Friday, 1 September 2017

DVD Review: WWE Unreleased 1986-1995

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 501 Minutes
Certificate: 12
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: September 4 2017

(Thanks to Fetch Publicity for arranging this review.)

Following on from last year's similar WWE The Attitude Era Volume 3 - Unreleased, which featured previously unseen matches from 1996-2000 (not necessarily all from the Attitude Era, but you can read more about that in my review here), we now have a new release covering hidden gems from 1986-1995.

Hosted by Charly Caruso and legendary personality Sean Mooney, Unreleased is a straight-up collection of bouts which only the live crowd will have seen. No matches here had previously been televised; all of these were only seen by those in attendance. It's possible that some of these bouts were intended to be broadcast, but if so, they obviously weren't.

Anyway, there are so many matches included that I won't break them down, one-by-one. Instead, I'll provide overall thoughts by grouping the various bouts together based on participants, formats or their significance, whether it be for curiosity or other purposes.

Beginning with Hulk Hogan, he pops up a fair few times here. He teams with The Machines against Bobby Heenan, Big John  Studd and King Kong Bundy (he is Hulk Machine for this one), and as the compilation progresses, he teams with Roddy Piper, Randy Savage and Brutus Beefcake, as well as fighting Earthquake and Ric Flair in singles action. He also inexplicably appears to rescue The Rockers from a post-match attack by The Powers Of Pain, bizarre because he had no on-screen link with either team at that point. Hulkamaniacs will enjoy seeing some unseen bouts from Hulk's career, though they largely follow the same Hogan formula as most of his matches did.

Savage appears frequently too, facing Pedro Morales, Andre The Giant (which is very poor, largely because it is so short), Ultimate Warrior (twice), Jake Roberts (as "Mr. Madness", basically Randy with a gimmick name to avoid disrupting his "retirement" stipulation) and Crush. As for Warrior, his first appearance here is actually as The Dingo Warrior, and once he becomes Ultimate, we also see him battle The Undertaker in one of the WWF's earliest Casket matches, as well as teaming with The Texas Tornado and even Bret Hart (in the latter bout, Hart does virtually all of the work before Warrior comes in to seal the win).

We also see WrestleMania previews and Mania rematches/fall-outs, like Andre vs. Studd, a Blindfold test run between Rick Martel and Jake Roberts, Undertaker vs. Giant Gonzales, Bret vs. Yokozuna (during which Yoko randomly calls Bret "a son of a bitch", though few notice it) and The Colossal Connection vs. Demolition. There are plenty of tag bouts including established teams like The Rockers, The Hart Foundation, Demolition, The Legion Of Doom (their match with Demo' literally lasts seconds) and Money Inc. There are matches with special stipulations (Jeff Jarrett has Ladder bouts with British Bulldog and Razor Ramon, and Diesel meets Yokozuna inside a Steel Cage), alternatives to famous bouts (Bret vs. Bulldog, Hulk vs. Flair), feuds which weren't really resolved on television (Flair vs. Piper, Lex Luger vs. Ludvig Borga, Shawn Michaels vs. Mr. Perfect), and interesting teams formed for one night only (the most intriguing being Bret and Shawn teaming together in a 1995 bout).

Perhaps the most unusual part of this DVD concerns the inclusion of tryout matches. As well as an early Dingo Warrior bout, we see future stars competing under their original gimmick names, such as War Eagle (Tatanka), Earthquake Evans (erm, Earthquake), Brian Adams (the real name of Crush) and The Tazmaniac (Tazz, though he wouldn't be hired for many years). We also see two tag team tryouts with the winning teams having totally different careers: Kip Winchester and Brett Colt would become successful as The Smoking Gunns, whilst The Toxic Turtles ... didn't. It is clear from the mild camera set-ups, the use of on-screen timers and the general "warm-up" nature of these bouts that they were not necessarily intended for the live crowds, but they would have been of great interest to the decision-makers backstage: back then, especially, matches like this were crucial if potential stars were to earn a WWF contract, so it's cool to see a few featured here.

There are other bouts too starring Owen Hart, Sid Justice, Ted DiBiase, Bam Bam Bigelow, Jim Neidhart and more; there really are too many matches to properly analyse here. I will make special mention of the Piper's Pit angle featured, which happened days after Mania VIII. The focus is that The Brooklyn Brawler taunts Piper about his loss at that show, but the most memorable part is Piper saying "Half the WWF wrestlers are in a scandal". Acknowledging the ongoing steroid scandal in this manner, in front of a live crowd (even if it wasn't televised), is shocking, and is a reminder about how much things have changed since 1992; a WWE talent today would be fired on the spot if he/she acknowledged a massive company scandal on a live microphone without approval from the office. Elsewhere, the production is mostly good, considering what matches are featured here, though some have dodgy camera work and audio, and the links with Charly and Sean are decent, with a few funny inside references along the way (such as Mooney tossing aside a cardboard box with Tom Magee's name on it to a cartoon sound effect; Magee was a "star of the future" who was ultimately so awful that he was barely ever shown on television).

I have to mention that for all of the matches featured here - 45 in all - only a small number are actually any good. Some are pure squashes, some barely last two-three minutes, and many have disqualification/countout finishes which I normally wouldn't mind, but seeing so many in one go becomes frustrating as a viewer. That being said, these are/were dark matches, so they weren't necessarily designed to be classic matches, and the years covered here (1986-1995) aren't really renowned for athleticism and outstanding chain wrestling; even the 1992-1995 era, where Bret was on top, doesn't include a lot of actual great wrestling. Nevertheless, I would go as far to say that Bret vs. Bulldog is the only really good match on the entire DVD; there are a fair few adequate matches spread out across the three discs, but Bret vs. Bulldog is the only one which could be transferred to a PPV event and have fans raving.

But this era was all about showmanship and entertainment. And it must be noted that, besides the tryouts, fans are almost always reacting extremely enthusiastically to what they are seeing. The mere fact that they're getting to see Hogan, Warrior, Undertaker etc was good enough for them, and it's clear from the crowd reactions that they're having a great time. Those pops dwindle towards the end as the arenas get smaller and the popularity of the WWF was declining, but those who were on hand are still appreciative of what they are seeing. It's a far cry from the die-hard fans of today's WWE, where in some cases even first-class wrestling is less appealing to audiences than tossing around a beachball and chanting "We are awesome" (I'm looking at you, Brooklyn).

Obviously, longtime WWF fans who were watching the product during this time will be well aware of this and, therefore, they should gain a great deal of entertainment from this DVD. I can't imagine this being a collection which people would watch more than once, but it's fascinating as a longtime fan myself to see all of these hidden gems, from the one-off battles to the eye-catching tag team pairings to the previously-unseen tryouts. It's a great compilation for collectors, who will have plenty of bouts to add to the likes of classic old-school WrestleManias and memorable moments from Saturday Night's Main Event. Modern fans and those who watch wrestling for the wrestling will not be impressed; but if you're a longtime fan, a true collector, or you just want a healthy dose of nostalgia, then this is definitely worth owning.

Overall Rating: 7/10 - Respectable

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