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Mean Gene Okerlund

WWE Elite Collection
by yo go re

Other than Tatanka, this Old Toys Month has been all about updates of old figures.

Following more than 30 years in sports-entertainment, Gene Okerlund became one of, if not the most recognizable announcers in the history of the squared circle. Nicknamed "Mean Gene" by longtime colleague and fellow Minnesotan Jesse Ventura, Okerlund began as a backstage interviewer in the Minneapolis-based AWA in the early 1970s. In 1984, Mean Gene came to WWE as a locker room interviewer and announcer. Beyond the backstage halls of arenas around the world, his distinct voice bellowed a memorable rendition of the National Anthem at the first WrestleMania in 1985.

This set of four figures, while given the branding of the Elite Collection "Flashback Series," is a Walmart exclusive. If you buy all four figures, you'll be able to build an interview set from SummerSlam 1989, but the figures seem to be drawn from all over: SummerSlam '93, the 1991 Royal Rumble... some time Syxx was on TV... and considering how long Mean Gene worked for the company, pretty much any event anywhere in the world between 1984 and 1993. But emphatically not SummerSlam 1989, for reasons that will become quite clear.

This is (more or less) Mattel's first crack at Okerlund, and the likeness is as good as we've come to expect from them. From the section of the company that does the WWE figures, at least - the DC figures continue to be... well, you know. Mean Gene is sculpted with a smile, not the serious look the old ToyBiz release had, and the face on the toy is thinner than it is in the portrait on the back of the box.

Most of this toy uses the same molds as Jimmy Hart, which makes sense since they're both guys in what would be considered "normal" clothes - that is to say, "not tights." Here we get black shoes, khaki slacks, a white dress shirt with a red neck tie, and, straight out of the packaging, a blue sport coat with a retro WWE logo on it. Yes, to be really accurate, that would be a "WWF," but somebody's trying not to get sued by the panda people. So all we get is a stacked pair of W's, with no letter sticking off the side.

But hey, speaking of incomplete logos, Mean Gene comes with an interesting accessory - an extra jacket. Pop the toy's arms off, slip the coat up over his head, and you can replace both with red versions. Why would you want to do that? Because red jackets were the fashion of choice for interviewers in the AWA, where he got his start. Now, technically there should be an AWA logo on the breast, but there isn't - WWE bought AWA's video library when the promotion went out of business, but it's possible they didn't get ownership of the logo along with it. Still, it's nice of this figure to give Gene's oratorial roots a nod like that.

However, that's also why we know this figure can't represent SummerSlam 1989: that show had an infamous segment where Gene, about to interview Ravishing Rick Rude, was interrupted by the sign falling off the wall behind them (for bonus points, the Build-A-Stage included in this series has a hole in the back that allows you to re-create the moment); video of that blooper is readily available, and in it we can see his attire for the night included a black jacket with a red pocket square, not a blue jacket with the WWF logo on it, so this figure can't be that.

Mean Gene has a balljointed neck, swivel/hinge shoulders, swivel biceps, hinged elbows, swivel/hinged wrists, hinged torso, swivel waist, H-hips, swivel thighs, double-hinged knees, and what seem to be balljointed ankles. He didn't often perform in the ring (though he does have a 4-0 record from the times he did - twice in WWF and twice in WCW), so this is more than enough for him - Gene could easily have been in the Basic series, but hey, better is always better than worse, right? Unfortunately, this reused body does leave him rather tall: the real guy is 5'9", but this figure is the same general height as the beefed-up wrestlers. Sorry, the "superstars."

He does get an accessory, and it's a perfect one for him: a microphone. Its large size helps the figure look smaller, which is appreciated. His "piece" of the SummerSlam set is a light stand, done as three pieces and put together after you open the toy. They're definitely going all-out to create the sense of a "backstage" scene! Shame he couldn't come with the camera, though. But hey, the insert behind the figure, a blue sheet with white WW logos all over, makes a nice backdrop for the toy, too!

Mean Gene Okerlund was a fixture of the wrestling world in the '80s and '90s, so it's excellent that Mattel finally got to make a toy of him. This toy, minus the red jacket, was planned to be a BAF in 2016, but the series (which also would have been a Walmart exclusive) was cancelled and the other figures were shuffled into other lines. A few samples with the BAF pieces surfaced in Australia, but that was all: this is the first time the toy has been legitimately available. While it's not without its problems, having the option to give him two different looks is awesome (while still leaving plenty of other outfits for the future). At last, you don't have to hunt down the ToyBiz figure in order to have a good Mean Gene!

-- 02/28/18

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