Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Goodbyes Of 2013

Traditionally we utilize the final blog entry of the year to say our last goodbyes of the year.  The goodbyes are not to the good events and memories of the past twelve months, but rather to the names in the business that have left us.  With the vast amount of folks who have given us so many great moments in and out of the squared circle, it is inevitable that we will lose a bunch each year.  It is an unforgiving business that often directly or indirectly causes premature and untimely deaths, while other notables of wrestling live to ripe old ages.

A sampling of those we lost in 2013 includes Count Billy Varga, Mark Starr, Ella Waldek, Don Carson, Cyclone Negro, Spike of The Mod Squad, Tito Montez, Paul Bearer, Roland Alexander, Doug "Gashouse" Gilbert, Vivian St. John, Gene Petit, Angelo Savoldi, Jackie Fargo, Corey Maclin, Frenchy Bernard, Dutch Savage, Al Green, Matt Borne, Buck Robley, Hector Garza, Reid Flair, Ron West, Dennis Hall, and Geeto Mongol.

Three of the names above, although varying in age, are still particularly shocking to me because of the vibrant appearances that they made at various types of wrestling functions not that long ago.  The first of the three to pass, Paul Bearer, is probably the one that received the most mainstream press as well.

Bearer, who also had a memorable pre-WWF wrestling career as Percy Pringle III, is one of the few managers who crossed over into pop culture even more so than many wrestlers.  While one could argue that it was his association with The Undertaker that caused this, no one would've noticed a cartoonish mortician character if Mr. Bill Moody hadn't given it his all.  When kids of the early '90s imitate a wrestling star that they grew up watching, it's most likely going to be Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, or Paul Bearer.  His ubiquitous and shrill moan of "Ohhhh yesssssss!" at ringside took the character far beyond probably even what the WWF ever intended.  The fact that the character carried on in WWE storylines after Moody's passing is both a great tribute to the late manager and something that would have simultaneously thrilled and humbled the man himself.

Matt Borne was yet another man who breathed three-dimensional life into what could have been a very one-dimensional character.  Doink the Clown was another '90s WWF personality that is remembered by many fans, but it's the hardcore devotees who recall that Borne's portrayal of the character was what really made it great.  Borne was Doink when the character was two things underneath the grease paint: a pure wrestler and pure evil.  His exceptional in-ring skills were greatly backed up by Borne's ability to show that this was not a nice clown at all.  Taking nothing away from Ray Apollo who took over the role, Matt Borne WAS Doink.  Taking nothing away from Borne, who had a stellar career in various other promotions, Doink WAS Matt Borne.

And what can you say about a man that ruled during the "wild west" days of the business and inspired countless others to follow in his footsteps?  That's "Fabulous" Jackie Fargo.  If yet another book ever needs to be written about someone in the wrestling business, Fargo should be the subject.  The stories told both by Fargo and by many of his peers probably haven't even scratched the surface regarding his life and times.  The North Carolina native is one wrestling legend that, years from now, I will still be so thankful that I had a chance to meet.  While others my age, born just as "The Fabulous One" was retiring from the ring, would have little interest, I knew from the moment that I shook his hand that I had encountered someone very special.  So long, pally!

Not a comprehensive list by any means, this was just a small remembrance of some of the fascinating wrestling lives lost this year.  May they all find eternal peace, something that some of them were unable to lock onto in life.  And in the case of Mr. Fargo, who I still cannot ever imagine resting, may they keep on strutting towards that great ring in the sky...

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The 2013 J\/\/ Awards

Our year-end tradition here on the blog continues with the 4th Annual J\/\/ Awards!  There are five total categories which are each awarded with a coveted "Joshie," designed and named after yours truly.  This year we decided to get "funky like a monkey" with the design.  It came out so well that you might think it's nothing but a "Dream."  Will any new manufacturers see their product take the ultimate prize?  Perhaps a few past winners will make their return?  The time for speculation is over, it's time for The J\/\/ Awards!

2013 Best Figure

Our first category is often the most talked about.  Seeing as that more figures are produced per year than any other type of wrestling memorabilia, it's easy to see why everyone has a favorite.

