Thursday, May 23, 2024

Some Legendary Returns…

What could possibly drag me out of the “indefinite hiatus” that the blog has been on? Maybe The Greatest Wrestler on God’s Green Earth? Ok, no maybe. Definitely. In the nearly six blogless months of 2024 we’ve seen a lot of great figures but something about a proper NWA Harley Race figure gave me a feeling that I haven’t felt since I was a kid. When the figure was announced I felt as I did when I’d walk into a store and see brand new Hasbros or, in an instance that we all can remember, when the “Undertake ‘Em All” figure ad hit WWF Magazine. It’s a figure that many of us have been waiting decades for and here it is along with three similarly themed friends.

In case you’ve been under a rock (and who could blame you in this world?), the new Harley Race is part of a Mattel Creations four pack called “Legends of the Territory Era.” The set also includes Superstar Billy Graham, Gorilla Monsoon and, once again, Muhammad Ali. The set shipped almost as soon as it went on sale and is still available as of press time. Kudos must be given whenever an exclusive figure (or any figure for that matter) is easily accessible to collectors. There’s no need for manufactured collectibles with a limited availability. None at all.

As most Mattel Creations WWE releases have been, the packaging is impressive. The figures reside in a double sided display inside two boxes with impressive artwork. I really appreciate the faux vintage posters used for the design on the inner box. They show that care was instilled during the creation of this. That being said, some of the verbiage used by the company later nearly nullified all of that, but we’ll discuss that in a bit. Although I’m sure you could somehow store the figures back in the trays, it’s the plastic ties that keep them standing so they may move around a bit while stored. If you’re tossing the plastic trays be sure to remove Graham’s sunglasses first. They tend to blend in to the background.

The Ali – Monsoon side is a tribute to their often-replayed confrontation that was part of the build to Ali’s Boxer vs Wrestler match against Antonio Inoki. Monsoon’s airplane spin on Ali has been replayed ad nauseum over the years so you’ve no doubt seen it. We’ve only ever had one wrestling gear version of Monsoon before and this one greatly improves on it. While it’s obvious whose parts are being recycled here, it really works. It truly looks like Monsoon standing there. It’s absolutely his shape, size and stature. No one asked for another Ali but here we are anyway. It does compliment the Monsoon well. The soft goods upper body clothes look a tad off at times but it was crucial that they were made this way for the recreation of the scene. Apparently we should be grateful for this figure. Again, we’ll discuss that in a bit. I absolutely love the watch accessory which I had overlooked in the preview pics. It fits on like the recent removable wrist bands do so you have to remove the hand for the watch to come off.

The Race – Graham duo is a tribute to the never-ending ‘70s struggle of the NWA versus the WWWF. It’s cool to think of how that was possible back then, even if the business-minded promoters could never agree to give us a definitive winner. Not even for a short while. No one could look better than the other. That being said, both sides look great here. While I already gushed over Harley, a lot of the talk has been the belts and rightfully so. This is the first time that the “domed globe” NWA Championship has been in the Mattel line (and one of few figure-sized versions anywhere) and we’ve never seen the ‘70s WWWF Championship released at all. As much as I love the former, it’s the latter that really sticks out to me here. It’s scary close to the real deal and, yes, it does have the WWWF lettering. To think that we have both of these titles in the line in 2024 is mind blowing. Coupled with the fact that we’re getting the UWF Championship later this summer makes you want to ask, “what’s going on here?” Remember when “rights” absolutely could not be worked out for these belts? I can’t speak for them all, but I highly suspect that it was finally realized that no one really WOULD hold the rights to this WWWF title. These were “trophy belts.” Some trophy maker, probably in a back alley shop in Brooklyn, cobbled this belt together with spare parts. It would be a long shot if anyone tried to sue over that “design.” I could be entirely wrong regarding rights and I’m sure that someone “official” will tell me that I am, but I’m going by the facts of how these original belts were produced.

