Thursday, April 27, 2023

A Real American, A Nature Boy, A Modern Day Warrior, A Dragon & A Hot Rod

Another five to complete the ten! I’ve accumulated plenty of goodies representing my top ten favorite wrestlers of all-time just as I’m sure you have with your favorites. I don’t care if they’re monetarily worth one dollar or one hundred dollars, what matters is what their value is to me. That’s where collecting has gone off the rails in recent years. It’s fine to have memorabilia worth money, but for many that truly seems to be the focal point. Grading? Please. I’ll tell you whether my autographs are authentic and what condition my items are in. Paying someone to tell ME and then lock them away behind plastic? I don’t know where some of you all lost it, but if you’re reading the blog you have at least some sense. Enough with grading! Enough with my soapbox! Onto some fun!

Who had more fun than The Nature Boy? If only he knew when to quit! Of my top ten favorite wrestlers of all-time, he’s the one that I wish I had never liked so much. His post-career behavior is mind boggling and nonsensical. It seriously gives me a headache as to wonder which contradictory statements are going to come flying out of his mouth next. Thankfully, I rarely if ever think about it and instead enjoy his career as it was. As NWA World Heavyweight Champion that was a career that took him all over the world including to Japan. Like here in the United States, Ric Flair and the championship together made magazine cover gold in Japan. Adding intrigue was showing Flair with the WWF Champion Bob Backlund and AWA Champion Rick Martel a few years later. 

One man who defeated Flair for that very championship was Kerry Von Erich. From afar, “The Modern Day Warrior,” later “The Texas Tornado,” truly seemed to have it all. If you could chisel a wrestler from granite I think it may very well have ended up being Kerry. Not to mention a homespun charisma and looks that drove the women wild. For that very reason Kerry was the quintessential Texas coverboy. I recently posted the picture that you see here on Instagram. I titled it “Coverboy Loverboy” and as you can see it was an apt description. Throughout his short life Kerry was the one that the guys wanted to be and that the girls wanted to be with. He appealed to all audiences and while his life ended tragically, there’s something about the work that he did leave behind that’s still enjoyable for many of us.

A wrestler who could also fit the bill of “the one that the guys wanted to be and that the girls wanted to be with” is Ricky Steamboat. As late as 2022, “The Dragon” was still breathing fire in the ring! You cannot meet a more affable wrestler and, considering that he’s thought by many to be one of the greatest of all-time, it’s always an all-around amazing experience getting to visit with Steamboat. His merchandise keeps on coming, too. Steamboat seems to have new action figures each year and has even recently joined the realm of Funko Pop figures. One figure that I’ve been wondering if we will see again is the Mattel WWE Defining Moments release. It’s the only Mattel figure thus far to represent the 1991 WWF run of The Dragon, complete with the full costume and “fire” stick. Seeing Mattel’s love for releasing Steamboat and re-releasing past glories, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one show up again in some form down the line.

And speaking of great guys to meet, I’m not sure that they came any better than Rowdy Roddy Piper. I’ve discussed it in here before, but Piper greeted you like an old friend no matter who you were. I have a few hilarious Piper stories that I only share in person, but one that belongs in this blog is when he signed my GI Joe convention exclusive figure of himself. Yes, Hot Rod is a GI Joe. He “marched” it across the table towards me as if it were a toy soldier. It’s the little things like that. He was one of a kind. In the past few weeks I’ve noticed discussion on the net of a photograph which shows Piper hoisting both the WWF Championship and the WWF Intercontinental Championship up outside of the classic blue steel cage. There has been some conjecture as to the origin of this photo. This photo was actually the first signed Roddy Piper item that I ever owned. Those days are long gone, but I still treasure it like all of the rest.

If you’re talking Roddy Piper you have to be talking The Hulkster. Though Piper was not the giant-style villain that Hulk Hogan usually faced, he may very well have been his greatest adversary. Even the WCW Hogan-Piper revival feud, which I didn’t care for at the time, rings of nostalgia now. That was, of course, when Hogan was in the midst of his legendary “Hollywood” heel run. The roles were indeed reversed with the ‘90s version of Hogan vs Piper! The latest Hogan autograph in my life comes on his Mattel WWE Superstars figure. The line, which is meant to resemble the classic Remco AWA figure collection, greatly lends itself to autographs with a nice big plastic bubble to sign on each one. The classic yellow and red Hulkster is joining the line later this year alongside, you guessed it, the Hot Rod himself!

