Saturday, April 30, 2011

Grab The Bucket...I'm About To Drop Some Names--Part 1

Whether it be in person, through various forms of social networking, or even on here, one of the most oft-questions I am asked is, "How do you meet all of these wrestlers?" It isn't as hard as you would think, at least not to get started. Building the list of names, stories, and experiences is the true task and something that many fans take as a personal challenge.

Although I've discussed conventions, fanfests, and indy shows on here before, these particular entries can be looked at as an entertaining "FAQ" file, if you will. Following a lot of great recent feedback asking for stories of meeting wrestlers or getting particular items signed, this will also most likely serve as a prelude to more entries along those lines.

There's actually no better time to do entries such as these. The nice weather on this side of the United States brings about better opportunities to travel thus more conventions are scheduled. It should be noted upfront that if you're unable to travel, you should find another hobby. I see countless comments around cyberspace of folks complaining that shows such as these don't come to their area. Promoters find a profitable area and stick to it. Promoters also find areas that are generally accessible with special lodging (and occasionally travel) rates for convention-goers. If these breaks still keep traveling a dream rather than a reality--find a buddy or six. Nothing makes a trip better than having your friends along. In fact, sometimes the good times with friends become more memorable than the shows themselves.

One week from today is the twelveth edition of New Jersey's Legends of the Ring convention. Along with NWA Fanfest (usually held in Charlotte, NC) and Signamania (held outside of Philadelphia, PA), Legends of the Ring (or LOTR for short) has proven to be one of the "main event" players in the world of wrestling conventions and has played host to a who's who of grapple greats. From Flair and Sting to Mean Gene and The Brain, LOTR provides a stellar lineup catering to the taste of any wrestling fan. Next week's show includes appearances by Dusty Rhodes, Ken Shamrock, Jim Ross, Big Van Vader, DDP, Chyna, Kurt Angle, and many more. The promoters have also cultivated relationships with both TNA and New Japan Pro Wrestling, the latter of which has secured rare U.S. appearances for Jushin "Thunder" Liger and several other NJPW stars at next week's event.

While I discussed the logistics of these shows in my NWA Fanfest preview from last year, there's no harm in doing so again. Each event offers a package called a "Superticket" or "VIP Pass." Purchasing one of these packages will grant you admission to the show and one autograph and photo with each of the stars on the main lineup. Additionally, vendors who are setting up booths at the show will bring in stars separate from the main lineup. These guests are called, fittingly, "vendor guests." Fans are able to pick and choose from who they would like to meet and pay a fee for autographs and photos.

After being asked how I've met so many wrestling personalities, I'm occasionally asked a follow-up question. That question being, "Why would you pay for an autograph?" The following paragraph contains the answer that you will hear from anyone who understands anything about how these types of shows work.

Stars, be it wrestlers, actors, or other athletes, do not come to these shows out of the goodness of their hearts. It is a job. They are being paid by the promoters of the show to be there. They are leaving their friends/family/whoever to do a job. The promoters are not putting the shows on for free, either. Many (but not all) of these stars would be very willing to give you a rushed autograph and photo somewhere out in the world. Me? Personally, I'd rather travel to one place where I can meet any number of stars at one time. I can get a nice, posed photo with the star (possibly even in gimmick) suitable for print/display/whatever and have my item signed on a table with a nice full signature. If you still would like all of this without paying, you can be my guest and try to track them all down. And if you're of the mindset that these stars "owe" you anything...well...I'm not even going to bother going there.

Now that we've gone through the "rough" stuff, Part 2 will be full of the stuff you really wanna know. What stars are booked on what shows? Is Dennis Stamp booked? (He was!) How much fun will you really have? And yes, I will even let you know that with a little research, you may find that you can rub shoulders with the greats right in your backyard...or at least region.

To Be Continued!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Immortal Merchandising

Pro wrestlers are known for spinning yarns on just about any subject. Whether true or false, there's usually always an element of entertainment in these tales. I cannot count how many times, while having an item signed, I've heard of how much (or how little) the individual was paid for the particular item. One superstar that, without a doubt, made more money on merchandise than most of us will see in a lifetime is the one and only Hulk Hogan.

Countless words have been written about Hulk Hogan's contributions to the wrestling world. Like it or not, nearly thirty years after the birth of Hulkamania, Hogan is still the most recognized wrestler in the world. As much as it pains some detractors to admit that, it is undeniably the truth. As a child, I can remember thinking that even little old ladies knew who the Hulkster was. In my early high school years just before the "Attitude Era" hit, I can remember peers who no longer followed wrestling thinking that Hulk was still the WWF Champion. It's simply a fact that Hulk Hogan will always be synonymous with the mainstream idea of professional wrestling.

Is it any wonder that this is the case? Having a cartoon show, action figures, lunch boxes, shoelaces, bubble bath, vitamins, canned pasta, and charisma out the wazoo will do that for a person. While his out-of-the-ring exploits of the last few years have left some fans with a bad taste in their mouth, Hogan's successes benefited many. Not only have his legions of fans been provided with countless memorable wrestling moments, but the wrestlers he worked with also gained from association.

