Thursday, March 27, 2014

Hall Of Fame Merchandise--2014 Edition

I steal a line from Jerry Lawler each year, but it's true: the Hall of Fame is my favorite night of the year in WWE.  It has plenty of detractors, but the one thing that cannot be denied is that in the eyes of the mainstream public, the WWE Hall of Fame is *the* Wrestling Hall of Fame.  As long as WWE is around, it will be the most recognized and accepted, especially if the rumored plans of a brick and mortar version come to full fruition.  In an industry like wrestling, you can't really say who should or should not be celebrated for their career efforts, but I think last year's long-awaited inclusion of Bruno Sammartino should satisfy many.

Being present for Sammartino's induction last year is a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life.  I've already told why it meant so much for me to be there, at Sammartino's 188th sellout of Madison Square Garden, so I can only pass along some advice to anyone attending the events of WrestleMania XXX weekend: get to the Hall of Fame!  This year's class is another star-studded list of superstars from a variety of eras.  While no class will ever top 2013's in the minds of those who were there (and many who weren't), 2014 is definitely a class without a weak link in the bunch.

The Ultimate Warrior, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Lita, Paul Bearer, Carlos Colon, and Scott "Razor Ramon" Hall make up the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2014 along with Mr. T for the Celebrity Wing.  Each of these names made an undeniable impact on their respective eras (or area in the case of Colon) and therefore spawned multiple pieces of merchandise in their likenesses.  In honor of each inductee, we'll take a look at some of the most memorable items to come from these stellar careers.

Although some may not have actually seen him wrestle, most children who collected wrestling action figures in the '80s know the name Carlos Colon.  He was the figure in the Remco AWA line that came packaged with Abdullah the Butcher.  It was a no-brainer, as Colon and the Butcher have had countless battles in the past three or so decades, including many on the island of Puerto Rico.  Colon's figure is memorable for its bright orange (or red) cloth singlet, but the scarred forehead of the figure makes the likeness perfect.  Colon, the owner of Puerto Rico's WWC, is also the father of Primo and Carlito and uncle of Primo.

Another man who likely made his first impression on young wrestling fans of the 1980's was Scott Hall.  A solid hand in the AWA among other areas, Hall made his toy debut just as Colon did, in the Remco AWA line.  "Big" Scott Hall was another Magnum P.I. lookalike similar to Magnum T.A., but the mustached star would go through several identities until finding his greatest fame in 1992 as Razor Ramon.  "The Bad Guy" seems to be the incarnation of Hall that WWE is focusing on for this induction, but there is no doubt in my mind that the man who "Oozes Machismo" will return to the Hall of Fame again as a founding father of the nWo.

After 2013's induction of Trish Stratus, it is only fitting that her #1 contemporary should follow suit.  Amy "Lita" Dumas was not only one of the top female wrestlers of the late' 90s and early 2000's, but also one of the biggest sex symbols ever to hit WWE.  An unconventional look, an aggressive attitude, and the feeling that any fan could "hang out" with the redheaded beauty helped cement her legacy in the business.  It was those qualities that landed her on so many magazine covers of the day, both with and without her partners in "Team Xtreme," The Hardy Boys.

It was only a year ago at this time that the entire world was mourning the death of Paul Bearer.  The legendary manager of The Undertaker, famous the world over for his ghastly look and unmistakable wail of "Ohhhhh Yes!", left a legacy that will likely never be matched.  A manager was never so closely associated with his charge as Bearer was with The Undertaker.  Despite not being a regular wrestler, Bearer's unique persona still lent itself to countless pieces of memorabilia.  I can still remember the excitement when the first Paul Bearer figure was slated to hit stores.  The figure is part of JusToys WWF Bend-Ems line, and was originally included with the Bend-Ems ring.  The ring was first slated to include Dink, but when Doink and his midget companion were being phased out, Bearer was made as a very suitable replacement.

Jake Roberts may be as well-remembered for his exploits away from the business as he is for his in-ring work, but there's no denying that he provided countless great memories for fans of the '80s and '90s.  Roberts had a fine career before he began carrying bagged pythons to the ring, but it's that image that is best remembered.  My favorite Jake "The Snake" Roberts item is one that was featured not long ago in these pages: the Hasbro Jake Roberts "snake" toy.  For what could have been several reasons the snake is not named, nor does it closely resemble any of Jake's more infamous pets.  Even still it is one of the most unique and fun WWF items from that era.

