Thursday, April 26, 2012

JWs Best Wrestling DVD Bets

Something that wrestling has in spades over all other sports is rewatchability.  Yes, there are sports fans who will watch highlight after highlight over and over again, but aside from the occasional old game shown for nostalgia or DVD sets of specific teams, sporting events are rarely watched over again the whole way through.

Wrestling does have the advantage in that it's more of an art form than a competition.  With many matches you may pick something out upon the fourth or fifth viewing that you never noticed before.  There may even be an instance where a match that didn't necessarily appeal to you on the first viewing eventually becomes one of your all-time favorites.

Then there are times when absolutely nothing beats sitting back with your favorite snack and beverage and taking in some classic wrestling matches.  With the advent of DVD over a decade ago, that notion has become easier than ever to put into play.

Although "sharing" (or stealing) content via online means has become the norm, DVDs (and Blu-Ray discs) are still highly collectible and a very viable form of wrestling memorabilia.  Many are very inexpensive and most of the greatest matches of the past thirty years are available in crisp and clear quality. 

I can remember when it was still possible for one person to own every wrestling DVD produced.  Even after the first wrestling DVD was released in the form of WrestleMania XV, it took a few years for the market to truly kick in.  Over a decade later and many more commercially released wrestling DVDs exist than were ever produced on VHS or any other format.

Although Blu-Ray has entered the genre, DVD is still the leading format for pro wrestling.  Like many other DVDs, prices have been reduced drastically making it possible for a fan to accumulate quite a collection without much money spent.

While WWE and TNA rule the roost as far as pay-per-view and wrestler biography DVD releases, other companies with access to matches unavailable to "the big two" have released some great wrestling DVD product as well.

One of my favorites is the "Warriors of Wrestling" 4-disc set released in 2005.  This DVD is a collection of the first season of shows from the American Wrestling Federation.  The AWF was a mid-1990s promotion that starred many former WWF and WCW stars like Tito Santana, Sgt. Slaughter, Bob Orton, Tony Atlas, and Greg Valentine just to name a few.

AWF matches featured a round system similar to boxing.  It was a novel idea in a time where wrestling was getting stale for some fans.  Although some of the content consists of squash matches, there are many gems here as well.  An AWF championship match between Santana and Orton which makes full use of the round system is intact and required viewing for fans of either legend.  Many promos are also included from many of wrestling's best mouths including the last regular managerial run of the legendary Sir Oliver Humperdink.

A "season" set of shows like that is something that WWF fans have been requesting for years.  Tired of the same old pay-per-view matches featured on release after release, many fans young and old would love to see full sets of shows such as Saturday Night's Main Event.

A few hidden treasures in WWE's vast DVD library are the "Legends of Wrestling" releases.  These six one-disc releases not only feature one of the early roundtable discussions previously exclusive to WWE On-Demand, but also a variety of matches focusing on the same topic as the discussion.  Matches from WWF, WCW, AWA, Mid-Atlantic, and more were included as extras with the majority never being released on DVD prior.  Although many retailers sold a boxed set of three of the releases, the other three were exclusive to Best Buy and are no longer available in stores.

Perhaps the most celebrated wrestling DVD collection to date is the Wrestling Gold set.  This five-disc collection runs over ten hours and has perhaps the widest array of matches not owned by WWE.  Originally released in 2001, the set retailed for over $60 and came in five separate "keep cases" bundled with an illustrated cardboard sleeve.  Although many fans forked over the money for this original version, the set was re-released several years later into one large case at a greatly reduced price.

