Thursday, June 26, 2014

Jim Crockett Promotion's Coolest Piece Of Merchandise...Ever!

When you think of wrestling merchandise from the '80s, you automatically think of the WWF marketing machine and men like Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, and The Ultimate Warrior.  Their likenesses dominated the products and conscious of collectors of the time and even today.  But that doesn't necessarily mean that items from outside of that spectrum weren't as great.  While Vince McMahon certainly owned the market, Jim Crockett Promotions was able to churn out some items as well in a vain attempt to catch up to the company that was taking over wrestling and crossing over into the mainstream.

Starting with the successful mostly-color/all gloss Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Magazine in the '70s and early '80s, Crockett was no stranger to producing quality publications.  Many of the company's larger shows and events had beautiful full-color programs.  Several attempts at a regular publication to follow up on the MACW Magazine's success were made, but seemed to fizzle out after a few issues.  Magazines solely dedicated to the popular Rock 'N Roll Express were produced as well, and no doubt ended up in the hands of many female fans.

It was in these publications that Crockett was able to showcase what other merchandise he produced.  T-shirts and apparel were aplenty, with everyone from Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff, and Baby Doll getting their own shirts.  Mugs and programs as well as a full line of Four Horsemen attire were also advertised, but one thing that seemed to be popular at the time were bandanas.  Everyone remembers the logo bandanas worn by Hogan and Savage in the WWF, but these were different.  While a few were patterned logos of the stars, many actually featured full depictions of the individuals themselves.  Occasionally the same designs were used on t-shirts, but these bandanas are almost frameable art.

If any of these bandanas stand out, it's undoubtedly the one that depicts The Four Horsemen.  This isn't just any incarnation of the legendary faction, but rather the original group.  Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, and Ole Anderson are in all of their glory.  This is quite possibly one of the few pieces of merchandise to feature the original Horsemen that is licensed by Jim Crockett Promotions.  By the time that many of the other items were produced, including the popular trading cards by Wonderama, Ole had long since left the group.

The amount of detail on the Horsemen bandana is even more striking than those produced later.  The Four Horsemen name is done in glittery gold lettering, there's some cash trailing a limo with a woman's leg sticking out, and there's even a small city skyline to the right, that probably should have been done a bit larger for effect.  The boys are done in a cool pastel look, and while Flair may look a bit feminine, you just can't look past the lipstick on Tully's collar.  Horsemen through and through!

How many of any of these bandanas were made?  We may never know.  I like to call the 1970's the "wild west" years of wrestling.  In turn, the 1980's were the equivalent as far as wrestling merchandise.  We just don't know what all was made from each promotion and won't until those items surface again.  What we do know is that they're fun to collect and part of that enjoyment is making new discoveries of old items.  We also know that even three decades later, The Four Horsemen are still the the ring and printed onto cloth!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

He's Got The Whole Figure In His Hands...

Just when you thought that there was no hope for someone with a non-muscular body type to hit it big in WWE, along comes Bray Wyatt.  Obviously his look isn't the only reason for his success, but it has played a big part.  Fans have largely rejected the overly pumped muscle men that seem to dominate the WWE scene.  Instead, the WWE Universe has latched onto men like Daniel Bryan (smaller), Roman Reigns (big, but covered), and of course, Bray Wyatt.

When a popular character finally debuts as a figure, it immediately becomes a hot item.  Bray Wyatt has the distinction of his first two figures being released simultaneously.  One is in the Basic Mattel series while the other is an Elite figure.  When choosing between the two it isn't always a no-brainer, but it is with Wyatt.  The Basic is just as the name says, basic, while the Elite includes two of Wyatt's most recognizable props, his hat and shirt.

I decided to pass up the Basic and go right for the Elite.  Why buy an incomplete figure when the "gimmicks" are so important to the presentation?  Right away, Wyatt passed my "Mattel packaging test."  As I've discussed before, the Mattel WWE figures have occasionally looked as if they're "floating" in the package.  Bray does not suffer from this, and it is helped by the shirt packaged in the corner.

New pieces had to be designed for this figure, and they capture Bray very well.  Another of my notoriously hated Mattel features, the torso joint, works perfectly with Bray.  Crab walk, anyone?  He isn't a slim fella, nor does he wear conventional gear.  Among Cena, Orton, and Sheamus he sticks out like a sore thumb in the best possible way.  He is imposing in a completely different manner and that, again, is a major part of his appeal.  He's the psychopathic killer child snatcher that appears in your nightmares.  The kind of character that makes wrestling, and your emotions, spring to life.

