Thursday, 27 September 2018

WWE Presents Shawn Michaels - The Showstopper Unreleased DVD Review By Richard Edmund

New from WWE Home Video, 'Shawn Michaels - The Showstopper: Unreleased' takes a look at the legendary career of the Heartbreak Kid with (as the title would suggest) thirty five matches never before released on DVD. Across the three discs in this set we are treated to action from Shawn's humble beginnings in Mid-South and the AWA, through his formative years in the WWF as one half of The Rockers, to the singles run that led him to the WWF World Heavyweight Championship and beyond. In addition, the set features brand new interview segments with Michaels as he gets used to his new role as coach, helping to shape the WWE SuperStars of tomorrow at the WWE Performance Center in Florida.  

The first disc is a real treat, with a strong selection of matches from the first eight years of Shawn's career. Beginning in Mid-South wrestling, we see a young Michaels less than four months after his pro-wrestling debut, teaming with Tim Horner to take on Chavo & Hector Guerrero. Also from Mid-South, a hugely important bout for the youngster from San Antonio, TX as he goes one-on-one against the merciless Jake 'The Snake' Roberts, who gives his unseasoned opponent a resound beating! Next, it's on to the AWA where Shawn was paired with another young talent named Marty Jannetty. With a few more years of wrestling under his belt than Shawn, the already impressive Jannetty was able to shape his less experienced tag partner into a great tag wrestler as one half of The Midnight Rockers.
We see a great example of that with a pair of matches that put The Midnight Rockers across the ring from the AWA World Heavyweight Tag Champions, Buddy Rose and Doug Somers, managed by a young Sherri Martel! Both these are great matches, not only showing Shawn's progression but also highlighting why Rose & Somers were an underrated tag in their own right. There's one last AWA tag match on here with Marty & Shawn taking on Dennis Stamp and a young Brian Knobbs, before we enter the next stage of Michaels' career with the WWF. The first offering comes in a solid tag bout that saw The Rockers (having dropped the Midnight from their name) taking on The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, followed by Marty & Shawn's first shot at the WWF Tag Team Championships as they took on Demolition on Prime Time Wrestling.

There's also tag bouts pitting The Rockers against The Legion of Doom, The Orient Express, The Natural Disasters and Demolition once more, but the real highlight of Disc One are two very rare tag matches from 1989 that rank amongst some of the very best tag matches Marty & Shawn were involved in. First, from a taping for the New England Sports Network, The Rockers put on a true classic against The Brainbusters of Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson, a match that's still as exciting and clever today as it was then. Finally, a dark match from a house show in Canada a few months later saw The Rockers across the ring from the hugely popular Hart Foundation of Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart, a similarly excellent match that definitely holds it own by modern standards.

Disc Two starts by recounting the famous events that led to Shawn Michaels leaving The Rockers to embark on a singles career as The Heartbreak Kid, first hated and then later beloved by many as he became one of the most popular (and divisive) WWF SuperStars of the 1990's. The matches on offer chart the six year journey Michaels took from Intercontinental Champion, to World Tag Team Champion, to WWF World Heavyweight Champion, many of them never seen before. There's a previously un-aired episode of Piper's Pit featuring Shawn and his manager Sensational Sherri, plus an excellent Intercontinental Title dark match that pits H.B.K. against 'Mr. Perfect' Curt Hennig and features a title change that was later overturned. We also see the beginnings of Shawn's association with 'Big Daddy Cool' Diesel, plus a pair of tag matches that align Shawn with some of the biggest names in the WWF in Bret Hart and The Undertaker.

The second half of the disc focuses on Shawn's time as WWF World Heavyweight Champion, kicking off with a great singles bout from SuperStars that saw the new champion challenged by The 1-2-3 Kid. Although that bout wasn't for the title, a dark match from Des Moines was as H.B.K. defended the belt against a highly regared up-and-comer managed by Ted DiBiase, 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin! There's also a title match that sees Shawn defend against Yokozuna in front of a rabid Kuwaiti audience during WWF's 1996 tour of the Middle East, with his gargantuan opponent appearing to be more popular with the locals than even the champion. Rounding out the disc is an awkward house show singles encounter between Michaels and Vader that typifies their relationship inside and outside the ring, a Superstars bout that marked the first ever shot at the WWF World Heavyweight Championship for Justin 'Hawk' Bradshaw and a one-sided match against the Brooklyn Brawler that sees interference from Degeneration-X of Triple H and Chyna.

