Thursday, May 26, 2011

100 Entries = Countless Memories

It's a technique used endlessly over the years. All the legends did it. Lucy. Dick Van Dyke. The Simpsons...often shamelessly. No, I'm not claiming to be a sitcom, but I am stealing one of their all-time most dreaded devices. If you're kind, you can call it a retrospective. But there's an uglier word for it. The infamous "F" word.


With this being the 100th entry of this blog, I've decided to go back and take a look at some of the truly memorable entries. In a blog that's largely based on nostalgia, where better to get a bit nostalgic? With so many newer readers in the past few months, some of you may be learning about a number of these entries for the first time.

For those of you who have been with me since the first entry, I haven't forgotten you. First off, thank you for sticking with me for the past two plus years. Second, there is a bit of new content at the end of the entry.

Although I just recently started discussing the blood, sweat, and tears of wrestling meet and greets, one of the first major entries that I did was a review of IWC's Night of Legends 2009 show. If I hadn't started attending IWC shows back in 2001, I wouldn't have ended up meeting so many of the wrestlers that I've had the pleasure of rubbing shoulders with.

One of those legends that I first met through IWC and have had the pleasure of meeting with many times since is the one and only Bruno Sammartino. "The Living Legend's" acceptance of the 2010 Dapper Dan Lifetime Achievement Award was my reason for this particular entry, but it remains only a small passage of the story of Bruno and Pittsburgh wrestling that needs to be told. Many more entries on both subjects are slated for the future.

Another topic which I plan on revisiting in the future is the series I call "Wrestling MarketWatch." Lifting half of the title from CBS (with my sincerest apologies to the "Eye"), these entries cover all forms of wrestling memorabilia and the latest going prices for the items. While I contend that price guides are dead in the era of eBay, these entries should fill the void quite nicely for the wrestling collector.

It's always nice when I can get input from the creators of the wrestling memorabilia. Two such entries are among my favorites and, judging from the feedback I received on them, favorites of yours as well. The first re-introduced the 1991 Wrestling Legends trading card set. Featuring Bruno, Buddy Rogers, Lou Thesz, and Lou Albano among many others, the set was produced by a Pittsburgh-based company called Imagine Inc. Although now defunct, the then-vice president of the company, Tim Ferrante, was kind enough to share memories and photos from the time of production.

The second entry highlighted the first in-house WWWF/WWF publication entitled Wrestling Action. Wrestling legend and editor of Wrestling Action, Les Thatcher, was kind enough to provide exclusive insight into these great magazines. Counting this five-issue series among my all-time favorite wrestling collectibles makes this entry a personal favorite of mine.

Our last "flashback" features another favorite collectible of mine. While WWF Hasbro toy collectors should all know about this item, judging from the great feedback on this entry it seems that many fans learned of it for the first time. The Hasbro WWF King of the Ring ring is one of those fun toys that, due to limited production and distribution, just doesn't see the light of day very often. It's sharing collectibles like this that make the entries a pleasure to produce.


Now for something that I plan on including on a semi-regular basis. Many magazines often include a "parting shot." A final page with a photo, several photos, or even a short article to end the issue on a fun note. I often look upon this blog as a monthly magazine spread out upon several weeks, so without further ado I introduce you to...

"From The Musty, Yellowed Pages..."

In my vast collection of wrestling publications I've found tons of hidden gems over the years. Either widely known or lost to time, I'll be presenting many of these in this feature. Why not start with the best one of all?

Inside Wrestling, May 1978, Page 39

About ten years ago I acquired this magazine in a huge collection of old wrestling publications. Thumbing through them, I noticed a feature in many of the titles that wouldn't fly at all today. This particular feature was a monthly listing of "Wrestling Pen Pals." Each section contained a gallery of fans, mostly youngsters, with their photo, interests, and complete home address. A fun, harmless idea in 1978 that would probably be an outrage today.

Between the listings of young Bruno and Dusty fans as well as curious photo booth shots of adults (always looking like future "friends" of NBC's Chris Hansen), a particular child hailing from Ozone Park, NY came to my attention. I could not believe my eyes. Although I scanned the page when I made the initial discover and it later spread to a few places around the Internet, I once again present this particular 9-year-old fan for your enjoyment. Who knew that I would encounter this junior bowler so many years later? Luckily for me I didn't mention that I knew about Taz's first magazine appearance, otherwise I might've been just another victim...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Randy "Macho Man" Savage 1952-2011

In the past decade it seems that many legendary wrestlers have had a "return" year. Hulk Hogan in 2002. "Superstar" Billy Graham in 2006. Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat in 2009. Press, projects, and even brief in-ring returns have given these stars one last major time to shine. By all accounts, 2011 should have been the year of the "Macho Man."

