WCW Action Figure ARMAGEDDON!
It was the early 1990's, and World Championship Wrestling was... well, not on fire, exactly, but it was definitely the second-biggest professional wrestling company in the world.
Living in Canada (population: 8), we didn't really have a ton of access to WCW beyond reading the Apter mags and watching their syndicated program at the prime time ratings hour of midnight on Saturdays. Still, their characters at the time were decidedly different from the WWF and - dare I say it? - their wrestlers were better. Between the excitement of Sting and the Steiner Brothers and kick-ass heels like The Four Horsemen, there was a cult-like following of the promotion in Canada.
I remember watching WCW Worldwide one night/early morning and right before a commercial break, they announced that WCW action figures were NOW AVAILABLE! On my fuzzy 12" TV screen, I couldn't quite see what the figures looked like, but it was very excited for this development. Sure, we had the WWF's rubber LJN figures (who usually looked nothing like their real-life counterparts) and the cartoonish Hasbro line, but once again - this just seemed like it would be different.
The toys weren't in Canadian stores at first (and why would they have been? We barely got WCW programming here), but I literally went to sleep at night envisioning what they would be like. For some reason, I figured they would be articulated like GI Joe figures so that I could execute realistic-looking powerbombs and frankensteiners with them. Of course, they ended up being more or less six inch statues of our favorite WCW grapplers, but a guy can dream, can't he?
It would be almost six months before I found the figures, at a Kay-Bee Toys in Florida, no less, but the wait was damn sure worth it. Sure, they didn't have moving body parts and they weren't exactly the same size as the WWF ones... but they were honest-to-goodness works of art. Standing from left to right (and row by row), in the photo above, we have:
Rick Steiner: Although "The Dogfaced Gremlin" has a dozen or so action figures to his credit, this one was first - and arguably the best. Between the face scrunched up in his signature scowl, the collegiate headgear and trunks and the position of the figure that was perfect for giving belly-to-back suplexes to Arn Anderson or Butch Reed, you can't go wrong with this one.
Scott Steiner: Sure, Big Poppa Pump became an overstuffed caricature of himself in later years, but the 1990's version was a perennial favorite among myself and many other hardcore fans. The Galoob version has Steiner in a yellow singlet and sporting one HELL of a mullet, if I do say so myself. In terms of executing moves, you could easily pull off a Davey Boy Smith-style powerslam, and I suppose you could go through the motions of Frankensteinering some poor schmuck - but you could tell Scotty's heart wasn't really into it.
Sting: The first ever action figure of The Stinger, and this bad boy doesn't disappoint! Clad in All-American blue with a menacing scorpion down the sides of his trunks, "classic" Sting was great for pressing Ric Flair and others above his head and just.... threatening to slam them. You could also attempt a Stinger Splash in the corner, and he looked pretty menacing doing it.
Lex Luger: Sometimes, simplest is best, and never more was true than with "The Total Package". You didn't need fancy gimmicks or make up - just a ridiculously-buff dude flexing his muscles in blue speedos and white boots. True, Flexy Lexy couldn't trap you in his patented Torture Rack while he's all like, showing his guns, but you could TOTALLY trap two Horsemen, headlock-style, in Luger's GRIP OF DOOM~!
Tom Zenk: Not sure why I remember this, exactly, but on the back of each figure's card were stats about the WCW wrestler they're patterned after. And in the Z-Man's case, his catchphrase was "Stay Single!". Never heard him utter that on an episode of WCW Television, but whatever. Zenky isn't anything to write home about, although this may very well be his only action figure, so that's something. And he's positioned to delivered a sweet savate kick to Arn or whomever else dares tangle with the juggernaut that is ZENK.
Arn Anderson: Here's a fun fact - Double A may very well be the first wrestling figure in existence to sport a bald spot. Seriously! For years, I kind of pretended that he was an Orthodox Jew, and that the bald spot was actually a flesh-colored yamulke. It's the type of thing people like to do if they lead very, very sad lives. Still, you want to Spinebuster the Stinger? This is the sumbitch who can make it happen.
Flyin' Brian: It's hard to see Brian in our class picture above, but Pillman comes complete with his patented curly-hair mullet, Bengals trunks and a lame smile that he'd never be caught dead wearing in his later "Loose Cannon" years. Assuming you had ropes, he's perfect positioned to dive off them, kamikaze-styles.
Sid Vicious: Sid is my second-favorite figure of the bunch. Sure, Sid's early WCW career was nothing more than hype, but I were the booker (and in my action figure world.... I actually was!), I'd have given him the Goldberg push and him main event Great American Bash vs. either Sting or Flair, whichever one of them had the stones to take on Big Sid Vicious.
Ric Flair: I can take or leave some Ric Flair figures, especially latter-day ones from Jakks Pacific that show off his receding hairline and beer belly. But this one? It captures the man perfectly. Long blond hair, perfect for blading (assuming you're willing to use fake blood or red magic marker for your art). Powder blue trunks and boots with The Nature Boy's insignia. And here's the coolest part - you can actually have him deliver a KILLER kneedrop onto your Lex Luger. Because he's! The! Man! Wooooooooooooo!
Barry Windham: Again, he's also in the elusive third row because of his height, but I've already told you that I don't want to get into that. Barry is my second favorite figure among the Horsemen - evil facial hair, a badass ponytail, and black cowboy boots that clearly tell you that you've messed with the wrong guy. Plus, you want someone to deliver a killer elbow smash? Ain't no choice but to go with The Widowmaker for that!
Butch Reed: I hate to be "that guy", but realistically speaking, I think the toy makers at Galoob more or less looked at Doom as the same person and replicated them. Not that I'm accusing of them being racist, but.... well, I guess that's exactly what I'm saying. They're posed a bit differently and Reed is a little less cut.... but still. Anyways, nothing really wrong with this Reed figure, other than the fact that he never wore grey Zubaz-style pants to the ring and never wrestled in his Nikes. Still, the electric tape-style wristbands was a nice touch.
Ron Simmons: Am I the only one who thought Vince McMahon should have actively recruited Simmons in the early-90's (eg before his forgettable WCW World Title reign) and made him a massive star? This figure was basically his audition for that period.... and yet, Vinnie Mac ended up waiting another 5 years to hire Big Ron and by that time the bloom was pretty much off the rose (Faarooq Asad, anyone?). Simmons, like his "twin" Butch Reed, also has Nike's for some reason, but at least his pants are more of blueish-grey trunks. And he's sculpted to deliver a nice elbow smash.
Sadly, I've since learned that Galoob made other lines of the figures, exclusive to the U.K. and Japan. It's too bad, because I would have killed (yes, literally killed) for the other ones. We're talking Big Josh, The Fabulous Freebirds (w/ glam rock facepaint), Dustin Rhodes, Sting (w/ Sgt. Pepper jacket), El Gigante, Lex Luger (w/ heel robe) and Big Van Vader. ARE. YOU. KIDDING. ME???? I mean.... you had me at Big Josh, no need to go friggin' insane on the rarities!