Professional wrestling - few, if any, displays of athleticism have produced a more colorful cast of characters or more debate on if it should be considered a "sport." With its storied history of blurring the lines between athletic prowess and theatrical performance, wrestling has always provided fans with a spectacle of good guy-versus-bad-guy story lines that have rivaled the most over-the-top soap opera drama.
Tracing its roots to the late 1800's post-Civil War sideshows of North American carnivals and county fairs, professional wrestling was considered to be a legitimate sport until the latter part of the 1920s. By the following decade, wrestling had transitioned into a theatrical event of kayfabe - the suspension of disbelief used to create promotions, feuds and gimmicks.
While critics argued for many years that the scripted theatrics of wrestling removed its legitimacy as a sport, as the years went by, promoters and even wrestlers themselves would no longer deny that the moves, maneuvers and outcomes of matches were, in fact, predetermined.
Attracting substantial audiences in the 1940s, and an even larger number of fans and followers in the 1950s with the advent of television, interest in wrestling waned throughout the 1960s and '70s only to come back with a vengeance with the 1980s introduction of cable television.
Reaching a far larger audience than any prior promoter could have ever imagined, wrestling became a cultural phenomenon thanks to the World Wrestling Federation. Enjoying an unprecedented fan base and financial success, this era saw the formation of other organizations such as World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling.
Now known as the second "Golden Age" of professional wrestling, the 1980s saw a plethora of wild characters and highly dramatic storylines that brought many wrestlers into the mainstream as pop culture icons including Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant and Jesse "The Body" Ventura.
With the popularity and success of 1980s wrestling came all sorts of merchandise, most notably action figures and magazines. One magazine, Wrestling News, also offered another item that caught the eye of some wresting fans - wrestling cards. Made available only by mail order in 1982, the Wrestling All Stars 1982 series A and B are considered by most to be the first standard, American wrestling card set ever produced. There had actually been one prior wrestling set manufactured in 1954-55 by Parkhurst Products, a Canadian company that specialized in hockey cards. There were also various wrestling cards offered between 1955 and 1982, although they weren't real cards but rather paper cut-outs that came in wrestling magazines. Then, in 1985, Topps put out the first mass-produced wrestling card set with stars of the WWF.
"While there were other offerings, to me the 1982 and 1983 Wrestling All Stars cards are an awesome piece of American history," said David Peck whose Wresting All Stars collection tops the PSA Set Registry. "There is no other set of wrestling cards that screams Americana like those sets. You have a Ric Flair, who had just become the National Wrestling Alliance champ, Hulk Hogan, before he popped, Andre the Giant, back when he could still move, and a host of other huge stars."
Born and raised in Orlando, Florida, the 32-year-old Peck, who has worked as a financial advisor for over a decade, said that when he was growing up, Florida was a hotbed for wrestling. "My dad had been a wrestling fan since he was very young," Peck said. "He had been going to matches since the 1970s. Then, when I was a young kid, in the mid-1980s, we would spend every Saturday watching wrestling. That was when Hulk Hogan and the WWF got pushed out to the whole country and it really exploded."
Today, with his Wrestling All Stars collection sitting at the top of the PSA Registry, Peck said those who have an understanding of these cards know how extremely difficult it is to find them in mint condition and how hard it would be to topple him off his pinnacle.
"There have been reports that there were only 100 sets produced," said Peck. "But, I think that is far too low. I do however think it's fair to say there were no more than 2,000 sets ever made."
Peck bases that belief on a conversation he had with the man who actually created the cards. "I tracked down Norman Kietzer at this home in Minnesota," Peck revealed. "He published programs for a lot of the wrestling promoters from the 1960s through to the 1980s. He also published The Wrestling News and The Wrestling Review and he used photos from the magazines and programs to create the cards."
According to Peck, Kietzer had worked with wrestling promoter Vince McMahon, Sr. to create the cards. "He told me he didn't remember what the print run was, only that they didn't make very many," Peck recalled. "He said that along with The Wrestling News collectors could also get them through The Wrestling Revue. Both magazines ran the ads in 1982, '83 and 84. The ad for the 1982 set, which is the primary one, was only run during the first six months of the '82 wrestling season."
