Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ultimate Warrior & Road Dogg--Returning To WWE & The Toy Aisle

With WWE Network on the minds of WWE fans and the company itself, nostalgia is at an all-time high.  After all, when the kinks are finally figured out (as of press time they were not), fans will have On Demand access to every WWE, WCW, and ECW pay-per-view as well as an untold amount of other classic wrestling footage.  The concept has finally given the company a reason to embrace the past full-time.  It needs Network content, and with the company's vast libraries there is no better place to go than the past.

This nostalgia kick also includes past superstars returning to current programming.  In the ring itself, Road Dogg and Billy Gunn, the New Age Outlaws, returned and captured the WWE Tag Team Championship at the Royal Rumble.  The WWE Hall of Fame, always a bastion of wrestling's past, will be headlined this year by none other than the Ultimate Warrior.

It's the Warrior and the D-O-Double G that we'll be focusing on here.  Long before their respective impacts on 2014 WWE programming, both of these men were announced to be part of Mattel's 26th Elite action figure series.  Joining the likes of Jack Swagger, Big E. Langston, Mark Henry, and Roman Reigns, these two legends are the "Flashback" entries of the set.  While Road Dogg's attire has changed little over the years, this version of the Ultimate Warrior is one that have never before been produced as an action figure.  Neither figure suffers from looking too small for the Elite box packaging, but there is something missing from one that I'll get to later. 

Road Dogg is exactly what I feel an action figure should be.  It's a nicely detailed figure, but it also comes with not one, but several accessories.  In addition to the "Road Dogg Jesse James" shirt that the figure is wearing in the package, a D-Generation X shirt is included as well as a hat.  When looking at the boxed figure, the double shirts really make you feel like you're getting a nice bang for your buck.  It's not uncommon for action figures of this era to include extra accessories and even hands for different poses, etc.  Wrestling figures should be no different.  I will say that the D-X shirt does not stay clasped as well as the Dogg shirt and that I've preferred cloth used instead of rubber, but I'm still crazy about a nice assortment of accessories.

The Warrior is based upon the attire that he wore at SummerSlam '92.  He has his shorter hair and a singlet designed to look like muscles and tendons and all of that good stuff.  His arm tattoo is here as well.  Although it's a nice figure, compared to Road Dogg you just don't feel as if you're getting as much.  This is especially jarring when looking at the boxes of both.  A notation on the Dogg's box proudly announces that "2 Shirts & Hat" are included.  Meanwhile on the Warrior's box we are excitedly told that it includes "Authentic Ring Attire."

Don't get me wrong, this Warrior is a great figure and will fly off of the shelves, but "authentic ring attire" that is simply what is painted on is not an accessory that should be touted.  The duster that he wore at the time (and is shown on the box) should definitely have been included.  Why was it not?  Probably budgetary issues, but that's no excuse for covering it up.  If there's no accessory included, there's no reason to look ridiculous and call it out right on the front of the package.

These are both great additions to the line and as I said above, they will be hot sellers.  This is far from the first Mattel version of the Warrior, but they've always sold well.  With his return to the WWE family and hype machine, that's not going to change.  The Road Dogg is not only back on tv, but has always been popular.  An Elite Flashback Billy Gunn is up next and will be a great companion to the Dogg.  I would also not be surprised to see a two-pack of the Outlaws coming up, and hopefully they will look just a tad different to reflect their current image.  In short, I'm asking for 50-year-old "skullet" Billy Gunn.  And I'm not ashamed.  Do it, Mattel!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Going Back To The Beginning...Of Monday Night Raw

As of the time of this writing, we are just days away from the launch of the WWE Network.  In the weeks since the new venture was first announced,  it has become one of the most polarizing topics in not just the world of wrestling, but in all of entertainment.  Will it change not just the viewing of WWE product but other forms of entertainment?  Will it cause more duress for the already struggling (and overpriced) cable companies?  Will the content of the network fulfill the needs of wrestling fans of the past, or just the modern day WWE Universe?  To be honest, we've had little facts given to even begin to answer some of these questions.  Others can only be summed up with the age old adage that "time will tell."

Twenty-one years ago, this same company also changed the face of their business, albeit in a slightly smaller scope.  What would eventually become the flagship program of the late '90s professional wrestling boom, Monday Night Raw, was launched on the USA Network.  Many fans are hoping that past episodes of this wrestling phenomenon will be available on the upcoming WWE Network.  In the meantime, a somewhat overlooked DVD release that has been available for a few years has already offered the best of the early days of wrestling fans favorite Monday night television destination.

"WWE Raw-The Beginning-The Best Of Seasons 1 & 2" was released on DVD in 2010.  While not a season set with each and every full episode that many fans have long asked for, this four-disc set was released long after it became apparent that WWE had no intentions of releasing full episodes or pay-per-views for much of anything from the past.

