Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Soul Man Returns

By and large a wrestling star from prior to the '80s has to have some sort of reason to be produced into an action figure. For most collectors a person simply has had to have stepped into the ring for us to want a figure of them. Unfortunately the manufacturers don't feel the same. It's the reason why the '70s are grossly underrepresented in the figure world. Sure we have iconic legends such as Bruno Sammartino, Superstar Billy Graham, and Andre the Giant, but what about the other guys? One of those stars just happened to be the father of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. I'm not saying that Rocky Johnson only has a figure in the Mattel line because of that, but he just isn't a name that pops up on too many lists.

This isn't Rocky Johnson's first foray into the figure world. "The Soul Man" lived to see two different figures in the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line and a total of three releases. While they were nice looking figures, they regrettably came later in the line when Jakks decided to use cheaper plastic thus making the figures notoriously breakable with just a few simple poses. I'm sure that Mattel was hoping to improve on those prior releases in every way as any good company should. As Johnson is the "Collector's Edition" release accompanying Mattel's WWE Elite Series 80, they have the opportunity to do just that.

I'm still not a fan of the "Collector's Edition" releases, but I've gone over that ad nauseam. As long as they remain relatively easy to obtain I'll continue to keep my complaining to a minimum. The figure looks good in the packaging and the robe is set off to the side likely to show off Rocky's physique. It's hard to say if the robes should be on the figure in the package or not. Some figures seem to end up "stained" when the robes are on for the long haul. While I don't think that would've happened here, I guess it's just another reason to open your toys. Also included are an open pair of hands to alternate with fists. 

As far as the design of the figure itself goes, there's a whole lot to like. The figure differs greatly from the prototype. The biggest difference is one that put collectors into an uproar when prototype pictures first surfaced. Originally Johnson's familiar bird pectoral tattoos were missing. Soon after the uproar began it was said that this would not be changed. Obviously the squeaky wheel got the grease. It also seems to me that the head sculpt was tweaked somewhat. I was not seeing Rocky Johnson in the photos as much as I do here. The body of the figure is reused but they couldn't have gone with a better choice going by what they have at their disposal.

I won't say that I was a huge fan of the man in or out of the ring but figures of the '70s stars are few and far between. He's integral to anyone collecting wrestlers of the past and it's important to show Mattel that "obscure legends" (their words, not mine) will sell better than the endless Seth Rollins figures clogging shelves nationwide. If you're interested in the figure I would pick it up when available as this is definitely one that I can't see getting a re-release. If we've only had one Bruno figure in the entire Mattel run, I just can't see another Rocky Johnson. Certainly, though, I've been proven wrong with similar predictions in the past.

Nonetheless, long live disco, harvest gold appliances, and '70s wrestling.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The WrestleMania Toys We All Wanted 30 Years Ago Are Finally Here...

Thirty years is a long time to wait for a toy. It's even longer when you consider that those of us who've been waiting are far from being children anymore. Well, by number anyway. If you're reading this you're most likely a kid at heart just like yours truly. You were also probably just as mesmerized as I was by the spectacles that were the third and sixth WrestleManias. To be honest, there was a lot to be impressed by at those events. Something that stuck out at those two shows were the carts that carried the wrestlers to the ring. Over the years many have likened them to chariots bringing warriors into battle. They certainly were impressive and everyone seemed to love them. If you were like me, you wanted toy replicas for your figures. Mattel has answered your wish.

Gone are the days when so many of us fashioned our own ring carts out of cardboard, old ring corner posts, string, maybe even fragments from other toys. I remember using pieces from a Batman Batcave set for my little creations. Mattel has finally released the coveted accessories in a new WrestleMania series. There are two carts in the series, one including Andre the Giant and the other featuring Randy "Macho Man" Savage. The packaging is very visually impressive and brings me back to the "Slim Jim" Savage figure produced last year. I so liked these boxes that I was tempted to keep them "as is," but how could I not play with a toy that I've truly been waiting three decades for?

