Thursday, September 22, 2022

PowerTown Comes To Life

I don’t normally do preview posts, especially when I have no in-hand examples. That being said, the idea that the new PowerTown Wrestling figure line is pre-ordered and fast on its way to becoming a reality is enough to get any longtime wrestling collector excited. There was skepticism on all fronts as soon as the line was announced. Wrestling fans are unfortunately all too familiar with hearing big promises with little-to-no results. While we’re still in the pre-ordering process for the PowerTown product and it will be a few months before it’s in our hands and on our shelves, the excitement is fresh for both what’s been announced and the potential future. 

Verne Gagne, Lou Thesz, Stan Hansen, Kerry Von Erich, Bruiser Brody and Magnum T.A. Those six are our initial lineup. Two of those names have never had a figure. Others have had little to no representation in the “modern” figure era. In the thirteen years of this blog I have occasionally created short lists of names who have deserved immortalization in plastic. Three of these names made those lists. Gagne (a glaring omission in the Remco AWA line) and Thesz (not a contemporary of any figure line but certainly deserving) are finally getting their due while Magnum, who was figureless when my lists were compiled, is getting only his second. Hansen has never had a modern and fully poseable figure. Brody has had several figures however the closest to modern was in the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line. That likeness and overall presentation left many feeling underwhelmed. Kerry Von Erich has two Mattel WWE figures which have become highly sought after and expensive on the secondary market as well as his 1992 Hasbro WWF release. 

Looking back at wrestling legends figure lines there really hasn’t been one that feels all-encompassing. The first was the Figures Toy Company “Legends of Professional Wrestling” line. I’ve often touted that series as a spiritual successor of sorts to the Remco AWA collection. The designs are relatively basic but a lot of fun at the same time. The line still has yielded the only figures of Wahoo McDaniel, Ox Baker and Eddie Gilbert. FTC is still in the figure business with several different lines being produced to this day including a second line with the "Legends of Professional Wrestling" name, but results and reaction have been inconsistent at best. 

The biggest legends line and the wrestling figure line that I often felt was the greatest of all-time was Jakks WWE Classic Superstars. For its time it was unmatched. Though there were various reasons why some big names absolutely could not be included (Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat, The Von Erich’s and JJ Dillon to name a few), after the first few waves we began to receive figures that wouldn’t have been imagined just years earlier. Were we really getting WWE figures of Bruno Sammartino, Ron Bass, Ernie Ladd, Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura in the 2000’s? We were. Though Curt Hennig was indeed part of the line, it was not in fact perfect. Planned figures were canceled far into design. Designs sometimes contained oddball mistakes. I won’t even get into “Chinese New Year.” As they say, if you know you know. The biggest issue for me was the drastic decline in quality of the figures themselves as the years went on. The latter figures are positively brittle. It feels like almost a sin to attempt to pose them. Seeing as this is the time when many “one time” names such as Jack Brisco, Nikita Koloff and The Rock N Roll Express were released, the legacy has not endured. 

When Mattel took over the WWE line they immediately promised legends in some form. What I appreciated about the early efforts were that they released legends in designs that Jakks had not just recently done. Short-haired Rick Rude is definitely my favorite from these early offerings. Mattel also managed to produce some of the names not permitted to Jakks such as Savage, Steamboat and both Kerry and Kevin Von Erich. Things were looking good until the company decided that legends simply didn’t sell. To this day collectors really don’t understand this, but it was made clear by Mattel canceling the individual legends line altogether. Thankfully the attitude has changed and Mattel has since delivered names that collectors never would’ve expected from them (Dillon, Magnum, Paul Ellering) and has produced what we would without a doubt call “deep dives.” Figures of Mean Mark Callous, The Dingo Warrior and The Goon? It’s been fun and, to their credit, they are expected to continue with Paul E. Dangerously, The Samoan Swat Team and others yet to be announced. 

Even with all of that to buy, collectors always want more. They also realize that there are some names that just aren’t ever going to be done under the WWE banner. That’s where Relativity Worldwide and PowerTown Wrestling come in. Using a unique business model that we’ve been given a glimpse of in interviews, the company was boasting nearly two-hundred signed names this past spring. Their mission seems to be to celebrate those in the vast history of wrestling who haven’t really seen the spoils of heavy merchandising. It’s a wonderful concept and truly a win-win for both fans and the wrestlers if all works out. A close friend/fellow collector and I have already spent hours this year thinking up names, waves and concepts. For us, this once pipe dream in both wrestling and toy collecting is fast coming true. 

Again, while we don’t have anything in-hand as of yet, there’s still a lot to be praising. The company has been very open about timing, changes (Ted DiBiase was initially planned for the first wave; Brody replaced him) and the when’s and how’s of obtaining the product. A distribution partnership with Highspots had me feeling very confident and the pre-order process was even better. Seeing as that the mission is to get these wrestlers what they’re deserving of, I don’t see a whole lot of “limited” nonsense happening here. I get the feeling that if someone is willing to pay for these figures at the time they’re offered that they will get them. No ridiculous five minute sellouts. “Chase” variants? Why bother when a simple re-release can get more money for the wrestler and/or family. So far PowerTown seems to “get it.” Do you know what companies that “get it” get from this consumer? My money. 

