Thursday, July 27, 2023

Wrestling MarketWatch: Goin’ South!

We’re goin’ south! A little trip back to the southern wrestling territories and promotions, that is. It’s truly fascinating how something like professional wrestling could have different flavors wherever you went in the country or even the world. The presentation, the in-ring style and even the fans themselves could be as different as night and day from region to region. Even more interesting, and perhaps worthy of some sort of study, is how many wrestlers were able to adapt going from area to area. Even still, why did some flounder upon moving? Regardless, in this latest edition of MarketWatch we’re going to look at a few items from the southern wrestling territories. Grab your Diet Cheerwine and a drumstick from Bojangles, we’re headed for Dixie!

*While traces of the territorial system still exist and certainly independent promotions in some areas will differ from others, the wrestling landscape is largely a different animal nowadays. The last true territory in the eyes of many people was Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling. From 1991 to 1995 the promotion used a mix of established stars and up-and-comers to reflect Cornette’s vision of what wrestling should be. To this day the shows and matches from SMW thrill fans, but there just wasn’t enough support at the time to keep it afloat. Not only does Corny need to make a return to public appearances, but why not give SMW another shot? I think we need another dose of quality southern wrestling. The very first SMW Ringside Report recently sold for $38.

*Another man who had his hand in not only the on-air portion of the product but also the behind-the-scenes aspect of southern wrestling was “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. You know that Dusty is one of the G.O.A.T.’s around this blog, so I won’t go into all of his accomplishments yet again. You also know of the beloved Mello Yello ad-campaign that Dusty helmed in a deal with Jim Crockett Promotions thanks to several blog entries and the great commercials on YouTube. The Mello Yello cans featuring the mugs of various NWA stars are highly collected to this day and not always the easiest to find. The aluminum masterpiece featuring The Dream himself recently sold for $60. I really miss Mello Yello Zero. Just sayin’.

*It’s sort of a trend that we’re featuring stars who were as prominent behind the scenes as they were on camera. Ole Anderson is another that fits the bill. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a million times more: for as much as it’s written that Ole is grumpy this and opinionated that, he was always great to me. Always willing to sign autographs, take photos and, especially, talk. The word is that his health has plummeted in recent years and I wish nothing but the best for him. Talk about real promos and a real wrestling style. Ole wrote the book on both. He also had the book for Georgia Championship Wrestling. The July 1980 Georgia Ringsider program, featuring a shot of an irate Ole being interviewed by Gordon Solie, recently sold for $27.

*If you’re talking the south, southern wrestling and southern boys you have to be talking Michael P.S. Hayes. Wrestling’s original bad boy and the leader of The Fabulous Freebirds. (What’s your excuse?) He was wrestling’s equivalent to a southern rocker, lived the life and even lived to tell about it. He also cut a record that has been prominently featured here on the blog many times over the years. When I see a photo that appeared here in the blog show up elsewhere, it’s usually because no one else has ever written much about a particular item. Well, my original shot of the “Off The Streets” album has appeared everywhere around the globe. Accompanying this paragraph is a new one, now complete with signatures, just ready to be shared and shared and shared. A sealed copy of this infamous album recently sold for $450.

*No discussion that includes southern wrestling and music is complete without “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart. The former member of The Gentry’s broke into wrestling largely because of his musical fame and found a way to bring all of his talents together. It’s hard to believe that in just a few months we’ll be celebrating the 80th birthday of The Mouth! Even more amazing is that he’s still the hardest working man in wrestling. If you’re a fan of meeting wrestling legends and you still haven’t met Jimmy Hart, you just aren’t trying. This time we’re not looking at any of his records but rather a classic Memphis “Action Ringside” program featuring The Mouth looking very much in pain…in his Superman attire. A copy of this program recently sold for $40.

