Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Rock: The Most Electrifying Man In Sports-Entertainment

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 478 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: August 18 2008

Over the last few years, WWE fans have been treated to appearances by and matches involving The Rock. Each is a special occasion, and every time Rock appears, it 's memorable. And there is likely to be more to come, with the rumour mill and a number of on-screen confrontations suggesting a Rock-Triple H showdown for WrestleMania 32.

But there was a time when it seemed like Rock would never wrestle again. In fact, at one point, even a non-wrestling appearance by The Great One would be extremely unlikely. Had that remained the case, Rock's career would have only lasted from 1996 to 2004. But what a wrestling career it was, even if it hadn't extended beyond WrestleMania XX, and if Rock had indeed wrestled his last match on March 14 2004, fans would only be able to look back on Rock's greatest moments and wonder "what if" he hadn't left for Hollywood. Those harking for his return could at least have the comfort in 2008 of having a compilation of the matches and interviews which truly made Rock an icon (ironically released a few months after a then-rare Rock appearance at the 2008 WWE Hall Of Fame ceremony).

This is a basic collection of matches rather than a documentary, with an unnamed narrator introducing some bouts, and after a brief intro into Rock's WWE debut, the opening contest of the DVD is Rocky Maivia vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley for the IC Title from Thursday Raw Thursday in February 1997. Rocky wins, but both are still developing at this point, and more importantly fans were already on Maivia's back due to a feeling that he was being pushed down their throats, having not displayed much charisma to this point (ironic in hindsight) and having not visually earned his push. Sound familiar?

We then see the evolution of Rock into the arrogant, cocky and wise-cracking "People's Champion", and despite being a heel at this point, he was starting to garner more attention and actually become more popular. That said, the DVD chooses forgettable Raw bouts against Owen Hart and Triple H from spring/summer 1998 to showcase this rather than, say, his D-Generation X: In Your House bout against Stone Cold Steve Austin or a bout from his feud with Ken Shamrock. His breakout Ladder match with HHH at SummerSlam 1998 isn't here either, which is an odd decision. That said, the feud that made him a main eventer against Mankind is well-represented by his WWF Title win at Survivor Series and his entertaining double-header under Last Man Standing and Ladder rules. One could argue that their three most famous bouts aren't here (Mankind's first Title win, the I Quit massacre and the Empty Arena brawl), but you can't have them all. The first disc ends with Rock's first WrestleMania main event, a great scrap against Austin at WM XV.

Entering disc 2, we don't get the Backlash 1999 rematch which is questionable as Rock once considered that to be his greatest ever match. We do see Rock become a babyface (and a wildly popular one at that), and his enjoyable Raw match against a now-heel HHH under Steel Cage rules, although it suffers from the blatantly imported commentary. We then see the formation of the short-lived yet legendary Rock & Sock Connection as they face Undertaker and Big Show for the Tag Titles. A SmackDown! match against Kane is alright but feels out of place on a best-of compilation. We do then get a major highlight of Rock's career, his WWF Title win against HHH at Backlash 2000 in a match that perfectly encapsulates the popularity and variety of the WWF Attitude Era. This is thr fourth HHH match on the release, but it's good to see the evolution (no pun intended) for both, from Maivia and the blueblood to The Nation vs. DX to Rock vs. HHH as future main eventers to their legendary headline rivalry. And as stated earlier, one more clash between the two may happen at next year's WrestleMania.

We don't get the Rock-HHH Iron Man bout which some may dislike, but it would have taken up a chunk of disc space and, to be fair, is more associated with HHH than Rock. We do see a forgotten Raw bout between Rock and Shane McMahon in a cage which is far more entertaining than you may think it would be, and a classic WWF Title win over Kurt Angle at No Way Out 2001 (arguably the match that truly got Angle noticed as one of the best wrestlers in the world). Disc two concludes with Rock's WCW Title win over Booker T at SummerSlam 2001 and a simple but very entertaining Undisputed Title clash against Chris Jericho at Royal Rumble 2002. More notable absentees can be indetified towards the end of this chapter of the DVD, with no more 2000 matches, no Rock-Austin from WM X-Seven and, to a lesser extent, Rock-Y2J from No Mercy 2001. It's also worth noting thar, at this point, Rock has taken the early strides into Hollywood which would ultimately turn into a hugely successful movie career.

