Thursday, September 26, 2013

Mil Mascaras: Masked Man of Merchandising

Seeing as that this is the Wrestling Memorabilia Blog, we often pay tribute to pioneers in wrestling merchandising.  Awhile back, we took a look at efforts in the Memphis wrestling promotion that included the birth of "the gimmick table" and many other merchandising concepts.  This time around our spotlight is on an individual star.  From his look to his charisma, both of which were shrouded in mystique, it's no wonder why the man became one of the first big merchandising stars of the wrestling business.  That man is Mil Mascaras.

The Man of 1,000 Masks is said to have begun his career simultaneously as a Mexican movie star and luchador.  With that being the case, one could argue that his merchandising began as soon as his career did.  With his colorful masks and costumes plastered on movie posters and lobby cards, the Mexican public was already becoming enamored with the man formerly known as Aaron Rodriguez.  Though this took place in the mid-1960's, it was the following decade when Mascaras became a true worldwide name in wrestling.

All Japan Pro Wrestling regular featured Mascaras in the 1970's which propelled the Mexican star to a top spot in Japan.  It was here that he adopted a theme song.  "Sky High" by British group Jigsaw became the associated tune of the high flying star.  Photos of the luchador appeared on various releases of the song.  A disco anthem to be sure, the song is very catchy and has several portions that absolutely fit a '70s hero.  Mascaras still uses this song today for matches around the world.

Domestically, Mascaras became best known in the '70s for his work in the IWA and the WWWF.  It was in the latter promotion that wrestling magazine editor and photographer Bill Apter shot so many iconic photos of the masked star.  For decades now, Apter has deemed Mascaras as his favorite wrestler and can be seen at ringside for many of the masked star's matches in old Madison Square Garden films.  It's no coincidence that in 1979, Apter chose Mascaras along with Dusty Rhodes to star on the cover of the first issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated.

The premiere of PWI was hardly Mascaras' introduction to the American wrestling magazine.  From Inside Wrestling and The Wrestler to Wrestling Revue and Wrestling Monthly, Mascaras appeared on the cover of every title available on the newsstand that decade.  Is it any wonder?  An exotic and mysterious high-flying masked man with colorful outfits and maneuvers to boot?  A real life superhero come to life in wrestling rings across the world.  Next to faces covered with the proverbial "crimson mask," Mascaras was probably the most frequent subject of wrestling magazine covers of the decade.

In 1983, Mascaras along with Bernie Lopez Enterprises released "Mil Mascaras Pro Wrestling Game."  The board game is a complicated early wrestling "simulator" that can even be played solo.  Using dice, numbers, and many, many rules, players can "promote matches in the wrestling capitals of the world--New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Hong Kong, etc." according to the box.  The game is certainly an interesting novelty, probably the first of its kind, and features two box photos credited to wrestling's other top photographer, George Napolitano.

Surprisingly, it was not until the last decade that quality action figures of Mil Mascaras appeared on the market.  For years, unlicensed figures were produced in Mexico and sold by street vendors to children yearning to recreate the matches of their national hero.  In the early 2000's, licensed Mil Mascaras figures in a variety of outfits were produced by Character Product in Japan.  The masked man's popularity has not waned in the Land of the Rising Sun, and these figures are proof positive.  A nearly perfect likeness along with removable accessories combine to bring us what will likely be the nicest Mil Mascaras figures ever produced.  Despite being a perfect candidate for one of the wide variety of wrestlers in the line, Mascaras was never part of the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line.

Mascaras is just one third of a trio of brothers who became stars of lucha libre.  Dos Caras and Sicodelico (who in my opinion had the coolest mask of the three) also ruled rings around the world, although never with quite the amount of fame as Mascaras.  In 2012, Mascaras was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by his nephew, Alberto Del Rio, the son of Dos Caras. 

Despite criticisms of his behavior both in and out of the ring, I've always been mystified by Mascaras.  A little over a year ago, I had the chance to see the masked legend perform live.  Still flashy, still charismatic, and still giving nothing to his opponent, Mascaras turned back the clock for about five minutes.  Say what you want about the man, he is an originator.  Whereas before you may have thought it was simply because he was the Man of 1,000 Masks, he may also be the original Man of 1,000 Gimmicks!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The (Mid) South Will Rise Again!

