Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012--Another Year In The Books

 "Time marches on."  The phrase and thought have always unsettled me.  I tend to live in the past just a bit, but why not?  People, concepts, and many other things that are long gone in the present can live forever in the memories of the past.  The wrestling world lost a number of those very people in 2012.  People that, through their memorable contributions to the wrestling industry, are ensured to never truly be forgotten.

This year's list of wrestling-related deaths includes "Freebird" Buddy Jack Roberts, Rip Hawk, Red Bastien, Joe Blanchard, Mike "California Hippie" Boyette, Chief Jay Strongbow, Dick Woehrle, Doug Furnas, Siegfried Stanke, Dara Singh, Gorgeous George Jr., Savannah Jack, Hans Schmidt, Rita Cortez, Brad Armstrong, David Deaton, Mike Graham, Gordon Nelson, "Hangman" Bobby Jaggers, and the original, male, Awesome Kong.

It's hard to believe that just two summers ago in Charlotte, NC, the original Hollywood Blonds reunited with their manager Sir Oliver Humperdink at Greg Price's Legends Fanfest.  Buddy Roberts and Jerry Brown were the original tag team to use the Hollywood Blond name long before Steve Austin and Brian Pillman.  Brown was missing from the wrestling fraternity for nearly three decades but was found in early 2010 after a chance meeting with Humperdink.  The trio was ultimately reunited to the delight of the men themselves and fans alike at Fanfest.  With the passing of Humperdink just months later in 2011, this turned out to be their only reunion.

Roberts was also part of a trio that shot to even greater heights in wrestling history--The Fabulous Freebirds.  Along with Michael P.S. Hayes and the late Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy, Roberts tore up rings in the NWA, AWA, and even briefly the WWF, but it was their feud in WCCW with the Von Erich family that has become stuff of legend.

Another legend of wrestling in the Lone Star State was Joe Blanchard.  A man who held just about every job in the business from wrestler to promoter, Blanchard was held in high esteem by fellow wrestlers and fans alike.  Blanchard's Southwest Championship Wrestling promotion is still remembered fondly by fans, but his work spreading the word of God is what he was undoubtedly most proud of.  Son Tully has followed in his father's footsteps both in the wrestling ring and church.

Perhaps the wrestling passing that received the most attention in 2012 was that of Joe Scarpa, better known to fans as Chief Jay Strongbow.  Despite having an extensive career before taking on the identity of a Native American Chief, Joe Scarpa reached fame that many wrestlers only dream about as Jay Strongbow.  A household name in the northeast, Strongbow was the man to beat for heel wrestlers wanting to reach the top ranks.  If a ring villain could get through the Chief, shots at champions like Bruno Sammartino were suddenly within reach.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of 2012's wrestling losses, but simply a chance to relive a handful of memories provided by these folks.  We offer our sincerest condolences to the family, friends, and fans of all of 2012's fallen heroes.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The 2012 J\/\/ Awards

 It feels like only yesterday that I was writing about the 2011 J\/\/ Awards.  A fun way to end the calendar year, the awards are chosen by a strict committee--myself.  The same committee also decides the look of the "Joshie" award which has changed each year since its inception.  While the coveted trophy has appeared "classy" and "immortal" in the past, this year the committee decided to get the "attention" of you "maggots," but I'd really like you to be "at ease" while taking in all of the awards.

With all of the cliches aside, it's time to get to the awards themselves.  Although tweaked after the first year, I think that the five categories are now firmly established and shall be for years to come.  A few surprises?  A few upsets?  A little bit of bias?  Of course!  That's why they're the J\/\/ Awards!

2012 Best Figure

The most controversial J\/\/ Award is always Best Figure.  Although the list of companies from which the figures are licensed is shorter than ever, the quality of product is still very high.  Uniqueness is as big of a deciding factor here as design.

Mattel's WWE Elite Jerry "The King" Lawler wins "The Joshie" for 2012 Best Figure.  Seeing as that I was not a fan of the initial prototype pictures, this could be considered somewhat of an upset.  The figure, just released in the past several weeks, is a perfect blend of design.  The figure captures "The King" in his WrestleMania XXVII attire, a look that already blended the Lawler of yesterday and today.  This is the first Mattel representation of Lawler and is part of their Elite line which comes packaged in a very attractive "window" box.  Add it all up and you can only come to one verdict: "Long Live The King!"