Disc 3 begins, rightly, with the unforgettable Rock-Hollywood Hulk Hogan bout at WM X8. Another wise inclusion is what, to me, is the greatest 3-way ever between Rock, Angle and The Undertaker at Vengeance 2002. A short Raw bout against Eddie Guerrero seems to be here just to have Latino Heat featured. The final match is a very good one as Rock finally beats Austin at WM XIX in what, to date, is Stone Cold's last stand. But it isn't the end of the DVD, as we then get more than a dozen of Rock's most memorable promos. I won't spoil the best lines so I will simply say that all are worth watching, and some are truly hilarious. That said, there are two more odd omissions here: the lack of the This Is Your Life segment from September 1999, and neither of the Rock Concerts which were far more entertaining than you may imagine at first glance.

Considering that at this point Rock was seen as being unlikely to return, not even for a documentary on his career (which would come a few years later), the best way to have achieved a best-of for The Rock would have been to have added an extra disc, taken out the pointless TV bouts and included the aforementioned essential PPV bouts, and let the final disc be solely for promos which could have seen Rock's other classic interviews and segments been included. This DVD actually emphasises that contrary to popular opinion, Rock could put on a great wrestling match against a variety of opponents, as evidenced by the bouts here and the number of great clashes not here, as well as other five-star showdowns which Rock contributed to (such as the 6-way Hell In A Cell match from Armageddon 2o00).

Although we have had this DVD and the documentary prior to WrestleMania XXVIII, it is entirely feasible that one day we will get the true "Best Of" for The Rock, which could have the aforementioned discs and matches/promos split, as well as including Rock's return bouts involving John Cena and CM Punk, and the WM 32 scrap with HHH if it does happen. In the meantime, however, this still stands as a very entertaining look back at one of the greatest and most popular WWE wrestlers of all-time. It is undoubtedly incomplete, but as stated we may get the true ultimate Rock collection someday. And even if we don't, it's nice to know that unlike when this DVD was originally released, it is likely that one day we will at least get to see The Rock lay the smack down one more time.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10 - Excellent

Thursday, 11 June 2015

The History Of The World Heavyweight Championship

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 511 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: March 15 2010

This late 2009 DVD looks at the history of the World Heavyweight Title, mixing a documentary with a selection of matches. Unlike the previous releases on the WWE and Intercontinental Titles, the matches were not chosen by fans via, and as stated there is a documentary here. So, whilst this is in the same vein as the previous title DVDs, this one feels a bit different. And whilst it provides a good helping of entertainment, it probably stands as the weaker of the three releases in this "series", despite having the potential to be the best.

Starting with the documentary, then, the main feature lasts just under an hour and covers the history of what would be classed as the World Heavyweight Title since 1905. I do not possess a great knowledge of the early history of the title, so I can't comment too much on the coverage of the early-to-mid 20th century happenings for the title. Mike Chapman, head of the International Wrestling Institute & Museum, does a great job of explaining the key events up until the 1950s, at which point more familiar names join the discussion of the title's history. From detailing the importance of the title to explaining why pro wrestling became a pre-determined sport, Chapman does a very good job of enlightening viewers on aspects of wrestling history which are of vital importance but aren't often discussed and, consequently, will be unfamiliar to modern fans. The only downside to this portion of the DVD is that there were several World titles from the 1920s to 1948 (when the NWA Title was created), and this documentary doesn't really delve into the details of that. A discussion of the original double-cross involving Frank Gotch and George Hackenschmidt in 1911 should also have been covered, particularly as it ties in well with the direction of wrestling to become more entertainment than sporting contest.

