Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Vintage Cardboard of WWE Returns

 Before the month of August ends, we have to take a look at what has become an annual tradition in the past few years: the release of the new WWF Heritage trading cards from Topps. This has also become the only set that I actively purchase more than one or two packs of. I love the style, the time that they pay homage to, and the fact that these genuinely look like cards. They aren't overly-coated with gloss and feel thinner than a dime. These are CARDS.

This year Topps has chosen their 1989 baseball card design to transfer to WWE. I have fond memories of the former set, and I probably still have the entire run in storage. I actually even have the card of Pittsburgh Pirate Mike LaValliere autographed. It's a simple but classic and cool looking design. The packaging of both the box and the packs has changed little aside from color over the past four years or so. 

After a long tradition of every hobby box yielding a full base set, this sadly changed years back. I feel that you should always get the main 110 cards, but what do I know? Each hobby box does guarantee two "hits," including one autograph. Subsets include Big Legends, Rookies, Tag Teams & Stables, and Future Stars. There are also non-Heritage style inserts, depending on where you purchase your packs, dedicated to Ric Flair, Randy Savage, and Shawn Michaels. As usual, I don't cover these as I don't consider them part of the set though the Macho Man cards are vibrant.

As always, my mind goes to the legends. The "Big Legends" subset is based on the look of Topps 1989 "Big Baseball" design. Though the original cards were larger than the standard release baseball, these wrestling versions are not. There are two shots on each card, and I like that many showcase two different periods in the career of the legend. I enjoyed seeing Sid Vicious, Alundra Blayze, Larry Zbyszko, Brutus Beefcake, and others who aren't represented enough. Harley Race's card features both "King" and "before-the-crown" shots which is probably a card first. It's also nice to see our recently lost legends such as Bruno Sammartino, Nikolai Volkoff, and Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart.

Between Raw, Smackdown, and NXT, the roster is bloated but it certainly makes for a variety of names to be included. I'm sure that some of these stars will see their only trading card released here. What better way than in a Heritage set? It's fun to see names like Eric Young, Kassius Ohno, Velveteen Dream, Sarah Logan, and Kairi Sane represented on classic cardboard. And, as long as they've been with the company at this point, it's still great to have WWE merchandise for men like Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, and Bobby Roode. It wasn't that many years ago that none of them were ever expected to show up in a WWE ring.

My pulls? An autographed Bobby Roode "Rookies" card and a Sasha Banks "Survivor Series" mat relic. For the autograph we have someone that I enjoy on a subset card with a silver colored border to boot. On the flip side we have one of my very least favorite current roster stars with a relic style that I am beyond tired of. I know that I can't be the only one. Even some of the "manufactured relics" like belt medallions are less stale than the mat pieces. At least it has a better design than those of a few years ago where the relics featured an oval-shaped photo surrounded by white.

It isn't my favorite Heritage set to date, but it isn't the worst. For me personally, any card in the retro style is going to trump the plastic-y feel of modern cards. One does wonder which style will be resurrected next. I wouldn't mind a trip back to the '60s and some of those designs. The 1990 Topps baseball style would be pretty cool, too. As long as they're classic, matte cardboard and retain the look and feel, I'm on board.

Trading cards are an often overlooked area of wrestling collecting, but they're a ton of fun. Speaking of fun, next week kicks off another "Mattel Month" here on the blog with four weeks of Mattel WWE figure reviews featuring 2018 releases. I "figure" it will be a blast...

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Return to the Heartbreak Hotel

Remember the '90s? Some of us would love to forget them. Still, the decade carried a dramatic shift in pro wrestling and saw the business thrive. Right before the "Attitude Era" swung into full effect, the WWF still had a cartoony style about it. The latest WWE Elite Flashback Series, exclusive to Wal Mart, brings to plastic four of that era's stars as well as a well-remembered television segment proving that maybe the '90s weren't all that bad after all. Maybe. We'll see.

I'll again repeat how much I love the 2018 box design. It's simple and to the point, but can be altered to reflect what's inside depending on the individual series. These Elite Flashback boxes have great color, not to mention the "classic interview backdrop" behind the figures. When the design changes I'll be greatly disappointed. I won't hold back the fact that these boxes have propelled me to buy more figures to keep in the box for eventual signing purposes. When the design changes, I can see that dropping off again.

As anyone who has read this blog could have already predicted, I'm going straight for the highlight here. Who would that be? Alundra Blayze. The women's wrestling star of worldwide fame has never before been made into an action figure. Finally, here she is, looking very much like the day that I first met her back in 1995. Included with her is the very championship belt that I saw her lose the night after I met her nearly 23 years before the date of this entry's publication.

In addition to Blayze we have Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon, and Doink the Clown. When you collect, and open, all four figures, you create the set for HBK's interview segment, The Heartbreak Hotel. It's a unique concept that seems to be ending with the next series where a Build-A-Figure will again be included with the Elite Flashbacks.

The Heartbreak Kid is stellar. No detail was spared despite this being a store exclusive set with a "building incentive." These sets which require you to "collect 'em all" in order to build something is one of the only ways that I'll purchase a figure of someone like Michaels. Don't get me wrong, he was one of the greatest. He just isn't in my personal top favorites and he already has an overabundance of available figures.

