Thursday, November 30, 2023

The 1983 Era

What a great year! No, not 2023. I don’t know anyone who had a great 2023. Forty years ago, however, I bet the sentiment was a lot different. It was 1983. What was not to like? We were just coming out of that “the first few years of a decade are part of the previous decade” time period and we were going headfirst right into the ‘80s! But in between listening to “Thriller,” going to see “Return of the Jedi” and spending time with me in my first full-calendar year on earth (now you know how old I am), you needed some great wrestling reading. As was the norm in the ‘80s, Pro Wrestling Illustrated was your answer.

Why 1983? A few reasons. First off, it was forty years ago. Not quite a half-century but a definite nice chunk of time regardless. Again, it’s just a smidge shorter than I’ve been alive. It’s a scary thought. Secondly, look at all the cool covers we got from PWI in ’83. We have a total of ten true blue Hall of Famers spread over twelve covers. A “Who’s Who” of wrestling and definitely some of the most recognizable visages ever to grace the squared circle. Not to mention that three of my top five all-time favorite wrestlers are here. Lastly is that one day, probably around a decade ago, I suddenly noticed something regarding these covers in my own collection.

I’m honestly not sure if I’d just gotten one of them signed or was just enjoying my collection, but I noticed that I was very close to having a complete signed run of the 1983 PWI lineup. At the time all ten “cover boys” were still alive and I’m thinking that I was down to three autographs necessary in order to “complete the set.” Looking at them all my best guess is that two were February (Dusty Rhodes) and July (Rick Martel). I remember specifically getting the February issue signed in one of the final times that I saw “The Dream” and it’s been quite a long time since Martel has made an appearance. Since then I’ve thought about how, while it isn’t my favorite Martel magazine cover (he has two other PWI covers that are much better), I’m glad that I ended up getting this one signed for the sake of the lineup. While he has done a private signing or two in recent years, I have not personally run into him since I had the issue signed.

I will always remember the last autograph needed for the set being Mil Mascaras on the April issue. While I’d met “The Man of 1,000 Masks” many times, for whatever reason this magazine never ended up signed. With an absolute plethora of covers from the ‘70s to choose from and loads of other merchandise, there are always plenty of autograph options when it comes to Mil. Somewhere around 2018 I finally ended up getting the issue signed and “completing the set,” as it were. I will also note that Mascaras has never been anything but gracious with me and I’ve always enjoyed my interactions with him. He’s actually a lot more personable than the self-proclaimed “world’s friendliest wrestler” who likes to complain about the match he had with Mil on TBS, but that’s another rant for another time.

In addition to the aforementioned three we’ve got another Rhodes cover as well as appearances by Ricky Steamboat, Bob Backlund, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, Tommy Rich (twice), Rowdy Roddy Piper, Bruno Sammartino and Harley Race. We get great representation of both the WWF and the NWA as well as their respective championship belts at the time. Someone was obviously pretty fond of armbars as the move is shown in all three of the “action shot” covers featuring Rhodes, Martel and Rich, respectively. I wonder if this choice was made on purpose? I know most will agree that the studio shot covers are the ones that really stand out here. The only thing that could make the collection even better would be if the Jerry “The King” Lawler cover from the following year had been done here instead. 

The issues themselves are still plentiful but sadly it’s no longer possible to get the set autographed yourself. With the amount that all of these men signed I’m sure that there are other copies of each signed, but who knows how many. I’d venture to guess that the studio portrait covers are more likely to be out there signed with how nice they look autograph-adorned. I’m never usually a completist on anything myself as I prefer a bit of this and a bit of that, but once I saw how close I’d gotten with this set, how could I stop then? And hey, maybe I looked into the future a bit. Maybe I knew that 2023 just wasn’t going to be all that great and that we’d need a nice, pleasant fortieth anniversary to look back on. It worked.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

The Greatest Hits Of The Legends

Four true blue wrestling legends on Thanksgiving? Sounds like a winning Survivor Series team to me! Instead of once again talking about the past glories of wrestling on Thanksgiving night, I thought it’d be fun to look back at four Mattel WWE Legends figures that are suddenly new again. It’s the Mattel WWE Legends Greatest Hits series. Exclusive to your favorite bullseyed retailer, the set started hitting stores earlier this month. And what about that phantom fifth figure? He’s still on the back! Grab some bread, Dukes mayo and either white or dark meat. It’s time for your first turkey sandwich of the night and a look at some toys!