2012 Best Publication

A lot can fall into this category.  Books.  Magazines.  Pamphlets (yes, Tito Santana, I'm looking at you).  If it's printed material about wrestling, it's up for consideration.  

Inside Wrestling/The Wrestler Magazine wins "The Joshie" for 2012 Best Publication.  The award becomes more of a "Lifetime Achievement" this year as 2012 is sadly the final full year for the publication.  Beginning as individual titles more than forty years ago, countless fans grew up quenching their thirst for the sport of wrestling through these magazines.  Bloody covers, top ten ratings, and several generations of professional wrestlers made these titles unforgettable for almost six decades.

2012 Best Buy (Non-Figure/Publication)

What in the world of wrestling gave fans the most bang for their buck?  In 2012 that buck had to be stretched further than ever.  The best result from that is what we're looking at here.

The 2012 TNA Lockdown Fanfest wins "The Joshie" for 2012 Best Buy.  Autographs and photo ops from dozens of Impact Wrestling's greatest, not to mention the two biggest names in wrestling history, all for around $200?  Sold.  Hogan.  Flair.  Angle.  Hardy.  RVD.  Roode.  Storm.  Bully Ray.  Devon.  I could go on.  TNA truly knows how to put on a "Meet & Greet."  For those of you familiar with the world of fanfests and conventions, you know that the value is phenomenal.  The only competitor for this year's award would've been a 2012 version of Greg Price's annual Legends Fanfest.  Sadly, this year's version was canceled, but I'm sure the 2013 edition in Charlotte will make next year's running.

2012 Best Product Line

Anything that has continual releases throughout the year can be considered here.  That being said, I can see the most repeat wins taking place in this category in the future.

Mattel wins "The Joshie" for 2012 Best Product Line.  This perhaps could be the biggest surprise for frequent readers as I'm often very critical of Mattel's handling of the WWE license.  Not everything that they do pleases me, although it isn't always their fault.  Other issues such as distribution most certainly are.  When looking at 2012 as a whole, Mattel has put out some pretty impressive product.  From creating a very appealing new package design template that was rolled out line-wide to some fun and unique exclusives such as Build-A-Figure, the Mattel/WWE tag team had a helluva year.  Seeing some of the product that will be hitting in the first quarter of next year, Mattel may capture yet another "Joshie" to match their 2010 and 2012 wins.

2012 Future Holy Grail

This is the item or line that people will be enjoying for years to come.  Wrestling memorabilia from this year that will stand the test of time...

Topps WWE Heritage 2012 Trading Cards win "The Joshie" for 2012 Future Holy Grail.  I've been talking about this set for months and when it finally hit my hands, I was more than impressed.  Nearly everything here blew me away, and I'm not the only collector who felt that way.  I've already put together several base sets and yet I still find myself tempted to pick up more packs for subsets and hits.  I'm addicted, and I think that feeling will carry on for years over this set.  I will admit that this is one "Holy Grail" award that I'd like to be proven wrong about.  If Topps can come up with another Heritage set in the future that would top this, I'm all for it.

The envelopes are open.  The world now knows just what the gold in wrestling memorabilia was for 2012.  Agree?  Disagree?  "Like" our Facebook Fanpage and send some feedback!  You can also see every J\/\/ Award winner from each year in a special gallery!

It's been a fast paced and fun year.  Thank you all for reading, enjoying, and maybe even learning over the past twelve months.  We'll be back next week for the final entry of the year, but until then...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ryback or Skip Sheffield? Fans Say "Feed Me More...Figures!"

Forget Tickle-Me Elmo, Furby, or even a Cabbage Patch Kid.  One of this years hottest toys is Ryback.  Mr. Feed-Me-More himself.  After all, he is the WWE Universe's answer to Goldberg.  Judging by the traffic to this very blog, people everywhere are scouring the Internet searching for a Ryback figure for Christmas morning.  The problem is...there isn't one.  Well, not yet anyway.  Well, not by the "Ryback" name anyway.

Although a couple of great looking Ryback figures are in Mattel's plans for 2013, they all have yet to be released.  A few weeks back, pictures taken by yours truly of prototypes of the upcoming Ryback figures were seen right here on the blog.  Clad in his signature singlets and with a scowl of destruction on his face, these figures will be ready to dominate any WWE ring...just not this Christmas.  That is unless a parent decides to plunk down a pretty big wad of money for a Skip Sheffield figure.

