Friday, 24 March 2017

DVD Review: Diamond Dallas Page: Positively Living

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 424 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: March 27 2017

(Thanks to Fetch Publicity for arranging this review.)

Fans who have only discovered wrestling, and primarily WWE, within the last ten years may wonder why the latest personality DVD is based around Diamond Dallas Page. Besides appearances in the 2015 Royal Rumble and the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 32, DDP hasn't wrestled for WWE since 2002, and his WWF/WWE run was a disappointment to him and his fans. So, at first glance, it's a confusing choice. However, when you factor in the man's unlikely journey to stardom, his major WCW success, his popularity, his high-standard ring skills and psychology, and the tremendous work he has done to help other people since retiring as a full-time grappler, you realise that DDP is the perfect candidate for the DVD bio treatment.

The DVD (which unfortunately uses a redone version of Page's theme instead of his WCW theme Self High Five, which in itself was a copy, albeit a very effective one, of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit) begins with a documentary focusing on the life and times of Dallas. We're told about his initial sports success in college and how working as a bar manager led him, after becoming a wrestling fan of course, to send in trial videos to become a manager in the AWA. Then in his early 30s, DDP spent the next few years in the AWA and later WCW, filling the void left behind by great managers who had moved on whilst developing an over-the-top personality with plenty of gimmick props. As Page states here, in WCW he was told that he wouldn't be used as a manager going forward because he was overshadowing the wrestlers, but that's where DDP's journey really begins.

Page, then aged 35, wanted to try his hand at wrestling, age and cynicism be damned. The doubters were legion, but after training in The Power Plant (WCW's training facility, not Mr. Burns' factory from The Simpsons), Page soon made it onto the WCW roster in 1991, albeit as a bottom-of-the-rung level grappler. He busted his behind and honed his craft over the next few years but, whilst he began earning respect and recognition as time went on, it wasn't until 1996 that WCW began using Page in meaningful roles. In early 1997, he declared war on the nWo as part of WCW's biggest ever storyline, and he never looked back.

Having dropped the gimmicks, and adopting the "People's Champion" persona (as well as getting his Diamond Cutter finishing move massively over), Page became one of WCW's biggest stars in a legendary rivalry with Randy Savage, and put on show-stealers against everyone from Sting to Goldberg to Raven. He was also a key factor in two major celebrity-related WCW encounters, which I'll explain more about later. DDP finally became World Champion in 1999, and Page illustrates here how much that honour meant to him, given how he had defied the odds to even become a wrestler (he tells an interesting anecdote about Dusty Rhodes when reflecting on his biggest achievement).

Unfortunately, by this point, WCW had begun slowly crumbling, so Page (who was a heel during his first two WCW Title runs, both of which were brief, so neither factor helped) was a soldier aboard a sinking ship as 1999 progressed and 2000 came along. Surprisingly, there's no mention of the David Arquette situation which, on-screen, Page played a vital role in; it was DDP who Arquette won the WCW Title from in one of the most controversial and criticised booking decisions ever (that Page was Arquette's partner for said title change was one of many problems). Either way, the documentary jumps ahead to the WWF buying WCW and Page coming over as part of the Invasion, cast as a stalker to The Undertaker's then-wife Sara. Page acknowledges that it didn't go well, which was an understatement; the angle began well, if in somewhat questionable taste, but plummeted as DDP was rarely given a chance to succeed, and his character was a stark contrast to his WCW persona. It's also weird, looking back, to see Undertaker cast as a regular human being, with a normal person rather than a supernatural character as his wife. Newer fans may also be confused to learn that Sara, Taker's real-life spouse at the time who appeared on-screen for the plotline, is no longer his wife; that would be former wrestler Michelle McCool, who Taker married in 2010.

