Thursday, May 28, 2015

Figureless Legends Get One More Shot At Immortality

Just when you thought that Mattel and WWE would be the sole wrestling figure source for the foreseeable future, a new "renaissance" of sorts hits the hobby. It's been no secret that Figures Toy Company has been busy creating the debut figure line for Ring of Honor for quite some time. Just this past week, the first four figure heads were unveiled, including Kevin Steen, much to the surprise of many. Steen, now known as Kevin Owens in NXT, is the first "Throwback" figure for the line, and it will be interesting to see if we also get a Mattel figure of the man in the same calendar year.

Figures Toy Company has also announced that they will be producing two addition lines: one of current, non-contracted, indy wrestling talent, as well as a new Legends of Wrestling line. It was not that long ago that I featured the original Figures Toy Company Legends of Wrestling figure line here on the blog. That line still contains a few stars of yesteryear who otherwise would not have an action figure.

As trivial as it may seem to some, I've heard some celebrities claim that they really didn't realize that they had "made it" in their profession before they saw their own action figure. No matter why it was produced, it's an honor. In a way, it's the modern day form of receiving a statue. Having your likeness immortalized in a form that will stand the test of time would be humbling to most. While so many wrestling greats have had this honor bestowed upon them, many still have not. Others deserve that chance again. Mattel has once again stepped it up as far as producing stars of the past in their WWE line, but it just hasn't been enough. Though the company has gone a bit deeper in character choices, they're still playing it safe and attempting to produce stars that kids just might know, ignoring the wants of the more mature collector.

Through various forms of social media including Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit, Figures Toy Company has slowly released information regarding these new figure lines. For starters, all of the lines will feature the Jakks "Ruthless Aggression" styled bodies. This is not a huge surprise considering that the company has used the body style for other figures. This is particularly notable for the Legends line as, in a way, this will be the second revival of Jakks legendary Classic Superstars line. The original line went into character depth that had never before been explored as far as wrestling action figures. When Jakks and TNA joined forces, the style was briefly revived with the "Legends of the Ring" line that produced, among others, Sting and Jeff Jarrett. Should all go according to plan, we will see yet more legends joining the compatible style.

Until more signings and announcements are made, we can all speculate just who will see inclusion in the line. As both FTC and logic will tell us, the wrestlers cannot be ones under current deals with WWE or other companies. Those deals generally end without much of a fanfare, leaving fans to figure out just who will and won't have a shot. I've previously taken a look at stars who've never had an action figure, but now that there is a new hope for these figureless folk, it's time to see who has a realistic shot.

Many times over the years I have publicly lamented the lack of a Magnum T.A. figure. The man was destined for the top of the business when his career was tragically cut short. Mattel had positioned Magnum for a WWE Legends figure, but callously went back on their plans. I spoke to Magnum about the figure last year at the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Fanfest. He had indeed been contracted and paid for the figure, but didn't have much hope that his young sons would ever get to play with it. If I had to choose one figure for the line, it would obviously be the man known as Terry Allen.

It's amazing to me that men who played such an important part in the early "television era" of wrestling such as "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers and Verne Gagne have never been immortalized in plastic. It could be argued that they wouldn't appeal to children, but Figures Toy Company has proven with other lines that they're quite aware of the adult collectors. These lines will likely be tailored to them, leaving hope for these NWA and AWA pioneers.

Gagne really should have received a figure in his own AWA line produced by Remco. It's actually quite surprising that he didn't. Had the line gone on a year or so longer, perhaps a Verne complete with He-Man-esque physique (as the Remco line is so infamous for) would have made it to store shelves. A few who did make it to the AWA line such as Larry Zbyszko, Nick Bockwinkel, and Stan Hansen could all use some modern-day representations.

Speaking of modern-day, how about a man who still competes on the independent wrestling circuit today? Not only is he an ECW original and a WWE alumni, but I have always felt that he was the one wrestler who was absolutely made to be an action figure. I can only be talking about The Blue Meanie. Perhaps the most fan-friendly wrestler around, Meanie continues to entertain those fans on shows around the country. What puts Meanie even more into the "has to be made" column is the fact that he could fit into two of the upcoming FTC lines, either Legends or the independent stars.

