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?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Wrestling MarketWatch: Trending Upwards

Like any form of collectible, wrestling memorabilia goes up and down in price as time goes on.  Some items will simply never drop in value while others have gone from amazing heights to being practically worthless in a monetary sense.  It's all about timing as well as trends in both collecting and the wrestling industry.  Even events ranging from the latest developments on wrestling television programming to unfortunate passings can have an effect.

While I always preach that what really matters is why an item is valuable to YOU, it's always interesting to look at how much, or how little, some of these items have been selling for.  For those of you new to the blog, this is the latest installment in our longest-running regular feature that we call Wrestling MarketWatch.

This time around we'll be looking at a handful of items that have had rather surprising selling prices as of late.  These are items that were selling for less just a short time ago.  We'll also try and analyze just why these particular items have seen their demand rise.  Enough chatter, let's get to the goods...

*Pre-recorded media is always an interesting topic as far as monetary value.  While the layman will dismiss VHS tapes as being antiquated and worthless, prices for many of those are as high as they were a decade ago.  DVD has largely followed in the same path, but it seems like a relatively common disc will suddenly become "hot" every couple of months.

In 2002, the WWF re-released several "Attitude Era" videos on VHS and DVD as the "WWF Attitude Collection."  At the time the releases sat on the shelves and were relatively unpopular.  Obviously this has changed.  For one thing, the "Attiude Era" is suddenly the top wrestling nostalgia period.  It being a prime selling point of the WWE '13 video game as well as an upcoming WWE DVD release will only further this.

Another factor is that DVD material from before the "WWE" rebranding with the unblurred WWF logo has always been highly sought after.  These "Attitude Collection" DVDs were released just before the changeover, thus cementing them into that niche.  Although several compilation titles were released under this banner, Unforgiven 1998 was one of the few pay-per-views that made the cut.  This title recently sold for $53 with some of the others going for as much as $150!

*Event programs are some of my favorite wrestling collectibles.  If you've followed this blog long enough, you know that, as I do tend to feature them often.  The WrestleMania programs will always have a highly collectible shine, as there is no end in sight for the annual event.  Although some of the '90s WrestleMania programs have been selling at high prices for many years, examples from the earlier events had trouble selling at just $10 and $20 not long ago.

Times have changed and apparently so has demand.  Perhaps more collectors are trying to acquire all of the 'Mania programs (a few years did not have a program produced), especially since the ones from recent years have been widely available.  The program from 1985's inaugural WrestleMania has recently been selling from between $50 and $60.  With the iconic cover of Hulk Hogan and Mr. T and great photography inside of both the participants and guest celebrities, it's a publication worthy of any collection.

*1988's NWA trading card set by Wonderama is one of a few wrestling card collections that I will always declare to be underrated.  A wide array of names, a huge number of cards, and a design that really captures Jim Crockett Promotions in its final months add up to a great card set.

Putting together an entire set one-by-one is a difficult, but not impossible, task.  With nearly 350 cards it won't be easy.  Online sellers have had complete, mint, sets available for a few years now for just around $40.  Recently the price has doubled to around $80 per set.  Even at the current average, it's a fantastic deal for a card set that should only increase in value as the years go on.

*You will remember the name...and the action figure.  While plenty of Goldust action figures have been produced since the first in 1996, there will never be a nicer one than the one made by Jakks for their Classic Superstars line. 

Sold as an online retailer exclusive, the figure is clad in the character's trademark robe, wig, gold strap Intercontinental Championship, and is even in gold packaging.  Originally selling for around $25, demand has gone up with Goldust being released from WWE and being much more accessible for autographs.  Between $70 and $80 seems to be the current average, while just a few weeks ago the price had topped out at $100.

*Remco's AWA action figure line is another topic that frequently shows up here.  A favorite of many collectors, the AWA line features a legendary lineup and designs that include cloth clothing and various other accessories.  Obviously examples that have those often-lost accessories will command a higher price. 

The Road Warriors and Paul Ellering are among the most popular wrestlers in the line, however their figures were produced early in the run.  Figures from the last few series were produced in smaller numbers and therefore sell for more.  While Hawk, Animal, and Paul always did decently with their accessories included, a recent sale price of $100 for the trio is high above average.  To be considered complete, Hawk and Animal must have their studded collars, cloth chaps, and tag team belts while Ellering's "Road Warriors" shirt must be present as well.

A mix of items new and old that collectors are out hunting for.  I've said it before and I'll continue to say it: buy what YOU like...not what Joe Blow next door wants or has.  It'll pay off in the long run via the only thing that really matters...your enjoyment.