Thursday, June 27, 2013

Remembering The Eternally Fabulous Jackie Fargo

When I met "Fabulous" Jackie Fargo back in 2009, some probably wouldn't believe how excited I was.  After all, I'm not from Nashville, Memphis, or even the south.  I was born when Mr. Fargo was largely already into retirement from in-ring action.  I'm a kid of the '80s that grew up in Pittsburgh and, as far as wrestling goes, mainly only watched the WWF.  Be that as it may, with my own knowledge of wrestling history procured throughout the years, I knew that I was meeting someone special.  I knew that it could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  I knew that I couldn't pass up the chance.  As soon as "The Fabulous One" entered the room, I knew that I was right.

Fanfest of 2009 in Charlotte, NC was surely one for the books.  The Horsemen were reuniting.  Loads of the greatest wrestling stars of all-time were going to be in one place.  There was even a mini-Memphis wrestling reunion taking shape.  Jerry Jarrett, Lance Russell, Dave Brown, and others who had spent time in Memphis (who really hasn't?) were all on the lineup, as were Jackie and Don Fargo.  From the moment that the two entered the public areas of the convention, I think that everyone knew that new memories from some vintage classics were about to be made.

At the Hall of Heroes banquet and ceremony that weekend, Jackie, his late, real-life brother "Roughhouse" Sonny Fargo, and their wrestling brother Don, were all inducted.  After Jerry Jarrett and Steve Keirn recalled some Fargo memories, the legendary tag team took the stage.  Jackie, at around 80 years of age and as spry as can be, even did his famous "Fargo Strut."  You may remember the strut from years of Buddy Rogers, Ric Flair, and Jeff Jarrett using it, but in the eyes of many, Jackie perfected it.  It's named after the man for a reason.  The duo's antics at their respective autograph and photo sessions later that weekend were equally as entertaining. 

Although I caught a brief glimpse of Jackie Fargo visiting at the 2010 edition of Fanfest, I did not see him again.  I did have the fortune to correspond with him via mail, in which that classic and very "Fabulous" charisma still came shining through.  From signing great inscriptions on photos to using "To" and "From" Christmas labels on the envelopes (something that I will cherish forever), it seemed that despite getting on in years, Jackie was still the classic wrestling character that captivated so many fans throughout several decades.

I don't think that many fans close to my age really understood the magnitude and accomplishments of Jackie Fargo.  Who else became an icon in southern wrestling, but had also left a legendary mark on the hallowed halls of New York's Madison Square Garden?  No matter a hero or a villain in the ring, Fargo made it to the top of his game and stayed there.  He inspired Jerry "The King" Lawler, who took a similar path as far as being able to captivate no matter the region or allegiance to the fans.  He also took his own persona and bestowed it upon a young Stan Lane and Steve Keirn.  The result?  Those sharp-dressed men, The Fabulous Ones.

Although we do have to let go, I'm having trouble using the term "Rest In Peace" when thinking of Mr. Fargo.  It's hard to imagine an eternally energetic soul such as his even taking the time to rest when he can be entertaining the masses or visiting old friends and calling them "pally."  As far as my own memories of the legend, I'll simply never forget his drawling introduction that humbly consisted of "Hi, I'm Jackie Fargo." 

You sure were, Jackie Fargo.  And there won't ever be another one, we can be sure of that.  I don't think that there's anyone else quite "Fabulous" enough.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Notorious A.J. Lee Returns To The Blog!

WWE's resident Diva nutjob and I have a past.  It could be that our now-legendary encounter is actually what first brought you to this blog.  In October of 2012, I had a meeting with Miss Lee that left me rather unhappy.  In a part-tongue-in-cheek and part-serious blog entry, I told the story of the meeting complete with photos.  A.J. has since redeemed herself to me in a completely unintended way.  That particular blog entry was the most viewed of the entire year of 2012 and garnered an immense amount of web traffic.  Any blogger will tell you that there isn't much sweeter than that.

A.J. has obviously provided a lot of viewers for WWE as well.  To the average viewer, Miss Lee represents a crazy, nerdy, "cool" chick with a few loose screws.  To many seasoned wrestling fans, she's the first female character to be blatantly portrayed as a "ring rat" or "groupie."  In the "PG era" of WWE, it's an interesting concept and perhaps one that wouldn't have been portrayed as well in a more risque product.   Whether or not Miss Lee performs the character so well from personal experience, I will leave for you to decide.

