Monday, February 28, 2011

A Personal Anniversary

A couple of months ago WWE Magazine published an article about wrestling. In recent years the magazine has become more of a hodge podge of pop culture than covering the WWE product itself. This particular wrestling article was about house shows.

For those who've never attended a house show, or live event as they're called by WWE, the article probably had the desired effect. It chronicled exactly why house shows are, to this day, something different and special.

Those who know me personally know that I love a good house show. They're the last remaining vestige of true blue professional wrestling. A ring. A single light over that ring. No obnoxious screens. The Fink. The kind of show that still makes you say, "This is wrestling!"

Today, 2/28, also happens to be an anniversary of sorts for me. It was nineteen years ago today that I attended my first live wrestling card. You guessed it. A house show.

I was lucky enough that, although it was already 1992, I was able to see the two biggest stars of the 1980's collide. In my first live main event, Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper defeated Ric Flair and Sid Justice. That coupled with matches featuring other personal favorites like Big Boss Man, Ted DiBiase, Rick Martel, Tito Santana, and the Natural Disasters made it one of the most memorable nights of my life up to that point.

That night I also picked up my first live event souvenir. WWF Program #199 was added to my already growing collection of figures, tapes, and magazines. Marty Jannetty, although not on the show that night, graced the cover with the wonderful, and now extinct, lineup sheet inside.

The matches listed were just as Sean Mooney had hyped them on the event center in the weeks prior to the show. "Other Exciting Bouts Featuring The Warlord And Kato" were also promised on the blue, black, and white sheet. It should be noted that The Undertaker was originally announced to team with Flair but was removed after Taker's first babyface turn.

The event ended up featuring The Warlord defeating Chris Walker, Davey Boy Smith defeating Rick Martel, Tito Santana defeating Ted DiBiase, The Natural Disasters defeating Hacksaw Jim Duggan & Sgt. Slaughter by disqualification, JW Storm defeating Kato, Big Boss Man defeating Repo Man, as well as the aforementioned main event.

Not many bootleg handheld videos of shows from our now-shuttered Pittsburgh Civic Arena seem to exist. Thankfully, the main event was done "around the horn" as it were and was taped the following month at Madison Square Garden. While it's not the exact show, the main event is virtually move for move as I remember it.

While the current wrestling product as a whole isn't always my cup of tea, sometimes you only need to take a look at the kids enjoying it. Seeing the excitement they're experience can take you back. It takes me back to February 28, 1992--the night my television heroes came to life before my eyes.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

My Top 5 All-Time WrestleMania Collectibles

Amazingly enough, the 27th edition of WrestleMania is on the horizon. Regardless of whether or not what you wanted to be "the draw" is happening, there is still an aura around the show that does not surround any other wrestling event.

It's been deemed the World Series or Superbowl of professional wrestling. It's the one event that transcends the normal wrestling vs. real world boundaries. Created in the "Rock 'n Wrestling" era, each year WrestleMania builds upon the idea of one ultimate pop culture event surrounding a wrestling ring.

WrestleMania is also known for usually offering "something for everyone." Even the wrestling purist longing for the days of classic territorial wrestling can find a match or two on the annual card to satisfy their tastes. After all, some of the greatest matches of all-time, be it for action or sheer memorability, have been held at the first twenty-six WrestleMania events.

Hogan vs Andre. Michaels vs Undertaker. Steamboat vs Savage. Hart vs Austin. These and many other matches have set the standard for how matches should be performed and also promoted.

Shortly after becoming the best known wrestling event on the planet, WrestleMania exploded into a deluge of merchandising. Even at the very first event in 1985, fans were able to purchase attire adorned with the now-legendary classic WrestleMania logo.

That same logo, and variations from following years, has since been attached to nearly every type of collectible imaginable. It has become a true testament to the promotion of the event that the WrestleMania logo has become nearly as recognizable as the WWF/WWE brand logo itself.

In this entry I bring you my personal top five favorite WrestleMania collectibles of all-time. I chose five from my own collection that I truly feel represent the event, its stars, and the special feeling that the show has cultivated throughout the years. If your favorite WrestleMania item isn't shown here, I apologize in advance and would love you to share it in any of the various ways presented here in the past. The items are in no particular order, although stay tuned until the end for an honorable mention.