I’d be amiss to not mention three of the names behind this effort. The first is Steve Rosenthal who has become probably the biggest voice in promoting the line. He was also a force behind the Remco AWA figure line in the ’80s. One of the names who had a figure in that line, Greg Gagne, is also part of this and is likely instrumental in securing the rights to many of the names that we’ll be seeing in the lineups. Last but not least is Terry Allen, Magnum T.A. himself. I had the fortune of sharing a banquet table with Mr. Allen in Charlotte several years ago while his Mattel figure was in limbo of ever being made. Speaking with him back then on the subject, I can tell you that he’s very aware of what these items mean to fans and collectors. Sounds like a dream team to me! 

The initial set of six listed above is available at PowerTownWrestling.com with several different options for pre-ordering. You can bet we’ll have plenty of coverage right here once they’re released. So far not too much is known about future waves other than that the company is busy at work on them. Many names such as Harley Race, Nick Bockwinkel, The Poffo Family and The Rougeau Family have been confirmed as being signed. Last month in Charlotte I, personally, got to hear the excitement of Judy Martin and Leilani Kai over finally getting figures. Before PowerTown was even announced the spouse of a deceased legend (who may or may not have already been mentioned in this blog entry…) heavily hinted to me about inclusion in a line like this. And, of course, if the fine folks at PowerTown would be kind enough to give me a hint or scoop or two to share with you all I’d be more than honored. 

Where are us collectors headed? I don’t know about you, but I’m on my way to PowerTown.

Friday, September 16, 2022

A Hasbro-Styled Manager? It's All Beautiful, Baby!

Pre-order to delivery in less than a week? That’s what I call a whirlwind! Indeed that’s how it went down with Mattel Creations WWE Retro 4-Pack 2. Unlike the first set which only lasted on pre-order for around five hours and then sold out, as of press time this set is still available. Is that good or bad? Overall in my opinion it’s a plus. I’ve long championed anyone and everyone being able to get a fair shot at these items. The “barely there” pre-orders for other Mattel WWE items that have literally lasted several minutes (if that) are atrocious and a stain both to the company and the hobby. Some will maintain that sellouts hurt the chances for future items of a similar nature to be offered, but if the market isn’t there it simply isn’t there. Personally I’d rather the item not exist at all if it’s going to be difficult to obtain and then become costly shortly after. I’m all for secondary market values but they have to be for the right reasons. “Manufactured” values, I’m looking directly at Jazwares and their “Chinese New Year” spokesperson long since said to be behind such decisions, should be enough to turn anyone off of a toy line. 

But applause to Mattel for making this set easy to get. Most of us have wanted managers in the Hasbro style for the better part of thirty-two years. Hasbro infamously omitted anything but wrestlers from their WWF figure line, a dramatic change from their predecessor LJN who included wrestlers, managers, announcers and even referees in the Wrestling Superstars collection. The first officially made and licensed manager in this style is “The Mouth Of The South” Jimmy Hart. Joining “The Mouth” in this set are his tag team The Hart Foundation consisting of Bret “Hitman” Hart and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart as well as classic ‘80s baddie Nikolai Volkoff. 

The packaging style is exactly the same as the previous set. Shipped in the shipping box (just as these would arrive to a retailer were they sold that way) inside is a box holding the four individually carded figures. That box is styled in the Hasbro theme just as the individual cards and figures are and will remind longtime collectors of the old Jake The Snake’s “Snake” toy (it featured no proper name) box. The cards feature new renders of old photographs rather than just the photographs themselves. It’s an interesting choice and not one that everyone is behind. To be fair, a lot of the licensed Hasbro style “boutique” figure lines have also gone this route. The difference there is that those companies have used a better, firmer cardstock for the backs. The card backs on these have been very thin and thus easily damaged since the beginning of the Mattel Retro line back when it was sold at retail. It’s certainly “close enough” with many of the original nuances like the smaller lines have. We’ll never have exact Hasbro replicas and I think most have accepted that. 

Starting with Jimmy Hart, my most wanted figure in the set. It’s obvious from the start that the body is a repaint of the Mean Gene Okerlund figure from last time. I’m fine with that and really any Hasbro collector should be as it’s a classic vintage toy manufacturer move. The head is pretty much exactly what anyone should expect from a Hasbro Jimmy Hart. I could possibly have pictured a “mouth open” sculpt here, but it’s difficult to say what Hasbro would’ve done since they never ventured down this path. The megaphone is removable and reused from the Elite Jimmy Hart figures. He has a “Real Superstar Action” (the same as Mean Gene, of course) and I do feel that if Hasbro had explored non-wrestlers they would have included such mechanisms like with any other figure. The paint d├ęcor on the jacket is easily the best of the set and possibly the best Jimmy Hart design to date as far as attire goes. It’s not like I’ve been hiding it, but this is my favorite of the lot this time by far. 

Next we’ll switch to Nikolai Volkoff. This one stings a bit as I always loved seeing big Nikolai at shows and it pains me that this figure can’t ever be signed. I’ve said it before, but years before any sort of wrestling legends figure lines were produced I had always pictured Nikolai being among some sort of set of them. So far he’s been in all of them. He really needs to make it into the WWE Superstars line (the figures which pay tribute in design to the Remco AWA line) as he fits the ‘80s era that I feel should be stuck to with those figures. This Nikolai is a mixed bag. Seeing as that most Hasbro hat accessories were not removable, it’s ok that this figure reflects that. However seeing as that the figure has the hat attached I feel that it should be one hundred percent in entrance gear. It seems that the “USSR” shirt is now some sort of issue (look at the card back), but a plain red shirt or the jacket would’ve done well. I’m guessing that they didn’t use too much budget here. While the “Nikolai Kickoli” isn’t completely inappropriate for the legend (he did often use a “spin kick”), a “slam” mechanism would’ve been a much better choice. Frankly, I’m also tired of the non-Hasbro native kick mechanism. I think the absolutely horrible Retro Shawn Michaels figure that featured it is what originally soured me on it. Many are pleased that there is finally a Volkoff to go with the Retro Iron Sheik from years ago and I would have to agree with that sentiment. As I alluded to earlier I feel that he’s an iconic character from a beloved era and should always find representation because of that. 

