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Interest in New Japan Pro Wrestling has been on the rise in the U.S. since 2014, and many fans and collectors have been chasing trading cards and autographs of top NJJPW stars ever since.
Leaf surprised many collectors by including certified autographs of several top NJPW wrestlers in its 2017 Heroes of Sport Metal multi-sport product. Kenny Omega, Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tetsuya Naito and Rocky Romero are all featured in the new set, as are wrestling legends like Ricky Steamboat, Jimmy Hart, Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair. Leaf Heroes of Sport also includes signatures from many athletes with ties to pro wrestling like Dennis Rodman, Pete Rose, Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor.
Most of the NJPW wrestlers featured in 2017 Leaf Heroes of Sport Metal have certified autographs from older Japanese sets by BBM, but finding those has been a daunting task for many collectors. BBM last made NJPW cards with autographs in 2011 and some stars, such as Omega, only ever signed for one set.
The NJPW cards in Leaf Heroes of Sport Metal are sort of like a premium version of Leaf Originals Wrestling: they feature artwork instead of photographs of the wrestlers, and the new cards have a colorful finish similar to Refractors from Topps’ Chrome products. There are several versions of each card available, from basic unnumbered autographs to gold prismatic cards that are serial numbered 1/1.
The only real downside to the new cards is that the wrestlers signed stickers that are attached tothe card, instead of signing the cards themselves. That’s especially problematic for Tanahashi’s autograph, since the horizontal stickers don’t really lend themselves to the vertical style of Japanese handwriting. Still, Leaf has given card collectors a chance to scoop up certified autographs of some of the biggest wrestling stars in the world that were previously unattainable for many.
Boxes of 2017 Leaf Heroes of Sport sell for around $200 and include just five cards, all signed. Given the large number of signers from a multitude of sports, wrestling fans will probably find it much more affordable to chase the signatures they’re looking for on eBay or other sites or groups.
Most of the basic autographs – including Okada, Tanahashi and the dual Naito/Romero card – can be found for $15-$20. Not surprisingly, Omega’s autograph is more expensive; the basic version usually sells in the $25-$30 range, with low-numbered parallels selling for exponentially more. A red version and a gold prismatic version of the card – both serial numbered 1/1 – recently sold for best offers on eBay, but the sellers have not disclosed the sale prices. The gold prismatic card was listed at $2,499.99 and the red was listed at $699.99.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PRIOR COLUMN: COLLECTIBLES COLUMN: Chatting with Autograph Collector Michael Labbe
PWTorch Collectibles Specialist Michael Moore can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MMooreWriter.