Thursday, December 28, 2017

The 2017 J\/\/ Awards

Yet another year of wrestling memorabilia goodness has passed which means it's time for another round of awarding the most coveted prize in sports entertainment--The J\/\/ Award. The "Joshie," as we call it, changes from year to year. This years design, not so ironically, reflects many of the winners in several different categories. With a decidedly "retro" look, the trophy signifies a year that re-introduced us to the classic Hasbro style in wrestling figures and the way that these throwbacks were so well executed. But enough about the award, let's give 'em out!

2017 Best Figure

Mattel's WWE Retro Kane & AJ Styles win "The Joshie" for 2017 Best Figure. A tie! And a late one at that! While Mattel produced some very impressive figures this year, not one but two entries from their Retro line were the best. Kane in the "Hasbro style" captures everything great about the original look of "The Big Red Monster." The Retro AJ Styles combines another great likeness with a classic "Hasbro Real Wrestling Action" and utilizes it to the fullest. 

2017 Best Buy (Non-Figure)

WWE Unreleased wins "The Joshie" for 2017 Best Buy. A DVD collection full of matches and segments that we've never seen before? Of course it's going to win awards! Sean Mooney? It's going to win even more awards! And a "Joshie Award" it shall have. If you love the obscure and relatively "lost" matches of wrestling, what are you waiting for? 

2017 Best Product Line

Mattel wins "The Joshie" for 2017 Best Product Line. After a year of great Retro, Elite, and Basic figures, there's no doubt that Mattel takes this category once again. While Jakks always held my heart as far as depth of a figure line, Mattel is slowly moving right in there. You never know who's going to show up in the Mattel line next. I hate to make bold predictions, but with a Wendi Richter figure coming in 2018, I don't see anyone else taking this award anytime soon.

2017 Future Holy Grail

Mattel's WWE Retro Figure Line wins "The Joshie" for 2017 Future Holy Grail. You know how everyone is nuts for Hasbro WWF product these days? Don't look too far for the next biggie down the line. They are patterned after that beloved line and have already made quite an impact on the 2017 J\/\/ Awards, right down to the design of "The Joshie" itself. As the variety of the line widens into 2018, the prediction made by this award only grows stronger.

2017 Thanks For The Memories Award

2017 Thanks For The Memories Nominee: Lance Russell. The man who kept sanity and order over pro wrestling in Memphis is already deeply missed. Though he lived a rich, full life, wrestling just seems a little less happy without Lance's voice. Thankfully, the world has all of the great footage to look back on. For those of us fortunate enough to have met Mr. Russell, the kindness of his heart remains just as loud and clear as his iconic voice.

Another year and more awards. There's not much left to say other than see ya next year!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

2017: A Year of Loss

As is tradition, one of the last blog entries of the year celebrates the many names who have left us over the past twelve months. Although some received their own individual tribute on this blog, it's always good, and somewhat sobering, to look at the losses in the sport as a whole over a year span.

Those in wrestling who passed in 2017 included (but were not limited to) Ivan Koloff, "Pretty Boy" Larry Sharpe, "Z-Man" Tom Zenk, Rex King, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, Diane Von Hoffman, "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka, Bucky Palermo, Gran Apache, Bob Sweetan, Rosey, Chavo Guerrero Sr., Tugboat Taylor, Ron Bass, Johnny K-9, Otto Wanz, Mr. Pogo, George "The Animal" Steele, Stan Kowalski, Nicole Bass, Smith Hart, Lance Russell, and Dennis Stamp.

With men like Stamp and Sharpe, the famed journeymen of wrestling took a major hit. These men enjoyed some success but will be best remembered for their ability to make others look good in the squared circle. Stamp and Sharpe, in particular, will be remembered for their lives in wrestling after the matches were all but over. Stamp continues to be celebrated from his appearance in the famous "Beyond The Mat" film while Sharpe will always be associated with The Monster Factory wrestling school that has turned out many names in pro wrestling.

You could not find two more different entries in the world of wrestling than Ron and Nicole Bass, despite both using the same last name. Ron Bass was a rough and tumble outlaw who came up through the wild 1970's wrestling scene. Although he was managed for a time by Maw Bass, one of the first female managers, he was never associated with Nicole Bass. This female named Bass instead gained a measure of fame through her associated with The Howard Stern Show as well as stints in ECW and the WWF.

Two familiar names to fans of the great Pittsburgh territory also passed this year. Bucky Palermo, in addition to being a famed cobbler in the Steel City, was one of the last living referees from the classic Studio Wrestling program. George "The Animal" Steele, while a huge name nationally, credited much of his career to his time in Pittsburgh. His ring used surname of "Steele" was even derived from the Steel City. Steele is also remembered for being a top opponent of Bruno Sammartino, who calls Pittsburgh his home.

While it never gets easier and the lists seem to get longer, one small comfort can be found in that many of the wrestlers who passed in 2017 did so at an advanced age. While it cannot be said for all, the number that did live into their seventh decade or older is much higher than just a few years ago. Regardless of how many years the individual spent in this life, as fans we choose to remember the impact that they made on our lives through their work in the ring.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Managing The Merchandise

Like many who grew up watching wrestling, the aspect of managers in the business was just plain intriguing. The manager served many purposes, including but not limited to adding a little something extra to the wrestler who he or she represented. At times, that "extra" was sorely needed. In other instances, using Nick Bockwinkel and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan as an example, the wrestler and manager were equally great and simply complimented each other. In any case, the managers just had to be colorful and charismatic. This equates into merchandising.