While the initial Mattel WWE Greatest Hits line has already had several legends included, a retailer exclusive subset has now been introduced and is dedicated solely to the stars of yesteryear. The Greatest Hits concept itself brings previously released figures back to the line, almost always with some sort of upgrade. For the first set of Legends we’ve got The Ultimate Warrior, The Honky Tonk Man, Terry Funk and The British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith. The four are packaged in the Legends box design that we’re all quite familiar with. It will also likely be the last set to be in this particular box design as the next regular Legends set release is already known to be coming in brand new packaging. This set has been arriving to the stores in a “sidekick” (those cardboard displays that hang at the end of an aisle) featuring the same art as the individual boxes.

These four figures were originally released before three major design changes in the Mattel line: “True FX” facial scans, extra elbow jointing and removable hands. If you already have the four it’s up to you if picking up the new versions are worth the upgrade. Interestingly, Bruno Sammartino is still shown on the back of the box. The Living Legend was originally scheduled as the fifth figure in the series but was ultimately moved to a main line release in the Elite Series 110. Seeing as that this figure was, arguably, the best of the series, it may not be such a bad move. Bruno has only ever had one release in the Mattel line and that was a decade ago. This figure will seemingly have a greatly updated face thanks to the new technology and, for the first time as a figure anywhere, Bruno will be released in green trunks. It should be noted that while he remains on the packaging for this series, he was omitted from the store display art.

One of these figures is brand new to me, personally, and that would be Davey Boy Smith. This was the very first figure of the British Bulldog released by Mattel over a decade ago and, at the time, I simply wasn’t sold on the changeover from Jakks. I was basically buying figures such as Ricky Steamboat and Randy Savage who Jakks hadn’t made or previously released characters with all-new looks from Mattel such as short-haired SummerSlam ’90 Rick Rude. For whatever reason, short-haired Hart Foundation Davey didn’t make my cut back then. Now he does. I’ll say that he isn’t quite bulky enough and maybe that put me off of the original release. We all remember how big Davey was at the time, albeit with tragic consequences. Still, I’m glad to finally get the figure and the soft goods Hart Foundation vest is great.

The Ultimate Warrior is always a favorite and a hot seller. This look has been done several times but the Elite version here was first available in a Flashback series that I reviewed here on the blog so many years ago. Included are the Macho King’s “breakaway” scepter (the plastic-y Royal Rumble ’91 version that was used to cost the Warrior the title while he was wearing this attire) and the WWF “winged eagle” championship belt on the never-before-released pinkish-purple strap. The inclusion of a “new” belt should cause this figure to be popular alone. While I have tons of fists from other figures, as I’m sure you do as well, I really feel a set should’ve been included here. The Warrior’s fists were always flying.

The Honky Tonk Man in his blue jumpsuit was a welcomed addition to this set by many. Not only is it an iconic look, but the original release has deteriorated in the eyes of many. This blue jumpsuit with The Honky Tonk Man caricature was originally included in the Retrofest line a few years ago which is best remembered for being packaged in cool arcade game cabinet-styled boxes. What the line is infamous for is that the blue jumpsuit has faded to a light purple for many collectors. Hopefully a different dye/material/whatever was used to prevent this for this re-release. The face is sort of neutral here and I wouldn’t say that it really looks EXACTLY like ol’ HTM, but it’s not someone completely different, either.

For a few reasons, the star of this set for me is The Funker. We may have just lost him, but we all knew that he’d live on. This version of Funk relives his reign as ECW Champion. The face looks pretty much identical to the original but it’s two other features that I enjoy. The first is the inclusion of taped fists. You know you’ve seen countless photos of The Funker posing with those legendary and lethal taped fists. The other feature, which is included with all of these figures, is that the head is removable. Because of this you can take one of the heads from the Terry Funk figure out of The Coliseum Collection and attach it to this body. While the tights are a tad more colorful here, this “mix” is very close to an ’89-era Funk look. I can feel the figure photography already.

This is a solid set. It would have been even better with Bruno, but at least we are eventually getting him. I predict good sales, too, as it’s hitting just as the holiday buying season is kicking in. That’s not to say that these guys will evade clearance completely, but you just don’t know. Grandma Mabel Bertha Ethel remembers these names and is sure that her grandson, Hunter Axel Liam, is going to want these under his tree. It’s also hard to say if stores will be getting shipments beyond what comes included in the sidekick display. Whatever the case may be, it’s a nice lineup to kick off the Legends Greatest Hits. Now go! Get outta here! Grab another sandwich or make your first leftover plate. Why not fire up a classic Survivor Series? To make it simple for you, I’ll suggest 1989. You know you want to hear Vince yelling the names.

“Gobble, gobble.”—Gorilla Monsoon

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Wrestling MarketWatch: Back To The ‘80s!

