Thursday, 26 February 2015

WrestleMania XXVI

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 487 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: July 5 2010

The year 2010 was a bit of an anti-climax in the world of wrestling. TNA signed up many big names and attempted to relive The Monday Night War by going head-to-head with WWE, which could have potentially led to another boom period. Instead, TNA's lack of creativity meant that the Raw-iMPACT feud lasted mere weeks, and TNA has declined in importance ever since.

Meanwhile, in WWE itself, key storylines were a bit bungled, many big names left, and whilst it wasn't a terrible year of 2004 levels, it was the weakest annum in WWE since then, and business reflected this.

Partly due to this, some forget about the top event of 2010, WrestleMania XXVI. I attended this so, yes, I'm biased, but WM 26 is somewhat overlooked in the annals of Mania history. Yet beforehand the line-up promises what could have been the best WM of all-time and whilst it did misfire in some places, when re-watching the event on DVD it is by no means a bad show; it is probably the most underrated Mania to date.

Held on March 28, 2010 at the University Of Phoenix Stadium, WM XXVI opened with a brief Unified Tag Title match between ShowMiz and the team of R-Truth and John Morrison (well, the first match was actually a 26-man battle royal; it was on and is here on the DVD, but was not broadcast on the Pay-Per-View).

The second match is the first of what, beforehand, seemed like a selection of EIGHT bouts that either featured main event talent or were very important. Randy Orton battled Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes as Legacy implodes in a match that may be Orton's least memorable at WM, but only because most of the others were more high-profile. Match 3 is Money In The Bank VI, a ten-man affair with several notable spots, although at the time the sight from which one took memory of this was Jack Swagger's very long attempt to unhook the MITB briefcase (this is shortened for DVD). Both matches should be more fondly remembered than they are.

As should Triple H vs. Sheamus, which is a really good collision that began to justify the then-new Celtic Warrior's headline spot (a Sheamus win would have been more effective to emphasise this). Next is Rey Mysterio vs. CM Punk, a fun little match that would be more memorable had it lasted another few minutes; it felt like filler, but could have been a big match in its own right.

Then came Bret Hart vs. Vince McMahon, which is somewhat of a controversial presentation. Bret's return to WWE had been anticipated for years, and Vince was a natural foe. Their feud started great, but faltered a bit as it went on; however, come Mania day, it was still an eagerly awaited clash as fans wanted to see Bret finally get revenge on McMahon for the Montreal Screwjob.

Bret did gain retribution; however, the beat-down was long-winded and at times unnecessarily vicious, and for legal reasons relating to Hart's health, Vince didn't lay one finger on Bret (plus, Hart family members including The Hart Dynasty pummelled Vince too, meaning about a dozen or more babyfaces were destroying one heel). The booking and execution were not the best, leading some to say this was one of the worst WM matches ever - but let's put things into perspective.

This was Bret's first match since 2000 due to a concussion and later a stroke, and even Vince was 64. Who honestly expected a classic match here? Fans were watching this one to see Bret destroy Vince, and that's what happened. Okay, so it lasted a bit too long and maybe 18 chairshots was excessive, but had the same scene occurred at, say, WM 22 in Chicago, it would have been lapped up. I think it was a case of the right idea where the layout was a bit off, at a time when the crowd would be less accepting of the moment. Overall, nowhere near a classic, but did it deliver the payoff? Yes.

Edge and Chris Jericho follow that with a World Title scrap. It's a good match but slightly less than what people had hoped for, and with Edge surprisingly losing. His post-match attack didn't really make up for it, either. And since Jack Swagger would cash in MITB on Y2J after another Edge attack on the following SmackDown, why didn't he just do it here after a more severe beatdown, on the grandest stage of them all?

A short ten-Divas bout precedes an underrated WWE Title match between John Cena and Batista. Whilst this isn't amongst the best championship bouts in WM history, it deserves more praise than it has received and, if nothing else, has a better atmosphere than the title bouts at Mania the year before and the year after as Cena becomes a 9-time Champ.

Which brings us to the main event: The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels, Streak vs. Career. This was a rematch of their classic WM 25 bout, and was set up brilliantly with a months-long storyline where HBK was determined to have another chance at ending The Streak, even if it meant the risk of his own career ending.

This had a very high standard to live up to - and it did and then some in what may have been the greatest WrestleMania main event of all-time. There were plenty of big moves, and the No DQ rules meant more major spots, including Shawn's utterly insane top rope moonsault onto Taker and through the announcer's table.

But what makes this stand out from the original was the drama and emotion of the stipulation: it is an incredible moment as Taker is reluctant to Tombstone HBK into retirement for the win, only for Michaels to mock and slap Taker, which sees an angered UT respond with a huge jumping Tombstone for the win. Undertaker goes 18-0: Shawn Michaels' career is over after an absolutely phenomenal match. The post-match embrace and Shawn's farewell to the fans wrap up an unforgettable match presentation, and end WM 26 with a very memorable WrestleMania moment.

The DVD set loses a bit of steam on the Hall Of Fame 2010 section. The ceremony is here in full, and is entertaining enough (the inductees are Mad Dog Vachon, Wendi Richter, Stu Hart, Antonio Inoki, Bob Uecker - the celebrity inductee whose speech is hilarious - Gorgeous George and star inductee Ted DiBiase), but the remaining extras consist of a match or footage of each. A good theory on paper, but as all wrestlers besides DiBiase are very old-school, most bouts fail to leave an impression. DiBiase's WM 6 clash with Jake Roberts is the most recent, and even that suffers via the absence of Jesse Ventura's commentary.

On the whole, then, the DVD set of WrestleMania 26 is like the year in which the show took place. There are big moments and a true classic, but what should shine brightly are slightly underwhelming, leaving some parts which are deserving of greater praise to be ignored. That being said, I still recommend this set: it's an underrated Mania which should keep you entertained for most of its duration, and you should get a kick out of the HOF ceremony. Just don't expect a lot from the bonus matches involving the HOF inductees.

Overall Rating: 8/10 - Very Good

The Ladder Match

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 539 Minutes
Certificate: 18
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: September 17 2007

Prior to this release, match compilations of specific stipulations had been rare. The Ladder Match began a successful series of format-based DVDs, but it also set a very high bar (no pun intended); The Ladder Match is all about action, and this release is one of the best WWE DVDs ever.

Beginning with a Stampede Wrestling bout between Jake Roberts and Big Daddy Ritter (Junkyard Dog), the first WWF/WWE bout is Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels from 1992 (originally released on a 1993 video called Smack 'Em Whack 'Em). The landmark Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon match from WrestleMania X is surprisingly not here (it would be on the sequel), but their SummerSlam 1995 rematch is featured and is a classic in its own right. We then see Triple H and The Rock put on their best match to date at the time at SummerSlam 1998.