Ramon seems to reflect his look in his 1992 vignettes and the detail is once again overflowing. The toothpick, the chest hair, and the removable chains and shirt combine for a great design. This is the kind of never-before-made version of a popular character that I love to see. Rounding up the set is the Ray Apollo version of Doink. This is definitely babyface Doinkster, and it would be great to see Dink produced somewhere down the line. It should be noted that unlike the first Mattel Doink release there is only one wig included here and it is not removable.

While many would say that Michaels is the star of this set, let's be real. It's Alundra. She's beyond overdue for a figure. Her popularity in Japan makes it amazing that she doesn't even have a figure there. The inclusion of the 1993-1995 WWF Women's Championship belt does not hurt, either. I also have a feeling that Mattel isn't going to want to lose out on the tooling of either Blayze or her belt. Can't you imagine a street clothes version complete with belt and garbage can somewhere down the line? A Madusa-Rick Rude pack would be pretty cool, too, but I think we can keep that in our dreams.

It would be nice to have a 1993-1995 contemporary of Blayze, as well. Leilani Kai would be my number one pick, seeing as that she is a friend, but she isn't as closely associated with that run despite wrestling Blayze at WrestleMania X. My other top pick would be Bertha Faye, but I just can't see it happening. The most thrilling and maybe somewhat possible choice would be Bull Nakano. She just feels like a name that those at Mattel would be behind and I can only imagine that they would do an amazing job on her striking visage. Still, I have a feeling that we may end up with Luna. Don't get me wrong, I loved Luna and miss running into her at shows. She was a sweetheart and a heckuva talent. It's just that Jakks put out two very cool versions of her already. That being said, I won't turn down a third effort for her if Mattel so chooses.

This is a great set and, like the first Flashback Elite wave, it will go fast. Prices will eventually settle just as they did for those, so don't panic if you can't find them initially. In fact, Mattel has churned out so much product that September is scheduled to be another "Mattel Month" here on the blog. For four weeks in a row we'll be featuring some of the best new figures of the year from Mattel.

Is my preliminary choice for 2018 Figure of the Year, Mean Gene Okerlund, about to be dethroned? Did Alundra Blayze just do that? We shall see!

What's that, Mean Gene?

"Give me a break, pal!"

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Pink & Black Tank: The Anvil

Children of the '60s, '70s, '80s, and even the '90s, there's a sad truth that we must face. Our heroes are dying. This year has been a hard reminder of that much more than it should be. Bruno. Nikolai. Vader. This the sixth time this year that the "RIP" label has been used at the bottom of an entry in this blog. Those are only the several that I felt that I needed to address individually. Others still will be remembered at the end of December when looking back.

Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart was both a hero and villain at times in wrestling, but you couldn't help but like the guy. He seemed extremely dangerous, but he had a fun and mischievous aura about him that could make any wrestling fan happy. From his look to his demeanor to his hard-hitting style, he was a guy that you would pay to see. I never understood why his career stalled after the end of the initial Hart Foundation run, but he definitely deserved better.

The Hitman and The Anvil are staples on almost any 1986-1990 show that you can pull up on the WWE Network. If they didn't have possession of the tag team titles, they were challenging for those championships. They stayed at the top at a time when tag team wrestling was celebrated and full of talent. They were a perfect match, as different as they were, with two complimenting styles.

Even if they couldn't necessarily find it in stores, every fan of the '80s could tell you what the LJN Wrestling Superstars Jim Neidhart figure looked like. It reflected his nickname of a "tank" and was in the perfect pose. While the later Hasbro line didn't get to see a Hart Foundation version of The Anvil, I've always been a huge fan of the New Foundation attired figure that was released. It perfectly captured his bullish physique and the facial expression was frozen into his signature laugh.

I still remember the first time that I met The Anvil, which was at Greg Price's sole Fanfest venture to Rockville, MD in 2006. The burly grappler was very interested in my Survivor Series 1987 program, looking through each page, and seemed genuinely appreciative that I asked about his daughter, Nattie, who had yet to become the future WWE Hall of Famer that she is today.

Gorilla Monsoon was fond of saying that Neidhart left the NFL because it wasn't rough enough for him. Looking at him, it's not hard to buy that. The Anvil was another in a line of superstars who just simply looked like a wrestler. They don't make them like him anymore, and I'm sorry that we won't have a few more years of the original.

Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart


Thursday, August 9, 2018

Figures That Ain't...Booty?

Ah, The New Day. An act that got over and sustained. Has it gone on too long? I don't know if I can quite say that. In this day and age you have to appreciate anything in WWE that lasts longer than a couple of months. Certainly all three gentlemen are very talented. Would I like to see them go heel? Maybe with Big E as the main event muscle, Kofi Kingston as the mid-level enforcer, and Xavier Woods as the manager/punching bag? Absolutely. But as long as you're buying those Booty O's, it's not going to happen. In fact, we're opening up a box of the infamous breakfast treat, but there isn't food inside...

