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The secret world of WWE figure collecting

By Christopher Piatt, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • With a growing base of collectors, WWE figures have vastly improved
  • Laser scans give WWE wrestlers extra level of authenticity
  • Fans gather online to discuss what they hope to be valuable investments
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(CNN) -- It was 1984. Hulk Hogan had won the WWE Championship from The Iron Sheik, Rowdy Roddy Piper smashed a coconut over Jimmy Snuka's head and Captain Lou Albano's appearance in Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" was hitting the airwaves.

Fans around the world couldn't wait get their hands on toy company LJN's first line of WWE action figures. Sure, these tiny wrestlers were made of hard plastic and had zero moveable joints, but these were WWE action figures. Children wanted to play with the heroes and villains they saw on TV each week.

"I can remember asking my mom and dad for LJN figures straight off the shelves when I was about 8 or so," said Daniel Epps, a 34-year old, decades-long fan of WWE figures from Gloversville, New York.

Fast forward 27 years and Mattel's collection of WWE figures is light years away from LJN's stiff Hulk Hogan figures. Today, Mattel's Randy Orton figure has 27 points of articulation, highly detailed tattoos and real fabric clothing that makes it the spitting image of the 6-foot-4, 245-pound superstar. The improvements are irresistible for fans.

"Now I collect as a hobby. I tried to quit buying last year when Mattel took over the WWE license, but the figures are so incredible I just couldn't stop," Epps said.

Another WWE figurine collector, Artur Queiroga, 20, agrees. "Mattel's WWE action figures possesses superior articulation and bear a greater likeness to the superstars than the figures of past lines.

"The different classes of action figures are executed excellently, with different accessories and ranges of articulation, making a figure of the more expensive class truly seem worth it."

Hasbro took over production of the WWE figures in 1990, adding moving arms and spring loaded movements. In 1996, Jakks Pacific added 15 points of articulation, moving legs, heads and a level of detail not seen up until this time. Mattel is the fourth company to produce WWE figures starting in January 2010.

Mattel's signature take on the figures is to scale them in the most life-like fashion to-date. All previous figures by the other companies were the same standard size. It didn't matter if you were 5'9" or 7'6"; your action figure was the same height as all the others.

Now, WWE Superstar Kane, who is 7 feet tall in real life, has his action figure stand at 7.5 inches while someone like Rey Mysterio, who is 5'6," has his action figure stand a little over 6 inches.

"It is the coolest thing having your own action figure," said former World Heavyweight Champion Christian Cage. "It is hard to describe to go into a store and see yourself there on the shelf. It is kind of a surreal thing. You kind of know you have arrived when you get an action figure."

The process of turning a WWE Superstar or Diva into an amazingly real looking figure begins with putting the real superstars under a laser.

"A four-head body scanner sits on four posts that is lowered from the ceiling," said Derek Handy, a senior designer from Mattel. "A laser beam bounces back and forth off the Superstar that then creates a 3-D image. The head scanner rotates around the Superstar's head 360 degrees and picks up the depth."

Nabil Carrillo, a 19-year old from Orlando, Florida, who collects WWE, Star Wars, Marvel Universe and other action figures, believes that the WWE figures by Mattel can't be compared with any other figure when it comes to detail.

"The details on these figures are superb, and they look realistic," Carrillo said. "That's what makes them popular."

These figures are played with by kids, kept in their boxes by the adults and often set up in elaborate scenes by both. To the WWE fan, the wrestlers that they see on TV each week are their superheroes.

"Right now I have loose LJNs and Hasbros displayed on the ledges above my doors and windows of our living room and bedroom," Epps said. "I also have some signed figures hanging up on our dining room wall."

Fans enjoy creating dream matchups that they never thought were possible such as Ravishing Rick Rude from the 1980s and '90s vs. current WWE SmackDown wrestler Randy Orton. For the football fan, this is like seeing the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers taking on the 1995 Dallas Cowboys.

Online communities at wrestlingfigs.com, ringsidecollectibles.com and wrestlingsuperstore.com are the places where fans can discuss new and older figures.

These websites also sell exclusive WWE figures that aren't available in traditional stores such as Walmart and Target. International buyers turn to these websites to find the figures that they can't find in stores in their own countries.

"We support each other in our hobby, from congratulating on recent purchases, to posting what series is out on store shelves, to advising about making custom figures," Epps said.

Many collectors hope their investments in these figures will one day pay them back and then some.

Several LJN figures on eBay are selling from $500 to $1,000. And while the current Mattel figures are not selling for that much more than their purchase price, they are expected to follow the upward price trend of the LJN and Hasbro figures.

Movie and comic treasures go for big bucks

One of today's most popular activities in the WWE figurine collector community is creating customized action figures. For instance, WWE's newest acquisition from Mexico, Sin Cara, doesn't have an action figure out yet. Sellers on eBay take the time to design and hand-paint Sin Cara figures that are one-of-a-kind collector items.

Even though Queiroga is a collector of all these figures, as far as selling his figures goes, he has no plans for that anytime soon.

"I've collected action figures for a very long time and they mean a lot to me. I couldn't part with them," he said.

Epps used to buy every figure made, but now since he has a family, his spending habits have changed.

"My main goal is to have one figure of every wrestler," he said.

"Now I average about one figure every other week. I plan to some day give the collection to one of my kids, whichever shows the most interest in wrestling."

 
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