The Interesting History of WWF LJN Figures
Sports and entertainment reached unfathomable heights in the mid-1980s. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson propelled the NBA to the national level. movies like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and ghost hunters redefining the summer blockbuster. And yet another form of entertainment was making its mark. Professional wrestling, especially world wrestling federationwas making damn good use of its national TV audience, hooking kids and young adults.
Superstars like Hulk Hogan, Andre The Giant, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and The Junkyard Dog were larger than life. They were living, breathing superheroes with jaw-dropping physiques.
The only market that American wrestling had yet to cross was the toy market. The wrestlers looked like giant action figures in their own right, so that seemed like the next logical step. Few knew how successful the wrestling toy business would be. That is until the first series of LJN figures hit the market. As soon as they did, audiences grew, profits skyrocketed, and history was made.
The fight for rights: How LJN partnered with WWE
The meteoric rise of WWE meant that several toy distribution companies were eager to partner with the company. The first was Remco, an established but lower-level toy company specializing in counterfeits. If parents couldn’t find a wanted He-Man action figure, Remco had you covered with a cheap substitute (much to their kid’s chagrin).
Lack of creativity aside, Remco understood the value of professional wrestling action figures and made a quick $10,000 offer to Vince McMahon.
Another toy company, Galoob, was even more interested in partnering with WWE. They offered McMahon $25,000, more than enough to pique the WWE owner’s interest. Money aside, Galoob had far more influence than Remco; they had recently made a toy line for the movie AND The Extra-Terrestrial.
When Galoob told McMahon to contact Universal Pictures as a reference. Little did they know that the movie studio had just purchased their own toy company; LJN. The WWE owner reached out to Universal, hoping to solidify his deal with Galoob. Instead, LJN offered him $200,000.
Vince McMahon has found his partners.
The massive numbers were a huge hit for LJN and WWE
The first series of LJN’s Wrestling Superstars was a big hit due to their huge size and unique design. Measuring eight inches, they were taller than most action figures of the time. Their rubber frame made them impervious to punishment. The toys were built to be beaten, much like the wrestlers they were inspired by. The figures have also been cast in fun and expansive poses, a welcome change from the usual rigid orientation of action figures.
Of course, the wrestlers chosen for the first series also contributed to the success. Hulk Hogan, Andre The Giant, The Iron Sheik and Big John Studd were just a few massive names available for purchase.
The success of LJN’s first series led to an even more successful second series. “Macho Man” Randy Savage, King Kong Bundy and Paul Orndoff were some big names introduced in this batch. More importantly, LJN introduced the “Sling ‘Em, Fling ‘Em” wrestling ring so fans could create their own wrestling matches inside the squared circle.
Each new series has seen a massive expansion of the character roster. WWE drove customers to LJN, and LJN drove customers to WWE. It was a match made in toy heaven.
A surprising end to the LJN and WWE partnership
Just when it seemed like nothing could stand in the way of the Wrestling Superstars line, LJN found themselves in a major PR nightmare.
In 1989, LJN released a collection of water guns that looked incredibly realistic, which isn’t necessarily good. A bunch of kids running around with realistic toy guns is bad enough, but when the products were used in actual bank robberies, outrage ensued.
Universal and LJN were willing to accept their mistakes but didn’t want to absorb the headache that came with them. So they sold the company to another toy distributor, Grand Toys.
Wrestling Superstars 1989, better known as the Black Card Series, was LJN’s final action figure collection. It featured never-before-seen characters from The Ultimate Warrior, the Big Bossman, Haku, and Warlord. The series also featured a re-release of several figures from LJN’s previous series. Grand Toys did this to unload any leftover products they had.
The series never found its way to American shelves and was only sold in Canada. For this reason, this Black Card series (at the time considered the bastard series of the collection) produced some of the rarest and most sought-after wrestling action figures in history.
Rarities and variants for miniature collectors
While the LJN and WWE partnership ended prematurely, their legacy lives on with wrestling action figure collectors. Over time, alternate versions, called variants, have become the highest rated items to look for.
Minor errors or changes in the design of a figure can increase the selling price of a figure by hundreds or even thousands of dollars. A paler version of Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth with a purple skirt (instead of gold) are examples of such prized rarities. There’s also the LJN tag team series, which could be worth thousands if it’s in its original packaging. Most notable is the Hart Foundation Tag Team Series.
The LJN Wrestling Superstars series may be outdated in terms of flexibility and movement, but it definitely sets the bar for wrestling action figures. They spawned a whole community of collectors. More importantly, LJN’s partnership with WWE changed the toy industry forever.