The Anvil himself is back in Hasbro style. It wasn’t that long ago when the original Hasbro Jim Neidhart figure was reviewed here on the blog. This time we have “The Tank” in the look that he was originally designed to appear with in the Hasbro line. Before that figure could be released his style on WWF television changed thus we received “The New Foundation” version back in late 1992. This version was a polarizing figure ever since it was first announced and shown. Some loved it while others weren’t quite convinced of the body type. While it is perhaps a tad slimmer than most of our mental pictures of Neidhart, ultimately it works. As with Bret the singlet is painted on rather than molded, but don’t kid yourself into thinking that Hasbro never used this tactic. They did. The key with Retros is that modern design practices should usually be avoided. It’s about replicating the well-remembered standards of the past whenever possible. The face is great and the sunglasses are attached as is the case with all three of the Hart figures here. I like this one and while many probably feel that we should’ve seen him with the “clothesline” mechanism, we already had that with him thirty years ago. Not to mention… 

Our last figure in the group of four, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, has the much beloved “clothesline” maneuver. Seeing as that I always enjoyed tag team Bret more than single Hitman, this is my favorite figure of the Canadian legend in this style. I will say that it feels the figure has a bit of an identity crisis. The attire here (as well as with Neidhart) reflects the later, babyface version of The Hart Foundation while the head and the card back are of the earlier Hitman in the WWF. From my earlier statement it’s obvious that this doesn’t really bother me, it would just be interesting to know why they went this route. Some were looking for the earlier versions of The Hart Foundation with either black, blue or a combo, but seeing as that Jimmy is part of the set I actually think that the solid pink would’ve been a fun choice. Nonetheless I think Mattel did a great job here in bringing Bret back to this style for the first time in twenty-eight years. 

A lineup that had some on the fence proves to be another winner. Not perfect but I can’t recall any retro figures that truly have been. From rights issues to pandering to cost cutting or whatever else you want to cite, “perfect” replicas of past wrestling figures just aren’t going to happen. This isn’t a situation as with Star Wars where nearly identical replicas and “retro” versions of old characters are being pumped out. Even in that genre many of the same aforementioned issues exist. Nonetheless I do feel that these will appreciate in value as the years go on. Again, that’s a good thing and not to be confused with an item being made solely for that purpose. After a decade of the Hasbro WWF line being red hot with collectors, the figures show no indication of cooling off any time soon. Even some of the earlier Mattel Retro releases from just a few years ago such as Diesel and The Junkyard Dog have become hot items. Personally I had no problem obtaining them at the time and have heard that they even showed up in outlets such as Five Below. I don’t see the latter happening with these Mattel Creations releases, so as I’m so fond of saying…”get them while you can!” 

We already have a look into the future with this line. The next set is a tribute to four planned figures from the original Hasbro line that never saw the light of day, at least not in these forms. We’ve got Tugboat, Rhythm & Blues Greg “The Hammer” Valentine (Boxcar!), “All-American” Lex Luger and babyface Doink the Clown.  Prototypes have been shown but as the set we looked at today proves, you have to have them in hand before you can give any final judgement. Following that set we have another lineup of four featuring a figure that will CLEARLY be a winner just by viewing the prototype, none other than Jerry “The King” Lawler. Easily one of the most wanted omissions from the Hasbro line, despite being active as both a wrestler and announcer in that era’s World Wrestling Federation, there’s no evidence that he was ever even planned at the time. Another name who also needs inclusion in the WWE Superstars line, The King is once again claiming his throne. The other three to join him have yet to be announced. In addition, a pair of 2-packs starring the nWo will be hitting the biggest online wrestling figure retailer. Kevin Nash and Scott Hall will team in one with Hollywood Hulk Hogan and Syxx in the other. While I will pick them up, I’ll admit that I’m least excited for these. They could very well surprise me as the nWo’s inclusion in the WWE Superstars line was very well executed as I discovered once they were in my hand. 

Whether it be Hasbro, Remco or even LJN style, there’s something about retro…

Monday, September 12, 2022

The Immortal King

It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since we were reflecting on the life and career of Jerry “The King” Lawler here on the blog. Lawler had just suffered his heart attack following a match on WWE Raw and while the news was encouraging it was still a scary situation that hasn’t been forgotten to this day. The King is in my top ten of all-time for a multitude of reasons. Now in 2022 he’s not only celebrating a decade of survival following that terrible incident but also his 52nd year in the wrestling business! 

Jerry Lawler was the fifth star that I met in the wrestling business. He was also the name that finally drew me to attend an indy show. I didn’t regret it then and the countless times that I’ve encountered him since have been just as pleasurable. Upon meeting him you can tell that The King simply loves life. He truly seems to enjoy attending the never-ending amount of shows that he is booked for and always leaves fans with a good memory. Have I mentioned that he has one of the nicest signatures in wrestling? Actually, I’ve done an entire blog entry or two on it. The artist in Lawler absolutely shines in his penmanship. From picking up items signed decades ago, it’s obvious that the signature has been that nice throughout his career. 

