Monday, June 27, 2011

The Internet Darling Hits Retail

It's very hard to fathom that a year has passed since the angle introducing Nexus began. The amazing momentum that got fans (including myself) talking may have fizzled out before the end of summer, but the fact that something as fun and relatively unique could still be done in this era of wrestling is reason enough to savor the memory.

One year later and figures of the original Nexus members are making their way into collections worldwide. Heath Slater (reviewed here) may have been the first, but the figure highlighted here today has the potential to be the most desired.

Although never a diehard indy wrestling fan, I know quality product when I see it. The closest I came to living and dying by the indy scene was following the IWC promotion here in Pittsburgh. For the better part of the last decade, IWC featured not only the biggest names available on the indy scene, but also hosted the hottest regional action to be found anywhere.

IWC allowed me to see stars such as CM Punk, Christopher Daniels, AJ Styles, and Samoa Joe live, in person, and in the beginning days of their careers. Seeing these wrestlers now getting magazine covers, trading cards, and action figures almost gives me my own sense of pride for them. Knowing how these stars earned their way into the proverbial "big time" makes watching them today just that much more exciting.

Where do the Nexus and the indy scene of the 2000s collide? Right at the feet of "American Dragon" Bryan Danielson. Or Daniel Bryan. Whichever name you prefer, the man has been deemed by many to be the greatest wrestler in the world. Finally, that man has an action figure.

Released as part of Mattel's WWE Basic Series 11, this figure will no doubt be one to grab as soon as you see it. Bryan's independent fans will want this figure just as much as his current fans floating in the orbit of the WWE Universe do.

Bryan has always been known for letting his wrestling do the talking. Basic tights, boots, and pads. If you ask me, a wrestler like this would be harder to capture in figure form. There's less to work with and therefore far less to screw up. Mattel, by and large, hits the mark.

I've long been a Jakks apologist. I still feel that their reign with the WWF/WWE license will be hard to ever beat. Had a Bryan figure been produced by both companies I do believe that I would be choosing the Mattel version. Being a relatively slight individual, Bryan is perfect for the slimmer design of the Mattel figures.

Although the torso does not appear to be original, it fits Bryan as do the arms and legs. While the facial likeness is extremely close, there's just something that's ever so slightly off. This could possibly be due to the hairstyle used. Coloring and design seems spot on. As I said earlier, there was much less to work with for Bryan to get the look down pat. Mattel has succeeded.

As I have in the past few Mattel reviews, I will again point out that the recent releases feel much less stiff in the joints than earlier offerings. Danielson, known for a wide array of holds and maneuvers, is ready to battle any monster, past or present, that the WWE is ready to throw at him.

Mattel is on a nice and steady roll with releases. Product is full of quality and hitting shelves quickly. While the future of their Legends line still concerns me, Mattel's coverage of the current WWE scene has been top notch as of late. I once again give the highest recommendation to pick up this figure. It's the rookie figure of a competitor who has already guaranteed his inclusion in the wrestling history books. He will always be remembered as the number one icon of the "Internet" era of wrestling fandom. If his WWE career goes through the roof (or the glass ceiling?) it will only build upon his previous accomplishments.

Cue "Ride of the Valkyries"...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wrestling MarketWatch: What The World Was Watching!

It never ceases to amaze me how every fan of wrestling has a different era that they consider "golden." This can be said for many different forms of entertainment and sports, however wrestling fans seem to be the most loyal to their respective favorites.

Fans of the '60s and '70s often find the '80s to be the decade marking the end of their fandom. The same can be said for fans of the "Rock 'n Wrestling" era that find the infamous "Attitude Era" a dark spot on the colorful legacy of the previous decade.

No matter which decade you prefer, dating back to the 1960's you will find a glorious selection of mat memorabilia sure to bring back memories and keep your favorite stars alive. Discussing those great collectibles is why we're here, and more than likely why you're here, too.

According to the WWF, the 1980's is when the world was watching. Of course, present-day WWE will imply the same thing (today it'd be the universe), but back then they actually came out and told you. In fact, it was none other than my "good, close, personal, longtime friend" Mean Gene Okerlund that informed us all of that. Give me a break! Are you putting me on?

