Monday, 30 March 2015

Batista: The Animal Unleashed

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 410 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: June 23 2014

The second DVD on Batista was released to mark his 2014 return to WWE, and consists of a documentary and a selection of matches, as is the norm. The timing was a bit awkward, as I shall explain, but it doesn't detract too much for the pre-2014 events featured here.

The documentary is fairly short at 40 minutes or so, but in hindsight it didn't need to be much longer. We had the full life-and-career inspection on Batista's first DVD released in 2009. Here, the focus is on his return as cameras follow him from his Raw comeback on January 20 2014 to his Royal Rumble win six nights later. Along the way, he covers why he first left WWE, what he did during his time away, his ongoing projects and his initial thoughts on his return. It's told with a positive slant, and by and large Batista is quite honest (he notes how he disliked WWE going PG), plus the story ends on a high note for Batista fans as he wins the Rumble.

But there's just one problem: fans greeted Batista extremely negatively from the Rumble match onwards. On another performer, this would be a feel-good comeback but not here: The Animal triumphing was booed massively at the Rumble, and whilst Batista calls that crowd "weird", the response continued for long enough, and loud enough, that Batista turned heel and Daniel Bryan ended up becoming WWE World Heavyweight Champ at WrestleMania XXX. That isn't acknowledged here, which hinders the documentary a fair amount. This feature us alright, but nothing special. There is an extra clip where Titus O'Neil explains how Batista helped him into the wrestling business.

We then move onto the matches, beginning with a rare OVW match where Batista, as Leviathan, beats a young Brock Lesnar surprisingly easily considering what Brock would go on to do. Two tag bouts from Batista's early days follow, as he and Reverend D-Von dispatch of Faarooq and a pre-personality Randy Orton, and he and Ric Flair win their second World Tag Team Titles from Booker T and Rob Van Dam. The focus then shifts to Batista's main event career, although his classic feud with Triple H isn't covered: instead, we go to an okay Texas Bull Rope match against JBL and a six-man tag from a 2006 episode of Saturday Night's Main Event (incidentally, look out for the moment where Mark Henry quietly disappears; having suffered an injury, he would be out of action for ages after this).

Disc two opens with a 3-way between Batista, King Booker and Finlay for the World Title. It's actually really good, but why this is here when it was on Batista's first DVD is a question I cannot answer. A 4-way from SmackDown against Kane, Mark Henry and Finlay is good but not as good as the preceding clash, whilst a Last Man Standing bout with Kane is fine for a television match with this stipulation.

We then get some PPV matches. The Stretcher match against Shawn Michaels from One Night Stand 2008 is the best of this release although the back-story was a bit confusing. A World Title match with then-new titleholder CM Punk at that year's Great American Bash is better than expected but felt strange at the time and feels even odder when watching it again here. Disc two ends with a World Title win over Chris Jericho at Cyber Sunday 2008 (Stone Cold stars as special guest referee), and disc three starts with a tag bout from Raw the next night pitting Batista and HBK (who were friends now) against Y2J and JBL. Having two matches linked like this is something different and is a nice touch.

Including a tag between Batista and Shane McMahon and Legacy is a bit pointless, but it kind of feeds into his Steel Cage WWE Title win over Randy Orton at Extreme Rules 2009. A SmackDown meeting with CM Punk feels like filler, before the Animal turns heel on Rey Mysterio and we get two matches from their rivalry: their bout at Survivor Series 2009 and a Street Fight from SmackDown a few weeks later. We then see him win a 3-way against Sheamus and Randy Orton to earn a WWE Title shot against John Cena at Over The Limit under I Quit rules (included here), which was Batista's last bout before leaving WWE.

The DVD ends with Batista's comeback wins at Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber (against Alberto Del Rio). On any other release, this would have been a good idea, but the reactions to both matches are so overwhelmingly negative that it only harms the Animal's image. In the Rumble, you almost feel sorry for Batista as the reaction to him was more about Daniel Bryan not being involved, but I feel worse for #30 entrant Rey Mysterio; the beginning of a negative end to his legendary WWE career was the negative reaction to his inclusion, based on a situation that he had no involvement in whatsoever. (By the way, this DVD unintentionally feels like a mini-CM Punk bio: we see a clip of his first World Title win, his first PPV World Title defence, a match from his SES run, and his final moments in WWE.) And the Chamber match reaction built on this, negating what was actually a decent effort.

The DVD serves as an interesting way of seeing how much things had changed in regards to Batista. During his initial main event run, this release proves that he was very popular, and he did good work as a heel too and was missed by fans when he left in 2010, hence why WWE brought him back. But when he did return, he was overwhelmingly booed and when he left again in mid-2014, many were happy to see him go. As a now-established big name in movies, with a key role in the next James Bond film, "Boo-tista" clearly got the last laugh.

By the way, I completely understand why fans booed Batista upon his return and agreed to an extent. But the boos were aimed more at WWE and their booking department; Batista seemed like the public reason for their frustration, and so it seemed right to boo him. The same thing is now happening to Roman Reigns (who, as this DVD shows, was wildly cheered in 2014), actually for the same reason; but I'll look at that in more depth some other time.

As for the DVD: Batista fans will enjoy it, although it isn't as good as his first DVD from 2009. Those who have little time for the Animal will not have any reason to buy this. And those with neutral feelings on Big Dave would probably not be massively inclined to get this DVD. Overall, I found it to be decent, but not something to rush out and buy. If you're a DVD completist (like me), you will have reason to get it. Otherwise, if you're not a Batista fan, your only real reason to purchase this is to see how 2005's flavour of the month became 2014's public face of fan discontent.