The first action figure release of The King was a huge deal to me. When he was first released as part of Jakks WWF Bad Boys series in 1997, many were most excited for the first figure of Stone Cold Steve Austin or even Hunter Hearst Helmsley. While I enjoyed the entire series, the crown jewel of the lineup for me was The King. Though it was the beginning of “The Attitude Era,” my mind was on the fact that the scale of the figure worked very well with the Remco AWA figures of a decade earlier. Finally classic matches pitting The King against Nick Bockwinkel and Curt Hennig among others could be recreated! Jakks would periodically release Lawler as their WWF/WWE license continued over the years, but they did a true glowing tribute to Memphis Wrestling in the legendary Classic Superstars line when Andy Kaufman was produced to battle The King. Released as both a single figure and in a two-pack with Lawler, Kaufman was a deep dive that continues to help cement the line’s legacy as one of the greatest. 

Mattel has been very generous with Lawler releases. While the company was somewhat wishy-washy on the inclusion of legends up until around four or five years ago, we’ve seen a total of four releases from the company with at least one more on the way. The first, a representation of modern Lawler, may still remain my favorite. The second was a WWE Hall of Fame figure release which featured the same entrance gear as the first figure but looked similar to the Jakks Classic Superstars releases. The most recent Elite release features Lawler in the look that he wore for his first few years in the WWF. It’s a style that will be duplicated in the upcoming Mattel Retro figure of The King that will allow collectors to add him to their Hasbro-sized worlds at long last. A modern commentator version has also been done and there are plenty more looks to choose from should we be lucky enough to get more. The WWE Superstars line is designed to reflect the aforementioned Remco AWA figures of the ‘80s. While I still love the similarly-scaled Jakks release of a quarter century ago, Jerry Lawler needs to become part of this line, too. 

The King isn’t just a toy. He’s a singer, too! He’s told me on multiple occasions that his records weren’t released, they escaped, but don’t listen to the legend! The King’s records are among my favorite collectibles of him and from the Memphis territory itself. Not only does he have his own LPs and 45 singles, but he also did the artwork for the original release of Jimmy Hart’s Outrageous Conduct album. Looking at the albums, didn’t Lawler even look like a musical star from the ‘70s? That great goatee certainly sells it! I recall talk of The King’s musical work being re-released some time ago but haven’t heard anything since. The albums do come up for auction now and then. 

For as big a star as he was for decades, The King doesn’t have as many magazine cover appearances as he probably deserved. Inside those magazines, however, he certainly got a ton of press. I can still remember a time when I had simply read a ton about Jerry “The King” Lawler and hadn’t ever actually seen him wrestle. Thanks to odd-hour wrestling shows and the magic of videotape that did eventually change and my fandom for The King only grew. He does have one legendary magazine cover that is popular to this day, the August 1984 issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated. It’s an amazing portrait of The King shown in his famous one-strap singlet donning, of course, that goatee. It even recently made a cameo in the Wonder Woman ’84 motion picture! That isn’t his only magazine cover, of course, with another fan favorite being from the WWF in July 1995 where The King of Memphis is joined by other royalty such as “Don King,” King Kong Bundy and even “The King of Rock & Roll!” 

While he may not have had as many magazine covers as a Ric Flair or a Dusty Rhodes, The King may beat them all out as far as program covers. It’s hard not to find a Memphis wrestling program that doesn’t feature The King (one was showcased on this blog just weeks ago!) and considering his multiple decades on top there it really isn’t a surprise. Copies of the Memphis promotion’s Action Ringside program featuring Lawler covers can regularly be found on eBay. Considering their age, most showcase great shots of The King in funky period fashions! Another popular appearance is on the cover of the AWA SuperClash III program where Lawler is facing off with Kerry Von Erich. This one unfortunately doesn’t show up all that often as I’ve found out with all of the offers that I receive any time that I feature it. It’s a treasure for sure. 

The crown (originally borrowed from Bobby Shane!). The goatee. The signature. The strap. The piledriver. All reasons to love The King. He’s entertained us for over half a century with no end in sight. AWA, WWF, USWA or Memphis, he was royalty in all. Teaming or feuding with the likes of Jackie Fargo, Bill Dundee, Randy Savage and even Bret Hart, he always brought his best to the table and drew money wherever he was working. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Most smart wrestlers would tell you that. Me? I think it’s more those records, figures, and programs…

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

From The Musty Yellowed Pages--Memphis Action Ringside Program 11/9/1977

Just like the existing promotions of today, each wrestling territory had its own flavor. I’ve always considered myself a lucky wrestling fan in that I can really find something to like in any style of the sport we love. Watching classic wrestling I can flip from show to show, promotion to promotion, style to style without a second thought. One area that has always stood out to me was Memphis. It was almost the perfect blend. You had great stars, a wild fanbase, hard-hitting wrestling and even a solid dose of what we would now call “sports entertainment.” Some of the content may not have held up as is the case in many other promotions, yet simultaneously a lot of the product was ahead of its time. I’ve also been very fortunate to have met many of the key players from the glory days of the promotion. Jerry Lawler, Jackie Fargo, Lance Russell, Jerry Jarrett. The list goes on and on. Now, if you want a true history lesson in Memphis wrestling you’ll take some advice that I’ve given before on this blog and head over to MarkJamesBooks.com. In addition to being a great guy (and Hall of Famer!), Mark is the absolute authority on Memphis and its many wrestling greats. In fact, he has co-authored many of their autobiographies!

