I am a wrestling fan. No matter the ups and downs of the business, I'm fairly sure that I always will be. In that fandom, I'd like to think that I'm one of the more respectful fans. I've come to realize that I'm seen that way by the industry's stars that I've met through both those encounters and my written word. Even when I've had a less than favorable experience (a rare occurrence), I tend to overlook it publicly and rather keep it as an anecdote to tell at the right time. Those encounters do not show up here, although I feel it may be time to break the rules a bit.
This past Saturday the annual Ringside Fest was held in New York City. With CM Punk, Sin Cara, and A.J. Lee on the bill, it made for a nice weekend trip to The Big Apple. Reviews and feedback of this event are always positive and seeing as that it was a paid event and not simply an "appearance" piqued my interest. In recent years, "appearances" of WWE contracted stars are usually events that I avoid. Overcrowding, poor-crowd control, and limits on what exactly a fan will get out of it (i.e. autographs, photo ops) usually keep me away.
Seeing as this was an event that you paid to attend, you are to get exactly what you paid for. I believe everyone did, as I heard no complaints at the event nor have I seen any in the little feedback that I've come across on the internet since. Crowd control got a bit out of hand near the middle of the event, but that can happen at any appearance and was ultimately remedied.
Any veteran of autograph collecting knows that no matter how they plan on getting the items signed, they have those items planned out well in advance. You have your items ready to go and ready to be signed. Often collectors will go back and forth for weeks over the decision of just what to get signed. For a star like Punk you have a multitude of items from which to choose. For someone like A.J., it's a bit more cut and dry. The WWE's resident "crazy chick" (a PG-Rated version of a ring rat character) has about three trading cards and a few official photos. Her action figure is not yet released, although, along with Vickie Guerrero and Eve Torres, she recently graced the cover of Inside Wrestling. This was to join my collection of many other signed covers from the Stanley Weston family of wrestling magazines.
Approaching A.J., the ticket taker informed me that Miss Lee would not sign the magazine. I did a bit of respectful protesting, but even A.J. herself chimed in that she could not sign it, and could only sign "official WWE items." She was kind enough, but friendliness means nil when scribbling two tiny letters on a piece of paper is the issue at hand. A Ringside Fest staff member made a really nice gesture by bringing me, at no charge, one of the official 8x10 glossy licensed Photo File photos to use as my signed item. These were being sold at the event, and I wasn't asked to pay for it at this point. A Top Loader protector was even included.
While I did get what I had paid for, nowhere was it ever said that certain items would not be autographed. At a free signing, this type of behavior can be tolerated. When an item is of questionable taste, this can also be excused. But the star in question's first magazine cover? The same type of cover signed just an hour later by one of the industry's biggest stars? I can't say that it tainted the event nor a day in an amazing city, but it was just a bit troubling.
Is this behavior that someone in the company told her to follow? It must not apply to the champion or various other stars under contact who have signed similar items over the years. Does she understand that the Weston publications often use WWE-licensed photos nowadays? For someone who claims to be a lifelong fan of the business, she certainly doesn't seem to understand that a magazine cover is an extremely high honor. One of the same magazines that someone she claims to have looked up to, Miss Elizabeth, often graced herself.
I'm not spiteful. I'm not mad. I just hope to get a point across. Miss Lee may or may not ever see this. Based upon her actions, she probably would not even care. My point is that just as I am respectful as a fan of the business that I love, Miss Lee needs to learn to be respectful to the business that's currently putting food on her table...although...she could use an extra sandwich or two.
Ringside Fest was not just a place for photo ops and autographs, but a showcase for the Mattel WWE toy line as well. Mattel representatives were on hand to show off current and upcoming product and answer questions. They were also very patient with the throngs of young fans who wanted to touch and play with everything on display.
New figures of current stars such as Ryback, Brock Lesnar, Brodus Clay, and others were on display as were figures of legends like Jerry Lawler, Shawn Michaels, and Randy "Macho Man" Savage. The two highlights for myself and many others were prototypes of the upcoming Miss Elizabeth and Honky Tonk Man figures. Although I still dread the in-store searches for Elizabeth, it is a beautifully done figure of someone who never saw as much merchandise as was deserved.
The Honky Tonk Man figure did not yet have a jumpsuit but is clad in red tights. I particularly appreciate the fact that the hair is sculpted to be a bit messed up in the front as if he is in the middle of a match or one of the legendary five-hour television tapings of the era. Hopefully a guitar will be added to the jumpsuit. Many fans are hoping for a red jumpsuit as it is one of the few that Jakks did not produce with their figures of HTM.
Miss Elizabeth marks the last legend who has not been overdone that we will see in figure form. By inserting the legends into their Elite line, going forward we are only likely to see characters that are known by both diehard and casual fans. The days of seeing figures of largely territorial stars are dead. While the Mattel product is well-produced and usually visually impressive, it's not going to sustain the interest of fans that Jakks brought to the table with their Classic Superstars. A sad but true reality, for sure.
A WrestleMania XXVIII version of The Undertaker was shown and is already hitting Toys "R" Us stores in purple "20-0" packaging. Wal Mart will see their own exclusives with a line of current stars clad in t-shirts painted directly onto the figures. Ryback will be hitting the shelves first (well...first as in not as Skip Sheffield) in a pack with Jinder Mahal, and Lesnar will have both basic and elite figures.
The Mattel license continues to roll on. If distribution issues were addressed concerning fans who don't want Royal Rumbles full of John Cena, Randy Orton, and Rey Mysterio, I think the line would really be on the right track. With figures now in four or five series, I predict that Sin Cara will soon join the shelfwarming regulars. And if you ever felt that your area alone was stuffed with endless Cena's, I can assure you that even the "crossroads of the world," Times Square, is feeling your pain as well. All Cena, All The Time...