I really can’t be trusted to go to Toys ‘R’ Us, I went to buy my mum’s godson a birthday present and bought two wrestlers, he doesn’t even like wrestling!
The last time I bought a WWF action figure new was about 1992, I was about 7 and it was, I think, (about) the Big Bossman. Why haven’t I bought any since then? Well by the time I was ‘collecting’ action figures in my teens the Attitude Era was on, which I didn’t like, and Jakks Pacific had the license and Jakks’ figures were pretty much shit. By the time I got back into buying toys for myself a few years ago there was barely any characters active I recognised and Mattel and their buck system were in charge, there were thousands of figures I didn’t recognise yet all looked very similar to each other. Then I started back at the bootsales and these figures were everywhere, nothing is more disappointing at a bootsale than thinking you’ve ground a stall with a box of action figures just for them turn out be loads of two year old wrestlers you don’t know and don’t care about. So what changed? Well Mattel has improved their buck and then they made the perfect Rick Flair figure, pretty much.
If you’ve never heard of Rick Flair you suck, or you just mostly watched WWF; while considered one of the best American Professional Wrestlers ever Flair mostly plied his trade at WCW, well until Eric Bishoff buried him and then Vince Russo buried him - in the desert (yes that really happened). In fact I’ve got an admission, a chunk of my favourite wrestling characters spent more time wrasslin’ than presenting sports entertainment – Flair, Sting, Vader and Cactus Jack all had their best days at WCW rather than WWF (obviously Foley went on to bigger things there as Mankind and Dude Love, and Cactus Jack, and Commissioner Foley and…I think he’s a schizophrenic really). Anyway Flair wrestled throughout the 80’s and 90’s including a small run at WWF during one of the many times WCW would piss him off in the latter half of the 1990s1 which is commemorated with this figure: Wrestlemania Heritage Series Superstar #19: Rick Flair, specifically his appearance at Wrestlemania VIII in 1992 where he fought Macho Man Randy Savage. Near as I can tell Wrestlemania Heritage series is just considered part of the general WWE series of figures (you may have noticed Mattel has about a million different WWF lines in shops, I think they’re separated by price point and numbering system - maybe) and is just a name used on waves that focus on figure of characters themed after Wrestlemania pay-per-views of old.
Simply put this figure is perfect, it’s actually (I think) a cut down version of the recent Defining Moments Rick Flair (or Defining Moments Rick Flair is a souped up version of this) but it’s these changes that make it so perfect – firstly the unsightly ab crunch is gone giving him a better overall look, and secondly this figure’s paint job is exactly the same as his Hasbro WWF figure. Now this is of course just because that’s what he looked like and what he wore when he was at this particular Wrestlemania but I don’t care, I’m a terrible Hasbro WWF fan and frankly if Mattel made figures that look this nice of every character who appeared in that line in the exact costumes and colour schemes they used I’d buy every single one, even the shitty repaints they put out in the end of the line (it’s Mr Perfect… but with a different colour vest!). Of course the real draw to this figure isn’t that it looks like a toy I particularly like but that it looks exactly like Rick Flair, Mattel likenesses for their WWF figures are hit and miss, their scanned ones tend to look a little uncanny valley-ish and some of their sculpted ones tend to look…well nothing like the person they’re supposed to represent but this is spot-on, I suppose Rick Flair already being a living caricature helped, gave the sculptors lots of easy things to pick out and work with but it does look just like the Nature Boy.
