Saturday, November 26, 2022

Hulk Hogan vs Terry Funk -- Tonight In The Coliseum Collection

Between exclusive playsets, Retro figures and plenty of non-WWE products, Mattel has found yet another way to get extra money out of us. Mattel Creations has become their own version of Hasbro Pulse and likely other company “exclusive” sites that aren’t on my radar. Their standard excuse for most items released this way is believable: these are products that retailers wouldn’t want to stock for various reasons. That’s actually not hard to understand after seeing the pathetic action figure sections of most brick and mortar retailers. Still, I think that today’s topic is a line that retailers just may have gotten behind. It’s entirely possible. Don’t kid yourselves, Mattel isn’t doing you any favors by having Mattel Creations at their disposal. If it isn’t making them money it will never be in your hands, it’s as simple as that.

Hitting porches most recently from Mattel Creations is the first entry in the Coliseum Collection. This series was obviously spawned from the positive reaction for the San Diego Comic Con “Ultimate” Sgt. Slaughter figure from 2021. The figures are in the “Ultimate” style based on décor from the beloved LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars line complete with packaging that bears resemblance to those well-remembered blue cards. The title comes from the text on the poster included with the first few series of figures. On those cards an artistic rendering of the figure was accompanied by “X-Wrestler TONIGHT At The Coliseum.” So while the thought of Coliseum Video is certainly there, that isn’t where it originated from.

Our first two wrestlers in the Coliseum Collection are Hulk Hogan and Terry Funk. I’ll admit that I wasn’t blown away by the choices at first, but it’s interesting that Mattel picked this concept at all for the fact that it’s very limited. How many LJN figures can be recreated with what Mattel has to work with? That being said, the company isn’t limiting itself as much as I initially thought. We’ll get to that at the end. The Hogan is based on the middle of three LJN Hogan releases with red trunks and white shirt. There was only one Funk in the LJN line and while there are liberties with this recreation, it’s close enough to bring those memories roaring back.

The packaging here is impressive to begin with. A brown box with the WWE block logo houses a more colorful box featuring art of The Hulkster and The Funker. Like the LJN-esque cards inside, the outer box was also done with the SDCC Slaughter. Inside are the two figures in poses reminiscent of the LJN counterparts. Additional accessories are housed in boxes at the base of each figure. The card backs slide out of the enclosing plastic and you are indeed able to place the figures back in rather seamlessly. They won't be "mint" again, however, as there are the usual plastic bands and ties which need cut to get the figures out in any sane way. It should be noted that Slaughter is shown on the back as part of the set, even though the "Coliseum Collection" name hadn't been coined for his release. Mattel seems to be indicating that he was the actual first in the series.

The inside of the box as well as the individual card back art depicts an audience just like the LJN designs did. "Crowd signs" are individualized for each wrestler and I must admit that I got a kick out of the choices for Funk. There's also a cool little bonus included in between the two carded figures. You get a third piece of cardboard with the Coliseum Collection logo and a blank space on one side with the classic "Mean Gene" baby blue interview backdrop on the back. This is obviously a little gift for action figure photographers, sort of like the cardboard crowd backdrop that Mattel gifted us with as part of The New Generation Arena. Posing a figure in front of the Coliseum Collection side would make it almost appear that a classic LJN poster went three-dimensional.

Each figure includes three heads total, several sets of hands, The Hulkster's championship belt, headband, soft goods shirt and cross necklace as well as The Funker's cowboy hat, poncho, chaps and branding iron. Many will want this set for the belt alone. This is the first time since the actual LJN days that the first WWF Championship won by The Hulkster has been recreated in figure form. I have a suspicion that we will see this belt re-released down the line as the coloring here is to resemble the LJN version rather than the green strap that it had in real life. This and several other championships either already in or coming to the Mattel line lead me to believe that the rights to "trophy belts" of the past have either been figured out. It's also possible that it's simply been decided that no one can lay claim to the classic, yet basic, piecemeal designs. The Funker's clothing has been redone from the original WWE Legends release of over a decade ago. It's much higher quality this time around and the branding iron even has a thicker portion of the handle to allow better gripping.

The figures themselves are high quality and worthy of inclusion in any collection. I've never felt that the "Ultimate" body type was all that special but it certainly does well here. I wasn't sure if Terry Funk necessarily needed the body type, but I can totally see his physique. Each head contains a different expression for each grappler. While we've seen the Hogan faces before, it's fun to have The Funker be able to display that classic array of emotions in the midst of battle. It's also fun that while the red Hogan trunks do indeed reflect the LJN figure, the look is actually more reminiscent of his AWA days.

