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

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