Under his original WWE ring name of Skip Sheffield, Ryback does indeed have a Mattel-produced action figure.  Hitting shelves around the summer of 2011, the Sheffield figure was in Mattel's WWE Basic Series 11.  The series also included the "rookie" figures of Daniel Bryan and Eve Torres.  "Rookie" figures don't usually attain any sort of extra value based on being a debut figure.  The Sheffield figure was probably the easiest to find of the bunch.  He was also the easiest to obtain of any of the original member figures of rookie super group The Nexus. 

With the WWE Universe getting more and more behind the monster known as Ryback, secondary market price for the Sheffield figure has begun to  Between fans who previously snubbed the figure that are now suddenly wanting it as well as holiday gift giving time approaching, it's a bit easier to understand the demand.  Little Jim...err...Johnny may want a Ryback, but is paying $80 and up really worth it?

This was one of the final Mattel series to be released with their initial basic packaging design.  It wasn't my favorite wrestling figure packaging style of all-time, but it wasn't the worst either.  The basic figures are just that: basic.  While some of the more recent basic Diva figures have included removable apparel pieces, most have absolutely no accessories.  The future Ryback includes nothing but the figure itself.  Had the Skip Sheffield character lasted, a more detailed Elite figure could possible have been produced, complete with the "Corn-fed Meathead's" cowboy hat and vest.  This was not to be the case.

The body is a standard muscular body that has been reused in the basic line.  The head and facial likeness look to me to have repainted for the Ryback prototypes.  It's a great likeness, but I'm sure with the popularity of Ryback that we will see different expressions down the line.  The Sheffield figure does have the Nexus armband present, although that doesn't seem to have driven up the value of any of the other initial Nexus figure offerings.

My feeling is that desperate parents are driving the demand up for this figure.  True collectors should know better for a multitude of reasons.  As I mentioned above, rookie figures rarely carry any extra value.  Many "actual" Ryback figures are on their way.  After the initial panic dies down, Ryback figures will be as common as John Cena based on Mattel's desire to overproduce the top characters.  At that time, the Sheffield figure will again be selling for $15, if that.  If Ryback's popularity continues, don't be surprised to see a "Flashback" Skip Sheffield figure coming your way. 

The verdict?  Wait.  Ryback is coming...with a vengeance.  But what if you're a parent who has a child that won't speak to you unless a Ryback figure is under his or her tree?  What can I do but offer some simple parenting advice?  Feed them more...soap. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

1985 Meets 2012 Via WWE and Topps

I love these cards.  I'm not even waiting until the final paragraph or two to give my opinion and verdict.  In fact, I'm imploring you right now to go out and buy as many packs, boxes, etc. of this set as you can.  Not only will you get a great set of cards, but high sales always help the possibility of future similar products.

I've made it no secret that I have wanted a new Topps WWE Heritage set for awhile now.  Although a few regular WWE series have had Heritage subsets of solely legends, I wanted a complete set full of both current and past stars utilizing designs commemorating the trading cards of yore.  This past summer we learned that not only would this happen, but it would actually pay homage to a classic wrestling trading card set design, that being the 1985 Topps WWF series.

From 2005 to 2008, Topps produced four Heritage sets featuring both then-current and past WWE Superstars.  Based on past Topps sports card designs, the sets were beloved by collectors for their retro look.  Autograph collectors coveted the cards for their non-glossy finish thus making them easier to sign.  The second WWE Heritage series, released in 2006, ended up being my personal favorite.  The cards featured a large studio shot and a smaller action shot with great color and that classic cardboard feel.  Well, it was my personal favorite set...until now.

Four years since their last similar offering, Topps has finally given us another full WWE Heritage set.  Although the cards are advertised as being based off of the Topps 1985 WWF design, the "Legends" portion of the set is actually based upon the 1986 O-Pee-Chee produced Series 2.  This set, which was exclusive to Canada, featured names like Siva Afi, Jimmy Hart and Leilani Kai as well as shots from WrestleMania 2.  The difference is that the 1985 set featured red lettering on a yellow starburst while the second series flipped that color design.

The box and packs, in lieu of TNA-contracted Hulk Hogan, star the one and only Andre the Giant.  Andre even gets his own ten-card subset which highlights his career once he became exclusive to the WWF.  Previously unpublished shots from WrestleMania III and the 1987 Survivor Series shine in this subset, which is also based on designs from action cards in the '85 and '86 sets.

