Epic Collectibles Column – The Top Trading Cards of C.M. Punk & Other Crossover Sports & Wrestling Stars


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By Michael Moore, PWTorch Collectibles specialist

On Saturday night, C.M. Punk will attempt to do what so few wrestlers have accomplished: transition to another major sport. Punk will make his mixed martial arts debuted against the heavily favored Mickey Gall at UFC 203 on Saturday night.

But, while wrestlers who have attempted to branch out into other mainstream sports have found little success, pro wrestling has always welcomed athletes from pro football, basketball and other sports. Very few pro wrestlers have been successful enough in another sport to be included in another licensed trading card set, but here are a few examples that span more than six decades.

C.M. Punk

Brock Lesnar was the first person to appear in licensed trading card sets for both UFC and WWE, but Punk has the unique distinction of being the only active competitor to appear in TNA, WWE, and UFC sets. Punk was first featured on card #34 in 2004 Pacific TNA, a card that got surprisingly hot when Punk ascended to the top of WWE in 2011.

Punk appeared in multiple Topps WWE products from 2006 to 2014. He has plenty of base cards, parallels, inserts, relics and autographs for collectors to chase. One of his most popular WWE cards is his 2011 Topps WWE Classic Autograph.

Punk first appeared in an MMA product in 2016 Topps UFC Top of the Class, with several base cards and autographs. Upper Deck also included Punk in the multi-sport 2016 Goodwin Champions product, where he was featured on a cool double autograph card with Bret Hart.

Punk also has the unique distinction of appearing in a hockey trading card set, as Upper Deck included Punk in its High Profile Fans insert series. This card is autographed and features a jumbo swatch of a Chicago Blackhawks jersey worn by Punk. The prime version of this card, which contains a patch from the jersey and is serial numbered to just 25, is one of Punk’s most popular cards.

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Bronko Nagurski

Before the days of multimillion dollar contracts, professional football players often spent the offseason earning a living as pro wrestlers. Such was the case with Nagurski, who spent most of the 1930s with the Chicago Bears and wrestled in the Midwest. In 1939, Nagurski defeated Lou Thesz for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.

Nagurski is featured in the 1955 Parkhurst Wrestling set on card #97, a popular card with collectors of vintage football and wrestling products. He was part of the first class of inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Because he was part of that initial class and because he played so long ago, Nagurski carries a very Babe Ruth-esque mystique among football fans and collectors.

Nagurski’s autograph is one of the most sought after and hardest to attain of all football players. Donruss-Playoff (now Panini America, Inc.) cut up 102 signed Nagurski items, such as voided checks, and inserted them into its Charter Class Cut Signatures insert series in its 2006 National Treasures product. At one point, a well-known Colorado doctor owned nearly half of the 102 cards.

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The Rock

Before he was the highest paid actor in Hollywood, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson was one of the two biggest stars of the WWF’s most successful period. And before that, he was a national collegiate football champion with the Miami Hurricanes.

It really is astounding how quickly things happened for Johnson. In 1991, he won the national championship with the Hurricanes. By 1998 he was WWF Champion, and by 2001 he was starring in the summer blockbuster “The Mummy Returns.”

Johnson is featured in the 1994 BumbleBee Seafoods Miami Hurricanes set that was given away at the stadium to commemorate the Hurricanes’ national championship. It is a very popular card with collectors of all interests. Because it was made by a small company and originally given away on a sheet of cards, it can be tough to find one in good condition, and professionally graded cards with high grades often sell for several hundred dollars.

The Rock has been featured on a variety of WWF/WWE trading cards from the late 1990s through 2016, and also has appeared in many non-sport trading card sets. His only certified wrestling autograph to date can be found in the 1998 DuoCards WWF Superstarz set, which usually sells for $200 or more.

Leaf Trading Cards CEO Brian Gray noted in a Torch interview that the Rock’s price for signing autographs is very prohibitive for card companies, especially smaller ones like Leaf.

“We’d love to see the Rock sign some cards, but I don’t think it’s gonna happen,” Gray told the Torch in 2015. “He wants so much money, it’s staggering. The cards could never sell for what he wants.”