Although the match quality has been high so far, the next bout is where the compilation truly begins. Edge & Christian vs. The Hardy Boyz from No Mercy 1999 was an unbelievable stunt match which changed the stipulation and tag team wrestling forever. Their hostilities increased when The Dudley Boyz joined the feud: whilst the Triangle Ladder Match from WM 2000 isn't here, their two TLC bouts from SummerSlam 2000 and WrestleMania X-Seven are featured and are all-time classic stunt wars. In between is WCW's answer, a three-team Ladder bout from Starrcade 2000 which is pretty exciting in its own right, and a Chris Jericho-Chris Benoit match from Royal Rumble 2001.

TLC 3 from a 2001 SmackDown! is slightly less spectacular but a worthy addition nonetheless. From there, we get singles bouts between Edge and Christian (No Mercy 2001), Rob Van Dam and Eddie Guerrero and The Undertaker and Jeff Hardy (both from Raw episodes in 2002; the latter bout is very dramatic), and Chris Jericho and Christian (Unforgiven 2004). Mixed within those scraps is TLC 4 from the original Raw Roulette in 2002, a seven-person production of chaos and major moves which still stands as one of the best Raw matches ever.

Disc 3 begins the modern era of the stipulation with the original Money In The Bank match, a superb platform to not only showcase spectacular stunts (step forward Shelton Benjamin) but to also provide an opportunity to launch main event careers (in this case, Edge). We then get good-to-great singles bouts between Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio, Edge and Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy and Johnny Nitro. There are also Edge's two 2006 TLC bouts against Ric Flair and John Cena, and the compilation-ending four-team Ladder match from Armageddon 2006, a tremendous collision overshadowed by a very gruesome injury to Joey Mercury.

At the time, only the aforementioned omissions and two subsequent MITB clashes were missing, making this a more than worthy round-up of classic Ladder and TLC matches (and subsequent DVDs would handle almost all absentees from this release). This is all about the stunts, the drama, the carnage, the "OMG!" moments - in short, The Ladder Match is all about capturing the elements that have made Ladder and TLC bouts so exciting, from the E&C-Hardyz-Dudleyz series to Money In The Bank, and the DVD definitely excels at that.

The DVD needed the WM X and, to a lesser extent, the WM 2000 bouts and later MITB showdowns to be truly complete but, even without those matches, this is a brilliant wrestling DVD which rarely has a dull moment across its entire running time. If you don't already own The Ladder Match, buy it today!

Overall Rating: 9.5/10 - Classic

Monday, 23 February 2015

The Best Of Raw & SmackDown 2013

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 451 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: March 10 2014

The WWE DVD series on the annual highlights of its flagship shows has been less impactful as the years have rolled on. What began as a 3-disc DVD for each show led to the two shows sharing a 4-disc DVD, then a 3-disc release. And even the amount of content has lessened, so while the 2013 edition captures big moments and matches, it is the weakest entry so far largely due to its shortish running time.

Just over a dozen bouts are here, compared to more than 25 for the 2012 DVD. There are some very good matches: CM Punk vs. Ryback under TLC rules was better than I had remembered it being; Alberto Del Rio vs. Big Show is an enjoyable World Title Last Man Standing clash; and John Cena vs. Punk for the WM 29 WWE Title shot was one of the top Raw bouts of the year (although those who consider it one of the best WWE matches ever are exaggerating way too much).

Into the spring, a basic handicap match leads to Dolph Ziggler's MITB cash-in bout which almost blows the roof off the Izod Center; The Shield's 6-man against The Undertaker and Team Hell No is a PPV-quality collision; and a bit later on, the Hounds Of Justice have enjoyable meetings with other teams such as Cody Rhodes & Goldust and the team of Bryan and Punk. Other good matches are here, the standouts being Randy Orton vs. Rob Van Dam and Cena, Goldust & Cody against The Real Americans and Damien Sandow.

Some important segments are here too, including Brock Lesnar returning to F5 Vince McMahon; the Cena-Rock point-counterpoint from Old School Raw; a match/segment to show the Fandango craze; and Mark Henry's brilliantly-performed fake retirement speech. Other notable segments are Cody kidnapping Sandow's MITB briefcase, Big Show knocking out Triple H and the Championship Ascension ceremony from the 2013 Slammys Raw.

Now, there are some other matches and segments, and the Blu-ray does have some more material. However, for a DVD that is covering the first full year of weekly 3-hour Raws plus 52 SmackDowns, the amount of potential bouts and angles which aren't here is staggering. Sure, the main highlights are here, but consider this: some months are represented by one match or segment from one show. Several feuds are only partially referred to, including The Undertaker vs. CM Punk, whilst others are completely ignored, including John Cena vs. Ryback and, in the big glaring omission, CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar/Paul Heyman. The latter feud lasted over four months and dominated TV, plus it gave us one of the best two matches of 2013 in Punk-Lesnar at SummerSlam (the other true classic was Punk-Taker at WM XXIX), and yet it isn't referenced here at all.

On a similar point, previous DVDs would at least inform viewers how stories played out. A new viewer wouldn't know how CM Punk's 434-day WWE Title reign ended, nor would they know if John Cena got his redemption against The Rock at WM. Most notably, nothing is here to explain how The Authority formed at SummerSlam and on the following Raw, which was the lead story line for the last 4 1/2 months on TV and still is to this day, 18 months on from when the whole plot-line began. Even a short recap by the host with one clip over the audio would be better than nothing at all.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, releases (then on video for the benefit of those who remember cassettes) recapping the year of TV storylines would last no more than 90 minutes and had very few complete matches, and yet they did a much better job of summing up what happened than the modern DVDs of much greater length, particularly this one. Perhaps more DVD-specific segments should be used in future to quickly show major plot occurrences or other notable wrestlers or moments; aside from what has already been covered, we also don't see The Rock concert (and his hilarious 'tribute' to Vickie Guerrero'), the much-hyped debut of The Wyatt Family or Damien Sandow cashing in Money In The Bank (albeit unsuccessfully). And, as stated, there are far fewer matches here for unknown reasons (the running time is definitely one; it is around 90 minutes shorter than the Best Of release for Raw alone in 2009).

None of these complaints make the DVD a bad one; there are plenty of good matches and enjoyable segments, and the majority of key stories or events are featured or referenced in some way. But the release does have a lot of flaws, largely in terms of absent content, so whilst The Best Of Raw & SmackDown 2013 is worth watching, it is not be the extensive story of the year on WWE TV that fans will have expected.