1. WrestleMania 1-13 VHS Box Set (1997)

VHS over DVD? In the case of WrestleMania it's a no contest. When the WrestleMania collection finally hit the DVD format in 2005, many of the earlier events almost didn't resemble what we saw and heard years ago. Due to rights issues much of the music had been changed in addition to the annoying blur of the WWF "scratch" logo in several events. What makes the music issue particularly troubling is that it seems WWE didn't bother to check their rights on many themes. These same themes, obviously owned by the company, were later used without fear on other vintage releases such as SummerSlam, Survivor Series, and Royal Rumble sets.

This VHS box set is the only commercially released way to view the events as originally intended. Slated for a release in time for the 1997 Holiday gift-giving season, the WWF offered this set through their catalog. Fans who pre-ordered, expecting a big dose of WrestleMania nostalgia come Christmas, were informed via mail that the set would not be available until early in 1998. This could have been a blessing in disguise.

While the horrors of theme music changing had yet to be uncovered, fans were used to the earlier mainstream themes used in wrestling being dubbed over. Such songs as "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," "Another One Bites The Dust," "Born In The USA," "Eye of the Tiger," and "Easy Lover" were used in the inaugural WrestleMania yet dubbed over on the Coliseum Video release. For reasons unknown to this day, each and every one of these themes is included in this set. My theory is that due to the rush job needed to get the set out to awaiting fans, the music rights issues were either overlooked or ignored. The "WrestleMania Legacy" box set released later in 1998 and also including WrestleMania XIV corrects this oversight.

This set isn't without faults, as the rush job may have also caused a dip in picture quality. The tapes used are low quality and crudely dubbed on low speed complete with visible cuts during the intermissions, although the intros and returns as well as merchandise commercials are intact.

2. 2001 WrestleMania XVII Mat Card

Although trading cards fitted with pieces of memorabilia are commonplace today, in 2001 it was truly an event to pick one out. In the 2001 Fleer WWF Championship Clash card series, cards with pieces of the mat from WrestleMania X-7 (XVII) are included. This particular card features photos of Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, the main event of the show, and a swatch of mat in between. Cards featuring swatches with something unique to the swatch have always garnered more interest among collectors. My particular card actually has a small spot of what appears to be blood on the left edge of the swatch.

3. WrestleMania 1-6 Press Kits

While promotional photos are among the most collectible of any type of wrestling memorabilia, little has been discussed about other promo items such as press kits. There are at least seven different WrestleMania press kits available. The ones featured here are the kits for WrestleMania I through VI. A kit for WrestleMania XIV is known to exist.

About a year ago I discussed these kits in length here on the blog. Much is still unknown about them and just exactly which items were included with each. There are WrestleMania-exclusive promotional photos that have been seen with some press kits, while others simply feature paperwork.

4. WrestleMania VI Promotional Standee

While some "workrate" mongers condemn the 1990 edition of WrestleMania, true fans of the era and its stars find it nothing short of one of the best. Bright colors and even brighter superstars combine to cap off everything that the 1980s WWF stood for and ring in the 1990s.

This is a cardboard standee about ten inches or so tall. Looking exactly as if it would've been standing in the office of a regional cable company, the item touts the pay-per-view and not the video release. Featuring great graphics and die-cutting, this standee has even been seen included with the WrestleMania VI press kit at one point at auction.

And just who was that kid staring up from ringside in the Hogan picture?

5. April 2010 WWE Magazine

In one of the coolest ideas that the WWE Magazine had in years, its April 2010 issue had twenty six different covers in honor of WrestleMania XXVI. A different superstar was featured on each cover, with some possibly getting their only cover ever in the process. Bret Hart, CM Punk, and Drew McIntyre were just a few featured, proving that great WrestleMania memorabilia is far from being a thing of the past.

Honorable Mention--Floyd "Money" Mayweather Bill

We end with another item that, like the mat swatch, was part of a WrestleMania event itself. During his entrance to the ring at WrestleMania XXIV to battle The Big Show, boxer Floyd "Money" Mayweather Jr. "made it rain" dollar bills. These weren't just any bills, though. These were "$20,000,000" bills. Occasionally showing up for auction from enterprising fans lucky enough to scoop a few up, these bills are sure to only become more collectible as the years go on.

I hope you enjoyed my own favorite WrestleMania mementos. If you'd like to share your own or just give some feedback, please check out our Facebook Fanpage.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The King of Memphis to become King of the World?

