Awhile back on the site, I whipped up a tribute to the WWF LJN action figures of the mid-80s - those big rubber dolls kids used to mimic their favorite pro-wrestlers. Now I don't know how many of you still watch wrestling, but if the slipping ratings are any indication, there's not too many of us left. Personally, I gave up on the product from a consumer perspective...it's gotten so bad lately that I refuse to spend money on one of their pay-per-views, instead opting to occasionally watch the shows till business picks back up and they look like they're at least trying. I should note that I have a tremendous respect for what those people do, and my complaints are lobbied not towards them but are instead directed to the batch of monkeys currently writing the programs.
Still, if you think they're in a creative lull now, you should've been around back in the day. Wrestling evolved into a more mature product after the world, seemingly at once, realized that the shows were so enormously stupid that nobody could watch them without feeling guilty anymore. Gone were the days where they could march out a guy wearing a cowboy suit and simply assume people would take to him because he's tall and donning a hat normal people wouldn't wear. This was the era of gimmicks, where anyone who entered into the field of pro-wrestling needed to understand that they'd be portraying a real-life version of really, really awful comic book characters. They struck gold once in a while, but most of the time, you ended up with two fat guys either playing animal trainers or Frenchmen or matadors for so long and with such disinterest that you finally realized it'd be a far more entertaining process if you just went to a stranger's house and started vacuuming their floors.
Then again, there's definitely something to be said for the simpler days of pro-wrestling, where it didn't even think it could be construed as truly 'in' or 'cool,' and instead opted to just be what it was: guys in silly costumes beating each other up.
The WWF LJN figures were awesome toys that let kids act out their favorite wrestling moves without killing themselves. My friends and I at the time were all avid fans of the shows, and we'd often try doing really stupid things like attempting to give each other piledrivers. (If you don't know what that is, it usually results in a severe neck injury HOORAY!) Pretty soon we found out that it was much safer and a whole lot more rewarding to just make our wrestling dolls do the moves for us. And it's not like the option of hurting our friends didn't still linger around if we needed it - these figures were really heavy and made of hard rubber. You could always throw one at a friend's nose if you felt the need to have fun with violence without doing it vicariously through the toys.
Today, we're gonna take a look at ten more of my favorite LJN figures, complete with brief histories on each entry's contributions to the wonderful world of wrestling. I'm pretty sure not a single one of the following guys are top tier popular characters, so if you were hoping for a little vintage Hulk Hogan action, you'll have to look elsewhere. These are the guys Hulk Hogan beat up.
Hacksaw Jim Duggan was indisputable proof that pretty much anyone over 6'2 could've been a pro-wrestler back then. With virtually no wrestling ability whatsoever and an athletic ability that rivals most slabs of concrete, watching Hacksaw do his stuff was more like watching a guy who drank too much Red Bull and Vodka stumble out onto his front lawn in his underwear. He didn't really wrestle, persay, moreover he just stood around yelling 'Hoooo!' and occasionally punching people. He was one of the 'patriotic wrestlers', who often times were just the really shitty good guy wrestlers who were made to carry around American flags so people would have to cheer them. Of course, nationalistic tendencies could only take an otherwise useless slug so far, so they fortified his identity by making him carry around a big piece of wood. Don't ask me why carrying around a 2x4 made him so popular...I guess it's a wrestling thing.
Hillbilly Jim had even less ability than ol' Hacksaw, but nobody noticed since the guy usually carried pigs to the ring with him and acted as though he was a farmer who just happened to wrestle on the side. Seriously, they'd make the guy carry live pigs to the ring as if he traveled cross-country with the things. I dunno, maybe he did - if you've ever heard Hillbilly Jim talk, you'd know he's the type of person who'd do something like that. A lot of the guys in the business back then got into it through well-placed friendships, and I'm relatively sure that's how this freak made it through the screening process. He might be a really nice guy and all, but that sound you heard whenever a Hillbilly Jim match aired on television came on wasn't a locust swarm above your house - it was the sound of ten trillion remote controls clicking furiously. This wasn't the type of guy they'd showcase during sweeps week.
