Friday, 2 December 2016

The True Story Of The Royal Rumble

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 437 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: December 5 2016

(Thanks to Fetch Publicity for arranging this review.)

The Royal Rumble match is arguably the most anticipated WWE encounter of the entire year, more so even than the main event of WrestleMania. The potential for big moments, elevation of younger talent, surprise returns or debuts, shock eliminations, face/heel turns, unexpected square-offs and more, along with the guarantee for the Rumble winner to earn a World Title shot at Mania (usually, anyway), all combine to create a match that has seen its legacy grow over the years, especially during the modern era where fans know so much of what will happen long before it hits the screen. The Rumble match remains unpredictable, where the key layers are a closely-guarded secret and almost anything can happen.

Therefore, when it was announced that WWE would be producing a DVD/Blu-ray essentially detailing the inside story of the Royal Rumble, it sounded like the most exciting home video project in ages. With almost three decades of history to wade through, including some of the most memorable moments ever in WWE, along with the chance to learn more about some of the Rumble's most hotly-debated or controversial incidents, this (like the match on which it is based) seemed like a must-see compilation, especially since it would include a bunch of standout matches, including both Rumble bouts and battles held at the Rumble PPV (if that makes sense).

Unfortunately, the main feature doesn't quite meet its potential. It is undoubtedly entertaining, clocking in at just under 75 minutes, and analysing the roots of the Rumble match and some of its core elements and unforgettable moments, as well as providing a cool behind-the-scenes look throughout the day of the 2016 Rumble match. We get plenty of classic archive footage, all of the Rumble's most pivotal incidents are shown, and there are lots of contributions from a variety of talking heads about their Rumble experiences and thoughts. So, it is definitely a fun watch.

However, the name "True Story" suggests that we'd be getting a real analysis of the finer details of the Rumble match and its history, and in that respect the documentary is a disappointment. After a confusing start (it feels like the main feature starts three different ways; once you watch it, you'll know what I mean), We do hear from Pat Patterson at the beginning about how he came up with the Rumble concept, his initially-unsuccessful pitching of the match to Vince McMahon and how, almost to Vince's amusement, Pat pitched the idea once more to NBC bigwig Dick Ebersol, who took the chance to promote the Rumble match as a live special on NBC in 1988, and was so successful that it hit Pay-Per-View the following year. It's also cool that the feature acknowledges that there were "trial run" Rumbles

From there, though, aside from the odd trivia nugget here and there, we get almost nothing that matches the "True Story" name. Yes, we're guided through a lot of important moments, but the back-stories are not provided. For instance, the feature acknowledges the heavy boos received by 2014 winner Batista and 2015 winner Roman Reigns, and that fans wanted Daniel Bryan to win on both occasions (he wasn't even entered in the 2014 match, much to the chagrin of the fans), but it's so vague that we aren't given much context, nor are we told that Bryan ultimately ended up in the WWE Title picture at WrestleMania XXX and was victorious that night. There is some intriguing backstage footage after Roman's victory, but the impression we're given is that the fans were in the wrong, not WWE for its poor handling of the '15 (or '14) matches, and that this was the only time when Reigns received boos despite his babyface status (the last two years provides evidence to the contrary). Also, we're shown the infamous 1994 ending when Bret Hart and Lex Luger both went out at the same time, but we're not told why the WWF decided to have a double-winner scenario (it was essentially a popularity test to determine whether Hart or Luger was the fan's preferred top babyface, a contest easily won by the Hitman). Admittedly, we are given a breakdown into the accidental repeat of this outcome in 2005 involving Batista, John Cena and Vince McMahon tearing his quadriceps, but these discussions are few and far between. Part of the Rumble's appeal is determining who the WWF/WWE straps the proverbial rocket to and why, but the documentary doesn't provide enough insight into such decisions. Other aspects of Rumble's history aren't explored either, such as the reason why the Rumble aired in the first place (to compete with the NWA/JCP PPV event Bunkhouse Stampede) or why the Rumble field stretched to 40 participants in 2011. (Might this happen again in 2017 now that we have a brand split again, and with the 2017 event likely to last four hours?)

