Friday, 2 September 2016

The History Of The Hardcore Championship 24:7

Image Source: Fetch Publicity
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 431 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: September 5 2016

(Thanks to Fetch Publicity for arranging this review.)

If you ask any fan of the Attitude Era in the WWF/WWE about the ten things that they miss the most from that wild and crazy time, there's a good chance that they will mention the Hardcore Championship. Originally designed as a joke prop for Mankind, with that representing false hope provided by Vince McMahon in the storylines, the title soon evolved into a platform for some increasingly brutal and very competitive battles, and with a later rule change, it became a source of true entertainment and creativity. The Hardcore Title had its up's and down's over its near four-year history, and they are all covered in this new DVD.

The DVD is presented by three former Hardcore Champions in a round-table, discussion-style setting. Mick Foley and Rob Van Dam are understandable hosts, but I was surprised to see Raven as the final host: sure, he held the battered gold 27 times (or 39, as he states), but since he was a vocal critic of WWE after leaving the company and even tried to sue the organisation in 2008, it's a surprise that a) he would be asked, and b) he would agree to it. Tommy Dreamer has a cameo appearance with his voice introducing the hosts. Their discussions are both frank and humorous throughout, and make this DVD stand out from others; it feels more like a reunion of old friends rather than a serious wrestling chat, which is a good thing.

As for the matches: well, I am not going to break down each one bout-by-bout, because there's tons of them! There are literally dozens of matches on the set, although this is partly because some are very short, especially around 2000-2001, so three or four matches equate to the same time span as, say, one match on a "normal" DVD. It means that the true stand-out matches are fewer in number, but it ensures a very comprehensive catalogue of Hardcore Championship adventures.

Picking out the key moments, then, we have the segment where Mankind was first awarded the title, and some of his early defences as the Hardcore rules (No Holds Barred and Falls Count Anywhere) are established. A highlight comes from Road Dogg vs. Al Snow on January 4 1999 (the night that Mankind became WWF Champion for the first time, coincidentally), with the match featuring plenty of violent moments and ending up outside within the snow-covered surroundings of the arena. The creativity of both the weapons and the locations shine in a Snow-Bob Holly clash from St. Valentine's Day Massacre which ends up in the Mississippi River during a very cold time of the year. Some of Holly's early title defences are also included as he officially morphs into Hardcore Holly.

Strangely, there is a six-month gap on the main DVD before the next match, which means that we don't get the first Hardcore Title match at a WrestleMania or some of the subsequent Snow-Holly brawls. Instead, we jump to SummerSlam 1999 and Al vs. Big Boss Man, which is good but is overbooked Vince Russo-style (yes, Russo was a WWF writer back then), from Road Dogg providing unnecessary commentary to the Blue Meanie and Stevie Richards trying to kidnap Pepper post-match (Pepper was Al's dog who Boss Man would later cook and have Al unknowingly eat; seriously, that happened). We get a rare Jakked match of Snow vs. Steve Blackman, with the most notable aspects arguably being a completely forgotten storyline where Blackman had a problem with a WWF security guard, and announcers Michael Cole and Michael Hayes discussing Mark Henry's sex addiction storyline, where he had just admitted to losing his virginity at the age of eight to his sister; I can't believe I am even writing that, let alone that this made the WWF airwaves (even weirder, the commentators who actually sit at ringside for this match are Kevin Kelly and Terry Taylor, not Cole and Hayes).

As we enter 2000, the title takes on a less prominent role as wrestlers further down the ranks compete for the title, and the matches are shorter too with some literally lasting a matter of moments. However, the entertainment value would increase as Crash Holly announces the title would be defended 24/7, meaning 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That would lead to all sorts of hilarious title defences with plenty included here, as we see it defended in the car park, at an airport, in a children's playcentre (my personal favourite) and even at a circus. But the 24/7 moment which got the biggest laugh out of me was Gerald Brisco pinning Crash while he was asleep with a finger-poke, complete with the announcers whispering the crowning of a new champion and Brisco's classic slow-motion and silent celebration. Fortunately, we are spared the Brisco-Pat Patterson Hardcore Evening Gown match at King Of The Ring 2000, which went too far in trying to provide bizarre entertainment and was one of the worst moments of the entire Attitude Era, at least from the standpoint of being embarrassing. (We also don't get the chaotic Hardcore Battle Royal from WrestleMania 2000, which is a slight disappointment.)

The title got a bit more serious once Steve Blackman became champion (his SummerSlam 2000 showdown with Shane McMahon, featuring insane falls by Shane and, to a lesser extent, Blackman at the finish, is here); as Jim Ross notes on commentary, few challenged Blackman via the 24/7 rule because of how dangerous he was (a nice touch, when you think about it). But the 24/7 rule returns when the likes of Raven and Big Show would capture the gold, as we see in matches from late 2000 and early 2001. It was at this point when one couldn't keep count of title changes, as the belt would swop hands several times per show, and that was just on Raw and SmackDown (there were also tons of house show title changes for the same reason, hence Raven having dozens of title reigns to his credit; funnily enough, Hardcore Holly apparently only ever held the title six times), so the belt was losing some of its prestige, not to mention how the matches would degenerate into complete clusters (as seen here in one three-way on Raw, and that's with Big Show defending against The Rock and Kurt Angle). It could still be entertaining, though, as we see in a daft Triple Threat showdown between Raven, Big Show and Kane from WrestleMania X-Seven; whether it's Kane accidentally running over Raven's ankle with a golf cart or Show spending ages locking a cage that Kane immediately breaks open, this is an example of when wrestling can be so bad that it's good.

