Tuesday, 17 May 2016

WWE Tagged Classics: WWF The Year In Review 1995 & 1996

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 344 Minutes
Certificate: 12
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: April 16 2012

Continuing the Year In Review series back in the day were the 1995 and 1996 instalments, which were also released as part of the Tagged Classics DVD series. These followed the formula of the 1994 edition by mostly spotlighting the biggest supercard matches of the year.

The other similarity with the 1993-4 Reviews collection (which you can read my review of by clicking here) is that the years 1995 and 1996 weren't exactly a vintage time in WWF history. If anything, they are less fondly remembered than 1993 and 1994 were. Indeed, 1995 mostly saw Diesel as WWF Champion in an almost year-long reign filled with very few notable matches, whilst Bret Hart wasn't given much to work with, The Undertaker continued being pitted against monster characters with little in the way of exciting action, Shawn Michaels largely floundered (with the exception of his summer activities, which we'll discuss shortly; I'm talking about activities relating to wrestling, by the way), Razor Ramon mainly feuded with Jeff Jarrett and Dean Douglas in a comedown from his 1994 wars with Shawn and Diesel; and the rest of the mid-card and under-card didn't exactly have career years.

Hosted by Dok Hendrix (check out this expression by the former and FUTURE Michael P.S. Hayes), the 1995 compilation kicks off with the closing moments of a pretty good Diesel-Bret bout from Royal Rumble, which had an overbooked conclusion to ensure that neither babyface took the loss. We then move onto WrestleMania XI, from which we see Owen Hart and mystery partner Yokozuna tackle The Smoking Gunns, Undertaker face King Kong Bundy and Lawrence Taylor battle Bam Bam Bigelow, in the WM main event believe it or not (I told you in the 1993-4 Review that Mania XI was the worst WM ever; we haven't even mentioned Bret Hart vs. Bob Backlund or Jacob and Eli Blu being chosen to face Lex Luger and The British Bulldog).

In an important note, 1995 was the year that the WWF went monthly on Pay-Per-View, beginning with In Your House in May. For that reason, the inclusion of Diesel vs. Sid as that show's main event makes sense, but while it isn't as bad as you'd think, it also isn't that good. As for Mabel vs. Savio Vega: including the King Of The Ring tournament final is again logical thinking, but the match is dire; the highlight are the "ECW!" chants from the Philadelphia crowd in the first mainstream acknowledgement of the Extreme brand. KOTR 1995, by the way, is generally considered to be the worst PPV in company history (or second worst if you rank ECW December To Dismember 2006 below it, which I personally don't). To illustrate this, the best match on the show is the next bout on the programme, and that is the Kiss My Foot match between Bret Hart and Jerry Lawler. As a side-note, as a big WWF fan at the time, I once thought that 1995 was awesome; the evidence here suggests otherwise.

Things do improve with the focus on SummerSlam 1995, by far the year's best show. After a great 123-Kid vs. Hakushi match, we see Hunter Hearst Helmsley make his WWF PPV debut against Bob "Spark Plugg" Holly (or it's Triple H vs. Hardcore Holly in their early days, if you'd prefer), and then we get the classic Ladder rematch between Shawn and Razor, unquestionably the match of the year, enhanced by a rowdy Pittsburgh crowd (why did the WWF hold two supershows in Pennsylvania in 1995?). The programme weirdly jumps back a month to show Barry Horowitz finally win a match against newcomer Body Donna Skip on Superstars (some first rivalry for Skip, that), and then we jump ahead again to In Your House 3 in September, showcased by an average Razor-Dean Douglas match and an alright tag bout pitting Diesel and Shawn against what was meant to be Yokozuna and Owen Hart, then was changed to Yoko and Bulldog, and ended up being Yoko and Owen. It's hard to explain, and the stipulations and resultant controversy (not acknowledged here) are so word that you're best Googling the whole thing.

It's also hard to explain why the 1995 feature didn't include some genuinely good matches from a generally poor year of action. We don't see Bret-Hakushi kick off the first In Your House in style, nor do we see Shawn and Jeff Jarrett have a belting bout from IYH 2, or even Bret battle Jean Pierre LaFitte at IYH 3. And why, oh why, did we not get shown the famous clip of Shawn Michaels winning the Royal Rumble from the #1 position after seemingly being eliminated, nor of his WM XI title bout against Diesel? The year 1995 had few enough highlights, and yet some of them didn't even make the cut.

As you might have guessed, the year 1995 was largely forgettable in WWF history (it wasn't in WCW, since Monday Nitro launched in September and wrestling changed forever), and this reflects on the quality of the Year In Review, which is the worst of the series. Unfortunately for WWF die-hards, 1996 proved to be even less prosperous, at least when you consider that Diesel and Razor defected to WCW (and formed the ultra-successful nWo with Hulk Hogan), and Bret Hart had an extended break after Mania XII. There were good things to come out of 1996, though, which we're about to tackle.

It's clear from the beginning that 1996 marked a year of change in the WWF. The Bret-Undertaker World Title clash at Royal Rumble was spoiled by Diesel, who flips Taker off (his middle finger gesture is digitised here). The subsequent Cage match between Bret and Diesel at IYH 6 sets up the double main event for Mania, and is the first of many occurrences where Undertaker came through the ring canvas to attack his enemy.