Overall Rating: 6.5/10 - Okay

Thursday, 26 March 2015

WrestleMania 22

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 542 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: July 3 2006

Chicago was the site of the 22nd WrestleMania, which had been subtitled "Big Time" by WWE. It was unusual in that the show delivered plenty of entertainment, but there felt like something was missing. On DVD, however, the opposite is true: it is one of the most stacked wrestling DVDs ever.

WM 22 opens with a short tag bout that would lead to Carlito becoming a good guy on Raw the next night. Then comes the second Money In The Bank match, which had expectations of disappointment beforehand due to the casting, but is more than good enough when watching it. Some truly insane moves here, culminating in Rob Van Dam winning the briefcase at a time when the result of MITB truly felt massive.

JBL's United States Title win is okay but forgettable, a description that cannot be labelled on the following Hardcore match between Edge and Mick Foley. This is as brutal and violent a bout as any ever held in WWE, and features a stunning ending whereby the Rated R Superstar Spears the Hardcore Legend through a burning table. Foley got his WrestleMania moment here, and fans got a great hardcore fight in what was the last true year of the TV-14 era in WWE.

The Boogeyman wins a handicap match that seems bizarre on this stage. Mickie James defeats Trish Stratus in a strong Divas Title match, and The Undertaker goes 14-0 in a Casket match win over Mark Henry. At this point, the Streak was good but more something for Taker's diehard fans to savour as opposed to WWE fans as a whole. How things would change by the time it ended at WM 30.

Shawn Michaels vs. Vince McMahon is a strange one. This No Holds Barred match is undeniably entertaining, but I think some of the praise of this bout is a bit over the top. Nevertheless, it is very enjoyable, and Shawn's huge elbow drop is as crazy as any move on any WrestleMania ever.

The three-way for the World Title could have been a classic had it been twice as long; the nine minute allocation was heavily criticised at the time. Rey Mysterio was less vocal as this saw him become World Champ in tribute to the recently-passed Eddie Guerrero. This is also notable as being Kurt Angle's last WrestleMania match to date, if not ever.

The Playboy match between Torrie Wilson and Candice Michelle is brief (no pun intended), and leads to the WWE Title main event between John Cena and Triple H. Everyone was wondering whether Cena would be booed here, and he was, viciously. Still, he triumphed in a match that wasn't a classic but was still quite dramatic. Despite winning his first WWE Title at WM 21, this is the match that truly solidified Cena's place as the main man in WWE.

A few notes about this match: it was the first time in a long time that the main event didn't feature the Royal Rumble winner (in fact, only three winners have since 2006). During the match, HHH performed a DX chop, as did HBK in his bout earlier on, in a hint of the DX revival which was to come. And one of the fake mobsters during Cena's entrance was a man who had yet to appear on WWE TV, but would become a major force in years to come: CM Punk.

WrestleMania 22 delivered a lot of entertainment, then, but as I said there felt like a void. Most likely, it was because the much-anticipated Steve Austin vs. Hulk Hogan dream match, which was planned at one point for the card (Hogan indirectly challenged Austin at Raw Homecoming), didn't happen, and neither icon even appeared despite being at the Hall Of Fame the night before.

That HOF ceremony is included on the DVD in full. Inductees here are The Blackjacks, Tony Atlas, William "Refrigerator" Perry (celebrity inductee), Verne Gagne, Sensational Sherri, Mean Gene Okerlund, Eddie Guerrero (posthumously) and star inductee Bret Hart. Eddie's induction is emotional, given his death a few months prior, but the highlight is Bret's first proper WWF/WWE appearance since Survivor Series 1997. Bret's speech includes plenty of funny anecdotes, and going back to a previous point, the induction also sees a great quip by Bret's inductor Steve Austin, as Stone Cold drops a line about Hulk Hogan (who had inducted Mean Gene). This was in the days when everyone involved sat on stage after their 'moment', so we see a priceless expression on Hulk's face after this line by Austin. Overall, very entertaining and memorable, but fans who only attended WM 22 weren't happy when Bret decided not to appear on the PPV to mark his induction for various reasons.

The DVD set is by no means over, though. Well, in a way because the other extras are on disc two. We get the WM 22 post-show, as seen on at the time, John Cena addressing fans after Raw the next night, and the entire episode of Saturday Night's Main Event from March 18 2006. The return of SNME for the first time since 1992 is basically one big promotion for the WM card, but has its fair share of good matches and fun segments, including a Beer Drinking Contest between Stone Cold and JBL.

On the whole, this is a truly great wrestling DVD set. Mania has a lot of worthwhile content, even if it lacks that absolute classic bout. The HOF is more than satisfactory from an entertainment standpoint and is historic for hosting Bret's return to WWE. And the SNME show is a lot of fun in its own right, and there are still other extras too. Watching the WrestleMania 22 DVD set also brings back memories of the days when WWE was by no means PG, from violent action to sexual content. For those wrestling fans who dislike the PG version of WWE, you will love this set, but even if that isn't an issue, this is still a wrestling DVD release that you need to own.

