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.


Anonymous said...

Didn't they make a Terry Funk as well? Thought I remembered seeing him in that line.

J\/\/ said...

No but I really wanted him and Dory! They did a Japanese figure for the Beyond the Mat movie that looked similar.

American Wind said...

a well written post as usual! i went to a small continental championship wrestling event in Apalachicola Florida last night and Wahoo McDaniel's wife and son were there selling the Wahoo McDaniel figure, i got the regular and bloody variant. I really love the vintage charm of these figures.

J.O. said...

Thanks! It´s hard to find info on this line. I like the vintage style of these figures.