Overall Rating: 6/10 - Reasonable

Thursday, 19 February 2015

WrestleMania XXVII

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 517 Minutes
Certificate: 12
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: July 4 2011

WrestleMania XXVII on DVD is a bit unusual. It includes a Mania which was built up like any other but, when the show was over, felt like a set-up event; a Hall Of Fame ceremony which is as good as can be expected; and a selection of extras which, while entertaining, feel surreal and are a bit restricted, as I will explain. That all being said, there is just about enough engaging content here that one should still find this an entertaining overall package, which I will now go in-depth on.

WM 27 opens with a promo by guest host The Rock. It is okay but not one of Rock's most memorable segments, and although he was the host, at the time it still felt odd to open a Mania with a promo. (This must have annoyed Sheamus and Daniel Bryan; their scheduled bout was moved to the pre-show and whilst it is here as a DVD extra, the booking of this match on a stage like Mania, even if it technically wasn't a WM match, is incomprehensible). In the ring, the opening match made even less sense at the time: a World Title match between Edge and Alberto Del Rio. It is a pretty good if underrated match, as Edge defeats ADR to retain the gold. Eight days later, Edge announced that due to a neck injury his career had ended; had this information been more obvious before WM, chances are that this match would have been a much more memorable WrestleMania moment.

Match two sees Cody Rhodes defeat Rey Mysterio; this is another under-appreciated bout which, at the time, felt like a star-maker for Rhodes. The following match is an incredibly rushed eight-man tag; it would take me longer to write the names of all the participants than to actually watch it (just know that it ends with a Big Show KO of Heath Slater). Next up, Randy Orton meets CM Punk in an eagerly-anticipated clash. Something about this felt a bit reserved, as if something was missing; had this one happened at WM 28 or WM 29, when Punk was more established as a main eventer, I feel it would have been greeted more warmly and generally been more exciting. That said, this is still a strong bout with a superb finish via an RKO on a mid-air Punk.

Match five is Jerry Lawler vs. Michael Cole. For a showdown between two announcers, this was built-up as if it was a massive grudge match (which it was, but Cole isn't a trained wrestler). It isn't a pointless viewing experience - special referee Stone Cold is entertaining as usual, and the match has some notable spots - but the end result of Cole winning by DQ at a WM (and Lawler had waited so long for a Mania match, and probably won't get another one) still stands as an unfathomable outcome. Sure, it set up Lawler's revenge at a later date, but were the extra few weeks of conflict really worth souring what would have been a perfectly acceptable WM moment for The King?

The semi-final is a six-person mixed-tag, again a bit rushed, which in retrospect was remembered more for John Morrison ignoring Trish Stratus (his own partner, and on a live broadcast of a WrestleMania!) in a misguided protest at her appearing to promote Tough Enough rather than a full-time Diva (i.e. his girlfriend Melina). The WWE Title main event between The Miz and John Cena is decent, but is let down by a poor double countout decision, and Rock restarting the bout so he could take out Cena and then beating up Mix after his win seemed bizarre. Surely, there was a better way to set up Rock-Cena than this, and one that didn't make the biggest show of 2011 feel like a set-up event for the 2012 installment. It was also hard to believe at the time, and even harder to believe in hindsight, that The Miz actually main evented WrestleMania - and won!

Now onto the Hall ... Hold on. I forgot to mention one match. Well, actually, I intentionally haven't listed it yet, because it illustrates that if you take that bout away, WM 27 was okay in the ring but flawed in a number of ways. Had the card consisted of the above seven matches only, if would not be remembered that fondly.
Fortunately, it was saved by what on the night was match 6: The Undertaker vs. Triple H, No Holds Barred. I literally couldn't wait for this match, partly because I genuinely felt that The Streak would end here. It was a point in Taker's career where you began to wonder how many big matches he had left in him. Perhaps this would be his last stand - and for the hype to suggest HHH had nothing left to achieve besides ending The Streak, the suggestion that there could only be one "Last Outlaw", and the fact that The Game was looking to prove wrong the doubters (including Shawn Michaels) who believed he simply couldn't do it, all suggested a potentially historic match.

They rumbled for over 30 minutes in an incredibly epic clash. It was less about wrestling than some would have desired, but it told an amazing story of a valiant warrior in Taker, erm, taking everything HHH had to offer, and the punishment clearly taking its toll on him, but he still refused to give up. The Tombstone by HHH is the closest I ever thought anyone had come to giving UT that first WM loss - and for Undertaker to kick out of that resulted in an almighty crowd pop. Moments later, Taker sealed victory by submission with Hell's Gate - but he had paid the price for keeping his Streak alive. He appeared to be in agony (I genuinely thought he was hurt), and he had to be carried out of the Georgia Dome on a motorised cart. The loser, HHH, left on his own feet (just about); the winner, Undertaker, did not. A truly incredible story told via a gripping wrestling match, and it also set-up their even bigger rematch at WM 28. This match not only stole the show at WM 27, it saved it.

The 2011 Hall Of Fame class includes Hacksaw Jim Duggan, The Legion Of Doom, Drew Carey (celebrity inductee; and possibly the least deserving and worst-received inductee in any Hall Of Fame ever), Sunny, Abdullah The Butcher, Bullet Bob Armstrong and star inductee Shawn Michaels. The HOF class is fairly strong, and the ceremony provides a good helping of entertainment; and, in contrast to Drew Carey, star of the show HBK is one of the most deserving inductees in any HOF in existence. On the whole, three hours well spent, and a production that does enhance the value of this DVD set.

The extras conclude with a presentation of highlights from WWE history over the fairly recent past, starting in the Attitude Era. It does include many key WWE events, but there are some flaws. Firstly, the timeline is vague and the moments, whilst memorable, feel random. Secondly, this portion of the DVD has no relevance to WM 27. Thirdly, and most importantly, the PG rating is in full effect here: many moments are heavily edited to the point of taking away key reasons for why they were memorable in the first place (e.g. the best lines from The Rock: This Is Your Life aren't audible). A decent add-on, then, but if you really want to watch these moments, you should really watch them on another DVD.

This release of WrestleMania XXVII is a real mixed bag. The WM event has its moments and a true classic, but has a fairly large number of notable flaws. The HOF ceremony is the usual but is a good presentation nonetheless. And the compilation of moments is okay as a time-filler but has no other reason to be here. Really, I think Taker-HHH and the HOF are the reasons why fans should buy this DVD. It would be a tough sell otherwise, but with their inclusion, there is just about enough entertainment to make it a worthwhile purchase.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 - Good

The Undertaker: The Streak

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 534 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: August 27 2012

Most WWE fans will have heard of something called The Streak. The Undertaker's undefeated record at WrestleMania spanned more than two decades and was truly a phenomenon, leading most to believe that it would never end. That it was snapped by Brock Lesnar at WM XXX was one of the most shocking moments in wrestling history and, whilst most who were disappointed with that outcome reassured themselves that future events would make it that ending the Streak was the correct decision, in hindsight, regrettably it seems like the Streak was killed for naught, making it one of the worst booking decisions ever in wrestling.

