[Note: This column originally ran in 2007, but let's face it, stuffed wrestlers are still funny so we're running it again today.]
There may not have been a more entertaining board room to be in during the 80’s than the one at the headquarters of the World Wrestling Federation. In addition to the riveting discussions about gimmicks (“so Jake is going to carry a snake into the ring, we need to decide between Boa or Python”), names (“let’s call him Irwin R. Shyster, get it IRS!”) and side projects (“the video for Koko B Ware’s song ‘Piledriver’ is going into production a week from tomorrow”) there had to be numerous discussions centering around merchandising.
The WWF/WWE has become a merchandising machine, finding hundreds of ways to profit from the celebrity of their stars. Around 1984, when Hulk Hogan’s popularity was climbing to its highest point, Vince McMahon and the gang started producing anything and everything that could be associated with the “Superstars” of the WWF. You had toys, clothing, music videos, even a cartoon (don’t act like you didn’t love “Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n Wrestling”).
But above all, there is one particular conversation that we would have loved to be in on. This is how we see it going down:
Executive #1: “We’ve seen great sales numbers on the new rubber Sgt. Slaughter figurines and the plastic thumb wrestlers idea was golden. We need to capitalize on the demand within the youth market for these products. Let’s put our heads together and think – what is the one thing kids want in the likeness of massive, sweaty men wearing leather boots and speedos?”
Executive #2: “Stuffed animals?”
Executive #1: “Good god, that’s brilliant.”
And with that, one of the more “memorable” toys of the 80’s was unveiled, wrestling’s answer to stuffed animals – the Wrestling Buddy.
The demand was there instantly. What kid didn’t want their parents to buy a pillow in the shape of a WWF superstar for them to tuck under their arm before bed?
They were hip, fun and brought with them a sense of comfort. When the lights went out, the monsters under the bed and in the closet cowered in fear because they knew that if they appeared, they were subject to the wrath of an 18” stuffed version of the Ultimate Warrior.
That’s a hell of a deterrent.
But it was a love-hate relationship for sure. Young kids, experiencing their first, miniscule shots of testosterone could view their Wrestling Buddy as a member of the family one minute and kick the ever living shit out of it the next.
Tired of getting in trouble for practicing your figure four leglock technique on your younger bro? Problem solved. The Wrestling Buddy could take even the most devastating leglock without crying like a bitch. Afterwards, there was no animosity, only a mutual respect between a kid and his fake grappling partner.###MORE###
And don’t think it was just for the kids to enjoy. We don’t know about you, but we can’t envision a better way for a father and son to bond than to join forces in a tag team match against stuffed replicas of the Bushwhackers.
It was a seamless melding of two worlds – the soft, loving world of stuffed companions mixed with the vicious, take-no-prisoners world of professional wrestling.
Like most successful products, greed eventually dragged it down. Seeing the success of the first wave, Wrestling Buddies were produced en masse, no longer reserved for the elite superstars. Suddenly everyone had their own, even guys whose sole gimmick was a blond mullet – say like Lex Luger – got to enjoy being reproduced in Buddy form.
Before long, new features were incorporated, including a function that allowed them to talk. The Wrestling Buddy version of Diamond Dallas Page, for example, uttered a handful of phrases that took it right past “questionable” and into full blown “creepy” status:
“It ain’t over, next time you’re getting banged!”
Sorry, DDP, for most of us there won’t be a next time. We like our Wrestling Buddies to be the strong silent type.
And it doesn’t hurt if they have the words “Macho King” written on their ass.