More Than Metal: Stavros Giannopoulos’s Wrestling Figure Collection
Stavros Giannopoulos has three adorable dogs and an impressively large collection of wrestling figures. He’s also one of the guitarists/vocalists for Atlas Moth, who released their fourth full-length Coma Noir today. Giannopoulos is neck-deep in the publicity cycle for the album, but we’re not here to talk about the recording process, their experience working with Prosthetic Records, or guitar tone. It’s like Tom G. Warrior famously said, “Only Wrestling Is Real.”
As we walked back to the kitchen, I noticed that every room we walk through has wrestling figures somewhere. The most impressive display is in the front room: a collection of figures occupying the top of his record storage, plus another three shelves. The brunt of the kitchen counter is occupied by figures, paints, and spare parts. Giannopoulos lit a cigarette while the dogs settled near our feet, and explained the genesis of his collection.
— Ed Blair
You got into wrestling really early, right? It was your older brother who got you into it?
I have two older siblings, a brother and a sister. My brother’s the oldest, he’s 13 years older than me. My sister’s 11 years older than me. They were kids in the 1980s. They were 15 and 13 when Rock ‘n’ Wrestling started happening. They were both into it. My brother was the one that stuck around with it though. He would take me all the time. I went to Wrestlemania II as a baby. I went to Mania VI. A ton of them. So, real, real early on. My entire life! My brother was really into wrestling, and my sister was really into metal. So it was “this is what I like!” I had a cousin really into comic books which basically rounds out my entire life.
You were pretty into wrestling for awhile, but when you went to college and started playing music, I understand that that took over?
I started playing guitar when I was ten. I was always kinda into both? My brother fucking hates metal. He hated my sister, and she was a “headbanger,” you know? I couldn’t really ever relate to my brother in any other way. I still loved wrestling until about 2002, which is when a lot of people were like, “fuuuuuck this.” The Cena/Orton/DiBiase Jr./Batista era was initially just garbage to me. I moved out of my parents’ house when I was 19. I moved into my own place and couldn’t afford cable. There was no WWE Network. The Internet, video-wise, wasn’t what it is now, where I can fuckin’ YouTube anything. It was half “I’m bored and I don’t like where this is going,” and half not available. I couldn’t afford to watch Raw every fuckin’ week. The internet just wasn’t as vast as it is now. I took a long break from it.
I started getting back into it — I’m a bit weird about the timeframe — ever since I started touring, a lot it blends together. Around the initial start of touring, I got a smartphone — I’m on the road and I got a Bleacher Report app and, “oh, WWE’s on here!” I started getting back into the indie stuff too: AJ Styles, and ROH [Ring of Honor], that entire era. Then I was like, “oh, CM Punk’s from here too! That guy is pretty cool! He likes stuff I like, and he’s from Chicago!” Slowly just got back into the Japanese stuff, and the indie stuff, and then all the dudes I loved in that went to the WWE. I moved in here three years ago, and the guy who initially lived here had cable. So, I had cable, and I could watch Raw every week. The Network came first, and then I could watch Raw and Smackdown every week. Then NJPW [New Japan Pro Wrestling] World, and I just fell right back into it, man.
I always kept track. It just wasn’t a number one priority, you know?
Everyone I know who’s a fan — like, a fan — has that period where they walked away, but you could always ask them what’s happening in the WWE and they’d be able to give you a recap– like, they still look at the message boards.
Totally! I would keep up on news. If anyone throughout this entire period was like, “hey man, you wanna come over and watch Wrestlemania?” — I’d be like, “yup!” I don’t like football. I like basketball and baseball, so there’s a good period there where nothing’s happening. Royal Rumbles are pretty fun, you know? Or, if I was somewhere with cable and I was flipping through, and Raw was on, I’d watch Raw. I always maintained an interest in it, but my level of fandom has waned throughout the years. But as it has become more available to someone without a fuckin’ $100,000-per-year job… especially now that you don’t have to spend $30, $50 for a PPV… thank god! I could have never maintained that. If that was happening right now, I’d never have gotten back into wrestling. The Network has just been fucking awesome. Between that and Japan, I feel like I’m in a renaissance here.
It’s a real hard thing to wrap my brain around. I used to tape trade.
Ah! I used to do that as well! With music and wrestling. Bootleg videos. Like, live stuff — shows, of bands. And then I realized I could get old wrestling that way — holy shit.
Yeah! Just the availability…
It’s through the roof!