Obviously, WWE will only take the "insider" aspect of discussing its product to a certain level, meaning that shoot comments provided by the likes of Jim Cornette and Vince Russo are not going to pop up anytime soon on a WWE release. But there's so many fascinating Rumble tales that fans have heard about over the years, from Mr. Perfect supposedly having his moment of glory prevented by Hulk Hogan more than once at the beginning of the 1990s, to Bret Hart originally being pegged as the 1997 winner, to Mil Mascaras wanting to take the credit for his own elimination in the same match, to some accidental eliminations down the years (Steve Austin went out earlier than he should have in 1996, as did Alex Riley in 2011), as well as loads of situations which are bound to have arisen over the course of the Rumble's history that we don't know about, and yet none of those are brought up here. With the exception of Kevin Nash/Diesel explaining why he didn't toss out Dolph Ziggler as planned in 2011, there aren't any interesting tales from Rumble matches which fans won't already know about.

The other issue is that, too often, the contributors discuss the Rumble match as it is a real sporting contest. I don't want to spoil the illusion for any readers, but let's face it: in 2016/2017, only a small minority of fans won't realise that the Rumble match is not a genuine competition, where the entrants legitimately try to fight for their survival. Considering that this is meant to be an insider look at the Rumble match rather than stepping into a wrestler's footsteps from a storyline perspective, the fact that this angle is taken when breaking down certain aspects of the big battle royal is pretty annoying. Nobody would mind someone on Raw or SmackDown talking in such a manner, but not on a documentary at a time when anyone who Googles "Royal Rumble" will find very few links which suggest that the Rumble match is, you know, real.

As stated, though, there's still a lot of entertainment to be found. Clips of almost every match are shown at some point, even if some are extremely brief (we get mere seconds of the 2004 match, likely due to Chris Benoit winning it from the #1 position no less, even though he turns up during the 2007 match that is included as an extra). Everything from Shawn Michaels' one-foot escape at the end of the 1995 bout to Kofi Kingston's miraculous and increasingly-crazy methods of avoiding elimination to Santino Marella's one-second stint in the 2009 match are shown, along with other iconic moments like Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior having a square-off in the 1990 bout. The WrestleMania connection is occasionally explored, most notably during a Roddy Piper segment where he explains the back-story to his eventual Intercontinental Title clash with Bret Hart at WM VIII, set up by his title win over The Mountie at Rumble 1992, in a rare moment of the feature providing some genuine insight into what went on behind the scenes. The matches held on the Rumble card itself also get coverage, and there's a surprising amount of detail on the bloody Street Fight between Cactus Jack and Triple H from 2000, considering the collection's PG rating in the States. I would have liked a bit of analysis of the 1999 I Quit match between Mankind and The Rock (the one where Mankind was pretty much bludgeoned in front of his wife and his then-young kids), but you can't have everything. It's fun to revisit some of the Rumble's most memorable surprises over the years, as well as some of the strangest or most shocking "only-at-the-Rumble" moments (like when the virtually-forgotten Maven eliminated The Undertaker in 2002). And don't get me wrong, there is a good level of insight on certain parts of the Rumble's history, such as the accidental finish to the 2000 match where The Rock genuinely did have his feet hit the floor before Big Show (this was before the majority of fans understood the inner workings of the business, so fans weren't too fussed that their babyface hero kind of cheated to win the thing). But more moments like this would have made the documentary a true classic; as it is, the fascinating discussions are few and far between.

As well as the main feature and some bonus stories, we get a generous selection of additional matches, including a few full-length Rumble bouts. Starting with these, the 1988 match - the first to be televised - is an appropriate place to start and, whilst a bit basic, is a good way to kick off the annual tradition. Surprisingly, the 1992 bout - considered the best ever by many, although I have a soft spot for the star-studded 1990 encounter - isn't here, although it has been released a few times before, so I can overlook this decision. Instead, we jump ahead to the often-forgotten 1994 bout (besides its finish, few ever discuss what happened in this match), which is an interesting look back at the WWF in the aftermath of the Hulkamania-led boom period. It also shows how fan reactions had changed, even back then: during the '88 match, fans react massively to every elimination, and cheer every face and boo every heel as if their lives depended on it. By '94, the reactions are still mostly to the WWF's liking, but it's no longer a case where they will do as they're told, so to speak, in a slight precursor to future events.

The next Rumble match is another one which doesn't get a lot of discussion nowadays, and yet it's one of the top ten, in my opinion. That would be the 2001 match which contains a few surprise entrants, a strong performance by Kane (which set a record for eliminations that wouldn't be beaten until 2014, by Roman Reigns), plenty of big names and a very dramatic conclusion which acts as step one towards Steve Austin's shocking heel turn at WrestleMania that year. The last Rumble match included, at least amongst the "proper" bouts (as I will explain shortly), is the 2007 match, which has a great finale between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, but is short on surprises and action besides that, which is why I feel that it's a bit overrated by those who insist it was one of the best ever judged solely on the final few minutes.

