Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Right Ring For A Retro Rumble

Just when you thought you had enough toy rings in your collection, in creeps another one. But this one is a bit different. It's like meeting someone new who is almost identical to an old friend from your past. A blue friend. A friend made of plastic. A friend who spent many hours taking a beating, yet still came back for more. That friend was unbreakable. That friend was your Hasbro WWF ring. Now, to match that classic toy, Mattel has recreated it for their popular WWE Retro line. How does it compare? Let's find out.

Like the figures themselves, the packaging is similar to its counterpart from the past. Also like the cardbacks of the figures, the cardboard used on the ring box is just a tad lighter than that of the original. It's also a bit smaller, but that will be explained shortly. It's actually nice and compact, in case anyone is looking to pick up an extra to keep sealed. Instead of The Ultimate Warrior pounding George South as in the Hasbro version, we get a live action shot of AJ Styles flying through the air. AJ's figure is displayed, as are several from the 4th and 5th series.

The back depicts a total of four upcoming series of retro figures. We've got prototypes of Ric Flair, Sami Zayn, Finn Balor, a repaint of Kevin Owens, The New Day, and nWo Macho Man Randy Savage. In Hasbro-like drawings at the bottom of the box we're shown Bray Wyatt, Daniel Bryan, Shinsuke Nakamura, Sting (Wolfpac), Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho (complete with The Scarf of Jericho), Sheamus, and Kurt Angle. That's quite a lineup to add to the first three series already released!

The ring comes unassembled and the pieces are neatly packed into the underside of the ring. Everything easily slides out of the box, enabling you to slide into the DMs...err...accessories. The first point of order must be the logo sticker. It wouldn't be retro if you apply it neatly, either, so I expect every example of this ring to have the logo just a tad off center. There are things that you purposely just don't do perfectly. This is one of them.

The aforementioned reason as to why the box is smaller than the original is that the ring steps, announcers table, and title display that jut out from the four sides of the ring are removable. They are also very easy to snap in. Though Randy Savage is depicted on the box as using the steps as a weapon, you would have to lift the whole thing up to actually remove them. As with most Mattel rings, the posts come tied together with the ropes. After some maneuvering, they eventually untie.

The ropes feel very much like the original, although they are all permanently connected to the turnbuckles of one post and snap into the other three. It's much easier than the Hasbro tying method. The posts snap in very easily and don't have the large rectangles at the top as the later and more common version of the Hasbro ring did. The bit of movement that the separate turnbuckle pieces had from the original ring is completely gone here. Is it necessary? No, but smashing faces into them back then seemed just a tad more realistic. The ropes are tight enough that balancing AJ on the top took very little effort.

The box shows the WWE Universal Championship being used with the removable title display. This is the accessory included with the large Mattel figures. Since no belts...err...championships have been included with any of the Retro figures, this seems to indicate that we are "officially" supposed to use the already released ones from the regular line. The problem is that these belts do not fit on the display as shown. They can be displayed on a tilt, but that isn't how it's utilized on the box. It's really surprising that they let this happen, unless they plan on releasing some retro figure-specific championships down the line.

The other side of the ring has a small announcers table. The original had a smaller table with a single monitor that showed Hulk Hogan. The yellow King of the Ring version had a blank white sticker, though the instructions showed a picture of Vince McMahon. Here we get nothing. It's designed to look like a modern announcers table, but it's very boring. The lack of stickers could be the biggest negative to this ring. While again not a necessity, over-the-top stickers would have added to the retro fun of it all.

Is this another cool retro toy?Absolutely. It's a great way to display
the retro figures, even if most of them aren't from the "blue ring" era. There are some negatives (title display, lack of stickers...and no flag?), but it's a worthwhile purchase. It might be cool to see it re-released in another look, too, as was done in 1993 with the Hasbro yellow ring. Perhaps remolded in modern colors, since most of the figures are current stars? And speaking of things that could be done, how about finally utilizing that trench that stretches all the way around the apron (just as it did twenty-eight years ago) and finally get a cage match going...

Blue bars, anyone?

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Signature Moves: Kerry Von Erich

Collecting signatures of long-deceased stars can often be a trying endeavor. As I've stated at other times on this blog, forged wrestling signatures are few and far between. There just isn't enough reason for someone to do it. The ones that do exist are fairly blatant and/or are sold by some now notorious names on a popular auction site. Even with the realest of the real, there's no true guarantee that anything was signed authentically without you seeing the autograph signed right in front of you. With long gone names, sometimes a really good chain of acquisition and ownership simply has to do. When collecting most of the Von Erich clan, this is usually the case.

