Thursday, December 28, 2023

Looking to the future…

Another year has passed. The fifteenth active year of this blog to be exact, though the actual fifteenth anniversary itself isn’t until 3/22/24. I set a blog goal for myself this year that I actually surpassed. I wanted to go back to the weekly format and stick to it. Thanks to a few “extra” happenings I actually surpassed that. If you read any or all of those entries I truly and sincerely thank you. Every bit of feedback, whether it be in some private comment or even a social media “like,” means the world to me. It means that what I’ve done here has in some way entertained, informed or enlightened and that is what I’d always set out to do since day one.


I didn’t advertise this entry on any social media entities for a reason. It’s an entry that only needs to be read by the “diehards,” if any such readers exist for this blog. If you automatically come here on your own, then it’s information that you’d be interested in. If you don’t, you may come across it eventually or just wonder “hey, what happened to that guy?” In 2024 I’ve decided to “pull back” a bit. That’s both personally and in public forums such as this. A time for reevaluation on all fronts. I absolutely detest “I’ve had enough, I’m leaving” announcements that folks make on social media. No one cares and the people that respond as such are the only ones being truthful. Instead I’ll try to give you more of an “update.”


The truth of the matter is that I’ve done everything that I’d set out to do, and probably more, with this blog. It got me some recognition in the early days, helped me realize my dream of writing for the magazines before they became all but extinct and gave me some recognition among other wrestling fans and collectors which is always nice. I can keep on doing what I’ve been doing, but it’s repetition. One can only take me talking about Dusty, The King and Bruno so many times.


I set out to give friendly and lighthearted looks at the topics that I covered. Sadly, that just doesn’t work anymore. The world has changed. Some pinpoint it all the way back to 9/11. I think that I’d go a little beyond that, but it’s just a different place. The key to success in this day and age is being an asshole. There’s no way around it. I don’t know if I speak for every genre, but look at who’s making it big now covering what I cover or even those who cover the wrestling business in general. Assholes. Some with knowledge, some without. If they’re not an asshole then they speak in ridiculous slang or act like they’re edgy when, ultimately, they’re talking about toys or other items coming from a product that’s always, like it not, been aimed at children. Then there are those who’ve literally bought their way into your consciousness. They spent their money to get in, you, in turn, spent your money on them and they’ve literally insulted you and laughed in your face. You know exactly what I’m talking about and, unless you’re in denial, hopefully you’re feeling a bit of shame for letting yourself be used like that.


I’ve never talked down to anyone that’s honored me with following my content. While I’ll admit to winning for a long time going by that belief, my successes have indeed stagnated. Add that to the fact that I’m a creative person who’s never had an outlet for creativity that’s truly been sustainable. That’s ultimately the great trick in being creative. I never made money on this. The reward was entertaining and enlightening you, which I mentioned above.


I’m sure that a few of you still get that from this blog, but it’s time for something else. I don’t know what that is. I don’t feel that the blog is completely ending. Again, I think that 2024 is a great time for reevaluation. I doubt that there will be fifty-five entries in this coming year. There may not even be five. There may be an entirely new format or maybe another project altogether. I’ll even be pulling back from most of the social media associated with the blog. That being said, I implore you to watch out for updates. If you enjoyed the run thus far and have stuck with me I can promise you that I’ll put even more of myself into whatever follows. The trick is figuring out what that is.


Again, thank you all for all of the support over the past decade and a half.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Figure Of The Year 2023

It’s hard to believe, but it’s that time once again. What was the single best figure of 2023? Maybe I shouldn’t say single since, as far as this blog is concerned, there were two winners in 2022. There’s no denying that there are now more figures than ever to choose from since, for better or worse, there are now a multitude of manufacturers. Well, at least there are a handful of manufacturers and some kids playing dress up and trying to be manufacturers. Thinly veiled shade aside, more names than ever are immortalized in plastic and as long as they’re available to all it’s ultimately a better market. Let’s take a look at a few of the choices this year, some which were reviewed on this blog and some that weren’t.

