Thursday, August 27, 2020

From The Musty Yellowed Pages--WWF SummerSlam 1995 Program

The day and hour of the publication of this blog entry marks exactly twenty-five years to the minute that SummerSlam 1995 began. It's a show that fans have been divided on since it happened. It's really an event that you either love or hate without much middle ground. I've documented my love for it previously, including on the twentieth anniversary of the event. While it's generally a bit out of my favored era of wrestling, other factors will keep it in a warm place in my heart forever.

Pittsburgh had long deserved a major wrestling event. There had been no major wrestling broadcasts to speak of from The Burgh since our Studio Wrestling show ceased taping in the early 1970's. There was even a short period in the late '80s when the WWF stopped coming here altogether. For the rich history and fan support that remained in the city, we easily deserved an early pay-per-view event in the Hogan era, but it did not happen. When word got around that we were finally getting a major event of our own, fans were more than ready.

While the Internet was in its infancy for most fans, I was already part of a small group on a local BBS (Bulletin Board System) and can still remember the bunch of us fervently looking forward to the big event. The on-sale date passed and I even attended an autograph signing with Diesel and Alundra Blayze the night before the event. Though wrestling was not at the height of its popularity by any stretch of the imagination, the city seemed to truly appreciate that SummerSlam was happening here. Taking nothing away from traditional wrestling hot beds like New York or Chicago, I think our fans truly appreciated it more after being starved for such an event for so long.

As the company did with several pay-per-view events that year, a special program was produced and sold only at the event. It's larger than an average WWF publication and has thicker, glossy pages. The company was still using the original SummerSlam logo that debuted in 1988 and its placement in front of their top guy, Kevin "Diesel" Nash, made for a compelling cover. I've since loaded mine up with autographs from talent who worked on the show, but I did indeed purchase it there. Each match on the card is given a brief write-up and accompanying photos.

The main event is a big part of the controversy around the show, with some feeling that it wasn't up to par with past events. It was a classic World Wrestling Federation affair: larger-than-life hero versus monster villain. "The irresistible force meeting the immovable object," as then-WWF President Gorilla Monsoon would have said. Perhaps the formula would have worked better a decade earlier, but the company was sticking to what it knew and I totally bought into it. I always enjoyed the work of Nelson Frazier no matter which gimmick he was portraying and he was sadly taken from us far too soon.

Some fans see the true main event of the show as being what was actually the penultimate match in the lineup. In a rematch from 1994's WrestleMania X, Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon once again battled for the Intercontinental Championship in a Ladder Match. My dad forever after dubbed this one the "Ladders Match," as a second ladder ended up being brought in during the bout. It was an exciting match and Razor's popularity here really makes the viewer lament that we were never treated to a WWF Championship run for "The Bad Guy." 

Fans from outside of Pittsburgh are still surprised when I inform them that Bertha Faye's defeat of Alundra Blayze for the WWF Women's Championship was the first title change in our city, but it was. The former Madusa has always been underrated in my view and I won't even get started on my appreciation for Rhonda Singh. For Christmas 1995 I wanted nothing more than for figures of these two to suddenly be made. It only took us over two decades to finally get that Blayze figure. I'm not holding my breath for one of the late Miss Singh in any form, but it sure would be welcomed by more fans than just this one.

Pittsburgh was also treated to a casket match pitting The Undertaker in his signature encounter against Kama, The Supreme Fighting Machine. The feud would've been more interesting had Charles Wright's previous character of Papa Shango been resurrected, but at least we were treated to the beloved "Million Dollar Man" theme music seeing as Kama was a member of the Million Dollar Corporation.

While some fans were probably looking for a textbook Bret Hart classic, instead we saw an equally iconic match from the era where "The Hitman" was battling crazy baddie after crazy baddie. This is the event that saw the debut of Jerry "The King" Lawler's demented dentist, Isaac Yankem DDS. Of course the man behind the character would have a much bigger moment in The Burgh on pay-per-view just a few year later while capturing his first WWF Championship, but that's another story for another program review. Here we had a continuation of the long battle between "The Hitman" and "The King," this time without any unwashed feet.

The show was rounded out with matches between Hunter Hearst-Helmsley and Bob "Spark Plugg" Holly, a tag match featuring The Smoking Gunns and Jacob & Eli Blu, a hot opener with The 1-2-3 Kid and Hakushi, and Bodydonna Skip (Chris Candido) saw action against rival Barry Horowitz. Horowitz was a great talent who deserved to finally have a moment in the spotlight, and some theme music, no matter how brief it may have been. 

