Hulk Hogan. Steve Austin. D-Generation X. The nWo. What do they all have in common? All of them generated huge merchandise sales. Also, unfortunately for Vince McMahon, none of these entities were wrestling in the WWF in 1995. So what could a promoter do when none of his stars were exactly raking in the cash at the merch stand?
Well, for one thing, he could hire an annoying pitchman to do a hard sell each and every show!
Enter Barry Didinski, the so-called Mayor of Merchandise (probably because “Sheriff of Shill” was too brutally honest).
Every Monday night and Saturday afternoon, Barry would not only try to shove the WWF’s crappy merchandise down viewers’ throats like a Ted DiBiase dollar bill, but he’d do it right damn there at ringside.
And what merchandise it was! For some reason, the WWF was really into gaudy t-shirts with the wrestlers’ faces plastered all over the damned things, assuring that the gear would be unwearable in public. Listening to Barry Didinsky pitch these things, you’d think every wrestling fan wanted Razor Ramon or Bret Hart “all over” them.
Is it any wonder that the two best-selling wrestling shirts would take a minimalist approach?
If a hideous shirt weren’t enough to get you dialling 1-800-TITAN-91, Barry would try to sweeten the deal with a “free” Lawrence Taylor poster thrown in for good measure. Hey, an LT poster doesn’t sound so bad, you might be thinking, until you realize that this was an LT wrestling poster commemorating his Wrestlemania XI match with Bam Bam Bigelow. And it was designed to look like a WWF Magazine.
And just to add insult to injury, Didinsky would offer a box of Stridex pads with your purchase.
Apparently, an ugly shirt was just the distraction the typical WWF viewer needed to draw attention away from his pimply face. And hey, it’s even got targets all over it so the bullies would know just where to punch you!
You’ve got to wonder who exactly was Barry’s target audience with deals like this. Clearly, someone old enough to appreciate Lawrence Taylor’s career and own a credit card, but young enough to need acne wipes and to wear, say, Adam Bomb’s face and chest as a fashion statement.
WWF seemed to be trying to hit any demographic it could, which might explain why all the kid-oriented Federation gear was available in sizes up to extra large, and of course, Double XL. That, and the occasional “one-size-fits-all” option, might also explain the oversized shirts all the preteen girls wore as they cheered on Shawn Michaels’s latest striptease.
Some of this junk even tried to double as a reference book, like this Bret Hart tee full of factoids that are sure to entertain and educate the guy waiting behind you in line to see Batman Forever.
I mean, if I wanted an encyclopedia on Bret Hart, I’d buy the Hitman’s autobiography (which, for the record, I did).
Barry was dubbed, “The Monty Hall of the WWF,” which was highly appropriate, because, like the “Let’s Make a Deal” host, Didinsky made people dress up like morons just to get on TV.
For instance, there was this collection that incurred fines from the FCC for exceeding the limit on denim allowed on screen at any one time.
It’s hard to believe Undertaker never wore this jacket during his “American Bad Ass” days, huh?
At one point, a human female model assisted Barry, but Didinsky, a full-grown man, took it upon himself to be the one to wear not only these heart-shaped HBK glasses…
…but also this red-and-pink number with a bare-chested Shawn Michaels leaning over for some pillow talk. I suppose this shirt would have come in handy when having a serious talk with Mom and Dad, who would be too confused about who exactly “The Heartbreak Kid” was to even fully process the fact that they’d never have grandkids.
But at least someone bought those HBK specs, perhaps hoping that Shawn was a fan of a demographic I like to call, “MINLFs.”
Then there was the “Mad Capper,” Barry’s “tag team partner” against the Smoking Gunns, who was either a huge fan of the Mad Caps milk cap game or, as I like to believe, simply left out an “r” in his nickname.
Mad Caps, as you may have guessed, was a knock-off of the popular 90s fad, Pogs, and boy did Barry think they were the best thing since sliced bread!
In fact, the only thing better than Mad Caps (and, I suppose, sliced bread) was unsliced Mad Caps! Barry was always trying to pass off this sheet of uncut cardboard circles (along with the precious 18 karat slammer) as some kind of valuable collector’s item, which it better have been, since by design it was impossible to play with.
But don’t think it was just t-shirts, cardboard, and zit care products that Barry was hawking. There was also this official WWF backpack, which looked too small to hold the books of anyone but a grade-schooler…
…but for some reason came with more Stridex pads, I guess for all those seven-year-olds and their break-outs.
There was no mystery about why it came packed with a free “Big Daddy Cooler” lunch bag, though. Clearly, someone at Titan Towers had come up with a play on Kevin Nash’s nickname and commissioned thousands of these bags before realizing that no one would ever, ever order one without it being given away for free.
Still, Diesel puns aside, the most unmistakably “1995” of all the WWF’s bound-for-impoverished-Africa-as-a-tax-write-off clothing that Barry pitched on TV would have to be the In Your House t-shirts. These shirts came emblazoned with Diesel and Sid’s faces and the exact date the customer proved mentally incompetent to continue having a credit card in his or her name.
As if it weren’t bad enough having Todd Pettengill try to sell you on buying an off-month 1995 pay-per-view…
…Barry was trying to squeeze an extra 16 bucks out of you for a commemorative t-shirt, which in today’s money comes out to more than 24 dollars. And besides, the crappy pay-per-view only cost $14.95 to begin with!
The first In Your House shirt proved so popular, claimed Barry, that he started selling the next batch before the show even aired. People can’t be wearing out-of-date duds, and after all, no one wearing a shirt advertising a shirtless man and a guy in only a leather vest in something called a “lumberjack match” would want to get ridiculed by people on the streets.
And what Savio Vega fan could say no to a King of the Ring 1995 shirt?
By the end of 1995, Barry had stopped loitering in the aisles of WWF Superstars and Monday Night Raw before he even got a chance to promote the commemorative Hog Pen Match blazer. Somehow, the World Wrestling Federation got along just fine without him. So what is our friend Barry up to these days? Why, professional poker!
And really, could you think of a better profession for the Mayor of Merchandise? Anyone who could feign enthusiasm for a Bob Backlund for President pin…
…pretend like cardboard cut-outs of The Undertaker and Diesel weren’t the most impractical and useless decorations imaginable to have around the house…
…act completely oblivious to the pot shots the announcers took whenever he was introduced, and hype up without a trace of irony the kind of tacky garbage the WWF was pumping out in 1995…
…surely has poker face worthy of the tables of Las Vegas.