You know him and you love him. Virgil was back in 2023 with a new figure from Mattel. This is only the second action figure of Virgil in his wrestling gear to be produced and just the fourth overall. For such a ubiquitous character in the glory days of the WWF it’s hard to believe, but at least he’s finally getting his due. I’m not sure why the choice was made to do this one as a Build-A-Figure as he would’ve been a hugely popular character in the Legends series, but there’s always room for that, too, just change it up to the look he had in the Hasbro figure. (George Foreman on Nutrisystem?) While we’re at it, why not a “Bodyguard Virgil” Retro figure?

Andre the Giant, as usual, saw a multitude of new releases but none stood out to me more than the suited version finally released in Mattel Elite Series 100. It’s a look that’s been ignored for decades and was finally done, complete with a variant. The big man was perfect for all of the “35th Anniversary of WrestleMania IV” celebrations that were held worldwide (you weren’t invited to one? Where were you?) and filled a gap in collections everywhere. My one gripe with the figure was that the huge “paw” hands that were used on about two Andre figures and a Big Show release several years ago were not included and seem to be forgotten by Mattel altogether.

Figures Toy Company added some absolutely great names to their Legends line with the first ever figures of Dr. Tom Prichard, Brad Armstrong and Mr. Hughes among others. Many collectors sleep on these offerings and will be sorry when they’re no longer available. It’s the one line that I would absolutely guarantee a monetary value raise for once they’re no longer in production. The company has also recently announced that going forward there will be a brand new body type for all future released figures. This could be a game changer with some of the unique names that only FTC is seemingly willing to make. As the kids say, “I’m here for it.”

The Coliseum Collection gave us some nice possibilities with Ravishing Rick Rude and Jake “The Snake” Roberts as well as the Rowdy Roddy Piper and George “The Animal” Steele releases that you saw featured here last week. I honestly think that Steele could be my “First Runner-up” this year, if I had one, and I’ll reiterate a point that I made last week: availability is key. All of The Coliseum Collection releases are still available to order at press time. Remember, one of the factors in my choice of “Figure Of The Year” is availability. No one should be left in the cold buying what is nothing more than a children’s toy. Speaking of toys, George came with plenty including a turnbuckle and Mine!

No one could talk “Figure Of The Year” without mentioning the first six PowerTown Wrestling releases. Stan Hansen, Bruiser Brody, Verne Gagne, Kerry Von Erich, Lou Thesz and Magnum T.A. will forever be immortalized as the first figures in what will hopefully become one of the greatest lines of all-time. There were some hick-ups along the way and maybe a questionable marketing choice and tactic or two, but with the upcoming lineup announced I think we’re in for more FOTY possibilities in 2024. Let’s not forget their new “Remco” line, either! Dory Funk Jr, Wahoo McDaniel, Madusa, Junkyard Dog, Kamala and Jack Brisco will make up Ultras Series 2.

We can’t forget Mattel’s Mr. America, Gobbledy Gooker, Rhythm and Blues Greg “The Hammer” Valentine in both Elite and Retro formats as well as various entries from the Remco-styled WWE Superstars line. Perhaps the figures that could’ve caused another tie would have been Samu and Fatu. The Headshinkers were long overdo for a return to the action figure world. Nearly three decades, to be exact. While I got everything I needed from the releases I have to believe that some collectors didn’t end up with what I feel were the more desirable variants, The Samoan Swat Team versions. The boys had never before been done in this style as figures and it’s a shame to think that someone may not have been able to grab them. An honorable mention goes out to their manager, Paul E. Dangerously, who was released in the same series. It was “the mad scientist of wrestling’s” first figure in that look and name.

The winner? The 2023 Figure of The Year? From Junkshopdog it’s none other than Aja Kong. The Junkshopdog line should be familiar to anyone reading this. It’s a line based on the Japanese Popy wrestling figures of the early ‘80s. The fully licensed line has taken on names not only from the original era in which it replicates but also newer stars from around the world. You may recall their Bruiser Brody release reviewed right here on the blog several years ago. Recently the company was proud to announce that through a licensing deal with WWE they’re able to add Hulk Hogan to their lineup. This is especially fun since The Hulkster was indeed part of that original ine by Popy.

