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In much the same way that Pro Wrestling Guerrilla’s Battle of Los Angeles is one of the biggest wrestling events of the summer, Brian Ubben’s unofficial BOLA trading cards have become some of the most sought after wrestling cards out there.
Ubben (@BrianDaBrain) first produced trading cards for the 2016 BOLA tournament. The cards were produced as a labor of love and something to share with fellow PWG fans, but almost instantly began popping up on eBay. The cards that Ubben was giving away were selling for as much as $15 to $20 per card, and upwards of $150 for a set.
Ubben said that “never in a million years” did he expect the BOLA cards to create the type of demand that they have.
“It’s humbling,” said Ubben, a devoted PWG fan. “And it’s not just a trading card demand. I think there’s something about doing a retro design in the modern era that reaches out to people. It reminds them of their childhood, and combining past loves with current loves creates this awesome feel to the cards.”
Ubben followed up the 2016 set with a new BOLA set that was distributed at the 2017 event. The unofficial set isn’t licensed by PWG, but Ubben designed it as a sort of tribute to the event and the wrestlers. The 2017 set features a color photo set against a black background with gold trim; this throwback design was based on the 1991 WCW trading card set from Championship Marketing. Last year’s BOLA set was based on the 1991 Impel Premiere WCW set.
“Originally I thought DDT4 might come back, so I initially made this design as compliment to the (2016) BOLA one,” Ubben explained. “But since there was no DDT4, I decided to use it for BOLA and make it like Wrestlemania IV and V, with the WCW theme in back to back years. Next year will be different.”
Most of the photographs used for the cards were taken by Mikey Nolan (@Mikey_Nolan). The backs of the cards feature a different photo of the wrestler, and detailed biographical information written by different contributors.
There are 24 cards in the set, one of each participant in tournament. The only participant missing is Joey Janela, who replaced an injured TK Cooper. The cards had already been produced by the time Cooper was scratched from the tournament, so he still appears in the set.
The 2017 BOLA set includes what may be the first very first trading cards for some hot young prospects, such as Flamita, Keith Lee, Sammy Guevara, Jonah Rock, Dezmond Xavier and recent WWE signee Donovan Dijak. Several top UK wrestlers are also included in the set, such as Marty Scurll, Zack Sabre Jr., Flash Morgan Webster, Walter, Mark Haskins and Travis Banks. Other familiar names in the set include Ricochet, Brian Cage, Sami Callihan, Michael Elgin, Matt Sydal, Rey Fenix, Penta El Zero M and Matthew Riddle.
The 24-card set was distributed in a box similar to a deck of playing cards, and each box included one of four rare cards that are not part of the regular set: PWG World Champion Chuck Taylor, Candice LeRae, Drake Younger (aka NXT referee Drake Wuertz) and PWG referee Rick Knox. The colors on the rare cards are reversed, with gold backgrounds and black trim. The rare cards also have the PWG logo stamped in gold foil on the back.
Ubben’s personal favorite card in the set is that of Zack Sabre Jr.
“Him giving the finger while getting the win is classic,” Ubben said. “Marty (Scurll) would be my number two, because he’s snapping (referee Justin Borden’s) finger.”
The Sabre card is a favorite of many fans.
“I love how he’s being such a heel flipping the bird at all the fans, basically saying, ‘Hate me or love me, I’m the best technical wrestler in the world,'” said Skits (@whskits) of wrestlingheads.com, who made a cameo on Callihan’s card in the 2016 set.
Collector Will Henderson is particularly fond of the Rick Knox rare card.
“From the great picture used on the front to the cool foil stamping making it look like an old Pokemon promo card, it’s just so nicely done.”
Chris GST (@ROH_World) of pwponderings.com also mentioned the Knox and Sabre cards as favorites, as well as the cards of Ricochet and Elgin.
“The Ricochet card shows an emotional want to do the best Ricochet can do in the USA in any promotion,” Chris said. “Elgin’s card shows him driving an opponent down, which very much seems a metaphor for how Elgin continues to try to get USA fans to get him the way he’s thrived in Japan.”
Ubben produced 200 sets to give to fans who attended the BOLA shows and ship to others who couldn’t make it. Highspots.com printed cards for wrestlers and staff, and also produced a limited number of autographed sets and others to include in their monthly subscription boxes.
The cost for creating the cards came straight out of Ubben’s pocket, with help from Chris Smith (@one2follow), who printed the cards.
“Without him, none of this would have happened,” Ubben said of smith. “He works at the print shop and we worked together from different states always texting and coming up with ideas for design, packaging, etc. He found the limited edition deck boxes and made it work like magic.”
Ubben has already given away all of his sets, so if you’re hoping to pick one up, you’ll have to turn to eBay or find a collector on Twitter or a trading group who may be willing to part with theirs. Sets have been selling on eBay for anywhere from $80 to $200. However, Highspots.com has a limited number of autographed sets for $99.99. Each and every wrestler featured in the set signed his own card, and each set comes with a certificate of authenticity from Highspots. Autographed sets can be found at http://www.highspots.com/p/
NOW CHECK OUT THE PRIOR COLUMN: COLLECTIBLES COLUMN: New PWG, NXT, and WWE Women’s Trading Cards
PWTorch Collectibles Specialist Michael Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MMooreWriter.