If you've followed me at all over the years, you know that I have a soft spot for the female legends of the ring. While I realize that some just would not be marketable in the figure world, there are quite a few that would be coveted as figures by fans. Missy Hyatt and Leilani Kai have both stated that action figures are just about the only things missing from their long careers. Other great candidates would be Baby Doll and Wendi Richter. The various Halls of Fame for the pro wrestling world are filled with female stars who never got their due. Maybe this time around we can see female figures of more than just the usual suspects.

Last but not least, I would love to see figures of the territorial stars. They may have had a cup of coffee or two in the big time, but these guys were the true warriors of the road while going up and down the highways and bi-ways of the '70s , '80s, and '90s. These are men like Dick Murdoch, Exotic Adrian Street, Ronnie Garvin, and Tracy Smothers. Tag teams like The Andersons, The Blackjacks, and The Heavenly Bodies. The boys (or their families) deserve that one last payday, and we fans deserve remembrances like these to honor their work. I'd bet that Blackjack Mulligan prototype is still hanging around somewhere...

From here, I leave it to Figures Toy Company. As a fan of their "ReMego" line of figures based on the 1966 Batman television series, I can tell you that they will work hard to bring fans exactly what they want. These names are just an example of exactly what collectors are looking for. The Classic Superstars line didn't end as it should have, with many loose ends and disappointments. This is the line that can change that. I wouldn't bet against it.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Slamboree: A Legend's Reunion

In his various creative tenures, "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes had some great ideas. War Games, Starrcade, and BattleBowl are just a few of the famous concepts to come from the mind of the Austin, Texas-born legend. Another came in 1993, just as Dusty himself was moving into retirement from action between the ropes. The event would be a WCW card interspersed with appearances and even matches showcasing the stars of yesteryear. This event would become known as Slamboree.

Newer fans may not realize it, but for many years WCW was the only major company to recognize the history of the business. From roughly after the end of Tuesday Night Titans (where history was often discussed) until the late 1990's, the WWF went to great pains not to acknowledge anything outside of its own umbrella. When a talent left the company, they were no longer mentioned. Period. WCW was different, and this show was proof of it. The company was happy to acknowledge its roots in both Mid-Atlantic and Georgia Championship Wrestling as well as its former stars.

The event lasted from 1993 to 2000, but it was the first three years that were something special. In addition to legends appearances, the WCW Hall of Fame ceremonies hosted by Gordon Solie were held at Slamboree. Matches such as Dory Funk Jr. vs Nick Bockwinkel, Terry Funk vs Tully Blanchard, and Dick Murdoch vs Wahoo McDaniel were among the legends bouts held over those first three years of Slamboree to accompany the stellar WCW roster of the time. Be sure to check these shows out on WWE Network as opposed to the Turner Home Video releases. The latter cut many matches and fun moments, such as the "Fabulous" arrival of a certain Queen of Wrestling in 1993.

In the first year especially, WCW took an almost WWF-like approach to the event with a weekend of festivities. Unlike the WWF, who would've showcased these events on television, WCW barely made note of them aside from brief mentions on commentary. Thanks to folks like fan/collector George Mayfield, video records of these happenings do exist. In addition to meet and greets, a dinner was held at CNN Center the night before Slamboree 1993. Fans could mingle with the stars and legends as the card the next night was hyped even further. It should be noted that Sting's mystery opponent (replacing Scott Norton) was announced as Nailz during this dinner. By the time of the match, he was simply referred to as "The Prisoner" for obvious legal reasons.

Some cool merchandise came from these early years as well.  An 8x10 photo set was produced for Slamboree 1993. Nine photos featuring thirty-four legends were produced. Interestingly, not every legend featured at the event was included in the photos. On the flip side, first-person accounts indicate that not every star in the photo set was available for autographs. It's a fun set, and even after the passage of over two decades, many of the signatures are still attainable.

In 1994, WCW took a different approach that turned out just as fun. In lieu of photos, a program was produced that ultimately folded out into a large event poster advertising that years matches (including the ill-fated Big Van Vader-Rick Rude main event). The inside also featured bios on the legends, many of which were autographed at the "Slam Meet" event which was also held this year. This turned out to be the last year where a large grouping of legends appeared. By 1995, the last year of the "Legends Reunion" theme, the superstars of the past were limited to those participating in the Hall of Fame ceremony and match.