Aja Kong has long been one of my favorites. Her appearance in the line follows the release of fellow women’s wrestling star Bull Nakano who is equally amazingly captured. While I’d still like modern articulated releases of both of these ladies, the ability that the company had to take their unique likenesses and translate them perfectly to the Sofubi figure style is amazing. Another huge plus is that these figures come to you in one-hundred percent “collector friendly packaging.” This is a term used for decades which means that you can remove the figure from the packaging without damaging a single thing. Mattel has adopted this with their Retro line, but I’m not as fond of it there. In that line it’s a poor late-in-the-game change that disrupts the flow of the collection itself. Junkshopdog has been doing it since their first release. Best of all, while the company has had some sellouts on limited editions, most of their figures are available to purchase directly from them. No need to play the scalper game here. No “Biggin’” is buying his next bag of Cheetos off of the hard work of these guys, that’s for sure.

I’m looking forward to what 2024 brings us as far as wrestling figures. In my opinion Mattel has had disappointing “preview” showings and, aside from Virgil, the often bright lights of the Build-A-Figure sets have been huge letdowns. They’re also completely becoming slaves to retailer exclusives. Jazwares has seemingly lost as much steam with their AEW line as the wrestling company itself has. Why pre-order any of the figures when most characters are going to be clearance out at $4.99 by the end of year? Maybe it’s the smaller companies such as Junkshopdog that we should be looking to. The issue there is that for every Junkshopdog, which has proven itself to be a legitimate contender for your money, there are five or ten other little boys pretending to be toymakers with varying results. Caveat emptor.

We’ll be back next week to “wrap it up…”

Thursday, December 14, 2023

The Mouths That Roared…And Chewed Turnbuckles

I may complain a lot, but I do try to be fair about it and admit when that complaining is unfounded. Initially, I complained about The Coliseum Collection. I don’t recall how public my complaining was, but I definitely groused a bit. “Here we go again.” “More expensive remakes of figures that we already have.” “The SAME Jake The Snake that we just got in the Legends line?” Well, I was wrong. Between the figures themselves, the packaging and the overall presentation I’ve really taken to the line. That’s why I was actually sad that the latest entry, Rowdy Roddy Piper vs George “The Animal” Steele, was met with a delay. In a few ways, which we’ll get to, these were actually the most anticipated Coliseum Collection entries to date for me, personally. No, we’re not seeing never before made names here. That’s not what The Coliseum Collection is about. We’re seeing top quality modern representations of the characters that made up the beloved LJN Wrestling Superstars line. It’s a true testament to that line that both of “the biggies” (Mattel WWE and Jazwares AEW) are paying homage in their own way at the same time. Let’s see the latest that Mattel brings to the table…and to the turnbuckle!

For as many Piper figures as have been produced I still feel that the longer haired look has been better represented than the short hair style. As far as Mattel goes, the short haired look was long due an upgrade. We were given a taste several years ago with the absolutely great “boxing” Piper figure and, thankfully, the head sculpt from that set is included here, as well. Steele is returning to the Mattel lineup for the first time in years altogether. Both of his previous releases were the same base figure. It was a nice figure but the torso was just a tad too thin for the bulky brawler. I always said that for your shirtless George Steele needs you’d go with the Jakks Classic Superstars version. Since the first Mattel release had a shirt, he was your “go to” for pre-match Animal. Now we’re hopefully getting definitive versions of both.