I don’t know how to articulate the difference to people who weren’t there, you know?
Absolutely! You’re the only person I know who did that too! I recall there being a crossover with bootleg live shows and wrestling. Anything you could bootleg! I would go to record conventions in… Bridgeport? Bridgeview? The Holiday Inn used to have a big-ass record convention once a month, or once every three months, something like that. One of the halls would just be filled with a bunch of tables. I would always be there for bootlegs, you know? This was before YouTube. People sneakin’ in video cameras — I was really into that! At the end of these tables you’d always find like Cannibal Holocaust or Battle Royale and then you’d be like, “oh, what the fuck! There’s this weird compilation of Abdullah the Butcher!”
How old are you?
Okay, I’m 34. We’re sorta the same age. I knew of Abdullah the Butcher from Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Seeing this guy scared the shit out of me as a kid! But you never saw it. It was like — “oh, fuck! WCCW! Oh man! Japan! What the fuck? Early Hogan stuff!” I’d always try to pick that shit up, and try to find it, and you just couldn’t, dude. It was impossible. I even recall trading on AOL. “I’ll send you a blank VHS, and another one, and you’ll make it for me? Dope!”
The first tape I ever got was The Best Fire Deathmatches Vol. 1. When you’re 13 and you get handed that, it’s like “oh, well this changes my whole life trajectory.”
100%! I was watching intently during the era of ECW. I didn’t know how to watch ECW! Could you? I don’t even recall if you could!
I grew up in New Hampshire. I had a bunch of friends got me into wrestling, and I got in too late to really hit ECW stuff, but they were all super into it. I have no idea how they watched it. We never really talked about it.
First of all, if it was syndicated, I’m assuming you had more of a chance than me than here. It definitely wasn’t syndicated here. I read the magazines and think, “what the fuck is this? Why are these guys hitting each other with fuckin’ bats covered in barbed wire! This is insane!” Even nowadays, the deathmatch stuff isn’t really my thing, but still, I was totally intrigued by it. Seeing some of that stuff, anything with the Sheik, or Sabu — I was like, “what the fuck,man…” It used to blow my mind, and I’d haveto find it. You rarely could! When I did, I was always like, “I need all of this.”
[ECW Hardcore TV was syndicated, and aired in both the Chicago and Boston markets. I think us not realizing this while it was airing, or at the time of the interview speaks to the point we’re making, though.]
That’s the wildest thing to me — I remember that experience. Now, I’m in a position where I regularly get Weekly Pro Wrestling, which is a weekly pro wrestling magazine from Japan. You get the same sort of thrill — you look at stuff and it’s like, “what the fuck is happening here?” But now I can just instantly go on the Internet and track it down. It’s such a wildly different experience.
I signed up for NJPW World last year. Before that, I remember a couple years ago, my buddy telling me about stuff on Dailymotion — I was like, “I don’t have time for all this! I wanna delve so far into this!” Now it’s all so easy! There’s an AAW on Demand now! I don’t fuck with it too much. It’s on my Roku. It’s all awesome. It’s a renaissance. I bitch about how easily available music is because I don’t necessarily think it should be. I’ve said this a thousand times, but when I grew up, I got $20 a week. I had to fuckin’ invest that $20 so wisely. If I buy a CD that’s $15 and it sucks, that’s a week I have to live with it! I had to learn maybe to like it, which helped me give bands a second chance. With wrestling, it was just wasn’t available, and I wished it was, you know? So I’m like, “oh, it’s all here! Thank god! Give it to me!” With music, I’m sitting here bitching, like, “nah, man, people should have to fuckin’ try!” It’s a kind of hypocrisy of mine. Still, so much shit is available now. It’s an amazing time to be alive in that regard.
I think it’s really great because it removes a lot of the weird gatekeeping. You had to know someone! Or, I think there was a kiosk in a mall out here that had Japanese DVDs…
Yes! Out in Niles! I would go there. Often, actually.
Yeah! But if you didn’t know about that, you could never get into it! And now you can just on the Internet! There’s 13-year-olds in Iowa who can watch New Japan shows live! That seems super rad.
I should probably think more about the kids being able to get stuff, music-wise. With wrestling, I’m sitting here going “fuck yeah,” I’m all for it! With music, and this is probably because I am a musician, I’m like, “aw, man, I worked really hard on that! You gave it one chance?! Fuck that!” I recall being a kid and being like, “fuck, how do I hear this song? How do I get this CD? Where do I find it! I can’t afford $17 with shipping!”
