"Did you see when Hulk Hogan body-slammed Andre the Giant?"
I had a friend ask me that, to which I had to respond no, as I was only 2 years old at the time of Wrestlemania III. The days of my unconscious youth were those of that golden age of professional wrestling. Every Saturday morning would be occupied by wrestling. It was time to watch Hulk Hogan square off against Andre the Giant or Sting lock holds with Ric Flair. Slim Jims would be snapped in half by the Macho Man. A decade later brought out the Attitude Era, with Stone Cold telling us because he said so and DDP giving out Diamond Cutters everywhere.
Join me after the jump as I take a look back at wrestling figures of a time long ago. A time when The Rock, errrr, Dwayne Johnson, wasn't making horrible movies.
The 1980s were a transitional period for professional wrestling. The growing dominance of the World Wrestling Federation put an end to many of territorial companies. The characters of the Iron Shiek, Jessie "The Body" Ventura, Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, and Rowdy Roddy Piper became the heroes and villains of a generation's childhood. They weren't just a cell of animation, but actual people. Even though they did crossover to the cartoonish side of things, their stories felt real for that generation.
In 1984, LJN released the Wrestling Superstars collection of figures. The figures attempted to capture that mystique of those characters. You would be able flex their arms and that's about it. In their current condition though, they will just keep the ability to stay as they are. Ask any kid of the 80s though, figures like these were great. They stood up to them constant abuse of slamming against one another and imagination was necessary.
Wrestling would have its highest heights during this time, which meant just about anything would get made. Yes, you could write on the sidewalk with Hulk Hogan. I do find it unfortunately ironic that you'd grind out Jake the Snake into piles of dust, but I wouldn't at all mind seeing that fate be given to Ultimate Warrior, especially given his comic career.
As the 80s gave way to the 90s, World Championship Wrestling began to make its mark on the industry. The figures weren't the best at the beginning either, as evidenced by Sting up above. WCW's figures were originally made by a company called The Toymakers. The early figures were a lot like the 1984 LJN WWF line, but a tad smaller.
It wouldn't be until the mid 1990s that wrestling started to see some quality figures. WCW started to dominate wrestling thanks in large part due to the creation of the nWo. With the popularity growing, it was a matter of time before quality figures would come to the market. Toy Biz was tasked with the creation of new figures and they set forth a standard in wrestling figures that wouldn't be matched until Mattel acquired the WWE license in 2010.
Toy Biz made their claim to fame with their Marvel Legends series and their line of figures for WCW were of the same quality. The figures would begin to feature great articulation and gimmicks. The figures became more than just literal stand-ins for your legends, but actually capable of re-enacting them. In the figure above, you can have Goldberg do his signature Jackhammer on a Masked Wrestler, whom is actually Rey Mysterio. If there is anything I wish I could create, it's getting Rey Mysterio to job to someone.
Not all of the gimmicks were great though. In the figure above, Roddy Piper uses his bagpipe as a missile launcher. Other figures in the line were just as silly, including Hak (better known as ECW's Sandman) using a kendo stick to launch missiles out of a food cart. These figures do raise a great question though: What's with the missile fetish?
After Toy Biz took over the WCW line, Toymakers wasn't out of production for too long. They took that upstart Philadelphia promotion, Extreme Championship Wrestling, and created a line for them. The figures didn't last that long, eventually disappearing once the WWF took ownership of ECW. The figures themselves weren't that remarkable for the time, much like the company's WCW figures. In fact, the only thing I can say that is remarkable is that Tommy Dreamer still looks exactly the same from 10 years ago when this figure was made.
With the 90s coming to an end, the luster of the nWo began to wear off and the Attitude Era of WWF began the takeover. The figures were now being done by Jakks Pacific, which brought actual action to WWF action figures. The company would create a wide range of figures with just about every gimmick imaginable. They would also make figures of just about anyone on the roster, including the referees, even though they didn't resemble them that greatly. In fact, resemblance is a problem that Jakks would continue having up until their recent debut edition of TNA Wrestling figures.
The company had more than its share of controversy. In 1999, this figure of Al Snow caused a stir at Walmart due to disembodied doll head that it came with. Ignoring decades of brothers ripping Barbie heads off and the fact that it's a mannequin's head, a consumer group lobbied for and got the figure's removal from the marketplace.
Quality wasn't the best either as you can tell by this figure of Goldust. They got the coat right, but they could never get the face right. It's scary when it looks more like Shelton Benjamin than a guy with paint on his face.
If you thought WCW had horrible gimmick figures, they were nowhere close to those of the WWF. The S.T.O.M.P. line featured WWF superstars as a military strike force. Nothing should be scarier than seeing the Undertaker with a scythe, Stone Cold as Rambo or Ahmed Johnson with an arm-mounted chainsaw.
Though you can't get more gimmicky or awful than this combo pack of wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne Johnson. At the height of his popularity, The Rock took the role of the Scorpion King in the sequel to The Mummy. He would eventually leave wrestling and referring to himself as The Rock behind, but this cringe-inducing figure is a reminder of that horrid transition.
I imagine this as a face of horror. When I first saw this figure, I could do nothing but laugh at how bad his face looks. I then laugh some more when I realize that this is probably how people reacted while watching The Tooth Fairy. If you look to the right, the shot of Dwayne looks more like the famous "Crying Indian" commercial than The Rock. You would think that the guy would want the figure to at least look like him.
As to why he would do it? Well, everyone has a price!
I'd like to give a special thank you to my friend, Rob for providing his collection for this edition of Toys of Yesterday. You can visit his site, Planet Rob, for video reviews and riffs of nostalgic goods.
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