This DVD was produced in 2012, at a time when Taker had just gone 20-0. I watched it when the record was still intact, so reviewing it now undoubtedly changes the viewing experience, knowing that the Streak is no more. That being said, it doesn't change the fact that entertainment-wise, this is a very good wrestling DVD.

It opens with possibly the shortest documentary ever produced by WWE: a 37-minute look at the Streak up to that point, with comments from various wrestlers and wrestling people which range from being realistic to being in character. It is watchable, but not something you would want to view twice. From there, we get the first twenty WrestleMania matches involving The Undertaker.

Most know who he beat and when, so let's just focus on match quality. His first win over Jimmy Snuka at WM 7 is short but okay, as is his WM 8 victory over Jake Roberts. The WM 9 DQ win over Giant Gonzales is by far his weakest Mania match, and the WM 11 win over King Kong Bundy is only slightly better. The WM 12 and WM 14 meetings with Diesel and Kane respectively are the highlights of Taker's early bouts, and in between the WWF Title victory over Psycho Sid at WM 13 could be worse, although the subsequent Hell In A Cell match against Big Boss Man at WM 15 was and remains a big disappointment. The post-match hanging of Boss Man is omitted, which I am not disappointed about.

His win over Triple H at WM X7 marks his first great match at the event and, hard as it is to believe now, the result was a surprise at the time (his record wasn't actively promoted at this point). His win over Ric Flair at WM X8 is acceptable, and the WM XIX handicap win over Big Show and A-Train isn't that bad, but the WM XX bout with Kane is lacklustre considering the hype for Taker's return to the original Phenom persona (and his entrance, including the return of Paul Bearer, is spectacular). Speaking of entrances, Taker's theme song Rollin' by Limp Bizkit is dubbed over for Manias X7-XIX, and the latter bout excludes Taker's whole entrance as it includes a live Limp Bizkit performance.

The Streak begins proper with the WM 21 win over Randy Orton as the Legend Killer is the first star to officially challenge Taker's WM undefeated record, which was rarely acknowledged at this point. The match is really good, and whilst the WM 22 Casket match victory over Mark Henry is a step down in quality, it feature an insane dive by Taker and a huge Last Ride and Tombstone. At this point, though, it seemed that the Dead Man was nearing retirement; however, that is disproven by two classic World Title triumphs over Batista and Edge at Manias 23 and 24 respectively.

The Streak really gets energised by Undertaker's two phenomenal matches with Shawn Michaels at WrestleManias 25 and 26. Both are amongst the greatest WWE matches of all-time. Many say the first bout was the better of the two, although as someone who attended WM 26, where Shawn's career was at stake, to me the Career vs. Streak bout is more special. The DVD ends with two truly great matches with Triple H at WM 27 and WM 28. The No Holds Barred match in Atlanta is superb, but in hindsight it's more notable as a set-up for the awesome Hell In A Cell match in Miami.

At this point, when the DVD was completed, Taker is 20-0. CM Punk would be beaten at WM 29 before Brock Lesnar ended the Streak at WM 30. I mentioned this in my review of the WM 28 DVD, but it's worth reiterating here: the End Of An Era clash with HHH should have marked the end for Undertaker's career. Not being able to see UT-Punk at Mania 29 would have been more tolerable than seeing the Streak end at WM 30. The nature of the DVD means that the release is slightly harmed because you know the result of each bout, but watching it now with the Streak having ended makes it odder because the gravity of the later bouts is lessened by the fact that the unbeaten WM record has since been extinguished.

In terms of quality, though, this is a really good wrestling DVD. The early bouts aren't much, to be fair, but the 1996-2002 period delivers some good action, and from 2005 onwards all matches but one are really good or incredible, and the last six clashes were all Match Of The Year contenders. Plus, the two Taker-Shawn matches may be the best in WM history. So, whilst it's disappointing that the Streak has since ended, you should still derive plenty of enjoyment from Undertaker's defence of his WM undefeated record before it was decided to let it Rest In Peace.

Overall Rating: 9/10 - Outstanding

Monday, 16 February 2015

Shawn Michaels: Mr. WrestleMania

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 507 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: March 17 2014

When you think of WrestleMania, you are likely to think of Shawn Michaels, the man who stole the show on the grandest stage of them all so often, and with such spectacular performances, that he would eventually be referred to as the aforementioned Mr. WrestleMania. This DVD combines all but one of his WM bouts (the WM XX main event is omitted for obvious reasons) with a new sit-down interview with HBK as he discusses each match or situation with his typical honesty and candour.

Michaels' comments are definitely worthwhile, but the strength of this DVD lies in the match quality. His early matches reflect his then-inexperience on a major stage, but are still amongst the best bouts on those particular cards. These includes tag team matches as The Rockers against Big Boss Man and Akeem (their classic theme song is sadly overdubbed here), The Orient Express and Haku and The Barbarian, and singles bouts against El Matador and Tatanka.

The turning point, of course, is his all-time classic Ladder match against Razor Ramon at WrestleMania X, which delivered more thrills and spills than any WWF bout in history at the time. His WM XI clash with Diesel isn't remembered as fondly but is still a strong outing. The WM XII Iron Man showdown with Bret Hart, in which he wins his first WWF Title, is a matter of taste in terms of whether you enjoy it or not; it is a very good wrestling match if a little overrated, but you are best to put aside a specific sitting for this sole match given its length. The WM XIV match against Stone Cold is an enjoyable start to the Austin Era, but at the time seemed like the Showstopper's last stand.

Fortunately, Michaels managed to return to action in 2002 and soon began to enhance his already-iconic legacy with his greatest matches yet. His WM XIX meeting with Chris Jericho is simply awesome. His WM 21 clash with Kurt Angle is even better, and personally I think this is the greatest WrestleMania match of all-time. Showdowns with Vince McMahon, especially, and John Cena deliver excitement on different levels, and Michaels' diving elbow on Vince at Mania 22 is insane for so many reasons (that the victim was 60 years old at the time is one).

Having attended WM 24 live, I can tell you that his match with Ric Flair was an emotional roller coaster which is met by the huge crowd response that it deserves; Shawn's "I'm sorry. I love you" superkick on Flair to win and seemingly end his career is probably the most emotional moment in WM history (the Randy Savage-Elizabeth reunion at Mania 7 is a close second). The DVD ends with his two phenomenal WM matches against The Undertaker. The WM 25 clash is remembered by many as the better match, but as a spectator at WM 26, I have a particular fondness for the rematch, which was a classic in its own right that ends Shawn's career on the highest of highs.

