Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Check out that figure!

With all of the options for wrestling action figures these days, it’s hard to believe that there are greats who still remain without a figure. About three times over the years I’ve taken to this blog to list my top oversights in the world of wrestling figures. Wrestlers, who despite the opportunity, just haven’t made it into figure form. I’m going to go back over those fifteen names, as well as a few others, and see just who is left without a figure amongst the squared circle’s best and/or most colorful. 

For a few reasons among the most shocking to me to never have a figure was The Blue Meanie. Here’s a wrestler who looks like a living cartoon character or action figure yet he did not have one. Add that to the fact that his most active years were during an era where nearly everyone was getting a figure and it becomes more baffling. Finally around five years ago The Meanie received his first figure. It’s been followed by several others with even more on the way. My favorite is the “Hasbro/Retro” styled figure from Chella Toys. While the character wasn’t around during the Hasbro era, the design of those figures completely fits him. 

Magnum T.A. was such a huge territorial star that sometimes his popularity is lost on those who only grew up on wrestling that didn’t include the mustached grappler. He would’ve been a good fit for inclusion in the Remco AWA line where stars from other areas were produced and should have been a must for the Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line. After being announced then cancelled for the Mattel WWE line all hope seemed to be lost. Magnum himself even told me that he was hoping to see it produced for his two (then young) sons. Terry Allen finally appeared as a figure in the Mattel WWE “Lost Legends” set, though Magnum was actually the only figure in the set who hadn’t previously been produced. The former NWA star has another figure upcoming which will be mentioned again at the end of the entry. 

Pat Patterson’s wrestling glory days were over by the time of action figures, but there were still a few missed opportunities. Jakks should have included him either during his run as a “stooge” for Vince McMahon in the “Attitude Era” or in the aforementioned Jakks WWE Classic Superstars line. Neither happened despite Patterson being planned for the latter. Mattel finally produced what is thus far the only figure of Patterson. Thanks to the company making the “stooge gear” removable, you get a perfectly good wrestling version of Patterson underneath. I’m glad that the Montreal-born star lived to see his action figure produced. Another accomplishment in a life and career full of them. 

While Tommy Rich still hasn’t seen a poseable action figure, “Wildfire” has joined the ranks of Pint Size All-Stars, a line that also saw the first figure of “Fantastic” Bobby Fulton. The “Pints” are an opposing subscription box company’s answer to Micro Brawlers. While both lines feature legends, the former often seems to include more of the old school stars. The Pint Size All-Star of Rich comes complete with the NWA Title around his waist. Jim Barnett not included, mmmmmyboy. I have a feeling that Rich could see another figure from any of the current boutique companies. 

While my initial lists had rules such as not including women wrestlers and non-wrestlers who hadn’t received figures (love both, but those lists are massive), I must give an honorable mention nod to James J. Dillon. For various reasons most of us felt that we would never see Dillon in figure form. It was hard enough to get the managers with WWF fame produced. Up until recently there weren’t any smaller companies doing figures. JJ himself even said that he was on a short list of names for Jakks NOT to include in the Classic Superstars line. What happened? Mattel shocked us all and produced him as a Build-A-Figure. With as much as JJ has done in the wrestling business, including but not limited to being “The Leader of the Four Horsemen,” it was well deserved. 

Others from my lists are on their way to plastic immortality. Dino Bravo, Gillberg and Mr. Hughes are all set for release in retro-styled boutique lines while Verne Gagne is slated for release in a line to be known as “Power Town.” This line is being produced by Greg Gagne and others from the Remco AWA days. The second Magnum T.A. figure is set for release here as is another legend who’s never seen a figure release: Lou Thesz. This is the type of line that would include names like Tommy Rich should it succeed. It should also be mentioned that soon to be joining the Figures Toy Company Legends line are Dr. Tom Prichard and Dennis Condrey, both names who have long deserved figure recognition. 

