Monday, 31 August 2015

The Road Is Jericho - Epic Stories And Rare Matches From Y2J

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 412 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: March 16 2015

Released earlier this year, The Road Is Jericho quite literally takes you on the journey that is the varied and eventful career of Y2J himself, Chris Jericho, mixing a collection of career-spanning matches with talking head clips of Y2J in a moving limousine (actually not en route to a wrestling event, funnily enough). His 2010 DVD was amazing, but how does this latest Jericho compilation fare?

We begin in ECW with Chris' TV Title win over Pit Bull 2, which is fun to watch but is a bit overloaded (a common theme amongst ECW matches from this era). We then move onto WCW, and some rather good cruiserweight matches against Ultimo Dragon and Dean Malenko respectively (the Malenko match is superior as Jericho is by then a heel and showing the charisma that would become a trademark during his WWF/WWE stints).

The first WWF/WWE match on the DVD is actually more than a year into his initial tenure, and is a forgotten Steel Cage match against X-Pac. It's good but lacking in real meaning, hindered by Pac's persona being the total opposite of vibrant at this point (plus it was the third Cage match on a WWF PPV in as many months, which I realised after watching this encounter). We next get a fairly good Last Man Standing bout against Kane, although their feud is most remembered for the fact that it was instigated by a spilt cup of coffee (which joins the Japanese shampoo that Booker T and Edge fought over on the list of pretty poor reasons to ignite wrestling disputes).

We then get three matches from 2001: a clash against Steve Austin with Mick Foley as a ringside enforcer (it feels very surreal to watch Stone Cold as a heel nowadays), a short but enjoyable and very heated meeting with Booker T for the WCW Title and a hidden gem of a(nother) WCW Championship bout with Kurt Angle at that year's Rebellion.

At this point, the DVD is emphasising rare gems over memorable classics, so it's surprising that this is what we get next in the brilliant Y2J-Rock bout from Royal Rumble 2002. It's simple and not massively memorable in terms of spots, but everything just works; it's the perfect example of a match where everything just clicks to create a highly enjoyable clash. We then see Y2J face Triple H on SmackDown!, notable because, as Jericho points out here, this is the only time that Y2J ever officially beat HHH on-screen in a singles match (which obviously says more about the WWF/WWE booking team's thought process than Jericho's ability levels).

Following that is an acceptable but unmemorable Raw clash with Jeff Hardy from 2003, at which point Jeff was very much disinterested and would leave WWE a few months later. The next match is a 2005 Raw meeting between Y2J and Edge, which is alright but is more notable for occurring just as the Edge-Lita-Matt Hardy story had broken, making this the first of many times that the future Rated R Superstar would be hit with chants of "You screwed Matt!"

Since Jericho left WWE later that year and didn't return until late 2007, there is a long time gap before the next match, and it is a Last Man Standing match between Y2J and Shawn Michaels to culminate their phenomenal 2008 rivalry (and I was actually there to see this in Manchester). We then surprisingly get a dark match against John Cena, which is okay for what it is, and is followed by the highlight of the DVD, a five-star battle against Rey Mysterio from The Bash 2009 (one of my favourite matches from the last ten years).

The overrated three-team tag match from the 2009 MSG Raw is memorable solely for the star power involved, although even Chris acknowledges this as the reason that this match is here. We then don't see any more of Jericho's second WWE run; we pick things up several months into run number three via a fun Chicago Street Fight against CM Punk at Extreme Rules 2012, followed by a really enjoyable Raw meeting with Rob Van Dam in 2013. Concluding the DVD are two great 2014 matches with Bray Wyatt (in a Cage on Raw) and Randy Orton (at that year's Night Of Champions) respectively. The Blu-ray has four additional matches, although only one has not been released before (Y2J-Rey from a June 2009 Raw).

The Jericho talking spots are inserted between matches, although they aren't always about the subsequent bout, instead at times discussing specific career chapters relevant to the spotlighted time period. They are entertaining and at times provide some revelations; however, they aren't must-see and the format means that there are some glaring omissions when it comes to discussion topics. That being said, they are definitely worth watching in between the matches, for the first viewing of this DVD anyway.

To conclude, this DVD isn't quite in the same league as Breaking The Code. However, it is a very enjoyable and entertaining look at some of Jericho's most memorable matches,  but is more notable for bringing together plenty of hidden gems and unreleased battles. If you're a Jerichoholic, you will love this DVD.

Overall Rating: 8/10 - Very Good

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Nature Boy Ric Flair: The Definitive Collection

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 482 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: September 15 2008

Whooooo! Ric Flair remains an iconic name amongst wrestling fans today, despite it being a long time since the man was "The Man" and in his prime. But he remains popular due to his legendary status and because his last WWE match was only in 2008 (which we'll come back to later). This DVD has a documentary which covers Naitch's entire career from when he got his start to the end of his active WWE run over the weekend of WrestleMania XXIV, as well as including ten matches, bonus interview footage and several promos and segments. It has some nice old-school artwork on the DVD box and on the menus, which I personally felt was a good little touch.

The main feature clocks in at around two hours, and does a good job of highlighting Flair's highs and lows from his long and glorious career. As well as archive footage and stories from Slic Ric concerning key events in his life, we hear from talking heads spanning Ric's entire career such as David Crockett, Greg Valentine, Dusty Rhodes, Arn Anderson, Jim Ross, Ricky Steamboat, Triple H, Randy Orton, Batista, Shawn Michaels and many others, as well as members of his family. Flair is very honest, at times too honest, and on occasion painfully honest about his own perceived failings as a father and a husband. Fans of the Nature Boy should get a kick out of this documentary, which to be fair doesn't offer a great number of revelations but is an entertaining watch that covers most aspects of Flair's legendary body of work in pro wrestling.

Some faults are that we're given the impression that Flair was still a top-level wrestler when he was in his 50's, which besides one or two great matches simply wasn't the case. Also, two key issues surrounding Flair (the 1991 jump to the WWF and his problems with WCW head honcho Eric Bischoff in 1998) aren't explained very well. And whilst we do see clips from WrestleMania XXIV weekend, the talking clips were clearly recorded before Flair's three-day retirement ceremony. It would have been good to use this and then see Flair comment on the events afterwards, but we have to just assume that the whole weekend lived up to Flair's expectations (which it did, to be fair. Or fair to Flair for you Bobby Heenan fans).

Overall, though, it's a good documentary; it isn't one of the very best WWE has produced, but it does cover most aspects of Flair's decades-long stint in the industry, and is engaging enough that it merits a second viewing sometime down the road.

