Wednesday, July 28, 2010

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year...

Peter Pan had the right idea. He never grew up. Growing up, most folks can't wait to be older and subsequently try to act more mature. When they do get older, they realize that a lot of things that were magical to them as children are gone for good. Sometimes the particular idea is still there, such as Christmas morning, but that feeling of wonder simply fails to return. Thanks to an annual event every August, the children of classic wrestling worldwide can once again experience the magic and wonder that they grew up with.

This coming August 5th through 8th in Charlotte, North Carolina, promoter Greg Price brings his ninth Fanfest to life. Fanfest is an event to not only get autographs and pictures with your wrestling favorites, but to actually meet and mingle with them as well. Since the entire event is centrally located in the Charlotte University Place Hilton, it's not uncommon to be seeing stars the minute you enter the building.

Like most wrestling fanfests or conventions, the stars themselves are divided into two groups: featured stars and vendor guests. The featured stars are there to be part of the VIP admission package which entitles each guest to autographs from the legends at designated times, while vendor guests are stars that are, in a sense, sponsored to come to the event by independent dealers. These vendors charge a fee for photos and autographs with this group of stars.

Nearly one-hundred stars will be on hand throughout the 2010 Fanfest weekend. Among this years featured legends are Harley Race, Terry Funk, Dory Funk Jr., "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase, Kamala, Greg Valentine, Danny Hodge, Tony Atlas, Mr. Wrestling II, Jerry Brisco, Tully Blanchard, and Jim Ross among many others. Sting, Mae Young, Sid Vicious, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, Sunny, and modern stars such as Mickie James and Shelton Benjamin highlight the vendor guests.

Labeling Fanfest as a simple autograph convention would be a gross misrepresentation. It's a legitimate dream-come-true weekend for classic wrestling fans. The weekend will be kicked off on the night of Thursday the 5th with a lakeside barbecue at the hotel featuring Jim Ross' famous sauce and an appearance by Good Ol' JR himself. Also that night are Fanfest's famous question and answer sessions. This year's sessions will feature a roundtable discussion with mystery guests followed by the always entertaining Jim Cornette who has become a symbol of Fanfest.

While autographs and photos fill the days and Q&As kick-off the weekend evening activities, the Friday and Saturday evening events are immense enough to be their own separate draws. Friday night is the annual Hall of Heroes banquet also hosted by Mr. Cornette.

The Hall of Heroes is a special event honoring many of wrestling's greatest legends and is everything that the WWE Hall of Fame should be. Stars inducted in previous years such as Wahoo McDaniel, Blackjack Mulligan, The Anderson's, and The Fargo's will be joined by the 2010 Hall of Heroes class which consists of Joe Blanchard, Danny Hodge, Mr. Wrestling & Mr. Wrestling II, Reggie Parks, Billy Robinson, and Johnny and Greg Valentine. Each star is inducted by a fellow legend and each living inductee is scheduled to appear.

This year, many fans are eagerly anticipating Jim Ross' induction of his long-time friend Danny Hodge. Hodge, the first wrestler to make the cover of Sports Illustrated, is almost universally considered to be one of the greatest wrestlers who ever lived. Via his website and Twitter account, Ross has expressed what an honor it will be for him to induct Mr. Hodge and may be anticipating the event as much as the fans.

Saturday night will feature a world-class wrestling event highlighted with not just a main event, but an NWA World Heavyweight Championship defense. Current NWA World Heavyweight Champion Adam Pearce will defend the storied title against the hottest free agent in wrestling today, Bryan Danielson aka Daniel Bryan. Also on the card will be the finals of a hot tournament currently being held in the Charlotte area called the NWA Future Legends Cup. Top those off with appearances by legendary journeyman Mike Jackson and Skandor Akbar and his Devastation Inc. and you have a card that would blow most indy action out of the water.

All the descriptions in the world cannot truly convey the NWA Fanfest experience. The real magic comes from the memories made during the weekend combined with the memories from years gone by. Who would have ever thought, sitting in front of a tube television watching their favorite Saturday morning wrestling show, that they one day would be rubbing shoulders, talking, and even eating with the stars who appeared larger than life on the small screen? At Fanfest that unreal dream is accomplished in spades.

I know that I can speak for nearly every "Fanfester" when I say that within the next week, the feeling inside is like that of a child on Christmas Eve. Fanfest is an amazing event that is unlike any other. The above is not an advertisement, it is simply a personal testament that I would be remiss in not sharing. This will be the fourth Fanfest for my friends and I, so please stop and say hello if you see us. If time permits, I may even do some blog entries direct from Fanfest.

Being an eight-hour haul for us, Fanfest is our summer vacation and we wouldn't have it any other way. If you've ever been on the fence about attending, this is undoubtedly the year to start. Don't let yourself miss out on anymore of the memories.