Peck went on to say that Kietzer told him he had sold all of his photos to Wrestleprints.com and then just threw the remaining cards in as an afterthought once the deal for the ¬photos had been consummated. Following that sale, ¬Wrestleprints.com was the only Internet site where collectors could find the cards. "I bought two of my Andre the Giant cards from them that are a pop 7 and have graded PSA NM-MT 8. Once that supply of nice cards ran out, there was no other place to find them other then eBay."
In 2009, Peck made the decision he was going to attempt to put together the finest quality 1982 Wrestling All Stars set. "When I first started out on this endeavor, I found a guy who had a PSA Mint 9 Hulk Hogan and a PSA 9 Jerry "The King" Lawler. I was just blown away to get those cards and that began my serious search for the entire set. I was tracking them on eBay and began buying up everything I could find. Then, I found a guy who had a Ric Flair PSA Gem Mint 10, and another guy who had a sealed set. When I bought that set, my initial plan was to just keep it sealed. But, when I got it, I decided I wanted to see them. I opened them and they were the nicest cards I had ever seen by far, so I got them all graded."
Peck also started to work with 4 Sharp Corners of Sharon, Massachusetts who were offering a lot of the set's commons in high grades. "I just keep adding pieces to the puzzle and by 2010, had about 600 cards from the sets. By then, it had become somewhat of an obsession to complete all three sets in the highest grade possible. I quickly learned that would not be easy, especially with the 1982 A and B sets, which are both very difficult to find in high grades."
Today, with over 1,700 cards and 44 complete sets, including15 complete sets of the most desirable 1982 A set, Peck believes no other collector will ever be able to match his accomplishment.
"These cards are really tough to find in high grades," said Peck. "One of the reasons for that is that they were packaged with a very tight cellophane wrap that killed the corners. They also have inherent printing and centering problems. This makes finding a PSA 9 Mint or a PSA 10 nearly impossible. A complete PSA 10 set would be impossible, and there will never be another set that can top mine in grade being as that I own the entire 108 cards with most in Mint or better, and have every major star in the top grade available. I know, with 100 percent certainty, that no one will ever be able to recreate these sets with a higher PSA rating. There would be no way for someone to do what I have done being as that I have bought up a large amount of the high grade material known to exist."
A true PSA devotee, Peck said it was a "no-brainer" to select the company to grade his cards. "When I first started to look into grading services, I noticed that on eBay PSA graded cards were getting the best prices. Then, since getting involved with PSA, I have learned they have done so much to bring fairness and understanding to pricing. I am especially impressed with their grading standards and the reputation they have earned. In buying cards over the years, I have heard from everyone in the hobby that they feel PSA is the best when it comes to grading. I also really like the PSA Set Registry. Along with being fun, it is a great resource. I met a guy through the Registry who had some cards I needed. I made him an offer he couldn't refuse and bought them all," he added with a laugh.
As for the future of the Wrestling All Stars cards, Peck said his crystal ball tells him they are the only wrestling cards that have the potential to greatly increase in desirability and value. "This is the only set of wrestling cards that has a low enough supply that they will be able to increase in value," Peck opined. "I don't think the 1985 Topps set will ever be able to achieve what these have. You can still easily find unopened packs of the '85 set. Now, overall, I don't really see wrestling cards breaking out and commanding huge prices. But, I think this set has the right formula for that to happen - a low supply, a lot of printing problems and nice photos. Right now, the collecting base for these cards is not strong. There are just not that many collectors who are into them. As for the future, the question is: will anyone else ever attempt to do what I have done - put these sets together in high grades. If they don't, then I'll be the lonely guy out there who will have the pride of being able to say I own the best of the best."
While Peck also collects LJN Wrestling Superstars action figures that were made from 1984 to 1989, and some old wrestling magazines and programs that included some of the stock photos that were used for the cards, his Wrestling All Stars sets are his true passion, pride and joy. "I really love them," he said. "They were not mass-produced, so there aren't a lot of people who have them, and certainly not in a high grade. I'm at a point now where it is few and far between that I can find anything that really helps me upgrade my sets. But, I am always on the lookout. I have always enjoyed the hunt. The entire experience has been enjoyable. I have loved finding the cards, buying them and mailing them off to PSA. The whole process had been a lot of fun. It's been a huge part of my life for the past two years. People are sentimental about their childhood and wrestling was a big part of mine. These guys were my heroes, so that has been a big part of the enjoyment for me. I also like the fact that in this particular niche of card collecting, I'm the force to be reckoned with."
