Over the last four decades, WWE’s iconic rivalries have created some of the most significant pieces of memorabilia in sports entertainment history. With the WWE warehouse standing as essentially the lone storage unit for many of these items, a whopping 95 percent of WWE collectibles have gone missing. That is until now, when A&E and WWE partnered to create the “WWE’s Most Wanted Treasures” series, which kicks off Sunday, April 18, at 10 p.m. ET. Throughout the 10-week programming partnership, former NFL player and up-and-coming superstar AJ Francis partners with WWE legends to travel across the country and track down original pieces of history.
“Honestly, there’s a bunch of balls being juggled in the air right now on what the long-term goal is (for tracking down these items),” Francis told Uproxx Sports. “The initial plan was to get all of these items in some form of an exhibit, to be able to bring these to the fans. Now that might be a roving exhibit that travels with Monday Night Raw once the world opens back up, it might be a Hall of Fame, it might be something that they do at the warehouse that hopefully fans can go in and appreciate. To be able to see all of these crazy items (in the warehouse) is sensory overload. If done right, that would be a tourist’s destination for WWE fans.”
On WWE’s mission to “reclaim history one item at a time,” Stephanie McMahon and Triple H offer introductions that highlight the legends featured for each episode. Throughout the series, Francis partners with legends like The Undertaker, Ric Flair, Charlotte Flair, Mick Foley, Kane, Big Show, Booker T and others to track down a variety of items that include Kane’s original mask, Ric Flair’s Butterfly Robe, Andy Kaufman’s neckbrace, Andre The Giant’s passport and more.
After spending countless hours with his childhood heroes, it was difficult for Francis to narrow down just one superstar or item that was memorable to him.
“That’s a trick question,” Francis said. “Ric Flair is the GOAT. There’s never been a better combination of in-ring skill and promo charisma than Ric Flair in the history of the world. The things we look for for him (during the show), trying to track down his robes, those are incredibly detailed pieces of memorabilia. Anyone who happens to come across one of those is the luckiest person on Earth.
“But would I be lying to you if I said the most fun part was kicking it with Kane and Undertaker in the car for three hours, yeah, that was incredible. Spending the afternoon with Jerry Lawler at his house and seeing his memorabilia, that was incredible. To be able to sit down with Booker T and talk about what it takes to be a successful African-American in this business, that was incredible. So there’s not one specific thing, but I am a bit of a Ric Flair mark.”
The first two episodes take Francis and the legends all over the country, traveling anywhere from fans homes to the National Museum of Funeral History and even to the Undertaker’s personal storage unit.
“It was crazy. Every search was different,” Francis said. “Sometimes the legend themselves knew where the item was. Other items, the legend gave the item away 20 years ago and had no idea where it was. Sometimes, it’s common knowledge in the collector community who has the item. Sometimes in the collector community, it’s hush hush and they don’t want to tell anybody who has it. That was what was so interesting to me. This group of collectors, they all talk to each other about who has what and how much are they willing to give something away or trade it for. They all know each other. A lot of (these collectors) are known in the wrestling community or they’re friends with the legends.”
While tracking down each item, the WWE legends occasionally unveil anecdotes that fans may not have known. In the first episode, while Foley explains how he can identify the original Mankind shirt thanks to specific rips and tears sustained during his rivalry with the Undertaker, he reveals that the original Mankind mask was created for the Deadman after he suffered a broken orbital bone. Vince McMahon opted for another mask at the time, but liked the prototype so much he kept it stored away until the right wrestler came along.
It’s that perfect blend of taking traditional wrestling fans on a trip down memory lane, while at the same time offering new fans a history lesson that makes “WWE’s Most Wanted Treasures” such a perfect balance for even the most casual of fans.
Beginning Sunday, April 18, WWE will kick off its programming partnership with A&E with eight original two-hour documentaries under the award-winning “Biography” banner at 8 p.m. ET, followed by the “WWE’s Most Wanted Treasures” series at 10 p.m. ET.