Stories of wrestlers wanting to work on the higher grossing Hogan-topped events have circulated for years. Many stars have told me that they were not only compensated for their likenesses appearing in the Rock n Wrestling cartoon show, but for their inclusion as an action figure in the LJN WWF line. It seems that, according to some stars, Hulkamania truly is where the power was.

There are still some who claim that Stone Cold Steve Austin holds the record for merchandise sales in wrestling. While there is no doubt that Austin and his merchandise had an amazing run, if every single officially licensed item between the two men could be counted, the winner would absolutely have to be Hogan. Not only were Hulk's highest grossing years over double in length of Austin's, but one only has to compare footage from their respective eras to see that the "yellow finger" outsold the "middle finger" by leaps and bounds. Let's not forget, THQ knew just who to demand be featured on the cover of their latest WWE video game despite being a current TNA talent. The red and yellow reigns supreme.

Regardless of who is truly the merchandise champion, both Hogan and Austin had amazing careers that defined the era in which they competed. It's Hogan, however, that transcended the mainstream and most likely propelled himself to the spot of the most well-known professional wrestler of all-time.

Maybe there should be some of award for this achievement...

The Hulky?

Monday, April 11, 2011

TNA Live--An Experience In WRESTLING To Be Learned From

The wrestling industry is constantly changing and evolving. From The Rock and Steve Austin looking to pass the torch to the industry's "silent" battle against the fad of mixed martial arts, never before has there been more of a transition period than right now. One of the major companies has finally abandoned the "evil" title of "wrestling" altogether while the other is nearing a decade of trying to find itself.

When wrestling finally came to pay-per-view in 1985, the ultimate goals of most wrestling promoters immediately began to change. Pay-per-view buys became more important than selling tickets to live events. While these events, the sole financial backbone of the industry until '85, have survived the past twenty-six years, their importance has changed dramatically.

The matches which previously were only seen on a live basis were now available for a fee on pay-per-view or later on free television. Being under the same roof as your favorite stars and seeing cookie-cutter matches became the only real motivation to travel to your local arena and catch a live show.

TNA is a company which, for nearly ten years, has seemed somewhat lost at times. Being created as an alternative to the WWE product, many times TNA has seemingly just copied the worst of WWE. Glimpses of great things have come from the promotion, but often without capitalization or follow-up. For the past several years and deriving from several sources, TNA has done one thing right--the live event.

For many years independent wrestling promotions have been known for providing smaller shows where fans can see action from younger stars in addition to older veterans. Combine that with a usual option of getting to meet many of these stars at the show and fans of the independents usually leave the events with smiles on their faces.

TNA took those ideas from the independents and developed a unique experience that ultimately boils down to fans getting not only a great experience, but enough of a draw to get them out of the house and down to the arena. While TNA runs mostly smaller venues, fans always benefit from a more intimate setting where there really isn't a bad seat in the house.

A veteran of many live events over the past twenty years (including several TNA events), I can honestly say that TNA the event this past weekend in Rostraver, PA was one of the best I've ever been to. The company did its best to get the fans the best experience that they could have. From personal appearances in the area which included stars giving out autographs, DVDs, and show tickets to the different ticket options to meet stars at the show, I doubt a single fan left the event unhappy. Compared to the WWE's first two lackluster efforts at Pittsburgh's new Consol Energy Center, this is a far contrast.

Every TNA live event includes an "autograph party" where various stars of the promotion circle ringside with Sharpies to sign whatever the fans provide. Other signings and photo opportunities arise throughout the night as well. While buying a TNA program is encouraged by huckster Don West, I highly recommend viewing the show lineup in advance and bringing your own items in addition. The program is a very nice item to get signed, however, and nominally priced at $20.

For a few years now, perennial TNA announcer Jeremy Borash has come up with different ways for fans to obtain "backstage passes" in order to meet even more stars at the events. At the Rostraver show, sixteen commemorative Jeff Jarrett TNA guitars were available for purchase. While not in everyone's price range, the guitar included two backstage sessions as well as photo opportunities with Mickie James, Mick Foley, and Kurt Angle which were available to other attendees for a fee. Seeing the guitar in person makes you realize that this is the quintessential TNA collectible and ultimately a bargain. Considering what the included autographs and photo ops would cost on the wrestling convention scene individually it was almost a mistake to pass it up. Hopefully TNA creates other unique pieces of memorabilia such as this for future events.

The show itself was also a step above other offerings recently in the area. The card was solid, well booked, and well performed. If TNA provided the style of match and card on television that is presented on the house show level, we could see the company give the "entertainment" crew from Connecticut a run for their money. Each and every house show reaction I've witnessed live for Beer Money rivals and eclipses that of many of the Monday night superstars.

