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I love professional wrestling, but if I’m being honest with myself, I may love professional wrestling collectibles even more. As I wrote in my preface to the professional wrestling anthology I edited, Working Stiff, even at times when I haven’t paid attention to current professional wrestling, I’ve collected professional wrestling collectibles. I love wrestling toys and shirts, but my primary areas of collection are print materials, like comic books and trading cards.

Despite the recent success of wrestling comic books like Do A Powerbomb!, The Crimson Cage, and The Gimmick, wrestling comic books remain a niche, and mostly affordable collectible.

Wrestling trading cards have long been seen by many collectors as a lesser subgenre of trading cards. WWE’s recent move from Topps to Panini, the introduction of Upper Deck’s AEW cards, and the explosion of independent and custom/art wrestling cards has resulted in a surge of popularity of wrestling cards, and while much of this attention has been expressed in positivity and love towards wrestling cards, it hasn’t been without drama.

One of the negatives for collectors like me is increased prices. Thankfully, for collectors (not so much for the sellers), the price of wrestling cards, as a whole, has come back down to a more reasonable level. At one time, hobby boxes of 2022 WWE Panini Prizm were selling for well over $1,000 per box. I personally saw one single pack of these cards sell on WhatNot for over $300. For most collectors, that price point is unrealistic, especially when you consider that most boxes of Topps WWE products were selling for less than $100 per box the year before. For many, including myself, we simply had to bow out. For others, this resulted in a war of words between wrestling collectors who were going all-in on WWE Panini products, and those who viewed this as a threat to their investments.

For years, even when the value of wrestling cards remained far below those of traditional stick and ball trading cards, vintage wrestling cards reigned supreme. No modern wrestling cards could come close to the value of 1982 Wrestling All-Stars or 1998 Topps WCW/nWo autographs, and those who owned these cards ruled the wrestling card kingdom. But all of a sudden, WWE Panini cards threatened that supremacy. When a PSA graded 2022 Panini WWE Black Prizm card featuring The Rock sold at auction for over $126,000, it overtook the distinction as the most valuable wrestling card of all-time, dethroning a $52,840 sale of a BGS graded 1982 Wrestling All-Stars Hulk Hogan, and this ruffled some feathers.

bgs hulk hogan

Wrestling card Twitter was abuzz with rumors and accusations of shill bidding and fraudulent sales. It remains an outlier, compared to sales of similar modern cards that have followed (the 2023 version of this Rock card sold for $16,800), but since then, four-figure sales of WWE Panini cards haven’t been rare. Still, the Panini/modern wrestling card antagonists persist, lambasting shiny modern wrestling cards and their proponents, and in recent weeks, it’s become personal for some.

At the end of October 2023, through the first couple weeks of November, people on X have shared screenshots of eBay auctions where individuals have seemingly created fake or alternate eBay accounts to shill bid (artificially increase the price) on the wrestling cards of sellers they dislike, and then not only do they not pay for the auctions they won, but they send abusive and threatening messages to the sellers. I’m not going to share the names involved or messages posted on X, because of the toxic content of the messages, but if you’re so inclined, it’s publicly viewable on X, until the posters take them down. Is this all because they don’t like these specific wrestling cards? Is it because they don’t like the individual sellers? No matter the cause, this is occurring over the sale of wrestling cards, and it’s disturbing to see when you use social media to stay informed about a hobby you love.

Another recent example of wrestling card drama came as a result of some of the biggest and best wrestling card news this year. In summary, Leaf Trading Cards recently shared that, as part of its 2024 Leaf Metal Wrestling Legends series, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would have autographed cards in the set, his first signed wrestling cards in over 20 years. For the most part, this was greeted as huge news, and then Darren Rovell posted a short message: “He is not signing for Leaf.” All hell broke loose … relatively speaking, this is still trading cards we’re talking about.

What followed was a cringe-inducing back and forth between Leaf and Rovell, with others chiming in defending one side or the other about whether or not Johnson had knowingly signed autograph stickers/cards for Leaf. Individuals demanded to view affidavits and/or photographic proof of Johnson signing the stickers, and Rovell claimed that he talked to The Rock’s agent, who said Johnson had no knowledge of signing for Leaf. Eventually, Leaf posted a photo of Johnson signing the stickers, but the semantic debate of whether Johnson signed “for” Leaf continued, reminding me of “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” If I could, I would like to mute and ignore the entire discussion, but that’s a challenge when social media is the only reliable outlet for wrestling trading card news. Either way, I still can’t wait for 2024 Leaf Metal Wrestling Legends, whether or not Johnson knows what he signed.

Of course, no discussion of wrestling card drama is complete without acknowledging the legal proceedings involving WWE and Panini. I’ve posted a few updates about this myself, but to summarize, it was shared on September 20, 2023, that WWE terminated Panini for breach of contract, with over two years left of the contract, so Panini sued WWE. What resulted was WWE sought an injunction against Panini, to prevent Panini from selling and marketing WWE cards, even those Panini already created. Regardless of how wrestling card collectors felt about Panini’s WWE cards, it turns out WWE was dissatisfied, primarily with the lack of digital trading cards, like Topps had done with the Topps SLAM app (to which I was previously addicted). My primary source of information for this has been Paul Lesko, a plaintiff’s litigator who has been able to disseminate the court documents for rubes like me. Most recently, it was announced that “discussions between the parties and their counsel have resulted in an agreement in principle. The parties are in the process of memorializing that agreement in a signed writing.”

As for the terms of the “agreement,” and what this means for the future of WWE and Panini wrestling cards – Will Panini continue to make WWE cards? Will the license go to Fanatics or Topps? – is yet to be seen, but if even the companies involved in the creation of wrestling cards can’t get along, what hope is there for the collectors?

Most of the people I know and relate to who collect wrestling cards are of a similar mind. In the case of WWE v. Panini, they’re just bummed that, while things get sorted in court, fewer wrestling cards are being released, such as the 2023 Panini Donruss Elite WWE product, which is currently stuck in limbo. As for the Dwayne Johnson autographs in 2024 Leaf Metal Wrestling Legends, I know a few people who were slightly disappointed that he hadn’t signed as The Rock, but he was a pretty unanimously celebrated inclusion in the card set, until Rovell tried to rain on the parade and made the claim that Johnson was not signing for Leaf. And as for the wrestling card shill bidders sending threatening messages via eBay, we’ve got two words for them …

So, with all of that said, there’s still a lot of positivity within the wrestling card community, especially amongst independent and custom/art card creators and collectors, but I can’t help feel like the wrestling card hobby is better off when fewer people perceive these cards as an investment, and we collect them, instead, for the love of the hobby, and our appreciation of the art of professional wrestling.

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