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A Seven Inch Bodyslam:
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The Toys of the World Wrestling Federation!
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As you've likely noticed, we've got a new (and final) post layout. If you'll remember, I was toying with different ones for the past few weeks, progressively annoying anyone trying to read our posts to the point where our honorary staff web guru and all-around soul brother Blacksuns stepped in and told me...'Matt, I like the site. I really do. But you deserve Chinese water torture for exploiting html this badly.' 15 minutes later, he presents the new layout. I'm loving it. For the quick glancer-over peoples, to the right there's a table of related article links if you feel like reading some of our older stuff without having to comb through the 26 Pokemon at the bottom of the main page.
I've gotten good feedback on the layout thus far, but its misdirected. Check out his site and drop him and line if you want to show some love. Meanwhile, today's post is dedicated to Mr. Suns, as he's one of the few people I've met who full understand why what we're about to talk about is so galacticly important.
Try as I might, I can't escape pro-wrestling. I've been a fan for as long as I can remember, and despite lapses in interest over the shows getting too damn shitty for their own good, I always eventually come back pining for an announcer to somehow come up with an official sounding name for a move when a guy's getting thrown through a table on his head. Most of my friends would rather eat their televisions than put a wrestling show on it, and as hard as I've tried to explain why its such a special beast, it seems as though only those of us on the very bottom of the entertainment totem pole are able to appreciate it.
The first thing to understand is that pro-wrestling has about as much to do with actual wrestling as most talk shows do with trying to teach their audience valuable life lessons. Its been described as a soap opera, a weekly drama series, a circus, and a bunch of roided freaks running around in shiny underwear lying about their height. All of the above. That's what's so great about this pseudosport, there's something for everyone. Society as a whole is frightfully easy to entertain, so if you can't see the plus side in watching guys smash chairs over each other's heads while doing interviews assaulting the size of their enemies' manhoods, please e-mail me and fill me in on what you're watching instead, because it must be damn good television.
I'm sure by now the brunt of you who hate wrestling are completely a virtual collective moan, but don't worry, I'm not here to convince you one way or another. Actually, wrestling as a whole generally blows right now, so even if the thought of a guy wearing a leather red suit with half his body burnt who occasionally shoots fire out of his hands does appeal to you, you may want to wait a few months before devirginizing yourself. And that's enough about that. Instead, tonight we're going to go back in time to an era where the most popular wrestlers usually amounted to the ones who matched their fake tans best with ultra-glitter robes. Its the mid-80s, and wrestling at that point is quite clearly geared towards the kiddies. Good timing on my part being born in '79, just the right age for a then-young entrepreneur named Vince McMahon to mold me into his lifelong media slave. Since the audience was predominantly kids, the merchandising efforts were gigantic. And that brings me to today's article...anyone remember those LJN action figures?
So you're a kid. You like wrestling. Naturally, you're gonna buy the toys whether they're great or if they completely suck. But make no mistake about it, these were special action figures. See, kids have this like sixth sense that tells them when they've got something they shouldn't necessarily be allowed to have. Parents had no problem giving us wrestling figures because, at this point, the shows hadn't evolved into the cesspool of sexual innuendo and silicon-enhanced slutty managers it is today. What they didn't realize is that every time we got one of these guys under our Christmas trees or out of some sullied Cub Scouts gift grab bag, we were receiving a license to kill. These toys were weapons. Eight inches and about a pound of solid rubber. If you got nailed in the forehead with one of these things, you'd be walking around with an imprint of the Junkyard Dog's ass on your face for weeks. As children, we knew that these toys were dangerous. And we love 'em that much more for it. It didn't hurt any that we finally had a chance to orchestrate our very own little wrestling wars, where the bad guys were allowed to win, and the only rule was that you didn't chew the fingers off your friend's Hulk Hogan. Simple times, simple minds, but man oh man, these things were big fun.
Remember, these were our heroes. They were my heroes. In the first day of class in the 4th grade, our teacher, Mr. Zinn, had us write a little essay about our role models. Most of the kids went the obvious route of their father, their older brother, maybe their grandfather, and so on. And I swear to you, if I'd forgotten how much I loved getting packages from Johnson Smith in the mail, I would've skipped over the UPS delivery man and written about 'Macho Man' Randy Savage. To us kids, these wrestlers were very, very real people. Not characters playing a role. We actually believed these guys walked down the streets in zebra tights beating up anything that pissed them off. We actually believed that these immortals could get dropped on their necks and rise up unaffected five seconds later. We believed it all, and we loved it. These were real life superheroes for us, and as strange as it sounds: retrospectively, a lot of us crazy fans would probably be much different people without their influence.
