Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Bobby The Brain Heenan

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 279 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: February 14 2011

As the title suggests, this two-disc set looks at the career of Bobby Heenan, the greatest manager and one of the greatest announcers in wrestling history.

Heenan's success relied on his pest-like heel tactics on behalf of his clients, his first-class promo skills, the huge bumps he would take to make the babyfaces look good and - of course - his quick wit and stand-up comedy-level sense of humour and delivery. He was tailor-made for the eras in which he worked, having gotten his start in the early 1960s, then staying in the AWA for many years at the side of legendary AWA Champion Nick Bockwinkel, before his legendary run in the WWF. He began announcing full-time in 1991, and after a lengthy stay in WCW, he returned to the WWF for one night only to call the Gimmick Battle Royal at WrestleMania X-Seven.

A relatively short documentary covers Heenan's life and times, with only a minor focus on his pre-WWF days. His stint in the World Wrestling Federation is covered extensively, but it still feels like even this section should be longer. For instance, we get a strong analysis of his fantastic presenting combination on Prime Time Wrestling with Gorilla Monsoon and their unmatched chemistry, but a chapter on The Bobby Heenan Show - a gimmick talk show during PTW - receives almost as much air time as his managerial highs and lows in the WWF (and certainly more than his runs elsewhere, including the AWA).

His WCW commentary run is covered fairly quickly, before we jump to Heenan's unfortunate health troubles as he was diagnosed with throat cancer in the early 2000s, and has suffered a catalogue of problems since. He returned to conduct a classic speech upon his induction into the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2004, but by the end of the decade, his greatest gift - his voice - had been taken away. Heenan sadly remains in poor health, having recently suffered a fall, but he battles on today.

As well as his family, other contributors to the documentary include Vince McMahon, Pat Patterson, the late Nick Bockwinkel, Arn Anderson and others. And while it definitely should have been at least 20-30 minutes longer, the main feature does contain plenty of entertaining archive footage, largely based on the quick wit and magnetic heel heat of The Brain. As good as Paul Heyman is today, even Heyman the manager cannot compare to the legend that is Bobby Heenan, as the evidence here shows.

The DVD includes bonus stories (including a funny tale by Bockwinkel concerning a live interview on AWA television), some very entertaining segments involving typical Heenan/Monsoon interplay, a few rare Heenan matches (Heenan vs. Ultimate Warrior with a Weasel Suit stipulation is the highlight, although it is weird to see heel manager Heenan actually pick up a cleanish victory in one of the earlier bouts) and two bouts which are here for Heenan's commentary, the 1992 Royal Rumble match (featuring the greatest ever heel commentary performance from The Brain) and the aforementioned Gimmick Battle Royal from WM X7. The DVD is rounded off by Heenan's brilliant HOF 2004 speech, one of the best ever Hall Of Fame moments.

A DVD on a non-wrestler is always a tricky one to pull off, simply because it cannot rely on the strength of the matches. This DVD does a decent job at preventing such flaws by keeping the Heenan-as-a-wrestler matches to within an hour or so of air time, as the two most memorable bouts on the release only involve Heenan from the announce booth. The bonus stories, segments and the HOF speech add further weight to this DVD. Unfortunately, though, the documentary is too short and lacks context in some sections (such as Heenan's WCW run), as well as lacking depth and time in the key chapters. With a 90-minute documentary and some more segments, this could have been a really strong DVD but, as it is, the set is just okay. It's entertaining, no question - it has to be with Heenan as the focus - but it needed more time and additional material for this release to be a perfect tribute to the legend that is Bobby The Brain Heenan, the greatest manager ever, the greatest heel announcer of all-time, and arguably the funniest wrestling personality that ever lived.

Overall Rating: 6.5/10 - Okay

The Kliq Rules

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 397 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: September 7 2015

If you were following the WWF in the mid-1990s, or if you have studied the history of the company at the time, chances are that you'll have heard of The Kliq.

On-screen, it was a nickname given to Shawn Michaels' fan base. Off-screen, however, the Kliq was something far greater. A backstage group consisting of Shawn, Kevin "Diesel" Nash, Scott "Razor Ramon" Hall, Sean "123-Kid" Waltman and Paul Levesque (whose WWF tenure began as Hunter Hearst Helmsley before later having his name shortened to Triple H), the Kliq caused a great amount of trouble and terror within the locker room, whilst allegedly using their considerable influence on Vince McMahon to succeed in key main event spots. How great their control was has been debated over the years, from Kliq members suggesting their influence was minimal to former WWF stars outright stating that the Kliq ruined their careers. The power of the Kliq and their impact on sports entertainment is explored in this DVD set.

Truth be told, I was wondering what the point of this DVD was. A one-hour documentary on the group sounded intriguing, but it surely would have served better as an exclusive feature on the WWE Network; did we really need a full DVD set to discuss the off-screen faction? And is there really an audience for the backstage mechanisms of the pre-Attitude Era WWF/WWE in modern times? Well, that's what we got with this release, and whilst I still feel this would have been better as Network-only content, I enjoyed the DVD more than I thought I would.

The documentary provides brief introductions to the players involved before quickly exploring how the group formed and how their power increased over time. Shawn and Razor knew each other from their AWA days. Diesel was brought in at Shawn's request to become his bodyguard, leading Nash to be grateful for an opportunity to revive a then-dying career. Razor considered Kid his protégé after his unforgettable debut match (more on that later). And HHH says, after being advised by Terry Taylor, that he went out of his way to befriend Shawn and company when he first appeared backstage at WrestleMania XI. Although the seeds for their various friendships had been planted in the early 1990s, 1995 is often considered the "peak" year of the Kliq, on-screen and off.

All five members discuss their friendship and how strong their bond was. Of greater note are the comments from their co-workers at the time, including Bret Hart, The Undertaker, Aldo Montoya (later Justin Credible, who was considered a minor Kliq member), Shane "Dean" Douglas, Kama/The Godfather, Lex Luger and others. Vince McMahon is also on hand to provide his thoughts on the backstage powerhouse. Some of these are quite critical or, at least, they are of the belief that the Kliq occasionally abused their power. It is interesting to see Kama discuss another backstage faction known as the "BSK", or Bone Street Krew, which included Kama, Undertaker, Yokozuna, The Godwinns and Savio Vega. It is stated that this crew formed to ensure that the Kliq couldn't completely dominate the locker room, especially with the respected Undertaker at the helm.

During 1995, the key Kliq moment was a famous story whereby several Kliq members met up with Vince McMahon prior to a house show in Indianapolis, Indiana to essentially express their grievances at business and at certain members of the locker room. Although it is stated that nothing directly changed as a result and that nobody was told to start walking following the Kliq criticisms, the mere thought of Michaels, Nash etc having a private meeting with the boss to discuss business and who should/who shouldn't be on the "team" was a frightening one for the lesser-pushed members of the roster. Although it isn't acknowledged here, certain wrestlers such as Bam Bam Bigelow, Dean Douglas, Body Donna Skip and others firmly believed that the Kliq at best had a detrimental effect of their careers, and at worst were entirely responsible for their WWF tenures ending. Matters weren't helped by the Kliq's crazy off-screen lifestyles, which allegedly included plenty of drinking and a certain amount of substance use (in some cases, anyway).

It's easy to understand why the Kliq received such resentment and fear. Diesel was WWF Champion from November 1994 to November 1995. Shawn, Razor and Diesel dominated the Intercontinental Title scene from the summer of 1993 to January 1995, with Shawn and Razor enjoying further reigns thereafter. Shawn and Diesel held the Tag Team Titles in 1994. Meanwhile, even when they weren't holding titles, the Kliq members were pushed heavier than anybody else, with the exception of Bret Hart and The Undertaker. Bret Hart in his autobiography Hitman recalls asking Vince when the WWF became "the Diesel and Shawn show". Kid and Hunter were further down the card, but they were promoted as the stars of the future (which they were, but it added further weight to the belief that the Kliq were running the show).

Ironically, the most famous Kliq incident came as the faction was about to dissolve. This section is the longest of the documentary, and rightfully so. To sum it up, Diesel and Razor were leaving the WWF for WCW, and their last night was a house show at Madison Square Garden on May 19 1996 (my eighth birthday!). Shawn beat Diesel in a Steel Cage, and earlier on Hunter had pinned Razor. After the Cage match, all four celebrated together in the ring and made Kliq symbols in front of what remained of the crowd, since this was after the last match. Why was this such a noteworthy moment? Because this involved babyfaces and heels essentially admitting that they were really all friends and that their apparent hatred of one another was all part of the show. Consider that this was 1996, when kayfabe (the concept that professional wrestling was to be portrayed as real to the fans) still ruled, so this was seen as a major and disrespectful slap to the face of all those who worked in the WWF, and in the industry really, and those who came before. Only Hunter could be punished, since by now Shawn was WWF Champion and Nash and Hall were heading to WCW (Kid was injured, otherwise he would have been at MSG too) and he was given an extended losing streak to ensure that the locker room wouldn't take action to the point of possibly walking out in protest at the Kliq's self-serving actions.

