Thursday, January 31, 2013

Signature Moves: Wrestling Autograph Evolutions

Collecting autographs is as polarizing as a hobby can get.  Is it real?  How do I know it's real?  Where did you get it?  Throw wrestling into the mix and a collector should be prepared to tear his or her hair out.  I'd never speak ill of wrestling fans and collectors considering that I've been one myself for the better part of three decades.  It's the, shall we say, "eccentricity" of the collectors that can sometimes make you wonder why any wrestler would agree to sign an autograph after being in the business for a certain amount of time.

Most collectors are respectful and are simply looking to build their collections.  The real problems seem to be the same across the board of autograph genre: authenticity and the means of obtaining the autographs.  If you're like me you don't have much of a problem with either.  Aside from a few favorites that I did not have the opportunity to meet, 95% percent of my collection was obtained directly by me.  Buying something pre-signed, although necessary in some instances, just doesn't have the same feeling of getting the signature yourself on an item that you have specifically chose.

With as many autographs as I own and the thousands more that I've seen signed in person, I've developed a good eye for authenticity.  There are also highly respected companies that will authenticate your autographs for a fee.  Are they 100% right all of the time?  They are not, nor am I, nor is anyone else.  Although 99% are obviously authentic, there's only one absolutely foolproof way of authenticating an autograph: obtaining it yourself.  The human eye and instincts can be duped.  There are documented cases of autograph collectors having successfully fooled the grading houses.

That being said, there are often factors of autographs that go unobserved by collectors.  Sit down.  Grab a sheet of paper and a Sharpie.  Sign your name 100 times.  Is every signature the same?  Of course not.  What if, around the 60th signature, we tell you that you have thirty seconds to finish?  You may begin to rush and abbreviate.  Perhaps you're simply a "Living Legend" and your signature stays the same over fifty years or you're a "Common Man" with a variety of autograph styles.  Regardless, these are the things that we'll be taking a look at in this entry.

As noted above, autographs can change for a variety of reasons and in a variety of time spans.  WWE sponsored "appearances" are notorious for rushing fans along.  The educated collector will arrive hours before the scheduled start time and usually leave with at least one thing to show for it, but often not much more.  The casual fan will see a scheduled two or three hour appearance window listed and is often turned away at the door.  Because of the high volume of fans that show up at these sessions, handlers often rush the talent as much as they rush the fans.  These Rey Mysterio autographs shown were obtained just six years apart, but differ because of the aforementioned reason.  "Rey 619" vs "Rey Mysterio 619."  Both authentic and attractive but also both very different.

Some TNA talent have adapted their signature because of TNA's high level of fan friendliness.  Nearly every TNA show includes some sort of organized autograph session.  Although she is no longer with the company, Angelina Love is one of the biggest examples of this.  A few years ago, Love went from signing her full name to a simple "A. Love."  Her new signature even appears in the newer autograph examples in TNA trading card sets, but my best guess is that she originally shortened it for ease at signings.

Some stars seem to be able change their autograph at will, depending on mood, the item they're signing, or other factors.  My all-time favorite, "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes, is a great example of this.  A variety of legitimate Dusty signatures are out there from the quickly scribbled (sometimes crammed together as one word!) "Dusty Rhodes" to "The American Dream Dusty Rhodes."  I have even seen the former NWA Champion sign an item that already has a facsimile signature on it and copy that exact "classic" Rhodes signature.  My observations were, of course, in public.  If you will.

Other times it's one little thing that changes in a signature while the rest stays the same.  Anything from a change in wrestling gimmick to the stars personal life can be a factor.  "The Heartbreak Kid" himself has made a small change over the past twenty years since he broke out as a singles star.  While in the early '90s Shawn Michaels included a heart with his very recognizable signature, these days he has changed it to his abbreviated nickname of "HBK."  Hands off the merchandise!

And how about a signature that hasn't changed over the better part of fifty years?  That would be none other than "The Living Legend" Bruno Sammartino.  A coveted signature for any fan, those of us lucky enough to live in Pittsburgh know that Bruno is one of the most generous signers to ever come from the world of professional wrestling.  Evidently it's been that way for a long time, as many photos of Bruno signing autographs survive, as do the classic signatures themselves.  The amazing part?  It's still exactly the same.  Mr. Sammartino has always presented himself as a creature of habit and his signature greatly reflects that.