The final disc of the set fast forwards five years to Shawn's return to the WWF, or rather the WWE. It's by far the weakest disc of the set, with many matches taken from episodes of RAW and a handful of largely inconsequential dark matches thrown in for good measure. That being said, we do get a fun WWE World Heavyweight Championship match with R.V.D. shortly after Michaels return, where he wasn't yet certain if he could still "be" The Showstopper. Also from RAW are some good singles bouts against the likes of Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Ric Flair and Christian, while the dark matches on offer see Shawn team with John Cena against Rated RKO, reunite as Degeneration-X with Triple H, and a Triple Threat WWE World Heavyweight Championship match also featuring Batista and Chris Jericho. 

Overall, this is a worthwhile release from WWE Home Video and (as Michaels himself remarks in the intro) it's remarkable they still have worthwhile H.B.K. matches that before now have never been available on DVD. The first disc of the set is undoubtedly the strongest and a must-have for fans of The Rockers, if only for the amazing back to back tag classics vs The Brainbusters and vs The Hart Foundation. The rest of the set is much more of a mixed bag, but does an admirable job of charting the course of Shawn's career before and after the back injury that would sideline him for five years. The new interview segments provide some context, but are most keen on highlighting Shawn's new role as an NXT coach, with many of the young WWE SuperStars effusively praising the experience of training under a veritable legend of the business. For even the most ardent fan of Shawn Michaels there's good value here, with a number of matches and segments that have never been publicly available before now. 

'Shawn Michaels - The Showstopper: Unreleased' is available to pre-order now from WWE Home Video and releases on October 1st.

Friday, 13 July 2018

DVD Review: WWE Presents: The Shield - Justice For All By Martin Bentley


In late 2017, WWE pulled the trigger on a reunion of The Shield in a bid to try and get Roman Reigns more popular with the fans ahead of another WrestleMania push, and while the reunion and Reigns’ push both didn’t kick on the way they were intended, it did result in the release of the second career retrospective of the Hounds of Justice, following on from 2015’s “Destruction of The Shield”.

“The Shield: Justice for All” takes on a different format to the first collection – while “Destruction” repackaged a WWE Network documentary and included matches as a bonus, “Justice for All” features several new mini interviews with Reigns, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, along with their peers, and pairs them with key matches from 2015 onwards. In total, there’s nearly 9 hours of action included, with several TV matches that have yet to be released on DVD.

“The Lunatic Fringe” takes the focus of Disc 1, with Dean Ambrose’s story beginning here with his challenge of the newly-crowned United States Champion John Cena on the episode of RAW held the night after WrestleMania 31, which set the tone perfectly for Cena’s great run with that championship throughout most of 2015. The end of that year saw Ambrose enter a feud with Kevin Owens, and their battle for the Intercontinental Championship at TLC 2015 is showcased here, with Ambrose winning the title. In the buildup to WrestleMania 32, Ambrose entered a short rivalry with then-WWE Champion Triple H, and their match from Roadblock in Toronto for the title is included – a bout that proved to be far superior to what both men ended up doing in Dallas a few weeks later.

A huge career break happened at Money in the Bank 2016, where Ambrose competed against Owens, Sami Zayn, Alberto Del Rio, Cesaro and Chris Jericho in the eponymous Ladder Match – while the result of that bout is featured on Seth Rollins’ disc, it led to the much-anticipated Shield Triple Threat Match, which surprised fans by taking place at Battleground 2016 rather than at SummerSlam that year. Ambrose enters as the newly-crowned WWE Champion looking to take the title to SmackDown Live against RAW’s Reigns and Rollins, and in the end manages to take the championship to Team Blue despite being outmatched physically and fitness-wise by his two former partners.

