Monday, May 23, 2016



Stories of Childhood Toy Triumph and Tragedy




Wrestling today is a barren wasteland IMHO. I couldn’t name 10 new wrestlers that have come from the 2000s on and couldn’t care too. As for the old veterans that still get into the ring and try to keep the dream alive? They do nothing but embarrass their legacy. It just doesn't appeal to me in the slightest. Despite wrestling’s current shape, there was a time during my youth when it was a pop culture phenomenon and everybody was talking about it. All the kids that wanted to emulate a real life, living and breathing superhero would do it by watching wrasslin’ on the tube after Saturday morning cartoons concluded at 12:00 PM. For me, this historical period in time was the 10 years from 1982 to 1992 (with 1987 being its peak year). After that, the industry started to shift and eventually issued in the "Attitude" era where wrestling had begun to take a more provocative turn (yuck!) and it has never recovered since.

During that decade, my favorite wrestlers were the Road Warriors: Hawk and Animal, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior. Besides them, there were still so many other colorful and charismatic characters that captivated the youth of America. It was so big that the whole industry of wrestling came out of the doldrums of cult and into the mass media of television, toys, cartoons, magazines, posters, dolls, food products, movies and music. It became more of an entertainment carnival show on steroids and many of the purists who scoffed at such blasphemy would soon join in once they got a taste of the excitement from the "rock n' wrestling connection." Yes, wrestling had changed into more of a “cartoonish” look that I related too. How could I not? Wrestling was my comic book characters coming to life! This period came to be known as the “Golden Age of Wrestling" and it truly was. 

 Doing my best Road Warrior Hawk impression on the beach during the "rock n' wrestling connection" days at 12 years old.

"The Golden Age of Wrestling": 1982-1992

I was so into wrestling that I loved all the territories; WWF, NWA, AWA, and WCCW and watched all their programs on TV religiously. They all put on a bunch of pay-per-view mega-events like; WrestleMania, The Great American Bash, The Survivor Series and Starrcade (just to name a few) as well as my two favorite events put on by the WWF called Saturday Night's Main Event and the Royal Rumble! I can still remember the thrill I got from watching them. 

I would gather with friends after school and weekends and set up bed mattresses on the front lawn and have wrestling matches all day long. During this time, I have to give props to my friend Brian. I convinced him to help me steal two football pads from our middle school locker room. Once we did the dastardly deed and got back to the safety of his house; we spray painted the pads black, put six inch steel nails through them, painted our faces with make-up and shaved our heads (my mom was pissed about that). Why? To emulate the mighty Road Warriors (I was Hawk) and it wasn't even Halloween! We just wanted to do it. Yup, we were obsessed.

During the '80s arcades were also a big deal. For a quarter you got to play some of your favorite video and pinball games to see how high you could score before you had to beg your parents for more money to keep adding to it. I can fondly remember the first wrestling arcade game I ever saw; Tag Team Wrestling from Technos Japan (1983). Today, this arcade game may look like complete shit. But back then it was something totally new and totally exciting -- especially for someone who was obsessed with wrestling like I was. Little did I know, the company of Technos Japan would continue to create more wrestling video games and continually feed my addiction.

Tag Team Wrestling (1983) by Technos Japan. This was the first wrestling video game I ever saw and it totally blew my mind.

While I had an Atari 2600 and Commodore 64 at home to play video games on, they were like dinosaurs when compared to the total awesomeness of video games at the arcade. And when the Nintendo Entertainment System (also called NES) was released in America in 1985 and brought in-home video games to another level, it still paled in comparison to the graphics, sounds and gameplay of the arcade consoles. But truth be told, NES games got better with time and solid wrestling games came out for it that I loved like; Pro Wrestling, Tecmo World Wrestling and the extremely awesome WCW Wrestling (where you could actually be the Road Warriors and Ric Flair and perform their signature moves). I would play those games for hours on end. But once I walked into the arcade and saw the magical WWF Superstars from Technos Japan in 1989 -- all bets were off.