The "main event" induction of the 2014 WWE Hall of Fame will more than likely be for a man who is no stranger to main event status, The Ultimate Warrior.  The Warrior, as controversial a superstar as there ever was, will no doubt provide one of the most memorable induction speeches ever to grace the Hall of Fame stage.  Over the years, his action figures have been some of the most memorable as well.  Hasbro, Jakks, and Mattel have all provided some great representations of the Warrior, but the LJN version was the first.  As part of its final series packaged on black colored cards and released by Grand Toys of Canada, the Warrior is one of the most desirable in the entire line.  The figure captures the wild then-futuristic look of the Warrior while still allowing it to fit in with the rest of the line.

Memorable merchandising is only what we focus on here on the blog.  There's much more to these men and women than just that, and we'll be reliving so much of that in just a bit over a week from now.  With the Hall of Fame ceremony scheduled to be broadcast on the WWE Network, there's no excuse for anyone in the United States to miss my favorite night of the WWE calendar.  And if you do?  Well, I pity da fool...

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Looking Back On Five Years...

Blogging about a blog?  Only on special occasions, but a five year anniversary definitely warrants it!  Five years of wrestling memorabilia, memories, fun, tears, and maybe even a bit of drama (I'm looking at you, A.J. Lee).  We've discussed it all here, and had you told me five years just how much ground would be covered, I'd have called you crazy.  To put it into perspective, WrestleMania 25 was on the horizon, TNA was still starring Sting, Jeff Jarrett, and Mick Foley, and the game changing WWE Network wouldn't even have been imagined in the form that it eventually took.

For those that don't know the story, this blog was born out of an online newsletter.  When I first hit cyberspace a whopping twenty years ago in 1994, it never hit me that people who were online would care about wrestling.  I can still remember a preconceived notion of mine that anyone online must only be obsessed with Star Wars or Star Trek.  To an extent, it was true, but eventually I began to discover clusters of wrestling fans in the then-new medium.  When America Online was a thriving entity, they hosted both the AOL Grandstand and the WWF's first venture into cyberspace.

Into the late '90s, I came up with the idea of a newsletter covering wrestling memorabilia.  Recruiting subscribers from the AOL boards and relying heavily on word-of-mouth, the newsletter was born.  Sadly, I can say that only one full issue remains in my collection.  With a HUGE subscriber base and a ton of product to cover (this was the "Attitude Era," after all), the newsletter thrived and garnered a very nice following.  Eventually, because of other interests and the life of a highschooler, I had no choice but to fold.

In the decade between the end of the newsletter and the birth of the blog, it became apparent to me that a lot of people enjoyed my first venture.  "Do you still produce it?"  "Why did it end?"  "Is it coming back?"  I would hear those questions and more from wrestling fans both on the Internet and in real life.  I didn't have much interest in doing a newsletter again, but surely something could be done to address the great readers that missed it and satisfy my yearning to write about wrestling kitsch again.  The answer?  The blog.

Originally I didn't intend to publish new content weekly.  If you look back at the earlier entries, a few win absolutely no awards for "quality" or "quantity," but as with any writer, reader response is what kept me going.  As much as I like going back and reading some of the entries, I don't publish it for myself, so I've appreciated every little comment I've ever gotten.  Any time that someone shoots me an e-mail, posts on the Facebook page, or pulls me aside at an event, I truly take it to heart.  I've had to opportunity to meet a ton of great people thanks to this weekly look at wrestling.  The blog matters, and exists, because you all take the time to read it.

Here we are in 2014 and it's actually a really great time to be a wrestling fan.  In fact, I will go on record as saying that we're closer than we've ever been to another "boom" period for the industry.  The WWE Network is setting out to not only change this industry but to also help further the evolution of home entertainment itself.  Mixing the glory days with the current product has always been my idea of a recipe for wrestling success.  That, coupled with the fact that WWE finally has stars that fans are emotionally invested in for the first time in a decade, is a sign to me that wrestling is back.  Is it the exact thing that many of us grew up loving?  No.  But some of it is pretty damn good, and I can assure you that I'll be here riding the wave for at least another five years.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Topps Carries Their WWE Run Into 2014

 After the "Glory" of last week, Topps and their WWE product get some equal time under the bright lights of the blog.  Putting out an average of two sets a year, Topps has had ups and downs with their WWE card series.  Reuse of photos, little variation in design, and a feeling that the company has gotten complacent at times with their WWE product hasn't always helped propel the cards to the tops of collectors lists.  Looking at the box where not much more than the color has been changed doesn't bode well, but let's take a look inside.

