Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Best Of Raw - 15th Anniversary

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 530 Minutes
Certificate: 18
Number Of Discs: 4
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: April 14 2008

It's Raw week on Writebase! Under profile here is a four-disc DVD which was released in early 2008 to mark the first 15 years of Monday Night Raw, consisting of a disc dedicated to a five-year period and a bonus disc (more on that later). It is a mixture of matches and segments from 1993 to 2007 and at some point features most of the top WWF/WWE stars of the 15-year period. A lot of the matches are not going to blow anybody away, but there are some gems in there; however, this DVD is largely characterised by the segments, and the vast majority are historic in Raw lineage and are very entertaining.

We open with a quick look at a Raw episode 1 before Raw's two most notable matches of 1993 (held on the same night, actually): the 123 Kid's incredible upset win over Razor Ramon and a great Intercontinental Title bout between Marty Jannetty and Shawn Michaels. A brilliant 1994 WWF Title match between the Kid and Bret Hart is a standout, although the talking point of Owen Hart vs. Shawn from 1995 is HBK's apparent collapse (I only discovered years later that this really was part of the show). Non-wrestling moments are infrequent here, from a fight on the streets (which is different to a Street Fight) between HBK and Mr. Perfect to the mystery of The Undertaker as investigated by Leslie Nielsen in his guise as Lt. Frank Dreben from The Naked Gun (see my other reviews to read about this brilliant comedy trilogy of movies).

The complexion of Raw changes in 1996: whilst we get an Undertaker-Mankind match, we see more angles, increasing in controversy (Vader's attack of on-screen figurehead Gorilla Monsoon, Goldust "reviving" Ahmed Johnson and the frightening Brian Pillman-Stone Cold Steve Austin incident). The year 1997 is eventful: in the ring, we get a superb British Bulldog-Owen match and an exciting USA-Canada Flag match, whilst outside the ring we see a recap of the original ECW invasion, Stone Cold's first Stunner on Vince, the infamous "Bret screwed Bret" speech post-Montreal, and suggestive segments involving Sable and a new unit called D-Generation X to conclude disc one.

The years 1998 and 1999 have very few matches on the DVD (a Vince-Austin match which doesn't happen, a historic WWF Title bout between The Rock and Mankind and a Stooges-Mean Street Posse comedy match which apparently broke ratings records), but there is a good reason why. This was the apex of the Attitude Era, and so we get a ton of memorable segments: the classic Stone Cold-Mike Tyson confrontation ("Tyson and Austin!"); The New Age Outlaws launching a dumpster containing Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie; X-Pac joining D-Generation X; DX impersonating The Nation Of Domination; Stone Cold's brilliant segments with Vince involving a Zamboni, a hospital bedpan (preceded by the debut of Mr. Socko), a cement truck and a toy gun with the message "Bang 3:16"; Austin's Beer Truck and Monster Truck invasions from spring 1999; a recap of the reveal of Vince as Greater Power for the Corporate Ministry and Austin as CEO (this tremendous segment should have been here in full); arguably Raw's best debut ever for Chris Jericho; the hilarious "This Is Your Life" for The Rock as presented by Mankind; and clips of the original McMahon-Helmsley wedding (which also should have been here in full).

There were other memorable moments from the time period not here, from Undertaker "sacrificing" Austin to Rock and Austin scrapping on a bridge, but I guess you can't have everything, and almost everything that is here from the era is classic. The remainder of this disc is shorter and covers 2000-2002; due to the (justifiable) focus on 1998 and 1999, a lot of key occurrences from this period are not here, but it does include a Jericho-HHH WWF Title match from 2000; a feature on the WCW buyout and Raw/Nitro simulcast (this segment definitely should have been here in full); the end of Austin Appreciation Night (ditto); Triple H's return in Madison Square Garden; the Rock/Hulk Hogan confrontation in Chicago; and the shocking debut of Eric Bischoff.

Disc 3 covers 2003-2007, beginning with angles including The Rock Concert and Kane unmasking for 2003 (where was Goldberg's debut?), and a game of Musical Chairs hosted by Eugene (Ric Flair is hilarious here), Evolution turning on Randy Orton and a strange segment parodying the US's Monday Night Football for 2004. We then enter 2005 with Batista's classic turn on HHH, followed by a superb Michaels-Shelton Benjamin match (ending with the best Sweet Chin Music ever); John Cena being Drafted to Raw (a major event at the time); Shawn shockingly superkicking Hogan; and the end of Chris Jericho's first WWE tenure. That year also included Raw Homecoming, represented here by a Kurt Angle-HBK 30 minute Iron Man match and Austin Stunning all four McMahons. From 2006, we get the Live Sex Celebration involving Edge and Lita, a great send-up of Vince and Shane McMahon by DX, and a Cena-Edge-RVD scrap for the WWE Title. The main programme of the DVD ends in 2007 with a really good Michaels-Edge Street Fight and HBK returning from injury to superkick the then-new WWE Champion Randy Orton.