Remember what I’d said about this line being limited? That was when I thought that it would be limited to figures who either would be completely different in looks from other Mattel releases (Hulk) or were released so far back (Funk) that it’s not really out of the question to do it again. With the second set unveiled I was proven wrong. Ravishing Rick Rude vs Jake “The Snake” Roberts features a figure of the latter that was just released in the Legends line a few years ago. Yes, this is an Ultimate, but again that's not enough to sell me on a re-release. Rude is also very close to a Basic figure done a few years ago. Will I bite for that set? Time will tell. Even still this line will not go on forever. The one line that Mattel cannot cross is licensing rights. A lot of the more interesting wrestlers that LJN produced are off-limits for them. Am I hoping for some new names to pop up? Yes, but the faith I’ve seen of collectors that this will actually happen has been mind-blowing. Some people just don’t learn. We’ve been shown time and time again that, while we’re occasionally thrown a nice bone, we’re going to see the same faces over and over again. While new versions of Piper and Savage (who has so many looks that he’s almost always a purchase) would be fine, I’m just not seeing too much fresh ground to be broken here. Obvious LJN choices like Paul Orndorff and Big John Studd have absolutely nowhere left to go. Without packing a mind-blowing name with them it’s not even worth a purchase for most.

No matter who comes next, this first installment is a winner. As of press time it's still available at Mattel Creations. I always enjoy when things are available for a good period of time enabling as many collectors to obtain them as possible. Or should I say, enabling collectors to "Bring Home All The Action..."

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Wrestling MarketWatch: Totally '80s!

Did nostalgia for the ‘80s ever really die? I remember myself and people that I knew being nostalgic for the “decade of excess” midway through the 1990s! I guess we knew that it was never going to get any better, and it hasn’t! But enough veiled statements on the sad state of the world, we’re here to talk about when life was FUN! Wrestling in the 1980’s certainly resembles that statement with the big “boom” of the Rock ‘n Wrestling era, some epic in-ring action and more stars than you could fill a sky with. Considering the amount of merchandise that was done for wrestling in the ‘80s, a MarketWatch entry on the topic could actually be a weekly feature. As usual we’ve whittled it down to five items at random. As always the prices listed are for unsigned examples unless otherwise noted. My own photos are used for reference which is why you’ll see a signature or two pop up. Grab your Members Only jacket, a can of New Coke and let’s get to it!

*Although there were examples earlier, it was in the ‘80s when wrestlers truly began to sing. On MTV, no less! One of the biggest singles off of 1985’s WWF The Wrestling Album was the classic number by The Junk Yard Dog, “Grab Them Cakes.” The song, co-sung by “Turn The Beat Around” songstress Vicki Sue Robinson, became the anthem for JYD once the era of licensed “real” music died off. Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” was out and people were grabbing cakes worldwide. The album itself had plenty of single releases, many of which have been seen over the years in this very blog. While the three 45 inch singles are best known (GTC, Land of a Thousand Dances?!!? & Don’t Go Messin’ With A Country Boy) there were other releases including both promotional and foreign. The 12 inch “Dance Mix” of everyone’s favorite song where you just go for your partner’s you-know-what recently sold for $20. 

*Though not affiliated with any major U.S. promotion in the ‘80s for any length of time, you can’t deny that the star power of Mil Mascaras carried over from the ‘70s into the 1980’s. His mask was made for merchandising and while he’s been grossly underrepresented in the action figure world (especially with modern day versions), his mysterious mug has made it onto countless other items over the years. In 1983 Bernie Lopez Enterprises and The Mil Mascaras Corporation released the aptly named “Mil Mascaras Pro Wrestling Game.” It doesn’t get more straight forward than that, does it? The game features an iconic George Napolitano shot of Mascaras in mid-air and the promise of the game allowing you to promote matches in major cities across the world. I’m not sure that anyone’s ever actually played it (I own it and haven’t…) but it certainly is fun to have. A copy just sold for a bargain price of $30.