As always with our MarketWatch blog entries the prices shown are for unsigned examples despite the photos displaying otherwise. The old southern territories had a certain energy that lives on through great memorabilia like this. Like many of you in just a few days I plan on going south for the love of classic professional wrestling. It’s simply a different world and I love every second. A great southern wrestling fan, the late Peggy Lathan, once said to me, “Josh, you’re southern at heart.” I treasure those words even more than the items that you see here.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Another Shot At Greatness…

What did I promise you in the first blog entry of 2023? Like you remember. Well, maybe this will ring a bell – The King is back! No, not Elvis. Our gravel voiced monarch of the WWF in the late ‘80s, King Harley Race. As was announced in a surprising move, Race is back “available” for Mattel to produce as a figure. This was after their original rights to the legend resulted in exactly one figure being produced. Poor distribution, to put it mildly, caused that figure to become one of the most desired in the entire Mattel WWE run. He’s back, albeit with a few changes, and it’s time to bow and kneel before The King.

As he is part of the Greatest Hits series the packaging is fairly standard to how most of the Elite figures come boxed now. As I’ve said before, the packaging is good though I don’t care for it as much as I did the rectangular boxes of a few years ago in which the original Harley release came. In my order I did manage to get two examples in great shape, but the cardboard in this latest generation of boxes just seems flimsier than ever to me. It’s harder than ever to be shipped or find a truly nice box. Two images of The King adorn the box with a standard short bio.

As with the original you receive the rubber cape and crown. The crown may be a tad softer in material but the cape felt very much the same. It’s the look that made me fall in love with this figure long before it was released even the first time. It remains my favorite Mattel WWE release. As the entire line has stepped it up since that figure, we now get a pair of interchangeable fists, as well. For a guy like Harley one of my few complaints about the original release was that neither of his hands were a fist. This is a guy who could bust you open “the hard way” using a perfectly positioned knuckle yet…no fist. It’s fixed here.

That’s not the only upgrade. The face seems to have the “True FX” detail application which many collectors are hit-or-miss on. It seems to have changed the look of his eyes a bit. It isn’t too noticeable unless you’re closely comparing the two. Aside from the fists the other very pleasing upgrades are the additions of double-jointed elbows. Now Harley can REALLY drive that fist in deep! While the feature has been on many figures over the past several years, it didn’t really strike out to me as a huge deal until this one. Likely because I’ve spent so much time on the original figure.

The Greatest Hits series have had an interesting run so far. Figuring that they would stick around, at least for a bit like most modern figures, I didn’t jump on any at first. They’ve actually proven to be very in-demand. The lone figure that I wanted from the first lineup (Rikishi) barely made it past the pre-order stage at online retailers. I ended up finding it at a toy show for a perfectly acceptable price and I have seen pictures of it showing up at retail, but either the figures are truly “hot” or Mattel is playing distribution games again. This second series, especially Race, is proving to follow suit. The pre-orders are gone and retailers aren’t showing any signs of restock. This, like the original one years ago, needs to be grabbed when seen.

It’s also been confirmed that the Greatest Hits line will continue and a separate Greatest Hits line exclusively featuring legends is to come about. The latter, featuring names like Bruno Sammartino and Terry Funk, should be fairly hot. Sammartino and Race both indicate to me that Mattel is working extra hard to secure the legendary names that were said to be unavailable to them for years. My guess would be because PowerTown has shown what a powerhouse that they aim to be. While Mattel says that they cannot negotiate for names on their own, it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that they are now pushing WWE just a bit more to obtain rights to certain names. After all, Race was initially mentioned by PowerTown as a name available to them.

I would have liked to have seen what PowerTown could’ve done with Race. We could’ve gotten any number of versions from early in his career. Now that he’s back with Mattel, I can’t help but think that we’ll see him in the LJN-inspired Coliseum Collection. That release would no doubt include a soft goods cape. A fun addition would be the cape-jacket hybrid that was sculpted onto the original LJN. Hopefully Mattel realizes the want for pre-WWF versions of Race and gives us some figures in that realm, too. I’m not holding my breath, but it wouldn’t exactly surprise me, either.

