Comparatively speaking, the wrestling warriors of the World Wrestling Federation were a rather tame and normal bunch compared to a small arm of rubbery beasts known simply as M.U.S.C.L.E. (Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere). Adorned with such odd features as fins, snakeheads, horns, fur and teacup shaped heads, these little guys made a big splash on the toy market, one that continues to this day.
Released in the U.S. in 1985, M.U.S.C.L.E. consisted of a series of 256 individual 2” wrestling figures made from PVC gum. They were based on a Japanese toy line called kinkeshi, which were based on an anime series called Kinnikuman. The leader of the group, also known as Kinnikuman, was renamed Muscle Man in the American version and led a group called the Thug Busters. His arch nemesis was Buffaloman, who was also renamed for American markets. Now known as Terri-Bull, he was the leader of the opposing Cosmic Crunchers. They were the only figures with names. For the remaining 254, it was up to the owner to name the characters, which led kids to come up with more than a few amusing descriptive monikers of their own. Also undetermined were which side of good and evil each figure resided. Was “Finhead” a good guy? That was entirely up to you.
Each figure was originally shipped without any coloring whatsoever and instead was offered in the same monochromatic pinkish flesh tone. Later shipments were more colorful, a mixture of flesh tone and either dark blue, purple or red. Later, the flesh color was eliminated and an assorted palette of new colors emerged, including magenta, lime green, salmon and neon orange.
A number of accessories were released to accompany the M.U.S.C.L.E. figures. The centerpiece was the Hard Knockin’ Rockin’ Ring, where the most treacherous battles took place. Each warrior was held in place by a plastic clamp while they engaged in battle and the first to be knocked loose from this clamp was deemed the loser of the match. A carrying case complete with championship belt was also released, as was a board game that utilized the diminutive wrestlers. In 2003, larger versions of the figures were released, now standing a towering 6.5” tall and fully articulated.
The overwhelming appeal of M.U.S.C.L.E. was due, in large part, to their reasonable price. What Micro Machines had done to the toy car market, M.U.S.C.L.E. achieved for action figures. While those WWF figures such as Andre the Giant would cost a whole five bucks, you could get four M.U.S.C.L.E. figures for a total sum of 99 cents. You figure out which was easier to convince mom to purchase. Besides the random 4-packs, they were also available in a plastic garbage can that held 10 figures, or 24-piece boxed sets.
And while the era of the original little figures officially ended in 1988, that wasn’t the end of their predecessor, Kinnikuman, which is still popular in Japan to this day. A Saturday morning show that aired in Japan in 2002 eventually made it to American airwaves in the summer of 2006, under the name Ultimate Muscle. A collectable card game was also released called the Ultimate Muscle Battle Card Game. And the overwhelming popularity of this particular group of warriors is likely to continue for many years to come. Take that, Hulk Hogan!
If you owned a collection of these prolific toys in your youth, we welcome all of your memories in our comments section, as we tip our hats to these memorable toys from the 80s.