Today we’re going more for some fun nostalgia than a history lesson. There were various types of programs published by the Memphis promotion over the years from the digest-sized “Slam-O-Gram” to the “Action Ringside” programs. It’s an example of the latter that we’re paging through here. On the Action Ringside covers you’ll often see one of the iconic names of the promotion in a black and white photo. On this example we have Jerry Lawler, Jimmy Valiant, Superstar Bill Dundee, Norvell Austin, Dennis Condrey and Phil Hickerson. The date? Nearly forty-five years ago on November 9, 1977. The location? Evansville, IN. Always the trooper, it appears that The King was doing double-duty in our huge Double Main Event. One match was slated to be Lawler and Dundee taking on Jimmy and Johnny Valiant while Lawler would also team with Norvell Austin to go against Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey. Midnight Express fans would take interest in the latter as the match features pioneering members of the team on opposing sides. The card was also set to feature The Great Mephisto against Scott Casey, Mr. Wrestling against Ken Dillenger and Terry Gordie against David Shultz. The spelling was a bit off but that last listed match obviously features Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy (at just sixteen years of age) against “Dr. D” David Schultz. If that was an opener you get the feeling that it did its job in getting the crowd going. 

This is one of the thinner Memphis programs that I’ve come across. Really it’s a total of six pages if you include the front and back cover. Still, the promotion smartly used every bit of space on each page. Interestingly, the program only advertises and promotes the wrestling stars, shows and other inter-promotional interests. There aren’t any ads for local sponsors such as restaurants, retail stores or insurance agencies as you’d often see in other territorial programs. The Jarrett-Welch promotion wanted to promote one thing: wrestling. It certainly shows here. I’d definitely be interested in locating some of the materials from the Dundee-Lawler Fan Club that is advertised. If the quality of the membership card was anything like that of Jimmy Valiant’s (which is almost vinyl and still shines), there very well could be some sitting around in a dusty Tennessee attic. The other Samoan tag team of the ‘70s, Tio and Tapu, are shown here as well. 

The next two pages are chalk full of photos and interesting bits. David “Shultz” is shown along with Mike Stark. The duo was said to be forming a team. Territorial wrestler Bill Howard is shown as “Ratamyas.” Most interesting is the half-page ad announcing that The Gentry’s would be “coming here soon” in concert with special guest Jerry Lawler. It isn’t truly clear if they’d be coming to Evansville or not, but we all know where this would end up. As prominently shown, Jimmy Hart was a member of the group best remembered for their hit “Keep On Dancin.” The rest is history. At nearly 80, Jimmy Hart is still one of the hardest working men in pro wrestling. He makes countless appearances and in addition to being one of the nicest people in the business always makes sure that fans walk away with a smile on their face. He’s gotten a huge kick out of the many Memphis items that I’ve brought to signings over the years. I could definitely do several entries just on “The Merchandise of The Mouth,” and in fact I already have. We finish off this section with the written word of “Kangaroo” Al Costello seemingly telling us that wrestlers are not bigoted. Costello managed the team of Condrey and Hickerson on this night. 

We close the book with a photographic look at four “Fan Favorites” as the page proudly proclaims. Fresh-faced youngsters are featured, to be sure. We’ve got Scott Casey, Bill Dundee, Robert Gibson and our teenaged sensation Terry Gordie. Dundee, likely the oldest of the bunch here in his 30s, definitely looks to be channeling Elvis here as he often did, just months after the passing of “The King of Rock n’ Roll.” Robert Gibson, mustache and all, is definitely doing his best to be the number one heartthrob in the territory here, years before The Rock N’ Roll Express would be born in this exact promotion. Casey is mainly remembered for his work in Texas and his WWF run (highlighted by his 1988 Survivor Series appearance) but he’s missing his familiar mustache here. Perhaps Gibson borrowed it? Last but not least we have the man who would become a Freebird in a few years. Honestly, he looks like a thicker Bryan Danielson here! Terry Gordy was a young prodigy of the mat game, for sure. 

It appears that Lawler and Dundee bested The Valiant Brothers that night while Lawler and Austin lost to Hickerson and Condrey. It also seems that Schultz did double duty just like Lawler and defeated both Scott Casey and Terry Gordy, individually. Finally, Mr. Wrestling beat Ken Dillenger. From anything that I could find it seems that this was indeed Tim Woods under the mask. You can never be too careful with identities in these “wild west” days of a notoriously carny industry. These results (and the substitution) are all what was noted by the original fan who owned this program, so it may not be spot on. Sounds like a fun show, though! Where do I buy my ticket?

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The Centerpiece Of The New WWF Generation

What were you doing twelve months ago? If you’re reading this blog there’s a good chance that you were thinking it would take forever for a year to pass. That’s because, again, if you’re reading this blog there’s a good chance that you were smart enough to back the Mattel Creations WWE New Generation Arena set. We were told all along that it would ship in August of 2022 and sure enough the arrivals have begun. I never seem to win the shipping time lottery, but for whatever reason my orders were among the earliest to ship. This is usually not the case and quite honestly I was due. The large online wrestling figure store that’s barely two states away from me takes at least two weeks after everyone else to get my orders to me so believe me, I suffer enough. 

Now what is currently shipping is everything that’s in the main box. The entrance way, the ring, Diesel, Doink and even the ring skirts are all here. What isn’t here is the item that, to some, is the highlight of the whole deal, 1994 Macho Man Randy Savage. Since the figure doubles as commentator Savage it’s presumable that is why the commentary table and chairs set will be shipped with him. What did ship here all fits into one big box. The outer case that it fits into is just like how it would’ve shipped to the store. Seeing as some won’t see the item as “complete” without it, you may want to hold onto that box. It should also be noted that once you open the shipping case the whole set is really no longer sealed. There’s a tremendous “display box” like you would purchase off of the shelf were it sold in stores but the ring pieces are packed into smaller bags and even the Diesel and Doink figures aren’t taped shut. Doink has those annoying plastic tab holders around his ankles like many Mattel figures do but really once you open the case nothing is truly sealed. This may be of some concern to boxed collectors, but I never found much use in keeping the Ultimate figures carded/boxed with all those heads and things floating around. Really though, you’ll soon see why there’s not much to be concerned about with this set even if you end up not liking it. 

