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For decades, professional wrestlers have been painting themselves in red, white and blue, and soliciting chants of, “USA! USA!” Never was this more prevalent in wrestling than during the 1980s, as the country rode a wave of patriotism during the Cold War. Hulk Hogan, Sgt. Slaughter, Hacksaw Duggan and others grabbed an American flag on their way to the ring to battle big bad foreigners.
American pride was big business in the 1980s. Sylvester Stallone drew large crowds to movie theaters as his Rocky Balboa battled the heinous Russian Ivan Drago in 1985’s “Rocky 4.” Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” was misinterpreted as a patriotic anthem and became one of the top songs of the decade. Ronald Reagan wrapped himself in the American flag as he sought re-election in 1984.
Toy manufacturers jumped on this feeling of American pride. GI Joe was christened the “real American hero,” with plenty of knockoff lines to follow. And ever since the mid-80s, toy companies have been producing action figures of wrestling’s super patriots.
The former hated dill instructor Sgt. Slaughter became a symbol of patriotism when he crossed paths with the nefarious Iron Sheik. Hasbro added Slaughter to their GI Joe cartoon, and a mail away 3-3/4-inch action figure was produced in 1985.
Hasbro followed that up with a new Slaughter figure in 1987 that stood 8 inches tall and was designed to look like LJN’s WWF Wrestling Superstars figures. Hasbro sold these figures by placing an ad in wrestling magazines in 1987 and 1988 that showed Slaughter standing on top of several LJN figures, most notably Hulk Hogan.
The origin of the 8-inch Slaughter figure has spawned several urban legends, most notably that the figure was made by LJN and then sold to Hasbro once Slaughter left the WWF. In truth, this was a Hasbro figure from the get go, and was made with different plastic and paint than the LJN line. Canadian wrestling fan JV has a detailed history of this figure available at https://wwfljn.wordpress.com/the-sgt-slaughter-ljn-saga/.
Of course, the WWF was nothing if not tasteless and exploitative, and in 1990 brought in the once patriotic Slaughter as an Iraqi sympathizer while the U.S. headed towards war with Saddam Hussein. After about a year, Slaughter begged for his country back and reclaimed his U.S. patriot gimmick. Hasbro released a figure of the babyface version of Slaughter in the third series of its WWF toy line in 1992.
In more recent years, Jakks Pacific and Mattel have included Slaughter figures in their retro toy lines. A camouflage-clad Sarge appeared in Series 2 and Series 27 of Jakks’ Classic WWE Superstars in 2004 and 2009, respectively. An early-80s Slaughter was included in the first WWE Legends series from Mattel in 2010, dressed in blue pants and a white tank top. Both companies also produced figures of the heel Slaughter in his Iraqi sympathizer gear. Hasbro has also released a few different Slaughter GI Joe figures over the years.
Hulk Hogan was wrestling’s answer to Rocky Balboa in the 1980s as he carried an American flag to the ring in his battles against foreign menaces like the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff. In 1991, he took on the turncoat Slaughter in the main events of WrestleMania 7 and the 1991 SummerSlam.
Hogan has more action figures from different toy lines than anyone else from his generation. Hogan’s first figure actually predates wrestling toys, as he was included as Thunderlips in a 1983 “Rocky III” series of figures. LJN was the first to produce a wrestling figure of Hogan in 1984 as part of the Wrestling Superstars line; this remains one of the most recognizable wrestling figures of all time. Seemingly everyone had a Hulk Hogan LJN action figure in the mid-80s, even kids who weren’t wrestling fans. LJN included a second Hogan figure in its fifth and sixth series in 1989, this one sporting either a red or white Hulkamania shirt.
Hogan has since been included in a plethora of toy lines from WWE, WCW and TNA from manufacturers like Jakks Pacific, Hasbro, Mattel, Storm Collectibles and others. Most figures feature in his trademark red and yellow or NWO black and white, but Jakks, Mattel and Storm Collectibles each made one figure the Hulkster in an “American Made” T-shirt. The Mattel and Storm Collectibles figures were both exclusive to Ringside Collectibles. The Jakks figure was very tough to get, as fans had to collect and mail in replica WrestleMania tickets that were included with various Classic WWE Superstars. The Jakks figure also comes with a black mask and doubles as the Hulk Machine.
No other wrestler made a career of getting the crowd to chant “USA” quite like Hacksaw Jim Duggan. He went from a trunks-and-boots ass kicker in Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling to a goofy American patriot in the WWF in 1987, and has been playing that character for more than 30 years. (Not including his brief stint as a member of Team Canada in WCW, but the less said about that, the better.)
Duggan’s first action figure appeared in the fifth series of WWF Wrestling Superstars from LJN. Hasbro then made two different WWF Duggan figures in 1991 and 1994. Although Duggan followed Hogan to WCW in 1994, he was never included in any WCW toy lines. It would be another decade before Jakks included Duggan in Series 4 of its Classic WWE Superstars line.
Mattel has made the most out of Duggan’s patriotic persona. In 2016, the company produced a unique figure of Duggan in a special SummerSlam wave of Basic WWE figures. This figure captured Duggan’s look from the 1989 event, when he painted his face red, white, and blue as he teamed with Demolition. Mattel followed that up in 2018 with a special RetroFest figure of “King” Duggan, with a large American flag accessory prominently displayed behind him in the packaging.
Plenty of other wrestlers from the ‘80s got in on the patriotism act too. Vince McMahon replaced the departed Slaughter with Cpl. Kirchner, a paratrooper from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. Kirchner’s time in the WWF was brief, but he was included in LJN’s third series of action figures. Magnum TA wasn’t much of a flag waver, but he was the NWA United States champion in 1986, and defended that belt against the hated Russian Nikita Koloff. It wasn’t until 2017 that Magnum got his first action figure, courtesy of Mattel.
Michael Moore is a freelance writer living in Casper, Wyoming. He has published pro wrestling collectibles columns for PWTorch.com since 2011. In addition to his work as a newspaper reporter and editor, Moore’s work has appeared in publications such as Pro Wrestling Illustrated, various Beckett sports collectibles publications, Tuff Stuff, Wyoming Homes and Living, and more. Follow him on Twitter @MMooreWriter, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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PWTorch Collectibles Specialist Michael Moore can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MMoorewriter.