Thursday, December 29, 2011

Oliver, Randy, & Donna: 2011 Goodbyes

As 2011 comes to a close we all reflect on the year that it was. Like any other year, 2011 was one full of ups and downs. It's part of life, as is the finality of death. Wrestling fans know that fact all too well.

With death usually comes a celebration of life. We reflect on all the positives that the person who has passed provided in our lives. With the passings of those in the pro wrestling community, we are lucky that many of those positive memories are forever preserved.

2011 saw the loss of wrestlers and personalities including Killer Karl Kox, Little Tokyo, "Handsome" Johnny Barend, Scott LeDoux, Terry Yorkston, Bison Smith, Tiki Tapu, and Big Val Puccio.

Three other stars affected me the most personally.

Early in the year legendary manager Sir Oliver Humperdink announced that he was diagnosed with cancer. Although the prognosis was serious, those that knew "Hump" realized that if anyone was spirited enough to beat the disease it was he. Sadly, this was not to be. Said to be comforted and content in his final days, the man known as "SOH" passed away on March 19 at age 62.

While 62 is far too young to pass in this day and age, anyone who ever encountered Oliver knows that he enjoyed life to the fullest and probably did more living than many people in 62 years. His contributions to the business that he loved will always be remembered. The outpouring of love and memories following his death is ample proof of that. A true champion of life...Sir Oliver Humperdink.

Just two months later fans were mourning the loss of one of the biggest names in wrestling and pop culture as a whole. On May 20 many fans were sitting down to lunch when news broke of the death of Randy "Macho Man" Savage. A heart attack felled the reclusive former world champion while he was driving in his home state of Florida.

Although he made very few appearances in the past decade, Savage never left the consciousness of fans worldwide. His distinctive voice, outfits, and wrestling style have been lovingly parodied for years, but there always be only one "Macho Man" Randy Savage.

The end of summer brought the most difficult wrestling passing in 2011 for me personally. On August 25, women's wrestling legend Donna Christanello passed away suddenly at her home. I've written a lot about Donna and I don't know that there was ever a wrestler who deserved it more.

Although her name has been relatively out of the spotlight for the past two decades except among aficionados of '70s wrestling, it was a great comfort to many that Donna received so much coverage upon her passing. She certainly was remembered and I hope that she knew that. Knowing what a humble lady she was, I'm not sure that it would've mattered to her. Family and friends were number one in her life. How can you top that?

I miss my friend, but I'm still honored that I'm just able to label her as such. She was a friend to everyone. An amazing in-ring worker and probably the most underrated women's star of all-time. If you haven't already taken my advice, check out some of her matches on YouTube. In my last controversial statement of the year, I will go as far as to say that she did the Moolah shtick better than Moolah did it. Donna would never admit that. The two considered each other sisters.

The last time that I saw Donna, she told me that no matter how busy she was at work I was always to interrupt her and say "Hi." I know that she's busy enjoying her great reward, but along with my other loved ones who are now departed, I take the time to say "Hi" every day. Donna, you are missed daily by all who knew you, yet somehow we know that you're watching over us.

This is but a small listing of those who passed in 2011 that made a contribution in wrestling. We fondly remember all of them and may they all rest in peace.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The 2011 J\/\/ Awards

So you sat through that Slammy Awards deal a few weeks ago, eh? Here on the blog we give out a different type of honor this time of year, that being The J\/\/ Awards. The honors began in 2010 and each year the design of the "Joshie" award has a bit of a different flavor. While in the inaugural year the award had a "classy" flare to it, this year we've said our prayers and taken our vitamins thus bringing you somewhat of an "immortal" look.

In 2011 not only does the look of the award itself change, but so do some of the categories. While Best Product Line, Best Figure, and Future Holy Grail all remain intact, two of our other awards will go under a bit of a makeover. The Best Magazine and Best Cards awards have been changed to Best Publication and Best Buy (Non-Figure/Publication) respectively. Since fewer and fewer wrestling cards and magazines are being produced each year this greatly widens the span of products under consideration. Now any book, magazine, or similar material will go up against each other for Best Publication while virtually anything that a fan can purchase will vie for Best Buy (Non-Figure/Publication).