WWE Home Video releases that satisfy everyone are few and far between.  Either there's too much previously released material or the content is too "old" to appease the "Universe" or this or that or the other thing.  I'm not sure if it's a credit to the WWE home video team or the creative genius of Ernie Ladd and Bill Watts, but the newly released "Legends of Mid-South Wrestling" might be the pacifier needed to satisfy the cries of all groups of wrestling consumers.

Ever since WWE purchased the Mid-South Wrestling Library, fans have been clamoring for something to come of it.  It didn't take a genius to figure out that the purchase was a smart buy.  From Junkyard Dog to Ted DiBiase to Jim Duggan to Jake Roberts, so many wrestling stars of the '80s had some of their best years in the business as part of either Mid-South Wrestling or the Universal Wrestling Federation when the promotion changed names.  Seeing as how WWE enjoys showcasing the stars of what many fans between the age of 30 to 40 years old consider to be the company's "glory years," this release practically built itself.

Released in both DVD and Blu-Ray formats, Legends of Mid-South Wrestling is presented in a format that I was unsure of at first.  Instead of the often-used WWE DVD format of a documentary followed by matches, the wrestler soundbite and clip segments are interspersed throughout to tell the story of Mid-South/UWF and build up to complete matches.  After watching, I decided that I enjoyed this format more than the separate documentary.  While it may not work for every topic tackled, it definitely thrives here.

Although I'm not a home theater expert, to me this classic footage is particularly crystal clear in Blu-Ray format.  Though the occasional imperfection from the source material cannot be helped, someone did an absolutely remarkable job restoring these tapes.  Rumor says that the tapes were restored for the Watts family's own marketing of these matches before WWE purchased the library. 

The segments and matches presented each revolve around a key player in Mid-South's history and often include stars such as Ric Flair, Andre the Giant, and Dusty Rhodes who passed through.  In my estimation, the match listing is phenomenal.  Despite collecting quite a bit of footage through the years, the only match I had previously owned was Andre, Dusty, and JYD taking on Ladd and The Wild Samoans.  Six Hall of Famers in one match gives you just a hint of the star power involved here.

You'll see the student-teacher struggle of Magnum T.A. and Mr. Wrestling 2.  You'll relive the conniving Ted DiBiase as he battles former friends JYD and Hacksaw Duggan.  You'll witness tag teams such as The Fabulous Freebirds, The Midnight Express, and The Rock 'n Roll Express as they climbed up the ladder.  You'll learn of Muhammad Ali's involvement with Mid-South from Jim Ross himself.  How about Shawn Michaels, Sting, and The Ultimate Warrior TRULY "before they were stars?"  It's all here.

As is usually the case when comparing formats, the DVD packaging is a bit more attractive than the Blu-Ray version.  The latter format, however, contains several bonus segments and matches.  These extra features are absolutely worth picking up the Blu-Ray version for.  Cantankerous old "get that WWE logo off of my classic wrestling!" fans will be happy to see that the company's logo is very small in the over all packaging design.  In comparison, the classic Mid-South Wrestling logo is featured much more prominently as a whole.

This release has a lot of potential in several different areas.  As with any "classic" release, the likelihood of future, similar releases only rises if the sales are good here.  I've seen many fans reporting purchases of "Legends," which will only help the cause.  With this particular release, hopefully the company will feel the need for yet another chapter of Mid-South Wrestling.  There are many more great matches, classic characters,and untold stories yet to be touched upon.  Hopefully "Legends of Mid-South Wrestling: Volume 2" is on the home video horizon.

For every reason mentioned above and more, go out and buy this one.  WWE releases from their vast "vault" are always worth a purchase due to being able to get these gems in pristine quality, but this set goes above and beyond.  Very rarely in viewing the discs was I not completely entertained.  Going back to my earlier pondering, I think that it did have a lot to do with "The Cowboy" and "The Big Cat."  Not only did they know how to build a promotion, but they knew how to build the talent to keep us enthralled.  Thanks to WWE, we now get to treasure that greatness forevermore. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

From The Musty Yellowed Pages--GLOW Magazine April 1988

And now, for something just a tad bit different.  Whether you liked the concept or not, Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling is a memorable portion of 1980's wrestling.  They were successful, had a large fan base, and are still well-remembered today.  It's actually amazing that Vince McMahon didn't try a similar spin-off product himself.  Some may argue that various concepts seen every Monday night nowadays are done in the same vein as GLOW, but that's not the direction that we're going.  Instead, we're going to dive into what was probably GLOW's biggest merchandising venture, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling Magazine.