The match choices are interesting. Since some of Ric's greatest bouts were on The Ultimate Ric Flair Collection (and by the way, I think the two DVD names are too similar; I'd have called the product under review "Whooooo! The Ric Flair Story" to differentiate it more), it reduces the number of epic clashes available for this release. That being said, Flair had so many memorable matches that it wouldn't have been stretch to find enough to make this another vintage DVD.

Instead, though, we get a selection that does cover Ric's decades in the field of sports entertainment, but from which very few are what you'd class as being amongst his best work. A 1982 TV bout with Jack Brisco is fairly entertaining and historically interesting. A two-out-of-three-falls match with Kerry Von Erich is typical for the era in showcasing Flair's ability to lead a less talented opponent through a long match, and make him look good in the process, but has a poor finish and, as good as the match is, their Cage match on Christmas Day 1982 was their most famous meeting and perhaps should have been here instead. It does, however, show how Flair could go into any territory and prove that he was The Man.

Flair vs. Harley Race is actually the match which set up their Starrcade 1983 meeting where Ric won his second NWA title. It's good but it would have been more at home on the first Flair DVD; here, you watch this match and then you want to see the Starrcade bout, but it isn't on this release. Instead, we next get a six-man tag that highlights the Four Horsemen before a hot-as-hell crowd. I liked it, but as I had noted for the recent Wrestling's Greatest Factions DVD, the best way to spotlight the Horsemen is with their specialty match, that of course being War Games.

Next up is one of the two highlights of the DVD in terms of matches, that being a truly great battle with Sting at the first Clash Of The Champions. This went head-to-head with WrestleMania IV on live TV and did a great rating (which shows how much more popular wrestling was then than it is now), and is a classic in its own right that, as they say, "made" Sting. They would go on to main event many future shows, but this meeting is their most famous and arguably their best. Disc two ends with a very good and intense showdown with Terry Funk at the 1989 Great American Bash. We had their I Quit match on the last Flair release so it's good to get their other high-profile meeting here. There is a void before this match selection-wise which I will touch upon shortly.

After concentrating on the 1980s on disc two, disc three enters the 1990s and opens with Ric's MSG meeting with Rowdy Roddy Piper in 1991. It's an enjoyable match and is interesting to note for the babyface reaction Flair receives when he walks down the aisle at Madison Square Garden (a rarity for heels during this era). However, I don't understand why this is the only meeting from Flair's first proper WWF/WWE tenure on the DVD. Surely we could have had Flair's WrestleMania VIII showdown with Randy Savage, a WWF Title match against Bret Hart or his Loser-Leaves-Town clash with Mr. Perfect on Raw from January 1993, which ended Flair's run in the company (and by the way, none of these feuds were referenced in the documentary, which is particularly disappointing for the memorable dispute with the Macho Man), or at least something else from this chapter of Flair's career.

The next match we do get is his Spring Stampede 1994 main event with Ricky Steamboat. It's a very good match, but again I hold my hand up to ask: why don't we get their first 1989 match from Chi-Town Rumble? For those unaware, Flair and Steamboat had a truly classic three-match series in 1989, two of which we got to see on Flair's first DVD (Clash Of The Champions VI and Wrestle War 1989), so by rights we should have gotten the bout that completed the series on this release. Fair enough, we do get an unreleased meeting of Ric and Ricky, but while it's a good effort (and Bobby Heenan comes out with some of his trademark wit on commentary), it can't compare to their 1989 feud. Plus, the ending here is a mess; we're under the impression that Steamboat pinned himself in a submission hold when he actually did not, and there are no post-match replays to back up the confusing decision. Plus, I think the commentators get mixed up with the move that The Dragon used to beat The Nature Boy in their 1989 series; a minor thing, but slightly distracting nonetheless.

From this point, the classics became less frequent for Slic Ric (a fact not acknowledged in the documentary, as alluded to earlier), so our next featured match is over a decade later, at Taboo Tuesday 2005. This is a very bloody steel cage match between Flair and Triple H which Flair somehow wins despite being 56 at this point. The best way I can describe it is that, for a Flair match by 2005 standards, it's good. I personally enjoyed their subsequent Last Man Standing match at that year's Survivor Series more, but that's just splitting hairs. One very deserving inclusion, and the last match on the release, is Flair's bout with Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXIV. This is brilliant considering Flair had not long turned 59, but even if you ignore Flair's age, this is an excellent and very dramatic match with Flair's career at stake. I mentioned this in my review of WrestleMania XXIV, but it's worth saying again that Shawn's "I'm sorry. I love you" before superkicking Flair into retirement is as emotional and heart-stopping a moment as any in wrestling history. Plus, we get the pre-match promo video which is awesome.

The other extras consist of 1980s-era Flair promos which emphasise how good he was on the microphone, although I feel he was slightly overrated, He was undoubtedly charismatic, but considering that he was king heel at this point, there are too many instances of Ric trying to pander to the crowd. The Rock could get away with it as a heel because he included enough insults to ensure that he kept receiving boos, but if you didn't know better, one would assume from these segments that Flair was actually the lead babyface for the NWA/JCP/WCW in the 1980s. The other bonus segments are some extra interview chapters for the documentary (plus Flair being present for when his home state declared a "Ric Flair Day", during which I thought "I hope Flair doesn't start crying again" ... and he does start crying!), and the excellent retirement ceremony for Flair on Raw the night after Mania 24. Billed as his Farewell Address, it ends up being a half-hour tribute where the entire WWE roster at the time, as well as a number of legends synonymous with Flair's career and of course the thousands of fans in attendance, simply say "Thank you Ric!" It is very touching, and is the perfect way for Flair to say goodbye to pro wrestling after his retirement.

But of course, as you may know, Flair would wrestle again, firstly for the very short-lived Hulkamania promotion in Australia in November 2009, and then in TNA from 2010-2011. Without being harsh, Flair didn't have one good match in either group, and at times was simply embarrassing. This was obvious at the time, and before Flair donned the tights again, but it bears repeating that Flair really shouldn't have come back to wrestling after WM XXIV. Nevertheless, Flair hasn't wrestled for WWE since his meeting with Michaels (some might say that Flair had a match on Raw with Randy Orton in 2009, but it was a brawl rather than a match and, to me, does not count as a match), so the whole retirement weekend still holds weight, at least within WWE lore.

As for the DVD as a whole? Now, I have to be honest: I'm not that much of a Ric Flair fan, and never was. I respect his accomplishments and his talents when he was at his peak, but I always felt that he was a bit overrated, and it annoyed me how he would denigrate his counterparts like Hulk Hogan, Bret and Savage, even after they were no longer at the top of the mountain, but praise himself and his friends within the business. This leads into my feeling that Flair was and remains somewhat egotistical. Case in point: Flair, at age 66 and decades past his prime, during which time many wrestlers have proved to be as good as or even better than Flair, appeared on Raw this past Monday and stated that he was "God" and the greatest of all-time. For another wrestler, I would say that the lines were scripted, but with Flair you truly believe that he believes those statements. Hulk Hogan is classed as being very egotistical to many, but even he wouldn't call himself God, especially when trying to provoke cheers from an audience.