Jake 'The Snake' Roberts is one of the most interesting stories in all of wrestling, and I'm not just talking about the scripted shows. Once an immensely popular and admittedly cool and unique character, he totally fucked up his life and can now be seen in documentaries smoking crack. No joke. This is a guy who once used a life snake to form a demonstrative penis while completely drunk in the middle of the ring on a shitty secondary show, which pretty much solidified all bets in wrestling's dead pool for years. The sad part is, underneath all his various psychotic disorders and paranoia, Jake was one of the smartest, most cerebral guys ever involved in the business. Now he's just a fat old drug addict who fucks snakes. I prefer to remember him as he was in yesteryear - a completely different type of wrestler who spoke softly and tormented his opponents by throwing pythons on 'em after winning the match. His action figure is extra cool since it actually came with a toy snake. Even if kids didn't particular care for Jake, they'd want his figure more than the other ones because of that. Snakes equal sales, my friends.
Ted Arcidi, the pro-wrestler nobody's ever heard of. I certainly haven't. So why's he on this list? Simple: unlike the WWF, when I was playing with my wrestling figures at home and having them engage in matches, I always made sure the credibility of each guy stayed intact. I didn't want any of my toys to lose their matches since it'd mean they were worth less and I'd have trouble justifying why I owned them in the first place. When I got a Ted Arcidi figure, the problem was solved. I had no problem with him getting the crap kicked out of him in every match, so he ended up being one of my most used figures. I'm not so sure he'd be touched by the sentiment though, all things considered. I doubt they sold well, so I guess they used the thousands of unpurchased Ted Arcidi figures to create a dam in some flooded tropical nation. By the way, before any of you e-mail me with oodles of background info on this guy, I think I speak for all of the rest of us when I say that I don't give a crap what he did. He still sucks and he still looks too much like the creepy guy from my local all-night gas station. Hey Ted, a little window washing once in a while, eh? Wouldn't hurt. You louse.
Here's a look at two of the manager figures. Managers are something of a lost art on today's wrestling shows, but they were a big thing back then. Their job was to serve as a cornerman for the wrestlers, and since they usually portrayed bad guys, managers would often help their proteges cheat in matches. They were a really bright spot on the shows back then, since they could talk a hell of a lot better than most of the active performers.
Jimmy Hart, The Mouth of the South, wore airbrushed suits and screamed into a megaphone during his protege's matches. Of course, nearly every match he was involved in ended up with someone getting hit over the head with the megaphone, but usually it was Jimmy himself on the receiving end. He was very good at what he did, because he's well known as a real nice guy, but back then, people absolutely loathed the guy. I think most of us who watched the shows back then were just jealous because here was a 140-pound skinny goatface who somehow got into wrestling while we all sat on our asses wishing we were him. Okay, that's a stretch. Nobody in their right mind would want to actually be Jimmy Hart, but you know what I mean.
Cap'n Lou Albano is one of the most famous personalities in wrestling history - a big fat guy who adorned his face with rubber bands and led dozens of tag teams to the gold belts, his storied history is peppered with hilariously offbeat interviews and an incredible gift of the gab. He was one of the guys who really ate, slept, and breathed wrestling, and most fans noticed and appreciated him for it. Of course, I liked him for entirely different reasons: Lou Albano is the guy who played Mario on The Super Mario Super Show. Yes, this action figure indirectly represents the plumber who forced you to 'do the Mario' seventy-thousand times throughout your adolescence. I bet you don't know whether you want to kiss or kill him for that. I really like the guy, but I'd go with 'kill' since his face looks like a mangled coral reef. Plus, I hear he gives wet ones. I swear it's not firsthand knowledge.
The next two clearly illustrate that the WWF never ever indulged themselves in the world of incredibly insulting racial stereotypes. Yup yup.
The Junkyard Dog was black, so of course he was portrayed as a guy who rummaged through trash and wandered around town wearing a dog collar. I'm surprised they didn't have one of the white wrestlers walk with him down to the ring carrying a whip. He was really, really popular in his time, having little to do with his in-ring ability and more to do with his natural charisma. The guy seemed to love playing a messy dog. I don't remember him being in any real big matches of note, he was just sort of like the guy they threw out midway through an event when the kids were getting sick of seeing Russian sympathizer after Russian sympathizer. The action figure came with the dog chain, which made him extra special in the eyes of children. Even Hulk didn't come with a slave chain. His tan wasn't dark enough for the show's producers to recognize his real calling. But wait - the stereotypes get worse.