As a collector who owns the original version of this figure, and even one of the few autographed examples known to exist, I have no dismay about this remake. I’ve long championed the idea that everyone should be able to acquire these toys at the standard price for a reasonable amount of time. That was not the case with the original. There won’t be any signed versions of this one, sadly, nor does it include the Commissioner Shawn Michaels “Build-A-Figure” arms that the original did. Heck, as I said I bought two of these new ones myself. In fact, it’s time to update the meme that I made some time ago. It swept the Internet, or at least a few hundred people who passed it along. Here it is, in its original form, before I added two more for the girls to gossip about…

Thursday, July 13, 2023

PowerTown Arrives: Magnum T.A. & Kerry Von Erich

The young lions of the 1980’s are back. Two of the most promising names in the wrestling industry, both cut tragically short in their paths due to entirely different reasons. Still, both carry on with their legacies and the lasting influence of their work. Magnum T.A. and Kerry Von Erich, two grapplers tremendously underrepresented in action figure form, are back in our collections thanks to PowerTown. Have either been captured in such form and detail before? Let’s take a look.

As with all six of the PowerTown Ultra Series 1 figures, the packaging is impressive. The magnetic flap, the detailed bios and amazing graphics. You see exactly what you get, yet, it doesn’t feel as if things are floating. There isn’t any wasted space which is a problem with a lot of action figure packaging these days. With the recent crackdown in “wasting resources” for toy packaging, you would think that other companies would adopt a striking yet compact design like this. Due to a manufacturing/shipping snafu of unknown origin, Von Erich shipped a tad later than the other five figures in the set. He was worth the wait.

Both figures include removable jackets, alternate hands, removable knee pads and, most importantly, championship belts. For the first time ever we have figure-sized replicas of both the NWA United States and WCCW Heavyweight championship belts. For longtime collectors and figure photographers these, like the other titles in the series, are game changers. To have officially released accessories of these trophies is unthinkable. Both are perfectly replicated and, while the early renders had collectors excited, came out even better than the previews had promised. Due to the length of the straps on each you may have to work a bit to use them with figures from other companies (unlike the AWA Championship included with Verne Gagne), but it can be done.

This is only Magnum’s second released figure. I gushed over the Mattel release right in this very blog. It was mind-blowing to finally have a figure of the ‘80s legend and that’s still a worthwhile item to own. Times change as does figure manufacturing. The PowerTown version does eclipse it. The stance and body type are just that much more realistic. The belt puts it over the top and you can practically hear Magnum talking to David Crockett and Tony Schiavone on a TBS Saturday morning. The red tights also make the figure stand out. The Mattel version was originally designed to be in red but was switched to black.

The jacket, while rubber goods and as with most accessories of the type can be difficult to get on and off, really sells the Magnum image. The Mattel version included a vest and you could honestly view both as different eras of Terry Allen. The prototype of this figure was slated and shown to have wrist tape. It was omitted from the final product, likely by accident. It doesn’t bother me and can easily be remedied by applying some small strips of tape. That fix also enables you to remove it if need be. The boots, as with all PowerTown figures, are removable for easy application of the knee pads.

While Kerry Von Erich has had a few more figures than Magnum, ultimately this is only his fourth. Kerry’s face was as chiseled as his body which likely makes getting a good facial likeness relatively easy. The past three figures (Hasbro and Mattel, respectively) have all resembled Kerry in his later years. Our PowerTown offering is definitely a younger, softer likeness and still hits all the marks. Considering that most if not all of the family members are said to be signed for the line, there’s no better place to start than with “The Modern Day Warrior.” Personally, I’d take every Von Erich including Lance. No, I highly doubt he’s included.

It wouldn’t be a Von Erich figure without an “Iron Claw” hand which is removable. The body sculpt is well done and the colors are new for any figure of Kerry. We now have him in a multitude of colors, different with each figure. Kudos to PowerTown for paying attention and giving us previously unreleased looks for those wrestlers who’ve already had past figures. That being said, I think everyone would want these even if the looks remained the same. They simply feel different in your hand or on display than most other figures. If PowerTown wanted to start a wrestling figure revolution, I do believe they’ve done it and have silenced the naysayers at the same time.

