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Back in 2016, Brian Ubben decided to create a trading card set for Pro Wrestling Guerilla’s Battle of Los Angeles tournament. He printed about 150 copies and just figured he’d hand them out to fans in attendance. Little did he know that he was laying the groundwork for what has become the premier independent wrestling trading card set in the world.
“I never expected any of this,” Ubben (@BrianDaBrain on Twitter) said during a recent Torch interview. “I was just doing this for fun. I can’t thank Chris Smith (who printed the cards) enough. It’s crazy. I can’t thank Highspots enough either for approaching me at BOLA in 2016 and wanting to take it to another level. And each year since, we try to make them better.”
Ubben’s 2018 BOLA trading cards were shipped to collectors and handed out at the event in September. Ubben and Smith printed 150 sets, but Highspots also printed hundreds more to ship out with the company’s monthly wrestling box. The set is comprised of 24 cards, one for each BOLA competitor, and four bonus cards.
In 2016 and 2017, Ubben based his design on classic WCW trading card sets. The 2018 set has its own unique design, complete with a throwback feel.
“I wanted to do an homage to old school baseball and basketball cards,” Ubben said. “I watched Black Panther and was so inspired by the different color schemes of the different tribes that I immediately realized the cards should have different color schemes as well. I wanted the cards this year to be vibrant.”
This year’s set includes some of the hottest independent talent and stars from around the world, including Shingo Takagi, Bandido, PCO, Jeff Cobb, Walter, Joey Janela, Brody King, Trevor Lee, Rey Horus and more.
Each card has its own color scheme unique to the wrestler on the card. The photo that Ubben chose for Darby Allin, for example, was black and white, so the card had a black and white color scheme. DJZ is pictured in his multicolored entrance gear, so his is one of the most colorful cards in the set.
“I think my favorite is the DJZ card because of the Miami Vice color scheme,” Ubben said. “It just fit his character. It’s the brightest and every time a person see’s that particular card the first time, they pop big time.”
There are also subtle differences on each card. While most have a star in the bottom right corner, others have an icon or image unique to a particular wrestler. For example, PCO’s card has a fleur-de-lis, while David Starr’s card has a Star of David.
Ubben is also fond of the card of Chris Brookes.
“Whenever I see a promo picture of him, he’s wearing the leather jacket,” Ubben said. “It made me think of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Sticky Fingers’ and George Michael’s ‘Faith’ album covers. I wanted to emulate that in the background of the card. It came out fantastic.”
Brookes ultimately didn’t make the tournament, and was replaced by Sammy Guevara. For night two of the tournament, Ubben actually designed a printed some Guevara cards.
“Not many people wanted them,” Ubben said. “Sorry Sammy. He has heat with a lot of fans at PWG. I was also worried people would just rip the cards in his face, so I didn’t print too many replacements.”
Each year Ubben has created four bonus cards of wrestlers and other personalities who aren’t in the tournament but have an association with PWG. This year’s four bonus cards were Human Tornado, “Speedball” Mike Bailey, the Super Smash Bros. and the Legion Hall.
Ubben noted that the BOLA cards wouldn’t have been possible without the help of several people. Smith printed the cards, and Ubben’s friend Eric Ex helped gather photographers and writers from around the world since many of the wrestlers don’t regularly wrestle in the U.S. Photography for the cards was provided by Mikey Nolan, Scott Lesh, Joey Defalco, Jon Washer, Sean Eric and Jesse Solomon. The text on the card backs were written by Tim Teresi, James Ross, Dave Fallas, Rob Viper, Jim Smallman, Derek Walker, John Carroll, Rob Naylor, Stuart Rodgers and Matthew Grant.
Ubben’s work on the BOLA sets from the last three years has also given him the opportunity to design cards for other promotions.
“Right after the BOLA cards went into production this year, Dr. Keith hit me up and asked to a set for AAW (the Illinois-based All American Wrestling),” Ubben said. “I immediately said yes. Those came out fantastic as well. That’s when I realized I can do more than just PWG. I’m open to working with different companies if possible.”
Ubben is all out of this year’s sets, but he suggested contacting Highspots.com to see if they have any more in stock. Highspots is also selling an autographed set of 23 cards for $99.99.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PRIOR COLUMN: COLLECTIBLES COLUMN: 2018 Topps WWE Undisputed Product Review
PWTorch Collectibles Specialist Michael Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MMooreWriter.