Thursday, March 15, 2018

Don't Go Messin' With A Hall Of Famer

Several years ago there was a feature on this blog entitled "Hillbilly Jim...Hall of Famer of Humanity." It took a look at the large, country superstar when it seemed as if he would be the only cast member of WWE Legends House to not enter the WWE Hall of Fame. Nearly two and a half years later, Hillbilly is about to join his legendary pals.

So much has been written about what a nice guy Hillbilly Jim is. He's just a genuine soul in an industry where there are many on the opposite spectrum. To watch him with fans young and old is a joy. While others on the Legends House series were working the cameras, Jim was being himself. A man who is simply happy to have lived a life that he enjoyed every day of.

Now, over WrestleMania XXXIV weekend, Hillbilly will have several more special moments. The WWE Hall of Fame inductees of each specific year almost always take part in multiple events throughout the weekend, but you have to imagine that Hillbilly will be all over. For years, Jim worked as a goodwill ambassador for WWE, especially leading up to WrestleMania where he would tour the country to spread word of the event. Now, he gets to enjoy the grandest stage of them all once again, and this time again in the spotlight.

While Hillbilly was involved in WrestleMania II, III, & IV, it's probably his appearance at XVII that sticks out the most. Though his six-man tag involving midget wrestlers at III is always remembered, his inclusion in the Gimmick Battle Royal at XVII was moving. Hillbilly, looking in incredible shape, entered the Houston Astrodome to a tremendous pop. His music and dancing may have even spawned the best reaction of all the participants.

Is it any surprise? Sure, it was nostalgia at its finest. But ask any child who grew up watching even a bit of wrestling in the '80s and they can tell you about Hillbilly Jim. He was a friend to The Hulkster! He was a hero battling the likes of Brutus Beefcake, King Kong Bundy, Nikolai Volkoff, and other notorious villains. He was even immortalized in the Rock n' Wrestling cartoon show, which briefly appeared in Hillbilly's WWE Hall of Fame video.

The one lament is that Hillbilly Jim's famous self-vocalized theme song, "Don't Go Messin' With A Country Boy," is often edited out of WWE programming these days and was not included in the video. It would be nice for WWE to license the song one last time as a tribute to one of the biggest characters, personalities, and hearts that the company has ever known.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The WWE Hall of Fame: The Banquet Years

Sure, it's always been and always will be a subject of contention and controversy, but take it just a little less seriously and it's just plain fun. Like it or not, the WWE Hall of Fame is what the mainstream world will always recognize as the wrestling Hall of Fame. It's simply how it is. Aside from having the WWE banner, the broadcasts are award show-quality as far as production and now attract arenas full of fans. It's hard to believe now, twenty-five years after the creation of the Hall of Fame, but it wasn't always that way.

The first induction that began the Hall of Fame, Andre the Giant in 1993, was a mere announcement on WWF television. The following three years saw small ceremonies with inductions and speeches. These events were actually not much more than dinners held in hotel banquet facilities. The 1995 and 1996 ceremonies were held in conjunction with King of the Ring and Survivor Series in those years respectively.

Many of the all-time great WWE stars took their rightful places in the Hall of Fame at those early events including Buddy Rogers, Chief Jay Strongbow, Freddie Blassie, Bobo Brazil, Gorilla Monsoon, Arnold Skaaland, James Dudley, George "The Animal" Steele, Ernie Ladd, Ivan Putski, The Fabulous Moolah, Pedro Morales, The Grand Wizard, Antonino Rocca, Captain Lou Albano, Killer Kowalski, Johnny Rodz, Vincent J. McMahon, Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, Pat Patterson, Baron Mikel Scicluna, and the Valiant Brothers.

While it's nice that many of these now-deceased stars were able to enjoy their special night, their longtime fans can only wonder what the inductions of legends like Monsoon or Albano may have been like in the current Hall of Fame format. On the other hand, some of these early stars may have preferred the more intimate atmosphere that these ceremonies held, where fan attendance seemed to be more of an exception than a rule. No ridiculous chants at these banquets, for sure.

Though often unseen, these banquets yielded three individual Hall of Fame programs. Unlike the modern WWE Hall of Fame programs, these were small, four-page affairs printed on heavy paper stock reminiscent of a school concert or wedding program. Seeing as that attendance was greatly limited at these events, these programs do not become available very often. One in my own collection even has a small food stain. Could this have dropped from the fork of a Gorilla? Will you stop?

WWE Network does feature abridged versions of these events. While we may never see the full ceremonies officially released (there may be a "fan cam" version of one, but you didn't hear that from me), at least we have these fun and somewhat rare mementos of the nights where Rogers, Superfly, Blassie, and Patterson, among others, were finally and fully recognized by the company that they largely helped to build.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

5 More Wrestlers...Who Never Had An Action Figure

Back in 2011 and 2013 respectively, the blog featured two different lists of five wrestlers who never received action figures. The lists were limited to male wrestlers seeing as female wrestlers and non-wrestler names such as announcers have been sadly under produced as figures in the past, thus they would dominate the discussion. One name from each of our lists, The Blue Meanie and Magnum T.A. to be exact, have finally made their way into figure form. Now, after a five year hiatus, we introduce five more names of the "unmade."

If you want to see a wrestler who would translate directly into an action figure, look no further than Mr. Hughes. Immense, imposing, and just plain mean looking, Curtis Hughes' rather nomadic approach to the wrestling business likely cost him an action figure. Had his 1993 WWF stint lasted longer, he most assuredly would have been produced by Hasbro. The same thought goes towards his later cups of the coffee in the WWF with the likelihood of Hughes receiving a Jakks figure.

Though unlikely at this point due to his tragic death, "Gentleman" Chris Adams could have found his way into one of the various Legends figures lines at some point. The British star, who made his name most notably in World Class Championship Wrestling, was always a favorite of the female fans but could alternate between dashing hero and cocky villain. The lack of a WWF run diminished his action figure chances, but Adams did see some success with WCW during the Monday Nitro era.

Tracy Smothers is another name whose brief appearances in the various wresting companies led to a figure never happening. He was featured heavily in the early 1990's WCW trading card sets, so he may have been eventually included in the Galoob figure line of the time had it lasted longer. His WWF run as Freddie Joe Floyd came at a dark time for wrestling figures when little was being produced. Smothers would be a perfect candidate for the Legends line produced by Figures Toy Company which gave birth to the first figure of The Blue Meanie.

Still being burnt by sparklers on the independent circuit, Gillberg is one phenomenon who has never been immortalized in plastic. While there have been a few wimpy looking figures of Goldberg produced, the former WCW Champion's number one imitator has yet to officially be created. Gillberg would actually fit like a glove into the WWE Mattel line where a hearty sense of humor has recently been infused into the figure selections. An Elite release of Gillberg, complete with J.O.B. Squad t-shirt and WWF Light Heavyweight Championship belt, would fly off of the shelves. Sparklers sold separately.

Finally, we look at a former World Heavyweight Champion sans action figure. Tommy Rich hit the peak of his popularity before wrestling figures ever hit shelves, but he's another name who is ideal for a Legends line. When "Wildfire" defeated Harley Race for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, it was both shocking and controversial. While his lack of a figure doesn't carry the same emotion as his short title run did among fans, he would be a very welcomed addition with collectors who love representations of the territorial stars.

Another five names. Will our track record continue and one name off of our list finally be produced? It would be nice. And perhaps the next time we visit this topic, we will take a look at some non-male wrestler names who need to see an action figure. With two of the biggest female wrestling names finally seeing figures this year, maybe for the next round we'll look at who else should be included in the "women's wrestling figure revolution..."