Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas In The Squared Circle

Just like Thanksgiving, Christmas was once a major night to head to the matches.  What greater gift than a pair of tickets to see your favorite stars?  Of course, it wasn't so great for the talent who had to be out working instead of home with their loved ones. Today, Christmas themed wrestling events and seasonal stops are instead positioned before and after the actual holiday.  It may be better for the talent themselves, but the events don't have quite the same feeling when pre-taped.

The most famous Christmas wrestling event was undoubtedly the 1982 WCCW Christmas Star Wars event. Ric Flair successfully defended the NWA World Heavyweight Championship against Kerry Von Erich in a cage match. Special referee Michael PS Hayes seemed to be calling the match evenly when the unthinkable happened.  Just as Von Erich was about to exit the cage, Hayes' Fabulous Freebird "brother" Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy sent the steel door crashing into Von Erich's skull.  This event began the legendary Von Erich-Freebirds feud that is credited for making World Class Championship Wrestling one of the hottest promotions of the '80s.

Of course, WWE has been no stranger to holiday themed events, even in recent years.  The company has received a lot of positive press for its annual Tribute To The Troops event.  Although in the past few years it has become more of a USO-style variety show taped in the U.S., original incarnations of the event were actual wrestling cards taped at overseas military bases.  While any version of these events are a wonderful holiday gesture, those first events were extra special, playing to an audience that needed such an escape brought directly to them.  It should be noted that Vince McMahon and a group of WWE Superstars and Divas still personally visit the troops overseas each holiday season.

Closer to home, wrestling can be part of your Christmas motif right along with Rudolph, Frosty, and Snoopy. WWE regularly rolls out a full line of Christmas decor featuring all of your favorite WWE Superstars.  In the late 1990's WCW produced a line of ornaments featuring the best of WCW and the nWo including "Santa With Muscles" himself, Hulk Hogan.  But perhaps my favorite Christmas themed wrestling items are the various publications with grapplers "enjoying" the holidays.  Bundy Claus?  It happened!  And what better holiday gift than Jameson Winger?

From my heart to yours, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  We'll see you in 2015 where all of January the blog will be celebrating the silver anniversary of a retro wrestling favorite!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Fallen Warriors of 2014

As the year comes to a close, we once again remember those from the wrestling business that left us over the past twelve months.  Although a few were still very young considering longevity in this day and age, many that were lost had actually lived long, full lives.  That is something rare for the wrestling business, an occupation that has a tendency to eat up those who give so much to it.  That being said, so many notable names that fans had an opportunity to see in a public capacity not long before their deaths (one in particular, just hours earlier) make the losses all the more shocking. 

The wrestling deaths of 2014 included Billy Robinson, George Scott, Rodger Kent, Mae Young, The Ultimate Warrior, Nelson "King Mabel/Viscera" Frazier, Lee Marshall, Jerry Kozak, Cowboy Bob Kelly, Sean O'Haire, Bob Geigel, Larry Nelson, Ken Lucas, Ox Baker, Ricki Starr, Bonnie Watson, Jimmy Del Ray/Jimmy Backlund, Dr. Ken Ramey, and Don Chuy.

The AWA fraternity took a huge hit with the loss of one it's biggest stars, Billy Robinson, as well as three very memorable voices from the promotion.  Robinson was still very active in training young athletes for the mixed martial arts.  In the several instances that I was able to meet Mr. Robinson, he seemed very proud that wrestler/MMA fighter Josh Barnett was one of his pupils, mentioning it since my first name is Josh as well.  Rodger Kent, Larry Nelson, and Lee Marshall are all well remembered for their work hosting various AWA events.  Marshall may be even better remembered for his work on WCW Monday Nitro and most recently as the voice of Tony the Tiger in Frosted Flakes commercials.

Nelson Frazier was still very active on the independent scene, and one could almost guarantee that appearances as Mabel, Viscera, and Big Daddy V would have continued for WWE.  Struck down by a heart attack at just 42, that would not end up being the case.  Due to his massive size, it's hard to believe that Frazier was just in his early twenties for his biggest run in the WWF as King Mabel.  His agility and ability to make all of his various characters come to life will always be remembered fondly.  Personally, he will always hold a special place in my own fandom as he main evented SummerSlam 1995, the first pay-per-view event that I attended live.