For me the highlight is the entrance way. No, you’re not getting the actual WWF logo. I think if you’re not over that fact after two decades it may be time to get out of the hobby. What you are getting is the type of add-on/playset that most of us have wanted for thirty years. I know I wasn’t the only one who made a cardboard facsimile of the famous neon WWF entryway shortly after it debuted at WrestleMania VIII. It just looked cool. Now we have it. It lights up. It has a variety of lighting patterns just like the real one. While I wouldn’t say it was worth the $250 to back this thing all by itself, it definitely eats up a good $100 chunk. This thing is substantial and large. In fact, it may even be a bitter bigger to scale with the figures than the real one was to the real superstars. In any case, this alone could be the centerpiece to an amazing looking shelf display surrounded by figures. In case you have one on the way be sure to have four AA batteries on hand to get started. I considered embedding a video to show how cool the lighting is, but rather just head on over to Instagram (@jws_wrestling_memorabilia) and check it out there! 

Next up is the ring itself. Honestly this is my least favorite portion of the deal and I kind of figured that it would be. I just cannot warm up to any “Real Scale Ring.” They’re always just too big if you ask me. This one does have some features that I like as well as some things that I don’t care for. I will say that it was one of the easier scale rings to assemble. The easiest was the Raw ring that Mattel lied to us in order to get us to purchase by saying that it would be the only way to ever get “old man” Elite Goldberg. Well, that turned out to be a joke. Nonetheless the ring didn’t have much assembly required. The worst are the Jakks and Jazwares versions where it takes two hours to set the damn things up. I think I may have assembled the Classic Superstars versions twice a piece. The Jazwares AEW version that I was forced to buy in order to get the first female referee figure? That one was assembled for the photos on this blog. I don’t expect to deal with it ever again. 

The frame of the ring Is easy to build and the faux-wood (they’re plastic) planks are made to resemble how a real wrestling ring is assembled. I do like how the pieces are rather nicely separated into individual bags which were mostly in cardboard dividers. The wooden planks are in three sections and they do seem to stay in. The canvas mat wasn’t too bad to deal with either. There are still wrinkles like all of these mats, but I like how holes in the canvas attach to plastic hooks on the bottom of the framework. I like the color blue chosen for all of the visible plastic pieces. Ignoring the skirts this really could be any era of WWF ring. That’s a very good thing. I didn’t fiddle with mine too much but I didn’t like how the skirts rise above the side of the apron. Again, it may take some fiddling but they protrude just a bit too much at the top as shown in the pictures. That being said, it’s cool that we have basic WWF, In Your House and WrestleMania to choose from. 

The one thing that I couldn’t believe, in a bad way, was when I opened the turnbuckles. While I did appreciate that one of each four turnbuckles is connected to the ropes making it easier to space them out (something that’s always been an issue on most Real Scale Rings), I could not believe that one of the red turnbuckles has a huge, unsightly materials tag sewn right on. It just hangs there. Now most will just cut the thing off, but this has never been on any ring before to my knowledge. It’s completely unsightly. I have yet to attempt to remove mine, though I will and hopefully without doing any damage. It does ensure that most of these that are assembled and go on display will never truly be “mint” as no one is going to want that thing showing. Mattel, what were you thinking here? 

Like I said, it’s one of the better Real Scale Rings but I’d have preferred a bit smaller. The assembly is actually a tad fun in a sense and I can already envision some wrestling figure photography being done with partially assembled rings. A fight breaks out before the show and spills into the arena where the ring crew is setting up? I’m ready to do it. Also it should be noted that two of the cardboard trays that the pieces ship in are the small “crowd” backdrops that were promised later in the hype phase. They’re fun and what I’ve included in the photography here. They’re not as detailed as the third-party crowds that I usually use in my reviews, but I didn’t want to confuse people into thinking that those larger backdrops are what’s included here. These smaller ones would also work great next to the entry way on a shelf display as mentioned earlier. Tons of possibilities for display and play! 

Now onto the figures! We have two definitive “New WWF Generation” characters in Diesel and Doink the Clown. As noted earlier “Macho Man” Randy Savage in his WrestleMania X/commentator outfit will be shipping to backers at a later date, so I’m sure I’ll throw a review up for him as well just to complete the set. Let’s face it, he’s going to be another highlight in the ever-growing Mattel Macho collection. While Diesel was “The Leader of The New Generation,” I feel that we’ve gotten enough of him. The fact that it’s “Ultimate” really means zilch to me. It’s an excuse from them to charge more for a couple of extra accessories. That being said, this one came out far better than I’d imagined. The faces are dead on and it truly does resemble Kevin Nash in the era when “Diesel Power” was running roughshod over the WWF, if not so much at the box office. He headlined my first live attended pay-per-view (SummerSlam 1995) as champion and for that I’ll always have a soft spot for the “Big Daddy Cool” era. In fact, despite its numerous flaws, “The New Generation” is just about the last era that I’ll re-watch with any frequency as I find most of the Attitude Era impossible to get back into all these years later. 