This Sunday's WWE Elimination Chamber pay-per-view could prove career-changing for one Jerry "The King" Lawler. It's hard to believe that anything further could be accomplished after an amazing 40-plus year career, but at the age of 61 Lawler now has the opportunity to reign as WWE Champion.

While I personally feel that they will not go in this direction, the world of wrestling has proven the quote "you just never know..." valid many times before. Certainly Lawler will end up getting what he has been quoted as saying is his last goal in the business, that being a match at WrestleMania.

In any case, a headlining role during the biggest annual season for WWE is a crowning (pun intended) achievement for The King. Despite largely hiding Lawler's long career earlier in his run with the company, WWE is now recognizing and rewarding the man who has been called one of the greatest psychologists in ring history.

To celebrate Lawler is to celebrate the culture and history of Memphis wrestling. Aside from his mentor Jackie Fargo, Lawler is the personification of the city's wrestling territory. Debuting in 1970, Lawler has not slowed down in 40 years. Alternating between beloved fan favorite and villainous heel has to be second nature for "The King" who at one point was the hated enemy of Bret Hart on nationwide WWF tv while remaining the local hero in Memphis.

Although Lawler will always be associated with Memphis, his current Betty White-like wave of senior fame is not Lawler's first national attention. While The King had an AWA World Heavyweight title reign in the late 1980's, it was actually his feud with late comedian Andy Kaufman that first thrust Lawler into the national spotlight. Their battles, both verbal and physical, may have originated in the Mid-South Coliseum but eventually made their way to late night with David Letterman in a moment that TV Guide has listed as being among television's most memorable. Their feud was immortalized in plastic by Jakks for their WWE Classic Superstars line nearly 30 years later.

Although The King did not receive an action figure until six years after signing with the WWF, many magazines and programs capture his earlier career in memorabilia form. A favorite of the Stanley Weston-published magazines such as The Wrestler and Pro Wrestling Illustrated, Lawler's image and Memphis antics were kept in the wrestling mainstream. When Lawler finally made his WWF debut on one of the final episodes of Prime Time Wrestling in 1992, the studious wrestling fan knew that one of the greatest had arrived in Connecticut.

Whether or not you agree with everything that WWE does, we should all appreciate that the company is giving us another chance to enjoy the multiple talents of a true legend. If it's adding yet another championship to his resume or that big match at "The Greatest Sports Entertainment Spectacular of All-Time," we can rest assured that Lawler will prove, yet again, that it is good to be The King.

For photos of many more "royal" collectibles featuring Jerry Lawler, please check out our Facebook Fanpage.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Wrestling MarketWatch: Newsstand Nostalgia

Figures, cards, and videos are all great collectibles. Promotional photos, original ring worn items, and belts are incredible items as well. For me, though, it all comes back to magazines.

That isn't to say that I'm ready to get rid of everything but the mags. Quite the contrary as I've always prided myself on being able to collect a little bit (okay...maybe a medium bit) of everything that's out there. In my case it may have started out with a couple of action figures, but there's just something about holding a thirty-year-old magazine in your hand with that musty smell and great black and white photography. The whole package encapsulates whichever era in wrestling that the magazine is from.

Even though figures and cards became the predominate wrestling collectibles by the 1980's, great wrestling publications are still sprouting up to this day. Add that to the fact that many classic vintage magazines and programs are obtainable at extremely affordable prices might make them the premiere pieces of wrestling memorabilia to collect.

Whether or not you collect them yourself or just want to see what the old boxes of magazines in your basement may be worth, you know by now that these MarketWatch entries attempt to help on both counts. Let's take a look at some recent online auction results.

*We'll start off with an item that should appeal to most audiences, that being the program for the 1988 Survivor Series. As opposed to the plain black cover on the 1987 edition, the 1988 program looks right at home in the colorful late '80s WWF. A huge photo of the Mega Powers over shadows pictures of the rest of the '88 team co-captains. WWF pay-per-view program interest can best be described as fickle. The same publication can sell for $40 one week and go unsold the next at $10. This is the best way to illustrate the fact that items truly don't have a set "value." It's all up to what the collectors are currently willing to pay. Recently, this program (unsigned) sold for $30.

*Next is an item that could be described as a cross-collectible. The 1985 Wrestling All Stars Trading Card magazine was the only way to obtain the 54-card set. Featuring such stars as Hulk Hogan, Dusty Rhodes, The Road Warriors, Exotic Adrian Street, and many others, the cards are perforated and included as pages in the magazine. Examples including all 54 cards still attached have just recently sold for between $80-$100. Don't expect the interest or price to wane anytime soon.