The early years of Raw are very different from what current fans think of the show as today.  The idea was to have a wrestling show emanating from smaller, more intimate locations where absolutely anything could happen.  Many of the segments featured squash matches, where big name WWF superstars were pitted in one-ended contests against preliminary talent.  Although these are occasionally done today if the situation calls for it and preliminary talent still exists (i.e. Dolph Ziggler), the business largely abandoned that sort of presentation once the competitiveness of the Monday Night Wars called for nonstop stars to capture all-important ratings. 

Nevertheless, these early episodes usually contained one quality "main event" match, and those are ultimately what is presented here.  The WWF had not quite adopted their "New Generation" mantra of the mid-1990's, and it may surprise some as to just how many '80s stars continued to shine here.  From the unarguable first classic match of Monday Night Raw featuring Mr. Perfect vs Ric Flair, to a generous dose of the greatness of early Doink the Clown (as portrayed by Matt Borne), the WWF roster of the time was nowhere as weak as some critics would have you believe.

When I mentioned the Doinkster, I wasn't clowning around.  From the cover of the collection to at least ten appearances in the set itself, the Doink character is firmly represented.  Beneath the paint, Doink had an incredible technical wrestler in Borne.  That, coupled with great psychology and his ability to actually make the character evil, leaves little doubt as to why fans fondly remember Doink's initial WWF stint.

Taking us from the birth of Raw in 1993 to the very end of 1994, we are treated to nearly two full years of superstars and storylines.  While some angles were still progressed on WWF Superstars, you can see how Raw slowly began to take over the reigns of flagship show.  The brief 1993 return of Hulk Hogan, the rise of Bret Hart to main event status, and the reign of terror that Yokozuna held over the WWF championship scene are all here.  Pepper that with lots of Razor Ramon, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Lex Luger, and even some of my favorites in Jeff Jarrett and Rick Martel, and you have quite the set.

What I really enjoyed were segments and vignettes that really haven't been replayed or re-released by WWE all that often.  Things like Jarrett's "Double J" intro vignettes and Jim Cornette shockingly debuting on Raw while Bobby Heenan explodes with joy are finally here to be seen once again in original broadcast quality.  Even some of those wacky early Raw commercials and the infamous July 4, 1993 "Bodyslam Challenge" have made it onto the set. 

Monday Night Raw, like everything else in wrestling, was a completely different animal then.  For those who weren't around then and only know the current product, the differences would probably be jarring.  I know that the new product will never go back to smaller venues due to business, but certainly something from these days could be incorporated into the style and look.  Seventeen years of the screen, stage, and ramp that came with the "Raw Is War" title are about ten years stale already.

Complaining aside, I think what really grabbed me about this set was the aforementioned mixed roster.  Back then watching these shows first run, it never hit me that such a wild mix of talent made up the then-WWF Superstars.  In retrospect, the 1993 roster is a lot like the WWF lineup of ten years earlier.  A mix of veterans, up-and-comers, and no real cornerstone star of the promotion.  In '83, Backlund was stale to many WWF fans.  In '93, Hogan was stale to many WWF fans.  And while The Hitman would never reach the plateau that the Hulkster did, these men would both eventually become that cornerstone star of their respective eras.

Overall, this is a surprisingly fun set that deserves at least one go-around in the DVD player.  Seeing as that I did not miss viewing a single Raw episode as it was aired until a good fourteen or so years after its debut, I can tell you that these DVDs really capture the feeling and atmosphere of what Raw was.  Some rumors have said that the WWE home video lineup will be available on the upcoming Network.  If that turns out to be the case, this set might be one to dog ear for required viewing.  Whether it does show up or doesn't, this is a four-disc set worthy of space on any shelf...uncut, uncensored, and uncooked.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

My Five Favorite Jakks WWE Classic Superstars Figures

I've said it before and I'll say it again, the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line is the greatest wrestling action figure line of all-time.  Was it perfect?  Absolutely not.  There were glaring omissions, errors, and both a rocky beginning and end, but the good far outweighed the bad.  Collectors were treated to product never before thought possible.  When it seemed that the window on figures of so many past superstars had long been slammed shut, Jakks didn't just open it back up, but instead completely shattered it.

I would never expect anyone to believe me, but I actually had an almost completely accurate vision of the line around 1996.  Even in the 1990s, I wanted figures of wrestlers from the past.  The initial Jakks WWF offerings had just began to hit stores and were, sadly, less than spectacular.  One night, while perusing my own figure collection, I envisioned a figure line consisting of all wrestling legends.  The one that I pictured, in dark colored packaging with the figure positioned in the middle, was Nikolai Volkoff with his arms in the air.  Obviously this vision was helped by the original LJN figure of Volkoff, but the Classic Superstars figure that came almost a decade later was pretty darn close.