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Wahoo McDaniel

Like Nagurski, Wahoo played pro football and wrestled professionally during the offseason. He enjoyed a long wrestling career after his football career had ended, and became one of the biggest stars of the NWA.

McDaniel played for the Houston Oilers, Denver Broncos, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins. His most prominent trading card is his 1967 Topps #82, which shows him in a Jets jersey against a green color scheme. Wahoo’s most notable wrestling card is from the landmark 1982 Wrestling All Stars set. Coincidentally, that card also features a green color scheme, and makes a complementary piece to his most popular football card.

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Pete Rose

“Charlie Hustle” never wrestled for WWE, but made appearances at WrestleMania during the company’s Attitude Era boom period. WWE garnered some publicity by inducting Rose into the celebrity wing of its Hall of Fame, playing up the fact that Rose’s lifetime ban from baseball precludes him from entering that sport’s hall of fame.

Rose was a major baseball star from the 1960s through the 1980s. Despite all of the controversy that has surrounded Rose, his 1963 Topps rookie card #537 remains a historically significant piece of cardboard.

Because of Rose’s ban from baseball, Topps doesn’t include his cards in MLB products. However, Topps did include Rose’s signature in its 2015 Topps WWE Undisputed product.

Rose may sign more autographs per year than any other human being alive. His autographs have appeared so frequently in products from Leaf Trading Cards that many collectors joke that each box of Leaf trading cards – regardless of the sport or theme – is guaranteed to include one Rose autograph.

pete_rose

Ernie Ladd

“The Big Cat” was one of the few athletes to find success in both football and wrestling. He was a star at both the collegiate and pro football level, and became an even bigger star in pro wrestling. Ladd’s rare athletic prowess is evident by looking at his awards and accomplishments: he is a member of the Grambling State University, San Diego Chargers, Wrestling Observer, NWA, WCW, and WWE halls of fame, among others.

Ladd appears in several football card sets from the 1960s. One of his most appealing cards is his 1965 Topps Football #164 due to the legacy of that set. Topps’s 1965 set is one of the most visually striking sets in sports card history.

The 1965 Topps football cards are often referred to as “tall boys” because of their non-traditional shape. Each card measures 2-1/2 inches across by 4-11/16 inches tall and features a color photo of a player against a bright single-color background. This set also included Joe Namath’s rookie card, which is one of the most recognizable and historically significant cards in the hobby. Topps has gone back to this design many times in recent years in order to create a retro feel.

Ladd only appears in a few wrestling trading card sets. Like so many other big stars, he was included in the 1982 Wrestling All Stars set. His WWF Hall of Fame induction is captured on WWF Magazine Card #23, from the March 1996 issue of that magazine.

ernie_ladd

John Bradshaw Layfield

Before he was John Hawk, Acolyte Bradshaw or JBL, John Layfield played for the short-lived World League of American Football. He was an offensive lineman for the 1991 San Antonio Riders team that also featured former Dallas Cowboys back-up quarterback and current head coach Jason Garrett. Layfield had a much more successful wrestling career, first as a tag team wrestler with Ron Simmons in the APA and eventually as the Smackdown main event world champion.

Layfield’s only football card is card #146 in 1991 Pro Set World League Football. Pro Set had a reputation for overproducing trading cards, rendering almost all of them virtually worthless. JBL’s football card is an affordable oddball item for wrestling collectors.Surprisingly, JBL also has few quality wrestling cards. His best card is a 2013 Topps Best of WWE Autograph, which can usually be found for around $20.

Surprisingly, JBL also has few quality wrestling cards. His best card is a 2013 Topps Best of WWE Autograph, which can usually be found for around $20.

jbl

Dennis Rodman

Rodman is like Pete Rose in many ways. He was a dominant athlete whose athletic ability was often overshadowed by his off-court antics. His wacky personality, crazy hair, tattoos, and piercings made him a perfect fit for the bad boy NWO in the late 1990s.

Rodman has been featured in baseball sets for decades. His rookie card can be found in 1988 Fleer, and he still appears in Panini basketball products today. He also appeared in WCW trading cards from Topps in the ‘90s.

