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Archive for July, 2011

Legends of the fall: Mattel’s Rockers to arrive in November…but only online

July 28th, 2011 No comments

Rock on(line): Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty...not coming to a store near you. (Those mullets...so lifelike.)

A little more than 12 months ago, Mattel made a Supefly splash with old-school fans at the 2010 Comic-Con with the arrivals of their long-awaited Legends line, including prototypes of a nearly flawless Rockers set of Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty (whose Jakks set immediately sold out years back) as well as Ricky Steamboat and Kevin and Kerry Von Erich (whom Jakks was never able to sign).

My fascination with action figures started with the Six-Million Dollar Man (which I documented here) and peaked with Kenner’s “Star Wars” line. The best birthday memory of my life (except for my 20th, but that’s a wonderfully sordid story for another time) was receiving the entire line of George Lucas figures complete with a Star Wares cake on my 7th birthday on April 30, 1978. Make no mistake–my sister played with Barbie Dolls; I played with action figures.

Though when I was a teen in the late ’80s, I initially scoffed at the “Midnight Rockers,” (their pre-WWF name), as being rip-offs of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express (who in turn were “inspired by the Fabs in the eyes of Memphis fans), Michaels and Jannetty earned my respect with their classic bloody brawls with Doug Sommers and a lean, mean Buddy Rose over the AWA tag straps on ESPN. As PWI and Bill Apter declared, “From Imitators to Innovators!” The duo were also tremendous heels in Memphis–getting heat with the fans and boys alike with their arrogance and prima-donna attitudes. (And why not, with heat heel manager Mark Golleen in their corner?)

Unfortunately, Mattel decided to release three less-than-inspiring sets of tag-teams for its initial Legends two-packs at a price of mark $30, about $5 too high: The Bushwackers (Sheepherders), Roddy Piper (with a bad facial scan) and Bob Orton Jr., and the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff. The sets warmed Toys R Us shelves for months until they eventually were sold as part of buy-one-get free deals.

Entrance Greats, which featured some perfect likenesses of Piper, HBK, Rey Mysterio, The Million Dollar Man and The Undertaker, were eventually eliminated by Mattel as a cost-cutting measure. (The EG line featured stands that played barely audible snippets of each wrestler’s entrance music–a cute concept but again too costly most collectors at around $22.99. Meanwhile, sales of its regular Legends line underperformed, in part because of the economy and also because of some questionable choices (Rick “the Model” Martel, Hillbilly Jim, Jimmy Snuka in tights and boots, and an outdated, 1980-era-attired Sgt. Slaughter). I applaud Mattel for giving us longtime marks quality figures of stars/attires we thought we’d never see produced, but I have to question if they really thought Dusty Rhodes in polka dots from his ridiculous WWF run in the late ’80s was going to be must-get.

In hindsight, Mattel probably should have debuted with the big guns early: The Rock, Bret Hart and Randy Savage, although all of those eventually hit retail or are scheduled too. Personally, I loved the Road Warriors in their NWA attire that was part of Legends Series 1, but Mattel probably would have sold more had Hawk and Animal appeared in their red ’90s-era Legion of Doom garb. Mattel also dragged their feet on title belts, with the exception of its oversized collector straps that looked more a chest plate like the North American title Bill Watts had made in the mid-80s for Magnum. Eventually, Mattel delivered with exceptionally well done, painted title belts (unlike Jakks), including one included with a brilliant Mr. Perfect figure that’s absolutely…well…y’know.

World-class quality figures: Mattel's Kerry Von Erich in his NWA/WWF glory.

This year at Comic-Con, Mattel announced that while the Legends line wasn’t canceled, it was moving exclusively to www.mattycollector.com, with the Rockers available to order in November, followed by Andre the Giant in January. Taking no chances, the site also has a poll in which the fans can decide the following five Legends figures of 2012, which choices including Magnum TA, Barry Windham, Miss Elizabeth and Arn Anderson. Instead, “Flashback” superstars like Papa Shango and Kane in his debut attire will be incorporated into the Elite line, with the majority of these figures likely to be based on stars of the ’90s. Personally, if anything, I hope this allows for the occasional niche figure in the Legends line, as I’d love to have a Nick Bockwinkel w/turkey-platter-sized AWA World title (the so-called “inmate” belt).

O Canada. O Canada!: Hart's "doll" is sure to be a hit, man. (Just don't pick your nose with the flag a la HBK or you're sure to catch heat.)

