Thursday, December 31, 2015

The 2015 J\/\/ Awards

2015 has come and gone. A year of ups and downs, I think that we can all look forward to new hope in 2016. This year, we close out the blog with the sixth annual J\/\/ Awards. As always, the awards celebrate the best in wrestling memorabilia and memories over the past twelve months. As has also become a beloved tradition, "The Joshie" award itself has made its annual change. It has been classy, common, and a real American hero. This year, with a lot of wrestling-related sadness, it felt like it was time to just clown around a bit...and maybe become a bit freaky in the process!

 2015 Best Figure

Mattel's WWE Defining Moments Sting wins "The Joshie" for 2015 Best Figure. In the year that saw his debut WWE matches, Sting also received his first WWE-branded action figures. The first figure was based on his iconic "Crow" look from the late 1990's during his battles with the nWo. Two other Sting figures were released during 2015, but this "Defining Moments" entry lived up to the grandiose packaging and price tag and beat out the Elite Rusev figure for the ultimate honor.

 2015 Best Buy (Non-Figure)

Pro Wrestling Illustrated wins "The Joshie" for 2015 Best Buy. Pro Wrestling Illustrated returns to pick up another "Joshie!" The publication which has been the standard bearer for wrestling magazines since 1979 is now, by and large, the sole survivor. By reducing page count by just a bit, PWI has sliced their cover price down to $6.99. It's much more affordable than $9.99 and lets more of us enjoy such standards as the PWI 500 and the PWI Female 50. Fans and collectors alike need PWI to remain on the newsstand. An era without a wrestling magazine isn't somewhere that I want to be...

 2015 Best Product Line

Mattel wins "The Joshie" for 2015 Best Product Line. Superstars! Divas! Legends! NXT! Mattel once again took it to the mat with their WWE line in 2015. When the line began, I never would have been convinced that we would be celebrating the products at some point, but here we are. There truly is something for everyone as Mattel continually covers all bases with variety and selection. Are there still hiccups? Of course, but that goes for all product lines of all genres. As good as 2015 was for Mattel, 2016 may be even better. Why? Four words. Renee Young's debut figure. Nuff said!

 2015 Future Holy Grail

NXT Merchandise wins "The Joshie" for 2015 Future Holy Grail. NXT truly has taken over. It's a futuristic throwback. The kind of wrestling that might be standard mainstream fare today had sports entertainment not become the norm. It took awhile, but it's here. Wrestling as it should be. Fears that it will get "too big" are probably warranted, but I wouldn't worry just yet. If you got in on the ground floor of the merchandising, consider yourself lucky. The action figures and cards are great, but I'm looking at shirts, programs, and other merch featuring many stars who are already making an impact on the main WWE roster. It's repeated over and over, but the future is indeed now.

 2015 Thanks For The Memories Award

2015 Thanks For The Memories Honoree(s):  Dusty Rhodes & Rowdy Roddy Piper. When this award was introduced last year, it was not intended to become a memorial despite the first recipient being the Ultimate Warrior. Here we are in 2015 and another two of the most memorable icons of wrestling are unexpectedly gone. There are still times when I don't immediately remember that Dusty Rhodes and Rowdy Roddy Piper have passed away. They were both so full of life. Their actions and personalities WERE the wrestling that so many of us grew up on. May their souls rest in peace but their characters live forever.

That wraps it up for another round of J\/\/ Awards and another year. I thank you all for following the blog for yet another fifty-two weeks. The knowledge that you give me and the blog a few minutes of your time each week completely honors me. As always, the best is yet to come. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Hillbilly Jim...Hall of Famer of Humanity

I'm very often asked to share tales of meeting names from the wrestling business. I do have a boatload of them, but I never felt that this blog would be my avenue to share them. Someday, somewhere, I'll assemble them all, but occasionally one slips out. This is an amalgamation of several, all about one man. A man who, in my eyes, often gets lost in the shuffle of legends. He's iconic, yet isn't a member of the WWE Hall of Fame. He was a cast member of WWE Legends House, yet he rarely guests on regular WWE programming. He is Hillbilly Jim.