Overall Rating: 9.5/10 - Classic

Monday, 23 March 2015

John Cena: Greatest Rivalries

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: - Minutes
Certificate: 12
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: October 20 2014

If ever a WWE wrestler defined the expression "you either love him or you hate him", it is John Cena. The on-screen face of WWE for the last decade, Cena attracts admiration and worship from a lot of fans, but scorn and revulsion from just as many. Therefore, one assumes that this DVD is a matter of taste? Well, yes, but after watching this, even the Cena haters must admit that the man has had a good number of exciting matches, as displayed here on his best DVD release to date.

Now, I am a big fan of Cena as a professional; nobody works harder than him, and he is a genuinely nice guy, having had the privilege to meet him a few times. I do dislike the more childish aspects of his character, and I would love to see him as a main event heel one day (I'll cover my ideas for how this could happen in a future opinion piece). I also realise he isn't at the level of a Shawn Michaels as an actual wrestler. But he is better than many give him credit for, and whilst some will say he is carried frequently by his opponents, I feel that he does pull his weight and can deliver a great performance, as evidenced here.

Onto the DVD itself then: as you may have gathered, the theme is to cover Cena's greatest feuds, with two matches to cover each rivalry besides one (more on that later). The premise is simple, as Cena introduces each match by discussing the opponent in question. The bouts are also preceded by a very basic yet very effective transition screen: an old-school, 16-bit videogame-style match set-up, accompanied by a short MIDI version of Cena's theme. As a fan of old school games, and nostalgic things in general, I think this is awesome, and worth buying the DVD for in itself. Okay, that's a lie, but it is pretty cool.

So, which feuds are here? We begin with Eddie Guerrero, and two SmackDown! bouts from 2003 (a WWE Title contender's tournament clash and a Parking Lot Brawl). They are good scraps, but as match one wasn't part of their rivalry and their feud only lasted a few weeks, I suspect this is here because featuring Eddie is preferred to, say, Kurt Angle. (By the way, Cena plays heel here, which may feel weird to some fans who have never seen him in the role).

Next, we get Batista. The first match is surprisingly a 2002 OVW Title match between their old personas Leviathan and Prototype (where Cena is a villain again, actually), before we get a more recent WWE Title Last Man Standing match from Extreme Rules 2010. Both were far more polished by this point which, unsurprisingly, results in the LMS bout being the better of the two. We then move onto the great Shawn Michaels, with their classic match from the London Raw in 2007 and a entertaining yet inferior rematch from Raw the following year.

Disc two kicks off with Randy Orton. This particular feud is arguably the most overdone in WWE history, so it's fitting that we get their very first WWE PPV singles match (a great WWE Title bout from SummerSlam 2007) before a more recent clash from Raw in early 2014, which is greeted far warmer than their WWE title showdown at Royal Rumble 2014 was a few weeks earlier. We then relive his feud with John Bradshaw Layfield with Cena's first WWE title win at WrestleMania 21 and a Raw match which I had completely forgotten about from 2008. This section is the least vibrant of the DVD; Cena's best match with JBL, their I Quit clash from Judgment Day 2005, presumably isn't here because a) it was on the My Life DVD, and b) it was one of the bloodiest matches in WWE history, which would have prevented this release of the kid's hero getting a PG rating.

The DVD regains momentum with the Chris Jericho matches, although it's odd to see Y2J lose a "You're Fired" encounter from 2005, and then see him defend the World Heavyweight Title at Survivor Series 2008 with no explanation whatsoever (incidentally, the 2005 conflict with Y2J is significant in that the fans first began turning on Cena during that rivalry). Disc 3 opens with a war against another Canadian in the Rated R Superstar, Edge (my personal favourite Cena feud to date). A good Cage bout from a 2006 Raw for the WWE Championship is followed by an epic Last Man Standing clash for the World crown at Backlash 2009, which genuinely was their last match.

Cena next faces Triple H at WrestleMania 22 in a WWE Title match elevated by the searing crowd heat, and then in an enjoyable Raw bout from 2009. This feud also seems overdone in the eyes of many, but they only actually squared off twice in singles on PPV, so another supercard clash in the future is possible. The DVD ends with Cena's most famous feud against The Rock; this time, we get a segment rather than an opening bout (remember what I said earlier?), the Legends Q&A from Raw in March 2013 which set up their underrated WWE Title main event from WrestleMania 29, which concludes this DVD.

I thought that this was a great WWE DVD, and definitely the best to date on John Cena. There are many good or great matches and, despite what the cynics would say, Cena himself provides plenty of action in the bouts contained here. If you plan to buy this, I suggest getting the Blu-ray which also covers his conflict with CM Punk (Punk's going-away present for leaving WWE, I'm sure) in the form of a forgotten Raw bout from 2009 and their memorable Raw meeting from early 2013 (which, to be fair, can also be found on The Best Of Raw & SmackDown 2013).

The focus on rivalries is a good touch: it keeps things fresh, and the change in chronology disguises the fact that Cena's babyface character has grown staler with each passing year. But the formula here allows you to see Cena in some of his greatest and/or most famous matches without emphasising how little his persona has changed. The full career-spanning compilation, featuring a real documentary and all of his landmark matches, will likely be a few years away yet, but in the meantime Greatest Rivalries is "The Champ" amongst DVD releases based around John Cena.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10 - Excellent

Thursday, 19 March 2015

WrestleMania 23

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 480 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: July 9 2007

Twenty years after the landmark WrestleMania III, the Showcase Of The Immortals returns to a major stadium in Michigan (this was the first WM in a stadium since 2003, and it has continued to be hosted in stadia to this very day). Historically, WM 23 does not compare to WM 3, but in terms of action, this is a very good if underrated WM that surpasses everything that wasn't Steamboat vs. Savage in the Pontiac Silverdome.

