Thursday, February 26, 2015

WWE Network--The First Year

Let's go back to one year ago.  The Winter Olympics had just ended, winter weather here in the northeast was beginning to wane, and WWE Network was born. In the weeks leading up to the launch, all wrestling fans were discussing just exactly how WWE Network would impact their wrestling viewing.  Even here on the blog I brought up the ways that it could possibly impact collecting. The first day was rough, with servers crashing due to volume of sign-ups. I, myself, even lashed out at a friend when he accessed the page and I didn't! Even after one was finally able to become a subscriber, various problems kept the always complaining Internet wrestling fans well stocked with ammunition.  On my end it was the inability to watch any on demand programming without the shows coming to a crashing halt.

After the first few weeks the initial kinks were fixed and focus shifted to WrestleMania paranoia.  How would the biggest show of the year fare as the first such undertaking on the Network? Would the servers be able to handle the high number watching? What would WWE do in case of a mishap? Rumors even circulated that some fans would purchase the event via traditional pay-per-view "just in case."  Needless to say, WrestleMania XXX on WWE Network went down without any widely-reported problems.

One year later and WWE Network has proven to be well.worth the ever-pushed $9.99 per month.  No matter what you look for in wrestling, you'll find something worthwhile.  Even the most jaded fan, still holding onto their grainy, Clash of the Champions videos taped off of TBS should find solace in the Network.  They can see those specials, and tons of other shows, in unheard of quality.

Even with all of the pluses, there are still areas that could use some major improvement.  There is still an untapped, albeit small, market that wants nothing but old territorial shows and matches. We've seen a recent trend towards these shows, but if the Network started regularly airing some of these shows in order (some may be a tad incomplete due to condition), they may very well latch onto some new consumers.

Another area that needs addressed is the live feed.  With everything available at any time on demand, is there really a need for a 24/7 live feed?  Why not just "switch it on" when actual live content is being presented?  Is it an ego thing?  Was it such a dream of the company to have a nonstop network that they keep it up for vanity?  At the very least, I would put more thought into the programming than what goes into it now. Sure, WWE will throw past WrestleMania events up at WrestleMania season and that sort of thing, but that isn't enough. Triple H recently referenced the first Clash of the Champions event.  Why not air that?  If events in the current product can be accentuated by things out of the past, program them for the Network and have a programming note during Raw that you can "relive" this reference or that moment.  It's not that difficult.

Most everything that has been added has stayed (I hope that the treasures in the Black History Month section don't disappear in March) and some things have even been improved upon.  Many WCW shows were "fixed" once WWE fully had the rights to certain themes.  It would be nice if they would go back and do the same for some WWF shows with the same issue.

My last, but least worrisome gripe is with the search function.  As it stands it is incomplete, difficult to navigate, and generally worthless.  Most of the time I watch full shows anyway, but with the addition of more and more episodes of various shows, it would be nice to know who pops up.  Along the same lines, a "Newly Added" menu wouldn't be a bad idea either.  I can only see so many "Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan welcome the WWE Universe to more Prime Time Wrestling" descriptions before I forget if I've seen the episode or not.

So far, WWE Network has been doing a whole heckuva lot right.  It's great for throwing on as background noise or settling in and enjoying an entire event.  This is how we will know wrestling for the foreseeable future.  I wouldn't toss those DVDs just yet, but hopefully WWE Network keeps all of this content available to us for a long, long time. Originally, this entry was to end with a question as to why us early adopters have not been rewarded for our loyalty. After all, newbies have had a ton of "#FreeFreeFree" deals. Just before press time, WWE began to send out gifts via e-mail to us "lifers." Icing on the cake for those of us who have been pleased with the product.

On a note unrelated to the Network, this week also marked a sad anniversary in professional wrestling.  February 22, 2015 was forty years to the day of the tragic plane crash that killed Bobby Shane and injured Buddy Colt, Austin Idol, and Gary Hart.  By and large, Shane's contributions to the wrestling world are unknown to fans my age and younger.  Some of us have sought out to learn more about him, and I dedicated an entry of this blog to him late last year.  Hopefully, the original "King of Wrestling" will never be truly forgotten.

Bobby Shane * August 25, 1945-February 22, 1975

Thursday, February 19, 2015

From The Musty Yellowed Pages--Japanese Dusty Rhodes Album

There's just something about "The American Dream."  I may have five all-time favorite wrestlers, but I've often said that if I had to choose one, it would be Dusty Rhodes.  From the first time that I saw him, his charisma drew me in.  Looking at his drawing power over his long career, apparently I wasn't the only one!  Glittery robes, cowboy hats, or polka dots, it doesn't matter which incarnation of Rhodes you preferred.  Once "The Dream" had you drawn in via "hard times" or "Dusty B. Goode," he likely had you for life.  And despite being "The American Dream," it's fairly obviously that he was beloved elsewhere, too.

In the late 1970's-early 1980's, a publisher in Japan put out pro wrestling albums, each with a different top star featured.  From favorite gaijin such as Terry Funk, Mil Mascaras, and Stan Hansen to national heroes like Antonio Inoki, Giant Baba, and Rikidozan, a number of these over-sized magazines were produced.  With the rabid enthusiasm towards anything wrestling by Japanese fans, it's no surprise that these glossy, well-produced publications were a big hit in the country. 

