Thursday, April 30, 2015

WWE Eraseez Are Here To Build...& Erase!

When a new WWE licensed product hits stores, I will usually always take a look. You never know when some company will come up with an item that just begs to be added to the collection. When the item is fully enclosed in the packaging to the point where the consumer isn't fully sure what they're getting, my interest is piqued. When something is "blind bagged" (the industry term), it usually means that there is a collectibility aspect to the product. The manufacturer wants you to buy more and more packages until you "collect them all." Or until you get so many of the same ones that you give up.

Such was the case in a recent jaunt through Target. Near the trading card section was a peghook full of an interesting new bagged WWE product. The bag, illustrated with John Cena, The Big Show, and The Rock proclaimed that inside was a WWE Eraseez Collectible Puzzle Eraser. Nine different WWE Superstars were depicted on the back. The price, $3.99, seemed a bit steep for what appeared to be a disassembled eraser, but I had to see what these things looked like. Nowhere on the outer package is a description truly given.

Upon opening the bag, I pulled out a fold-out brochure depicting all nine wrestlers. Next out was a clear plastic baggie containing the pieces of everyone's favorite "Yes" man, Daniel Bryan. But wait, there was more to come. The final "lump" in the baggie was the disassembled body of "The Viper," Randy Orton. Now it made sense! Two of these eraser figures for $4. Not a bad deal in today's market.

Apparently I'm late to the party, but a quick Google search reveals that Eraseez puzzle erasers from Bulls-i-toy (sound it out) are made for licenses ranging from Angry Birds to My Little Pony. It's not shocking that WWE got in on such a collectible during a prime era for kids to be watching. Nonetheless, the kid in me was thrilled as soon as I caught a glimpse of these figures and realized, once again, that it was essentially a "Two For $4" type deal in each package.

The erasers are easy to assemble. The parts pop on fairly easily, although I don't think that I would take them apart very often. After all, these are made of eraser rubber. The likenesses themselves are realistic, but have just a tad of a cartoonish quality to them. Although the scale isn't quite the same, they remind me very much of the figures from the sorely-missed Mattel WWE Rumblers line.

Nine WWE Superstars can be "discovered" in the packages including Bryan, Orton, The Big Show, Dolph Ziggler, John Cena, Ryback, Sheamus, The Miz, and The Rock. With two per package, collectors are ideally going to end up with one duplicate when trying to complete the set, but likely will see far more. Surprisingly enough, eBay has not yet been inundated with buyers attempting to sell off their seconds. Either the product is too new or has been largely confined to childrens interests.

Longtime collectors may be reminded of a similar line of wrestling eraser figures from three decades ago. In 1985, Winston Toys produced a line of eraser figures from the Hulk Hogan's Rock N Wrestling cartoon show. This was essentially the only figure line to come from the show, likely due to the WWF's deal for regular figures with LJN. Interestingly enough, the erasers were a blend of designs from the cartoon itself and "shrunken," slightly modified versions of the larger, LJN counterparts. The erasers of Rowdy Roddy Piper, Junkyard Dog, and Wendi Richter have become holy grails.

Will the WWE Eraseez reach that level of collectibility? Most likely not, but you never know. Should sales prove to be poor and the line ends up fading into obscurity, collectors may be paying big bucks for that elusive "unscuffed" Daniel Bryan eraser somewhere down the line. If not, it's no biggie. We have a line of nine WWE Superstars Eraseez to add to the ever-growing lineup of figural wrestlers. No matter the size or intended use, they're fun pieces of wrestling memorabilia, through and through.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Take The Damn Money--The Merchandise of Harley Race

When Harley Race spoke, people listened. With a voice and demeanor like his, you didn't have much of a choice. You also knew that you were in for one Hell of a wrestling match. Harley would talk you into an arena and then back it up in the ring. Was he colorful? Not really. He didn't need to be. He made you believe. There was no question about it, Harley was truly destroying his opponent. Yet, many of his fellow all-time wrestling greats list Race as their favorite nemesis. How could that be? Easy. Harley was that good.

By the time that I was getting into wrestling, Harley was in the WWF as "The King." Though this was the beginning of the end of his career, I knew that Harley Race was something special. He may have looked a tad older than the average WWF superstar of the time, but he could take it to Junkyard Dog, Randy Savage, and Hulk Hogan without missing a beat. As Harley himself will tell you, he felt "The King" moniker was a very worthy gimmick for a man as accomplished as himself. I would have to agree. Harley wasn't taking the title at this point, but he would instead be honored for his years of championships and accomplishments all the while taking then-champion Hogan to the limit.