It’s a shame as the last line to hit stores (probably around September/October) include some of Mattel’s best work, including the Ultimate Warrior, Eddie Guerrero and the aforementioned Von Erichs. In another questionable claw, er, call, Kerry gets two figures: one from his 1985 peak and another when he was a shell of his former self as the Texas Tornado in the WWF.

In some good news for old-school fans, the high-end Defining Moments line will likely include one Legends/Flashback star per set, including an excellent ’97-era Bret “the Hitman” Hart figure, complete with Canadian flag and the Former Fed’s Winged-Eagle championship belt. (It’s pricey, but you can pre-order the Hart figure by clicking here.) Bret Hart was on hand at Comic-Con, trying to be enthusiastic as possible about his “new doll.” Doll? Action figure, please. We are grown men after all–though, admittedly, my wife often takes a look at my ever-expanding collection and shakes her head in dismay.

Then again, Bret was around the WWF in the mid-’80s, when Vince McMahon routinely referred to them as dolls, even attempting to sway the Midnight Express to jump from hot feuds, less travel, and big money in Jim Crockett Promotions so he could make “dolls” in their likenesses. Incidentally, I wonder if Bret is aware that CM Punk raids his wardrobe? I mean, this cap/black shirt/jorts/fanny pack combo look is great, but….)

The Defining Moments line, aimed at older collectors or those younger fans with disposable income, has been amazing, including spot-on Randy Savage and Ultimate Warrior figures from WrestleMania VII and an outstanding Rock figure, complete with Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection jacket from one of the highest-righted skits in RAW history.

Mattel also done a great job of delivering online limited-number exclusives at Ringside Collectibles, including a bald, mask-wearing CM Punk w/removable hood. I expect more will be on the way, instead of producing these at mass retail. Reportedly, the Randy “Macho King” Savage figure, which I posted pictures of earlier, will be available this fall through Ringside Collectibles as a limited-edition production.

Check out at the poll at mattycollector.com. And vote Miss Elizabeth–Macho Man looks lonely on my shelf and Sensational Sherri is currently paired with HBK. (Though, admittedly, that will never last. Hmmm…maybe I do need to grow up and stop being such a mark. Nah–never happen.)

Summer scramble: WWE seeks early return on investment in CM Punk at SummerSlam 2011 in Los Angeles

July 27th, 2011 1 comment

“Summer is kind of like the ultimate one-night stand: hot as hell, totally thrilling, and gone before you know it.” –Unknown Facebook philosopher

Less than two weeks after walking out on WWE with its heavyweight championship–and days after surprising the Comic-Con crowd in San Diego gathered for the WWE panel by confronting “new head of day-to-day operations” Triple H and goading him with the “real” title belt–CM Punk returned to Monday’s RAW to a largely babyface reaction, complete with new music, Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality,” to confront new titleholder John Cena, who had just regained the company’s top trophy from Rey Mysterio, who had won the tourney final to crown a new kingpin 90 minutes earlier. I almost forgot–earlier in the show, Alberto Del Rio, who’s beens scheduled to win one of the company’s top titles since WrestleMania, once again teased cashing in his Money in the Bank contract against an exhausted Rey post-match, but the new champ ran him off before the ref could “officially” ring the bell.

Ready or not, the champs are here.

The show closed with Punk and Cena in a staredown with their respective belts raised in the air, setting up a title vs. title “unification” match at SummerSlam to determine the undisputed new champion. Of course, with the most high-profile WWE tour of Mexico approaching, speculation immediately went into overdrive that Del Rio would cash in the contract and stun the new champion at SummerSlam to finally put WWE gold around his destined waist and set up a series of three-way bouts or possibly just Del Rio vs. Cena rematches.

Whew–that’s about two to three months worth of booking in less than 14 days.

As KFR reader “dlc320″ writes: “Well after the events of this past Monday’s RAW it seems to me that WWE has blown the CM Punk soap/angle off too fast in favor of the quick dollar return at SummerSlam. To have left the fate of the “real” belt in question for a while would have given an air (at least) of reality to the story. But no, instead, we rush CM Punk out at the end of the big match with his music playing and his new merchandise on his back as if any clown could waltz down to center stage right off the street. This all points to how hard it is too create a believeable storyline in today’s markett when everyone is now in on the joke…..it’s not real! And the worst part is that all true fans really want to believe in that “one true moment” when art turns to reality. We want to believe that the Snowman was real, that NWO was real, that Nexus was real,…that CM Punk was real. But now the smoke is gone, we all know the truth. And so it becomes harder to top each new ‘take over’ and I suppose in that quest for the green, the need becomes more. But sadly, the return (the fun) dies sooner.”