The carts themselves are nicely done. They very much resemble their on-screen counterparts, albeit a tad smaller. They're a light but sturdy plastic complete with wheels on the underside. You can fit two figures in each cart. On screen I don't recall more than three people in one at any given time, though I would imagine The Hart Foundation and Danny Davis all crammed into one during intermission. There are two omissions which don't bother me but need pointed out. Neither of the narrow ends "open" to allow wrestlers to enter and exit. The ropes are all one piece. Also, there are obviously no cart drivers. Although the excellent WWF camera work largely omitted them, the carts were driven to and from the ring by personnel. For toy and display purposes they weren't needed at all.

The figures included are the Mattel "Basic" style and I have no problem with that. Seeing as that these are mostly going to be displayed, does anyone really need the extra movement? Both heads are new designs and look very good. The photos make Savage's eyeballs look blank, but they're there. His attire is directly from WrestleMania III as some were unhappy with the "Defining Moments" release and the colors chosen. We've had better Andre figures (take the singlet from multiple releases and put it on the "Giant Machine" Andre for the perfect Boss) but this one is more than acceptable. I'd have preferred some better attention to his hands. If not the amazing "giant paw" hands used for both he and The Big Show, why not do one hand with his two fingers in the air? I can actually foresee some folks trying to sell the figures off. The carts are the draw here, make no mistake about it.

You'll have fun recreating those classic entrances. Going back between the two events you can even notice how the company took them from merely a way to avoid an extremely long entrance and turned them into a dramatic element all in itself. At III the carts virtually flew to the ring. The wrestlers whisked down that long Silverdome aisle while doing their best to ham it up. At VI each wrestler gets a nice bit of time to do their thing, we get to hear a large portion of their theme songs, and in the case of The Macho King and Sensational Queen, a true royal treatment is to be had.

The decades of waiting have paid off. You may very well be happy keeping them in the boxes as the visuals certainly lend themselves to it. Although there really wouldn't be the need for another series featuring these, I would personally like to see one released with a character who is alive thus bringing autograph potential to the line. My pick? How about post-match Hulk Hogan from III? Throw in the '87 belt accessory which has already been produced and give The Hulkster a pointing finger. And while no longer with us, how about a basic King Harley Race for the other? Like these, it doesn't have to have the accessories (buy Retrofest Duggan and the crown is right there) but would be a simple solution for those who didn't feel like shelling out a fortune for that Flashback set as I did.

Now, let's bring those carts back for one more Mania. I always figure a certain "big match" superstar famous for his WrestleMania entrances may do it one year. His match participation days seem to be ticking away. Why not go out in (cart) style?

Thursday, October 15, 2020

A Figure Where No Gimmicks Are Needed...But Some Are Thrown In Anyway

It's purely accidental that I have the two ECW Chris Candido figures autographed. The former Bodydonna just happened to be working several shows for my local independent promotion and both of his releases in the Toymakers figure line happened to still be hanging around on clearance at Toys "R" Us. It worked out great and they aren't two figures that you often see signed. Up until now they were the only figures of Candido. His run in the WWF was during a relatively dark time for toys as licenses were changing. He would've been a fun inclusion in the WWE Classic Superstars line, but I don't even recall chatter about it. Now, thanks to Figures Toy Company, we get to see what it may have looked like.

The latest release in the FTC Legends of Professional Wrestling is the late New Jersey native himself. For some reason the company has decided to release an "Early Bird Variant" limited to 100. Aside from a sticker on the front of the clamshell case proclaiming it as such, according to the company the later release will not include the three accessories present here. Seeing as that there was a new FTC release in the only other figure genre that I collect (1966 Batman TV series), I decided to put Candido into my cart as well.

You may remember the last figure in this series that I picked up, The Blue Meanie. As long awaited as he was, the quality of the figure proved to be a disappointment. While the company was using the same tooling as the Jakks "Ruthless Aggression" style figures, the materials used were just not the same. In fact, as shown right on this blog, Meanie was literally beside himself in the package as his head was detached upon arrival. I have since picked up a few figures in the sister lines put out by the company, those being Rising Stars of Wrestling and Ring of Honor, respectively. I reviewed one of those figures, Tama Tonga, last year. While there were improvements, the material quality by and large still wasn't there.