The card kicks off with what is, to me, the best pyrotechnics display in WWE history; it is stunning. But better than that is the third Money In The Bank match, which here features eight participants. Although it is longer than most MITB bouts have been, it is a bit slower and features fewer major spots. But there are still plenty of big moments, including one of the most insane Ladder match moments ever in the form of Jeff Hardy's huge legdrop off one ladder into Edge and through another ladder (an unseen stunt at the time). Equally crazy is Mr. Kennedy's Green Bay Plunge from a great height on Hornswoggle (yes, Hornswoggle!) en route to his win. Unfortunately, injury denied Kennedy his cash-in moment and he never became the star he was projected to be - but on this night, he seemed every bit the future after winning a great opening contest.

Kane vs. The Great Khali is slow and dull. A backstage segment involving then-current wrestlers and Legends is fun yet bizarre. Chris Benoit's successful US Title defence against MVP is surprisingly good given that MVP had only recently debuted and not shone as an actual wrestler prior to this. But the match is uncomfortable to watch knowing that this was Chris' last WM bout before the horrific Benoit Tragedy in June 2007.

An appearance by the 2007 Hall Of Fame class is followed by a great World Title match between The Undertaker and Batista. Going in, Taker hadn't had a really good match (besides those with Kurt Angle) for years, and Batista was sleepwalking through his work at that point. Nobody expected a five-star match - but that's what we got. Arguably the best big-man bout ever in WWE, it ends with Taker going 15-0 and winning his first top title since 2002 (which I was happy with as rumours suggested that The Animal would end The Streak here). Its placement as bout four was odd on the night, but makes no difference when watching it again here.

Match 5 sees the ECW Originals beat The New Breed in a regular 8-man which is okay, but their Extreme Rules rematch on ECW a few nights later was far better and should have been on the WM card instead. Then comes the Battle Of The Billionaires: Bobby Lashley vs. Umaga, with their rich representatives (Donald Trump and Vince McMahon respectively) having wagered their hair, and refereed by Stone Cold Steve Austin. I was going to say that this is one of those matches that you'll either love or hate, but it actually lies between the two. It isn't the most entertaining spectacle ever, but one still cannot help but enjoy it as Umaga is beaten and Vince is shaved bald. Post-match, Trump takes the worst Stone Cold Stunner ever from Austin.

By the way, Austin at one point was meant to face Hulk Hogan on this card in a hopefully-he'll-do-it kind of way. It didn't happen, partly cause Austin didn't like Hulk at the time, as didn't a suggested Hogan-Big Show match to replicate Hogan's WM 3 top-liner with Andre The Giant because of a serious back injury to the behemoth. And, in fact, Hogan messed up his own appearance as Trump's man in this match by helping to reveal potential HOF inductees in a radio appearance, which actually ended his in-ring career in WWE in hindsight. Google it and you'll find the full story somewhere. So, he was out and, eventually, in as ref came his old enemy Stone Cold. Wrestling, eh?

A filler Divas Title match between Melina and Ashley is followed by the main event, a WWE Title match between John Cena and Shawn Michaels. Not regarded as one of Shawn's finest bouts, this is nevertheless a really good end to the show, and it ends with Cena securing a submission victory with the STFU to retain the crown in what was probably his best match ever.

WM 23 felt a bit anti-climatic at the time, perhaps because the dream Austin-Hogan match never happened, and because injuries to Triple H and Rey Mysterio prevented those two WM 22 main eventers wrestling here (this was actually the first Mania that HHH had missed since his WWF debut in 1995, and he hasn't missed one since). But it is definitely a fun show and while it lacks that absolute classic match, there are several very good ones here.

The extras include promos both before and after the show related to the big matches, a bonus pre-show bout (a tag Lumberjack affair), the WM 23 press conference and the 2007 Hall Of Fame ceremony. The class has plenty of notable names: The Wild Samoans, Nick Bockwinkel, The Sheik, Mr. Fuji, Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler, Mr. Perfect and Dusty Rhodes. This part of the DVD is quite entertaining and is actually one of the real highlights of the release.

Summing it up, then, WrestleMania 23 serves as a way to show how much the WWF/WWE had advanced since WrestleMania III. Yet, it doesn't deliver a moment to rival Hogan slamming Andre or a match to equal Steamboat vs. Savage. On the whole, though, it is a very enjoyable card which to a fan watching in hindsight should not disappoint. Combined with entertaining extras and a more-than-worthwhile HOF presentation, the WM 23 DVD receives a strong recommendation from me.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10 - Excellent

Monday, 16 March 2015

Straight To The Top: The Money In The Bank Ladder Match Anthology

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 390 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: November 4 2013

Debuting in 2005, the Money In The Bank Ladder match has been one of WWE's most anticipated stipulations over the last decade. Originally appearing once a year at WrestleMania, and later earning its own PPV where two bouts were held each time, the MITB mattered because a) a guaranteed World Title shot was at stake; b) the matches themselves would be good, great or incredible; and c) the cash-in moments would usually be unpredictable and/or very dramatic, and largely resulted in new titleholders being crowned.