New action figures. A video game appearance. Even a live-action appearance touting the video game where Savage himself declared 2011 his year. Family, friends, and fans were cheated this past Friday when Savage passed away of a heart attack resulting in a car crash. Judging by the press coverage of the tragedy, it looks as if the entire world feels cheated.

I've often argued just who the true "mainstream" names of the wrestling business are. Everyone and their grandmother knows the name Hulk Hogan. This has been fact since around 1985 and holds true to this day. While names such as Ric Flair, Bret Hart, Dusty Rhodes, and even Steve Austin come close in the wrestling fan's vernacular, they simply don't resonate the way the Hogan name does. Going back thirty years, Andre the Giant was definitely known in the mainstream. In the past ten years, The Rock would certainly be an arguable contender due to his entertainment career. Triple H or John Cena? Unfortunately for WWE, not even close.

The names I most often hear mentioned by folks who could barely be classified as wrestling fans are Junkyard Dog, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, The Ultimate Warrior, Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake...and "Macho Man" Randy Savage.

Whether it be for any of his various memorable wrestling runs, amazing performances, classic promos, or the often imitated (but never duplicated) Slim Jim commercials, Savage may be the only star name to come close to Hogan. Savage may have also been the first wrestler to crack the popularity armor of "The Hulkster." During their 1989 feud, Savage undeniably received more fan support than any of Hogan's other opponents since the birth of "Hulkamania." Indeed, "Macho Madness" was powerful despite Savage's heel tactics of the time.

Savage's downfall may actually turn out to be something that his many fans can cling to. While his virtual disappearance in the last several years has been largely disappointing to his fanbase, it has been said that the "Macho Man" lived in financial security in close proximity to family. Both his lack of need to do any notable projects for money and the word of his brother Lanny "The Genius" Poffo support this. Ultimately, while we fans may feel cheated out of more moments of "Madness" and the "Year of the Macho Man," we should actually be happy that the man who worked tirelessly for so many years in a thankless profession had the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

Hopefully, somewhere in the great beyond, Savage is reunited with so many that were important in his life. His father who passed only a short time ago, the great Angelo Poffo. Friend and "Macho Queen" Sherri Martel. And of course, the lovely Elizabeth. Through various accounts of his life, one can get the picture that if you were closely associated with Randy Savage, it was because Mr. Savage wanted it that way.

Randy Savage will always be second to Hogan in mainstream name value. The fact of that is not going to change upon death nor should anyone pretend that it does. What we have found out is that while Mr. Hogan is still with us, hopefully for many years to come, I cannot honestly see him getting the outpouring of emotion that has come with the passing of the "Macho Man." Tributes, thoughts, and memories have come from all corners of the world this weekend for the man who not only dropped the elbow and snapped into a Slim Jim, but epitomized action, drama, and even romance in the world of professional wrestling. To say there will never be another Randy Savage is a statement that you can take to the bank. Even in this time of sorrow, that is something which we all can "dig."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"That Guy Actually Had A Figure?"

Hogan. Austin. Cena. The Rock. The Undertaker. All-time greats. All-time favorite action figures to many collectors young and old. If you walked into any toy store during the primes of the aforementioned stars, you would be sure to find several different versions of each clogging the shelves.

Of course these figures are going to dominate the rest of your collection, but just like in the real-life world of wrestling, it takes other guys to make the stars. Which figures are going to look up at your bedroom lights while Dusty dances and Flair struts?

It's the lesser stars that have always intrigued me the most both in-ring and in the world of memorabilia. Some fans just don't realize that a lot of collectors want figures of nearly anyone who's ever appeared in a wrestling ring. When those fans see a particularly "quirky" figure either in a collection or on a store shelf, the familiar sentence always rings out...

"That guy actually had a figure?"

This entry is my own personal list of the five figures most likely to produce such a reaction. These five are based on my own opinion and reactions I've personally seen to some of them. Prepare to be SHOCKed...