Mattel's WWE The Shield win "The Joshie" for 2013 Best Figure(s).  In a year with plenty of long anticipated debut figures, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns take the title.  Very few stars have made the impact that they have in their rookie year in the big time.  The hard hitting, no-nonsense in-ring style of The Shield comes across perfectly thanks to Mattel.  While more figures of these three superstars are planned, these initial Basic style representations simply scream Sierra Hotel India Echo Lima Delta.

2013 Best Publication 

The printed word is becoming more and more difficult to find in the wrestling world, but thankfully there are still plenty of stories to tell in book form.

"Rags, Paper, & Pins--The Merchandising Of Memphis Wrestling" by Jim Cornette & Mark James wins "The Joshie" for 2013 Best Publication.  Plenty of new wrestling autobiographies hit the shelves this year, but how about the story of the pioneering of wrestling merchandising?  That's the story told in "Rags."  Anyone interested in wrestling merchandising, Memphis wrestling, or Jim Cornette needs to treat themselves to this wonderful resource.

2013 Best Buy (Non-Figure/Publication) 

As is the case every year, this category is about what gave wrestling fans the most bang for their buck.  This is probably the most versatile of the categories, yet we have a repeat winner in 2013.

The 2013 Mid-Atlantic Legends Fanfest wins "The Joshie" for 2013 Best Buy.  What can I say that I haven't already said about Fanfest for so many years?  As always, the weekend was the ultimate dream for fans of classic wrestling.  Memories were made, friendships were rekindled, and legends were celebrated.  Next year is being promoted as the final installment.  As a decade-long customer, I can only say "Don'tcha dare miss it!"

2013 Best Product Line 

The criteria for this category is simple: have a wrestling product that was sold continuously throughout the year.  To win, the quality, distribution, and price of the products are just a few considerations taken.

WWE Home Video wins "The Joshie" for 2013 Best Product Line.  With yet another repeat winner, the caretakers of the majority of wrestling footage of the past fifty years shines again.  An amazing effort put forth with the "Legends Of Mid-South Wrestling" production put the line over the top.  Fans everywhere have high hopes that this kind of vintage product becomes much more of the norm.  Continual high quality Blu-Ray releases of new events also helped WWE Home Video reign supreme in 2013.

2013 Future Holy Grail 

Never an easy choice, this category has to not only celebrate the recent past but also predict the future.  Just what items released in 2013 will be coveted by collectors in the years to come?

WWE Foam Fingers win "The Joshie" for 2013 Future Holy Grail.  Foam fingers have been en vogue in the wrestling world since the early days of Hulkamania, but with the current direction and fan base of WWE, it's a no-brainer that today's stars get similar treatment.  From the very first merchandise for Fandango to the popular "Best In The World" mantra of CM Punk, this new generation of "WrestleFoam" isn't something that can be bought at Wal Mart or Toys "R" Us.  In the future, these pieces should see the same high demand that their older counterparts enjoy.

That's a lot of great memorabilia and a lot of wonderful 2013 memories.  We have one more blog entry for the year coming next week, but until then I'd like to wish everyone...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Starrcade--"The Granddaddy Of Em All" Turns 30

I was a few weeks shy of a year old for its debut, but in the thirty years since I'm not the only wrestling fan who has come to celebrate and cherish what Starrcade stood for.  It was the event, and concept, that combined southern territorial wrestling with the advent of going beyond the walls of the host arena via closed circuit television.  With no one denying the boundaries broken by WrestleMania less than two years later, the door was opened by Starrcade.

Growing up as a "WWF kid," to me Thanksgiving wrestling tradition meant the Survivor Series.  As my fandom grew, I learned that Starrcade has an equally large space at the wrestling holiday table.  These two events were actually a then new-era equivalent to traditions that had been going on for decades.  For many years, after wrestling fans enjoyed their Thanksgiving dinner or opened their presents on Christmas, a night out at the matches was in order.  While it probably wasn't the ideal night to be working for the wrestlers themselves, I would imagine that some of the hottest crowds of the year packed armories and arenas for these special shows.  With the advent of Starrcade, the talent no longer had to be split up among towns.  Finally, one huge holiday supercard could be seen in multiple towns on the same night.

