Thursday, April 25, 2013

Mattel's "First Time In The Line" For "The First Lady Of Wrestling"

Ryback!  The Prime Time Players!  Miss Elizabeth!  What do the second coming of Goldberg, an entertaining young tag team, and "The First Lady of Wrestling" have in common?  They're all the newest "First Time In The Line" figures in Mattel's WWE action figure series.  They're also all fairly hard to come by thus far, as is usually the case when Mattel labels a figure as a "FTITL" entry.

As if "hot" or "popular" characters needed any help flying off of the shelves, Mattel has a way of insuring that no one misses these figures by plastering the "First Time In The Line" burst right on the packaging.  I've voiced my displeasure with this and other Mattel practices before, so there's no need to rehash that.  This time we're here to take a look at some nice new figures of some very desirable characters.

If there's a single "hot" WWE figure at retail right now, it's undeniably Ryback.  While not the first figure of the man himself, this is the first figure of the Ryback character.  Labeled as Superstar #22 of the "basic" figures on the new smaller, more compact card backs, Ryback is slated to have three figures out in a short time.  These will include an "Elite" figure as well as another basic as part of a "Battle Pack" with Jinder Mahal.  Nothing like a pre-packaged squash match!

This basic Ryback is a good representation of the Goldberg-esque star.  Kids want it, collectors want it, and with a star-studded feud against John Cena just beginning, it's a good bet that the desirability won't wane.  What I do see eventually happening is exactly what happens with most "hot" figures of main-event level stars.  With three figures already available and more undoubtedly on the way, there will be plenty of figures of Ryback to go around.  Antonio Cesaro, shown here on the blog a few weeks ago, is a better bet from this very same series.  He's a much better wrestler, too, but that's another story for another time.

Continuing with "First Timer's" is one half of a popular tag team.  Titus O'Neil is the "rookie" figure and the team is none other than The Prime Time Players.  The PTP have been released in a "Battle Pack" complete with a stop sign accessory.  As with most "Battle Pack" sets, there is one set with a "FTITL" figure or two and the other sets are common characters packaged together with an accessory.

This is the second figure of Darren Young, with the first being way back in his Nexus days complete with "tall hair."  This re-release of Young as well as the Ryback figure shown above sets a fun and interesting precedence: all of the original Nexus members still with WWE have been re-released in non-Nexus attire at least once.  This is, of course, with the exception of Michael Tarver who is no longer in the company and, unless he is re-signed, will not see any more figures.  It's interesting to see how Young, Skip Sheffield, Wade Barrett, Daniel Bryan, Heath Slater, Justin Gabriel, and David Otunga have evolved since that angle a number of summers ago.  Mattel certainly seems to have given Young a tan since his Nexus days.

Last but not least, Mattel's Elite line gets a "FTITL" that is one of the most anticipated figures in quite awhile, the lovely Elizabeth.  This new figure of "The First Lady of Wrestling" was originally announced to be one of the Legends figures that were available exclusively through Mattel's collectors website store.  Mattel then made the questionable decision to put any future "Legends" figures into their Elite line as "Flashback" figures.  Some collectors were pleased with this, while others such as myself know that we will not see any truly exciting legends in the Mattel line as long as they are released in this manner.  Endless remakes of stars who have had dozens upon dozens of figures like Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker will take up spots that should be going to legends who have never had a figure such as Magnum T.A.  However, we did get a new Miss Elizabeth, and a very nice figure at that.

For as popular as she was, Elizabeth has only seen two previous figures.  LJN released her in the 1980's,
infamously with either a gold or purple skirt, in their WWF line and ToyBiz produced a WCW/nWo version in the 1990's in a two-pack with Randy Savage.  The LJN effort is rather iconic and beloved while the ToyBiz figure, due to being rather small and barely resembling the lady, is all but forgotten.  Thankfully the Mattel version is much more along the lines of the LJN.

Elizabeth is clad in a glamorous white outfit that she wore in a well-remembered WWF photo shoot.  The outfit is probably the same as the one she wore for the main event of WrestleMania IV, although at that show she lacked the gloves and sported a different hairstyle.  Many fans will remember the WWF Spotlight magazine featuring Elizabeth with a stunning photo in this particular outfit right on the cover.