The documentary looks at how the Kliq supposedly divided and conquered, since they would soon be in control of the main event scenes in the WWF and WCW, with Shawn and Hunter, as DX, dominating Raw and Nash and Hall tearing it up within the nWo on Nitro. During this period, the former 123-Kid worked for both parties, being on Nitro as Syxx and, after a controversial firing, resurfacing on Raw as X-Pac. The Kliq would occasionally make references to their friends via promo one-liners or quick messages into the camera. This aspect of the Kliq's history is exaggerated because everyone knows that Steve Austin was the star of the show from 1997 onwards in the WWF; yes, DX were crucial, but they were not and never were more important than Austin. Nash and Hall were a massive boost to WCW alongside the heel Hulk Hogan, to be fair, but their presence was turning into a key reason for WCW's downfall from 1998 up until 2001.

The Kliq members nearly all had setbacks, some of which were mentioned here: Shawn had a seemingly career-ending back injury in 1998. Hall began suffering from years of heavy drinking. Waltman had a number of close calls due to his personal problems. Nash's problems were less serious, although his career would never reach the heights of 1994-1998 again. Only HHH avoided the pitfalls that befell his Kliq compadres, with his future secured once he began dating and eventually married Stephanie McMahon. Through Shawn's 2002 comeback, various Hall Of Fame inductions and the Sting-HHH match which involved all five Kliq players in some way, the group has had a number of memorable reunions in recent years, and with all five (including Hall) being able to put their issues behind them, their current goal is simply to reminisce and enjoy life going forward.

Included on the DVD are many bonus matches with various combinations of the five Kliq members. We see Kid's Raw debut from May 1993 where, cast as a typical jobber, he scored a major upset win over Razor. We also get their rematch, which has an interesting story to it (as told on this DVD), as well as Diesel vs. Razor and Shawn vs. Kid (a gem of a bout) from Raw in the same year. A tag bout against The Quebecers for Razor and Kid is presumably here as part of the build for the Razor vs. Shawn WrestleMania X Ladder match, which is a very familiar bout, but it remains a classic and is a justifiable inclusion. A Razor-Diesel match for the IC gold is decent and a tag bout pitting Shawn and Diesel against Razor and Kid from 1994 is excellent. A Survivor Series elimination match involving all four Kliq members besides Hunter is watchable and plays a big role in Diesel's development (the big man would win the WWF Title from Bob Backlund just three days later).

The year 1995 is strangely not represented, an odd decision since this year saw all five Kliq members in the thick of things on WWF television in some form. Razor vs. Hunter and Shawn vs. Hunter from 1996 are two interesting bouts to view from this point in their careers (the Razor-Kid "Crybaby" bout from In Your House 6, less so), and the Shawn-Diesel No Holds Barred bout from In Your House 7 was one of the best matches of the year, and the first true hint as to what the Attitude Era would eventually provide. We see The Outsiders team against The Steiners on Nitro during WCW's boom period, but Nash vs. Hall from Halloween Havoc 1998 is less enjoyable given its focus on Hall's real-life alcoholism. HHH vs. X-Pac from Backlash 1999 is alright but a bit dull, partly because a straight wrestling match wasn't what the WWF fans of 1999 really wanted to see. A six-man bout from a 2002 edition of SmackDown is a glimpse at the short-lived nWo reunion on WWF television, and HHH vs. Nash from Judgment Day 2003 is okay, but it happened during what is now referred to as Triple H's reign of terror as World Heavyweight Champion. DX vs. JeriShow from TLC 2009 is a weird bout to include (even if it does showcase HBK and HHH as a team), and whilst undoubtedly entertaining, it is highly overrated in my opinion. The Blu-ray version has a few more bouts including the Sting-HHH spectacle from Mania 31, which is very enjoyable but has a very frustrating finale (you know, where HHH unnecessarily pinned The Stinger in his WWE debut).

This DVD is an unusual one because of its random feel, but it does have its moments. The documentary is a little on the short side, and does ignore some noted criticisms of the faction, but it also provides refreshing honesty and is about as in-depth a look at this backstage supergroup as WWE would allow. The Kliq is a fascinating topic because, yes they did appear to have considerable influence over Vince and company, and they did dominate the WWF during their "prime". However, besides Bret and Undertaker, there was nobody else who the WWF fans truly wanted to see; the talent pool was at its lowest ebb, as was business. There were other stars like Owen Hart, Yokozuna and The British Bulldog, but ask any fan of the era who the top names from the WWF at that time were, and they'll probably say several Kliq members. Shawn seemed to be the heartbeat of the Kliq, for the group's heavy influence only really faded in the WWF when he suffered his back injury; without HBK, the main event scene was Kliq-less in Stamford until HHH rose up the ranks - which, based on his performances, he did appear to merit by this point - in late 1999. Of course, he later married Stephanie and became a target for backstage criticism himself, but that's for another time.

And the Kliq didn't always have things their way. The booking of Shawn Michaels over the weekend of WrestleMania XI was rather questionable. Kid was never given a true opportunity to reach the main event level. And even Razor, who is often considered to have had a great WWF tenure, had a pretty rotten 1995, all things considered; in fact, once he lost the IC Title to Jeff Jarrett at Royal Rumble 1995, his only notable contribution before leaving was the Ladder rematch with Shawn as his later title reigns and feuds (against the likes of Mabel and Mo, Dean Douglas and Goldust) weren't exactly classic material. Diesel was on a losing streak even before he declared his intentions to jump ship. And we've already covered how Hunter took the rap for the MSG incident, which would become known as the Curtain Call (incidentally, this incident is shown in full on fan cam as a DVD extra).

The Kliq was also a sign of the times, because the WWF was struggling, and it lacked a major veteran like Hogan or Randy Savage. Yes, Bret and Taker were there, but Bret was the CM Punk of the 1990s, the obvious best wrestler in the company but someone who was never 100% accepted by the promotion as the guy; and Undertaker only had the top title for five days in his first six years with the WWF (and even Taker was in the BSK). Had Hogan still been in the WWF, the Kliq wouldn't have exerted the power that they had, nor would they have done if it were 1998 and Steve Austin was on a one-way trip to wrestling immortality; Stone Cold certainly wouldn't have been pushed around by Michaels or Nash or Hall at this point. And in the modern WWE, we rarely hear of true backstage politicians, even if HHH and John Cena are occasionally accused of political manoeuvrings, because times have changed and in the performance-driven WWE of today, fewer wrestlers are truly battling to earn or keep "their spot". It's no longer about one man or one feud, evidenced by how WWE's on-screen product succeeds in spite of the fact that fans completely resent the chosen one Roman Reigns.

The Kliq Rules will be appealing to fans of the mid-1990s WWF and those who have a keen interest in the behind-the-scenes aspect of wrestling. Newer fans will be less inclined to watch this DVD, and may even be confused by much of what is being discussed. That being said, the documentary is adequate, and many of the bonus matches are worth watching, if a little familiar. I would say, therefore, that this is a fairly good DVD set which, while revealing little in the way of new information, does recap the highs and lows, and of course the influence over the WWF (and the fear caused to the locker room) by the most infamous backstage unit in wrestling history. But you do have to be interested in either mid-1990s WWF wrestling or you have to be interested in how wrestling works, because otherwise this DVD won't be for you.

Overall Rating: 7/10 - Respectable

Monday, 20 June 2016

The Best Of Raw & SmackDown 2015

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 470 Minutes
Certificate: 12
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: February 8 2016

This annual release looks back on most of the previous 12 months of television content. I say "most" because the month of December is either only slightly referenced or ignored altogether due to the WWE release schedule (meaning that this DVD series is in production before the year even ends). True to that theory, the last match on this DVD comes from the November 30 Raw; had we been given the extra month, we could have had Roman Reigns' WWE Title win over Sheamus to mass approval, which was one of the top Raw moments of the year.

That aside, this is a well-structured look back at the highlights of Raw and SmackDown throughout 2015. This tends to attempt a balance between the biggest moments, the best matches and content which hasn't already been released, as well as avoiding repetition where possible (so, for instance, we only get a couple of John Cena's United States Title Open Challenges despite him having at least seven or eight great Raw bouts during this stage). In a nice touch, WWE has included short clips which recap each month in terms of key storyline developments, which always helps for viewers who would otherwise be wondering why specific angles had taken place. And this doesn't have a Blu-ray release, which is a negative, but it means a longer DVD programme (around eight hours), which makes this more of a comprehensive collection.

On the downside, Byron Saxton is a pretty annoying host; his material isn't great, but it's his "Aren't I funny?" expression after each supposed one-liner which is really frustrating; let us decide whether you're funny! And you're usually not! I don't mind Saxton that much, but this doesn't help as he looks to receive true approval for his work. Also, SmackDown was largely irrelevant throughout 2015, so we only get a few bouts from SD in the whole DVD. Hopefully, there will be more on the 2016 DVD which will include matches that will take place after the upcoming brand extension.

January is spotlighted by a Dean Ambrose-Bray Wyatt Ambulance match, which is pretty good, followed by Daniel Bryan's amazingly low-key comeback match from injury against Kane (unfortunately, Bryan would only wrestle for a few more months before further injuries that would end his career). A Royal Rumble qualifier between Ryback and Rusev is uneventful (these two SmackDown matches in a row mark the only consecutive SD bouts on the DVD), but after the January highlight reel (which surprisingly includes a very brief Hulk Hogan appearance; ooh, WWE is getting cold feet about keeping Hogan out of the mix), we jump to a very good Bryan vs. Seth Rollins match to determine who would face Roman Reigns at Fast Lane with a WrestleMania title shot at stake. This is the only footage for February as we then get the second highlight video, and much of March is also skipped over as we are taken to the night when Sting saved Randy Orton from a likely Authority beat-down. To be fair, WWE television wasn't exactly brilliant for the first few months of 2015, so we're hardly missing must-see moments here.