The majority of the matches here are exceptional and even the lesser bouts are good, and Shawn's comments are relevant and engaging. If you already own most WM events on DVD then this may be a tough sell, but for any other WWE fans, you should own this: it is a truly great wrestling compilation that pays tribute to the one and only Mr. WrestleMania, Shawn Michaels.

Overall Rating: 9/10 - Outstanding

Thursday, 12 February 2015

WrestleMania XXVIII

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 498 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: July 30 2012

"Once In A Lifetime". So went the slogan of the twenty-eighth WrestleMania, largely due to the main event of The Rock vs. John Cena. As it turned out, the tag-line did not apply as they had a rematch at the following WM, and the DVD is not exactly life-changing either. However, it was still a very entertaining WrestleMania, and the same applies for the DVD release.

Held on April 1, 2012 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Florida, WM 28 was one of the really big Mania cards. It is preceded by a three-way tag in which Epico and Primo successfully retain the doubles gold against The Usos and the team of Tyson Kidd and Justin Gabriel (which is here as a DVD extra). After a memorable performance of America The Beautiful by Lilian Garcia (accompanied by a brilliantly-timed fly pass), the show opens with a World Heavyweight Title bout that lasts 18 seconds. Yes, 18 seconds as Sheamus captures the prize from Daniel Bryan after one Brogue Kick. Fans were outraged at the time, but had this not occurred, Bryan may never have become such a hero to the WWE fan base on the back of the Yes Movement, which begins to take shape around this (very short) match.

Randy Orton vs. Kane is an underrated bout: it holds one's attention throughout and delivers a shock result as Kane pins the Viper. Big Show's victory over Cody Rhodes to end Cody's long first reign as Intercontinental Champion is less impressive, but does give Show a key WM victory at long last. Kelly Kelly and Maria Menonous vs. Beth Phoenix and Eve Torres is fairly short and inoffensive, but not a match you would really need to watch twice.

The next bout is one that you will want to watch over and over again. The Undertaker vs. Triple H, Hell In A Cell, Shawn Michaels as the referee. Of course, Taker's WM Streak was at stake in a bout that UT wanted to vanquish the memories of beating HHH at WM 27 but being carried out of the Georgia Dome.

It was described as the End Of An Era beforehand, which it wasn't (although some say it applied to the fact that this was the fourth and final WM in a row to link Taker with HBK and/or HHH). It is, however, an incredibly compelling, brutal and believable brawl. It had "scorcher" written all over it beforehand; the anticipation is immense as the Cell is lowered prior to the bell. And for thirty minutes it tells a truly great story as Shawn comes close to stopping the bout to preserve Taker's health as he takes another beating; but Taker's response to choke out Michaels to keep the match alive almost results in a DX screw job as a finisher combo comes a hairline away from making it 19-1. There are tons of big moves, the last being a final Tombstone to HHH which takes the Streak to 20-0. The post-match embrace between all three legends is a Mania moment in itself, and the emotion is enhanced by guest commentator Jim Ross. Truly, one of the top ten WrestleMania matches of all-time.

In hindsight, Taker probably should have retired here at 20-0. We wouldn't have had the classic UT-CM Punk match at WM 29, but he could have gone out on a high, with his legacy and his undefeated Mania record preserved, and after a classic match to boot. One can understand why UT would go until the Streak ended (in shocking fashion by Brock Lesnar at WM 30), but given the choice in retrospect, most fans will have preferred that WM 28 was his last stand. At the time, I felt that this should have been Triple H's swan-song too, although his record of achievement since then means that his decision to continue wrestling was probably the right one.

The presentation of the HOF 2012 inductees (more on them later) is followed by a 12-man tag in which John Laurinaitis gains control of Raw and SmackDown (further detail would take up too much space). Then, CM Punk defends the WWE Title against Chris Jericho. Some people loved this match, others felt it was a big let-down. I think it was somewhere in the middle: no, it wasn't a classic to rival Taker vs. HHH, but it was still a strong bout that allowed Punk to walk out of a WrestleMania as WWE Champion, even if it wasn't in the main event.

That brings us to the top-liner between John Cena and The Rock. Given the years of fantasy matchmaking by fans, an indirect challenge by Cena in 2009, and the one-year build-up from when it was announced in 2011, it's no exaggeration to call this the most anticipated match in WrestleMania history, if not WWE history. Beforehand, the goosebump-eliciting hype video and the entrances involving performances by MGK and Flo Rida enhance the spectacle even more, as does the pre-match stare down which evokes memories of Rock vs. Hogan at WM X8.

Like Punk vs. Jericho, fans either love or hate this match. I lean closer to the former in this case. This wasn't a technical classic, but it was never expected to be. This was promoted as the kind of match that embodies the term "sports-entertainment", and it delivers plenty of action, showmanship and, yes, entertainment that means the 30-minute bout (accompanied by a continuously huge crowd response in Rock's hometown) lives up to the hype. Despite the match being held in Miami, Rock's triumph was unexpected at the time, although it was booked for a reason, as we found out when Cena evened the score and achieved "redemption" at WM 29.

This DVD also includes the 2012 Hall Of Fame induction ceremony. Inducted here are Ron Simmons ("DAMN!" Sorry, I couldn't resist), Mil Mascaras, The Four Horsemen (Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Barry Windham, Tully Blanchard and manager J.J. Dillon), Iron Mike Tyson (the celebrity inductee), Yokozuna and 2012 star inductee Edge. It is a show typical of this nature, with notable points being that Flair is inducted, for a second time, while still working for TNA; Tyson's bizarre yet humorous speech that follows a equally funny induction by DX; and the induction of Edge, one year after the Rated R Superstar was forced to retire on medical grounds. Overall, this isn't the most entertaining or historic Hall Of Fame ceremony in WWE to date, but both elements apply strongly enough that you should definitely enjoy it.

The other extras are in two parts. One consists of features totally relevant to WM 28: the pre-show press conference and the UT vs. HHH promo video (which, incidentally, is incredibly effective and is one of the top three hype videos in WWE history, in my opinion). The other part is based around The Rock. In 2012, a special edition of a Rock compilation was released on a limited scale in the US and included more matches. Somehow, for the UK market, these bouts are instead featured here. They see Rock clash with Triple H and Kane on Raw in 1998, his Royal Rumble 2000 victory and some promos in 1996 and 2003.

To summarise, WrestleMania XXVIII was probably the most anticipated WM of all-time, and whilst not an in-ring classic to rival the likes of WM X-Seven, it does deliver enough high-quality action, drama, entertainment and emotion that it is definitely in the top ten Manias in history. The HOF ceremony is entertaining enough, and the extras round off the package nicely. It is not a "Once In A Lifetime" DVD production, but it is a must-own for WWE fans nevertheless.