Seeing as that the character is so popular, it's no surprise that she's been getting a ton of merchandise.  For a month or so in the summer of 2012, it seemed that every WWE program revolved around the fickle, skipping Diva.  Even WWE's rather disappointing 1,000th episode of Raw had a big dose of A.J.  The show involved Lee in not one but two of WWE's most rehashed angles: a wedding and the appointment of a new figurehead. 

A year later and not only is A.J. once again embroiled in top WWE storylines, but she has now had three Mattel figures officially released.  The standout of the three is actually just the third female to be included in Mattel's Elite figure line.  Following Kelly Kelly and Miss Elizabeth, respectively, A.J. joins the line of higher priced and, usually, higher detailed figures.  Again, due to her popularity, it's easy to understand why A.J. was chosen for this line.  But how does the figure measure up?

A problem that I've had with some of Mattel's releases creeps up once again here.  A.J. simply looks tiny in the Elite packaging.  Sure, she is tiny in real life, but at least the previous two females had costumes and/or accessories to fill the void.  Instead of re-releasing the very nice figure sized version of the Diva's championship that was included with Kelly Kelly, A.J. is accompanied by...her necklace.  The packaging actually proudly proclaims that she "Includes Necklace," as if it's a huge deal.  Well, it isn't and it's barely noticeable at that.

My other problem with the figure is that my particular A.J. came with a dirty face.  The dirt was actually splatter from the paint job when it was applied.  Recently, I have seen complaints about sloppy paint jobs with Mattel WWE figures, but this is the first time that I've personally encountered it.  While it's not too difficult to remove, a collector that's planning on keeping the figure packaged won't be too happy about it.  It's also an inexcusable mistake for a figure at an average price point of about $17.

As with all of the elite figures, A.J. has extra points of articulation that enable a variety of poses.  For limber characters like the Divas, this is welcome here and definitely works to the figure's advantage.  A.J.'s facial likeness is pretty spot-on, but not 100% perfect.  I can't put my finger on it, but there's something that didn't come across in the translation from Diva to figure.

The body design is actually what scores countless points for this figure.  A.J. has very distinct abs that are constantly being shown off thanks to her two-piece outfits.  To my knowledge, this is only the second female body design that has yet been done by Mattel.  Even the Miss Elizabeth figure used the standard Diva body.  With the very slender and slight body of A.J., I guess Mattel figured that there was no way that the standard sculpt could be used this time.  It seems as if the basic versions of A.J. also utilize this new mold.

Although they share a body sculpt, the basic versions do not come close to matching the paint design of this Elite figure.  While the former have A.J. clad in very basic colors, the Elite includes a striking green, black, and white design complete with "emo" looking skull and crossbones.  In addition to the necklace, A.J. has a bracelet on each wrist.  Nice details such as these are important to the aura of a figure, but that "Includes Necklace" notation on the package still annoys me.

This is a "grab it or you'll miss it" figure partially due to A.J.'s popularity and also due to Mattel's never-ending crusade to "short pack" females and other popular figures.  This 21st Elite series also includes the first Mattel figure of the Honky Tonk Man and the first Elite figure of Ryback.  All will be popular, but A.J. probably falls somewhere in the middle in terms of longevity.  Ryback figures will be clogging the shelves in the coming months, but there's no guarantee that Mattel will produce another Honky.  A.J. has three figures already, but still falls into the female bias mentioned above.

The Elite A.J. is well done and easily the best representation of the character in figure form yet.  It's not one that necessarily makes you feel that you've gotten your money's worth, but that is often overlooked by many when a popular character is concerned.  A Diva's championship belt accessory would've been welcome, but Mattel obviously knew that they wouldn't need such an addition in order to sell the figure.

So the nutjob returned to the blog after all.  Hopefully she causes just as much of a ruckus as she did the last time that I graced her with a write-up.  Light it up!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Mattel Keeps The Tensai Dream Alive

 Countless wrestling action figures have been produced over the years commemorating a particular character, match, or moment.  While the figure that we're about to take a look at really wasn't produced to commemorate anything, it certainly makes me fondly remember a push that almost was, but thanks to various factors never really got off the ground.  On the night after WrestleMania XXVIII, a character debuted that was allegedly slated to be the big new villain of the WWE.  He certainly had the look and the talent, but sadly it was just not meant to be.

I've been a fan of the in-ring characters of Matt Bloom since he debuted in the
WWF as Prince Albert.  To me, he simply has the look of a wrestler.  While his earlier characters of Albert and A-Train weren't quite "main event" level, he always entertained me in the ring and seemed to carve out a comfortable niche among the WWF/WWE roster.  Following his first stint in the company, Bloom went to New Japan Pro Wrestling and became Giant Bernard, a reference to another American who became a star in Japan, Brute Bernard.