As is usually the case in modern card sets, subsets abound here and provide an extra, yet often frustrating, incentive for collectors.  In the 2012 Heritage line we have subsets based on the '85 and '86 looks with "Superstars Speak," famous families and tag teams, finishing moves, and those great stickers.  The backs of the stickers create two different "puzzle photos," just as was famously included in many sport and non-sport card collections of the 1980's.  A new subset has cards featuring sketches by Jerry "The King" Lawler (very few lucky fans will pull an actual hand-sketched card) as well as a new "Allen & Ginter" set made up of smaller cards designed to resemble tobacco cards of a century ago.

The base set itself is the real gold here.  The 110 cards feature a nice balance of current stars and legends as well as a small group of more recent "legends" such as Steve Austin, Trish Stratus, and Batista who are lumped in at the end of the current lineup.  Different colored border cards are once again included as parallels with black seemingly the most common and gold being the hardest to obtain.  Parallels are one of two current card trends (the other will be mentioned ahead) that don't necessarily appeal to me, although certain cards do look nicer with alternate borders.

Curiously, such regularly featured acts like Vickie Guerrero, Heath Slater, and Michael Cole are not included in the base set while Aksana, Cameron, and Naomi are out in full force.  More curiously is how legends who are obviously not contracted for cards are handled when popping up in photos used.  While Slick shows up in an Andre the Giant subset card, Mr. Fuji is blurred from a Yokozuna "Superstars Speak" card in which Fuji's "quote" is used on the back.  Neither man is signed to be used for the cards.  There is also an error card in the finishing moves subset.  Ted DiBiase's "Dream Street" card is mistakenly labeled 86 instead of 37.  Don't fall for unscrupulous dealers trying to get more for this particular card.

Autographs and relics you ask?  A wide variety of autographs are out there and differ between packs obtained through hobby shops and those available at nationwide retailers.  Purchasing a full hobby box, collectors are once again promised one relic and one autograph OR WrestleMania relic card.  Relics generally do not appeal to me, and these WrestleMania relic cards (featuring 2010's WrestleMania XVII) are a slap in the face to collectors purchasing boxes.  For as much money as is spent on the product, an autograph should be guaranteed one per box.  Relics are becoming just what the name says--a relic.  They're overdone, especially the "mat" relic cards.

This is the set that I have been waiting years for and the wait was worth the while.  I would love to see a Heritage set done once per year, although the question is where they could go as far as design.  Topps did not have the WWF/WWE license for nearly twenty years.  There are certainly more non-wrestling classic designs to be explored, although I would settle for looks similar to non-Topps wrestling card product if it could be pulled off.  A new crop of legends would be nice too, although that is an issue out of the hands of Topps.

Blaster boxes (including a relic card) and jumbo packs have been showing up at national chain retailers.  Single packs are just slowly starting to follow at retail.  There's no doubt in my mind that Topps will want this product in the stores soon in time for stocking stuffer ideas.  Dusty Rhodes, Eve Torres, and Howard Finkel in your stocking this year?  Could happen...if you will.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Wrestling Gifts Aplenty For Christmas 2012

The holidays seem to creep up faster each and every year.  I'm not complaining a bit.  The thirty or so days when people tend to act a bit more like they should.  Christmas music.  The hustle and bustle.  I love it all.  But what do you get for the wrestling fan on your list that has it all?  Maybe there's even a young "WWE Universe" member that's looking for a present from under your tree.  As seems to be the case every year, there's no shortage of gift ideas.

From watches to bedsheets to countless pieces of apparel, the WWE logo and its respective characters are plastered everywhere once again.  One licensee that seems to be going above and beyond is Mattel.  My continuing gripes regarding short packs of Divas and other special figures notwithstanding, Mattel seems to be getting their WWE line into any store that you can possibly think of.  From department stores like Kohl's and Sears to drug stores like Walgreens and Rite Aid and even at grocery store chain Aldi, it's hard not to run into the Mattel WWE product.

As is usually the case, Toys "R" Us was given some exclusive figures and series to spice up their holiday sales.  Coming off of the heels of the Michael Cole "Build-A-Figure" released through the chain this past Spring, Toys "R" Us now has a series of four WrestleMania XXVIII Elite figures that include the components to build none other than Alberto Del Rio's personal ring announcer, Ricardo Rodriguez.  CM Punk, The Big Show, The Miz, and Shawn Michaels (in referee attire) are the four figures which each contain pieces of Rodriguez along with his WWE microphone.  The likeness of Rodriguez is fantastic and as long as the "Build-A-Figure" entries are kept interesting and the figures required to complete it are nicely done, I'm all for this approach.