Instead of taking us onto Mania, we instead leap ahead to King Of The Ring. This was a great show, the best of the year, and we get two matches from it: Ahmed Johnson vs. Goldust for the Intercontinental strap and Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Wildman Marc Mero. Yes, Austin; more on him in a moment. Ahmed vs. Goldust is okay, but the heel dominates far too much of the action (literally at times, since his suggested homosexual tendencies, designed to rile up audiences believe it or not, get surprisingly raunchy considering that Attitude hadn't quite arrived yet), and Ahmed's subsequent pounding of The Bizarre One makes the champ look like a chump. Austin vs. Mero is very good, but we strangely do not see Austin beat Jake Roberts to win the KOTR tournament (hey, we got the 1993-5 finals on those YIR shows), meaning of course we don't get the infamous "Austin 3:16" promo that would eventually make him a mega-star and help to dramatically transform the WWF's fortunes). Other KOTR 1996 omissions here are a great Shawn-Bulldog main event, and a superb brawl between Undertaker and Mankind.

The weird chronology of these Year In Reviews continues as we go back to WrestleMania XII, with highlights of the Shawn-Bret Iron Man match and of Undertaker vs. Diesel. It's odd that we only see Shawn Michaels at this point of the 1996 feature, since he essentially ruled the year as WWF Champion and won the Royal Rumble (and yet again, the Rumble match finish isn't included). We do get plenty of Shawn going forward, though, as we see his IYH 8 clash with Bulldog (this has an odd finish), but strangely not their aforementioned KOTR rematch. It's also strange that we didn't get Shawn vs. Diesel, one of the best matches of the year; you can't put it down to Diesel jumping ship, since we get three appearances from him elsewhere on the show. Oh, and slotted between the Mania bouts are highlights from the 1996 Slammy Awards, which feel out of place in the company at that time (people noticed, because after 1997 the Slammys didn't return for over a decade).

Also from IYH 8, we see Undertaker challenge Goldust in a Casket match for the IC Title (this was before Goldust lost to Ahmed; try to bear with me here), which plays a role in the Taker-Mankind feud. At this point, I completely gave up on the chronology of this programme because we jump to September and IYH 10, where Owen and Bulldog face The Smoking Gunns for the Tag Titles, followed by - yes! - a leap back in time to the previous month's SummerSlam, and the closing moments of the brutal Boiler Room Brawl between Undertaker and Mankind, with an ending that was the most shocking Undertaker-related moment until his vaunted Streak ended many years later at WrestleMania XXX. The programme ends with Marc Mero facing Faarooq for the vacant Intercontinental Title (vacated after Ahmed was injured), and Shawn vs. Mankind in the main event from IYH 10, which while very enjoyable is still a bit overrated in my opinion.

I'm out of breath writing about 1996! That's due to the ridiculous chronology here; it's all over the place, more so than the 1994 disc (at least 1994 was broken up into key rivalries which explained the sudden time shifts, something that doesn't apply on this disc). The action is a lot better overall than in 1995, and to be fair Shawn's title reign and the Undertaker-Mankind feud ensured that things appeared to be more interesting than in the safe surroundings of 1995. What we aren't told, of course, is that the rest of the WWF product was ailing: debutants included Freddie Joe Floyd, TL Hopper, and who could forget the fake Diesel and fake Razor? Add to that the fact that WCW was dominating the WWF in the Monday night ratings, and one can understand why 1996 is considered a low point in WWF history, at least from a business standpoint.

That being said, it's strange that many of the bigger matches and moments aren't featured here. No Rumble match, no Shawn matches against Owen (IYH 6), Diesel (IYH 7), Bulldog (KOTR 96) or Vader (SummerSlam 96), no Taker-Mankind bouts aside from SummerSlam, no Austin KOTR coronation, only one match involving Ahmed (who at the time was considered a future World Champion), only a brief sighting of Vader (one of the year's top heels), and no appearances from legends like Jake Roberts, Roddy Piper and the Ultimate Warrior, all of whom made cameos during the year. I can understand leaving off Survivor Series again due to production schedules (the tape actually ends with the announcement of Bret vs. Austin at Survivor Series), and the Austin-Brian Pillman gun angle held just before the Series, but the sheer number of memorable moments and matches left off (we also don't get such Raw instances as Vader pummelling on-screen President Gorilla Monsoon) is baffling, given how low the general quality of WWF television was in 1996. By the end, you find yourself wanting WWE to release a new version of this and other years in review so that everything of substance can be included, and so that they can generally be done properly.

So, this set of Year In Reviews is a real mixed bag. Two years that marked a real low point for the WWF, both for on-screen quality and off-screen business. It's fascinating to watch the New Generation run out of steam and slowly be masked by the early elements of what would become the Attitude Era on disc two, and there are highlights of some very good matches (Shawn vs. Razor mainly on disc one and several bouts from disc two), but the running time is too long when watching action of a pretty low standard, especially considering the many matches and moments not included. Ironically, Year In Review tapes were discontinued after 1996, even though 1997 began the true turnaround for the WWF and, by 1998 and 1999, the company was dominating the wrestling world and was more entertaining and successful than ever before.

Like with the 1993-4 YIR twin-set, longtime fans and those wanting to learn more about WWF/WWE history should get a kick out of this two-disc DVD, but unlike the 1993-4 pack, the general quality is of a lower standard, making for a less satisfying viewing experience. This has its moments, no doubt, but I wouldn't exactly give this a glowing recommendation.

Overall Rating: 6/10 - Reasonable

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