Thursday, March 29, 2018

Shake It Up!

Bobbleheads. Nodders. Whatever you want to call them, it's hard to imagine a brand in sports or entertainment that hasn't seen a few created in the images of their respective stars. Pro wrestling is no different. While WWE has had their share of these collectibles over the years, it's a few that were outside of that famous marketing machine that are most interesting. Some collectors may not even realize that a few of these exist...

Where else would we start on this blog than with The American Dream? Yes, Dusty Rhodes has a Bobblehead. This particular doll was a promotional item at a Florida Championship Wrestling event in Punta Gorda, FL on July 30, 2010. The Dream was in attendance that night and thus many of these are signed on the base. FCW would, of course, later morph into NXT where it is well known that Rhodes played a big part in the training of the future stars there.

The early days of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling saw a variety of stars pass through the TNA rings. One of those was D'Lo Brown. If anyone was made to be a Bobblehead, it's the former Nation of Domination standout. After all, his head bobbing back and forth became a trademark. This Bobblehead was available exclusively through TNA and provides possibly the best likeness of any D'Lo figure to date.

Roll out the barrel, The Crusher is here. Though he has yet to have an actual action figure, The Crusher received a Bobblehead in his famed hometown of Milwaukee. On February 21, 2016, the Milwaukee Admirals hockey team gave away these Bobbleheads to the first 5,000 fans at the game. Lee Jeans was a sponsor, which is prominently featured on the base as is Da Crusha's trademark beer barrel. The dollies had to be going wild over this one.

The latest Bobblehead to be featured here was a giveaway on August 26, 2017 at a Gwinnett Braves baseball game. The subject? Their play-by-play announcer Tony Schiavone. Of course, wrestling fans remember him fondly for his work in Jim Crockett Promotions, the WWF, and WCW. Along with his dog, Bug, Tony sees his first representation as a figure here. Only 2,500 fans received this doll at Coolray Field on what might have been the greatest night in the history of Bobbleheads...

Announcers. Legends. European Champions. You never know just who in wrestling will receive a Bobblehead next. They're great collectibles that fit well in any collection...and cause a whole lotta shakin' goin' on!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Wrestling MarketWatch: WWF Wrestling Superstars '89

The legendary final series. The "black cards." Or, as they were deemed on the cardbacks, "Wrestling Superstars '89." They were the last hurrah of the legendary WWF Wrestling Superstars line by LJN. "Those big, rubber wrestlers" as they have been referred to so many times. The last series, distributed by Grand Toys of Canada, made it here and there but certainly not everywhere. I can recall seeing some of them at a Circus World store at Ross Park Mall outside of Pittsburgh. Others were only able to obtain them through "The Wrestling Ring" mail order store that famously advertised in the wrestling magazines of the era.

The limited distribution has caused their value to only rise over the years. The astronomical prices for carded examples are well-documented, but how about loose versions? This time in MarketWatch we look at recent selling prices for five of the figures in out-of-the-package status.

*As it was just as his rise to the top began, many fans recall searching far and wide for the first action figure of The Ultimate Warrior back in 1989. Just as all versions have since, this first Warrior figure reflects the color and intensity of the character. What kid wouldn't want this one? Best of all, it's in a pose that could easily recreate slams, clotheslines, and body tackles just as the Warrior was known for. The future WWF World Heavyweight and Intercontinental Champion recently sold for $250.

*Though they were frequently on the opposite sides of the ring, the Warrior and rival Ravishing Rick Rude also saw very different debuts in the figure world. While both saw their first figures in this series and were highly detailed, the comparisons end there. As mentioned above, the Warrior's figure was easy to play with thanks to the pose. Rude's figure, due to the way it was sculpted, was more of a statue. With his hands at his hips, Rude just stood there. The addition of the tattoo, however, is very cool. Rude's lack of playability may still affect his pricing, as it recently sold for between $60-$100.

*Another great ring villain debuted as a figure here, that being the Polynesian superstar Haku. Prototype pictures, as well as the included poster, indicate that this was originally planned as a figure of King Haku. The crown and royal-themed trunks were dropped before production. It would be almost two decades before Haku received another figure, at which time he became part of the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line as both King Haku and Meng. This original Haku has always been one of my favorites and was sculpted to appear as if he was about to drop one of his legendary headbutts. You may have to drop more than that to own him, as the former king recently sold for $230.

