Thursday, September 24, 2015

Demolition--WWF's Greatest & Least Celebrated Tag Team

When I got into wrestling "full-time" after being a casual fan for a few years, it didn't take long for me to figure out who my favorites were. In the tag team ranks it was no-contest, Demolition ruled the roost. They could brawl, wrestle, and flat-out destroy their opponents and look completely awesome while doing it. They didn't look like superheroes, they looked like a couple of real guys, albeit with face paint, who just wanted to kick ass and collect championships, as they often did in their run. As soon as I saw the team roar down the aisle to their legendary theme music, I was hooked.

Ax and Smash were well into their run by the time that I took note. Bill Eadie and Barry Darsow played the destructive duo to the fullest, even though Darsow was not the original Smash. It's common knowledge that Randy Colley, best known as Moondog Rex, was the first Smash. Only a couple of matches were held before it was decided, for variously given reasons, that it was not working out. Fresh off of a run in Jim Crockett Promotions as Krusher Kruschev, Darsow took over the Smash gimmick. There is a widely-known early Demolition promo photo that is often thought to be Colley, but it is in fact Darsow with very short hair. No merchandise is known to exist featuring Colley as Smash. I went as far as to pull screengrabs from one of the early televised matches to create a composite photo of Colley's "Smash."

Once Demolition found its footing, so did the merchandise. Figures, cards, stickers, magazines, and drinking glasses can all be found celebrating the tag team. LJN Toys famously produced the first Demolition action figure of Ax, but Smash did not see the light of day as he was scheduled for a later series that went unproduced. When Hasbro took over the WWF license, both Ax and Smash saw release in the first series.

Demolition proved the ability to have good matches with nearly all of the WWF tag team opposition of the time. Big, small, fast, or lumbering, the style of the opponents made no difference. Ax and Smash would adapt, and that was a big part of what made them great. The only truly disappointing matches given forth by the team were against the Road Warriors who at the time were strictly being marketed as The Legion of Doom.

Demolition were often labeled as "Road Warrior ripoffs" when nothing could be further from the truth. Face paint was just about where the comparison began and ended. Some will cite the attire, but aside from both teams looking like toughmen who could destroy just about anyone, there wasn't much to compare in the look. As far as in-ring style, Hawk and Animal gave little to their opponents and were known to steamroll through their matches, whereas Ax and Smash did what was best for the match itself. Nothing should be taken away from the Road Warriors and their contribution to the business, but as fans get more and more educated to the business it becomes clearer that Demolition made their own impact and in a much shorter time.

To the surprise of many, the original Demolition run with just Ax and Smash was just under four years long. It included three WWF Tag Team Championship runs, both heel and face personas, and two managers, Johnny V and Mr. Fuji. By the end of 1990, Ax had departed the company and Smash was teaming with Crush. By the Fall of 1991, we had seen the last of the Demolition name on WWF television.

Although there was some bad blood between Eadie and WWE over the years, it's surprising that we have not seen much use of the team for nostalgia purposes. Though the boys have been produced as WWE Legends action figures and have appeared in a video game, the two are never used for appearances on WWE programming. The company frequently touts the virtues of the Road Warriors yet all but ignores their own homegrown tag team of Demolition. Certainly a WWE Hall of Fame induction would be warranted, as well, especially since both men are very active and willing to participate. How cool would it be to have the team back on the stage in tuxedos and paint ala the 1987 Slammy Awards?

Demolition is one of wrestling's great success stories. A team that made their mark in a short time, left the business with families and smiles on their faces, and are here to tell about it years later. In my years of meeting wrestlers, there are few that I enjoy encountering more than Eadie and Darsow. They are two examples of complete gentlemen in the wrestling business. Even if they never get that WWE Hall of Fame nod, they know how many fans were impacted by their years in the ring. Barry Darsow has been quoted as saying that he feels he is "the luckiest man in the world" as to how his life and career turned out. Eadie has expressed similar sentiments. That is some phrasing that we hear far too little from those in the wrestling world.

Long Live Demolition!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

From The Musty Yellowed Pages--WCW Wrestling Wrap-Up: Sting Wins The Title

My annual "WWE product funk" has finally hit. Usually it settles in just after WrestleMania, as it seems that WWE can't make as an exciting of a post-Mania product as they do with the build to the big one. With many recent deaths and negativity emanating from the world of wrestling in recent months, I must admit that my fandom has been in the back of my mind. If someone can "go through the motions" of being a wrestling fan, that has been me in a nutshell. Nevertheless, there is one item of note that WWE does have me interested in, the first ever WWE Championship shot for Sting at Night of Champions 2015.