Anyway, Page then tells us about his "motivational speaker" character and its modest success in 2002. We're not really told why his WWF/WWE run ended there (he retired in June 2002 due to a back injury), nor what he did in wrestling over the next few years (DDP spent a fair amount of time in TNA, where he returned to the ring as a competitor). The documentary jumps to the early launch and rise of DDP Yoga, which has since defined the man perhaps more than his wrestling exploits. As well as designing an innovative yoga programme that has had worldwide success, Page particularly helped out Jake Roberts and Scott Hall by allowing them to live at his home and, partly via DDP Yoga and partly via his own particular methods of care and assistance, he transformed the lives of two wrestlers who had fallen on very bad times. Although this is covered, it's shorter than I expected; last year's Scott Hall DVD goes into a lot more detail about this, so I would suggest watching that (painfully honest, yet extremely captivating and inspiring) section of the Hall documentary for further details. After covering Page's WWE cameos in recent years, we get a very cool end to the documentary with Triple H calling DDP to inform him about his upcoming Hall Of Fame induction (and the footage is shot in such a way that this is clearly a surprise to Page rather than an orchestrated event). For those who have ever wondered what it's like when someone receives "the call", here's a great example.

I enjoyed the documentary, although it could have done with more time to breathe. Up until he turns babyface in WCW in 1997, the main feature is well-paced, but it seems to be rushed as we cover the next few major years of Page's career, and as noted, the chapter on Jake and Scott is somewhat brief considering that this played a major role in not only their lives but that of Page too, since it opened the eyes of many as to what DDP Yoga could do. It's still a fun and informative documentary, though, and it emphasises not only what a good wrestler DDP was, and how amazing his journey in life has been, but also what a genuinely caring person he is away from the ring. We also get comments from Page's ex-wife Kimberley and his current wife Brenda, as well as family, friends and wrestling personalities such as Eric Bischoff, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Chris Jericho, Mick Foley, Jake Roberts, Steve Austin and others.

Before we get to the matches, there's the extras, which include a bunch of additional stories from various talking-heads, and a highlight reel of DDP's initial tryout videos at the AWA (this was after he sent the original "practice" tapes, but before he became an official manager at the company). The stories are worthwhile and the highlight reel is fascinating but, in the case of the latter, it goes on so long and has such poor production values (this was in the late 1980s for the third biggest wrestling company in the States, to be fair) that it's a struggle to watch it, even though the tryout section only lasts around 5-6 minutes in total. (By the way, there's a hidden scene if you right-click the middle option on the right-hand side of the story menu.)

The match selection begins with a couple of tag bouts from early on in DDP's WCW career; in fact, the first of these, whilst teaming with The Diamond Studd, is actually his first televised WCW match from what we are told. These early bouts are essentially filler, to be honest; a way to showcase DDP's transition from manager into wrestler, as opposed to being stand-out contests in their own right. One match is of note, for curiosity reasons really, and that's his teaming alongside Mike Graham against Brad Armstrong and Jushin Liger. It's a bizarre set-up, as part of the equally bizarre Lethal Lottery concept which was the basis for Starrcade 1991. It also lasts a long time for a match which, really, has no reason to exist, and on WCW's biggest card of the year too. It is cool to see Liger, though, and it's equally intriguing to see Page teaming with Vinnie Vegas (Kevin Nash), the future Diesel and, erm, Kevin Nash, and Scotty Flamingo, the future Raven, in a quickie from WCW television. Page was definitely made to earn his spot as a valued member of the roster, and perhaps it's only when you consider when these matches took place and when his future PPV main events would be held, and how popular he had become by then in the face of stiff competition, that you truly appreciate how remarkable his progression really was.