In my younger days, I was a more casual fan. I remember very early in life saying "KingKongBundy" (youthfully enunciated as one word) and "Junkyard Dog," but some I recognized visually. Standing in the action figure aisle at the late, great Hills Department Store, I remember pointing out figures of "The Announcer," "The Girl," and "The Farmer." Those were, of course, Mean Gene Okerlund, Miss Elizabeth, and Hillbilly Jim. I never really thought that I'd own them, but I sure did like looking at them. I was a G.I. Joe kid then, and those "big, rubber wrestlers" were positively huge. Especially "The Farmer."

As I became more of a fan, I always enjoyed Hillbilly. The idea of a big, scufflin', man from the hills made sense in wrestling, as it had for decades with various incarnations of the gimmick. No one using the style was really having mat classics, but astute fans know that a "five-star match" isn't always what matters. Larger-than-life characters will always marvel the wrestling audience, and that's exactly what the "country boy" wrestler is designed to do. Hillbilly Jim carried that legacy into the most marketable time in wrestling history, the 1980s.

When you remind kids of the '80s of the grand WWF Wrestling Superstars figure line mentioned above, Hillbilly Jim quickly springs to mind. He was produced very early in the run and was a very lifelike replica. Just as he does in real life, Hillbilly towered above most of the others. He even came with an accessory in the form of his removable hat. Hillbilly also appeared on magazines, programs, trading cards, ViewMaster reels, Hulk Hogan's Rock n' Wrestling cartoon, and much more.

Hillbilly wrestled until 1990 when his neck finally became a problem for him. He became deeply involved in Coliseum Video's WWF video line and later became one of WWF/WWE's "goodwill ambassadors," especially with their Road to WrestleMania tour. It was because of his relationship with Coliseum Video that I first met the big man. He was, in fact, the second wrestler that I ever met. In 1995, my family happened to be shopping in a local grocery store when we learned that Hillbilly would be appearing in the video rental department that day. I can still remember the mountain of a man making his way down the main aisle of the store. When he arrived at the signing table, I recall that he turned to a nearby poster of fitness celebrity Tony Little and said, "Hey, I know you!" This was before everyone had photo capabilities on them at all times, but I did get some autographs and great memories.

I've met Hillbilly several times since, but it was an appearance just this month that really made me reflect on the wrestling legend. The KSWA (Keystone State Wrestling Alliance) promotion here in Pittsburgh runs their annual fanfest in December. It is one of their biggest shows of the year combined with a Toys For Tots drive and other activities that create a truly festive atmosphere. One or two big names from wrestling's past are always brought in as well. I think all would agree that no legend ever fit the event better than Hillbilly Jim.

Whereas most legends will say a few words about the event that they're at, I truly believed every word this time. The big man billed from "Mudlick, Kentucky" was having a ball. He spent time with each and every fan who approached him. He even mingled with the crowd in the second half of the show and got into the matches just as much as the fans. There wasn't any "sell the gimmicks and run out the back" like you see with a lot of names. Hillbilly Jim is genuine.

Thinking back, Hillbilly has never been anything but genuine with myself and anyone else that I know who has met him. The fun-loving mountainous grappler? The weekly host of SiriusXM's "Moonshine Matinee?" The happy-go-lucky guy that you saw on Legends House? That's the real Hillbilly Jim. In this day and age, he's the kind of person that we need more of. Heck, even his mantra of "I'm not here for a long time, I'm here for a good time," is something that we all could strive to follow.

Hillbilly Jim may not be in the WWE Hall of Fame, but he sure is in mine. He enjoys people. Kids big and small. He doesn't need to spend time away from home, but he does. Whether it's a fan in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania or New York, New York, Hillbilly has time for them. He makes time. He gives back. If you ask me, that's what makes a true legend.

And just as Hillbilly and I said after we snapped the picture above...

Thursday, December 17, 2015

2015: Losing the Icons of Wrestling

It was not a year for smiles in the wrestling world. One loss is too much, but it felt as if we were mourning another icon daily. Just when the shock and hurt of one began to subside, more news hit the industry like a ton of bricks. They aren't friends or family to most of us, but they have visited us in our living rooms for weeks on end. They tugged at our emotions, lightened our lives, and even made us open our wallets. They did their jobs and made us the fans that we are in the process.

Those that left us in 2015 included Steve Rickard, Tito Carreon, Buddy Landel, Dusty Rhodes, Cora Combs, Larry Winters, Duke Myers, Perro Aguayo Jr., Nick Bockwinkel, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Don Fargo, Ron Wright, Lizmark, Tommy Rogers, Percival A. Friend, Tony Charles, Verne Gagne, Daisy Mae, The Great Malumba, and Marie Darnell.

