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

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