 The incredible WCW Wrestling was released for the NES in 1990 by FCI...

...and first released in Japan in 1989 under the name Super Star Pro Wrestling (which still had the Road Warriors in it as playable characters). It was truly a great game due to its vast selection of wrestlers and stylistic gameplay.

But it paled in comparison to the graphics and excitement of the arcade game WWF Superstars from Technos Japan (1989). This was the first wrestling video game that took all the others to the next level.

WWF Superstars really pushed the boundaries in wrestling video games and my friends and I loved every minute of it. We played it for hours once we got past the crowds that surrounded it. I would always be the Ultimate Warrior and "Gorilla Press" my opponent and team-up with Hulk Hogan and "Leg Drop" my way to victory. Besides being the tag team duo of my two favorite wrestlers, the best part was watching them enter the ring. Never before did a wrestling video game present such an exciting build up before you actually fought it out. Now this may seem insignificant by today's wrestling video game standards, but back in 1989 it was truly groundbreaking. 

The tag team of the Ultimate Warrior and Randy Savage enter into the ring in glorious WrestleMania-like fashion. This was truly innovative for a wrestling video game at the time.

Sadly, for all the excitement WWF Superstars presented with innovations and graphics came a sudden backlash in replay value. After you beat the tag team bosses of Andre the Giant and Ted DiBiase and then defended the belts, you basically did everything you could do and the game was over. The best way to play was always against a friend, but even that grew a little tiresome after a while from lack of character selection and moves (only 6 playable characters in all). This game eventually faded into obscurity after playing it for a few days and I went back to my NES and played WCW Wrestling. It wasn't as flashy or exciting as WWF Superstars, but it sure did have better replay value. That would all change in the next two years...


No one can deny the importance of WWF Superstars despite its flaws. Technos Japan had been on the right track producing wrestling video games since they made Tag Team Wrestling back in 1983. But who would've guessed that the next wrestling arcade game they would soon release would become the standard of all other wrestling video games? All it took was the innovations they made with WWF Superstars, crank it up a hundred notches and inject the pure magic of the WWF into the JAMMA board (arcade purists will get that joke so don't judge)!

During a warm summer's day in August 1991, me and my friends made our Saturday afternoon pit-stop at the local Cumberland Farms and bought WWF Superstars Ice Cream Bars (and talked about the wrestler we were eating that was printed on the cookie part of the bar) before heading to the Dream Machine arcade. While this was our typical routine every Saturday, nothing could prepare me for what I was about to see when I walked into the arcade that day.

Me and my friends always got a WWF Superstars Ice Cream Bar before we went to the Dream Machine arcade on Saturdays.

Enter: WWF Wrestlefest. (If you want to learn all about playing this game read my article about it here; WWF Wrestlefest: A Complete Arcade Game Analysis.)

To this day I can remember a few magical moments in my life that impacted me so thoroughly that I was literally never the same. The birth of my daughter, getting the Mego Elastic Hulk toy figure, buying my first copy of The Incredible Hulk #1, celebrating Stan Lee's 90th birthday with him, becoming best buddies with my mentor Roy Thomas, the day when... (I'll stop there so I can keep this story "kid friendly") and the time I played WWF Wrestlefest!! 

The WWF Wrestlefest flyer that promoted the game to arcades across the country. (FRONT)

I worshiped every word of it. (BACK)

Yup, it was truly an incredible moment. This video game had everything I could ever want in it. All the wrestlers I loved as playable characters; Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Mr. Perfect, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Earthquake, Demolition: Smash and Crush, Ted "Million Dollar Man" Dibiase, Sgt. Slaughter and the Big Boss Man. And they all performed their signature moves and taunts! Not to mention the bosses of the game you had to beat in a championship tag team match; the Legion of Doom: Hawk and Animal (they were going by that name in the WWF at the time)!! They even performed their signature tag team finisher "The Doomsday Device" (mislabeled as the lame "Clothesline off the rope turnbuckle") that obliterated their opposition!! If that wasn't enough to send me into a tizzy, the game had two different playing options; the tag team championship mode with a steel cage match included called "Saturday Night's Main Event" and the 4 co-opt player "Royal Rumble" mode!!! My two favorite events right before my eyes!! And best of all -- the replay value was off the charts!!! It never grew stale with its smooth 4-player gameplay to go along with the incredible graphics and cabinet design. It was almost too much for my young mind to bare as I lost my breath just staring at this mechanical game from Heaven. 