So, I should probably look at it a little more open to the kids, but then again, I have two nephews who piss me the fuck off all the time. They’re always like, “what do you mean? You had to go to a store?” I’m like, “I’m gonna fuckin’ hit you right now! You’re 16, you’re old enough to get slapped by me!” Fuckin’, “uncle Steve, what did you do before the Internet?” Fuck you! I don’t know! I don’t remember, motherfucker! I hate you!
When did you get into collecting wrestling figures? Was that something that started early?
I think you can probably relate to this a little bit, being a wrestling fan. What is the thing that you get — what is your souvenir? There’s not a lot! I’ve had to explain this to my girlfriend, who is extremely understanding. I’ve also gotten her into wrestling, which helps. With bands, you love music, and you’re like, “I want a t-shirt! I want an album! I want a coffee mug! Whatever they have!” With wrestling, there’s not much! There’s t-shirts, but a lot of them are fucking dumb.
Yeah, they’re bad.
I’m a guy who buys them! You caught me on a rare day when I don’t have a wrestling shirt on. Thankfully the underground shit, Japanese stuff or ROH, they have pretty cool shirts. The WWE ones, which I still will buy, I’m so selective on because like, “oh, that Balor shirt is sick, I wish it didn’t say something stupid on the back!” I have such a hard time buying A.J. Styles shit because it all says “I am Phenomenal” on the back. I don’t want anyone reading that on my back and thinking I’m an asshole! Figures were always the thing! I grew up with a couple older cousins and an older brother and sister, so they had all the LJN stuff. The big rubber original ones! So, I got all those. I was really balls-deep into it as a kid, during the Hasbro era, the little plastic guys. My mom was a collector of all sorts of shit, so she ingrained it in me. “Oh, we gotta find ’em all!” “Yeah, duh, of course we do!” So I always had those.
Throughout my life, my parents didn’t throw away any of my shit. They were those people. When I moved out of my parent’s house when I was 19, my mom gave me a box of youth medium t-shirts. I was like, “are you fucking serious right now? What do you want me to do with this shit?” “Save them!” I don’t need this fuckin’ t-shirt, you know? So I had all this stuff, and every time I’d get rid of some stuff — I have about 25,000 comic books, and that’s cut down, I don’t need Amazing Spiderman #300-#500, it’s all garbage — I’d get rid of things here and there, and I’d always look at my wrestling figures and be like, “man, that’s almost complete. That’s almost a complete set. Lemme hold on to that shit.” I could never part with them, man. I never did. I’ve always enjoyed them. I think that they’re pretty fun.
A couple years ago, I stopped collecting them, when they went to Jakks. LJN were basically the big rubber guys, and Hasbro were the little cartoony guys that came out about our age growing up. Around the beginning of the Attitude Era, they switched to these Jakks figures which are just the grossest-looking toys ever. They looked like garbage. I was around 12 or 13. I still did collect action figures. I’ve always been into action figures in general, Star Wars or Marvel characters, whatever. But at that point I was like, “eh, I’d rather buy a CD or a record.” Nothing was really that cool looking. As I’ve gotten older, in my 20s, I’d start seeing toys, whether it was Marvel or wrestling or Star Wars, and I’d think “yo, that fucking action figure looks awesome. It looks just like that character or that wrestler. They have multiple hands, and switchable heads! What the fuck? Toys sucked when I was growing up!”
Then maybe five or six years ago, I bought this Stone Cold figure. It was pretty hilarious and awesome looking. Then I had to get a Rock, and then it was like, “whoa! Legends! They have a Dusty Rhodes!” Then I just fell back into it. It’s the thing I buy. Not to sound totally fuckin’ conceited, but I don’t pay for much. I get a lot of free records, anytime a band comes through I get a free t-shirt, I go to free shows all the time. I fucking hate buying comic books because I can read a comic book in eight minutes. I’ve gotten into the digital stuff which I fucking love. I don’t want boxes and boxes of things I’m never going to read again, which is basically what comics are. So action figures are really the only thing I buy. I like fuckin’ action figures! I’ll buy Star Wars, like a really cool Darth Vader. I bought a giant Hulk action figure the other day because I work at a tattoo shop next to a comic book store.