While Randy Savage was the most hyped in the lead up, I think Doink the Clown is the figure that will lead to the most regret from anyone who didn’t back this thing. This figure is great. It is indeed Matt Borne as only he wore this guise. It’s early Doink. The Doink that tripped up the Big Boss Man. The Doink that beat Kamala. The Doink that injured Crush! You get three heads and three hairstyles. I’m not so sure that it was advertised, but just like the first Mattel Doink release, the “wigs” are all interchangeable. Add that to the mallet that was present in at least one early promo photo and his jacket with the “squirting” flower (no, it doesn’t really squirt) and you truly have the Ultimate Doink. Savage will indeed be popular but due to the nature of the release of this set monetarily speculation has been the name of the game here. My bet is that Doink will be the star of the secondary market show. There are plenty of Randy Savage figures to go around and 1994 was hardly a key year for him. They never have any need to release this Doink again. My bet would be seeing another release of the most common Doink look (the first Mattel release) down the line with updated removable hands, etc. If you truly want original, evil Matt Borne you had to have backed this set. 

It's interesting to think how there will be just as much complaining about obtaining this set as there would be for a store exclusive, yet everyone had exactly the same opportunity to get this as anyone else. You backed it? You got one. You backed five? You got five. Make no mistake, the secondary market prices will only rise for this. The ring itself and Diesel will be the easiest to obtain. The ring will be released in other forms, though not necessarily the classic blue. Diesel isn’t different enough from other releases to warrant super high prices, though the “Ultimate” label is a necessity for some. The entrance, Savage and Doink are the gold here. In a way it’s a cautionary tale. If there’s something you feel that you’re ever going to want, you do what you have to in order to afford it when available for the initial price. There’s a similar crowd-funded item from a completely different toy line that I didn’t take advantage of. With the prices of that item now, the only way that I’ll ever own one would be in some form of re-release. Thankfully that company made it clear that they reserved the right to re-release the item down the line. Will they? Who knows. Mattel made it clear with this set, however, that apart from the ring coming back in some form the rest of it is one and done. Is it worth the prices that they’ll be selling for? Absolutely not. But it was definitely worth the $250. I’m confident that my readers were smart enough to back this thing and with you all I share my congratulations and have but only one other thing to say: let’s play!

Thursday, August 11, 2022

The Wrestling Classic Figure Review--Hasbro WWF Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart

The Tank! He quit professional football because it wasn’t rough enough for him! You know who I’m talking about. The Anvil himself. Though he passed away several years ago, Jim Neidhart has never left the minds of wrestling fans. From his 2019 WWE Hall of Fame induction as a member of The Hart Foundation to new merchandise to his future-Hall of Famer daughter Nattie, The Anvil remains a beloved legend of the ring and is destined to remain so. The beard. The laugh. The brutish physique. Even the little pink hat from that second WWF Tag Team title reign. All iconic. All Neidhart. 

Today we’re looking at what was the first figure that I personally ever owned of Jim Neidhart. While he did have an LJN Wrestling Superstars figure that I acquired later, I still remember walking into the Greensburg, PA Toys R Us somewhere between December 12th-December 13th 1992 (my 10th birthday was the 16th) and being shocked to find an all-new Hasbro WWF figure series including Neidhart, Virgil, The Mountie, The Warlord and Sid Justice. Jaws dropped. Birthday money was spent. A good time was had by all…or at least by me. Many fans count their first exposure to these five figures as part of the beloved “Undertake Em All” ad that hit WWF Magazine in early 1993. I guess I lucked out by finding them early, though even at this point generally you had to grab what you saw as there wasn’t any guarantee that you’d run into them again. 

While four of these were completely new additions to my roster (Sid was no stranger to my figure world thanks to the Galoob WCW Sid Vicious figure), The Anvil was my favorite. Not only was it a dead-on likeness from top to bottom, but we finally had the second half of The Hart Foundation tag team. The issue many have with the figure is that it reflects Neidhart’s time in “The New Foundation” with Owen Hart, rather than Bret. Gone was the familiar pink and black attire and replacing it were baggy blue pants with yellow trim and black and white checkered boots. A matching Owen was to come in late 1993, but this attire wasn’t exactly from a memorable run for either. Years later we would all learn that an original Hart Foundation version of The Anvil had been in the works but was changed as his role did in real life. 

Personally, I’ve always loved the figure. The attire never bothered me with how well they captured his body type and the absolutely perfect “Real Wrestling Action” used for the figure. The facial sculpt is the perfect blend between realism and that slightly cartoonish Hasbro look. I’m also certain that I’m not the only one who had no issues teaming this figure with Bret. Did it matter that they didn’t exactly match? Not when there are tag teams like Demolition, The Natural Disasters and Arn Anderson & Barry Windham (my own personal Galoob-born Brain Busters-esque duo) to battle. Eventually The Nasty Boys would join that lineup, but I covered why they were late to the party several years ago in another edition of The Wrestling Classic Figure Review. 

By the time “New Foundation” Owen Hart came along I don’t remember teaming the two very much. I certainly paired “The Rocket” with Koko B. Ware to recreate their team of “High Energy.” Koko’s Hasbro actually wasn’t too far off from matching anyway. The “punching” arm of The Anvil eventually came fairly loose and I ended up buying a second on eBay in the late ‘90s. Further on down the road I picked up a carded example and was able to get it autographed shortly before Neidhart’s passing in 2018. Like nearly every Hasbro WWF figure, the price of a carded version has elevated in recent years with the average cost for Neidhart settling around $250. 