When the colorful magazine covers were grabbing attention at newsstands in the 1960's and 1970's, the managers began to have their real first taste of merchandise. Whether it be The Grand Wizard in one of his many guises or Heenan with his face covered in the legendary "crimson mask," the managers could sell magazines just as well as they could tickets to the matches. The slovenly Captain Lou Albano made his complete transformation from wrestler to manager in this era, usually guiding the tag teams of the WWWF while "Hollywood Fashion Plate" Fred Blassie was managing heels of all types. These men and their charges were perfect cover material. Who didn't want to read about the next threats to Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund?

One manager was actually responsible for much of the early wrestling merchandising in the late 1970's and early 1980's. Who would that be? The "Louisville Lip" himself, Jim Cornette. Growing up as a fan of wrestling and then becoming a ringside photographer as a teen, Cornette found himself helping to run the merchandise tables in the Memphis wrestling territory and peddling "gimmicks" for the likes of Jerry "The King" Lawler, "Superstar" Bill Dundee, and even "The Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart. The complete story is told in the book "Rags, Paper, & Pins: The Merchandising Of Memphis Wrestling" by Cornette and Mark James. A highly recommended book for any fan of wrestling memorabilia!

The 80's also brought another new dimension to wrestling managers: their own subset in LJN's WWF Wrestling Superstars figure line. LJN had the right idea when including announcers, referees, and managers into their wildly popular toy line. The card backs were even emblazoned with "Manager" for this special release, although some of the other "non-wrestler" figures were given this designation as well. Included were Lou Albano, Bobby Heenan, Fred Blassie, Mr. Fuji, Jimmy Hart, Johnny V, Slick, and the one and only Miss Elizabeth.

Easily a discussion all her own, Elizabeth brought a different presentation to wrestling managers. Though there had been female managers before, more women had been presented as valets. Elizabeth was a combination of both. She was described as a manager who took care of business matters for "Macho Man" Randy Savage, but she also radiated a glamour and presence that even the most popular valets rarely had. Elizabeth was a once-in-a-lifetime character who will never be duplicated.

Even as the usage of managers died down as the years went on, the legendary ones continue to be celebrated. Action figures and trading cards of the managers of yore continue to be released, and the occasional character in a managerial role still pops up. Most recently Paul Heyman, though no longer billed as such, brought back exactly what a manager should be as the advocate for Brock Lesnar. Every so often, a young talent with the gift of gab will be compared to a "young Bobby Heenan." Should the decision makers ever decide to bring the "art of managing" back to the business on a regular basis, we should all be in for a nice, welcome, yet very familiar, treat.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Mattel's Hasbro Tribute Returns

27 years after the debut of the line, Hasbro's WWF action figure roster grows deeper yet again, in a way. Thanks to a popular decision from Mattel, their WWE "retro" line continues by adding six new figures in the classic Hasbro scale, joining the initial six from earlier this year. While the first series was not really themed, you could say that the Attitude Era was focused on for this round. Mankind, Triple H, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Kane, and The Rock are joined by Sting in his look from the same era, albeit in WCW.

The figures are once again packaged on cards that are clearly a homage to the Hasbro line. While there are some details missing (facsimile signatures for one thing) and the card stock is just a bit thinner, Mattel again does a great job recapturing the vintage magic. The plastic bubbles are molded to the shape of the figure just as the originals were, and "Authentic Superstar Moves" have replaced "Real Wrestling Action." After all, we don't dare use the "w" word. Hasbro-looking photos were used for the packaging, looking very much like choices that would have been made a quarter of a century ago.

Speaking of the action features of the figures, two classic Hasbro features return in Series 2. Mankind and Steve Austin have the "punch" move remembered from such vintage figures as "Macho King" Randy Savage and Razor Ramon among others. Sting and Triple H are done in the "jump" style that was utilized in the early days of the Hasbro line with the first Ultimate Warrior and Superfly Jimmy Snuka, to name a few. This latter move was not a favorite of some collectors, but I appreciate all of the Hasbro "maneuver" actions returning. It especially works with Sting and his "Stinger Splash." It should be noted that the mechanism itself is more reminiscent of Hasbro's first Marty Jannetty figure, where the "neck" of the figure does not extend when the action is used.

All six superstars translated well to the Hasbro style, although my main complaint from the first series remains relevant here. Most of the figures just do not have the brightly colored attire that the Hasbro line was noted for. Kane breaks this with his striking red. The mask is perfectly Hasbro-esque, as well, and "The Big Red Monster" would probably fit in the best with the vintage line. Although they don't stand out for color, Mankind and Sting are also highlights for their unique looks. Many would have preferred "surfer" Sting to be done here, and I still would not mind that for down the road.

Just as I did with the first releases, I'm loving these. All six men are stars that Hasbro collectors have wanted for years. Don't forget that most of these men debuted just a few years after the Hasbro line ended. Series 2 is once again exclusive to Wal Mart which cannot be said for Series 3. Including a total of four superstars, the third installment already has me confident that such a glowing review won't be the case when the time comes. Stay tuned, retro fans...