Toys "R" Us also has an exclusive series of four WrestleMania XXVIII Basic figures that each contain pieces of the WrestleMania announcers booth.  John Cena, Triple H, Sheamus, and The Rock (in a figure that, to me, looks more like a South Park version of Dwayne Johnson) are in the series that comes at a lower price point than the "Build-A-Figure" series.

Shoppers who found the figures early enough were treated to yet another exclusive from the store.  A special Elite "20-0" figure of The Undertaker was given to shoppers who purchased $30 or more worth of Mattel WWE items.  Although the promotion seems to be over, locations that have leftover figures have been selling them for $19.99.  This is the first figure of The Undertaker to feature his shaved head look which debuted at WrestleMania XXVIII.  The figure comes in special Elite packaging featuring a dramatic purple background.

As I mentioned earlier, Toys "R" Us is far from the only retailer carrying the line, and many figures of various styles and price points are popping up.  Mattel's Elite 18 series is beginning to show up in time for the holidays and includes a character never before released in the Mattel line: Jerry "The King" Lawler.

Much to the chagrin of many collectors, Mattel's WWE Legends line is now mostly confined to "Flashback" entries in their Elite collection.  The Elite 18 series contains two such "Flashback" figures, Lawler and The Undertaker from his biker era.  While the latter was a visually unimpressive figure to me (Jakks made several very nice "Biker 'Taker" figures that I feel can't be beat), figures of Lawler will always intrigue me.

When prototype photos of this figure of The King first surfaced, I didn't care for the facial likeness.  Upon seeing the figure in person at Ringside Fest, the figure looked more like Lawler to me.  Although this figure is labeled "Flashback," it's actually based on his appearance at WrestleMania XXVII.  The artists rendering on the front of the package would be based on photos of this appearance, as well.

Speaking of packaging, Mattel has begun a slight tweaking of the boxes and design for their entire WWE line.  A bit more red is going into the design and the "window" on the top of the Elite packaging has been eliminated.  The Elite packaging has grown on me as a whole and presents the figures with great visibility while not dwarfing them in the process.

This is first figure of The King to be released in about five years.  Since Lawler wore entrance attire based upon his Memphis days in the WrestleMania appearance on which this figure is based, you could argue that the attire doubles for "classic" Lawler as well.  The attire is all in one piece and is removable via a peg in the back of the belt.  Slide the piece off over the head and the figure is in the classic Lawler one-strap singlet.  His wrist bands with crown logo are a nice touch.  Lawler wore an elbow pad in the actual match, but the omission of it here is nothing to complain about.

The crown is well-made and resembles the one included with Jakks figures.  The headpiece fits perfectly on the head and does not look over-sized.  I prefer the figure holding it in the left hand, as Lawler frequently does.  The right hand is clenched and perfect for Lawler's signature fist drop.  For those wondering, articulation in the hips and legs makes the figure perfectly capable of performing Jerry's other signature maneuver, the piledriver, even if it is "banned" from WWE.

My main gripe with the prototype was the face.  I wasn't feeling "The King" when I looked at it.  In person, it definitely resembles the Jerry Lawler of today.  I'm not going to call it perfect, but it is very good and does nothing to detract from such a great figure.

For a bevy of reasons, I don't think that you'll be seeing this one warm the pegs.  It's a first time Mattel figure of an all-time great who still has a weekly television presence.  The recent attention stemming from his heart attack and subsequent recovery will only add to that.  And as if my reviews had any say, the fact that I would deem this a candidate for "Figure of the Year" only makes it a better bet that The King is one to grab.  Mattel has stated in the past that we could see future Lawler releases based on sales of this figure.  Long Live The King!

Figures aren't the only great item for the wrestling fan on your list, and are probably not even my favorite this year.  To say that I was excited when Topps announced a new 2012 WWE Heritage trading card set would be an understatement.  Considering that I've been publicly asking for one for years, the news elated me.  The product has hit, the legendary stars and designs are here, and coming soon on this blog, we'll be exploring the Heritage!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Bit More Wrestling Tradition Slips Away...

