PSA Set Registry
Collecting the 1979 Gulas/Rax Roast Beef Championship Wrestling Card Set
Wrestling with Rarity
by Kevin Glew
It's the most elusive set of wrestling cards that exists.
That's veteran collector David Peck's assessment of the 1979 Gulas/Rax Roast Beef Championship Wrestling set. And the fact that there are only three known complete sets reinforces his claim.
"During the span of eBay's existence, there have really only been two times when cards from this set have popped up," said Peck, who managed to purchase a set in 2016 after seven years of searching.
Long-time wrestling card enthusiast Bob Bryla, who possesses one of the other sets, says he didn't even know about these cards until he visited his friend and former wrestler David Schultz "about 10 to 12 years ago" and found a card of Schultz (his last name is "Shultz" on his card, which is what he primarily used while wrestling).
"I've been collecting since I was seven years old, and when I first saw David's card, it must have been 30 years after the cards were printed," said Bryla. "And that was my first knowledge that these cards even existed."
On top of its rarity, the 1979 Gulas/Rax Roast Beef Championship Wrestling set also has historic value. Bryla and Peck believe it's the first full-color, packaged set of cards produced in the U.S. devoted exclusively to professional wrestlers.
This 22-card issue was distributed in a cellophane pack to the first 1,200 families that attended the National Wrestling Alliance's Mid-America Championship Wrestling "Pre-Thanksgiving Spectacular" at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds Sports Arena in Nashville on November 21, 1979. The cards were tightly packaged and there was a red band around the cellophane.
Scott Teal, a prolific wrestling book author and owner of Crowbar Press, took the photos for this series. He was asked to work on the project by renowned Nashville area wrestling promoter Nick Gulas.
"We were opening up a brand new arena in Nashville that was called the Sports Arena. We had been in an old part of the fairgrounds in Nashville in a building with a low ceiling that wasn't really conducive to wrestling," recalled Teal. "And in the first week after the new arena opened, they decided they were going to give away these sets. They made 1,200 sets, and Nick [Gulas] was going to give a set to every family that came to the match there."
Peck uncovered a newspaper account of that "Pre-Thanksgiving Spectacular" that indicates there were 4,176 in attendance. But keep in mind that one pack of cards was handed out to each family (not each person), so this might explain why Peck has been told that more sets were distributed at a show in Chattanooga the following week.
"The initial assumption about these cards was that they had been some sort of giveaway at Rax Roast Beef Restaurants," said Peck. "But, really, Rax was just a sponsor along with Pabst Blue Ribbon."
One of the most interesting features of this set is that it not only shines the spotlight on some of the top wrestlers from the Mid-America region (Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama), but it also highlights executives, office employees, an announcer, and a referee. For his part, Teal can't remember how it was decided who'd be featured in the set.
"My guess is that they gave me a list of who would be on the cards," said Teal.
Teal recalls going to Gulas' offices to take pictures of the executives and employees, and he snapped the remaining photos at events.
"Now that I'm looking in my database here, there's a good chance that the photos were probably taken October 17 and October 24, 1979, in Nashville," noted Teal.
Teal had little to do with the actual production of the cards, but he believes they would have been printed locally.
The design of the cards is simple. The white-bordered fronts offer a posed photo of the subject with their name at the top, while the two sponsor logos - Pabst Blue Ribbon and Rax Roast Beef Restaurants - are at the bottom.
The backs present black text on an off-white background and flaunt the player name, height, and birthplace, followed by copyright and sponsor information. The cards are not numbered.
When the project was completed, Teal kept one set and put it away. And the 1979 Gulas/Rax Roast Beef Championship Wrestling set was basically forgotten about for 30 years until Peck saw an image of the David Schultz card online and was determined to add an example to his collection. The tenacious hobbyist did extensive research and discovered the Schultz single was part of a larger set.
For years, Peck's search for this card proved fruitless until Bryla told him that Schultz, himself, had a copy. Through Bryla, Peck offered Schultz $200 for his card, which Schultz turned down.
In the meantime, Peck had learned that 1,200 of these sets had been handed out. So he felt like there had to be cards out there somewhere. At one point, he noticed the backs of the cards said "Photographs by Scott Teal" and he had just finished reading of one Teal's books. So, in 2016, seven years into his quest, he contacted Teal to ask him if he had a set and Teal wrote back confirming that he had an unopened pack.
Peck eventually offered Teal $2,000 for the sealed set and then $3,000.
"I didn't intend to sell the set to David," said Teal. "He made me an offer and I said no, explaining that these [cards] had more sentimental value than anything because I had a part in making them."
But about a year after Peck had contacted him, Teal started to think about how these cards, still in their original packaging, were just sitting in a box collecting dust. Peck clearly had a passion for the set and would appreciate them, so he relented and sold them for $2,000 - which was $1,000 less than Peck's best offer.
"If I was going to let them go, I wanted to sell them to somebody who loved them so much that they intended to keep them. It makes me feel good that I let them go to the right person," said Teal. "I'm just absolutely surprised that they were as rare as they were. I just never thought about it. It gives me a little bit of pride that it's probably the most collectible wrestling card set ever printed."