Some notable absentees in this section include coverage of the Mick Foley-Orton feud from 2003-4, more from Edge's feud with Cena in 2006 and the great Cena-HBK match from London in 2007. Still, the period is covered fairly comprehensively, and proves that Raw still provided a lot of memorable moments after the end of the Attitude Era. The DVD set includes an extra disc for the very first episode of Raw on January 11 1993. It's also worth noting that the DVD includes on-screen trivia notes throughout, which are intriguing at times but, given the choice, having an option to turn them off would have been better.

In hindsight, what Raw moments would have made an additional disc or two to run up to the modern day? My wish list would include highlights from the actual 15th Anniversary (and 20th Anniversary) shows; Jeff Hardy's insane Swanton off the Titan Tron onto Randy Orton; Ric Flair's farewell ceremony; CM Punk cashing in Money In The Bank in 2008; Randy Orton punting Vince McMahon and his feud with HHH; sections on the guest hosts and the 2009-2010 Taker-Shawn feud culminating in his goodbye; Bret Hart's return; the arrival of the Nexus; The Rock returning in 2011 and his feud with John Cena; the Undertaker-HHH double comeback; Edge retiring; CM Punk's "pipe bomb" speech; HHH becoming COO; Brock Lesnar returning; a feature on Raw 1000; Dolph Ziggler cashing in MITB and the Fandango craze from the same show; the arrival of The Wyatt Family; Hulk Hogan's 2014 return; the Occupy Raw segment involving the Yes Movement; the reunion of Evolution; The Shield breaking up; Sting making his Raw debut; and great matches involving Cena, Punk, Daniel Bryan, The Shield and The Wyatt Family, amongst others. If you agree or disagree, leave your comments below!

Returning to the time period under review here, this DVD is a great collection of classic matches and moments from WWE's greatest TV show, despite a lot of glaring omissions. Those who buy these releases for the bouts may be disappointed, although some gems are here; but for those who want a round-up of the first 15 years of Raw's greatest moments, in and out of the ring, this compilation is an essential purchase.

Overall Rating: 9.5/10 - Classic

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Tombstone - The History Of The Undertaker

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 547 Minutes
Certificate: 18
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: September 19 2005

This 2005 DVD on The Undertaker came at a time when it seemed that Taker's best days were behind him. A little ongoing thing called The Streak would prove otherwise, but as a round-up of The Phenom's WWF/WWE career up to the mid-2000s, it is a pretty good overview.

There is no in-depth documentary here, partly because The Dead Man was still active on WWE TV in full character. I don't mind this, although others might; however, I do hope (and expect) the full, proper inside look at The Undertaker's career at some point, either this fall or late next year.

As a match compilation, then, we open with clips of his Survivor Series 1990 debut and the first few full matches are key ones: his first WWF Title win over Hulk Hogan at Survivors 1991; his unusual Casket match with Yokozuna at Royal Rumble 1994 (I was genuinely terrified of this as a 5-year-old; I still am ... only joking); and a big WM clash with Diesel in 1996. The DVD picks up steam with the beginning of his feud against Mankind, although the matches spotlighted here (Buried Alive & In Your House 14) aren't the ones I would have picked (I was hoping for their bouts from King Of The Ring and SummerSlam in 1996, just for starters). We then get a great WWF Title match with Bret Hart at SummerSlam 1997, which begins the most eventful 12 months of Taker's career.

Disc two starts with two PPV matches against Shawn Michaels, the best undoubtedly being their Hell In A Cell match (this DVD was released long before their classic WrestleMania showdowns). But the big story is that the Cell bout leads to the feud with Kane, captured here by their WrestleMania XIV clash and their Inferno rematch. We then get a match that had to be here, the HIAC war with Mankind at KOTR 1998 (but not the SummerSlam 1998 match with Stone Cold Steve Austin, unfortunately). The Ministry phase of his career is covered by PPV matches against The Rock and Stone Cold from the summer of 1999, which are pretty good, before a transformation heading into disc three.