*While the WWF originally had WWWF Wrestling Action Magazine and then Victory Magazine, the first official WWF Magazine is the April/May 1984 issue. Featuring Hulk Hogan with the "big green" belt around his waist, this issue has always seemingly commanded a high price. Most recently the issue has fetched $35 at auction. Depending on the "mood" of the market, adding or subtracting $15 or so dollars from that price is feasible.

*Jumping ahead about 13 years to the dawn of the "Attitude Era" brings us WWF Program #245. The program features an imposing head shot of Kane in one of his very first merchandising appearances. This era of WWF Programs show up a bit less at auction than late '80s-early '90s editions. This particular issue recently sold at auction for $15. With the popularity of the era, its stars, and the fact that many of these programs have awesome photos of those stars right on the cover, I would snap these up at $15 or under while you can. D-X and Hart Foundation covers from the same time are equally impressive visually.

*We wrap it up with what I would call my "best bet" for this edition of MarketWatch. While all territories had their own programs sold at live cards, the nicest may be the ones that came out of Georgia. The NWA Georgia Ringsider covered all the stars and events of Georgia Championship Wrestling. Ole Anderson, Dusty Rhodes, Abdullah the Butcher, Thunderbolt Patterson, and Jack Brisco are just a few of the stars that were covered in these nicely published programs. Recently selling for between $30 and just $6.50, now is the time to pick these up. As we get closer to the NWA Wrestling Fanfest this August celebrating Georgia's wrestling history, prices and interest will undoubtedly rise. Many of GCW's top stars will be attending the event providing the opportunity to have many of these great Georgia Ringsider covers autographed.

For photos of many more great wrestling publications from the past to the present day, please check our Facebook Fanpage.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Will He...or Won't He?

One of the many reasons that the WWE was able to take over the wrestl...err...sports entertainment world is the simple fact that no one does hype quite like them. They can manipulate the fan or viewer into thinking just about whatever the company wants. It's a great asset for business, but one that also has led to disappointment for some fans over the years.

Raw on the night of February 21st will be an interesting show. For those of you who no longer watch, WWE has been running a series of vignettes displaying a cloaked figure, a shack, and the date "2-21-11." In the latest vignette, the Johnny Cash "Ain't grave can hold my body down" song lyric was added.

Initially, due to a plethora of rumors and theories already out there for WrestleMania, many fans thought that the cloaked figure was a sign of a WWE debut for Sting. In his nearly three-decade career, Sting has never worked for the WWE. Add to that the rumors that WrestleMania was to have a WCW theme, that Sting would be the perfect opponent for The Undertaker (in lieu of the unavailable Brock Lesnar), and that Sting had not signed a new deal with TNA and it seemed very obvious that this was the case.

On the other hand, "2-21-11" may simply mark the return of The Undertaker. Local advertising for the live show seems to indicate this as does the inclusion of the aforementioned song lyric. While you can't deny that 'Taker still has legions of fans and that his undefeated streak is a marketing point for WrestleMania, there are others who feel that the character is stale. Others will go as far as to say that the last remaining highlight in his career will be his Hall of Fame induction.

The WWE will no doubt make every effort to keep fans guessing until that night. They don't want to reveal their hand, and who is to say that the payoff won't satisfy everyone? Sting is officially off of the TNA roster. The Undertaker will no doubt be part of WrestleMania XXVII. The rest we will find out on the 21st.

Although Sting has never stepped foot into a ring owned by the greatest wrestling marketing machine ever, he has still had his fair share of merchandise. Arguably the face of WCW and a major part of TNA over the past few years, Sting has seen great times in the aisles.

Sting's mainstream debut into wrestling merchandise was with his "rookie cards" in the 1988 NWA Wonderama trading card set. He would have many cards over the years, but these cards chronicle the time with stars like Barry Windham, Eddie Gilbert, and Ric Flair just before Sting exploded into the spotlight.

It was with Flair that Sting came into said spotlight. At the inaugural Clash of the Champions event in 1988, Flair and Sting wrestled to a 45-minute time limit draw. This is almost universally considered to be the match that made Sting into a star. Despite a rocky road of buyouts, clueless executives, and curious booking decisions, it was from here that WCW had their own mix of Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior to carry the company through the 1990s.