For more information on NWA Fanfest, please visit

Just when you thought the classic era of wrestling was all but dead, Fanfest proves otherwise. Through the fans and stars who lived it, real professional wrestling is very much alive. Join us in Charlotte to find out for yourself.

Pictures (L-R From Top) Include: 2009 NWA Fanfest Programs, Ric Flair looks on while Danny Hodge and Ole Anderson reunite, Jimmy & Angel Valiant reunite with "Number One" Paul Jones.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Most Underrated Wrestling Cards Of All-Time?

In past entries I've documented many trading card offerings from the WWF/WWE, NWA/WCW, and TNA. The different companies have each offered autographs, pieces of memorabilia, and simply unique cards themselves which have been placed in the high esteem of wrestling and non-sport card collectors alike. There's one wrestling card set, unaffiliated with any organization or promotion, that may be the most underrated and overlooked of them all.

In 1991, a company out of Pittsburgh called Imagine Inc. produced a trading card set entitled Wrestling Legends. The cards were obtained in complete sets rather than packs and contained a variety of classic wrestlers dating from the 1950s to the 1970s.

"Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers, Lou Thesz, Bruno Sammartino, Harley Race, Mil Mascaras, Ray Stevens, Johnny Valentine, and Killer Kowalski are just a few of the names included in the basic 60-card set dubbed the "Regular Edition." These cards all had a white and blue border with a white card stock back and a short piece of trivia about each star.

There were also two other editions sold at the time. The "Champions Signed" set was a 65-card set that included the basic 60 cards along with five unique gold-bordered autographed cards of Sammartino, Thesz, Rogers, Billy Graham, and Ivan Koloff.

The granddaddy of them all was a 68-card "Deluxe Signed" edition featuring the basic 60 cards, the aforementioned five autographed cards, and an additional three autographed gold-bordered cards of Killer Kowalski, Lou Albano, and Dominic DeNucci.

The set, especially the Deluxe Signed edition, is a really fun and special collectible to have. It features some stars who make their lone trading card appearance and others who never seemed to get a fair representation as far as wrestling memorabilia was concerned.

Special attention should be paid to the autographed cards featured in the latter two editions. There are many collectors who simply won't accept an autograph that wasn't signed in their presence. One such way that some of these collectors are appeased is through obtaining the autographs on trading cards that come straight from the manufacturer with an authentic signature. While this set does not have the markings and other points of "proof" that more modern autograph cards enjoy, it should be strongly considered that the "Champions" and "Deluxe" sets were produced solely for the inclusion of the autographed cards. It can also be taken into account that "The Living Legend" himself had a hand in convincing some of these legends to participate in this venture.

Recently I had the opportunity to contact Tim Ferrante. Mr. Ferrante was the vice-president of Imagine Inc., the publishing company that produced this card set. The company, which counted special effects artist Tom Savini among its owners, was also responsible for bringing Bruno Sammartino's autobiography to the market. Being that Imagine Inc. was largely a producer of horror entertainment, Mr. Ferrante names another member of the company's ownership team as the reason for venturing into the squared-circle.

Bruno with B-Movie Scream
Queen & Friend of Imagine Inc.,
Bobbie Bresee

"I give credit to Bob Michelucci for bringing the
Wrestling Legends concept (and Bruno's bio) to the company," said Ferrante. "And to be perfectly frank, I wasn't keen on the idea for a variety of reasons. Bob did a fine job with the project and I point to him for seeing everything through."

Despite his reservations, Mr. Ferrante (seen at right with Mr. Sammartino) has fond memories of working with "The Living Legend" in both the book and trading card projects.

"Bruno is one of the all-time greats ... both professionally and personally," said Ferrante. "Most vivid memory was patting him on the back one morning and it was like patting a steel wall. Absolutely solid."

And how about those great and now very rare autographs included in the set?

"Bruno was the guy responsible for getting some of the autographs in the signed Wrestling Legends sets (Champions Set and Deluxe Set)," remembers Ferrante. "Bob Michelucci may have arranged some, I can't be sure. But I specifically remember Bruno 'strong-arming' some of the retired wrestlers who weren't interested."

Imagine Inc.'s Bruno display at the
1990 ABA Booksellers Convention

With the passing of Albano in 2009, the set includes four "deceased" autographs which should be of particular interest. Rogers, the first WWWF champion, died just a year after the card set was produced, with Thesz following in 2002 and Kowalski in 2008. The finality of obtaining some of these signatures has not been lost on collectors, with the autographed sets often fetching over $100.

All in all, the Wrestling Legends set is one that should not be ignored by any collector. When it does show up for sale, the Regular Edition can be had for around $10 to $20. Whether you're an autograph collector looking to collect the signatures of the living stars in the set or simply enjoy incredible vintage photos of the stars of yesteryear, this set should rival the somewhat overpriced Wrestling All-Stars card set produced just a few years earlier.