Before we go further, I will say that my feelings and findings as far as quality have not changed. There is great effort here but I'm still not seeing what we should be getting for the price point. The joints are tight, but I don't have the confidence that I could give this to a child and that it would remain in good condition for long. The trade-off is that we're getting characters we won't be seeing elsewhere. Mattel has little to no interest in ECW stars, so Figures Toy Company does seem to be filling that void. I would like to see more true old school legends, but they don't seem to be going that route at the moment.

Candido's head wasn't off in the package, but the towel was oddly nearly covering his face. I'm not sure why as the figure has a good likeness. It's probably exactly what we would've seen from Jakks. It isn't perfect, but it's much more him than the ECW figures were. There are some odd scars on his face, or what look to be scars anyway. This may just have been intended as shading on the face, but it's hard to tell. In any case, it doesn't show up in all lighting and I'm fairly sure it won't translate to the pictures here. The body is your standard "Ruthless Aggression" style which, again, is what we would've gotten had this been a "Classic Superstars" release. It's not exactly Candido but it certainly works.

The accessories included are a chair, a towel, and a pallet. I really like the pallet. It's plastic but it certainly has a wooden look. As much as pallets have been used in wrestling over the past two decades, I don't recall one being included with a figure before. The towel is the "Val Venis" towel from the Jakks days or similar to it. The chair has been the standard Figures Toy Company folding chair for many years. It reminds me very much of a folding chair at an indy show. Like maybe in a bingo hall. The one accessory that I'm sure will be included in the "regular" release is his elbow pad. It's cloth in a great nod to the Remco AWA line, even if it isn't intentional.

I don't know that we're quite looking at a $40 figure here, but it's Candido. He's probably not getting any more figures and who's to say that the regular release will ever happen? If it does, it will only be around $10 less. And since I opened one and I have seen at least one other opened example, you're down to 98 "early bird" versions left in the package. Speaking of the package, here's hoping that Francine, Scott Norton, and Alex Wright see the light of day sooner than later. They may all look like creepy composite sketches on that card back, but they're three more names I'd be willing to drop $30 each for.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

The Territory Photo Albums--AWA 1974

Who doesn't love looking through the old territory photo albums? Even non-collecting wrestling fans get a kick out of them. They're a time capsule of a particular promotion and are usually from a golden era. If business was down and the stars weren't exactly top notch the promoters probably weren't going to spend a lot of money to advertise that fact. As I said in the first installment of this feature many years ago, you didn't have the Internet where you could fly to any promotion's website or app and instantly view the current roster, alumni, Hall of Fame, etc. So what did you do? You spent a couple bucks and bought a photo album if your area was lucky enough to have one.

Being one of the premiere wrestling promotions in the country, the American Wrestling Association had many photo albums. In this case, way back in 1974, it's a yearbook. I've long wanted this particular publication and the price is usually fairly high when it comes up. I've not only been on an AWA "kick" as of late, but I happened upon a small but amazing collection chock full of items from both this promotion and "nearby" Central States. I'm sure we'll be seeing much more from that lot both here on the blog and on the associated social media pages. I must say that I'm particularly thrilled over the inclusion of a side of a popcorn box that was used for collecting autographs. It really isn't even the autographs that are as exciting to me as it being an actual piece of a popcorn box from a nearly fifty-year-old wrestling show. If you wouldn't be feeling the same, get off of this blog now.

Kidding, of course! We've got 1974 to go back to here. If you've already browsed through the photos or own this book yourself, you may notice the resemblance to the 1976 World Wide Wrestling Federation Championship Wrestling Yearbook. That yearbook was also published by the team of Gary Halvorson and Gary Juster and is very similar in feel and format. Juster, of course, is best remembered for his involvement in World Championship Wrestling in the early '90s and was still around the wrestling business within the last few years. Seeing as that the WWWF version was listed as being published in St. Paul, Minnesota, one has to wonder if Vince McMahon or another WWWF promoter saw this AWA work and decided that they wanted to commission one for themselves.