The original Mattel Billy Graham release was perfect and this one only improves on that perfection. The new “Scott Steiner” biceps are used further hitting home Graham’s impressive physique. The shirt is the new style without the velcro so you simply remove the head and hands to slide it on and off. It fits like a glove just as it would in real life. The extra elbow articulation really helps with his poses. While you don’t get the ‘80s Billy Graham head as you did in the first release, you could pop it on here if you really wanted to. This version is to celebrate the ‘70s and its flamboyant champion who paved the way for Hogan, Ventura and even Steiner among many others.

Finally, we have Harley Race. Remember that while the Jakks Classic Superstars release was nice, he had no facial hair. The head was a simple repaint of their King Harley Race head. Facial hair could’ve easily been painted on but inexplicitly wasn’t. Here we’ve got completely molded mutton chops and an amazing head of curly hair. The figure is relatively similar to the Mattel King Harley but that works. With the wonders of modern figures you can even pop the Greatest Hits blonde Harley head onto this body for a really early version of Race, as he did have blonde hair early on. The color here is royal blue and it’s topped off with his robe that Jakks had also included. This time we get “Race” on the back which is a great detail. The belt fits nicely. I might say that the main plate is just a tad too big, but I’m not complaining. Belts are hard to get both looking great in appearance and looking appropriate when on the figure.

A lot of the “official word” on this set rubbed me the wrong way. When first announced this was said to be first in a “line,” as in we’d receive different sets down the pike. This was corrected to be a “one off.” I don’t know who to blame here. Did someone at Mattel claim this to be a line? It was the worthless goons, I mean, “influencers” who seemingly first used the word. Could they ALL have gotten it wrong? In the grand scheme of things it means nothing, but perhaps we’re kowtowing a bit too much to these folks, eh, Mattel? I know they’ve certainly never influenced me on anything. I don’t watch their videos or even follow them, I’m alerted by others when they have some interesting news since, again, that’s how Mattel and most of these toy companies feel the need to release “scoops,” as it were.

In addition to it not being a line, I was directed to where the voice of Mattel stated that it was a one off because there weren’t enough characters nor enough interest to support more. Wrong and wrong again. Off the top of my head I compiled a list of at least twenty names currently known to be “available” to Mattel who could fit into this line. What better does Mattel like than using what they already have? Especially since I’ve been told that the statement of “This set would not have seen the light of day without Ali” was made by the same official voice. That’s funny considering that this is the figure that most DIDN’T want and also the one that a lot collectors stated would be up for sale. I understand getting the most of a license but it’s already been proven that the crossover for Ali just didn’t translate with the Mattel releases. Am I happy to have him? Absolutely. Am I glad that he’s the reason, in Mattel’s mind, that we got these amazing Race, Graham and Monsoon figures? Most assuredly. But that shouldn’t have BEEN the reason. If PowerTown can give us names with much less marquee value in 2024 than these three then so can Mattel. Why would they not want to produce more versions of Dusty Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat, Bruno Sammartino and Terry Funk? Why do “The Legends of the Territory Era” have to be limited to the ‘70s? The time period lasted well into the ‘80s. Sounds like a team with limited knowledge of history to me and shortsightedness as far as consumer demand. Really, though, we have to keep in mind that toy companies aren’t in it for our collections nor our wants. They are in it to make money and, remember, it’s their job. They want to slap something together, present it to the bean counters and go home. For every loving detail like the ‘70s poster packaging we also get told that what we want doesn’t matter nor does the era that we know better than they do. Just remember that.

On the bright side, the Harley figure did make me remember something very positive. Twenty years ago this November I’d met Race for the very first time. With the help of this new figure I was able to recreate the first 8x10 that I’d ever had signed by him. It was a positive as this set, overall, is. When it was first announced I pretty much decided that I would do a one-off review for it, but then all of the issues in the last paragraph made me reconsider. After receiving the figures in-hand I knew that they had to be featured. If I may be your “influencer” for a second, go get yourself a set. Prove Mattel wrong and show that legends of all eras are what many of us want. If you’re reading this you probably feel the same. I don’t know when I’ll be back, but I do have some ideas flowing. One may elaborate on a memory you just read about. I don’t want to limit my returns to amazing figure reviews, but if you want them I’ll try to oblige.

As always in the past fifteen years, thanks for reading and I’m sure that the best is yet to come…