Opening a box of sports cards and finding an autograph is a fairly common occurrence nowadays, as companies have been doing their part to bring signatures of your favorite athletes to fans as conveniently as possible. However, what should be fairly straightforward has become troublesome at times over the last few years. One TNA wrestler was released from their contract after it was found they had “outsourced” the signing of their autographed cards to a family member. Evidence and autograph research against an NHL rookie last season recently determined he may have been stamping the signature on many of his cards, prompting an outcry from collectors and fans alike, and a call for action from the manufacturers of those sets.
Topps has been fairly vigilant with maintaining legitimacy of their UFC autographs. Fighters regularly visit the head office in New York, and take photos signing their cards and stickers. One UFC Fighter has told stories of how he would sit down at his dining room table with a representative from Topps, and they would chat over coffee while he signed his cards for them. In the nearly four years they have been making UFC cards, nothing of their autographs have really come under scrutiny until a recent series of Tweets between Roy Nelson and a fan last month.
Enclosed are the tweets between Nelson and a fan who showed him his collection. The messages are dated September 25, 2012:
@roynelsonmma @MohamedH09 Cool collection, but I have to ask the card in lower left with big country please tell me you didn’t buy off ebay. Not my sign [sic]
@MohamedH09 @roynelsonmma I did, so it’s fake?
@roynelsonmma @MohamedH09 Sorry
@MohamedH09 @roynelsonmma Thanks for letting me know. Ill make sure to ask you about that stuff the next time I buy from ebay.
@roynelsonmma @MohamedH09 Don’t worry it [sic] a problem, Trying to fix it. Topps even forgeries [sic] signatures too. So how are you to know unless you get it direct
Nelson has been particularly careful about his autographs on the secondary market, even going so far as to contact eBay about forgeries earlier this year. He has also said in the past that he has also had just one autograph deal with Topps, which was his Ultimate Fighter autograph from 2009.
Additionally, “Big Country” made sure to individually hand number each autograph he signed to ensure there were no counterfeits. Below is a picture of Nelson’s Ultimate Fighter Autograph, which, as you can see is clearly hand numbered out of 250 copies. This particular copy sold on eBay earlier this month.
The autographs Nelson was directly questioning the authenticity of was the 2011 Topps Moment of Truth autograph. In that set, two variations of the Nelson autograph appeared: One with his full name, and one with his nickname “Big Country.” Both are sticker autographs with no individual numbering, or approximate date of signature. Topps, however, stands by the authenticity of the autograph, as witnessed by the Certificate of Authenticity (COA) on the back. Here is the card in question, along with the certificate of authenticity on the back of the card.
The COA goes on to state the autographs were witnessed directly by Topps. Similar stickers were used for Nelson’s Round 4 Autograph, which was produced in fairly limited quantities and is one of the harder cards from that set to find.
Who is in the right here? Nelson? Topps? It’s hard to question when the fighter himself is stating the autographs are forged, however, Topps is a company that has been in business for the better part of the last century, and collectors and fans alike would be quick to defend that it would be tough for a company to stake the integrity of one of its most famous inserts on a single participant.
Unlocking the answer to this mystery may stretch further back than Nelson’s time in the UFC.
Starting with Topps’ second UFC series in 2009, cards started to surface of fighters using their old style of autograph stickers. These prismatic foil stickers had slowly been phased out for use on a regular basis since Topps’ 2007 and 2008 sports sets. In fact, the autographs in the first Topps UFC series all utilized a different sticker. Unless the design specifically calls for the prismatic style, Topps has been using clear stickers wherever they can since the inaugural set of UFC cards in 2009. While almost all of the athletes in the series 2 set (Jon Jones, Dan Henderson, Georges St-Pierre, etc.) signed clear stickers, fighters like Pat Miletich and Mike Ciesnolevicz had the old style autographs. Other sets featured certain fighters using these stickers as well, adding to the intrigue. Below is a list of fighters with autograph appearances using the old style Topps stickers (ordered by oldest-newest in terms of set release:)
-Pat Miletich – Round 2
-Matt Horwich – Round 2
-Mike Ciesnolevicz – Round 2
-Vladimir Matyushenko – Round 4, Moment of Truth
-Marco Ruas – Knockout 2010
-Chris Horodecki – Title Shot
-Bart Palaszewski – Moment of Truth
Do you notice a trend with those names?
Back in spring of 2007, Topps announced they were going to take their first foray into Mixed Martial Arts trading cards with an International Fight League (IFL) set. The set would feature current stars and coaches of the IFL for that campaign. Autographs and memorabilia of the fighters would be made available on those cards, and was set to be the first major dedicated MMA release for North American audiences. Before the set could be completed, however, the IFL ceased operations and all the work Topps had done to date had to be scrapped. All that remains of those IFL sets are the press announcements, and a set of promo cards which are now rare, and demand a significant premium when they appear on the secondary market.
All of the fighters listed above were with the IFL at the time, as was Nelson. In fact, in that same Moment of Truth set, Vladimir Matyushenko’s autograph stickers have partial, or full signatures of his first name, which he has not done with his clear sticker Topps deals. He has been signing “VMAT” or, at best “V MATYUSHENKO” in his other UFC deals. Here is an example of a Matyushenko’s Moment of Truth card with this old style autograph.
Would it be reasonable to think, as a result, that with all this evidence, Nelson’s UFC Round 4 and Moment of Truth autographs are leftover stickers from a potential IFL autograph deal from 2007, and that Topps was using them to simply make the most of their investment years ago?
You be the judge.
PHOTO CREDITS – EBAY, JEROME TAYLOR