I'm unsure why, but I was a bit surprised that this figure uses mostly the same parts as other females in the Mattel WWE line.  Jakks did the exact same thing with their female figures, but I guess viewing the pre-production figure a few months ago simply made me think that Mattel had created a new sculpt for Elizabeth.  The face and head sculpt is all new and could easily be used for future Elizabeth releases should they choose to produce more.  With the trouble that Mattel likely had to go through in order to obtain the rights to the late beauty, it's not a big stretch of the imagination to think that there will be future releases of her.  I would not mind seeing a "WWF debut" version of Elizabeth from her early days in the company.  Unfortunately, many of her post-1990 outfits were rather boring and simply wouldn't translate well to an exciting action figure.

Of these "First Time In The Line" figures, my pick is, without a doubt, Miss Elizabeth.  This figure is the perfect compliment to any of Mattel's Randy Savage figures.  The company's desire to create an amazing figure shows, just as it does in many of their Savage efforts.  It's hard to fathom that both members of one of the hottest young acts of late-80's WWF are gone, and much too soon.  Thankfully us collectors have a great way to keep their memory, and the memories that they created for us, alive forever.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

WrestleMania XXIX Weekend: The Memorabilia

WrestleMania weekend is so big that it deserves two entries!  Last week I took the opportunity to tell the story of my own "WrestleMania Moment."  The experience, which I have dubbed "The MetLife Miracle," certainly made my first live WrestleMania one for the books.  I had also briefly skimmed over the memorabilia and other memory-making activities that took place in the NY/NJ area, so in this second installment we'll take a bit of a closer look in that direction.

For the past several years it seems that every independent wrestling promoter wants to "piggyback" on the success of WrestleMania.  You can't put them at fault, as nowhere during the year will you find a bigger collection of wrestling fans in one metropolitan area.  As scary as that may be to some, it can also mean big bucks.  Still, with all that New York City has to offer, I'd venture to say that those promoters had more competition than ever before.

Many autograph and photo opportunities took place under the WrestleCon banner.  Wrestlers from the past and present were booked into the convention, meeting many fans for the first time.  While regular conventions draw a few fans from other countries, WrestleMania attracts hundreds of thousands of fans from all over the world.  These fans seemed to take advantage of the opportunities presented and met dozens of stars that they have admired for years.

Of course, the fans aren't the only ones who find themselves feeling a heckuva lot younger.  In my many years of attending conventions, one of the highlights is always seeing the stars themselves reunite.  How often do you see your former co-workers?  Rarely if ever?  The same goes for professional wrestlers.  While they may spend a lot more time with their co-workers than us regular folk do, when places of employment change they often lose track of each other in the very same way that we do.  These shows allow the stars to reconnect and reflect on years gone by.  The difference between our co-workers and fellow wrestlers is that no matter the era or company where they may have work, wrestlers ALL seem to know each other.  It's a beautiful thing.

Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Bret Hart, Kurt Angle, Rob Van Dam, and Jushin Liger are just a sampling of some of the major names that met with fans during the weekend.  WWE even permitted William Regal to make a rare appearance due to the company pulling Bruno Sammartino from the event in order for "The Living Legend" to do media.  As thrilling as of the above names are to meet, my money is still on stars like Butch Reed, Heidi Lee Morgan, Barry Horowitz, and Tony "T.L. Hopper" Anthony as far as the true highlights of the show.  The above four are among names that simply do not do many appearances on the circuit and are always the ones that bring forth the true "wows" when reflecting upon the event.

As far as memorabilia from the weekend, nothing can truly top the WWE's marketing machine.  Open to all without a ticket of any kind, the WWE Superstore was a destination all weekend right in MetLife Stadium.  Entrance themes and promo videos blared as thousands of fans passed through the doors to stock up on WWE goodies.  Shirts, hats, piggy banks, programs, belts, action figures, and so much more filled the store to the brim.  Anxious fans and shoppers equally filled the WWE's tills after paying the prices asked.

That isn't to say that the store was completely devoid of bargains.  In the previous entry I showed my own personal favorite item, the WrestleMania pullback taxicab toy.  At only $10 it was a unique and inexpensive collectible that looks great as a paperweight for your WrestleMania tickets or just to recall memories of the weekend.  Much of the apparel offered at $35 and up has already starting appearing at reduced prices through WWE's online shop.  If you ever wanted that WrestleMania ballcap or beanie bear, there hasn't been a better time to stock up.

Based upon the past, one major future collectible is the official program for WrestleMania XXIX and the WWE 2013 Hall of Fame ceremony.  While it has the largest price tag ($25) of any WWE program in my memory, it is without a doubt the most massive WWE program in history.  The program is taller and thicker than any live event or pay-per-view oversized program previously produced and is stuffed full of great content.

