Cable TV hit when I was about 9 years old, yeah that's right we didn't ALWAYS have cable youngsters. When it was installed you had this ancient box that was wired, and there were three levels of channels to choose from. You had to push different buttons on the box to get to each channel instead of simply entering the number of the channel. I was a couch potato explorer and went though every channel looking for something to watch. I'd go through junk just to find something worthy of watching, if there was nothing, I'd just go outside and play wiffle ball. One day I found the channel that I never seemed to change, it was the MSG Network. This channel showed the awesome events that took place at MSG, and once a month the WWF rolled into town.
For a kid that watched the slick production of WWF TV with ring announcers, interviews and promos it was interesting to see the difference in a live production. For these events they had someone like Gorilla Monsoon do some commentary and they featured matches you'd never see on regular TV.
It was around this time that Hulk Hogan beat the Iron Sheik and I don't know what it was, but I just never cared for Hulk Hogan as the WWF Champion. I thought he was awesome as Thunderlips in Rocky III, but just never got the appeal for a giant balding guy with limited moves and an obviously fake Irish name. So anytime Hulk would fight I'd root against him.
Over the years he vanquished most of his opponents including the Sheik, Volkoff, King Kong Bundy, Macho Man Randy Savage, Harley Race, King Kong Bundy, Roddy Piper, Adrian Adonis and countless others. It got old fast. The one guy that I always wanted to see become WWF Champ was "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff. The guy was the consummate heel wrestler. He had the look, the talent, and the ability to make you believe in his character. Orndorff was an egotistical, narcissist. Everyone gives praise to Hogan & Piper for making Wrestlemania 1 so big, i can tell you that I continued watching because it was Paul Orndorff that made the event great.
From the ridiculous promos where they'd beat people up for simply walking by when they were getting interviewed, to Orndorff carrying the actual wrestling part of the match by attacking Hogan after he manhandled Piper, you got a peek at how devious Orndroff could be. His antics after the match also set the tone for future WWF PPVs and events. Getting clocked by Bob Orton's arm cast, and pinned by Hogan was a perfect end to the match and Orndorff played it perfectly. He woke up and didn't know what happened. He was mad because they lost, mad because his team left him hanging and acted like it. Simply classic.
Here, watch for yourself:
From there Orndorff's career skyrocketed. From a face turn becoming the #2 guy under Hogan to one of the greatest heel turns in pro wrestling history, fans were treated to some amazing matches involving Piper, Hogan and others along the way. The match that made me an Orndorff fan was the one above, the one that made him one of my top ten wrestler personalities ever, was this gem from Saturday Night's Main Event (fast forward to the 33 minute mark).
An arm injury derailed Paul's career, but that didn't stop him. He went to WCW and found moderate success in a company that had no idea how to use any wrestler, in any capacity, if they weren't Ric Flair or Sting. Somehow Orndorff found a way to have fantastic matches with Arn Anderson, The Great Muta, and some decent Tag-Team matches with Paul Roma as the team -- Pretty Wonderful.
When I saw the tentative checklist for Brian Gray's Leaf Wrestling Originals and Paul was on the list, I had to add that card to my collection. It was the first item on my list when I recently attended the fall Mounted Memories/Sun Times show.
For $10 I picked up the blue parallel autograph #d to 25. It's easily one of my favorite cards not only from a fantastic card set, but one of my favorites in my entire collection.
Putting Leaf Originals together had to be a true labor or love for Gray. He individually dealt with all of the personalities to accumulate this awesome collection of wrestlers in one set. It's mind boggling that it hasn't been done before, but a daunting task to undertake in the first place.
When Fleer brought WWF/E cards back to the hobby in 2001 they had the right idea. They added autographs and memorabilia to wrestling cards. Fans loved them and it was a big blow when Fleer folded. I had always hoped Upper Deck would pick up that license. I don't think Topps gets wrestling fans at all, and haven't been a fan of any of their releases. If it wasn't for the fact that a friend of mine works on the card backs and products as a consultant, I wouldn't even pay attention to them. Compared to the amazing job Tristar has done with the TNA/Impact Wrestling sets, WWE cards have a long way to go.
That said, neither one of the two wrestling card rivals have produced an extensive lineup of wrestling icons, and for years I have talked about trying to do a set like this myself. I don't think I could have invested the time and money into it, and I applaud Brian for making it happen. With names like Ric Flair, Kevin Nash, Paul Orndorff, Roddy Piper, Hulk Hogan, George "The Animal" Steele, "Superstar" Billy Graham, Bruno Sammartino, Scott Hall and countless others, it is THE wrestling autograph set to collect. I can only wait and see if he can follow this up with a more modern looking product with memorabilia too.