If a fan wants to take a look at the wrestling territories of the '60s, '70s, and '80s, there is no better way than with Wrestling Gold.  Matches from just about every wrestling hotbed are included and is a fun mix of both tv and arena bouts.  Adding to the historic value of the set is the alternate commentary provided by Jim Cornette and the godfather of wrestling journalists, Dave Meltzer.  Although you'll want to hear some of the original commentary, especially that of Memphis legend Lance Russell, you need to watch the entire ten hours with Cornette and Meltzer first.  From historic facts and figures being recalled at lightning fast speed to the reaction of both men seeing many of these matches for the first time, the commentary is sometimes even more entertaining than the matches themselves.  From early matches of Shawn Michaels, Randy Savage, and Kerry Von Erich to invaluable rare footage of Bruno Sammartino, Dick the Bruiser, and The Sheik, there is absolutely something for everyone.  And if you're a fan of Memphis...I need say no more.

Following the success of the aforementioned set, Wrestling Gold did go on to produce four more DVDs under their banner.  Featuring footage from Smoky Mountain Wrestling and Ohio Valley Wrestling, these additional sets also featured insider commentary from Cornette and Meltzer.  Shown in very early matches are such names as John Cena, Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, Lance Storm, Batista, and Brock Lesnar.  The best of the four is a complete release of SMW's Night of Legends show featuring southern wrestling legends and then-up-and-comers.

Wrestling fans are lucky.  If the business should ever change so much that it is unrecognizable or fails completely, fans will always have hour upon hour of classic matches to treasure and enjoy.  Year after year, new fans can be introduced to the greatness of the past and that, perhaps, will give them an even greater appreciation of the squared circle and the men whose blood, sweat, and tears defined it.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

TNA Makes An Impact On The Fanfest Scene

It's hard to believe, but 2012 marks the 10th year of TNA/Impact being part of the professional wrestling landscape. Through countless changes in presentation, personnel, and even ownership, the company has continually served as an alternative to WWE. Although the company has not always done it's best to differentiate itself from the often wacky land of the WWE Universe, the fact that there is a viable alternative at all can, at times, be very comforting.

TNA has always had one area where it has shined far brighter than WWE: fan friendliness. Some might argue that a smaller company has to be fan friendly in order to grow, but TNA has often gone above and beyond in this area.

With the rise of wrestling fanfests and conventions in the last decade, TNA went ahead and merged the concept with that of a traditional wrestling show. At even the smallest TNA house show you are nearly guaranteed to meet a few of the stars. Some old school fans may scoff at the idea of being able to actually meet the stars of the evening, but kayfabe isn't quite as healthy as it was years ago. It has been said that WWE still does not care for the concept of fans being able to meet the stars at their shows. While they do run their Axxess event during WrestleMania weekend and infrequently sponsor appearances (always run by "representatives" whose drill sergeant-esque actions would make Adolf Hitler blush), the company truly lacks where "meet and greet" concepts are concerned. This is where TNA picks the ball up and runs with it. Far.

Although I had attended several TNA house shows in the past (one of which I documented here), I don't feel that I truly witnessed just how fan friendly the company was until I attended their Bound For Glory Fanfest in 2011. Autographs and photos with nearly their entire roster of stars, including Sting, Ric Flair, and Hulk Hogan.

To put this in a monetary perspective one only has to do simple math. Hulk Hogan is in many categories all his own and that includes appearance pricing. A serious autograph collector already knows that Hogan has never actually appeared at a wrestling convention. His signings have largely been limited to sports shows with appearances from baseball and football legends. The price? Usually between $100-$200 per autograph (usually depending on the item). A photograph? If you're lucky, the organizers of the show MAY allow a lean-over-the-table photo.

The price to attend a TNA Fanfest? $200. Included on the lineups of both that I've had the pleasure of attending? Hogan. Flair. RVD. Kurt Angle. Jeff Hardy. Bobby Roode. James Storm. The Knockouts. I will stop there, as it already speaks for itself.

This past weekend I was once again able to partake in this incredible deal by attending the Lockdown Fanfest in Nashville, Tennessee. The event was organized identically to the Bound For Glory event in that you are permitted two autographs and a photo with any of the stars in the first three signing sessions and one autograph and a photo with the legends in the "Main Event Session" which features Hogan, Flair, and Sting.