It's become a sad fact over the past few years that Mid-Atlantic Fanfest often becomes the final place that wrestlers make a public appearance.  80-year-old Ox Baker did not look well at the event this past summer, but he was still signing autographs, taking photos, and crooning ditty's to his many fans.  Just a little over two months later, Baker was gone.  David Ferrier, best known as either Jimmy Del Ray or Jimmy Backlund, made his first modern-day convention appearance at the same event, reuniting with his "Heavenly Bodies" tag team partner Dr. Tom Prichard and their manager Jim Cornette.  Though his appearance was much different than in his wrestling days, Ferrier seemed to enjoy the event.  On December 6th, the former Florida and SMW star died in a car accident that may have been caused by a heart attack. 

As always, this is just a small listing of some of the more notable wrestling deaths of 2014.  For all of its faults, the wrestling community always shows a great amount of respect and dignity when one of the seemingly larger-than-life names has fallen.  This final look serves as a last remembrance of their passing, so that we, instead, can continue to remember the greatness of their lives.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The 2014 J\/\/ Awards

How unimaginable is it that another year has passed?  Even more unreal is that this year is the fifth annual installment of The J\/\/ Awards, celebrating the best in wrestling memorabilia over the past twelve months. Each year the design of "The Joshie" changes, but it is always "based" upon a classic wrestling figure or collectible.  This year, the award could go flying through the air with a 747 splash or even magically transform into a dancing, yellow and blue clad, African Dream!  The design isn't the only change in 2014, with one award being retired and another one born.  The wrestling world as a whole has seen a lot of change this year, from the way that some of the product is presented to losing some of its most memorable names.  Without further ado, let the awards begin!

2014 Best Figure

Mattel's WWE Wyatt Family win "The Joshie" for 2014 Best Figure(s).  For the second year in a row, a trio of figures take this one home.  In contrast to last years winners, each figure here is very different in appearance.  Though the Elite versions of the boys were chosen due to their accessories, each release of Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper, and Erick Rowan have been great efforts by Mattel.  That being said, the accessories are almost as great as the figures themselves.  With all three members of the family embarking on their own paths, it will be interesting to see where they go, both in WWE and on store shelves, in 2015.

2014 Best Buy (Non-Figure)

WWE Network wins "The Joshie" for 2014 Best Buy.  For whatever reason that you may have subscribed, you automatically got the best deal of 2014.  If you haven't yet subscribed, we may have to bring back the "Turnbuckle Turkey" award for you.  Sure there are deserved criticisms, but that comes with the territory. You can pick just about any one thing from the Network and justify $9.99 per month.  The current pay-per-view live?  Yep, that's worth $9.99.  Four or five NXT episodes a month?  Yep, that's worth $9.99.  On-Demand access to the WWE, WCW, and ECW pay-per-view libraries?  Yep, that's worth...ok...enough of the commercial.  But it's true.  It's a Helluva deal and should only get bigger and better as time goes on.

2014 Best Product Line

Mattel wins "The Joshie" for 2014 Best Product Line.  Longtime readers know that when Mattel first started churning out WWE product, I was less than impressed.  Poor lineups, poor distribution, poor creativity, and that God-awful red packaging design. Things have changed for the better and for the third time, Mattel takes home the gold.  Although there's always room for improvement (could we get that Magnum TA?), 2015 already looks like a very good year.  Come on, we're getting Bayley!  What could be better than that?  A Bayley hug, perhaps, but the figure will be almost as cool.

2014 Future Holy Grail

NECA's The Simpsons Bret Hart Figure wins "The Joshie" for 2014 Future Holy Grail.  I've already said a lot about this figure, but I really can't say enough.  It combines The Simpsons and wrestling into one great collectible.  It captures a moment when a wrestler, who despite having a huge fanbase never truly crossed over into the mainstream, became a part of animated pop culture.  Thanks to that crossover appeal, the figure flew off of shelves as soon as it hit.  A New York Comic Con version has proven to be equally as popular.  Bret Hart.  The Simpsons.  Action figures.  It's a great recipe that should stand the test of time.

