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For many collectors of wrestling trading cards, the thrill is in cracking open a box of the latest WWE product from Topps and hoping for a huge hit. Many others enjoy the chase of trying to find those elusive certified autographs of Alexa Bliss, the Undertaker or Kenny Omega.
But Michael Labbe is a different kind of collector altogether.
Labbe, a wrestling fan from Gardiner, Maine, has more than 500 wrestling autographs in his collection – all of which were obtained either in person, or through the mail directly from the wrestlers.
Labbe’s collection began with a signature from Ric Flair in March 1997 after getting tickets for Monday Nitro at the Fleet Center. He started getting serious about obtaining wrestlers’ autographs in September 2002, when things didn’t go quite the way he had hoped at a Terry Funk autograph signing. Labbe was hoping for a signed 8×10, but T-shirts were the only merch that the Funker brought with him.
“After the Terry Funk show, I wasn’t going to let that happen again, so I figured I needed to bring something with me,” Labbe said. “Over time I settled on trading cards, initially because of their size. I could bring multiple (cards) in a case in my pocket, and storage was also convenient because you can fit nine on a page. They are also great for mailing.”
Sharing Cards and Stories
Many of Labbe’s stories of how he obtained wrestlers’ signatures are just as impressive as his collection itself. One of his favorite cards in his collection is a 1988 NWA Wonderama card signed by Paul Jones, Ivan Koloff, the Warlord and the Barbarian.
“The reason I love this card is because it took a few years to complete,” Labbe noted.
For that particular card, Koloff and Jones were the easiest signatures to get. Koloff charged just $1 per item, and Labbe obtained Jones’ autograph by sending the card to George South’s wrestling school. Labbe tracked down an email address for the Barbarian, who replied with an address of where to ship the card. With three signatures already on the card, Labbe wanted to make sure he would get it back, so he first sent a letter to the Warlord asking if he would sign the card and return it, which he did.
Labbe also enjoys obtaining multiple autographs from wrestlers who have competed under different names or gimmicks, such as Brutus Beefcake and Mick Foley. He has seven signed Foley cards in his collection: a Foley card from TNA, Mankind and Dude Love cards from WWE, and Cactus Jack cards from FMW, WCW and WWE.
Many wrestlers, from Foley to Zack Sabre Jr., have been impressed with the effort that Labbe puts into his collection.
“Mick Foley, those were all in person,” Labbe said. “Brutus Beefcake was impressed I’d gotten cards for four different gimmicks. The indie wrestlers are always cool because they realize that if I have their cards, I put an effort into getting them, like Chris Hero, Zack Sabre Jr., Chris Dickinson, Ayako Hamada and others.”
Labbe is a big fan of Jim Crockett Promotions, so he’s currently looking to get cards signed from the 1987 and 1988 NWA Wonderama sets, including Tommy Angel, Lat LaRoux, Italian Stallion, Chris Champion, Cougar Jay and Trent Knight, among others. He’s also looking for signatures from more current stars, such as Katsuyori Shibata and Penta El Zero M.
How to Find Cards of Independent Wrestlers
While cards of wrestlers from WWE, WCW and TNA are pretty easy to find, it can be challenging to track down cards of young independent wrestlers. Many independent wrestlers have cards that were distributed exclusive at shows or sold online, such as Brian Ubben’s Pro Wrestling Guerrilla Battle of Los Angeles sets and cards from Filsinger Games.
Labbe recommends using wrestlingtradingcards.com as a resource to find out if your favorite wrestlers have any cards. Huskerhav’s Wrestling Trading Cards (huskerhavswrestlingcards.com) sells a wide variety of single cards from independent and rare foreign wrestling sets, usually for only a couple dollars each. Once you know what you’re looking for, you can also check eBay or do a Google search for those cards.
In some cases, independent wrestlers or those who had brief stints with WWE or TNA don’t even realize that they have their own trading cards. This was the case when Labbe approached former WWE tag team wrestler Antonio Thomas for an autograph.
“I had two of his WWE Heritage cards, and he asked if he could have one because he’d never seen it,” Labbe noted. “After that I started bringing duplicate cards to give the wrestlers if they wanted them. Tony Mamaluke didn’t know he was on a TNA card. A few indie guys knew they had a card but had never seen them before, like Chris Dickinson on a set from the UK. I presented the Young Bucks with cards from a deck of cards released in India they’d never seen.”
Through-the-Mail Autograph Advice
Many fans and collectors live in smaller cities that oftentimes don’t host independent wrestling shows. In those instances, fans can always try obtaining a wrestler’s autograph through the mail. Labbe notes that he’s had “great success through the mail corresponding directly with the wrestlers.”
Labbe suggests checking out sites like FanMail.biz or StarTiger.com to find wrestler’s mailing addresses. Some wrestlers also have their own schools or other ventures that can be found online; for example, Labbe found that former WWE wrestler Caylen Croft has a website for his art, so he contacted him through there.
Labbe suggests sending the wrestler a letter to make the request more personal and to thank that wrestler for his time, and including a self-addressed, stamped return envelope. He ships the card in a penny sleeve and asks the wrestler to sign the front of the card. He doesn’t send money unless he’s asked to do so.
In many cases, wrestlers will send back just the signed card, but Labbe has been surprised by some others who have included more.
“Meng wrote me a nice letter, (and) the Barbarian wrote a quick note,” Labbe said. “Mike Sample, who wrestled for Big Japan, wrote me a nice letter. Barry Horowitz, Bob Backlund and a couple others jotted down a quick ‘thank you.’”
Also, there’s no guarantee you’ll get back whatever you send, so never send something you can’t replace or don’t want to risk parting with. Labbe noted that he’s mailed cards to WWE wrestlers and to those at the WWE Performance Center and has very rarely gotten them back; his only success stories have been Molly Holly, Ricky Steamboat, Dusty Rhodes, Billie Kay and Peyton Royce.
Blogging and Tweeting
Labbe regularly shares his autograph successes on his Wrestling Insomniac blog at thewrestlinginsomniac.com. Labbe typically posts every three days or so, sharing his thoughts on signed cards, reviews of past events and a regular column called “The Last Match,” where he writes about a specific wrestler’s last match.
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PWTorch Collectibles Specialist Michael Moore can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MMooreWriter.