Thursday, April 28, 2016

WWWF Wrestling Action #1

I've always been very proud, and humbled, that this blog has simultaneously opened discussion and answered questions regarding wrestling memorabilia and merchandise while even helping to discover certain items altogether. As I often say, wrestling is a genre of collectible that has been relatively unexplored and uncataloged. Even with all of the action figures, cards, and programs, among other items, that have been discussed here, by far the most storied is the five-issue WWWF Wrestling Action magazine.

The magazine was the very first in-house authentic World Wide Wrestling Federation publication. While the many great magazines already on the market featured a ton of coverage regarding the McMahon-owned promotion and its stars, this was an entirely different animal. Publisher (and as I like to call him, "wrestling renaissance man") Les Thatcher brought an elegant design to the magazine that he similarly instituted in his Mid-Atlantic and NWA Magazines. A lot of color, slick pages, and amazing illustrated covers were a staple in the Thatcher publications.

A few blog entries have already been dedicated to Wrestling Action, but I have always wanted to take a look at each individual issue, highlighting the best and most interesting features. This is the first of five, going in order. You'll note that despite only lasting five issues, the title actually spanned around two years. In the wild days of 1970's wrestling, it's no surprise that even publications were a bit erratic. Nonetheless, the five issues that we did get have spawned their own legend in wrestling memorabilia.

The first issue, officially titled WWWF Wrestling Action Vol. 1 No. 1., starts off with a bang right on the front cover. Superstar Billy Graham had just dethroned the legendary Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF Heavyweight Championship. As with Sammartino's first championship defeat, fans were shocked and saddened. Graham, however, did have his own fanbase. Many, including Graham himself, feel that his title run could have lasted a lot longer and possibly even included a stint as a babyface. While we will never know how that would have turned out, perhaps a glance forward at Hulk Hogan's initial run may be a bit of an indication.

When I completed my own set of five Wrestling Action issues, it was still possible to collect a fully signed run of the "stars" of each cover. For the first issue I obtained Graham as well as publisher Les Thatcher and famed wrestling photographer George Napolitano. Almost all of the issues elicited a great response from the signers. This first issue was no different. Obviously, even the stars themselves look back on this publication with fond memories.

Each issue has a small "As I See It" column allegedly penned by a major name in the WWWF. For this first issue it is then-WWWF President Willie Gilzenberg. The first regular feature is a story regarding Bruno Sammartino and his vow to avenge his April 30, 1977 loss to Graham. The photo of Sammartino used here would be the basis for the cover of the second Wrestling Action issue. Also of note here is an attached subscription card advertising a deal of six issues for $9.00. Quite the deal now, even considering that we now know that the magazine would only last five issues.

The Sammartino-Graham story is continued on the next two pages with some great photos in full color. Several photos are from the aforementioned title change in Baltimore. Keeping with Bruno's character, the champ is said to have claimed that he would have been happy had the title went to Ivan Putski, Chief Jay Strongbow, Larry Zbyszko, Tony Garea, or Bob Backlund, but is instead in the wrong hands with the likes of Graham. Less than a year later, the championship "wishes" of Sammartino would be granted with the long-planned win of Backlund.

Features on Putski as well as Professor Tanaka and Mr. Fuji are next, prefacing something that would become a Wrestling Action staple: the full-color centerfold. Each issue features one or a number of stars in a stunning large photo. As with the cover, the first issue features Superstar Graham in the centerfold. In a classic pose, likely taken at Madison Square Garden, Graham poses with his newly-won championship belt. The photo would look just as good signed as the cover does.

Next up is a two-page story on Ken Patera and his issue with Strongbow and "Indian" partner Billy White Wolf (later known as Sheik/General Adnan). We then return to color with another two-pager on the fabled High Chief Peter Maivia. The world now knows him as the grandfather of The Rock, but Maivia had quite the career in his own right. His well-documented tribal tattoos are showcased here both in photos and the written word. Maivia will figure into future Wrestling Action issues as well, including in a run that is less well-remembered than the one shown here.

At just sixteen pages total, the first issue of Wrestling Action is a bit shorter than the rest. We finish with a one-page story on Bob Backlund titled "Born To Wrestle." One has to wonder if Vincent J. McMahon may have possibly instructed this feature to be included. The story barely goes two paragraphs before Backlund is labeled to be "the man who possesses possibly the best credentials to knock Superstar Billy Graham off the top spot in the WWWF area." The inside back page features a small, black and white, photo gallery of various WWWF stars, and the back page is one more color shot featuring an epic struggle between Sammartino and Stan Stasiak.

I've never been able to pick a "favorite" wrestling collectible, but when pressed, the Wrestling Action set has definitely come up. They're an amazingly well-crafted set of time capsules from a very important period in the biggest wrestling company in history. By the time that we reach the final issue, it will become clear just how much history is collected, and preserved, in these five publications.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Peaks & Valleys of Wrestling Figure Collecting

It's that time again. Every decade or so, it happens. Lapsed wrestling fans are looking to unload their unwanted toys of the past, in most cases looking for a huge windfall. Message boards, Craigslist, and even my various inboxes are stuffed with ads from those who, a decade ago, couldn't wait to get their hands on the newest Jakks WWE figure. Now, looking at the rose-colored past, those same collectors are hoping to cash in on their childhood. At this point their celebratory dinner will likely be constricted to the Dollar Menu.