Normally our awards end with the "Future Holy Grail."  You may have noticed the absence of the "Best Publication" award which usually went to books or magazines.  As of 2015, Pro Wrestling Illustrated will be the only remaining U.S. wrestling magazine and although there are some great authors churning out amazing wrestling books, I just do not have the time and resources to be objective and read them all.  Thus, "Best Publication" has been retired.  However, in the spirit of PWI's year-end "Editors Award," this year we introduce our "Thanks For The Memories" honor.  Since this blog celebrates "The Best in Wrestling Memorabilia & Memories" on a weekly basis, this award will focus on the latter.  The winner can be a person (living or dead) or concept that somehow made all of us fondly recall wrestling's past in the last twelve months.

 2014 Thanks For The Memories Award

2014 Thanks For The Memories Honoree:  The Ultimate Warrior.  Electrifying.  Entertaining. Controversial.  Just three words that could be used to describe the man known as The Ultimate Warrior.  A generation of kids grew up mystified by him.  While Hulk Hogan was the clean cut hero, the Warrior brought a bit of an edge and a whole lot of mystery.  Just where did he run off to every night after beating Rick Rude, Andre the Giant, or Randy Savage?  Where was Parts Unknown?  Who were these skeletons and why did they make a sacrifice?  Sure, we could all envision the other WWF "good guys" going to hang out after the matches, but Warrior seemed different.  He was.  We had never seen anything like him before, nor will we ever again.  Thanks for the memories, Warrior.

And thanks to all of you for once again keeping with the blog throughout the year.  I appreciate each and every one of you.  Whether you come up and say hi at a show or simply shoot me an e-mail, those are my awards. Those people and moments remind me why I've loved wrestling for all of these years.  Thank you!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

30 Years of "Those Big, Rubber Wrestlers"

You see might see the description in a badly listed eBay auction or even used during a nostalgic wrestling conversation.  They were the WWF Wrestling Superstars by LJN, but to many, they were "those big, rubber wrestlers."  It would have been very hard to be a wrestling fan and not encounter those "big, rubber" wrestling figures at some point in the past thirty years.  They depicted Hulk Hogan, Rowdy Roddy Piper, The Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff and dozens of other WWF Superstars in a larger-than-life way that has never quite been duplicated.  They've shown up in film, on television, and in print.  They aren't action figures in the traditional sense, yet to not include them in the genre would be blasphemy.  You, your neighbor, your cousin, and your classmates had at least one, and even with paint and rubber wear all of these years later, it's still a relic to be cherished.

The LJN WWF figure line began in 1984.  While it was not the first wrestling figure line (that distinction falls to a series produced by Popy in Japan), it was the first in America, beating out Remco's AWA collection by months.  Some, including a few of the wrestlers themselves, refer to the products as dolls.  There will never be a definitive answer to the old "It's not a doll, it's an action figure" argument, but these replica wrestlers weren't playing dress-up, they were seeing action in and out of the ring.

What I most love about the LJN line was the inclusion of non-wrestler figures.  Sure, it's amazing to be able to have dream matches like Hulk Hogan against Bruno Sammartino and Ricky Steamboat versus Dynamite Kid, but figures of managers, announcers, and referees only add to the depth of play.  It's no wonder that so many loose examples these days have so much paint wear; these wrestlers WRESTLED!

"Twist Em, Turn Em" was one of LJN's selling point catchphrases for the line, and it was true.  While the figures were not articulated, with the exception of a few pointlessly posed examples (Paul Orndorff, Rick Rude) the design of the toys made them extremely playable.  The Hulkster could slam any other figure while Randy Savage was perfectly poised for a patented flying elbow drop.  God-like figures for God-like superstars.

The figures had a pumped-up look which was very lifelike for the wrestlers of the day.  Unlike today when bulging muscles look out of place on wrestling figures, the wrestlers themselves didn't look like the guy down the street.  There was much more individuality, which in turn made many more stars stand out.