Footage from Judgment Day 2000 shows that Taker returned from a serious injury not as the Phenom but as a biker character nicknamed the American Bad Ass. A controversial career change at the time, it did nevertheless lead to some good matches, like his WM X7 bout with Triple H featured here. His Undisputed WWE Title win over Hogan at Judgment Day 2002 unfortunately has several low points, but Taker rises to the occasion against Brock Lesnar in a brutal and very bloody HIAC match at No Mercy 2002 (had Lesnar beaten Taker again at the following WrestleMania, nobody would have complained). Taker fights a young John Cena at Vengeance 2003 (who knew this would be their only PPV clash?), before a story-based Buried Alive match against Vince McMahon at Survivor Series 2003 includes shocking interference by Kane, which most importantly leads to the return of the Phenom character as he defeats Kane at WM XX (albeit in a disappointing bout) to conclude the DVD.

The release is narrated by Mean Gene Okerlund (although it's impossible to tell), and features two extra matches (great technical scraps against Bret and Kurt Angle from One Night Only 1997 and a 2003 SmackDown! respectively) and some bonus interview segments. Even given that this DVD lacks a documentary and precedes the crucial Streak years, it still excludes some notable matches: as well as those mentioned, the classic 3-way main event from Vengeance 2002 is missing, as is Taker vs. Randy Orton from WM 21 (which happened before the DVD was released).

Overall, though, this is a strong WWE DVD. A modern-day look at Taker's career, including a proper documentary and a round-up of matches covering his entire career, from the pre-WWE days to the major bouts of the 1990s and his biker phase to the highlights of the Streak, would unquestionably be superior, but in the meantime fans should be satisfied with owning this and the Streak DVD (which was recently reviewed here; you can read my thoughts on this release by clicking here). The Undertaker's supporters, the Creatures Of The Night, will love this DVD, I'm sure.

Overall Rating: 8/10 - Very Good

Thursday, 16 April 2015

WrestleMania XIX

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 347 Minutes
Certificate: 18
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: July 14 2003

WrestleMania XIX is an odd one: it is not remembered and referenced as much as other WM shows, and yet it is one of the top three Manias ever. And the DVD captures this event in all its glory, along with some cool extras too.

Before we get started, note that this was the last year before the re-introduction of the WWE Hall Of Fame, so no HOF ceremony is here. This was also the last Mania to be released on a 2-disc DVD, so extras are more limited than for later Manias. I should note that the side-sleeve which is part of a "2003" image when all 12 PPV DVDs for 2003 are together looks good when alongside the rest but, on its own, it looks a bit odd.

(Author's note: I bought this DVD in 2004 when it was bizarrely priced in WH Smith for £4. £4! Four pounds for a WrestleMania DVD that usually cost £25 (and DVDs were still relatively new; videos/VHS cassettes were only just starting to disappear). For a then-16 year old kid with a love for WWE, this was brilliant!)

Onto the show then: this was the first WM under the WWE label, and the first since the Raw/SmackDown! brand split. It was the first, therefore, to feature two announce teams, two ring announcers etc, and the first to feature the World Heavyweight Championship. It was also the first WM to not feature the Intercontinental Title in many years, beginning an unwanted tradition. The original Tag Titles only made it to Heat, although the SmackDown Tag gold was defended on the main stage.

As for the matches, then: we start with Matt Hardy vs. Rey Mysterio for the Cruiserweight Title which is a nice opener although a few more minutes and the reverse result (Rey winning) would have made it far better. Then we get the first of several pointless segments involving The Miller Lite girls, who later face Stacy Keibler and Torrie Wilson in a catfight (presumably when people hail WM 19, they aren't talking about this). The Undertaker goes 11-0 under handicap rules in a match which is okay but wasn't anything to shout about, making it the last unmemorable WM match involving Taker.

Match 3 is a 3-way Women's Title match which is actually really good; Trish Stratus triumphs in what was a triumph for the Divas involved. Next is a short 3-way Tag for the SmackDown! belts, won by defending titleholders Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas.

The action had been good so far, but the card starts really picking up steam with match number five between Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho. This was a dream match but, because of Shawn's back injury, it seemed like it would never happen. But it did here, and HBK returns to WrestleMania by winning a show-stealing match with Y2J, who classes this as the greatest bout of his career. (Before the next match, we see a video announcing Goldberg's impending debut in WWE, which was very exciting at the time!)

A forgotten bout is next: Triple H vs. Booker T for the World Title. This is underrated (probably cause it involved HHH who was legitimately hated at the time), but is a notch below the other big matches here. It is of note for the fact that H3 Pedigrees T but waits 23 seconds to pin him. That Booker lost was disappointing enough at the time, but this act (considered a sign of disrespect inside wrestling) infuriated those who already loathed The Game.