At this time of year it is tradition and memories that often bring the most comfort.  Reminders in the form of family and friends, food on the table, and a general sense of security is what we should all really be thankful for.  For us lucky enough to be fans of pro wrestling, we often hold onto similar pillars of the past as an assurance that all is well in the world of our favorite pastime.  Last week, that comfortable world was jarred just a little bit.

When news broke of two legendary wrestling magazines, Inside Wrestling and The Wrestler, being discontinued, I was saddened but not shocked.  The world of print media has been jumping to digital form for a number of years now.  It was a testament to both the editorial force behind the magazines as well as their loyal readers that the titles remained as long as they did. 

I can't count the times I've seen and heard fans recall their first look at a classic issue of one of these titles.  One look at a cover like the November 1970 issue of The Wrestler could cause it to be a seared into a fan's brain forever, regardless of age!  The cover, featuring an intensely bloody Bobby Heenan, was a great example of the old wrestling adage that "red equals green."  The crimson mask shown on "The Brain" certainly made the issue one of the favorites of fans worldwide.

The violent side of wrestling wasn't the only type of memorable cover.  Many times it was a case of grandeur.  When a cover featured a champion boastfully holding or wearing their championship belt, that proud feeling could transfer right over to the fan buying the issue.  No matter the snide looks of the convenience store clerk condescendingly grabbing your money, you were purchasing a magazine that featured the best in the squared circle.  A championship belt wasn't always even necessary, such as when the cover featured Bill Apter's favorite wrestler, the colorful Mil Mascaras.

A portrait, bloody or otherwise, wasn't necessarily the calling card of these magazine covers, either.  Sometimes it was an iconic moment celebrating the glory and athletics of wrestling.  The photographers used by these magazines were obviously chosen wisely.  It's a chore to find a non-memorable cover of these titles.

Of course, the cover only tells half the story.  Inside both magazines was a treasure trove of photos as well as stories that often rivaled those being told on the wrestling television programming.  Covering stars from all over the country, it was through these magazines that fans got a taste of what was going on outside of their own area.  When wrestling went national, it was a way for fans like me to discover promotions such as ECW and Smoky Mountain Wrestling.  Although I may not have seen the actual footage until the past decade, I was aware of and following the Eastern Championship Wrestling battles of Tito Santana, Jimmy Snuka, and Johnny Hotbody well before the promotion went Extreme.  And let us not forget that Taz himself made it into the pages of Inside Wrestling before he went Extreme, as well!

A few years ago both titles were merged into one magazine.  The double-sided issues each had their own equal amount of content and continued the tradition of great covers.  It was in this era of the magazine that I am proud to say that I was a small part of with a story about "The One Man Rock Band" Heath Slater earlier this year.  While not a journalistic superstar of wrestling like the fabled Matt Brock or Liz Hunter, it was and is a childhood dream fulfilled to be involved with the Stanley Weston family of wrestling magazines.

On the upside, we still have the flagship wrestling magazine, Pro Wrestling Illustrated, to enjoy.  The tradition of wrestling coverage, both written and photographic, thrives in those pages. There will always be a place in my collection for what I will continue to deem "straight-off-the-shelf wrestling collectibles."  Between all of the great issues of the past covering the entire spectrum of Weston magazines and what's still to come with PWI, I think we have a lot of enjoying left to do and many more memories to be made.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

In 1995, The Main Event (In Trading Cards) Was WCW

Perspective is a very interesting thing.  Some WCW fans would mark 1995 as the beginning of the end for the company, while others would label it as just the beginning!  The old school World Championship Wrestling fans were seeing the end of the company that was born out of the ashes of the real NWA.  '90s fans were about to witness WCW rise to its greatest mainstream heights later in the year with Monday Nitro and into 1996 with the birth of the nWo.  Hulk Hogan's arrival in the promotion can be pinpointed as a key turning point.

With a name like Hogan, merchandise must follow.  Although 1990 saw a line of action figures, several trading card sets, and other WCW branded trinkets hit stores, by 1992 these items were all but clearanced out.  Upon Hogan's arrival, WCW's merchandise was rejuvenated.  The virtually unknown Original San Francisco Toymakers began a line of action figures and an equally mysterious company known as Cardz picked up the WCW trading card license.

A 99-card set was produced by Cardz most heavily featuring Hogan, Sting, and Randy Savage.  The cards came in packs of eight with the promise of randomly inserted autographs as well as coupons for a $5 discount on select WCW pay-per-view events.