Around this time, former ECW talent entered the WWF due to the demise of that promotion, and subsequently the action in the Hardcore division became a lot more intense and serious. Rhyno vs. Raven from Backlash 2001 is an awesome little battle, including a great spot where Rhyno Gores himself into a shopping trolley, and Rob Van Dam's matches take the division up to an even higher level. RVD vs. Jeff Hardy from Invasion 2001 is fantastic and arguably the best Hardcore Title match ever, and Van Dam vs. The Undertaker from Vengeance 2001 saw the title reach its most prestigious level to date; besides the Undisputed Title mini-tournament on the same show, this was the most important match on the card. But once Undertaker lost the title in early 2002 to Maven (thanks to interference from The Rock, if you require an explanation for a result that looks strange on paper), the 24/7 rule re-entered play, but there were even more pointless title changes, less creativity in terms of locations and props (besides Goldust's gold-coloured weapons) and wrestlers on the very low end of the roster were competing for it. Besides the fun series of title swops at WrestleMania X8 (one of which saw The Hurricane fly into the backstage area on a rope to win the title), the last six-seven months of the championship were uneventful and had a seen-it-all-before feel to it. In spring and summer 2002, the title achieved very little in terms of entertainment value (partly because the Brand Extension halved the roster, meaning that less valued names were competing for it), so in hindsight it made sense that the championship would be retired, which we see in the DVD's final match, RVD vs. Tommy Dreamer on the August 26 2002 episode of Raw in an Intercontinental Title vs. Hardcore Title unification match (which emanated from Madison Square Garden, so at least the title left on something of a high).

This is a very enjoyable collection. This is definitely not one that you would watch if you expect classic wrestling action; it is essentially a giant highlight reel of people whacking each other with various objects, some being more dangerous than others (like a glass jar), others being on the lighter side (like a tub of bananas), and the actual wrestling is almost non-existent in certain matches. This is all about entertainment, and especially from the 2000 matches onwards, you can't help but crack a smile at some of the situations that the title finds itself in. From there being two matches at once due to the nature of the 24/7 rule, or matches that begin in a bouncy castle, the Hardcore Championship didn't take itself so seriously that the action couldn't end up practically anywhere, and with anybody trying to win it, whilst being entertaining enough that one didn't have the time to grasp how ludicrous the concept was when it could change hands with one participant being asleep, as noted earlier. When fans say that wrestling isn't that fun to watch anymore, light-hearted moments like this are part of the reason why. Sure, you won't get 20-25 minute straight wrestling clinics here, but many fans would take matches ending near a river bank or bouts that involve a ball pool over those on most days of the week. Okay, maybe not that often, but you get the point.

Many still wish for the Hardcore Title to return. I would like to see it come back too, but wrestling has evolved so much since the Attitude Era that a lot of modern fans may frown upon its return, not to mention the PG rating that would scupper the title's more brutal moments. I would suggest that it could return as the 24/7 Championship; one that could be defended 24/7 as it once was, but without needing the sort of violence provided by the likes of Al Snow and Hardcore Holly. If it were played purely for laughs, and the locations were creative and had thought put into them, then the 24/7 Title could be a light-hearted part, and a relevant little portion, of the three-hour Raw show. It would also give under-utilised talent something worthwhile to do that would stand out, rather than generic matches that nobody is interested in. Given the choice between straight wrestling matches involving Darren Young and Titus O'Neil, as per their current dull feud, and 24/7 bouts between the two, I know which one I would rather see.

One final disclaimer for those watching the DVD: I've mentioned that I didn't focus on every single match due to the sheer number, but I have to point out that there are a lot of unprotected weapon shots to the head here, which some might find uncomfortable to watch given what we know now about concussions and head trauma in wrestling (although common sense dictates that plenty of chairshots would cause long-term head damage). Of course, this has been outlawed in the WWE of today so there's no chance that this sort of violence will return to Raw or SmackDown, even if the product were to reintroduce its TV-14 rating, but it could be off-putting to some viewers. Mind you, it probably won't be a problem to many of the older fans who watched the Attitude Era shows and didn't bat an eyelid at such brutality.

And that's who this DVD is aimed at. If you're a fan who loved Raw Is War and SmackDown in the Attitude Era and misses the carnage that the shows provided back then, you'll get a real kick out of this compilation. You may feel by the end that you've seen enough Hardcore Championship matches to last a lifetime, and as noted only a small percentage are genuinely good matches. But between the plethora of bouts, the range of diverse characters and the undeniable entertainment provided by the 24/7 rule shenanigans, it's safe to say that Attitude Era fans will really enjoy this DVD, and will be transported back to a time when certain matches could start anytime, literally anywhere, and with absolutely no rules involved.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 - Good

No comments:

Post a comment