The packaging on these is grand. There’s no other way to put it. The sturdy and immense outer box featuring spectacular art of these legends opens up to house individual carded versions of the figures in packaging directly paying homage to LJN Wrestling Superstars. It’s a fun touch that the figures are even posed inside of the boxes the way that the old LJN figures were sculpted. The accessories are housed in the boxes below each figure which is were the old LJN posters would’ve been packaged. The Coliseum Collection is certainly growing, as evidenced by the back of the cards! Though he was shown on the back of the debut Coliseum Collection set, the SDCC exclusive Ultimate Edition Sgt. Slaughter is no longer shown on the back. It’s up to you to decide if he’s part of The Coliseum Collection or not, just as it is with the Hasbro LJN-styled figure on which this Slaughter is based. We know that The Hitman and The Anvil will be joining this card back next year. It should be noted that, unlike that SDCC Slaughter, the packaging since has not been 100% “collector friendly.” While you can certainly return these figures to look exactly the way that they came, several of those useless plastic restraints hold them into their individual bubbles.

You get plenty of accessories with these figures including a total of three heads for each and multiple hands. Piper has his shirt, microphone, belt and kilt while Steele includes his own shirt, turnbuckle and Mine. You don’t have to ask who Mine is, do you? Mine has long been a beloved (and pretty) face here on this blog and if you follow the blog on social media you just saw the real deal in an “ad” for this entry. Mattel was the first to bring Mine to the figure world (Jakks showed a bendy-styled prototype at a preview event, does ANYONE have that picture saved???) and it’s good to see him making his return here. The turnbuckle is from the Mattel New Generation Arena set but this one is cut at the top and includes removable “stuffing” for George to gnaw on. You’ll note the lack of red trim on Piper’s shirt and that is due to it being missing in the Piper LJN release. Prototypes of that figure showed the infamous Piper “panther face” shirt which will ultimately never be released. That shirt was white with no trim and LJN likely just replaced the panther with the “Hot Rod” logo thus bringing us what we got in the ‘80s and now on this tribute figure. Other figures in the Mattel line have had the on-screen Hot Rod shirt with trim included if you don’t already have it.

I like the array of heads and hands included. Since the two really aren’t far off in skin tone ultimately any hand here can be used on either figure. The hands that come attached to Steele in the package have only been released once before to my knowledge, with the NXT Cameron Grimes figure. For him they were used to grasp money. Here they’re perfect for George to clutch the turnbuckle. I love the new more pensive George Steele head sculpt, though I think we could’ve had our first no-tongue-showing head in the history of figures of “The Animal” had it been done a little different. Piper’s heads are great, too, especially the aforementioned one originally used in the boxing two-pack with Mr. T. This is exactly the face that you remember any time that Hot Rod was going off on a rant in Piper’s Pit.

I think we have the perfect George Steele here. It’s absolutely everything you’d want in “The Animal” and the body type is exactly right this time around. Does it make the original Steele releases useless? Not in my book. That one can represent ‘60s-‘70s Steele when he was making Bruno’s life a nightmare. As far as ‘80s “boom era” Steele ready to chew turnbuckles on Saturday Night’s Main Event and/or attempt to rescue Elizabeth from “The Not-so-Macho Man,” this is your Animal. Piper is great, too, and fits right in with the inaugural WrestleMania figures that we’ve seen over the past few years such as Hulk Hogan and Mr. T. As with most Piper figures I think it’s a tad too muscular, but with most wrestling figures your eyes will just overlook it. Picture Roddy running his mouth as only he could and a few extra bulges really don’t make much of a difference.

The Coliseum Collection has really become a highpoint of modern wrestling figure collecting for me. It isn’t so much the “Ultimate” body type. It’s the packaging presentation to the accessories to the availability. You know that with the latter I am a huge champion. Everyone should have a fair shot at getting everything introduced in a figure line. Even if it’s a short twenty-four hour window, in 2023 that’s enough time for anyone to pause and place an order on their phone. All three of the Coliseum Collection sets released thus far are available to purchase and that’s a great thing. If someone is just getting started with the line they should absolutely be able to go back from the beginning. With The Hart Foundation joining the ranks in 2024 it’s definitely a growing line. I would not even poo poo the idea of Mattel branching out to “What If’s” by including names who weren’t necessarily in the original Wrestling Superstars line but maybe could’ve been.

I also want a new Hillbilly Jim. Was there anyone more iconic in the original LJNs? Don’t go messin’ with my figure wants!