Yet there are still others mentioned in my past blog entries on the topic that remain figureless. Those stars would be Buddy Rogers, Dick Murdoch, Ron Garvin, Pedro Morales, Blackjack Mulligan, Chris Adams and Tracy Smothers. Any of those names would be prime candidates (and big sellers) from any of the smaller companies. Hopefully revisiting this topic in another ten years will see us placing these names and more in tiny rings of all sizes.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Remembering The Bad Guy...

When time marches on, those steps often echo with a blunt thud. Scott Hall dead at 63. Wasn’t Razor Ramon an active WWF star in his prime just a few years ago? It was decades ago, but those decades feel like weeks. It’s a grim reminder of our own mortality. Even though Hall was one of the wrestlers often pegged as one who was at high risk for dying young, he found a turnaround in his life. 63 isn’t young, but these days it isn’t exactly old either. My own observations of the man tell me that heart is what kept him going and what allowed him to remain in the hearts of others even in tumultuous times. 

Even when a television program, one of two that are both quite infamous for witch hunts disguised as documentaries, “profiled” Hall a few years ago and pulled out every skeleton that there was in the closet, fans and friends never seemed to give up. Credit should be given to these shows for building audiences with a topic so similar to “shooting fish in a barrel” that they barely have to try. Hunting down and damning bad behavior of professional wrestlers is just about second in ease only to doing the same for NFL stars. My hat is off to those scammers, but that’s another story for another time. What matters is that despite this occurring just several years before his death, Hall is getting the positive posthumous recognition that he truly deserves.

 I often point out the wrestling names of the 1980’s that literally everyone who grew up in that decade would know: Hulk Hogan, The Macho Man, Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake fly to mind. Say what you want about any of them, those are the characters and names that stuck out. For the 1990’s, the name Razor Ramon is at the top of the list with Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. While he fit the often still cartoonish world of the WWF, he brought a certain mystique and coolness that stood out. Wrestlers have often used a variation on the phrase “the men want to be me and the women want to be with me.” That was the Razor Ramon character to a tee without ever having to utter it. 

It's interesting to think that Hall spent nearly a decade in the business before becoming “The Bad Guy.” Some fans probably didn’t have a clue at first that the cool and cocky Ramon was “Big Scott Hall” of the American Wrestling Association and other territories just several years earlier. He was essentially a Magnum T.A. character who didn’t fit the role like Terry Allen did. Why? Because it wasn’t Scott Hall. It took the WWF’s ways of promotion and character development, with a bit of thanks to WCW’s gimmick for Hall of The Diamond Studd, to bring out the star in the man. 

That WWF promotional and marketing machine is also what leaves us with so many mementos of the man. While Hall did have a great figure in the Remco AWA line and a few program and magazine covers, Razor Ramon’s marketable visage found itself all over the world and continues to be on store shelves to this day. That wave continued when Hall became one of the founding members of the nWo and pretty much adapted the Ramon character to that role. If you don’t own an actual figure of Hall in some form, are you really a collector? From Remco to Hasbro to even a Funko Pop, he’s out there for you to add to your shelf. 

I had the pleasure of meeting the man several times over the years and have nothing but good memories. My favorite would be when, while signing his March 1993 WWF Magazine cover appearance, he told me how he actually signed a few in random visits to 7-11 stores and left them in the stores for fans to find a signed copy. He was that proud of the issue. Honorable mention would be when he stopped me while I was walking through a convention to admire the Dusty Rhodes t-shirt that I was wearing. He went on to praise “The Dream” and talk about how much he owed to the late legend. If you know me, you know that I loved that moment. 

Some of the other stars who’ve fallen pray to personal demons and similar traps of the business will never fully escape the scrutiny that follows them and their legacies. Scott Hall rose above it, I do believe, in part due to the fact that he never said that he was perfect. He was never going to come out and say “I’m 100% perfect and fixed and cured.” It wasn’t reality and it wasn’t the type of person that he was. He owned up to the fact that changing who he was would be something that he dealt with for the rest of his life. He didn’t seem to take it for granted and when he slipped up there was full admission by the man himself. To me, that’s truly what it means to be “oozing machismo.”

