Action figures had many faces in the early 80s – the blonde brawn of He-Man, the buzz-cut ruggedness of G.I. Joe – but few were as famous as Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Rowdy Roddy Piper and the rest of the World Wrestling Federation.
Professional wrestling had already been around for decades before Hogan and his gang, but the WWF took the sport/entertainment to new heights. Wrestling impresario Vince McMahon built his organisation into an entertainment superpower, largely through the use of ongoing rivalries and plenty of smack talk between bouts.
Colourful characters like Hogan, Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka, The Junkyard Dog, Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage and Tito Santana became larger-than-life characters and heroes to millions of youngsters. It seemed only natural that action figures would follow.
In 1984, LJN and McMahon’s Titan Sports Inc. unveiled the first line of WWF action figures, gearing up for the debut of Hulk Hogan’s Rock N’ Wrestling on Saturday morning the following year.
Plastic grapplers like Mr. Fuji, Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik may not have had the joints and poseability of a G.I. Joe, but that didn’t stop kids from staging mock bouts in bedrooms and backyards around the country.
Nothing made a kid feel more powerful than knowing he could waylay Andre the Giant with an atomic drop, even if this particular Andre was only four inches tall.
Several sizes of WWF Action Figures were produced over the years, and the line-up of wrestlers changed continually. JYD, Hacksaw Jim Duggan and the others gave way to newer stars like Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, The Ultimate Warrior and Yokozuna. WWF merchandise also spread beyond the plastic action figures to play wrestling rings, thumb-wrestlers, soft “Wrestling Buddies” and even albums, movies and more.
Pro wrestling took a bit of a downturn in the early 90s, but by the end of that decade, it was back and bigger than ever. New figures from toymakers like Hasbro and Jakks Pacific reflected the changing times, offering kids a chance to play with The Undertaker, Mankind, Sable, The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Classic figures were made available for collectors and old-school aficionados, but as long as kids like a solid dose of brain-busters, suplexes, piledrivers and bad attitudes, the WWF toy line will continue to have a future as bright as its past.