There's also the fact that Flair, throughout his career, only ever played one character, that being the confident and arrogant ladies' man, and only changed the formula based on whether he was a face or a heel. Some might say "well, it was a great gimmick so why change it?" True, but look at Triple H, who went from a blueblood to a degenerate to a corporate sell-out to a hard-man to, well, a carbon copy of Flair in Evolution, to a somewhat older degenerate to a corporate figure in the form of the COO. Shawn Michaels was at various times a high-flying youngster, a cocky punk, a degenrate, a religious goody-two shoes and other things. Hell, even The Undertaker at one point was Undertaker in name only when he began riding motorcycles. Therefore, as good as Flair was, I would have liked to have seen if he could have pulled off a different character, because almost all of the other all-time greats played various characters to show their versatility.

Nevertheless, this DVD emphasises just how good Flair was and that he does deserve to be in the conversation for being the greatest wrestler of all-time. And I think that shows how good this DVD is: if it can convince me, someone not very fond of Slic Ric, that Flair was one of the best ever, then it must be an effective presentation. I still don't think he's the best ever, but I do think that if you're compiling a top ten, Naitch will be a part of it. To be fair, it does have a very good documentary and a good if questionable match selection. One thing it does lack, perhaps due to time constraints, is Flair's Hall Of Fame induction, a notable absentee since we get literally every other aspect of Flair's retirement weekend. But since it went on for nearly 90 minutes, I can understand why it wasn't here.

To conclude, if you're a Flair fan, you'll love this DVD, although it is a step down from his first DVD. But even if you're not a Flair fan but you are a wrestling fan, like me, you'll still enjoy this release and realise why, despite the criticisms and his shortcomings, Ric Flair at one point truly was, and to some will always be remembered as being, The Man.


Overall Rating: 8.5/10 - Excellent

Monday, 24 August 2015

WrestleMania 31

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 519 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: June 1 2015

It's that time of year again when you get to look back on the biggest show of the year with the home video release. This 3-disc set, as ever, brings together the WrestleMania event as well as this year's Hall Of Fame induction ceremony, in addition to a couple of extra features.

WM 31 was lauded at the time as being one of the best Manias ever, and an event which was far better than it had been predicted to be. Upon second viewing, however, while the event remains very entertaining, the context is lost watching it on DVD, so one would not know about the lacklustre build-up or the issues surrounding several matches, and the moments which were so surprising on the night lose their unpredictability when watching the event again because, well, you know that they're going to happen. Those gripes aside, however, WrestleMania 31 is still a thoroughly enjoyable four-hour slice of sports entertainment.

The Intercontinental Title Ladder match is better than I remembered it being, although I did say it was a really good bout at the time, and while it perhaps could have done with a truly timeless ladder "moment", the match is more than adequate as it is (or was). Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins takes on different meaning knowing what is to come later on, but it is a very enjoyable clash (this is probably the match that Orton and CM Punk tried to have at WM 27 but couldn't quite achieve), and the match-winning RKO remains an incredible sight.

Sting vs. Triple H is a truly entertaining piece of nostalgia for those who followed wrestling during The Monday Night Wars era, as members of D-Generation X and the new World order do battle (and does that feel strange to watch now in light of recent events surrounding Hulk Hogan). That being said, the result is as nonsensical in hindsight as it was on the night, since it's obvious that the outcome's sole purpose was to "prove" that WWE and its stars were superior to WCW and its headliners. The subsequent backstage promo involving Daniel Bryan and a group of legends is fun but hard to watch as it marked the final on-screen appearance of the recently-passed Rowdy Roddy Piper.

The Divas tag team match is really odd to watch knowing that AJ Lee would leave WWE just days later; that the bout is built around her getting involved and punishing the Bellas en route to a win for her and Paige is strange unless you assume that WWE didn't know that AJ was about to retire (which is plausible, to be fair, since AJ competed on Raw the following night as well). John Cena vs. Rusev is a good match, but has been trumped in recent months by the Cena-Kevin Owens series. Also, the pro-USA video from before Cena's entrance is not here, presumably due to the cost of including said footage. That being said, from a match quality standpoint, Cena has had one of his best years since becoming United States Champion again, so it's good to see where that run began at WM 31.

We then get the Triple H-Stephanie-Rock-Ronda Rousey segment. This is as entertaining as it was on the night, but it does last a very long time and, in all honesty, you could have removed about five minutes from this and it wouldn't have made a difference. Next up is The Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt in Taker's comeback. It felt unnecessary at the time and with Undertaker setting his sights on Brock Lesnar for SummerSlam, it's almost as if the match never happened. On the bright side, it is an enjoyable clash and proves that Undertaker isn't quite finished yet.

And so we come to the main event: Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns for the WWE World Heavyweight Title. All the talk beforehand was how this would receive horrendous crowd responses due to Brock possibly leaving WWE and Reigns being overpushed. Instead, Lesnar stayed with WWE and Reigns willingly took a brutal beating from the Beast, whilst firing back with hard blows of his own. This was a super-stiff and highly compelling match, but it will always be remembered for its ending where Seth Rollins became the first man to cash in Money In The Bank both during a match and at WrestleMania, leaving as the new WWE World Heavyweight Champion, a crown that he still holds at time of writing, nearly five months later.

So, that was the main card for WrestleMania 31. As stated, though, watching it on DVD causes it to lose its context and unpredictability, two of the elements which made the show so enjoyable at the time. Nevertheless, it remains a four-hour pro wrestling thrill ride and, whilst the lack of a true classic match means that it isn't quite a top five Mania as I had suggested a few months back, it is definitely in the top ten (incidentally, expect my rankings of Mania cards, matches etc in the run-up to WM 32 next year).

The Mania-related extras are an energetic and fun four-way tag bout and the fairly good Andre Battle Royal, both from the WM 31 Pre-Show (it's hard to believe how Damien Sandow/Mizdow has been so ignored by WWE considering his popularity here). We also get promos by Cena and Rollins hyping up their Mania matches (or scheduled bout in Seth's case). The standout DVD extra, as always, is the Hall Of Fame ceremony, which is certainly an eventful and memorable one.

We begin with Rikishi, inducted by his sons The Uso's, which is entertaining enough if you ignore the fact that Rikishi ignored Too Cool's contributions to his career, despite that run being the one which got him in the HOF. Next up is Larry Zbyszko (inducted by Bruno Sammartino); Bruno's introduction is good but he never pauses for breath, while Larry finds it hard to cope and ends up repeating himself and making strange analogies in a very long-winded speech (fortunately, this Mania weekend is held in California; had it been in the New York area, Zbyszko would have been shredded by diehard fans for this overly long and at times nonsensical output).

