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By Michael Moore, PWTorch Collectibles specialist
Topps has been producing WWE trading cards consistently since 2005. Over the last several years, Topps has developed a strategy that works pretty well: affordable hobby boxes that guarantee two hits (autographs or relic cards) per box, inserts, numbered parallel cards, and a base set that is fun for set builders to complete without unnecessary short prints or variations.
Higher end products, such as WWE Undisputed and WWE Chrome, take different approaches. Chrome also offers two hits per box, but premium (and fewer) base cards. Undisputed offers one hit per pack, at usually $20-$25 per pack and $200 per hobby box.
But Topps’s core products are the more affordable boxes that offer two hits at a reasonable price. Topps typically releases three or four WWE products per year that follow this approach, such Topps WWE, Topps WWE Heritage and Topps WWE Road to WrestleMania. Boxes from these products typically cost about $50, which is almost unheard of in the sports card hobby anymore. For several years, WWE has used the “two-hit guarantee” approach for these types of hobby boxes: every box will deliver one t-shirt relic card, plus one autograph card or a mat relic card.
For the last several years, Topps has been the only company producing licensed wrestling cards of today’s top stars. TRISTAR ceased production on its line of TNA products in 2013, and Leaf Trading Cards mostly focuses on wrestling’s stars of yesteryear.
Wrestling trading card collectors are passionate about their hobby. For the most part, many of them have been happy with the products that Topps has turned out. But others have expressed frustration over some recent trends, such as the addition of manufactured hit cards and oversupply of autographs.
Several knowledgeable wrestling collectors recently chimed in with their thoughts on Topps WWE trading cards.
One of Topps’s greatest strengths – across all sports and non-sports products – has been the company’s access to amazing photo libraries. Combine that with WWE’s top notch photography, and it’s no surprise that the company’s WWE products come out looking great. Their card designs are often sleek yet simple, appealing without being overcomplicated.
“I really like the card designs the best,” said Gary Graham, a collector of Topps WWE trading cards.
Topps products tend to have a very distinct look, even across genres. The company will often use a similar design for all base products for a certain year, and reuse classic designs, such as the 1986 Topps Baseball design that was used for 2016 Topps WWE Heritage.
“I like that some cards are similar to cards from football,” said collector Bill Clark.
Awesome Autographs, but Superfluous Supply
Fans are generally pleased with Topps’s certified autographs as well. Compared to other sports, there are relatively few redemption cards. And over the last two years, Topps has produced more and more on-card autographs.
Companies began using sticker autographs in the early 2000s because, in theory, they were easier to obtain and would cut down on the number of redemption cards from athletes who didn’t return their cards in time for them to be inserted into packs (that didn’t happen, by the way). But, autographs from recent products, such as 2015 and 2016 Topps WWE Heritage and Undisputed, have almost all been on-card.
Collectors often prefer on-card autographs to stickers for several reasons: the athlete has more room to sign, autographs can be bigger and more legible, signatures don’t get cut off the way they do on stickers and it means the athlete actually handled the card.
“Topps WWE products tend to have nice, big, clear autos,” Clark said. “One of my favorite Topps auto cards in my collection is the 2011 Daniel Bryan, his first official WWE auto card, the equivalent of a rookie auto.”
In some cases, Topps has relied on sticker autographs for these products. Brock Lesnar’s signature is scarce, so Topps is using signed stickers. And while the basic autograph cards in 2016 Topps WWE Undisputed feature on-card signatures, Topps used stickers on the autograph relic cards.
“I like getting autos, but am not a fan of sticker autos, especially when the auto goes off the edges of the sticker,” Clark said. “With Topps WWE Undisputed, a high end product, I expect to see all on-card autos. If I can get on-card autos in Topps Chrome of Hulk Hogan and Brie Bella, I should never get a Fandango sticker auto in a high end product.”
Collectors have also expressed concern over the massive quantities of WWE autographs Topps is cranking out. For several years, Topps spaced out autographs from top stars between sets; if John Cena appeared in one set, Randy Orton might appear in the next. Over the last few years, however, nearly all of the wrestlers appear in all of the sets. Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins, for example, seem to have autographs in every set from 2015 and 2016.
“What I like least about Topps WWE (products) is the same people for autographs and relics,” Graham said. “You know the ones.”
An oversupply of Cena autographs only hurts demand for his supply on the secondary market, thus lowering the value. Collectors of TNA trading cards learned this from 2008 to 2012, when TRISTAR cranked out copious amounts of autographs of each wrestler.
A Sting signature from 2008 TRISTAR TNA Impact regularly sold for $75-100; by 2012, after TRISTAR had released hundreds of Sting autographs from a dozen different products, that same 2008 card could be purchased for $20.
However, many collectors realize that Topps needs to include signatures from top stars in order to sell products.
“Adding in some new names – like (2016 Topps WWE) Heritage has – is cool, but you need the major names to make it worth buying,” said Matt Lorenzo, a collector who regularly posts box breaks with his brother Alex – the Awesome Lorenzo Bros. – on YouTube.
You Call that a Hit?
Over the last couple years Topps has redefined what it classifies as a “hit,” sometimes replacing authentic relics and autographs with “manufactured hits.” These are cards that include commemorative coins, belt plates and logo patches; in other words, cards that are out of the norm but don’t include any sort of authentic piece that was used or worn by the wrestlers.
Many collectors have voiced frustration over buying a $50 hobby box and getting a t-shirt relic and one of these manufactured cards, instead of getting an autograph or another authentic relic. Some have suggested that manufactured cards – and possibly even mat relics – should be specific to cheaper retail products, instead of the typically more expensive hobby products.
“A hobby box should absolutely never contain a manufactured hit,” Lorenzo said. “They are the worst, and it makes me hesitant to buy anything other than Undisputed. Medallions are the worst, but they are all bad and should not be considered a hit.”
Clark echoed Lorenzo’s sentiments.
“I am not a fan of the manufactured hits,” he said. “They seem really cool at first, but are becoming too common in the trading card hobby They look really cool at first, but then you realize, this is just a shined up piece of plastic stuck in a card that has no tie at all the wrestling or a superstar. I would be accepting of these if they added an auto to the card, perhaps a Charlotte auto with the Women’s Championship medallion.”
Is it Worth the Money?
As previously mentioned, Topps has done a great job of keeping down the costs of WWE hobby boxes. In most sports, a “low end” hobby box now costs $75-100, such as 2016 Donruss Football. So in that regard, a $50 hobby box is a great deal.
But some collectors are not satisfied with the lengths Topps has gone to in order to keep costs down, most notably the much maligned manufactured hits. Many collectors are often disappointed to find a mat card or a manufactured relic in a hobby box, and think that Topps should guarantee one autograph per hobby box.
“I think the best (hobby) box would be one auto, one relic, or two autos,” Lorenzo said.
Clark cited low secondary market resale costs of Topps WWE cards as a reason why he thinks Topps should be offering more per hobby box than it currently does.
“At $50 per box, I would expect at least three hits,” Clark said. “You can buy decent autos online for $15-50, depending on the superstar. I bought the Bray Wyatt Undisputed on-card auto on eBay for $10, Razor Ramon for $20. To make $50 a box look good, give me a really nice on-card auto, maybe a sticker auto and a big multi-color patch. At $50 for an unknown, I would take my chances on eBay.”