Thursday, June 30, 2016

Wrestling MarketWatch: The Publications of Jim Crockett Promotions

It's almost the Fourth of July! This time of year always gets me to thinking of the magic of Jim Crockett Promotions. It may be true that a lot of the territorial wrestling promotions looked to summer as a time when business was down due to other activities taking up the evenings of the money-paying fan, but JCP changed that. The company and its talent took those long, hot, summer nights and created events that many remember to this day: The Great American Bash. It was a summer get together. Bring the kids! Bring grandma! Bring the beer and brats! It was music, food, the great outdoors, and hard-hitting wrestling action.

In this edition of MarketWatch we'll look at some of the most treasured memorabilia featuring The Great American Bash and other Crockett-promoted events: the publications. JCP produced some very nice all-slick, sometimes even all-color, programs and magazines that showcased their stars in a way that the WWF would later become famous for. The rough, often bloody, action that took place in JCP rings came through the pages making them highly collectible today. If you're a longtime reader, you've seen some of these items before. This time we'll look at some recent selling prices for them. As always, the prices given are for un-autographed copies.

*Jim Crockett Promotions history of high-quality color spectacles in publishing goes back to the legendary Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Magazine. Nearly all of the big stars of the promotion made the cover at one point or another as the production carried on into the 1980's. Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Ricky Steamboat, Dino Bravo, Blackjack Mulligan, The Mighty Igor, and Greg Valentine are just a few of the names who found themselves on the front page, but none may have looked more menacing than Ole Anderson. The notoriously gruff grappler was featured on the cover several times, but the Volume 4 Number 6 issue has Anderson, by himself, in a full color photo. A copy of this issue recently sold for $30.

*As mentioned earlier, The Great American Bash may have been the signature event for the company. While Starrcade was positioned as "The Granddaddy of Em All," The Bash, for me, signifies what Jim Crockett Promotions really stood for. In its original form, The Bash was a tour rather than just one event. Many cities and towns, large and small, got to taste live, summer, wrestling action. There will never be wrestling tours of that magnitude again, so taking in as much as we can about "the glory days" from both the wrestlers and the fans who were there is how we can still connect to that era. The '86 Bash tour is still fondly remembered as one of the best. The program from the tour recently sold for $25.

*Speaking of tours, The Rock & Roll Express even had their own offshoot, "The Summer Sizzler Tour." That tour produced its own publication, as did Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson themselves. Jim Crockett Promotions knew that many of the wrestlers had large female followings and produced what could almost be described as photo albums for some of the stars. The Express even had a fan club for a time with high-quality bulletins. One of the publications featuring Morton and Gibson was "The Rock & Roll Express: Solid Gold." This magazine, featuring photos of the boys in and out of the ring, recently sold for $20.50. It should be noted that the sold example had major cover wear. A copy as pictured here would likely fetch a bit more.

*Another signature JCP event was The Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup Tag Team Tournament. More commonly known as simply "The Crockett Cup," the event was completed in two shows and held from 1986 to 1988. The winners were predictable, but it was still a chance to see interesting match-ups and wrestlers from outside the promotion. Many are hoping that the shows in as complete forms as possible will end up on WWE Network. It could also be said that The Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic is a successor to the Crockett Cup. The program from the final Crockett Cup tournament held in 1988 recently sold for $60.

*Jim Crockett Promotions, and many fans, definitely looked at Starrcade as the biggest event of the year. It certainly came before WrestleMania as the industry's biggest supercard, but often had endings that weren't quite as final or conclusive. Some also point to Starrcade being moved out of its original home of the Carolinas as the beginning of the end for the promotion. While I find the latter to be a bit dramatic, something just seems right about Starrcade and Greensboro, NC. After the move to Chicago in 1987, Starrcade came to the more fitting Norfolk, VA in 1988. The program from that event, subtitled "True Gritt," recently sold for $175.50.

It wouldn't be a Fourth of July for me without celebrating Jim Crockett Promotions a bit. Maybe I'll pull up a classic show on WWE Network, schlepp out the programs and magazines, perhaps even the Wonderama trading cards. I'll wrap a Road Warriors or Four Horsemen bandana around my head and cue up "Rock & Roll Is King." It's a great time to revisit that era. It may gone forever, but that's what's great about the kind of memorabilia that we look at here each week. It lets us hop in that time machine for a quick spin without ever leaving our seats.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Demon Arrives

Some love it, others hate it. Some embrace it, some just don't get it. Overall, you can't deny one thing: The Demon is over. It's become almost an alter-ego for NXT standout Finn Balor. For a wrestler who really needs nothing more than his impressive skills to stand out, it's a helpful extra boost in the character-driven world of WWE. In that world, where action figure or video game-esque personas rule, The Demon makes a big impression. It's no surprise that his first action figure would be a popular one. In Mattel's WWE Elite 41 series, we get to see The Demon in his figure debut.