An overly long but undeniably entertaining Gauntlet match involving most of the participants from the Intercontinental Title Ladder match at Mania is up next, followed by Nikki Bella vs. Paige, a good match in the days before the NXT women truly took over Raw and SmackDown, and a very good promo segment to promote The Bellas vs. Paige and AJ Lee for WM (this felt more organic than usual; could it have been unscripted? And, if so, why do talents remain unscripted when they can genuinely cut good promos when the chains are off, to quote Curtis Axel?) Speaking of Axel, he turns up as jobber fodder for Neville's Raw debut (Byron's commentary during this match is appalling; the alternate commentary with Neville as a DVD extra is far better, and even that is only basic), but of greater note, this match follows Brock Lesnar going mental when he was denied a scheduled WWE Title shot at new champ Seth Rollins the night after WM 31. To end disc one, we get March and April recaps with a match sandwiched in between. John Cena and Daniel Bryan vs. Cesaro and Tyson Kidd was a basic meeting of champions at the time, but this bout (held in London, and actually interrupted by a few guerrilla marketers, which of course isn't included here) would end up being Bryan's final wrestling match due to his aforementioned health issues.

Disc two is the best of the set because the action has truly picked up on Raw by this point. We're treated to a strong Rollins-Ambrose match in Montreal, followed by a long segment from the same show that includes a great Cena-Sami Zayn match (Zayn gets an almighty pop in his hometown) as part of the U.S. Open Challenge. We then see Cena setting up another challenge, but it doesn't happen because the respondent is the debuting Kevin Owens, who announces his arrival by leaving Cena laying. Surprisingly when you consider the large focus on Roman Reigns throughout 2015, we only get his first appearance next as he, Randy Orton and Neville take on Sheamus, Kofi Kingston and Kane in a preview for the 2015 Money In The Bank Ladder match (Neville provides a great spot afterwards). This is book-ended by May and June recaps, and is then followed by arguably the TV match of the year, a fantastic U.S. Open Challenge between Cena and Cesaro in front of a red-hot Chicago crowd.

After that, we're shown the segment which marked the beginning of the "Divas Revolution" as Becky Lynch, Charlotte and Sasha Banks were officially introduced to Raw. The Revolution didn't exactly take off right away, but the women's action definitely improved from this show onwards, as evidenced by an enjoyable Paige-Sasha match which is next on the DVD (this and Cena-Cesaro also have alternate commentary). A July recap includes clips of the outstanding Brock Lesnar/Undertaker pull-apart angle, which really should have been here in full (by the way, the recaps start and end with a still image, and for July it's a positively frightening visual of an Undertaker expression during this brawl; if you turned this on in a dark room at night and didn't know what was coming, this would scare the s--t out of you). But we do see The Undertaker interrupt Lesnar's homecoming days prior to their big SummerSlam match, and the pre-Slam build is also represented by a very enjoyable eight-man tag from SmackDown that combines three PPV matches into one big TV brawl.

The best moments of arguably WWE's best TV show of the year kick off disc three with the completely unexpected return of The Dudley Boyz and Sting surprisingly interrupting Seth Rollins' statue ceremony (don't ask) in Brooklyn the night after SummerSlam. Two more monthly recaps book-end Sting's only in-ring appearance on Raw against Big Show, which quickly merges into Sting and Cena vs. Show and Rollins. Shortly after Night Of Champions, the general content of Raw and SmackDown began to take a bit of a dip, which resulted in the ratings really taking a dip. But there's still fun to be had, as Kevin Owens and Ryback have a fairly good bout for the Intercontinental Title, Tyler Breeze debuts to beat down Dolph Ziggler on Miz TV (this came after the worst storyline of the year, the Hollyoaks-esque love quadrangle involving Dolph, Rusev, Lana and Summer Rae, which hindered all and is memorable only for Rusev's great acting, and his new nickname of "RuRu"), and one of the best TV matches of the year, an incredible Fatal Four Way match between Reigns, Ziggler, Owens and the just-returned Alberto Del Rio to determine who would challenge Rollins for the WWE Title at Survivor Series.

But Rollins didn't make it to Survivor Series: after the October recap, but before the November run-through, we're shown action from the tournament for the vacant WWE Title, which Rollins had to relinquish after being injured at the beginning of the UK tour held that month. As part of that, we see a really good Cesaro-Sheamus match which includes interference from Wayne Rooney (seriously), and a big upset as Kalisto pins Ryback in the first step of a moderate push for the masked luchador. The DVD ends with an adequate Charlotte-Paige Divas Title match (the angle where Paige mocked Charlotte's deceased brother Reid fortunately isn't included), and a 7-on-4 handicap match as The New Day (whose cameos here would never be enough to explain to new viewers why the trio have become so popular with fans) and The League Of Nations battling Reigns, Ambrose and The Usos. By this point, Raw was ailing due to absences, poor storylines and questionable pushes. This, as well as declining ratings, actually made late 2015 a worrying time for WWE. But the Reigns title win on December 15 was the centrepiece of a great show, and with the signing of AJ Styles and the call-ups for Sami Zayn and several other NXT stars, Raw and SmackDown have generally been a lot better in 2016 (well, since WrestleMania 32 at which point the focus on The Authority loosened and many great wrestlers were given the chance to display their talents on a weekly basis).

Although the three-hour Raws get a lot of criticism due to their length, and many of the storylines during 2015 were either boring or poorly booked, the television shows still provided a very generous amount of great matches, and a good number of memorable moments too. Most of those moments are here, along with a lot of the year's top TV bouts. A couple more Cena matches from his Open Challenge phase would have been nice, as well as the incredible Rollins-Neville match from August and a strong Orton-Cesaro-Owens bout from the summer. And whilst Seth Rollins is represented fairly well, you wouldn't know from this DVD that Roman Reigns was and is WWE's great hope for the future, so some more Roman bouts might have helped. Perhaps adding a fourth disc, which the 2011 set had, would have resulted in a slightly more comprehensive round-up of the year's top moments.

Nevertheless, this is a very entertaining set with a clear focus on the wrestling action, and there is a lot of material that is definitely worth revisiting (Ambrose-Wyatt, Bryan-Rollins, Ambrose-Rollins, Cena-Zayn, Cena-Cesaro, the Fatal Four Way from October, Cesaro-Sheamus and a couple of the angles from over the summer). The monthly recaps are a minor inclusion, but a really good touch that benefit fans who may be watching this DVD a few years from now. Yes, the year did have plenty of flaws, and NXT was unquestionably the most exciting wrestling brand to follow during those twelve months, but the bloated nature of Raw, the insignificance of SmackDown and the general apathy towards storylines and featured performers can blind one to the fact that there was a lot of really good content on both shows during 2015. This compilation acts as strong evidence.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10 - Excellent

Sunday, 19 June 2016

WWE Live In The UK: November 2014

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 349 Minutes
Certificate: 12
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: February 9 2015

The November 2014 UK television tapings were meant to coincide with the launch of the WWE Network in the United Kingdom. Meant to, but ... approximately twenty minutes (twenty minutes!) before said launch, it was abruptly cancelled. Cue much disappointment and loud chants of "Where's our Network?" to Triple H and Stephanie McMahon during their in-ring appearances. Even Vince McMahon made a surprise (and non-televised) appearance to chastise fans for their anger at WWE and its lack of Network presence in the UK. Oh, dear.

Back to the shows, though (which were in Liverpool again, meaning that I was present). Raw, to  be honest, doesn't include much in the way of must-see material. It builds nicely to the Team Cena vs. Team Authority main event for Survivor Series, and we see Damien Mizdow demonstrate why his stunt double gimmick was brilliant, but otherwise the show is no different to any other episode from the time. We do get to see John Cena call the Authority "w--kers", which he may not have done had he known what that really means (he should since one of his signature moves is the "Five-Knuckle Shuffle"). But in these times before the likes of Kevin Owens, Neville and Sami Zayn, Raw was occasionally a slog to watch for three full hours (some still say it is, but at least we get better wrestling on a weekly basis than we did back in 2014). This isn't a terrible edition at all, but it's probably average at best.

Main Event has a fun Tyson Kidd vs. Sami Zayn match, a weird one since Zayn wasn't called up to the main roster at this point. Superstars is "the usual" (that should be a catch phrase by now), and SmackDown includes a then-rare Chris Jericho appearance as he hosts The Highlight Reel with The Authority. The real highlight, though, and one of WWE's best television matches of 2014, comes when Dolph Ziggler defends his Intercontinental Title against Cesaro and Tyson Kidd in a Triple Threat match. This is fantastic, a must-see match, and without question a career highlight for all three (Tyson Kidd actually agreed with my sentiments on Twitter). Superb. We also get the post-taping tag bout as Dean Ambrose and Jericho face Kane and Bray Wyatt, and The Rockers battling The Orient Express from UK Rampage 1991.

This is worth owning for the Ziggler/Cesaro/Kidd match alone. That is the best match held on any of the UK tapings in recent years, probably since the John Cena-Shawn Michaels clinic from 2007 (and it may be even better than that was). The rest of the content is less vital, but as an overall package, it's still a pretty decent set to have.

And it would be the last one. After this release, WWE discontinued the Live In The UK series. By now, the Network had (finally) launched in the UK, so fans could go on that to watch recent television episodes, making a further DVD release unnecessary. It's a shame because, although their existence initially felt pointless, they felt like a nice add-on if you'd attended the tapings, and looking back at what ended up being a whopping 15 LITUK DVDs, you tend to notice just how much WWE has changed since the mid-2000s.