The nice thing about collecting Von Erich signatures is that the boys signed a lot. Just pull up any World Class Championship Wrestling episode on WWE Network and you're bound to see a photo or two being signed. WCCW sold many 8x10s for the stars to autograph, and many of their fans have kept these treasures over the years. The boys, being the Texas heroes that they were, also did any number of personal appearances where autographs were given to send the legions of fans home happy. My favorite member of the family, Kerry, was no stranger to this. Even though we just hit the milestone of twenty-five years since his death, his autographs can still be found.

One of the most popular 8x10s of Kerry sold by WCCW included his dog Bo. Another featured Kerry seemingly caught in the light of a sunburst. In the example that I own, father Fritz even signed in the "sun" itself, as if he were the shining light to guide Kerry to stardom. Both of these photos, as shown, feature full "Kerry Von Erich" signatures, but that was not always the case. Some examples were simply signed "Kerry," likely in a rush situation as shown so often on World Class television episodes as the boys were being rushed to the ring at the Dallas Sportatorium.

Many stories of the Von Erich boys signing exist. When you can acquire a signature with a story or even appearance advertisement it makes the item all the sweeter. Many of the female WCCW fans held onto their collections over the years which has been a prime source for myself acquiring the signatures of Kerry and other family members.

Kerry was signing right up until his death in 1993. In January of that year the former "Texas Tornado" appeared at a convention and show in Philadelphia. A series of photos of the stars who appeared at this event seem to have originated here. They are made to look like promotional photos and have a "Legends of Wrestling" logo on them. There are items out there, including my example of the aforementioned photo, signed by Kerry in some sort of silver pen. While normally this would be a red flag when associated with someone who passed away before silver Sharpies came into existence, there were other writing apparatuses at the time which produced a similar look.

For all of troubles that they eventually found, the Von Erich boys were said to be good to others and specifically to their fans. It doesn't surprise me that evidence of such, in this case pressed to paper, still exists long after they have become memories to those who knew them and legends to those who watched them in the ring.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Territory Photo Albums--WWWF 1976

Before the Internet, how did you see the rosters of your local wrestling territory? If you were lucky, your promotion put out a photo album or yearbook! Usually for a nominal fee, plus postage and handling, these publications could be the key to any fan becoming an expert on the stars and champions of any number of promotions. Some areas kept up better than others at maintaining these guides, but most put out at least a few that are known to exist today.

Bruno Sammartino featured heavily in the five Tri-State Wrestling photo albums put out by the Pittsburgh wrestling office in the 1960's. It's no surprise that "The Living Legend" also made the cover of the 1976 World Wide Wrestling Federation album. Officially titled "Championship Wrestling Yearbook," Sammartino is shown on the cover in a fierce battle with longtime nemesis "The Russian Bear" Ivan Koloff. Of course, Koloff is also the man who ended Sammartino's first World Heavyweight Championship reign.

Also on the cover is the famous Madison Square Garden logo. These were likely sold at the Garden, though the inside cover shows that these were also marketed through the mail. Just $2.00 ($1.50 for the yearbook, .50 for postage and handling) was all that this forty-page treasure cost 42 years ago. As with so much shown on this blog, if we only had a time machine...

The yearbook features two page spreads on the top stars, while others get single pages (including one each on "The Three Wise Men of The East") and many other get a single photo. All in all we've got Sammartino, Superstar Billy Graham, Ivan Putski, Koloff, Louis Cerdan, Tony Parisi, Buggsy McGraw, Andre the Giant, Fabulous Moolah, Gorilla Monsoon, Spiros Arion, Bobo Brazil, Lou Albano, Freddie Blassie, The Grand Wizard, Haystack Calhoun, Dominick DeNucci, Pat Barrett, Baron Mikel Scicluna, Chief Jay Strongbow, Ernie Ladd, Francisco Flores, Manuel Soto, Pete Sanchez, Johnny Rodz, Black Jack Lanza, Black Jack Mulligan, Jimmy Valiant, Johnny Valiant, Kevin Sullivan, Crusher Blackwell, Dave O'Hannon, Pete Reeves, George Steele, Bob Duncum, Butcher Vachon, Waldo Von Erich, Tony Altimore, The Wolfman, Tony Garea, Dean Ho, Pedro Morales, Taro Tanaka, Susan Greene, Toni Rose, and "The WWWF," which we'll get to.

The many misspellings above are intentional. Those are the misspellings used in the yearbook itself, so I repeated them here for historical accuracy. Most of the photos match up, even if you'll be thrown for a loop at just how young and different the man later known as "The Taskmaster" looks here as regular Kevin Sullivan. It should be noted that the picture used for Toni Rose is actually her tag partner Donna Christanello. The two were often mistaken for each other in photos, and I always enjoy seeing my late friend Donna show up. She is sorely missed.

