Jamie Lithgow and John Carbery
With Christmas just over a week away, we dedicate this week’s Top Five to the wrestling toys and memorabilia we most coveted as children. Sometimes Santa delivered them but other times he did not but they still hold a special place in our hearts.
A toy I never owned, but always wanted. They were soft toy versions of WWF Superstars from the early 90s. I remember Hogan, Macho Man and Warrior being the most common as my parents repeatedly tortured me by visiting shops which sold them, only never to buy one. I recall being slightly confused by them because every wrestling video I owned said “don’t try this at home”, but what else is a young wrestling fan supposed to do with a soft toy besides beat the crap out of it?!
I don’t know if these were a thing in America, but sticker albums in the UK were always an unhealthy obsession for young boys in the early 1990s. I specifically remember completing this album, as well as the official World Cup ’94 album and Premier League 94/95 album. Maybe I should have gotten out more…?
How much did I want these?! I always used to see kids wearing them in the crowd on TV, but had no idea where to buy them in the UK. LOD’s shoulder pads are a rare case of a wrestler’s costume translating into a perfect piece of merchandise. I mean, I always preferred Demolition but even Vince McMahon could draw a line at child size gimp suits…
Only in hindsight do I prefer the WCW ring to Hasbro’s WWF version. As a kid I had both, but only really played with the WWF one because it was a little bigger and more realistic. I guess I was a sad soul who liked his miniature, plastic wrestlers to be steeped in factual realism. Looking back though, the WCW ring was awesome. It came with a detachable cage and platform for doing moves off the top rope – although ironically such moves were banned in WCW at the time. There was even a sound effects box. What remains odd is that the ring and cage looked nothing like any WCW ring I’ve ever seen; it looked better!
The daddy of all wrestling toys! I am of a certain age where all the really cool figures WWE have released since the late 90s mean absolutely nothing to me. I am off the generation that understands and accepts that The Texas Tornado and Tatanka share the exact same body and that Bret Hart has unusually large arms. The likenesses were often crude and half the time the figures were incapable of performing the wrestler’s signature move – apparently Jake Robert’s finisher was some kind of punch?! – but in the early 1990s these were the best things going because the WCW figures didn’t even move.
This might seem like a cop-out, but when I was a kid my Mam had an uncanny ability to replicate the Ultimate Warrior’s face paint patterns for me and her skills were the envy of every kid I knew. I’ll never forget the first time she did it, I called straight over to a friends house and his jaw hit the floor. Eventually, she’d have ques as my friends would want similar treatment, Papa Shango and Sensational Sherri were often requested. For a bunch of poor kids who’s families couldn’t really afford the expensive Fed gear, getting your face painted exactly like your favourite wrestler was a total rush and something the wealthier children couldn’t buy with their pocket money too!
Like a lot of families, mine was consumed with the compulsion to play board games every time Christmas rolled around and one year I received WWF Wrestling Challenge to add to the stack. It was packed with cool art and glossy playing cards featuring the top wrestlers of the day. It came out in 1991 and I remember the Ultimate Warrior was wearing the WWF Championship belt on his card. From what I recall it wasn’t an overly complicated game to play but it was a lot of fun and I remember it being one of my prized possessions.
I have to bring up the WWF magazines of the early 90’s first, they were a true luxury item and so precious to me that I still have a few tucked away back at my Mam’s house for safe keeping. They were glossy, full colour and high quality from cover to cover. They also cost an arm and a leg. The majority of them that I’ve read, I read in shops before putting them back on the shelves but eventually I met a kind old newsagent that would throw me a few for free. Back then, and probably now, whatever copies of a magazine that hadn’t sold at the end of the month would be gathered up and they’d cut the tops off to send away for a refund while throwing the rest of the magazine in the trash. Well, the aforementioned newsagent knew I didn’t have any money so if there was a magazine left over at the end of the month he’d save it for me, minus the top of the cover of course.
The WWF annuals were another beast, though, but one comes to mind, in particular, the 1991 edition. In late 91 my school ran a book club and, for whatever reason, the WWF annual was available to buy along with countless educational titles. It took some convincing but eventually my mother relented and allowed me to get this through the club rather than something more worthwhile. It was so damn cool, inside it had a bunch of profiles on WWF stars, many of whom I’d never seen before as they’d left the company by the time of publication which filled the thing with mystery. I truly get a full blast of childhood nostalgia whenever I go through one of these old books. Good times.
These things were the hottest town in town when I was a kid. The local toyshop had hundreds of them in their window display and I seem to remember them being quite reasonable at 1 or 2 pounds a pop. Thanks to the Saturday generosity of my elders I ended up with quite a collection of them. Probably my favourite was the Macho King Randy Savage as you could remove his crown and wear it as a ring. They didn’t really have a lot of articulation and were quite stubby in their design but to me they were infinitely alluring. I saw a Ric Flair toy still on the card in 2000 lying at the bottom of a bargin bin for a quid. I’m still haunted by the regret of not picking it up.
Ok, this is a love story through the ages. Above all the items listed above what I coveted, more than anything, were replica belts. My favourite belt design of all time is still the WWF Intercontinental Championship, the one that’s in use today still. That was the belt that Bret, Bulldog and Perfect had and it was the one I wanted. But of course, I couldn’t have it! When Bret won the WWF title I became more enamoured with it as a result and then on a shopping trip to Dublin in 1993 I found one! Looking back, it was a pretty crappy toy belt. A solid piece of plastic in the shape of the strap with a gold sticker of the winged eagle faceplate haphazardly placed in its centre. To me at the time, though, I basically was the WWF World Champion.
In the late 90’s I bought a replica of the 98 Winged Eagle redesign, which I kept on the down-low. I was 13 at the time and it wasn’t exactly cool to be seen with a plastic wrestling belt. As I got older my tastes changed and what I really coveted was a proper replica title, though I never got around to buying one. But when I was 20 and studying in Wales I walked into a Woolworths and there sitting on the shelf was a brand new toy replica of the classic Intercontinental title, the one I’d wanted since I was 6. I woke up on the other side of the purchase essentially with my then girlfriend looking confused as I acted like a giddy child over this thing I’d just bought. Later on, I brought it over to my friends who were also wrestling fans and they too lost their minds, it really was a nice replica. That night we got drunk and took turns posing with the title and were basically kids again, while the girlfriend looked on confusedly. It was a boyhood dream come true. In your face HBK.
You can read all previous Top Five pieces here.