Wednesday, July 21, 2021

When Memory Making Becomes A Memory Itself...

Time is flying. Even with the world the way that it is where it seems there's very little to believe in or hope for, our lives are going by. Now more than ever it feels as if people know that it's time to get out and do what they want. Eat that meal. Go on that trip. Take that risk. When it's over, it's over, so do it now. Thankfully, around two decades ago, I decided that was how it would be when it came out to living the memories of pro wrestling's past. The stars were coming out and it was time to mingle. We knew the time would be limited, but who knew just how limited it would be? Exactly one decade ago was the perfect example.

In August 2011, Greg Price took his already legendary NWA Fanfest out of Charlotte (for what would prove to be the third and final time) and land in yet another wrestling hotbed of the past, Atlanta. This event would have a decidedly Georgia Championship Wrestling feel yet still work to honor many areas of wrestling's past. Even the then-recently released Rob Van Dam became a part. He'd wanted to attend the event for years but wasn't able until his WWE tenure was complete. NWA Fanfest was an event that the wrestlers wanted to attend almost as much as the fans did.

I know that I'm not going to do justice to the list of talent who attended, but among them were Mr. Wrestling II, Terry Funk, Ole Anderson, Stan Hansen Tommy Rich, Ron Simmons, Austin Idol, Joyce Grable, Baby Doll, Manny Fernandez, Fit Finlay, Paul Orndorff, Eddy Mansfield, "Dr. D" David Schultz, Pat and Randy Rose, Thunderbolt Patterson, Masked Superstar, Teddy Long, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, Debbie Combs, Paul Bearer, Jerry "The King" Lawler, Ted DiBiase, "Superstar" Bill Dundee, Raven, Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, Nick Bockwinkel, Jimmy Hart, Referee Mac McMurray, Darlin Dagmar, Candi Devine, Action Mike Jackson, Superfly Jimmy Snuka, Bushwhacker Luke and likely a bevy more that I'm forgetting.

The weekend was special for me for a number of reasons. While I'd previously met the wonderful Judy Martin, her "Glamour Girls" tag team partner and former WWF Women's singles and tag team champion Leilani Kai had sort of dropped off of the radar. She resurfaced for the show and even granted an interview for this blog in the weeks leading up to the event. At the "Hall of Heroes" banquet held over the weekend, Greg put my friends and I at a table with Kai, Martin (who, along with myself, loved the carrot cake), her sister Cathy who briefly wrestled as well as Joyce Grable. Miss Kai gave me enough stories to fill a book as soon as we met and we continue to stay in touch.

There were also a few stars in attendance that I sadly never had the opportunity to meet with again. Those names would include Joe Pedicino (who, along with wife Boni Blackstone, hosted the event), Buddy Colt, Cora Combs, Gypsy Joe, Killer Tim Brooks, "Dirty" Dick Slater and "The Wild Bull of the Pampas" Pampero Firpo. It's these meetings that make me so glad that I took the opportunity to go on these trips when I did, even when I was living a bit above my means during the leaner years.

More highlights that can't ever be recreated surrounded Rowdy Roddy Piper. The Hot Rod was in full force that weekend doing photos on a replica Piper's Pit set as well as performing his one man show late on the Saturday night of the event, complete with a guest appearance from his son. My personal favorite moment with Piper that weekend was a photo op tribute to the famous Starrcade dog collar match in 1983. Piper, Greg Valentine and you, the fan, posed with the exact dog collars from the match around the wrestler's necks. Talk about history!

I'd be negligent not to mention the great vendor room, as well. While many of the aforementioned stars were available for autographs and photos at the vendor tables, the true gems are often hidden among the madness. Even in 2011, at the end of what should be known as "The Golden Age of the Wrestling Convention," vendor tables were more often than not cluttered with overpriced then-current action figures and DVDs that largely go unpurchased. It's an issue that continues to this day, however I do remember picking up quite a few finds that weekend. I even tasted a little "Badstreet" right there in Atlanta, GA.

