Thursday, March 31, 2016

Hard Times Abound For WWE In 2016

No, the title of this post does not refer to the seemingly-endless series of injuries plaguing WWE. These "hard times" are the kind that you might run into if you ever took a trip down to Cobb County, Georgia. Perhaps you didn't read the signs or respect the law and order? Regardless, I think that you'll hearken back to one of the greatest characters in WWE history, The Big Boss Man. At 6'7 and over 300 pounds, the Boss Man had the audience in the palm of his hand no matter which "side" he was currently on. It didn't hurt that he is also undoubtedly one of the most underrated stars in wrestling history. For a man his size, he could do it all.

I passed up on the first Big Boss Man figure to hit the Mattel WWE line several years ago. It was released at a time when I wasn't quite sold on the Mattel product and I was really only collecting "new" characters. The figure has since skyrocketed in demand (and secondary market value). Now many collectors, including myself, are getting a second chance thanks to a brand new series exclusive to Toys "R" Us. It's the "WWE Network Spotlight" series. Essentially, the line will likely be an all-"Flashback" series similar to the Target exclusive WWE Hall of Fame set. Thus far a 1990's Hunter Hearst Helmsley is also in the series, with a Shawn Michaels to follow.

The figure itself looks to be a direct re-release of the first Mattel Boss Man, sans the ball and chain. The figure still includes sunglasses, handcuffs, and the trademark nightstick. The back of the packaging says that the look of the Boss Man is supposed to represent his Saturday Night's Main Event appearance on May 27, 1989. This was, of course, the night where the prison guard famously suplexed Hulk Hogan from the corner of the steel cage. In actuality, the figure could represent the Boss Man throughout his initial WWF run. He appears a bit hefty (he was bigger in his first two years with the company), but the Boss Man was always "big."

Most figures of Ray "Big Boss Man" Traylor have captured a good likeness and this one is no different. Something about the stance of this figure really seems to scream "Hard Times." I hear his famous theme song just looking at it. The only issue I have is that in the lot that I encountered, all seemed to have paint issues on the uniform. The one that I ultimately chose only had a line on his strap that can easily be fixed, but others had issues with the yellow stripe down the leg. For collectors who keep every figure carded, this can be a killer.

Like all Elite figures, there are many points of articulation enabling top poseability. For someone like the Boss Man, this is essential. Part of his greatness was being one of the most agile "big man" wrestlers to ever grace the squared circle. Sure, he could pound you into submission with a Southern-style beating, but he could also move around with the best of them. His bumping was second-to-none as well. Check out his beatdown at WrestleMania VI from Ted DiBiase or his elimination from the 1992 Royal Rumble for great examples of this.

The Big Boss Man is one of the very few of my favorites from childhood that I didn't have the chance to meet. By all accounts, he was a heckuva guy. My friend David Isley often tells stories of Mr. Traylor from their days working the Jim Crockett Promotions shows at TBS Studios. Terri Runnels, an "Attitude-Era" travel companion of the Boss Man, has also publicly shared her memories. At the 2016 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony, I hope to hear even more about the legendary gentle giant of the ring.

This is a fun figure. As much as I love the new packaging, it looks even better posed. It's the kind of figure that anyone would want on their shelf. I'd even go as far as to call it a conversation piece. Put this on your desk at work and watch the amazement come flowing in. "I LOVED the Big Boss Man!" After all, he is one of the best remembered and beloved stars of the era. Couple him with the Mattel Akeem figure from a few years ago and the tag team of the Twin Towers is back. All we need is The Slickster...

Since we've done WrestleMania stories just about every year since the inception of the blog, I decided to give it a break this year. Over the past several weeks we've looked at several new Hall of Fame inductees and, in what is becoming an annual deal, I have my thoughts on the big event itself at my other blog, Josh Culture. Whether you're in Dallas this weekend or following the fun on WWE Network, enjoy the spectacle that is WrestleMania!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Mattel Gets Mouth-y

A few weeks ago, we brought you the one, the only, The Bunny. In that blog entry, taking a look at Mattel's figure release of the former Exotic Express member, I once again proclaimed my love for figures of non-wrestlers. It goes back to the LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars days with their "Managers" subset. The non-wrestlers are simply essential to recreating the wrestling world, or nowadays the WWE Universe, on your shelf. Now, Mattel brings us one of the men who was part of the LJN Managers collection three decades ago. That man is "The Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart.

He's seemingly done it all. Member of "The Gentrys," Memphis wrestling icon, manager of champions, "Colonel," theme composer, wrestling's virtual ambassador, and even a cast member of WWE Legends House. At the age of 72, "The Mouth" shows no signs of slowing down. And despite being one of the most villainous managers in professional wrestling history, it's hard to find someone who has a bad word to say about Jimmy.

