Friday, 13 January 2017

WWE Best Pay-Per-View Matches 2016

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 539 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: January 16 2017

(Thanks to Fetch Publicity for arranging this review.)

For the seventh year, WWE presents its top supercard matches of the year on DVD (although the original release covered the 2009/2010 season, from Backlash 2009 to WrestleMania XXVI; you can check out previous reviews within this series using the links on the right). Since the series began at the end of the 2000s, a lot of things have changed in WWE, not least the roster and its leading stars. However, what hasn't changed is that you can usually count on there being some pretty strong matches on the vast majority of Pay-Per-View events. In 2016, there were perhaps more stand-out PPV showdowns than ever before in WWE, and many of them are included in this collection.

Hosted by Lita, the set fittingly kicks off with the first PPV match of the year, that being a very good Last Man Standing clash between Dean Ambrose and Kevin Owens for the Intercontinental Championship from Royal Rumble. From there, we're shown a quick montage of every match from the Rumble event and, throughout the set, similar round-ups are shown for every featured PPV event, as was the case on the 2015 collection (which is a nice touch as it packs a lot of moments into a short, neat and tidy series of clips). After that, we head to Fast Lane for two matches: AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho, which was a strong effort in their underrated feud, and Roman Reigns vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar with the WrestleMania 32 WWE Title shot at stake. The latter is better than I remembered it being, although the result was never in doubt, and strangely enough the Reigns-Triple H feud which had begun in November 2015, and generated some excitement over the winter through various angles, was suddenly turned on by hardcore fans once it became official that the two would collide at WrestleMania (how bizarre ... wink wink).

Speaking of Mania, the biggest WWE show of 2016 (or ever, based on attendance) is represented by three bouts: the opening IC Title Ladder war, which is superior to a similar match at WM 31; the Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch three-way for the newly-reborn WWE Women's Championship which, questionable outcome aside, is thrilling and played a key role in the evolution of female performers in WWE; and The Undertaker vs. Shane McMahon inside Hell In A Cell. In the case of the latter, it's watchable but a bit slow, understandably considering the participants, and although it isn't as bad as some would have you believe - it's pretty good, actually - it really is memorable for one spot, although it's a pretty damn amazing spot (I won't spoil it here). Nevertheless, if we're talking match quality, then it probably shouldn't be here, especially since no pre-match promo videos are included which would explain the high stakes involved nor the significance of Shane's shocking return to WWE the night after Fast Lane. (Mind you, since WWE would renege on one of the key stipulations of this contest, perhaps that was by design). This also marks the first time since 2011 that the WrestleMania main event isn't included on the Best PPV Matches set, which speaks volumes about the ultimate reaction to HHH vs. Reigns, I'm sure. (By the way, the WM highlights package from the live card is used again here, minus the Flo Rida part.)

From there, it's onto Payback and a really good Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn match, which the two would actually top at Battleground (the rematch isn't included here). After that (well, after the run-down of Payback, which weirdly emphasises the very serious injury that Enzo Amore suffered in the opening contest), we revisit Extreme Rules and although the superb IC Title Fatal Four Way isn't included, the main event between Roman Reigns and AJ Styles for the WWE Title is, and the match - held under Extreme Rules - may be WWE's best PPV main event of the whole year, plus there is a big surprise after the bout concludes. Money In The Bank is covered by another fine MITB Ladder match, which admittedly slows down a bit too much towards the finish, and the Roman Reigns-Seth Rollins headline attraction, which is part of a wider series of events at MITB which created a unique bit of history, although again I won't act as the spoiler here.

Arguably the best women's match of the year in WWE saw Charlotte lose her Women's Championship to Sasha Banks on July 25; however, that match took place on Raw, so it isn't eligible to be included here. Therefore, we instead get the tag team match from the night before at Battleground, as Charlotte and Dana Brooke face Sasha and Bayley (the latter making a one-off appearance prior to her official promotion from NXT, and she receives maybe the loudest pop ever for a female competitor in WWE). Battleground is also covered by the all-Shield three-way main event, which is a draw in its own right, but is also crucial to the future direction of the WWE Championship, since the second Brand Extension and Draft had been launched just days prior to that particular card.