The last page, listed in the table of contents as "The WWWF," features the brass. The head honchos. The office. Shown are Willie Gilzenberg, Vince McMahon, Arnold Skoaland, Phil Zacko, Angelo Savoldi, and television announcers Vince McMahon Jr. and Antonino Rocca. It's amazing that only Skaaland was misspelled. Of everyone on this page, only Vincent Kennedy McMahon is alive today, though Savoldi just passed away a few years ago and made it as one of the longest living wrestlers on record. If anyone knew where the bodies were buried, it's these seven men.

It's always a blast to look through these publications. Back then, they were a fun look at the stars of the wrestling world as it was in your area. Today they're a time capsule of a bygone era with men and women who are now legends. Featured here were the stars of what the wrestling world knew as "New York." They filled the Garden to capacity and then moved onto the next town, no matter how big or small. The promoters were happy with an ass every eighteen inches, the wrestlers were happy with a decent check and a six-pack.

May those days be remembered forever...

Thursday, May 10, 2018

A Big Bully...Who Was A Great Guy

It's been a tough couple of months for names associated with wrestling in the Steel City. First Johnny Valiant's tragic death, followed by the unexpected passing of the all-time Pittsburgh wrestling legend Bruno Sammartino. Now, Nick Busick, best remembered as Big Bully Busick, has died after a long battle with cancer.

Busick got his start in Pittsburgh in the late 70s, Though he was largely a preliminary wrestler in many areas, that made him no less a name among fans and peers alike. His most remembered stints would likely be in the GWF and, of course, the WWF.

The cigar-chomping Bully's run in the World Wrestling Federation, managed by Harvey Wippleman, was brief but memorable. He had matches with many of the WWF's top stars including Bret Hart and Sid Justice. His run yielded two trading cards in a European set produced by Merlin, as well as inclusion in the 1991 Survivor Series program as he was originally scheduled to be part of the event.

In the Pittsburgh and West Virginia area, Busick was a familiar face. He made various appearances at wrestling, mixed martial arts, and bodybuilding events over the years. Despite being a "Big Bully," Busick had a way of making everyone feel like an old friend, or even part of the family that he cherished so much. Welcoming one and all to his personal Facebook page, his love for his family was regularly waved like a flag.

It was also on social media that many fans learned of his cancer battle, which he was also not shy about. Few put up a braver fight against the dreaded disease, which I'm sure he raised awareness of as he often talked about.

From bodybuilder to wrestler to police officer to family man, Busick was another role model in the vein of Sammartino. His friends and family have a lot to be proud of when remembering "The Bully..."

"Big Bully" Nick Busick


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Toys "R" Us Delivers a Final "Weapon of Mass Destruction"

No one wanted to see Toys "R" Us close. As different as it was from when many of us were kids, it was an institution. As frustrating as things got when action figure collecting was at its height, with rampant stories of employees selling "rare" figures out the back, many of us remained loyal Toys "R" Us kids. Now in 2018, we're all making our last stops to "the world's biggest toy store." Many wrestling collectors have a reason to visit, a last exclusive WWE figure set from Mattel.

The WWE Fan Central series features Mark Henry (as Sexual Chocolate), Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, Triple H, and The Big Show. They're in the 2018 boxy packaging that I love and really could have been part of the previous Toys "R" Us exclusive line, the WWE Network Spotlight collection. It's "The World's Largest Athlete" that we're focusing on today, who has always been one of my favorites to collect as an action figure. There's just something about a legitimate giant that translates well into plastic. Plus, stretching back to the days of the well-remembered and dangerous (did you ever hit another kid with one?) King Kong Bundy LJN figure, you just feel that you get your money's worth with the bigger guys.

We're seeing a few firsts for a figure of The Big Show in this release. This is the first time that this particular head sculpt has been used. How about that beard? This is also the first time to my knowledge that we see a completely closed fist for Show, allowing the figure to properly "knockout punch" any opponent. The left hand of the figure is aptly reused from recent Andre the Giant releases. Maybe I should say "paw" instead of "hand?" The body of the figure itself also seems to be new, showing off a svelter Show than in past figures.

Speaking of Andre, this is the second figure to include the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal trophy. Just as in its original release, the trophy is "breakable" for jealous runners-up to smash in an epic tantrum. The trophy itself doesn't have quite the "shine" that the first release did, but unless the two accessories are side-by-side, you wouldn't really notice. It remains one of my all-time favorite wrestling figure accessories and looks great packaged with, in my opinion, the most deserving of the Andre Battle Royal winners to date.

This whole series is a winner. Why did it have to be exclusive? Many theories abound as to what will happen. Toys "R" Us stores are STILL receiving shipments of this series, thus the secondary market prices have greatly dropped. There are rumors that Mattel took back some of the cases due to the chain closing. Will they show up elsewhere? I wouldn't doubt it. Needless to say, I feel that three of the four figures here (Show, Heenan, and Henry) belong in any collection and the situation does need to be handled to satisfy collector demand. When will we find out? You won't see it comin', but I promise you'll know...