It isn't a new item, but it sure has become more affordable. Based upon their appearance at WrestleMania 32, Mattel released all three members of The New Day in a mock box of Booty O's. Yes, there are "real" boxes of the cereal available and even ones with shirts inside, but this version may be the best. However, you do have to rip open the top of the box in order to get the guys out. If you'd rather just watch them about to ease on down a rainbow, you can simply open the front of the box using the convenient Velcro tabs.

This isn't the first time to the figure rodeo for any of these men, but this look is unique to the set as are the accessories. Included are two unicorn...err...bootycorn horn headbands and Francesca 2 in black and gold. While Francesca 2 (or her late sister, Francesca) has been included with other releases, this is the first time that the horns have been released. There are only two. Looking back at photos from that WrestleMania, Big E didn't have one on at the event. It would have been nice to have had three included here anyway, just because.

The real glaring omission is the rest of their entrance gear from the event. While the color scheme on the tights is great, the rest of the outfits are missing. I know, I know...copyrights. It's caused many an issue for figures over the years from band-inspired t-shirts to Shockmaster's helmet. For that show, The New Day wore Dragon Ball Z-inspired attire which obviously wasn't obtainable. Hard to help overall, but when basing a figure set around one-time-only costumes, it does stick out. Nonetheless, those bootycorn horns are present, perfect for the gang to stare at the removable bootycorn mask on the back of the box. Bootycorn...

The figures themselves are great. Has there been a bad figure of Big E yet? I don't believe so. He simply translates well into action figure form, and those massive legs make the figure look just as powerful as the real deal. Kofi has had a lot of figures and the hairstyle here is certainly unique. The torso joint on my Kofi is somewhat loose, but I don't know that it's a widespread issue. Xavier may be my favorite example of "Mr. UpUp DownDown" yet. Comparing photos from the event the figure may have a bit too much hair, but I'm not complaining. Great facial expressions on all three, too.

Is this my favorite set of all-time? No, but it's solid. As mentioned above, it's also come way down in price, specifically on everyone's favorite A to Z "prime" online retailer. It can actually be had for around the cost of a standard Mattel two-pack, but here you're getting three "Elite" figures and accessories. The box is also cool and almost an additional accessory seeing as that they did tumble out of a giant version of it at this event.


Thursday, August 2, 2018

Will You All Please Rise..To Honor Nikolai Volkoff

The quintessential "evil foreigner" of wrestling history. The brutally strong thug of various villainous managers. Arch nemesis of Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, Dusty Rhodes, and Hacksaw Jim Duggan among others. Above all, real-life nice guy. This was Nikolai Volkoff.

There were several wrestling deaths reported on a bright, sunny, Sunday. I'm not pushing the others aside, we honor all fallen wrestlers at years end here on the blog, it's simply that Volkoff's passing hit me the hardest. He is one of the first wrestling "bad guys" that I remember in life. He was part of the "Rock N Wrestling" era that netted much fame and fortune for those involved. And how could one miss him? With the red "Communist" garb and simply being a massive human being, Volkoff stood out.

How many flea markets or garage sales have you attended where a hatless, paint-chipped Nikolai Volkoff LJN figure is among the offerings? Seemingly everyone had it. To this day it's a staple from that fabled Wrestling Superstars line with its near-perfect facial likeness and ready-for-action pose. In fact, in a story that I've mentioned here before that I still expect no one to believe, years before Jakks launched their Classic Superstars line, I had visions of a wrestling legends figure series in similar packaging. Who was the figure that I pictured in my head? Nikolai Volkoff.

I was always entertained by Volkoff in the ring. No matter his position on the card, he always seemed to give his all. Those big stomps to his opponents back seemed devastating to me. There's a photo from WrestleMania 2 where he seems to be pummeling Corporal Kirchner with an especially hard stomp. And we can't forget Gorilla Monsoon famously saying that Nikolai "has no clue how powerful he is."

And whether it was the Russian National Anthem or "Cara Mia," Big Nikolai could belt out a tune. Did you rise to show respect? I always did. So did Jesse Ventura! Or maybe you were happy when he didn't quite get to finish his song and you cheered when The Dynamite Kid, Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, or another number of other disrespectful individuals decided to "start the match early."

In-ring memories aside, those who have attended the various conventions up and down the east coast over the years will greatly miss Nikolai. He was a staple to show up, sometimes even unexpectedly, and occasionally even sing a song or two. It was always impressive to be in the presence of a man who could claim being challenger to both Bruno and Hulk's championships. Speaking of the former, Nikolai also spent time in the latter half of Pittsburgh's "Studio Wrestling" era as Bepo Mongol. Keeping that in mind, his passing is yet another blow in a year of wrestling losses for the Steel City.

My recommendation? Go rewatch the flag match from the second episode of Saturday Night's Main Event. It's Volkoff vs Hogan. It's short, crisp, and face-paced. It's Nikolai in one of the highest-profile matches in his career.It has the "big fight feel" that modern day promotions would kill to have for a match. Most of all? It's fun.

Thank you, Nikolai, for all of the fun over the years. I will rise, sir.

Nikolai Volkoff