WWE is now PG (well, it has been since 2008), Raw is firmly established in its three-hour slot (for better or worse), SmackDown has taken a big hit (which the forthcoming Draft will hopefully rectify), ECW has disappeared, the B-shows have never felt more insignificant, and NXT has debuted, flopped and relaunched to massive acclaim. We've seen legends disappear and/or go part-time, other icons return (again, part-time), a plethora of big names depart, but a strong collection of talent debut. We've seen "can't-miss" names fail, and we've seen success come from the most unlikely of sources. And, through it all, from Randy Orton vs. Jeff Hardy in Birmingham to Ryback vs. Kane in Liverpool, through all of that ... John Cena still hasn't turned heel.

Plus, the UK tapings, once considered second-rate, are now on par with their American counterparts. The tapings held in London in 2015 and 2016 were very good, and whilst it was necessitated rather than planned, WWE did indeed officially announce on-screen that Seth Rollins was no longer World Champion in Manchester last November. Add to that the opportunities that the Network could provide (London hosted an NXT Takeover last December; could we finally get another proper PPV this year or next?), new avenues (Raw and SmackDown will emanate from Glasgow, Scotland for the first time this November) and the rising level of UK-based talent who could end up in WWE or on NXT someday, and the future looks bright for WWE in the UK market.

Unfortunately, as things stand that future does not include further Live In The UK DVDs. But it has been a lot of fun, if at times a struggle, to look back through years of WWE television held in England. And since the November 2014-based release marked the end of a mini-era, that's one more reason for you to buy it.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 - Good

WWE Live In The UK: May 2014

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 333 Minutes
Certificate: 12
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: August 11 2014

The May 2014 tapings in London coincided with a strange time in WWE. We had all the hullabaloo surrounding CM Punk leaving WWE after the same Royal Rumble which saw Batista triumph at the expense of an excluded Daniel Bryan to mass fan protests, and even when Bryan won the WWE World Heavyweight Title at WrestleMania XXX, the same night saw the end of The Undertaker's Streak at the hands of Brock Lesnar. The after-effects of Mania were still being felt in London, but this fresh, unfamiliar feeling led to a strong atmosphere and some new storylines which evolved during the London shows.

Raw doesn't have a great match, but Seth Rollins (still in The Shield, for two more weeks anyway) vs. Batista is good, as is John Cena vs. Luke Harper (this is much better than I remembered it at the time), and the Intercontinental Title Number 1 Contender Beat The Clock Challenge has its moments. An announcement about the future of the injured titleholder Bryan doesn't reveal much (he would end up having to vacate the gold), Sheamus vs. Cesaro is a strong match, and an angle involving Adam Rose and Jack Swagger saw the London audience go crazy, in a humorous way, for Rose. This continued in the post-show angle, which is included on the DVD, of Rose, Bad News Barrett and Triple H generally larking around to entertain the crowd. From an entertainment standpoint, the show and the untelevised capers are well worth watching.

Main Event is mostly filler, with Paul Heyman and Cesaro building heat at Mark Henry's expense and a bafflingly long match between Damien Sandow (playing the role of Sherlock Holmes) and R-Truth. Superstars is filler once more, although Jack Swagger vs. Cody Rhodes is boosted by the crowd hilariously chanting along to Swagger's theme tune like it was a football anthem. Finally, SmackDown features a cameo by Hulk Hogan (I attended Raw because it fell on my birthday of May 19, a major coincidence since this was the only time since, well, ever that WWE films its spring UK shows in May rather than April, and once Hogan was advertised, I was heading to SmackDown too), a decent bout between Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio and an enjoyable Usos/Wyatt Family tag bout (another match which was held on consecutive UK tapings). We also get a pretty good No Holds Barred battle between Batista and Dolph Ziggler, and as a DVD extra, Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Savage from London in 1989 is a rare gem. Other extras include Pre-Show and Post-Show moments from the Network shows of the same name. Oh, yes: the WWE Network, which was still in its infancy at this point. The Network has more relevance when I cover the subsequent UK tour.

This is a very entertaining two-disc set with a number of highlights (and it's the first with the new WWE logo on the packaging). The matches are good at best, but there's a couple of bouts that are worth watching. And, best of all, you can join in with Bray Wyatt to sing "He's got the whole world in his hands" at a time when The Wyatts were cooler than the other side of the pillow (insert a Family Guy cut-scene here). Don't expect a lot of great matches, but you can expect to be thoroughly entertained.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 - Good

WWE Live In The UK: November 2013

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 278 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: February 3 2014

The biggest change to WWE television prior to the November 2013 TV tapings in the UK was the formation of The Authority, with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon being the heel owners with Randy Orton as their personally chosen heel WWE Champion. Therefore, the Manchester tapings take an immediate hit when we discover that The Authority aren't present. Orton is, though, as is Kane (the recently-appointed Director Of Operations), and so are all of WWE's biggest full-time names.

Raw is decent; it's not as good as the London show was in April of the same year, but it has its moments such as the Randy Orton vs. Cody Rhodes/Goldust match (and the post-match angle involving Orton and Big Show), John Cena vs. Jack Swagger/Antonio Cesaro (you may notice a theme here) with a post-match run-in between Cena and Alberto Del Rio, and in the best part of the tour, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan vs. The Shield, followed by a wild and unexpected brawl between The Shield and The Wyatt Family in a preview of their great 2014 matches. Overall, not a great show, but it did have a number of highlights.

Main Event is just okay, with the best match being AJ Lee vs. Natalya for the Divas Title, and Superstars is most notable for the fans heavily booing The Great Khali throughout an all-babyface six-man tag team bout. SmackDown by this point had officially become insignificant in the grand scheme of things, although it does have two decent tag matches (The Usos vs. The Wyatts and CM Punk/Daniel Bryan vs. RybAxel) and a mildly entertaining arm wrestling angle involving Cena and Del Rio. The bonus match here is Triple H vs. The Undertaker from InsurreXtion 2002 which doesn't quite meet expectations, partly due to the top rope snapping during the match. Funnily enough, the menus have the music from Main Event rather than Raw or SmackDown (and would do until the series ended, even after the show's theme changed), and on a related note, it was only when the packaging changed in late 2012 that the series stopped using logos inspired by the WrestleMania 23 emblem, which took place in 2007.

How to sum this one up, then? If you attended the tapings, like I did, you'll enjoy reliving these shows. But even if you didn't, there's enough quality material to keep you entertained, even if these shows are inferior on the whole to those held in London a few months beforehand.

Overall Rating: 7/10 - Respectable

WWE Live In The UK: April 2013

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 300 Minutes
Certificate: 12
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: July 15 2013

Live In The UK: April 2013 packs in a whopping five shows, not including the NXT episode from Orlando for obvious reasons. If you had watched the episodes as they aired in the US with commercials, your weekly viewing on this occasion would have been a whopping eight hours! (Nine, with NXT.) Fortunately, these DVDs do not include non-WWE commercials, so the running time is significantly chopped, although we do still get Raw, Main Event, Superstars, SmackDown and Saturday Morning Slam in their entirety.

Raw in the UK finally feels important on this release, as WWE brought over a generous number of big names. The clear highlight of the show, and the DVD, is the six-man pitting The Undertaker, Kane and Daniel Bryan against The Shield, but we also see a good bout between Chris Jericho and recently-crowned World Heavyweight Champion Dolph Ziggler, an appearance by Triple H to answer Brock Lesnar's challenge by dropping Paul Heyman with a Pedigree (Lesnar never made the trip), and a cameo by Mick Foley in an angle with Ryback (during which Ryback hits Foley with the hilarious yet cruel insult "You fat, pathetic lazy b-----d!"). Add to that some decent under-card bouts and this occurring at the peak of the "Fandangoing" craze, and you have a very memorable Raw from the UK for a change. The only downside is how John Cena, in Super-Cena mode, manages to fight off The Shield and Ryback at the end of the show. Senseless.

Main Event had already dropped in prestige by this point, and this is emphasised by the show being based around a gauntlet for Mark Henry. Superstars is the typical "decent action, no significance" fare, and SmackDown is pretty good too with a compelling Undertaker-Dean Ambrose main event with a major post-match angle. SD also features Sheamus vs. Big Show, Randy Orton vs. Mark Henry, a brief Wade Barrett-William Regal bout and a No Disqualification match between Alberto Del Rio and Jack Swagger. The bonus match is a good one between Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle for the WCW World Title from Rebellion 2001.

Oh, and then there's Saturday Morning Slam. SMS is one of the strangest WWE telecasts I've seen, as it was chiefly aimed at the younger audience. To that end, we have some comical backstage segments, some unusual commentary, and the matches have a comedic layer to them with a de-emphasis on anything remotely violent. That being said, all these things actually made it pretty interesting to watch, mainly because it stood out from the other shows, so it's a shame that SMS (which never aired in the UK) only lasted a few months and then wasn't renewed.

This is one of the best Live In The UK releases. Despite the snowball-effect of the content on offer, Raw and SmackDown are well worth watching, the retro match is enjoyable, and SMS is compelling for different reasons. So, if you're planning to revisit UK television tapings from WWE, this is one of the better options.

