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 WrestlingTradingCards.com
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.