Scott Hall -- "Razor Ramon"


Saturday, March 5, 2022

Let's Talk WrestleMania...

I really didn’t think that I’d ever see the day where I had zero interest in WrestleMania, but that day has come. This isn’t going to be a giant putdown of the show nor the current WWE product, it just isn’t for me. Plenty of people still enjoy it. Instead, I want to celebrate what brought us to this point of WrestleMania 38. Personally, I feel that there were moments of brilliance in the show through WrestleMania 31. The spectacle is unmatched and that’s only enhanced when combined with a great match, a great story, or even both. The hype of the show has, for the most part, always been very real. There’s a reason that fans travel from around the globe to the event. As much as some fans would like you to think that it’s the piggyback shows and events that go on that weekend that draws those fans, it isn’t. It’s purely the name WrestleMania. 

As I admitted above, I could point to entertaining editions of the show even within the last decade. That being said, the true spirit of WrestleMania lives within the first six. When I first started encountering wrestling discussion on the internet nearly thirty years ago, I was shocked as to the little regard that those “fans” held these shows in. They would take whatever “five star” match from each show that they could and disregard the rest. Honestly, it’s the same kind of toxicity that’s killed wrestling fandom today. Nonetheless, if this is your mindset, stop reading now. My kind of wrestling fan is the type that appreciates The Big Boss Man versus Akeem as much as Steamboat – Savage. This is the fan that loves every second from the opening announcements to the final three count. The look and feel of the arena is as important and defining to you as the individual superstars. That’s you, isn’t it? 

Everything starts somewhere. For the World Wrestling Federation there was no better launching pad for their signature event than Madison Square Garden. While watching today you can sense that even the stars themselves know that something big is happening. When you can still get often-jaded wrestlers to admit that nearly forty years later, it was obviously a big deal even then. The fact that major mainstream stars of the time were involved and that others came out just to watch showed that the boom had begun. This is the “Rock ‘N Wrestling” WrestleMania for sure. While the look may be underwhelming to some, it captures the birth of a phenomenon coupled with the gritty “New York wrestling” feel that the WWF was built on.

WrestleMania 2 is when the “super show” aspect started to appear with the never-again-duplicated factor of having the show emanate from three different venues. The celebrities were tripled to ensure that each location (New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, respectively) would each have their share. Many have doubted the impact of the true main event, Hulk Hogan versus King Kong Bundy, in hindsight. I think it was perfectly adequate for the time, with this being the first “Hogan against a monster” main event to be seen on this grand of a scale. While Roddy Piper was certainly one of, if not Hogan’s greatest villain, the grotesque Bundy brought a different sort of menace to Hulkamania that year. Throwing the company’s biggest villain in Piper against their biggest available celebrity in Mr. T into a boxing match certainly shows that even from the beginning, the spectacle could at times triumph over any other booking decision. The “What The World Has Come To” tag line from the show was a memorable prototype for a similar slogan which would arrive just about two years later and define a generation. 

So much has been said about WrestleMania III, but it truly was the peak of the ‘80s wrestling boom. The surge of a decade later was certainly as big, but it didn’t have anything near the heart and charm of the ‘80s. By this time everyone knew that WrestleMania was something special. I often point to a fun, but often overlooked, little Coliseum Video segment featuring Gorilla Monsoon and Lord Alfred Hayes. It’s a simple little scene discussing the advantages of home video, but the two veterans talking about the first two WrestleMania’s and the one about to begin is a lot of fun. It’s small, every day banter like that which is missing from today’s presentation and commentating. Monsoon and Jesse Ventura peppered their commentary with that very flavor, thus cementing them as my favorite WWF team for life.