That first Starrcade in 1983 was subtitled "A Flare for the Gold."  Inside the brutal confines of a steel cage, "Nature Boy" Ric Flair was looking to regain the NWA World Heavyweight Championship from the man who wanted him out of the business altogether, Harley Race.  Gene Kiniski, a former NWA Champion himself, officiated the match which saw Flair capture his second NWA title in a blood-soaked celebration that has been replayed many times since.

Championship grandeur aside, others look to another match that night as the most memorable portion of the event.  Rowdy Roddy Piper and Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, two men who would go on to participate in the first WrestleMania as well, battled in an absolutely vicious dog collar match.  If certain ECW matches made fans of the '90s think that the participants were truly brutalizing each other, then this match did the same for the audience of a decade earlier.  Dog collars were wrapped around each man's neck which were connected by a heavy chain.  The chain ultimately became one of the stars of the event, helping each man to wreak havoc on the other.  Although Piper emerged victorious, he has since claimed that the effects of the chain hitting his ear caused hearing loss.

In 1984 and 1985 the event grew with subtitles of "The Million Dollar Challenge" and "The Gathering," respectively, but it was in 1986 that the event became "The Night of the Skywalkers."  It was on this night that one of the most awkward match concepts in wrestling history suddenly became one of the most memorable.  Jim Cornette's Midnight Express battled Paul Ellering's Road Warriors in the notorious scaffold match.  The only way to win?  Toss your opponents off of the scaffold.  While Hawk and Animal were successful in tossing "Beautiful" Bobby and "Loverboy" Dennis from the elevated war zone, it was a third fall that became the most memorable.  The fans rabidly wanted to see the much-hated Cornette get his just desserts that Thanksgiving.  Cornette's bodyguard Big Bubba Rogers was supposed to catch the loud-mouthed manager as he fell, but was legitimately just a few seconds too late.  Cornette blew his knee out thanks to the fall and says that he still feels the effects to this day.  Thanks to the moment being played on a commercial for the videotape that aired for weeks on end, it became one of the most seen wrestling "bumps" in history.

Due to the Survivor Series and the WWF's tactics of promotional war, Starrcade was later moved to late in December.  When Jim Crockett Promotions became WCW, the event continued and many fans point to the tenth anniversary of the event as its last great moment.  Once again Ric Flair, the man who arguably could add "Mr. Starrcade" to his list of nicknames, was on another quest for the gold.  This time, Flair would be up against the monstrous Big Van Vader.  A dramatic build insinuating that Flair was too old to defeat the behemoth from the Rocky Mountains only helped to bring the true Starrcade "feel" to the event.  Flair was victorious, in his hometown of Charlotte, NC to boot.  A few months later, Hulk Hogan would enter the company much to the chagrin of some fans who had been with the event and the NWA/WCW brand of wrestling for many years.

Although I was never able to attend Starrcade, my own "live" memories of the event were first created four years after the last one was held.  In 2004, my very first wrestling convention was the Thanksgiving weekend Mid-Atlantic Legends Fanfest in Charlotte.  The event was a tribute to Starrcade and included many of the stars that made the events what they were.  Fittingly, the first autograph that I obtained that weekend was from the original voice of the event, Bob Caudle.  Many of the Fanfests since have had Starrcade themed moments such as Flair and Race reuniting as well as Piper and Valentine posing for photos with the original dog collars, still owned by Piper today.

At press time, we're at just about the time of the year that would be the halfway point between Starrcade's two "homes," Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We're just a few weeks removed from the 30th anniversary of the event's premiere and just days away from the 13th anniversary of its end.  What would Starrcade be today?  I always held out hope that, like the Great American Bash, WWE would someday resurrect the name.  It's most likely not to be, but recent reports indicating that WCW-themed home video releases outsold most of the other WWE titles this year could be good news.  Will more DVD and Blu-Ray releases join the 2008 Starrcade collection?  Time will tell.  In the meantime, memories and memorabilia from the event like those just displayed here will continue to ensure that "The Grandaddy of Em All" is remembered for another thirty years...and beyond.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mattel Attempts To Deliver Some Stratusfaction

'Tis the season for new figures and reviews!  With a bevy of new Mattel WWE items, just in time for the holiday season, we have yet another new product highlight and review.  New characters and even some familiar faces getting the "Elite" treatment have been showing up here, with the latter being the topic of today.  It's a Hall of Famer and it's a female character.  Add those two qualifications to it being one of the most popular WWE stars of the past decade and that makes it a must-review product 'round these parts.