The moral to the story?  Just because an autograph fails to match another one that you own or have seen means absolutely nothing.  Depending on the situation, star, or various other factors, it could still be (and probably is) 100% authentic.  As always, happy collecting and for a look at hundreds of authentic wrestling autographs, don't forget to "Like" our Facebook Fanpage!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

It's Time To RRRRRRRumble!

Ask any longtime WWF/WWE fan what their favorite pay-per-view event of the year is.  Chances are is that it's the Royal Rumble.  Although WrestleMania, SummerSlam, and Survivor Series are still around, all three no longer resemble what they originated as.  WrestleMania and SummerSlam put a higher emphasis on entertainment than actual in-ring action while the Survivor Series usually only has one or two "traditional" elimination tag team matches.  The four or five-man tag matches that do make it to the show usually have little importance as far as storylines or star power.  The Rumble still thrives where the others fall short.

Always said to be the brainchild of Pat Patterson, the Royal Rumble is based upon the huge annual January battle royals held in San Francisco's Cow Palace from the early 1970's to the 1980's.  Stars from around the country would be booked for these battle royals, including the "King of Battle Royal" himself, Andre the Giant.  Patterson himself was a huge star in the territory, so it's no wonder that the Royal Rumble concept is on his long list of concepts and accomplishments in the wrestling world.

With thirty men entering the ring at random intervals and the excitement of "who's behind the curtain?" building with each entry, it's no wonder that the concept has captivated so many fans.  Reports suggest that the idea flopped in the tryout stages on a house show basis.  Once the 1988 Rumble burst upon the USA Network, those opinions quickly changed.

It's a relatively simple concept, which most good ideas in the wrestling world are.  From the most rabid member of the "WWE Universe" to the sometimes cynical and jaded fans of times past (I resemble that remark), the Royal Rumble is the one match that everyone can agree is an hour or so full of fun.  Even more fun can be had by looking at some of the great memorabilia that has come from the event.  Everyone wants to "book" their own Royal Rumble and know just who's entering the fray next.  Over the years several games and toys have enabled us to do just that.

In the past, the Royal Rumble name has been emblazoned on a number of video games, both home console and arcade.  In modern times the match itself has become a stalwart feature on the many video games produced under the WWE banner.  These latter examples have enabled Rumble fun-seekers to produce a more genuine version with as many, or sometimes more, stars as the real events have.  A pinball machine was even produced in the 1990's entitled Royal Rumble and featuring Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, and other stars of the era.

Perhaps no collectible based on the annual event is better remembered than the Hasbro Royal Rumble ring toy.  The toy was the centerpiece of a line of Hasbro mini figures released as a counterpart to their larger regular action figure line.  The figures were solid plastic but could be attached to round top-like pieces.  This enabled the figures to "Rumble" when pounded with plastic plungers situated under the ring.  Due to reasons often speculated but never ultimately confirmed, the ring itself with the six "main eventer" mini figures had a very short shelf-life.  Arriving to stores very early in the 1992 Christmas buying season, the ring came and went leaving the extra figure four packs unsold for years.

Full-sized action figures have felt the Rumble as well.  Mattel has released several Royal Rumble Heritage sets featuring stars in the outfits that they wore at the event.  The second Sheamus figure, released while it was a very hot item, was in one of these series.  It was actually a decade ago when Jakks produced my favorite Rumble figures.  The six figure series was based upon the 2002 Royal Rumble and sold very well at the time.  The best of the set was one of the few figures ever made of Earl Hebner.  A great item to take along for signings at TNA events, the photo on the packaging is actually that of Earl's twin brother Dave, despite the figure being marketed as Earl.

Many of the early Rumble's had programs specific to the event.  These programs, as well as issues of the regular WWF Magazine from the time, often offer an interesting glimpse into what may have been.  Due to publication deadlines and the ever-changing world of professional wrestling, some of these publications list superstars slated to have been in specific Rumble's that never actually showed up in the match.  The most famous example of this is the 1991 Royal Rumble where Andre the Giant, The Honky Tonk Man, and Playboy Buddy Rose were originally booked for the big match.

Perhaps the oddest example of Royal Rumble merchandise is one that most fans have never even seen.  Posted to our Facebook Fanpage last year, the 1990 Royal Rumble hot chocolate packet is indeed strange even for the WWF marketing machine.  Offbeat items were often made to promote the event and distributed to cable companies and other similar establishments.  Seeing as that a 1990 Royal Rumble mug also exists, it's my own theory that since the Rumble is held in the winter, the WWF saw a perfect tie-in.  Have a mug of Rumble cocoa while enjoying the pay-per-view extravaganza.  Thankfully, the original owner of this strange collectible must have not been a hot chocolate fan (like myself), thus it still exists unused some twenty-three years later.