I've always said that I'd take any opportunity given to go back in time. 99% of the time I'm meaning time periods before I was born. Here's the odd example of a weekend just a decade ago that I would love to go back to. I'll expand upon why in the future (maybe in book form...?), but 2004-2011 is just about the span of "The Golden Age of the Wrestling Convention" that I had mentioned above. NWA Fanfest went on for another few years and of course there are other events, but those shows that still exist are now listing unknown names who had cups of coffee in NXT as "legends" of the ring. No thanks. I'm glad that I took my trips, and my risks, back when they were worth it.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

It's A Wonderful Memory...

We're losing them. It seems like it's almost weekly. The wrestling stars of our past are disappearing. It's a tad different from twenty years ago when we were seeing the same. Back then it was men and women in their 40's leaving us fast and furious. Now we're seeing older, yet not old enough, stars who lived hard and fast lives passing away or suffering from ailments which will inevitably lead to that. The latest is a man who seemed in such terrific shape during his career that it's hard to fathom that he'd ever actually die.

"Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff is one of the earliest wrestling names that I knew as a child alongside Junkyard Dog, King Kong Bundy and, of course, The Hulkster. Though he was variously a "good guy" during that time, I primarily remember thinking of him as the opposite. He was made to be a heel. He looked too perfect to be anything but an egotistical narcissist long before the latter word ever entered the vernacular of most wrestling fans.

I don't have a direct memory of it, but since we seemed to tune into Saturday Night's Main Event most often I feel that I saw the famous Hogan-Orndorff cage match as it aired. Later on I definitely had it on a Coliseum Video and it remains, along with Hogan-Volkoff and the pre-WrestleMania III Battle Royal, a SNME match that I feel was totally made for prime time network television. It was a quintessential "big fight feel" match. You may be able to argue that other promotions had "better matches," but no one topped the World Wrestling Federation in that era when it came to presenting a match of importance. In those early years "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff was a big part of that. He wasn't in the main event of the first WrestleMania by accident. Not only could he get you to watch, but you stayed interested to see what he did to his opponent. He was a complete performer in every sense.

Although he didn't seem to make quite as many appearances on the circuit as others from his era, I did meet Mr. Wonderful more than a few times. He was consistently a pleasure to deal with even as he battled his health issues. There wasn't a shortage of items to get signed ranging from action figures to cards emanating from the WWF and WCW alike. Though he changed little in appearance, I still would like to see a proper figure representing his WCW years somewhere down the line.

As much as we have to enjoy from Paul Orndorff, I've always felt that there was a bit missing from the times that he wasn't on the national scene. He's the type of talent that should've always had a spot in the big time, so it was likely his own choice that he wasn't as visible. I also feel that he could've been used a lot better in that often-forgotten 1990 run in WCW where he was allied with Sting, Lex Luger and JYD. 

Another legend is gone. I'll miss seeing him in his occasional appearances on television and at conventions. I knew that when I saw him in late 2019 that it would likely be the final time. As always in a tribute entry I leave you a photo with myself and the subject. It's "Mr. Wonderful" while he was still in the good years as we all should choose to remember him.

"Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff


Thursday, June 24, 2021

Have Yourself An "Ultimate" Macho-Flair Affair

Can you think of two flashier wrestlers than "Nature Boy" Ric Flair and "Macho Man" Randy Savage? I can't. Their styles meshed well both in and out of the ring thus leading to fun feuds and matches in both the WWF and WCW. Robes, jackets, sunglasses and plenty of catchphrases between the two. What more do you need? While we've seen countless figures of both Flair and Savage over the past three decades, Mattel has allegedly brought us the "Ultimate" versions of both. Let's see if they live up to the hype.

The two figures are in separate series (Savage released with Edge and Flair with Stone Cold Steve Austin, respectively), but I felt that it would be fun to tackle them both at once. As I said above the two just meshed so well. While both had arguably bigger feuds with Ricky Steamboat, Dusty Rhodes and Hulk Hogan, no one has ever forgotten the "Macho-Flair Affair." Each figure is the first entry into the Mattel WWE Ultimate series for both stars, however I can't imagine either being the last. We already know that stars can repeat in the line.