I’ve often said that if you’re a fan of WrestleMania IV, we’re automatically friends. I still mean that. Of all of the classic WrestleMania events and WWF content that saw hate in the early days of the Internet, it was the 1988 edition that seemed to garner the most hate. It ranks as my second favorite of them all. While I’m not a boxing aficionado, that sport truly knows how to make an event feel special; it’s where “big fight feel” comes from. Maybe it was the Atlantic City setting, but WrestleMania IV had that feel. To this day there are those who are bitter that Savage – Steamboat didn’t happen again here. It’s time to move beyond that. Are some of the matches short? Sure. It’s a tournament. It’s no stretch to think that timed matches in a tournament where the biggest title in the game is up for grabs would cause frantic action. The whole presentation feels different from anything else the WWF has ever done and is honestly refreshing. It also feels like the most “eighties” WrestleMania to me. I don’t know that I can quite put that feeling into words, although this is the show that can be summed up in the company’s slogan at the time, “What The World Is Watching.” In a company that’s had countless catchphrases over the years, to me this was the best. Epic yet simple. Though we were a bit past the peak of the ‘80s wrestling boom, you DID know a ton of people who were watching the World Wrestling Federation at the time. Adding to the fun, I should mention that this is really when the extracurricular activities of WrestleMania truly kicked in, thanks in part to the show being held at Trump Plaza. Superstar appearances, meals and the 5K race were all created to make a big wrestling show into a family event. 

WrestleMania V does have a lot of the uniqueness that it’s predecessor had the year before, but I’ve never been quite as attracted to it for whatever reason. Still, “The Mega Powers Explode!” was enough to excite the many fans who were still fervently following. I will admit that the crowd does seem a bit more into this show than the previous year, but there’s just something missing that keeps V from being as memorable to me as IV. Nevertheless, both of these Atlantic City WrestleMania shows are chalk full of the legends that so many of us grew up with. I've eaten up the many fan recollections of attending these shows that have popped up over the years. There was even a gallery of photos that showed amazing candid shots of many of the stars in and around Trump Plaza on both of the weekends. Sadly, they seem to have vanished. (If anyone has saved those photos or knows where I can view them, please reach out to me.) Accounts from The Blue Meanie and Lance Storm can also be found on their respective sites and social media. While I disagree on a lot of wrestling philosophy with the latter ECW original (though we both loved the Gorilla and Jesse team), his photos from WrestleMania IV are an absolute joy if you love the event as much as I do. 

Finally, we get to what is and will always be my favorite WrestleMania. It has a main event that was an absolute clash of titans. It has Dusty Rhodes and Sapphire. It has ring carts. It even has Mary Tyler Moore. WrestleMania VI flows like fine wine. The transition from the crowd cheering Robert Goulet's rendition of “Oh, Canada” to the opening strains of “Do The Bird” as the opening match commences is impeccable. Can I be so bold as to insert a chef’s kiss here? The WWF production was absolutely on fire and this show honestly looked even more polished and glossy than many standard sporting events of the day. It also feels like a transition of the times. Of course Hogan losing was a big deal in that sense, but the list of stars featured spanning from Andre the Giant, Randy Savage, Rhodes and Piper but also including the likes of Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels is really amazing to think about.

The photos accompanying these Mania memories are what tie this whole thing into the theme of this blog, each picture being a mix of promotional materials. Some of the most inquired about items in my entire collection are the WrestleMania press kits. They are not easy to come by and, like most of my favorite items, are rather undocumented. Keep all the bland prototype figures that you want, give me these pieces of history any day. 

As for this year, I will not watch. I didn’t watch last year and sought out just a few matches in the years prior. Still, I’m very happy that the tradition lives on. Perhaps some day the product will veer back around to the presentation that I enjoy. Again, there is plenty of talent to go around and probably always will be. For those of you who still faithfully watch, I do hope it's an amazing event full of great matches and moments.

And remember, The Iron Sheik is scheduled to make it to the ring this year. If you know, you know.