WWE 2014 is the first trading card offering of the year from Topps.  A 110-card base set is accompanied by several subsets, base card parallels, and, of course, tons of hits.  From autographs to relics to new championship plate cards, there are tons of hits to hunt for as is usually the case.  The autograph list is rather unremarkable this time around, with Shawn Michaels and John Cena probably being the most desirable.

Opening a hobby box ensures two hits.  Guaranteed are one event-worn relic and one card from one of four categories: autograph, Diva kiss card, championship plate card, or mat relic.  The mat relic cards are the least desirable of these.  They're long overdone in the wrestling trading card world, but are the easiest to produce.  The mat was changed in between each match at WrestleMania 29.  I saw "cleanliness" as a reason given as to why it was done.  I guess the WWE Superstars are allowed to perform dirty at every other show.  The WrestleMania 29 mat relic cards from the previous Topps set is proof positive.

I was lucky enough to pull one of the new championship plate cards.  One of thirty different stars or teams are featured, along with three inset plates of the current representation of the championship that the wrestler(s) held.  With the recent controversy surrounding the "Straight Edge Superstar," there may have been no better plate to pull than that of CM Punk's.  The plates are more than just gold etched foil.  They're what you might see a medallion produced from, and I wouldn't mind seeing more of these cards in the future.

The 110-card base set is full of just about every current WWE superstar that you can think of.  In fact, I think that just a bit too many members of the roster were included.  Jim Ross is said to have written the card backs, and even Good 'Ol J.R. seemed to struggle to think of a few sentences for a number of these stars.  The world really did not need yet another Curt Hawkins or Rosa Mendes card.  The final fifteen cards of the set are Legends, and it's nice to see names like Larry Zbyszko, Diamond Dallas Page, and the Honky Tonk Man in the set.

My favorite subset is made up of twenty cards dedicated to the young talent of NXT.  Names already familiar to the WWE Universe such as Emma, Alexander Rusev, and Adrian Neville (especially after his showing on WWE Network's NXT ArRival) are included as are future names such as Bayley, Konnor O'Brien, and Mojo Rawley.  Interestingly enough, Xavier Woods, who has been on the main WWE roster for a few months now, is featured in the NXT subset while Bo Dallas is in the base WWE set.  Dallas has not been seen outside of NXT since the 2013 Royal Rumble.

Other subsets include WWE Champions, Greatest Contenders, and Greatest Championship Matches.  These cards feature some great shots of past and present superstars and events, including another new Bruno Sammartino card.  In fact, this set struck a special place in my heart with several generations of Pittsburgh wrestling included.  In addition to the aforementioned Zbyszko and Sammartino cards, a Bragging Rights 2009 card (the final pay-per-view held in the Pittsburgh Civic Arena) and a rookie card of NXT star Corey Graves (Pittsburgh's Sterling James Keenan) are also here to represent the Steel City.

Overall, I'm pleased with this set.  You could have skipped every set since WWE Heritage 2012 (my all-time favorite Topps set) and not missed much.  A nice design (the same as that of Topps 2014 sports sets), some new rookies, and Legends new to the Topps collection are definite highlights.  I was even able to complete a 110-card base set from one single hobby box.  That being said, I'd have preferred another non-gloss set this time around, but there's time for that.  A Chrome version of this set is coming in June, which is my least favorite type of card, but that means that there will be at least one more set of product coming in 2014.  WWE Heritage 2014?  Based off of the 1987 Topps WWF design?  Let's do it.

Oh yeah, each hobby box does include two hits.  What was my other hit?  Well.  No "Glory" days here, that's for sure...

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Glory: The Last Hurrah Of TNA Trading Cards?

You may recall that I wasn't exactly pleased with the last series of TNA trading cards from Tristar.  The design and feel all seemed very rehashed.  To be fair, it's a rut that the Topps WWE trading cards have fell into more than once, so in no way is the blandness confined to one company.  Around the time that I reviewed that set, Tristar announced that their next set, TNA Glory, would contain "On-Card" autographs.  For many collectors, especially those focused exclusively on cards, this was great news.

