SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
For collectors of pro wrestling trading cards, 2017 really was a year unlike any other. Topps produced more WWE products than in any other given year. Leaf gave fans two wrestling products and included signatures of top wrestlers in other multi-sport sets. And changing technology has made it easier for independent wrestlers, smaller companies and even fans to print their own cards.
Topps came through with some big names and delivered signatures that many collectors have been pining for for years: Undertaker, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. Topps also offered collectors more on-card wrestling autographs than ever before, from lower-priced products like Road to WrestleMania and Heritage to more expensive, hobby-exclusive brands like Undisputed and Legends. In addition, Topps made a significant change to most of its hobby products: at least one guaranteed autograph per box.
Leaf, recognizing the increasing popularity of New Japan Pro Wrestling in America, produced autographed trading cards of Kenny Omega, Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi and others. The company also released new autographs of legends like Bobby Heenan, Danny Hodge, Hulk Hogan, Haku and Ric Flair.
“I really didn’t do much collecting this year,” said Matt Lorenzo, a longtime collector who posts wrestling-related videos on YouTube (AwesomeLorenzoBros). “The manufactured hits turned me off everything outside of Undisputed. I basically just bought a few cards here and there I wanted.
“It’s so frustrating, especially with the price of boxes.”
For this column, several collectors, experts and industry insiders were asked to submit a list of their top cards of 2017. The word “top” was completely subjective and left up to the individual. Some collectors identified the cards that made the most impact on the hobby, while others identified favorites released this year. For others, “top” meant older cards that they were finally able to add to their own collections in 2017. Some ranked them, while others just provided a list.
Here is a sample of some collectors’ responses and what they identified as the top cards of 2017. What were your top pro wrestling trading cards of 2017? Join in the conversation on Twitter by tweeting @MMooreWriter. Collectors’ Twitter handles are included with their lists.
Ryan Cracknell, Beckett Media Hobby Editor (@tradercracks)
2017 Topps WWE Undertaker Autograph. Topps did a good job of adding some big names to their roster of signers. The biggest of all? The Undertaker, who hadn’t signed for a set in more than 15 years. And even before then, he only had a couple.
2017 Topps WWE Legends Dual Autographs Triple H/Stephanie McMahon. With only a handful of autographs between them (and none for years), Topps got Triple H and Stephanie McMahon to sign cards once again. This pairing, although extremely rare, is one of the most potent ever committed to a wrestling card.
2017 Topps WWE Undertaker Variation. The Undertaker was an enigma. It wasn’t always in the ring. His entrances are the greatest of all time. Here’s a card that perfectly captures some of that mystique. It’s part of the variation short prints included in 2017 Topps WWE, offering a different photo from his more common base card.
2017 Leaf Metal Sports Heroes Kenny Omega. This one just sort of showed up. Mixed in with sports greats from several sports, it marks the (North American) autograph card debut for one of the hottest — if not THE hottest — wrestlers on the planet. It’s also refreshing to see a big name signing that’s outside of the WWE.
2017 Topps WWE Goldberg Autograph. Goldberg had a handful of autograph cards before 2017. He even signed for Topps back in his WCW days. There’s also that Inkworks autograph for “Looney Tunes: Back in Action,” the Bugs Bunny movie Goldberg had a supporting role in. But this is Goldberg’s first autograph as part of the WWE family.
Ryan Cracknell is a hobby editor with Beckett Media. He’s a long-time wrestling fan and has been collecting cards and building sets since 1985 O-Pee-Chee WWF Superstars of Wrestling.
Michael Labbe, Collector (@superstarml)
“Dirty Daddy” Chris Dickinson. The “Dirty Daddy” is a northeast mainstay but has traveled the world wrestling. He is one of my favorite guys to watch in the ring because I know every time he is going to deliver a stiff looking, hard hitting fight. This card came from the United Kingdom part of the 2015/16 Resurrection game set. When I presented him with the card he got excited about it because it was the first time he’d seen one. He said they were supposed to send him a bunch but never did.
Bill Eadie, aka Demolition Ax. I mailed these cards direct to Mr. Eadie and was very excited when they came back. I had the duo card signed by Barry Darsow a few years ago and have been trying to get Mr. Eadie to sign it but hadn’t had the opportunity to meet him live or found a good address until this year. Both of these cards are from the 1989 WWF Classic set.
Rey Fenix. These two cards I got signed in person at Limitless Wrestling July 21, 2017, in Westbrook, Maine. In my opinion Fenix has one of the coolest looking signatures, and I have seen a lot of autographs. (One of the autographs is on a) sticker released in 2016 by the Panini Company for the AAA Promotion in Mexico. Panini has been releasing wrestling-related stickers and cards for over 20 years. The (other) card is from the 2016 Pro Wrestling Guerilla Battle of Los Angeles (made by Brian Ubben).