*You knew we couldn’t talk ‘80s wrestling without talking LJN. The famous Wrestling Superstars figure line is what many collectors cut their teeth on. Proof? “Big Rubber Wrestlers” is one of the most searched phrases that has led to this blog over the years. That’s how they’re remembered by casual fans and it proves what an impact they had. You were hard pressed to find a kid who didn’t own at least one back then, even if he or she was not a wrestling fan. But while the carded versions seemed to be everywhere, the tag team two packs were not. Much more limited in distribution, the two packs included Hulk Hogan and Hillbilly Jim, Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff, The Hart Foundation, The British Bulldogs, The Killer Bees, The Dream Team and Strike Force. All of those figures were released individually as well, but there’s something really cool about the tag team boxes. The Hillbilly and The Hulkster recently sold for $600!


*The WWF wasn’t the only game in town. Jim Crockett Promotions and the NWA were producing a high-impact in-ring product born out of the classic southern style. Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, The Rock n Roll Express and The Midnight Express were just some of their top names that remain beloved to this day. Do I need to remind you of that? Nah, but who doesn’t love those great memories? Starrcade, “The Granddaddy of Em All” was the prime event in that wrestling world and even predated WrestleMania. While the world may not be as fun as it used to be, it is pretty nifty that, on a whim, we can go from watching WrestleMania to Starrcade with just a few clicks. If you do surf on over to a Starrcade, especially since we’re in that season, you may want to pick up some of the classic programs. The Starrcade ’87 program (Chi-Town Heat!) recently sold for $100.


*Let’s wrap it up by seeing stars. Superstars. Wrestling Superstars. But not by LJN. This time the 1985 stars of the World Wrestling Federation are coming to us via View-Master. As ubiquitous as LJN figures were in the ‘80s toy box, so were View-Master reels. If by some chance you’ve never owned some, you slide the thin reel into the viewer (there were plenty of viewers dating back decades and were all virtually universal) and magically you could flip through three-dimensional pictures of your favorite television, movie and cartoon characters, places around the world, wildlife and of course WWF Superstars. The Hulkster and Hillbilly are once again prominent here and are joined by Andre the Giant and Randy “Macho Man” Savage. There is a scarcer “gift set” where the reels are packaged in a window box with the viewer but the package of reels itself sells for around $20.


We still love the ‘80s and always will. It was magic, fun and just felt like a friendlier place. Admittedly I was but a child then, but many who were older in that day feel the same. The world has gone sour, especially in the last few years, but I recently saw a quote that brought me some comfort: “Nostalgia is one of the few rewards we get when getting old.” That’s why we have to hold onto it…

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Owen Hart Stampedes Back To The Figure Universe

Unless you live under a rock you already know that the legendary Owen Hart is finally getting new action figures after twenty-three years. Through Owen’s widow Martha agreeing to a relationship with All Elite Wrestling, Owen’s memory will finally be honored within the realm of professional wrestling and not just by its fans. Much to the happiness of collectors, modern action figures are part of that. As Jazwares began a “legends” series of sorts in their AEW line called “Luminaries,” The King of Harts fits right in. 

It felt obvious from the get go that any WWE incarnations of Owen would be off-limits. That meant that in order for there to be modern figures of a man who spent roughly a decade in WWE, the look of these figures had to predate that. Exclusive to the large online wrestling figure retailer that needs no extra press, the first figure comes in a special window box with several unique accessories. There will be another release down the line in one of the mainline/standard AEW series. The packaging is very attractive with several nice photos of Hart. Initially I thought that there weren’t any plastic bands holding any part of this figure in, but there did end up being two or three. Jazwares isn’t as offensive as Mattel when it comes to those things, but we got along for decades without them. Why do we need them now? 

Included are two different heads, sunglasses, soft goods jacket and a championship belt. The latter is likely supposed to be the Stampede Wrestling North American Championship. It’s missing a lot of detail, but it’s good enough. That last phrase could actually be a theme for this figure. As good enough as the aesthetic design of the belt is, the physics of it are less so. In nearly forty years of attaching title belts to figures I had yet to encounter one that I just couldn't apply. Notice how he's just holding the belt? It's because the pegs simply don't fit into the holes on the belt. The rest of the accessories are also “good enough.” The smiling head is about the only part that I would say is less than good enough. The serious head is a much better likeness, but the headband is part of the sculpt and non-removable. The jacket may go a bit above “good enough.” It looks exactly like a wrestling jacket from the ‘80s and thankfully isn’t rubber like so much wrestling figure entrance gear done today. I have seen some reports of the jacket staining the figure right out of the package, but I didn't encounter that personally.