The first major DDP match on the DVD, if you can call it that, comes against Johnny B. Badd from Spring Stampede 1994. It's a decent affair, one designed to showcase Badd (Marc Mero) far more than Page, but at this point of his career DDP was still very much considered an opening match act (and sure enough, this bout kicked off that particular PPV). In addition, these two would have much better and more fondly-remembered matches on future WCW supershows, making this particular inclusion slightly confusing. Nevertheless, over the next two-to-three years, Page would hone his act, his skills and, perhaps most importantly, his character; as Eric Bischoff notes in his comments on the documentary, Page needed to shed the over-gimmicked nature of his persona if he wished to really progress. Some meaningful feuds would follow as fans began to take notice of Page and, in particular, his Diamond Cutter finishing move, which by late 1996 was starting to really get over. Nevertheless, DDP wouldn't really make much noise in WCW until he found himself in the crossfires of the nWo, which included the next bout on this collection, DDP vs. Eddie Guerrero from Starrcade 1996 for the vacant United States Championship.

This sounds like a great match on paper, and it's very much watchable, but it's clear for the first half that fans aren't massively interested, and the ending is an nWo interference special (plus, the announcers spend much of the match discussing the nWo and the Hogan-Piper main event). Mind you, it does play a part in setting up what was to come, which we get to see in the next match from Nitro in January 1997, DDP vs. Mark Starr. It's a quick squash win, but after the match comes the big moment, as Page officially becomes a marked man to the nWo by getting revenge on Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. The New Orleans crowd that night, which didn't quite sell out the Silverdome (sorry, Superdome), come unglued, and Page's popularity essentially stems from this simple yet very effective incident. By the way, the narrative that the nWo didn't create any stars or help any careers is totally false, because DDP obviously benefitted, Sting's career was revamped as the Crow and reached new heights, Goldberg would later become one of the biggest stars in the business by taking down the nWo, and even Lex Luger enjoyed previously-unimaginable popularity against the new World order.

Following this major angle, we come to the match that truly "made" Page, a wild main event against Randy Savage from Spring Stampede 1997. Although the theory for 1997-era WCW is that it was all about Hogan (and understandably so, for reasons good and bad), other members of the roster were given a chance to shine too, and this match took DDP from a popular rising star to one of the major babyfaces in the company. The result is a surprise, and the action is gripping, partly due to Savage's maniacal destruction of not only DDP but the ring announcer and even the referee. The lasting impression is of DDP, though, and he was forever grateful to the Macho Man for this bout, which only marked the beginning of a long and highly entertaining feud. We're then treated to a rare Hogan vs. DDP match from an October 1997 edition of Nitro, which unsurprisingly has a somewhat familiar ending to anyone watching Nitro in 1997. By the end of the post-match shenanigans, you almost forget whose DVD you're actually watching.

After a respectable U.S. Title bout against Curt Hennig from Starrcade 1997 and a quick Nitro win over Chris Jericho (who is just evolving into the crybaby, narcissistic and very entertaining heel that essentially launched his career), a strong Raven's Rules brawl against, erm, Raven from Spring Stampede 1998 is next, and it's clear by this point that part of Page's appeal as a wrestler is that he can adapt to any style and any situation. The contrast between this and the upcoming three matches, as well as the previous Savage and Hogan battles, indicate how reliable, talented and effective DDP could be. In another era, and had he entered wrestling a few years younger, with his popularity, it's not exaggerating to suggest that DDP could have become WCW's top babyface above even the likes of Sting and Goldberg, with the right push. Of course, Page would later taste World Championship glory a few times, but more on that shortly.

We then move onto not one but two celebrity matches: DDP and Karl Malone vs. Hollywood Hogan and Dennis Rodman from Bash At The Beach 1998, and Page teaming with Jay Leno against Hogan and Eric Bischoff from Road Wild '98 a month later. Taken for what they are (novelty bouts, albeit both PPV main events), they're entertaining; the BATB clash is the better of the two since the two celebs involved are genuine athletes, and their offence looks more credible (especially Malone's). The fascinating thing watching these two matches is how, by this point, WWF Attitude had really taken off and Raw was beginning to dominate Nitro in the ratings, for the most part, yet it's clear that WCW was still massively popular and came across as a really big deal. Who could have foreseen that, in hindsight, the company would be about to enter a serious decline and little more than 2 ½ years later, would no longer exist?