A guilty pleasure followed: Hulk Hogan vs. Vince McMahon in a Street Fight with Hulk's career at stake. They said this was 20 Years In The Making given their history. Beforehand, I wasn't massively keen on seeing this, but it ended up being incredible! Considering that Hogan was 49 and Vince was 57, and bearing in mind their limitations, this was a brawl for the ages, featuring insane moves and a totally unexpected appearance by Rowdy Roddy Piper. Hogan wins in what should be remembered as one of the greatest matches of both men's careers.

As a 14-year-old boy watching this event at the time, I thought nothing could top that ... and then the graphic came on-screen for Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Rock! And knowing that Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar for the WWE Title was still to come, I still remember that at that point I was thinking: "This is the best show ever!" It wasn't far off, I can tell you.

Austin-Rock 3 is another great match of their feud, if slightly lesser than their famous WM X7 top-liner. Being young, I was still naive, so I was surprised that Rock finally beat Austin (nowadays I would class the result as a foregone conclusion). But more notable in hindsight is that this marked Stone Cold's last match. It wasn't announced at the time, it was hinted and rumoured afterwards, but most expected a comeback match eventually ... but it didn't happen. The Austin Era ended here.

Angle-Lesnar went on last, and was another dream match. Kurt went in with a serious neck injury, so the ending was telegraphed, but that he competed at all both surprised and scared many who feared a career-ending accident. As it turned out, though, it was Brock who was almost crippled when his attempt at a Shooting Star Press saw him have a bad landing on his forehead. But somehow he recovered and F5'd Angle (for the third time, by the way) for the win. Both men hugged afterwards, culminating what had been a great main event but, had Angle not been hurt, it could have been an all-time classic. Still, nobody was complaining about the quality of the match or the show, which is one of the top two or three WrestleManias ever.

As stated, the extras are limited compared to future modern WM DVDs. However, there is still a nice selection of bonus footage which notably includes post-match interviews, an entertaining series of promos for a special held at The World (after it had closed down, bizarrely), superstar thoughts on their favourite WM moments, and Goldberg's debut on Raw the night after Mania. In retrospect, the documentary The Mania Of WrestleMania (which looked behind the scenes at WM 19) should have been included here rather than on the WM 20 DVD, but that's just the way things go sometimes.

On the whole, though, the WrestleMania XIX DVD experience is a hugely enjoyable one. The card is massively entertaining and the extras provide a lot of fun as well. It's a hark back to the pre-HOF days, and to a time when WrestleMania was more about the action than the spectacle. Whether you're watching this for Shawn's return to the grand stage, Hogan and Vince's roller coaster ride of a fight, Stone Cold's swan-song, Lesnar's brush with death or even Goldberg's debut on Raw, the DVD of WrestleMania XIX has something for everyone and is a must-own. But unless you're fortunate, don't expect to get it for the bargain price that I did!

Overall Rating: 9/10 - Outstanding

Thursday, 9 April 2015

WrestleMania XX

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 454 Minutes
Certificate: 18
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: July 5 2004

WrestleMania XX was the most hyped WM in history (with the possible exception of WM 28), with the tag line "Where It All Begins Again." The show had its hits and misses, but in hindsight it fell a little short of the hype, so the slogan was only partly applicable. As a DVD set, though, you should get enough entertainment from it to warrant a purchase (and this was the first PPV that WWE ever released as a 3-disc DVD). Note that the WM event alone is over 4 1/2 hours long, the longest PPV in WWE history, and has a whopping 12 matches, so don't watch it all at once!

After a adrenaline-pumping opening video, WM XX starts with John Cena taking a big step to stardom as he beats Big Show for the United States Title in what was probably their best match together (ironically, Cena was hugely cheered here, and some even complained that he wasn't already main eventing WM; how things change). A four-way tag for the Raw belts is alright but feels like filler, a way to squeeze Booker T, RVD, The Dudleyz and others onto the card. Next is Chris Jericho vs. Christian, a good little match that surprisingly sees Christian win and, even more shockingly, sees Trish Stratus turn on Y2J and align with Captain Charisma.

Next up is the first of five huge matches: Mick Foley returns to action proper as he teams with The Rock to reform The Rock 'n' Sock Connection against Evolution (Ric Flair, Randy Orton and Batista). It's entertaining and fun, but for a WM, and a landmark Mania at that, it's a bit disappointing; even Foley admitted that he was disappointed with it. Evolution win as Orton scores a major win to pin Foley clean but, looking back, the subsequent Foley-Orton war at Backlash probably should have been here instead. This was also notable because, for a very long time, it seemed like this would be The Rock's last match. Only when the WM 28 clash with Cena was announced did we discover otherwise.

