat, Greg Valentine, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, and Ole Anderson, not to mention seeing legends like Dusty Rhodes and The Masked Superstar who I'd already had the pleasure of meeting. It was a wrestling dream come true.

I would go on to attend quite a few more of the Fanfests in Charlotte, in addition to those which branched out to Rockville, MD and Atlanta, GA. Each one had its own unique flavor and special guests. Many fans began to view the event as a family reunion. Not only were they seeing their "television family" from the old days, but they were reuniting with the new family that they had made thanks to Fanfest. Promoter Greg Price and his tireless staff made sure that this atmosphere was cultivated each year and never disappeared.

In addition to the personal feeling of the weekends, fans got to see and witness things right before their eyes that they never could have fathomed. The Horsemen together again? Dusty Rhodes returning to the Charlotte stomping grounds of Crockett Promotions? Jimmy Valiant and Paul Jones hugging and reminiscing? Harley Race and Ric Flair sitting down to discuss Starrcade? The legendary dog collar match revisited? It all happened at various Fanfests, and those are events just off the top of my head.

Of course, there are bittersweet memories as well. Rowdy Roddy Piper performed a stellar comedy act at 2011's Fanfest, only to have the news of his death break during the 2015 weekend. Many of us vividly remember managers Sir Oliver Humperdink and Gary Hart running around Fanfest like a couple of kids at Disney World. A few years later, Humpy would induct his friend into the Hall of Heroes (an event held at Fanfest) shortly before passing away himself. And of course all of the names like Sherri Martel, Buddy Roberts, Jimmy Snuka, Ivan Koloff, Ernie Ladd, and Jack Brisco, to list a few, who attended the event before their deaths.

This year's Fanfest was cancelled for unknown reasons. It would be a true shame if we have seen the last of this great event, as no other convention offers what Greg's show did. I often liked to say that it had "something for everyone," and I wasn't lying. With my very own eyes I saw folks both young and young at heart enjoy the legends and living the memories that were simultaneously being made. It was a spirit that is not often able to be captured, bottled, and released year after year. At Fanfest, that was the magic that indeed happened.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Could it be the autograph of "The Saint?"

September 23, 2017 marks what would have been the 100th birthday of El Santo. To simply call the man one of the pioneers of lucha libre would be an understatement. It has often been told to us American fans that we simply could not fathom what El Santo means to his home country of Mexico. That his significance to his people was unlike anything that a professional wrestler here in the United States would ever achieve. That being said, did an authentic El Santo autograph finally make its way to my collection?

"If this thing is real, I'd love to have it."

The above sentence isn't my own quote, but when I first came across this signed photo, I suddenly imagined I'd walked into an episode of Pawn Stars. Since I had no way of personally authenticating it, I looked at some facts. I acquired the photo very inexpensively in what seemed to be a broken up collection along with some unsigned photos of other stars. The collection came from Texas, a state where obtaining autographs of luchadores would not be unheard of.

"It looks great to me, but I have to be sure. Mind if I call in an expert?"

Unfortunately, there aren't many lucha autograph experts to be found on the Internet, at least not readily. What's even worse is that there don't seem to be any examples of El Santo's autograph available for viewing, either. When searching for the autograph one only yields results featuring the signature of El Santo's son, El Hijo del Santo. In essence, I had to go on my own judgment...

"My opinion? It appears to be real."

The other photos in the collection are all of stars who worked in the Houston area in 1974. El Santo did in fact wrestle in that territory at the time. How good was the legend at signing autographs? There's no doubt in my mind that an astute fan could have obtained the signature before or after a Houston show. Until we have other examples, it's as good as any other El Santo autograph that would show up with that good of a back story.