I recently had the opportunity, and fun, of opening two sealed boxes.  Seeing as that the boxes are each filled with a hearty thirty-six packs, I was fairly sure that I would complete a base set or two.  In the back of my mind, I truly wanted to pull an autograph.  The box states that the chances of finding an autograph are 1 in 320 packs.  The box also states that "autographed cards are fun to collect but their value is subject to changing market conditions."  This statement is interesting beyond the original intent.

The autograph cards randomly included are not the autograph cards that collectors are familiar with pulling today.  These autographs were directly signed onto regular, unmarked, base cards.  There is no statement "certifying" their authenticity nor do they differ from regular cards beyond the autograph.  I've had cards from this set autographed personally, and for the most part these would not differ from autograph cards pulled.  The absence of a "certification" on the card would hurt the value of some of the autographs, but I don't think you could find a fan that wouldn't love to own a signed Gordon Solie card.

What makes the set so interesting is just who may have autographed cards to be randomly inserted.  The ever-useful resource lists autograph cards of Solie, Hulk Hogan, Marcus Bagwell, The Nasty Boys, Sting, Steve Austin, and Tony Schiavone as being either named on the wrapper or seen on the secondary market.  Randy Savage is also listed on the wrapper as a possibility.  Personally I know a fan who once pulled a Frank Andersson (everybody now..."Who?") autograph, while ring announcer Gary Michael Cappetta once told me that he and Gordon Solie were among a group of talent that was once whisked into a room to autograph some of the cards for insertion.  Did I uncover another name to add to the list?  Opening those boxes, I was certainly hoping that would be the case.

The boxes are wrapped in cellophane marked with the Cardz brand logo.  When opened, the box pops up into a display featuring the Hulkster.  I developed another concern regarding the possibility of an autograph card once I dived into the packs.  The 17-year-old gloss on the cards had caused some of them to stick together.  Would an autograph even survive this?

Both boxes each yielded several 99-card base sets.  Cards #89 and #95 each have an alternate version.  #89 features either the Spring Stampede '94 or Uncensored '95 poster while #95 features the poster of either SuperBrawl IV or SuperBrawl V.  Despite this running change, the cardbacks describe the 1995 events on both examples.  Although neither are rarer than the other, my boxes both included the 1994 poster cards.

A pack in the first box included the advertised $5 coupon off of the purchase of a WCW pay-per-view event.  With the odds being 1 in 72 packs, I was fairly sure that I would get my hands on one.  For the record, the events that I could have redeemed the coupon for were the 1995 editions of Fall Brawl, Halloween Havoc, and Starrcade.  Unless we go back in time, the coupon is simply another fun element to the set.

The base cards themselves are very nice and feature the top stars, managers, announcers, and even mascot Wild Cat Willie.  Champions, Famous Holds, Adversaries, the aforementioned Pay-Per-View posters, and "Up & Comers" get special subsets as do Hogan, Sting, Savage, and Ric Flair.  According to the checklist, Nick Bockwinkel is in a class by himself.  While many of us already knew that, the checklist lists him under "Comisssioner" (mispelled on the checklist).  The Diamond Doll, aka Kimberly Page, also has her own category.  She was not grouped with the managers nor is she deemed a valet.  Instead, The Diamond Doll is "Miscellaneous."

Card #75, a part of the Randy Savage "Tributes" subset, is particularly interesting.  The Macho Man is seen at an autograph session with Jimmy Hart.  In the lower left corner of the card, an unknown pair of hands are pictured holding a KKLZ bumper sticker as well as several Hogan-Savage cards produced by Cardz to promote the the January 1995 Clash of the Champions.  Assuming that these cards ended up signed by Savage, who knows just where they may be today?

So did I, or didn't I?  With two packs and little hope left, I was drained seeing the endless parade of red and yellow in these cards.  The fun of seeing tiny photos of Ray Stevens, Verne Gagne, and Killer Kowalski on the Slamboree pay-per-view card had long passed.  Finally, in the 71st pack opened, I pulled an autograph.  The heel of the main event of Starrcade 1994 himself, Butcher.  No, not Brutus Beefcake.  Butcher.  While many fans would be disappointed by this, I was thrilled.  For one thing it's not one of the cards of the set that I've gotten signed personally, nor is it an autograph that I've obtained from Beefcake at all.  Although I'm sure he would sign the name upon request, I doubt many fans have asked for a "Butcher" autograph, but here it is.  Solie it wasn't, but pleasing it most certainly was.