This DVD shows every MITB match from its debut to the 2013 entries, and is hosted by Raw MITB 2010 victor The Miz. The Blu-ray includes all the cash-ins up to Dolph Ziggler's post-WM XXIX World Title triumph, which means a few 'proper' full-length bouts (the highlight being Rob Van Dam vs. John Cena at ECW One Night Stand 2006), although the best 'unexpected' cash-ins are Edge at New Year's Revolution 2006 and a 2007 SmackDown, and CM Punk at a 2008 Raw.

The compilation is in two parts: the WrestleMania years and the MITB PPV years. The bouts from WM 21-26 are all here, and all are either very good or brilliant. The first four are the best, although all have their moments. Whether it's Shelton Benjamin's daredevil antics in all but one of the WM bouts, Jeff Hardy's truly insane legdrop onto Edge, the equally bonkers stunt involving Hornswoggle and Mr. Kennedy (KENNEDY!), the unexpected and/or long-awaited wins for Rob Van Dam and CM Punk (the latter of which was welcome at WM 24, but not at WM 25 where fans desperately wanted Christian to win; ironic given how much fans would later idolise Punk and constantly wish for his WWE return) or the big bumps and acrobatics involving Kofi Kingston and Evan Bourne, every single match delivers a number of eye-catching or jaw-dropping moments. Even Ric Flair, Finlay and Mark Henry have a hand in stunning visuals.

It's clear when watching, though, that by 2009 the stipulation had peaked. It's unclear why: maybe it's because WWE went PG in 2008 and so the bouts had some restrictions from then on. Perhaps it's because the casting was more sensible in the early years. Possibly it's down to there being fewer rising stars who fans desperately wanted to see win a MITB match. Or it could just be that the first few matches felt fresh and different, an element which was bound to decrease as the years rolled on. Either way, the 2009 and 2010 Mania bouts deliver plenty of action, but they lack something of the earlier incarnations. Nevertheless, all are essential viewing; this run of matches alone is one of the best ever on a wrestling DVD.

The stipulation then enters the PPV era: the first Money In The Bank event was in July 2010, from which point a MITB bout for a WWE and World Title shot was held on each show for four years (the remaining time span of this compilation). The eight matches from the MITB PPV are all good or really good (I'd say one of the SmackDown bouts was the best in this section, and the 2012 'red' bout is the least inspiring) and still have their moments, from a crazy Air Bourne off a ladder to Dolph Ziggler's psychotic bumps to Rob Van Dam's 2013 return. On the whole, this portion of the release is also very much watchable, but again they lack that certain something which made the first couple of MITB bouts at WrestleMania feel really special.

Watching this drives home the thought that the MITB match really should return to being a one-match attraction at WrestleMania, especially with their being only one World Champ in WWE again. Its allure has been diluted by the PPV (although not as much as Elimination Chamber or Hell In A Cell), and such a move would guarantee a great match at every WrestleMania again. It also gives under-utilised or up-and-coming talent a great spotlight. Imagine, for instance, if this year the MITB bout was an 8-man clash at Mania between Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt, Dolph Ziggler, Cesaro, Tyson Kidd, Bad News Barrett, Kofi Kingston and someone from NXT, such as Adrian Neville. That would be a potential showstealer at WM. Obviously this isn't going to happen, and some wrestlers like Wyatt will be satisfied with their WM role this year; but it's an example of what could happen if MITB moved back to Mania.

I was also thinking about the dream MITB match after reliving these bouts; my choice for entrants in such a bout would be Edge (first winner), Jeff Hardy (crazy one), Chris Jericho (inventor of the stipulation), Shelton Benjamin (mad stuntman), Kofi Kingston (ditto), CM Punk (only two-time winner), Matt Hardy (to hold things together) and Christian (in case he finally wins). Of course, this won't happen either, but it was just fantasy booking in my mind. (Oh, and Edge would win - he is the Ultimate Opportunist, after all.)

Summing this up, then, whilst it is a bit sad to see the once-vibrant format lose part of its appeal over time, match quality is always high on this DVD and there are a ton of mad stunts. It is not one of the absolute best wrestling DVDs ever, but the Money In The Bank Anthology is definitely on the rung just below. It is a great compilation that all WWE fans will love.

Overall Rating: 9/10 - Outstanding

Thursday, 12 March 2015

WrestleMania XXIV

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 494 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: July 7 2008

The first WrestleMania I attended live was WM 24 in the Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando, Florida. For that reason, I will always have fond memories of the show; but even if I hadn't been there, I would still remember this as an exceptional WrestleMania, and the DVD experience is just that too.

The setting itself is stunning: the open-air stadium and the fly-pass (a first for a WWE show) make this seem enormous before the bell even rings. Kicking off the action is an underrated Belfast Brawl between John Bradshaw Layfield and Finlay, followed by Money In The Bank IV. Despite Jeff Hardy's suspension-enforced absence, this provides a wealth of memorable spots, including the surprise return of Jeff's brother Matt. Beforehand, anyone could theoretically have won, which made it a pleasant surprise when the then-relative newcomer CM Punk snatched the briefcase. The Best In The World had his breakout moment here.

Match 3 is the Battle For Brand Supremacy, although the lasting memory of Batista's win over Umaga (or, as then-Raw GM William Regal called him, "Umanga!") is a messed-up Batista Bomb that nearly crippled the Samoan Bulldozer. The fourth encounter is the shortest in WM history (and still is to this day): Kane, who won a pre-show 24-man Battle Royal (included here as a DVD extra), dethrones Chavo Guerrero for the ECW Title in a matter of seconds.