Humorous "Gene Mean" quotes aside, if you talk to any child of the '80s they will prove to you that indeed the world was watching. Names like Brutus Beefcake and Koko B. Ware are just as well remembered as Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage. The figures we all know as the LJN WWF line are known by every male currently between the ages of 25-40 as "those big rubber wrestlers." In 1987, Christmas was the second most looked forward to event of the year. For so many, March 29 took precedence.

Yes indeed, the world was watching.

In this installment of MarketWatch, we look at just how valuable some of those great '80s WWF items currently are. A little of this, a little of that, and a word as to why personal value is more important than monetary gain.

*What better way to start than the most recognizable star of the era (and probably the entire industry) and the architect behind it all. The much discussed LJN WWF figure line often seems to follow a roller coaster ride of value. While carded examples of the figures don't usually fall below $40 for the most common, recent selling prices for Vince McMahon and the first release of Hulk Hogan have skyrocketed. Hogan recently sold for $195 while Vince saw a selling point of $96. The McMahon price is particularly striking as the manager and announcer figures often sell for $40-$50. This is due to the figures largely being "shelf warmers" in stores during the 1980's. Some Toys "R" Us stores were known to have had LJN manager figures on clearance as late as 1992!

*With the advent of digital entertainment, many of the WWF Coliseum Video VHS releases dramatically dropped in price. The Coliseum Videos were often also clipped leaving fans hungry for the full-length events that they originally viewed. Easier access to copies of the full-length events diminished demand as well. Nonetheless, some fans just have to have "official" copies with the original packaging. Who can blame them? The WWF's first advertised pay-per-view (WrestleMania I *was* available in a few trial markets) known as The Wrestling Classic recently sold for $45.00. The event features a tournament including The British Bulldogs, Ricky Steamboat, Junkyard Dog, and Randy Savage as well as a Hogan-Piper championship match.

*Programs of events are often as desirable as actual footage. WrestleMania programs are another animal that go up and down in price. WrestleMania IV was the event that ultimately introduced the "What The World Is Watching" slogan and therefore that is the program highlighted here. The program recently sold for $25 marking a higher trend than usual. The programs from WrestleMania's I thru IX are plentiful and are simply in higher demand at certain times.

*Another great publication of the era worth mentioning is the Superstars magazine. This was a yearly WWF publication featuring photos and text of most of the roster. This series continued into the '90s and similar magazines are produced to this day. Again, while the magazines are plentiful they often command a higher price than their monthly counterparts. The third installment, featuring a great cover shot of the Macho Man, recently sold for $25.

While I do enjoy providing info on the value of these items that so many of you own, I always like to take the time to remind every collector that personal value is what these things are truly worth. I always advise to collect what makes you happy, not something that you only like because others have it and/or want it.

While the items above are some currently higher priced examples, so many great collectibles from the 1980s WWF and any other era in professional wrestling can often be had for very affordable prices. This is especially true now when it's a buyers market. Items that sold for extreme prices during the "Monday Night Wars" can now be had for but a fraction. what YOU like!

****"From The Musty, Yellowed Pages..."****

WWF Magazine, December 1988, Merchandise Catalog

The merchandise catalog? What could possibly be in there? A ton of merchandise. But besides that, a humorous look at two members of wrestling's royal family. These "cameo appearances" are a bit more circulated than Taz's appearance that we highlighted awhile back, but still certainly worthy to be shown here.

The WWF Merchandise catalog was often as fun to look at as the rest of the WWF Magazine. Those great photos showing the wrestlers modeling their t-shirts. The sought-after wall posters. The Ultimate Warrior suck-cup. (Dusty's words!) All of that pales in comparison to the two models we'll be showing today.

Take a look at this page from the late '88-early '89 catalog. Take a good look. Who's the stern-faced Hogan shirt model? Who's that little girl wearing the Hogan cap? Why, it's the McMahon children! I believe their names are Shane and Stephanie. I wonder whatever happened to them?

