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Pro wrestling lost three major stars over the last couple weeks with the passing of Bruno Sammartino, “Luscious” Johnny Valiant and Paul Jones. All three men had careers that spanned decades, and their passing has renewed interest in their trading cards and action figures.
Very few wrestlers can claim to be the superstar that Bruno was. He was the top guy in the WWWF and a household name for the better part of two decades. Sammartino captured his first WWWF World Championship from Buddy Rodgers in 1963 and held that title for nearly eight years. His second reign, beginning in 1973, lasted for more than three more years.
Sammartino was a part of at least four action figure lines. In 1986, LJN included Bruno in its third series of WWF Wrestling Superstars action figures. The very basic figure had Bruno in blue trunks and black boots, posed in a manner that suggested he was ready to grapple.
Sammartino then appeared in Figures Toy Company’s Legends of Professional Wrestling line. This line actually included figures of both the young (more muscular, straight hair) and older (less muscular, curly hair) versions of Bruno. In addition, each figure also had a bloody variant.
Many collectors were surprised to find Bruno, a longtime critic of Vince McMahon and WWE, included in the 10th series of Classic WWE Superstars figures from Jakks Pacific in 2006. This figure captures Bruno’s 1970s look, once again in blue trunks and black boots. Mattel included a similar figure of Bruno – with WWE Hall of Fame plaque and podium – in Elite series 25 in 2014.
Bruno’s cards date back to the 1960s. His earliest known card is from the 1964 Exhibit Wrestling Cards set, which features a black and white photo of a very young, muscular Sammartino on the front with a blank back. Sammartino also appeared in several landmark sets over the years, including the 1978 Wrestling Annual Trading Cards, 1982 Wrestling All Stars Series A and 1991 Wrestling Legends Trading Cards from Imagine.
Sammartino signed cards for several wrestling and multi-sport sets from Leaf, including 2012 Leaf Originals Wrestling, 2013 Leaf Sports Heroes, 2014 Leaf Pop Century and 2015 Leaf Legends of Sport, among others. Bruno was also featured in the 2010 Sport Kings set, which included a dual memorabilia card with Bret Hart.
After reconciling with WWE in 2013, Sammartino was featured in several WWE trading card sets from Topps. His autograph appears in several Topps products, including 2013 Topps Best of WWE, 2015 Topps WWE Chrome and 2015 Topps WWE Undisputed. One of Bruno’s best cards is a 2017 Topps Legends of WWE dual autograph with protégé-turned-enemy Larry Zbyszko, serial numbered to 10.
Jones was a major star in the Mid-Atlantic territory throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s. He was a successful wrestler in the 1970s, winning tag team gold with the likes of Ricky Steamboat, the Masked Superstar, Baron Von Raschke and others. As a manager in the 1980s, he had an extensive feud with Jimmy Valiant, managing such wrestlers as Von Rascke, Rick Rude, Manny Fernandez, the Powers of Pain and Ivan Koloff.
Jones never had any action figures, but he was featured in a few prominent wrestling trading card sets. His earliest and most popular card comes from the 1973 Wrestling Annual Trading Cards set, which was distributed in magazines from London Publishing. This particular card is tough to find and prices are volatile due to the scarcity and sensitive condition of the set.
Jones also was one of four wrestlers in the 1973-74 All Star Trading Cards from Jalart House, Inc. These “cards” were actually pictures on the front of wrestling magazines that could be cut out. Jones’ card can be found on the February 1974 Wrestling Guide, which can be purchased for $5-$20, depending on the condition.
Jones later appeared in the 1978 Wrestling Annual set from London Publishing. He was also pictured on one of 50 cards in the 1987 NWA Wrestling Superstars Test Run set from Wonderama. Only 113 total sets were produced, and they were distributed in packs of seven cards in the Myrtle Beach, S.C. area, according to WrestlingTradingCards.com. Jones also had a couple different cards in the much easier to find 1988 NWA Wrestling Superstars set from Wonderama.
Valiant, a longtime friend of Bruno Sammartino, had a successful run in the WWWF with his storyline brothers Jimmy and Jerry Valiant, twice capturing the WWWF tag team titles. To fans who grew up in the 1980s, he may best be remembered as the manager of Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake. He also managed wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, Dino Bravo and Demolition.
“Luscious” Johnny Valiant was included in the fifth series of LJN’s WWF Wrestling Superstars line. This very cartoonish figure has Valiant in a purple and silver jacket, white shirt, pink tie, pink sunglasses and purple headband. It came out in the late 1980s as the LJN line was nearing its end, so it can be tough to find.
Surprisingly, Valiant’s only trading cards are from the 1987 Topps WWF set. These cards picture him as the manager of Bravo and Valentine, aka the New Dream Team. The trio appears on card #12 of the basic set and #9 of the sticker set.
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PWTorch Collectibles Specialist Michael Moore can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MMooreWriter.