The WrestleMania side features a profile on each match from the event
(including the cut 8-person tag team match) as well as new "capsule" profiles on each of the previous twenty-eight WrestleMania events.  Also featured is a photo of nearly each and every person currently under contract with WWE.  This includes all of the NXT stars, many making their first appearance on official WWE merchandise.  Next to each photo is a space where, in theory, you could obtain an autograph.

The Hall of Fame side features some very nice shots of the 2013 class and a look back on all previous Hall of Fame classes.  I greatly miss the smaller, unique Hall of Fame programs of the past.  I realize that those days are gone, but it could be a thought to produce a smaller program exclusively available at the ceremony itself in addition to having the Hall of Fame portion in the WrestleMania publication.  A small request that will go unanswered, yet still needed to be said.

So now that the 29th edition of WrestleMania is over, surely the marketing must be as well.  Wrong!  I'm sure that in the coming months there will be a Toys "R" Us exclusive figure series commemorating the stars, moments, and ring gear from WrestleMania XXIX complete with the NY/NJ logo right on the package.  Will I be all over them?  You bet!  Anything that reminds me of "The MetLife Miracle" and the weekend that was has a home in my collection.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

WrestleMania XXIX Weekend: The Memories

 WrestleMania.  Everyone knows what it is.  Beginning in 1985, it has become a brand name that redefined wrestling events.  New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, Toronto, Las Vegas, and Boston have all hosted it.  Hundreds of thousands of fans have attended it.  Thousands of fans that never before included yours truly.  That has finally changed, with an unexpected, personal, "WrestleMania Moment" to boot, but we'll get to that later.

For a myriad of reasons, I hemmed and hawed about attending WrestleMania XXIX despite it being the closest to my area that it has been in awhile.  When a friend took it upon himself to buy some relatively inexpensive (for WrestleMania) tickets, I just couldn't pass it up.  Had I said no, I may very well have given up on wrestling forever once Bruno Sammartino was announced for the WWE Hall of Fame.  While 'Mania would be an experience, there was no way that I could be absent for "The Living Legend" being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

With these spectacles and other "piggyback" events taking place, the NY/NJ area was packed with wrestling fans from around the globe.  TNA and independent companies like Shimmer promoted shows to capitalize on the "mania" in the area.  Even Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, and other legendary stars were brought in for meet and greets.

The merchandising surrounding WrestleMania is always a favorite topic on this blog.  For the 29th edition of the event, WWE seemed to have produced more merchandise than ever before.  From shirts to sock monkeys, pendants to pull-string bags, WWE pulled out everything but the kitchen sink.  Where did they keep it all?  At the WWE Superstore inside of MetLife Stadium, of course!

Open to all for hour after hour all weekend, the WWE Superstore was an impressive and expensive merchandising mecca for all WWE Universe members to trek to, not just the 80,000 that attended WrestleMania.  Exclusive t-shirts featuring the 2013 WWE Hall of Fame Class members?  Check.  A WWE Championship replica belt signed by The Rock priced at just over $2,000?  Check.  Overpriced Mattel figures?  Check.  The WWE Universe ate it up, especially when WWE talent would attend for appearances.  My personal pick?  The WrestleMania taxicab pullback toy.  Simple, inexpensive ($10), and just the kind of item that collectors will be marveling over years from now.

This trip not only marked my personal WrestleMania debut, but also my first time inside the famous Madison Square Garden.  I always knew that I'd get to the Garden for a special wrestling event, but never in a million years would I have thought that I would be attending Bruno Sammartino's 188th sellout in the building.  Along with Bob Backlund, Mick Foley, Booker T, Trish Stratus, and Donald Trump, Sammartino entered the Hall of Fame in front of an audience full of peers and fans alike.  The full event will be available with the WrestleMania XXIX DVD and Blu-Ray release coming May 14th and it is one that you won't want to miss.  Not only is one of the most star-studded Hall of Fame classes honored, but it is also one of the most physical and fun ceremonies in the event's history.

WrestleMania XXIX itself has already become one of the most debated and controversial editions of the show.  The more recent four hour WrestleMania's have been loaded with skits, "musical" performances, and other "entertainment" filler.  Aside from a P. Diddy performance that was perfectly placed for a restroom break, this WrestleMania was exactly what many fans look for from the event: wrestling on the grandest scale.

Fans who watched on pay-per-view have said that the crowd seemed dead or disinterested.  That really could not have been further from the case.  Astute fans will realize that the event was held in the open-air MetLife Stadium.  It has been noted many times that crowd reaction is often hampered under these conditions.  The only time I can remember a rather silent crowd would be in the first half of the match pitting Triple H against Brock Lesnar.  This had the unfortunate task of following the match which received the most audience reaction (and rightfully so) of the night, The Undertaker versus CM Punk.

