Thursday, March 31, 2011

WrestleMania XXVII = One More For The Books?

It's in the air. The event is upon us. Perhaps the biggest name to transition from wrestling to "sports entertainment" isn't an individual star, but WrestleMania itself.

Today, twenty-six years to the day of the very first WrestleMania, even the most jaded fan has to admit a certain magic surrounding the name and history. No wrestling event has ever garnered more publicity than WrestleMania. Is it the matches? The celebrities? The grandeur? Of course they all factor in. The truth is that there is still a ring, there is still the drama and athleticism of spectacular matches, and it is still a grand showcase of the pastime we all love.

Without a doubt no wrestling event has been covered by more journalists than WrestleMania. Between in-house publications from WWF/WWE to articles in newspapers and magazines the world over, the event stands above the rest. Photos from the show can commonly be found jamming the news wire mere moments after they occurred. For three or four hours each year the elements of professional wrestling, be it described as such or otherwise, are the focal point of the entire world.

WrestleMania IV brought the subtitle of "What The World Is Watching" into widespread use for the company. WrestleMania itself, each and every year, proves that subtitle valid.

Whether you're tuning in for the matches, the celebrities, the glitz, or the glamor, remember that you are witnessing the biggest mainstream stage professional wrestling will ever be seen on. Considering that it's a bigger stage than most other sports and/or entertainment entities will achieve, it should make anyone proud to be a fan of wrestling and/or sports entertainment.

Enjoy WrestleMania XXVII!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

He Looks To The Future, But He Won't Forget The Past...

March 22, 2009. It's hard to believe that I've authored this blog for two years now. When looking back on that time only two words immediately spring to mind: Thank You.

The blog actually sprouted from a concept born way back in 1997. In the early days of the "modern" era of the Internet I had my own online newsletter devoted to wrestling collectibles. Re-reading the only issue still known to exist, it's very obvious that this is the work of a high school kid and various "guest" authors. That said, the newsletter had a huge and very loyal following. Seeing as that up until I began this blog I still occasionally heard from former readers of the newsletter, it must have left some impression on collectors.

When dreaming up the blog, I decided to continue to follow the same two principles that I imposed in the newsletter: to inform and entertain. While I felt that each entry should contain information that could prove interesting to the reader, every writer knows that in order to keep the reader enthralled you simply have to entertain. If you're reading this blog in the first place, you're obviously already entertained by the concepts presented in the world of professional wrestling. My work was cut out for me.

I also decided that instead of concentrating on breaking news, the blog would instead analyze and expound on said news. Reviews of new products, memories of past collectibles, and of course the MarketWatch (my apologies to CBS) entries detailing the latest in auction prices are all concepts that became the foundation of the blog.

Most of all, the blog is here because it's fun. My sincerest hope is that reading the blog is as fun as it is to maintain. Between the blog, the Facebook Fanpage with nearly four hundred readers, and constant communication, I feel that we have created a community based on love for the sport of kings and the great memorabilia celebrating it.

With WrestleMania XXVII right around the corner, interest in wrestling collectibles will inevitably pique for a week or so. If you're just finding us--welcome! Whether you are a new or longtime reader, please let me know what you would like to see here! More reviews? More profiles on the stars and their individual collectibles? Vintage items or new swag? More on encounters with the wrestlers? It's all up to you.

From getting to live a lifelong dream of joining the crew of writers with Pro Wrestling Illustrated to being able to share memories of such wonderful people like Sir Oliver Humperdink, you have enabled me to do this. If you folks weren't enjoying it, I would have no reason to continue.

Once again, thank you. I believe the best is yet to come.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sir Oliver Humperdink 1949-2011

I decided a long time ago that this blog would only be filled with the good in professional wrestling. That meant nothing too controversial, no huge battles over the change in the product, and no obituaries. The truth is that death should not cloud the memory of someone's life. Everyone dies, so it isn't something unique to anyone. What is unique is the life the person led and the mark they left on others. Late last summer I felt that Luna's life needed to be discussed here. Today, the same goes for Sir Oliver Humperdink.

It's been no secret that since the beginning of the year that Mr. Humperdink has been in a rough battle. While some stars are able to hide their ailments, this simply wasn't so for Oliver. This is not only due to a consistent daily online presence interacting with his fans, but also due to the fact that this legendary manager was loved by EVERYONE.

About a decade ago I was a member of a wrestling e-mail group. I cannot remember the title nor much else about the group, but I do remember noticing that someone claiming to be Sir Oliver Humperdink frequently posted. At the time, I was only a few years removed from learning of the long territorial career of Humperdink. Most fans my age only knew Sir Oliver from his WWF and WCW stints. Looking back through magazines and old footage it became apparent that these runs really only meant national exposure. The true meat and potatoes of the "House of Humperdink" was in the '70s and '80s territory glory days.

As I began to read the posts of this person and the responses he received, I slowly began to realize that this was indeed Mr. Humperdink himself. It was completely foreign to me that such a huge name in the industry would be interacting with ordinary fans. That's because with SOH, as I came to know him, everyone was a friend.

