Thursday, September 24, 2020

Heads, Belts...And More Pancakes!

As I revealed a few months back, I went on a kick of pre-ordering the Elite sets. It just feels easier than searching the stores anymore. If you're pre-ordering from Ringside, it's a lot faster, too. I believe I have one more set pre-ordered as of press time and then a smattering after that. If you know me, my reasons for pre-ordering Elite 79 may be a bit baffling to you. There isn't a Legend or "Flashback" to be had and there are a few names who've had countless re-releases. There are, however, two who should be relatively difficult to find in stores and some quality re-releases. Plus, wallet permitting, who isn't spending to keep happy and sane these days? Well, I'm certainly not rich but I do like sanity and fun, so here we are.

In this lineup we've got Io Shirai, Bobby Fish, Big E, Xavier Woods, Daniel Bryan, and Roman Reigns. Elite 79 brings us exactly one "First Time In The Line" figure and another who really hasn't seen a wide release. I'm also a big fan of what I deem "definitive" or "ultimate" versions of a star. No, not the overpriced "Ultimate" line which has seen some nice releases, but rather a regular released figure that usually includes some sort of accessories or maybe even just decor that gives you the feeling that you don't need another release of this star. I'd say that we get three of those here, as well.

The packaging is your standard release for this year and probably into next. I'm still not crazy about it and I still preferred the previous boxes, but it is what it is. I have bought very few extras to keep carded lately for a few reasons, but this is assuredly one of them. One plus point is that there are very few "signs" cluttering up the window. The "True FX" logo has been moved to the top cardboard. Another plus is that most of the figures fit the packaging well, so there isn't much "floating." We've still got the issue of all the heads and hands scattered about which is a double-edged sword. I love the inclusion of these and completely understand why they're boldly on display, but it's definitely one of the factors as to why I have little desire to keep any of these in the package.

Kicking it off, the latest version of The New Day is complete. Yes it is. Joining the Kofi Kingston from Elite 78 brings us Big E and Xavier Woods, the latter of which easily sees his "definitive" release here. Woods comes with Francesca II as well as his "UpUpDownDown" championship belt and alternate head. The latter, after some research, appears to have been inspired by a promo at SummerSlam 2019. His sunglasses and hair are meant to resemble Stevie Wonder and they indeed do. The belt, from his popular YouTube show of the same name, is made of molded rubber similar to the Mattel Hardcore Championship, but looks very nice nonetheless. Big E is lacking wrist tape (did he stop wearing it at some point?) but has a welcomed new expression and another plate of pancakes. Combined with Kofi the trio does look great. I think I'm finally done with the boys in figure form, but I've said that multiple times.

I remember when Daniel Bryan having an action figure was a true novelty. If you're a longtime reader you'll remember it, too, as I recall reviewing it a decade ago. Here we are again in what I also feel could be a "definitive" figure. This is one that, had I not ordered the set, I probably wouldn't have picked up right away until I learned of how cool it really is. Not only does it come with two distinctively different hairstyles for the popular former indy darling, but something about the inclusion of the "grappling" hands really puts it over the top for me. The "shaggy haired" head is also another example of how scary good this True FX stuff is. As I do with the Survivor Series Jeff Hardy released last year, I feel as if I'm looking at a real human face here instead of just an action figure.

Bobby Fish is one that will be heavily hunted and fly off of the shelves. He's in a popular faction in a popular brand and was yet another indy darling, albeit to a lesser degree than D-Bry. While it isn't a "First Time In The Line," the only previous way to get a Mattel figure of him was in the Undisputed Era boxed set along with Adam Cole (not going to do it...) and Kyle O'Reilly. O'Reilly is coming back with a matching figure in Elite 80 and will include the second half of the new NXT Tag Team Championships that is started here with Fish. Of the "new" NXT championship designs, the tag team belts are the only ones that I prefer over the old ones. These figure-sized versions look great, but the strap itself is a bit too big for the figure and "hangs" a bit at its tightest. As for Fish himself, I think I do prefer the first release, but we'll see when O'Reilly hits my hands and this blog.