The boxes in the Ultimate line are big, thick and sturdy. It probably contributes to the higher price point and is a bit of a waste. Despite the size and the large "window" room, I doubt that I would ever get an Ultimate figure signed. The figures almost seem secondary to the accessories in how they are packaged and I simply don't feel that such designs lead to something that I personally would want an autograph on. I do appreciate the "figure photography" on the back showing the figures in period-authentic scenes.

Where to begin on what is included? Flair gets his classic pink robe last seen in the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars "WWE 24/7" exclusive figure. It's beautifully done and I love the way that the arms of the robe drape down. Savage's design is from 1992 and is best remembered for being the style used in his fourth Hasbro WWF figure release. The jacket is flawless and I had no trouble putting it on or removing it even with the shoulders of the ring gear underneath. The interchangeable hands are usually a big deal with the Ultimate figures and this is no exception. Brand new "Four Horsemen" hands are included with Flair and it's a shame that these did not arrive to the Mattel line sooner. Quite simply, they're awesome. I also appreciate the ubiquitous taped fingers on the Flair hands. I like the open hands included with Savage, but where are the pointing fingers? Did anyone point more than Savage? Sure they were released with the last Macho King release, but why not with the Ultimate figure? I'm sure it would be chalked up to budget if Mattel were to be asked, but I personally feel it's a large omission.

Both bodies use the new "butterfly" shoulders which are to increase posability. I'm still not sure how I feel about these extra joints. If you're a long time reader you know that it took me forever to warm up to torso joints, too. Speaking of which, these figures continue to have the alternate style torso joint that has become standard in the Ultimate figures. I see both these and the standard torso joints each having their own advantages. The faces on both are good, but I'm not going crazy over them as I've seen others do. Neither are one-hundred percent spot on, though the serve the purpose very well. The "Woooo" face of Flair is great and absolutely needed but I feel that a third match-intense face should be included as well.

I'm still not crazy about the higher price point as I don't feel that the difference is big enough between these and Elites to warrant it. Take away the butterfly shoulders and toe movement and we're good to go with these in the Elite line. Nonetheless, if you're collecting legends in the Mattel line it's going to be hard to pass either of these up. Just do yourself a favor and open them. I will never see the appeal in keeping these boxed and staring at floating accessories.


Thursday, June 17, 2021

Should I tell you to "Suck It?"

As distribution problems and other business decisions that can only be described as "wonky" continue to plague the line and frustrate collectors, Mattel has at least continued to crank out product. Occasionally fans can get even get their hands on the figures. Sadly, it's become even a chore to obtain figures that are slated to be online exclusives. One set that we can deem "so far, so good" about is the Amazon exclusive "Fan Takeover," which is now in it's second series.

The concept of "Fan Takeover" is that fan vote allegedly decides which outfits that the figures will be decked out in. I guess we should believe that. From a company noted for being notoriously tight-lipped on such issues as the Harley Race debacle, it's sort of hard to believe that the results would be on the up-and-up. Nonetheless, thus far we've received Ricky Steamboat, Adam Cole, Shayna Baszler and Seth Rollins in Series 1 and Johnny Gargano, Randy Orton, Christian and X-Pac in Series 2. The former 1-2-3 Kid is our subject today.

This version of X-Pac, "as chosen by the fans," is decked out in his 2002 nWo look. It's a look that Jakks produced at the time in the old "TTL" style. The packaging is the standard current shape (said to be changing yet again soon), but the colors are much more vibrant and therefore more attractive, in my opinion. This one looks good boxed and the extra hands aren't floating that manically as sometimes is the case. Amazon isn't known for their great packing in mailings. I must say that this one came boxed and well-protected while Gargano arrived in a bubble mailer. I need say no more.