And of course, no child is complete without a t-shirt of their favorite wrestling mascot, Matilda. There's little Stephanie again, showing allegiance to her favorite pooch. If Matilda ever gets kidnapped by a bleached blond manager and two island boys, you should send her a "Get Well" card. I bet that she'll compile a list of all of the nice children who send her a card and have lil Steph mail one of these catalogs as a "thank you."

The world was indeed watching. How could they avoid it?

Monday, June 13, 2011

What's George's Is Mine, & Mine Can Be Yours, Too!

"You know that George 'The Animal' Steele is really a teacher, right?"

Surely I'm not the only one who heard that sentence time and time again growing up. Somehow, George Steele's career in academics was a well-known fact amongst children of the '80s and '90s. Maybe it was because the truth differed so much from the character we all knew and love.

George wasn't always an "Animal," though. Steele's original character was actually more of a beatnik, using phrases such as "Daddy-o" to punctuate his promos. Battling the likes of Bruno Sammartino and Gorilla Monsoon, George was a top of villain of the late '60s well into the 1970's. It was not until the 1980's "expansion" era that Steele became "The Animal" that so many of us know and love.

Although initially a Hulk Hogan nemesis managed by Mr. Fuji, George gained the love of millions shortly after the first WrestleMania and launched into his famous feud with Randy Savage. With the lovely Elizabeth overshadowing the Intercontinental Championship, Savage and Steele feuded throughout 1986 with Steele ultimately backing Ricky Steamboat's WrestleMania III title win.

Although the late '80s saw Steele's career wind down, The Animal still occasionally shows up to cause chaos and chew a turnbuckle pad. As one of the most unique characters to ever grace a wrestling ring, it's no surprise that George "The Animal" Steele has seen many different plastic incarnations.

The latest representation comes from Mattel in their WWE Legends line. With rumors running rampant that the line may soon be canceled amid veiled responses from Mattel, it would be a shame to see new merchandise of the forefathers of wrestling suddenly come to an end. Time will only tell if figures from wrestling's past continue to grace shelves next to today's entertainers.

Nevertheless, Mattel has done an admirable job with their WWE Legends thus far. It's always a plus when character specific accessories are included and this George Steele figure fits that description to a "T."

As nice a figure as it is, the Jakks Classic Superstars George Steele disappointed many collectors. While there were two versions of that figure released (one with painted hair and one with glued "real" hair) it was something which went unreleased that crushed fans. That would be the cancellation of Mine. Not yours. Mine.

When the Jakks Steele figure was originally shown it was to include the first figure of Mine, George Steele's late 1980's stuffed friend. By the time that the figure hit shelves, Mine was replaced by a recycled club and turnbuckle pad. This did not sit well with fans who expected more from the company known for the amazing Classic Superstars line.

Mattel has come to the rescue by finally releasing Mine. The green tongued little fella even has articulated arms ready to grasp onto his larger buddy as well as his trademark wristband proclaiming his name proudly. Another great inclusion is that of Steele's red-trimmed black shirt. Designed with velcro, the shirt is easily removable.

George's facial likeness is perfect with the green tongue hanging out as it should be. After all, who would want a Steele figure with the tongue in his mouth? George's infamous body hair is painted on and actually looks better than had it been flocked.

My personal "Public Enemy #1" in current wrestling action figures, the torso joint, is present but not bothersome. It actually helps improve on my only complaint of the figure. Like many Mattel WWE figures, George simply looks too thin to me. The torso joint actually adds a "roll" of sorts. Even in his early days battling Bruno, George was never that thin.

All in all, this is a very nice figure. The inclusion of Mine and the famous shirt actually make it an "ultimate" version of The Animal if that is something that you prefer as a collector. Although the "thin" factor is there, the long arms work well for George's famous stances.

My verdict? Make George and "Mine" yours!

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Steel City Still Reigns Supreme

When discussing wrestling history, cities such as New York, St. Louis, Dallas, Charlotte, and Tokyo immediately spring to mind. While there's no doubt that these were the top wrestling hotbeds, there is an underrated, overlooked, and often ignored city that deserves recognition. This is the Steel City, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

It truly doesn't matter which era of wrestling you're most familiar with. From Bruno vs Steele to Mankind vs The Undertaker, Pittsburgh wrestling fans are full of squared circle memories. The hard working, blue collar fans in the Steel City simply resonate with each and every aspect of pro wrestling. The hard hitting action. The rough characters. The traditional struggle of good vs evil.