The smiling head has holes for the sunglasses to fit into, but they will stay on the serious head as well. One thing that surprised me when I finished unboxing was the lack of extra hands. No fists? Just open hands? It isn’t like Owen was a huge puncher or anything like that, but for the price of this figure a pair of fists couldn’t have been factored in? Five years ago we would have thought nothing of it, but it’s a different ball game now. I wouldn’t call the body sculpt 100% exactly Owen, but again it’s good enough. And for such a bright wrestler did we really have to go with black and white for the first figure? Why not save that for the mainline release instead of an exclusive which is supposed to stand out?

I won’t say that I’m disappointed with this one. Again, it’s good enough. But it could have been so much better. Customizers will have a field day when this goes down in price. My other big gripe lies with the yet-to-be-released mainline figure. The word on that one is that a great looking figure in red gear will be some sort of “chase” version. Jazwares deliberately makes their chase figures impossible to get in order to make them, what I deem, manufactured collectibles. Big thumbs down on that. As far as this figure, you know the retailer. You also know that sales and clearance is the name of their game. I’d wait on this one until it goes cheaper. When I say to wait, you know it’s a safe bet.

You should’ve made amends with WWE, Martha. Mattel gets a lot of things wrong, but I have a feeling that they’d have done Owen right.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

There's A New Enforcer In Town

There are some figures that Mattel just won’t give us. Some for ridiculous political reasons, others because WWE holds a grudge. One of them doesn’t even have to have a given name. He could simply be “WWE Referee.” Yes, Mattel has brought us a few “guest referees” and Danny Davis, but after over a decade kids (and adults alike) still don’t have a proper modern WWE referee figure. The Mattel spokespeople who parrot the company lines say that it’s a WWE decision. It probably is, but it still makes zero sense. Could Figures Toy Company have provided the answer?

Just a few weeks ago FTC quietly unveiled not only a new figure but one in an entirely new style to emanate from them. Their “Ultimate Referee” is in a style very similar to the Mattel WWE Elite figures with multiple points of articulation. This is certainly a departure from the “Jakks Ruthless Aggression” style bodies used for the other FTC wrestling lines such as Legends of Professional Wrestling and Rising Stars of Wrestling. There’s no word yet on if this new style will find its way into any of the FTC lines with licensed names. One does tend to think that doing a referee in the style initially is a marketing test of sorts. Nominally priced, it was well worth the dive to see just how the new ref in town measures up and if he finally quenches the thirst for such a figure.

Packaged in a sturdy, fully illustrated cardboard box, you have no doubt who’s inside before you even open it up. Remove the bubble wrap and there you have The Ultimate Referee. He does indeed have articulation similar to “the leading brands” and the plastic feels like it isn’t far off from the type used by the “big guys.” His face is generic, as it should be. The referee should always blend in and we’ll expand upon that shortly. His left hand is open and can clutch the ring ropes or even a small accessory. The right hand is giving the “two” sign, which, aside from a pointing finger, is exactly what you want on a referee. There's been a lot of fuss lately over "pinless" figures. For those of you who enjoy that, this guy is indeed pinless. There isn’t much paint here since it’s a referee, but what is there is all good. You could easily apply a sticker or two if you want to give your referee some affiliation. If you’ve got a steady hand you could even grab multiples and paint a ref for each promotion. You could do WWE, AEW, NWA…

Early concerns, as with most wrestling figures, are with height. Our ref here is on the shorter side but by no means does this disqualify him. He’s taller than Mattel Rey Mysterio and that’s all you need. He does his job and does it well. As stated above, the best referees shouldn’t be noticed much. He’s there to count, argue with a heel or a manager and maybe even get intimidated or roughed up a bit. This is exactly who you need to do all that. Some have mentioned alternate hands or even heads, but for this price point you just can’t beat what you get. Certainly those things could come along with a future release. Perhaps even retro styled refs? Sure ‘80s bow tied refs would be great, but how about the less uniformly-attired officials of the ‘60s and ‘70s? An aging guy with a gut and a sour expression to match? I’d be all for it!

You need a ref and you can’t go wrong with “The Ultimate Referee.” He’s available at Figures Toy Company right now. Don’t forget that when you follow the link just provided you can use code JWS_WRESTLING_MEMORABILIA for 10% off of your order of $20 or more! Need a new ring? Steel cage? Chairs? Tables? Singapore canes? It’s all there to fully equip your arena. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, wrestling figure photography is hot. It’s the adult way to play with your toys. If you’re going to do it right, get all of the essentials. And if you don’t have a referee you have absolutely no excuse now thanks to FTC!