Finn Balor's first figure was actually in Basic Series 57. That figure was devoid of any paint or demonic attire. It was very much Balor in his previous guise as Prince Devitt. The Demon had to wait. Now, in this Elite figure, we get the character itself. The figure blends well with the packaging since the current style is mainly red. Since Finn is decked out in his headdress and gauntlets, the figure fills the plastic window nicely. No "floating" effect here.

The head seems to be the same as the one used on the Basic release. This one, obviously, has the paint to differentiate. The headdress fits snugly, as do the gauntlets. Although this body was not specifically created for him, it works perfectly. He isn't the biggest guy in the business, but he does have an impressive build. The Elite style body allows you to recreate many of Finn's spectacular moves with ease. The rest of your NXT roster should be prepared to feel the 1916 or any of the other moves of The Demon.

The paint itself is also very well done from front to back. Gone are the days when designs didn't quite make it around the whole figure. I'm looking at you, Jakks, with that comment. The blacks, whites, and reds are well applied and I didn't seem to have much problem with errors or sloppiness on my example. The pink "tongue" of The Demon looks really cool, too. The paint apps on the accessories are very good as well.

The Demon does not come with the NXT Championship that he held for so long, but the figure still looks good with it. As this summer progresses, it's hard to figure whether The Demon will still even be challenging for the NXT Championship, or if he will have gone on to join his brothers in "The Club" as has so hotly been rumored. Perhaps he will even find himself on the opposite side of the ring from those men. Whether or not WWE can find enough talent to fill full rosters for both Raw and Smackdown will likely help answer those questions.

The first figure of Finn as The Demon will be a popular one. That being said, I'm sure that it won't be the only one. Mattel will be able to get away with straight re-releases on this figure due to the popularity. There are also a few variations on the character from several big events that could be capitalized on. It wouldn't surprise me to see a Basic version of The Demon, sans accessories, as well. As I've said before, anything with the NXT logo stamped on it is sure to be a hot seller at this point in time. Whether or not the stars represented in those items will be under the NXT banner much longer...that's another story.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Highs & Lows of Topps WWE 2016

Topps keeps churnin' em out, and we keep buyin' em. It's evident by how fast nearly all retailers sell out of product that WWE trading cards are a popular item. They appeal to a variety of collectors. They're more often than not a well produced product. Thanks to "hits" they offer a lottery feel of possibly pulling an autograph or other premium. They're usually a win-win purchase. Even regular cards can feel special when you're opening your first few packs of that particular series and pull one of your favorites.

Seemingly now settled at three mass retail WWE sets per year, Topps is now on their second for 2016. This time it's the aptly named WWE 2016 set. These sets named only by year usually mirror the sets produced by Topps for other sports in the same year such as baseball and football. A particularly handsome design was chosen by Topps this year, which instantly forces a minor hit with me. If I'm not a fan of how the base cards look, I usually won't invest much into a set. The Topps WWE Road To WrestleMania 2016 set resembles that remark. Aside from the Dusty Rhodes Tribute subset, I largely ignored the rest of the cards.

Topps WWE 2016 boasts a nice 100-card base set. Going through the cards you may notice something interesting: the biggest current stars do not appear. Names such as Seth Rollins, Brock Lesnar, and The New Day instead appear twice each in the "Perspectives" subset. These cards feature each star on two separate cards, one of which is from the "files of The Authority." As gimmicky as this may be, it does help two other views of collecting. For one thing, it frees up space in the base set for names that may not have necessarily made it in otherwise. For autograph collectors looking to try and get as many cards signed in the base set as they can, the larger, harder-to-obtain names won't be an issue.

For those who enjoy variants there are parallels in the set of bronze, silver, and even a rare red. To be honest, the silver and bronze are barely noticeable. While on the topic of parallels, I must point out something that I noticed after a box break. Topps has been good for a few years now about building a complete base set out of one single box. While I was able to do that, I would have had to have used a parallel card to do it had I not pulled the same regular card from an outside pack. In my book, a base set should be included in every hobby box without any parallels involved.