Starting after the Clash, Sting began to appear on the cover of Pro Wrestling Illustrated, The Wrestler, and all of the other wrestling magazine titles of the era. In the year 1990 after winning his first world championship, the Stinger's popularity continued to soar. The same year saw Galoob release their WCW action figure line (with Sting available in several different colored tights) and a kid-sized championship belt featuring a young doppelganger of the face-painted star on the box.

The late '90s saw the transformation of Sting and yet another rise in popularity for the grappler. Shunned by friends in WCW and betrayed by those who turned to the villainous nWo, Sting underwent a transformation from crew-cut, vibrantly colored, "surfer" Sting to brooding, baseball bat-wielding, black and white "Crow" Sting. In the era of the "Monday Night Wars" it was not uncommon to see Sting shirts being worn alongside the ubiquitous New World Order and Austin 3:16 tees.

Action figures of the new look were very popular. Perhaps the most beloved item of the time was a six-figure set featuring "The Evolution of Sting." The Toybiz-produced set included three figures from his earlier "surfer" days and three from the modern "Crow" style. Initially difficult to find, the set showed up discounted at Kay-Bee toy stores and is still coveted by collectors.

Even today, Sting merchandise is still scooped up by collectors young and old. Autographed items of the star have commanded high prices as of late and TNA merchandise with Sting's unique likeness are still available.

The fact of the matter is that nearly all of Sting's career is owned by the WWE. A WWE DVD release on Sting was scheduled and latter scrapped, most likely due to Sting's involvement with TNA at the time. Whether or not the man called Sting adds to that WWE-owned footage is his own choice. Regardless, he has had one heck of a career and a legacy matched by few.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

What do one half of The Beautiful People & The Celtic Warrior have in common?

Hot acts and even hotter action figures!

It's hard to believe that the very first TNA Knockout figure is being released nearly nine years after the start of the company. It isn't very hard to believe that the first figure is one of the biggest names to come out of the Knockout division.

While a Daffney figure is just beginning to hit shelves, the very first TNA Knockout figure is none other than a founding member of The Beautiful People, the one and only Velvet Sky.

Although many would've preferred a two-pack of The Beautiful People, I'm simply happy that we're getting figures of these ladies period. Velvet, Angelina Love, Madison Rayne, and Lacey Von Erich have variously done a great job in making what could have been a one-dimensional gimmick into a reason to watch. Heck, they've even spawned some much less talented imitators!

Velvet comes as part of the third series of Deluxe Impact! figures produced by Jakks. Packed at one per case, Velvet has become a "hot" figure regardless of her fan base.

Female action figures have always been a problem for toy companies. Most companies feel that children playing with the figures simply don't want to buy a "girl" figure. Seeing as that the action figure market is dominated by boys, this is an easy conclusion to come to. That said, an interesting character with a lot of exposure in the base product will make for a well-selling action figure regardless of gender.

This is why the limiting of Velvet's figure distribution is baffling to me. Hopefully future Knockout releases, such as the upcoming Rayne and Love figures, will be more evenly packed.

Is the the former Talia Madison worth the hunt? Absolutely! For a company known to skimp on details, especially on the backs of their figures, Jakks outdid themselves with Velvet. From a completely correct and nicely colored outfit to her back tattoos and the word "Sky" on her famous...bottom, Velvet looks as if she just stepped into the Impact Zone.

The head looks to be a complete mold as opposed to separate pieces for the head and hair. The hair is highlighted just like that of the real Velvet with her face contorted into the pouty sneer we are all familiar with.

The articulation is plentiful and matches up with the male Deluxe Impact! figures. Although the torso joint that I so regularly bash is present, it seems to stick out less to me on this figure. Even her tiny wrists are jointed enabling Velvet to blow a kiss with her left and throw a punch with her right.

Velvet is also nicely scaled to fit in with other similar figures. Not only does she mix in well with all of the new TNA releases, but match her up with Jakks WWE Diva figures of the past and Velvet is ready to "Cleanse the world, one ugly person at a time."

While still in demand, the WWE Sheamus figure has greatly diminished due to several releases of the character already available. On the other hand, this is the only Velvet Sky figure planned to be produced. Unless some sort of two-pack is released in the future, chances are that this will remain the only figure of her. My recommendation? Pick her up if you can. If you're looking for a decent investment and happen to see a second, snap her up also. Limited distribution plus a great character plus a female figure equals collectibility.

Now you know exactly what Velvet and Sheamus have in common. You didn't think it was the tan, did you?