Thursday, June 25, 2015

Mattel & Target Make Another (Banzai) Splash

The amount of new WWE product from Mattel has been staggering as of late. Basics, Elites, and Battle Packs of WWE Superstars, Divas, Legends, and even the stars of NXT have been popping up in great numbers with no end in sight. In addition, Target has continued their popular exclusive WWE Hall of Fame series. This time around Eddie Guerrero, Yokozuna, Tito Santana, and "The Immortal" Hulk Hogan join the blue-boxed line. It's the latter three that we'll be looking at today.

Like most fans, I miss Eddie Guerrero, I just didn't feel the need for another figure of the late star. So far, he seems to be selling the least well of the new foursome. This is Tito Santana's first figure released by Mattel and Yokozuna's second. All four figures are again boxed in attractive blue packaging with the WWE Hall of Fame "screen" in the background. All have accessories and none suffer from the "floating" issue where some Mattel figures appear overwhelmed by the packaging.

I passed up on the original Mattel Yokozuna because it did not seem to offer much different from previous figures of the former champion. This version is clad in black and white and includes the classic WWF Tag Team Championship belts. These belts were only previously included with the single WWE Legends releases of Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard. It's good to see these belts re-released since the Blanchard and Anderson figures have been driven up in price. Yokozuna has excellent articulation to demonstrate what an agile "big man" wrestler he was. With the beard and hair braid, this figure clearly represents 1995-1996 Yoko.

Hulk Hogan looks to be based on his 1993 return. The removable bandana is a welcome addition, considering several of his Mattel releases have not featured this. This is an all new headsculpt for Hulk, and it is fairly faithful to the legend. My gripe with the figure is that it feels just a bit too skinny. Hogan had lost a lot of weight for the return on which this figure is based, but no Hogan figure should ever share a torso with Tito Santana. This one does.

Speaking of Tito, I think that this figure is my favorite of the set. This is the very first figure of, in my mind, the quintessential Tito Santana image: the longish hair, white trunks, white boots. LJN re-released their Tito in white trunks after it had originally been in purple, but it had short hair. Considering that the Hasbro card picture featured this Tito, I will always be convinced that a figure of this appearance was in the works, but it was "El Matador" at release. Jakks released two Santana figures in this image, but one had a molded shirt and the other a molded jacket. After all of these years, we finally have a perfect Tito in the familiar 1987-1991 image. The classic red Tito Santana shirt is included as a soft goods accessory.

I was pleased and surprised with this second series. I never would have thought that Santana would be produced by Mattel. His inclusion leaves the door open for more "mid-card" Hall of Famers to be produced. If any of these four appeal to you, grabbing them at first sight would be your best bet. I cannot picture the "main event"-minded Mattel producing another Santana. Yokozuna is probably done after two figures as well. Hogan and Eddie will likely see more releases down the line.

I hope that this Hall of Fame line continues. I've said it before, but Lita would be a great choice here. An NWA style Dusty Rhodes would be another perfect fit, especially since Mattel already has the tooling from their earlier figure of "The American Dream." I have a feeling that Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels will both find their way in, although they would both be personal passes. I want variation, I want old school...

Bring in 'da Race, bring in 'da Funk?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Life Without The Dream. That's Hard Times.

The American Dream brought out a lot of emotion (or emoooshuuuun) in all of us. He fired us up, made us happy, and even a little bit a monkey. But I cannot ever remember "The Dream" bringing the sadness. Sure, we all felt a bit bad for him when Baby Doll, Sweet Sapphire, or a tag team partner would turn their back on him, but we were never truly sad. We were too busy protecting Big Dust from the storm after he'd been scorned. For the first passing in a very long time, I did shed some tears, but no more. The 265 pounds of blue eyed soul wouldn't want that.

I will always remember where I was when the news broke. I was not at home, and my destination that night was one of complete coincidence, considering that "The Dream" is my all-time favorite professional wrestler. I was, in fact, headed to see Dusty's "kids" perform. No, it wasn't Dustin, Cody, or Dusty's girls, but it was his NXT "kids," in what turned out to be the first public memorial for "The American Dream." For those who are unaware, Dusty was the promo teacher at the WWE Performance Center. We have already seen any number of tributes from the stars of NXT who, like most anyone who encountered Dusty, have great memories of their legendary teacher. William Regal began NXT's first foray into Pittsburgh with a ten-bell salute, followed by Dusty tributes in virtually each match keeping the spirit of "The Dream" flowing throughout the entire night.

