Monday, 5 October 2015

The Best Of WWE At Madison Square Garden

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 428 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: September 9 2013

With the recent WWE Network special emanating from Madison Square Garden, this seems as good a time as any to look at the company's 2013 DVD dedicated to The World's Most Famous Arenas. Book-ended by links from Matt Striker (although there are very few of them), this compilation focuses on memorable matches and moments at MSG, and for the most part it is a success.

Surprisingly, we get nothing from Bruno Sammartino's first WWWF Title reign (more on him later), but we do get a match involving the man who dethroned Bruno in 1971, Ivan Koloff; his championship loss to Pedro Morales is the first match here, and is cool to see as it's historic yet rare (although the production quality is understandably poor). A Bruno vs. Superstar Billy Graham clash from 1977 follows, before a fairly good Texas Death match between Bob Backlund and Ken Patera from 1980. A historically noteworthy meeting between WWF Champ Bob Backlund and NWA Champ Harley Race follows, with commentary by Matt Striker that is either entertaining or annoying depending on your point of view, but we strangely don't get the memorable Backlund-Iron Sheik title change from December 1983. We do, however, get Hulk Hogan's incredibly important first WWF Title win over Sheik (the match is short but it marked the true beginning of Hulkamania), and a gripping Boot Camp match between Sgt Slaughter and Iron Sheik, which is incredibly bloody considering that we were by then into the Hogan era.

Next up is the main event of the first WrestleMania, one of the most important matches in wrestling history as Hogan and Mr. T face Roddy Piper and Mr. Wonderful in a celebrity-surrounded match that simply had to succeed for the WWF to stay afloat; fortunately, it did. (As an aside, some other important pre-WM matches aren't here, such as the Slaughter-Pat Patterson Alley Fight from 1981 and the Jimmy Snuka-Don Muraco cage match from 1983; don't expect to see the latter on many future DVDs under current circumstances.) A random 1985 tag match pitting Andre The Giant and Wonderful against Piper and Bob Orton (an off-shoot of the WM top-liner) is followed by the unforgettable SummerSlam 1988 match where The Ultimate Warrior dethrones the longest-reigning Intercontinental Champion of all-time, The Honky Tonk Man. The bout only lasts around 30 seconds, but it's very engaging to watch and launched Warrior's career.

Two of the three greatest IC Title bouts ever come next, as we get the classic Mr. Perfect-Bret Hart showdown from SummerSlam 1991, featuring an all-time classic commentary performance from Bobby Heenan ("You can't grab Bret Hart's hair ... You'd have too many oil slicks on your hands" and "I heard that one time (Roddy) Piper went to school one day and when he came home, his parents had moved" were amongst his best lines), and that Ladder match between Razor Ramon and Shawn Michaels from WrestleMania X. Some may complain that this match is once again included on a WWE DVD, but as one of the best matches ever to be held at The Garden, there would have been more complaints had this one not been included. I would also argue that Bret vs. Owen Hart from the same Mania should have been on this release, since it was a brilliant match in its own right and since two "incidents" from one show are included later on.

Disc two ends with a bout that lasts eight seconds. That might sound unappealing, but it is the 1994 clash where Diesel wins the WWF Title from Bob Backlund and, as a house show match, this has never been released as an overall presentation (we previously only ever saw the eight seconds themselves on the likes of Superstars and Wrestling Challenge); and besides, the big guy ended up holding the belt (yes, I said belt) for almost a year, so its inclusion is justifiable.

The third disc opens with an eight-man Survivor Series showdown from SS 1996, notable solely for the debut of Rocky Maivia, who would of course become The Rock. I can understand why this is on the DVD, but it lasts a fairly long time and isn't very interesting otherwise, so I would much rather have seen Bret vs. Steve Austin from the same card, a vital match in making Stone Cold a major star. This DVD contains moments as well as matches, one example being Austin's first Stone Cold Stunner to Vince McMahon, one of two highlights of the September 22, 1997 Raw to be featured here; the other is the wacky Falls Count Anywhere match between Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Cactus Jack (Jack's WWF debut, set up brilliantly by a daft yet entertaining video featuring all three Faces Of (Mick) Foley).