Roman Reigns has recently stated that he's going to start wrestling with his shirt off. As with most figures of the Samoan superstar, this is already possible. This figure is no exception, but what I most appreciate is the inclusion of the "smiling" head with pulled back hair. I believe that this is the first time that this head has been used for an Elite figure. It also includes the "Hang Loose" hand sculpt which we've already seen with Samoa Joe and Matt Riddle. For some reason I'm a sucker for it. Look out, Instagram, for a grouping of those three figures on my account.

Rounding out the group we have the figure that will be the most popular of the bunch, Io Shirai. The Japanese star joins Asuka and Kairi Sane in Mattel's WWE group of joshi. She comes with an amazing soft goods jacket complete with "furry" hood and some alternate hands. I'm not big on the alternate hands with the female figures as for whatever reason they feel as if they could break easily, but I'm not saying to get rid of them, either. The figure is insanely short in stature which is true to life yet still a bit jarring when compared to others. That's how "wrestling figure wave budgets" are made and how lineups are decided: for big figure like Roman you sneak in a shorter star like Io.

This is the happiest you'll ever see me with a wave of nearly all re-releases and current stars, but I am. I cannot see myself ever needing another Bryan, Reigns, or Fish. It's questionable that Shirai will ever get another figure, but I'm not sure that I would need it, either. You simply cannot say "never" with The New Day with their variety of looks, but I wouldn't wait on Woods if you're interested in the belt or "Stevie Wonder" head. Another word of caution is that this set will likely be hitting stores just as the Christmas buying season begins. Between that and everything under the sun being wonky this year, I'd either pre-order this bunch or grab them the minute you see them.

Oh yeah. Right. This is Mattel. You have to do either no matter what time of year...

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Wrestling Classic Figure Review--Kelian AAA Konnan

Opening vintage toys has always been a touchy subject with collectors. To some it's almost taboo. Why open one up when there are plenty of loose examples around? Why destroy another boxed or carded version of which will never be replaced? There are plenty of answers to those questions, the most obvious being personal decision. If you own something you can do with it whatever you please. But it was a chance bargain purchase and reconnecting with a fellow collector that led me to the topic of today's entry.

Longtime collector extraordinaire Chris Pesqueira could be considered "The King of the Minty Loosies." He has made purchasing vintage action figures and opening them into a science. You see, he's not opening just any vintage figures he can get his hands on. He understands the importance of carded collecting. It's also not cost effective. By searching out boxes and cards that aren't exactly in the best of shape he isn't really doing any disservice to carded collectors who usually want pristine packaging. In turn he also isn't spending the small fortune that one of the nicer examples can yield. He's simply getting a beautiful loose figure in mint condition that he can proudly add to his collection.

I've long considered opening a carded 1994 Kelian AAA Konnan figure that I've owned for about a decade. I had initially purchased it to be signed, but the lucha legend no-showed the same event twice and I haven't run across him since. The packaging was not great to begin with, but for my purposes it was "good enough." Some creases and bubble cracks were part of the deal and something I was very much willing to live with considering that the Kelian figures aren't ones that you come across every day. Often times a signature will drown out any flaws, at least to my autograph-loving eyes.

Recently I came across a deal for another carded Konnan. This example was in much better shape at what I felt was a very reasonable price. Why not buy it and open up the old one? The thought of finally having the particularly colorful figure in a loose mint example complete with stand wasn't something that I felt I could pass up. I did it and here we are today.

The Kelian AAA line is a lot of fun. It's often confused with The Original San Francisco Toymakers CMLL line from the same era. The difference is that the latter had far less characters produced (a total of six) and is better remembered in the United States as they ended up at Dollar Tree stores around the country. I'm not the only one with fond memories of grabbing Vampiro and Ultimo Dragon right off the shelves. The Kelian AAA line is best known for having the first Rey Mysterio Jr. figure, which has a price that has soared as high as the man himself.