Solomon Crowe (Sami Callihan). This card is from the 2015 Topps Undisputed Wrestling Cards set that was released in hobby boxes only. This card is from a subset called NXT Prospects and is officially Crowe’s first card. This card has five variants; this is a silver, numbered 02/25.
Tommy Rich. I mailed these cards to Tommy’s wrestling school and got them back rather quickly. Both cards were released in 1991 for World Championship Wrestling. I have tried for many years to get a card signed by Mr. Rich with no success. He never makes appearances in my neck of the woods and until he opened his school I had not been able to find a good address for him. I was always a fan of his matches and being a former NWA World Champion, finally getting these was very exciting.
Michael Labbe is a longtime wrestling fan who collects in-person and through-the-mail wrestling autographs. He has more than 500 autographs in his collection, 63 of which were obtained in 2017.
Michael Moore, PWTorch Collectibles Specialist (@MMooreWriter)
1. Kenny Omega 2017 Leaf Heroes of Sport Metal Autograph. Visually, this isn’t the most appealing wrestling card of the year. Omega’s signature is crammed onto a sticker, and the artwork instead of a photo looks somewhat odd on the metal background. But none of that really mattered to collectors, and for the second half of the year, this was the hottest wrestling card on the market. Omega broke down a lot of barriers in 2017, selling a ton of merchandise and gaining critical acclaim without ever appearing on WWE programming. This card is significant because of what it means to the hobby. I can’t remember a time in the last 17 years – since the demise of WCW – that a card of a non-WWE wrestler from a non-WWE trading card set caught figure with collectors the way this card has.
2. Alexa Bliss 2017 Topps WWE Undisputed Autograph. Many of the cards on this list are wish list items – they’re either so expensive or have such a low print run that most collectors won’t ever have a shot at them. That’s not the case with this card. The basic version of the card, featuring a blue background, is serial numbered to 199, and there are several different serial numbered color variations. There are plenty of copies of this card to go around, but that hasn’t hurt the value in the slightest. No other wrestler consistently commanded the type of interest from collectors the way Bliss did in 2017.
3. Triple H and Stephanie McMahon 2017 Topps WWE Legends Dual Autograph. Since taking over the WWE license in 2005, Topps had never made a certified autograph card of either Triple H or Stephanie McMahon. That changed in 2017, when Topps included the autographs of Mrs. and Mr. Stephanie McMahon into 2017 Topps WWE Then Now Forever, and then followed up with this whopper of a card. Due in part to scarcity and star power, very few autographs have been more desired over the last 20 years than those of Stephanie and Triple H. This incredible dual autograph is serial numbered to 10, and their individual autographs from WWE Then Now Forever were numbered no higher than 25, so signatures from WWE’s power couple will continue to command top dollar for the foreseeable future.
4. Bret Hart 2017 Topps WWE Heritage Autograph. Year after year, Bret Hart has one of the crispest and nicest signatures in all of wrestling. He signed plenty of cards for Topps in 2017, including higher dollar cards in Topps’ WWE Undisputed and Legends products. But this card is especially eye-catching, with a great picture of Bret set against a throwback 1987 Topps Baseball card design.
5. Undertaker and Kane 2017 Topps WWE Legends Dual Autograph. There aren’t very many combinations of wrestlers who could bring the type of wow factor that Undertaker and Kane brought to this card. Fans have been hoping for a certified Undertaker autograph since Fleer last released one in 2001, and Topps delivered in spades throughout the year. Undertaker’s autograph appeared in most Topps products in 2017, but few were as cool as this dual signature, which pairs ‘Taker with his storyline brother, enemy, friend and foe. This card is serial numbered to 10, and the first couple completed sales on eBay topped $500.
6. Toni Storm 2017 Stardom Wrestling Cards Autograph. Storm, already a hit with fans in the UK and Japan, became an instant sensation in the U.S. when she competed in WWE’s Mae Young Classic tournament. When Stardom released these cards in the spring, Storm’s autograph could be found for as little as $15. After her exposure on the Mae Young Classic, unsigned base cards started selling for in excess of $50 each, and autographed cards completely vanished from eBay; the last one sold in August for $75.
7. Jimmy Havoc 2017 UK Golden Stars Autographs. Jimmy Havoc hasn’t had quite the same exposure in the U.S. as fellow Progress alums like Scurll and Zack Sabre Jr., but he had big showings this year in CZW and MLW. UK-based Golden Stars produced three different signed premium cards of Havoc, serial numbered to 15 each and sold in a bundle of all three cards and a signed 8×10 for £24.95 (about $33.50 U.S.). Everything about these cards is top notch, from the design to the card stock to Havoc’s signature. A limited number of cards are still available at golden-stars.kong365.com.