I'll admit, I was wrong.  I, like many other fans, didn't have much hope when Trish Stratus made her WWF debut.  Walking out on stage, it was obvious that she had a presence, but there was no way that this girl was going any further.  Her voice quivered on the mic and it was apparent that she was being utilized for all of the wrong reasons.  Thirteen years later, I sat in Madison Square Garden watching this same woman, albeit with different colored hair, take her place in the WWE Hall of Fame.  Never judge a book...

Trish always gives so much credit to Fit Finlay who has widely been noted for helping the in-ring talents of the female stars of that era.  Most fans will agree, he did an incredible job.  I've often said that Trish would be "the new Moolah" as far as her wrestling career went.  While Trish retired much earlier than the women's wrestling pioneer, her ability to create an exciting match and captivate the audience of the WWF/WWE was right on par with her predecessors.  Trish "got it," and I don't believe that we've seen the last of her yet.

It's fitting that, following her Hall of Fame induction, Mattel introduces Miss Stratus into their figure line.  Although she had many figures in the Jakks WWE collection, the Mattel female sculpts have thus far proven to have much more playability.  Trish versus Kaitlyn, Alicia Fox, or The Bella Twins?  Mattel is making it happen.  But did the company fulfill Trish's oft-proclaimed promise of "Stratusfaction Guaranteed?"

Elite Series 24 is the last before a packaging change.  Unlike some of the female (and male) Elite figures, Trish does not seem to float in the package.  She could perhaps have been placed a bit higher in the bubble, but overall she settles nicely next to her accessory.  She is the only "Flashback" figure in this series, which also includes The Miz, Ryback, Wade Barrett, Rey Mysterio (surprise, surprise...but at least it's a cool costume), and Dolph Ziggler in a celebratory pose with the World Championship (from the old days when he was mistakenly booked as something other than an undercarder).

I'm all about figures feeling like you've got your money's worth.  For a female figure Trish surprisingly has that feel.  It's no Tensai, but it isn't a light figure at all.  There's substance here, and for the price of these figures, that's what we should be getting.  Trish's attire is an outfit that we're all familiar with, and one that I recall her wearing on many occasions.  The figure has elbow pads, and although the artwork on the box doesn't picture them, I'm sure that she wore these at some point as well.

In the package, I wasn't that enamored with the facial likeness.  The more I look at it, the more I like it.  It's not perfect and isn't as good as Jakks likeness of her circa 2004, but it's undeniably Trish.  The absolutely perfect hair sculpt helps a lot.  As with the last Elite female figure that I reviewed, there seems to be sloppy paint apps on the face.  These are usually removable, but it just shouldn't be happening.  There isn't anything that a mint on card figure collector can do about something like this, so it does need to be addressed on Mattel's end.

Now we get to my favorite part, the accessory.  Trish comes fully equipped with the WWE Women's Championship belt.  This is the first time that this women's belt has been produced by Mattel.  Jakks attempt at this belt was less than pretty.  Aside from Moolah and Mae Young who had padded hips under their outfits, the belt never fit any female figures correctly.  It was made on the scale of the other belts for the male figures which was a crucial mistake.

The Mattel version is a vast improvement.  From a detailed soft strap complete with "engraved" WWE logos to full paint apps to just simply being smaller, this belt is one of the top selling points of this figure.  It will fit virtually any female figure that you can find perfectly.  Well, you may have a bit of trouble fitting it on A.J. Lee, but skeletons shouldn't be winning championships, anyway.  Since this belt is no longer in use in WWE, it's hard to imagine when this design will be released again.  If you want to own this belt for your figures, this is the place to get it.