It isn't as if the figures from that era are bad, it's just that a number of factors have left the toys dead in the water for the time being. For starters, let's look at the previous time period, known to many as "The Attitude Era." While WWE capitalized on the nostalgia for that late-1990s period when launching WWE Network, the popularity has not translated to most of the corresponding collectibles. Mass production was at its peak and Jakks could not churn out enough Stone Cold, The Rock, and Undertaker figures. To this day, those and other Superstars of the era are consistently sold on store shelves, now by Mattel and with modern production techniques.

If the figures of the icons of that immensely popular era aren't doing well, you can imagine that those of just five years later aren't fairing much better. That period of time saw very low-level interest in wrestling as a whole. It was a time of virtual identity crisis for the business when it seemingly could not decide between the adult themes of the "Attitude Era" or the family friendliness of the decade prior.

While I continually have little hope of the 1997-2001 toys ever making a comeback, I do have good news for those of ten years ago. My advice? If you're one of the ones that I addressed above initially, hold on a bit. Although John Cena, Randy Orton, and other headliners from then are continually remade, others from the 2002-2008 WWE will likely never see additional figures. While great stars, they never saw the popularity that the mid and undercard stars of just a few years earlier enjoyed. For various reasons, collectors will want figures of these stars again. One reason? Compatibility.

When Mattel rolled out their WWE line, interest in the first TNA figure line from Toybiz shot up. This was because many of those figures were similar in scale to the Mattel offerings. Suddenly, figures of Jeff Hardy, Sting, Samoa Joe, Kurt Angle, and others that were unlikely to be made by WWE at the time were seeing a greatly renewed interest. With several new lines coming soon from Figures Toy Company in the Jakks scale and style, I could see the same thing happening with the old official Jakks product.

As with any collectible, collectors are also always looking for top condition. If you've collected the Jakks product, you know that many have not stood the test of time. Loose or missing limbs, scuffed bodies, and chipped paint are very much the norm when finding these figures second hand. Those who kept their figures pristine should have an advantage, as it seems that there's little middle ground when it comes to condition issues.

It's hard to predict trends. If it was easy, we could all be making some big money. But as far as those "Ruthless Aggression" era WWE Jakks figures? I wouldn't give them away just yet. Collectors may come a'knockin', and a'buyin', in the relatively near future.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Happy Trails, Blackjack Mulligan

I love everything about '70s wrestling. I may not have come along until the '80s, but I think that may play a part in my fascination of the previous decade in the squared circle. Not quite the entertainment spectacle that it would become yet no longer carrying an illusion of pure sport, you might say that wrestling came of age in the 1970's. The territories, the car rides, the crazed fans, and yes, the famous smell of smoke at ringside. All that and more play part in what had to have been a Helluva time to be in wrestling or even just follow it. And when you think of the names that made such an important impact on the decade, you have to think of the man that we lost this past week, Blackjack Mulligan.

Less than a decade ago, Blackjack published his autobiography "True Lies & Alibis," but you don't have to have read the book to know some crazy stories about the towering cowboy. It seems that every wrestler from the '70s has a Blackjack story or two. If you put them altogether, it would seem that Blackjack must not have lived an ordinary day in his life. He was a true character. A legend in his own time.

Like many wrestlers from Texas, Blackjack started out playing football. It's said that Wahoo McDaniel is responsible for getting "Big Bob Windham" into professional wrestling. McDaniel obviously knew what he was doing, as Mulligan became one of his classic opponents just a few years later. In a way, it was like a meeting of the parallels of the same man: both Mulligan and McDaniel personified the hard living, hard fighting, and hard drinking image. The only difference, one was a cowboy and one was an Indian.

The legendary Wahoo wasn't Mulligan's only main nemesis. The cowboy from Eagle Pass, TX also had famous battles with Andre the Giant, Ric Flair, "Number One" Paul Jones, Masked Superstar, Bruno Sammartino, Dusty Rhodes, Harley Race, and Dick Murdoch just to name a select few. He also ended up teaming with many of those legends, but his most famous partner was his fellow "Blackjack," Jack Lanza. Paired with Bobby Heenan or Lou Albano, the team made the most waves in the Midwest and the WWWF.

Of course, it's no secret that Mulligan is the patriarch of a wrestling dynasty that includes sons Barry and Kendall Windham and grandsons Bray Wyatt and Bo Dallas. Barry, for a time, in fact wrestled under the name of Blackjack Mulligan Jr. He would go on to carve out his own legacy away from that of his storied father.