Alundra Blayze (put in by Natalya) has a far more entertaining speech than one would have expected beforehand, before the most emotional HOF speech perhaps ever, as Connor "The Crusher" Michalek is named as the recipient of the first Warrior Award (Warrior's widow and Daniel Bryan provide the intros). Some at the time questioned whether WWE had correctly implemented the suggestion by Warrior at the 2014 HOF; I personally think Warrior would have been satisfied that Connor was honoured in this fashion; it really is the classic situation of something being so positive despite the circumstances being so negative. An unforgettable moment and required viewing for all wrestling fans, especially those who qualm over the most minor of wrestling-related issues.

The Bushwhackers' induction by John Laurinaitis is a lot of fun, although it's sad to see Butch in such poor physical health. Ric Flair's induction of Tatsumi Fujinami is relatively short, partly because Tatsumi is relatively unknown to modern fans outside Japan and partly because the ceremony has already been running way too long at this point (nearly three hours at this point, with three inductees still to go).

Then we get the long-awaited induction of Macho Man Randy Savage, with Hulk Hogan doing the introduction and Randy's brother Lanny "The Genius" Poffo accepting it on his behalf. Some expressed disappointment at the presentation on the night and a few were infuriated that it didn't close the ceremony, but let's face it: if Savage were still alive and on hand in person, there's no question that he would have been the true headliner and delivered a speech to remember. Under the circumstances, it was probably as good as could be realistically expected.

We then get Arnold Schwarzenegger being inducted by Triple H, which for a celebrity induction is again as good as one could hope for. The final inductee is Kevin Nash (note: not Diesel), presented by Shawn Michaels. HBK is very funny here (he jokes how he doesn't want to be the guy to make the HOF go long, over 3 1/2 hours into the show), and Nash is also a source of mirth with his self-deprecating lines (when he was repackaged in WCW as Oz, he wonders aloud why he couldn't have just received a note saying "You're fired"). Despite what some may think, Nash is a more than worthy inductee, and his entertaining speech is a good end to a Hall Of Fame ceremony that covered the entire quality spectrum. Like the Mania card it would be followed by, the 2015 HOF line-up was criticised beforehand but it ended up delivering a very enjoyable show on the night. As far as WWE Hall Of Fame induction ceremonies go, this is definitely one of the better presentations from an entertainment standpoint.

So what of the WrestleMania 31 DVD set as a whole? The best way I can describe it is that, to paraphrase Sheamus, you will be entertained. Every match is at least reasonable and each HOF induction is in some way watchable, and some of the bouts are very good, whilst a number of HOF speeches will always be remembered. And, of course, we get historical moments from Sting's debut (which morphs into DX vs. nWo) to Seth Rollins being the first man to cash in MITB at a Mania to the hugely-demanded Macho Man HOF induction. The one thing lacking on the main show is that five-star, genuine match of the year contender. And as entertaining as the HOF ceremony is, it lacks the appeal of the classes headlined by Hogan, Bruno or even Ultimate Warrior (plus its four-hour running time means that you're unlikely to watch it all in one sitting). And, as I said at the start, the DVD proves that WM 31 had more power watching it on the night under the context of the time period than as a standalone event in retrospect.

But overall, this is an extremely fun and enjoyable wrestling DVD set. With a great WrestleMania and a memorable Hall Of Fame event, you can't really go wrong. It may have been slightly overrated at the time, but this year's WrestleMania weekend proves to be a series of shows that you simply must have in your collection. Not the best WM ever but it isn't too far off; buy this DVD set today.

(Incidentally, you can click here to read my original report of the WrestleMania 31 event at the time that it was held.)

Overall Rating: 9/10 - Outstanding

Thursday, 20 August 2015

The Best Of The Intercontinental Championship

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 61 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 1
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: January 25 2005

This retro DVD review really is a throwback in more ways than one. The DVD in question was released in 2005, but is actually a re-release of a video (yes, a video) which first saw the light of day in the mid-1990s. Adding to the old-school feel, it is roughly an hour long and features five matches, most of which lack entrances and some of which have overdubbed commentary.

We open with Gorilla Monsoon introducing us to the programme and quickly explaining what is to come. I liked Gorilla but I couldn't help but laugh when he described an upcoming Bret Hart-Skinner match as a "blockbuster" (due to the latter, not the former). Anyway, we then get into match 1. Oh, and all matches bar one are from 1993 (the exception is from 1992).

Shawn Michaels defends against Crush in Sheffield, England (I think this was at UK Rampage 1993 but I could be wrong). It is a decent enough bout for the era but just as it's picking up steam, a ringside brawl leads to Crush winning by countout. Any wrestling fan knows that this means the title doesn't change hands, but that doesn't stop former two-time WWF titleholder Randy Savage blurting out "New Champion!"

Match two is the oldest of the compilation, the aforementioned Bret-Skinner showdown. This appears to have taken place at the 1992 SummerSlam Spectacular (not the PPV, but the pre-PPV TV special; I wish they'd do them nowadays. There's an idea for the WWE Network), and ends fairly quickly as Bret makes a comeback from a Skinner onslaught to win by submission. The dubbed commentary feels weird since Jim Ross wasn't in the WWF at the time and the Macho Man was actually wrestling on that very show as WWF Champ! Also notable here is the amazingly quiet crowd, presumably because they knew Bret had zero chance of losing with a then-impending title bout with The British Bulldog to come days later at that very SummerSlam.

We then get some more comments from Monsoon (he loved that Bret-Skinner bout) before we get to the highlight of the DVD, but before we do, I point out my biggest confusion with the release. So far, we've had clearly dubbed commentary from JR, Macho and the always-hilarious Bobby Heenan, so I assumed that we'd get that for the rest of the feature. Nope: instead, match three has also-dubbed commentary from Ross and Gorilla (a commentary dream team, actually), made worse because during the scrap, we see the real announcers for the showdown, consisting of Vince McMahon and ... Randy Savage and Bobby Heenan! Making things more bizarre, we get the real commentary for the last two matches on the programme. The mind boggles.

On the bright side, the middle match in question is Shawn vs. Marty Jannetty, a genuinely great Raw match from July 1993 which I think actually won some Match Of The Year awards. I like this inclusion because Marty won the IC gold from Michaels in a famous Raw bout two months later that has been on a few DVDs. However, the Raw follow-up (Michaels regained the strap on a house show in the interim) is never released, so it's good to see it here. And it's a great match by the standards of any era. As I say, the definite highlight of the show.