Was this the biggest night in the history of trading cards?  No, but it was a great showing of where the big boys played back in 1995.  With all of the names we've mentioned and shown plus Harley Race, Sherri Martel, Bobby Heenan, Dustin Rhodes, Paul Orndorff, and even the rookie card of Steve Austin, it's a really fun card set worthy of any collection.  In my opinion this is the last great WCW card set.  The later offerings from Topps featuring the nWo era of the promotion are rather bland and unexciting.  For WCW cards, you may as well go all the way to the Main Event.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Oh, Blog-i-o, Tell Me Everything You Know...

I've always been a fan of belts.  What is the point of clawing up through the ranks of pro wrestling unless there's a shiny gold belt to grab?  Many fans complain that belts are devalued today.  That may be so, but to me championship belts are one of the last remaining vestiges of wrestling's glorious past.

When the Hasbro WWF figure line was introduced, one of the things that attracted me to the Ted DiBiase figure was that the iconic Million Dollar Belt was included with the figure.  It looked exactly like its real life counterpart and could fit around the waist of most of the other figures.  I still love the Million Dollar Belt as much as I don't like custom belts that take the place of a standard belt.  Examples of the latter would be the Smoking Skull belt or Jeff Hardy's version of the TNA World Heavyweight Championship.  The difference is that if a prestigious title such as the WWF World Heavyweight Championship is won, each champion should hold a title that represents the organization as a whole, not the champion himself.  The Million Dollar Title represented the excesses and greed of Ted DiBiase, not being the best wrestler in an organization or the world.

In 2012 we have a belt that not only represents and resembles its owner, but one that finally has an action figure-sized version like the Million Dollar Belt first did over two decades ago.  Zack Ryder's Internet Championship represents exactly how the WWE superstar was able to experience a dramatic rise in popularity in the past year or so.  Cultivating a large fanbase through social media and other online outlets, Ryder introduced the title as part of his often comedic character.  Mattel has capitalized on this and included the belt with their newest figure of Ryder in their WWE Elite Series 17.

The figure comes in the standard Elite series packaging with the large window bubble.  I've felt that the sleek looking white and red packaging that Mattel switched to around a year ago has been a huge improvement.  The black and red packaging used in the first few years of the line was not nearly as aesthetically pleasing to me, and the packaging from the Mattel Legends line dwarfed the figures.  If you ask me, it should always look like more money was spent on the toy inside than the packaging around it.

A very good facial likeness of Ryder has been captured here, although you may end up not seeing it half of the time.  As with most of the Elite figures, multiple accessories are included.  In addition to the Internet Championship, removable sunglasses and "WWWYKI" (Woo, Woo, Woo, You Know It) headband are included.  They fit nice and snug and make the figure really stand out.

The Internet Championship itself, complete with Ryder's hair, glasses, and headband, is a hoot to look at.  It fits nicely around the figure's waist, although it looks better hoisted into the air or over the shoulder as it is inside of the packaging.  It has multiple holes on the strap so that you could conceivably have Zack "lose" the belt to a beefier challenger, but it looks quite at home on this "Broski."

I know you've been waiting for it.  Torso joint.  Yes, it's here, and it doesn't bother me all that much.  I think I'm learning to accept it.  I still don't see the need for it on 99% of figures.  If my Lanny Poffo figure doesn't have the feature, none should!

This is going to be a tough one to find if it's on your shopping list this holiday season.  Zack is a popular character with the kiddos and older fans alike.  One glimmer of hope for those looking for this figure is that there are two other Ryder figures out there right now as well, including one at a lower price point.  There's no denying that this is the nicest of the lot, and the Internet Championship belt seals the deal in my book.

Mattel is having a banner year with the WWE line.  Some issues, such as more new characters, are looking to have been addressed.  Others such as poor distribution with the Diva figures as well as "First Time In The Line" gems still have a ways to go.  There has to be a way to compromise between company worries and fan demand.

Just a few weeks ago I showed some exclusive photos of upcoming Mattel WWE figures to be released in the coming months.   As long as Mattel continues to provide a variety of characters like this, I think that they'll continue to serve collectors well.  Will I be picking up (and reviewing) some of these products? 

Woo, woo, know it?