When I saw this in the Dream Machine arcade in the summer of 1991 my life was never the same.

My two favorite wrestling events were included as gameplay options; Saturday Night's Main Event...

...and the Royal Rumble! My young mind almost cracked at the sheer awesomeness of this game.

Everybody I loved were playable characters!

Only Ric Flair was missing to round out my five greatest wrestlers ever... but I wasn't complaining.

The Tag Team Champions of Wrestlefest: The Legion of Doom aka the Road Warriors: Hawk and Animal!
Mean Gene: "It's time to fight with a powerful challenge."
Animal: "Heheha! We snack on danger, dine on death!"
Hawk: "To bury every gerbil-faced geek we face... Yaarrghhh!" 
And they actually perform their tag team finisher: The Doomsday Device!! How could anything be this incredible??

It's simple to say that we played the shit outta this video game and used up all the money we had or could scrounge up. Even in the end when we had nothing left, I didn't want to leave the arcade. I just stood there watching other people play and tried to come up with ways to drag this 350 pound arcade machine out the door and put it into my house so I could play it for the rest of my life. Sadly, that was just another one of my crazed fantasies not to become a reality. It took them a while, but my friends finally pulled me out of the arcade and eventually got sick of me constantly talking about the game.


It's time to fast forward 25 years into the present.

Like I said in the opening paragraph, wrestling today is a barren wasteland. I get my wrestling thrills by occasionally watching old matches on YouTube and DVD with my daughter Bryn. She has fallen in love with Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Jim "the Anvil" Neidhart and Dusty Rhodes and even cried one time when Dusty was eliminated from a Royal Rumble match. While this may seem a little sad, I must point out that she watched the match a few times and already knew he was going to get eliminated -- LOL! But she loves the classic stuff and today I realize how perfectly suited the "Golden Age of Wrestling" was for kids.

My daughter loved Dusty Rhodes, R.I.P. big guy...

One day I took Bryn to an old-time arcade and educated her on how they were such a big deal when I was her age. Needless to say she had a blast playing all the games with me, especially WWF Wrestlefest. When we were leaving, she said that it would be awesome if we could take the Wrestlefest console home with us to play. And just like that, the seed was planted. My baby girl said the exact same thing I did when I first saw the console in the Dream Machine back in 1991. Was that just a coincidence? I'm not sure, but why not get one? Today I have the financial means to do it and to be honest, I'm surprised I didn't think of it earlier. Whatever the reasons, the spark was lit. It was time to go looking for a Wrestlefest arcade machine console and bring it home! Just saying that made me all giddy inside.

After looking on EBay and Craigslist I found a guy in New York that had one for sale. Unfortunately, it was only a 2-player version, but it was still in great condition and working (they are almost 30 years old). So I called the guy up and made the deal. Just like that, the game was going to be mine. A few days later when it came time for me to pick it up (an 8 hour drive both ways), I called the guy and told him what time I was going to be there. Unexpectedly, the guy told me he broke our deal and ended up selling it to a friend a few days earlier because he was offered more money for it... Aarraghh! Thank god I called because the coward didn't have the balls to call me and tell me (whadda prick)! I was soooo furious at this that if the bastard didn't live so far from me, I might've been tempted to do something bad.