I began to lightly correspond with Mr. Humperdink, who always signed his e-mails as "SOH," through personal e-mail. When he learned that I had copies of a few matches involving him that he really wanted to see again, I put together a vhs tape to present to him at my first wrestling convention. This convention, the 2004 NWA Tribute to Starrcade Fanfest, would also mark the first time that I was able to meet so many of my childhood heroes all in one place. Luckily for me, this convention included two of the all-time greats in managing--Gary Hart and Sir Oliver Humperdink.

SOH was one of the first stars that my friend Adam and I met that weekend. Through various encounters over those three days, we quickly learned that the two managers we were so excited to meet were very good friends. In fact, they seemed rather inseparable.

Later that weekend at their scheduled autograph signing, Mr. Hart and Mr. Humperdink both went out of their way to make us feel like old friends. SOH is also the only star to ever dedicate a photo to me using my initials, "JW." This is because it was how I always signed my e-mails and thus how he remembered me.

My crew and I were lucky enough to meet SOH several more times over the years. In 2009 we were honored to share our dinner table with him at the NWA Legends Hall of Heroes banquet. While SOH was his usual kind self, you could tell that his mind was elsewhere. On this night, SOH was to posthumously induct his friend, Gary Hart, into the Hall of Heroes. While SOH loved meeting his fans and seeing old friends at these shows, you could tell that something was missing with Mr. Hart no longer present.

At the 2010 version of NWA Fanfest, SOH's career came full circle. Mr. Humperdink began his managing career in the 1970's managing the original Hollywood Blonds team of Buddy Roberts (later known for his Freebird fame) and Jerry Brown. Mr. Brown had long been missing until located earlier in the year. The team and their manager reunited at Fanfest in Charlotte for the first time in over three decades. SOH seemed to have a grand time that weekend and shared that feeling with so many of us.

As I mentioned above, SOH was an original and constant fixture in the online wrestling community. From his days using WebTV from his Key West home to the advent of social networking, SOH was always an early adopter. For those who had him as a friend on Facebook, SOH provided a daily lesson on classic music. When these updates became infrequent, many friends became concerned. It was then that SOH informed the public of his health struggles. The outpouring of concern, prayer, and love on not only his Facebook page but all over the internet has been amazing. NWA Fanfest promoter Greg Price even made sure that SOH got to have his NWA Hall of Heroes award plaque in advance. His upcoming induction this summer will be an emotional moment, but all of his friends know that "Humpy" will be right there in spirit, with old friend Gary Hart.

As a fan, you owe it to yourself to seek out Mr. Humperdink's work from Florida. Most fans would agree that this is Humpy at his finest. This is, of course, where Humpy had the nickname of "The Rooster" who was always receiving bloody comeuppance from foes like Dusty Rhodes not to mention The House of Humperdink which featured some of the most menacing villains ever to grace the squared circle.

One thing that SOH himself pointed out to me is that the WWF "took away" his title of Sir. While there were probably flubs by announcers over his year in the company, for the most part he was simply referred to as "Oliver Humperdink." SOH informed me of this little known fact while signing his WWF promotional photo, showing the great mind and memory of this legend.

Wrestling is all about illusion. Many legends of the ring have been lost, but how many were greats outside of the glitz and glamour? Mr. Humperdink was a treasure of a man in all walks of life.

All day I've thought about SOH as well as my own father, who also lost his battle at the age of 62. Both were great men who live on due to their incredible legacies left on earth. The verse on the back of my father's prayer card seems fitting here as well.

I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy iv. 7.

Goodbye, SOH.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Wrestling's Original Diva: From Your Wall To The Hall!

While some may call wrestling a man's world, there are more than a few ladies from the past and present that would make a person eat those words. Mildred Burke. The Fabulous Moolah. Penny Banner. Sherri Martel. All of these women had the wrestling world in their hands at different points in their career due to their actions and presence in the wrestling ring. Taking nothing away from any of these legends, one young woman created a different role for females in wrestling. Borrowing from the charismatic antics of past "lady wrestlers" and adding her own wiles into the mix, Tammy "Sunny" Sytch originated the modern day wrestling "diva."

Anyone who followed wrestling in the 1990's should not be surprised to hear that Miss Sytch is among the 2011 WWE Hall of Fame Class. While stepping into the ring as a competitor very few times in her career, Sytch created the "Diva" style without actually coining the term herself.

From her earliest days in the business as "Tammy Fytch" in Jim Cornette's Smoky Mountain Wrestling, Sytch's Hillary Clinton-esque character was in ways almost a female Cornette. Even those who only followed SMW through the magazines of the time knew that Fytch was destined to be a fixture on the scene for years to come.

After a brief stint as host of the WWF's "Live Event News" segment, Sytch became "Sunny" to Chris Candido's "Skip." Although The Bodydonnas were a success, it was not until Sunny took on a bit of her earlier Tammy Fytch persona as a gold-digging manager that the marketing machine exploded.