It was announced prior to the doors opening that Sting would not be part of the event as advertised. In lieu of his appearance, TNA allowed fans to get two autographs from Hogan and Flair and gave out an Impact Wrestling t-shirt that would be signed by all of the stars in addition to your own items. To many of us in attendance, the announcement boiled down to this: three autographs each from Hogan and Flair. No matter how long you have been collecting wrestling autographs, you know that multiple signatures from these two is a real treat and made an incredible bargain all the sweeter.

Before entertaining the convention room, the employees at registration hand each fan a package of official 8x10 promotional photos to be autographed. Fans also have the opportunity to purchase many other items, including the current Impact Wrestling program, to be signed. One qualm I did have was that the company only had action figures available of stars that are no longer on the roster, much less at the event. Don West told me personally that the figures of Matt Morgan and Rob Terry were "down the road" at the warehouse. Why they were not available to be purchased and signed at the event as opposed to figures of Kevin Nash and Shark Boy is a mystery that we'll never have the answer to. Luckily many of us came already armed with the new figures of many current roster members.

At the house show signings it seems that security is occasionally instructed to refuse items for talent to sign. While it isn't a major problem, I have seen WWF/WWE items turned away. This "rule," if it is indeed official, is completely ignored at these pay-per-view fanfests. This allows many collectors to get classic items signed by stars like Hogan, Flair, RVD, Taz, Hector Guerrero, and even agents like Al Snow, Bruce "Brother Love" Prichard, and D'Lo Brown.

In a special surprise, TNA President Dixie Carter arrived early on in the event. Although she was not advertised, Carter quickly found a spot and signed autographs, posed for photos, and talked graciously with fans for hours. Ms. Carter was also very interested in what the fans thought of the current product and asked for opinions and suggestions. If the company truly listens, I think that it can become what the fans want it to be.

On this afternoon, I cannot imagine a wrestling fan in attendance who wasn't feeling pure happiness. Seeing the stars interact with the fans, parents sharing these moments with their children, and an overall feeling of "Damn...I love wrestling" filled the air as the autographs piled up. Even taking into consideration events like Axxess, a wrestling company has never held an event with such a casual feeling. From witnessing some interactions, it seems as if many fans follow the company around to various cities for these events. After attending even one, it's easy to understand why.

As mentioned above, the "Main Event" session is held at the end of the show. Although the line can last a few hours, it's truly worth the wait once you are in the presence of these legends. I've met quite a few wrestlers in the past quarter-century, but meeting The Hulkster is really an experience unlike any other. Love him or hate him, looking into his eyes and having a short conversation is somewhat surreal. Much to his credit, Hogan does indeed take that time with each and every fan and knows how to make the meeting extra special. Brother.

If this were a review, I would absolutely have to grade an A+. TNA goes above and beyond with these fanfest events. Some would say that they have to. I say that they don't have to do anything of the kind. Are they making money? I'm sure that they are. They also have the means to have names like Hogan and Flair at a more than reasonable price for fans. If you ask me, everyone benefits. If you have the opportunity, don't pass it up. It may be a once in a lifetime shot. And if the parting shot below doesn't make you want to go, nothing will...

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

Inside Wrestling, May 1978, Page 39 & Wrestling Revue, March 1973, Page 56

If you've followed the blog for any amount of time, you're probably familiar with our recurring "bonus" feature called "From The Musty, Yellowed Pages..." where we look at items found within the great old wrestling magazines.

It was about ten years ago that I first found "Lil Taz" in the Pen Pals section of Inside Wrestling. Yes indeed, Taz himself was once 9-year-old Pete Senerchia, a fan of Bruno Sammartino. Last year it become our very first "Musty" feature. Upon looking through a 1973 issue of Wrestling Revue, I discovered a great young shot of his current broadcast partner, Mike Tenay. Seeing that they would both be at the Lockdown Fanfest, I decided to pack the magazines and get a reaction...and hopefully an autograph.

