Thursday, November 26, 2015

Jim Crockett's All-American Legacy

November 27, 1975. Greensboro, North Carolina. A night of wrestling presented by Jim Crockett Promotions. Terry Funk. Paul Jones. All the ingredients needed for what we would now look upon as a classic night of professional wrestling. Traditional wrestling. Wrestling the way that many still remember as the greatest era in the history of the sport. The one element that I failed to mention? The Funker and Number One were battling over the United States Championship. Funk had just won a tournament for the vacant title while Jones, an icon of Carolina wrestling, was the other wrestler who had made it to the finals. Who won the epic Thanksgiving night rematch? You could go look it up and simply see the result, but I have a better idea. How about learning each nuance of the match. Why it happened, what happened during, and what the ramifications were. This is where a brand new book comes into the picture.

Dick Bourne's newest in a line of books is titled "Jim Crockett Promotions' United States Championship." You may already have read some of Bourne's other titles including "Big Gold," "Ten Pounds Of Gold," and "Minnesota Wrecking Crew." Bourne is also one of the creative forces behind The Mid-Atlantic Gateway website. The Gateway is a site that I'm sometimes too scared to surf over to. The reason is that I know I'm about to lose an hour or two getting absorbed into the great content covering anything and everything that you ever would want to know about Jim Crockett Promotions and the rich Carolina wrestling history. Everything from wrestlers to venues to food (yes, food!) is covered there. The writing and photography pulls you in and actually almost transports you back to the era that's being described.

That same style of publication carries over into the new "United States Championship" book. As any fan of wrestling's past will tell you, history isn't always easy to follow. The promoters of the day probably never imagined that nearly a half century later, their moves and tactics would be studied. This was a business designed to draw fans into a building to buy tickets, Cokes, and popcorn. It wasn't rocket them. To a lot of us, it's a form of sports and entertainment that is as worthy to chronicle as is cinema or pro football. That's the kind of history that is presented at the Gateway and the same level of dedication went into this book.

Bourne traces the Crockett version of the United States title all the way back to it's origins and brings it to present day. You'll see why this version of the championship (there were several around the country) is in fact the predecessor to today's WWE United States Championship. With so much focus on that particular title over the past year, a book like this could not have come at a better time.

Detailed descriptions and stories are given with each title change. Rare photos, newspaper clippings, and even newly created art and charts break down the fantastic title lineage. Can you believe that some wrestlers who held the title were never even photographed with it? And there wasn't just one physical belt. As the cover illustrates, there were actually five different versions of the belt while it was under the Jim Crockett Promotions banner. Before this book, I could have described three of them. I never before realized that two others existed, both of which look very much like other title designs. You'll see them all, as well as impressive replicas of some that are now missing in action.

Perhaps the most striking takeaway from the book is just how many of wrestling's biggest legends held this belt. Ric Flair, Harley Race, Jimmy Snuka, Dusty Rhodes, Roddy Piper, Blackjack Mulligan, Ricky Steamboat, Sgt. Slaughter, and Wahoo McDaniel just to name a few. Sure, we hear Michael Cole rattle off a few of the names every so often during a WWE U.S. Title match, but the complete list is absolutely mind-boggling. A line on the cover describes the book as "A Close Look at Mid-Atlantic Wrestling's Greatest Championship." With a list of title holders like that, it's hard to disagree with that description of the title.

If you're familiar with Bourne's books on the most recognizable versions of the NWA Championship, you remember the great "belt photography" that went into those. This volume is no different, with photos so clear and close that you might think Reggie Parks etched the belts right into the book. There are also plenty of shots of the various title holders wearing the championship, some of which have never before been published, as well as replicas and memorabilia.