Interestingly enough, many stars who began in the '60s and '70s got their first taste of merchandising after aligning with the WWF, the champion of wrestling marketing. Harley Race, though a top star of that era, was a different story. JBL often states that if you could build a "sports entertainer" from the ground up, you'd have Randy Orton. Change "sports entertainer" to "professional wrestler" and you have Harley Race. It was that look and aura that put Race on countless magazine and program covers of the '70s. A champion regally displaying the World Heavyweight Championship? A bloody grappler in the midst of an hour-long spectacle? A wrestler slamming the unliftable Andre the Giant? Harley Race made all of those magazine covers happen.

Whether it be the famous blue and red robe, the royal purple "King" attire, or simply a championship belt, Race made for a great photo or trading card, as well. Thanks to his WWE Legends deal, he is frequently featured in modern day Topps WWE releases alongside fellow Hall of Famers such as Bruno Sammartino and Bret Hart. Classic cards of him include appearances in the Wrestling All-Stars, 1987 Topps WWF, Wrestling Legends, and the 1995 WCW Main Event series. The latter card features Race in another successful facet of his career, managing. Before injuries sustained in an automobile accident forced him to retire, Race was an effective manager to such stars as Big Van Vader and Lex Luger among others.

Being an all-time great with the ultimate tough guy look, Harley Race had to have some action figures. He was actually included among some of the very first wrestling action figures produced by Popy in Japan in the early 1980's. Race also saw both his '70s NWA look and his 1980's WWF "King" image produced by Jakks for their WWE Classic Superstars line. While these are all great items, one of my personal favorite wrestling figures of all-time is the LJN WWF version of Harley Race. Released in 1987, the figure is undoubtedly "The King," but with a possibly unintentional twist. The figure is clad in a jacket that looks like a perfect mashup of his WWF cape and one of his ring jackets from the '70s/'80s. Whether LJN was going for that image or not is anyone's guess, but the figure is pure Harley Race, regardless.

I first met Mr. Race over a decade ago. Although he's an extremely nice man and one of the most gracious wrestlers as far as accommodating fans, the voice still scares me. Now in his seventh decade, Harley is still one of the toughest men on God's green earth. No one will ever convince me otherwise. In the way that many fans today look at Brock Lesnar as "the real deal," Harley Race has held that position in many minds since his debut so many years ago. 1980 Race vs 2015 there's a dream match of tough men, fighters, and all out beasts. My money is still on "The King!"

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Mattel & Target Deliver Hall Of Fame-Level Stratusfaction

In many ways, Trish Stratus was the modern day pro wrestling success story. Upon her debut, no one expected Trish to be more than a pleasant piece of eye candy who managed a few wrestlers and then faded into obscurity. The Canadian beauty made fools of all of us, and we couldn't be happier about it. Very few questioned it when Trish was announced for the WWE Hall of Fame back in 2013. She had earned and deserved the honor.

This year, Mattel revived their WWE Hall of Fame figure line as a Target exclusive series. Several years ago some Hall of Fame labeled figures were released through K-Mart, but were essentially repackaged Mattel Legends figures. This new series features four WWE Hall of Famers in new outfits and designs. Our lady of the hour, Trish Stratus, joins Sgt. Slaughter, The Ultimate Warrior, and Stone Cold Steve Austin in the first series. Stratus and Slaughter have proven to be the most popular.

To begin with, this is the first (and possibly only) figure of Stratus as a brunette. This is the hair color that she has kept since retiring from wrestling and utilized in her WWE returns and outside ventures. It makes the figure fun and different, while the unique Hall of Fame package design helps in that regard as well. The head is the same as the earlier Elite Flashback figure of Trish with tweaks to the makeup and, of course, the hair coloring. Her hair has had less of the "feathering" in her brunette years, but I'm not complaining. The makeup on the old figure which she has not worn in recent years helped make the face look more like Trish, but you can still tell that it's her without it.

The attire is based on her WrestleMania XXVII appearance. Her presence was one bright point on a rather abysmal show. Sadly, she was also saddled with Snooki. Who? Anyway, if you lift up the back of her long locks, you'll see that Mattel went the extra mile and applied her "Brunette Mafia" logo to the back of her shirt. Shortly after the figure was released, Trish herself commented on Twitter about the "cuteness" of detail on the figure, "especially the butt." Awww, Trish...

Included is the WWE Women's Championship accessory. Trish is the only figure to have included this belt so far, as it debuted with the first Mattel figure of her. It would have been nice had a small plaque been included with this figures as was with Bruno Sammartino, but I understand budgetary measures. Trust me, it's nice to have a Hall of Fame line at all.