Both seemed to really enjoy seeing their first magazine appearances. Tenay, who ran a newsletter of his own in that era, claimed that he did not even have the issue himself. Both agreed to sign and pose with the classic issues. Just another magic moment from the event...and luckily I didn't become "just another victim."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wrestling MarketWatch: "Programs...Get Yer Programs!"

Once upon a time there wasn't all that much wrestling memorabilia to be had. Photos and the old "arcade cards" were around, but you can forget about items like t-shirts, action figures, and foam fingers. They just didn't exist in the wrestling world. It's not like they would have had trouble selling. Wrestling figures would have been just as popular as figures that did exist in the day like Bonanza's Cartwright clan or Fonzie from Happy Days. Remember, wrestlers were tv stars, too!

The problem was that it simply wouldn't have been cost effective for the regional promoters of the era to produce such extravagant souvenirs. Also taking into consideration the fast rate in which many stars jumped from territory to territory, promoters would have frequently been stuck with outdated merchandise.

In lieu of all of the modern items, there is one item that both old and new fans alike have always had available to them. The program!

A good wrestling program served a multitude of purposes. Of course it was cheap to produce, but it also featured pictures of nearly every wrestler, manager, and even referee in the promotion. Whether printed in black and white or color, the program provided each fan a remembrance of what stars they saw in the ring that night as well as something to be autographed should they have a chance encounter with one of those stars.

The program could be used to forward existing storylines, start new ones, or introduce new faces into the territory. In some cases the program could even be used to damn stars who left the territory under less than favorable circumstances.

Most important of all, a program had a complete lineup of the nights matches. Collectors buying old programs will frequently find fan-written notations of winners, losers, match times, and other circumstances that would otherwise be lost to time. Although some collectors would disagree, I view this as an added bonus and an almost comforting validation of wrestling cards long gone by.

The program still exists via both WWE and TNA. Both companies produce large sized program books on heavy stock paper. Usually the books no longer have lineups of the shows, but instead they almost serve as directories for the promotions current rosters. Thanks to the large, high quality photos of the entire roster, fans will often turn the books into autograph "projects" trying to procure as many signatures as they can in a particular program.

Selling prices for programs vary literally from day to day. As always with our MarketWatch entries, we'll now take a look at some recent auction prices for a variety of different programs. Although some examples shown are autographed, the prices noted were for unsigned examples unless otherwise noted.

*Where better to begin than WrestleMania? Nearly every WrestleMania has had an individual specialized program. Availability has changed dramatically over the years with early Mania programs being sold not only at the events but at newsstands as well. That practice ended after WrestleMania X with many after only being available at the event. In the modern era, with programs being sold at all events during WrestleMania weekend, attendees often snap up several copies to sell on eBay. While there is an initial frenzy, the price usually bottoms out significantly.

Today we're looking at the programs for WrestleMania VI and XV. VI is a standard magazine-sized program featuring an iconic cover shot of "The Ultimate Challenge." This program, which was available at the event and at newsstands, recently sold for $58. These earlier Mania programs have been trending higher as of late, which usually happens after WrestleMania season.

The program for WrestleMania XV is oversized and features a cover full of Attitude Era stars. Complete examples will include a full-color glossy photo of Steve Austin and the Liberty Bell sponsored by the Philadelphia Daily News. This program recently sold for $61.

*Moving onto the event that has become my personal "WrestleMania," we take a look at a program from NWA Fanfest. For those of you who haven't been to Fanfest or read one of my reviews of this amazing weekend, be sure to check out our archives. Be warned: you may begin to make plans to attend the 2012 weekend.

Promoter Greg Price always goes to great lengths to make sure each Fanfest weekend is nothing less than extraordinary. The program book for the event is no exception. In addition to including a complete itinerary of events for the weekend, photos of each and every star to appear are featured inside. Many fans attempt to get the program signed by every wrestler to appear all weekend.