The bottom line is that both companies realize that change needs to be made in order for the ring wars to be "hot" once again. WWE believes that changing to full-blown entertainment is the way to go. TNA gets that wrestling is still on the marquee, but only seems to produce that on the house show level. There's room for athletics and entertainment in the world of wrestling, we simply need to get back to the perfect balance.

Whether you're looking to meet the stars, want to see entertaining wrestling, or pick up a couple of autographs, a TNA live event could be just what you're looking for. Don't let the stigma that the company has picked up deter you. They've changed live events the way that they needed to be changed. If the entire company followed suit, we could be in for wrestling the way we once loved it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

From Hulk & Andre to Bret & Shawn--Hasbro WWF Madness

After a certain amount of time nearly everything experiences some sort of nostalgic resurgence. Foods, television shows, cars, fashion, and even decades all become beloved and "in" again after a certain amount of time.

Around ten years ago, the wrestling collecting community was especially nostalgic for the LJN WWF figure line. For those of you who simply remember those "big rubber wrestling dolls" that epitomized the Rock 'n Wrestling era, this is the LJN figure line. The 60-plus character collection full of figures heavy enough to bash your neighbor on the head with were suddenly hot again and prices were skyrocketing. Seeing as that the Jakks Classic Superstars line had yet to be developed, many wrestlers only figures were in the LJN line. Some stars such as Adrian Adonis, Slick, and Special Delivery Jones are still only available in the collection.

Today, the LJN line is still widely collected and loved by fans, but there is one figure line I get more questions about above all others. This line, produced from 1990 through 1994, is the Hasbro WWF figure collection.

When the WWF's deal with LJN expired in 1989, the company seemed to quickly sign a new deal with Hasbro. While the line did not hit stores until 1990, the Hasbro WWF ring mold is dated 1989, showing that the toy company jumped right into production.

The initial lineup of WWF superstars included Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, The Ultimate Warrior, Randy Savage, Ted DiBiase, Jake Roberts, Rick Rude, Brutus Beefcake, The Big Bossman, Akeem, and Demolition Ax & Smash. Introduced on a series of commercials starring Jesse "The Body" Ventura and several of the aforementioned stars, children watching morning cartoon shows were captivated by the "Real Wrestling Action" included in these new toy grapplers.

Each figure included a different mechanism which enabled the figures to perform different signature maneuvers. While some of the moves matched those of the real wrestlers, others did not. Either way, the inclusion of these features proved to be a big hit with kids used to their wrestling figures not moving at all.

Flying off of the shelves, the line ultimately lasted until 1994 producing well over 100 figures if you include paint and design variants. Many of these variants help carry collector interest today. Between differences in card design and even country of origin, many fans collect these "subsets" to further extend their WWF Hasbro collection.

Even during the time that these figures were available at retail, a keen collector could tell which would be more desirable in the future. Peg hooks full of Brutus Beefcake version 1 and Roddy Piper were commonplace while finding a Dusty Rhodes was pure chance. The original blue ring, carried by retailers for years, is still easy to find while the yellow King of the Ring version saw very few shipments.

Beginning in late 1993, the individual figure waves began appearing on color coded cards. While the first few waves saw a red, white, and blue motif, these color coded sets featured yellow, red, purple, blue, and finally green card backs. The green carded series saw limited distribution and was most widely available at Hills Department Stores in early 1995. Rumors of an additional orange carded series have circulated since then and are completely unfounded.

For many collectors it's the sheer range of the line that makes these figures so attractive. From products of the territories such as Kamala, Greg Valentine, Kerry Von Erich, and Hacksaw Jim Duggan to megastars like Andre the Giant, Ric Flair, Randy Savage, and Ricky Steamboat and even "New Generation" WWF stars like 1-2-3 Kid, Yokozuna, and The Smoking Gunns--they're all here.

Glaring omissions such as managers, referees, and female characters have always been a black mark on the line. One has to wonder just what memorable figures Hasbro could've produced of Dino Bravo, Haku, The Barbarian, Jeff Jarrett, and Diesel among others.

However, if Hasbro memories are what you're looking for, look no further than the 2011 WWE Hall of Fame Ceremony. During their acceptance speech, Road Warrior Animal and Paul Ellering paid tribute to their fallen brother, Road Warrior Hawk, by placing his Hasbro representation on the induction podium. It does not get more sentimental than that.

The value of each figure varies greatly and, as always, is due to the demand at the time. While some such as Dusty Rhodes, any of the final green carded series, and Andre the Giant have remained high over the years, other figures such as the various releases of Randy Savage, the second version of Brutus Beefcake, and Demolition have seen hot and cold moments. As always, your best bet is to check eBay for all the latest price trends.

With the wide range of figures alone, you can be sure that this is not the last time the WWF Hasbro line will be visited on this blog. We've only scratched the surface with stories, photos, and memories. Many of the figures could be entries in themselves and let's not forgot a "little" toy with a "big" following that was also produced by Hasbro for the WWF. You may have had to rumble a bit back in 1992 in order to get your hands on one...

As always, stay tuned!