Like companies today, LJN wasn't satisfied with just one standard line.  Attempts to branch out were made, but none lasted as long as the 8-inch original figures.  A lower cost line of Bendies were introduced about a year into the life of the license.  Wires inside of these smaller figures helped hold their poses.  Aside from the wrestlers, a ring/cage and two managers were produced, but the line did not sustain.  Prototype pictures of further releases have surfaced since, proving that LJN had high hopes.

In 1987, a half dozen figures were released as Stretch Wrestlers.  These figures were a takeoff on the decades-old Stretch Armstrong figure concept, where a cornstarch mix inside of a pliable "skin" allows the figure to be stretched into all kinds of contortions.  Sadly, the design of all of these kinds of figures does not lend itself to good condition over time.  Many that remain are in poor condition or are too brittle to really even touch.

Thirty years.  While much of the paint and shine of these figures is gone, the memories remain.  I can still recall going into the.long gone but beloved Hills Department Store and seeing the large LJN merchandising footprint in the toy aisles.  Stretch Wrestlers stacked to the ceiling.  Individual figures like Hillbilly Jim, Miss Elizabeth, and Mean Gene Okerlund (or "the farmer," "the girl," and "the announcer" as I naively named them) filling the pegs.  The feeling that this unusual yet compelling sport was at the height of its popularity, and that the characters produced from it were genuine celebrities.  Household names forever immortalized as "those big, rubber wrestlers."

Thursday, November 27, 2014

AWA Meets The Press

Thanksgiving was a wrestling tradition long before the advent of Starrcade or Survivor Series.  Nearly every territory had a huge "Turkey Day" card, or sometimes multiple cards, each year.  What would be better than to finish up your feast and head on over to the matches?  One of those territories was Verne Gagne's AWA.  With its roots in the early days of television, by the 1980's the AWA's reach still spanned far and wide.  Although a few years away from its big tv deal with then-upstart ESPN, the AWA produced a press kit in 1982 to try and further its audience and maybe even go national before the WWF.

I'm a huge fan of the various press kits that have come out of the wrestling business over the years.  They're a largely untapped type of memorabilia as far as wrestling goes.  They could be described as almost a time capsule of wrestling in that you never know when you'll discover one and just exactly what you'll find inside.  Vince McMahon obviously had the marketing vision to produce various press kits for WrestleMania and other ventures, but who would've thought that Verne did the same a few years earlier?

Red, white, and blue were the standard pattern of colors on the well-remembered American Wrestling Association logo, and those hues carry over throughout this tri-fold folder.  To say that this AWA press kit rivaled the later WWF press kits in style wouldn't be a stretch of a statement.  The folder is handsomely printed and, in appearance, would make anyone think that AWA All-Star Wrestling was the top wrestling company in the world.  Some of the verbiage inside, however, might make help convince them otherwise.

On the inside is a mix of information obviously designed to sell the AWA to television stations.  The list of biggest wrestling crowds of all-time shows the top two most-attended cards as being at Shea Stadium and Madison Square Garden.  With the press kit listing elsewhere where AWA matches were promoted, it wouldn't be hard for a station manager to figure out that these two top cards had nothing to do with the American Wrestling Association.  Elsewhere, a "quote" attributed to a tv station manager claims that "The wrestling crowd is a spending crowd.  But then, any sports crowd is a spending crowd."  The AWA couldn't come up with a more positive sounding quote than that?

In other areas the company did a better job of self-promotion.  Of course, Mr. Gagne is pictured as are other familiar AWA office faces of the time such as Stanley Blackburn, Wally Karbo, Al DeRusha, Rodger Kent, and our own close, personal, longtime friend, Gene Okerlund.  There's even a small and interesting "ad" of sorts promoting wrestling magazines.  Shown are titles from Stanley Weston (The Wrestler), Norman Kietzer (Wrestling News), and Japan.  For some unknown reason, Sports Illustrated is pictured in the collage as well.