Overall Rating: 8/10 - Very Good

WWE Live In The UK: November 2012

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 328 Minutes
Certificate: 12
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: February 25 2013

Much had changed in WWE by the time that the November 2012 UK tour took place. NXT was being operated out of Orlando, far away from big arenas and without a never-ending "Redemption" theme. Main Event had debuted in the US (it wouldn't air in the UK for a very long time), but despite initial involvement from key players, soon evolved into another Superstars-esque filler show (this is Vince McMahon's philosophy, incidentally). Most notably, though, Raw was now three hours long, which as many current fans will tell you, is a big hindrance in being able to put together a consistently entertaining show. At this point, though, the three-hour running time was still a novelty, and it wasn't as big an issue as it would be in future years.

As obvious as it may sound, the only difference on this DVD at least with Raw being three hours was that it was longer. By that, I mean that we just receive an extra 40-45 minutes of content rather than there being better or longer matches and segments. Therefore, it probably isn't a big surprise for me to state that the Raw taping on this DVD isn't exactly a classic episode.

We get a decent tag team main event as CM Punk and Dolph Ziggler battle John Cena and Ryback, who at this point had more momentum than anyone on the roster. Sheamus vs. The Miz is alright, as is Alberto Del Rio vs. Kofi Kingston (in their third meeting on a November UK taping in a row!), and a six-man tag which pits Rey Mysterio, Sin Cara and R-Truth against Antonio Cesaro and The Prime Time Players is watchable, but much of the show is run-of-the-mill. An extended Brad Maddox interview (to explain why he cost Ryback the WWE Title at Hell In A Cell) is delivered poorly, and the John Cena-AJ Lee "love scandal" storyline had already grown tiresome by this point just two weeks in (perhaps it's because of the poor acting involved by most, or because it wasn't the least believable). Jim Ross joins Michael Cole on commentary which helps (Jerry Lawler would return from his heart attack-enforced absence the next week), but the show feels lightweight. By now, the UK fans have largely taken to cheering the heels just because they're heels, which never helps. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the segment where Vince McMahon switches the line-ups for two top matches at Survivor Series because, allegedly, it was done on the fly and Vickie Guerrero, who was involved in the angle, had to ad-lib the segment because it was pretty much unplanned. This also apparently upset Mick Foley because he was involved in the storyline, but he only found out that the match he had a role in had been changed when he watched Raw as it was airing in the US.

With no NXT, the Tuesday night show in this case is actually SmackDown, as for some reason it aired on a different night in the US on this occasion. Randy Orton vs. Alberto Del Rio is a really fun Falls Count Anywhere match, probably the highlight of the DVD, and Big Show teaming with Wade Barrett against Sheamus (who was a very popular babyface at this point) and William Regal is good too. Elsewhere, Main Event has a strong Sheamus vs. Barrett match, and Superstars is the usual, although the ending to Justin Gabriel vs. Tensai seems botched. Finally, we get two bonus matches: Randy Savage vs. The Ultimate Warrior from SummerSlam 1992 and The Rock vs. (the boney jabroni, to quote Rock) X-Pac from Capital Carnage 1998. As a side note, UK DVDs were now being released via Fremantle rather than Silver Vision, which means a new style of packaging for the box art, the discs and the on-screen menus (the 10-second loops of the Raw theme is annoying as hell).

It's by far the longest Live In The UK DVD to date, although it isn't quite the best. It has some pretty good matches and, combined with the two bonus bouts, this is a pretty good release. That being said, this was at a time when the product wasn't exactly at its peak, although things would improve for the better a few weeks later with the arrival of a certain faction known as The Shield. They would play a key role in the next round of UK tapings, which I will document in the April 2013 review.

Overall Rating: 7/10 - Respectable

WWE Live In The UK: April 2012

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 251 Minutes
Certificate: 12
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: August 6 2012

The April 2012 UK tapings were held at a time when WWE had finally given up on its brand extension. Sure, SmackDown talent had been appearing weekly on Raw since August 29 2011 (besides the Liverpool tapings, funnily enough), but it was done under the proviso that the rosters would remain separate. By this point, though, it was clear that the split was pretty much over, meaning that anyone could appear on either show and it wouldn't raise eyebrows.

Therefore, you would assume that these latest tapings in London would be the best yet, but - ah! - you'd be wrong. Raw is largely uneventful, albeit entertaining: CM Punk vs. Mark Henry under No Disqualification rules is surprisingly enjoyable, and there's good interplay between Punk and Chris Jericho afterwards. Brock Lesnar (pre-taped) and John Cena cut strong promos to hype their Extreme Rules match on PPV (Lesnar's return bout in WWE), and Daniel Bryan renames his finisher the Yes Lock to a huge pop from the fans, who despite his heel status were quickly joining what would be known as the Yes Movement. Otherwise, though, the show feels a bit blah, including the Cena-Tensai Extreme Rules main event. NXT is not much better, and it lacks a standout match like Trent Baretta vs. Tyson Kidd from Liverpool. This would be the last NXT taping (in its original form) to be taped in the UK, as the show would be revamped in June 2012 and largely based out of Orlando, Florida; I think it's safe to say that this decision paid off.

Superstars is unmemorable, and by this point the show is barely worth watching or even worth WWE taping because it is so inconsequential. WWE would be better off saving its money and making these dark matches before TV tapings instead. SmackDown is (obviously) better with an entertaining six-man tag team main event, but with the brand extension now a thing of the past, SmackDown was starting to feel more than ever like the B-show to Raw, especially since SmackDown's top names (Sheamus, Daniel Bryan etc) appeared on Raw, but Raw's top names (Cena, Punk, Y2J) didn't appear on the blue brand taping. The bonus match is Shawn Michaels vs. JBL from a November 2005 Raw taping in Sheffield, England, which I recall had nothing else memorable outside of the inter-brand conflict (which was well-executed, incidentally).

The WWE product of early 2012 was much more interesting than that of a year earlier, and yet the London tapings on this DVD are almost uneventful. The best matches are only adequate as opposed to being on the right side of good, and since Lesnar doesn't appear in the arena (for the only time during his comeback month), and Chris Jericho's comments are away from the ring too, it adds to the feeling that the UK shows matter (or mattered) less than the US versions. It's far from offensive and you'll get a kick out of various matches and segments, but this is not a vintage WWE DVD whatsoever. Oh, and skip NXT.

Overall Rating: 5.5/10 - Above Average

WWE Live In The UK: November 2011

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 263 Minutes
Certificate: 12
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: February 20 2012

As a Liverpool resident, it was an exciting prospect when WWE decided to tape Raw and SmackDown from Liverpool for the first time ever in November 2011. During the days when Bret Hart ruled the roost, or during the Attitude Era, it seemed unthinkable that Raw would air just a few miles away from my home. Therefore, I had to attend the shows; but is it a necessity to own the DVD featuring said shows?

The answer is: possibly not. Raw was decent but nothing more, although Zack Ryder teaming with John Cena against Awesome Truth in the main event seemed like the first sign that WWE was really going to give Ryder the push that, really, he had earned by this point. (That didn't really happen, but never mind.) Dolph Ziggler vs. John Morrison is good, and we get a Kevin Nash appearance too. Otherwise, the show has that "filler" feeling to it, and even CM Punk only appears to cut a promo rather than to have a match. Incidentally, this was during the push for the "Never Before, Never Again" combo of Cena and The Rock at Survivor Series 2011, and it should come as no surprise that Rock does not appear in any form on this show. (He did the next week, though ... in America.)

NXT was now a fourth-rate version of Raw or SmackDown, evidenced by the big story being a potential romance between Johnny Curtis (the future Fandango) and Maxine (remember her?). It does, however, feature the best match on the DVD, a genuinely great bout between the long-forgotten Trent Baretta and the eternally-underrated Tyson Kidd. This match alone makes this edition of NXT worth watching. Superstars has its own standout match in the form of Daniel Bryan vs. William Regal, which Bryan once described as one of his favourite matches ever. This takes place just before Bryan would cash in Money In The Bank and develop into the "Yes!"-obsessed character which would eventually lead to a fan rebellion.

Speaking of Bryan, he's in action again on SmackDown in an uneventful clash with Mark Henry. Big Show intervenes and faces three jobbers at once. We also see Randy Orton face Wade Barrett and Sheamus battle Christian in two worthwhile matches, and a glimpse of the extremely short-lived alliance between Hunico, Primo and Epico. A personal highlight for me was seeing Anfield, home of Liverpool FC, shown on the big screen. The bonus match here is Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Dude Love from One Night Only 1997.

I have to mention three things which took place in the Echo Arena during those tapings which you don't see here. The ending of the Raw main event was amazingly re-taped due to some sort of error, and hilariously they somehow messed it up a second time! Watch the ending closely on this DVD and you'll realise that there's editing at work here. Also, Mark Henry actually flubbed his lines during his promo, which again is edited out. And post-SmackDown, there was a six-man match which resulted in Booker T, Randy Orton and Mark Henry all doing the Spinaroonie; it was more entertaining than it sounds.

With four really good matches (Raw is the only show lacking a true standout bout, funnily enough), this set is actually pretty decent. It's not an essential purchase by any means, but there's enough action and some intriguing feuds in development that you should find this to be one of the better Live In The UK sets.