Enough with the rules, explanations, and other nonsense...let the ceremony begin!

2011 Best Figure

Although both Mattel and Jakks put forth solid efforts in 2011, it's actually a figure released in the final days of 2010 that gets the 2011 award. Due to its very late release and my own inability to review it until 2011, the figure was notably disqualified in 2010.

Mattel's WWE Defining Moments "Macho Man" Randy Savage wins "The Joshie" for 2011 Best Figure. I predicted in both the 2010 awards entry and in the review in January that this figure would be the 2011 winner. Sadly, another prediction of mine regarding this figure did not come true. That prediction was that Savage himself would finally make the convention rounds to sign this beautiful piece. As the world knows by now, Savage passed away in May. The Macho Man did in fact do a promo piece for Mattel with the figure and seemed to like it very much. His fans the world over echoed those sentiments. While other Savage figures were released this year and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, none match the detail of this wonderful commemorative.

Dig it.

2011 Best Publication

2011 seemed to be a slightly slower year for wrestling related publications than in years past. That being said, the winner of this years award would've had more than a fighting chance against even the highest rated wrestling books.

The Last Outlaw By Stan Hansen wins "The Joshie" for 2011 Best Publication. In his long awaited autobiography, Stan "The Lariat" Hansen gets the chance to pull back the curtain on one of wrestling's most legendary characters. Fabled tales are confirmed or denied regarding the rugged Texan, but the book is most notable for an intimate look at the world of Japanese wrestling. Stories from the inner workings of pro wrestling in the land of the rising sun were few and far between until Hansen, a key player in Japan for years, wrote this barn burner with co-author Scott Teal.

2011 Best Buy (Non-Figure/Publication)

A new category that virtually anything other than an action figure or book/magazine can win. This award will highlight just exactly what gave the wrestling fan the most bang for his/her buck. At times, including this year, the award may be given to something just a bit outside the box.

The 2011 NWA Legends Fanfest wins "The Joshie" for 2011 Best Buy. I would go as far as to say that each year this particular award is given out, NWA Fanfest will take it home. There isn't a better value for your wrestling dollar than Fanfest. This is a fact that I've driven home in many previous entries. It's more than just a meet and greet, it's the single best experience that a fan of classic pro wrestling can have. 2012 is being talked about as the final edition of Fanfest, but I can almost guarantee that the final event will go out with a bang...and "The Joshie" for 2012 Best Buy as well.

2011 Best Product Line

This is another award where many different items and companies can be considered. Although Mattel took it home last year, various distribution problems plagued both wrestling action figure companies so much in 2011 that it nearly took them out of the running.

WWE Home Video wins "The Joshie" for 2011 Best Product Line. Although the offerings in 2011 were just a tad less interesting than previous years, WWE Home Video still takes the cake in this category. The company took a deeper plunge into Blu-Ray in 2011 by first offering DVD/Blu-Ray combo packs starting with the Royal Rumble and subsequently producing each and every pay-per-view event on Blu-Ray. This practice ended before Money In The Bank 2011 could reach the shelves on Blu-Ray much to the disappointment of many fans.

With the upcoming demise of WWE Classics On-Demand due to the 2012 launching of the WWE Network, the home video department may have their hands full. At this point it seems that very little classic content will be offered on the network. If this is so, WWE would be wise to feed classic fans with more vintage DVD and Blu-Ray releases.

2011 Future Holy Grail

Another category in which the winner can come from virtually anywhere, this year the winner could be considered a subset of sorts.

Jakks TNA Knockouts Figures win "The Joshie" for 2011 Future Holy Grail. Although there have only been three such figures so far (Madison Rayne hit online stores right before press time) this terrific trio have been the crown jewel among Jakks 2011 offerings. Filled with detail and relatively difficult to find right off the bat, these figures are already fan favorites. While Velvet Sky and Angelina Love were short packed per shipping case, I'm not sure that Daffney (released in a 2-pack with Dr. Stevie) ever made it to store shelves.