Over the next week I found a few other consoles, but they were either run down or not working at all. I managed to find a classic arcade company in Philadelphia that refurbished consoles and sold them. They did have a 4-player Wrestlefest that was fixed up and ready to go. While it was tempting to get the game in perfect shape, their price was a little high (I'm not one to complain but they wanted almost 4 times more than the going retail price) and once you combined it with the shipping - it was brutal. Besides, the guy wasn't gonna give me a break so I put it in my back pocket and kept looking. I finally found another guy who had a nice one and he gave me a fantastic price. One problem. He lived in Oregon. I live in Boston. The shipping alone was a 3 day trip so it would've cost me a fortune to get it. I might as well go to the company in Philly for the refurbished one... Arrrgghhh! After a while I was becoming frustrated and thinking to just shell the money over to them and get it.

Another week passed before my luck finally changed. I managed to locate a guy who had an arcade in his basement. On a whim, I gave him a call to see if he had a Wrestlefest game that he might want to sell. It turned out that he did and I somehow managed to call him at the perfect time. He was in the process of moving to a new house, but the basement was smaller than his previous one so he had to get rid of a few games. He wasn't planning on selling the Wrestlefest because he just refurbished it a few months ago with new controls, graphics, etc. WOW! I told him my story and how it was a surprise gift for my daughter. Plus, we would take good care of it. He loved the story and agreed to sell it to me at a great price. But the best part was that he actually worked for a shipping company! So he gave me his discount, on the delivery and made sure everything was packed right. How awesome is that?

Within a week the console was delivered -- but not without a price. The guy driving the truck got lost and dropped it off a few hours late. And even with the assistance of my brother and a neighbor helping me bring this unbelievably heavy and awkward thing down a flight of stairs -- it was incredibly difficult. I'm serious when I say it was one of the hardest things I've ever moved in my life. Not to mention, the bezel glass fell to the floor and shattered into a million pieces when we were just inches from where it had to go (cleaning that up sucked and ordering another one from the glass shop wasn't cheap). I guess it was a nice coming home present... UGH! But despite all that, I managed to bring the WWF Wrestlefest arcade console home, clean it up and give my daughter the surprise of a lifetime. Playing the game with her made the little boy in me tear up. Little John could've never imagined that one day he would have this arcade game in his house like he fantasized about all those years ago and got to enjoy it with his baby girl. It was another incredible timeless moment in my life.

My daughter Bryn with our WWF Wrestlefest arcade console as the magic of youth lives on.


You would think that the story ends there -- but it doesn't. To take this celebration of wrangling the Wrestlefest arcade cabinet a step further, I wanted to do something to make this childhood dream come to a perfect conclusion. Yes, it was incredible to give it to my daughter, but what about the child within myself? Well, as luck would have it throughout the years I've become a pretty big deal in the comic convention circuit. Besides being a dealer/writer/promoter, I'm also an agent. So throughout the years I've come into contact with some pretty impressive characters. And one of those characters that I've befriended is the one... and only... Road Warrior Animal!! So, of course, I had to get him to put his stamp of approval on my cabinet! Could anything be better than this? Animal even dedicated his signature on a video promo for my daughter. What a way to end the journey and fulfill a totally unfathomable, unbelievable childhood dream. Thanks big guy!

The real Road Warriors? Me and the big guy.

What could be better than this to a little Mego Stretch Hulk???

Ooohhhhh, What a Rush... indeed.

To be continued...

Other Tales From the Toy Chest:








John Cimino
John Cimino is a Silver and Bronze Age comic, cartoon and memorabilia expert that runs a business called "Saturday Morning Collectibles." He buys, sells, appraises and gives seminars on everything pop culture, so if you got something special, let him know about it. He contributes articles to ALTER EGO, RETROFAN, BACK ISSUE and THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR from TwoMorrows Publishing, runs the Roy Thomas Appreciation Board on Facebook and has appeared on the AMC reality show Comic Book Men. He also represents some of comicdoms biggest stars and brings them to a Comic Con near you. John likes to think he's the real Captain Marvel, people just don't have the heart to tell him he's just an obsessed fanboy that loves to play superheroes with his daughter Bryn. Contact him at or follow him on Instagram at megostretchhulk.