*Just as Ax was released around a year earlier as the only LJN produced member of Demolition, The Warlord follows here without Powers of Pain partner The Barbarian. LJN also seemed to predict the future as they inexplicably put The Warlord in short trunks which he would not begin actually wearing for a few more years. The paint on the figure is fantastic and makes you wonder what an LJN version of The Barbarian would have looked like. Both The Barbarian and Smash along with Brother Love, Bad News Brown, and The Bushwhackers were planned per cardbacks. The Warlord recently sold for between $100-$200.

*Then a new enemy for Hulk Hogan, most famously in a cage on Saturday Night's Main Event, the Big Boss Man is a true gem of the entire LJN line. He carries a big stick and towers over many of the other figures. His sunglasses are on, but he can definitely mix it up with the best of them. The blue of the shirt is very vibrant and the paint detail truly stands out. Although One Man Gang had been produced, it's a shame that an LJN version of Akeem did not happen to create The Twin Towers. The Slickster is there to manage, however, stylish hat and all. The Boss Man recently sold for $250.

Rounded out by Andre the Giant wearing his one-strap black singlet, the final series of LJN was a great way to go out. Later in 1989 the Hasbro WWF action figures would begin being designed thus launching a new generation for wrestling toys. Still, it's a shame that both couldn't have continued in some way. After all, they were completely different scales.

Some would not even deem the LJN Wrestling Superstars as action figures. I certainly would. Any kid of the '80s could tell you that these were figures that saw plenty of action. Most, even missing some paint, have survived as mementos of a great era and some great childhood play times.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Don't Go Messin' With A Hall Of Famer

Several years ago there was a feature on this blog entitled "Hillbilly Jim...Hall of Famer of Humanity." It took a look at the large, country superstar when it seemed as if he would be the only cast member of WWE Legends House to not enter the WWE Hall of Fame. Nearly two and a half years later, Hillbilly is about to join his legendary pals.

So much has been written about what a nice guy Hillbilly Jim is. He's just a genuine soul in an industry where there are many on the opposite spectrum. To watch him with fans young and old is a joy. While others on the Legends House series were working the cameras, Jim was being himself. A man who is simply happy to have lived a life that he enjoyed every day of.

Now, over WrestleMania XXXIV weekend, Hillbilly will have several more special moments. The WWE Hall of Fame inductees of each specific year almost always take part in multiple events throughout the weekend, but you have to imagine that Hillbilly will be all over. For years, Jim worked as a goodwill ambassador for WWE, especially leading up to WrestleMania where he would tour the country to spread word of the event. Now, he gets to enjoy the grandest stage of them all once again, and this time again in the spotlight.

While Hillbilly was involved in WrestleMania II, III, & IV, it's probably his appearance at XVII that sticks out the most. Though his six-man tag involving midget wrestlers at III is always remembered, his inclusion in the Gimmick Battle Royal at XVII was moving. Hillbilly, looking in incredible shape, entered the Houston Astrodome to a tremendous pop. His music and dancing may have even spawned the best reaction of all the participants.

Is it any surprise? Sure, it was nostalgia at its finest. But ask any child who grew up watching even a bit of wrestling in the '80s and they can tell you about Hillbilly Jim. He was a friend to The Hulkster! He was a hero battling the likes of Brutus Beefcake, King Kong Bundy, Nikolai Volkoff, and other notorious villains. He was even immortalized in the Rock n' Wrestling cartoon show, which briefly appeared in Hillbilly's WWE Hall of Fame video.

The one lament is that Hillbilly Jim's famous self-vocalized theme song, "Don't Go Messin' With A Country Boy," is often edited out of WWE programming these days and was not included in the video. It would be nice for WWE to license the song one last time as a tribute to one of the biggest characters, personalities, and hearts that the company has ever known.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The WWE Hall of Fame: The Banquet Years

Sure, it's always been and always will be a subject of contention and controversy, but take it just a little less seriously and it's just plain fun. Like it or not, the WWE Hall of Fame is what the mainstream world will always recognize as the wrestling Hall of Fame. It's simply how it is. Aside from having the WWE banner, the broadcasts are award show-quality as far as production and now attract arenas full of fans. It's hard to believe now, twenty-five years after the creation of the Hall of Fame, but it wasn't always that way.

The first induction that began the Hall of Fame, Andre the Giant in 1993, was a mere announcement on WWF television. The following three years saw small ceremonies with inductions and speeches. These events were actually not much more than dinners held in hotel banquet facilities. The 1995 and 1996 ceremonies were held in conjunction with King of the Ring and Survivor Series in those years respectively.