Giant Bernard collected several titles in Japan and definitely honed his craft while doing so.  He even reminded some of a young Big Van Vader.  Personally, I felt that he would be a perfect fit in TNA, but his appearances there were limited to being on the NJPW side of TNA's Global Impact shows in Japan.  When it became apparent that Bloom may follow the likes of Stan Hansen with a bigger career in Japan than here in the United States, rumors of a WWE return began to swirl.

A new WWE contract was confirmed when Lord Tensai made his aforementioned 2012 debut.  The character was basically a mixture of his Giant Bernard look dressed in traditional Japanese apparel.  Some compared him to '80s star P.Y. Chu-Hi (southern wrestler Phil Hickerson in an Asian gimmick), but others, such as myself, truly enjoyed the character.  A win over John Cena seemed to cement the scuttlebutt that Tensai would indeed become a top heel within the WWE.

The WWE would allude that Tensai had been in the company before, but never went out of their way to advertise it.  Show attendees who felt that they needed to look "smart" in front of the rest of the crowd began to chant "Albert."  This, coupled with the re-signing of Brock Lesnar, became an obvious detriment to the chances of Tensai becoming a top star.  The character began to flounder and now has seemingly fell to a fate that one of Bloom's previous incarnations similarly suffered.  Tensai has become "Sweet T," the tag and dancing partner of Brodus Clay just as Prince Albert became the "Hip-Hop Hippo" with Scotty 2 Hottie a decade earlier.

As long as the man is making good money, we really can't be sour about the deal.  Still, for someone as obviously interested in becoming great at what he does, it seems a shame that he will be remembered in the United States for dancing to the ring.  True fans of his can overlook that and watch the big man in his New Japan matches.  Thankfully, Mattel is giving us at least two reasons to remember Lord Tensai.  The first of these figures is what we're looking at today.

A "First Time In The Line" entry in Mattel's "basic" WWE figure line, I almost passed on this figure in the stores.  The reason is because an "Elite" version of Tensai, with complete entrance gear from the start of the gimmick, is going to be released shortly.  Upon seeing this figure for the first time, I knew that I had to grab it just as it grabbed my attention from the shelves.

To begin with, this figure is absolutely huge.  One of my favorite memories of wrestling toys of the past is the old adage attached to the LJN King Kong Bundy figure: you really got your money's worth!  Even at the average current price tag of $13 for these basic figures, this guy is huge.  Not only is there a lot of plastic here, but some great paint apps and detail as well.

Tensai towers over many figures as he rightly should, but is still shorter than The Big Show.  I must stop here to give credit where it is due.  Mattel has done a fantastic job of keeping scale in check with their WWE figure line.  While not perfect, most of the product that I have picked up has been fantastic in this regard.  That being said, I have yet to purchase a Rey Mysterio figure in the line.  The Mysterio figures have always appeared a bit too small and bland, but the newest one that is also in this series with Tensai is somewhat appealing.

It looks to me as if all new parts have been produced for Tensai.  The most striking of these parts is the barrel chest.  It almost sticks out at you through the plastic bubble.  The legs could also be new, but if they are not they definitely work well here.  The face scan is excellent as well, although Jakks Albert and A-Train facial likenesses were always good as well.  With distinctive features like Tensai has, it would be hard to screw it up.  The piercings are in place as are the kanji across part of his face.

The tattoos as well as the design on the tights and boots are just amazing for a basic Mattel figure where such detail is often overlooked.  Even tattoos on the back of his head and legs are present.  For $13 we should be getting such detail, but in a situation where that isn't always the case it's a welcome surprise.  Considering that twenty years ago we weren't getting nearly the detail that we see now, I don't think that there is any room to complain on this level.

Articulation is more limited than the elite version will be, but it's still nothing to be disappointed about.  I feel that the elite figures often have too much articulation (see my constant torso-joint rants), especially when we're looking at a "big man" wrestler such as Tensai.  I have a feeling that, as long as it's compatible, I'd be one to use the Tensai gear on the basic figure.  We shall see when the elite figure is released.

If you're a fan of the basic figures, this is one that you absolutely can't pass up.  It's easily the most detailed and striking figure that Mattel has done for their basic line.  If you can wait, the full entrance gear makes the elite a worthwhile buy in a series that will also contain Damien Sandow in his robe.  This basic Tensai figure was in a series that also included the first figure of Sandow, but aside from the pink tights that figure appears as basic as basic gets.