It was still going strong as 1998 rolled on, though, despite the problems which meant that, due to an overly-long running time, most fans didn't get to see the main event of Halloween Havoc, Goldberg vs. DDP for the World Title. The match was shown again on Nitro the next night (earning the show its final ratings win over Raw, but upsetting those who ordered the PPV, funnily enough), and it is also the next match on this DVD. Good thing, too, since it's a short but great encounter, arguably Goldberg's best prior to his undefeated streak coming to an end. Page has the crowd almost at a frenzy as he aims to be the first man to defeat Goldberg and, in hindsight, perhaps he should have been the man, and this should have been the moment. Nevertheless, it's still a topnotch scrap, and one of the true career highlights for both men. (Incidentally, by this point on the compilation, it almost starts to feel like a Best Of Michael Buffer collection as he has introduced a good half-a-dozen bouts by this point, in his own unique style.) Next up is a U.S. Title match against Bret Hart, which coincidentally happened to be the following night after Havoc 98, which is okay but will be familiar to collectors, as this was also featured on last year's United States Championship collection.

Unsurprisingly, the DVD includes the Fatal Four Way main event from Spring Stampede 1999, pitting Page against Hogan, Ric Flair and Sting, with Macho Man as the referee. This is the night where DDP's big dream would come true, and against some of the industry's biggest stars to boot. The match is good; it could have been better, I suppose, but I couldn't imagine that Page would have been disappointed with how things turned out for his big moment, even if some of the spots involving Savage are very much a head-scratcher. After that, we get what might have been Page's greatest ever match, a 20-minute plus thriller against Sting for the WCW World Title on Nitro. This has been seen on previous DVDs too, but it's so damn good that it's worth revisiting. On this DVD, we're also given the Four-Way match from the same night, involving DDP, Sting, Goldberg and Kevin Nash, which unfortunately is nowhere near as dramatic despite the addition of two more of WCW's top names.

A somewhat strange inclusion is next as Page and Bam Bam Bigelow battle Perry Saturn in a 2-on-1 match with the WCW Tag Team Titles at stake. What makes it odd, besides it not exactly being a classic, is how the DVD suggests that Raven was Saturn's partner, but Raven had apparently been taken out earlier on, with the void eventually being filled by Kanyon. Puzzling, but then again WCW was puzzling by this point, which contributed to its then-ongoing decline and, ultimately, its demise (along with other factors, of course). The DVD ends with a short match, yet an understandable one, as DDP defends the European Championship against Christian at WrestleMania X8. The match is alright, and it allows DDP to finally enjoy a WrestleMania moment as an in-ring competitor.

It may be stating the obvious, but the DVD as a whole does a great job of showcasing the career of Diamond Dallas Page, and why DDP meant so much not only to his fans but also to his co-workers and friends. Although one or two (minor) match selections may have been questionable, overall the bouts on offer tell the DDP story brilliantly, as he goes from an almost laughable manager-turned-wrestler to respected worker to rising star to super-over babyface to World Champion, followed by his slide in WCW's final days and more so once he came to the WWF. The documentary is engaging and informative, if a little on the short side (and, as noted, I would have liked this feature to go into more detail on how he helped Scott Hall and Jake Roberts), but it nonetheless captures exactly why so many people inside and outside the industry have a high opinion of Dallas. The Hall Of Fame tease at the very end is a great touch to end upon, and with his HOF induction imminent (Eric Bischoff will be doing the honours of inducting his old friend), there's no better time to discover why DDP deserves to be in the Hall Of Fame for his work outside the ring as much as his work in it.

It is disappointing to see how the WWF missed the boat on DDP, because he was such a big part of WCW during the 1996-2001 period, but otherwise any DDP fan will treasure this three-disc set. If you still find yourself gesturing for the Diamond Cutter today and you're ready to "Feel The Bang", I strongly recommend this DVD for you. Besides, if you watch it, it's not a bad thing, it's a good thing!

Overall Rating: 8.5/10 - Excellent

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