Amazing likenesses, popular never-before-released characters, and automatic "rarity" upon release all add up to be a "Holy Grail" in any collection. Hopefully Jakks will continue to expand upon their Knockouts releases as figures of ODB, Gail Kim, Traci Brooks, and So Cal Val are long overdue in my book.

Congratulations to all of the 2011 J\/\/ Award winners! Once again "The Joshie" bodyslams Oscar, Emmy, Tony, Espy, and even the Slammy right to the mat. Agree? Disagree? Let us know here on the blog or on our Facebook Fanpage where a gallery of both the 2010 and 2011 winners will soon be going live.

And of course...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Von Erich Legacy Is Remembered...And Continued

They say that if you weren't there, you have no idea just how crazy it was. A buzz created by a group of talented young men. Insane fans. Screaming girls. No, not BeatleMania. Von Erich Mania.

Throughout the better part of the 1980's, pro wrestling in Texas was defined by the Von Erich family. Patriarch Fritz was originally a hated "German" wrestler known for the dreaded "Iron Claw" finisher. By this time, Fritz was the owner of World Class Championship Wrestling. WCCW had a television show that had a reach as far as Israel, excellent production values, a hot in-ring product, and Fritz's sons as the starring babyfaces.

David, Kevin, and Kerry Von Erich were no doubt the cornerstone of WCCW. Their seemingly endless feud with The Fabulous Freebirds is lovingly remembered to this day. Sadly, the tragedies of the Von Erich family are more often discussed. The deaths of Fritz's sons Jack, David, Mike, Chris, and Kerry have been chronicled everywhere from tabloid television shows to WWE DVD releases.

As usual in this blog we celebrate the good in pro wrestling and thus choose to remember the great memories that the family has brought us in the ring and will continue to do in the very near future. Just this past week it was announced that Kevin Von Erich's sons Ross and Marshall will debut for Pro Wrestling NOAH in Japan in January 2012. Trained under the experienced eye of Harley Race, there's great hope that the new generation of the Von Erich clan will pick up where their father and uncles left off.

Keeping the tradition of the previous generation of Von Erich's alive are three new figures in Mattel's WWE Legends line. To say that these figures have had a rocky road to release is an understatement.

Originally announced well over a year ago, WCCW-styled figures of Kevin and Kerry were slated to be released in a two-pack while the WWF Texas Tornado version of Kerry was to be released as a single in a WWE Legends series. Due to over production and a high price point to the first series of Legends two-packs released exclusively through Toys "R" Us, the second series, planned to include the Von Erich's and The Rockers, was canceled. While The Rockers ended up being sold through Mattel's online collectors store, Kevin and Kerry were split up and included in the Legends Series 6 along with the Tornado figure and new versions of The Ultimate Warrior and Eddy Guerrero.

While this seemed like a collector-pleasing solution, all was still not well with the WWE Legends line. Mattel announced that the 6th series would be the last sold at retail and that future releases would only be sold through their collectors site. The series was ultimately released, although at first only to online sites that sell the figures at a higher price than brick and mortar stores. After much fear in the collecting community that the series would never hit stores, in the past month the figures have found their way into Toys "R" Us, Wal Mart, and K-Mart.

I'm pleased to announce that the wait was worth the while. Despite their huge popularity in the 1980's, the Von Erich family had only ever seen a single action figure release. This was the Texas Tornado figure in the Hasbro WWF line released less than a year before Kerry's death. Finally we not only have another Tornado but a Kerry from the WCCW days and Kevin as well.

I've seen many non-collector fans of the Von Erich's speculate and even grumble as to why David and the other Von Erich brothers were not produced as well. I'll repeat my rebuttal here: we're lucky to have the ones that did end up produced. The figure companies are only going to produce characters that they feel are going to sell. While old school fans can say "Well, I'd buy it if they made it..." until they're blue in the face, when push comes to shove 95% wouldn't end up buying it. That's where economics come into the picture. Early reports are that The Rockers two pack released through the Mattel site has suffered from disappointing sales as well. This only ensures that less and less Legends figures are made until the concept is done completely. Does it please me? No. Does it please my wallet? Yes.