If that wasn't the case, I wouldn't have insisted on wearing a pink bandana and sunglasses to my brother's engagement party way back when. I thought the endless stares equated to a lot of oldsters thinking I looked cool, but I'm assuming moreover they were wondering what kind of crack Mom and Dad were smoking to let me leave the house wearing that.
So, in honor of a sick obsession that comes and goes like a fake knee injury you conjure up whenever there's a party coming up you don't want to go to, here's my Top Ten Favorite WWF LJN Action Figures of ALL TIME. Notice the excessive capital letters. That's for effect. Let's roll!
Andre The Giant: No kid's collection was complete until they added wrestling's biggest (read: tallest, but also slowest, fattest, and with the least amount of vocab) superstar. Fans are jaded these days, but back then, a guy this big was cherished and adored simply by default. He is bigger, thus he is better. It didn't hurt matters any that Andre was a friendly giant, the one who'd set those bag guys straight whenever they became a little too villainous. Andre didn't need the interview skills or in-ring ability that the others usually needed to get himself over with the fans...its pretty hard not to notice the guy who's head is the size of a genetically enhanced watermelon who perform the then-ungodly task of stepping over the top rope. PS, you might remember Andre from his role in The Princess Bridge. Guess who he played. No, that was Billy Crystal. Have fun storming the castle!
Course, they did take a few creative liberties with his action figure - namely the fact that, in toy form, Andre appears to be in great shape. That's pretty much overstating things since half the fun in watching his matches was taking bets over whether or not this would be the time the big fat guy finally dropped dead from a heart attack in the middle of the ring when trying to slam someone. To their credit, they did manage to make his arms look really bulbous and fatty. This, of course, is the short-haired version of the figure. There's an older version with long hair from Andre's metal phase, but most of us like to remember him this way: hair short enough to really get a feel for the world's largest head. Also of note: his head is roughly the same width of his pelvic area. If he wasn't 500 pounds, that'd be pretty accurate. Suffice to say, Andre's head was about the same width of your pelvic area, though. You've really gotta appreciate the pose they gave this guy. If there was any way to capture the essence of Andre's poor speaking skills, its fashioning his figure in such a way that the first thing that comes to mind for him to say is 'ME BIG ME CRUSH YOU.' Only Andre would probably fuck up and substitute the word 'crush' with 'car rush.' We love him anyway. If we didn't, he'd eat us.
The Iron Shiek: Back from the era were anyone from a foreign country was the most evil and vile wrestler gracing that very ring, here's the Iron Sheik. His heyday was a bit before my time, but face it, that's a lasting image. Bald guy who waves around an Iranian flag and occasionally puts aside socioeconomic differences to team with a big fat Russian guy who also waves a foreign flag. In the land of opportunity, the Iron Shiek was pure slime. Believe it or not, this slouch was a former champion, which is especially surprising when you consider the fact that at the recent WWF Wrestlemania show's 'classics' battle royale, the Iron Shiek held the distinction of being the only cauliflower-eared old bastard too out of shape to go over the top rope to the floor. I hesitate to say that he was ever a good wrestler, but then again, when I was that young I was more interested in the cool theme music and various wrestling wedding fiascoes going on than some bald Iraqi's workrate.
So, you're wondering why a guy who sucks is on this list? Simple. The boots. You might be able to resist his charming accent and various political strafes, but there was no way you could hold out on picking up the figure with the spiked boots. They made the guy seem invincible. Its like...forget about about muscle mass and body weight, how can anyone hope to stop a guy who could kill you with one kick to the groin? Plus, as a kid I misinterpreted his name to mean that his boots were made of iron. If you saw the Sheik's physique, you'd understand my error. Other things to keep an eye out for includes the ridiculous inclusion of a Fu Manchu mustache and various ink splatters on his pants that somehow have their roots squarely placed in Iran.
Honky Tonk Man: This guy's day in the sun generally came later than most of the wrasslers we're taking a look at today, but he's worth noting if only to see how far the WWF'll go. The wrestling Elvis impersonator. Honky Tonk Man would come down to the ring to an Elvis rip-off song sung by himself, occasionally in a pink cadillac alongside his bopper girlfriend Peggy Sue, who essentially was a man-beast named Sherri Martel in an auspiciously wheaty blonde wig. They really did nail the similarities -- much like Elvis, the Honky Tonk Man had no wrestling ability. His matches consisted of the good guys outrunning, outclassing, and outwrestling him to the point where the only way Honky Tonk could continue his rise to the top was by debuting a hot new move: the good ol' smash-the-guitar-over-your-opponents-head-when-the-referee-is-inexplicably-looking-the-other-way finisher. It was a great visual since Honky Tonk Man was one of the only musicians out there who liked to fill his guitars with a trop of talcum powder before smashing it over someone's head. Its just sad that the guy didn't choose to impersonate 20-something Elvis, but rather the pork chop infested nigh-death king of rock who'd break a sweat walking to the ring much less wrestling in it.