On it went: a tag Playboy-themed Divas bout should please those who watch just for the eye candy. A Cruiserweight Open is entertaining but rushed (unavoidable on a show like this, to be fair). Then comes a really controversial bout: Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg, with Stone Cold as referee. On paper, this had 'SlobberKnocker' written all over it, although knowledge that Goldberg was probably leaving WWE afterwards harmed the build-up. Imagine the shock, then, when it was strongly rumoured in the final days before WM that Lesnar was also about to leave for different reasons (Brock wanted to become an NFL player). This was the days before Twitter, and wrestling websites weren't as common as they are now, so nobody knew the full stories; just that both were likely to say farewell to WWE after their match.

The result? A weird spectacle wherein the MSG fans hijacked the match with chants of "This Match Sucks!", "Boring!" and "You Sold Out!" Even if both weren't leaving, Lesnar would likely have received a more positive reaction than Da Man, a former WCW star, in a hardcore WWE town. When reports said that Brock was going too, though, fans cared about neither man; only Stone Cold had his name chanted. Making matters worse, the match was booked to feature not a lot of action (some say deliberately), leaving us with a scrap memorable for the wrong reasons.

Goldberg provoked slight cheers when he won, but Lesnar was hammered with the "Goodbye" song afterwards. Fans seemed livid that Brock was turning his back on wrestling (Goldberg's contract had expired and was fed up in WWE) and let him know. Austin Stunnered Brock and, after sharing beers with Goldberg, he Stunned him too. Fans were delighted with Stone Cold's actions; ironically, though, Austin himself left WWE just a few weeks later. A bizarre presentation in the pre-"Cena Sucks!" era, then, but unforgettable nevertheless.

After that train wreck comes another filler four-way tag for the SmackDown! belts and a short Women's Title bout which results in Molly Holly being shaved bald. Match ten is Eddie Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle for the WWE Title, a bout that is underrated but was not quite a classic. Still, Eddie triumphing as Champ at WM was a moment. Prior to his title win over Lesnar at the previous month's No Way Out, Eddie as top dog seemed unthinkable.

Then comes The Undertaker's return to his Dead Man character to fight Kane. The build-up was phenomenal. The entrance was great. Paul Bearer's surprise return was also good. But then Taker comes out with only a minor adjustment to his biker look, and the match with Kane is brief and ends with one Tombstone (it took three to beat him at WM 14). It serves its purpose and was highly anticipated, but in the end it fell a little bit flat.

The twelfth and final match, then, the main event: Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Benoit vs. Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship. This 3-way match delivers everything it promised and more; it is a great end to WM 20. I did feel that the match was a bit overrated by some (it wasn't quite the best match in WM history despite what some say). Sadly, the result (Benoit making HHH submit to become Champ) and closing scene (longtime friends and now titleholders Benoit and Eddie celebrating together) are forever tarnished by the 2007 Benoit Tragedy. No Benoit match is more uncomfortable to watch than this one because it showed how good he was (one of the best technical wrestlers ever) and how much he was respected before the incident that destroyed his legacy beyond repair.

So, to recap: Where It All Begins Again applied in that Cena, Christian, Orton, Eddie and Benoit achieved major wins, but the top two stars were goners within 3 1/2 years, Christian's win wasn't quite built upon, and bigger career-altering moments awaited Cena and Orton in the months to come. It served more as an end, as it seemed Rock, Lesnar and Goldberg had retired (and Goldberg hasn't wrestled since). Elsewhere, some major bouts were disappointing, and some matches were clearly filler to get some names on the show (even then, some missed out, including Matt Hardy, Lita and Rhyno).

Compounding the issue to me at the time was the feeling, partly based on the year-long hype, that a major match was missing somewhere. Stone Cold had retired at WM 19 but a retirement match was expected here. Hulk Hogan had left WWE in June 2003 and hadn't made amends in time to return here. (Incidentally, Randy Savage had challenged Hulk to a match here; presumably, it was not accepted). The rumoured Vince McMahon vs. Eric Bischoff fight never happened here. And some bigger bouts felt a bit thrown together (Foley-Orton and Rock against another opponent would have been better).

On the whole, though, WrestleMania XX has something for everyone and, over its long running time, it delivers a lot of action and entertainment (for vastly different reasons). Slightly disappointing, then, but you should definitely enjoy the WM 20 card - assuming, that is, that you can ignore the grisly consequences of the man who won the main event.

