Wrestling toys then and now

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As a life long wrestling fan, it came as very sad news to hear about the passing of Macho Man Randy Savage. Macho Man was a childhood hero of mine and helped pro wrestling become one of the most popular forms of entertainment on the planet. I used to watch WWF on Saturday mornings religiously, and along with the television shows came a line of memorable toys.

Lets get ready to rumble

One of the first and most iconic wrestling toys is without a doubt the all-rubber Wrestling Superstars action figures. Released by LJN, these figures were surprisingly detailed and copied these larger-than-life athletes wonderfully, Macho Man included. However, since they were not jointed in any way, it was hard to play with these figures in the ways you saw them fight on television. You couldn’t exactly make Hulk Hogan do his trademark leg drop nor could Randy Savage drop the elbow from the top rope, but for all you couldn’t do with these figures, they were as tough as nails. You might not be able to put them in a figure four leg lock, but you could throw them against a brick wall over and over without worry. In a way, the toy’s toughness wonderfully mimicked that of the superstars they portrayed.

WWF Wrestling Superstars

The first and the best wrestling toys.

Of course, as wrestling grew more and more popular, there were more and more toys. The action figures went through a lot of changes over the years but the WWF didn’t stop there. The other memorable toy from the golden age of wrestling is easily the Wrestling Buddies. Wrestling Buddies were basically just over-sized, stuffed toys that looked like your favorite wrestler, again, including Macho Man. The Wrestling Buddies didn’t do much but it didn’t matter because these plush toys put the power of muscle heads like the Ultimate Warrior in your hands. And like the old rubber action figures, the Wrestling Buddies were rough and tough, ready to be played with hard. How else could you practice the Sharpshooter and not get yelled at by mom?

The other wrestling toy that you couldn’t avoid back in the day was, surprisingly, not from the WWF or even the WCW. Instead they came from Japan and they were called M.U.S.C.L.E. men. These little pink wrestling figures always confused me because I wasn’t sure what you were supposed to do with them. They were too small to do anything and they didn’t bend or have any joints. You could try to collect them all, but the collecting craze spawned by Pokemon was still several years away, and why would any kid want a funny looking MUSCLE man when he could have King Kong Bundy in his back pocket? Nonetheless, without the popularity of professional wrestling on TV and on toy store shelves, MUSCLE men would have remained in Japan.

WWF Wrestling Buddies

You just know that Hulk fears Macho Man

Wrestling then and now

Pro wrestling is one of the few things my generation can say we saw and helped grow from the start. We helped turn wrestling from a smoky gym sport into an international spectacle, and that being the case, it’s interesting to see the wrestling toys in the aisles today. Back then the WWF only needed to sell toys to kids like me. The funny thing is, they can still sell toys to me. Like many of the other franchises these days, there are wrestling toys targeted at young kids and toys targeted at us “old” wrestling fans. Next to the 6-inch action figures of today’s wrestling superstars like John Cena are “collectible” figures of wrestling’s greatest players, like the Iron Sheik and Roddy Piper.

These figures range in price from $10 to around $20 and while they’re beautifully sculpted and detailed, they just don’t seem offer much more than the old figures. Don’t get me wrong, the action figures on the pegs now look more like their real life counterparts than ever before, and even though these figures have articulation and can actually move, they still can’t “perform” many of their trademark wrestling moves. You would think after a period of 20+ years that we would have action figures that could actually be put in a Boston crab or camel clutch, but we don’t. I purchased a new Undertaker figure at Walmart and while I can see the tiny skull tattoos on his arms, I can barely bend his legs. He even has a hard time standing up straight. I know these figures can do a thousand more things than our old rubber figures, but I guess I would just expect them to do more by this point.

The Undertaker

I think one of his tattoos says "Mom".

Our old school figures could be dragged behind the school bus for miles and come out relatively unscathed, but the figures today just don’t feel like they would be able to take much abuse…and what other type of action figure should take more abuse than a wrestler? Wrestlers are basically giant cartoon characters anyway, each of them capable of taking an inordinate amount of punishment, so it only makes sense that their miniature versions should do the same, but I’m not so sure they can. My Undertaker looks mean but I think inside you’ll find a brittle little man.

And if you thought the MUSCLE men were left back in the 1980s, you’d be wrong too. The actual MUSCLE men are now the things of yard sales and flea markets, but in their place you’ll find mini versions of today’s top WWE performers. Billed as WWE Rumblers, these 2-inch figures resemble the Marvel Superhero Squad toys in that they have large proportions with all-happy faces. But like the old MUSCLE men, I’m not sure what you can do with these little guys besides just collect them. At most the WWE Rumblers would be great desk toys at the office. They’re small enough to go unnoticed but still something to show off your wrestling fandom.

Old isn’t always better but it was more fun

It’s easy for me to say that the toys from my generation are better than today’s toys, but that would be a lie. Toys today can do a lot more than the toys of my day, and they look better too. Yet, when I put them side-by-side, the modern action figures just don’t carry the same spirit as the old toys. The old toys captured the fun and ridiculousness that was and is professional wrestling. The new toys just seem more interested in being collectible than useful in the hands of fans both young and old. But don’t let that stop you from buying a Paul Orndorff figure to show off at work.

Want more talk about toys then and now? Check these articles out:

The Glory of G.I. Joes: A Retrospective

Creating My Own Sagas: Dragonball Z Action Figures

Spring-Loaded Serenade: Exploring Nerf

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Brian is a staff writer at TMA. He races Hot Wheels at RedlineDerby.com while watching cartoons with his kid. You can follow @morningtoast on Twitter.

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