Facially, I don't think that they could have come closer.  The eyes.  The grin.  All the creepiness that is present not only during his promos, but in his matches as well.  The hat fits on top perfectly, which brings us to the shirt.  We've got some soft goods here, and I could not be happier about that.  The rubber shirts just don't work as well.  I don't think that we've seen the last of the rubber, but I'm glad that it's not a Mattel standard.

You really can't go wrong with this figure, especially if you like having a character with his trademark accessories.  It's a definite "Figure of the Year" candidate, but once the hype dies down it will likely be easy to find.  When a character as hot as Wyatt maintains their popularity, the figure is continually re-released in new series to meet demand.  Rowan and Harper should see a similar shelf life, as their basic figures are being released in a two-pack (with Bray's rocking chair) and in singles packs as Elites.  The latter releases will contain the rest of the Wyatt Family paraphernalia as Harper will be packaged with the lantern while Rowan will have his trademark mask and the rocking chair.

Bray certainly has the whole WWE Universe in his hands, and rightly so.  It's a great character that has elements of Kevin Sullivan, Waylon Mercy, and even a little bit of Cactus Jack.  It's something that is seemingly too edgy for modern day WWE, yet it is exactly what the people want.  And if it ever stops working, they can always revert to my idea of a Pawn Stars stable.  Just imagine Steve Austin as Rick, Greg Valentine as The Old Man, Bill DeMott as Corey, and Bray Wyatt as Chumlee.  Follow The Dollars?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

My Favorite Events--WWE Hall Of Fame 2013

Favorite wrestling events don't necessarily need to include actual matches.  Honoring this great business and its stars can be equally as thrilling and memorable.  While there are many nights like this on a calendar year thanks to various wrestling institutions, the one that gets more attention than any other is the annual WWE Hall of Fame ceremony.  Since 2004, the event has been held on the night before the biggest annual show for the company, WrestleMania.

2013 saw my first pilgrimage to WrestleMania, which of course meant that I would be attending the Hall of Fame.  Initial rumors claimed that a certain 90's supergroup would be inducted that year, not particularly thrilling me.  Not long after, rumors of Bruno Sammartino finally burying his 25-year-long grudge with WWE also began to surface, including word that "The Living Legend" would finally take his place in the Hall of Fame.

As we all know by now, Sammartino did indeed join Bob Backlund, Booker T, Trish Stratus, Mick Foley, and Celebrity Wing Inductee Donald Trump in filling out the Class of 2013.  Held in a Hall of Fame level venue like Madison Square Garden, the atmosphere only enhanced what would have been a magical night no matter the location.

Unlike some years where the speeches tend to lag, almost every inductee had something memorable planned as part of their special moment.  Mick Foley had the first finishing move and pinfall to take place at a WWE Hall of Fame ceremony when he dropped his elbow onto Chris Jericho, lying prone on stage, while CM Punk counted the pin.  Trish Stratus brought several props to her induction as well as the announcement of her pregnancy.  Booker T capped off a tremendous speech with his famous Spinaroonie, while Bob Backlund was simply...Bob Backlund.

Bruno Sammartino was positioned as the "main event" of the evening, as was appropriate.  Tickets to the ceremony did not sell out until after the Sammartino announcement, thus cementing the night as "The Living Legend's" 188th such accomplishment in Madison Square Garden.  I know that I am not the only fan who could never have imagined attending a Sammartino-headlined MSG show, but it happened.

In his speech, Foley pointed out that it would be hard to ever top the 2013 Hall of Fame class.  He was right.  It could be argued that any of the wrestlers inducted in 2013 had the potential to "headline" a Hall of Fame class.  All five were world champions and each left a lasting imprint on the business.  All were also alive to participate, which in the world of wrestling sadly isn't always the case.

The event was also the first of its kind to actually see a bit of merchandising.  While a program is produced for every Hall of Fame ceremony and shirts have been marketed for the past few years, 2013 saw a bit more.  Mattel designed their Bruno Sammartino figure as a homage to the event, complete with accessories of the podium and a WWE Hall of Fame plaque.  In their Best of 2013 set, Topps included trading cards with photos from the event.  A few of their autographed insert cards used these photos as well.

Aside from possibly changing the celebrity inductee (I enjoy The Donald, but Cyndi Lauper would have fit even better), I don't think that we could have gotten a better Hall of Fame in The Garden.  Since most of my favorite events took place before I was old enough to make an effort to attend them, the 2013 WWE Hall of Fame was the perfect storm.  Stars from the past shining one more time in the mecca of pro wrestling, a landmark that will soon be history itself.  "Standin' In The Hall Of Fame," indeed.