The WM XX DVD, as stated, broke new ground as a 3-disc PPV release. The 2004 Hall Of Fame was released on its own DVD so, instead, the extras focus on pre- and post-match promos, hype packages, set-up matches and more (including a photo gallery). There are three standout extras: a WM trivia quiz which is a nice distraction; a US TV special hosted by Ric Flair highlighting the top ten WM matches from 1985-2003 based on wrestler's picks (don't take the list seriously as some choices are questionable); and The Mania Of WrestleMania, which at the time was a groundbreaking documentary which looked behind the scenes at WM XIX and is very compelling. Overall, then, the extras are more than worthwhile; disc 3 is one of the best discs to not feature matches for a WWE DVD ever.

Overall, then, the WrestleMania event itself has plenty of engaging content but falls short of the greatest in the event's history and the hype which surrounded it beforehand. On DVD, though, it is definitely worthy of one's attention, but again I reiterate that if you are uncomfortable watching Chris Benoit matches, do not watch this as the best match of the DVD is his crowning career moment. The extras are more than enjoyable, and as stated the documentary is a must-see. Only for the Benoit Tragedy, I would have given this a 9/10, but you can't help but have that in mind when watching the main event, so I knock it down to an overall score of 8.5.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10 - Excellent

Monday, 6 April 2015

War Games - WCW's Most Notorious Matches

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 369 Minutes
Certificate: 18
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: July 1 2013

As someone who has primarily watched the WWF/WWE and who only caught bits and pieces of WCW when it was in business, there were many key moments from the latter company that I never saw at the time. Even as WWE began releasing DVDs featuring such incidents, there was still one group of matches from WCW history which, by and large, I had never seen and only knew a little bit about, and that was War Games, a stipulation invented by Dusty Rhodes (who is the talking head before matches here). This DVD finally provides the chance to see War Games in all its glory.

For those unfamiliar, War Games was a NWA/JCP/WCW creation which saw a roofed steel cage cover two rings. The match saw two teams of five, mainly, head into battle with one man on each team starting and fighting for five minutes. Then, after a coin toss, another wrestler off one team enters (usually from the heels; actually, it was always someone from the heel team). Two minutes later, a wrestler off the other team enters. Then two minutes later a third man off the first team goes in and so on, until everyone is in. At this point, the door locks and you have The Match Beyond; only now can someone win, which happens when one man surrenders or submits, and his team then loses.

It sounds a bit complex, but it's easy to follow once in progress. The key thing is that, whilst the entry parts can't end the match, they do involve a lot of brutal, bloody action, so it isn't uncommon for many entrants to be bleeding by the end. Plus, as Dusty notes, when it debuted in 1987, at the time The Four Horsemen were running roughshod in the NWA/JCP, so each member of a babyface team would have a score to settle with at least one adversary from the opposing faction. It all meant one huge, violent brawl, something very different from what the WWF was providing at the time. One can understand its appeal in the late 1980s.

This DVD begins with two 1987 War Games bouts from the Great American Bash tour (TGAB was a summer tour of shows back then). Dusty explains that these matches were recorded for video but weren't on TV because War Games was an experience you had to see in person. Both matches are very similar; they aren't about spots, although there are some big moves. They are more about fighting, action, violence, bloodshed. Both are engaging but a little hard to watch due to poor production values. Another bout from 1988 follows with roughly the same personnel, give or take a couple of names.

Before then, we get a Tower Of Doom match from the 1988 Great American Bash (now a PPV). This is a triple-decker cage and has slightly different rules. It's enjoyable and the better production makes the viewing experience a lot better, but the rules are almost impossible to follow; it would require a full article from me to explain it, so I'll just suggest that you try to just enjoy it and not think about it when watching. Disc one ends with a War Games from the 1989 Bash which lacks blood but has more exciting moments of actual wrestling and is a really good match, actually.

The Horsemen weren't in that one, but a newer version appears in the opener to disc two from Wrestle War 1991 (which begins the trend of 4-on-4 War Games matches). I liked this match although the lasting image is a nasty one of Sid Vicious almost breaking Brian Pillman's neck with an attempted powerbomb. Beforehand, though, Dusty says that the concept was starting to move away from his original version; as an occasional PPV attraction, and without factions like the Horsemen, he states that the match started to lose its lustre. That being said, the next match from Wrestle War 1992 between Sting's Squadron and The Dangerous Alliance is one of the best of this type: it is chock-a-block with activity, has a strong crowd reaction, plenty of blood and includes several spots which take advantage of the caged environment unlike those before it.