Overall Rating: 9/10 - Outstanding

The Best Of King Of The Ring

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 446 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: January 30 2012

Although it was released a year or so earlier than The Best Of In Your House (recently reviewed here), The Best Of King Of The Ring has similarities with the IYH compilation: it is a match compilation of a specific show which largely covers the mid-to-late '90s time frame. However, this DVD set is unique in its selection of bouts, although at first glance it can seem confusing.

As the name suggests, King Of The Ring is the focus, and when one thinks of this title, one immediately thinks of the tournament of the same name. As such, the KOTR finals are included from 1993 to 2002 (the time that the PPV ran), although the 1995 and 1999 finals aren't included for unknown reasons. That said, the event also hosted major title matches, so the World Title bouts from the 1993, 1996, 1999 and 2000 shows are here too.

However, the most famous match ever held at King Of The Ring was the 1998 Hell In A Cell match between The Undertaker and Mankind, and as such several notable KOTR clashes are here which weren't in the tournament or for the WWF/WWE Title: namely, the Bret Hart-Jerry Lawler Kiss My Foot match from 1995; the Goldust-Ahmed Johnson IC Title bout from 1996; Stone Cold vs. Shawn Michaels from 1997; the aforementioned HIAC from 1998; Jeff Hardy vs. X-Pac for the Light Heavyweight Title and a Kurt Angle-Shane McMahon Street Fight from 2001; and Angle vs. Hulk Hogan from 2002.

Finally, the DVD acknowledges the house show tournament winners from 1985-1991 but, as they were non-televised, no matches are included here from those cards; but as the tournament was revived in 2006, 2008 and 2010, the finals of those three events are all featured here to round off the DVD. More confusion comes from the chronology: some matches from the same events are shown out of order, even if the final actually went on after another bout from the same card which is on the DVD. Confused yet?

Once you take all this into account, however, the DVD can be taken for what it is, and the set is rather enjoyable. Bret Hart vs. Bam Bam Bigelow (1993), Shawn Michaels vs. British Bulldog (1996), Triple H vs. Mankind (1997), Angle vs. Hogan and Sheamus vs. John Morrison (2010) are the in-ring highlights, whilst the 1998 HIAC match is unmissable due to the chaos that unfolds before your eyes; the Angle-Shane fight is also very brutal (I forgot just how brutal until re-watching it here). Stone Cold's two bouts are a little disappointing, but his 1996 triumph over Jake Roberts does allow for the birth of Austin 3:16 in the post-match.

The other bouts are either here due to them being finals (which makes the absence of the '95 and '99 finals even odder) or seem to be filler, although some do have their moments, including an insane top rope chokeskam by Taker to Shane through an announcer's table in a 2000 six-man bout. As for potential inclusions: besides Mabel vs. Savio Vega from 1995 and Billy Gunn vs. X-Pac from 1999, as mentioned earlier, I would have liked to have seen some non-final tournament bouts, the 1998 First Blood showdown between Austin and Kane, and the handicap Ladder match for ownership of the WWF from 1999. The Blu-ray does have some bonus bouts, although all but one non-final tournament match come from the more recent, non-KOTR PPV events.

Oh, and the host is King Booker! (Or, KING BOOKKAAA!) Booker T left WWE in 2007 as King, and hasn't been King on 'proper' WWE TV since his return at Royal Rumble 2011, but he does revive the character as the presenter of this DVD. His links aren't exactly hilarious but, taken for what they are, you shouldn't have a problem watching them.

The KOTR history opened me up to a few interesting points: did you know that a proper fan favourite hasn't won the tourney since 1998? (Edge was in between being a villain and a face when he triumphed in 2001.) And, if you ignore the house show wins (which WWE usually does), only two babyfaces have ever won the tournament. Watching this also makes you hope for the event's return; there has been no tournament since 2010, and surely KOTR would be better than Battleground or Payback, especially if the winner was rewarded with, say, a World Title shot at SummerSlam (which was applicable in 2002).

So, The Best Of King Of The Ring is a strange one. It feels a bit unnecessary, the match selection is difficult to explain, the chronology is a bit weird, and some bouts are clearly filler and feel odd on a best-of compilation. That said, there are still some very good and very historic matches here, so whilst I wouldn't class this as being anywhere near a must-own set, you should get a fair amount of enjoyment out of the DVD if you do choose to buy it.

Overall Rating: 7/10 - Respectable

Monday, 9 February 2015

The Best Of In Your House

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 441 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: May 27 2013

When it was announced, The Best Of In Your House did not sound like the most appealing DVD release. There would undoubtedly be some entertaining stuff on it, but was it really necessary to recap a series of PPVs which, on the whole, were secondary even to the likes of King Of The Ring and Survivor Series, much less WrestleMania? And was there an audience in 2013 for a DVD on an era which, for its majority, was not exactly a vintage time in WWE history? Nevertheless, I gave the DVD the old college try, and in actual fact I was pleasantly surprised, to the point where I feel a sequel is in order, as I will explain.

Before breaking down the matches, it's worth noting that WWE has done a better job than usual of adding small touches to make this DVD stand out. The menus are simplistic and accompanied by the classically cheesy In Your House song (I think it was for IYH 2; and the original, equally corny tune is used at the very beginning and very end of the main programme); some matches are separated by an old-school IYH graphic (although the same one is shown when there were several produced); and, best of all, Todd Pettingill returns as host! Okay, so he was the original Michael Cole - a geeky, uncool presenter/interviewer who, despite being a good guy, was hated by most fans on the grounds of being annoying - but having him return after 16 years away from WWE shows that whoever dreamed up this DVD at least wanted to make it authentic, and despite his reputation during his WWF tenure, he operates just fine as host here.

Onto the bouts then. Disc one covers 1995, with Bret Hart vs. Hakushi and Shawn Michaels vs. Jeff Jarrett from the first two IYH shows kicking off the DVD with a bang. It slows with Razor Ramon vs. Dean Douglas at IYH 4 (Razor's pinfall on Douglas comes across as an attempt to make the Dean look incredibly weak), and to a lesser extent the IYH 5 Hog Pen match (Hillbilly Jim's theme being dubbed over is a let-down), but comes back to life with a great disc-ender in Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog that main evented the same show. Incidentally, Bret bleeds heavily here; not only is this strange to watch in what was definitely a PG environment, but the blood loss was not authorised by the office; you can almost here Vince McMahon react like the teacher who caught a pupil misbehaving when the blood becomes noticeable.

