Pro wrestling has already lost several top stars in the first three months of 2017, including an outlaw, an animal and the man who beat Bruno in the Garden.
It’s been well documented in this column that interest almost always goes up once a wrestler, athlete or celebrity dies, particularly when it comes to autographs and trading cards. Because some of the wrestlers who have passed away this year have been older, they have plenty of modern and vintage trading cards to chase. Here’s a look at some trading cards of the legends we’ve lost so far in 2017.
Of all the wrestlers who have died recently, “the Russian Bear” received surprisingly little fanfare from WWE. Many modern day fans probably best remember Koloff as “Uncle Ivan” to Nikita Koloff in the mid-80s, but a decade before he did the unthinkable and defeated Bruno Sammartino in Madison Square Garden.
Koloff’s cards date back to at least 1978, when he was featured on one of the 32 cards in the 1978 Wrestling Annual from GC London Publishing. Koloff was also included in the 1986 Wrestling Stars set from Monty Gum, the 1987 and 1988 Wonderama NWA sets, and the 1991 Wrestling Legends set from Imagine, Inc., among others. To date, Koloff has never been included in a licensed WWE trading card set.
Most recently, Koloff was prominently featured in several wrestling and multi-sport trading card products from Leaf Trading Cards. His 2012 Leaf Originals Wrestling cards feature an on-card signature against two different styles of artwork. Perhaps his best looking card is his 2013 Leaf Sports Heroes Autograph. While that particular card includes a sticker autograph, Koloff’s signature is clean and Leaf used a great black and white picture of the mighty “Russian Bear” in action.
George “the Animal” Steele
George Steele was a lot of things, from a bloodthirsty monster heel to a lovable cartoon character come to life. He’s best remembered by many fans today as the missing link-like character who fawned over Elizabeth and feuded with Randy Savage throughout 1986.
Interestingly, while Steele has far more cards than Koloff, his first cards came along much later. Steele’s first cards were produced in the mid-80s during his babyface run; his earliest card is a 1985 WWF Pro Wrestling Stars card from Topps. He appeared in many WWF trading card sets and promotional items throughout during the 1980s.
Like Koloff, Steele was also a part of many wrestling and multi-sport products from Leaf Trading Cards. His signature appears in 2012 Leaf Originals Wrestling, 2014 Leaf Pop Century (paired with Bruno Sammartino on a Co-Stars dual signature insert) and more. Steele’s autograph was also included in 2015 Topps WWE, which tends to be his highest selling card.
Bass was a big mean cowboy who wrestled in various NWA territories throughout the 1980s. In 1987, he arrived in the WWF as “Outlaw” Ron Bass, a bullwhip-wielding villain feuding with Blackjack Mulligan. He gained notoriety in 1988 for carving up Brutus Beefcake with his spurs.
Bass has very few collectible items and only one trading card of note. He was included in the 1986 Monty Gum Wrestling Stars set, which are smaller cards with a yellow background. The basic card can be found for just a couple bucks, and autographed copies that have been authenticated by companies like PSA/DNA occasionally pop up for sale on eBay.
“Superfly” appeared on trading cards from the early-80s to as recently as 2014. His first card was released as part of the 1981 Wrestling All Stars set, and he has a very rare dual autograph with daughter Tamina from 2012 Topps WWE.
Some wrestlers, like Timothy Well (aka Rex King) and Nicole Bass, had very few trading cards or collectibles produced in their lifetimes. Bass was never featured in a WWE trading card set, but was included on a sticker for the 1999 WWF Hot Shots sticker album from Australia. Well appeared with partner Steven Dunn as well Dunn 1995 sets from Action Packed and Merlin.
Chavo Guerrero Sr. – aka “Chavo Classic” – appeared in the same 1978 Wrestling Annual trading card set as Koloff. He can also be found on a rare card from the November 1982 issue of Puroresu Magazine.
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PWTorch Collectibles Specialist Michael Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MMooreWriter.