For someone who isn't always enamored with the current WWE product or the current state of wrestling in general, I will say that it was an incredible experience that I will never forget.  While it was definitely not the greatest wrestling event that I have ever witnessed live, I doubt that I will ever attended a greater spectacle.  From the spectacular staging to the lighting, music, pyrotechnics and general aura, I will never forget the feeling.  Just watching the pre-show on YouTube upon my return home brought the feeling flooding back.  I can only imagine how great it will be to relive WrestleMania XXIX on Blu-Ray.

And then there's my own "WrestleMania Moment" that I had previously mentioned.  It is in fact something that I have, in fun, dubbed "The MetLife Miracle."  Despite my group having what were probably the lowest priced tickets available for the event, we knew that we would have a blast simply being there.  We figured that we might possible have terrible sight lines between the far distance and ornate staging, but that didn't bother us.  After all, it's WrestleMania.

Clutching my ticket while making the trek towards MetLife Stadium, I had a feeling that the Hall of Fame ceremony the night before was the highlight of the weekend for me.  I was at peace with that feeling.  After  being frisked, poked, and prodded by security at the gate, we made our way to the ticket takers to be scanned.  If you weren't aware, tickets haven't been "torn" in many years.  Once you're scanned and hear the "beep," you get the full ticket to keep and cherish.  Our tickets did not beep.  Instead, an "X" appeared on the scanning device.

Encountering a situation such as this before at a WWE event, I did not panic.  In that instance, a camera had been placed where two of our four seats were located.  This time, the ticket scanner told us that our tickets had to be exchanged due to obstructed sight.  We were directed to a tent where they would be exchanged for us.  This tent actually did not exist.  After waiting in a long line where the "tent" was supposed to be and being tossed around through various security checks and gates by clueless employees and "supervisors," we finally joined another long line in front of a tiny kiosk simply labeled "guest services."  After about another half hour of waiting, two employees took our tickets and seemed to mull over a seating chart while deciding where we would be placed.  The anticipation, mixed with the anger of being tossed from gate to gate by clueless workers, was about to pay off.

We were handed four tickets labeled "COMP" and "MetLife Stadium" as opposed to TicketMaster along with a small seating chart crossing out our old seats and circling a new section.  While the section was central to the stadium, we still had no idea what we were given.  Once our tickets finally scanned and we were able to walk through the "Great Gate of Kiev," I screamed and jumped for joy.  Between it being WrestleMania and our ordeal finally ending, I had to let off some steam.

Escalators and corridors to our destination were seemingly endless.  Passing hundreds of screaming, singing, excited WWE Universe members was getting old.  I just wanted to see where we were.  At last, our group stopped.  In front of us were glass doors and to the left was a staircase that apparently led to the parking lot.  Where were we to go?  That's when two suited gentlemen, with those all-important ticket scanners, opened the glass doors.

It may as well have been the gates to Heaven at that point.  We had club seating for WrestleMania?  For $96 a piece?  As we trailed behind a father and his young son who was proudly proclaiming "It's WrestleMania!", I couldn't help but note out loud that, at that moment, I felt like I was his age again.  The young fan's father nodded in agreement and said, "I think we all do!"

When we hit the glass doors to lead us from the amazing club area (with special concession areas and restrooms) into the stadium, we remembered that these new tickets said "Row 1."  Since we were not at all familiar with MetLife Stadium, we were still unsure as to exactly what this meant.  When we finally reached our four seats, it became perfectly clear...

An amazing central view of WrestleMania XXIX.  With Vince McMahon's Statue of Liberty staring us in the face, we were treated to a full view of the ring, stage, screens, and 80,000 fans.  Even the tent which held production was right below us.  We have since come to realize that for fans who were able to purchase these tickets, several hundred dollars had to be parted with.  For many surrounding us, however, it seems like that "COMP" mark may have come into play.  A woman behind us discussing her support of women's liberation during Undertaker-Punk?  A man behind and to the right of me proclaiming that he "used to watch this stuff." and that he remembered Koko B. Ware?  Members of the "Universe" these weren't, but that didn't bother us in the least.

"Obstructed view" was the original reason given for the exchange.  After scanning the stadium, the most we could figure out was that a spotlight was placed on or in front of our original section.  But why did "The MetLife Miracle" take place at all?  Why were we so lucky?  Prayers?  Karma?  A horseshoe?  None of that.  Not even close.  Thanks to events from earlier in the weekend, bird poop was our best guess.