Construction and articulation are also pretty damn sweet – I don’t miss the ab crunch, especially as Mattel’s WWF ab crunch torso looks a bit crap with such a big gap around the joint, what I do miss is the ball joints at the hips, it really limits his poses and if your action figure can’t spread his legs slightly (especially if he’ a professional wrestler) you’ve kind of failed in today’s over-articulated world of toys. He does come with a boot cut, very tight ankle joints and a lovely wrist articulation, it’s a swivel and a hinge joint combined, giving you a good facsimile of a ball joint without the ugly look of one which always sticks out like bollocks on a bulldog when your character isn’t wearing gloves. I’d obviously like the pegs on his arms covered up but it’s not a big deal and his biceps joins are great, I don’t understand why Mattel won’t just bring over their pant overlay system from Masters of the Universe Classics to their WWF stuff though, it’s probably cost-related but it makes so much sense, they mostly all wear trunks! Here it just makes the ‘R.F.’ design of his pants split up if you want him standing with leg anything but dead straight. The knee pads as separate pieces work fine enough, mine slip down when his knees bend but then so did Rick Flair’s I’d be remiss to complain about that and it’s better than having them with a big ugly cut through them. The only articulation that’s in any way blocked is his neck, it’s supposed to be a ball joint but I think his trademark luscious locks stop him from putting his head back, meaning he can’t be put in full ‘woooo’ pose, which is a bit sad. He doesn’t come with any accessories because this is from a budget line, but then even the Defining Moments version doesn’t come with the one accessory Flair needs – a swappble bladed bleeding and bedraggled head.2
Sting here – it isn’t The Crow I promise you - is really the complete opposite end of the Mattel WWE toy spectrum, he’s from their high end ‘Defining Moments’ line and I took a packaged shot just to show you how much effort Mattel have put into making these look as elite as they could (pity they couldn’t put the effort into swappable heads and hands), each box is unique to the character and really do look swanky, the Stinger’s features his scorpion logo and looks like a bottle of Jack Daniels. Sting’s another WCW star and one who didn’t work at WWF while WCW was a separate company and actually had his career as the company’s top Face (hero) made for him by a brilliant match with Mr Flair up there. Originally he looked like
Bacon a trimmer, short-haired Ultimate Warrior which fans refer to as
‘surfer Sting’ which is one of my favourite looks for a wrestler ever, but this
is from later in his WCW career after various events with the Heel group nWo
(including a villainous Hollywood Hulk Hogan) turned him into a dark brooding
character who was a complete rip-off of The Crow. It’s specifically referencing his ‘defining
moment’ – jumping from the rafters with a baseball bat to challenge Hollywood
Hogan, it is undoubtedly one of the coolest moments in the history of the sport
even if it did lead to one of the most disappointing matches in said history.3
Overall he looks great, you get a lot of leeway with Sting’s likeness because
his face paint (and he’s always wearing some kind of face paint) distorts his
features to the eye and lets you get away with him not looking exactly like Kevin Bacon himself , they’ve got the
detail of his trousers good and even bothered to sculpt him a new upper torso
go give him the right shirt and necklace so I can’t ask for much more, I also
like his boot sculpts, no good reason, I just like ‘em.
He boasts just about all the articulation a leg can have, he has (ready for this) – ball jointed hips, a thigh swivel (hate), two artic points at the knee, a boot cut and then an ankle joint, no figure needs that much leg articulation, especially the thigh-cut which is just gratuitous in every way possible when you have a ball jointed hip and a boot cut and terribly suited for Sting’s costume, which has detailing down the front that instantly stops lining up the second you use this horrible ugly joint making him look totally unrealistic. I greatly appreciate the knee joins though and they work well with his outfit, look how easily and naturally I could make him drop the leg on Hogan down there, he’s study, stable and lovely to pose. His arms aren’t so articulated but his jacket doesn’t encumber what is there and his all black body masks the ugly ab-crunch nicely - though if you pose him with his back too arched you’ll ruin the look of the scorpion. Yeah his jacket, I’m not a fan of soft goods on action figures, they’re unwieldy and usually look clunky and cumbersome but honestly this jacket is really nice, it feels like a leather jacket which is nice (though I thought his jacket as a little shinier?), it works best when tucked behind his legs otherwise he’s in danger of looking like the wrestling world’s most badass flasher and could really do with wiring in it to make it poseable, just around the bottom would have done, I paid a full collector’s figure price for this bloke and as he doesn’t come with any swappable parts and only one accessory I don’t think it would be unfair to want some cheap bendable wire.
Yeah Sting comes with one accessory – a warped baseball bat he can’t hold by the handle (his hands are both too open), and I’m sure it isn’t the baseball bat he used and looks more like a club recycled from a Flintstones playset of yore, still it’s black and a baseball bat (which I’m sure was Mattel’s thinking) and from a distance it looks fine and really what kind of anal-retentive arsehole is going to complain about it being the wrong style of bat… oh… I think I’m a horrible person. I need chocolate.
That’s better, so in conclusion then? In conclusion that Rick Flair figure is fucking perfect even if he can’t open his legs and Sting, while having a couple of pretty basic flaws (he should be able to hold his accessory right) looks so good on the shelf and can achieve all the deep poses as a wrestler should that all is forgiven, so yeah I’m happy, what I’m not happy about is they may have ‘opened the flood gates’ as it were , I’m already eyeing up the new WWE Elite British Bulldog that’s due out and thinking about eBaying the last Legion of Doom set that I foolishly passed on when it was in stores. All this because Rick Flair was reduced in a Toys ‘R’ Us I didn’t plan on going to, bloody giraffe.
1 I think this was the time they let him walk from the company with their championship belt because they wouldn’t give him deposit for it back and he brought it to WWF and then they had to go through the courts to get it back – yes WCW were so dumb at times they couldn’t manage what even budget airlines can do.
2 well that and the severed heads of Eric Bischoff and Vince Russo obviously.
3 and they did the jumping from the roof bit, which they did several times, not long after Owen Hart had died during the same stunt. Yeah, that wasn’t very good.