Overall Rating: 7/10 - Respectable

WWE Live In The UK: April 2011

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 282 Minutes
Certificate: 12
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: July 18 2011

WWE had regained some of its edge by April 2011, largely due to the return of The Rock and the associated relaxing of certain aspects of the PG era. This resulted in Raw seeming a bit more unpredictable in the aftermath of WrestleMania XXVII, evidenced in the opening segments here which see R-Truth unexpectedly turn heel on John Morrison in a surprisingly aggressive manner. Truth even smokes a cigarette and blows the smoke into Morrison's face, and as UK residents will be aware, smoking is banned inside public places nowadays, so this was an eye-opener (in saying that, WWE probably just didn't realise the UK laws on smoking; perhaps they did when this part of the segment was originally cut from UK replays on Raw).

Otherwise, the show isn't that memorable. A main event between Randy Orton and CM Punk is superior to anything which took place on either of the UK Raw episodes from 2010, and there's a painful-to-watch segment involving the now-unbearable Michael Cole, Jack Swagger, Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler and The Queen (it isn't hard to deduce that it wasn't really Queen Elizabeth II). Otherwise, Raw had only slightly improved from its state of affairs five months earlier, resulting in a show that's only slightly above average.

NXT was now in its fifth "Redemption" season, and whilst the burial commentary was gone, the show was now completely inconsequential and serves so little purpose that it's barely worth me recapping it. Likewise Superstars which is watchable, but pretty uneventful. SmackDown has a hit-and-miss segment based around Edge's real-life retirement hosted by Alberto Del Rio and featuring cameos by Edge and Christian, as well as two title matches (one of which has a title change). There's also a good opener between Rey Mysterio and the no-longer-Dashing Cody Rhodes to further their feud. Annoyingly, every single show has an extended recap of the R-Truth heel turn; once would have been plenty. The bonus material here consists of Edge vs. Christian in a Steel Cage match for the IC Title from Rebellion 2001, which is fun to watch.

These tapings were held at a weird time; it was after The Rock had returned and after the official challenge had been made for the Rock-John Cena match for WrestleMania XXVIII, but before CM Punk cut that "pipe bomb" promo and even before the great Randy Orton-Christian rivalry took over SmackDown. It felt like WWE was in transition mode (which might be true, considering that the 2011 Draft would take place the following week), resulting in tapings that were eventful, but ultimately didn't achieve much outside of Truth's heel turn. It's an okay DVD, but certainly not the best of the Live In The UK releases.

Overall Rating: 6.5/10 - Okay

WWE Live In The UK: November 2010

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 250 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: March 28 2011

The Nexus storyline was one of the best WWE plots in years when it first began in June 2010. Out of nowhere, the first group of NXT rookies suddenly destroyed John Cena, CM Punk and others while wrecking the ring and generally causing chaos. This invasion was designed for the newcomers to take control of WWE through sheer destruction. The hugely intriguing storyline took a big hit when they lost to Team WWE at SummerSlam, and the excitement had gone by the autumn months. In a last-ditch attempt to save Nexus, John Cena was made a reluctant member of the faction, with his fate to be determined in a major match between Wade Barrett and Randy Orton at Survivor Series.

It is on the road to SS where the November 2010 UK tour took place, and the Free Or Fired bout (if Barrett became WWE Champion, Cena would be free from Nexus, but if Orton retained, Cena would be fired; oh, and Cena was refereeing said match) is the focus of most of the television here. Raw builds to said bout with Cena refereeing a 10-man match involving Nexus, and he also gets a chance to face rebelling Nexus member David Otunga (another "two-in-a-row" series on UK tours). To be honest, the rest of Raw is pretty uneventful, with the only highlight being a (very entertaining) Teatime segment as Santino Marella and the now-comedic Vladimir Kozlov trying to make peace with Sheamus, but failing miserably. The sight of Divas wearing Liverpool kits made me smile, as did the unspoken irony of the Man United-clad side having to cheat to win.

Perhaps the most intriguing non-Nexus elements of Raw at this point were the ongoing developments involving certain characters. The Miz was the rising star by a wide margin, and despite being a heel, Miz was over like Rover in Manchester on this night. He would become WWE Champion within a matter of weeks via Money In The Bank, which believe it or not seemed entirely logical at the time. Meanwhile, Michael Cole was now a firmly-established heel announcer, albeit one who still demonstrated occasional babyface tendencies which was very confusing. And then there was the Anonymous Raw General Manager, who would email announcements into the show ("remember "And I quote" from Cole?), but with his identity remaining secretive. As it turned out, the saga was never properly resolved, but that's a story for another time.

All of this, along with Daniel Bryan's minor babyface push and his showstealing PPV matches, may make Raw seem really interesting. But the one thing missing from all of this was quality wrestling on a weekly basis, which we weren't getting at the time, and certainly this show had only mediocre action at best. Add to that the ailing Nexus plot and you have a show which, despite clear signs of structure and development for certain talents, was at times a chore to watch. To be honest, it was only when The Rock surprisingly returned in February 2011 that Raw became interesting again. So, don't expect much from this Raw; as noted, Santino's Teatime is probably the highlight.

NXT was based around women at this time, and if you remember NXT Season Three, you'll know that it was treated appallingly by announcers Michael Cole and Josh Matthews. Strangely, that was part of its charm: watched in mute, NXT on this DVD is uninteresting, but with commentary, you will laugh your head off. Really, as counter-productive as the announcing is, it is undeniably hilarious at times. It is still interesting to see AJ and Kaitlyn in their early days, mind you. Superstars is alright but at this point is complete filler, although Drew McIntyre (whose push was over by now) vs. Kaval is pretty decent.

As for SmackDown: it was based largely on the Edge-Kane feud, which would take a strange turn at the end of this very show when Edge kidnapped the recently-returned Paul Bearer. Yup. Before then, Edge battles Otunga in a match which had Raw/Nexus implications (the brand extension was fading by this point), and Kane takes on Big Show in an okay main event. We also see relative newcomer Alberto Del Rio take on Kofi Kingston, and an alright Intercontinental Title match between Dolph Ziggler and MVP. That's your show, pretty much. Oh, and "Dashing" Cody Rhodes insults the UK fans (in admittedly funny fashion). It was watchable and at times entertaining, but it was only the best show of the week by default. The only extra is the Kane-Undertaker match from Mayhem In Manchester 1998 (well, highlights of it anyway), which is relevant considering that Kane was just coming off a(nother) feud with Taker at this point.

I attended these tapings (I actually won the SmackDown tickets in a WWE Magazine competition), and I couldn't help but compare it to the last Manchester double-header of tapings in 2008. The number of big names who had left was shocking (Michaels, Batista, Jericho, The Hardyz), and some were off TV for various reasons (Undertaker, HHH). Their absences had yet to be filled, and the overall wrestling quality had declined, as had the number of intriguing storylines (Nexus was the only memorable plot going on, and even that had suffered since the summer of 2010). The shows were still entertaining from a live perspective, but it was clear that WWE was struggling both commercially and critically. Fortunately, things would take a turn for the better on the Road To WrestleMania XXVII.

This is worth watching from a historical standpoint, but I can't honestly say that this is a DVD that you should own.

Overall Rating; 5.5/10 - Above Average

WWE Live In The UK: April 2010

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 291 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: July 19 2010

Live In The UK returns to cover the April 2010 tour, which was perhaps most memorable for the fact that the Raw crew ended up being stuck in Dublin, Ireland due to the volcanic ash incident. (You might remember it for Mark Henry being arrested in an incident involving Chavo Guerrero and some fans wanting autographs; when I heard the full details, it didn't surprise me one bit that the "heels" in this scenario were the often-grumpy Henry and Chavo.)

WrestleMania XXVI had just gone down (I went to that Mania too), and with it, we lost Shawn Michaels to retirement. Add to that The Undertaker having his traditional break from television, and Triple H being absent due to injury (which in hindsight marked the beginning of the end of his full-time career; he competed shortly afterwards at Extreme Rules, but has only wrestled occasionally since), and the roster was looking a bit thin for this tour. It's therefore unsurprising that besides one or two moments, these tapings aren't particularly memorable.

Raw has David Hasselhoff as guest host, who at least does a much better job than Ricky Hatton did; and his cameos are entertaining, to be fair. Batista vs. Randy Orton is the somewhat underwhelming main event, and the secondary main event is John Cena against then-NXT rookie David Otunga. Yes, really. The only other notable part of Raw is an appearance from the recently-resurfaced Bret Hart, who gets a great reaction. It isn't unfair to suggest that if you had missed this episode of Raw at the time, you probably wouldn't have regretted it.

By now, ECW was gone, and in its place we had NXT. Not the NXT which stars Finn Balor, Samoa Joe and Bayley, but the version which was meant to partially resemble a reality show. The producers of NXT hadn't quite lost the plot yet, so this edition is decent for what it is, and it's cool to see Daniel Bryan, Wade Barrett and others at this early stage (well, this early stage in WWE for Bryan). Superstars is the usual average fare; you'll enjoy it if you don't expect much from it. It was silly that the main event was MVP vs. Ted DiBiase, because the exact same match main evented Superstars on the previous UK tour. At least DiBiase gets retribution from their previous meeting, giving this match a purpose (although it isn't acknowledged; I only know this from remembering the initial match). Superstars was not a priority of WWE by this point, with clips from Raw being the only presence of main event stars, and things would get worse for the show in the future.

SmackDown is the best show on this DVD, spotlighted by an exciting main event between Jack Swagger, Chris Jericho and Edge for the World Heavyweight Title. Swagger won Money In The Bank at WrestleMania completely out of the blue, and his WHC win was also a huge surprise. This was the first step forward for Swagger in his title reign, although it would ultimately prove to be mishandled, leading Swagger to achieve little in the six years since his main event run ended. This match is good, though.