Another amazing couple of figures from the new guys on the block. We’ve only got one more to go in our ongoing series of reviews of the first batch from PowerTown, but I can’t wait until the next legends arrive. For those of you wanting to know how you can get your hands on Series 1, there is a bit of news. Via their Facebook page, PowerTown states that some additional figures MAY be made available once pre-orders have been fulfilled. If you skipped the initial pre-order it would be wise to keep an eye on their official social media accounts and strike while the iron is hot. That being said, I do believe that all six of the men represented in this first series would warrant alternate releases in the future. All six are headliners and have different looks that could be explored. 

Yet two more examples that prove that “Where Wrestling Lives On” isn’t just a slogan…

Thursday, July 6, 2023

I’ll Be Your Hero 30 Years On: Three Decades Of The Lex Express

The Total Package was the past. The Narcissist was a mild success at best. The All-American was here. But was he here to stay? In the summer of 1993 I think most certainly thought so. It was another WWF attempt to create a new Hulk Hogan. You could argue that The Ultimate Warrior was first, but to me that was a different direction entirely. I would classify Sid Justice as the first true inkling of an attempt of a new Hulkster. Did "Made In The USA" Lex Luger fare better? Thirty years later, let's reflect.

No one could've been expecting this. The Narcissist was just unveiled at the Royal Rumble in January and embroiled in a feud with Mr. Perfect. An attack on Bret "The Hitman" Hart during WrestleMania weekend went nowhere. WWF Championship matches between Hogan and Luger definitely could've drawn, but the forgotten and weak '93 Hulkamania title reign ended any chances of that.

Who answered the Bodyslam Challenge on July 4th 1993 with a mission of body slamming Yokozuna? Lex Luger. Any mention of "The Narcissist" was long gone. This man was now an American hero. In fact, he would now be your hero. He'd be meeting you while crossing the country in his Lex Express bus. He may give you a tour button or even an autographed photo or poster. It was the "Call To Action Campaign" and it was coming to your town!

I will admit that even then I noticed it getting a bit more publicity than the normal post-Hulkamania WWF did. I was at the perfect age to notice when wrestling was hot and when it wasn't. It certainly wasn't in 1993, but it did have some people talking. The WWF marketing machine caused a lot of it. Luger certainly had charisma, but it wasn't Hogan level. It was more of a heelish charisma and while he switched to babyface well, I'm not sure that he had anyone completely convinced.

The press materials for the campaign are a fascinating look into how full steam ahead the WWF was going with it. Even the Lex Express itself had an official promotional photo! The press kit that I own actually has an extra photo. A certain former WCW announcer who I acquired it from told that me that the additional photo actually came from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette newspaper archives. It's a shot of Luger riding a go-kart at Pittsburgh's Sandcastle waterpark where the Lex Express had made a stop. You know there's some sort of buzz if the mainstream press is picking up on it.

You can tell that rumors of an originally planned SummerSlam main event of Hogan vs Hart were undeniably true. The promo photos of Luger, and even his shot on the cover of the SummerSlam 1993 program, are from The Narcissist era. Even still, why could both have not happened? You can easily point out two main events for the 1992 and 1994 editions of the show. Why not have Luger vs Yoko, too, and have Luger go over clean? In this scenario the belt doesn't even come into play if they didn't want it on him just yet.

I, personally, would've put the belt on Luger even if for a short time. Nothing too much was working at the moment anywhere in the world of wrestling. While diehards such as myself were still eating it up, you didn't have the mainstream casuals that fill arenas to capacity. I don't think high school gym were even being filled to capacity at this point. There are a lot of fond memories for the time period, but the attention just wasn't there.

Be that as it may, "All American" Lex Luger is looked back at fondly by many. We're still getting new merch for the character to this day and even finally received the Hasbro style figure this year. It's always been alleged to have been part of the fabled unproduced "orange card" series. Many collectors have been suggesting that Mattel's WWE Ultimate Edition figure series include Luger in his "All American" look, complete with the USA street gear he wore during the tour. I'd be all for it.

Was this WWF run for Luger a complete flop? I'm not so sure. We're still talking about it. We're still buying the merch. You're still hearing the "I'll Be Your Hero" song in your head. To me, that's memorable. Me? I still have the "Lex Express Tour" weekly recap production music in my head. Now that's an earworm!