The checklist for this offering was incomplete until Peck opened the sealed set he acquired from Teal.
"Only 18 of the 22 cards were known until I opened the [pack], plus a cover card," explained Peck.
As noted earlier, the set offers cards of wrestlers, employees, executives, a referee, and an announcer.
"A lot of the wrestlers in the set are regional [Tennessee] guys, so people from other areas may not have heard of them," said Bryla. "They didn't go national when wrestling got really big in the mid-1980s. In those days, with the territories being the way they were, you didn't need to venture out to make a living wrestling. You could go back to the same little town and sell the place out every week."
Teal has fond memories of many subjects in the set. For example, one of the cards features a secretary named Donna Bower.
"She held court in the wrestling office and you had to get through her to see Nick [Gulas]," explained Teal. "She was the lion at the door. She was a real sweet lady. Unfortunately, she died just recently."
The aforementioned Schultz card is one of the most coveted in the set. He was a formidable and popular wrestler who went on to work in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). But he is, perhaps, best known for slapping ABC's 20/20 reporter John Stossel twice during a recorded interview on December 28, 1984, when the interviewer told him he thought pro wrestling was fake. Schultz later became a successful bounty hunter.
Just three Schultz cards have been graded and Peck owns a PSA NM-MT 8, which is the highest-graded example. It's difficult to assign values to the 1979 Gulas/Rax Roast Beef Championship Wrestling cards because so few have surfaced, but Peck thinks the Schultz card would command the most. But just how much would his PSA 8 Schultz be worth?
"Put it this way, if I didn't have the card and it popped up on eBay listed at $500, I wouldn't have hesitated to buy it," said Peck.
Peck believes the Prince Tonga card is likely the set's second-most valuable single. Tonga would wrestle under many different names, but later in his career he was most notably known as Haku and King Haku in the WWF.
"He's probably hands down one of the toughest men in the world, and I'm talking about MMA and everybody," said Teal. "I've done literally hundreds and hundreds of interviews with wrestlers, and one of the questions I like to ask is, 'Who do you think is the toughest man in pro wrestling?' And with almost every single person, the name Haku comes up. He is absolutely feared."
Just two Tonga cards have been graded by PSA and they are both PSA EX-MT 6s. With such a small sample size, it would be difficult to conclude that this card is particularly condition sensitive, but thanks to the unopened pack that Teal sold Peck, we do know that this card was on the back of the pack, a position that generally makes cards more vulnerable to condition woes.
Another well-known wrestler in this series is Robert Gibson, who went on to be part of a legendary tag team known as the Rock 'n' Roll Express. This is Gibson's earliest card and presents him as a raw, young solo wrestler. Just two of his singles have been evaluated and Bryla owns the sole PSA GEM-MT 10 example.
Two other wrestlers - Bobby Eaton and Dennis Condry - are also presented on solo singles, but they would later join forces to become The Midnight Express, one of the most successful tag teams in professional wrestling history, not to mention major rivals of the Rock 'n' Roll Express.
"They [the Midnight Express] were big, big movers and shakers in the wrestling industry," said Teal. "Out of all the guys on the cards, other than Haku, Bobby Eaton, and Dennis Condry, Robert Gibson had more success than anybody else in this whole set."
Peck considers the cover card that came in his sealed set to be the 23rd card in this series. This could be redeemed for free French fries at Rax Roast Beef Restaurants. Many of these were likely redeemed, so this card is even rarer than the other set singles.
But finding any of the cards has proven to be next-to-impossible. The question is, what happened to the 1,200 sets that were handed out?
"I think a couple of things could have happened. One, people could have wanted the free French fries, so they ripped them open and took the coupon. Two, recipients didn't really care for them, dropped them on the floor, and they probably got lost in the shuffle. And three, maybe a bunch of them just got thrown out and were never actually handed out," said Peck.
Bryla, who acquired his set through a friend, offers a similar explanation.
"The people receiving them weren't collectors," he said. "These were random wrestling fans and these cards wouldn't have meant a lot to them."
Just 47 cards in total have been graded by PSA to date and there haven't been more than three graded of any card in the series. Peck lucked out when he opened his set and ended up with four PSA 10 cards.
With so few examples graded, it's hard to estimate what the multiplier would be in terms of value for high-grade cards.
"It's just very hard to value this set," said Peck. "I've read on online forums where people have been debating the greatest wrestling sets of all time, and some believe that this set should be on the list."
Whether or not it's the greatest wrestling set can certainly be debated, but there's no question that it's one of the rarest. Bryla, who has collected numerous vintage sets, says this one represented his biggest collecting challenge. It was the same for Peck.
"With this set, you take what you can get. It's not a set where you can say, 'Well, you know, I'm going to wait for another copy.' Just locating a card is difficult," said Peck.
"It's an extremely rare set and I'm not parting with mine until I go in the ground," added Bryla.
For more information on the 1979 Gulas/Rax Roast Beef Championship Wrestling card set, please visit https://www.psacard.com/cardfacts/non-sports-cards/1979-gulas-rax-roast-beef-championship-wrestling/32814.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Thank you to David Peck for providing images to go with this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of August 2018.
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