The Shockmaster

He came. He saw. He fell. Tugboat in a glitter-filled Stormtrooper helmet. One of WCW's best ideas? No. But certainly a character that would make one wonder how it got onto television, much less got an action figure.

The truth is that the action figure is part of the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line and was produced for two reasons. The first reason is because the character, due to the various mishaps surrounding it, WAS memorable. The second is because Jakks already had the rights to create the various faces of Fred Ottman into action figures. While Tugboat still remains unmade as an action figure (aside from being one of the goalie figures in the 1991 Remco WWF Table Hockey), we will always have Typhoon and the one and only Shockmaster to relive our memories of "Uncle Fred."

Dick Woehrle

Figures of the wrestlers themselves are great, but who can put on a show without managers, announcers, and referees? While Remco produced a few different referee figures for their AWA line, their Dick Woehrle figure may be the best referee figure of any line. While the other referees in the AWA line featured repainted heads from other Remco action figure lines, the Dick Woehrle head sculpt is amazingly lifelike. While the figure does include the famous "ripped" body type used on many of the AWA figures, it does not take away from the only figure of the man who seemingly wore the stripes in every wrestling territory. While other referees were released later on, perhaps the only figure to come close was the Jakks release of Earl Hebner nearly two decades later.

Ted Arcidi

This is the figure that not only posed the question above, but made kids ask "Who IS this guy?" The truth of the matter is that Ted Arcidi had a very brief run in the WWF. Aside from an appearance in the WrestleMania 2 Battle Royal, Arcidi had very few other memorable moments. This, coupled with the long time it took for figures to be produced in that era, meant that most children didn't have a clue who Ted Arcidi was by the time that the LJN figure was available in stores. The red singlet and somewhat goofy facial expression ensured that this figure would become the "jobber" in WWF household action nationwide. Arcidi has since become an actor appearing in such films as "The Town" and "The Fighter," but his biggest claim to immortality will probably always be as the least known LJN WWF figure in the line.


Tiny Lister is a very nice guy and a good actor. If you've seen anything from "The Dark Knight" to "Friday" to episodes of "Matlock" and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," you've seen Tiny Lister. He just wasn't a very good wrestler. His stint as Zeus was rather unremarkable despite the hype, and we can all be thankful that a rumored Hogan-Zeus main event at WrestleMania VI ultimately did not happen.

Similarly to The Shockmaster, Zeus was immortalized in the WWE Classic Superstars line for nostalgia purposes. Had the run of Zeus not taken place just as the WWF was switching from LJN to Hasbro for their toy license, we may very well have seen a vintage Zeus figure released as well.

Tiny Lister continues to have a steady career as a menacing character actor. Former WWF star Robert "Kurrgan" Maillet seems to be following in the same footsteps by becoming Hollywood's go-to brute. Will we ever see Zeus and Kurrgan do battle on the big screen? I know I'm not the only one who'd love to see it.

Outback Jack

Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport! Yes, it's Outback Jack. He had videos hyping his debut. He had magazine articles. He had trading cards. And yes, he had an LJN figure. He simply didn't have much ability in the ring. He did help us understand the lingo on the menu at "The Outback" and satisfied any fantasies anyone may have had about Crocodile Dundee crossing over into the world of wrestling. Honestly, we were better off sticking with Bill Dundee.

Did I leave anyone out? A figure that you cannot believe was produced? Maybe it's one that you've seen in a previous entry. Let us know here or on the Facebook Fanpage!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Christian...Christian...Alas, You May Never Be On Your Own...

If you're a "Marty Jannetty," chances are that I'm a fan of yours. I like Marty himself, but I'm talking about anyone who's been the less successful partner in a tag team. The fact is that although most wrestlers who fall under this category have had very successful careers in their right, they've just not been as spectacular as their partners.

Christian could be considered a "Marty Jannetty." Taking nothing away from the recently ended career of Edge, I've always felt Christian seemed to be the better of the two. "The Look" is perhaps the only thing that Edge had over Christian, something that Vince McMahon himself is said to think as well.

Either way you look at it, both superstars define the late '90s through 2000's in professional wrestling. From tag team, to mid-card, to main eventing WrestleMania, Edge sampled every level of stardom that WWE has to offer. His look, style, and ability to morph his persona appealed to several different eras of WWF/WWE fan.