We start Disc 2 with Todd informing us about the IYH shows taking on sub-names, which would eventually replace IYH and become main names (eerily, the first such one was Over The Edge 1999 which was the site of Owen Hart's tragic death). The first example of the theme given was IYH 7: Good Friends, Better Enemies, epitomised by a No Holds Barred match between Shawn Michaels and Diesel. This was an incredibly brutal and shocking match for the era and, in hindsight, was an uncredited step towards the Attitude Era. It's also a great bout, as is the following IYH 10 clash between HBK and Mankind (which I think is slightly overrated, but is really good nonetheless).

We then get two matches from IYH 11: Buried Alive which are the first PPV clash between a young Triple H and a younger Stone Cold Steve Austin (which is unfortunately overshadowed by Jim Ross's odd commentary and Mr. Perfect's baffling-in-hindsight interference) and, as you may imagine, the first Buried Alive clash between The Undertaker and Mankind. Disc two ends with a forgotten classic: a Final Four match at IYH 13 for the vacant WWF Title (vacated after Shawn Michaels 'lost his smile', which is a story in itself) between Bret, Austin, Undertaker and Vader. This is a super-brawl which was actually more exciting than the Royal Rumble bout which set it up. Can you imagine a four-way like this in 2015?

We kick off the third and final disc with the classic 10-man main event at IYH 16: Canadian Stampede, the atmosphere for which may never be equalled. From this point, however, the DVD falters a bit. I understand not wanting to repeat over-released content, but having Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker from IYH 17: Ground Zero and not their score-settling Hell In A Cell match at IYH 18: Badd Blood (the most memorable IYH match of all, and arguably the best Cell bout ever) is a glaring omission. Other notable IYH bouts are not included later on, such as Stone Cold's major clashes with Dude Love, Vince McMahon and The Rock.

We do get a strong climax to the release: a truly chaotic 8-man from IYH 20; a tag clash between Austin/Undertaker and Kane/Mankind (IYH 23); a forgotten bout between Mankind and Ken Shamrock (IYH 25); and a Mankind-Rock Last Man Standing match (IYH 27), although the double knockout finish is an awkward end to the DVD. (There are a few extra bouts in the Blu-ray, although none are chronologically after this one.)

The set is interesting in terms of showing the shift from the New Generation to the Attitude Era, from the increased violence to the Austin-influenced language and gestures. By the time the DVD ends, the WWF has completely changed, and the release does a nice job of showing the Federation's evolution during this time. But, as stated, several key IYH matches from the later shows are not included. The aforementioned omissions alone could fill one disc on a sequel; other inclusions could be more Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels gems, plus at least one Stone Cold-Undertaker showdown amongst others.

But what is here is very good. A mix of big matches and rare classics comprise a strong DVD release. There are few weak points, largely because the set focuses on specific big-name wrestlers (e.g. Mick Foley is in six matches, including the final four bouts). Combined with the small touches to make the release stand out, The Best Of In Your House is rather like the event itself was: it may not be the most vital purchase, and by missing it you won't necessarily regret it, but if you do decide to buy it, you'll be rewarded with plenty of action and entertainment.

Overall Rating: 8/10 - Very Good

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Hulk Hogan: The Ultimate Anthology

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 606 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 4
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: November 20 2006

If you like wrestling, chances are that you know who Hulk Hogan is. The biggest star in wrestling history, The Hulkster played a key role in putting wrestling on the map with his marketable look, his incredible, larger-than-life charisma, and his character which emphasised positive actions and who always triumphed against villains. There was more to Hogan than that, but basically this sums up the force known as Hulkamania, which attracted legions of fans and made Hogan a star the world over.

In 2006, WWE celebrated Hogan's career with a four-disc DVD (it was three discs but a US store had an exclusive fourth disc; fortunately, the UK got it too) that includes over two dozen matches in total, presented by Hulk's longtime associates Mean Gene Okerlund and Jimmy Hart. It is called The Ultimate Anthology, and that's what it is: with one or two exceptions, almost every key Hulk match is here. And whilst this was released a long time ago now, looking at it again in 2015, there are unlikely to be any future bouts which make this DVD premature; indeed, it charts Hulk's career from the late 1970s to the mid-2000s.

Now, I review wrestling DVDs with two criteria. One is: does this DVD justify the subject? And the other is: do I find this DVD entertaining? I bring this up because some people - a lot of people, in fact - may frown on an extensive Hulk Hogan DVD because, well, he wasn't exactly Bret Hart or Shawn Michaels as an actual wrestler. But a lot of fans do enjoy his promos, his simple yet logical matches - in short, the Hulkamaniacs support the character as opposed to the technical wrestling ability of Hogan (I think). With that being said, I answer the questions by saying: no, a lot of matches are not what you would call "technical classics", but many are very memorable and exciting in their own way. And does it live up to the title? As already stated, if you're looking for a collection of Hulk's biggest or best matches, this should more than satisfy you.

Onto the bouts then: although they have some historic value in terms of charting Hulk's career, the early bouts aren't that interesting. The DVD properly starts with Hogan winning his first WWF Title from The Iron Sheik in a short match from January 23, 1984. From there, the compilation largely focuses on WrestleMania: main events from WM 1-3 and 5-7 are here, spaced out by other notable collisions (vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper at War To Settle The Score, vs. The Undertaker at This Tuesday In Texas, etc).

Almost every key match from the original Hulkamania run (1984-1993) is here, from slamming Andre The Giant to conquering Randy Savage to endorsing The Ultimate Warrior. It would have been nice to see Hulk vs. Sid Justice at WM 8 (which at the time was supposed to be his last match) or a Yokozuna bout since he left the WWF shortly afterwards. One or two bouts based on higher quality would have been good; I remember a great SNME cage bout against The Big Boss Man which would have been a nice inclusion. Overall, though, this large chapter of the DVD perfectly encapsulates the rise of Hulk Hogan and the greatest moments of his most famous run.

The DVD then covers his WCW tenure, but I was disappointed that only three matches are here in full. We see the nWo formation, to be fair, but at least one more pre-nWo bout and definitely two or three nWo-era showdowns should have been here (especially his famous WCW Title loss to Bill Goldberg on Monday Nitro). It does include some key matches, but the most omissions are within this section of the release.

The final main part of this DVD covers Hogan's return to WWE, from his WM X8 showdown with The Rock to his SummerSlam 2005 match with Shawn Michaels. Besides his KOTR 2002 bout with Kurt Angle, the time frame is covered fairly comprehensively. Not long before this was released, Hulk fought Randy Orton at SummerSlam 2006; a delayed release may have seen this included too.