It's interesting to look at what makes a good Rumble match. There needs to be a few contenders who have a genuine chance of winning, but having one who fans really want to win always helps (assuming that he actually does win, of course). There should be a good 5-10 entrants who could feasibly win, but who realistically won't, just to ensure that the winner's triumph won't be a cakewalk. A few young stars who have no chance of winning, but can benefit from the experience (or to be a part of an unflattering spot like a quick elimination to make a top contender look strong) are welcome. And a couple of surprises, including a debut, a major return and a dose of nostalgic fun, ensure that the fans are kept on their toes. It also helps to have a couple of unusual spots (like when R-Truth tried climbing a ladder in the '16 bout, thinking it was a Money In The Bank Ladder match), some shock eliminations, and of course a signature Kofi Kingston close escape. A few unexpected confrontations and a handful of major angles or twists and turns (think the Mick Foley/Randy Orton fight during the 2004 match) round off the overall package, and all or most of these elements are generally present during the most fondly-remembered Rumble matches. That this formula hasn't been adhered to so much over the last few years could explain why certain matches received negative feedback from fans.

Elsewhere on the compilation, there are additional non-Rumble matches. The Rockers vs. The Orient Express from 1991 is an excellent doubles match featuring some great tag spots (and some 1980s/1990s cheese, such as Marty Jannetty celebrating because he was tagged in!). Ultimate Warrior vs. Sgt Slaughter from the same event is less exciting, but does play a pivotal role in setting up the two top matches at WrestleMania VII. Shawn Michaels vs. Psycho Sid from 1997 is enjoyable, and is interesting to watch as it marks the final stages of the New Generation before the WWF would completely transform its product for the Attitude Era.

Kurt Angle vs. Tazz from 2000 is short, but plays before a huge reaction from the Madison Square Garden crowd to the Human Suplex Machine (Tazz has told how the massive reaction here to his WWF debut, as a non-WWF creation, and almost injuring Angle with one suplex during the match both meant that he felt he was basically doomed in the company after this promising start). Rounding things off are The Rock vs. CM Punk from 2013 (the outcome of which offended many so-called "smark" fans, even though it made sense from a business standpoint; I won't say why as that would spoil the outcome) and Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch from this past year's Rumble, which certainly marks a step-up for the women from the days when Mae Young almost stripped naked at the 2000 Rumble (the mental scars of which will always remain with those who saw that "incident"). Incidentally, Ric Flair kissing Becky during the match is removed, even though it was included on the original DVD of the 2016 RR. Some may be disappointed that there are only a few bonus matches, but bear in mind that most Rumble encounters are generally between 45 minutes and an hour, so including four of them here leaves a lot less room for "normal" bouts.

I mentioned earlier about "proper" Rumbles, those being the ones held on PPV each year. That's because WWE has occasionally held smaller-scale Rumble matches on television. Two of those are included here as Blu-ray exclusives: a 15-man SmackDown Rumble from 2004, and a 7-man Raw Rumble from 2011. (There was also a Tag Team Royal Rumble from Raw in 1998, and a Corporate Rumble involving Corporation and DX members from Raw in 1999, but they aren't included here.) The other Blu-ray exclusives are Duke Droese vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley in a qualifying match for the 1996 Rumble on a show named Free For All (this particular FFA was the first ever "official" pre-show to a WWF/WWE PPV event, by the way), and an interview with Shawn Michaels, conducted by Booker T, prior to the 2015 Rumble. I would have liked to see the Countdown show from the Network which ran through ten top Rumble moments, but you can't have everything.

Summing this collection up, the documentary has its moments but doesn't come close to meeting its potential; that being said, it's definitely an entertaining feature to watch, despite its flaws and general lack of insight, considering its near-30 year history. The bonus matches have plenty of highlights, and the four Rumble matches included all have a good reason to be here, either for historic value or for simply being very exciting to see. Overall, then, it's a fun set which will definitely be worth adding as part of your viewing schedule prior to the next Royal Rumble match, which comes towards the end of next month. Just don't expect to learn the "True Story" of what is WWE's most anticipated annual match.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 - Good

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