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Cold November Brain

There are a few reasons why I think of Bobby “The Brain” Heenan in November. Most importantly it was indeed his birth month. The legend would turn 78 this year. But also because my favorite piece of Bobby Heenan memorabilia, shown very often on this blog, involves the month of November, as well. No, it has nothing to do with The Survivor Series. But we’ll get to that in a bit. Why not look at some other Heenan memorabilia first? 

I think that I enjoy The Brain for reasons other than most. Of course everyone loved his humor which he brought to any job that he had within the business. Being the Gorilla Monsoon guy that I am, how could I not? I’ve said before and I’ll say again that I prefer the Monsoon-Jesse Ventura team as far as commentary goes, but there were no better hosting duos than The Gorilla and The Brain. Prime Time Wrestling would not be as beloved today had it not been for those two. You can sense the bits that the two came up with on their own that no outside writer could have. My favorites usually involved the two preparing for an upcoming event such as WrestleMania or the premiere of No Holds Barred. The two were gold in the studio but I feel that they truly shined when “out and about.” 

My love of Heenan comes from, as is almost cliché, the “little things.” It’s those things that can turn a good wrestler into a great one. If you’ve read Heenan’s books you already know that his philosophy was to “wrestle like a manager and manage like a wrestler.” It shows. You can literally pick any appearance of Heenan either inside or outside of the squared circle and see this shine through. Watch him come to the ring. There’s always something going on and it isn’t generic. It’s something pertaining to whichever story is being told, and not even necessarily his. He knew that in order for him to look good he had to make everyone around him look good, too. He fidgets. He looks concerned. He’s focused. He’s gleeful. It’s always something. 

What was also rather unique to Heenan, especially in the “WWF golden era” of the ‘80s, is that he could switch between serious or cartoonish in the bat of an eyelash. If he and his charge were hatching a plan to attack another wrestler you were definitely going to see “cruel and calculating” Heenan. If Gene Okerlund chased them down for an interview after the heinous action, Heenan was prepared with a good insult. He also kept it real. When The Brooklyn Brawler took out both The Red Rooster and Gorilla Monsoon on an episode of Prime Time Wrestling, Heenan repeatedly apologized to Monsoon and claimed that the attack on him was not part of his plan. It made sense. Going forward why would Monsoon continue to find amusement in Heenan’s antics had Heenan not shown a little remorse for something so physical? Again, it was the little things. 

Speaking of little things, Bobby Heenan has had a few in the form of action figures over the years. Not only was he one of the manager figures in the LJN Wrestling Superstars line (a figure that he proudly displayed on Prime Time Wrestling), but he was also one of only two managers to make it into the bendies line also from the company. I only got into the bendies after the Hasbro WWF line was released and was absolutely thrilled that both Heenan and Captain Lou Albano could be integrated with the Hasbro figures. Jakks and Mattel really upped the ante with several Heenan figures from each manufacturer. The latest was the Mattel WWE Legends Bobby Heenan in the infamous weasel suit. Beneath it is the first accurate and widely available “wrestling gear” Heenan figure. Sadly, the figure is underrated and undersold. I don’t know if that means that we’re dead as far as future figures of “The Brain” go, but someone desperately needs to produce him in a Hasbro style before the “Retro” craze ends. We could also use several more regular sized Heenan’s as well. You and I both can think of five or six designs right off of the top of our heads. 

Heenan was no stranger to trading cards, magazine and program covers and even coloring books, either, despite being a manager who were sometimes left out of such things. I say “were” as sadly the wrestling manager seems to be gone. Every so often there are glimmers, especially with Paul Heyman still running rampant, but it has yet to truly feel the same. But The Brain made it beyond. Need someone to go on Arsenio, Regis & Kathy Lee or even The Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon? Heenan was your man. He even made it onto an episode or two of Hulk Hogan’s Rock n’ Wrestling, though the little merchandise sadly doesn’t reflect that. 

My favorite Heenan item as promised? The November 1970 issue of The Wrestler, of course. I had wanted the issue for years, seeing it listed as a back issue, but even then it was coveted. Finally, in a box chock full of ‘60s and ‘70s wrestling magazines that I picked up at a local convention, there it was. I was able to get The Brain to sign it and, though he was in his later stages where communication wasn’t as easy as in previous years, he positively glowed upon seeing it. A gory and slightly horrifying reminder that Heenan was indeed a wrestler and for more than just comedic weasel suit matches. Bobby was the real deal. 

Now beat it, humanoids!