Thursday, March 30, 2017

Wrestling MarketWatch: WWE Hall of Fame 2017

WrestleMania weekend is upon us. The grandest stage of them all has become much more than just the show on Sunday, and has even stretched beyond the borders of WWE, for better or worse. Regardless if the main featured content is up your alley or not, there truly is something for everyone. For many of us, the highlight is the WWE Hall of Fame. There's enough debate elsewhere on whether or not the WWE Hall of Fame is "legit." Around these parts, we simply enjoy it for what it is: a celebration of the past.

This is not the first time that the WWE Hall of Fame and our recurring Wrestling MarketWatch feature have come together. The last time was in 2013 for the Hall of Fame ceremony that I had the honor of attending in person. I'm still biased toward that class, headlined by Bruno Sammartino, as being the best, but 2017 is very solid. The names include Kurt Angle, The Rock N Roll Express, Teddy Long, Diamond Dallas Page, Ravishing Rick Rude, and Beth Phoenix. All of the stars have plenty of memorabilia, and as always in MarketWatch we're about to take a look at the recent auction selling prices for some of those items.

*Holla Holla Holla! Teddy "Peanuthead" Long has had a long career in the business performing just about every duty aside from being an actual wrestler. I was always a fan of Long as a manager in WCW. When his run there came to an end, I never imagined that he would almost completely restart in WWE, but after a return to refereeing Long once again became a villainous manager. Arguably, Long's biggest fame came as the long-reigning general manager of Smackdown. His best piece of merchandise commemorates that run, in the form of a Mattel WWE Build-A-Figure. That figure, with all pieces included, has been selling for an average of $30.

*Another man who made his name in WCW and only later joined WWE is Diamond Dallas Page. A "late bloomer" in wrestling, Page became one of the most popular names in WCW during the "Monday Night Wars" and is fondly remembered by even casual fans to this day. More recently DDP has earned real-life kudos for helming his DDP Yoga wellness program and essentially helping to save the lives of many people including Jake "The Snake" Roberts and Scott Hall. DDP also holds the distinction of appearing on the cover of the final issue of WCW Magazine, cover dated May 2001. That edition recently sold for $15.

*When you're talking the tag team ranks, you have to mention Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson. The Rock N Roll Express have been thrilling fans for over three decades with no end in sight. If you haven't heard a pop for the "R N R X" with your own ears, what are you waiting for? Their battles with the Midnight Express are legendary, but it always seemed that manager Jim Cornette was their true nemesis. One of the biggest highlights of Mania weekend will be seeing, and hearing, Cornette induct Morton and Gibson into the Hall of Fame. As for merchandise, the Express saw loads of it. Their only action figures came under the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars banner. Notorious for having the boys hair colors swapped, the figures are still high in demand. A carded set recently sold for $140.

*Another highlight of the 2017 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony will be the return of Kurt Angle to the company. Sure he's going into the hallowed Hall, but what will his future hold from here? A regular return to WWE programming? Maybe a match or three? Time will tell, but this fellow Pittsburgher is simply happy to see Angle back "home" where he belongs in WWE. Another star with endless merchandise, Angle should be receiving more in the coming months. Mattel figures from all eras of Angle? Yes, please. Angle is also a gracious signer, and a signed Impact Wrestling 8x10 promotional photo of the Olympic medalist recently sold for $20.

*A long time coming, the WWE Hall of Fame is about to get a Rude Awakening. Posthumously, Ravishing Rick Rude will be inducted this year by WCW nemesis Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. Rude is still rather underrated in my book. Do enough searching and you can watch his work in and out of the ring get better and better as he floats from the territories, Jim Crockett Promotions, WWF, and WCW. His WWF-era promos were as believable as any wrestler to come along, despite the over-the-top gimmick. That gimmick has given way to a number of great action figures. Even though the first was more of a statue than a figure, it's part of the infamous WWF Wrestling Superstars '89 series, the last group of the legendary LJN line. That figure recently sold out of package for $87.