The NWA era is covered well from the 1950s to the 1970s, with a particular focus on Lou Thesz, Jack Brisco, the Funk Brothers and Harley Race, but the 1980s are rushed, with iconic champion Ric Flair almost coming cross as being just another titleholder. And the 1990s are given even less time, plus there's the fact that while the 1993 NWA-WCW split is alluded to, one is left with the impression that post-split, the WCW Title is the one that dates back to the likes of Lou Thesz when it was actually the NWA crown, a title that remains in existence (albeit on a far smaller platform than in the past). Finally, it looks at the purchase of WCW by WWE in 2001, the unification of their two top prizes to form the Undisputed Championship, and the subsequent 2002 divide which saw the World Heavyweight Title return, profiling champions up to 2009 when the DVD was released. (Incidentally, some claim that this title wasn't linked to the WCW Title, even though the latter was renamed the World Heavyweight Title between Survivor Series 2001 and Vengeance 2001 and used the same design.)

The rest of the DVD covers matches roughly spanning the history of the championship. The earliest bout is Pat O'Connor vs. Buddy Rogers in 1961, which is surprisingly athletic for the time. Subsequent matches are in highlight form, so the next full match is a vintage Ric Flair performance against Magnum TA at the first AWA Superclash, followed by the historic Sting-Flair title change from the 1990 Great American Bash to end disc 1.

Disc 2 focuses on the WCW era. Flair vs. Scott Steiner is okay but has a frustrating ending. Lex Luger vs. Barry Windham from the 1991 Bash is a small part of a larger story which would take too long to explain, but note that the "We Want Flair" chants aren't acknowledged by the announcers. Vader vs. Ron Simmons is historic in delivering the first black World Champ, and Vader vs. Ricky Steamboat is an unseen bout that mixes two very different styles to deliver a good encounter. Hulk Hogan vs. Flair from Halloween Havoc 1994 is a good alternative to their more famous clash from Bash At The Beach, although the circumstances suggest that it should be more memorable than it actually is. We then enter the nWo era with Hogan facing Sting at SuperBrawl VIII in a fun main event and Goldberg in a legendary Nitro showdown. The disc ends with the confusingly-arranged Booker T vs. Jeff Jarrett from Bash At The Beach 2000 (the back-story for which could have an article to itself) and, interestingly, a WWF-turf match, a great match between The Rock and Chris Jericho from No Mercy 2001.

Disc 3 concentrates on WWE. Rob Van Dam vs. Triple H from Unforgiven 2002 is okay but a disappointment overall; HHH vs. Shawn Michaels from Taboo Tuesday 2004 is more exciting despite having far less action due to HBK's knee injury. We then get a true classic and the highlight of the DVD, the match of 2006 between Kurt Angle and The Undertaker from that year's No Way Out. An enjoyable SmackDown match between Rey Mysterio and Randy Orton is followed by the 3-way main event from Armageddon 2007 which is good but not great (by the way, the entrances here aren't included which is odd). The DVD ends with the just-alright Jericho-John Cena top-liner from Survivor Series 2008, and a really good Edge-Jeff Hardy Ladder match from Extreme Rules 2009. A nice bonus is CM Punk's Money In The Bank cash-in after the latter bout, which may be the most exciting one-minute match in wrestling history.

The DVD predates the gradual decline in importance of the World Title, which last main evented a PPV in October 2010. Over the next three years, it would be positioned consistently as the secondary prize, and later wouldn't even be considered the second biggest match on most supercards. The title was (again) unified with the WWE crown at TLC 2013 to form the WWE World Heavyweight Title, currently held by Seth Rollins. Maybe someday it will be unified with the original NWA Title; who knows?

This DVD emphasises the importance of being the World Heavyweight Champion regardless of the era or promotion. And whilst the title was of far greater importance in decades gone by, where the champion had to be the absolute best in the world and would have to be able to literally do it all, the World Title remains the top prize for any pro wrestler to attain, and the current WWE World Heavyweight Championship will be the target for WWE wrestlers for many years to come.