What else can I say?  This newly-minted figure of wrestling's newest mommy is a winner.  For the price of an Elite, you feel like you're getting a quality, well-designed figure with a great accessory.  As with almost any female figure that I review, if you want her you'll have to snatch her up when you see her.  She's packed one per case, she's a popular Hall of Famer, she has a desired accessory, and the holidays are coming.  Though I'm usually a champion for the cause of pre-1990's characters being made as Elite Flashbacks, this figure does have me wondering just what kind of magic Mattel could make with Lita.  Back to the drawing board!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Holiday Gifts For The Wrestling Fan--2013 Edition

A few years ago we began a yearly tradition of dedicating one blog entry during the holiday season to the best wrestling-related gift ideas.  Intended more as a template for friends and relatives of wrestling fans than anything relevant to our regular readers, feedback and other data has made it clear that it's become popular with everyone!

As has been evident in several of our most recent entries and a few more upcoming, Mattel has been packing the shelves with new WWE product.  From Basic and Elite figures to Battle Packs and playsets, Mattel is producing a fairly impressive line of WWE toys with no end in site.  Store exclusives abound with the ring and figure sets that are always popular with kids, but it's the individual figures that appeal to fans of all ages.  The Shield, Kaitlyn, and Bruno Sammartino should be among the most popular figures this season, and the line will even undergo a cosmetic transformation with attractive new blue packaging.  As the days of the shopping season dwindle, even those endless Rey Mysterio, Alberto Del Rio, and Randy Orton figures should be snapped up by desperate shoppers.

One of Mattel's WWE product lines that may be a sleeper is a set of small statuesque figures sold at Family Dollar and Dollar General stores.  These figures first showed up earlier this year, but a second series is being sold in many of these discount stores holiday sections.  At a little over four inches tall, the figures are only articulated at the waist and neck, but provide an interesting collectible in the days where every other figure seems to be endlessly poseable.  A wide variety of WWE superstars are available priced around $5 each, but my favorite is the dancing Brodus Clay, clad in his jumpsuit and fedora.

Watching WWE programming, you haven't been able to get away from the endless ads touting the release of WWE 2K14.  The video game, available for X-Box 360 and Playstation 3, features a WrestleMania mode where you can recreate or change some of the biggest matches in the history of the event.  Reviews of the game have been mixed.  Casual fans are seemingly blinded by the inclusion of so many legends and superstars, while longtime players of the franchise have been complaining that the game is yet more of the same old same old.  One large selling point is the ad campaign featuring the Ultimate Warrior himself.  His involvement is said to have included a "welcoming" of the Warrior back into the WWE family.  How far this new relationship goes has yet to be determined.

Figures and games might be a bigger gift,  but nothing stuffs a stocking better than packs of trading cards.  This October, Topps released a new "Best of WWE" card series focusing on past champions and moments.  While it isn't my personal favorite series, hearing complaints by wrestling "fans" that have no clue what they're talking about did bring me a chuckle.  Topps cannot release cards of stars who aren't under contract or licensing deal, therefore it only makes sense that the company is going to be limited in who their "Best of" cards contain.   Nonetheless, the highlights of the set for me are cards featuring moments from the 2013 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony as well as the first ever Topps cards of Bruno Sammartino.

How about a gift that will keep you occupied during a snow day this winter?  A wrestling book should do just the trick.  A walk into Barnes & Noble's sports section will yield several new titles this year.  George Steele is freshly off of a book tour for his autobiography fittingly title "Animal," but he's not the only one to be found in the aisles.  Tales by Bob Holly, Jimmy Snuka, Lex Luger, and even referee Jimmy Korderas are available this year to satisfy the wrestling bookworm.  My book pick of the year will only be available for you online shoppers and is of course "Rags, Paper, & Pins."  It's the story of wrestling merchandising in Memphis and is penned by Jim Cornette and Mark James.

Finally, we have the most traditional gift for the wrestling fan: the ticket.  Although a fan can no longer attend a live event on Thanksgiving or Christmas, there are plenty of events held throughout the holiday season.  These days it's even possible to give tickets for events in 2014 such as the Royal Rumble or WrestleMania with how early they go on sale.  Couple that with an event program and foam finger and you have quite the impressive stocking stuffer!

No matter what the wrestling fan in your life celebrates, there's a gift listed here for it.  Most importantly, keep in mind that despite gifts big or small, it's actually the time spent with each other that is most precious of all, especially at this time of year.  That being said, since most of you cannot spend time with yours truly, birthday and Christmas gifts are ALWAYS accepted!  Happy shopping!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Shield Invades The Figure World

 They don't sing.  They don't dance.  They don't wear colorful costumes.  They are The Shield.  Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns took WWE by storm around one year ago.  This holiday season, figures of this treacherous trio will invade collections around the world.  Their arrival marks the first time that any of the three have been available in figure form, so do their plastic counterparts live up to the hype?