Slamboree was one of the events that I was hoping WWE would eventually adopt, along with The Great American Bash, Starrcade, and War Games. As we know, only one of those came to pass with more unlikely for the future. Still, with old concepts returning to spice up the Network, would a few WCW shows really hurt? Surely something using the Bash name could be a fun summer event. Want to really make NXT fans squeal with delight? How about the first WWE-branded War Games match using NXT stars? Even the original Slamboree concept could be revisited. NXT has been using older talent. Have some up-and-coming stars battle the "new" legends. Dusty is already a force in NXT, it's time to bring some of his past victories full (squared) circle.

I was thrilled to make an appearance on the latest edition of The Bix Show podcast which dropped yesterday. Bix and I discussed lots of wrestling memorabilia, including many items that you've seen here on the blog, so I hope that you will all check it out. You can download it directly at or you can subscribe through iTunes. I hope that you enjoy listening as much as I did participating, and I hope to return to the show in the future!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

England's Latest & Cutest WWE Export Goes Elite

We've been through it before. "First Time In The Line," "Diva," and a cool accessory can be a recipe for disaster as far as finding a Mattel WWE Elite figure. Although the higher priced Elite figures never seem to be quite as challenging to find as "hot" figures in the Basic series, occasionally distribution and other factors can figure into it. So far, the hottest WWE figure of 2015 has proven to be the equally hot-looking Paige. The 22-year-old Diva made her impact on the independent scene, NXT, and has now taken the main WWE roster by storm in the past year.

Paige joins the Mattel WWE line as part of the Elite 34 series. It's a Helluva set, with "modern" Hulk Hogan, Rusev and Doink the Clown all making their Elite figure debuts. As I always note, the Elite female figures are built the same as the Basic Divas, although they include accessories. Those accessories are likely part of the popularity of the Paige figure, but we'll get to that.

Mattel seems to have gone all out with the design of Paige. In addition to many newly sculpted costume parts, I do believe that the midriff part is new with this figure. The outfit design is "classic" Paige and matches the image of her on the box as is usually the case with Mattel. I'm glad that a dark purple outfit was chosen rather than basic black. The detail on the studded belt really pops out and almost appears as if it's a separate piece. The skin tone is as white and almost porcelain as the real Paige, and it wouldn't have been acceptable any other way.

As far as the facial likeness, there is no doubt that this is Paige. From the cleft in her chin to the lip piercing to those dark eyes, Paige certainly transferred well into figure form. I had never before paid attention to the fact that she has an interesting hair style. As far as this figure goes, her hair is only long on the sides with it cut to her neckline in the back. Her hair flails around so much in matches that I wouldn't have noticed this, but it is a unique style to be sure unless Mattel took some creative license.

As I mentioned, Paige is packaged with some unique accessories. For only the second time in the Mattel line we are treated to a chromed and painted WWE Divas Championship. Previously only available with the Elite Kelly Kelly figure from a few years ago, the belt looks better with Paige holding it. It appears bulky around her waist due to the design of it and her own studded belt that is part of her attire. Also included is the NXT Women's Championship. This belt actually looks better than the real deal. The NXT Championships are rather basic looking. This is likely intentional since the original idea of NXT was, of course, to be a developmental territory that accentuated the basics. It's nice and shiny, but again looks a bit bulky around the waist of Paige.

While not my early runner-up for "Figure of the Year" (that vote would go to her Elite Series-mate Rusev), it's definitely a solid figure. It's also definitely a hot figure right now, but unless you want the "First Time In The Line" figure of Paige, you could honestly wait. Paige is probably the most popular Diva in the company with no signs of stopping. Unlike many of the Mattel Diva figures, we can safely predict that this will not be the last of Paige. She will see more releases, and I wouldn't be shocked to see another Elite release featuring Paige in her jacket down the line. As for the NXT Women's Championship, I would imagine that it will make another appearance a bit further down the line. Mattel isn't going to tool an accessory for one single release. It would certainly make a great accessory for a Charlotte figure in the future.

The former Britani Knight makes for a great action figure. Her unique look sets her away from the stereotypical blonde WWE Diva. That, in addition to loads of charisma and great in-ring skills, make me hope that she sticks with the business for the long haul. It's in her blood, and you can't get more devoted than that.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Signature Moves: Rediscovering Some Autographs Of Wrestling's Golden Age

It takes all kinds of collectors to make the world go 'round, and autograph hounds are no different. Some absolutely have to have everything signed right in front of them. Others may not have that option and, instead, buy their autographed items. Most, from my experience, seem to be a mix of both. While I do obtain most of my autographs in person, there are times when you see an item that you know to be authentically signed and just cannot pass it up. In other instances, the star has passed on and purchasing that signature is the sole way to add it to the collection.