The Classic Superstars line was predated by two other lines of past stars.  The first was also by Jakks, but earlier in their stint with the WWF license.  This series was limited to just one wave and featured figures of Jimmy Snuka, Fred Blassie, Lou Albano, and Andre the Giant.  The figures had limited articulation and were more like statues, even being packaged as such.  In the late 1990's, Figures Inc. produced a line called "Legends of Professional Wrestling."  These figures were more like toys, featured a wide variety of characters, and were more in scale to the regular Jakks WWF line of the time.  In my opinion this line has been long underrated and will be revisited on this blog in the near future.

In 2004, Jakks began the Classic Superstars line.  With an initially weak lineup filled with mostly stars who had received countless figures in the past, the series gradually began to improve.  In about five odd years, hundreds of figures were produced under the banner, including many stars who, at the time, would have nothing to do with WWE.  Names like Bruno Sammartino and The Ultimate Warrior may be back in the WWE "family" now, but at the time the fact that those stars made deals directly with Jakks to be included in the line was mind-blowing.

In this entry, I present my five favorite figures from the line.  My opinion is no better than that of anyone else, but it is just that, an opinion.  I'm biased, and I present my reasons upfront.  I can still recall collectors being blown away by figures of stars like Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, and Steve Austin in the line.  While they may have been great figures, they didn't excite me as much as others did.  My view of the line was to showcase stars of the distant past, especially those who had never before received an action figure.  Although there is one exception on my list, most of my favorite figures resemble these facts.  Without further ado, in no particular order, here are My Five Favorite Jakks WWE Classic Superstars Figures...

* Goldust

Yes, the bizarre one has had plenty of figures, but this later entry into the Classic Superstars line is in a class by itself.  Originally sold only through an online retailer, the "Shattered Dreams Exclusive" is essential for any collector who favors this line.  The gold packaging of the figure is only the beginning of what makes this figure so appealing.  Goldust is clad in a soft goods robe and is equipped with the gold-strap Intercontinental Championship that he held in 1996.  The head features a facial likeness exclusive to this figure and captures the sneering look of Goldust to a T.  An updated wig accessory that could fit this figure better is just about the only missing ingredient.

* Ernie Ladd

There were plenty of "Kings" in the Classic Superstars line, but this one just might tower over the rest.  "The Big Cat" is presented here in figure form for the one and, thus far, only time.  A groundbreaking superstar in many ways both in and out of the ring, Ladd certainly got star treatment from Jakks.  The likeness of Ladd during his "King" era of the 1970's shines here, and even includes the repeatedly used crown accessory as a nice nod.  The figure is accurately taller than others in the line, making it easy to recreate his legendary feud with Andre the Giant.  Going even a bit further, Jakks made it possible to relive one of the most often seen Mid-South Wrestling main events of all-time: Ladd & The Wild Samoans against Andre, Dusty Rhodes, and the Junkyard Dog.

* Meng

The man known as Haku and Meng had figures under both names in the line, but it's the latter figure that has always counted among my favorites.  Haku was first released as a figure in the final series of the LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars line, but it's an unreleased figure of the man that especially made me appreciate the Meng figure.  When Haku made his return to the WWF in the 2001 Royal Rumble match, Jakks announced that there would be a figure of him in their Stunt Action Superstars line.  The figure ultimately never saw the light of day, but it would've looked similar to this figure since, at the time, Haku was just coming off of his WCW "Meng" run.  The Tongan superstar is one of the toughest to ever enter the squared circle and was always a welcomed addition to any roster that he graced during his storied career.

* Terry Funk

Before Jakks released this figure in the 5th series of the line, it wasn't easy to find a figure of "Middle-Aged & Crazy" Terry Funk.  Funk had both an LJN WWF and Popy Japan figure at that point, but only a Japanese figure released in conjunction with the "Beyond The Mat" movie captured Funk in the look that redefined him in the 1990's.  We would get several more versions of the Funker in later releases of Classic Superstars (including Chainsaw Charlie), but none were quite as cool and iconic as this first release.  Long live the Hardcore Legend!

 * "Outlaw" Ron Bass

Another superstar made his one and only figure appearance in the line, that being "Outlaw" Ron Bass.  This figure always stunned me, as though Bass was a territorial star and also spent some time terrorizing the heroes of 1980's WWF, it was one of the last figures that I ever expected to own.  Once again, an amazing facial likeness is a definite highlight here, and the accessories follow suit.  Even the Outlaw's bullwhip, Miss Betsy, is included for unleashing a wild west whippin' on other figures such as Brutus Beefcake and The Ultimate Warrior.