The initial shock of Dusty's passing reminded us of something that we put out of our every day consciousness in order to survive: we're all mere mortals. As larger than life as some individuals become, the last moment can arrive at any time. It's what we accomplish and how we handle ourselves that then takes over. When the legacy of "The American Dream" took over for the life of Dusty Rhodes on June 11, the transition was as perfect as can be. Somewhere, I read the press coverage for Dusty's passing likened to that given for a president. It was covered by news outlets the world over. Tributes poured in the likes of which had not been seen for a wrestler since the death of Randy "Macho Man" Savage. Could even Dusty, who knew his own greatness, have predicted that? I know that even if he wouldn't have fathomed it, he sure is smiling down on all of it now.

As a fan, I do not feel cheated. We have almost fifty years of memories to fall back on. Each one of my times getting to either meet "The Dream" or watch him in action left me awestruck. The wrestlers who were able to sit under Dusty's "learning tree" should not feel cheated either, as they are able to carry his genius with them for the many more years that they have in the business, and then pass the knowledge on. Instead, we should focus on Dusty's family. Sixty-nine years of age is not young in pro wrestling, but it is in the real world. "The Dream" should have gone well into his eighth or ninth decade being a family patriarch as only he could. As all of us have felt so close to Dusty, it's his family and friends that need the prayers and energy now.

The fact that we do feel like we were right there on the end of the lightning bolt with Dusty echos what I've read in so many places this week. This wrestling death has hit the community like no other. Not just because we could all identify with being the working man that Dusty was, but because we became a part of him. When your hand reached out and touched his hand, whether it be through the television or at an event, you became part of  "The American Dream." Name me one other personality in any genre who had that power. Dusty was honest. Dusty was real. Dusty was the greatest.

I did not want to load this up with photos, as there is plenty of time for that in the future. Instead, I leave you with my favorite photo that I've ever taken with a wrestler, the time that I asked Dusty if we could recreate his famous "million dollar smile."

Rest easy, Dream. You may have wined and dined with kings and queens, but it was you who entertained us royally. The American Dream lives on, far into the stratosphere that you already had reserved.

"The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes 
Virgil Riley Runnels Jr.


"Get A Dream, Hold Onto It, And Shoot For The Sky..."


Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Remco AWA Ref Squad

I've always appreciated it when toy makers go that extra mile with their wrestling figure lines. Wrestlers and wrestling rings are great, but it takes more for a kid to put on a whole event. Managers, announcers, and of course, referees. The two big wrestling figure lines of the 1980's each had the latter represented. The WWF Wrestling Superstars line from LJN had a referee figure that was released in both white and blue shirts. The Remco AWA line had a whopping three different referees, including one man who really donned the striped shirt in the ring.

Some kids probably wouldn't care if a referee figure existed or not, but children who truly wanted to immerse themselves in the world of pro wrestling absolutely needed one. Remco came to the rescue by including a referee figure in their All-Star Wrestling Battle Royal playset. The sets included six wrestler figures, a referee, and a ring. There were several variants between the wrestlers included and package art, but today we're focusing on the referee figure.

In the early releases of the set, included were either a referee with a sort of smug expression and brown curly hair or a rather ferocious ref with bushy hair and eyebrows. Somewhere in the past ten to fifteen years, collector-dubbed names of "Curly Brown" and "Nasty Ned" were bestowed upon these figures. These are not Remco-given names, but have certainly caught on over the years. The heads of both figures were actually reused from another Remco action figure line, DC Comics The Lost World of The Warlord. The curly haired ref was from a figure named Machiste while the bushy haired ref was named Mikola (who, in the original figure, reminds me a lot of Memphis wrestling legend Sputnik Monroe).

Later on, the Battle Royal playset was re-released, this time with a figure of real-life referee Dick Woehrle. The facial likeness of Woehrle is incredible and very much brings to life the referee who is probably best remembered for his work in the WWWF.

There are two misconceptions about the Woehrle figure. It is consistently written that the figure itself is very rare. In actuality, the two earlier referee figures are much more difficult to find. This misinformation likely began when an article about Woehrle's career reported that the figure had sold for several hundred dollars. That figure was the later carded release in the final Remco AWA series called "Mat Mania" and was still on the card. That, coupled with loose examples of the figure flying up on auction sites with exorbitant asking prices (which were not received), caused the fables to continue flowing.

