A couple months ago, SLAM! Wrestling reported that Topps and WWE had signed a new trading card agreement. Now, we’re able to tell you about the first product to hit store shelves — WWE Heritage.

The new set debuted in late 2005 to an audience of collectors and wrestling fans who were intrigued as to what Topps had in store for a community abandoned during Fleer’s disappearance from the industry. While Topps didn’t quite earn the World Title with their first outing, they certainly did get a good pop coming out of the dressing room.

For those not familiar with the brand, Heritage has been a strong name for the sports and entertainment company for the past few years. Capitalizing on the retro trend, Heritage combines the appeal of yesteryear designs and stock with modern photography and collectible elements. Oh yeah, and there’s also a piece of bubble gum in every pack.

This product borrows design elements from a couple different products Topps offered in the ’50s and ’60s. However, they are elements from baseball and football, rather than the ring wars. Hopefully, the ever popular 80s WWF sets will become part of future Heritage sets.

Hulk Hogan’s card from WWE Heritage

While the designs may not be authentic to wrestling, they are definitely eye-catching. WWE Superstar and WWE Legends cards use two photos, generally a combination of studio shots and action pics, while the Divas cards are from the wide variety of shoots the femme fatales have done over the last couple years. In all cases, the quality has to be applauded.

The backs of the cards are a bit closer to the ’80s style of wrestling cards. Each wrestler has a strong biography, which, given the lack of history referenced on WWE TV today, is incredibly detailed. For example, Christian’s card notes that he won the WWE Light Heavyweight Title in his first match in 1998, while Godfather’s piece states that he’s a former Intercontinental Champion.

While this element of the set is strong, the wrestler selection is somewhat weak. While there are a variety of wrestlers who certainly deserve to be in the set, you could probably count the number of people looking for Orlando Jordan’s card without taking off your boots. Of course, WWE only has so many wrestlers to work with, but 10 profile cards could have easily been replaced with “action” cards that were a signature of Topps, again, back in the ’80s. Working with a 90-card set, there certainly is room for creativity.

Along with the base set, Topps has included three inserts for collectors to hunt down. First off is the 10-piece sticker set. These cards, which generally come 10 in a box, have a good retro appeal and make for a very easy set to put together. The head-and-shoulder format is also a fun throwback to the magazine cut-outs one would put on lockers as a school-bound youth.

Another insert is the Ringside Relics set. These cards include a swatch of either event-worn shirts (hobby) or event-used wrestling mat (retail). While the mat cards are a good chase, the shirt cards really leave something to be desired. In the sports world, this would be the equivalent of a practice jersey in hockey or a warm-up suit in basketball, and neither piece has ever been popular. There’s no reason why WWE couldn’t have given a pair of trunks from Shawn Michaels or John Cena’s jeans for Topps to use. Heck, why not a piece of table from ECW One Night Stand?

While the memorabilia cards have their faults, there’s absolutely nothing bad to say about the autograph collection. Topps has done a spectacular job with the television elements of these cards, long considered to be among the best designs Topps has ever done in the hobby. The autographs, primarily of past grapplers, are well done and in some cases extremely hard to find. While you will get one autograph in every two boxes (on average), you’ll have to bust quite a few boxes to get the rarest autograph, that of 2004 Diva Search Winner Christy Hemme, whose signature is only in one of every 1,574 packs.

Overall, Topps has put together a fun set for its first effort. While the next series has yet to be announced, there will likely be a variety of new sets in 2006.

Rating: 3.5/5

Product Breakdown:
Cards/pack ? 5 (with one stick of bubblegum/pack)
Packs/box ? 24
Expected cards/box ? 120

Insert Odds (hobby boxes):
Stickers: 1:4
Ringside Relics: 1:17 (individual card odds range from 1:70 to 1:196)
Autographs: 1:36 (individual card odds range from 1:510 to 1:1,574)

What SLAM! Pulled
1 90-card base set, 20 doubles
6 Stickers (Hogan, Rock, Michaels, Triple H, Wilson, Hemme)
1 Ringside Relic (Triple H)
1 Autograph (Iron Shiek)