All three make their arrival in the last of the white packaging that debuted a few years ago.  A blue and gold design will take over the line beginning with the next group of figures.  Ambrose is packaged as a single while Rollins and Reigns are sold as a Battle Pack.  Both figures are in series that also contain debuting female figures (Tamina Snuka and a Naomi & Cameron Battle Pack), so it's already evident that collectors will be on the hunt.

They aren't colorful or flashy in the ring, thus neither are these figures.  Each have their respective style of flak jacket/vest and gloves (or lack thereof).  There is no reuse of the vests, which are not part of the torsos but rather separate rubber pieces, and that is a definite plus towards Mattel.  Years ago, one vest torso piece would've been created for all three figures.  That is not the case here.  As he should be, Reigns is the tallest of the three.

The facial scans are absolutely dead-on.  For those who are fans of the unique expressions of Ambrose, you will not be disappointed.  Reigns is easily distinguishable as the latest Anoai family member to hit WWE, being the son of Sika and brother of Rosey.  Rollins may be the best of them all and continues to remind me of a modern-day Al Perez as far as looks.  In an age where even scanning the stars themselves does not necessarily guarantee a perfect likeness, The Shield hits all of the marks.

Hot new characters coupled with the holiday shopping season can usually only equal one thing: headaches for collectors.  While this may be so for the female characters being introduced, most will rest easy with The Shield.  Unless you absolutely want the "rookie" figures of the group, there is a number of each character planned to be released in the coming months.  Ambrose and Rollins will see a Battle Pack of their own while each member will be released in Elite form as well.  K-Mart is also seeing an exclusive three-pack of the group.  Although the Elite style are sometimes a step up, I think that Basic figures are exactly what's needed for The Shield.  They just look solid and in many ways remind me of wrestling figures of the past.

There's been a lot of Mattel product seen here on the blog lately and we haven't seen the end.  As hot and cold as I've been on some of the product and distribution over the years, the company shows why it's been in business as long as it has.  WWE products are in toy, department, discount, and drug stores and even show up in places that you previously may not have guessed.  If WWE is anything but ecstatic over their relationship with this manufacturer, they have some soul-searching to do.  Mattel is bringing it in a major way with no end in sight.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

From The Musty Yellowed Pages--Survivor Series 1991 Program

Next year at WrestleMania XXX it is very possible that The Undertaker will extend his undefeated streak at the event to 22-0.  Although I think it could still effectively be ended, the company seems intent on keeping the record going as far as they can.  While The Undertaker has to wait until 2014 for that accomplishment, another "22" appears for him this very month.  It was twenty-two years ago, on November 27, 1991, that The Undertaker captured his first WWF Championship.  The event was a very controversial fifth installment of the Survivor Series that up until then had only featured eight and ten-man tag team elimination matches.  The Undertaker was the first ever to challenge for any championship at that particular pay-per-view, and here he was up against "The Immortal" Hulk Hogan.

The program for the 1991 Survivor Series follows a trend that didn't last very long: using pages from the basic WWF event programs of the time to "beef up" the content inside.  There's nothing wrong with it, but it is different from other years.  Even the 1991 merchandise catalog is present.  Gone are the days of young Shane and Stephanie McMahon modeling the merchandise, and beginning to be included are items that were already available outside of the WWF directly such as Tonka's Wrestling Buddies.

As was the norm, each match got its own individual photos and write-up.  As noted above, this Survivor Series featured the first time that a championship was on the line at the event.  I did not watch the event live, but can still remember my shock to hear that The Undertaker was the WWF Champion.  Keep in mind, no one at the time would have ever expected The Undertaker to go as far as he did in the industry.  Even though the finish was "screwy" and a set up for the WWF's experimental "Tuesday In Texas" pay-per-view the following week, The Undertaker as champion just didn't click with me.