You’ve once again been subjected to my top ten. Come on, you enjoyed it. With men like Rhodes, Harley and Steamboat how could any wrestling fan not? The legends live on…

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Two Kings, A Dream, A Texas Bronco & A Living Legend

I feel like whether they’re alive or dead, a lot of my top ten favorite wrestlers of all-time have been on the minds of many fans as of late. Seeing as that my top ten is made up of ten wrestlers who make many such lists worldwide, it isn’t too much of a surprise. Still, a lot has to do with the time of year. We’re hitting the fifth anniversary of the passing of Bruno Sammartino, what would’ve been the 80th birthday of Harley Race and I don’t even have to tell you why everybody’s been talking about the patriarch of wrestling’s other royal family. Of course Jerry Lawler has been in the news with a health scare, The Hulkster pops up everywhere and The Nature Boy never knows when to shut up. All things considered, I thought it would be fun to write about my top ten again. Over the next two weeks, in no particular order, we’ll take a look at an item from each. Some you may own, others may be new to you, but it’s never a dull moment when looking at the memorabilia of the all-time greats.

I still remember where I was when I’d heard that Bruno Sammartino had died. As big of a deal as it was worldwide, it hit especially hard here in Pittsburgh where Sammartino made his home for most of his life. It was hard to believe that there would ever be a time when Bruno wouldn’t be out making appearances around the Greater Pittsburgh area. It was just five years later when I, along with thousands of other fans, got to see him take his rightful place in the WWE Hall of Fame right in the hallowed halls of Madison Square Garden. “The Living Legend” was physically gone but, I’d said back then, in many ways he was immortal. News broke of the passing of “Number One” Paul Jones on the same day. Once a huge star in the Carolinas, many fans my age more remember Jones as a manager. In an odd coincidence, both Sammartino and Jones shared the cover of the February 1977 issue of The Wrestler. Nikolai Volkoff is the victim of a Bruno armbar in the cover photo. Sadly he would also pass away later in 2018.

Jerry “The King” Lawler thankfully seems to be on the mend from a recent stroke. He appeared, via videotape, at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony this year as part of the induction of Andy Kaufman. I spoke to him just last year when he signed an amazing poster that I’d picked up. It was a celebration of all those great Monday night shows at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis. Lawler himself had drawn the poster back in 1994. We discussed the stars depicted and who was still around and who wasn’t. Since that discussion we’ve lost Jerry Jarrett. Thankfully, The King has pulled through once again. Long Live The King!

Speaking of royalty, this month would’ve marked the 80th birthday of Harley Race. For as gruff, rough and brutal as he was in the ring, Race certainly seemed to enjoy and treasure the fans. I can even recall him excusing himself to the restroom during an autograph signing but assuring the fans that he’d be right back, in case they were concerned that they wouldn’t get to meet one of the all-time legends of the ring. He continued to make appearances well into his battle of the illness which took his life. When I think of a real, hard fought wrestling match that could make anyone a wrestling fan for the sheer realism alone, it’s a Race match that I think of. He gave it his all. As we’d discussed here earlier in the year, The King is returning to the Mattel WWE line soon, but both the WWF and NWA versions of “The Greatest Wrestler on God’s Green Earth” have been represented well recently in the Micro Brawlers and Pint Size All Star mini figure lines, respectively.

Speaking of those grizzled old veterans, God bless Texas and God bless Terry Funk. If there’s anyone out there with a negative story about The Funker I don’t think that it’s ever been told. If you’ve seen or heard him talk outside of “kayfabe,” that’s exactly how Funk is. No pretenses or falsehoods, Terry Funk is just a genuine person. Widely reported health issues have obviously slowed The Funker down into retirement, but rest and relaxation in his later years have certainly been well earned. We all hope that he can enjoy that retirement as best as possible. Funk reinvented himself so many times over the years that it’s often hard to pick your favorite “version” of the legend. He was certainly immensely popular in Japan where he had the moniker of “Texas Bronco.” In that country I’m sure he signed many of what you see here: a shikishi board. Hugely popular in Japan, these boards are used for art, calligraphy and collecting autographs.