It's a stellar group of names that actually fills some gaps that fans have complaining about for awhile now. Will Cornette's return open the door for a Midnight Express induction in 2018? Will Angle make an impact on WWE's future? Will Theodore R. Long book a tag team match? There's only one way to find out, playa.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Blue Meanie Dances Again

I've said it numerous times over the years. If any wrestler was meant to be an action figure, it's The Blue Meanie. It's a crime that he didn't have one during his stints in ECW and WWE. Now in 2017, following the year when Magnum T.A. finally received a figure, The Meanie is dancing into our collections. Does he live up to almost two decades of expectations? Let's take a trip to Pepperland and find out...

The Blue Meanie's first figure is part of Figures Toy Company's new Legends of Professional Wrestling line. The line is just one of several either started or planned by the company, also including figures under the Ring of Honor and Rising Stars of Wrestling banners. Also included in the first wave of Legends of Professional Wrestling figures are Jim Cornette, New Jack, and PJ Polaco (Justin Credible).

My friend and fellow wrestling/Blue Meanie fan Kerry Huffman did a great review of the figure on his YouTube channel shortly after it was released. Knowing that he was anticipating the figure as much as I was, I admit that I was a bit concerned after the review. Loose arms? Surely this had to be a one-off mistake. Another friend had mentioned to me that he had similar issues with some of the figures from the Ring of Honor line. Nonetheless, I was determined to investigate myself.

My Meanie actually had a different problem upon arrival. He was so excited to join my collection that he lost his head! The figures head was completely off the body when I received it. Thankfully I was opening the thing and, admittedly, did not take this issue to the company. Still, this has to be a concern for the many collectors who will be keeping the figure carded. Despite the figure being packaged in a reusable "clamshell" case, you still have to remove a Figures Toy Company zip tie to open it. When that's off, it's technically no longer "mint on card." You can purchase the zip ties from the company, but I can't see many doing that. I've heard of ways to remove these without cutting them, but I wasn't messing with that since this one was being opened anyway.

I was able to pop the head back on upon opening the figure, but then the loose arm situation reared it's ugly head. You can "balance" the arms occasionally, but generally the arms simply hang. Your Meanie isn't really going to "dance." There are issues with the wrists as well. Though these figures are based upon the Jakks "Ruthless Aggression" design, these are not the exact sculpts. The plastic used isn't quite the same quality either. There's a plastic folding chair included as well, but this is just a castoff from Figures Toy Company's line of wrestling figure accessories originally produced many years ago. There isn't too much of a reason for it to be included, but I don't see it taking up much of the figure budget, either.

It isn't all bad. The cloth shirt and shorts are great and add a lot to the figure. The facial sculpt is perfect and could actually not be any better. Meanie has previously said on social media that he deliberately had the design done as a mix of "eras" of The Blue Meanie and it really works. This is the look that I've been picturing all of these years. The shorts have a tendency to slip, but that's often a trade-off when using cloth accessories. Besides, isn't it just like The Meanie to be flashing some buttcrack to the audience? The belt is a separate piece from the jeans which does look good. The knee pads are very similar to their Jakks counterparts and stay on firmly.

It's very hard to recommend purchasing this figure at the current price point. On one hand, this could be the only time that an iconic cult character in wrestling ever sees a figure. Plus, there's already a bWo Stevie Richards figure out there to go along with it. At almost $40 after shipping, though, it's a steep investment. If you're opening the figure, the loose arms and other production issues hurt it. If you're keeping it carded, will the head pop off? Between the latter and the price point, I have decided against purchasing a second one to have signed. I was also interested in the Cornette figure, but may end up putting that off as well.

Following Figures Toy Company for a long time, I do understand their position. Their figure lines of all genres are niche. They do not sell them in stores and are generally only available online. The price points have to be high to pay the bills. That being said, low quality out of the box just isn't acceptable. Being a diehard fan of the 1966 Batman tv series since I was a child, I have collected many of FTC's figures from that line and have seen much better quality control there. These wrestling lines deserve that, too.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Journeyman's Journeyman: Dennis Stamp

The 2017 loss list grows. While I don't mark every passing with an individual entry, I couldn't pass up saying a few words about Dennis Stamp. The man who came into the consciousness of so many of us with three words and a trampoline-based exercise routine was so much more than a movie appearance, yet he seemed to appreciate that it finally won him widespread fame.