The following clash from Fall Brawl 1993 is when some say the stipulation began to really suffer. I didn't think I was that bad, although it wasn't as good as those before it. The 1994 clash feels like a mid-card match although it does see Dusty and his son team in the American Dream's creation (by the way, Dusty tells a funny story before this match which provides a moment to look out for, in a way, in this bout). The 1995 meeting sees War Games debuts for big WWF names like Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, but it's largely uneventful and it becomes clear that War Games had now changed from what it had been.

The next two matches are from the nWo vs. WCW rivalry and, for that reason, have more purpose to exist and provide more lively bouts as a result. The 1998 Fall Brawl clash is something else: a star-studded 3-way meeting of teams of three, with a World Title shot at stake for one winner. It is good, bad and ugly all at once; it is definitely worth seeing, if not for the reasons that those involved would have hoped for, and if you research online the back story of this scrap, you'll enjoy it even more. But even for the mistakes and occasional daftness, it's still better than the incredibly confusing War Games-rules triple-decker cage match from 2000, which ends the DVD and can only be described as an absolute clusterf--k (sorry, but it is).

Dusty's talking spots are worth watching as they provide context and include a few intriguing stories. (By the way, there is a hidden "Easter Egg" on disc one where Dusty compares War Games to the Royal Rumble; to access it, go to the second chapters page on disc one and press right on the penultimate match until a WWE logo appears and then click on it.) The Blu-ray includes a few War Games-style matches from SMW and ECW which is a nice twist; I would have liked to have seen the other triple decker cage bouts from WCW here too, especially since the DVD would have had plenty of running time left to include them.

This is an unusual DVD for me. The best matches are from a time period where the production values are gritty and make them hard to watch. By the time the visuals are of a more acceptable standard, the match quality and storylines have largely decreased. And besides the nWo plot developments, the last few matches are largely confusing. Plus, the earlier matches are very repetitive, and the same general story applies to almost every War Games match; it'd be wrong to say that if you've seen one then you've seen them all, but it isn't too far off. Also, many War Games bouts quickly end once the final entrant comes in. And while the idea of making War Games something that you had to pay to see makes sense, it means that many were not recorded and thus couldn't be here, and by the time it regularly featured on PPV, the consensus is that the stipulation's glory days had passed.

And yet War Games is lauded as one of the all-time great wrestling stipulations and, as this DVD shows, rightfully so. It was the ultimate battlefield, at a time when many fans perceived wrestling and its feuds as being real, and before the likes of Hell In A Cell and Hardcore matches. As a grudge match where all hell broke loose, this was a perfect stipulation, and the matches pitting the Horsemen against teams led by Dusty or Sting are great in emphasising this. The 1989 match is good for the action, and the 1992 clash is a tremendous fight involving another faction (The Dangerous Alliance). And the nWo matches are enjoyable for different reasons, as they both play big roles in that amazing storyline of 1996-7.

WCW folded in 2001, and at no point since then has the WWF/WWE decides to finally stage a War Games match. Various reasons are given as to why, the rumour being that Vince McMahon doesn't want to use a "Dusty Rhodes idea" that he didn't invent. The best chance of it happening would have been in the mid-2000s when Raw and SmackDown were split and creating an inter-brand rivalry of star talent to end in War Games, before WWE went PG, would have been great. Instead, it never happened, and probably never will ... or might it?

At a time when Hell In A Cell and Elimination Chamber have lost some of their appeal, it could be an ideal time to bring back War Games as a "new" WWE match. The cage itself could be modernised to look more threatening and different to the likes of HIAC. The rules could be tweaked to require entire eliminations of teams to make it a bit different. The extra ring could be brought down the aisle and built prior to the main event, which it would be. The 1989 match proved that a PG War Games would work. And, with Sting finally in WWE and with The Authority as a ruling heel group, what better scenario than a modern-day Sting's Squadron (perhaps consisting of Sting, Roman Reigns, Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan and John Cena) against The Authority (Triple H, Seth Rollins, Kane, Big Show and a new member in Rusev)? And where better to have it than at Extreme Rules where anything goes, or at Survivor Series where multi-man combat has ruled since 1987, which ironically was the year that War Games debuted?