The fact is that we have several great figures including one legendary wrestler who has never before been immortalized in plastic. The figures come packaged on the standard Legends card backing with attractive artwork of the stars. Mattel made an interesting mistake early on here with a picture of Texas Tornado-era Kerry on the WCCW-era Kerry figure package and vice versa. Many fans would not notice this, but it is worth pointing out. On the other hand, the Kerry figures are a bit more attractive on the card than the Kevin figure. The Kerry figures are a bit bulkier and take up more of the plastic bubble.

All three figures sport a right hand positioned in the "Iron Claw" hold which is a very nice touch. All three also include individual entrance gear that is extremely accurate. Kevin's jacket is made of a cheaper quality material than Kerry's gear, but in the package it's really impossible to notice.

Kevin is one that I'd have thought to be a hard likeness to capture. I'm not sure why I'd think that, but Mattel definitely proved me wrong. Kevin's face sculpt is easily one of the best in the entire history of the Mattel WWE collection. Kerry's is the same on the both figures. His is very, very, very good, but I prefer the Hasbro Kerry likeness just a bit more. Nothing at all to complain about in this department.

All three figures have reused bodies, but I doubt anyone will be complaining here either. Kerry uses a very chiseled and defined torso while Kevin is slighter. Very true to life for both men. It should also be noted that Kevin is indeed barefoot as he was throughout his career. This does not hurt the figures ability to stand at all.

The figures compare well to others in the line and will look great displayed with their friends and foes from WCCW and beyond. Slap an IC title on Tornado and an NWA title on the Kerry and memories in plastic have rarely looked so good.

Much like the glory of the Von Erich wrestling dynasty, the greatness of these figures is a tad bittersweet. Seeing the detail and work that went into these figures makes one wonder just what kind of magic Mattel could make with other territorial stars who have never received a figure. As was mentioned above, it's getting less and less likely that we'll ever see such treasures produced.

My verdict? You don't have to ask. These are amazing figures that should be in the collection of any Von Erich fan or collector. There is an initial price gauging right now due to the online retailers having these first and the news that this is the last series of Legends to be sold at retail. This should end and prices will drop. Ultimately, I'd advise to wait and pick these up at retail. The Guerrero and Warrior figures also in the series will be more recognizable to children thus leaving Kerry and Kevin for the adult collector.

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

The Wrestler, September 1970, Page 49

In keeping with this blog's policy of bringing you the latest finds in vintage magazines, I present another future star as a youngster.

A few months back this mini-column re-introduced a magazine find that I had actually spread on the Internet nearly a decade earlier. Indeed, the Human Suplex Machine was an Inside Wrestling Pen Pal as a child. Today we present one who might just be a bit more "Fabulous."

The last name may be one letter off, but there is no doubt that the future "Fabulous One" Steve Keirn is the youngster here. Yes, Skinner himself. The photo used HAS to be from a few years earlier, as Keirn hardly looks the age given of 19.

19 years old in 1970? Check. Keirn was born in 1951. Miami, Florida? Check. Keirn lives there to this day and runs WWE's developmental affiliate FCW. Same smile and ears? Check. Favorite wrestler Jack Bruno? Uhhh...who? I'm fairly sure they meant to print Jack Brisco.

Unless Keirn was looking into the future and thinking of The Rock's character in Race To Witch Mountain?

Regardless, our lil Skinner certainly was a sharp dressed man.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

JWs Official "Christmas Ideas For The Wrestling Fan" 2011 Edition

In a usual entry I try and cater to the educated and seasoned wrestling memorabilia collector. This time we're taking a break from that. This entry will cater to someone who may not even be a wrestling fan, but instead has one on their holiday shopping list. Young or old, male or female, erudite or hayseed--anyone can be a fan of pro wrestling. This entry will highlight items that should please any of the above recipients.