I always like to point out when I feel that a wrestler was "made" to be an action figure just by looking at them. Jimmy Hart fits that bill. From his endless closet of colorful jackets to his sunglasses and signature megaphone, Jimmy is a sight. I wouldn't call him "the greatest walking advertisement for birth control ever" as Gorilla Monsoon so often did, but his "loud" look (not to mention his loud mouth) has helped make him the legend that he is. Not only is Jimmy a legend, but he is also a WWE Hall of Famer.

It's the Target exclusive WWE Hall of Fame figure series that gained us our first "Mouth" in the line. Three figures make up this third series, with "Macho King" Randy Savage and "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase also available. Jimmy is the only debut figure this time around and will likely be the most popular of the three. The packaging has changed yet again to match up with the regular 2016 "Elite" style boxes. It still follows the familiar WWE Hall of Fame motif of royal blue and gold and won't clash with previous entries to the line.

Jimmy comes decked out in his most familiar look, red hearts with a white background. I suppose he could be a tad shorter, but I'm not complaining. It works. What I will complain about is the plastic "bubble" inside of the package. Both the megaphone and cummerbund suffered in the packaging. The cummerbund is movable so I was able to turn it to a position where it looked normal, but the rim of the megaphone is still a bit warped. It's a problem that has plagued figure collectors for years. To Mattel's credit, I can't remember the last time that it's happened with a WWE figure that I've opened.

Thanks to the removable sunglasses, I believe Mattel may take the title for "Best Jimmy Hart Facial Likeness." It's seriously spot-on, and I don't think that any other Jimmy's have been quite this good. Some may not like the open mouth on the figure, but isn't that what you want in a Jimmy Hart? It works for Jimmy screaming into the megaphone, cackling during a promo, or screaming for his life when a heroic wrestler got hold of him, waiting to get revenge.

There are plenty of great pairings to pose Jimmy with, as some of his main charges are part of the Mattel line. The Honky Tonk Man, Jerry "The King" Lawler, King Kong Bundy, Kamala, Rick Rude, Terry Funk, Money Inc., and Earthquake are just a few men that followed the guidance of "The Mouth of the South." Later this year, another of Jimmy's tag teams, The Nasty Boys, will join their former manager. I still think that Jimmy was perfect while managing Greg Valentine, and a Mattel version of "The Hammer" would be very welcome. While I'm at it, Dino Bravo could sure use a figure too...

He's the Dick Clark of wrestling. A unique gimmick that was born in Memphis, but made it big throughout the world. Since he looks virtually the same today and still pops up all over the WWE Universe, this is one Hall of Fame figure that fits in any style of collection anywhere. Similar to Trish Stratus in the first series (and Yokozuna to a lesser extent in the second), this will be the one that people are going for. With Mattel's recent penchant for re-releases and peppering Legends throughout their line, who knows if we'll see Jimmy again. Keep in mind that it is a manager figure, which could hamper the possibility. I know that I'd love to see Jimmy decked out in his superhero costume down the line!

Next week, Mattel brings us yet another Hall of Famer, but in a brand-new line. This Hall of Famer is new to the honor, being of the Class of 2016. Stay tuned, Hard Times are yet to come...

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Lariat Hits The Hall

It's always interesting to hear a wrestler describe another wrestler as "a night off." The meaning is that the wrestler being described was so good at the art of wrestling that stepping into the ring opposite meant that it was going to be an easy match, despite it not looking so to the fans. Many times it is ironically the more rough and tumble wrestlers who are described this way. The ones who look like they massacred their opponents. One wrestler who was likely never thought of in this manner is another member of the 2016 WWE Hall of Fame class. He's the bad man from Borger, Texas. He's the man who broke Bruno Sammartino's neck. He's Stan "The Lariat" Hansen.

Stan Hansen belongs in any and all wrestling Halls of Fame. The rugged Texan put fear into the hearts of fans the world over, but it's usually pointed out that his biggest fame came outside of the United States. He is arguably the most successful gaijin (foreigner in Japan) to ever set foot in a Japanese wrestling ring. Both in singles and tag team action, Hansen fascinated the Japanese wrestling fans in a way similar to Fred Blassie several decades earlier. He was the big, bad, American villain. While he certainly built a name here in the States, it is his legendary work overseas that cemented his legacy in the squared circle.

His American career was varied to say the least. Not many stars launch their careers by breaking the neck of one of the all-time greats, but Hansen did. In 1976, Hansen broke the neck of the legendary Bruno Sammartino right in the middle of Madison Square Garden. Fortunately, Sammartino recovered and the two were able capitalize on the incident in the form of return bouts. This would ultimately be the biggest moment for Hansen in the U.S. Beyond that, he is remembered for being the AWA World Heavyweight Champion who ran the belt over with his truck, a cameo in "No Holds Barred," and the tobacco-spitting Desperado who kept having run-ins with Missy Hyatt in the dressing room. None of those truly represent the rough brawler that can be seen on tapes from Japan.