Many of the all-time great WWE stars took their rightful places in the Hall of Fame at those early events including Buddy Rogers, Chief Jay Strongbow, Freddie Blassie, Bobo Brazil, Gorilla Monsoon, Arnold Skaaland, James Dudley, George "The Animal" Steele, Ernie Ladd, Ivan Putski, The Fabulous Moolah, Pedro Morales, The Grand Wizard, Antonino Rocca, Captain Lou Albano, Killer Kowalski, Johnny Rodz, Vincent J. McMahon, Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, Pat Patterson, Baron Mikel Scicluna, and the Valiant Brothers.

While it's nice that many of these now-deceased stars were able to enjoy their special night, their longtime fans can only wonder what the inductions of legends like Monsoon or Albano may have been like in the current Hall of Fame format. On the other hand, some of these early stars may have preferred the more intimate atmosphere that these ceremonies held, where fan attendance seemed to be more of an exception than a rule. No ridiculous chants at these banquets, for sure.

Though often unseen, these banquets yielded three individual Hall of Fame programs. Unlike the modern WWE Hall of Fame programs, these were small, four-page affairs printed on heavy paper stock reminiscent of a school concert or wedding program. Seeing as that attendance was greatly limited at these events, these programs do not become available very often. One in my own collection even has a small food stain. Could this have dropped from the fork of a Gorilla? Will you stop?

WWE Network does feature abridged versions of these events. While we may never see the full ceremonies officially released (there may be a "fan cam" version of one, but you didn't hear that from me), at least we have these fun and somewhat rare mementos of the nights where Rogers, Superfly, Blassie, and Patterson, among others, were finally and fully recognized by the company that they largely helped to build.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

5 More Wrestlers...Who Never Had An Action Figure

Back in 2011 and 2013 respectively, the blog featured two different lists of five wrestlers who never received action figures. The lists were limited to male wrestlers seeing as female wrestlers and non-wrestler names such as announcers have been sadly under produced as figures in the past, thus they would dominate the discussion. One name from each of our lists, The Blue Meanie and Magnum T.A. to be exact, have finally made their way into figure form. Now, after a five year hiatus, we introduce five more names of the "unmade."

If you want to see a wrestler who would translate directly into an action figure, look no further than Mr. Hughes. Immense, imposing, and just plain mean looking, Curtis Hughes' rather nomadic approach to the wrestling business likely cost him an action figure. Had his 1993 WWF stint lasted longer, he most assuredly would have been produced by Hasbro. The same thought goes towards his later cups of the coffee in the WWF with the likelihood of Hughes receiving a Jakks figure.

Though unlikely at this point due to his tragic death, "Gentleman" Chris Adams could have found his way into one of the various Legends figures lines at some point. The British star, who made his name most notably in World Class Championship Wrestling, was always a favorite of the female fans but could alternate between dashing hero and cocky villain. The lack of a WWF run diminished his action figure chances, but Adams did see some success with WCW during the Monday Nitro era.

Tracy Smothers is another name whose brief appearances in the various wresting companies led to a figure never happening. He was featured heavily in the early 1990's WCW trading card sets, so he may have been eventually included in the Galoob figure line of the time had it lasted longer. His WWF run as Freddie Joe Floyd came at a dark time for wrestling figures when little was being produced. Smothers would be a perfect candidate for the Legends line produced by Figures Toy Company which gave birth to the first figure of The Blue Meanie.

Still being burnt by sparklers on the independent circuit, Gillberg is one phenomenon who has never been immortalized in plastic. While there have been a few wimpy looking figures of Goldberg produced, the former WCW Champion's number one imitator has yet to officially be created. Gillberg would actually fit like a glove into the WWE Mattel line where a hearty sense of humor has recently been infused into the figure selections. An Elite release of Gillberg, complete with J.O.B. Squad t-shirt and WWF Light Heavyweight Championship belt, would fly off of the shelves. Sparklers sold separately.

Finally, we look at a former World Heavyweight Champion sans action figure. Tommy Rich hit the peak of his popularity before wrestling figures ever hit shelves, but he's another name who is ideal for a Legends line. When "Wildfire" defeated Harley Race for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, it was both shocking and controversial. While his lack of a figure doesn't carry the same emotion as his short title run did among fans, he would be a very welcomed addition with collectors who love representations of the territorial stars.

Another five names. Will our track record continue and one name off of our list finally be produced? It would be nice. And perhaps the next time we visit this topic, we will take a look at some non-male wrestler names who need to see an action figure. With two of the biggest female wrestling names finally seeing figures this year, maybe for the next round we'll look at who else should be included in the "women's wrestling figure revolution..."