I'm assuming that these will be the only two figures of Tensai, but that's really all you need.  I'm sure that we will all be treated to a Brodus Clay-Sweet T two-pack down the line.  Seeing as that I own most of the previous Matt Bloom figures (including the Hip-Hop Hippo), I'm sure that I will feel inclined to buy it.  That said, I'm almost positive that I won't enjoy it as much as the Lord.  Long Live Tensai!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Another 5 Wrestlers...Who Never Had An Action Figure

I still don't believe that there is a bigger victim of the "Wrestler That Did Not Get An Action Figure" crime than The Blue Meanie.  As a wrestler in two different companies that had action figure deals during the late '90s wrestling "boom" period, it's mind boggling to think that The Meanie, who looks like he was thought up exclusively to become an action figure, never had one.  It's an even bigger crime that he did not find his way into Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line which had a nice selection of ECW stars amongst the many series.

The Meanie's absence in plastic, as well as that of Dino Bravo, Buddy Rogers, Verne Gagne, and Dick Murdoch, was the subject of a blog entry here back in 2011.  The topic conjured up some great discussion both here on the blog and on our Facebook page that even made me second-guess one of my initial "top five" choices.

Two years later, it's time to revisit this fun and ever-discussable topic.  Once again, the list is limited to male wrestlers that would've had a decent shot at being produced as an action figure at some point in time.  Although they are among my favorite names in wrestling, again I am not including female wrestlers, managers, announcers, and other non-wrestling types.  This is simply because figures of these stars aren't always included in the plans of toy companies.  I could probably make a list of twenty female stars alone if I were to include them.  In no particular order, here we go again...

#5--Ronnie Garvin

Ronnie is perhaps the one wrestler that I would go back to include in the original list.  Garvin would replace fellow '70s and '80s star Dick Murdoch.  "Hands of Stone" was mentioned in the comments section of the original entry and I still cannot believe that I omitted him.  Coming to the WWF in early 1989, Garvin was just a tad late for the planning of the final LJN WWF figure series.  He was still with the company in time for the design of the first couple Hasbro WWF figure lines, but he would've been another great Jakks Classic Superstars candidate.  A towel and "big gold" belt would've been top accessory choices for the crew cut coiffed grappler.

#4--Pedro Morales

Although his heyday was in the 1970's, many fans forget that Pedro was still with the WWF well into the next decade in various capacities.  With Ted Arcidi and S..D Jones in the LJN WWF figure lineup, Pedro would not have been out of the question.  As with all of the wrestlers in this feature, he also would've made a spectacular Jakks Classic Superstars figure.  As a former holder of both the WWWF Championship and the WWF Intercontinental Championship, Morales is long overdue.

#3--Pat Patterson

One of the great regrets of the greatest wrestling figure line of all-time, Jakks Classic Superstars, is that many announced figures of the later few series never saw production.  Pat Patterson was one of those figures.  It is likely that Pat was to be in wrestling gear rather than a representation of his later role as one of Mr. McMahon's "stooges," but any version would've been welcome.  Similar to Morales above, it would've been ideal to include the Intercontinental Championship with Patterson, the first holder of the title.

#2--Blackjack Mulligan

While his son Barry Windham has seen many figures over the years, the same cannot be said for Blackjack.  Like Pat Patterson, Mulligan was slated for a Classic Superstars figure.  The difference between the two is that a photo of the Blackjack Mulligan prototype was released.  An amazing facial likeness as well as simple and effective details made fans mouths water, but it just wasn't meant to be.  It would be nice if Jakks were somehow able to release the figure as a "Legends of the Ring" figure, but hope for such an opportunity seems extremely dismal.

#1--Magnum T.A.

The golden boy of Jim Crockett Promotions for a few years in the 1980's is a top choice for many collectors.  When Mattel polled fans as to which WWE Legends figures should be produced, Magnum belly-to-belly suplexed the competition.  A prototype was shown and all seemed well when suddenly the figure fell into the same pit of "cancellation" that the Jakks Blackjack Mulligan was lost in.  It's unknown if Magnum will find his way into the Mattel Elite "Flashback" position that other previously-planned "Legends" have, but I would personally bet against it.  Mattel is much more content producing "Flashback" figures of stars who have had endless figures in the past and it doesn't look like a change in their business plan is coming anytime soon.

Another five worthy contenders.  I can see revisiting this topic once again down the line, perhaps breaking a few "rules" that I've imposed on the first two lists.  Between now and then, one can only wonder which deserved wrestlers will finally get action figures...