Then there are the stories of Hansen's bad sight. By his own admission, Hansen has very poor vision when not wearing his eyeglasses. This apparently lent itself to Hansen's realistic-looking style in the ring, as it is said that it wasn't unusual for punches and clotheslines from the big cowboy to make true contact. It was that style that caused the eye of Big Van Vader to pop from its socket during one particularly brutal New Japan Pro Wrestling bout.

Similar to his co-inductees in the 2016 WWE Hall of Fame The Fabulous Freebirds, it was a certain action figure that brings Stan Hansen to the minds of countless children of the 1980's. Hansen was a key part of the Remco AWA action figure line. The figure came in a "Greatest Grudge Matches" two-pack along with Jerry "Crusher" Blackwell. Thanks to Remco using their larger body style, Hansen is taller than many of the other figures. The facial likeness is spot on and, as is usual with the Remco line, the accessories are superb. Soft goods chaps and a vest were included with the figure, as was his trademark cowboy hat. I can still remember finding a second-hand Hansen figure, long before I knew who all made up the AWA line. The hair and mustache said it all--I was holding a Stan Hansen figure in my hand. I've since re-equipped it with original accessories, but the figure remains the same one in my collection.

Just like his wrestling career, memorabilia of Stan Hansen was more prevalent in Japan. Figures in all shapes and sizes have been made over the years, but it would be nice to see "The Lariat" get another shot at the American toy shelves. Perhaps this inclusion in the WWE Hall of Fame will lend itself to a Mattel Flashback figure in the future. You certainly would be hard-pressed to find a more exciting look to immortalize in plastic once more. Hansen also found himself on countless programs, posters, and even video games in the "Land of the Rising Sun."

Hansen did a great job inducting Antonio Inoki into the WWE Hall of Fame back in 2010. The next year we were treated to the story of Hansen's career in his autobiography titled "The Last Outlaw." Now it's time for one more look at Japan's favorite cowboy...and America's most under appreciated brawler.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Mattel Brings Elite Looks At The Past...And Future

The last time that a Mattel figure saw our spotlight was just a few weeks ago. The figure in question, The Bunny, brought up the talking point of depth in wrestling action figure lines. Six years into the run, Mattel should have quite a bit of depth. More and more integration of past stars or Legends into their various lineups greatly helps ensure this. A collector can walk into most stores today and has a chance of finding figures of Paul Orndorff, The Iron Sheik, and The Honky Tonk Man, just to name a few. There's also one "Flashback" figure that comes from the much more recent past. He, along with a more modern figure from the same series, is our focus this time around.

After his untimely death in 2009, most of us were fairly certain that the last Umaga figure had been produced. WWE will acknowledge deaths, but those with a stigma tend to be brushed away. Umaga's young passing was definitely one of the latter. The Samoan Bulldozer had some memorable moments in the company, but ignoring him didn't prove to be difficult. He was not around in a necessarily "Golden Age" for the company, so "erasing" him was not needed nor necessary. In the last twelve months or so, mentions of the agile big man began popping up. The feelings have definitely lightened as is proof with his debut in the Mattel figure line.

Joining Umaga is a man that we're certain to hear more from, Sami Zayn. The NXT standout has finally "graduated" to the main WWE roster. The former "Indy darling" reminds many of Daniel Bryan. Perhaps WWE is looking to fill the void left by the recent retirement of the "Yes!" man. Nevertheless, many fans are looking for Zayn to continue his long-standing rivalry with Kevin Owens. With Zayn's recent appearance on Raw, that seems to be a direction that will be pursued. With Mattel adding both to their lineup, it will at least live on in plastic form.

Both Umaga and Zayn have unique accessories which are a focal point just by looking at the packaging. Umaga comes with his trademark sarong. The wrap is molded in the same rubber/vinyl that Mattel is known for. While the material restricts poses when used for shirts and coats, the use is perfectly fine here. Zayn's figure includes the very first figure-sized release of the NXT Championship belt. I'm not exactly certain as to why, but the design looks a Helluva lot better in figure form than the full-size version.

Both figures are full of fantastic paint detail. Umaga has all of the tribal tattoos that he had at the end of his WWE run. His tights are also very decorated, including a great likeness of his facial appearance down one leg. Sami has tights that really pop with their unique design, and the chest hair that was missing in his first release in the Basic line is painted on here. Both have facial likenesses that should carry no complaints. Umaga does seem a tad tall compared to other figures, but he was a tall man. He is not as tall as a figure of The Big Show, which is usually a good measuring stick.