The first and most traditional wrestling gift is an event ticket itself. Traditionally business picked up the week of Christmas due to this exact reason: wrestling tickets DO make great gifts. Not only does it thrill the recipient upon opening the box or envelope, but the lucky fan also has something to look forward to in the days following Christmas. In the modern era, even something like a WrestleMania ticket or a VIP pass to one of the many wrestling fanfests or conventions would be included here.

These days fans don't have to leave their house to be in on the action of any sport or entertainment entity. Video games are a big part of that and one such game that will be under more trees than most others this Christmas is WWE '12. The newest WWE game is already getting rave reviews for an all-new system of play during matches as well as a wide variety of characters. While the inclusion of Brock Lesnar as a Legend in the game has been getting a lot of talk among fans, it's the home video game debut of Demolition, Ax and Smash, that has this fan looking to eventually snap up a copy.

Although video games provide a great simulation as well as a way to create your own dream matches, wrestling action figures have been around a bit longer for similar play activity. These days it isn't just the kids collecting the plastic representations of their favorite stars. Since we often focus on the adult side of collecting, in this entry the emphasis will be on figures and items geared towards children--not to mention ones able to be had for a great price.

Retailers will often have exclusive sets at this time of the year to encourage picking up a package deal for little Johnny...or little Jimmy. Mattel's WWE line is well represented at a few different stores this year.

Wal Mart stores are carrying a set based upon the recent feud of John Cena and The Miz. Figures of both men are included with a ring and cage for just $25. The cage even includes an opening door which has been often omitted from toy cages over the years. Considering the figures often retail for $8-$10 alone, this is quite the deal for holiday shoppers and collectors alike.

One line that has captured the interest of collectors young and old is the WWE Rumblers series from Mattel. Figures are small, almost Little People-like, representations of current WWE stars. Discount grocery store chain Aldi is carrying a Rumblers ring along with figures of Rey Mysterio and Kane for just $9.99. Aldi stores are known for having a section of toys during the holiday season and this year wrestling fans really can't go wrong by stopping in. Be sure to pick up a cheeseball while in the store as at under three bucks the Aldi Happy Farms brand makes Hickory Farms smell like an old barn.

If you're really looking to go discount, the various dollar stores have come through like always. Various wrestling figures and rings of all shapes and sizes are once again available en masse in stores such as Dollar Tree, Dollar General, and Family Dollar. While the figures may just be "generic" versions of our favorite stars, to a child a wrestling figure is a wrestling figure. This is especially true to those who are less fortunate. A figure and ring gift set at one of these stores can often be had for $5 or under. A purchase of one of these as a donation to a charity such as Toys For Tots would be a wonderful way to help a less fortunate wrestling fan this season. I should mention that many of these sets include a very nice generic figure based off of known as Sin Cara. With his popularity among children I can't even begin to imagine the fun that a needy child would have with one of these sets.

There are some adult fans that could care less about games or toys. Some simply want an adult gift. While the amount of DVDs and books with the topic of wrestling are plentiful as always, my best suggestion would be something for the "flavor" of Christmas. Along these lines, I can personally recommend any of JR's excellent products. While the legendary announcer's barbecue sauce has found its way onto the kitchen shelves of legend, many other products are also available under the JR's label. Now available exclusively in WWE Shop, JR's beef jerky is still the best that I have ever tasted and the Chipotle Ketchup and Main Event Mustard are staples in my refrigerator. Many combos are available that include autographed bonus items making it an extra special holiday gift. Be sure to pick up a set that includes the mustard as it will come in quite handy for New Years kielbasa feasts.

Lastly, one can never go wrong with a vintage present. eBay is still the #1 place to obtain such items, and as I've said many times in the past, currently wrestling memorabilia is largely a buyers market. Items that you may have seen years ago sell for a large sum may now be obtainable for a fraction of the cost. It's hard to fail with a gift from the past.