The second falsehood regarding the figure is that the Woehrle from the playset is the same as the carded figure. The latter has "All Star Wrestling" molded into the back of his belt, as most of the Mat Mania figures have molded into the back of their tights. There's no doubt in my mind that some of the original figures without that imprint made it onto cards, but a loose example that has the imprint can assuredly be traced back to the carded version.

The Remco AWA line is just simply fun. When getting feedback for the blog, it's one of the topics that most people bring up. The popularity of the figures has never waned and likely never will. With as fragile as some of the figures and accessories have become as time goes on, there will forever be a market of collectors looking to "upgrade." Just don't forget the referee crew nor the fantastic stories behind each one of those men in stripes.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Wrestling Hits Home Video...Videodisc Style!

There are a few online forums that I check into on a regular basis. It's rare to find civil, intelligent, and friendly conversation on the Internet, but one place that holds those values is the forum on the Mego Museum site. Mego was a company that produced action figures and toys from a variety of genres, mainly in the 1970's. The Mego Museum forum is a great place to discuss those very collectible items, as well as most anything pop culture related. Recently, a discussion began regarding the failed "Videodisc" home video format from RCA. That topic reminded me of a seldom-seen wrestling item with an attached personal story of my own. Thanks to that inspiration, this is the story...

It was the Summer of 2011. The first and only NWA Fanfest to be held in Atlanta was fast approaching. Though it was further than even the already-long haul to Charlotte (the regular home of Fanfest), my friend Brian and I were making the trek. One of the star attractions that year was Rowdy Roddy Piper. It was also announced that Piper and Greg "The Hammer" Valentine would be available for a photo op with the original collars from their infamously brutal "dog collar" match at Starrcade 1983. What wrestling fan could pass that up?

One week before Fanfest, the wrestling Gods (not named Layfield) decided to shine a light in my direction. At a local collectible show I stumbled upon a pile of what I initially thought were oddly packaged LaserDiscs. Although we were a BETA/VHS family in the 1980's, I was still familiar with LaserDiscs thanks to my aunt who had adopted the format. Still, these looked a bit different. The cases were heavy and plastic as opposed to just a disc in a sleeve. As I browsed through the titles, one hit me like a ton of bricks: Pro Wrestling Illustrated's Lords of the Ring.

Most fans my age or older were familiar with the title as being one of the first wrestling titles to hit home video. Hosted by PWI's Bill Apter, the video featured some of the biggest non-WWF moments of the decade up to that point. For $5, the huge "cartridge" was mine. Unlike the VHS box art, this Videodisc featured a great action shot of the Piper-Valentine dog collar match as well as Ric Flair vs Kerry Von Erich and the Road Warriors. Was there any question? This thing was going to Atlanta.

So, WAS this thing a LaserDisc or not? In a word, no. This was software for an RCA Videodisc player, otherwise known as a CED (Capacitance Electronic Disc). There are discs inside of the cartridge case, but they're not intended for removal. Instead, the entire thing was inserted into the player. The discs inside are more along the lines of vinyl records with grooves that enable the program to play. According to a little research, the similarities didn't end there. Just as with a record, skipping and other similar problems pop up occasionally. No matter here, as this particular unit was about to become a very cool, and somewhat unique, autographed item.

Although I did have Piper and Valentine sign it, I think that the most fun was having it signed by Bill Apter. The former PWI editor is a staple at many wrestling conventions, and every collection should have at least one vintage issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated signed by him. Bill completely flipped, having not seen the Videodisc version in many years. After graciously signing it, he caught the attention of the surrounding photographers so that they could snap some shots of us holding the antiquated-yet-treasured piece. Briefly, I knew what it must feel like to be on a red carpet--blinding!

Wrestling did make it onto the LaserDisc format as well, with some Coliseum Video WWF releases. Those are just as fun to collect, but the Lords of the Ring Videodisc remains my personal favorite. It has the great autographs and my memories attached, but it's also one of those great "unknown" items that I so often talk about. Just when you think you've seen everything that exists in the realm of wrestling memorabilia, a gem like this comes about and leaves you wondering...just what else is out there?