It's fairly safe to say that without his infamous appearance in "Beyond the Mat," Dennis Stamp would be another territorial wrestler lost to time. His name appears constantly in old results and he can be glimpsed in old television footage, but he never had the national exposure that propelled so many to immortality. Instead, that came later.

For those of you who haven't seen "Beyond the Mat," you're missing out. At the time of its release nearly two decades ago, the film was a shocking look inside the world of professional wrestling. As the years go by, it becomes an unforgettable time capsule of several wrestling eras. Stamp appears in a somewhat brief, but poignant, look at what happens to a man who became respected by his wrestling peers yet not necessarily remembered by the wrestling fans.

In the movie, Stamp stubbornly refuses to attend Terry Funk's 1997 retirement show after The Funker forgets to book him. Stamp's often repeated catch phrase of "I'm not booked" became one of the favorite moments from the film for many, as did his exercises to keep in shape for the next match. Equally as amusing is when Stamp returns to the site of the match and accepts Funk's offer for him to referee the main event that night. According to producer Barry Blaustein, the latter sequence was totally unexpected.

I had the pleasure of meeting Stamp, when he was booked, at a Legends of the Ring convention several years ago. This was likely one of the first times that Stamp got to witness his new found popularity in person. He was a pleasure to meet and, as I mentioned above, totally seemed to appreciate his fans born from the movie. He even had a pair of ticket stubs in his jacket from when he claimed was the last time that he wore it. What were those stubs from? A premiere of "Beyond the Mat."

Beyond a magazine/program cover or two and some photos, Stamp had little memorabilia in his likeness. One unique item bearing his signature was shown here a little under three years ago. It's a '70s-era cocktail napkin from a bar in North Dakota signed to a drinking buddy fan from three then-AWA stars. Those wrestlers? Dusty Rhodes, Ivan Koloff, and Dennis Stamp.

It had been reported in recent weeks that Stamp's cancer had returned. He had been in remission for some time, returned to the ring for a few matches, and continued to make appearances around the wrestling world. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Dennis Stamp in this difficult time.

Thank you, Dennis, for letting us buy a ticket to see you whenever you were booked. It was worth every penny.

Dennis Stamp


Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Kevin Owens Figure With Universal Appeal

The blog entry that you are about to read labels me as a hypocrite. Well, maybe that's going a bit too far. Perhaps "fickle" would be a better description for me after we take a look at this figure. Not long ago, I was not a believer in a few of the concepts presented here. In fact, I was dead set against them. I had my reasons, which I will go into, but I could never have imagined that I would change my mind. Nonetheless, here we are...

Mattel has rolled out yet another Kevin Owens figure. This is the second time that the Monday Night Raw star has received the "Elite" treatment. A few weeks ago I gave my thoughts on what I feel is the best Kevin Owens figure, that being his entry in the wildly popular Mattel WWE Retro line patterned after the legendary Hasbro WWF collection. Will that opinion stay? Let's see.

The big draw here is that Owens is packaged with the title of which he is the longest reigning holder of--the WWE Universal Championship. Also included is the stand on which the championship made its debut before being initially won by Finn Balor. When the figure was first announced, I told a friend that I was looking forward to it. His response? "You just want the red stand." I'm transparent.

Accessories aside, it's a very nice figure. As is the current trend, Elite figures come
packaged with a display stand and sliver of a cardboard diorama that can be added to those with other figures in the series to form a complete backdrop. I still don't care for this gimmick, as I've discussed a few times already this year. The plastic portion is ok, but the cardboard is flimsy and bends as soon as you insert it into the holder. The likeness is good but I think that the Basic stance works better for how Owens carries himself. The old facial likeness from the Basic figure was a bit better too. This looks more like someone cosplaying as KO.