There's my five.  Do you have a different five?  Maybe you appreciated the '90s stars much more than the territorial greats.  Debates are what make lists like these fun, so let your voice be heard!  If you aren't already following us on Twitter, what are you waiting for?  @JWsWrestlingMem is our handle there, and if you're on Facebook, be sure to "Like" our page and tell us if guys like "The Funker" and "The Bizarre One" made your list!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The WWE Network's Impact On Collecting

$9.99 a month.  It's the deal that has every wrestling fan talking, and for very good reason.  Viewing every WWE pay-per-view event live, an action that once cost hundreds of dollars per year, will now cost just $120 per year.  It's the WWE Network.  It's the first "groundbreaking announcement" in professional wrestling history that actually lived up to the hype.  But while the press conference that announced it answered many questions about the long-delayed WWE outlet, it opened up many more.  Many of those will be answered upon launch in a few weeks, but today we'll be tackling one that may take sometime to get a firm answer to.

There's a large portion of wrestling fans that do not collect much memorabilia.  They aren't interested in action figures, trading cards, magazines, programs, or promotional photos.  They could care less about obtaining an autograph or even snagging a photo with their favorite star.  Their sole monetary investment into the world of wrestling is collecting footage.  From the mid-1970's until about fifteen years ago, tape trading was a huge deal.  Since the turn of the century, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs have crept into the wrestling collector conscious.  Some fans collect each and every pay-per-view release.  Others go for everything that WWE Home Video puts out.  Others enjoy their pretty blue encased lineup of Blu-Rays.

With the announcement of the WWE Network, a streaming service based upon not only new productions but thousands upon thousands of hours of archived footage, DVD and Blu-Ray collectors have been pondering one thing: just what happens to the world of tangible wrestling media?  Now owning the majority of historical wrestling film libraries, WWE is the proprietor of professional wrestling past and present.  In addition to each and every live pay-per-view being presented to subscribers, WWE claims that every WWE, WCW, and ECW past pay-per-view event will be available, on-demand, on the launch date.

There will obviously be exceptions to this statement, but it is a pretty amazing thought that all of this will be available at any subscribing fan's fingertips on a whim.  New content will be added regularly, and many fans are expecting this to be non-pay-per-view supercards, old wrestling television broadcasts, and so much more from a variety of areas, eras, and promotions.  So how exactly will this impact collectors?  I can only give my own take.

Many have already given the nickname of "WWEFlix" to the WWE Network.  It's fitting, as the business model is close to that of Netflix.  Did Netflix kill the DVD and Blu-Ray market?  Absolutely not.  It certainly cut into the business of tangible media, but it has nowhere near killed it.  Many of those that have kept the DVD and Blu-Ray business alive are collectors who are, with all respect given, anal about their collections.  Wrestling collectors certainly resemble that remark in the best possible meaning.  These collectors are perfectly able to enjoy a streaming and/or digital version of the content of their choice, but they want something more.

There's something about holding the packaging, seeing the cover art, and even unwrapping the shrink wrap that is part of the complete experience.  It's a feeling that vinyl record collectors have talked about for years.  You cannot physically hold streaming content, nor can you sit back and look at it on your shelf.  It's along the same lines of the reason that VHS videos remain collectible in the digital age.  Physical media has taken many hits over the years and will continue to do so, but it will never die.

There is also the unavoidable fact that when content is strictly streaming, it can be taken from you at anytime.  Perhaps WWE will feel that having every pay-per-view available is just TOO good of a deal after awhile.  Even Netflix is a revolving door and eliminates content at times.  What if you're in the mood to watch SummerSlam 2002 or Survivor Series 1987 and suddenly they're gone from the Network?  You pop in the DVD, of course.  There's also no guarantee that the price will not rise in a few years.  While I have my doubts that it will ever raise beyond being a sizable deal, there are many personal scenarios that could leave a fan without access for a period of time.

WWE has not released any info regarding future DVD and Blu-Ray releases being affected by the advent of the Network.  There's also absolutely no reason to believe that they cannot co-exist.  Though past WWE Home Video releases such as documentaries and compilations are going to be available on the Network, it is unknown at this time just how fast future additions in that area will show up there.  New pay-per-view events have already been announced as being available directly after.

I've already made my decision.  I, like thousands of others, absolutely cannot pass up the deal that will be offered by WWE with the upcoming Network.  That being said, I only see my tangible wrestling media content continue to grow at the same rate as it has in the past.  I cannot unwrap and hold streaming content, nor can I have it autographed.  Having so many past events available to stream at any time will be great, but if I want to hear original music and other licensed content, I can even go back to VHS on occasion.  The wrestling world is huge, and there is a place for Blu-Ray, DVD, VHS, Laserdisc, 35mm, 8mm, and even the WWE Network.