The extras here consist of two retro bouts: The Rockers vs. The Fabulous Rougeaus from the first televised UK show in 1989, the opening segment of which is drawn out for far too long, and a respectable Bret Hart-Rick Martel bout from 1992.

Judged on its own, this isn't really a good wrestling compilation, if you can call it that. After watching the largely dire November 2009 output, though, this feels like a big improvement, since Raw is slightly more interesting and NXT (even at this point) is superior to the p-ss-poor ECW show. I wouldn't suggest that you should go out and buy this DVD, but I would say that you'll probably enjoy this DVD more than the previous LITUK release, even if the ratings are the same.

Overall Rating: 6/10 - Reasonable

WWE Live In The UK: November 2009

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 297 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: May 3 2010

On paper, the November 2009 tapings sound like they would be very memorable. Ricky Hatton as Raw guest host (remember that concept?), DX vs. JeriShow with John Cena on commentary, William Regal challenging ECW Champion Christian in his home country and The Undertaker vs. Chris Jericho on television for the first time ever all sound like a vintage tour. But it wasn't.

Raw was ailing at this point. Sure, we had John Cena, DX, Randy Orton and Legacy, the rise of Kofi Kingston and Sheamus and other notable faces. But the show had a seen-it-all-before feel to it, especially its headline feuds which for most of 2009 were all recycled. Add to that the more-annoying-than-entertaining Chavo Guerrero heel persona (in a dire feud with Hornswoggle for much of the year) and the guest show idea which had grown tired once annoying and disinterested figures began hosting proceedings, and the show was at a low point. It could provide some entertainment, but more often it was boring or frustrating.

This is demonstrated on this edition of Raw because, besides a mildly entertaining opening segment involving Hatton (who is awful on the mic), JeriShow and DX, and an okay main event between those two teams, the show is complete filler. Even Ricky's "MMA" match with Chavo falls flat, partly because his "Blue Moon" theme is edited out. Add to that overly-edited crowd reactions at various points of the show, and it results in an entirely missable episode of Raw. The show just feels lifeless. Almost every episode of Raw in the last year has been superior to this one from 2009 (that being said, at least it doesn't drag on for three hours like Raw does today). By the way, this was the last episode of Raw to feature the "To Be Loved" theme by Papa Roach, in a little trivia note.

ECW boasts the aforementioned Regal-Christian match but, otherwise, it is even worse than Raw. In fact, it cannot honestly claim to be main roster television, because much of the quality is so poor. Never mind the "ECW" name of the show; you could have called it anything and it would still be atrocious. No wonder ECW was cancelled a few months later. Superstars is better, as the matches are actually fairly decent. None are particularly memorable, but at least the show doesn't reach the depths of ECW.

SmackDown is the best show on this DVD, but whilst the show had shone in the ring throughout 2009, this particular episode was just okay. Undertaker vs. Jericho is the best match, but it's missing something to make it a classic TV bout. John Morrison vs. Dolph Ziggler is alright but has a poor ending. And segments involving CM Punk, Batista and Rey Mysterio are decent, but none justify purchasing this DVD. Finlay vs. Drew McIntyre is worth watching too, I suppose, but McIntyre hadn't properly developed his "chosen one" character, so even this feels a bit lacklustre.

The best part of this DVD could be the bonus material. The wonderfully nostalgic 20-man Battle Royal from the Royal Albert Hall in 1991 felt massive at the time, even if it was barely acknowledged on television back in the States. A handicap match between Brock Lesnar/Paul Heyman and Edge from Rebellion 2002 is surprisingly good, too. When this DVD was released, few could have imagined that Lesnar, at this point the UFC Heavyweight Champion, and Heyman, essentially barred from WWE for life, would ever return to the company.

This DVD does have its moments (Christian vs. Regal, Undertaker vs. Y2J and the bonus bouts), but on the whole it's actually a fair portrayal of WWE television at the time; namely, it could have been a lot better. And the same applies to these particular tapings, especially Raw which just about reached the level of "run of the mill" (ECW was traditionally awful at this point, and with Christian-Regal, the episode here was arguably an improvement). Only get this DVD if you see it for a low price on eBay, but it might actually be worth watching to relive a time when the landscape of WWE was a lot less interesting than it is now, even if we're hardly in a vintage era as we speak.

Overall Rating: 6/10 - Reasonable

WWE Live In The UK: April 2009

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 282 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: July 20 2009

With WrestleMania in the rear-view mirror, WWE was back across the Atlantic for its April 2009 UK tour.

To be fair, WM 25 wasn't particularly good; besides the all-time classic that was The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels, much of the card was a disappointment. Fortunately, the television shows were still worth watching, and this set of tapings in London bridged the gap between the 2009 Draft and the era in which the roster changes would be implemented. This leads to some pretty star-studded bouts across the board, although the match quality isn't quite to the standard of the November 2008 UK tour.

From Raw, we get a good Triple H-Randy Orton No Disqualification match, although this occurred at the height of the never-ending HHH-Orton conflict. Rey Mysterio meets Big Show in a short David vs. Goliath bout. Batista makes short work of Chavo Guerrero. Kane faces CM Punk. And John Cena takes on Chris Jericho in front of a crowd who detests Cena, even more than what fans largely did at the time. It's packed with big names, though as I said, even the best match is only adequate.

ECW is completely skippable, and is only worth watching if you fancy seeing the recently-returned Christian and Jack Swagger sign a contract for their ECW Title bout at Backlash (or Hornswoggle vs. Natalya). I should mention that by now WWE had added Superstars to its weekly slate (just one week prior, in fact), so we get that taping here, which includes Edge vs. Kofi Kingston and Rey Mysterio teaming with CM Punk against Big Show and Kane. Superstars wasn't actually on a UK channel at this point, so this would be the only presence of Superstars in the UK until late 2009. Incidentally, this was (supposedly) the only weekly show to feature talent from all three brands, but despite its general insignificance to the scheme of things (it would be a C- or a D-show by late 2010), it played a role in creating the feeling that there is far too much WWE television output, which as we all know applies to a great degree today.

Finally, there's SmackDown. Again, it's star-studded, and features The Undertaker against Big Show in his first SD match post-WrestleMania. The outcome is unexpected, and this would actually mark Taker's removal from television until he resurfaced at the end of SummerSlam 2009. The tag main event sets up the 6-man match at Backlash (Batista and Shane McMahon vs. Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase), but it just feels weird, not least because none of the four were or would be on SmackDown roster-wise.

The bonus material here is decent. We get two dark matches (William Regal vs. Dolph Ziggler and R-Truth vs Umaga), a photo recap of the tour, and the unforgettable main event of One Night Only 1997 between Shawn Michaels and The British Bulldog (which was very controversial and annoying, but I'll cover that another time).

This is a pretty good series of tapings, although nothing is massively memorable. In some ways it marks the end of an era, along with Backlash the subsequent Sunday, as the subsequent changes made by the Draft led to a pretty poor time for Raw, but a great time for SmackDown from a wrestling standpoint. It's safe to say that WWE would love to have this many bona fide headliners on its television shows today.

Overall Rating; 7.5/10 - Good

WWE Live In The UK: November 2008

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 233 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: February 9 2009

WWE were back in the UK for its November 2008 tour, which was very memorable to me as I attended both nights of tapings, and mingled with many of the wrestlers in their hotel (well, I say mingled but it was really just getting the chance to meet some of them, but there were truly spontaneous moments, such as a moment when trouble nearly kicked off between the WWE stars and a group of kickboxers, and the alleged visual of JBL being so drunk that he collapsed; all of this is true, by the way).

At this point, we were into the PG era, although it wouldn't be until 2009-10 when WWE's lack of creativity and minimal progression of mid-card stars led to fans bashing the PG nature of the product. The shows were more than reasonable at this point, if not quite to the level of, say, 1998 or 2005. Fortunately for UK fans, the crew must have been looking to prove something whilst they were in Manchester, because all three tapings are well worth watching and were the best overall set of UK tapings to date.

Raw looked to bring an end to some long-running feuds, following the popular resignation of bumbling GM Mike Adamle the previous week, and Chris Jericho regaining the World Heavyweight Title from Batista that same night. To that end, we get a fun Kane-Rey Mysterio match, a teased Batista-Randy Orton confrontation, and a very good Last Man Standing match between Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho to officially end their superb rivalry. In addition, we get the end of Santino Marella's Intercontinental Title run at the hands (or the knee) of home country hero William Regal. This was probably the best episode of Raw in months, even without John Cena (who would return from injury shortly afterwards at Survivor Series) and CM Punk (who wasn't used even though he was there, for some reason).

ECW had long evolved into something only slightly more important than Heat or Velocity, but this particular edition of ECW had arguably the brand's best match of the year. Matt Hardy's ECW Title defence against Finlay (another UK rep) was an incredible match, which was a bigger achievement when you consider that Hardy was working through an injury). And SmackDown had a strong Extreme Rules main event between Jeff Hardy and The Undertaker with a surprising outcome. (Although it isn't included here, WWE actually recorded two episodes of SmackDown on that evening; on the second episode, Jeff pinned Triple H in a non-title match, making this the best night of Jeff's career before he would become WWE Champion at Armageddon the next month.)

The DVD is rounded off by two retro matches from past UK tours: The Undertaker vs. Hacksaw Jim Duggan (HOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!) from 1991, and Shawn Michaels vs. Crush from 1993. Neither is a great match, but both are fun to revisit, especially for Bobby Heenan's outstanding and hilarious heel commentary. The presentation is to the usual WWE standard by this point, following major problems with the first LITUK DVD and minor issues with the second one, and so it shan't be brought up again in this series of reviews.