What more can one say about Rhodes and Piper? Would even the two men themselves have predicted the worldwide mourning of their losses? They captivated millions and became not only stars in their industry, but faces of it. Both had the gift of gab, boatloads of charisma, and the ability to back it up physically. If you know me or the writings of this blog, you know that I lost two of my all-time favorite wrestlers here. I feel extremely lucky that I made personal memories with both, and had the opportunity to thank them for their contributions to pro wrestling.

The AWA lost both of its pillars with the passings of Gagne and Bockwinkel. A pioneer in television wrestling, Gagne built his brand in the business and rode it to the end. A whole new generation is now getting a mainstream look at the American Wrestling Association thanks to WWE Network, and hopefully we will get to see some of the work of Nick Bockwinkel sooner rather than later. "Bock" is considered by many to be the greatest champion in wrestling history. Upon hearing his promos and seeing his fluidity in the ring, I'm sure that many more will be agreeing in the future.

All of these men crammed a lot of life into their years, but perhaps none more than Don Fargo. A true chameleon of wrestling, it is estimated that Fargo had more personas in his long career than any other wrestler. As the brother of Jackie, Don Kalt found perhaps his most lasting name, also teaming with Sonny and Johnny (Greg Valentine) Fargo over the years. His reunion with Jackie at the 2009 NWA Fanfest in Charlotte is one of my favorite wrestling memories. Two wild men, together one last time.

As always, this is just a brief overview of the many men and women lost during 2015 who gave their blood, sweat, and tears to professional wrestling. We remember them all, and those they left behind, as we transition into the new year.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The COLORful World Of 1991 WWF

In Christmases of my youth, I always looked forward to stocking stuffers. In my family, we always opened the stocking last. It was a place for small, inexpensive gifts, but often times those presents were the best of all. I can even remember coloring books being stuffed inside. No matter the content, I enjoyed coloring. I always found difficulty staying inside the lines, but it didn't matter. Even my very first piece of wrestling memorabilia was a coloring book, covering the wide world of Hulk Hogan's Rock n Wrestling cartoon.

In the past few months, I've come to enjoy the trend that is "adult coloring." It might actually be more accurate to say that I've rediscovered coloring in general, as my status as an adult is questioned even in my own mind. As far as the "adult coloring books" that are on the market, I just don't like them. The "artistic" design of the drawings to color leave very little room unless you're using a thin colored pencil. No sir. Give me broad designs with a lot of room for me to smash my Crayolas into a colorful crescendo.

Going back to kiddie coloring books got me to thinking of just how wrestling translated to the medium. Of course, there were the aforementioned Rock 'n Wrestling books, but I knew that there were more. Recently, I stumbled upon a completed Jimmy Hart page colored by someone online. The picture was familiar to me, and I suddenly remembered a line of WWF coloring books from 1991. Upon an eBay search, I discovered two things. First, I was fairly sure that I have an unused example with an Ultimate Warrior cover packed away somewhere. Second, I may not be the only one looking for these to satisfy their "adult coloring" urges. The asking prices were rather high, no doubt drummed up by recent interest. Nonetheless, I made an offer for a very reasonably priced example, and in my hands a few days later was the WWF Tag Team Superstars Coloring Book.

Hawk and Animal, in their classic first WWF promo shot, may grace the cover of this "tag team" book, but it's really a showcase for a lot of 1991 WWF talent. Heck, even Andre the Giant shows up here in his wrestling gear. What I found the coolest was that some of the managers were included. In addition to the exact Jimmy Hart page that I had seen online, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, Mr. Fuji, and Sensational Queen Sherri are here, too, in an era when the non-wrestlers just weren't marketed like the in-ring WWF Superstars.

WWE still releases coloring books, but aside from The Undertaker and Triple H, you aren't going to find many legends to color. Want to stylize the likes of Earthquake, Dino Bravo, and The Barbarian? Then you have to go old school. I truly believe in the well-touted relaxing effects of coloring as an adult. It can transport you to a much more comforting time in your life. Coloring the wrestling heroes and villains of my youth only accentuates that.