From The Texas Bronco to a son of a plumber, who hasn’t been thinking about Dusty Rhodes as of late? From the trials and tribulations of his son Cody in WWE to the recent A&E Biography, The American Dream does indeed still last. Anyone who knows me knows that it’s hard for me to narrow it down to just any one Dusty item. They all have that individual quality of Stardust magic. No, not the more recent Stardust. We’re talking about that common man from Austin, Texas who was chasing the end of that lightning bolt and the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. One of the biggest moments in that chase was on August 3, 1980 in Tampa, FL. In fact, it was billed as “The Last Tangle In Tampa.” Rhodes challenged Race in a match that ended in a sixty minute time limit draw. Someone back then may have shown their support with the bumper sticker that you see here. Wrestling in the territorial days had a lot of bumper stickers. They were cheap to produce and fans ate them up. I’ve always wondered if there was a Harley counterpart sticker…

In the next entry we’ll visit with five more legends and five more pieces of memorabilia created in their images. Iconic, fun and desirable, would you expect any less from the legends of wrestling?

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Whatcha Gonna Do When Mr. America Runs Wild On You?!?

I once said, on this very blog, that the Mattel Create A WWE Superstar Hulk Hogan figure would be the closest that we would ever get to a real, production figure of Mr. America. I admit when I was wrong and I was, in fact, wrong. As this year opened we finally got to hold not one but two different versions of that mysterious red, white and blue masked man in our hands. Yes, Mattel WWE Elite 101 not only includes the famous Mr. America but a chase version as well. It may even include an alternate head to give us a hint as to just who was underneath that mask. Let’s take a look!

The Elite packaging is feeling cheaper and cheaper. It seems near impossible to find examples that aren’t bent, creased or crushed in some form as soon as they leave the shipping case. I don’t really have a problem with it, but I’m feeling less and less need to buy extras of any of these to get signed. The current design has been with us for a few years yet it still feels new to me. I will always pine for those rather plain and straight forward rectangular boxes that were the norm for Elites around five years ago. As I often say, time marches on. At least the color is a nice dark blue. I’ve always found the reds used in WWE packaging to be unpleasing to the eye. Remember the early days of the Mattel line? A great rendition of Hog…I mean…Mr. America adorns the front of the box and the pieces are nicely displayed.

With both versions of Mr. A you get an alternate “mask lifting” head, weight belt, “tearing” t-shirt, red, white and blue boa, and an array of hands. Just like his friend Hulk Hogan, Mr. America does a lot of pointing and ear-cupping. With the hands included you can accomplish that. The difference in the standard and the chase are the mask, tights and kneepad designs. I do think that the chase design is more striking but the standard is the much better remembered version, at least for me. I’d probably be damning the chase version if I hadn’t obtained one at pure retail price, but that’s how petty and hypocritical I can admittedly be. I’m sick of the “chase” garbage, to be honest. It’s gotten us some great figures and I’ve rarely had trouble getting any that I’ve wanted, but enough is enough. Just do equal amounts of both, pack them one per case each, and be done with it.

We rarely get a bad looking Hulk Hogan figure and for someone who looks a lot like him this is really no different. The head sculpts are insanely well done and the colors on the costume are perfect. I feel like the red, white and blue boa could be used elsewhere, too. Who wouldn’t look good in such a thing? I’m tired of the “ripping” shirts, but I don’t think we’ll get Mr. America again so I guess it’s best to have it here. As far as his buddy Hulk, he needs no more ripping shirts in future figures, that’s for sure. Like Hogan, Mr. America does well having the open and pointing hands at his disposal, although that does lead me to my complaints about the figure.

Why does Mattel insist on making later Hogan figures leaner and hardly tanned? I will never understand this at all. They pulled the same thing with Mr. America here. Unless my television set refused to believe that Hogan was no longer thick and tanned in his later years, this is not how it was. The Hogan torso and coloring used on the ‘80s versions should always be used for his figures and should’ve been used for this guy, too. It doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the figure itself, but it’s enough to at least question the motives behind it.