Perhaps my only lament is that then-WWF Tag Team Champions Owen Hart and Yokozuna were not on the card. That fact robbed me of ever getting to see the mighty Yoko live and in-person. It should also be noted that, for reasons of which I've never seen explained, The Fabulous Moolah was present at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, at least earlier in the day. The legendary women's champion made a splashy exit out of the building through the thousands of fans waiting to get in. I've always wondered if she was originally scheduled to play some role in the women's title match or if perhaps she was attempting to do so. This would be a great question for Bruce Prichard. Hey hey!

Even if you don't own one, you've now had a "virtual" look through the 1995 SummerSlam program. For the reasons above, it will always remain a special show to me, as well as the fact that my father's birthday was August 31. Because of that, I'd always joked that I would take him to SummerSlam. My parents ended up taking me, and I still remember my dad returning from a bathroom break with the laminated event poster that was being sold at the merchandise stands that night. My dad would turn 75 this coming Monday. This entry is dedicated to him, the great man that he was, and, keeping in the spirit of the topic, his constant support of my fandom of the business that I loved so much.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

I Pity The Fool!

Yes, I went there. But how can you not? Someone who truly put the WWF on the map and helped make wrestling the amazing entity that we knew it to be in the '80s is FINALLY taking his rightful place in collections worldwide. He's a man who's no stranger to merchandising or action figures, but due to licensing has been relatively missing from actual WWF/WWE collections. You may know him from the A-Team, but to wrestling fans he was that celebrity friend of Hulk Hogan who helped the then-WWF Champion battle the evil trifecta of Rowdy Roddy Piper, Cowboy Bob Orton, and "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff. To the world he was one of the biggest stars of the 1980's. He's Mr. T.

This figure served as an announcement of sorts that the licensing rights to Mr. T were finally available to manufacturers of WWE products. Word of a Mr. T WWE-branded Funko Pop figure had made the rounds, but the unveiling of this figure sealed the deal. It's Mattel's 2020 WWE San Diego Comic Con exclusive. Following last year's "Slim Jim" Macho Man Randy Savage, the company knew that it once again had to go big to make an impact. Seeing as that it is indeed an exclusive and meant to be as such, I will refrain from complaining too much about distribution. This figure was not meant to be widely available nor in stores. More on that at the end.

Early hints released on social media showed the "First Time In The Line" symbol which greatly resembled the classic Coliseum Video logo. It does indeed appear on the package, but to see it you have to break the seal on the outer box. A sturdy cardboard makes up the outer box which resembles Mr. T's famous chains. The superstar was well known for his "bling" well before the phrase was coined. At this point a great dilemma pops up for collectors who don't open their toys. Do you break that seal so that you can see the figure? Is it not truly mint then? In actuality it's all down to personal preference. I can't imagine owning an action figure and not being able to see it.

Once the outer box is removed we see why the Coliseum Video logo was parodied. The inner box is a tribute to those great VHS clamshell boxes, specifically that of the first WrestleMania. While this figure is not based on that look (another point we'll explore), the art is clearly taken from it right down to the "electrified" ring ropes. Upon opening the clamshell we get photos from WrestleMania and the build to it and on the other side of course the figure itself. Yet another dilemma appears as Mattel has included a removable plastic film over the tray that the figure is in. Do you remove it? It's cloudy if you don't. It should be noted that at this point you can actually lift the plastic bubble out of the clamshell box. And while I won't be getting mine autographed, where would you get the autograph if you did? How much would you remove?

The figure itself is a combination of two looks. The camo shirt is based on promo photos from his brief 1987 World Wrestling Federation run as "special enforcer." The gear underneath is from an appearance on Saturday Night's Main Event. Neither are really iconic wrestling looks for T which, again, will be addressed at the end. Included are a plethora of accessories including the aforementioned shirt, belt, wrist gauntlets, and the famous chains. "Wrestling hands" sans the famous rings are also included. With all of these accessories the look is very adaptable. 

The body used is pretty spot-on. I always found it funny how pumped-up and immense Mr. T looked outside of wrestling. Next to the WWF superstars, he looked very small. Perhaps I'm the only one who felt this way, but I guess that's Hollywood magic. The face sculpt/scan is good, but could be better. I see Mr. T in it, but I don't necessarily see him standing there. He actually looks more like older Mr. T, perhaps during his WWE Hall of Fame induction, than he did in 1985.

