Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Plastic Piledrivers: The LJN Dream Team

Two wrestlers will always beat a single G.I. Joe, plain and simple.  It was an economic decision when you boiled it down.  The two-packs of old, LJN rubber wrestlers had been marked down to almost nothing, making them a dollar or two cheaper than the price of that new Storm Shadow figure.  As my 7 year old brain processed this simple math equation, I picked up the rubbery tag team and headed down the path of wrestling figure obsession.

Gateway drugs: My very first wrestling figures
My familiarity with pro wrestling was tenuous at that point, only catching glimpses of it during weekend stays with my aunt, who had been a fan growing up (regaling me in tales of her childhood crush on obscure Asian grappler, Kenji Shibuya).  The jury was still out on the legitimacy of the in-ring battles, but I gravitated towards the awesome spectacle of it, appreciating the performers with the flashiest ring gear and obvious charisma.  One particular wrestler stood out among the rest with his awesome 80’s theme song, tiger-print tights, and a mullet that looks like it was crafted with God’s hairspray.  To top it off, his finishing maneuver, the Sleeper, would put the wrestler out cold, allowing the ultimate humiliation of an impromptu haircut while they were still blacked out. 

The Eighties were messed up: The dude on the left was my hero at one point. #shame
But before Brutus Beefcake had found success as “The Barber”, he was part of a heel tag-team with Greg “The Hammer” Valentine.  Managed by The Mouth of the South Jimmy Hart, the two mid-level stars never made much of a mark together in the wrestling world, which is probably why many sets of their action figures lined clearance shelves in 1986.  But by the time I found them, the team had been split up by the WWF, turning Brutus babyface, and in doing so, turning what was once a crummy tag-team set into an awesome good-guy versus bad-guy scenario.
The figures themselves were about 7 inches of rubber limbs and wrestling bravado, generally posing they way you’d imagine them on an event poster.  Brutus had an arrogant sneer left over from his bad guy days, along with his thumb hooked towards himself, as if to be saying “What has one thumb and will eventually be wrestling’s first hairstylist?” Greg had a pretty standard “Come at me, bro!” stance, and was missing the reversible shin protector that he would soon adopt in the ring.  They came with a set of championship belts and were incredibly sturdy.  What they lacked in articulation, they made up for in flexibility, allowing you to distort their default poses into almost every wrestling hold, including the dreaded Figure 4 Leglock.
The Figure 4 being the regular finishing maneuver of Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, he’d end just about every match he won by grabbing his opponents legs, interlacing them around his own leg posted in between them, and lock in the painful submission hold.  When the Hammer trapped his the dreaded maneuver, his victim would beg and plead for him to release it before eventually submitting to the ref.  While I wouldn’t really  appreciate him until a few years later, Valentine was one of those old school, ugly, bleach-blonde, wrestlers who excelled at making his flashier opponent look better than he actually was.  The kind of beer-fueled brute who would have thrived as a Viking or caveman, but instead never made it much higher than the mid-card.

Plastic legends: The most recent versions of The Dream Team
Over the years as my wrestling figure obsession grew, I, for whatever reason, picked up a second, paint-scuffed Greg Valentine LJN figure, but never had trouble remembering which was the original.  You see, during one of last, epic battles between The Barber and The Hammer, Valentine decided he had enough and he was take out Beefcake’s legs no matter what the cost.  He locked the dreaded figure 4, but no matter how hard he wrenched it in, the plucky babyface would not give in.  Time limit be damned, he kept the hold locked in for minutes.   Hours.  Days, even!  A week or so later, having forgotten that I left the figures rubber legs interlocked for such and extended time, I decided Brutus simply couldn’t take it anymore, throwing in the towel.  As I pulled the two figures apart, I was shocked to find Valentine’s leg bent at the knee, permanently crippled in a way that prevented the figure from ever standing properly.  He had won the battle, but at what cost?  The figure would never be the same, but luckily, a newer, slicker line of wrestling figures was already being shipped out.  And I still had 1 and half wrestlers, which in my book, still beats a single G.I. Joe.

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