A number of years back, I stumbled upon a small, inexpensive collection of vintage 2 cent postcards signed by various wrestlers. The original owner had obtained them as a child at matches not far from his home in Jersey City, NJ. He explained that there really wasn't anything else at the time to get signed, so he had these postcards autographed.

Like that collector from yesteryear, I similarly enjoy obtaining a signature on a blank index card when I'm able to. Although it's always nice to have items tailored to the wrestlers themselves signed, an autograph can often truly "pop" all by itself with a blank background. He was not the only collector from his era to do so, and many rare and classic signatures from all levels of celebrity can be found this way.

Before acquiring the lot, one signature jumped out at me above the rest. I gladly would have paid the nominal amount (around $10) that I paid for the whole lot just for this one autograph, but we'll get to that one in a bit. The cards themselves are a bit discolored with age, but the autographs are as crisp as the day that they were signed. Before the age of the Sharpie, ballpoint pen was king. I've occasionally had more modern day wrestlers sign letters in ballpoint, which adds an "old school" feel to the signature.

This vintage lot included twelve signatures spread out over eight different post cards. Some signed on one side, a few on the other, while a couple wrote on the same card in different directions. Autographs on cards like these are how modern trading card "cut signature" inserts are often produced. You didn't think that Benjamin Franklin, Jesse Owens, and Lucille Ball actually knew that those cards would be on the market in the future, did you? 

Names such as Gino Garibaldi, Luigi Scarpa, Len Rossi, Dan Miller, Aldo Venturi, Ted Lewin, and Jose Miguel Perez are a few of the recognizable names included. Many of these stars wrestled for Capitol Wrestling, which of course was promoted by Vincent J. McMahon and eventually became what we now know as WWE. Given that these were obtained in the New Jersey area, it's not much of a stretch to picture the original owner obtaining them just as he had said.

One name included that didn't immediately ring a bell was Gene DuBuque. Upon further research, it seems that Mr. DuBuque actually achieved some fame under another name a bit later in his career, Magnificent Maurice. Under the latter name, DuBuque did one of the original "effeminate" gimmicks in pro wrestling, paving the way for stars like "Exotic" Adrian Street, "Adorable" Adrian Adonis, and Goldust. His pompous smirk and well-built physique only helped the heel image of the character. Sadly, DuBuque's life was cut short in a 1974 plane crash.

There are three autographs from the collection that I still have not been able to identify. One has always seemed to me that it might be a foreign star, as the writing certainly looks like it may be in another language. The other two are very much like signatures of yesteryear, with distinct styles and flares. I'm sure that one day, browsing wrestling autographs from the past, I'll recognize the same signatures from this collection and finally be able to identify them. If you think that you recognize these three autographs, feel free to drop me a line! That top one sure does look familiar.

Last but not least is the aforementioned signature that drew my interest into the lot. While very little footage of the man seems to exist, he is actually still among the living. He is the former manager of "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers, the one and only Bobby Davis. Those who saw his work say that he was one of the greatest wrestling managers of all-time. Various stories of his post-wrestling years have surfaced, with the most circulated being that he invested well in fast food restaurants. To my knowledge, his last wrestling-related appearances were in an Entertainment Tonight piece on the death of Adrian Adonis in 1988 and at the 1994 WWF Hall of Fame ceremony where Rogers was posthumously inducted. A picture of Davis at that event even appeared in WWF Magazine.

As a heel, Davis likely did not sign too many autographs. With him seemingly wanting to distance himself from wrestling, he does not likely sign many today, either. Although the rarity factor is there, the coolness doesn't end with it. As opposed to "floating" in some portion of the card, Davis takes up the whole thing. A very characteristic "Lotsa Luck" inscription was even added and tops off the bold signature that conveys the "brash and arrogant" character that Bobby Davis was said to bring to the ring.

This little collection is probably one of hundreds of thousands of similar sets of relics. Many have stumbled their way into the hands of collectors who, like myself, will save them for posterity. Others have yet to be found, still waiting in attics and basements waiting to be rediscovered. Who knows what all is out there? It's up to us, the passionate preservationists of the squared circle, to rescue them.