In the middle of the folder are several pull-out sheets.  The first is a list of "Consistent advertisers on TV wrestling."  Every type of business from wines and dog food to ice rinks and loan companies are listed.  It seems as if someone in the AWA offices grabbed a Minneapolis phone book and picked out any type of business that could be found.  Behind this list are some great photo sheets titled "Star Power in the AWA."  Most feature several wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan (in a shot as Thunderlips), Billy Robinson, Jesse Ventura, Tito Santana, The Crusher, and Baron Von Raschke.  Being the "Eighth Wonder of the World," Andre the Giant gets his own sheet all to himself.

Two other photo sheets are included, titled "When The Little People Come To Town" and "Equal Opportunity Wrestling."  These showcase midget wrestlers and female wrestlers, respectively.  The women's sheet features a great shot of Wendi Richter and Joyce Grable with the famous Fabulous Moolah-owned Ladies Tag Team Championship belts.  Wendi looks a tad heavier than in her well-remembered WWF days just a few short years later.

As mentioned above, you never quite know what you're going to find when you unearth a wrestling press kit.  Behind the pullout sheets in this one lay an original AWA one-of-a-kind.  On a folded piece of yellow legal sized paper is what appears to be the 1984, 1985, and 1986 payoff sheet for the ring announcer at the St. Paul Civic Center.  June through October of 1984 is typed out while the rest is hand written.  It is interesting to see how the payoffs went up for large shows such as holiday events and WrestleRock.  It's always cool when something that was never meant to be saved ends up materializing after being literally stuffed away.

Items like these are why I love the world of wrestling memorabilia.  Being a sort of "wild west" industry as it was even sometime after the WWF went national, you just never know what you're going to stumble upon.  No one has a complete listing of everything that's out there, and who would really want one?  It would kill the fun of collectors coming together to show what they have, and what has yet to be discovered in an old attic or basement.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A.J. Lee Returns To The Blog...For The Last Time?

It seems like once a year, the infamous A.J. Lee becomes a topic in these pages.  Coincidentally, this visit is parallel to rumors that, once again, A.J. is on her way out of WWE. While likely false, many fans have not enjoyed her change of character as of late.  The interesting aspects of her character have been replaced by her role as, maybe not ironically, a female version of CM Punk.  Whether Lee stays for years or is indeed finished following Survivor Series, no one can deny that she was one of the standout WWE females for the last couple of years.

If she is in fact finished, a new figure is hitting Wal Mart shelves just in time to celebrate.  The figure is part of the latest series in the chain's exclusive Superstar Entrances collection.  The series features WWE stars in non-removable entrance gear.  The series is notable for having a die-cut "window" on the back of the packaging so that the detail on the clothing is in full view.  A.J. is the first female to be part of the series.

Although the series features "Basic" style figures, all Mattel WWE female figures are "Elite" in build, with the extra articulation.  With the amount of detail here, this figure could have easily been released in one of the Elite series at the higher price point.  I believe that this facial design has only been used once before, in a two-pack with Big E. Langston.  That figure had a rather dull paint scheme.  This figure has the bright pink heart/spider t-shirt that I readily picture the diminutive Diva wearing.  As much as I liked the face design in her earlier figures, I think that I like this one even more.  You just want another Diva to smack that smirk right off of her face.

For some reason there are a few bumps on the abs of the figure.  I thought that it could have been bubbled paint in a botched job, but every example that I've seen had this issue.  I did also come across some paint mishaps on the tights design, but it isn't really anything that hurts the figure overall.  You can easily imagine this figure skipping to ringside.  When a figure almost comes to life before your eyes simply from the design, it's a great product.  Mattel has really begun to poor their all into every one of their releases--even store exclusives.

This may or may not be the final figure of A.J. Lee.  Even if she leaves the company, there could be future figures already in the works.  Nonetheless, I would consider this the "ultimate" figure of the controversial Diva.  It looks great in the package, too, whereas her figure released in the Elite line seemed to float in the package.  At a price point of $7.77, added to the fact that it is a store exclusive aimed at Christmas season sales, grab her while you can.  Despite her change in character, she's still a popular character and her figures never last long on the shelves

With Thanksgiving coming up, I'm glad that we had a chance to revisit my favorite "Turnbuckle Turkey" one more time.  For all of the fun that I poke at her, she stood out in an era where it's increasingly hard to do so. Now she can ride...err...skip off into the sunset while still "on top."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Before Classic Superstars, There Were The Legends Of Professional Wrestling