The card regains full steam with match 5, an incredibly gripping and emotional showdown between Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair. If Flair lost, he would have to retire. I had misgivings beforehand about this being a classic given Flair's age, but somehow the Nature Boy delivers one last incredible performance against Mr. WrestleMania himself, who is superb as always. Prior to the match-winning Sweet Chin Music, HBK tells Flair "I'm sorry. I love you." Both are teary-eyed (hell, so was the ref), and Michaels wins to end Flair's career, a moment made even bigger by a post-match standing ovation. Unfortunately, Flair would wrestle again in the future, but not in WWE, so it does still have historic merit and remains a must-see bout.

The following Divas Tag acts as a break for the audience, made worse by the lights failing during the match. They remain out for part of the subsequent WWE Title 3-way between Randy Orton, Triple H and John Cena, a bout that doesn't get the credit it deserves (and this was before the feuds involving the three had reached overkill). Orton retains the Title which was unexpected at the time, but in hindsight was a bit pointless; the result only delayed his title loss by a few weeks until Backlash 2008 when HHH became Champ again.

Floyd Mayweather vs. Big Show seemed a strange pairing but the interest was still high, and for matches involving celebrities, this is actually amazingly entertaining. Mayweather's win was unsurprising given his perfect record in boxing, but The Undertaker's undefeated WM Streak does appear to be in jeopardy at various points in his World Title match with Edge, a classic main event which quality-wise was probably the bout of the year. A very close call with a Spear is followed by a second, which is reversed into Hell's Gate and gives Taker his 16th WrestleMania win and second World Heavyweight Title (his 6th top WWE title in all) in a great climax to a phenomenal WrestleMania show.

The DVD also includes the 2008 Hall Of Fame ceremony which, besides a couple of edited-out lines, is here in full. That is significant because it lasts nearly 4 1/2 hours. But it includes a brilliant return of The Rock to induct his father Rocky Johnson and grandfather High Chief Peter Maivia (his pre-induction one-liners are great, including one aimed at John Cena at a time when a match between the two seemed like a fantasy never to be realised), and a long yet compelling speech by Ric Flair (too long, in fact; I had to leave the HOF before it ended due to the show vastly overrunning).

The other inductees are Jack and Gerry Brisco, Gordon Solie, Mae Young and Eddie Graham. Those inductions have their moments (JBL makes some funny quips in his induction of the Briscos), but they seem like filler between the Rock and Flair-related sections (by the way, Rock's participation opened the ceremony on the night, but is the semi-final here). This may be the most entertaining HOF ceremony to date in WWE, but don't watch it all in one sitting! Sadly, of the 2008 class, at time of writing only Flair, Rocky Johnson and Gerald Brisco are still with us (although in fairness, three of the eight inductions were posthumous).

Unfortunately, besides the aforementioned Battle Royal, there are no other extras on the DVD (or the Blu-ray; this was actually the first ever WWE Blu-ray, and the first and only WWE PPV released on UMD too; remember those?). I put that down to the very long HOF ceremony; to squeeze it all on, the enjoyable but irrelevant extras had to be left out. Had they been included, I would have given the DVD a perfect 10.

But even without them, this is a brilliant DVD set, and probably the best DVD for a WWE show ever. Sure, WrestleMania X-Seven may be the best WM ever, but even that chugged along for the first six of its eleven matches; whilst WrestleMania XIX is just as great a show as WM XXIV, but the DVD experience isn't quite on par with this one. Here, you get an incredible WrestleMania and an equally must-watch Hall Of Fame (by the way, the HOF wasn't around from 1997 to 2003, hence its absence from the X7 and XIX releases), and a bonus match to boot. If you haven't already, buy this DVD today.

Oh, and if you do buy it and you watch the Mania show, look out for the guy in front of the hard camera on the third row wearing a red cap and a Liverpool FC shirt. That's me!

Overall Rating: 9.5/10 - Classic

Monday, 9 March 2015

Raw 100: The Top 100 Moments In Raw History

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 363 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: February 4 2013

Some DVDs are easy to review; others aren't. The Top 100 Moments In Raw History is one of the more difficult ones because its main feature is split into many short parts, meaning that one can only really judge it with an overall perspective rather than the quality of its key components. Nevertheless, I shall give it a try, and the good thing is that whilst reviewing the release is a bit hard, enjoying the DVD certainly isn't.

The DVD is actually a two-parter: part one, as the name suggests, is a countdown of Raw's top 100 moments/matches. Part two, meanwhile, is the entire 1,000th episode of Raw from July 23 2012 (by the way, the DVD was designed to mark this milestone).

The countdown definitely spotlights Raw's most memorable moments from its 1993 debut to its one thousandth episode in 2012. The actual order of some entries is debatable; however, it is clearly intended to be a feel-good run-through Raw's back catalogue as opposed to a serious consideration of its highs and lows. This is evidenced by the talking head comments by wrestlers, many of which are in-character and, whilst at times entertaining, don't add a great deal.

As one may expect, the majority of the moments spotlighted are from the Attitude Era, something I cannot argue with. Recent moments are more about truly memorable occurrences and returns, and the earlier entries are more about matches and are sparse in number.

Truthfully, one could create a list of the top 200 or 300 moments in Raw history and have material left over; there have been so many good Raw matches which are somewhat forgotten because the non-match moments are so unforgettable. And what constitutes a memorable moment is at times debatable; for example, Stone Cold could probably fill half the list by himself but, to keep things fair, we are left with only his greatest material, and we do not get such gems as the Whataburger promo and his retelling of the Beverly Hillbillies story.