As with most of the early Survivor Series events, substitutions were made for certain team members as the weeks went on.  In 1991, there were storyline excuses for some of the changes.  The first six-man tag team elimination match took place this year, although it is not reflected in the program.  Sid Justice, who was legitimately injured, and Jake Roberts, who had attacked Randy Savage with his cobra, were pulled from their respective teams with no replacements made.  The latter angle enabled Savage to be "reinstated" following his retirement at WrestleMania VII in order to avenge his wife Elizabeth from the terrorizing antics of Roberts.  It always struck me a bit odd that Roberts was going to have Earthquake, who had "squashed" Damien just a few months earlier, on his team, but I guess "baddies" stick together...

The opening match of the night featured an amazing bevy of talent in one ring pitting Ric Flair, Ted DiBiase, The Mountie, and The Warlord against Roddy Piper, Bret Hart, Davey Boy Smith, and...well...Virgil.  Seven out of eight isn't bad at all!  Despite the talent, the ending of the match kicked off what would be a night of odd endings and happenings.  Everyone remaining is disqualified or counted out or...whatever...for brawling and therefore Flair, the legal man in the ring who remained in the ring during the melee, is the sole survivor.

Another match full of replacements was the mid and undercarder battle that was set to include The Dragon, Texas Tornado, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, and Jim Neidhart against The Berzerker, Skinner, Big Bully Busick, and Colonel Mustafa.  Ricky Steamboat, in his brief 1991 run that produced more merchandise than memorable matches, left before the event and was replaced by the newly minted "El Matador," Tito Santana.  Neidhart was injured in an angle and replaced by Sgt. Slaughter, while Busick, who had also departed the company, was replaced by Hercules.

In yet another match that was ultimately forgettable, The Rockers and The Bushwhackers teamed to battle The Nasty Boys and The Beverly Brothers.  Gone were the days of the impressive twenty-man tags featuring all of the tag teams that the WWF could scrounge up.  Instead, we're left with a match that really only served to further the break-up of The Rockers. Including the then-WWF Tag Team Champions The Legion of Doom in this match would've probably been made it a bit more interesting.

The program ends with the "Keep An Eye On" feature that concluded the regular WWF programs of the time.  Savage is the only name featured that did much of note in the months following the publication.  And of course, no program of the era would be complete without an ad and order information for the Survivor Series 1991 Coliseum Video.

Though I'm usually partial to anything from this era or before, the fifth annual Survivor Series has never been one of my favorites.  Nearly everything is geared towards urging the viewer to purchase "Tuesday In Texas" the following Tuesday, and the content that isn't is ignored for more shameless promotion.  It was an experiment on many levels, and one that the consumer public didn't care for.  The following year, the event would take yet another turn and leave but one "traditional" Survivor Series match on the card.  The use of those matches has varied in years since, but with the deep WWE roster of today, there's certainly plenty of room to make a full elimination match card once again.  If you ask's best for business.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

WrestleMania XXIX: The Figures

 If you're a fan of Mattel's WWE product or even just slightly interested, the next two months here on the blog will be a real treat for you.  A surge of items are already hitting shelves, many of which just happen to find their release during the holiday shopping season.  The figures here today are, for the most part, being released in conjunction with the hysteria.  Although Mattel releases exclusive WWE items for several retailers, Toys "R" Us often has the most interesting of the bunch.

Though I never intended to get them all, I've become quite a fan of Mattel's Build-A-Figure collections.  Always exclusive to Toys "R" Us, so far we have seen Michael Cole, Ricardo Rodriguez, John Laurinaitis, and Teddy Long released in this manner.  The concept is simple: a set of four figures is released each containing portions of a fifth figure.  When all four figures are opened, you are able to build the fifth.  The fifth figures have, so far, been stars who were non-wrestling personalities in the company.  These are usually characters that Mattel feels will not sell well on their own, although a Rodriguez single release figure is forthcoming.

This holiday season we are treated to two Build-A-Figure sets released simultaneously.  Both sets are completely made up of superstars in the attires that they wore at WrestleMania XXIX.  Booker T, dressed as either GM or Hall of Famer (take your pick) is included in a series of Basic figures while Paul Heyman is in an Elite collection.  The Elite figures are, as usual, at a higher price point and include more accessories.  Seeing as that these figures do include the Build-A-Figure pieces, they are priced higher than their normal Basic and Elite counterparts.  Thankfully, many Toys "R" Us stores received these figures as a "Buy 1 Get 1 40% Off" sale was occurring.  That, coupled with my well-documented love of WrestleMania XXIX, I couldn't find a reason to pass the sets up.