Giants, pinball, mini figures, and hot cocoa.  What's not to like?  The Royal Rumble has brought all of that and more to wrestling fans for a quarter of a century.  Will your favorite win this year?  If your favorite isn't John Cena, I'm thinking you're out of luck.  One never knows, though, it is the Royal Rumble...where it's every man for himself!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Wrestling Treasures On DVD & Blu-Ray...Just Not Enough!

DVD and Blu-Ray were two of the best gifts ever to come to wrestling fans.  Instant access to matches in the best possible quality.  Full length documentaries about your favorite stars.  Collections of matches from many of the all-time greats.  The question is, have these releases lived up to expectation?  After all, the kingpin of these releases owns virtually every piece of classic wrestling footage known to be available.

Most fans have been very pleased with the offerings of the past ten years.  Well-produced profiles on many of the industry's greats have earned loads of praise from even the most jaded of fans.  Although the occasional cry of "revisionist history" is heard regarding these releases, the productions have done well for the most part.  Much of the discussion has surrounded the choices of matches released in these new formats.

Thanks to these releases, the days of watching some of the best remembered matches in history on multi-generation VHS copies is long over.  To see these matches in the best quality possible is a real treat, one especially deserving of the only sport that thrives upon repeat viewing.  The problem begins for the fans who want a bit more than the famous main events and stars of the past.  This fanbase wants full releases of television episodes from any of the various promotions that WWE owns the film library of.  They also want previously unreleased footage and full unedited events from any era in the history of the game.

The truth is that WWE is a business and only wants to release what will sell.  The fanbase that wants these rarer matches isn't as big as the market that will eat up release after release of John Cena, CM Punk, and The Rock.  A certain price point must also be considered.  If the company were to release "season" sets of various wrestling programs of the past, retail prices would be astronomical and simply not be profitable to WWE.

To WWE's credit, more and more of the "rarer" matches are beginning to see the light.  The upcoming "Bret Hart: The Dungeon Collection" set will include a plethora of lesser known bouts from The Hitman's career including matches from Stampede Wrestling.  And although the matches themselves are hardly rare, WWE will once again dive into a fan favorite topic from the past, the legendary War Games.  Slated to be hosted by Dusty Rhodes, the War Games set has been long demanded by fans.  Seeing as that the War Games matches have been conspicuously omitted from past sets where they would've fit in, the announcement of this release comes as a small, but otherwise welcome, surprise.

War Games and some rarer Hart stuff?  Great.  But there are ways that WWE can make some money and appease the fans who want some really rare stuff all at the same time.  In the past several years Warner Bros. has taken a look at their properties and began The Warner Archive Collection.  These releases are movies and television properties that are actually produced upon purchase.  While they're just as nice and attractive as a release purchased in a brick-and-mortar store, these are properties that Warner feels would not produce numbers big enough to warrant a full blown release.  Warner makes a profit.  Fans get the films that they want.  Everybody wins.  With the known record of the WWE marketing machine, I'm shocked that they haven't at least tried out this route.  Video on-demand does not count.

Personally, I would love to see things that have never been released anywhere.  Period.  Absolutely never before seen aside from the people who were there.  My number one release in this category?  A simple title.  One that Craig DeGeorge introduced to the WWF fans of the 1980's on a Coliseum Video:

"The Dark Match." 

If you're reading this blog, you should know what a dark match is.  If you don't, it's very simple.  A dark match is a match held before a show that is going to be taped and/or televised.  In some cases they're used to try out new talent and gimmicks.  Otherwise they can be used to test the television equipment or simply warm up the crowd.  Other times dark match "main events" are used to give the live audience a big match before ending the night.  To me, dark matches have always been one of the most appealing parts of attending a live taping.

Keeping with WWE's tremendous archiving habits going years back, it's safe to assume that many dark matches still exist.  I would begin with the "missing" dark matches of WrestleMania.  Aside from a few photos, nothing has been seen of 'Mania dark matches featuring Paul Roma vs The Brooklyn Brawler (VI), Koko B. Ware vs The Brooklyn Brawler (VII), The Bushwhackers vs The Beverly Brothers (VIII), El Matador vs Papa Shango (IX), and The Heavenly Bodies vs The Bushwhackers (X).  Mat classics?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Regardless of that, any true fan of the classic era of WrestleMania should be chomping at the bit to see these matches.  Dark matches from other pay-per-views of the era would also be welcome, as would the three SummerSlam '92 matches that were only seen in America on Prime Time Wrestling.