The choice of attire makes this Trish figure a bit more flexible than the first. Her initial figure was based upon the almost bellbottom-esque pants that she wore around ten years ago. The more shape-hugging attire here allows Trish to perform the "Chick Kick" and other maneuvers with ease. I really like the gloved hands, as well. Trish looks a lot tougher here while maintaining her trademark sexiness. Look out, Ronda!

This figure takes me back to sitting in the Garden on the night that Trish delivered her speech. I thought that it was one of the best of the night and her use of props, which has since been copied, was a great addition to her career story. I may be in the minority, but I'd love figures based on some of the more unique Hall of Fame looks (Trish in her dress, bald Bruno, tuxedo Hulk), but then I remember that these are action figures and not...induction speech figures.

The Hall of Fame Trish gets a big thumbs up from me, but you may have to take to the secondary market if you haven't already found one. Plenty were produced, but Trish and Slaughter were very popular. Series 2 featuring Hulk Hogan, Eddy Guerrero, Yokozuna, and Tito Santana as well as a Four Horsemen set are on the way. Even though the idea of a "First Time In The Line" Diva figure in a store exclusive set is insanity, I'd love to see Trish's "Team Bestie" pal Lita in a future set. The Hall of Fame line might also be a good way to get some managers like Jimmy Hart and Bobby Heenan out, not to mention Paul Bearer who has only seen the Mattel light of day overseas.

In the meantime, we now have two different flavors of "Sweet Stratusfaction!"

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Endorse This!

Looking for an attention-grabbing celebrity endorsement? Who better than a professional wrestler? Larger-than-life personas and appearances that usually stick out like a sore thumb when up against regular folk. Wrestlers are used to pumping out rhetoric that will make you want to spend your money on what they're promoting, and they often don't need more than one take to get their message out. It's no wonder that wrestlers have been chosen to go outside the squared circle to promote toys, food products, clothing, and more in the past couple of decades. Often, those appearances have created some fun promotional items in their own right.

It's interesting that the biggest promotional crossover of the 1980's involving wrestling took place without the endorsement of the WWF, just as the company was branching out into similar avenues. Indeed, Sgt. Slaughter becoming the face of Hasbro's G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero toy line is the stuff that Madison Avenue dreams are made of. Although other real life names such as William "The Refrigerator" Perry and Rowdy Roddy Piper have become G.I. Joe figures since, Sgt. Slaughter is still the icon of the line. Many stories have gone around as to why Slaughter left the WWF as the deal was being done, but the one regarding a conflict of interest does make sense. Hasbro owned G.I. Joe while LJN produced the WWF figure line. Some LJN WWF figures made it into an ad for the mail-away 8 inch Sgt. Slaughter figure, but that was the extent of any crossover.

For not having as much merchandise as the WWF, the NWA held its own as far as promotional deals. My own personal favorite is the Mello Yello tie-in starring "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes. Although several can collections were produced featuring a variety of stars, Dusty was front and center in the advertising campaign at both the store and television level. When the charismatic star urged you to "Make The Mello Yello Move!," you listened! Dusty was no stranger to endorsements, plugging Stanback Headache Powders earlier in the decade. Life-sized cardboard Dusty's made their way to stores, and it's hard to forget "The Dream" and his "million-dollar smile" in the tv commercial for the promotion.

NWA endorsements didn't end when "The Dream" departed the organization and Ted Turner took over. You may remember Jim Ross endlessly mentioning Roos Shoes on NWA programming, and the company name even appearing on ring posts. Although the shoes may be long out of style, some of the promotional materials are still very cool. Roos obviously took the endorsement of the NWA stars very seriously and got their moneys worth by plastering the likenesses of Ric Flair, Sting, Lex Luger, and The Road Warriors in shoe stores nationwide. A variety of posters and cardboard standees came out of the promotion, featuring a WWF-level of stardom for the NWA wrestling stars.

Of course, no wrestler endorsement discussion is complete without mention of the legendary line, "Snap Into A Slim Jim, Ooooh Yeah!" Made famous by "Macho Man" Randy Savage, the initial commercials actually featured The Ultimate Warrior. Other WWF Superstars such as Bam Bam Bigelow and Diesel would assume the role when Savage left the company, but none could compare. The "Macho Man" eventually carried the endorsement deal over to WCW with him, where his then-girlfriend Stephanie "Gorgeous George" Bellars also got into the action. Tins, coolers, and more plastered with "Mach" and the Slim Jim logo are available from the long running promotion.

