Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Goodbyes Of 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The 2013 J\/\/ Awards

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

2013 Best Figure

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

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

2013 Best Publication 

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

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

2013 Best Buy (Non-Figure/Publication) 

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

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

2013 Best Product Line 

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

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

2013 Future Holy Grail 

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

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

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

Thursday, December 12, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mattel Attempts To Deliver Some Stratusfaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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