This is very important because, although the roster split happened in July, it essentially made it a year of two halves for WWE, especially on PPV. By the time of the next show, SummerSlam, the New Era (the second New Era of the year in WWE, amusingly) had become fairly established, and both brands were out to impress at the biggest event of the summer. Whilst SummerSlam didn't quite live up to high expectations, we do get the show's two best matches on this collection, the first being my personal pick for the Match Of The Year on the main roster, AJ Styles vs. John Cena. Yes, Cena only appears once on the entire DVD due to his schedule being reduced as he looks to follow in the footsteps of The Rock and make it big outside of WWE; nevertheless, he gives maximum effort here, as does Styles, who by this point and especially after this match had become arguably the hottest wrestler in the company. The other SummerSlam bout is Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor for the newly-created Universal Championship, which is unfortunately spoiled by the Brooklyn crowd massively overreacting to what was considered a lazy and ugly design for the title itself. Watch it on mute or with music playing and you'll enjoy it a lot more; otherwise, you'll find yourself cursing about the Brooklyn audience (and since SummerSlam 2017 will be in Brooklyn as well, it's possible that another match will get the same treatment for some unknown reason this August).

The rest of the DVD is taken up by matches from solo-brand PPVs, which returned for the first time since 2007 in light of the new Brand Extension. Backlash, a SmackDown-only card, was predicted to be a big disappointment, but it ended up being surprisingly good, with such fun outings as the six-woman match included here for the brand new SmackDown Women's Championship, which proved that the WWE women's movement isn't solely confined to Charlotte, Sasha and Bayley. Clash Of Champions, a Raw-only effort, was less acclaimed, but it did feature a great match of its own, as Cesaro and Sheamus concluded their Best-Of-Seven Series in spectacular fashion; dodgy ending aside, this bout is well worth watching. The smart match choices by the DVD team continue with a brilliant IC Title vs. Career match between The Miz and Dolph Ziggler from No Mercy, which was so good that people were disappointed that an IC Title match didn't main event a PPV for the first time since the historic SummerSlam 1992. A Women's Title match would get that honour, however, at Hell In A Cell as Charlotte and Sasha collided inside the massive cage. That being said, although the match is watchable, it is a shade below their previous efforts, and a slightly blown ending and unpopular outcome mean that it serves as a bit of an anticlimactic end to the DVD.

As is tradition, the last two months of the year aren't included within the collection, so that the DVD can be available in the first few weeks of the new year. I've always found that to be irksome, but especially for the 2016 set due to the introduction of new PPV events. This means that Survivor Series, TLC and Roadblock: End Of The Line are all ignored and, while you could argue that the absence of Roadblock isn't a big deal (The New Day vs. Cesaro and Sheamus was the best match on the card and had some historical significance, but the rest of the show was missable), TLC delivered a few gems, and Survivor Series gave us one of the best Survivors elimination matches ever in the form of the men's Raw vs. SmackDown battle that almost lasted a full hour. Not to mention the memorable and controversial Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar main event, and since that bout lasted 86 seconds, it surely wouldn't have taken much effort to throw that on at the end of the set, would it?

Those gripes aside (and I do hope WWE finally addresses this for the 2017 set, although I don't have high hopes that they will), this is a really entertaining and varied collection of matches. It acts as a cool demonstration of how WWE changed over 2016, from the injury-ridden and creatively-challenged first few months being offset by some strong in-ring performances, to the debuts of new faces and returns of old names to deliver memorable matches and moments over the spring and summer, to the Brand Extension changing everything in WWE and allowing more performers who were under-utilised to shine, with others also stepping up in an attempt to make their mark and become a vital part of WWE going forward. From an in-ring standpoint, there aren't any bad matches on the whole DVD; The Undertaker vs. Shane McMahon is the only match which one may describe as weak, but this was always going to be more about the spectacle than the in-ring mechanics. As for notable exclusions: I mentioned the IC Title match from Extreme Rules and the Zayn-Owens rematch from Battleground but, otherwise, WWE have mostly made some smart picks for the matches here. You could argue about the first Cena-Styles clash (no pun intended) from MITB and Miz vs. Ziggler from Backlash, but since their superior rematches are on the DVD, such complaints are mild at best. The only real complaint I have about the match selection is the lack of contests from the November and December PPVs, which I've already addressed. Strangely enough, the fact that Backlash and No Mercy haven't been released on DVD adds more prestige to this set, since it includes some bouts that you won't find on another DVD at present (although all PPV events are obviously on the WWE Network).

Overall, I would definitely recommend this DVD from a match quality standpoint. It may not be as essential a purchase as previous editions were in the pre-Network days, but it is a shining example of how, based solely on the athleticism and in-ring skill, WWE has arguably its most talented roster ever right now, and many of its top stars - as well as some lesser names - delivered in a big way at some point on Pay-Per-View in 2016, as demonstrated here.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10 - Excellent

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