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