The Elite tooling style works well for both of these stars known for agility. Umaga's joints are a bit tighter than I would have liked, but anyone looking to pose moves shouldn't have much of a problem. The figure does have issues standing however. It seems to take a bit of patience and maneuvering of the legs and ankles to get Umaga to stand, but eventually he will.

These are two that you will want to grab on sight. I'm not sure that I'd have added Sami to my collection had the belt not been included. The Basic was good enough for me and we'll see many more releases of him down the line. The NXT belt should also see more releases, but who knows when. I could imagine an Elite release of Kevin Owens down the pike possibly including both the Intercontinental and NXT Championships. Umaga is less likely to see additional releases, though I can imagine one that would please Mattel. A release of Umaga early in the run of the character would require much less paint as he had far fewer tattoos. The unique tooling of the head, hair, and sarong could then also be reused. Look at me, just giving away money-saving ideas!

Hey Mattel, any room for a consultant?

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The WWE Hall Of Fame Adds A Wing On Badstreet

 Wrestling's rebels. Wrestling's rock band. Wrestling's Southern brotherhood. However you view The Fabulous Freebirds, the boys are finally back in town, Dallas to be exact, and taking their rightful place in the WWE Hall of Fame. The wait for it to happen almost became a rib on Freebird front man Michael P.S. Hayes. When was one of the most successful teams in history going to be formally recognized by the company that has become the proprietor of wrestling? 2016 is the long-awaited year.

To be honest, the Freebirds have a place in any wresting Hall of Fame. They were revolutionary. They drew money wherever they went. They turned the Dallas territory completely around and made World Class Championship Wrestling the titan that it was in the 1980's. While Hulk Hogan, Mr. T, and Cyndi Lauper were the mainstream-covered "Rock n Wrestling Connection," the Freebirds made up its Southern rock cousin.

Hayes will enter the WWE Hall of Fame along with Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy, Buddy Jack Roberts, and Jimmy "Jam" Garvin. Some are already decrying the fact that Garvin is involved, citing the fact that he wasn't part of the original trio. He was, however, part of the second Freebird ride on the national stage while in WCW. Not to mention that "Gorgeous" Jimmy Garvin always seemed to be an unofficial Freebird as part of the Von Erich-hating heels of WCCW. If Michael Hayes considers Garvin to be a Freebird brother, that's good enough for me.

The Fabulous Freebirds had an element of realism that's missing today. As is frequently pointed out with Stone Cold Steve Austin and other personalities that made it big, what you saw in the ring was just an extension of the real persona. Hayes, Gordy, and Roberts really were a rough and tough group of rebels. There was no suspension of disbelief necessary when the 'Birds talked of clearing barrooms and downing more than their share of Jack Daniels. Hayes was the brash leader. Gordy the enforcing muscle. Roberts the grizzled older brother. It worked.

The 'Birds made their name all over including in WCCW, UWF, AWA, WCW, and even briefly in the WWF. Some look at it as a shame that the latter run was ill-fated, but I believe that it was for the better. The group would eventually have been watered down and/or broken up. Rumor has it that Vince McMahon may even have planned to run with Hayes on his own. The possibilities are endless. It's that AWA stint that provided many fans of the generation, especially youngsters, with their favorite pieces of Freebirds memorabilia. Though a run in Verne Gagne's promotion may seem ill-fitting for the wild Freebirds, it was there that the trio saw their first action figures. Still one of the most popular sets in the lineup, the Remco-produced Freebirds come complete with their signature entrance gear. Garvin was also part of the line, to add to the chaos.

But while on the subject of merchandise from 'down Badstreet, you can't leave out the infamous Michael P.S. Hayes "Off The Streets" album. The record has starred on this blog several times before and the "glamour shot" of the album and its components seems to be one of the most frequently "borrowed" pictures. It just seems to turn up everywhere! Whether or not it's the "centerfold" of Hayes that's included with the album that causes all the excitement is anyone's guess, but it's an awesome item regardless. Wrestling's original rockers with an album and their own anthem. It doesn't get much better than that.

Thanks to the WWE Hall of Fame we'll soon be walking down Badstreet one more time. Hayes is a longtime WWE producer while Garvin largely (but not completely) distances himself from the business. Gordy and Roberts passed away in 2001 and 2012, respectively. They were a unique group that, like most good things, were often imitated but never duplicated. They left their mark both with the fans and on the business itself. Had they not been assembled as a group, aspects of the history of the industry would be completely different. That is what makes Hall of Famers.

And what about that WWE Hall of Fame? It ain't no "Home Sweet Home," it's a "Home Sweet Misery!"