Christian visited those same plateaus on a bit lesser level. While Captain Charisma spent less time as a main event star, for a considerable amount of time he was an Internet darling and, at one point, was thought to be the free agent who would take TNA to the top. Although Christian gained two NWA Championship reigns during his TNA run, the somewhat grassroots following of the star fizzled when he was lost in the TNA shuffle.

Now that Christian has had a steady return run in WWE and Edge has unexpectedly retired, it's uncertain what the future holds for the Brood "brothers." What is certain is that Christian's fans are as vocal as ever. His recent one-night title reign was met with great displeasure which was loudly voiced to WWE management.

One place that Christian's fans should certainly be satisfied is in the merchandising department. Like most of the top stars of the "Attitude Era," both Edge and Christian received top treatment. Mattel, WWE's current toy licensee, has released several figures of both stars.

Christian's latest figure is available in a two-pack just like his figures of over a decade ago. This time the partner isn't Edge. Based upon the rookie-mentor scenario in the first season of WWE NXT comes Christian-Slater. No, not the actor. Christian is paired with current Corre member Heath Slater in this recent release.

The Heath Slater figure marks the first release of an NXT or Nexus figure. The figure has the familiar "N" armband signifying his allegiance to Nexus. Although figure releases have always been months after characters and story lines are fresh on television, this figure is particularly jarring. When the NXT Rookies initially became The Nexus last summer, the storyline was so interesting that even I deviated from writing about merchandise to express my excitement over the developments. Just a few months later the potentially company-changing storyline merged into just another stable. Nevertheless, it's nice to finally see figures of these new stars.

Mattel seems to be adapting their manufacturing practices with these figures both positively and negatively. The joints of the figures seem much less stiff than offerings of last year. Detail remains excellent and the facial likenesses are improving to Jakks level.

Although my ever-hated torso joints are not present here, I did notice something that may upset some collectors. Mattel had planned a commitment to making individual torso sculpts for each figure. I did not notice a change in this until now. Both figures in this pack use the same torso. While this is not a big deal to me (especially living through the days of the AWA Remco line where EVERY figure had one of two torsos), some collectors are sure to be bothered.

It's scary to think that Edge has already had a "Hall of Fame career" and is retired. It's similarly frightening to think back to Survivor Series 1996 when Rocky was but a rookie. Time truly waits for no man. One comforting notion about being a wrestling fan is that no matter your feelings on the product currently being presented, there is always more past material out there to keep you coming back. Covering such material is what, hopefully, keeps you coming back here.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

More Names, More Memories, More Memorabilia!

You guys asked for more "meet & greet" stories, therefore the name dropping continues! Between the last two entries and several stories I was asked to do for my friend Johngy on his great blog you've heard many tales of the wrestling convention scene. This past Saturday at the 12th Legends of the Ring show in New Jersey, even more memories were made and more memorabilia signed.

Just like at every other LOTR event there is a massive amount of wrestling talent, past and present, to meet. Two of the biggest for me personally were Joanie "Chyna" Laurer and Japanese legend Jushin "Thunder" Liger. In my many travels I had not yet had the opportunity to meet "The Ninth Wonder of the World" and North American appearances by any stars of the orient are few and far between.

Chyna's roller coaster life of the past few years may just be a thing of the past. Each and every fan who took the opportunity to meet the former Intercontinental Champion was more than pleasantly surprised. Ms. Laurer was humble, gracious, and attentive. Appearing nothing like the proverbial train wreck that has been covered by the media in recent years, Chyna will hopefully be another success story after falling from grace.

Presented by New Japan Pro Wrestling, Jushin "Thunder" Liger seemed as excited to be at LOTR as his fans were to meet him. It was truly an experience to see the mask recognizable to U.S. fans for his amazing WCW matches of the '90s. When the wrestlers exude the same enthusiasm as the fans, it makes the experience all the better.

Of course, these were not the only two names available to meet. Vader, Ken Shamrock, MVP, Carlito, Bill Eadie and Barry Darsow (Ax and Smash) in their Masked Superstar and Krusher Kruschev gimmicks, Maria Kanellis, Jim Ross, Johnny V, The Godwinns, Perry Saturn, Ron Simmons, Sunny, Tony Garea, DDP, Kurt Angle, Orlando Jordan, JJ Dillon, and Paul Bearer were just a few more.

