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.