Next up is Shawn vs. Mr. Perfect from SummerSlam 1993. I seemed to remember this being something of a disappointment. It actually was better than I'd remembered, but it was still a bit of a let-down considering that it involves two of the best wrestlers of all-time. With another five minutes and without a(nother) countout finish, this could have been remembered more fondly, but as it was, the match is often overlooked, especially after the two classic IC Title bouts at the previous two SummerSlams.

The last match is a Raw clash from a few months earlier between HBK and Hacksaw Jim Duggan. This is another match which tends to end a bit out of the blue, and unfortunately it has the third countout finish of the programme. This is back in the days when a babyface wrestler would celebrate such a result in a championship showdown, knowing full well that he wasn't going to win the title. Mind you, the production of the feature suggests that he did actually become champ, at least to the uneducated viewer (the match fades out before we're told that Shawn actually kept the gold). We close with some final comments from Gorilla Monsoon (which, by the way, are in the old-school WWF TV truck).

A few more points about the programme: the chronology is all over the place, and covers a weird time period in that we get spring/summer 1993, with one random 1992 match thrown in, and the bouts aren't in date order. Plus, all but one feature Shawn Michaels, so this feels more like a HBK title than one for the IC, erm, title. Three countout finishes out of five matches is also an annoyance on a best-of.

Which brings me to my last point: does this really represent the BEST of the Intercontinental Championship? I don't think it even represents that prize's best matches from 1993 (two other Shawn-Marty bouts from that year should have been here instead; hell, we had Michaels in nearly every match anyway). Standards were different back then, so for example we wouldn't have had Bret-British Bulldog from SSlam 92, since Davey Boy Smith was in between WWF tenures when this compilation was made, but couldn't we at least have had Bret-Perfect from SummerSlam 1991 since both are featured here?

Still, taken for what it is, this is a decent old-school collection. One match is really good and only one is a bit dull, and the commentary, whilst clearly overdubbed at times, is still amusing at various points (Bobby Heenan has several funny one-liners, and Savage's attempt at Hacksaw Jim Duggan's "Hooooo!" is unintentionally hilarious). For longtime fans like me who were watching the WWF in the 1990s, you should enjoy this budget release, if for no other reason than to see how advanced wrestling compilations have become since then. Besides that, you're most likely to find this worthwhile if you're an avid collector or if you simply want a low-priced wrestling DVD. Or if, as with Gorilla Monsoon, you're a big fan of Skinner.

Overall Rating: 4.5/10 - Below Average

Monday, 17 August 2015

Ladies And Gentlemen, My Name Is Paul Heyman

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 430 Minutes
Certificate: 12
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: August 4 2014

If you are a "Paul Heyman Guy", chances are that you'll have already seen his 2014 DVD/Blu-ray. But even if you haven't, or if you're not a huge Heyman fan, you should still make it an aim to watch it: I will delve into the details shortly but, suffice it to say, this has one of the best documentaries ever produced by WWE and a generous amount of bonus footage.

The main feature, as stated, is a two-hour+ documentary on Paul Heyman, who has had quite the career in pro wrestling. Breaking in at a young age as a photographer, he used his knowledge and his soon-to-be-signature gift of the gab to learn more about the wrestling business by attending production meetings and booking shows. As he built up contacts and increased his understanding of the inner workings of the industry, he found a opening as a manager, first making waves in the AWA and the Memphis territory before progressing to what was about to become WCW in the late 1980s. An eventful run there saw Heyman (as Paul E. Dangerously) gain notoriety as one of the best young managers in wrestling, as well as one of its most detestable on-screen villains, boosted further by his run in the announce booth alongside Jim Ross.

After the WCW journey ended, Heyman almost left wrestling, but was persuaded to assist Eddie Gilbert with booking at an unknown promotion called Eastern Championship Wrestling. In 1993, Heyman stayed when Eddie left and became head booker, and in 1994 he renamed the promotion "Extreme". ECW had officially arrived, and for the rest of the decade, Heyman and his talent pool created an unorthodox, violent, sexual, bloody and unforgettable wrestling product that influenced the WWF's Attitude Era and changed sports entertainment forever.

When ECW met its demise in 2001, Heyman joined the WWF and, over the next six years, he did everything from announcing to booking to managing to heading up the OVW developmental territory. An acrimonious split near the end of 2006 seemingly ended Heyman's wrestling career but, after a few years of enjoying life as a new father and pursuing a variety of projects, some of which he continues to run, everybody (including Paul himself) was shocked when he returned to WWE in 2012, at the side of Brock Lesnar, and has been employed as an on-screen character and a promo master ever since.

All of this makes for an intriguing tale. But what makes this documentary special is its subject. Heyman is someone who uses many words but wastes none of them, and when telling stories (and there are many of them here), he captivates you and holds your attention constantly. And of course he is honest, sometimes to a fault, as we learn the full details of virtually everything being discussed, whether it's his somewhat sneaky methods to become an unofficial WWF photographer; his abrasive nature on commentary with JR; his (pardon the pun) extremely perfectionist nature in coaching ECW stars, especially on promos; his pride in writing SmackDown! and building its creativity to the point where it was beating Raw in the ratings (to the chagrin of many in WWE, Paul notes); his opinions on the best-forgotten second incarnation of ECW; and, well, virtually anything he discusses or is a discussion point of. The extra interview clips are well worth watching for the same reason: the tales behind his heat with Jerry Lawler in Memphis, his methods behind identifying Tod Gordon as the "mole" of ECW, and his alleged attempts to invade an online Raw production meeting are at times breathtakingly honest.

As the last example suggests, we also get many comments, virtually all of them truthful opinions, from a wide variety of talking heads, and it's easy to see who is and who isn't a "Paul Heyman Guy" (or Girl). Accompanied by relevant footage (most notably when discussing ECW, where we get candid unseen footage from behind the scenes and even a famous clip shown in the movie Beyond The Mat filmed before the first ECW PPV Barely Legal), the documentary is one giant gem. To put it into context, I originally watched this when it was first released, but when reviewing it, I wanted to watch it again (and I did), partly to refresh my memory on some parts, but largely because it was that good that I just wanted to see it again. The only gaps are a lack of depth on Heyman leaving WCW (which Paul notes is due to legal reasons) and Heyman leaving WWE in 2006 (we get some discussion but not a lot, perhaps in case it impacted on Paul's current WWE run), and no talking head appearances from Vince McMahon, who could have added much weight to some stories (e.g. Heyman's WWE writer stints, and when Paul discusses the WWF's financial support to ECW). But otherwise, this is a perfect wrestling documentary, one of the best (if not the best) that you will ever see produced by WWE.