Overall, though, few should have complaints with the list, and the main programme is superficially entertaining. If there's a moment you don't enjoy, another one will come along within minutes. I certainly wouldn't class this as anything close to a brilliant feature, and if you don't enjoy countdowns then this is definitely not for you. Taken for what it is, though, you should find this an entertaining couple of hours, although probably not something you would watch over and over again.

The other main part is Raw 1000. To quickly run through the show, we get a nice opening package (if oddly lacking some of those top Raw moments); a D-Generation X reunion (sans Chyna); a good but forgettable six-man bout; a double dance for Brodus Clay and Dude Love; a two-part segment which includes a wedding, a Raw GM announcement and the return of The Rock; an enjoyable Intercontinental Title bout between Christian and The Miz which is introduced by Bret Hart; a confrontation between Triple H and Brock Lesnar to promote their SummerSlam 2012 main event; the reunion of The Brothers Of Destruction; and John Cena cashing in Money In The Bank against WWE Champion CM Punk, the main presentation of which has a shocking conclusion. We also get other fun segments, a few funny highlight reels and plenty more old faces (Heath Slater falls afoul of many of them).

As a way to mark the milestone of 1,000 episodes, this Raw is more than enjoyable, and is the main reason to buy this DVD. The only downsides are the non-appearances by a few big names including Stone Cold (then injured), Hulk Hogan (then in TNA) and Ric Flair (then in the middle of a strange saga which began with him as a WWE Hall Of Fame inductee whilst a TNA performer, and which eventually ended with him returning to ... WWE).

Although I don't review Blu-rays, I should point out that if you do collect them, you should get that version of this release. The Blu-ray extra is a lengthy legends discussion about the history of Raw from an insider's point of view, which makes this a far better all-round package. As it is, the DVD just has a couple of extra moments including, inexplicably, Jeremy Piven's stint as guest host in 2009 (why does WWE continue to trump this as a success when the whole show was awful largely because of him and his irritating sidekick Dr. Ken?).

Still, I would suggest giving the DVD a viewing. It won't make any Best Of lists of its own, and you'll probably have seen most of the profiled moments in full elsewhere but, mainly because of the addition of Raw 1000, it's still fairly enjoyable. If you can, though, buy the Blu-ray instead of the DVD as it is a more complete and entertaining package.

Overall Rating: 6.5/10 - Okay

Thursday, 5 March 2015

WrestleMania 25

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 432 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: July 6 2009

It's WrestleMania Season! And so we continue our look back at WM on DVD with WrestleMania 25.

The 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania was very much hit and miss, with the show reaching the highest of highs in addition to some unfathomable lows. Nevertheless, the DVD release features enough engaging content to make it worth a try.

That the Tag Team Title unification match was held before WM 25 began is one of the many booking errors on the show; at least here the bout is included, making the decision less bothersome here. The PPV itself opens with Money In The Bank V. Although it's a very entertaining match, with stunning spots involving Shelton Benjamin and Kofi Kingston, to me this is where MITB began to lose its value. The casting was questionable, as stale veterans replaced promising newcomers who didn't wrestle on the show at all, and CM Punk winning for the second year in a row was not popular due to the demand for a win for the recently-returned Christian. Long-term, the victory did benefit Punk - but a Christian win should still have happened.

Next up is a 25-Diva Battle Royal; Santina Marella's antics aside, this is very much missable, made worse by the exclusion of the pre-match Kid Rock mini-concert which took up a load of air time and made the various Diva comebacks less momentous. Then, Chris Jericho tackles Jimmy Snuka, Roddy Piper and Ricky Steamboat, accompanied by Ric Flair and cheered on by Mickey Rourke. Jericho vs. Steamboat is awesome, but the rest of this match presentation feels too second-rate for a show of this magnitude.

The Extreme Rules match of The Hardyz deserves more credit than it is given: a forgotten gem, it is a great effort that is not remembered well due to the feud fizzling out within weeks. But it's still more memorable than the 21-second Intercontinental Title match between Rey Mysterio and JBL, who quits WWE immediately afterwards. Compared to Ric Flair's dramatic retirement at the previous Mania, this moment feels so insignificant that people forget it really was the end for JBL's in-ring run in the company, save for the odd surprise appearance.

At this point, WM 25 hasn't exactly been a vintage card; fortunately, it is etched in one's memory forever due to bout number six, The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels. Surpassing even the sky-high expectations of longtime fans, this absolute belter of a match is one of the very top clashes in both WrestleMania and WWE history. It contains a ton of major moves (including one which nearly went disastrously wrong as Undertaker fell short of a missed tope and landed on his skull), a massive amount of crowd noise, and a perfectly-told story of the veteran who might just have a way to end The Streak (Taker's expression after Shawn survived the first Tombstone was perfect, and matched the awe of the fans, including me, that HBK could withstand that move). After 30 minutes of first-class combat, a second Tombstone for Undertaker seals the win in a strong contender for Best Match Ever; this bout alone justifies a purchase of the WM 25 DVD. It is that damn good, to quote Triple H.