As a financial expert, Peck said he reasoned his Wrestling All Stars sets may be a good investment. "With a low supply and a high grade, yes, I do see that as a recipe for having good potential for being an investment. However, I don't ever plan to sell the collection. For me, while it is nice to have something of value, the greatest value is the sentimental value. I like having something that no one else has and that is the best.
As for the highlights of his collection, Peck said his favorites are the cards of the wrestlers he loved to watch as a kid. "My love for certain cards is driven more by how much I like the wrestler as opposed to the value or the rarity of the card," he said.
Following is Peck's commentary on his favorite cards:
Andre the Giant
The Andre card is one of the toughest, if not the toughest card in the set, to find in a high grade. The card is the first card in the set and the sealed cellophane wrapper meant corner damage is almost a guarantee. The top-to-bottom centering and side-to-side centering is constantly off on the Andre card and the surface near his hair to the left is also a constant problem.
This is the most prized card from the set. It is very condition sensitive. Being so close to the front, corner damage is very common. This is one of the six cards from the 1982 A and B that are yellow which is very unforgiving when it comes to printing defects. They are all tough to find without centering problems. PSA is very tough on lower centering and these cards are almost always off centered top-to-bottom. The other major defect is a large print dot to the right of his head. As for a Hogan PSA 10, while I don't think one will ever surface, if it did, it would easily command a couple thousand dollars or more - who knows. He is such an iconic figure, beyond wrestling, that a card like that would have great desirability with card collectors who don't own one other wrestling card.
This is a pop 1 and it is going to be very tough to ever find another one. I personally own a large percentage of the graded Dusty Rhodes cards and trust me, finding one with no white on the corners is extremely tough. The purple cards show even the slightest bit of damage. Finding one with great centering and razor sharp corners is nearly impossible.
Kerry Von Erich
This is one tough card. It is the hidden gem in the set, and is zooming to be the most expensive base card in set two. I have over 20 examples of this card and most are NM 7 and below. The centering top-to-bottom is a huge problem. They notoriously have corner damage and printing issues near the top. I do not think a PSA 10 will ever surface. This is a Pop 2 in PSA 9 and I also own all three PSA 8s.
This was the first card I paid big money for, and the one that got the entire thing really going for me. The population report shows 4 in PSA 10, but one got crossed over to a 9.5 by another grader, and I own two of the three. There are many mint examples of this card. The blue bordered cards show less wear and they tend to have great top-to-bottom centering. You will however find some with bad centering and some with 70/30 side-to-side as well. The Nature Boy, as Flair was known, is by far one of my all time favorites and this card has a lot of personal meaning.
While the Hogan card may be the most valuable and desirable, this card, which I have in PSA 9, is my favorite and a Pop 1. Martell was the first card in the second set. To find one of these that is properly centered with mint corners is impossible. This is such a big card, and while Martel was never was a headliner like Hogan or Flair, he was a big star. This is one of the most expensive cards in the set. As I mentioned before, the yellow cards have the worst top-to-bottom centering and with this being the top card it also has corner issues. Most of these that surface are PSA VG-EX 4 or EX 5. I own the only PSA 8 along with a lot of raw copies I would not dream of submitting. While there are cards in the set that are a dime a dozen, that is not at all true in high grades and finding a high grade Martel card is virtually impossible.
Superstar Billy Graham
This is the first card from the third set. There are a lot more of the third sets out there and some are still sealed, therefore, this card can be found more easily in PSA 8 and higher. This is a Pop 2 and that number is not going to grow by much, if any. When this photo was taken, he was going through a bizarre time in his life. He had left his bleached blond muscle guy persona for a karate gimmick with a shaved head. If the image was of the Superstar Billy Graham of the 1970s, that wrestling fans knew and loved, I think the card would have a greater value.
The Junkyard Dog
This is one of my favorite cards for two reasons. One, I loved JYD, and two, this is one of the PSA 10s I received in my first submission. This is a Pop 1 and being as that it is a purple card, there will not be many joining it. I have many copies of this card in PSA 9, NM-MT+ 8.5, and 8. Trust me, it's a stunner. It is cards like these that will not make it possible for anyone else to have a complete set as nice as the ones I have compiled. By the way, The Junkyard Dog card is one of the higher priced raw cards as well.