Just a few weeks ago it was announced that Figures Toy Company would be producing a line of Ring of Honor action figures.  Speculation abound as to which wrestlers would be made in the line, what size the figures would be, and their price point.  Figures Toy Company has been making many waves in the action figure scene over the last few years by recreating the iconic World's Greatest Superhero figures of the 1970's, as well as other figure lines produced by the long-defunct Mego company.  However, this isn't the company's first foray into the wrestling action figure world.  Years before Jakks would introduce the legendary WWE Classic Superstars line to the world, Figures Toy Company would produce The Legends of Professional Wrestling.

It was the wrestling "boom period" spurned by the "Attitude Era" and the "Monday Night Wars."  Every wrestling company including WWF, WCW, and ECW had a figure line that were relatively interchangeable at around six inches tall.  One of my main issues with the era is that the history of the business was all but forgotten.  There was suddenly no room for the wrestlers of yesteryear.  These men, who were portrayed as either good or evil, were no longer welcome in a wrestling world where even the "good guys" didn't really fight with good intentions.  Thankfully, as WWE became the steward of wrestling history as the 2000s went on, the past began to be "rediscovered."  In the meantime, we had this collection of twenty-three wrestling legends made of plastic.

Figures Toy Company and parent company Figures Inc. frequently advertised in the many wrestling magazines of the era and began the line with ads for "The Walking Condominium" himself, King Kong Bundy.  Each figure was around six inches tall (like the other wrestling figures of the day) and offered in both regular and "bloody" versions.  The blood was painted on rather generously and most of these figures also had slightly different colored attire as well.  For unknown reasons, Chief Jay Strongbow had two different color variations as opposed to a "bloody" version.  The first four figures (Bundy, Abdullah the Butcher, Killer Kowalski, and Ivan Putski) were also offered completely molded in a glow-in-the-dark plastic.

Each wrestler was it's own "Series" and eventually there were twenty-four series in all.  The only wrestler to be repeated was Bruno Sammartino, as he was offered in both his 1970's look and a "young" representation.  This is still the only version of Sammartino to include his infamous '70s perm hairdo.  Until the Classic Superstars line was released, this was the only time that many of these men had been immortalized in plastic.  As of this writing, the only figures to ever be released of Wahoo McDaniel, Eddie Gilbert, and Ox Baker are in this line.

Starting with Series 14 (Captain Lou Albano), the figures were released in completely enclosed boxes rather than carded.  Two-pack re-releases of figures were produced but are rather scarce.  Also beginning with Series 14, the heads of the wrestlers were actually interchangeable.  This led to FTC releasing a pack with all of the Series 14-24 heads, generic heads and bodies, as well as staff jackets and accessories as a "Create Your Own" set.

A few years later, FTC. tried to revive their line with the addition of Andre the Giant.  Two figures of the Eighth Wonder of the World were released, one in yellow and the other in the black strap.  They were made similar to the bodies of action figures produced by the aforementioned Mego company, and therefore they are out of scale with the other LOPW figures.  The figures were released in Mego-like packaging, as well.  The two are in-scale with the more recent Andre figures by Jakks and Mattel, and have risen in value in recent years.

Some collectors dismissed the line since the initial offerings were overproduced and often clearanced out very cheap.  Others preferred the longer lasting Classic Superstars line.  Both lines can be collected and enjoyed separately, especially since they are a completely different scale.  In addition to the great likenesses of Wahoo and '70s Bruno, the facial sculpts of Ivan Koloff, Baron Von Raschke, and Ox Baker are second-to-none.  Abdullah the Butcher had his best figure release here as well.

In a way, the line hearkens back to the Remco AWA figure collection of 1985-86.  They work as great companion pieces, especially since many of the names here popped up in the AWA.  The Legends of Professional Wrestling line might best be described as a celebration of the wrestling territories.  Men who made their name not only in the WWF, but the various NWA territories such as Mid-Atlantic and Georgia Championship Wrestling.