As stated above, the accessories are a major selling point with this figure. It's the debut of the figure-sized Universal Championship. There's no doubt that it will appear many more times in the line, but collectors want it "now." The presentation stand may be a bit of a different story. It's really just a hollow chunk of soft red plastic, but there's no guarantee that we will ever see it released again. The Hall of Fame podium that was included with Bruno Sammartino still has not been re-released even after several years. If you're into unique accessories that aren't chairs, tables, and the like, you may want to see if you can grab this figure.

Now, full disclosure as to why this entry may make me a hypocrite. Truth be told, I was not a fan of Kevin Owens or the Universal Championship upon their WWE debuts. As for Owens, the somewhat psychotic fandom of "Kevin Steen" fans soured me early. It was almost cult-like and anyone who opposed it just had to be wrong. I had seen very little of him, but the odd fan devotion did sour me to an extent. He has since become an absolute highlight for me in WWE, but I let myself decide if I was going to like him or not. No one can deny that his run with Chris Jericho has been one of the main reasons to watch. Hopefully the payoff is equally as good as the build.

The Universal Championship design did not appeal to me at first, either. While I'm still not a fan of so many WWE titles having the same design, if I had to choose, this is the one that would stay. Upon its unveiling, I admit that I took to Twitter and other avenues decrying what I deemed to be the "Christmas Championship." Even though the famous NWA "domed globe" belt originally had a red lining (which quickly frayed and was removed), I just couldn't get behind the concept. As time wore on, the look won me over. Although the fickle Internet fans (and I thought I was fickle...) now suddenly hate Goldberg because he's holding the title, the want for this figure-sized version will not wane any time soon.

Maybe I'm not a hypocrite or even fickle, but I do know that I like this entry into the Kevin Owens figure collection. My pick for "best so far" is the Retro figure, but even that could change down the line. What I do know for a fact is that Owens brings a different look and feel to the table that, even if I didn't think so at first, is a true asset to a company that is often stuck with the "same old, same old."

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Russian Bear Goes Home

Just one day after the passing of George "The Animal" Steele, Ivan Koloff went home to be with the Lord. His death was not unexpected, as recent health updates from his family indicated that his time remaining on Earth was short. Nevertheless, no one ever wants to believe such news.

Just like Steele, some of Ivan Koloff's greatest fame comes from being one of the most notorious challengers to Bruno Sammartino. In the case of Koloff, he became the one adversary who did the unthinkable: he took the title from the Italian strongman. The story of the winter night in 1971 when Koloff shocked the entire Madison Square Garden crowd is stuff of legend. Remember the stunned silence when Brock Lesnar ended "The Streak?" By all accounts, this is the best modern day equation.

Interestingly enough, throughout my fandom I've always more associated Ivan with NWA wrestling. Aside from a brief early '80s WWF run, he really never appeared for that company again. His runs with Jim Crockett Promotions have much more stood the test of time. The fact that many more of those matches exist on tape obviously helps.

You can't help but want to refer to the man as "Uncle Ivan." I even did so in person more than once. Hey, when Nikita Koloff says something, you follow his example. Alternating between wrestler and manager, Ivan terrorized heroes like Dusty Rhodes, The Rock N Roll Express, and of course "Boogie Woogie Man" Jimmy Valiant. You believed his promos. You believed that he truly was a "Russian Bear."

When I met Koloff for the first time, I had the same reaction that most fans did. After so many years of hearing him speak with the Russian accent, for it to suddenly be gone was jarring. Once you got past that, you were stunned by another fact: Ivan was one of the nicest gentleman that you would ever meet. It was exactly like visiting with a kindly uncle who you grew up watching from a distance.

Seeing Ivan and wife Renae at conventions and shows was always a pleasure. To say that their presence will be missed is an understatement. I truly treasure each time that I was able to briefly speak with them.

"The Russian Bear" is now at rest with the Lord. He spoke of his faith so highly, that all I can imagine is that wonderful smile on his face. Just like all of his years in the ring, this should bring smiles to all of our faces, too.

Rest easy, comrade.

Ivan Koloff