For those still looking for true “Hart Foundation” Hasbro figures, Mattel has announced that they will be part of the next WWE Retro four pack along with manager Jimmy Hart and Nikolai Volkoff. The Anvil prototype looks fun and is a must-have, but I think I’m remaining partial to the original in the case. 

Yeah, baby!

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Just When You Thought The Legends Line Lost Its Way…

I may be in the minority, but I wasn’t too thrilled when D-X found their way into the Mattel WWE Legends line. Certainly they made their impact on the business in that era, but they just aren’t my cup of tea. There was a time when I was frantically pre-ordering every figure in this series that was announced, but that has dwindled in recent waves. With the announcements at San Diego Comic Con my love and utter amazement for the line is coming back. Paul E. Dangerously and The Samoan Swat Team? With variants as The Headshrinkers? Are you kidding me? The Dingo Warrior? Even WCW AJ Styles brought me the tingles. Deep dives are what we all love and Mattel is once again truly bringing Legends to the table. I will say that my most recent purchases may not be that deep and one is even slightly out of my preferred wheelhouse, but they’re FUN. And, I’ll go as far as to say that one is the definitive version of this particular legend. 

Mattel WWE Legends 15, exclusive to Target of course, consists of Lex Luger, Stacy Keibler, X-Pac and Kane. While I’m a fan of the latter two I just don’t need any more figures of either at the moment and I obviously would’ve preferred others in those two slots. Luger and Keibler are a different story. I’ll get into my enjoyment of the Luger figure in a bit, but Stacy might be considered an odd one for me. While she’s definitely not what most think of as a wrestling legend, she certainly made her mark on the business. Aside from always seeming like a sweetheart of a person, Stacy certainly had the look and charisma to leave a lasting impression. While she didn’t exactly change the business, I’d consider her a minor draw and was definitely a big part of the huge WWF/WWE Divas marketing push of two decades ago. 

One thing I will address early on is how easy it has become to collect these Legends waves, even the so-called chase figures. Ever since last years debacle of Brutus Beefcake and Diamond Dallas Page never making it to brick and mortar Target stores, the availability of all of these figures has taken a complete turn. It’s a wonderful thing. I’ve never been one to champion making anything out of reach for any collector. No one will deny that there is a certain thrill in having something that was limited, but I can’t think of a single figure in history that I would choose that status over it being readily available for everyone. Ultimately toys are meant to be played with. Every child, and adult, who wants these figures should have them. It’s just the way that it is. 

Kicking it off with Stacy Keibler who, due to the aforementioned “deep dives” recently taken by Mattel, I’m actually surprised isn’t labeled “Miss Hancock” on the package since that’s really the gimmick that this figure represents. The bio on the back does indeed mention the name, however, and I’d argue that her WCW run was a tad more memorable than her WWE days even if she had more exposure (no pun intended) in the latter. With Stacy you get two heads (alternate hair), her eyeglasses, alternate hands and Miss Hancock’s ubiquitous clip board. This figure actually gives me visions of what could be if Terri Runnels were signed to a WWE figure deal. After what we’ve gotten and what’s upcoming, I truly feel we’d see Alexandra York in figure form. But going back to Stacy, I do believe that this is only her fourth figure in history. I can only recall three previously made (by Jakks) and I did in fact purchase them all. The “wrestling gear” Stacy was pretty coveted at one point and Jakks always seemed to do a good job with her. For their first venture down Keibler Lane, Mattel is continuing that legacy. 

Flexy Lexy brings a whole different discussion to the table. I truly feel that this is the definitive Lex Luger figure to date. When I say that I’m thinking more of the chase version here, but aside from the color of the trunks they’re both the same. Being an ‘80s fan, the chase clad in orange is my preference. Both include alternate heads, alternate hands and a soft goods nWo shirt. While the shirt doesn’t really work with the orange version, throw it on another figure. It doesn’t ever hurt to have extra shirts, especially soft goods ones worn by many different stars. The previous Mattel Lugers have been good but very era-specific. The best was the “Bash at the Beach” version from a three pack with Sting and Randy Savage. That Luger had the Sting face paint. The Narcissist was a solid figure but comes from a very short incarnation of Luger. The “All-American” version was good but honestly should be redone and with the current “New Generation” kick that Mattel is on, such an undertaking wouldn’t surprise me at all. The only “generic” Luger figure was a basic and really reflected the late ‘90s more than anything, though it could be fudged. 

This chase Luger really gives us the earlier Lex we’ve been needing. The interchangeable heads add to it greatly as Lex was known to wear a ponytail even in the ’80s. Throw any of the NWA/WCW belts that Mattel has fast been releasing and you’ve really got a great looking figure. Would I have chosen blue or green as opposed to orange? I don’t think that I would have. While I’d welcome any color of trunks for a future release, I’m always a fan for bright colored figures since it’s something that’s seriously lacking in the present day. For my money this is…The Total Package. 

I had to do it. 

I feel that the Mattel Legends are finally getting back on track as far as what us true old school fans really want. I commented to my friend that, after the great things we saw at SDCC, perhaps Mattel is taking note of what the smaller, “boutique” companies are appeasing us with. Whether or not they’re even paying attention to that is anyone’s guess, but some great new names and “deep dives” (sick of that phrase yet?) do have me wondering. At press time both Lex and Stacy are available to order through Target. Again, the newly found availability of these legends is tremendous. I feel that I run into the chase versions as much as I do the regular and both myself and my friend received one of each with our initial pre-orders. I feel like I’ve said it in virtually every figure review as of late, but it’s a great time to be a collector, especially of the legends we adore.