With John Cena and Fruity Pebbles and WWE's new partnership with TapouT, these deals continue to fill advertisers pockets, store shelves, and our consciousness today and far into the future. Did you save that very first Cena cereal box? I did. It's a great reminder that the stars and faces of our favorite pastime can continue to place right up there with celebrities of other genres. Who knows what a wrestler will endorse next? In the meantime...wash those Pebbles down with some Mello Yello, slip on your old Roos, snap into a Slim Jim, and tune into an old G.I. Joe cartoon. Maybe Andre the Giant singing about Honey Comb will come on during a commercial break. Then all would be right in the (wrestling) world.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Wrestling MarketWatch: Sting

One of the last "Hmmm...I wonder what that would be like?" moments in wrestling has finally happened. Sting has wrestled a match for WWE, at WrestleMania no less. While the result of the match surprised many, I'm sure that it isn't the last of The Stinger in the company. The painted-faced icon proved that he could still provide a quality match, and I just don't see the face of WCW going out in a loss, even under contract to Vince McMahon. The company realizes his value as a WWE Legend, and one or two more matches would only cement that. With the fantastic showing of The Undertaker also at WrestleMania, those who said that the match would never happen are already having second thoughts.

Sting's return has likely garnered many new fans for the legend. Those who are new to the party are scrambling alongside old "Little Stingers" to grab items from the long list of Sting merchandise. WCW, TNA, and now WWE have all produced items featuring the various incarnations of Sting. I would venture to say that, in one of their rare moments of being number one at something, TNA may have produced the most Sting merchandise during his times there. WWE has already integrated him into video games, trading cards, and wearable merchandise such as new masks and shirts. In a few months, the first WWE-produced figure of Sting will be making its debut on store shelves as well as on this very blog. In the meantime, let's take a look at some past Sting items and their recent selling prices.

*While the public awaits the Mattel "Defining Moments" Sting figure, some of the older efforts are selling briskly. Due to not signing with WWE until 2014, Sting was an unfortunate omission from the legendary Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line. When Jakks took over the TNA license, several Sting figures were on tap. My two favorites are in the "Ruthless Aggression" style body that was used for most of the Classic Superstars. While the packaging may have been different, the figures themselves were able to blend right in with Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, and the various other legends who did make it into Classic Superstars. Both classic "surfer" and later "crow" Sting variations were made. All have remained popular, but one Sting with his black and white paint was in a set exclusive to Walgreens. The figures were dubbed "Ruthless Impact" by collectors, and did not last long on shelves. The Sting from this set recently sold for $40 in package, with loose examples going for well over $20.

*Sting's merchandising really didn't hit its stride until the early 1990s when WCW began to make deals for action figures and other toys. One of his very first cover appearances was on the 1988 Great American Bash program. Like some of the other WCW events of the time, Bash 88 had an in-house program produced as well as one done by The Wrestling News. Sting makes his cover appearance on the latter along with Ric Flair, Lex Luger, and Dusty Rhodes. This program, the harder to find of the two, recently sold at auction for $22.50.

*The early '90s were filled with colorful eye-catching neon, and Sting's look definitely lent itself to this trend. It also stuck out in the crowd at wrestling events, the perfect way for "Little Stingers" to cheer on their favorite star. Foam fingers and hands, still sold at WWE events today, date back to the early 1980's in pro wrestling and probably even longer in other sports ventures. WCW caught onto this around the time of their other merchandising endeavors, and Sting was at the top of the heap. The orange Sting foam finger recently sold for $28.99.

*WCW Magazine went through various changes over its long run, but its initial format was the best. Several special issues were also released at this time, from the infamous 1993 WCW Yearbook to a puzzle magazine. A few focused on the top star of the company, Sting, and his exploits in and out of the ring. From eating whole wheat pancakes and orange juice for breakfast to wrestling Big Van Vader and Ravishing Rick Rude, these editions made a Sting fan feel as if they had followed him around for the day. One of these magazines, "Sting's Guide To WCW," recently went for $28.11.

*8x10 promotional photos are always an interesting collectible as far as monetary value. Some will sell for hundreds, others for pennies. Is it better to be signed or left unmarked? Personally, I feel a promo photo is one item that always looks better signed. Sting has had plenty of promo shots over the years, but one very interesting 8x10 was released by TNA in 2012. This is an "in your face" depiction of Sting's famous painted mug. This promotional photo, with autograph, recently sold at auction for $42.

"The Stinger." "The Man Called Sting." "The Vigilante." No matter what you call him, he's a Hall of Famer in any argument and is indeed the face of WCW. He evolved the character throughout his career and, while many of us prefer the "surfer" look of old, he's proven to be entertaining in-ring from the '80s to the present. May Bo Dallas not be the final victim to feel the Scorpion Death Drop, for Sting still has more of a story to be told.