Mattel’s product reveal back on April 8, 2021 was, for a portion of the fanbase, a true watershed moment. These reports come regularly, containing release dates and lineups for the latest WWE figure lines. Those lines most often include
- Elite figures (more detailed, higher price point collectibles)
- Basics (stripped down versions cheap enough for kids to bash around without their folks going broke), and
- Legends releases (this year’s limited gray-suit Million Dollar Man variant is a hot property!).
But this time around, something else was put back into the mix that seemed lost to history. Mattel announced two new figures of beloved icons that did not fit into any of the above categories. Instead, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Mean” Gene Okerlund will be the first Mattel “Retro” figures since the line was suddenly halted in 2019. This news was hailed as a great return and deserves a closer look – what’s coming, what does it mean, and what do we want next?
What are Retros?
About 5 years ago, Mattel began production on figures that were in scale with the original 80’s Hasbro line that many now grown-up fans had played with as kids. They featured similar poses, old-school card artwork, and even an associated simple action (slams, punches, clotheslines, etc.). This meant they could stand across the ring (or shelf) from the classics and line up with the stars of the original WrestleManias or the Attitude Era without missing a beat. They were an immediate hit with a lot of fans for this reason; WWE then leaned into it by combining series featuring throwback figures like Randy Savage and Ultimate Warrior with lineups featuring The New Day, Kevin Owens, and other contemporary entrants. It is this old-school style in which Piper and Mean Gene will hit shelves.
Why is this a big deal?
Retros became popular because they were truly meant FOR collectors who are long-time fans. They don’t have the articulation of other Mattel figures, so you’re not likely to be playing with them. Therefore, they were not being aimed at children, but rather the adults who knew this kind of design and had used them as kids decades ago (which the advertising made clear). WWE rarely targets this demo so actively, so an entire line that would allow you to complete your childhood collection with the best of today’s superstars was a seismic shift in the wrestling toy market. The rise and fall of heroes and villains makes you feel like a kid again, and this went one step further. When it went away people were devastated, as they now would have so many superstars missing from this cohesive ride through time. Now you can follow it all the way from the start of the WWF itself to the latest in WWE action.
What do I want next?
Now that the door is back open to getting the stars of WWE’s past and present in retro form, the possibilities are endless! Here are a few that would that would get me flocking to the store shelves
- Pirate Paul Burchill
The less realistic, nostalgic bent of the retro line means it’s perfect for throwing fans a bone. While it never caught fire in the way that brought him a big push, Paul Burchill’s movie-aping pirate outfit, entrance, and personality drew a cult following at the time and has become a huge favorite in the YouTube era. It would be incredible fan service to get a new, fittingly cartoon-y toy out of it.
- Jimmy Hart
Mean Gene’s appearance means there’s an opening for more non-wrestlers, and the Mouth Of The South with an insane jacket and removable megaphone would be a sweet next step. He worked IRL with so many of the wrestlers already made in this line, and then you can fantasy book your own new pairings as you see fit.
- Bret “Hitman” Hart
I mean, what in the blue hell are we doing where this doesn’t already exist? Gimme!
- “American Badass” Undertaker
There is already a quality Deadman-style Undertaker in the retro line, but while retros were gone we passed the 20th anniversary of when we first laid eyes on his biker iteration. The different feel for Taker’s character, style, and moveset became a mainstay as he eventually moved into Deadman Inc. and Big Evil modes, but nothing screams “toy” quite like the American Badass look. Having another Retro would also match his prominence to the company and the fans.
- “Make-A-Difference” Fatu
The former Headshrinker and future Rikishi spent a glorious glimmer of time as someone who wanted kids to just say no, stay away from drugs and violence, and learn to make a difference (hence the fan-developed nickname). What’s more hilariously “retro” than a walking, talking, lame 90’s PSA, of the kind a substitute teacher might make you watch? Since Too Cool-era Rikishi is a likely candidate, getting this one too would be meta as hell Doubly so if they include his “BSK” hat.
No matter what does (or doesn’t) come next, having more Retros to shop for, hunt down, and choose from will let us all feel like kids again and make sure we can collect every era of WWE for (fingers crossed) years to come.