My collection of action figures is nearly as impressive as my collection of cards. Among them are dozens of McFarlane figures, along with Starting Lineups, the smaller, plastic figures that were all the rage in the 1980s.
But with sports action figures, you get what they give you, and it’s often difficult to find figures of stars on small-market teams, or marginal players who are guilty only of being class athletes.
That’s why the majority of my favorite action figures are pro wrestlers.
Because Jakks Pacific, and later Mattel, now feature action figures of legendary pro wrestlers, I get to be a kid all over again.
My favorites, of course, are the guys I grew up watching on television before Vince McMahon ran everyone else out of business and cornered the market.
Harley Race, Terry Funk and Ric Flair aren’t difficult figures to find, because as former World Champions – back when “World Champion” actually meant something in the industry – were among the first “legends” figures produced.
I had more of a challenge, however, in finding my boyhood favorite, “Jumpin’ Jim Brunzell.” Brunzell only had one figure mass-produced, and that was paired as a tag team with B. Bryan Blair, as the “Killer Bees.”
I didn’t want a Blair figure, and the duo was so old by the time I was aware it existed, it was tough to find. But once, again, it was eBay to the rescue, and now Brunzell sits alongside guys he could only dream of being grouped with in the “squared circle.”
Action figures have pluses and minuses, in comparison with card collecting.
Cards can sit in a box forever without being looked at, once a set is complete, while figures can be displayed for all to see. However, you can fit hundreds of cards in one box, but the more figures you collect, the more difficult it is to pack up and move.
McFarlane figures are incredibly detailed, easily the key attraction to collectors. But unlike Starting Lineups, McFarlanes are huge, and fill up a display case quickly.
That said, SLUs do not age well with time. Many SLU figures have curved bats, missing helmets or bases warped to the point that even tape won’t keep them standing in the curio.
Some older wrestling figures were large and made of rubber. My 1988 LJN figure of Terry Funk, like his counterparts, “The British Bulldogs,” must lean against the back of the curio because their rubber feet no longer can stand upright.
Newer wrestling figures come with little plastic stands, allowing a grappler’s foot to rest comfortably on a protrusion.
Probably the most detailed wrestling figures were the Unmatched Fury line from WWE. Unfortunately, those in charge of determining who to select for the line of figures must have been dropped on their heads.
Some were no-brainers: “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Others, well, you probably see those on clearance shelves of your local discount store.
To the WWE’s credit, they jumped on the bandwagon of creating legends figures. But they haven’t gone back far enough.
I would race to the nearest Toys R Us if WWE ever created a legends tag team series featuring legendary acts such as Crusher and Dick the Bruiser, The Fabulous Kangaroos, The Tolos Brothers, Mr. Wrestling I and II and The Midnight Express.
Other grappling greats that should have figures of their own include Lou Thesz, Danny Hodge, Dory Funk Jr., and Chief Wahoo McDaniel.
A company called Figures Toy Company actually did create figures of some legends in the mat business, and I eagerly swooped up figures of The Sheik, Abdullah the Butcher and Baron Von Raschke – some of them complete with blood. But the company didn’t last long and the figures soon disappeared.
Perhaps it’s just me, but for those of us who as a child would have given our eye teeth to wear a plastic World Heavyweight Champion belt, or play with wrestling figures in a plastic ring, I expected more of us to purchase those legends when we had the chance.