It should be noted that while this is Mr. T's debut as a WWF/WWE figure, there was an earlier Mr. T wrestling figure. Galoob Toys, who had the rights to Mr. T thanks to the A-Team licensed, released a "Wrestling" figure of the star complete with "Real Wrestlng Robe." It was a re-issue of the A-Team figure with new packaging and accessories, but was the closest that collectors had until now.

This is a great figure with an outstanding, if not overdone, presentation. The outer box worked for Savage last year as it was to resemble an unopened box of Slim Jim snacks, but I'm just not sure it's necessary here. I like the Coliseum Video-esque clamshell even if in the final execution it actually looks more like the WWF Columbia House Collector's Edition VHS releases of the early '90s. All in all it's a fun and splashy debut for a long awaited character which is exactly what Mattel intended by making it their San Diego Comic Con exclusive.

Now, as promised, I will get to the attire. It's easy to see why this was chosen. It's two lesser known looks for T in the WWF. Since this is a figure that not everyone will get their hands on, it makes sense that the more recognizable looks will be saved for more mainstream releases. A two-pack of T and Roddy Piper recreating their boxing match from WrestleMania 2 ("What The World Has Come To") has already been announced. An inclusion in Mattel's Masters of the WWE Universe line has been revealed as well combining three 1980's pop culture phenomena by merging T, wrestling, and He-Man. I could easily see two more looks being released and I know exactly how I would release them. I would include T in his WrestleMania wrestling gear as part of the standard Elite line and then do a two-pack of T and Hogan as they appeared on the poster artwork. Aside from training gear and a few different t-shirts (WrestleMania, Hulkamania), Mr. T would be fairly complete at that point.

Mr. T is here and we're about to have more of him than we ever imagined. Next week we're celebrating an anniversary. What is it? One that's near and dear to my Pittsburgh heart, that's for sure.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Superstars, Flip Flops, & Pancakes

It's certainly a hot close to summer for Mattel. It feels that there is new product every week, though a trip to the store certainly wouldn't indicate that. If you're wise, you've figured out how to obtain these figures without too much of a drain on your time or your wallet. I will never get the train of thought that "the hunt" is fun. As much as I tell myself that THIS will be the entry where I don't rant about it, each time that I review Mattel product I can't help but go there. It's a crying shame that the hobby is being ruined like this. Nevertheless, here we go with another round of Elite figures.

Mattel WWE Elite 78 is another lineup with a good mix. Unlike in the Elite 77 review, the "Collector's Edition" figure is being included. The reasons for this are that the packaging on this "Collector's Edition" matches the other figures in the case. The other reason is that for me, all seven figures shipped together. I guess an unofficial third reason is how fantastic this "limited" figure is, but we'll get to that in a bit. This time we've got R-Truth, Kofi Kingston, Matt Riddle, Naomi, Drake Maverick, Randy Orton, and Superstar Billy Graham. It should be noted that I've never uttered the name "Drake Maverick" in my life. To me you could not get a more unique wrestling name than "Rockstar Spud," therefore that is who he will always be to me.

The packaging is your current very red-and-white standard window box. Nothing offensive about it, but nothing remarkable either. Again, the full rectangle boxes of the last several years were far superior and honestly gave the line a bit of class. These current ones look dollar store-ish to me. They just do. If I were a carded collector (and I only am in autograph situations which are getting fewer and fewer) I would be very bothered by the extra hands and heads floating around. I understand why it's done. You need to see what you're getting. As a loose collector I certainly appreciate anything extra. But it does cheapen the aesthetic when leaving these things in the box.

I'll get to why I purchased (no free review merch on this blog, pal!) the entire set in a bit, but I do want to say that there isn't a weak figure in the bunch. Even characters with endless releases such as Kofi and Orton have much needed updates here. I believe that the plate of pancakes may have been released with some Basic New Day figures, but this would be the first Elite to include the flying breakfast treat. With the matching Big E and Xavier Woods (the latter will be the sleeper hit of the next wave) coming shortly, it's good to have the former WWE Champion here. I haven't purchased a figure of "The Viper" in years. This one seems to be a bit thicker as far as physique, has a great face scan, and some worthwhile accessories such as the entrance vest and signature pose hands.