If there's a classic wrestling fan on your list this holiday season, look no further. The legacy of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling and one of its best draws is all right here. For more information and to order, check out the Mid-Atlantic Gateway. While you're there, stick around and check out some of the great content. Just grab a drink, make a sandwich, and reserve an hour or two. You'll be hanging out awhile!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Remembering The Champ Of Class...Nick Bockwinkel

The immense losses for the wrestling world in 2015 continue. Although I would not say that there have been more wrestling deaths this year than in others, those who have passed certainly represented the upper echelon of anyone who ever graced the squared circle. Verne Gagne, Dusty Rhodes, Rowdy Roddy Piper, and now Nick Bockwinkel. These men ruled the industry. These stars were pioneers who are still emulated today. These men were champions in every sense of the word. With Mr. Bockwinkel, it would not be out of the question to label him as the champ.

Although I knew the name early on, Nick Bockwinkel was one of those names that I went back and discovered after the fact. It may very well have been after I acquired his famous Remco AWA action figure. With his blonde hair, yellow tights, and white cloth jacket and knee pads, the figure was something special. That made me think that the wrestler himself must echo that sentiment. I was very much on the right track with those thoughts. How many wrestlers can you list that, after listening to one promo or watching one match, you totally understood the greatness of? Not too many, but that was Nick Bockwinkel. In fact, if a bad promo or match from the man even existed, I challenge you to find it.

Bockwinkel brought class to an industry that's often missing such a concept. He was definitely best as a "bad guy," but he didn't yell or scream. He rarely seemed riled up in promos or even for much of his matches. He was smarter than you. He was more talented than you. He was all-around better than you. That's why you bought a ticket to see him get his comeuppance. For whatever number of "smart" fans that existed in Bockwinkel's heyday, they probably paid to see just who he could outwrestle next. He was Flair before that name was even known, and with a lot more class. There's that word again.

Nick Bockwinkel was revered not only by fans, but by his peers in the wrestling business. Even when he was without a belt, he carried himself as a true champion and sportsman. Pull up one of the "Legends of Wrestling" programs on the WWE Network in which he participated in, and you'll see the respect that his fellow legends have for him. That gratitude carried over whenever Bockwinkel made an appearance at a convention or fanfest. Wrestlers and fans alike were thrilled to be in the presence of the champ, and I'm fairly sure that the feeling was mutual.

It was those same wrestlers and fans who knew quite early that Mr. Bockwinkel was suffering with ailments that were gradually taking their toll on the legend. For a few years I actually marveled that these facts seemed to stay confined to scuttlebutt at shows in which Bockwinkel attended. Wrestling gossip travels fast, yet it was quite awhile before I saw even a mention of his health problems in written form. Once again, I do believe that the respect this man earned, and held, among us all aided in these horrible truths being suppressed.

80 years is a long lifespan for a wrestler, and I think that we can look back on Nick Bockwinkel's life with a lot of happiness. He never seemed anything but pleased about his career, beginning with his legendary father at his side and ending in several behind-the-scenes capacities. He was a multi-time world champion, Hall of Famer, and topped the list of many "greatest of all-time" lists. He will always be the champ. He will always be better than his lowly opponent. He will always be...pure class.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Wrestling MarketWatch: Hasbro WWF

If you were following this blog back in January of this year, you remember that we did a month long celebration of the Hasbro WWF toy line. 2015 is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the figures that many consider to be their favorites. The line definitely captures the early-1990s WWF feel with its over-the-top characters, bright colors, and slightly cartoonish look. There hasn't been a line of wrestling figures quite like it since and may never be again. That's probably a reason why, in the past few years, the line has become insanely popular among characters young and old.

In MarketWatch entries we look at recent sales of specific items. After all, if you're looking to sell your collection or just want to gauge its monetary worth, the only way to get a true market value is by checking the last known sold examples.

*The largest figure in the Hasbro line was the mighty Yokozuna. The two-time WWF Champion saw a unique sculpt from a company that was fond of reusing previous designs. Yoko had two figures in the line with a debut in the red carded series and a repaint in the final series packaged on a green card. The latter had a white paint scheme and was just as popular as the first, although all of the final series are sought after due to low distribution. A carded example of the second Yokozuna recently sold for $81.