No room for a release like that?  No problem.  It's time for another WrestleMania Anthology.  Now that "WWF" is allowed to be uttered in classic footage according to the never-ending "F" controversy, it's time for a re-release.  The DVD WrestleMania releases also omitted many themes that WWE seemed to think that they didn't have the rights to at the time but now have no issue releasing.  Why not throw these dark matches on as extras?

WWE Home Video is doing a great job and is one facet of the company that truly seems to try and appeal to every type of fan.  They wouldn't have won The 2011 J\/\/ Award for Best Product Line if they weren't!  All that I'm asking for is...let us see the...dark!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Hockey Is Here...WWF Style!

 As all fans know by now, NHL hockey is back!  The lockout which caused fans to miss a half season worth of action, not to mention the always entertaining Winter Classic, is finally over.  Had it not, the superstars of the 1991 WWF could have easily come to your rescue, sticks in hand, ready for the rink!  And how does the former toy company Remco fit into all of this?

Remco is best known among wrestling fans for their mid-1980's line of AWA action figures.  Famous for a wide variety of characters and their primitive yet charming design, the AWA line is highly collectible to this day.  Although Curt Hennig and Rick Martel were both among the wrestlers featured in the line, both wrestlers as well as ten others would be produced by Remco in 1991.  This time for the WWF.

Before the Monday Night Wars/Attitude Era, there were two "boom" periods of WWF merchandise where the company and its characters were seemingly everywhere.  Those times were between 1985 and 1987 and 1990 and 1992.  Both periods were highlighted with popular action figure lines (LJN and Hasbro respectively) and everything from lunch boxes to pencils to bedsheets were produced.  One could argue that the first boom of merchandise is remembered in a better light due to the association with the Rock 'n Wrestling era, but many fans still fondly recall the second largely featuring the neon styles of the Ultimate Warrior and company.  It is the latter era that brought us Remco's WWF Superstars Shoot-Out tabletop hockey game.

Although there were other tabletop hockey games on the market at the time (including a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles version also manufactured by Remco and using very similar box art), there was no better toy for a fan of both the WWF and the NHL.  The game was mainly available in 1991 and 1992 with the design planned sometime in late 1990, based upon the characters and gimmicks.

One team consists of Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Big Boss Man, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, and Tugboat while their opponents are Sgt. Slaughter, "Macho King" Randy Savage, Ted DiBiase, Mr. Perfect, The Model, and Earthquake.  The figures of each are highly detailed and roughly two and a half inches tall.  Their sticks are individualized based upon each wrestler's gimmick.  Some of the sticks, such as Duggan's 2x4, Macho King's scepter, and Hogan's barbell would be the envy of any real hockey player while others such as Warrior's neon tassles, Tugboat's tow rope, and Damien are "stiffened" out to provide an adequate tool.

The 36" by 17" rink really makes it one of the biggest wrestling toys of the time.  The control mechanism is the same as most tabletop hockey games and all of the materials used to make the rink itself seem to have stood the test of time.  The same cannot be said for the many stickers included with the game.  The most often missing are stickers that were applied to the sticks of DiBiase, Perfect, and Earthquake.  The two pucks included also had stickers, those being of the WWF winged eagle championship design.

The game also has the distinction of including the only figure of Tugboat.  While Fred Ottman has appeared in figure form as both Typhoon and Shockmaster, this goalie figure of Tugboat is still the only ever released of the gimmick.  The Tugster was scheduled for release in the Hasbro figure line but was switched to Typhoon following television storylines.  Thankfully for us, Remco kept the original design.

I can recall the puck occasionally getting stuck under a stick and holding up play, but ultimately this toy was a blast.  I can only imagine how popular an item like this would be with today's stars, but I doubt that it would have the quality craftsmanship that went into this between the sturdy construction and character detail.

Examples do show up for sale, but a complete set would be fairly hard to build.  The aforementioned DiBiase, Perfect, and Earthquake stickers are often missing and I can recall the rink stickers occasionally being scuffed up by a particularly rough pass.