With or without the autographs, the program automatically becomes a collectible in itself. Nothing but high quality photographs of the legendary stars makes it into the book. Mr. Price also goes to great pains to ensure a cover photo that captures the spirit of the event.

In 2010, the cover photo featured three of the most revered NWA Champions of all-time: Harley Race, Terry Funk, and Dory Funk Jr. An example that was signed on the cover by all three of these legendary champions recently sold for $50.

*In some cases programs can be some of the most affordable vintage items to collect. In turn, many stars who otherwise didn't appear on all that much merchandise usually had a program cover or two. Many regional programs can often be had for under $10 per item. A Mid-South program featuring The Fantastics, Tommy Rogers and Bobby Fulton, recently sold for just $6.25. A program like this features a great, large color cover photo and many photos on the inside. On a side note, the photo featured on this particular cover was actually taken inside the home of "Cowboy" Bill Watts. Dig the groovy shag-carpeted staircase behind Rogers and Fulton.

*The '80s and '90s WWF pay-per-view programs seem to be doing just as well as the WrestleMania programs. Every WWF pay-per-view event until 1993 had a program and truly capture the amazingly talented, charismatic, and colorful WWF roster of the era. The 1991 Royal Rumble program, featuring many top talents right on the cover, recently sold for $41. Reflecting the television promotion of the event, the program indicates that Andre the Giant and "Playboy" Buddy Rose would be appearing in the Rumble which ultimately did not occur.

*Perhaps no one appeared on more program covers than Bruno Sammartino. It was a wise decision, as obviously that would quickly move the programs into the hands of fans. One such WWWF program that featured Sammartino and fellow Italian (and Pittsburgh resident) Dominic DeNucci recently sold for $19. The program includes a feature highlighting "Great Italian Wrestlers." Who better to star on that cover than Sammartino and DeNucci?

There really isn't any downside to collecting wrestling programs. Tons of photos and history coupled with some monetary value. Of course, I always remind you to collect for yourself and not for value, but when the two collide you really can't go wrong. If anything, maybe this entry will incite you to slap a ten down in front of the vendor the next time you hear the ubiquitous cry of, "PROGRAMS! PROGRAMS HERE!"

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Rock, A Brock, A Lord, & An Indian Chief

It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it's actually a one sentence summary of the week that was in pro wrestling. Every once in awhile I chime in on current headlines that pique my interest, and with a week like this I don't know how I can help it!

By now the world knows that The Rock won his year-long built match against John Cena at WrestleMania XXVIII. Early numbers indicate that The Rock may very well have lured back lost fans for the show. That doesn't indicate that those fans will stick around to become members of the WWE Universe.

Was The Rock winning the right decision? Sure, The Rock was in his "hometown" of Miami, but I don't think that I'll ever understand the logic of jobbing your bread and butter out to a less-than-part time wrestler. Being the admitted Cena fan that I am, I'm starting to feel frustrated for the guy. The "fans" that feel they're too good to cheer for him are tainting his glory years. They're the same "fans" who would trample grandma to get his autograph. That, coupled with the WrestleMania loss, has me asking, "Where does John Cena go from here?"

That question is apparently answered by the next news item: Brock Lesnar. I doubt there were many fans watching on Monday Night that hadn't heard a bit about Lesnar returning to his wrestling roots. Despite that, how many fans...err...members of the "WWE Universe" actually know who Brock Lesnar is? Do WWE Universe members watch MMA as well? If they don't, perhaps my flying saucer should pop in on the Universe through some wormhole, because I don't watch it either. That said, I do keep very light tabs on that industry and I was around for Brock's original run from beginning to end. I'm talking WWF dark match beginning, here.