The release includes comments from different wrestlers at various points, and as stated a fourth disc includes some more matches, including Hulk vs. Earthquake at SummerSlam 1990. The only downside comes in the form of Hogan's Raw Homecoming challenge to Stone Cold Steve Austin. Around 2005-2007, not only was this the dream match that everybody wanted to see, but moments such as this interview hinted that it would finally happen, probably at a WrestleMania. That it didn't is possibly the biggest missed opportunity in wrestling history.

Otherwise, I think this DVD is great for what it is. Hardcore wrestling fans may hate the notion of many hours of Hogan matches, but that isn't the target audience for this release. Hulk Hogan: The Ultimate Anthology is aimed at the Hulkamaniacs and it delivers exactly what it says on the sleeve; despite a couple of omissions, the vast majority of Hulk's biggest matches are here (plus other moments, including his 2005 induction into the WWE Hall Of Fame). And even the wrestling purists must admit that across this release are plenty of exciting moments, and arguably the most famous matches in wrestling history are here at various points. So, I think this DVD is a must-own, and for those now planning to buy it: what'cha gonna do when Hulkamania runs wild on your DVD player, brother?

Overall Rating: 9/10 - Outstanding

Monday, 2 February 2015

WrestleMania 29

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 464 Minutes
Certificate: 12
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: June 10 2013

On April 7, 2013, WrestleMania returned to the New York/New Jersey area as WM 29 emanated from MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. I personally attended this Mania, so my perspective will obviously be a bit biased; however, even if I hadn't, the 2013 WM stands up as an entertaining and worthy addition to the event's legacy, even if the viewing experience is changed when watching some matches on DVD, as I will explain.

At the time, there was controversy due to the lack of a national screen and pyrotechnics to open the show, complaints I felt were minor at best. Even dafter were comments on a lack of backstage segments, an element that had been criticised when it was prevalent at previous Manias.

In the ring, WM starts with a fun six-man tag as The Shield take another big to stardom with their win over Randy Orton, Sheamus and Big Show (this includes a pretty good finishing sequence and is followed by one of Big Show's many character turns). Ryback vs. Mark Henry is less eventful, and the big Shell Shocked on Henry only follows a frankly bizarre decision to have Ryback lose.

Match three felt thrown-together at the time but is entertaining enough as Team Hell No defeat Dolph Ziggler and Big E Langston. The early tease of a quick finish was expertly done, and fans bellow "Yes!" in glorified unison at the end. This is followed by Fandango's upset victory over Chris Jericho, 24 hours before his theme music became the talk of WWE thanks to the fans.

Alberto Del Rio vs. Jack Swagger feels like a very long time ago when watching in hindsight. It is a well-worked match although the crowd heat could have been better, largely because the fans were chanting for Dolph Ziggler to cash in his Money In The Bank briefcase after the match (I know because I was there). ADR wins, but when Dolph doesn't show for what many (including me) expected to be a WrestleMania moment, boos rang out around the stadium. Dolph did cash in the next night on Raw to a huge reaction, but the moment would have been much bigger 24 hours earlier; why not do it on the grander stage?

Then The Undertaker goes 21-0 against CM Punk. The build-up was controversial to say the least: some called it a tribute to the recently-deceased Paul Bearer, while others felt it was exploitation at its worst. Either way, the match itself is a classic, with memorable entrances beforehand. There is so much back-and-forth action and plenty of big moves. The only downside is that Punk's only GTS barely registered, and I personally didn't feel that the Streak was at risk of ending; however, it is still the highlight of the show and was probably the match of 2013. Post-match, an advert played for WM 30. Who could have foreseen that the Streak would end on that night, and that by then Punk would have left WWE?

The semi-final was a No Holds Barred match between Brock Lesnar and Triple H with The Game's career at stake, and with Paul Heyman and Shawn Michaels at ringside. On paper, this had "mega-brawl" written all over it, and it is a really compelling and brutal bout. The only problem is the fan reaction, or lack of one: being there live, it felt quieter than usual, but on DVD it sounds as if the match is almost playing in front of an empty stadium. The noise does pick up at the end when HHH triumphs, but this is an example of how a great match is less fondly-remembered because of the crowd reaction.

The Rock vs. John Cena for the WWE Title closes the show. The big rematch from WM 28 is less-hyped than it should have been, and the hardcore crowd base means that this bout suffers from a less-than-expected atmosphere. However, the match is better than the previous year's main event, and the action, the story of Cena attempting to get redemption and avoid previous mistakes, and the wealth of close finishes does draw the crowd in, right to the match-winning AA for Cena. Post-match, both men embrace and Rock endorses Cena to officially end their two-year feud. The reaction to this is also less than expected; had it been louder, this could have rivalled similar moments involving Rock and Hulk Hogan, and Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior.

Overall, though, WM 29 definitely stands up as an enjoyable if predictable event which delivers star power and several major bouts, none of which disappoint from an in-ring standpoint (and Taker vs. Punk is incredible). But there's more to the DVD set than Mania; there is the 2013 Hall Of Fame induction ceremony, which was the most anticipated to date (I attended this too).

Held at Madison Square Garden, the ceremony inducts many major names: Mick Foley, Trish Stratus, Booker T, Bob Backlund, Donald Trump (in the celebrity wing) and, in the induction that nobody ever thought would happen, Bruno Sammartino. Each induction is enjoyable and memorable for different reasons, ranging from a touching story of personal redemption for Booker, to the sheer craziness of Backlund (someone didn't tell him that this show wasn't a part of WWE storylines), to negative reactions by the MSG crowd which range from hilarious (the tongue-in-cheek boos directed at Trish's husband) to cringeworthy (the brutal boos aimed at Maria Menonous and, to a lesser extent, Trump and even Backlund) to the entertaining stories told by the inductees and their, erm, inductors, which included Arnold Schwarzenegger, to the historic induction of Sammartino and his previously-unimaginable embrace on the HOF stage with Vince McMahon at the end.

This is a definite must-see HOF, but at over 3 1/2 hours in length, don't watch it in one sitting (I know I did, but I was actually in MSG rather than at home). The extras conclude with the WM post-show (shown on in the pre-WWE Network days) and the pre-show Intercontinental Title bout between Wade Barrett and The Miz (the number of extras would likely have been greater had the HOF not lasted so long).

In conclusion, WrestleMania 29 had some pre-show negativity as the two top bouts were rematches (and HHH vs. Lesnar didn't even conclude their rivalry), the promotion of two other big bouts were controversial, and the other matches on the card felt a bit anticlimactic when announced. If you focus solely on show quality, though, and if you ignore the less-than-stellar crowd reactions towards the end of the card, WM 29 is a pretty enjoyable Mania that delivers what it promises. Add to that the historic HOF 2013 ceremony and a couple of extras, and you actually have a very important, memorable and entertaining WrestleMania DVD set that all die-hard fans should own.

Overall Rating: 9/10 – Outstanding