*In the Hasbro line, foreign cardbacks can often make a difference. Late in the line some American stores such as Kay-Bee Toys received shipments of these European figures. Some collectors just collect the overseas variants, some don't collect them at all. At times it can cause a difference in price, sometimes it does not. In the case of the first figure of The Undertaker, it seems that he is wanted no matter the language. A recent foreign carded example sold for $30, with American versions selling for the same.

*Autographed items can be tricky. While any item can sit, unsold, for months and then suddenly have two interested parties who drive the price up, it is especially true for autographs. There is very little value in taking the time and effort of forging a wrestling autograph, so most are actually on the up-and-up. Those that aren't kosher are easily detected. The Hasbro figures are a lot of fun to collect autographed thanks to the large photo of the real wrestler right next to the figure. "El Matador" Tito Santana and Marty Jannetty autographed examples recently sold for $25 each. At that price, you're paying just a bit more than what the autograph itself would cost.

*In my early days of writing about wrestling memorabilia, two of the items that I was most asked about were the Hasbro King of the Ring wrestling ring and the Royal Rumble mini-ring. Both saw a very limited shelf life in stores. Before word spread on the Internet, some collectors doubted that either even existed. Complete examples can bring major money, especially when the boxes are present. That being said, it's no surprise when just odds and ends from both show up and sell. Just the red WWF flag from the King of the Ring set recently sold for $20, while one of the Royal Rumble mini-ring "action plungers" sold for $16. It goes to show that you should hold on to whatever you have. It could be the exact piece that another collector is looking for.

*Many collectors often op for loose figures. After all, toys are meant to played with. Many loose Hasbro WWF figures can be had for under $10 each, but as usual the final series commands a higher amount. The 1-2-3 Kid has always been the most popular figure from that series. Although the body was designed for Rick Rude and was poorly reused for Ric Flair, it works perfectly on The Kid. A great face sculpt works in his favor, too. A loose example recently sold for $93.

Even though we are nearing the end of 2015 and the twenty-fifth anniversary, the Hasbro line will live on. It's a set that many of us grew-up playing with, and it's now being collected by fans who weren't even around for the original run. From Andre the Giant and Dusty Rhodes to Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon, Hasbro covered a lot of ground and history in just around five years. Little did they know that the thought, care, and ambition put into the toys would live on, decades later.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

From The Musty Yellowed Pages--The Wrestler, November 1970

It's the old adage of wrestling's past. You've heard it in many different forms, but it boils down to three simple words: "red equals green." For years, the wrestling business lived by those words that translated into the fact that when blood was involved, the fans followed--as did big box office receipts. In recent years, WWE has banned blood from their show. Aside from a few instances, blood does not make appearances on their programming. When it does, gloves are put on, doctors are called into the ring, and the bleeding is stopped. I understand health concerns, but violence is the name of the game in wrestling. I honestly do not see this trend lasting, as blood could be utilized relatively safely in a match if planned ahead. Anyone who tows the company line that the illusion is "outdated" isn't fooling anyone.

Forty-five years ago there many not have been a better bleeder than Bobby "The Brain" Heenan. The fans paid to see Heenan get his comeuppance after his proteges got theirs. Heenan was a fantastic "bumper," and when men like The Bruiser and The Crusher finally got their hands on "The Weasel," it was like Christmas morning for wrestling fans of the Midwest.

The November 1970 cover of The Wrestler displays all of the above. The headline of "My God, Bobby! What Happened To Your Face?" next to the photo of Heenan covered in a crimson mask is enough to grab anyone's attention. Popular on the newsstands of the day, this issue continues to command a higher value than others from the same era and remains relatively difficult to find.