The figure proudly displays one on Honky's infamous '15,000 dollar jumpsuits', which coincidentally, he used to wear while wrestling. Not the smartest move for a guy who drips sweat while eating, but then again, it hid well what needed to be hid. You had to have a figure like this because every collection needed someone everyone else beat up. In essence, nobody really bought Honky Tonk Man because they were his favorite wrestler...he was just their favorite wrestler to see piledriven onto concrete. Kids didn't want to choose between Hulk Hogan and Ricky Steamboat. Honky Tonk kept our toy wrestling rings a relatively safe place.
'Macho Man' Randy Savage: Those of us who've been watching wrestling for a long time have seen the unfortunate genesis of Randy Savage into a weird old caricature of himself, but in his prime, few could go toe to toe with him. Case in point -- even in more recent years when he was wrestling in his mid-40s and doing Slim Jim commercials regularly, Savage's efforts in the ring usually made his matches the most fun to watch. Back then though, the guy was a dynamo. As the era where the most publicly visible wrestlers were simply the biggest ones and the meanest-looking ones, Savage's then-unheard of aerial skills and hot valet made him impossible to ignore. And, even if you could ignore that, they guy would come to the ring wearing glitter-encrusted robes, giant sunglasses, with stars on his ass, all the while shouting 'Oh Yeaaaah!' and spitting on himself. In the world of wrestling, these were all the tools you needed.
For a long time, Savage was my absolute favorite performer, and when I heard on the radio that he won the championship belt in 1988, I can't tell you how happy I was. We identified with these musclebound creatures of doom, and everyone had their faves, so when your top card one, it was like your own personal victory. Sadly, Savage's stock has gone down a great deal in recent years: his most noteworthy appearances have been in beef jerky commercials, his ex-fiance who was young enough to be his granddaughter's granddaughter made a masturbation video for him which ultimately ended up on the internet for millions to see, and of course, he's a sufferer of male pattern baldness. I try not to think about those things when I remember Randy. Instead, I focus on the time he threw eggs out of his window to keep kids from screaming to him from his front lawn. Yeah, he used to live around here. I dunno, maybe he still does, I doubt many people are keeping tabs. We're all too busy making fun of that thing the Rock does right before he gives someone the Smackdown.
Bobby 'The Brain' Heenan: These wrestling 'managers' always fascinated me. Remember, we all thought wrestling was real. The WWF tried to keep that charade up for a long time, and while most adults realized that a tombstone piledriver would invariably cripple a man, it wasn't until the early 90s that even little kids knew this was all just a show. Hey, I have to somehow justify why I believed George 'The Animal' Steele really ate foam and why Demolition were really demons from Hell. A manager's job was blurry - you'd assume they were the ones who trained and negotiated for their wrestlers, but all we really saw them do was yell things from the outside of the ring and occasionally toss their protege a steel chair to hit someone with. In truth, they were tools used to get the guys who couldn't talk over with the fans. When Andre the Giant became a bad guy, it was going to take a little talking to get fans to believe it. Problem was, Andre was a mute for all intents and purposes. The show announcers had to act as translators whenever the big French freak opened his mouth. So they stuck him with Heenan, and wallah, instant formula for enemy success.
I come from a long line of Heenan enthusiasts. The guy just had endless charisma. In later years when he became a broadcast announcer, watching wrestling was typically an hour long comedy act. In his Prime, Heenan was one funny guy. Plus, understand the other merit of the wrestling manager: not every kid who liked wrestling was destined to be in great shape. Seeing these wrestling managers walking around with their big guts or their big breasts or their big mouths gave us hop that someday, we too could be part of the show, even if we weren't 6'5" with expletives tattooed on the back of our necks. Plus, anyone getting paid thousands of dollars to stand around in neon suits yelling 'KILL HIM!' towards the ring was certainly a profession to look forward to. There's been a ton of managers, but in my view, Bobby'll always be the best. This figure shows him in the classic Laverne & Shirley converted blouse, with the two thumbs up to indicate that yes, he is is the man.