This is a good one no matter which version you get your hands on. This is yet another character that Jakks and its leadership failed us on. We’ve since seen what their plans were regarding the character and I must give credit where it’s due: Mattel has blown them out of the water. Chinese New Year, anyone? And, thanks to Mattel, we finally know that it was indeed Hulk Hogan under the Mr. America mask all along. I thought it was either Genichiro Tenryu or Otto Wanz. So, Mattel? Since you’re on my good side this week, how about a proposal? You’ve now revealed to us who Giant Machine and Mr. America were. Let’s do it again. Let’s go for the hat trick. Let’s see a First Time In The Line and first time EVER figure release for…

…The Midnight Rider.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Wrestling MarketWatch: The American Wrestling Association

I'm flat tired out of WrestleMania! Too much of a good thing, at least the glory days. Since that's all we've been talking about here on the blog lately, let's move on. Well, not quite onward, but back to the past as usual. Instead of the bright lights of the World Wrestling Federation it's time to look at another popular wrestling entity of the 1980's. This one that, aside from a bleak final year and change, pretty much had its last stand in the '80s. Of course we're talking about Verne Gagne's American Wrestling Association. As a kid, doing my research, I once felt that "everyone" came from the AWA originally. I was half right. Most huge stars did have at least a cup of coffee there. In this edition of MarketWatch we'll look at the recent selling prices of some items that reflect the era, the promotion and its stars.

*Many of the items from '80s AWA represent the brief partnership between the AWA and Jim Crockett Promotions: Pro Wrestling USA. Though the alliance didn't last, it was a key effort to try and battle the now-national WWF. They certainly had the wrestling talent to be competition. In Remco's initial AWA action figure offering a two-pack was produced featuring Larry Zbyszko against "Nature Boy" Ric Flair. Who wouldn't have wanted a Flair figure back then? I consider this set to be one of the cornerstones of the beloved Remco figure line and thankfully for collectors it's one of the easiest to locate. Carded examples have recently sold for between $189-$249.

*That Pro Wrestling USA partnership spawned several "supershows" in regular WWF strongholds. In 1985 one such show, Star Wars, was held at East Rutherford, New Jersey's Meadowlands Arena. Flair, Sgt. Slaughter, Rick Martel and The Road Warriors were just a few examples of the talent on the lineup. An audience of 12,000 fans saw Stan Hansen dethrone Martel for the AWA World Championship in the main event. A program possibly purchased by one of those fans back in 1985 recently sold for $25.

*The AWA certainly had hopes of becoming what the World Wrestling Federation was slowly blooming into and to prove it they distributed a high-quality press kit in the early 1980's. This is interesting as even the WWF itself hadn't released such a full press kit as of yet. While some of the claims printed within are dubious to say the least, it certainly paints the AWA in a glorious light. We've taken a deeper look at this treasure before both in a vlog last year and here on the blog. The rather rare kit recently sold for $230.

*While the WWF had WrestleMania and the NWA had Starrcade, AWA had big shows of its own. SuperClash and WrestleRock would be at the top of that list. WrestleRock '86, though somewhat disjointed at times. is visually fun to watch (especially once they're smart enough to move the fans inward for the sake of the cameras) and overall an enjoyable show. You can watch it on Peacock and it doesn't appear that the PC Police which have gotten to other WWE-owned content on the streaming service have bothered to watch this one yet. I'd love to have gotten a glimpse at the merchandise stands at this show because it would be fun to see what all was sold. A bandana from the event recently sold for $82.

*Finally, from the fabled Mat Mania series, comes "Pretty Boy" Doug Somers. For those unaware, the first few Remco AWA figure series were comprised of two and three packs such as the Flair-Zbyszko set above. When the final series was released it was made up of Somers, Buddy Rose, Shawn Michaels, Marty Jannetty, Sheik Adnan Al-Kaissie, Nord The Barbarian and Boris Zhukov all on single "Mat Mania" cards. Referee Dick Woehrle, Ric Flair, Paul Ellering and Nick Bockwinkel were also re-released as part of the series. The "Pretty Boy," loose and complete with jacket, recently sold for $225.

All of these items are a reminder that the WWF wasn't the only wrestling league with marketing back in the '80s. The selling prices are a testament to the popularity that the promotion and its stars still have. We'll be getting new AWA merchandise this year with the first ever figure of Verne Gagne. Now if we can get that Remco-styled '80s version...