It's been twenty-five years since The Stinger won his first World Championship. That was at the 1990 Great American Bash where he bested Ric Flair for the "big gold belt" while clad in the colors of his country. It was a great moment that isn't as well-remembered as other title victories, but has every right to be. Will he make history again a quarter of a century later? That remains to be seen.

When I first met Sting years ago, I knew what the number one item that I wanted signed would be. It's an issue of WCW Wrestling Wrap-Up, Vol 2, No 8 of 1990 to be exact. The cover features Sting just after his big title win at the Bash. The champion is proudly holding the title belt that is a favorite of many, including myself, with his red, white, and blue face paint mostly lost to the rigors of the match. It's the biggest moment for the Sting that many of us grew up on. This was the Sting that was, for the most part, WCW's answer to Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior.

Looking inside, we see that Wrestling Wrap-Up is very much like the WCW Magazine that would take its place in 1991. Wrap-Up was not available on newsstands, however, just at events or on a subscription basis. The pages were all-color, all-slick, and featured some very nice photography. The first big feature goes over the results of Bash 1990, including the WCW debut of a man who would be very instrumental in the next few years of the company, Big Van Vader. I don't think that there was ever a more impressive "big man" wrestler as far as in-ring talent, and he is one example of WCW using a wrestler much better than the WWF.

Next up is an interview with Sting, along with photos of his then-recent milestone victory. Sting's red, white, and blue motif can be seen here as well, with a good shot of his matching pre-ring outfit. This look was captured a few years ago in Jakks Legends of the Ring figure line. Mattel looks as if it will be producing their own version of this figure as well, although it's unclear as to which series it will be released in. Again, "surfer" Sting is the version that captivated many a young wrestling fan. While he was able to very successfully change with the times by using the "Crow" look later on, it's that early Sting that still produces the most nostalgia.

In the center of the magazine, an El  Gigante poster and WCW Merchandise Catalog are featured. A lot of now-very rare apparel is featured, and even a "Norman" teddy bear was offered. The shirt page is directly copied from the WWF Merchandise Catalogs of the time, although there isn't much different that you could actually do. If you want to sell the shirt, have the talent himself wearing it. In the case of The Great Muta, he'll just be holding the shirt.

Next up are one-page capsule articles on young talent such as Mean Mark managed by Paul E. Dangerously (long before they could ever fathom the headlines that they would make twenty-four years later), The Wild-Eyed Southern Boys, and, again, Norman. There is also a letters page. Occasionally, letters pages in wrestling magazines will yield the name of someone who later made some sort of impact on the business. In this case, I'm not seeing anyone that I recognize. If Radhica Ramharak of Hillsboro Beach, FL did go on to wrestling glory, I will very humbly stand corrected.

We wrap up the Wrestling Wrap-Up with a monthly calendar of events, NWA Top Ten, current champions, and Quotes of the Month. We also get photos of Jim Cornette on four pages in a row, two with the Midnight Express and two in ads for the magazine, respectively. I've acquired some of these Wrestling Wrap-Up issues from "The Louisville Lip" himself, and I do believe that he had a hand in production as he did with other behind-the-scenes aspects of WCW at the time until his departure later in the year.

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Heritage Of Topps WWE Heritage

 There are a few things that I frequently ask for here on the blog. I'm sick of asking, you're sick of reading the pleas, something has to give. It has. This Summer, Topps announced the return of their WWE Heritage trading cards after a three-year absence. Coming this November, the 110-card base set will be accompanied by various subsets, relic cards, and on-card autographs. A few weeks ago, Alundra "Madusa" Blayze released a picture via social media of her signing the cards, so there is one confirmed signer.

The Heritage releases are the only modern wrestling trading cards that truly excite me. I anticipate their infrequent releases and as much as I wish they were released once a year, maybe it's better that they aren't. I usually purchase several hobby boxes and individual retail packs. Only with the Heritage cards do I try to assemble several base sets, and of course set aside many for autographs. The Heritage sets take me back to the trading cards of my youth, right before everything in the card world, sadly, went glossy. This 2015 set is based upon the 1985 Topps baseball design, a series that I'm very familiar with. They're cardboard, the way that trading cards should be, and the matte finish makes them very easy to obtain autographs on.