A classic era, a bevy of all-time greats, and one of the most entertaining toy concepts of the last century all bundled into one great piece of wrestling memorabilia.  Sounds like the ultimate wrestling hat trick to me!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Road To WrestleMania XXIX Begins...Here!

The Royal Rumble?  That's a few weeks away!  With all of the 'Mania match and Hall of Fame speculation, advanced ticket sales, and general scuttlebutt (especially here in the northeast), The Road to WrestleMania begins here and now! 

Although WrestleMania has had a large share of celebrities, glitz, and glamour since its inception in 1985, the prime importance should always be the matches.  It is said that many of those matches are still decided upon well in advance of the event.  Such planning goes a long way in building the anticipation and the stories themselves.  This year, WWE has several intriguing superstars and situations to position for "the grandaddy of 'em all."

Off the top, the one that interests me the least is the inclusion of The Rock.  Although I was an "early adopter" of Rocky fandom dating back to his Nation of Domination days, placing him at the center of attention isn't where I would go.  Needless to say, I'm likely in the minority on this one.  Many are looking forward to seeing just where Dwayne Johnson takes The Rock from upcoming episodes of Raw, to the Rumble, and further into the big event.  Will CM Punk's long standing WWE Championship reign come to an end thanks to the part-time wrestler, full-time actor?  Will John Cena get his win back?  Or how about that other guy?  The one that has about one match a year?  The Undertaker.  How would "The Streak" fare against "The Great One?"

If we have to witness another 'Mania with The Rock, my choice would be a one-night-only return from a retired superstar in a match that, due to personal politics, never occurred.  It is said that Shawn Michaels and The Rock have cleared up their differences, making it the perfect time, and the perfect event, to have a never-before-seen blockbuster.

My gut feeling is that a non-wrestler will actually have the biggest impact in the coming months.  Not only is the site of Mania, the NYC/NJ area, his home, but he is involved with several major players.  The man?  Paul Heyman.  Between his current involvement with Punk, unanswered questions regarding Brock Lesnar, and any number of possibilities with The Shield, it's anyone's guess as to who will be in a "dangerous" alliance with Heyman come WrestleMania.

Speculation is not only key regarding "Super Sunday," but the night before as well.  It's once again time for the often-controversial WWE Hall of Fame induction announcements.  Being held this year at the most famous arena in the world, Madison Square Garden, "who's in?" is being discussed and debated on a seemingly hourly basis among fans.  I've never bought into the "controversy" regarding the Hall of Fame.  It is an entertaining night to honor talent from the past and give many of them one last time to shine. 

It would be the fitting that the man many feel that the Hall of Fame is incomplete without, Bruno Sammartino, be inducted at MSG.  Sammartino has wanted nothing to do with the company for two decades for various reasons.  It has been said that Triple H has been in touch with Sammartino regarding an induction, although my feeling is that The Living Legend should be inducted regardless of his involvement.  Being the fan that I am of Mr. Sammartino, he just simply needs to be in.

A heavily rumored name that is very much in the realm of possibility is Mick Foley.  The man who brought Cactus Jack, Dude Love, and Mankind to the wrestling world is deserving and also has his own ties to MSG and the NYC area, himself being a native.  Being back in the WWE's good graces doesn't hurt the cause, either.

Some choices that I would like to see?  Bob Backlund is said to have previously declined feeling that his career is not yet over.  The Fabulous Freebirds should have been in long before Michael Hayes was the sole original Freebird left to accept.  Demolition was rumored last year and it would be refreshing to see Mr. Eadie and Mr. Darsow appear under the WWE banner.  Leilani Kai would be a welcome addition not only being a former holder of both the singles and tag team women's titles but also an alumni of WrestleMania I and X held at MSG.

And yes...we cannot forget the controversial "Celebrity Wing."  Last year, a celebrity who had perhaps the biggest impact on the growth of the WWF/WWE made her first appearance in a wrestling ring in over twenty-five years.  That lady is Cyndi Lauper.  Her contributions to the company have been long overlooked.  Being a hometown girl in the arena she appeared with WWF the most in, it's a no-brainer.

I often look down upon the current scene both privately and publicly, but I'd be a liar if I said that I wasn't excited for the next few months.  I have a feeling that many memories will be made surrounding WrestleMania, and I don't see how next year's 30th year of the event will be able to top the excitement of XXIX.  I think we all need to show the world that the northeast is the home of WrestleMania.  Can we do it...?