It's nice to see the lauded-at-the-time, almost-forgotten-nowadays Tag Team Tables match (the first in WWF history) between The Dudleyz and The Hardyz from Royal Rumble 2000, but where is Triple H vs. Cactus Jack from the same show? This Street Fight was truly epic and arguably the greatest ever match of its kind (I also complained about its absence from the Falls Count Anywhere DVD, if I remember correctly; click here to see if I did. Spoiler: I did.). I'd even have thrown in Tazz' WWF debut from the same show on this release. But probably not Mae Young's "topless" showing from RR 2000 ... definitely not. Unless you like seeing fake pensioner breasts that look like drooping sausage rolls.

A rare Raw match from 2000 is next, pitting Chris Jericho against Triple H against Kurt Angle. At the risk of sounding ill-informed, I'll spare the details of this one, because they'd take too long to explain, other than note that it doesn't last very long. Following this is Booker T's attack on Vince at MSG from June 2001 and the rather memorable return of Triple H from the first Raw of 2002 from a quadriceps injury (which the WWF/WWE may have mentioned once or twice). Next up is Big Show vs. John Cena for the United States Title from WrestleMania XX, which definitely played a role in Cena's ascension in WWE, but it still a bit overrated by the WWE historical hype machine.

After Trish Stratus' last Raw match of her full-time WWE run (a short bout with Mickie James from a September 2006 episode), we then see Cena again, this time as a far bIgger star, as he returns to win the 2008 Royal Rumble. To understand the impact of this, you have to consider that Cena at that point was supposedly injured until the summer of 2008, and very, very few people knew that he would be a participant, making this arguably the greatest moment in Royal Rumble history. There haVE always been surprise entrants in the Rumble, but the trend truly began with this moment.

I was disappointed on several fronts that the final match was the three-way tag main event from the November 2009 MSG Raw because firstly, despite the star power and the largely engaging action, it isn't a great match; secondly, it has been frequently released (including on the recent Road Is Jericho compilation); thirdly, Kofi Kingston's star-making attack on Randy Orton was the most memorable part of that particular show; and finally, I was looking forward to revisiting CM Punk vs. Alberto Del Rio from Survivor Series 2011 (a photograph from this encounter is on the sleeve), only to feel short-changed when the DVD ends with the aforementioned Raw bout (although Punk vs. ADR is on the Blu-ray, along with a few more bouts, several bonus stories and Vince's MSG Walk Of Fame induction).

Speaking of the sleeve: it looks okay, but it feels a little bit lazy and rushed and, whilst the main picture indicates a heavy presence by Bruno Sammartino and the sleeve listing strongly promotes this as being Bruno's first appearance as a talking head on a WWE DVD, we only hear from him once and only get one of his matches, which considering his history with The Garden is both baffling and feels like a let-down to any fans who purchased the DVD to see a lot of Bruno. I should mention that every match is preceded by a talking head which in most cases is relevant to the match, from Bob Backlund to Bret Hart to Kevin Nash to The Rock, although some spoil the ending of the subsequent bout which is a minor annoyance.

There were several TV shows not referenced (a June 2001 SmackDown, an August 2002 Raw, Raw and SmackDown from June 2003 and April 2005, Raw and Saturday Night's Main Event from August 2007 and SmackDown from April/May 2009), although the only glaring omission from those would be the night that Kane first unmasked. SummerSlam 1998 and Survivor Series 2002 were strangely not represented, and I would have liked some more matches from the 1980s and 1990s when monthly cards were shown exclusive to the New York area on the MSG Network, and possibly even some rare house show clashes from recent years too.

Overall, though, WWE has done a nice job with this DVD. There are a couple of classic matches, plenty of historic moments, a few rare gems, and overall a load of wrestling-related entertainment. You won't learn much about MSG from this compilation, and it has a couple of notable absentees when it comes to the match selection, but given the title of this release, this DVD does its job and offers most of WWE's finest moments at Madison Square Garden, with their historical significance and the comments from wrestlers past and present underlining why, even today, MSG remains the World's Most Famous Arena.

Overall Rating: 8/10 - Very Good

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