Produced independently from any other wrestling publication of the time, GLOW Magazine is a surprisingly well done product.  Tons of color, mostly glossy pages, and high-quality photography isn't something that you might expect from this magazine, but it's all here.  This particular issue, April 1988, is from later in GLOW's television run but is apparently only the third issue of the magazine.  A cross between Mad Maxine and the Road Warriors, the mohawked and painted Beastie is this month's cover girl.  This proves that the folks behind GLOW, while obviously interested in marketing the sexier members of their roster, had no problem highlighting the more vicious of the bunch as well.  GLOW's top star, Mt. Fiji, was both intimidating and one of the biggest fan favorites of the company.  She's featured several times throughout the magazine including a full page color photo with fellow fan favorites Tara The Southern Belle and Debbie Debutante.

Similar to a lot of today's wrestling product, GLOW seemed to have as many skits as it did wrestling matches on their programming.  Many of these skits are shown here and the photos seem to be pulled right from the shows themselves.  A feature titled "Glowlines" highlighted both kayfabed and real-life adventures of the GLOW girls, including television appearances on other shows.  It's a shame that the magazine wasn't around in 1987 when Mt. Fiji and the evil Queen Kong appeared on my favorite episode of "Mama's Family" as the Masked Mabel's tag team.

While the company was initially exclusive to their own television show, the girls eventually began touring.  A two-page full color spread in the magazine announces the GLOW World Premiere Tour which was to begin in January 1988.  Towns in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Florida are listed as stops on the tour.  By this point, the company was dealing with a lot of new talent which could have made these live shows interesting to say the least.

Although gimmicks and outrageous characters were penetrating the wrestling world everywhere at this time, GLOW seemed to thrive off of them.  The magazine, of course, was a great place to show them off as was obvious with the Beastie cover feature.  Inside we meet many more of them including Colonel Ninotchka, Dementia, and my personal favorite GLOW gimmick, The Housewives.  These two dowdy, cold cream-faced ladies later transformed into "The Heavy Metal Sisters" Spike and Chainsaw, but the Housewives gimmick was much more innovative if you ask me.

As mentioned earlier, this was the era of GLOW in which the company was deciding to go on tour.  Near the end of the magazine, a GLOW Tour Program page is included with a complete rundown of the live events.  All seven matches, participants, and even the intermission are listed here.  This does not seem to be a show-specific program and I'm guessing that GLOW ran the same lineup every show.  In wrestling, the same house show night after night is not a big deal, but it's the openness of it here is sort of shocking, even twenty-five years later.

The GLOW Magazine is a fun product representing a unique notch in '80s wrestling, but it came along a bit too late.  If this is indeed just the third issue, the company's founder David McLane was already building another promotion.  With him went many of the top names including Queen Kong, California Doll, Amy The Farmer's Daughter, and my all-time favorite "GLOW Girl," Tina Ferrari.  Any fan of the WWF "Attitude Era" remembers Ferrari as Ivory, and it's surprising to think that more of these girls didn't end up in the WWF/WWE eventually.  The recently released documentary about GLOW shows exactly where many of these girls did end up.  It's a surprisingly engrossing and touching movie that I'd highly recommend to any wrestling fan. 

The GLOW Magazine issues aren't easy to find, but are worth picking up for a trip back to the neon, spandex, and so-bad-it's-good comedy from all of those crazy Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

2013 TNA Live Set Feels A Bit Like A Rerun

I've had good luck with the various TNA trading card offerings over the years.  A 1 of 1 Hulk Hogan autograph and a Sting autograph top the list of "hits" that I've pulled, so I have nothing to complain about as far as the past goes.  However, with the newest TNA product from Tristar, I feel that the overall design and feel has just been done too many times.  Are my feelings biased because of a rather unexciting series of hits in this particular box?  It's possible, but let's take a look at what the TNA Live set has to offer the masses and you just might agree.

