Several weeks ago, on #WrestlingCardWednesday, I posted a picture of a wrestling card I received from a group break of a box of 1998 BBM wrestling cards.
It was an Antonio Inoki Super Bouts insert, from a set that features Inoki in battle with a different blacked out opponent on each card. I would have had no idea who the other wrestler on this card was, but according to WrestlingTradingCards.com, Inoki’s opponent was Hulk Hogan.
I thought this was a cool and unique card, so I posted it on X, then I received a reply from Richard Velligan (@rvelligan), who said, “Rub your hands together to create some heat and place on the card, the image will appear.” At first, I thought that maybe he was joking, but when I got home, I tried it. Well, my hands weren’t warm enough to change anything, but then I decided to use my partner’s hairdryer, and voila, Hulk Hogan magically appeared!
Wow, my hands weren't warm enough, but the hair dryer worked like magic! pic.twitter.com/V7UMIyN5YK
— Josh Olsen (@_WorkingStiff) November 8, 2023
As it turns out, Velligan is a bit of a Japanese wrestling card scholar, and he’s the author of the Japanese Pro Wrestling Trading Card Almanac, a book that collects the checklists of Japanese wrestling cards from 1974-2022.
Velligan was born and raised in Hammond, Indiana, a 30-minute drive from downtown Chicago. He’s an Operations Manager for NAPA Auto Parts for the City of Chicago, where they supply the parts for the city’s fleet of police, fire, garbage, and plow trucks. Like so many of us, Velligan became a wrestling fan in the mid 1980s. He remembers watching WWF Superstars and NWA on TBS on Saturdays. “Watching athletic super humans doing unhuman things is what drew me in,” said Velligan.
He always had an appreciation for Japanese wrestling as a kid, when he would watch Pro Wrestling This Week with Gordie Solie and Joe Pedicino, and he remembers they would show a clip of NJPW on their weekly show. This introduced him to Antonio Inoki, Riki Choshu, Tatsumi Fujinami, and others.
But while many people are fans of Japanese wrestling, relatively few go on to write books about it, especially a unique almanac of Japanese wrestling cards.
“As a card collector,” Velligan began, “I started watching more Japanese wrestling, which gravitated me toward cards. After buying cards for a few years, I asked around if there was a price guide/book for wrestling cards available in Japan. Sports Card Magazine (SCM) would have articles and a price guide for the new cards released, but nothing after the initial listing.”
Velligan took a chance that other collectors would want this information and started what would evolve into the almanac.
The Japanese Pro Wrestling Trading Card Almanac is a thick book, 300 pages, consisting of Japanese wrestling card checklists from 1974-2022, and the process for researching and creating such a book was a time consuming labor of love. Velligan said that his initial research comprised of making a list of known Japanese card sets.
“Luckily, I was able to find a few checklists online at JoshiCity.com, and a few older ones on sports card forums. The almanac started to really take shape as the world went into lockdown during COVID,” he said. This allowed Velligan to dedicate two to fours hours a day for translating and searching Japanese websites for articles and images.
“Google translate became my best friend during the research process. Copy and paste to look up names and trading cards. There are times when the translations wouldn’t make sense, so I received assistance from a couple of people, who are thanked in the almanac. I speak zero Japanese, but I can identify a word or two thanks to all the research.”
Velligan said his favorite Japanese wrestling card that he owns is a signed 1997 BBM Pro Wrestling Antonio Inoki. “My grail card,” he added, “is the 2002 Bandai New Japan Pro Wrestling Autograph card of Antonio Inoki. It is unconfirmed that only 10 cards were signed. It is his only certified autograph inserted in packs.”
His favorite set of Japanese wrestling cards is 1995 BBM Pro Wrestling. “I compare it to the 1989 Upper Deck Baseball set. It is the start of the modern era of Japanese wrestling cards.”
I would be remiss to not mention that Japanese wrestling cards isn’t Velligan’s only passion. He is also a hockey fan, dating back to his youth, and he loves the Chicago Blackhawks fan.
“My collecting focus changed after Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews’ rookie year. Their cards were too pricey, so I decided to collect a rookie for my second favorite team, the Colorado Avalanche,” he said. Velligan wanted to buy Matt Duchene rookie cards, however they were out of his price range during his rookie year, but Ryan O’Reilly made the team out of training camp and this started his player collection of O’Reilly that still exists to this day.
“Hockey and wrestling cards are very similar. The prices haven’t exploded like the other sports,” said Velligan. “There are die-hard collectors for individuals in both sports. Most people involved in the respective sports are down to earth and make collecting their cards fun.”
One thing’s for certain, Velligan has helped make collecting Japanese wrestling cards more fun and accessible to a wider audience, by collecting the checklists in one book, and translating them into English in the Japanese Pro Wrestling Trading Card Almanac. Velligan said he started working on the next edition while the first one was at the printer. His goal is to have the second edition ready and printed by summer 2025, and he’s “toying with the idea” of a potential PDF version (1.5 edition) in 2024.