Like the aforementioned Toymakers CMLL line and their later WCW figures, the Kelian AAA wrestlers are solid with no articulation. They make up for that in detail. The colors are absolutely beautiful and are really showcased on this figure thanks to this being the era where Konnan was literally colorful from head to toe. It's a fairly good facial likeness as well in a line where more of the characters were masked than were not. My memories of this era Konnan largely stem from his feud with Jake "The Snake" Roberts that did great box office business. Like many, I followed the conflict through the pages of Pro Wrestling Illustrated and its sister publications which seemingly covered it monthly.

Another advantage to opening a Kelian AAA figure is that you're going to get the AAA logo stand included with each figure. It almost never shows up when these figures come up for sale loose and is a surprising inclusion in an era where things like this weren't the norm.

Remember, toys were meant to be played with. Even if you aren't playing, maybe you just want a nice, shiny figure on display instead of a beat up used one. It makes perfect sense and is nothing that any collector should feel guilt over. If you're spending the money it's yours to do with as you please.

Now, if you're thinking of opening that carded LJN Dynamite Kid...

Thursday, September 10, 2020

War Games: The Playset Beyond

Sometimes adults just need their toys. No, this isn't that kind of blog entry. If you're 30 or above there's a good chance that you've been yearning for a War Games playset for many years. It's something that many of us fashioned ourselves in various manners, but there's something about an official release after so many years that's ever so satisfying. Is it exactly what we've wanted since the '80s? Maybe not, but it's a helluva lot of fun and there's no way I was going to let this release go by without it being immortalized here on the blog.

Several years ago War Games: The Match Beyond finally came to WWE as part of NXT. Though the company ended up changing a few things from the original concept in order to adapt to the current style of wrestling, it was still great to see the match return after so many years. As I've stated many times, I don't watch today's product in any sort of regularity, but as an admirer of MANY of the current crop of talent I will often seek out and view individual matches to keep tabs on my favorites. Thanks to WWE Network, this is very easy to do and far more enjoyable than sitting through current full shows. The NXT War Games matches are among those that I have gone back to watch and I will say that most of them have very much honored the legacy of the classic concept.

Enter the toy. When it was announced I first feared that it may be a tad too gimmicky. Many of the rings and playsets that Mattel has produced have focused on "breakaway" pieces and other special features designed to appeal to the children who will be playing with them. This doesn't always carry over to the adult collector who is, ahem, using these things for display. Regardless, I just had to pre-order one. Although the set has apparently hit shelves outside of the United States, domestically the item seems to be a Ringside Collectibles exclusive. Seeing as that the set qualifies for free shipping, it really isn't too bad of a deal.

The box contains two rings, two cages (with six sides instead of eight as this is War Games), as well as two ladders, a table, and a chair. Those unfamiliar with the NXT version of War Games may be asking where the roof is. It has been done away with in the modern incarnation of "The Match Beyond." While I scoffed at this at first, it does lend itself to the current style of pro wrestling. Does it in any way take the roof away from all of the classic War Games matches? No it does not. Case closed. The included accessories have also found their way into the recent War Games matches, which justifies their presence.

The rings are both fully black. This is something that I love as, though the NXT has been released like this previously, it's a departure from the plain white mats. They're the Mattel spring rings which I've grown to greatly enjoy over the years. The ropes are unlike any I've ever encountered in a toy ring over the past thirty-five years. They seem to be the same stretchy material as other ropes, just without the fabric feel. They look good and again are something different. We'll see how well they hold up over time. The rings also have two plates that cover the gap between them. They're easily removable and replaceable should you not need them for a certain match.

One thing that you may notice from the accompanying photos is that I do not apply all of the stickers. There are more ring apron labels as well as turnbuckle and mat stickers. WWE branded rings have rarely had a logo smack dab in the middle of the mat, so I simply leave it off. The turnbuckle stickers tend to peel and fall off. As I like to photograph my figures and thus present wrestling in all eras, I go by the old adage that "less is more." Sure, the cages may not have roofs, but that didn't stop me from creating a fantasy classic War Games event the minute that I assembled the set. In something that isn't as evident in the photos, foot pegs on all of the corner posts have been added to the Mattel ring post mold to aid anyone from Road Warrior Hawk to Ricochet in their aerial feats. 