Sadly for fans under the age of about 45, many of Pittsburgh's greatest wrestling moments are lost to history. The legendary Studio Wrestling program that starred Bruno Sammartino, Dominic DeNucci, The Crusher, The Battman, Waldo Von Erich, George Steele, announcer Bill Cardille and so many, many more is all but gone. WIIC-TV (now WPXI) , like many early television entities, taped over the weekly shows. Programs, magazines, photos, and even a few sound bytes are all that is left to keep the memories alive.

Another way that the Pittsburgh wrestling legacy has been kept alive is from a series of Studio Wrestling reunion appearances held in the area over the past two years. Sammartino, Steele, Johnny DeFazio, Ivan Koloff, and Baron Mikel Scicluna (in his final appearance) are just several of the names to attend these events. The appearance of children at these shows is proof that longtime Pittsburghers are sharing their longtime love for the sport of kings.

As touching as it is to see fans, young and old, meeting their local heroes, it is equally as compelling to witness the wrestling legends themselves in the spotlight once again. Even men such as Sammartino, Koloff, and Steele who attend such shows around the country are obviously affected by the outpouring of admiration in Pittsburgh. Hearing their stories, often elicited before the events by Bill Cardille, only reinforces the rich history of the region. Many fans, such as myself, get extra stories out of the stars when presenting classic items for them to autograph. It is these tales and memories, not the autographs or items, that are the true irreplaceable antiquities.

Sadly, it seems that one of the biggest icons of the city is on life support. As I discussed about a year ago, the Pittsburgh Civic Arena seems to be just months away from meeting the wrecking ball. A truly unique structure, the "Igloo" was home not only to so many of Sammartino's legendary battles, but also two of Pittsburgh native Kurt Angle's championship wins as well as the infamous Mankind-Undertaker Hell in the Cell match. It was also the place where, in 1992, a 9-year-old kid witnessed his first ever live pro wrestling card that just happened to involve Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, and Ric Flair.

Even government "progress" can't diminish the impact pro wrestling has had on the former "smoky" city. It's a shame that someone has not chronicled Pittsburgh's amazing wrestling story for posterity. Whether or not that ever happens, Pittsburghers themselves know that they live in one of the world's great wrestling cities. Perhaps the very last "best kept secret" the sport will ever know.

**********"From The Musty, Yellowed Pages..."**********

Wrestling World, April 1968, Page 50

Keeping with the legacy of Pittsburgh wrestling, I present a personal collectible story involving one of Studio Wrestling's late stars.

Chief White Owl was one of the many names that frequently competed in the Pittsburgh/Cleveland area. A fan-friendly wrestler, the Chief was known to be accessible for autographs. This is proven with the fact that over the past year I've acquired two of the Chief's autographs that were signed in the 1960's. Several magazines even show the Chief signing for groups of fans. One of those is this particular issue of Wrestling World.

This issue contains a multi-page article on the Chief and the various locales in which he was wrestling at the time. The photos for the article were taken at a Studio Wrestling taping. Upon reading the article, I noticed the Chief about to sign a Tri-State Wrestling publication. The Tri-State books are among my favorite wrestling collectibles of all-time. A total of five were produced by the Pittsburgh wrestling office in the 1960s and each contains a virtual time capsule of wrestling in Pittsburgh and the Bruno Sammartino dynasty. Although rarely found, issues will often include signatures obtained by the original owner. My own copy of the particular issue that Chief White Owl is about to sign in the photo...has Chief White Owl's signature on the cover.