Beginning in 2005, Topps rolled out their first four WWE Heritage sets. The best of these sets was Heritage II which had a design based on the 1963 Topps baseball cards. Among my friends this is known as the "Wonder Bread" set. This nickname came from none other than Rob Van Dam. The extreme icon was signing his card in the set for me and proclaimed that "this is the set that looks like they came from a package of Wonder Bread." The cards do have a colorful design and great studio shots. What also makes the set fun is that while the 1963 baseball design is limited to the base, there are exclusive cards released in other avenues that utilize the same style. WWE Magazine and Jakks action figures included cards of Roddy Piper, Sgt. Slaughter, and Lita among others. Even more names such as Jeff Hardy and Linda McMahon were further added in the Topps Chrome release of the series.

Following those first four sets, WWE Heritage became a subset. The Topps WWE 2011 set featured a 50-card Heritage subset in the style of the 1962 Topps baseball cards. Just as with Heritage II, I have a personal wrestler-given nickname for this set. While signing his card, Kevin Nash called it a "Bowman." Bowman Gum was another trading card producer until Topps bought out the rival company. While we have yet to see any WWE Heritage produced after the Bowman style, the nickname will stick with me for this set.

Finally, in the last glimpse of Heritage until this year, Topps released the 2012 set. Based on the 1985 Topps WWF set, these are my favorite of the Heritage sets to date. Even the hobby boxes themselves were a nod to the past, being based on the Canadian 1986 WWF set from O-Pee-Chee. I think that the biggest appeal for me is that these are wrestling cards based on wrestling cards, rather than based on other sports designs. Admittedly, there aren't too many old wrestling card designs to pay tribute to, but I would still like to see a Heritage set based on the 1987 Topps WWF design.

After that quick refresher course in Topps WWE Heritage, it's time for the 2015 edition. With plenty of chase cards planned and the all-important autographs, it should be an extremely fun set to collect. There is also another product, WWE Undisputed, coming from Topps a month earlier. These are being aimed at a "high-end" collecting market and are basically a set of just autographs, relics, and parallels. Thanks, but no thanks. Give me the basic, vintage-styled, cardboard goodness of Heritage!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Revisiting The Danger Zone...

After years and years of collecting this stuff, it's come to an interesting head. Nowadays, it's the more bizarre and wacky the better as far as items that I like to add to my collection. Seeing as how bizarre and wacky wrestling can get at times, it's no surprise that many items exist that reflect those words. That's probably why many of the items that were put out by Jim Crockett Promotions in the 1980's really appeal to me. JCP loved producing shirts and bandanas but didn't always seem to understand their target demographic. That's where the 1988 Danger Zone Calendar comes into the picture.

Many remember the classic commercial that played at the beginning of the Turner Home Video wrestling cassette releases as well as on television. Starrcade and Great American Bash videos, complete with Jim Cornette's famous scaffold bump, were pushed to no end. In addition to those event tapes, a compilation known as The Danger Zone was offered. As an extra bonus, fans were given a special 1988 Danger Zone swimsuit calendar with their order. The sizzling shot of a bikini-clad Missy Hyatt on the cover may have drawn in many male fans, but the inside probably made very few bedroom walls.

You see, aside from Missy Hyatt and Precious, the swimsuit calendar was filled with the male stars of NWA Wrestling. This favored many female and maybe even some male fans, but the majority of NWA viewers were probably less than pleased. In all honesty, the calendar is well-produced and rivaled any calendar that the WWF released at the time as far as quality. It's full-sized, has a fantastic glossy cover, and even promotes the aforementioned Turner Home Video releases on the back. It's just...full of gents.

Looking at it from another angle, it does reflect the large amount of talent that filled the company at the time, shortly after Crockett's buyout of the Universal Wrestling Federation. One wonders why some other female talent who either had been or were affiliated with Jim Crockett Promotions at the time weren't contacted to be part of it. Certainly the male-to-female ratio could have been evened up a bit with a little bit of Dark Journey or Misty Blue Simmes. Why it ended up the way that it did was anyone's guess. Perhaps they were just looking to offer "something for everyone."

Nevertheless, female fans of Shane Douglas, The New Breed, "Sweet" Stan Lane, Michael P.S. Hayes, "Hotstuff" Eddie Gilbert, "Gorgeous" Jimmy Garvin, Terry Taylor, Barry Windham, Mike Rotundo, Sting, and "Dr. Death" Steve Williams had to be satisfied. Those looking for Animal, Hawk, Arn Anderson, and JJ Dillion were disappointed. It's just one of those things. In fact, it's one of those bizarre and wacky things in the world of wrestling memorabilia that I wouldn't change for the world...aside for maybe a shot of Baby Doll and the envelope.