Posters. Magazines. Figures. Much like Miss Elizabeth a decade before, Sunny was the preeminent woman of the World Wrestling Federation. Unlike Miss Elizabeth, Sunny had a presence which eventually went beyond the wrestlers that she was associated with. In addition, Sunny was the WWF's first true multimedia star. Due to the WWF's then-association with America Online, Sunny was the most downloaded person on AOL with new photo shoots seeming to hit weekly.

In the 1996 and 1997 incarnations of the WWF Slammy Awards, Sunny was arguably the centerpiece. Between managing, commentating, and hosting, Sunny seemed to be involved in every aspect of the WWF product. The company could not have found a better female face.

Although her main stint with the WWF was just around three and a half years, Sytch would go on to grace the rings of ECW, WCW, and various other promotions throughout the world. Still involved in the business to this day, I have a feeling Sunny will be joining the group of WWE Hall of Fame members who continue to cultivate their careers even after their induction. After all, what else is the "baby" member of the Hall of Fame to do?

There also is perhaps no other WWE Hall of Fame member so close to their fans. Tammy goes out of her way to keep contact with her legions of fans. With such an active calendar full of appearances, it's not hard to meet the "Original Diva" herself.

I, myself, first met Sunny at a WWF appearance in 1997. Her first figure, the JusToys Bend-Em, was also the very first autographed figure in my collection. Since then, I've grown to know Tammy as one of the kindest people in the business. I'm proud to see that someone I've followed, supported, and have grown to know and treasure as a friend is being honored for their career.

The true "Sunny's Secret" is that the best from Tammy is yet to come!

To visit "The Original Diva" herself please visit Tammy Sytch Online. For an entire gallery of Tammy Sytch memorabilia, please check our Facebook Fanpage.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lucha Libre Crosses The Border!

Over the years many different backers have tried to introduce different styles of wrestling to the sports-entertainment loving American public. From Wrestling Society X to New Japan Pro Wrestling USA, most of these ventures have fizzled out before they ever truly had a shot to take off.

MTV2's Lucha Libre USA is the latest entity to try and captivate American audiences. One advantage that this promotion has is its very own action figure line by Playmates Toys.

Playmates is no stranger to the wrestling market. In 1997, the company was awarded a WWF license to produce figures and toys that weren't the same scale as the Jakks Pacific line. Sadly, only a few products were ever produced after a promising and still-remembered initial offering. Large sized statue-style figures of Sid and The Undertaker as well as Stretch Wrestlers and mini-figures were among the Playmates WWF line.

In 2011, Playmates has returned to wrestling. The "Lucha Libre Masked Warriors" line includes basic figures of six of the television shows top stars. While some names such as Charly Malice are new to American audiences, others such as Marco Corleone (Mark Jindrak) and Sydistiko (TNA's Puma) have previous American exposure. Lizmark Jr., Tineblas Jr., and Super Nova round out the first series. A six-sided ring and deluxe figures of Tineblas Jr. and Super Nova (including child-sized masks) are also available.

The packaging for the line is somewhat of a departure from other wrestling figure package designs. To be honest, the style is very reminiscent of packaging from cartoon character action figure lines of the early '90s. It is also bilingual, which is no big surprise considering the source material.

A sign on the packaging touts the 30 points of articulation on each figure. This is indeed true and something that Playmates pulls off very well. Even the dreaded "mid-torso joint" simply doesn't bother me much here. Another plus is that I did not encounter loose joints right out of the package. Any collector can tell you of a figure or six from the past ten years that came with loose joints right from the factory. I'm not sure why this is so, but it is a problem that has plagued multiple manufacturers. Playmates seems to have avoided this thus far.

The detail on these figures, especially when compared to the picture right on the card, is dead-on. While one could argue that masks are easier to capture than faces in figure-form, the detail of the masks and expressions underneath chalk up another victory for Playmates.

Like most wrestling figure lines in history, the scale of the figures is somewhere between the other two big lines on the market today. Neither the Sydistiko or Lizmark Jr. figures reviewed here would look bad next to current WWE or TNA offerings.

Each figure is given an accessory and Sydistiko has very nice pants made from real material. The deluxe versions of Tineblas Jr. and Super Nova have removable entrance gear.

I don't like making controversial statements, but these truly may be the best bang for your buck in the wrestling figure aisle right now. Opening these guys up, I feel like I'm getting something for my money. These are solid figures the way I remember figures feeling years ago. The inclusion of an accessory, no matter how relevant to the character, is always a bonus especially when thinking of the children that these are intended for. My recommendation? Buy these up. While the ring looks rather small and the deluxe figures are somewhat pricey, I would highly recommend the basic six figures. These are well-manufactured, just plain cool looking figures that would spice up any collection.

Despite the absence of new product for last months Toy Fair, Playmates could be on their way to establishing a great new third brand for wrestling figure collectors. If not, I'm willing to enjoy what they've already given us.