You get a variety of accessories with X-Pac including a removable nWo t-shirt, bandana, three sets of hands and a Kane mask. I don't particularly remember the angle where X-Pac wore the Kane mask, but I do remember a lot of interaction between the two over the years so I'm sure that it happened. It doesn't fit perfectly but it's still a fun accessory. The hand choices were well done and removable bandanas and headbands should be the rule for every such figure. The nWo t-shirt is always a coveted accessory and allows other figures of a similar size to "join" the New World Order.

In addition to the particular hand choices the facial likeness is great. Coupled with the removable bandana you could honestly label this the "ultimate" X-Pac. For a man such as Sean Waltman who's had plenty of figures down through the years, this is a helluva statement if I do say so myself...and I do.

While the first Fan Takeover series sat available on Amazon for some time, Series 2 has been sporadic at best. If you checked enough you were able to lock in pre-orders on any of them. There could be an upcoming moment where they're all simultaneously available as the first series was, but that has yet to happen. If names for a third series have been unveiled, they have yet to hit my radar. I like the mix of eras in the sets, though as usual I'd prefer a heavier legends presence. If you know me, though, that's my rule. Perhaps we can get the WCW Ricky Steamboat that "didn't win" the Series 1 vote in place of a re-release...

Saturday, May 29, 2021

George "The Animal" Steele Would Have A Ball With These...

This past year brought a lot of unique items and situations. This entry covers both. You know you saw the ads for them and probably continue to do so. Virtual signings! Virtual meet and greets! Virtual conventions! Concepts that sound like something out of an odd future became real out of necessity. After all, promoters and celebrities need to make money somehow. While I cannot say that I partook in much of that (I may have fired off a few items to be signed, just in case), a new series of collectibles caught my eye. The Highspots Turnbuckle Collection.

No, I don't think that they've actually given it that swank sounding title, but they may as well steal it from me. It takes a lot for me to latch onto something like this, but I got caught hook, line and sinker. Ranging in price from $75 to $109 per item, Highspots began offering official turnbuckles representing talent that they've had in for their virtual signings. Highspots has made turnbuckles and even full rings for countless promotions over the years, so these are actually real, quality made corner pads. 

What caught my eye at first were that some of the pads featured artistic representations of the classic Hasbro WWF figures. I'd venture to guess that they are colorized versions of the drawings on the card backs. Others, such as The Iron Sheik, feature a fictional Hasbro-style figure drawing. I have a feeling that the Mattel Retro figures weren't used in fear of legal issues. Figure drawing or not, the turnbuckles have all featured a logo proclaiming either the talent's name or a quote or symbol representing them. How can your eye not be caught by the classic figure of "The Dragon" on a bright red turnbuckle? Talk about conversation pieces.

The turnbuckles are obviously not folded as they would be if attached to a post and ropes, so there is a lot of room for the wrestler(s) to sign. How cool is it to see the Million Dollar Man and I.R.S. figures flanking a symbol very close to the one used for Money Inc. back in the WWF days? What about "Boogie Woogie Man" Jimmy Valiant's classic profile and a nod to his "Boy From New York City" theme? That is not to say that all of these have been a home run in my view. I can't say that I've known many of the indy talent names that have received one. Nevertheless, even those ones have seemed to sell well.

One that particularly stands out is the turnbuckle that Highspots produced for a private signing with "Fabulous Freebird" Michael P.S. Hayes. Though I was initially hoping for a "Badstreet" logo turnbuckle, the one that they did offer came out great. The design represents both Hayes and the "Badstreet USA" theme music in a style made to resemble the famous Jack Daniels label. On top of that, extra effort was put into the materials. While the others that I own seem to be done with a screen printing process, this Hayes/Badstreet turnbuckle is actually embroidered. 

If I still did my "Future Holy Grail" award at the end of the year, these would be a no-brainer. Once they sell out, they're gone. While a few early ones made it to the regular Highspots commerce site for a spell (I was able to get The Iron Sheik at Black Friday pricing in November), most sell out before the signing even takes place. Seeing as that these aren't truly licensed, I would consider them more of a high-end art piece. But do you really need to worry about licensing when they're "endorsed" in bold Sharpie or paint pen right by the wrestlers themselves? I'm not.