'Adorable' Adrian Adonis: Wow, okay. The late Adrian Adonis. Where do I begin? Adrian's wrestling career started off normal enough...just another big, tough-looking guy to snarl while clamping onto his opponent's head. Problem was, he wasn't incredibly popular, and Vince McMahon was at times sadistically creative. Or just sadistic. Whatever the case, Adrian was given a new gimmick: the wrestling transvestite. He'd stroll down to the ring wearing six pounds of eye shadow, a feathered scarf, fluffed out blonde hair, pink tights, and in some extra special cases, a bra. Given his physique, nobody's sure if the bra was just part of the act or not.
The greatest thing about Adrian is that despite all the makeup and innuendo, it was pretty clear that we was still a rough and tough big guy underneath. It made watching him all the more fun, because you knew he had to be crying on the inside the whole time. Things only got better when they gave him a set called 'The Flower Shop' to do interviews on, where he'd generally just stand around trying to talk in a high-pitched voice before a good guy wrestler stormed in and exposed the fact that he was wearing panties.
Having his action figure was social suicide, though. Even if your buds didn't put two and two together and realized you owned an 8" transvestite doll, they're still gonna look at you strange for having a fat guy in pink underwear standing next to your bed. My last memory of the guy had Roddy Piper shaving all his luscious blonde locks off to the cheers of thousands, and while there were transvestite wrestlers well before and after Adonis, I don't think it'd be too much of a stretch to say he's an innovator of this..really really weird wrestling craft. He was also a good way to insult your fatter, blonder wrestling fan friends. Call anyone Adrian Adonis, and they're gonna go home crying. Unless, of course, they wanted to be a 250 pound guy with a C-cup who felt himself up a lot.
S.D. 'Special Delivery' Jones: This scrub's in here for one reason and one reason only: he is the cause of, by far, the greatest forgotten moment in all of wrestling's storied and often-buried history. I've yet to find someone who remembers this incident, as I think it was cut from later video releases and regarded as a myth by any wrestling superpower with a weak stomach, but I swear to you, its true. In the second grade, a friend of mine had his birthday party at an ice cream shop that was for some reason around 75 minutes away. In the middle of choosing our own toppings and trying to steal his toys, they put a great video on in the hopes to calm all us boys down: Wrestlemania II. If you thought a dozen 2nd graders out on the town were rowdy before, you shoulda seen us after this. Its possible that we started the chain reaction of ice cream shops closing down on this very night, because I would put money on the store owner burning down the place after we left rather than deal with a single other kid for his entire career. Anyway, Wrestlemania 2. The match was S.D. Jones versus cult hero/crackhead Jake Roberts. Jake had a nasty habit of letting his pet python, Damien, crawl all over his beaten opponents after a match. S.D. Jones was tonight's victim, and as Damien slithered across his unconscious body, S.D. handled the situation the only way he knew how: by frothing and vomiting all over himself. Well, that was it. Upon seeing this, three more kids at our party followed his lead, with the rest of us having to use our hands to keep our mouths shut to not follow suit. At a regular party, maybe this would just be a passing incident. At a party in one small room where the primary focus was eating gooey stuff, the stench and sight of little boy vomit was enough for all the parents to put their kids in the car and make a solemn vow never to speak of Bobby's birthday party ever again.
I really doubt I'd even remember Bobby or his birthday party if S.D. Jones hadn't turned it into a vomitorium, so S.D. - thanks for the memories!
::sigh:: Okay, it was really George Wells who spat all over himself at WMII, but since I've lived my life thinking it was Jones, why break tradition? Its not like anyone gives much of a shit about either guy anyway.
Kamala, the Ugandan Giant: If you can't look at that figure and immediately think up 1,000 uses for it, you're just not trying. Toys like this come once in a millennium. First, a little background. Kamala was this big slob announced as hailing from Uganda, so of course, every wrestling fan grew up with the notion that Uganda consisted only of big fat bald guys with moons painted on their stomachs. Maybe that's true, I've never been to Uganda. Kamala's gimmick was simple enough: he was a vicious headhunter who'd occasionally eat a live chicken on television to prove his convictions. His wrestling arsenal was limited to running into people and slapping his belly, but really, when you've got a look like this, you don't need much more. Later in his career Kamala got so out of hand that he needed to be led to the ring by a trained named Kimchee, whose devotion to his career was so universal that he'd even wear safari hats to arenas in Chicago. Because he had the stamina of a rock, Kamala's matches would never last more than a few minutes, but this was written off with the train of thought that he was such an unstoppable monster, nobody could last long in the ring with him. One of his last hurrahs included wrestling's resident jive talkin' reverend, Slick, convincing Kamala that his trainers were wrong and began a campaign to get him to believe that yes, HE WAS A MAN!