Like many magazines from nearly fifty years ago, we're presented with some pages and articles that represent a completely different time. Even the cover with "Rapist Invades Girl's Dressing Room!" shows that. The ads in these magazines are also very much products of the era, advertising various ways to build muscle to...special companions for lonely wrestling fans. There is a lot of wrestling content, and it's easy to see why the magazines were so popular. The fans got to see wrestlers from around the world, many of which would never come to their own local territory.

After some headlines from around the wrestling world is a column dedicated to fan clubs. These fan-run clubs were all the rage in the '60s and '70s. Remember, there were no Facebook pages or Twitter feeds to keep up on the latest happenings with names like Penny Banner and Jack Brisco. The fans who were granted permission to run these clubs often took their responsibilities very seriously, but some clubs seem to have fizzled out as quick as they came. The fans from this era who were heavily involved in the fan club scene could probably write books about the time and the crazy characters within it.

Next up is the article featuring more of the famous bloodied Bobby Heenan photos as the cover promised. An unnamed photographer was lucky to get plenty of shots of the bleeding manager, including some of Baron Von Raschke and Al Costello coming to his rescue. The following article is an oddly written story about Dick the Bruiser picking a mop-topped man called "Ringo" (actually George Ringo "The Wrestling Beatle") to be his partner against "Bobby Herman." This "Herman" character is identified as the manager of Angelo Poffo and Chris Markoff, who is obviously Bobby Heenan. I'm not sure if the article was penned by someone who really didn't know that it was "Heenan" and not "Herman," or if the whole thing was written as some sort of joke.

Coverage of Bruno Sammartino, a ladies tag match, Victor Rivera, and Mighty Igor is followed by the sordid "rapist" tale advertised on the cover. Cora Combs is the wrestler in question and, in an article that I'm sure was complete fabrication, is indeed confronted by a dressing room intruder. After some corny rapist dialogue straight from the sleazy pulp magazines of the era, Combs does away with the attacker all by herself.

Following this is another article of questionable content, dealing with the very real suicide of wrestler Don Eagle. Former wrestler and photographer Tony Lanza is said to have taken a phone call from Eagle just before the Native American wrestler took his own life. There's no reason to doubt that the phone call actually happened, but was it in the best of taste to plop it into a magazine right next to some obviously fabricated tales? The description of how "the great Indian wrestler pressed a gun to his head and blew out his brains," wasn't that tasteful, either.

Next up is several pages of another staple of '70s wrestling magazines--The Wonderful World of Pen Pals! I've mentioned before on this blog about how one can often find a future wrestling name in these pen pal pages. Let's face it, many wrestlers grew up loving the sport just as much as those of us who are lifelong fans. I don't see any in these particular pages, but you never know who will show up. It's interesting to think that if you add forty-five years to the listed ages, many of these fans are now in their '50s and older. It's also something to think that young children's addresses are printed in a magazine that obviously catered to some lonely folks, as we'll get to in a bit.

After some continuations of articles from earlier in the magazine as well as an ad for Swiss pilots watches (doesn't Rick "Pawn Star" Harrison peddle those now?), we get to a staple of the '70s wrestling magazine--a life size inflatable doll. This is actually one of the tamer ads that I've come across for these, with no real "nudity" involved, but certainly enough skin for a kid to get an eyeful. These also aren't advertised as "Love Dolls" as they were later on in much more risque ads. Nevertheless, $9.95 could get you "Judy" or "Susan" (the "Negro Doll"--their words, not mine) to be your "play-mate." Yep. We'll leave that right there.

The world was a different place. Is it any better now? Certainly in some respects. But have some things really changed that much? Sure we may look down upon a story about a "rapist," ads for fly-by-night schemes and plastic "girls," and bloody pictures, but is it really any worse than the junk that is celebrated daily on Twitter with a simple "Retweet?" Nope. In fact, forty-five years ago these concepts were hidden in the cheaply-printed pages of a wrestling magazine. Today they're front page headlines.

I don't think that we've advanced much at all. But we could use a bloody match now and then...thanks Lesnar and Taker!