Coloring vintage wrestlers is a match made in Heaven for me. Since the wrestlers of the era had so many different outfits, not to mention color schemes, it leaves a lot of room for your own interpretations. Don't feel like you're above's something that you have likely done since you were in the single digits. And keep that "Yellow-Orange" Crayola handy, it's perfect for the big boys of the era!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Back To Wrestling's Future...2015 Edition

In my book, nothing says "trading cards" like thick cardboard and a nice matte finish. No gloss! It's what many of us grew up on, and it's why I really enjoy the Topps Heritage cards. The company produces a few different sports under the Heritage banner. Even some Star Wars card sets have been done in a retro style. After a three year wait, Topps has once again revived the WWE Heritage brand.

Once again, a 110-card base set is surrounded by several subsets and seemingly endless hits and parallels. In the Heritage sets it's the base cards that I enjoy the most. In 2015, Topps is celebrating thirty years of WWF/WWE cards. The base card design is based off of the Topps 1985 baseball set. Seeing as that the 2012 WWE Heritage set already used the 1985 Topps WWF design, this was a good choice.

The base set is divided into Legends, Divas, WWE Superstars, and NXT Superstars. There is some crossover, however. The Divas section includes some retired ladies and superstars such as Christian and Santino Marella are thrown in with the current WWE roster. The NXT section features Kevin Owens, Sasha Banks, and Charlotte, but the card designs were switched to the Superstars and Divas designs, respectively, presumably at the last minute.

An abundance of stars, both past and present, has given Topps the ability to spread names, and gimmicks, throughout the set. Some stars only appear in subsets while others such as Alundra Blayze, Eva Marie, and Pat Patterson, make their sole appearances on autograph cards. Even more names, especially NXT midcarders, only appear on relic cards featuring clothing, turnbuckle, or mat swatches. Many big stars such as Ric Flair, Lex Luger, and Terry Funk are only on tag team or group cards. It's an interesting switch likely due to the rights to so many stars being available this time around.

The 2015 subsets include NXT Call Ups, Then & Now, and Rookie of the Year. The latter two are based in design on the Topps 1985 Baseball "Top Prospects" and "Father & Son" subsets, respectively. The "rookie" cards are very nice and mark the first WWE year of thirty different Superstars, not their first year in the business. Yet another subset yields just eight cards and uses art from the WWE 2K16 video game. Of these cards, Paul Heyman makes his lone appearance in the whole set and is a major stand-out.

There is also a ten card subset spotlighting the New World Order. I do believe that these ten cards are replacing what would have been the final ten in the Hulk Hogan tribute subset which was spread out over past sets. It's cool to see Miss Elizabeth and Big Bubba Rogers show up, but they should have completed the Hogan set. Although technically these cards are a subset, since they aren't retro in style I don't technically count them as Heritage. They are glossy and on the modern, thinner, card stock. It's a shame that Elizabeth didn't get an actual Heritage card with a classic '80s shot, but there's always the next set.

A hobby box (twenty-four packs) is guaranteed to have two "hits" inside. These hits can be an autograph, relic, or printing plate. This is the first WWE Heritage set to utilize the ever-growing in popularity "on-card" autographs. For those unfamiliar with trading card sets, it has long been practice for the signers to autograph rows of clear stickers which are then affixed to the cards. In recent years the companies have been switching to getting the autographs right on the card itself. In my hobby box, I pulled a Jack Swagger shirt relic and a Roman Reigns autograph.

For the best shot at obtaining something special like an autograph, as usual your best bet is a hobby box. In the results that I've seen so far, one has been either an autograph or a redemption card for one, so the odds are looking good. This hasn't always been the case with past Topps sets, where autographs can sometimes be slim pickings. Target has been carrying single packs and Wal Mart once again has exclusive Sting cards (and a shot at his autograph) in their jumbo packs and blaster boxes.

I've been asking for this set for three years. Topps delivered. It isn't my favorite Heritage set, 2012 still holds that distinction, but it's close. I think it might be tied with Heritage II back in 2006. I don't see myself going as crazy getting this set signed as I did with 2012. There are too many tag team cards to make me want to make it a project, but I already know a few that will end up in my signed album. Some of the "Rookie of the Year" cards practically scream "get me autographed!" How can I ignore that?

I've admitted before that a Heritage set every year probably won't ever happen, but I hope that Topps doesn't make us wait three years again for the next one. Two years would be perfect to make the thirtieth anniversary of the 1987 Topps WWF set. The patriotic design of that set is begging to be redone with another great mix of current stars and legends.

Maybe even including...a stick of gum?