The 13th album in the series was on the topic of "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes.  One thing that stands out immediately when thumbing through one of these albums is the amazing photography.  Many of these decades-old photos look as if they could have been shot just yesterday.  The cover here is a great example.  Rhodes and his curly blonde afro jump from the glossy cover.  The "260 pounds of blue eyed soul" never looked better.  Listed on the cover are various points that will be visited inside including Dusty Fashion, Elbow Drop, Contemporary Rhodes, Crossover Rhodes, and Private Rhodes.

Although the inside is largely in Japanese, any fan would enjoy this publication.  The photos are seemingly endless, and most were likely never published in the United States.  Despite that, many of the matches shown are indeed from America, including one of Dusty's legendary Madison Square Garden battles with Superstar Billy Graham and a Bayfront Center brawl with Terry Funk.  The Funker is even clad in his famous "Dusty Sucks Eggs" t-shirt.  Now you can see the result of the talented Japanese photographers seen ringside at many old wrestling matches.

The magazine is a biography of Rhodes, complete with photos of even his earliest days in the sport as "Dirty" Dusty Rhodes and his "Outlaws" partnership with Dick Murdoch.  Dusty is also shown at home with his wife Michelle (mother of Cody), in a rare glimpse of the private side of "The Dream."  In one great picture, Rhodes is depicted serenading Michelle by guitar.  The couple is situated in front of a wall plastered with various photos of Dusty and even a movie poster from "The Wrestler."  I would expect no less a shrine to exist in the Rhodes home!

Most of the book is in color, but there is also a bit of black and white.  The latter includes some interesting cartoons of "The Dream" which most likely originally appeared in other Japanese publications.  In one of the cartoons, it looks like Dusty is passing gas, or at least wiggling his behind, onto a Japanese wrestler.  In another "The Dream" is shown showing off his "Stardust-studded" robes.  In yet another, "The Dream" has suddenly become a roly-poly superhero!  The Japanese flavor of this magazine is especially evident in these illustrated portions.

Throughout the book we are treated to various Dusty-themed magazine covers from here in the United States, likely to demonstrate how big of a superstar he was worldwide.  Perhaps my favorite photo is a shot in what is likely Dusty's office.  "The Dream," wearing his cowboy hat, photos of himself and Eddie Graham hang on the wall, can of Tab on the desk.  It's a great representation of the business side of Rhodes, who had a long and storied history on the business side of wrestling.

It's interesting to see how back in the territorial days of wrestling, stars were able to become as big abroad as they were in their home country.  Legends like Dusty Rhodes often have nothing but wonderful things to say about their tours of Japan.  It isn't hard to believe, from items like this, that these stars were treated like kings by the promotions and fans alike.  Simultaneously becoming a superstar on both sides of the pond, yet another bygone idea from a bygone era of professional wrestling.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Defining Moment For Mattel...Hulkamania Lives

 I can still remember the hype and hoopla surrounding Hulk Hogan's arrival to the Jakks Classic Superstars line.  Both "red and yellow" and nWo versions were planned, with the former being hyped as the best Classic Superstars figure in the line.  While my love for that line is well-documented, it's more for the guys and gals who had few or no figures before that time.  Although some great figures of "The Hulkster" would hit that line later on, those debut offerings didn't live up to the hype.  Now Hogan has made his debut in Mattel's WWE line.  Similarly to Jakks, Mattel has rolled out the red carpet.

It was just a few short months ago that Mattel restarted their WWE Defining Moments line.  The figures represent top stars as they appeared in some of their definitive career milestones.  Around four years ago the line was originally launched and included legends such as Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat, and The Ultimate Warrior. Despite being a hit with collectors due to high detail and unique packaging, the line was dropped around the same time as Mattel's separate Legends line. Since then, select Legends have been included in Mattel's Elite line as "Flashback" figures.

One Defining Moments figure planned before the cancellation was Ric Flair.  In 2014, the line was relaunched starting with The Nature Boy himself.  This was Flair's Mattel debut, and following shortly thereafter was Hulk Hogan.  Hogan sticks out like a sore thumb on store shelves, but it in a good way.  The packaging is designed to look like one of Hogan's shirts.

It's been seemingly hard for manufacturers to nail down Hogan's physique, but Mattel does a very good job. He isn't overly pumped up, nor is he wimpy looking.  His unique style of wearing the famous yellow trunks is well captured here, too.  The facial likeness is good for the Hogan of the '80s, and the hairline matches perfectly. If the hairline on a Hogan figure does not match the era that it's supposed to represent, the likeness suffers greatly.  After all, Hogan's hair has long been a talking point, for better or worse.

This Hogan is based upon the icon's appearance at WrestleMania III where he famously slammed Andre the Giant inside of the Pontiac Silverdome.  Red and yellow were the colors of the day, and at that time Hogan was wearing his headbands with the extra material hanging down the side of his face.  Mattel loves to produce rubber shirts and other clothing.  The Hulkamania shirt here is no different and has a cut down the center where it can be "torn."  It doesn't really have anything to hold it closed, but it works.  The headband "clips" into the hairline and can easily be removed or replaced.