It should be said that many collectors are sometimes less than happy with the figures chosen to be in these sets.  Obviously a new character isn't going to be debuted among the four figures needed to build the fifth (Fandango would've been ideal here), as the selling point is already in the Build-A-Figure.  Personally, I refrain from buying any figure repaints (and sometimes even figures that Jakks produced en masse) so that when these sets are released I'm not totally disappointed in the lineups.

Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, The Rock, and The Undertaker are in the Basic set that builds Booker T.  I've always been a fan of figures wearing their countries colors, so this is actually a welcome Del Rio repaint.  There also have not been too many releases of The Undertaker with his mohawk.  His WrestleMania attire complete with "RIP PB" (Paul Bearer) design is a nice touch.  These figures do not include accessories other than the pieces of Booker.

Can you dig it?  Booker T is impressive.  He's accurately a taller figure and seems to have the same legs as the Laurinaitis figure.  Booker's glasses seem a bit "cloudy" in the lenses but are removable.  They fit nice and snug into his hair.  Perhaps the only thing missing is a hand in his trademark "Five Time" pose, but nonetheless this figure is ready to perform a Spinaroonie...perhaps next to the Hall of Fame podium that is included with the upcoming Bruno Sammartino figure.

The Paul Heyman set gets a few extra points because of the Elite accessories included.  Although it was previously included with an Elite figure of The Rock, this set features the new WWE Championship Belt with John Cena.  It's a very nice accessory and perfectly compliments the metallic-painted WWE Tag Team Championship Belts that are included with Daniel Bryan.  It's interesting that the "Heyman guys" of the set are both the best and the worst.  Punk is rather bland but does include a perfect replica of the urn.  Lesnar is the sleeper of all of these.  I'm not the biggest Lesnar fan and was originally disappointed that I would have to purchase another (a Basic Lesnar was in the Teddy Long Build-A-Figure set), but upon closer examination it became my favorite among these sets.  The amazingly detailed and lifelike figure includes Lesnar's skull cap and the steel ring steps that became almost the third star of his match against Triple H at WrestleMania.  These steps fit onto the various rings that Mattel has released and even have the side "handles" used by the stars in brawls.

Heyman scores a few less points with me than Booker, but not too much.  It's a great figure of the "Walrus" complete with "mad scientist" scowl and ever-receding hairline.  A microphone would've been a fun accessory considering that the figures hand could hold one and it's the item that allows him to be one of the main reasons to watch Monday Night Raw.  In the spirit of WrestleMania, the urn can be positioned in Heyman's arms.  It should be noted that, like Rodriguez, Heyman will also be released outside of the Build-A-Figure series in the future.

There's also what could be described as an "unofficial official" bonus figure to this set.  Many who purchased these series were treated to the Toys "R" Us holiday exclusive Elite Triple H figure for free.  Though it can be purchased separately, this figure is free to consumers who spent over $30 on Mattel WWE items.  Seeing as that the figure is also based upon WrestleMania XXIX, it fits right in with the ten other figures shown here.  It is one of the very first figures of Helmsley to feature his new shorter hair style, and includes a cloth t-shirt and the same sturdy sledgehammer that was packaged with last year's exclusive of The Undertaker.  Jakks was never able to produce a proper looking sledge hammer thanks to the company using very bendable plastic on the accessory.  Mattel gets it right, and it looks perfect when placed into the hands of "The Game."

The Build-A-Figure collection continues to grow.  Although I'm not particularly happy that Rodriguez and Heyman will now be placed into regular lines, I doubt that we'll ever see Cole, Long, and Laurinaitis redone.  Recent announcements from Mattel suggest that we will be seeing Build-A-Figures of both Paul Bearer and Jim Ross.  Both will be welcome additions to the lineup.  My beloved WrestleMania XXIX will also live on in 2014, as my most long-awaited figure of the year, Zeb Colter, will be released under that banner in an upcoming WrestleMania Heritage series.  Welcome to a "Very Mattel Holiday Season!"