8. Marty Scurll 2017 Pro Wrestling Guerrilla Battle of Los Angeles Autograph. Very few wrestlers saw their stock rise in 2017 the way Marty Scurll did. After winning the Pro Wrestling Guerrilla Battle of Los Angeles tournament and Ring of Honor Television Championship in 2016, Scurll joined Bullet Club in May. His Villain Club T-shirt has been one of the top selling wrestling T-shirts on the market, thanks to strong sales through Pro Wrestling Tees and Hot Topic. The basic version of this card was available as part of PWG fan Brian Ubben’s 2017 BOLA set, and Highspots.com offered a limited number of autographed versions of the set. The only thing that hurts this card is Scurll’s choice of a pen that bled and faded. With a better quality signature, this card probably would have ranked higher on the list.
9. Hacksaw Jim Duggan 2017 Topps WWE Legends Autograph. Topps went all-in with a WWE Legends product in 2017, which produced some of the best looking wrestling cards of the year. Most of the cards featured on-card signatures, and fewer wrestlers took advantage of the space available to them than Duggan, who has one of the best looking autographs in the set.
10. Mandy Leon Autographed Kiss Card. Fans who stopped at the merch table of the “Exotic Goddess” at independent shows during WrestleMania weekend were happy to see this card. When those fans started sharing pictures online, others who didn’t attend the festivities that weekend immediately asked where they could find one. The card was custom made for Mandy, and is just about as good as any card from major manufacturers like Topps. Each card features a lip print and Mandy’s very nice signature. Cards can be ordered directly from Mandy’s new site, mandyleonxo.com.
Michael Moore has written columns on pro wrestling trading cards, toys and other memorabilia and collectibles for the Pro Wrestling Torch since January 2011. He has been collecting wrestling and other trading cards since 1985, and has previously written for publications such as Pro Wrestling Illustrated, Beckett and Tuff Stuff.
Kevin Wilson, Collector (@purocentralshop)
1. Asuka 2017 Topps WWE Road to WrestleMania Autograph. I collect just about all the Asuka autograph cards. I’ve been following her career closely for years and already had a healthy number of her signed items before she joined WWE. This was my favorite one for this year. I love the design/color of it and that it is an on-card autograph; I only collect on-card autographs if I can help it, as I hate sticker autographs. Since so many cards use dull colors, the blue variation is my favorite as it gives the card a little extra pop to it.
2. Queen’s Quest 2017 Stardom Trio Autograph. I think this card is incredibly rare, as the one I have is the only one I’ve ever seen for sale. The card is signed by Io Shirai, Momo Watanabe, and HZK of the Stardom promotion, with all three being on-card autographs. Momo Watanabe’s signature is smudged, but the other two autographs are clear and bold. Stardom also uses quality pictures to go along with their cards, making them a good choice for displaying purposes.
3. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat 2017 Topps WWE Legends Autograph. I really love the WWE Legends set this year as it gave a lot of wrestlers a chance to shine that aren’t usually (or ever) featured in sets with autographs. The set is hit and miss due to its cost, as a lot of the new wrestlers included don’t (have) much stand-alone value, but the variety is fantastic. Ricky Steamboat signing the card full with “The Dragon” is a really nice touch and is front and center on my autograph shelf, as it’s a great looking card.
4. Oedo Tai 2017 Stardom Dual Autograph. Stardom knocked it out of the park this year with their signed cards, and they sold out very quickly because of it — which is partly my fault since I got over 40 packs at $10 apiece. The Oedo Tai dual autograph includes signatures by Hana Kimura and Kagetsu. Hana Kimura has taken the Joshi world by storm this year and is incredibly popular, while Kagetsu is very underrated. Per my usual, both signed on-card, and Hana Kimura drew a picture instead of signing her name which makes the card really stand out.
5. The Undertaker 2017 Topps WWE Undisputed Autograph. I am cheating here – I don’t own this card yet, but it’s on the top of my list of cards I need for this year. I think that Undisputed is a quality looking card set, and Undertaker is to me one of the greatest wrestlers in WWE history. This wasn’t Undertaker’s only autograph card of 2017, but it was my favorite design. If the Sting dual autograph (from 2017 Topps WWE Legends) was on-card it would have been on this list, but since it isn’t I have to deduct a few points from its coolness factor. Still, this card is a must for any serious WWE card collector.
Kevin Wilson has been collecting cards since 1989. He is a big fan of women’s wrestling in Japan and prefers on-card autographs. “I also display my cards prominently in my home, so they have to be aesthetically pleasing,” he said.
PWTorch Collectibles Specialist Michael Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MMooreWriter.