These are just a few ideas for the wrestling fan on your list. If you have any that you think I missed or would just like to share feedback, please do so on our Facebook Fanpage.

And of course, your friendly blogger always welcomes holiday gifts. Think of it as that holiday tip to your postal worker or trash collector.

No fruitcakes, please.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Cure For A Hangover (II)? Classic WWF Cards!

It's very hard to believe that December 2011 is upon us. It seems like only yesterday that spring was in bloom and summer was on the horizon. That would be just about the time that "The Hangover II" was hitting theaters and funny bones alike.

The comedy blockbuster, which is set to hit DVD and Blu-Ray this coming Tuesday, caught the eyes of wrestling fans and collectors the world over. In the opening moments of the film viewers delve into the bedroom of arguably the film series' most popular character, Alan (portrayed by Zach Galifianakis). Despite the scene probably clocking in under five minutes, the prop department went to great lengths (and expense) to illustrate Alan's love of '80s WWF wrestling. Not only does his room include shelves featuring nearly the entire LJN WWF action figure line (including the Hasbro-released LJN-sized Sgt. Slaughter) but the walls are adorned with posters of Randy "Macho Man" Savage, Hillbilly Jim, and Mr. Perfect among others. The interesting thing about these posters is that they are not commercially released posters but are instead extremely large blowups of cards from the 1990 WWF trading card series produced by Classic.

It's interesting to speculate just why these cards were blown up instead of using existing posters. While I'm no expert in the field of photo development, it seems that the price of enlarging these small cards would far outweigh the price of obtaining a few posters. Similarly, it's surprising that the prop department even obtained the rarer figures from the WWF LJN line rather than just using the more common (and remembered) earlier characters.

As far as the Classic WWF cards, movie prop use or not, the series can be considered rather iconic. The set is a beautiful time capsule of 1989 WWF featuring a wide variety of names from main eventers such as Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Dusty Rhodes, and Rick Rude to lower card talent like Brooklyn Brawler, Red Rooster, and Barry Horowitz. Even managers, announcers, and officials found their way into the set.

The card set is not at all rare and was mass produced to be released several different ways. Cards were released in packs (packs often contained the same cards in the same order), boxed complete sets, and as a complete set packaged with a blue album and five exclusive purple border cards.

While the set was released and dated 1990, the photos reflect the 1989 roster as mentioned above. There is a rare earlier version of the set dated 1989 that includes cards of the Twin Towers (Akeem & Big Boss Man) together as a team. Many of the same photos were used on another 1989 card set released exclusively in New Zealand from a company called Market Scene Limited. These cards feature pink, blue, and purple backgrounds behind the wrestlers.

The Classic Company released another set later in 1990 featuring action shots from the first six WrestleMania events. These cards are very similar in style, production, and release. A complete set was released with this series as well, with the album being red instead of blue.

Most of these cards will likely never be worth much monetarily but are easily obtained and would make a great gift for any fan of '80s and '90s wrestling. The cards are also fun to get signed, especially the sharp studio shots.

Who knew that the set would be immortalized on celluloid over twenty years after their original release? Classic indeed!

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

WOW Magazine, December 1999, Page 131

It looks like Bryan Danielson, aka Daniel Bryan, may finally be getting his shot at the top of the ladder. Although his fans have been calling him "the best wrestler in the world" for years now, to the mainstream wrestling fan it isn't until a star reaches the top of the WWE that one can make that claim.

With his star brighter than ever, it's worth checking out one of Danielson's earliest appearances in wrestling media. Going back twelve years, World of Wrestling (WOW) Magazine did a multi-page story on Shawn Michaels in his first retirement. Pictures of his home life with wife Rebecca (Nitro Girl Whisper) as well as shots at his wrestling school were included.

One group shot of his students and trainers stands out above the rest. Sharp-eyed fans will spot the late Lance Cade as well as Brian "Spanky" Kendrick. To the left of Kendrick, almost obscured by his fellow pupils, is the future Daniel Bryan at age 18. Who else can you name in the photo?