Naomi is a fan favorite who has long deserved an Elite. Complete with her green-strapped championship belt, there is also a "chase" version of this figure in different "Feel The Glow" attire. I still feel that they're squandering her marketability by using the name "Naomi" instead of her real name Trinity Fatu, but what do I know? 

"The Original Bro" was certainly made to be a figure and in this case art imitates life. Just as he resembles "KVE" in person, the first Matt Riddle Elite figure takes me right back to the Elite figure of Kevin Von Erich. Some are complaining about the size of the arms used on this figure, but it isn't really bothering me. I love the inclusion of the "hang loose" hands that we're starting to see used more and more with appropriate characters. Riddle probably takes the title for "most accessories" in this wave with an abundance of hands, soft goods jacket, head band, and flip flops. Altogether they really make this an epic Elite. I prefer the yellow color of the Basic, but make no mistake, this is a great figure, bro.

In a cool move by Mattel, the epic battle over the 24/7 Championship finally comes to the figure world with R-Truth and Drake Maverick. The Spudster at last gets an Elite and a ring gear figure all in one release, while Truth was long overdue for an update. The 24/7 title doesn't have the shiny "vac" look, but it's not bothering me here. The tag title with the Kofi in this set had the same issue and if it were the first release of that particular title I would probably be bothered. Maybe it's because the green strap of rhe 24/7 title just pleases me. In any case, these are two solid additions to the lineup. Spud looks a bit tiny in the package, but he's Spud. He's a small guy.

Finally we get to the Collector's Edition. Unlike with Elite 77 where we had three "Flashback" figures, our only wrestler from the past in Elite 78 is right here. The man of the hour. Too sweet to be sour. He eats T-Bone steaks. He lifts barbell plates. He's sweeter than a German chocolate cake. Ok, I'm done. But seriously, who ever thought that we'd get Superstar Billy Graham in the Mattel lineup? The thought is unreal. What else is unreal? The figure itself. The main event should always go on last and here we are. They could've thrown this into their "Ultimate" line becauae this truly is "The Ultimate" Billy Graham.

Not only do we get classic WWWF Champion Superstar Billy Graham from the '70s, but with the switch of a head we suddenly have '80s "comeback" SBG. Yes, for the record, Graham did wear these particular tights during both runs. An interesting point, however, was brought up to me by longtime friend and collector extraordinaire Mike Girasia. When exactly did Superstar Billy Graham wear a boa? Of course I flashed back to the first Jakks WWE Classic Superstar release that included a soft goods boa. Then I thought that I definitely had a magazine cover with a boa-clad SBG. Upon a few searches, I simply could not find any evidence of Graham wearing a boa. Could this be something thrust upon us by figure manufacturers? The Superstar was certainly flashy enough to wear one, but did it happen?

Another helluva fun lineup from Mattel. I recently came to a realization regarding these figures as collectors get more and more frustrated trying to find them. I've never been one to give free advertisements, but Ringside Collectibles has truly alleviated some of the issues that were turning me away from this hobby. Yes, you may pay a bit more (though Ringside itself pays more to get the figures in advance), to get the best deal you have to buy complete sets (which isn't always ideal with repaints in the lineups), and it isn't the best option for collectors outside of the U.S., but I've truly found peace in my hobby by ordering from this company. While I've been dealing with them for years, due to the terrible distribution of Mattel and the greed of those who seemingly have nothing better to do with their lives than hop from store to store searching, I've settled on simply pre-ordering. I don't know that I'll review every set, but at least I'll know that I'll have the figures that I want delivered to me without some jobless slob running to the store just to make a few bucks on the 'Bay. Keep your overpriced plastic figure, virus, and backwards baseball cap, but clean your Cheeto fingers before you tip your Uber driver.

I've never been one to mince words, and there you have it with both Elite 78 and the state of the hobby in general. I feel as if there may one more Mattel review this month before we go back to a different direction for a bit, but I pity the fool who would miss a single entry.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

The Legends Return

I'll admit that during the first official go-round of this series, I had yet to be the fan of Mattel that I would become. Sure, this hit me right where I live, the legends of wrestling, but early reports from inside the manufacturer seemed to suggest that they were less than enthusiastic about bringing my heroes of the squared circle to plastic. The six waves that did make it out felt very begrudgingly done. Then the plug was pulled. While there were classic stars peppered throughout other series and even a few sets here and there once again dedicated to the giants of the past, the official WWE Legends collection was done.