I remember my early days of going to toy shows. You know, that great time before every single event labeled itself a “con.” When you could pull a loose “black card” LJN from a 75 cent box. The good old days, as it were. Anyway, I’d often see the same guy in those peaceful morning shopping moments. Physically he wasn’t always the same person, though sometimes he was. It was more of his style, if you can call it that. It was men in their 60s or 70s. Always hunting items from old sci-fi entities like “Forbidden Planet” and discussing the nuances of “Robbie the Robot.” Loudly, for everyone to hear. Always slicked back silver hair, drenched in a half bottle of Aqua Velva and, sadly, just the picture of loneliness from top to bottom. I didn’t pity these men. I guess, in my mind, I sort of applauded them for putting themselves out there and thinking nothing of it. Those types don’t show up much anymore. They’re either, sadly, gone, or are just no longer interested. Have us fans of ‘80s entertainment and pop culture replaced them? In a sense, I guess. But I’m not lonely, I don’t use Aqua Velva and I cannot stand hair product. I guess I have those three things going for me.

In any case, this blog is certainly a place where we celebrate those who love the past, so this time in MarketWatch we’re goin’ “Back to the ‘80s!” It’s been a year since we last tackled the topic in MarketWatch and we’ll even check in on an item that we looked at back then, too. Did the price go up? Did the price go down? My lips are sealed. Well, until we look at that item, that is. As always, prices listed are for non-autographed examples unless noted.

*You might say that the ‘80s were beyond the heyday of Bob Roop, but he was still tearing up rings in Florida and Kentucky among other places. Long known for his legitimate wrestling skills (find the film of him “stretching” wrestling hopefuls under the watch of Eddie Graham), Roop is an excellent story teller as well if you engage him on social media or have the chance to meet him at an event. He’s particularly proud of his tours of Japan and has quite the memory of his career. He was included in one of the coveted Wrestling All-Stars trading card sets that have gotten a lot of attention over the past decade. His card has been recently selling at auction for an average of $40.

*One man who definitely had his best moments in the 1980s, despite starting the decade prior, was Don Muraco. The Magnificent One was a headliner virtually everywhere he went and owes his immortality to being a memorable face during the early WWF “expansion” years. While he ended his WWF career as a babyface in late 1988, Muraco was a pure heel. His antics with Mr. Fuji are the stuff of legend but I still think that eating a sandwich while demolishing a hapless enhancement talent sums up Magnificent Muraco just perfectly. He didn’t have too many magazine covers, oddly enough, but the May 1983 issue of Sports Review Wrestling, featuring Muraco with the classic WWF Intercontinental Belt, has long been considered a favorite by many. The issue recently sold for the very attractive price of just $12.

*Back in the ‘80s you had VHS, BETA and Laserdisc to preserve wrestling viewing for the future. Amazingly, the lesser of the three as far as quality, VHS, ultimately won out and would reign supreme until the late ‘90s. In the past nearly fifteen years of this blog we’ve talked about the Coliseum Video WWF Laserdisc collection a few times. There are only four titles and it’s a really fun set to have. The large covers/sleeves offer that same feel that records do. It’s why digital media will never truly replace physical for a lot of people. It’s sort of interesting that, when the autograph business (and if you don’t think it’s a business, check out the prices) is at a record high, some of the best items to be signed are on the downturn as far as being produced – that, again, being physical media. You can’t get the movie star to sign a digital copy of their latest film. Regardless, we have all the classic stuff and that’s what we’re celebrating here. The Laserdisc of the first WrestleMania recently sold for $75.

*One man who was a star in the ‘80s, but also the ‘70s and every decade since is Jerry “The King” Lawler. Whether it be as the absolute King of Memphis Wrestling, the cowardly heel wrestling/announcer in the WWF or as one of the most recognizable true legends of wrestling, The King reigns supreme no matter what he does. He even released music as you’ve no doubt seen on this very blog before. He likes to joke that his albums weren’t released, they escaped, but we know that The King has the talent for anything that he does. Though there was some sort of reprinting of his albums in recent years, nothing beats the originals. A copy of Jerry Lawler & The Nunnery Brothers Band recently sold for $40. Memphis music never sounded better. Well…

*Ah yes, the item we looked at one year ago! Who was bigger than The Hulk and The Hillbilly? Hillbilly Jim gets a lot of meaningless criticism from those who don’t realize that wrestling is a show. There’s a reason why he’s so remembered. He’s a mountain of a man, had a great character and a load of charisma. Don’t tell me “oh, but Jim Crockett wouldn’t have had him.” No, they had Hepatitis-plagued Boogie Woogie Man and crowds of 1,000 while Hillbilly Jim was “stinking up the joint” to electric audiences of 20,000. You know I’m kidding. You all know that I love JCP as much as anyone else. I’m just pointing out how silly it is to say one was better than the other. Anyway, I’m feeling as if the prices that surged in 2020 on most collectibles are finally coming down. They have to…who has any money? One year ago the LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars Hulk and Hillbilly tag set sold for $600. It’s now averaging half of that at $300.