Several subsets are included, most notably a 28-card NXT set. Many of these names are no longer in NXT, with assuredly more to follow with the upcoming brand extension. There are also continuation subsets of The Rock, Triple H, Bret Hart, and Brock Lesnar. This style of subset is beyond boring to me. I know that there was an oversaturation of product in the "Attitude Era," but is it just me or does every card of Triple H and The Rock basically look the same? Personally I have no interest in collecting these subsets and pulling one of the cards in a pack elicits more of a groan from me than anything resembling happiness.

There are also plenty of different "hits." Some of us always want that autograph to be pulled, even those of us who mainly obtain our own signatures. After being spoiled by "on-card" autographs of recent sets, Topps has gone back to the stickers. It was disappointing to see this. For awhile I didn't think that it would make much of a difference to me, but I now see that it does. In my box, I pulled Nia Jax. While you can never go wrong with pulling a female related card (see one of my past card set reviews for the sad commentary on that), Nia wouldn't have been my first choice. Nonetheless, she is a new autograph for me, and with NXT as hot it is, you can't go wrong with that brand name slapped onto anything.

Other pulls include medallions, Divas kiss cards, multi-autographs, autographed relics, shirt relics, and mat relics from NXT Brooklyn and SummerSlam. My pull in this category was a mat relic from the latter event featuring The Undertaker. Again, not my first choice, but The Undertaker is another name that will always hold major ground with collectors. Between my two hits, I probably could have resold the two of them and gotten my investment back on the box while keeping all of the other cards. With that kind of figuring, it's easy to come out feeling good about the purchase.

It's definitely a middle-ground set. I'm very pleased with the base card style as well as the choices in both names and photos. Whoever made the call on including a Mr. X (the Danny Davis version who is also in the set under his regular persona) card deserves a raise. Sensational Sherri Martel, Miss Elizabeth, Kevin and Kerry Von Erich, and J.J. Dillon also brought a smile to my face. On the flip side, many of the subsets are once again snoozers. I realize that the casual fan still wants cards of The Rock and Triple H, but many of us regulars are well past that. At least past subsets of Sting and Hulk Hogan offered images that have never appeared on cards before. It was refreshing.

The next time that trading cards grace this blog will likely be in August, just a few weeks away. At that time Topps will bring us their 2016 installment of WWE Heritage. As longtime readers know, the Heritage sets are my favorite. I'm anticipating a lot of loving for this new set as well, as the design is based on Topps 1986 baseball which was a favorite of mine as a child. Bring on that cardboard goodness...

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Life Without The Dream...One Year On

I was preparing to attend my first live NXT show. It was the debut of the "developmental" brand here in Pittsburgh. From another room, a friend of mine yelled, "Dusty Rhodes died!" My first thought? Nah. Can't be. It didn't even shake me. Another sick death hoax. They happen more than we realize. Why even remember them? As soon as they're debunked, we forget that they ever happened. Dusty wasn't dead. He was just at WrestleMania a couple of months ago. He looked thin, but he's been dropping weight for awhile now. I even read a Tweet where he had mentioned taking walks for exercise. "The American Dream" is fine and probably at his job at the WWE Performance Center.

It was not a hoax.

We've now had a year to accept the death of one of the most colorful and brightest stars in wrestling history. In that time we lost other wrestling icons such as Rowdy Roddy Piper and Nick Bockwinkel, not to mention many other huge names in entertainment, sports, and pop culture. The death of Dusty still hits me, personally, just a tad more. I never imagined a time when Big Dust wouldn't be part of the wrestling business. Appearing at a convention, coaching young talent, or breaking out that legendary combination of lisp and drawl for one more cameo on WWE television.

Speaking of his coaching, it may be that aspect of his career that he was most connected with at the end of his life. As the promo/interview coach at the WWE Performance Center, so many of the stars who have come through NXT and are now debuting in the WWE's "New Era" spent time under the learning tree of The Dream. That NXT show which I attended the night of his death turned out to be the first true public memorial for Dusty. Many of the young stars who he had likely coached just days earlier were on the card. Their love for him was evident only by their emotions and personal showings of respect. Their abilities to perform were in no way hindered, exactly as The Dream would have wanted it.

Since his passing, the respect for Dusty Rhodes has not waned. As I said even one year ago, I believe that the attention and remembrances following Dusty's death would have even shocked the man himself. Whether it was as an outlaw, a son of a plumber, a cowboy, or a common man, everyone had some memory of The American Dream to share. Whether you saw him wrestle live, met him, or just saw him for years and years on television, Dusty reached out to you, his hand touching your hand, just as the promo said.