In a bit of detective work in the style often left to devotees of the Kennedy assassination or UFO researchers, I enlarged and rotated the photo of White Owl about to sign the magazine and inset a photo of my own copy. The astute fan can see the small photos of Bruno performing various wrestling moves on the cover of the magazine. Is White Owl about to sign my exact copy? We'll never know. White Owl signed plenty of autographs and many fans used these Tri-State magazines for that exact purpose. Just like those who insist that someone is lurking in the grassy knoll...I believe in the photographs!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Jakks WWE Classic Superstars: A Modern Memorabilia Marvel

I miss the Classic Superstars. I miss reading of new star signings to be upcoming additions in the line. I miss seeing the first prototype pictures and whether or not Jakks captured the particular likeness I was hoping for. I miss everything about Jakks WWE Classic Superstars.

Although I've peppered this blog with talk and photos of the line, I've never devoted a sole entry to the series. Like the LJN and Hasbro figure lines which preceded it, the Classic Superstars collection cannot be completely covered in just one entry. Also similar to its predecessors, the Classic Superstars line has enough good and bad nuances to fill a book.

In 2004, Jakks launched what would undeniably become the crowning glory of their nearly 15 years of holding the WWF/WWE license: WWE Classic Superstars. It was an action figure line that not only captured the attention of current fans, but also brought older fans back into the fold.

I will honestly admit that the original first series lineup didn't thrill me as much as it did many other collectors. Figures of "main event" talent such as Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, The Undertaker, Andre the Giant, and The Ultimate Warrior weren't what I wanted to start with. Taking nothing away from this half-dozen of talent, I wanted figures of stars who had no previous plastic incarnations. I wanted mid and undercard talent.

As the line progressed, myself and many other longtime fans were regaling with new figures of Harley Race, Bobby Heenan, Dusty Rhodes, Billy Graham, and Demolition while enjoying first time figures of The Barbarian, The Fabulous Moolah, Ernie Ladd, Gorilla Monsoon, and Tully Blanchard. The stars of wrestling's glory days were finally being remembered as they should be.

While I expect no one to believe this, at one time I actually envisioned such figures. For some unknown reason, a Nikolai Volkoff figure in similar window packaging came to my mind in daydreams of a retro wrestling figure line about a decade before the introduction of the Classic Superstars. I'm sure I was not the only one.

As the list of legends grew in the line, so did the lines of collectors wanting to have their figures autographed. While it is impossible to have each and every figure in the line signed, many of these stars frequently appear on the fanfest and convention scene. This has made the Classic Superstars figures some of the top items to get autographed at these shows. During the height of the line, some convention guests were being booked solely on the release of their figure.

While the talent did get paid for their likeness, many seemed to enjoy just being produced into a figure. Whether it was their first figure or not, seeing the excitement of many of the stars over their figures can sometimes be as big of a joy as getting them signed.

As with any figure line, the line wasn't perfect. Be it due to outside restrictions (Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat, Owen Hart, Elizabeth), cancellations (Blackjack Mulligan, Pat Patterson, Arnold Skaaland), or glaring omissions (Gorgeous George, Lou Thesz, Buddy Rogers) some stars that could have made the line even better are not represented. In addition, some stars who were signed on to have figures ended up not being produced. This is particular sad in the case of Sir Oliver Humperdink who had signed on and seemed very excited to finally have an action figure in his likeness.

That being said, the amount and range of talent that was included in the line is unmatched. From Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, and Ric Flair to the modern day "Classics" of John Cena, The Hardy Boyz, and Edge, there will never be another wrestling action figure collection of the same caliber.

Another highlight of the line is that, like the WWE Hall of Fame, names included reached out beyond the realms of WWWF/WWF/WWE talent. The Rock & Roll Express, The Koloff's, Bruiser Brody, The Brisco's, and even WCW, nWo, and ECW figure styles all showed up. Collectors in any era could find something to love in the line.

While Jakks continues to produce older stars in their TNA line under the "Legends of the Ring" banner and Mattel does similar work in their WWE Legends series, the true Classic Superstars line is over. Although there is much to collect and enjoy with the hundreds of figures produced from 2004 to 2009, any fan could wonder just what may have appeared had the line gone on a few more years. Although Jakks took the low road in the final months of the line, had WWE stayed with the company I have a feeling that we would have seen many more memorable figures.

More Classic Superstars will be covered in the future. What were your favorites? Tell your thoughts right here or on our Facebook Fanpage.