Mostly, I just got back into it because they started looking awesome. Like, this is a definitive Ric Flair that I’ve always wanted. Just started doing that by little bit by little bit, and then I recognized that I know the market. I know what’s hot out there. I have all the time in the world, dude, so I can go and find all the rare action figures, pick up all the ones they have, keep one, and then flip the others. Then I get free toys. I just have time to go and hit Toys-R-Us, Target, and Wal-Mart, find the ones that everyone wants, and then I get the ones I want for free, pretty much. I can make some money on the Internet. You gotta make money if you’re making music, some way or another. And then this [gesturing to the custom action figures on his kitchen counter] started fucking popping up. They’re never gonna make a Kenny Omega toy, you know? I sell them for $150. It’s insane.
Forgive my ignorance here, but is there like a Discogs for action figures? How do you get a sense of what the market price for something is?
Ebay. How ’bout this: A.J. Styles, when did he come out? Last January? Two Januaries? Two years. His figure didn’t come out until the end of the year that year, 2016. He debuted in January. He didn’t come out until December. There is a website that just sells wrestling action figures and they’re connected to Mattel. They get shit early. The A.J. Styles pre-order for the figure — I bought one, but it was sold out in a day. I was like, “ahhhhh.” There you go. Obviously, A.J., or a Finn [Balor], or like — right now… I’m trying to think if there’s one off the top of my head I can think of. There’s always one or two coming out, a new guy who hasn’t had a figure yet. Shit like that, I’m always like, “fuck, I better go grab that.” The Internet’s insane. You can check inventory at any store. You gotta know the market. I do know comic books, but I don’t know what’s hot in terms of people collecting. You can think right now, “oh, there’s no Aleister Black figure. People are gonna be losing their mind over that when it comes out.” If you know the thing, you know it. It goes with anything. I just pay attention. It’s a cool way to make money and still have fun, as opposed to back-breaking labor or something.
Are you mostly focused on getting stuff that’s coming out right now?
Pretty much. I don’t buy as many as you’d assume. I have a fuckload. I have more in there [gesturing at a nearby closet] that aren’t displayed. Mostly, I’m missing a couple of the old figures that I really really want, but they’re all at least $300. A couple of them are over $1,000, which I’ll probably never own. But with new ones, I just basically get the definitive one, unless it’s one of my dudes. I buy every A.J. Styles that comes out, and I buy every Finn Balor that comes out. Any Macho Man, Flair, any Piper. There’s two different kinds now — the Basics and the Elites. The Elites have more articulation and stuff, like entrance jackets or whatever. I usually buy the Elites of the guys I want, flip some or make NJPW characters to support my habits. That kind of gets at the art aspect of my being. I do art for a ton of band anyway. I can also paint, so I might as well paint some shit and make some stuff. It’s kinda fun.
When did you get started doing custom figures?
A couple years ago, I really wanted a Great Muta action figure. They’ve made ’em, but they’re like $200. I can’t justify that. You start Googling “custom action figures” — I went to art school, I can paint, I can probably sculpt, how hard can it possibly be? Especially when you start looking at things out there that aren’t that great. There are some dudes out there are amazing at it, but there are some dudes out there… I’ve particularly seen a guy that does a lot of Marvel stuff, he buys figures off the shelf, repaints them, and does a little bit of cool sculpting and sells them for $500 to $600. Like a piece of art. I’m sitting here like, “I can definitely can art better than a lot of these motherfuckers out there.” I just kind of fell into it. I can do this, I can paint. It keeps me out of going to bars all the time and being a shithead degenerate. I sit around and sculpt some hair on some motherfuckers, and paint some trunks, and it’s all good.
So you mostly collect WWE/American stuff?
That’s all there really is, dude. There’s no NJPW figures. I capitalize on NJPW stuff because people want Kenny Omega figures. With a little bit of artistic flair and some thought, it’s pretty easy to put one together. They sell every fucking time for me. I’ve paid my rent the last three months by selling six Kenny Omega figures I made. They cost me $150 total. You can’t really go wrong with that.
That’s fucking wild.
It’s totally crazy. Everyone sits there and is like, “dude, are you painting action figures?” Dude, listen, make fun of it all you want — you can imagine, like I said, what do you collect when you’re a wrestling fan? I know guys who are just wrestling fans, they aren’t action figure dudes, that will still go, “man, I got this Macho Man figure on my desk.” Fuck yeah, of course you do, it’s dope. There’s plenty of people out there who want them. Guys our age grew up with wrestling toys. Now we all have jobs so we can afford to drop something nice. We only want one so we’ll buy it for $150, because it’s more like a piece of art.