Whether WWE ever holds a War Games match or not, though, this anthology of the stipulation is still enjoyable. I would recommend that you space out your viewing of the matches as they can be very repetitive, more so than on most other match stipulation DVDs, but you should find this release to be a good one regardless. And there are a variety of people that you'll recognise, a large number of whom you'd never have known were in a War Games (including Roddy Piper, The Nasty Boys and even Kamala). It is full of bloodshed, though, even if you rarely see actual violent moments. Simply put, if you own the compilations for Steel Cage, Hell In A Cell and Elimination Chamber matches, this round-up of War Games will complete your structure-enclosed collection.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 - Good

Thursday, 2 April 2015

WrestleMania 21

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 421 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: July 4 2005

Going into WrestleMania 21, I was less excited about the show than any WM to date, largely due to the general decline in quality of WWE TV over the previous 12 months. However, the PPV ended up being much better than expected despite some flaws, and the DVD set is better still.

The in-ring action kicks off with Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio, a good opener which would have seemed better had it not been compared to their WCW Halloween Havoc 1997 classic. But the following Money In The Bank Ladder match is more than acceptable: the first MITB bout is truly incredible. Shelton Benjamin is the star with his daredevil stunts, but it is Edge who obtains the briefcase that would be used to begin his main event run in WWE.

Hulk Hogan's return to save Eugene from Muhammad Hassan and Daivari is a WM moment. Then comes the first Mania bout based on The Undertaker's undefeated record at WrestleMania. The Streak had only been slightly acknowledged prior to Randy Orton, the Legend Killer, vowing to kill the legend of The Streak at WM 21. Despite Randy's best efforts, Taker wins to go 13-0, although some at the time felt like The Dead Man didn't have many WM matches left in him. How wrong they were.

An okay Women's Title match is followed by the bout I had anticipated for years: the first ever clash between Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle. Projections were high, so it could easily have disappointed, but instead we got the absolute classic that we had hoped for. Kurt wins by submission, a shock since the result wasn't predictable, the match was so competitive and the winning method was unexpected. For those reasons, and for the match quality, to me this may be the best bout in WrestleMania history (Taker-Shawn 1 and 2 were phenomenal, but the results were still predictable).

Then comes Piper's Pit with Stone Cold Steve Austin. Both icons were making their on-screen returns here, and they delivered a very entertaining segment, albeit one that could have done with a few more minutes before Carlito gets involved. The subsequent Sumo match between Big Show and Akebono isn't much but, hey, that's what the fast-forward button was invented for on your remote.

That aside, this show had seemed phenomenal so far, but unfortunately it is prevented from being the best Mania ever by the last two bouts. John Cena's WWE Title win over JBL was expected to be poor and it was, although it was still better than what most predicted (and I was personally delighted that JBL finally lost the gold). The main event for the World Title between Batista and Triple H had a tremendous build-up but, whilst the match is alright, it doesn't quite live up to the hype as the Animal becomes Champ for the first time.

However, whilst the two closing matches failed to deliver fireworks in the ring, they did crown the new faces of WWE, who would rule the company for years to come (and still do in Cena's case). That factoid combined with the great and classic matches beforehand and the comebacks of three all-time greats ensure that whilst WM 21 wasn't the best Mania ever, it's definitely one of the top five or ten in the event's history.

The DVD set provides even more engaging content, as stated. The tradition of having the Hall Of Fame ceremony included as a DVD extra began here, and the 2005 event celebrated the first WrestleMania, twenty years on. The inductees are The Iron Sheik and Nicholai Volkoff (who won the Tag Titles at WM), Jimmy Hart (a manager on the show) and four men involved in the card's main event: Mr. Wonderful, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Cowboy Bob Orton (their manager that night) and star inductee Hulk Hogan.

Actually, Piper could have been a star inductee too, and his induction by Ric Flair provides entertainment before Hot Rod's own enjoyable speech. But Hogan is clearly the star of the show (his inductor is Sylvester Stallone), and his induction is monumental considering his status as one of the very biggest names in wrestling history. Add to that other enjoyable moments (The Iron Sheik's speech will raise done smiles), and a fun atmosphere (this was the first HOF in an arena setting and with 'proper' fans in attendance), and you get a Hall Of Fame presentation that is well worth watching.

The other extras include a pre-show inter-brand Battle Royal, footage shot around WM 21 weekend, match-based promos to, erm, promote the show and, most notably, all of the film spoof trailers which were also used to promote the event. They're something of a guilty pleasure in that you assume they'll be hammy, and some are, but on the whole they are quite entertaining and despite what I felt at the time, you look back and wish they had actually produced a couple more.

As a complete package, then, the WrestleMania 21 DVD set is exceptional. The event has plenty of exciting or historic moments, including two classic matches (one of which is one of the best WM bouts ever); the HOF has big names and is entertaining; and the other extras are worthwhile too. Despite the match quality of the two main events, WM 21 serves as a vintage WrestleMania DVD which you should own if you don't already.

Overall Rating: 9.5/10 - Classic