On the Friday of WrestleMania weekend my group decided to spend the day in one of my favorite places, New York City.  During a visit to the famous Central Park, we came under attack by a group of pigeons rivaled only by the flock that dive bombed Joe Pesci thanks to Macauley Culkin.  While three of us escaped unscathed, my friend Mike was not so fortunate.  Or was he?  Luck from such a...special...event is a well-known omen.  Who ever said that carrier pigeons are extinct?  That bird may very well have carried us to an amazing WrestleMania experience.

God bless that pigeon, for he was the true WrestleMania VIP in our books.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

CM Punk--Best In The Blu-Ray Player

One thing that many WWE DVD and Blu-Ray collectors have learned is that patience is a virtue.  A money-saving virtue, at that.  While there's no shame in purchasing the newest videos on release day, it's become apparent in the past few years that if you wait, you'll be saving some money.  Whether it's on WWE's own online shop or the discount bin at Wal Mart, it seems as if many of these releases are showing up at a lower price faster than ever.  When one of the discounted items just happens to be a release that you were prepared to pay full price for, it sweetens the pot even more.  That's exactly why I finally decided to take on the "Best in the World."

For "WrestleMania Season," Wal Mart stores have devoted a section of their DVD/Blu-Ray section to WWE product.  The display is topped with newly packaged DVDs of WrestleMania's 1 thru 15.  The many issues with those re-releases have been chronicled elsewhere, but the true gems in the promotion are positioned below.  The crown jewel?  "CM Punk--Best In The World."  A two-disc Blu-Ray that was just released last year for only $13?  Who could pass it up?

It's no secret that I'm a CM Punk fan.  Thanks to a local promotion frequently booking him in his early days, I sat ringside for some of the greatest matches I've ever witnessed live including Punk vs Eddy Guerrero, Punk vs Chris Hero, and several versions of Punk vs Christopher Daniels.  You always here people say that they "knew" that men such as Shawn Michaels or Steve Austin would be huge stars one day after seeing them early in their careers.  I always felt that was a little bull and a lot of hindsight.  After being exposed to CM Punk matches for about six months, I suddenly realized that the "gut" feeling can be very real.

Friends of mine who had seen the documentary on this release informed me that it was just like reliving those early days of Punk's career.  As surreal as it was to see Punk in a WWE ring for the first time or his first action figure, it's just as amazing to see that early indy footage show up on a WWE-produced documentary.  Comments from those with him in the early years help bring those decade-old stories to life and explain a side of professional wrestling that many of the "WWE Universe" crowd are probably very unfamiliar with.

While Punk's rise through the indies is interesting, the documentaries strongest point is how candid and truthful it was permitted to be regarding the infamous "backstage politics" in WWE.  To hear many tell it, no one persevered through that struggle better than CM Punk.  Though a few of his gripes seem more egotistical than anything (especially dismay over reporting to WWE's then-developmental territory, OVW), Punk did seem to struggle extraordinarily from his WWE debut to where he is today.  For someone of his immense talent, his ascension to the top was obviously hit by roadblock after roadblock.  "Best In The World" does a great job providing both sides to that story.

Many of the best features and stories filmed exclusively for this release actually show up on the second disc as special features.  Some are informative while others are purely an entertaining look at the life of one of the company's most popular stars.  No matter if you agree or disagree, you will learn exactly how Punk feels about almost everything.  Despite disagreeing with almost 99% of Punk's ideology, I found that it's almost impossible not to respect him.  Anyone who respects The Ultimate Warrior, as you'll learn in the special features, has to have something going on up there!

Of course a plethora of matches are included as well, beginning with a match from OVW and ending in the middle of last year.  Perhaps the only gripe I have with the release is here.  At least a couple of matches from Punk's early days should be included here.  Clips are shown through the documentary, and I'm sure many fans who've never seen them would be thrilled.

$13?  You can't go wrong.  For $13 it's worth it for the 2011 Money In The Bank Punk-Cena main event in high definition alone.  Heck, at full price you really couldn't go wrong here.  This is the best WWE release in a long, long time.  The brutal honestly that WWE allowed in the documentary cements that.

Is Punk's biggest moment yet to come?  Is he taking "The Streak" this Sunday?  If you're not already partcipating in our social media expansions to the blog, what are you waiting for?  Although we have a nice view of our Twitter feed on the side of this page, why not follow us @JWsWrestlingMem?  Even better, "Like" our Facebook Fanpage for a live look at so much of the excitement that will be going on in the New York/New Jersey area this weekend!  Whether you're joining us in The Big Apple or watching from your living room, enjoy WrestleMania XXIX!