The wrestling business itself continues to feel the Rhodes "bootprint." NXT has the "Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic" tournament. Wrestlers ranging from Cody Rhodes to Tommy Dreamer to Bailey to Kevin Owens have integrated tributes to the dream into their respective attires. In his last major WWE moment, Stardust paid several tributes to the original Stardust (an early moniker of Rhodes) at WrestleMania 32. A statue of The Dream was also unveiled by WWE that same weekend.

Recently departing WWE, son Cody has set his sights on tearing up the independent wrestling scene as soon as possible. Thanks to his natural in-ring gifts, this new phase in Cody's career will likely remind many of his father's time as a traveling attraction similar to Andre the Giant. Dusty's other son, Goldust, is coming up on the thirtieth anniversary of his own storied wrestling career, with no signs of slowing down. And as far as Dusty's aforementioned wrestling "kids" such as the current and former stars of NXT? I think we've been seeing his impact in many of them already.

I still miss Dusty. Along with Piper, I constantly find it hard to believe that I'll never see them pop up at a wrestling convention again. They were always around. They should still be. Unfortunately, it's the way that this life runs. That doesn't mean that we have to totally succumb to such sobering thoughts. Instead, just as I noted a year ago, we should celebrate their lives. A lifetime of memories were left. Let's put on a polka dot shirt, crack open a cold one, or maybe even a Mello Yello, and watch the greatest hits of that "Bionic Elbow."

Now that's what I call "livin' on the end of a lightnin' bolt..."

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Mattel Tackles Trish's "Bestie"...Lita

I've always loved Lita. She truly took the ball and ran with it. In what was then known as the Divas division, Amy Dumas began in a role that could have lingered as a one-dimensional valet. Instead, she became a hero to millions. High-flying moves, a unique look, and an undeniable sex appeal made her stand out from the crowd. On the opposite end, a woman who took a very similar, yet in ways very different, path to the top of the Divas mountain would end up marketing herself, along with Lita, as "Team Bestie." Trish Stratus and Amy Dumas are indeed best friends, former in-ring foes, WWE Hall of Famers, and finally both part of the Mattel WWE figure line.

As soon as collectors received the first Trish Stratus figure from Mattel nearly three years ago, I began the call for Lita. It was only fair that Mattel produce the female member of Team Xtreme, especially since Stratus was already available. We have now gotten our wish as part of Mattel's WWE Elite Series 41.

Lita does not suffer from the packaging being too big, and actually looks just right. I think it's likely due to the bulkiness of her pants and one arm being raised. It's the female figures that usually suffer here the most and at times look as if they're "floating" in the bubble.

When I first picked up the figure, I wasn't completely sold on the likeness. Out of the package it looks a lot better to me. I'm not sure that it's the best Lita facial ever done. Looking back, Jakks really nailed her on a number of occasions. Nonetheless, it works. I can picture what they were aiming for with the particular hair mold used and again, it works. Everything in this department is very good, just not perfect.

The Mattel body and articulation is great for her. Litacanranas will be had from all directions. As far as painted detail, most notable here are the two Lita trademarks: the shoulder tattoo and the thong. Yes, the latter had to be mentioned. It helped her become the sex symbol that she is, as if she needed any help in that department. The shoulder tattoo looks just right. I do believe that she has more tattoos now, but this was the only visible one at the point in time in which this figure represents.

Included with Lita are two shirts. One is made of rubber and is a white wrap-around. The other is actually made of a thin cloth and is supposed to be the yellow mesh top that made it into several of her more memorable promotional photos. Both fit well enough, but I wouldn't be surprised if many just pose her without them. The black bra, again, was a Lita staple. I could see both of the shirts actually tearing if placed and removed too much. The yellow cloth one is very thing and the white one has a thin rubber "snap."

Despite debuting over sixteen years ago, Lita's popularity hasn't waned. Her older fans are still supporting her while she continues to gain new ones. She has been back with WWE in varying capacities in the past several years, and I still think that the day will come when we see her back in the ring for at least one more match. The only potential match involving The Bella Twins that ever piqued my interest was a rumored one pitting the sisters against Trish and Lita. That won't likely happen now, but it definitely would've been worthy of the WrestleMania marquee from intrigue alone.

That aforementioned popularity guarantees two things: this figure will be a popular one, but it likely won't be the only one. I can see Mattel wanting to insert Lita into their basic line and possibly even a more modern version in their Hall of Fame series to match the second Trish figure. With Lita's varying looks and styles, there are plenty of possibilities.

There are plenty of cookie-cutter females in professional wrestling, but there will only ever be one Lita...and that's why we love her.