Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Four Horsemen Get Their Leader

This is one entry that I've been waiting to write for a long time. Too long. When the Jakks Classic Superstars line ended, I had pretty much given up hope that a JJ Dillon action figure would ever see the light of day. While there really wasn't an ideal time for it to happen during his career, that line gave hope to so many legends who never saw an action figure. When that door closed, it appeared that the plastic miniature Four Horsemen would never see their leader. Per Dillon himself, it was Vince McMahon who did not want a figure of his former behind-the-scenes cohort released. Somewhere along the lines that changed as in 2018 we finally have James J. Dillon to add to our collections.

JJ is the latest Build-A-Figure, an unsurprising but satisfying way for Mattel to release the legend. In the second "Basic" style WWE Flashback series exclusive to Wal Mart, we get JJ and four figures that coincide with a World Championship Wrestling theme. To build Dillon you have to buy Ric Flair, Lex Luger, Sting, and Booker T. While it would have been cool to have all Horsemen members from the Dillon era of the group rounding out the set, it's still a suitable lineup. We can't forget that JJ was back with the company when Booker T and this particular representation of Sting were current.

This is the first Mattel Ric Flair figure to feature The Nature Boy, in his prime, in his suit. All of the Horsemen in suits would have been ideal here, but I cannot see Mattel ever doing that. Included are sunglasses that fit into holes embedded into his flowing locks. I could have imagined this figure being done as a Build-A-Figure on its own, but I'm glad it's the "star" here instead, in my opinion. Luger is the other Horsemen from the Dillon era to be featured here. This is the first time that Mattel has brought us a plain black trunks figure of "Flexy Lexy," and it does the job well.

Although Sting was briefly a Horsemen, it was after JJ had departed for the WWF. This Sting is also well after his time in the elite faction as far as design. This is the second Sting figure to reflect his time right before he completely changed to the "Crow" look that many fans still covet today. The orange and black are striking and conjure up thoughts of Halloween Havoc, though I'm not sure that he wore this particular style there. Booker T is a very nice figure, though fairly close to the Harlem Heat "Elite" figure released not long ago. Putting him into the black tights would've been something different, but as usual with a set this fun, I'm not complaining.

How does JJ measure up to all the years of anticipation? As my father used to say, "The wait was worth the while." To begin, the facial likeness is absolutely incredible. You can almost hear him cutting a promo on WTBS while looking at it. It's that good. And yes, it does look a lot like the Jakks Buddy Jack Roberts facial sculpt. I'm not the only one who has speculated over the years that that particular facial design was originally intended as Dillon, though I've never seen it confirmed. It definitely looks like JJ and nothing like Buddy Roberts, but that's neither here nor there now that we do have Dillon.

The body used is standard for many of these Build-A-Figures and, like with the Mean Gene Okerlund figure which was originally released as such, I've had issues with the left arm staying attached. Tinted glasses are also included, though he works without them as well since he didn't constantly wear them back then. Could we have asked for more with this figure? I really don't think so.

For us fans of the legends, we finally have JJ. He'll fit in with the Mattel releases of the Horsemen or even Jakks figures such as the pre-ring Horsemen, Ron Bass, Abdullah the Butcher, or anyone else that he managed. Who else is going to have the upcoming Dusty Rhodes Elite figure drop the Bionic Elbow onto JJ? That leads me to think that someone will be obtaining an extra JJ head to make a custom ring gear version. In any case, this is one that I cannot fathom being re-released. Go out and buy the set now. It's worth it to complete the Horsemen and celebrate not only a tremendous talent, but a great guy as well.

Have I mentioned over the years that he also authored my favorite wrestling book...?

Thursday, October 4, 2018

From The Musty Yellowed Pages--Mid Atlantic Wrestling Magazine Vol. 4 No. 3

 It's hard to believe that it has been over a year since we "cracked open" a classic wrestling magazine and took a look at all of the info, entertainment, and history contained inside. Seeing as that it's the return of our feature titled "From The Musty Yellowed Pages," where better to pick up than with one of the all-time classic characters of the ring and one of the most beloved promotions of the past? Killing two birds with one stone, we're taking a look at Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Magazine Vol. 4 No. 3 featuring the one and only "Sheiky Baby" himself, The Iron Sheik. Camera man, zoom.

I've always liked this cover. The yellow border is eye-popping and goes well with the baby bluebackground that Sheiky is standing in front of. This era of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Magazine had a chrome, almost Star Wars-like frame to the cover photos. Very '80s, but a style that would be fresh and welcome today. The Sheik is in a classic pose, hoisting one of his infamous pointed boots and wearing the coveted Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Heavyweight Championship. His ownership of the championship coupled with some other photos inside of the magazine place this issue between June and September 1980.

Immediately, it's clear that no one involved with the production of the magazine knew how to spell "Sheik." On the cover and throughout the magazine it is misspelled as "Shiek." By and large, this is one of few mistakes in an otherwise high quality publication. While this series of publications considered itself a magazine, you could argue that these are more like programs. Featuring only around fifteen pages each, a high volume of photos,  and very short articles, these issues were sold solely at shows. All of these factors combine to make them highly collectible.

Like most vintage wrestling publications, each of these magazines is a time capsule. Anderson's Army was a stable managed by Gene Anderson who, at the time, was recovering from health issues and had to continue outside of the ring. He obviously had a successful run boasting both Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Champion The Iron Sheik and NWA Tag Team Champions Ray Stevens and Jimmy Snuka as being under his tutelage. Seeing Snuka as a more civilized heel than his better known WWF run as a savage would be jarring to some fans. On the flip side we have the Mid-Atlantic Tag Team Champions in the form of Matt Borne and Buzz Sawyer. No clowning around when it came to that duo.

As with most magazines of the era, you get a centerfold. Despite it being Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, there's no Penny Banner or Susan Green here. Instead, yes, it's once again The Iron Sheik. Humbling, to say the least. Following the poster is a short black and white profile and photo gallery of the worldly Iranian. His legitimate Olympic background is discussed. Fans always enjoy seeing a young Sheik, complete with hair. Speaking of hair, check out the long locks on The Sheepherders. Luke Williams and Butch Miller were a simply bushwhacking team of crazies.

At the end of the day Mid-Atlantic Wrestling prided itself on presenting second-to-none ring action. Here we have a small photo feature on a bloody tag team match pitting Ric Flair and Blackjack Mulligan against Bobby Duncum and Greg Valentine. Can you think of four harder-hitting competitors? Of course Flair and Valentine were no stranger to tag team wrestling in the area, at one time teaming together. On the other end we have a full color shot of Sweet Ebony Diamond. Wherever Diamond wrestled, you can be sure a little Rock was rolling right along behind him.

And of course no Mid-Atlantic Wrestling feature is complete without stalwart Paul Jones. The passing of Jones earlier this year was sadly overshadowed by names more familiar to the modern fan, but there's no denying that it was one of the biggest blows to the business in 2018. From the sound of the article, it appears as if "Number One" was once again wrestling on the side of the fans. We all know that didn't last long.

As mentioned above, the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Magazines are highly collectible and sought after. Secondary market prices vary, but it's often hard to pinpoint individual issues at any one time. You either strike while the iron is hot or you could wait some time before you see that exact issue available again. From the earlier artistic covers of the '70s to the photographic shots that brought the publication into the following decade, I don't think there's a single issue that sells for under $20 if properly listed. Monetary value aside, they're just fun to collect!

And there ain't nothin' humble about that!