The DVD boasts a large number of extras. Along with the aforementioned bonus stories are literally dozens of promos spanning his entire career, from his Paul E. Dangerously days in the AWA and WCW, to the period in which he transformed from manager to promoter in ECW, to his most memorable WWF/WWE segments (a 2001 SmackDown! verbal onslaught of Vince, his incredible shoot-style promo at ECW One Night Stand 2005, and various 2012-2014 "moments" are the highlights of this section). And there are a couple of extra matches which in some way feature Paul, some as an active competitor, although as a non-wrestler with fewer ring skills than Vince McMahon or even Eric Bischoff, it's no surprise that the bouts aren't exactly five-star epics. The Blu-ray has even more bonus chapters to the main feature, and includes Heyman's outstanding "21-1" promo from the night after WrestleMania XXX where, in his words, "my client BRRROCCCKKK LLLESSSNNNARRR conquered The Undertaker's undefeated streak at WrestleMania!"

In hindsight, while the DVD was a welcome release in mid-2014 and a very big seller amongst fans, it's a shame that it wasn't released this summer instead, because Paul has delivered arguably the greatest promos of his career over the last twelve months. The man has such a captivating blend of harsh reality, hyperbole and at times humour that virtually all of his segments are must-watch. And while Brock Lesnar's on-screen reputation as a human destruction device has never been stronger, it is unquestionable that his persona would not be half as convincing without Paul Heyman to talk him up. His promos are unpredictable at a time when predictability is the norm, and even the encounters which look run-of-the-mill on paper are elevated to become can't-miss due to Heyman's brilliant delivery and masterful hype techniques.

Which is all a testament to the man himself, and what a true legend he is in professional wrestling. By 1992, he had established himself as a top manager and, had his career ended at that point, he would have been fondly remembered as one of the top ten managers. However, he went on to guide ECW and influence a permanent change in the wrestling business, so had he withdrawn from wrestling in 2001, he would always have been remembered as the massively vital force behind the phenomenally influential ECW. But here we are in 2015, and he will now be remembered just as much for his verbal skills - as arguably the greatest microphone man in wrestling history - solely due to the strength of his recent promos, if not more so. And for being the first performer to react (and oh, did he react) when his advocate Lesnar beat Undertaker at Mania 30.

That's even more impressive when you consider that promos aside, Heyman doesn't get involved in Brock's matches whatsoever, but since his return, he has been an integral role in making each one either happen or seem unmissable. Case in point: the Lesnar-CM Punk conflict, which resulted in a classic at SummerSlam 2013, revolved entirely around Paul Heyman. The man is a legend and, with the exception of Vince McMahon, is the greatest non-wrestler ever in the business and a sure-fire future Hall Of Famer. Hell, some might say that he has now surpassed Bobby Heenan as the greatest manager ever. How many people could do that in the manager-stricken times of 2015?

So, just like the matches that he hypes, Paul Heyman's DVD is must-see. I would recommend the Blu-ray due to the worthwhile additional content, but the standard release would also suffice. I was going to give this a perfect 10 but the matches do weaken it, even if they are actually the best examples one could find of Heyman in an actual wrestling capacity. But even so, if you don't own this, buy it today; it's one of the best overall packages that WWE has ever released, and it's not even on a wrestler. In fact, to achieve that may end up being Paul Heyman's greatest accomplishment.

Overall Rating: 9.5/10 – Classic

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Ricky Steamboat: The Life Story Of The Dragon

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 471 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: September 27 2010

Released in 2010, Ricky Steamboat: The Life Story Of The Dragon focuses on the career of (Yes!) Ricky Steamboat, one of the greatest pure wrestlers of all-time. Here, we get a 70-minute documentary on Steamboat's career along with a selection of on-screen segments and bonus extracts from the main feature, complete with a dozen of The Dragon's matches. How does this fare amongst similar releases on WWE legends? Let's see ...

As is generally the case with WWE releases, the first part of the DVD is based around a sit-down interview with its main subject, combined with comments from various wrestling personalities and clips of his most memorable moments. Along the way, we learn about Ricky's amateur wrestling adventures, his entry into professional wrestling and his training at Verne Gagne's AWA camp, how he got the Steamboat name and his original clashes with Ric Flair. We see Steamboat's career progress, most notably through NWA United States and Tag Team Title wins (the latter alongside Jay Youngblood), before his arrival in the WWF and, of course, we then go in-depth on his classic WrestleMania III showdown with Macho Man Randy Savage for the Intercontinental Title.

We hear about how Ricky's fairly sudden IC Title loss came about due to a desire to spend more time at home with recently-born son Richie (later a wrestler himself on NXT), which in itself launched the longest-running IC Title reign ever for The Honky Tonk Man. Then we revisit the most memorable rivalry of his career as Steamboat and Ric Flair engage in an all-time great three-match series for the NWA Title in 1989. By this point, The Dragon's career had peaked, although he still had returns to the WWF (a short-lived 1991 run which ended, he says, due to false promises concerning a headline spot) and WCW where he entered a memorable feud with an up-and-comer named Stunning Steve Austin. Unfortunately, as we see here, a 1994 bout against the future Stone Cold saw a bad landing result in a premature injury-enforced retirement for Steamboat.

However, several years after Steamboat accepted an agent's position with WWE, The Dragon made an unexpected mini-comeback as the documentary explains. Coinciding with his 2009 Hall Of Fame induction (an honour which clearly means a lot to Ricky), Steamboat's return saw him deliver a far better than anticipated performance, given his age and it being his first match since 1994, at WrestleMania 25 in a handicap match against Chris Jericho, in a Raw ten-man tag the next night, and at Backlash 2009 against Y2J (he also had some house show bouts but these were the high points, and he resumed non-wrestling activities in mid-2009).

The DVD was released shortly before Steamboat suffered a serious brain injury after a 2010 attack by The Nexus; fortunately, Steamboat made a full recovery and continues to serve an important role behind the scenes in WWE.

The documentary is a good but not great one; Dragon followers will really enjoy it and Steamboat delivers an honest yet sensible look back at his career, befitting a truly nice guy in an industry not always renowned for its gentlemen. Plus, all of his key matches and rivalries are covered, meaning that nothing essential is ignored. And we get Jesse Ventura commentary, both during documentary clips and during bonus matches, which is a nice touch presumably due to his voice being vital to the entertainment of Savage-Steamboat at WM III (it would take too long to explain the Jesse Ventura situation; just consider that you don't always hear his voice on past WWF footage shown on DVDs).