With twenty-three different characters, a collector could even cook up a heckuva fantasy card with these names alone.  My lineup?  Ricky Steamboat versus Bob Orton, Abdullah the Butcher versus The Sheik, Kamala versus Eddie Gilbert, Wahoo McDaniel versus Greg Valentine, Bruno Sammartino & Jay Strongbow versus Ivan Koloff & Jimmy Valiant (Managed By Lou Albano), Killer Kowalski versus Ox Baker, Superstar Billy Graham versus Tony Atlas, Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff versus Tito Santana & Ivan Putski, and King Kong Bundy versus Baron Von Raschke.  Now that's a supercard!

We'll have to wait and see just what success FTC will have with ROH.  Will wrestling collectors connect with the offerings and FTC's online-only distribution?  Will high price points and kids unfamiliarity with the ROH roster hurt their chances?  Time will tell.  In the meantime, the LOPW line continues to gain back popularity.  Secondary market value of the later series figures has begun to rise.  It's time that this under-appreciated wrestling line takes its rightful, and legendary, place in collections everywhere.  Some of us have already treasured them for years.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Starrcade Was Turning Japanese

When you think of "The Granddaddy Of Em All," Starrcade, you think of huge NWA supercards held in November or December.  Japan, The Tokyo Dome, or the month of March usually aren't in the equation, unless you're thinking back to 1991.  Ric Flair was still holding "Big Gold," WCW had just broken away from the NWA, and stars such as Sting, Lex Luger, and The Steiner Brothers were at the top of the card. An alliance between WCW and New Japan Pro Wrestling was born, thus creating the first Starrcade '91, or WCW Japan SuperShow as it was known here in the United States.

It was a star-studded card headlined by Flair defending the championship against Tatsumi Fujinami.  It was this match that led to the main event of the first WCW SuperBrawl event a few months later.  At the time, WCW seemed to be trying to position SuperBrawl against WrestleMania and replace Starrcade as its biggest yearly event.  I've always felt that, despite respect from a wrestling standpoint, the Flair-Fujinami rematch wasn't the main event to use to build a new supershow, but that's another argument for another time.

Although WCW was gone from the practice of event-specific programs, NJPW produced an amazing looking publication that was sold at the Tokyo Dome.  It is an oversized glossy program in the style that the WWF would not adopt for a few years.  Perhaps as a reflection in the advancement in photography by the Japanese, wrestling publications from their country almost always have a modern look and feel that holds up today.

Kicking off the program is a proclamation from James (Jim) Herd.  It is presented in both Japanese and broken English.  For those of you that have heard Jim Cornette rant about the former WCW Vice President, you can only imagine what the "Louisville Lip" would make of this. This is the WCW side of the program, and traditionally the "American" side.  Publications in Japan are generally read in what Americans would consider a "backwards" format, due to how their language is printed.  The other side of this program has a NJPW logo cover and contains opening statements from their officials at the time as well as their own rundown of the card.

To say that the card was star-studded is almost an understatement.  The top WCW and NJPW talent of the day is featured as well as men like Big Van Vader and Bam Bam Bigelow who competed regularly on both continents.  Sting battled his longtime rival The Great Muta in a match that would make any classics list, while El Gigante took on "Big Cat" Hughes probably to appease Japanese wrestling fans longtime fascination with "big man" wrestlers. 

WCW merchandise from the era is shown several times throughout, including the Wrestling Wrap-Up magazine and many now-collectible shirts.  One page displays merchandise made exclusively for this Starrcade In Japan event.  A pair of what appear to be pre-paid phone cards are particularly interesting looking.  T-shirts and even a beach towel were offered, but the crown jewel has to be the shiny silver Starrcade In Japan jacket.  With Ribera Steakhouse jackets becoming more and more common among Japanese wrestling lore, I would imagine that this jacket would be considerably rarer.  There's a treasure for puroresu collectors to hunt!