I told myself I was only buying Steamboat. Now I'm not far off from having enough to build a ring...

Friday, May 7, 2021

You can't wipe out this Blue Meanie!

It's nearly limitless as to who we may receive in figure form in the future. Aside from two names in particular, literally anyone who has stepped foot into a wrestling ring now has a shot at plastic immortality thanks to what I like to call "boutique" manufacturers. These are small outfits who are legally obtaining the rights to produce stars of the ring in figure form. As I discussed a few months back in my review of the Bruiser Brody figure by Junkshopdog, it's all about what you like and what you decide to include in your own collection. While I expect to see more from Junkshopdog (Terry Funk, The Road Warriors, Dynamite Kid AND Bull Nakano) on this blog in the coming months, for this entry we're shifting gears to a group known as Chella Toys. Based in the U.K., Chella Toys has been making waves with a line called Wrestling Megastars that attempts to continue the beloved Hasbro WWF line.

Chella Toys began with a figure of NWA World Heavyweight Champion Nick Aldis. While figures of indy star Ethan Page, Dynamite Kid, Hayabusa and Bull Nakano (who would've thought we'd get two figures of the joshi legend?) are upcoming, the second release stars none other than The Blue Meanie. Following this blog for over a decade as I'm sure you have, you know that I feel Meanie has been very underrepresented in the action figure world. Despite being a living cartoon character Meanie did not receive a figure in either his ECW or WWF runs. This was probably due to timing. Several years ago he finally saw a plastic representation in the Figures Toy Company Legends of Professional Wrestling line, but that one suffered greatly in quality. In the mean(ie)time, The Blue Guy did join the Micro Brawlers mini-figure lineup.

I think we've finally gotten the Meanie that we all deserved. Shouldn't the most beloved cartoony wrestler join the ranks of the most beloved cartoony wrestling figure line? In a word, yes! He's here and he's dancing. The Meanie comes packaged with "Josh Shernoff." I've guested on podcasts but I generally don't listen to them. From what I understand, seeing as that Meanie's shirt is from his "Mind of the Meanie" podcast, Shernoff is his co-host. The inclusion has divided a lot of fans. For me, it took away the burden of wanting a second set to get signed since I just really wouldn't want a podcast host to sign anything. I'm sure he's a great guy and is thrilled to have a figure. It's not a bad figure and comes with a very cool removable "Mind of the Meanie" microphone accessory.

The main event here is Meanie. How great is this little guy? The pose, the facial expression, the short shorts. This is what we've all wanted for a couple of decades. The folks at Chella Toys obviously have a great grasp on what made the Hasbro WWF line as popular as it is even today. It captures the spirit in a way that many of the Mattel retro figures quite honestly didn't. Even the backer cards on these Chella releases (I own the Aldis figure as well) are of the same thickness of cardboard that Hasbro used all of those years ago. The Mattel stuff was, for lack of better terms, cheap and flimsy. Is it that expensive to get a better quality cardboard for loyal fans paying good money? Chella Toys doesn't think so. They delivered.

Two aesthetics that may be cons with fans do exist. Some collectors probably would've preferred a different shirt on the figure. Seeing as that his podcast is probably something that he'd like to promote, it's easy to see why that shirt was used over a Blue Meanie or bWo shirt. Even though I've never heard the podcast I don't mind the shirt at all. It even promotes his social media accounts on the back. The other issue some may have is with the "Real Megastar Action." As a take off on the classic Hasbro "Real Wrestling Action" of each figure in that line, the Wrestling Megastar line has followed suit. The difference is that it's tongue-in-cheek and none of these figures have an action beyond you posing them. I actually think it's rather cute and the classic "action" callout on the card is much more endearing than a useless stand or an even more worthless advertisement for an app game. Mattel, I'm looking at you.