When he first debuted and, along with Paul Heyman, ran roughshod over the company's finest, I was a fan. Great wrestling background, believable, and entertaining. Various factors soured me and in turn made me rather indifferent for Lesnar's return. Maybe it was the fact that his wife is someone I could never stand. Maybe it was his botched WrestleMania moment. Maybe it was the fact that they REALLY should have kept him with Heyman as long as possible because that voice just doesn't match the look.

No. Although all valid points on my end, it was something else. It was after being pushed to the moon and basically having the entire (willing) roster thrown at his feet, the man had the audacity to whine about the schedule and leave. As many of you know or could have figured out, if there's someone in the business that I don't really care for, I usually leave them off of these pages out of respect. Mr. Lesnar didn't respect the business, so therefore I really don't have much respect for him.

My other negative reaction is actually generated by the company itself. In taking Lesnar back, they're accepting hand-me-downs from UFC. WWE is often criticized for not making enough new stars. I'll stick up for them in this case--they've being doing a great job of that as of late. Why not stick with those guys? Why spend ungodly amounts of money on damaged goods from MMA and shove them in the main event spotlight for a year? Honestly, it makes me sicker than the thought of Santino winning a Royal Rumble.

The reaction on Monday night should have indicated that the WWE Universe will accept Lesnar back, but it really doesn't. Monday Night's crowd was very different from most WWE Universe gatherings and should not be used as a measuring stick. Many respected wrestling analysts are wondering if he'll even stick true to his entire one-year agreement with WWE. Time will tell on all accounts. I think WWE should have taken heed to the credo that "Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it." Brock's first wrestling run? Ran away. His football "career?" Failure. MMA? Quitter. I hope they aren't thinking of booking any 'Mania main events anytime soon.

One man who I do hope makes it to the main event scene is another former WWFer who made his return this past Monday Night. Matt Bloom, formerly known as Prince Albert and A-Train, returned as Lord Tensai. Instead of outright reminding viewers of his former aliases, WWE is simply saying that Tensai was a former WWE superstar who went to Japan and became even more menacing. That, along with a stellar squash match on Monday night, is a great sign to start.

The presentation isn't actually all just a gimmick. While many fans (myself included) enjoyed his original run with the company, Bloom did indeed go to Japan and improve his in-ring skills greatly. As Giant Bernard, Bloom dominated New Japan Pro Wrestling and was a member of several tag team championship teams. I always felt that TNA could have had a great star in Bloom, but his appearances for that company were limited to their Global Impact shows.

As Lord Tensai it appears that the former A-Train was scheduled to be in several high profile programs upon his return. While it still appears that a push is in order, I fear that the return of Lesnar may overshadow this. Since Lesnar's appearances are limited even if he does contractually fulfill them all, perhaps Lord Tensai will still become a name that we recall when thinking of legendary wrestling "big men" down the line.

Speaking of legendary, we have lost yet another member of the "greatest generation" of wrestlers. Joe Scarpa, known to millions the world over as Chief Jay Strongbow, has passed away at the age of 83.

I often speak of the group of six or seven names that will be brought up in conversation by even the most casual viewer of 1980's and 1990's wrestling. If you go back to the 1970s, especially in the northeast, Strongbow makes that version of the list.

Chief Jay Strongbow was the guy who never made it to the world title, but honestly didn't have to. His popularity was right where it needed to be. In the fans eyes, you had to get past Strongbow to get to Bruno Sammartino or Pedro Morales. Getting past the war dance wasn't all that easy.

Like several other Native American entertainers such as Iron-Eyes Cody ("the Indian with the tear"), Joe Scarpa was actually of Italian descent and had a very successful wrestling career under his given name in the 1960's. It was as Strongbow that Scarpa carved out his place in not only wrestling history, but true Americana.

It's been a roller coaster week for pro wrestling. Whether the news excites you, upsets you, incites you, or makes you a bit nostalgia for times past, I think we can all agree that the spring of 2012 is one that will be long remembered in pro wrestling, for better or worse.