Most autographed cards from the majority of sports and manufacturers in the past decade or so have utilized stickers.  The talents autograph the clear stickers which are later attached to the cards by the manufacturer.  It's an easier way for the cards to be autographed by stars who are often hard to pin down.  I prefer obtaining my own autographs, but many card collectors will only accept the signed cards that are inserted into the packs and boxes into their collections.  Although it takes a great deal of the personal feel out of collecting, it's still a lot of fun to pull these cards.

With each Tristar TNA product, retailers that actually sell the cards seem to grow fewer and fewer.  Target and many local card dealers do not carry the line anymore despite still being listed on the Tristar site.  For most collectors, buying a hobby box has become the best way to collect the new TNA sets.  With the past few sets, buying a box has insured that you will collect a full base set of cards and obtain a number of "hits" that include various forms of autograph, limited, and relic cards.

TNA Glory once again promises greatness right on the box.  3 autographed cards are guaranteed, with at least one promised to be one of the new "On-Card" autographs and another card featuring multiple signatures.  Also promised is an authentic Slammiversary 2013 autographed ring mat card or a TNA event-worn clothing card.  I think anyone would prefer the autographed mat in this instance. 

Unlike last time where my pulls were rather lackluster, I was pleasantly surprised.  While it didn't compare to my Hulk Hogan and Sting pulls of the past, anytime you end up with five autographs from a box, it's a good day.  Especially when four of those autographs are from female stars.  The female autographs will almost always be more desired by collectors in the same respect that ex-Knockouts and Divas always do well on the autograph convention circuit.  Whether it's a matter of taste or a sign of some lonely days and nights on the behalf of the collectors, I'll leave for you to decide.

The on-card autographs really do look nice, especially since a blank area was left on the card for the star to sign.  James Storm and Christy Hemme are a good, middle-of-the-road, pair of on-cards to pull, and definitely trump what could've been...see Rockstar Spud.  The double autograph, a dual signed card of Gail Kim and Velvet Sky, is another one that any fan would be pleased with.  These autographs also feature different color foil designs.  Some collectors have been known to try and track down all of one color for sets.

My favorite pull is the Slammiversary 2013 autographed ring mat card.  Taryn Terrell, formerly WWE Diva Tiffany, was the signature and photo on my particular pull.  The card is very thick, and features a large piece of mat to fit the full signature on.  Seeing as that Terrell defeated Gail Kim in a highly touted match that evening makes the card all the cooler.  It certainly beats the days when relics would be inserted into a card and have little or nothing to do with the talent depicted.

The base set consists of 99 cards.  I'm a much bigger fan of this design than the previous set, and the All-American colors remind me very much of what a Great American Bash trading card set may have looked like.  Hogan, Sting, Jeff Hardy, AJ Styles, Kurt Angle, and the Knockouts are all here, as are King Mo, Rampage Jackson, and Tito Ortiz.  The final ten cards are Jeff Hardy art cards that form a mural of sorts when put together.  If Hardy's "Imag-i-nation" gimmick of the past is your thing, these are the cards for you.  The old Topps "sticker back" puzzle pieces these are not.

As always there are countless color parallels as mentioned above as well as other limited cards such as Sam Shaw-drawn caricatures.  Also as mentioned above, you once again pull a full 99 card base set among the twenty packs in the box.  This is a really nice feature that makes buying a box all the more worth it.  A base set itself will usually set a collector back between $15-$20, so in general it's more economical to just buy a box.

I'm much more satisfied with Glory than I was with Live.  I'll admit that it's partially because I obtained better hits this time around, but the fact that there were better guaranteed hits to begin with helped as well.  The design and photo choices are also a factor.  I am concerned for future releases due to changes in TNA.  With Hogan and Sting no longer in the company, the desirability of buying boxes for hits is going to diminish greatly.  Any autograph is nice to have, but the rest of the roster is extremely accessible for autographs in person.  Only the card collectors that demand "authentic" autographs are really going to want endless Bobby Roode autograph hits, and even those collectors are often driven by value.  Hogan and Sting were the reasons for the high secondary market prices of TNA autograph cards that Tristar so often brags about in press materials.  With those two legends gone, it's hard to predict the future of TNA trading cards.  "Cut" autographs of wrestling legends that are purchased by the company and inserted into cards is one avenue that could be explored, but that's purely my own idea.  As with most things TNA-related in 2014, time will tell...