Thursday, June 5, 2014


Who in pro wrestling has a bald head, hairy body, and green tongue?  George "The Animal" Steele, of course!  But he isn't the only one.  From the same bizarre realm of the wrestling universe that brought us such luminaries as Mr. Socko, Head, and Rocco came a furry little plush creature that was as inanimate as it was adorable.  It wasn't around long, but many remember at as just another quirky moment in the career of an even quirkier wrestler.  Others know it is a very interesting, and uncommon, entry in the world of wrestling collectibles.  This plush Steele doppelganger is known simply as "Mine."

At the very tail end of his in-ring WWF career, Steele needed something new in his act. It was the second half of 1988 and "The Animal" had been playing to the hearts of the fans as the lovable and turnbuckle chewing buffoon for three years.  For nearly two decades prior, Steele had been a vicious ring villain who terrorized heroes such as Bruno Sammartino and Pedro Morales.  Although changing the gimmick would have fruitless at this point, adding to it was not out of the question.

As the story goes, Steele was on the road with his wife when Hillbilly Jim showed the couple an item that he had picked up to use in his in-ring act.  It was a plush doll of an animal minus the stuffing so that it appeared to be roadkill.  Steele loved that the item was easy to fling around the ring and incorporate into the often comedic side of his character.  Needless to say, Steele wanted something similar for "The Animal."

Told to design this new addition to his character, Steele took several things into consideration.  It had to look like a "friend" that "The Animal" would have.  It also had to be marketable as something children would want to own themselves.  After all, this was right at the time that Vince McMahon realized that he could market and make money off of anything.  With those qualifications and a simple name that could be uttered by even a man with a limited vocabulary as possessed by "The Animal," Mine was born.

The fact is that George Steele was only in WWF rings for a few months at best after Mine debuted.  The doll never made a pay-per-view or any other major event.  Steele was not even being used at events such as Survivor Series and Royal Rumble where the bottom of the barrel was scraped talent wise.  Nonetheless, the replica was produced and made for sale through the merchandise catalog and at live events.  Many WWF items that were sold solely through these channels have become desirable and sought after.  Mine meets that description in spades.

Whether it was Steele's low profile or just poor sales, very few Mine dolls show up these days.  It is a shame, as the toy is well made and those that have survived still have a lot of green-tongued life in them.  The merchandised example seems to be the exact same size as the ring-used version.  He has small circular patches of velcro on each "hand" so that he can hang from the ring ropes, just as he is on the cover of Steele's 2013 autobiography.  Interestingly enough, the cover is the sole reference to Mine in the entire book.

Mine returned to collectors conscious about a decade ago thanks to Jakks.  The prototype of the George Steele figure included in the WWE Classic Superstars line was holding a figure-sized Mine.  As much as this thrilled fans, they were equally as disappointed when the final product was released and devoid of any such accessory.

In 2011, figure collectors could finally rejoice.  The Mattel WWE Legends figure of Steele included Mine in all of his glory, complete with poseable arms.  What was interesting about this interpretation of Mine is that the furry sidekick has feet.  While none of the production versions of the actual Mine doll have feet, an early version that Steele carried around did in fact feature them.  It should be noted that this early version of Mine also has a much smaller bald spot on his head.

I actually have no childhood memory of Mine being used.  I remember watching "The Animal" long before his little friend came along, and vividly recall the green tongue, especially on the LJN figures of Steele.  My first recollection of Mine was of someone waving a Mine doll in the audience of the 1995 WWF Hall of Fame induction ceremony.  The moment was replayed several times in a televised recap of the event.  Shortly after I saw the doll in a merchandise catalog nestled in a WWF Magazine back issue.  Although that confirmed that they were planned to be sold, there never seemed to be one available for sale on the secondary market.

Years later, I can include myself in the small, but proud, group of collectors who own a Mine.  It's fun to own a replica of an in-ring item from back when those types of collectibles were few and far between.  It's also obscure enough to make for a great conversation piece.  After all, fans going back and watching wrestling from that era will know nothing of Mine without seeking out the television episodes that Mine appeared, or possibly a taped house show appearance.

As far as wrestling's inanimate characters, Mine is in a class by himself.  Mr. Socko, like his owner, wore out his welcome long ago.  Head created too much controversy, especially among soccer moms with agendas.  Rocco could have been something interesting, but seemed very out of place coupled with the streetwise Legion of Doom.  Mine grew to mythical proportions for a time when collectors wondered if it was ever even actually sold.  Now that we know that he in fact was available, for some of us it's like owning a piece of "The Animal" himself, just a heckuva lot cuter.