The first SmackDown Live episode of 2017 sees Ambrose win back the Intercontinental Title against The Miz in an entertaining bout, an example of the regular great matches on SmackDown in that time-period. The final match on Ambrose’s disc sees him transferred over to RAW, detailing the lengthy build to his reunion with Rollins, as it was Ambrose who took Rollins’ betrayal in 2014 the hardest. They enter No Mercy 2017 as RAW Tag Team Champions against The Bar, a match made infamous by Cesaro badly damaging his teeth during the contest, but also showcasing how well Ambrose and Rollins had gelled back together again.

Disc 2 looks at “The Architect” Seth Rollins, whose collection of matches starts later than his partners, as his heel run post-breakup is chronicled on last year’s “Seth Rollins: Building the Architect”. The first match of his collection also features on that DVD set, as he challenges Roman Reigns for the WWE Championship at Money in the Bank 2016, a match that sees him win back the title, but not for long, as Dean Ambrose cashes in on him to win the title. 2017 saw Rollins move away from his heel role and start to rebel against his former leader Triple H, leading to their unsanctioned match at WrestleMania 33, which is a technically good match, if about 5 minutes or so too long. The next match is the only one on the whole set to feature The Shield in their entirety teaming up, as they took on The New Day at Survivor Series 2017, which was by far the highlight of the Hounds of Justice’s disappointing reunion marred by injuries and poor booking.

Rollins kickstarted the momentum that has so far carried him through a career year in 2018 with his 65-minute run in a gauntlet match on the February 19th episode of RAW. His portion of the match is featured here, as he kicks off against his on-again partner Reigns, defeating him to then go up against John Cena. Once the Architect outlasts the Cenation Leader, he ends up running into Elias, but by the time the vagabond guitarist manages to defeat him, Rollins has already created a legendary RAW moment which sparked his popularity with the fans. The final match featured is his Intercontinental Title win at WrestleMania 34 against The Miz and Finn Balor in a Triple Threat Match, which was among the high-end of bouts in a lob-sided Showcase of the Immortals in New Orleans.

Disc 3 is all about the “Big Dog”, as we track the rocky road of Roman Reigns towards becoming “the guy” in WWE. Reigns’ collection begins with his first WWE Title victory against Dean Ambrose in the final of the mini-title tournament at Survivor Series 2015, ironically caused by an injury to Seth Rollins. The joy is short-lived as Sheamus then cashed in the Money in the Bank briefcase on him to win the title, but the December 14th 2015 episode of RAW sees Reigns win it back from the Celtic Warrior, at a time where Reigns was arguably the most popular he had ever been in his career.

Any good will towards Reigns had evaporated by the time WrestleMania 32 rolled around, as his absolute bore-fest with Triple H in the main event saw him win the title back for the third time, with the fans in attendance completely disinterested. We fast-forward a year to WrestleMania 33, where Reigns managed to infuriate fans in a different way, by supposedly retiring The Undertaker in another weak main event – one retconned the following year when Undertaker returned.

A potential WrestleMania main event that the fans could have enjoyed with John Cena instead takes place at No Mercy 2017, one that was preceded by both men doing worked shoot promos on each other. It doesn’t quite hit the mark, but it is far better than the two WrestleMania main events featured on this collection, as well as his second Brock Lesnar bout that does not make the cut here. However, we get their follow-up Steel Cage Match from the Greatest Royal Rumble in Saudi Arabia instead, which gets a better reaction than their WrestleMania 34 stinker, but the in-ring action is just as bad.

“Justice for All” tells three stories in the tale of one stable – the wasted potential of Dean Ambrose that was affected by inconsistent booking and his triceps tendon injury at the end of 2017, the redemption of Seth Rollins towards becoming arguably the best overall performer in WWE today, and the fruitless pursuit towards making Roman Reigns the top man in the company, when the fans at large have clearly rejected him. This collection shows that while Vince McMahon and his team want to make one Shield member their top star, evidence points towards another member being a far more suitable candidate for that role. Although this is another essential DVD collection for Shield fans, other mat-watchers should avoid the Reigns disc like the plague.