As mentioned above there are a few "breakaway" pieces in the cages as well as the door that enable you to toss someone through the fencing. I don't know that it's particularly realistic, but it's something that anyone could have some fun with. I positioned the breakaway pieces towards the back, but these are also the pieces which fold down so that you can reach into the cage for play. On the downside of the design, there are gaps between the cages on the sides. Perhaps my love of this thing is blinding me, but the gaps simply don't even come into play when I'm taking the thing in as a whole.

The cages clip or even slide easily onto the rings. There's nothing stopping you from using the vintage styled rings that Mattel has done instead of the NXT rings. How about a WWF vs WCW War Games match? Mattel has even done an ECW ring that could be used or of course the other various pay-per-view and TV program themed rings. The possibilities are endless.

I've sort of jokingly told a few select friends that they're going to be invited over to play with this. As old as we all are, I'm not ruling it out. This set is a ball. It should be pointed out that Mattel has also recently released a "Wrekkin'" ring and cage as a Target exclusive. The box was designed to match the motif of the Legends series of figures in an effort to get you to buy everything together on that rare Target run where you run into all of it. The promotional material for the set actually implores you to purchase two of the rings to create War Games. It's certainly possible, but I still prefer the official War Games set. It's what so many of us have wanted for so many years.

Enough talk. Choose your teams. Let's play.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Saying Goodbye To The (Gentle) Ugandan Giant

 With all of his well-documented health battles, wrestling fans have long been preparing for the death of "The Ugandan Giant" Kamala. That being said, preparedness doesn't make it one bit easier. When word of his death swept the wrestling world, the fear that Kamala caused in fans for over three decades suddenly turned to sadness. In those decades we had all come to learn that he was truly a gentle giant.

Even as a child I never found myself actually scared of anything fictional. There were two exceptions to that in the world of wrestling. Ironically, both of those men were favorites of mine as well. After all, deep down we all enjoy being scared. The two that put fear into me? Harley Race and Kamala. Race, with that grizzled look and just-gargled-with-nails voice, looked like he could take out anyone. As for Kamala with that haunting wail and nightmare-inducing mask? I didn't even want to THINK of what he could do to anyone.

I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Kamala many times within the last twenty years. I also had the luck of seeing him wrestle live against various opponents including several matches against longtime rival Jerry "The King" Lawler. Kamala always gave his all to the fans both in and out of the ring. That continued even as many of us peeled back the curtain and began to realize that he wasn't the "headhunter" as portrayed on television and was instead a sweet southern gentleman.

I can't even pretend to have the Kamala stories that his peers such as Lawler, Jimmy Hart, and David Isley likely shared in the days following the giant's passing. What I have instead are reflections of someone who is living proof that Kamala did his job damn well. He made me believe that he was a scary savage capable of taking apart anyone who dared step into the ring with him. A wrestler cannot strive to anything higher than drilling undeniable realism into the heads of the fans. That was Kamala and he made it seemed effortless.

But something else came along with the fright factor of Kamala that probably pleased the promoters just as much: utter coolness. The character had an unreal look that will never be duplicated. It barely needs to be said that the look translated perfectly into merchandise like action figures and magazine covers. Who can forget their first glance at that LJN WWF figure in the menacing stance? Do I even need to remind you of the infamous cover of Sports Review Wrestling featuring The Ugandan Headhunter seemingly living up to his moniker...and spearing the head of Hulk Hogan?

The man is gone, but we have yet another body of work and a legacy that will go on as long as people are studying the rich history of the industry. Thank you, Mr. Harris, for being a true credit to hard working people everywhere who put their all into what they do and in turn bring a lot of joy to others.

James "Kamala" Harris