Blackjack was all over the wrestling magazines of the '70s, often complete with a classic "bloody" cover. Aside from the main newsstand titles of the era, he also appeared on a number of the fabled Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Magazine covers during his days with Jim Crockett Promotions. Later in their WWE Classic Superstars line, Jakks unveiled a prototype of what would have been the first Blackjack Mulligan action figure. For whatever reason, the figure never saw production. Although too late for the man himself to see it, it would be nice if a figure of the rough and tumble cowboy was produced posthumously.

Although I wanted to do this small tribute of my own, I must recommend that you check out a site that I've referred you to before, The Mid-Atlantic Gateway. Blackjack was certainly one of the biggest stars of that great resource, and their tributes do not disappoint. You will also want to check out their past stories on Blackjack, including "The Legend of The Hat & The Robe." I guarantee that you will end that read thinking but one thing: "Now THAT is how a wrestling story should be told!"

Mr. Mulligan suffered for a long time. He is now out of pain and in a far better place. His life and the many stories surrounding it could probably fill ten books minimum. He was a one-of-a-kind person who starred in a unique industry in a time when outlaws truly lived up to that moniker. Through those stories, film footage, photos, and his cherished family, Blackjack Mulligan lives on forever.

Robert "Blackjack Mulligan" Windham


Thursday, April 7, 2016


It's been four years since Mattel WWE figure collectors began "building" their non-wrestling favorites. Maybe Michael Cole doesn't exactly fall into the category of "favorite," but he is still essential to completing the figural WWE Universe. Since then we've had Ricardo Rodriguez, Teddy Long, Paul Heyman, Booker T, John Laurinaitis, Corporate Kane, and Jim Ross. Now, we have the long awaited manager and WWE Hall of Famer, Paul Bearer.

The Build-A-Bearer figure has already had a storied shelf-life. The retailer of the first sets, Toys "R" Us, ultimately decided against continuing with the series, but not before releasing the Bearer figure outside of the United States. The figures collected to complete Bearer were Daniel Bryan, Damien Sandow, Kofi Kingston, and Dolph Ziggler. When WalMart decided to pick up the Build-A-Figure sets as their own exclusives, the lineup for the Bearer figure was changed. In a slightly better set, the U.S. received Neville, Rusev, Chris Jericho, and, fittingly, The Undertaker.

The Build-A-Figure lines have gone back and forth between "Basic" and "Elite" styles. This time (and for the foreseeable future) the figures are in the basic style. It comes down to being a difference of around seven dollars per figure. That certainly adds up. I have no problem with the releases continuing this way if it means saving around thirty bucks per set.

While I am happier with the lineup here than the initial Bearer set, I'm not exactly thrilled. The only figure of the four that my own collection could truly use was Neville. I had passed on the original Neville release in favor of future possibilities. Had this one not surfaced, I probably would have gone with the upcoming Elite version with his trademark cape. The Undertaker is fitting, but not necessarily exciting. I have always said that it would be nice if the four figures needed to build the fifth actually fit in with the Build-A-Figure, but this has yet to be the case. For example, Paul Bearer's four figures might have been The Undertaker, Kane, Mankind, and Vader.

Rusev at least has different tights, but his figure "career" is starting to resemble that of his League of Nations counterpart Alberto Del Rio. A strong start with an Elite figure and then endless pegwarmers. Rusev is a great wrestler, but there are only so many looks for his figures. Chris Jericho is one that many fans will want as it is based on his look from the late '90s with long hair, long tights, and facial hair. The Jericho figure is also the one that includes the Paul Bearer head and urn. Since the rest of the Build-A-Figure bodies are relatively the same, some collectors have been known to just "go for the head."

The Paul Bearer figure itself isn't the best of the Build-A-Figures that have been done, but it's nice. I'd heard complaints that it is too thin, but Bearer went through many different body sizes during his career. At the time that this figure represents, the manager was nowhere near his largest. The urn accessory can't really be held in his hand, although with some positioning it can be "clutched." A new hand sculpt to hold the thing might have been nice, but retooling isn't on the minds at Mattel when creating these particular releases. The facial likeness is very good, but falls a bit short of the Jakks Classic Superstars version.

With more and more managers entering the Mattel line, Paul Bearer was needed. There are plenty of Mattel "Flashback" figures that he fits right in with, including the monstrous four that I mentioned above. With the "Flashbacks" seeping into Mattel's regular lines now on a regular basis, I wouldn't be surprised to see another Bearer figure down the line. He could easily be redone in the ever-growing Hall of Fame line, or put into a Battle Pack with any of his various charges. Even a single basic style release would sell. As many of us were surprised to learn at the time of his untimely passing, Paul Bearer was indeed a major wrestling entry into pop culture. Produce a figure of him and it well sell, no questions asked.

The Build-A-Figure sets now live on with their new-found retailer. We already know that Mean Gene Okerlund will make his Mattel debut in the next round of four. The four figures? Cesaro, Seth Rollins, and "Flashbacks" of X-Pac and Triple H. The best part? "Gene Mean" is clad in a style that has not previously been done as a figure--his early WWF khaki pants/blue blazer look. In the words of the man himself, "You've gotta be kiddin' me!"