Interestingly, the ads are not limited to wrestling related goods.  Full page ads appear several times throughout the program for liquor, food, and other items.  Japanese ads often appeared quirky to Americans back in those days, as was often lampooned by shows like The Simpsons.  If you haven't sought out commercials featuring Hulk Hogan singing or Abdullah the Butcher frolicking on a beach with a young Japanese girl, you truly need to.  Nonetheless, in this program we see a rather creepy ad featuring a robot holding a baby in a wooded area, and girls dressed as Geisha advertising what is probably a ramen-style soup.

Although three of these SuperShows (all labeled Starrcade in Japan) were produced altogether and eventually sold in the United States on pay-per-view, this 1991 event is the only one to be released on VHS.  It was released as "Rumble In The Rising Sun" and appeared in many rental stores at the time.  All three would definitely be great additions to WWE Network, especially since "all" pay-per-views are supposed to be included.  So while these events aren't included in the regular Starrcade chronology, all are interesting footnotes in the history of both WCW and NJPW.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Topps Travels The Road To WrestleMania

Has the wrestling world ever changed as rapidly as it has since WrestleMania XXX?  Survivor Series is just around the corner and most everyone imagined that Daniel Bryan would still be battling at the top of the card.  Instead, injuries have kept him away since spring.  The "headlining" legend of WrestleMania, The Ultimate Warrior, should have been continuing his renewed relationship with WWE, but was struck down with a heart attack at the conclusion of the weekend.  Even planned changes such as the break-up of The Shield, the uncertain status of the Wyatt family, and the killed momentum of Cesaro have completely changed the WWE landscape since the company "let the good times roll" back in April.

In the latest WWE trading card set, Topps takes us back to that exciting and optimistic night, as well as the events that led up to it.  This is the third Topps WWE product of the year, and the one that will carry it through the holiday season.  Single packs and "blaster boxes," the latter automatically containing a relic card, are available.  Hobby boxes guarantee two "hits" (relic or autograph) among the twenty-four packs.  While relic cards are fun, I always prefer an autograph card.

The 110 base cards are very nice this time around.  While I prefer the "year" sets with individual superstar cards, this set goes in order of the events leading up to WrestleMania XXX.  The photos used are very crisp and, in most cases, very well chosen.  Although many fans, including myself, are at times dumbfounded at some of the WWE's presentation, I always note that the talent level is fantastic. These superstars translate just as well onto trading cards as they do into action figures, proving that the WWE marketing machine is still in full force.

Subsets have been a popular trend in trading cards for quite awhile now, and we get some new ones this time around.  First up are sets dedicated to The Ultimate Warrior and "The Queen of WrestleMania," Trish Stratus.  Both are brightly colored, neon green and pinkish purple respectively, and highlight two stars who made it bigger during their careers than many originally imagined.  Next is a 22-card set dedicated to The Streak, including a 21-1 card from this year. Finally, a 60-card subset celebrates the 30 years of WrestleMania.  While it's a nice subset (any time that Greg "The Hammer" Valentine gets a card is good with me), licensing limitations hurt what could have been. Yokozuna gets three very similar looking cards in a row due to this.  Bret Hart returns to WWE cards in the Topps 2015 set, but he was obviously needed here.

In breaking a hobby box, I did not assemble a complete base card set as I did with the WWE 2014 series.  There are parallel cards to the base set, which basically amounts to different colored foil lettering.  I understand that there are collectors of these variations, but I don't get the excitement.  Boarders?  Sure. Lettering?  No.  As far as "hits," I happily received both a relic and an autograph.  Former Funkadactyl Cameron was my autograph, while a Cesaro WrestleMania XXX mat relic was the other hit.  A great memory from back when Cesaro should've been shot to the moon and wasn't losing to...lesser talent.

Road To WrestleMania is a good set.  Not great, but good.  If can get a good deal on a hobby box as I did, it's worth it to see what you pull.  You can't help but think that the Ultimate Warrior would have had autograph cards in this set, but it was not meant to be.  This is definitely one of the better "action shot" sets that have been produced.  Topps WWE 2015 is already set for February, and will include Hart as previously mentioned as well as the returns of George "The Animal" Steele and Sgt. Slaughter.  At risk of sounding like a broken record, how about a return to Heritage for the second half of 2015?  After all, it isn't one of my Topps reviews unless I plea at the end!