As for this DVD? The key differences between this and the previous two title DVDs are the inclusion of a documentary and the match selection, but both are flawed. The documentary has a few holes in it in terms if accuracy and in terms of properly recognising the latter decades. And whilst most of the matches are entertaining, they don't showcase the highs and lows and key moments of the World Title. Where is Flair-Harley Race from Starrcade 1983, a Flair-Dusty Rhodes match, a Flair-Steamboat classic, the first-time WCW Title bouts between Hogan and Flair and Sting, the events of Vengeance 2001, the reinstatement of the World Title in 2002, Batista's WrestleMania matches with Triple H and The Undertaker, and Taker-Edge which main evented WrestleMania XXIV? What's here is good (especially Angle-Taker), but it's a collection of matches rather than a true history of the gold-plated strap. So, you should enjoy this DVD, but it isn't quite a true recap of the history of the World Heavyweight Championship.

Overall Rating: 6.5/10 - Okay

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Bret Hitman Hart - The Best There Is

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 549 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: December 12 2005

After the Montreal Screwjob at Survivor Series 1997 resulted in Bret Hart exiting the WWF earlier than expected and under very bad terms, a potential reunion seemed unimaginable. For all the old WWF/WWE names who would return in the years to come (including Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and Roddy Piper), it seemed that the Hitman would never go back under any circumstances. But relations improved between Hart and Vince McMahon in the early-to-mid-2000s, so much so that Bret would agree to participate in this career retrospective DVD, the first step towards a landmark return.

(Actually, Bret had stated in more than one interview that he was initially approached to contribute to a release focusing solely on Montreal, which likely would have dumped all over Bret's reputation. Why such an idea seemed a good one is anybody's guess, but fortunately the Hitman managed to persuade Vince to allow common sense to prevail, and so this DVD became a proper career retrospective instead.)

The main appeal of the DVD when it was released was the documentary on Bret's career, from his childhood as one of twelve kids in a family parented by wrestling promoting, to his start and subsequent run in the family-run Stampede Wrestling in Calgary, to him joining the WWF and his 13-year tenure (which covers the Hart Foundation, his title wins, the feud with his brother Owen, the USA-Canada rivalry and his acrimonious departure), to the struggles in WCW and the personal tragedies and setbacks which hit hard in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The DVD ends on a high note by showing how Bret had recovered from his 2002 stroke and looking back positively at his legacy.

There is plenty of enjoyment to be found from reliving the Bret Hart story and looking back at his greatest moments. The downside is that there aren't many major revelations, but I think Bret was in a different place then. For instance, Montreal is covered in a neutral fashion, whereas future documentaries would delve more into the circumstances and the personal feelings of those involved. Plus, Bret hadn't yet made peace with the likes of Shawn Michaels, so whilst the DVD covers Bret's career, the Bret Hart story itself was by no means complete. Still, it is an entertaining and intriguing feature which, more than anything, marked the beginning of Bret Hart finally returning to WWE.

Besides some additional interview segments, the rest of the DVD comprises Bret's greatest matches. And what a highlight reel this is: a few very good Hart Foundation matches are followed by many tremendous matches. Forgotten gems with Ricky Steamboat, Mr. Perfect, Owen Hart, Hakushi and others are interspersed by true classics, including bouts against Perfect (SummerSlam 1991), British Bulldog (SummerSlam 1992), Owen (WrestleMania X) and Stone Cold Steve Austin (WM 13), amongst others. The only downer is the last match against Chris Benoit from an episode of WCW Monday Nitro from 1999. It was an excellent match to pay tribute to the recently-passed Owen, but its power has been diminished by future events involving Bret's opponent that night.

Despite some flaws, I think this is a must-own wrestling DVD. It is a very good look at Bret's professional life to that point, and whilst it does lack in major revelations, those are more than covered in Bret's 2007 autobiography Hitman, some of which are too personal to be included on an official WWE DVD anyway. The match selection is outstanding, and the release as a whole began the process to Bret being inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2006 and returning to WWE proper in 2010. For those (like me) who grew up watching the Hitman, reliving his glory days is a great experience, and as the name of the DVD says, the compilation proves that at his peak, Bret Hart lived up to his moniker of being The Best There Is, The Best There Was and The Best There Ever Will Be.

Overall Rating: 9/10 - Outstanding