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.