Like Rose, Rodman signs so many cards for so many different products that it has really driven down the value of his cards. His signature has appeared in several wrestling sets from Leaf Trading Cards.

dennis_rodman

Bill Goldberg

Goldberg rose to prominence in WCW just about at the same time as Dwayne Johnson was starting to find success as the Rock in the WWF. Prior to that, both men enjoyed successful college football careers.

Goldberg appeared on card #15 in the 1988 McDag Georgia Bulldogs set. It went largely unnoticed until Goldberg’s rapid ascension in wrestling a decade later, and ever since has been a very popular card. Collectors should be warned that this very basic card can easily be reproduced, and some sellers also offer similar looking custom cards.

Goldberg was a big part of late-90s WCW trading cards from Topps, and has also appeared in a few WWE sets. In 2003, Inkworks included Goldberg’s signature in its “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” card set. His autograph was also featured earlier this year in 2016 Leaf Signature Series Wrestling.

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Lawrence Taylor

“LT” is recognized as one of the greatest football players of all time. His rookie card (#434) can be found in 1982 Topps Football, and he has been prominently featured in football products for the last 20-plus years. In 1995, he main-evented WrestleMania XI against Bam Bam Bigelow.

Action Packed produced a special card of Taylor for its 1995 WWF set. The embossed card, number LT1 in the set, features a close-up shot of Taylor’s face, and was only available as a bonus card in special $9.99 retail boxes. In 2015, Topps included Taylor’s signature in its WWE Undisputed product.

lawrence_taylor

Steve McMichael

“Mongo” was a member of the famous 1985 Chicago Bears team that went 15-1 and won Super Bowl XX. He did some commentary for the WWF in 1995 and appeared with Lawrence Taylor at WrestleMania XI before jumping to WCW, first as a commentator and later as a member of the Four Horsemen.

McMichael was drafted in 1980, but his rookie card (#32) appears in 1985 Topps Football. He appeared in a few Topps WCW sets in the late-‘90s, and Upper Deck featured McMichael in some collegiate football products a few years ago. Oddly enough, McMichael’s only certified autographed trading card can be found in the 2008 TRISTAR TNA Cross the Line set.

steve_mcmichael

Brian Pillman

“Flyin’” Brian appeared on the national wrestling scene with WCW in 1989. Throughout his career, announcers frequently made mention of his football background, first at Miami of Ohio and then with the Cincinnati Bengals. He enjoyed a successful career in WCW before making a splash in ECW and the WWF in 1996.

A small Canadian trading card manufacturer called JOGO produced a card of Pillman (#83) for its 1986 CFL set. Only 170 sets were produced. Because of the limited availability and relative obscurity of the card, it is very hard to find in 2016.

Pillman appeared in early-1990s WCW trading card sets, and has also been featured in a variety of WWE products over the years. Most recently, Topps included Pillman in the company’s 2016 WWE Undisputed and 2016 WWE Heritage sets.

brian_pillman

Brock Lesnar

Lesnar holds the distinction of being the only athlete ever featured in NFL, WWE, and UFC trading card sets. He became an immediate star with WWE in 2002, failed to make the Minnesota Vikings’s roster in 2004 and then became one of the biggest box office draws of the modern era as UFC’s heavyweight champion. His return to WWE in 2012 only increased his profile.

Lesnar first appeared in a couple of Fleer WWE sets in the early-2000s. In 2004, Upper Deck and Donruss-Playoff included Lesnar in a handful of football card sets, wearing a number 69 Vikings jersey. At the time, many collectors who pulled Lesnar’s football cards from packs groaned and discarded them. Today, however, they are very popular cards. His 2004 Leaf Rookies & Stars #155 base card usually sells for around $20, and scarcer cards from Upper Deck Sweet Spot and Playoff Honors fetch much more.

Lesnar was a big part of Topps’s early UFC products, and his 2010 Topps UFC Round 4 Autograph was an early key UFC card.

Lesnar’s return to WWE in 2012 also meant a return to Topps cardboard. It wasn’t until 2015, however, that Lesnar’s signature appeared on a WWE trading card for the first time. Aside from the high-end 2015 Topps WWE Undisputed product, Lesnar’s autographs and relics are often specific to Walmart packs and box. They’re usually very limited and very tough to pull.

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PWTorch Collectibles specialist Michael Moore can be reached at michaelmoorewriter@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @MMooreWriter.

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