The Snowman angle he’s referring to is when Eddie Crawford, a muscular indie worker who briefly appeared under such monikers as Jimmy Hart Jr., Dr. Detroit and The Killer in Memphis–who was perhaps best known as the father of Xavier “X-Man” Crawford, the city’s best high-school running back of the ’90s–showed up during a live taping of Jerry Jarrett’s show at 1960 Union Avenue  in summer 1991 to confront Jerry Lawler in an interview. It was the the promotion’s first attempt that I can think of that had a shoot-life feel to it. And since the show was indeed live, it added a sense of danger and realism to it–which lasted about two weeks after bouts between the King and the Snowman quickly revealed this was indeed an angle. The fact that Crawford couldn’t be carried to a decent, realistic-looking brawl by Lawler didn’t help matters. But with a promotion like Memphis, who for years had been forced to book strongly each Saturday to sell the weekly Monday shows. Much like Snowman after 5 minutes in the ring, the angle quickly ran out of gas before briefly capturing the imagination of the Memphis viewing public. The Nexus angle, of course, was blown the very next RAW when a slickly produced video package highlighting the “unscripted” attack helped kick off the show and relegated it to just another WWE angle–a part of the show–in the fans’ eyes.

Those in charge of WWE seemed to be stunned at the hot reaction to the Punk angle in recent weeks, despite his incredible Internet following and his longtime status as an above-average mover of merchandise. And despite being saddled with poor storylines for years and booked to lose nearly every big PPV match he’s had in the last three years, Punk’s superior promos and charisma have cemented him as a cult favorite nevertheless. Cult of personality, indeed.

While Punk vs. Cena is a much hotter SummerSlam main event than Del Rio in the mix, it seems that with less than three weeks ago to the Los Angeles show that the company panicked. At the very least, Cena vs. Rey and the disputed champion’s return should have been put off until next week, giving Punk a little more time away to stew and fans to speculate about his return. (Hell, if WWE hadn’t been so Memphis-like in its approach, perhaps they could have gone with a Rey vs. Cena vs. Del Rio three-way at SummerSlam, with Punk re-emerging on the Aug. 15 RAW in street clothes and no music to set up a slow build for Survivor Series.) The Rumble would have been too late as the company at that point would likely be best served with directing the promotion toward their WrestleMania main event “Dwayne.”

Longtime veterans and fans of the business have every reason to cringe about pulling the trigger too early on a Punk vs. Cena rematch and regulating CM to just another superstar on the roster just after establishing him as a modern-day rebel. But in today’s WWE, which goes with the hot hand to sell PPVs and merchandise (Punk’s new T-shirt from Monday is already on the company’s Shop Zone), it’s not surprising. Still, if anyone can save this rush job, it’s Punk. He’s overcome a lot worse since his WWE debut–which ironically enough was serving as one of “The Untouchables”-style gangsters leading Cena to the ring for his WrestleMania 22 main event–in his hometown of Chicago no less. Punk supposedly wants to get Steve Austin into the ring for one final match at ‘Mania, which might even trump Cena vs. Rock. (Maybe they could fight over Punk’s latest entrance theme; see Austin’s Hall of Fame video below.) I doubt it will come off, but if Austin were to have one more match, it might just be with Punk, whose work he admires. An Austin vs. Rock rematch from their last WrestleMania encounter would be much bigger money, though, down the road if the Rattlesnake bided his time. Hulk Hogan might as well just forget about Austin, but that won’t stop him from “issuing challenges” on radio shows, even offering to lose–geez, that’s some buildup there.

Here’s one intriguing scenario: Vince McMahon, protesting his ouster and the re-signing of Punk, re-emerges to screw CM out of the title at SummerSlam, leading to a Cena heel turn down the stretch heading into WrestleMania. Could be a refreshing change of pace as 18-to-34-year-old males, whom WWE covets, are dying to cheer Punk and boo Cena, which could lead to some hot rematches and brilliant, fresh TV. I’d say the odds of that happening are slim, though.

Triple H gets Punk’d at San Diego Comic-Con

July 22nd, 2011 1 comment

Something tells me CM Punk will back on WWE sooner rather than later–and maybe even Zach Ryder. (Luke Gallows on the other hand….) Nice off-the-cuff exchange here–didn’t feel scripted all, which is more of what WWE needs. Hopefully shades of things to come in supposed “the new day” of WWE.

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