What a great new addition to the Hasbro-styled collection! I went the eBay route on these through a reputable United States based seller. There is apparently an "official" distributor of these in the U.S., but by many accounts that individual is less than trustworthy. For future Chella Toys releases I'll probably stick to eBay. I definitely want to get my hands on a Bull and probably a Dynamite who is designed to match the Hasbro Davey Boy Smith. Another independent toy maker is bringing out a Hasbro-styled line as well, so I could see possibly picking up some of those and reviewing them as well. But until then...

Meanie Dance!!!

Friday, April 23, 2021

A New Warrior For A New Generation

You don't have to be a fan of a particular event to want to own merchandise derived from it. I have never been a fan of WrestleMania XII. I've never enjoyed the Iron Man match nor much on the under card. At the time I remember being shocked at how few matches were on the show. The Internet was abuzz that less matches would equal better quality. Wrong. But even though his match was a squash, it was great to see The Ultimate Warrior back in action with a fresh and updated look for "The New WWF Generation."

Mattel's latest WWE exclusive through Ringside Collectibles tackles this exact look. Jakks had included it in their Classic Superstars line, famously packaging some of the figures backward in order to show the detail of the duster. We once again get the duster here along with some other cool accessories which we'll discuss in a minute. I seriously wish that Ringside received all of the Mattel exclusives, especially those involving legends which are nearest and dearest to me. A couple of clicks and I'm guaranteed to own the figure at the price originally intended. I'll stop there.

The packaging here is similar to other recent Ringside exclusives such as WALTER and Bray Wyatt. It's a box without any true way to hang it. Some collectors are against this, others love it. I, personally, enjoy the way that the boxes look and were I to buy any extras for autograph purposes (sadly not an option with The Warrior) I'd be very excited to add them to the signed collection. The window of the box is in the shape of the Warrior's famous face paint. The extra hands are visible in the window but don't detract from the presentation. You know that they're there, but they aren't enough of a focal point that they look strange.

Something else that you may notice upon looking at the figure boxed is the WrestleMania XII logo behind The Warrior. Much to my surprise this is a tri-fold cardboard backdrop of the entrance from the 1996 event. Very unexpected and cool. Mattel did not need to include this, but they did. I applaud things like that, especially when they're a nod to wrestling history. If you follow our social media you saw just how cool the figure looks "taking off from the gate."

We've seen the tooling of much of this figure elsewhere before, but the head seems to be completely new. It's a great face with a very intense Warrior look. If it has been used before I don't remember it. Sometimes it's hard to pinpoint on figures that include face paint. The blonder hair was definitely accurate for the era. The blues and oranges are particularly striking as far as the gear goes and The Warrior has his arm tattoo as he did in this era. We've seen the tattoo a few times before on Mattel figures and I can think of at least one more figure where, should the look be produced, it will pop up again.

The duster is a slightly more plastic-y material than the last few we've received. I guess it's actually a very thin vinyl. The colors come across well on it which is probably why the material was chosen. The wrist gauntlets are removable should you choose to do so as you're switching out the hands. Speaking of the latter, we get three different sets: fists, gripping hands and open hands. All are appropriate for The Ultimate Warrior but I'll always get a thrill posing him as he's pressing his hands to the Heavens. Very few wrestlers were more intense and simultaneously made millions believe in a completely off-the-wall character.

I think that you can tell that I really like this figure. The sad part is that it would have the potential to be the best version of The Ultimate Warrior produced by Mattel if they hadn't made so many other great ones. This may be a very event-specific attire, but it would fit into any collection or display. The Warrior is iconic no matter what he's decked out in. And as many as we've already received, I can think of so many more that have yet to be produced. If you know me, you know I'm thinking Dingo Warrior all day. We've sort of missed out on The Blade Runners at this point, but you never know what could happen in the future.

The initial shipment, though delayed, is arriving to collectors at press time. He's still available on back-order. While most Ringside Exclusives become desirable after a period, if you ask me this one is a slam dunk. I've said it before...get it now. And Always Believe.