Koko B. Ware almost never won a match. He was a pretty decent wrestler who was used mostly to make shitty wrestlers appear better than they were. And just to make sure he'd never get truly over with the fans based on his talents, they made him march to the ring in silver windbreakers carrying a parrot. Doesn't that just scream 'superstar'? Also, let's consider the name. KOKO?!! KOKO THE PARROT MAN B. WARE?! You're telling me they wanted this guy to become popular with the crowd? I don't think so. They wanted Koko to fail. Every time his cheers surpassed a certain level, they'd make him participate in taped vignettes where he admitted how bad his win/loss record was while his bird shat on his shoulder. Koko was a victim, but I'll always remember him for being the first wrestler to wear Skidz pants to the ring.
Smash was one half of probably my favorite tag team in wrestling history, Demolition. While they were only created out of spite against a popular team with a similar gimmick being utilized in one of the competing feds, Demolition ended up becoming quite popular in their own right, and you know why? They KICKED ASS. Unlike most of the other bad guys, Demolition didn't act like retarded cowards, they just beat the hell out of everyone. It got to the point where fans liked them so much the WWF had to turn them into good guys. They had great music, wore death masks to the ring, and painted their faces. These are all qualities that go a long way in the world of pro-wrestling. Amazingly, what was once considered a lame ripoff gimmick ended up lasting for years and turned out to be an enormous success. Of course, Smash ended up portraying a cynical golfer in his later wrestling years, so it just proves that your longevity is always limited in this business. I chose Smash over his partner, Ax, because that guy just looked like my out-of-shape heavily smoking uncle with silver paint spilled on his face. Smash was the real strong point of the group.
The Ultimate Warrior is familiar even to the most casual of wrestling fans. A certifiable psycho nowadays who spends his time yelling at fans on his website and calling them stupid idiots because they want to know why he legally changed his name to 'Warrior,' this guy just scares the daylights out of me. When he first burst on the scene, he was totally unstoppable. Everybody cheered for him, he never lost, and he seemed to have more energy than rabbits do during their mating season. Somewhere along the way, he degenerated into a lunatic more interested in fitting the word 'hydrocarcinogenia' into his wrestling promos than making sure the fans still cared if he was alive. Back then though, he was a great action figure to have while playing the wrestling games with your friends. Nobody could claim to defeat you if you used the Ultimate Warrior. Not even Koko B. Ware.
We're not done yet! There's one more bonus wrestling figure I wanted to mention. This being Independence Day and all, it's only fitting that we pay tribute to pro-wrestling's number one patriot - Sergeant Slaughter! First, a little background. His journey into the world of WWF LJN toys isn't quite like the others. It's more mysterious. And more stupid.
Sgt. Slaughter was successful in his initial wrestling stint, but by no means was he one of the top guys. It was more like 'Oh, look over there, it's an American wrestler! He's not Canadian or German! Cheer cheer cheer!' than anything else. He also wasn't a particularly good wrestler, evidenced by the planet-sized gut. But once he became the spokesperson for G.I. Joe, kids started appreciating him a lot more.
After landing a big part in the animated G.I. Joe movie, Slaughter was immortalized as one of their 4" action figures. But he still hadn't quite achieved that honor within the realm of his wrestling persona, and it got pretty tough to keep the reality levels in check when kids started pitting their 10" Iron Sheiks against the tiny Sgt. Slaughter figure. Then, one day, something magical happened...
They started marketing a special Sgt. Slaughter figure by LJN strictly through a mailaway offer. Since he was virtually useless to kids who liked wrestling, they promoted him as the big G.I. Joe guy who just happened to fight Hulk Hogan a few times. It was a masterful cross promotion, since kids who were into only G.I. Joe or pro-wrestling quickly found themselves immersed in a new idiotic culture to waste their parents' money on. Everyone went home happy, especially the Sarge, who ended up having two distinctly different types of action figures to show for himself.
His figure was dressed all G.I. Joe style - Sgt. Slaughter never wore that particular outfit to the ring. Apparently, few kids actually went through with ordering the guy, since this figure can fetch almost two hundred dollars on the collector's market nowadays. You know what I think? Anyone stupid enough to pay 200 dollars for anything involving Sgt. Slaughter doesn't deserve to call themselves an American. If you did that, you're a Spaniard. No offense to the Spaniards, I just like typing out your culture's namesake better than I like typing out others. It was a strictly aesthetic decision.
While none of the characters we've taken a look at today were giant megastars in their time, they all made our childhood a little bit more fun. For that, I salute them. And I especially salute Koko B. Ware, since somebody should. Have a great holiday weekend!
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