This set is actually already about six months old.  Since I had a rather "ho hum" feeling from previews of the set, I decided to wait until boxes were reduced in price a tad until I acquired one.  Although Tristar makes no claims to it, recent boxes of their TNA product have contained a complete set amongst the packs.  TNA Live is no different, so at the very least you should be able to build the 99 card base set with the purchase of a hobby box, in addition to seven hits.  Those hits include three autograph cards (one will be a multi-autograph), one memorabilia relic, one short-print card, and two parallel cards.

As I mentioned above, I was less than thrilled with the hits in this particular box break.  To be fair, I'm also hard to please.  If there isn't a Hogan or Sting autograph in the box, I'm going to be more toward the disappointed side.  They're the autographs that everyone wants.  They're the ones that, for those who care, will bring the value in the future.  While the Bobby Roode's, Gail Kim's, and even Jeff Hardy's of the world are out scribbling thousands of signatures each weekend at TNA Live events, Hogan and Sting are not.  That isn't to say that myself and tons of other collectors are starving for Hogan and Sting autographs, but those are simply the ones that you are mainly looking to pull from a TNA box.

I'm not one to believe in internal "power plays" over merchandising, but it is rather funny that the first three cards in the base set are Hogan, Hogan, and Hogan.  Yes, the Hulkster, Brooke, and Hulk and Brooke together are cards #1, #2, and #3, respectively.  If you've read this blog before, you should automatically know that I don't have a problem with that.  I'm a fan of the Hulkster, although not necessarily in his current role, and I don't even have much of a problem with Brooke.  She may not have much business being a focal point of storylines, but she's a more believable promo than Ziggler, the Internet darling.

The whole roster, as of a few months ago, is nicely represented here.  Similar to Tristar's previous offering, TNA TENacious, the base set has a bit of an identity crisis.  Some cards are studio shots while others are action shots.  I've always been a fan of in-ring posed shots, and there are actually quite a few here.  Folks who have not seen a card release in awhile such as D'Lo Brown and Al Snow return in this set, and there are cool "group" cards for the TNA referees and Aces & Eights.  Even Tommy Dreamer makes a cameo receiving a beatdown at the ill-fated Brooke Hogan-Bully Ray wedding.

As usual, we're presented with some nice rookie cards including some Gut Check competitors.  A personal favorite of mine, Taeler Hendrix, makes her debut as do Kenny King, King Mo, Joey Ryan, and Sam Shaw.  Sam who?  I must've missed that week of Impact Wrestling.  I could forgive Tristar for giving a card to someone who totally fell below my radar, but then I noticed that Jessie Godderz has two cards in the set.  If it weren't for his brief association with a talent like Tara, I wouldn't have a clue as to his identity either. 

In addition to Gut Check, several other subsets are featured within the base set including "TNA Then & Now."  This subset features several Impact Wrestling stars pictured as children.  These cards can produce some amusing comments and actions at signings.  This time around Gail Kim and Tara's cards are sure to produce some "ooh's and aah's," but the TNA Parents Association didn't seem to dig too deep when fishing for early photos of Brooke Tessmacher, Robbie E, and Mickie James.  No "Beautiful Baby" contest winners amongst those three, folks.

Overall, I'd recommend to wait until the price drops even further on these cards.  While there are some cool rookie cards, all could be obtained individually.  Tristar is very big on autograph cards and other "hits," and that is definitely the market that they try to focus on.  They know that many are, sadly, buying the boxes just to score a big "hit" and make some money.  This has caused the company to get very complacent on the base cards.  I'm still begging for a "Heritage" style set.  Obviously they couldn't use classic designs like Topps does, but I'm sure that they could produce a very vintage looking set, without gloss, for the many fans who prefer such styles.

The next TNA series from Tristar is to be called "Glory."  This set, coming in October 2013, will feature on-card autographs.  Any Topps WWE or Tristar TNA product that has featured autographs have utilized autographed stickers that are then applied to the cards.  On-card autographs, which are obvious right on the card, are popular with collectors across the board and the set should be a hit based on these hits alone.  While they'll definitely be something to look out for, I doubt that we'll get an item quite as amusing as the TNA Live Hector Guerrero card.  Not since the 1988 Wonderama Ole Anderson "Dancing Queen" card have we had such an unintentionally (?) hilarious photo inserted into a set.  "Latino cheesecake?"