The wrestling trading card landscape looked quite a bit different when Brian Kelley began his Missouri Wrestling Revival card project nearly a decade ago. Back in 2010, Topps was producing one or two WWE products each year, while TRISTAR was cranking out plenty of TNA cards. Dedicated collectors could possibly track down cards from Japan, but independent wrestling cards were almost nonexistent.
Kelley had the idea of designing, printing and distributing trading cards as a way to help bring attention to independent wrestling in Missouri.
“Back then it seemed to me that if you were an East Coast or West Coast wrestler, then you got all the press,” Kelley recalled in a recent interview with PWTorch.com. “When we started the website Missouri Wrestling Revival, I knew that trading cards would be cool to have attached to the MWR name. The idea was to get some positive coverage for the hard working men and women that were working in our area.”
Kelley designed the cards and paid to have them printed, and began selling them one at a time. Cards could be purchased at independent wrestling shows, or ordered online for just $2 each delivered. Kelley kicked off the MWR set with a card of Darin Corbin and Ryan Cruz, the Northstar Express.
It wasn’t long before Kelley began including more wrestlers with national name recognition to the MWR set. Card #10 in the set featured the first trading card of then-Ring of Honor World Heavyweight Champion Tyler Black, who would go onto stardom as Seth Rollins in WWE. The Tyler Black card has since sold out and has become a coveted card for wrestling collectors; it’s not uncommon to see a graded copy of the card sell for in excess of $100 on eBay.
Since the initial release in 2010, the MWR set has included the first trading cards of several wrestlers who would go on to be stars in promotions like WWE, ROH and TNA, including El Generico (Sami Zayn), Kyle O’Reilly, TJ Perkins, “Crazy” Mary Dobson (Sarah Logan), Davey Richards, Eddie Edwards, Jimmy Jacobs, the Briscoe Brothers and Ryan Drago (Simon Gotch), among others.
Several of today’s hottest independent wrestlers have been featured on MWR trading cards, most notably Jordynne Grace and Scarlett Bordeaux. Those two cards regularly sell on eBay and various trading card sites for as much as $20 each, even though they are still available directly from Kelley for just $2. Cards of ACH and Jonathan Gresham are also popular right now.
“With fans being able to see the talents of Jordynne Grace in TNA and ‘Crazy’ Mary Dobson – WWE’S Sarah Logan – their cards are red hot right now,” Kelley said. “Scarlett Bordeaux’s card is in demand right now as she is heating up pro wrestling as one of the hottest women in the sport.”
The MWR cards also introduced wrestling fans to an aspiring young artist: Rob Schamberger, whose artwork can be seen just about everywhere these days, from WWE toys and trading cards to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Waterloo, Iowa. Schamberger’s artwork appeared on MWR cards of Missouri legends like Bruiser Brody, Harley Race and more. Legendary Missouri wrestling announcer Larry Matysik teamed up with Barbara Goodish, Brody’s widow, to write the bio on the back of that card.
While some independent wrestling card sets have become notorious for using unlicensed photos without the wrestlers’ approval, Kelley worked with each wrestler featured in the set.
“I spent hours, believe it or not, trying to come up with the best card possible,” Kelley said. “Most of the wrestlers in the sets were or have become great friends of mine. I can’t say that Seth Rollins and Sami Zayn are personal friends, but I am grateful that they gave their approval for the cards to be used for the set. That was a key part of the MWR cards: we did each card with everyone’s approval in hopes to spread the word of the wrestler and our site.”
There were 100 cards in MWR Series 1 and more than 30 cards to date in the second series to date, most of which are still available for $2 each. Checklists for each series are available at https://missouriwrestlingrevival.com/mwr-store/mwr-trading-cards-set-2/mwr-trading-cards/. Kelley updates the list when cards sell out. Although there are limited numbers of some cards remaining, only eight have sold out so far.
“We normally get two or three orders a week,” Kelley said. “The cards have not been a get rich scheme by any means at the price we sell them at. After postage and (shipping and handling) for one card and the making of the card, I would have to say that (profit) is less than a dollar. Still, I am so happy to say that the cards are a product of a group of people that love pro wrestling, which makes the time well worth it.”
Due to cost and other factors, Kelley currently doesn’t have plans for more MWR cards.
“I never say never, but at the moment there are none in the works,” Kelley said. “When I started the card sets, it was not cheap. The problem has become that it has almost doubled in cost. I also do not want to make a cheaper card just to have cards.
“We share the cost with the wrestlers on most of the cards. That and the work involved have made the cards harder to bring myself to do more of them. I am hoping to have wrestlers work with us to do cards, but I understand why they would rather print off a cheap picture and sell it for $5 rather than sell a small trading card for a couple (dollars).”
Nearly a decade after the first MWR trading card was released, the cards remain favorites with collectors and continue to find a new audience.
“If I have one regret for the cards, it’s that I did not get everyone in the set,” Kelley noted. “There were some stars that I had (permission) to make a card, but I never pulled the trigger because of a lack of funds. I love all the guys and girls that have supported MWR and if I had the money, all of them would have a card.”
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Michael Moore is a writer and collector living in Casper, WY. He has been a collector of sports cards and wrestling memorabilia since 1985. He has contributed articles on pro wrestling collectibles to PWTorch.com since 2011, and his work has also appeared in Pro Wrestling Illustrated, Tuff Stuff Sports Collectibles, Beckett sports publications and more. Follow him on Twitter @MMooreWriter, or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.