Thursday, December 7, 2023

The Underrated Living Legend

Not that long ago I made what some would consider to be a controversial statement to my friend. No, I didn’t endorse a political candidate (they’re all awful!). I didn’t denounce Taylor Swift (although I don’t quite get it). I didn’t even say that classic wrestling is better than modern wrestling (though if you think otherwise I doubt you’d have been reading this particular blog for fifteen years). The declaration that I made was that, in the realm of two wrestlers who were very similar in a lot of ways and were also contemporaries, I prefer Larry Zbyszko to Tully Blanchard.

I don’t dislike Tully. Don’t take it that way at all. I’m a big fan! He should’ve had a longer run in his prime, but sadly his salad days and prime earning years collided. Still, even though they had little if any interaction despite being contemporaries, I think that Blanchard and Zbyszko are very similar in a lot of ways. Both had great careers but each left you wanting a bit more. Both had great singles runs but could tear it up in tag teams as well. Both were excellent tag team partners for “The Enforcer” Arn Anderson, each with their own comparative style, in teams that could’ve gone on longer! Tully was a founding member of The Four Horseman. Larry was a pillar of The Dangerous Alliance. They do size up quite nicely.

I will say that, in my opinion, Zbyszko is a tad underrated compared to Blanchard, especially when he had a comparatively longer career. “The Living Legend” celebrated his 72nd birthday earlier this week and was still making the occasionally in-ring appearance less than a decade ago. I’m sure that many, like myself, would’ve enjoyed a WWF run during the national expansion. In my opinion he would’ve fit right in and probably been upper-mid-card as far as roster status, but it wasn’t meant to be. It could be a lack of a run there, something that Tully did have, albeit briefly, that gives him less of an edge in comparing the two. Another advantage of Tully’s, being part of the aforementioned best-remembered supergroup or faction, is something that I would’ve enjoyed seeing Zbyszko part of as well. 

That being said, Larry Z made his own impact. He was definitely of the more recognizable faces in the dying days of the AWA. He had video tapes, action figures and plenty of magazine covers. He was a frequent coverboy for the WWWF programs of the ‘70s and later into the very early ‘80s once his famous feud with mentor Bruno Sammartino shocked wrestling fans in the northeast. His too-brief run with Jim Crockett Promotions in the late ‘80s, between stints with the AWA, landed him several trading cards in the famous Wonderama set, including with The Western States Heritage Championship belt. He once told me that he had been signed by Jakks to be part of the Legends of the Ring figure series (part of their TNA line) and that the figure would include that particular belt. It didn’t end up happening, but Larry did finally get his due with a modern figure in the Mattel line around the time that he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Let’s not forget his several year stint as a WCW announcer, though he never seemed to have the top color commentator spot that he really deserved. With zero disrespect to Bobby Heenan, “The Brain” just wasn’t anything close to what he was in the WWF after he went to WCW. Zbyszko should’ve had the prime spot but, again, it just was not meant to be. The announcer position did lead to a few returns to the ring, but the thought of Larry being part of that great 1993 active WCW roster really brings some regret that it didn’t happen. Didn’t like the Paul Roma version of the Horsemen? Why not try Larry in there? Ultimately we did get that great feud with Lord Steven Regal, but I always felt underwhelmed when Larry feuded with “the new World odor.” Perhaps if Dusty had stepped into the ring during his brief nWo run we could’ve had an intriguing legends feud.

I enjoy seeing Larry at shows and conventions. He seems to be one who got out of the business with happiness and contentment. If he didn’t, he’s putting on an awfully good show. He doesn’t take it too seriously and is always up to talk to fans and reminisce about all of those GLORIOUS years. He truly is a star, that while underrated, made his mark in all of the biggest promotions of the day. He’s certainly memorable, still discussed to this day and best of all he lived to talk about and enjoy it. I don’t think that it gets more successful than that. Oh yeah, and like me, he’s a Pittsburgher! It doesn’t get much better than THAT, either!