In closing, I'd like to thank Mr. Tim Ferrante for providing some great memories and insight regarding his former company's product as well as the pictures in the latter portion of this entry.

Next time...more talk of legends, autographs, and champions!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mattel: Legendary or Listless? You Decide!

When Mattel first picked up the WWE license, it was agreed upon by fans everywhere that the famous toy company would be insane not to start a "Legends" line. After all, it's the Classic Superstars line that truly put Jakks over the top with their WWE products. While Jakks is continuing their venture into producing figures of the stars of yesteryear, Mattel has the exclusive rights to do figures of any retro star associated or under contract with WWE.

The first series in Mattel's "WWE Legends" collection consists of Steve Austin, The Road Warriors, Dusty Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat, and Sgt. Slaughter. It's the latter three that piqued my interest, thus those are the three that are highlighted in this entry.

Where are Buddy Rogers, Lou Thesz, and Bruno Sammartino? I did in fact promise that they would be in the "next" entry. In order to make that entry even more special, I decided to go in-depth on my coverage of the particular memorabilia I planned on documenting. Never fear, as that entry is very much alive and well. It's a special work-in-progress that I think everyone will enjoy.

Now...onto The Dream, The Dragon, & The Sarge!

While I'm going to compare these three figures to previous incarnations, I'll leave it up to you to decide on which is the best over all representation of each legend. After all, between production limitations from when older figures were made and even one's own nostalgic love for a particular piece, it isn't quite fair for me to say one is better than another. I'm just here to point out the differences and give a good read in the process.

Completely destroying everything I said in the last paragraph, I will say that the older figures had one undeniable advantage--their price tags. These Mattel WWE Legend figures have a price point of around $14.99 a pop at brick and mortar retail while averaging a bit more online.

The packaging is impressive but almost seems to overshadow the figures themselves. Each figure is posed in a character-unique action stance and mounted in a bubble in front of great card art based on popular photos of the stars. Each figure includes a WWE peg-stand with a small cardboard name tag as seen in the above photo of Dusty Rhodes.

In my estimation, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat will be the most popular figure in this first series. Steamboat is the only figure in the series not to have been produced in the Jakks Classic Superstars line. Collectors have long clamored for a new representation of The Dragon and Mattel seems to have taken note. Steamboat comes complete with removable red gi and komodo dragon that he used to "battle" Jake Roberts and Damien in 1986. Ricky's headband is part of the head sculpt and not removable. The Dragon is a very nice figure and is a great companion piece to the recently released dvd set documenting Steamboat's legendary career. A 2009 version of Steamboat is set to hit stores soon in a two-pack along with nemesis Chris Jericho.

There's no denying that the countless versions of Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin are probably the most popular wrestling figures of all-time. Due to his inclusion in the nearly thirty-year-old G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero toy line, Sgt. Slaughter would undoubtedly rank right up there with "The Immortal" and "Stone Cold." The Mattel Slaughter is based on a design never before seen on a figure of the Sarge. It's based upon Slaughter's early '80s attire, so you could really either call it a Mid-Atlantic Wrestling or '84ish WWF Slaughter. The living Joe himself comes complete with removable hat, glasses, whistle, and elbow pads. It's very refreshing to long-time collectors for Mattel to seemingly try and produce never-before-made looks for some of these figures.

Last but certainly not least is the newest figure of the all-time favorite wrestler of yours truly, "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes. For reasons that shall never be known, a perfect action figure likeness of Dusty is seemingly unobtainable. While Hasbro, Jakks, and now Mattel have all made great efforts, the blue-eyed soul of Dusty always seems just a Nevertheless, he is a common man who has some very colorful representations. Mattel went with the look that would be most familiar to WWE fans, that being Dusty's 1989-1991 polka dot attire.

Mattel finally did get the polka dots right. Dusty almost always had large polka dots on the shirt and small polka dots on the tights. This is indeed the case with this figure. The shirt is easily removable as are also the head band, elbow pad, and knee pads. Top it all off with The Dream's signature cowboy boots and this little Dream is ready to boogie down with your invisible Sapphire figure all night long...if you will.

Mattel has done a very nice job with their first leap into the Legends realm. Hopefully the pictures of past Dreams, Dragons, and Drill Sergeants combined with memories of those great old items will let you judge whether Mattel stacks up to the rest. Make your decision? Let us know!

And THAT' order!


This entry is dedicated to Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. As I'm sure many of you know, Mr. Steamboat recently suffered some health setbacks and has been hospitalized. As of the latest word, The Dragon is doing better and making one of his famous recoveries as he did in so many of his great bouts. He is a great man who truly cares about his fans and deserves any thought or prayer sent his way.