A special mention goes out to former WCW announcer and current voice of TNA Mike Tenay. Mr. Tenay had to be one of the most personable wrestling personalities I have ever met. His own roots in wrestling as a fan showed greatly as he interacted with convention attendees and seemed mesmerized by all the great memorabilia presented not only for him to sign but for the other stars as well.

Be it the autographs, the photos, or simply getting to shake a hand and say "thank you," the experience of shows such as these is truly something that you cannot get anywhere else. Be it Legends of the Ring, Signamania, or NWA Fanfest, the true wrestling fan should attend at least one of these in their lifetime. It's no secret that time is running out. While there will always be stars for these shows to thrive, the old school talent is not getting any younger. The wrestling industry is not a forgiving one. Most fans realize that getting to meet the stars we grew up watching is a privilege. This is something that even fifteen years ago would be almost unfathomable due to the nature of the business. Not one fan could honestly tell me that back in 1992 they ever would've imagined sitting next to Big Van Vader, the monster who dominated Japan and decimated WCW's hero Sting. It simply did not fit into the "kayfabe" world of professional wrestling.

Everyone wins in events like these. Fans are able to meet the stars that defined the business and the wrestlers have brand new gigs. For some of the stars, though, I believe the true payoff is finally getting to know what an impact they had on so many lives. I can't imagine anything could soothe the pains of the wrestling business greater than that.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Grab The Bucket...I'm About To Drop Some Names--Part 2

...and now the fun part!

With the exception of "Macho Man" Randy Savage, nearly every wrestling star has done a "modern" autograph signing appearance. Yes, even Dennis Stamp has been booked. While many factors go into talent appearing, it should be obvious to anyone that stars cannot continue to be booked on every show. While some fans have an endless supply of items for various stars to sign, others, especially those who are only interested in photo ops, are satisfied with one meeting. This means that talent has to be switched up from show to show.

Many shows base their talent lineup around trends in memorabilia collecting. If a talent is included in a "hot" item that is begging to be signed, their phones are much more likely to be ringing than not. During the height of Jakks WWE Classic Superstars figure line, many collectors found these handsomely packaged figures ideal to be autographed. The WWE Encyclopedia has proven to be another popular autograph "project" with some collectors amassing several hundred signatures in the book. Other collectors prefer the promotional photos put out by nearly every major wrestling company of the past twenty years. The difference between authentic promo photos and a standard 8x10 glossy is something that even some wrestlers themselves have caught onto over the years.

While some shows focus on the autograph aspect of fandom, others strive to make it a more personal experience. The multiple-day NWA Fanfest promoted by Greg Price is a complete celebration of pro wrestling's glory days while still extending a ray of hope towards modern wrestling that is continuing tradition. No matter which style of show is preferred, attending any of these shows is something that the wrestling fan would not soon forget.

Perhaps the most poignant fact of these shows is remembering times spent with stars who are no longer with us. It's no secret that each and every year we lose more and more of our childhood heroes from the squared circle. When one has had an interaction with any of these stars even for a fleeting moment, it makes that opportunity all the more important when one passes on. Sherri Martel, Sir Oliver Humperdink, Luna Vachon, Captain Lou Albano, Ernie Ladd, Gary Hart, and Jack Brisco are just a few of the legends that have appeared at shows such as these shortly before their deaths.

Of course, conventions are not the only places that you might be able to meet your heroes. A quick internet search can pop up various independent wrestling promotions around the country. These promotions often book wrestling legends on their shows in order to boost attendance. These stars are often available to meet either before the show or during intermission. TNA has even taken the independent style of easily accessible stars and integrated it into their house shows as I've previously written about.

Obtaining autographs and photos from your favorite stars is always a thrill, but occasionally there will be an extra special moment that defines your entire experience. Seeing two stars reunite after many years. A star taking special interest in an item you're having signed. Making a special connection over a memory long past. Whatever the case, these are moments that make the time traveling and money spent all worth it.

Even with all of the words and photos, the only way to truly experience the things I've illustrated on this blog over the past few years is to join the party. It's never too late and never a disappointment. Be it that you want to get that old magazine signed or just finally go beyond simply being a face in the crowd, welcome to the world of fan interaction. Be prepared to make more memories than televised wrestling has given you in years.