On the downside, it is a bit short, but more notable is that because there aren't a lot of famous Steamboat stories concerning his outside-the-ring endeavours, there isn't much in the way of revelations or potentially juicy content (one item not really covered is how Steamboat's divorce from his first wife led to a dispute for years about who owned the trademark to his ring name; it appeared to have been resolved shortly before this DVD came out since he had his first modern action figure and videogame appearance and his first DVD all with a few months in 2010). Also, some non-Steamboat comments are silly: George Steele suggests that Savage actually tried to injure Ricky despite it being part of the show, and Sgt Slaughter claims that 30,000 were turned away from an NWA Tag Title Cage match (which at first I didn't mind until I thought about it and realised how daft this was). These are minor complaints, though: fans of Steamboat should definitely enjoy the documentary as it covers everything which his supporters would hope for.

And he also had many fans in the dressing room due to his incredible wrestling talent. The great ring awareness, the topnotch ring psychology, the super-smooth chain wrestling (including the greatest arm drag ever, the speedy nature of which Ricky claims he borrowed from Jack Brisco), his superb selling and his outstanding athletic ability (he was even hitting perfect cross body splashes at the age of 56) - it's no wonder that he is considered one of the best wrestlers ever.

This is emphasised by the bonus matches, all of which are good, great or absolute classics. The Starrcade 1983 Tag Title win is very good (at least by 1983 standards), although it does end abruptly. Conversely, the 1984 Boogie Jam bout against Flair takes a long time to get going but is engaging, again by 1980s expectations. We then get a surprisingly entertaining WWF match against Cowboy Bob Orton, a Lumberjack scrap with Don Muraco (in which we get a referee who delivers astonishingly slow counts before a rapid-fire three count, all made stranger by the fact that this wasn't part of the match storyline), and an reliable match with another psychology master in Jake Roberts, before that WM III match against Randy Savage which ends disc two.

Disc three opens with what Steamboat calls his greatest match, the Clash Of The Champions number classic against Flair (why didn't we get his NWA Title-winning bout with Slic Ric from Wrestle War 1989?). There's no 1991 WWF matches, despite the DVD box art centring on this phase of his career. The next few WCW matches are less notable although bouts with Lex Luger, alongside Dustin Rhodes against Arn Anderson and Larry Zbyszko (in his surprise return to the company in 1991), against Rick Rude (a really good 30-minute Iron Man scrap) and against Steve Austin are all worth watching. The DVD ends with an impressive showing against Chris Jericho (the aforementioned Backlash 2009 meeting).

On disc one, we also get some bonus stories and career-spanning segments and interviews. The latter is a bit odd as Steamboat was never renowned for his mic work although there are some highlights, particularly his 2009 HOF induction (I laughed during one 1985 segment when Mean Gene Okerlund calling him "Richard"; that is his real name, but come on: nobody refers to Shawn Michaels as "Michael" do they?). There's also an Easter egg in the form of a Steamboat anti-drugs PSA if you click right on "WrestleMania III" in the documentary menu (which some might say is darkly comical given how many WWF wrestlers were allegedly using drugs of some kind during this era). The DVD is completed by bonus commentary from Steamboat and Matt Striker on the 1984 Flair, Savage and Austin matches, which are worth listening to as Steamboat explains in-ring nuances and psychology in a way that is almost alien to modern-day wrestling.

Overall, then, how does this compilation rank? Personally, I feel that whilst this doesn't strike me as a five-star wrestling DVD, it is on the level just below that. The documentary is acceptable and insightful, the non-wrestling extras are satisfactory, and despite a couple of notable omissions, the matches are all good and includes some all-time classics. Steamboat fans will love it, but so will longtime wrestling supporters in general, who will be treated by plenty of truly great wrestling matches involving one of the best in-ring performers in history.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10 - Excellent

Monday, 10 August 2015

Wrestling's Greatest Factions

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 424 Minutes
Certificate: 12
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: May 26 2014

A staple of wrestling over the last 20-30 years has been the wrestling faction. Generally consisting of three or more members, and usually with a desire to rule their home base company, stables are united by family, friendship, or a common goal for complete domination. And groups tend to have a distinct personality trait which the wrestlers involved often have a difficult time establishing on their own, whether it be about playing pranks and having fun or about being rich, arrogant and affluent. Most factions have a disastrous conclusion of infighting, mind you ... but that's another story.

This DVD set focuses on the most notable factions from the mid-1980s to the present day, combining talking head comments with a match involving each highlighted faction. I'll focus on the matches and then the intros later in the review for reasons that I will explain.

We begin with D-Generation X, and the match here is an interesting one: the DX vs. Corporation mini-Rumble from January 1999. A surprisingly rare DVD conclusion, this bout doesn't showcase DX in the best light but it does perfectly encapsulate the excitement and unpredictability of the Attitude Era, not least with Chyna triumphing in this Corporate Rumble.

Next, we get The Heenan Family, which features amusing clips of Bobby Heenan (shocking, eh?) proving why he was the most hated, yet the most fondly-remembered, manager of all-time. His group's six-man tag against The Machines at The Big Event in 1986 is very slow-paced, though, and the ending is a bit daft (There's a back-story involving Andre The Giant; in a nutshell, he got suspended but returned as a Machine with Heenan trying to prove it was Andre and therefore have him suspended indefinitely. I honestly don't know how the saga ended, or how this storyline somehow transitioned to Heenan MANAGING Andre in 1987.). Bizarrely, Right To Censor are highlighted next; as interesting as it to see RTC, I wouldn't necessarily class him as a classic group, although their six-man against Rikishi & Too Cool from the 2000 SummerSlam is still fun.

The Fabulous Freebirds are a deserving inclusion, although their WCCW match against The Von Erichs and "Iceman" King Parsons is a bit hard to follow. The Nexus are up next, and the clips show why they generated such a buzz during the relatively tame period of mid-2010, as well as showing why it was a shame that they didn't end up having half of the long-term success that The Shield did. Their Raw ten-man is alright, although I would have preferred the SummerSlam 2010 main event; it's worth noting that Justin Gabriel actually cleanly pins John Cena to eliminate him, something that is brushed under the carpet when discussing Cena's win-loss record via his "SuperCena" gimmick. Disc one ends with The Dangerous Alliance and The Hart Foundation, two great factions, who have entertaining matches aghains Sting and Marcus Bagwell and (in a Flag Match) the combo of Steve Austin, Dude Love and The Undertaker. In the latter case, though, the Canadian Stampede top-liner should DEFINITELY have been here instead.

Disc two begins with possibly the most memorable group of them all, the nWo (new World order). However, the match selected to spotlight the nWo is bizarre: the three-team War Games from Fall Brawl 1998 where the Order side is Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart and Stevie Ray, with Hogan ending up attacking his partners. I could honestly think of at least 20 nWo matches which should have been here before this one. Plus, it was released on two recent DVDs (the nWo DVD, another shock wink wink, and the War Games DVD). A strange decision, to put it mildly. We then get the memorable yet slightly overrated Brood, who admittedly did have one of the greatest entrances of all-time. Their match with the JOB Squad from Rock Bottom 1998 is a bit short but is still a good encounter to spotlight the gothic trio.