And there you have another trip back to the ‘80s and maybe even a little social and wrestling commentary thrown in. Are us ‘80s fans REALLY replacing the previous nostalgia hunters? Eh. I think that some of us know how to keep it on a better level. Even still, maybe it’s not such a bad idea to be like them after all. What were they doing? Being themselves. If we had more people who weren’t afraid to be themselves perhaps the world would look a bit less clownish that it currently does. There you go. Some food for thought and reflection, as well.

Who says that you don’t get it all in the wrestling memorabilia blog?

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Do YOU Have What It Takes To Make It In The Universal Wrestling Federation?

I don’t like to discuss “grails.” I really don’t even like to have them. You have what you have and whatever is meant to find its way to you ultimately will. If you do have collecting grails, don’t broadcast them. People can and will see dollar signs. Never put yourself in that position. Lastly, be happy with what you’ve got. I see too many people who I deem “accumulators” rather than collectors. Accumulators just sort of suck things in, look at them once, brag to deaf ears, and then cast them aside. There’s no appreciation. I’m not saying that you need to have a museum in your home, Lord knows I don’t, but if there’s something in your collection that you don’t ever think about, do you really need it? Food for thought. That being said, if there’s something that I’ve been after for a period of time that, in a way, could be considered a grail for me, it’s part of what we’re looking at right here.

Looking back as we see it now it’s hard to think that Bill Watts’ UWF would have had a training center. It’s even harder to believe that he would’ve had a full color, well-designed piece of promotional material produced for it. He did. I first found out about this brochure of sorts about two or three years ago. Someone offered one at auction for a very low price. I was the only bidder. A few days later the seller told me that he had lost the item. I was never sold on that claim. To this day I think that someone else made him an offer that he couldn’t refuse. The ultimate low. Regardless, I kept my eyes open. Not only was I able to get one for around three bucks more, but this one seems to be complete with four additional items. Normally I’d say that the brochure is the centerpiece, but I’m a sucker for official envelopes from wrestling promotions.

Emblazoned on that large envelope is the familiar Universal Wrestling Federation logo. Post mark? May 1987. Someone, presumably the wrestling hopeful who was the original recipient of this package, wrote addresses for the World Wrestling Federation and Joe Pedicino’s Pro Wrestling This Week television show right on the front. He definitely had his bases covered. Speaking of covered, I blocked out the name in photos but I can assure you that the original addressee is no one that we’re familiar with. Per the envelope The UWF Training Center was based in Dallas, Texas. Materials inside indicate that Ken Mantell was the trainer. Aside from print ads which were advertising sending away for this particular kit, there isn’t any info out there about the training center besides what you will see here.

The brochure itself is the size of a wrestling program and is really well produced. The cover, which opens in the center, is full of photos and “quotes” from UWF talent such as Dr. Death Steve Williams, Missy Hyatt, Michael P.S. Hayes, Skandor Akbar, Iceman King Parsons and, my favorite, the lovely Sunshine. Next to Missy there’s even a youngster who I think, 36 years later, is just about to wrap up his career. Some fella with a painted face named Sting. Inside we get an overview of what the UWF Training Center can offer you. Yes, you, the next possible star wrestler, manager, valet, referee or announcer. The “Manager of the Future” photo with the cut out face (leaving room for YOU!) is definitely Bruce Prichard. The thing doesn’t really break kayfabe, but it’s still surprising to see such material come from a Bill Watts endeavor.

$2500.00 (not including room and board) were your total training expenses. Were you up for that challenge? Did you have what it took to make it in the UWF? Well, before this information kit was even postmarked the company had already been sold to Jim Crockett Promotions. I wonder if anything surrounding this training center even got off of the ground? Perhaps it became something else? Three additional bulletins that were included indicate that a new UWF television program was in the works, to debut in June, which would highlight all the young hopefuls of the training center. While I’m sure such a show wouldn’t have broken kayfabe in the style of Tough Enough, it’s intriguing to think just what it may have looked like.