For their first foray into Hulkamania, Mattel brings us some never before included accessories.  The first is the belt that Hogan wore for much of the mid-1980's.  This design has never before been created in figure form.  It has the shiny finish and though it is not completely painted (the flags on the side are colorless), it is an amazing centerpiece for the figure.

A second brand-new Hogan accessory is his famous cross necklace. No fan will ever forget Andre ripping the shirt and crucifix from Hogan's chest on Piper's Pit.  Although it isn't clearly visible while the figure is in the.package, it is indeed included. I don't know that I'd recommend removing it too many times, as the chain has to be a very thin material in order for it to look right and has to be stretched a bit to make it around Hulk's mullet, but it's a very welcome addition.

Well folks, we have a winner here.  Even at brick and mortar stores, this figure is at a higher price point.  I think that, in part, caused the original demise of this series.  If the releases are limited to new-to-the-line names like Hogan and future planned stars like Razor Ramon and Sting, I think the Defining Moments could keep coming.  Now, if we could only get that Magnum T.A. figure released...

Don't forget about my new second blog, #JoshCulture!  This week I take a look at NXT and some of the stars featured on NXT TakeOver!  Have a taste of the "Culture" at:

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The State of Wrestling Collecting Address--2015 Edition

After a solid month of nostalgia with the 25th anniversary of Hasbro WWF, February seems like a good time to look at the present and future.  The last time that I did a "State of Wrestling Collecting Address" was back in the summer of 2012.  WWE was focused solely on their upcoming 1,000th episode of Raw.  We had yet to hear the battle cry of "...for just $9.99" but trends and hashtags were already status quo.  Tout it out, anyone?  Regardless, 2015 has already opened with a lot of promise as far as the future of the business and, of course, its merchandising.

While any numbers have yet to surface, New Japan Pro Wrestling's WrestleKingdom 9 got quite a bit of buzz here in the United States.  That buzz was, in part, due to Jeff Jarrett's Global Force Wrestling presenting the show on American pay-per-view with Jim Ross and Matt Striker on commentary.  It seems that NJPW may finally gain a wide audience in the US with a new television show in the states as well.  I would love to see a WrestleKingdom 9 Blu-Ray release as well as a new line of NJPW figures.  I don't think that there has ever been a better time for the latter.

On the American front, Mattel's WWE line won't be the only new wrestling figures available in 2015.  Figures Toy Company has announced that their Ring of Honor figure line should debut this spring.  Series are expected to have four figures each and will have plenty of accessories, including gold-toned belts.  The company has also expressed interest in producing a new line featuring wrestling legends.  This could greatly fill the void left when Mattel decided to focus on more recent "Flashback" figures.

TNA is still a great unknown.  Although the company is back to regularly taping television, it still feels as if nobody is at the wheel.  Is their relationship with Jakks continuing?  Time will tell, but more waves of repainted figures won't satisfy anyone.  Now that Awesome Kong is back with the company, it's time to get her a full-sized figure.  Rockstar Spud and his act seems to scream "action figure," as well.

Of course, nothing stops the WWE merchandising machine.  Even though they no longer have a monthly magazine, I counted four different publications in January that featured WWE talent on the cover (The Authority and Eva Marie each on a different version of Muscle & Fitness, Brock Lesnar on PWI, and The Undertaker as shown).  One of those was the annual WWE Photos Of The Year issue.  That, coupled with the release of a WrestleMania preview magazine in recent weeks, shows that the company is still producing in-house specials.

Mattel seems to be churning out more product than ever, just in time for WrestleMania season.  Hulk Hogan, Rusev, Doink the Clown, Paige, Bo Dallas, Emma, and Razor Ramon are just a few of the names making their Mattel debut in the next few months.  The upcoming unveilings at Toy Fair should only add more exciting names to that list.

Mattel has also seemingly found a new retail partner for exclusives.  After their exclusive Rocky Maivia during the holiday season, Target has received a special series paying tribute to the WWE Hall of Fame.  Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Ultimate Warrior, Sgt. Slaughter, and Trish Stratus comprise the set.  Packaged in Hall of Fame-styled packaging, the series includes the first figure of Stratus as a brunette.

We're only into February yet already have a ton of new wrestling merchandise to look forward to. Our wallets can share in the excitement, as they look to lose more and more weight as the year progresses.

Speaking of new things for 2015, I now have a second blog!  Josh Culture is an off-the-top-of-my-head look at the things that I enjoy, adventures, food, and yes, even wrestling. This week, my first wrestling story, a trip to Abdullah The Butcher's House of Ribs & Chinese in Atlanta, debuts on the blog. For the many of you who have wanted to hear my stories interacting with wrestlers, trips, events, and more, this is where they will be posted!  Don't forget to follow the blog's twitter @JoshCultureBlog, as well!  Now there's two times the blogging fun!  Check #JoshCulture out at!