Unfortunately, the last two matches can't follow this all-time classic. John Cena's World Title win against Edge and Big Show exceeds expectations but is not exactly a Match Of The Year choice, and Triple H's WWE Title defence against Randy Orton simply doesn't deliver. I actually enjoyed the build-up, despite it being a familiar square-off, but on the night the crowd just wasn't there and, worse, nothing majorly exciting happened which could have made it a bout to remember. A chaotic No DQ fight was the way to go, especially given the personal nature of their feud. Instead, the match is largely dull, made worse by the lack of response, and so HHH's easy win ends the historic 25th WrestleMania on a bum note.

More entertaining is the 2009 Hall Of Fame induction ceremony. By this point, the HOF had become firmly established, and this is one of the strongest classes with The Funks, Koko B. Ware, The Von Erichs, Bill Watts, Howard Finkel, Ricky Steamboat and one of the most deserving Hall Of Famers of all-time, Stone Cold Steve Austin. Incidentally, Austin also celebrates his HOF induction at Mania before the main event; even taking into account that this show was held in his home state of Texas, the segment proves that Stone Cold is arguably the most popular and beloved wrestler in history.

The DVD wraps up with 24 recap videos highlighting key events of all WrestleManias up until this point. The DVD set itself also comes with a small booklet which also recounts the history of Mania so far (actually it's just the WM section of the original WWE Encyclopedia but it still serves its purpose), which is a nice touch.

In summary, this is nowhere near being the greatest WrestleMania ever. The HOF is enjoyable but also isn't the best ceremony to date entertainment-wise. And the added segments and book are good extras but nothing more. That being said, the DVD set delivers just enough entertainment to warrant a purchase. And, if nothing else, by buying WrestleMania 25, you'll get to see a genuine contender for Best Match Ever between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels.

Overall Rating: 8/10 - Very Good

Monday, 2 March 2015

Goldberg: The Ultimate Collection

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 422 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: October 7 2013

GOLDBERG! GOLDBERG! GOLDBERG! Fans had been anticipating a DVD on the career of Goldberg for years, so when it was announced for late 2013, it generated a lot of excitement. But did the release match the hype?

Firstly, there is no documentary here, which is disappointing. That is more of a problem for this particular release than for a DVD on another wrestler because Goldberg's career was relatively short, and many of his matches were too. Therefore, even if a Goldberg documentary is released on DVD in future, are there enough of his matches not featured here to fill up the remainder of the release?

That aside, the DVD delivers dozens of Goldberg matches. A good number are of the short, squash variety, so I will just focus on the key matches in this review. His debut against Hugh Morrus - the beginning of his undefeated streak in WCW - is an essential inclusion. His WCW US Title victory over Raven is very exciting, but more so is his historic WCW World Title win over Hollywood Hulk Hogan, in front of a rabid Georgia Dome crowd. We see him in high-profile WCW bouts against Scott Hall, Sting, Diamond Dallas Page and The Giant (who he somehow Jackhammers), before his ill-advised first loss to Kevin Nash at Starrcade 1998.

(Incidentally, this shows the difference between WCW and WWE; when The Undertaker lost at WrestleMania 30, it was made clear that the Streak ending was a milestone moment, a historic event; when Nash beat Goldberg, it was treated as a wonderful thing and quickly dismissed even though it killed WCW's biggest ratings-draw at a time when numbers were dropping).

Disc two focuses on his WCW tenure, post-Streak. We see Goldberg in more star-studded bouts including a huge yet confusing 4-way on Nitro, and we witness him getting revenge on Nash at Spring Stampede in 1999. Other notable bouts are against Sting, Ric Flair, DDP, Sid and Scott Steiner (the latter of which is a great match, a rarity in the latter-day WCW), before the forgettable yet historic-in-hindsight tag team match which ends Goldberg's career in WCW. This is treated as a momentous occurrence by WCW, although Goldberg was meant to return to the company; when WCW was bought by the WWF/WWE, he did not.

However, as disc 3 explains in its opening, Goldberg didn't arrive in WWE for two more years. From there, we see his most memorable WWE bouts against The Rock, Chris Jericho and Triple H (a match against Shawn Michaels is a Blu-ray extra). We also see him dominate the Elimination Chamber at SummerSlam 2003 (his finest hour in WWE, despite the worst result of that year which saw him lose after one sledgehammer shot) and face Mark Henry and a youngish Batista before concluding the DVD, as well as his WWE run and his wrestling career as a whole, with his surreal WrestleMania XX win over the also-departing Brock Lesnar.

Many said that Goldberg's WWE tenure was a disappointment. I enjoyed it but I felt he came a year or two too late, as he missed out on potential blockbusters against Stone Cold Steve Austin and another round with Hulk Hogan. Had he remained with WWE longer, other dream matches against the likes of The Undertaker and Kurt Angle may have happened too. WWE's booking of him didn't help, from his reduced offence to some questionable match results. I don't think it was as bad as some made out, but it certainly could have been better.

As for the DVD? For a Goldberg match compilation, it is almost as good and as extensive as it could be; the only glaring omission is his Souled Out 1999 meeting with Scott Hall, largely considered to be one of his greatest bouts. It's also worth noting that Goldberg's WCW theme song is dubbed over by his WWE theme, which is rather annoying.

Some feel that the DVD isn't very good in terms of match quality; however, Goldberg was always more of a wrecking machine than a technical marvel. The DVD is aimed at Goldberg's fans who loved him for his explosive power, his charisma and his intensity. The compilation certainly provides all the evidence one needs to understand why Goldberg became such a huge star in the late 1990s. The lack of a documentary is the biggest flaw; otherwise, it is as strong a DVD as could be expected on Da Man, GOLLLDBERRRG!

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 - Good