What made this so appealing to me? Promotional items from wrestling have always been intriguing. Despite it being 1987, the wrestling world was still very “wild west” as far as ideas and what made it and what didn’t. Even WWF promotional items from that time are largely uncatalogued outside of what you see in this blog. Unlike other sports which were very organized by that point, wrestling was basically a band of untethered idea men. Types of people who have a lot concepts and grandiose notions floating around in their heads, but ultimately only the ones that “hit big” are remembered. Obviously, this is not one of those. Long before the WCW Power Plant, the WWE Performance Center and even Ohio Valley Wrestling, there was about to be the UWF Training Center. I guess if we can be thankful for anything it’s that it wasn’t Herb Abrams’ UWF trying to train folks.

“Herbie cookie break at 3! Bring your spoon.”

Thursday, November 2, 2023

World Getting You Down? Escape To A Different One…

Ah, finally we’ve hit November! My favorite time of the year is upon us. I’ve never been a big Halloween guy. It’s ok, but get me to the week of Thanksgiving until Christmas Day and just put me in a never ending cycle of that thirty-odd-day span. Take a few days out for birthday depression (getting old…) and it would be utopia. “These are a few of my favorite things,” as it were. You know what else is one of my favorite things? Figure photography. It truly brings me happiness and I know that I’m not the only one. While I love wrestling memorabilia collecting as a whole, I think that there’s just something special about the art (oh yes, it’s art) of creating and/or recreating the moments we either loved or would like to have happened.

As I said a number of years ago on this blog, action figure photography is the adult way of playing with your toys. Best of all, you’re creating something that you can share. While there are a few ways to share that content, Instagram certainly seems to be the chosen method. I have a certain love for the Instagram account The_Figure_Arena (I wonder why…) and I’m thankful for everyone who has followed. That being said, I’d love to see a platform solely for figure/toy photography of all genres. There are certainly enough fans out there who partake. Instagram started out as a great thing, but now they can delete you at the drop of a hat. Meanwhile, teenagers being disgusting get a pass, but that’s the way of the world. Get off my lawn.

I think the real key is getting the most out of it with very little. What do I photograph with? My iPhone. Lighting? I was using battery operated desk lamps that cost around $5. While I still have one of those, there’s a great three pack of quarter-sized LED switch lights on everyone’s favorite A-Z online retailer that also costs around $5. How about that fog? A humidifier. It’s really smoke and mirrors at its finest, just like how the best movie special effects are done. Admittedly, the backgrounds that I use are costly. They’re nice, but overpriced. I just like the simplicity of not having to create my own. They’re easy enough to find in a search. I won’t plug the company as they’ve never been receptive to me in any form of social media. I guess my photography isn’t good enough for them. Hey, I like it!

I don’t need to tell you where to get the figures. Photograph whichever ones you want! If you’re reading this you probably already have a ton. While the modern day Mattel figures of the world may make the most realistic photos, the classic Hasbro line or any of the “Retro” sets that have been spawned since can be just as charming and appealing to look at. Honestly, one of the best pieces that can be used for figure photography is still the Mattel WWE New Generation entrance. I dare you to even try and take a “bad” pic with that thing in the mix. Sure, it’s not useful when trying to capture other eras, but I’ve seen people do real well by stretching it a bit. I’d never say no to seeing Dusty dance out under the neon!

To be perfectly honest it doesn’t take any real photography talent, either. I took a photography course or two in college, but I really don’t remember anything from it. I’ve gotten better by trial and error. “This lighting looks better for this era.” “What would it have looked like had these two had a match back in ’87?” “I could put this shirt on this figure and it makes it fit in with these figures.” I’m sure that I’m not the only one who hears these lines in their head. A sharp eye, an odd angle or two and twenty outtakes that will never see the light of day. After all that, you’ll have your shot. The best part? Thanks to digital those outtakes don’t cost you a cent anymore.

It’s a fun and cost-effective hobby. Nearly everyone has a smartphone. Some cheap lights as I’d said above. You can grab a basic ring for about $20. And as we all know, most modern figures go on clearance. This world is way too miserable and serious for us to take ourselves too seriously. My response? Let’s play with some toys. Speaking of playing with toys, I’m going to get preachy for a moment but it’s all in the name of goodwill at this time of year. If you have an Ollie’s nearby, why not grab some of the TONS of action figures that they’ve gotten in and make up a bag for Toys For Tots? It won’t break your bank and there are literally dozens of figures at most of their locations from which to choose from. It absolutely warms my heart to think of a child, not expecting a thing, getting a figure of Rey Mysterio or Grogu. It’s a small gesture that fits right in with the topic at hand. Grab yourself a new fig, grab three for the Tots.

Let’s get the Holiday mood going early here with fun and giving. The world needs it.