Gotcha! Yeah, one of my friends collects specifically bootleg action figures, so I was wondering if there was…
I can get pretty compulsive with any collecting. It’s just who I am. I’ve had to limit what I do with anything I collect, even with records. I have a fuckin’ assload of records out there. I know people who will go to Reckless [popular record store in Chicago] like, “oh, kick ass! A $0.99 ZZ Top record!” I don’t need that. I only buy stuff that I’m going to love. That’s how I look at everything. With comic books, if there’s something where I’m like, “oh, I love that line or series,” I’ll buy the trade. I got the Neurosis box set. I want that. They’re one of my favorite bands. If a new Deftones record is coming out, I’m gonna preorder it, and get the special edition. I’ve been trying to work up the courage to drop $250 on this Master of Puppets box set because I’ll know I want it forever.
I don’t want to buy a new record that I don’t know about it on vinyl, because it might just sit there. Mostly likely I’m not gonna get rid of it, it’s gonna collect dust, and it pains me to think that. I would hate for one of my records to sit on a shelf and collect dust. I’d rather have someone love it and own it. I collect a lot of the WWE stuff I love, and offset everything by making customs. So it’s also work too. You gotta buy stuff that you can use. Seth Rollins figures make great Kenny Omegas. So when a new Seth Rollins figure comes out, I buy like five of them. I throw ’em aside and pop off Kenny Omegas as they come. At the moment, it’s mostly new stuff, and then I’m always looking for these five action figures I need to have complete sets, to relish in the glory of completing some sets.
Is there a figure you’re particularly stoked about, a crown jewel of the collection?
I met Ric Flair a couple years ago, and I got him to autograph one of his Mattel figures. I have a Roddy Piper LJN in the package. Piper’s one of my all times, and that shit reminds me of being a kid and going to Toys-R-Us and buying these giant rubber figures that you can barely play with. There’s a Hulk Hogan from the Hasbro series that was a mail-away. It goes for like $900, and I bought it for $3.95 and a couple UPCs. Those are my crown jewels. There’s a line that came out from Mattel called Defining Moments, which are really rad looking packages. So, like, one figure is Stone Cold when he threw the Rock’s IC title in the river, and he’s got the video camera and the camo jacket. It just looks so rad. I guess I have a lot. My entire collection in general is something I’m proud of.
How often do you keep stuff in box? Does it depend on the figure?
Yeah, pretty much. I keep a lot of those Defining Moments in boxes because they look so nice. It’s like I said, it’s like a piece of art! I can appreciate the craft that goes into it. I’ve purposely bought some stuff — those LJN figures, those original wrestling figures, those things have been really hard to find in good condition. They were the first WWF figures. They’re big rubber figures, so the paint on them just fuckin’ falls off all the time. It’s impossible to find them perfect. Last year, my sister hit me up and she asked, “hey, can you get a quarter of weed for this guy I work with? I just traded him for something for you.” I was like, “what the fuck! Why are you making deals on my end, you asshole?” She was like, “just fucking get a quarter of weed and I’m coming over to your house.” So I got it, and she brought this all over.
[Stavros produces a Rubbermaid storage bin filled with LJN action figures.]
This guy she worked with had all these, and apparently just had them on a shelf, and never did anything with them. He just gave ’em to her. He gave me probably about $3,000 of collectible action figures for $100. Those things have been really hard to come by in really good shape. I had the ones he was missing, though I’m still down two figures on that set, the really expensive ones. I’ve constantly been on tour — there’s a place in London, Ontario, right underneath the venue we always play. It’s a toy shop that always had some of those in there. The dude that owned the shop basically put together a real clean collection and was selling off his extras. Every time I went in there I was like, “oh, I don’t have that one, that one’s nicer than mine, I’ll take that one.”
Those have always been the ones I’ve looked for. Now I’m down to the $300 Andre the Giant and the $500 Sgt. Slaughter… like… [sighs] maybe. There’s also an AWA collection that came out in, I wanna say, in the mid-1980s? I have most of them. There’s a Road Warriors, and Flair, and the Freebirds. There was a third series that had Nord the Barbarian, who was the Berzerker, the Rockers when they were in AWA. I’ve been looking for those too, but some of those go for $1,800. It’s hard to make a decision on what to buy. The older ones are ones I’ve always tried to collect, but I’ve pretty much gotten there.
Coma Noir is out today on Prosthetic Records.