LJN Wrestling Superstars!
The year was 1984, and the action figure aisle was about to get body-slammed. I was young at the time, so my gratitude goes to the neighbor who first introduced me to what would be one of the finest wrestling toy lines ever created. He was a kid like me but with the luck of a leprechaun, returning from a trip to the US with Hulk Hogan and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in tow. Those LJN figures were like the heavyweights of the toy box, solid and unyielding, much like the wrestling heroes they represented. Their detailed rubber construction wasn’t just for show; these figures were made to endure the kind of play wrestling that would make a lesser toy tap out.
The Heavyweight Partnership: LJN and WWE
Vince McMahon saw an opportunity where others saw a niche market. When toy companies were grappling for the chance to partner with WWE, LJN came out on top. But why LJN? It wasn’t just about the money—though their $200,000 offer certainly helped. LJN was a subsidiary of MCA/Universal, a company with the resources to produce action figures that could mirror the larger-than-life personas of WWE stars. And so, with a handshake and a contract, a new era of wrestling merchandise was born.
Why So Big? Why Rubber?
LJN chose an imposing 8-inch scale for these figures to capture the larger-than-life presence of the WWE superstars. The use of rubber was a masterstroke, providing a heft and durability that made these figures nearly as tough as the athletes they represented. This size also allowed for an impressive level of detail, from the facial expressions down to the muscles, which smaller figures simply couldn’t match.
Each Wrestling Superstar came in a package that was impossible to ignore. Bright colors and bold graphics mirrored the excitement of WWE events. The figures were secured behind clear plastic, their painted faces and muscular forms promising endless adventures. And as if the figures themselves weren’t enough, each package also included a poster. These weren’t just any posters; they were vibrant, wall-sized banners that became the backdrop of many kids’ rooms, featuring the superstars in all their glory—another smart move by LJN to ensure these toys left a lasting impression both in and out of the box.
More Than Figures: The Accessories and Expansions
The Wrestling Superstars line was more than just the figures. Each tag team set came with not just the wrestlers but also championship belts, ensuring that young fans could host their own title matches right in the living room. Tag teams like the British Bulldogs and the Hart Foundation came ready for action, complete with their iconic wrestling gear.
LJN didn’t stop there. They stretched the boundaries, quite literally, with the Stretch Wrestlers line in 1987. Based on the Stretch Armstrong toy technology, these figures could be elongated and would retain their shape temporarily, adding a new dimension of play. However, due to the fragile nature of the latex rubber skin, these have become some of the rarest items on the collector’s market.
Prototypes and errors also add to the lore of the collection. Unreleased figures, like a Sgt. Slaughter figure which due to a contract dispute never hit the stores, are legends in the LJN universe. Similarly, there were exercise sets linked to the Hulkamania brand, complete with workout gear for the young fans wanting to emulate their wrestling heroes.
But the LJN lineup wasn’t just a solo act of wrestling figures. It was an ensemble cast, featuring the iconic “Sling ‘Em, Fling ‘Em” Wrestling Ring that became a battleground for the Rubber Titans. This ring, complete with elastic ropes, provided the perfect stage for the Superstars to duke it out. And for fans seeking high-stakes drama, the Cage Match Challenge playset upped the ante, allowing for epic encounters behind bars, echoing the nail-biting excitement of WWE’s most grueling matches. These playsets were more than just accessories; they were vital parts of the LJN universe that allowed fans to recreate the thrill of wrestling right on their bedroom floor.
The Final Bell and the Collectible Craze
As with all good things, the LJN Wrestling Superstars line had its final round in 1989. The decision to close LJN’s toy division wasn’t taken lightly, but a controversial product line of realistic water pistols put the company in hot water, leading to its sale and the end of an era for the Wrestling Superstars. Yet, even as they exited the stage, the final figures distributed exclusively in Canada became the rare gems of the collecting world.
ToyBeast’s Checklist: A Collector’s Cornerman
For those who cherish the glory days of LJN figures, ToyBeast is thrilled to present the ultimate LJN Wrestling Superstars checklist. Our meticulous compilation is a nod to every fan who’s ever dreamed of completing their collection. With our checklist, you’ll have a ringside seat to the history of these iconic figures, ensuring that not even the rarest of variants escapes your grasp.
Reflecting on the legacy of LJN’s Wrestling Superstars, it’s clear they were more than just toys. They were a testament to the spectacle of WWE, to the vision of a company that gambled on the grandeur of wrestling and won. These figures may not grapple in the ring anymore, but they continue to tussle for a top spot in the hearts of collectors. So, let’s lace up our boots, step into the ring of nostalgia, and get ready to complete the collection that defined a generation of WWE fans.