It's nice to see Ted DiBiase's Million Dollar Corporation highlighted for a change. That being said, their Survivor Series 1994 clash with a team captained by Lex Luger shows the general lack of energy in the WWF of 1994, at least compared to the eras that it followed and would be followed by. We then get the Nation Of Domination, which most notably gave The Rock his big break after his initially disastrous start as smiley good-guy Rocky Maivia. The Nation's bout with DX from Over The Edge 1998 raises fond memories of a great Attitude Era rivalry.

That the BWO is highlighted raises eyebrows, but is a decent way to showcase ECW via a Stevie Richards-Axl Rotten match (and a note to Joey Styles: your links during this section are embarrassing. Don't make out that fans of wrestlers like John Cena, and DX for that matter, are uncool when you come across here as someone who thinks that literally anything that came from the original ECW was hilarious. This NWO spoof may have been mildly amusing in 1996; in 2014, you come across as so un-hip for still making out like it's rib-ticklingly funny.) Disc two ends with The Corporation, and a match that is surprisingly released in full here for the first time ever: the Austin vs. Corporation gauntlet match from a February 1999 Raw, which ends with an iconic image of Vince McMahon in Stone Cold's face. Also notable here is the enormous crowd, as this particular Raw was held in the Toronto SkyDome, which isn't sold out but is still holding over 43,000 fans for this match. Could you imagine WWE holding Raw in a stadium today?

Disc 3 opens by spotlighting the very successful Evolution, which had exhibits A and B on how a faction can elevate young talent into superstars via Randy Orton and Batista. The faction's showdown with The Dudleyz has been released before, but still serves as a glimpse of this very dominant unit. Focusing here on The Oddities is, erm, odd considering that they didn't last very long, although they were rather popular as evidenced by a Shotgun clash with Too Much (although it regrettably dubs over the Oddities theme song, the crowd reaction to which was the highlight of their act).

ECW's Triple Threat is focused upon next, and is embodied by a fun ECW tag bout against Rob Van Dam and Sabu from Cyberslam 1998. The section on Legacy is hampered by the statements that Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase (Jr) were elevated by being part of the group, which they were, but post-Legacy their stars fell and neither has returned to the headline level (DiBiase even left WWE in 2013). That being said, their 6-man tag from Backlash 2009 is a perfect match choice: all three members are involved, the action is really good and as Randy Orton becomes WWE Champion here, an argument can be made that this was their biggest match as a group.

The section on the Dungeon Of Doom is weird due to the tone of the voiceovers, as I'll go back to later. In a nutshell, this DVD is about the greatest groups ever, so why include a faction that is basically laughed at for being ridiculous? (It was unintentionally hilarious, but you get the point) Their War Games 1995 match with The Hulkamaniacs is amazingly dull for a War Games bout, yet it's still probably their biggest and best encounter. We then see the Straight Edge Society, a fun faction that should have lasted much longer; their SummerSlam 2010 handicap match with Big Show is decent but nothing special. The DVD ends with The Four Horsemen, who are arguably the best faction ever, although it's still odd to see a WWE round-up of greats end with a non-WWE act. Their featured match against Sting, Lex Luger and Barry Windham is enjoyable, but a War Games match would have been better since this was The Horsemen's forte (now this is where we SHOULD have got a War Games clash).

Now, for the pre-match links. They're around five minutes apiece, and include plenty of vintage clips and are as entertaining as you would expect. There's just one problem: if you watched the WWE Network show Countdown which focused on factions, you'll get EXACTLY the same clips. Well, the background screens and on-screen name bars are different, and there's a couple of sections which we didn't see on Countdown, but this is essentially a collection of WWE Network footage. If you haven't seen Cpountdown then it matters not; if you have (like I do), the links are too familiar to stand out and weaken the DVD as a whole. On the bright side, though, the Dungeon Of Doom clips are, as stated, hilarious (Hogan saying "Where am I? There's no Hulkamaniacs here!" made me laugh out loud the first time I saw it; this was all meant to be serious at the time), and Ted DiBiase proves that he still has his brilliant evil cackle.

The Blu-ray includes sections on The Spirit Squad, The Shield and The Wyatt Family. The Shield should definitely have been on the main release, with say the Oddities and BWO swapped to the Blu-ray. The Squad's Tag Title win over Kane and Big Show was their biggest moment so I can't argue that; The Shield's debut win at TLC 2012 is truly incredible; and the Wyatts' clash with Daniel Bryan from the following TLC is alright, I suppose. The Blu-ray makes this a more complete release, although if you already own The Shield's TLC 2012 match then the DVD is the more sensible (and cheaper) option.

One other point I want to make concerns the selection of groups. A notable absentee is The Ministry Of Darkness, and its spin-off The Corporate Ministry (the lead heel act during arguably the WWF/WWE's hottest period in its history). The Wolfpac isn't here as a spotlighted act (they are in the 1998 War Games match), and those saying that this is covered by the nWo being featured will find that the Wolfpac aren't mentioned at all. There are other glaring omissions, such as Jimmy Hart's stable, Camp Cornette, a bunch of Attitude Era squads and Team Canada/The Un-Americans, amongst others. And where the hell are the WCW/ECW Alliance, the super-squad which threatened the very existence of the WWF?

To conclude, this DVD is produced in such a way that characterises the potential problems with WWE DVD releases in the modern era. The main feature contains clips that will be very familiar to Network subscribers. The match selections try to avoid repetition in favour of new content, and the ATtitude Era Raw bouts are great to own, but really the choice of bouts is almost the wrong way round: we get rare matches for factions that should have had their most famous moments included (nWo, Harts, Horsemen etc), and some PPV matches which DVD collectors might already own aren't very interesting (Million Dollar Team and the two War Games clashes). I did like, though, that there was a lot of variety in the matches: we get six-man matches, eight-man matches, ten-man matches, triple threat teams of three, single matches, tag team matches, a gauntlet and even a mini-Royal Rumble!

If I had been directing this release, I'd have focused on major matches for the top squads and rare gems for the smaller squads; I'd have included The Shield on the main release, without question; and I'd have scrapped the links and replaced them by including the aforementioned Countdown episode as an extra, as well as maybe the Legends Of Wrestling roundtable discussion on groups (during which Tazz hilariously states, totally straight, that "The Cabinet just sucked!").

If you are an avid WWE DVD collector, you'll buy it anyway, and for those on the fence, if it's cheap, it provides a decent amount of entertainment that you should be satisifed. But I feel overall that this release was a bit of a disappointment, and is only slightly above average. It isn't terrible, but I wouldn't exactly recommend it either.

Overall Rating: 6.5/10 - Okay