From an in-ring standpoint, WWE had been enjoying one of its best ever years on PPV, and this is showcased by the fact that all three television shows here have at least one really good match. Ironically, the PPV which these tapings were setting up, Survivor Series, was the only card all year to be largely panned, partly due to the Jeff Hardy angle (or the presentation of it, anyway) and the dull-as-f--k Triple H-Vladimir Kozlov action from said show.

Nevertheless, this is by far the strongest of the initial Live In The UK DVDs, and possibly the strongest of the entire series. No doubt these episodes will end up on the Network, but while you wait for this development, I would definitely recommend getting this DVD. Note: JBL's drunken collapse is not included.

Overall Rating: 8/10 - Very Good

WWE Live In The UK: April 2008

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 217 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: September 15 2008

The second Live In The UK DVD takes in the April 2008 tour. This was coming off a tremendous WrestleMania XXIV (I attended it so I'm biased, but even if I hadn't it was an incredible Mania to watch), which combined with the return of many stars from injury, and other recent comebacks for the likes of Chris Jericho and Big Show, raised hopes that the UK tapings would be superior to those held the previous October.

As it turned out, any improvements were only slight. Granted, Raw does feature a title change (when Beth Phoenix defends the Women's Title against Mickie James), a pretty good angle involving Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho (which helped to sow the seeds for their outstanding feud later that year), William Regal challenging for Randy Orton's WWE Title in his home country, and a first-time match between Triple H and John Bradshaw Layfield. ECW has a reunion of The Brothers Of Destruction as they tackle John Morrison and The Miz, who by now are a well-established combo as WWE Tag Team Champions. And SmackDown is alright, which even has a Batista-Undertaker main event, even if it ends in a dissatisfying manner and can't hold a candle to their other battles during this era.

Generally, though, there's still nothing massively appealing on any of the shows. The content of Raw is fairly good, but the best match is probably Orton-Regal, and even that is only decent (Regal nearly breaks Orton's neck with a botched suplex during this match; incidentally, Orton's long WWE Title run began right before the October 2007 tour, and would end shortly after this tour). The aforementioned ECW tag bout is a cool spectacle, but that particular show has no other stand-out moments. And SmackDown has its moments, but again it's not really a vintage episode.

There was still the feeling at this point that WWE television tapings in the UK had a second-rate feel to them, which by and large they had ever since they began in October 2004. SmackDown had usually done the better job of trying to make English tapings fairly memorable (Eddie Guerrero turned heel on one such taping in April 2005), but with the exception of Cena-Michaels from April 2007, the Raw tapings almost all felt insignificant; as if you could afford to skip them and watch the US episode the next week to find out what happened. Not least because John Cena and Mr. Kennedy were both absent from Raw due to filming commitments. Admittedly, they would miss other Raw events while attempting to play the real-life role of The Rock, but it speaks volumes that the film productions were timed so that both men just happened to miss the UK tour. Jeff Hardy was also missing, but that was his own fault due to a drug-related suspension.

Fortunately, the presentation is better here; it was the final few weeks before the PG era began, but of the slightly violent action that we do see, nothing is edited out. The screen quality seems a bit off, perhaps because it isn't in wide-screen as most WWE television was at this time, and there's a weird screen effect to the O2 Arena-filmed scenes, as if everything moves a little too quick (which I can't explain). As bonus footage, we get some quick clips of the tour (including one of The Sandman mingling with UK fans, even though he was fired the previous September).

WWE television in spring 2008 was a big improvement on that of October 2007 due to the return of many big names and, in the case of SmackDown, the surprisingly entertaining Edge-Vickie Guerrero romance. And the PPV events from around this time were of a high standard, with some ranking amongst the greatest WWE supershows of the era. The TV shows were still only fair, though, with the occasional great episode here and there. This is a much wiser purchase than the October 2007 Live In The UK release, but it's still only average.

Overall Rating: 5/10 - Average

WWE Live In The UK: October 2007

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 260 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: February 11 2008

Towards the end of the Ruthless Aggression era, WWE began releasing a series of DVDs known as Live In The UK to - yes! - the UK market.

These DVDs consisted of the main roster television episodes from a specific UK tour, so for instance the first such release was based on the October 2007 UK tour. (There was a prior Live In Italy DVD from the April 2007 tour of that country, which was the blueprint for the UK version).

I will review these DVDs not only to judge whether they're worth owning, but also to identify just how much the WWE product has changed over the last few years, using these releases as a history tool. And believe me, a lot has changed in WWE since autumn 2007, even if certain elements of Raw and SmackDown would make you think otherwise. Incidentally, I am not reviewing these match-by-match because, between the short bouts and backstage segments, there would be far too much to break down; therefore, I will just point out notable aspects, for better or for worse.

So, beginning with the October 2007 DVD: at this point, WWE was only just beginning to show signs of rebounding from the horrendous Benoit Tragedy of June 2007 and the injury jinx which had hindered the roster for much of the year. In fact, John Cena had been injured right before the tour, and in response, Shawn Michaels was brought back from his own injury lay-off on the episode of Raw before this tour kicked off. Fortunately, other stars (such as The Undertaker) had also returned, and come early 2008, the spate of injuries would be a thing of the past, not being a mass plague again until late 2015/early 2016.

I should also point out that, at this point, we were well into the brand extension era, as we still had separate rosters for Raw, SmackDown and ECW, although the third brand was now ECW in name only and had already been portrayed as the read-headed stepchild to the Monday and Friday night broadcasts.

With Cyber Sunday approaching (which to me was the first of what would be a string of really good or excellent PPV events, stretching right through to 2009), the focus for this week of television was to promote that interactive PPV. To that end, Raw saw WWE Champion Randy Orton face all three of his potential opponents - Jeff Hardy, Mr. Kennedy and Shawn Michaels - in response to insulting England, the home country (of course) of Raw General Manager William Regal. Vince McMahon also promoted Triple H's bout with Umaga by putting the Samoan Bulldozer against a jobber in three different stipulation matches (Street Fight, Steel Cage and First Blood), based on what the CS match could have been, although HHH does not appear on the show (that being said, he did appear after the televised portion ended to fight and beat Umaga in a very good Street Fight; I know because I was there). Oh, and there are shenanigans involving Jonathan Coachman and Hornswoggle, who had recently been revealed as Vince McMahon's illegitimate son. You read that right.

SmackDown also built towards the Batista-Undertaker match for the World Heavyweight Title, with JBL campaigning to referee said match (his opposition Mick Foley and Steve Austin did not make similar cameos). In the ring, though, the greater focus was on the Matt Hardy-MVP and Rey Mysterio-Finlay feuds, with Matt facing Finlay and MVP battling Rey. Also, Kane had a run-in with the terrible combo of The Great Khali and Big Daddy V, and Drew McIntyre made his debut wearing a kilt. Drew's forgotten first run on SmackDown quickly ended and he went back to developmental, before a much more successful tenure upon his 2009 reappearance. As for ECW: John Morrison fought The Miz as both (and Big Daddy V) vied to face CM Punk for the ECW Title at Cyber Sunday.

The shows are almost all filler, especially Raw; besides Matt vs. Finlay and Rey vs. MVP, they are all mediocre at best and phoned-in at worst. There's nothing offensive here, but it says a lot that the best parts about the Raw taping were the Hornswoggle-Coach angles and the non-televised HHH-Umaga bout. It's good to see the stars of the era, and to hark back to a time when Batista was actually really popular, but the shows themselves are fairly missable. Only SmackDown really measures up to a US taping of main roster WWE television from the era, and even that is only mildly entertaining.

The DVD does include the fabulous Cena-Michaels match from London in April of that year as an extra, along with selected clips of the tour . However, I have to mention one very big negative about this DVD, something which I had never seen on a WWE DVD before.

This was still the TV-14 era, although the general content of the product had felt toned-down since around May 2007 (prior to the Benoit incidents, despite what some will tell you). WWE would still deliver blood and violence when it was deemed appropriate, though, such as an angle from the October 8 2007 Raw (the week before the tour) where HHH took weapon blows and bled, albeit not to a particularly brutal degree. Here's the issue: this DVD must have directly broadcast the versions shown on Sky Sports, and in the morning or afternoon slots at that, because the weapon shots aren't shown! Amazingly, the screen freezes before weapon shots, on an official WWE DVD! Why would anybody want to watch versions of the shows which have been edited to this degree? I can understand doing so for the broadcasts during child-friendly hours on TV, but not on a proper DVD. Mind-blowing.

In case you haven't noticed, I wouldn't recommend this DVD at all. The best match on the release can be found on other DVDs, and the best match from the tour under scrutiny isn't included, because it was non-televised. None of the remaining content is worth parting with your money for, and if you wait a couple of months, chances are that these episodes will end up on the Network anyway. Even if they were, the edits of weapon blows tarnish the presentation of the DVD greatly.

So, unless you see this DVD pop up in Poundland, don't buy this DVD. It's safe to say that things aren't off to a great start for the Live In The UK series, and that even the most frustrating aspects of WWE television today are still superior to much of the WWE product as of October 2007. Fortunately, things would improve in late 2007/early 2008, but these particular episodes are far from must-see. Only if you are an avid collector should you buy this release.

Overall Rating: 3/10 - Flawed