Picking up right where they left off, Mattel has finally brought us Legends Series 7. Exclusive to Target, the series contains Razor Ramon, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, and Greg "The Hammer" Valentine in the latter's debut in the Mattel line. A fourth figure, an early version of "crow" Sting was scheduled but ultimately pulled due to the WCW icon's contract expiring.

The packaging is a mixture of the current Elite figure boxes and the previous Legends series carding. While I've liked other designs more (Hall of Fame, Hall of Champions, and Elite Flashback to name a few), this is very suitable. I was actually not a fan of the original Legends packaging and I'm sure that opinion is expressed in a blog entry or two from all those years ago. I felt that the huge bubble was distracting compared to the size of the figure. The smaller boxes feel more compact and are a good home for the figure and accessories, while still retaining the Legends style artwork that many collectors love.

Starting with The Bad Guy, Razor Ramon is my least favorite of the bunch only because he's the '90s star, whereas my tastes skew a bit earlier. I like the figure and had no plans on passing it up, it just doesn't hold the same place in my heart as the other two do. Razor is in a unique style and look that has never been done before in figure form. Included are his vest, chains, and two sets of hands. Some collectors were in an uproar as the "thumbs up" hands shown in the prototype didn't end up making it to the final product. I'm generally not sold over extra hands and things, so I'm perfectly fine likely seeing those released with a new Hacksaw Jim Duggan or other character somewhere down the line. Collectors who don't open were upset as some of the Razor's had the chains placed above the hair of the figure, this making it look rather goofy in the packaging. Some reports stated that the chain was left completely off, though I don't know that it was confirmed.

Bobby "The Brain" Heenan makes his third appearance for Mattel, this time in a landmark design. Heenan is packaged in his weasel suit, a costume that was used in gimmick matches for at least a decade with opponents ranging from Greg Gagne in the AWA to The Ultimate Warrior in the WWF. Heenan would lose the match, be knocked unconscious, and wake to find that he had suddenly sprouted paws and a tail. Let the tail chasing ensue. While the costume is great, the highlight for me is that we finally get a mass released figure of Heenan in wrestling gear. Don't forget that "The Brain" is often labeled a very underrated wrestler. Some have complained that the legs of the figure are "pant" legs painted flesh tone, but for whatever reason this does not bother one me one bit. I love the thing.

Another item worth mentioning regarding the figure is the inclusion of the "pointing" hand. While the lack of Razor's "thumbs up" hand didn't bother me, "The Brain" having the ability to point to his greatest asset is incredible. It should be noted that with the inclusion of Heenan's jacket from his Fan Central figure as well as the pants from either Pat Patterson or Jerry Brisco, you can create what is perhaps the "ultimate" Heenan figure done to date.

Note that I listed this as the first mass released figure of "The Brain" in wrestling gear. I'm not forgetting the Jakks Classic Superstars figure which was also in wrestling gear and the infamous weasel suit. The main problem with that figure is that it was a Toy Fair exclusive limited to 100 pieces. It's hard to really say that a figure is out there for people to collect when so few were deliberately made. The second issue is that it utilizes the torso used for Chief Jay Strongbow and Ivan Koloff among others. Heenan never wore this style of singlet. Can you imagine a company going to all the trouble of making a weasel suit and then skimping out on the figure itself? Ah, Chinese New Year.

Finally, we hit The Hammer. Right off the bat I will do a complete 180 with my above criticism of Jakks. Their version of Valentine's robe was simply better. I don't know if it was the small piece of Velcro that held it closed or the general thickness of it, but this Mattel version feels and looks somewhat cheap in comparison. Getting to the figure itself, it's a perfect replica of Greg as he appeared in the late '80s. The facial expression and the hair are on par. What was also a cool inclusion is the "Hart Breaker" shin guard best remembered for being a point of contention in The Hammer's feud with "Rugged" Ronnie Garvin. The shin guard clips on and is easily removable if you're not looking to represent that time period.

When I was first able to pre-order this series months ago, I felt that perhaps a lot of the distribution problems with Mattel were finally coming to an end. I was very wrong. Not only did these figures begin hitting stores before the pre-orders began shipping, but as of press time some have still not shipped. Add that to a very disappointing "pre-sale" for Legends Series 8 and I'd say that we're right back where we started.

That being said, the next few entries will also likely deal with new Mattel product. The next, a look at another full series and another much desired legend, will also include a realization regarding a certainly retailer and these figures, which seem to become more and more like gold every day, and not in a good way.