The table of contents for this AWA yearbook lists Verne Gagne, The Crusher, Billy Robinson, Billy "Superstar" Graham, Nick Bockwinkel, Ray Stevens, Bobby Heenan, Larry "The Axe" Hennig, Ivan Putski, Baron Von Raschke and Horst Hoffman, Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell, Dick The Bruiser, Buddy Wolff, Geoff Portz, Chris Taylor, Andre The Giant, and Nikolai Volkoff among the top wrestlers. Of course there are also a few pages with additional wrestlers as well as other dignitaries. In showing how everyone wanted to stay "fresh" in those days, several of the stars featured would end up in the WWWF version two years later. 

It's no surprise our cover boy is Verne Gagne himself. I've said it many times, but I still can't believe that we didn't get a Remco Verne figure. Nonetheless, here he is demonstrating his pure wrestling prowess on Billy Robinson and featuring in the first, and biggest, bio. Son Greg is on the inside cover. I don't agree with the hate that Greg gets, but it's just simply telling that he's right there. While you might've guessed Robinson as the second bio, you would be wrong. He came in third right behind The Crusher. Even as he was getting up in age, I'm sure that Reggie "Crusher" Lisowski was still a top drawing card in the region, especially in Milwaukee. Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!

We get a look at Billy Graham (when "Superstar" got middle billing) and then arrive upon the man that I, personally, connect most closely with the AWA, the one and only Nick Bockwinkel. He may have been the classiest champion that there ever was, but you could also argue that he was the classiest heel, too. While I'm sure that Nick Aldis in our modern era is mostly trying to emulate Ric Flair, he actually comes across much more in the style of Bockwinkel as far as promos and presentation. Nevertheless, both in and out of the ring Bockwinkel is unmatched. 

While they don't have the bios that the "home based" AWA talent gets, Andre the Giant and Nikolai Volkoff share a featured page that obviously points out their importance. With Andre it was no secret. Looking through AWA results of the era you can see the many tours that Andre did throughout the Midwest, often competing in a battle royal or helping dispose of the most dastardly AWA heels. Volkoff was likely coming in from the WWWF, as he's pictured with a nice head of hair and "Classy" Freddie Blassie who would not have made the trip, being a WWWF lifer at that point.

There are two full pages of smaller pictures displaying "More Wrestling Stars." It's sort of surprising to see Dusty Rhodes here instead of getting a full profile, though this would be right when he was becoming "The American Dream" in Florida. We do get to see a photo that I have never seen before of young "Rick Flair," probably not too far removed from the days when he yearned to be known as "Rambling" Ricky Rhodes. We also get to see Rene Goulet, Red Bastien, Larry Heiniemi (Lars Anderson), Khosrow Ali Vaziri (The Iron Sheik), and a young, slim, dark haired grappler named Paul Perschman who would later be immortalized in plastic by the AWA as "Playboy" Buddy Rose. Interestingly we also get a photo of "Odd Job," labeled as such. This is obviously actor Harold Sakata who played the famous James Bond villain, but I wasn't aware that he actually wrestled under the character name. Rather I recall him being billed in the ring as Tosh Togo.

After the wrestlers we get a full page dedicated to promoter Wally Karbo (who Bobby Heenan had a million stories about) and a subsequent page with other AWA officials. Stanley Blackburn, Bob Luce, Al DeRusha, Lord James"Tally Ho" Blears and Ed Francis are a few of the more familiar names. We end the publication with a profile on longtime AWA broadcaster Marty O'Neill and two unsurprising ads. The first is for the publications produced by "The Wrestling News." Although the ordering address is in New York, these publications were largely produced out of the AWA territory and always seemed to have a large focus on that area. Last but not least is an ad for the film "The Wrestler." This is, of course, the 1974 version which co-starred Verne Gagne and Billy Robinson. It's worth going out of your way to see, is widely available, and the bar fight featuring The Texas Outlaws (Rhodes and Dick Murdoch) is a real highlight. And there's Harold Sakata again looking a lot like Odd Job.

Did I say how much I love these old books? I know that I'm not the only one. I can't cram all of the pictures into one blog entry, but I do try to feature enough to convey the look and feel. If you want to see more, give us a follow over on Instagram (@jws_wrestling_memorabilia) where I just recently posted a brief tour of this yearbook with photos you did not see here including Wahoo McDaniel, Vivian Vachon, Ken Patera, Wilbur Snyder, and one of my off-beat favorites from the era, Bull Bullinski. If there was ever a wrestler of the '70s, it's Bull.

