Back in the 1980’s, when there were still wrestling territories, I grew up in an area of the United States that was a World Wrestling Federation stronghold. One of the taping spots, less than 20 miles away, was Allentown’s Agricultural Hall. The WWF’s influence in the Lehigh Valley lasted well into the 1990’s, specifically with the Anoa’i family and the Wild Samoan Training Center. Heck, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and I went to the same high school.
So it shouldn’t be that surprising that I watched a lot of wrestling growing up. (It might be a little surprising that I still watch a lot of wrestling as a grown up) One of the first major feuds I remember took place in 1986, between George “The Animal” Steele and Randy “Macho Man” Savage over Steele developing a crush on Savage’s valet - Miss Elizabeth. Steele was known to eat the contents of the ring turnbuckles and show off his green tongue. Factor in his unique look – a shaved head and body hair like a gorilla – and you can see how he was one of the most memorable wrestling characters of the 80’s.
Even back in those days, the WWF knew that their outlandish characters equated to merchandising gold. There was the animated “Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Wrestling” that played to kids on their Saturday mornings. And there were the toys. The two biggest lines were the large plush WWF Wrestling Buddies and the slightly bendable rubber WWF Wrestling Superstars.
When searching on eBay for an old-school WWF toy for this review, I was a little skeptical about the cleanliness of a 30-year-old Wrestling Buddy. I don’t care how many airtight boxes that thing was kept in; it’s likely to smell a little funky. So I went with the Wrestling Superstar I had as a youngster. I only had one…and it was George “The Animal” Steele.
Produced by the now-defunct LJN Toys, the solid rubber Wrestling Superstars measured approximately 8 inches in height. The line ran from 1984 to 1989, with a total of 64 unique character molds produced. George “The Animal” Steele was released as a part of the 1985 Series 2 release.
Each figure was carded with a clear plastic bubble. The card featured a goofy illustrated wrestling scene on the front and a list of additional available figures on the rear. Also, you get a cutout bio card, which was all the rage in 1980’s toy lines.
One thing you might not notice is that the George Steele toy shown on the card’s rear looks a little different than the actual toy. “The Animal” was well known for his slightly creepy body hair. Well, the advertised Wrestling Superstar has painted-on body hair, while the actual toy only has the sculpted body hair (without any paint). Yeah…it looks a little weird without the paint.
Hopefully, the paint on the figure I snagged off of eBay isn’t reminiscent of the entire line. Steele has caterpillar eyebrows, eyes that are missing half of their paint, and a green tongue that’s turning his cheek green. All of that could be a direct result of sitting in someone’s dank garage for the last 30 years. But I’ve noticed folks in the 1980’s weren’t ultra-concerned with things like “product quality”.
But the toys were fun to play with. Being made of solid rubber means that, aside from the paint, the WWF Wrestling Superstars were tough to bust. Kids could have given each other concussions with these guys. They’re solid rubber and heavy. Like playing with an old tire. Perfect for youngsters to fight each other with.
Have the Wrestling Superstars been surpassed by current-day wrestling collectibles? Yeah, probably. Mattel produces some nicely sculpted, quality figures with lots of articulation. Funko has their Pop! Series of stylized mini WWE figures. So there are currently a number of wrestling toys…but I’m pretty sure there’s nothing as indestructible as those original WWF Wrestling Superstars.