It was hard for fans to allow themselves to cheer for a guy wearing a skirt with white stars painted over his nipples for long, but let's honor Kamala for what he was: more proof that wrestling was definitely not what it seemed. Now, look at that figure. Talk about your conversational pieces. Anytime you had someone seeing the Kamala toy for the first time, you knew you had the ultimate icebreaker. You don't just glance at Kamala and move on to other things. You've got to find out what he's all about. Course, some things are better left to the imagination. Try explaining to someone why Kamala was so afraid of the Undertaker. Try explaining the significance of the giant Tiki mask he wore, or the spear he carried to the ring. Try explaining how he boarded airline flights wearing that. Being a wrestling fan really taught us all how not to mince words. 'He's Kamala. He eats his opponents' foreheads. He can't talk.' That's it, that's all, thank you.
Miss Elizabeth: Randy Savage's valet, then-real life wife, and every little wrestling fan's first crush. The world of wrestling back then was a much different ballgame from today's shows. In the current state of the nation, pro-wrestling finds really hot women and teaches them how to fall down correctly. Back then, they took really ugly women who knew how to fall down correctly, and tried piling on enough makeup and slimming clothes to make them pass as remotely attractive. That's why Liz was so special, she was basically the only eye candy in the WWF for a full decade. And to us kids, she was the prettiest thing on the planet. I wouldn't even call that much of a stretch, the girl's way into her 40s by now and she still looks incredible. That's partly because of the plastic stuff, but the fact still remains.
Having Liz in his corner definitely helped Macho Man become my number one fave. Anyone that had Liz in their corner was due for some cheering. One of the saddest moments in my wrestling fan career is a brief period where she switched gears to move away from her evil husband and into the arms of Hulk Hogan, whom I have personally hated long before he was revealed to be a complete and total jackass. But don't get me wrong, Liz was over on looks alone. She rarely spoke, almost never had physical altercations, and oftentimes wore gowns better suited for Dorothy Sborsnak. Still, I carried pictures of her in a makeshift book safe to the delight of my older brothers who were always looking for something new to make fun of me about.
There wasn't really much you could do with her action figure, or much that I care to go into much details about here, but I guess it was a good way for little boys to get that desire to beat on women out of their systems before heading to school. See, even in toy form, Liz was always a selfless and gracious beauty. Always wanting to help the world. I've got no idea what she's doing nowadays, I'm banking on the hope that she'll turn up in a future shitty network television wrestling expose, telling the world how Hillbilly Jim once suggested something real backwater to her behind closed doors. In the meantime, I'll just remember the years upon years I spent making up fitting last names for her. Note the long, black gloves. Liz didn't like to get her hands dirty.
Vince F'n McMahon: Sorry, but I had to include this one, if only to show how much things have changed. Vince is regarded as a tyrant both in the capacity of wrestling shows and also usually outside the ring, a clever and vindictive old bastard who'd sooner have you dress in a gold astronaut suit and hit on other wrestlers than lose a dime on your contract price. If there's something nobody would ever picture McMahon doing nowadays, its cheerfully and innocently smiling in a friendly three-piece suit. It amazes me that for around two decades, McMahon was nothing but the good guy announcer for the shows. We knew he owned the joint, but they never admitted it. He was just a shadow in the background. And now, one of my most recent memories of the guy is tonguing a 25-year-old vixen while firing employees left and right on live television before beating the crap out of his son with a garbage can. You don't have to look very far to see the evolution of pro-wrestling, just follow McMahon's on-camera career. From Zero to Hellspawn in a scant 20 years. Judging from the ratings, we really like our Hellspawn. I dunno, despite whatever crimes its said he's committed, no matter what he does, I still have this dream around once a month where Vince helps me with my math homework. I'm not sure what kind of father figure he really is, but then again, who cares, I'd have enough money to make my own life-size Elizabeth robot. Like him or hate him, we wouldn't have all this nonsense without Vince McMahon. Junior.
Goofy characters. Awe-inspiring action. Ugandan giants. Death-defying feats of strength and agility. The occasional crucifixion. Witty interviews. Cool theme music. Giant Gonzales. These are the things that brought pro-wrestling into the national spotlight, and with it millions upon millions of fans worldwide. With all these elements, can anyone argue that this monstrosity has been the closest we've ever gotten to a media dynasty? It ain't no Charlie Parker, but without it, how else could we know if people could survive 40' drops from cranes while stuck inside locked cars? Thanks to the WWF, you're solving the mysteries week after week. The LJN line is long gone, but since the things were indestructible, check out wherever you buy old chewed up toys...you'll probably find a Jesse Ventura lodged in there somewhere.
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