While Ron Trongard wasn't in this particular AWA publication, can't you just hear him? "From coast to coast, continent to continent, border to border, it's the A-DOUBLE-YEW-A!"

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Wrestling MarketWatch: The Road Warriors

Longtime readers know that when it comes down to tag teams with face paint, I'm pretty biased. In fact with tag teams in general I'm beyond biased. I am a Demolition guy. Aside from paint and the era in which they came, I honestly never saw much similarities between Demolition and The Road Warriors. Are Sting and The Ultimate Warrior the same just because they both wore face paint in the '80s and '90s? Not at all. That being said, as much of a Demolition fan as I am, I have always been thoroughly entertained by the LOD, as well, and greatly respect what they did for the business.

As of press time we have just recently mourned the passing of Road Warrior Animal. It's time to look back on a small sampling of the merchandise created in the images of Animal, Hawk, and manager Paul Ellering. While a few items may have seen a slight inflation over their regular market value, I think that you'll notice relative stability seeing as that merchandise of "the boys" is usually in high demand regardless.

*For many fans their love affair with the team began with their first action figures. They, of course, came courtesy of Remco and the American Wrestling Association in 1985. Originally Hawk and Animal came sold in a two-pack. It was later expanded to a three-pack by including Paul Ellering. The trio has great accessories and are still the best figure representations of the early days of the Legion of Doom. Although Mattel has promised us that this will change next year, this is still the only released figure of Ellering. The figure was later re-released singly as part of the infamous "Mat Mania" line. The threesome is averaging $100 loose and complete, which isn't too far out of the ordinary for figures that many consider to be highlights of the series.

*Sticking with early LOD we've got what is probably their best remembered magazine cover appearance. The Pro Wrestling Illustrated issue from March 1984 was not only the "year end" issue for 1983, but also a true iconic moment for Hawk and Animal. The cover may proclaim them "Tag Team of the Year" but the combination of their unique look and the incredible photography (horror lighting, anyone?) made sure that no one would forget them even thirty-six years after hitting the newsstands. In what may be a record for the issue it recently sold for $70. This could be the one price listed in this entry that is higher solely from Animal's passing.

*The Road Warriors competed nearly everywhere, but many fond memories stem from their time with the NWA and Jim Crockett Promotions. The underrated memorabilia produced by JCP has long been celebrated in this blog and you may recall seeing many of those southern stars plastered on bandanas. The first one that I owned featured none other than Hawk and Animal. There are actually several designs featuring the tag team, but the one shown here has been selling for an average of $50. Considering how high these bandanas can go, it's actually a fair price.

*Even after Road Warrior Hawk's passing, Animal continued to venture in pro wrestling. He returned to the big time in the mid-2000's with another run in WWE. He still looked good and I was always pleased to see him continue to take part in the business. The company tried to utilize him in several different ways, though he was ultimately released in 2006. Several action figures were born out of this run as were trading cards and promotional photos. His solo promotional photo from this run, complete with the classic face paint and spiked shoulder pads, recently sold autographed for $20. 

*Ending as we started with action figures, we now look at what are probably their best remembered pair. In the ever popular Hasbro line The Legion of Doom was represented in what turned out to be the second and final series of tag team two-packs. The other set, The Nasty Boys, saw manufacturing problems thus causing Hasbro to send LOD-only cases to retailers early on. The Nasty Boys pack was the single Hasbro WWF item that I never saw at retail. Many other fans encountered the same issue. Due to this, many of the over-shipped LOD two packs sat on clearance. This has done nothing to hurt their value or take away from the fact that they are fun figures. You may recall that the Hasbro Hawk even made a cameo appearance at their WWE Hall of Fame induction. The pair of loose figures has been selling for an average of $90.

Hawk and Animal may be gone physically, but their influence will assuredly always be felt in the world of professional wrestling...and its merchandise. What else is there to say? What a rush!