You can purchase this DVD set from WWE DVD UK

Saturday, 23 June 2018

WWE: THEN, NOW, FOREVER – THE EVOLUTION OF THE WWE WOMEN’S DIVISION DVD REVIEW BY MARTIN BENTLEY



Above: Wendi Richter
For many years, WWE marketed its female talent based on their sex appeal, with the likes of Sunny, Sable, Torrie Wilson and Stacy Keibler selling posters, bikini DVDs and even copies of Playboy, with in-ring prowess low in priority. Allegedly driven by the success of women in outside sports, including the Williams Sisters, the US women’s football team and UFC champion Ronda Rousey – who as we will see, eventually joined the WWE – the decision was taken to change the presentation of women in the WWE to one based on in-ring competition and compelling characters, and “Then, Now, Forever: The Evolution of the WWE Women’s Division” is the first WWE DVD to focus on some of the greatest and most-notable female matches in company history.

Those looking for a documentary to tell the story of how WWE made the change should be directed to two episodes of the WWE Network series “WWE 24”, looking at the directive change heading towards WrestleMania 32, and then the Women’s Royal Rumble Match at Royal Rumble 2018. “Then, Now, Forever” is made up of short profiles of key figures in WWE history, dating back to the 1980s, accompanied by a match associated with their career.

There are only three profiles for talent from before the 21st century, which goes to show how low a priority women’s wrestling was for the WWE in that time-period. Although the Fabulous Moolah came to be reviled for her alleged treatment of female wrestlers throughout her career, she appears in the two 1980s matches, first in a profile for Wendi Richter in the July 1984 Madison Square Garden match where Moolah not entirely cleanly loses the WWF Women’s Championship to Richter; and then in the match associated with the late Sensational Sherri – the women’s elimination match from Survivor Series 1987 where Sherri teams with Donna Christanello, Dawn Marie (not the former ECW and WWE wrestler) and the Glamour Girls of Judy Martin and Leilani Kai against Moolah, Rockin’ Robin, Velvet McIntyre and the Jumping Bomb Angels (Itsuki Yamazaki and Noriyo Tateno), with the match proving to be a standout for the style the Japanese tag team displayed which was beyond what most Westerners thought women were capable of at the time. 


Above: Alundra Blayze

The only 1990s representative on the DVD set is Alundra Blayze, who was infamously fired by the company while Women’s Champion, and then went onto WCW Monday Nitro to throw their title belt into the bin. Her match comes from her great rivalry with Bull Nakano from the April 3rd 1995 episode of RAW, which the commentary team of Vince McMahon and Jim Cornette put over for its in-ring action, which makes people wonder why McMahon got rid of the division later that year.

The first profile for the 2000s is Ivory, who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame this year. Although her choice of match is at a WrestleMania, it’s the match where she’s squashed by Chyna at WrestleMania X-Seven, although it does demonstrate how effective her Right to Censor character was at the time. Next is Victoria, who followed the path set by Trish Stratus in converting a fitness modelling career into a WWE run – her match with Stratus from the November 25th 2002 RAW is shown, which is a better example of her in-ring wrestling than the great brawl from Survivor Series 2002 was, although it is notable of the think-tank from WWE towards women at the time, with Jerry Lawler on commentary focused on “puppies”. Victoria also features in the next two matches, first in the profile for Lita, where their steel cage match from the November 24th 2003 RAW is featured – the first one for women in WWE history, and then for Molly Holly, which looks at their Women’s Championship match from WrestleMania XX, where Holly put her hair on the line. Lita returns for the profile on Stratus, which is fitting considering those two were closely associated throughout the early 2000s in WWE. Their title match from the December 6th 2004 RAW is featured, where Lita nearly breaks her neck again, but at a time where women’s main events on TV were not as common as they are now, this match stood out as the peak of the division at the time.

Above: Lita
The first woman to feature who currently wrestles for WWE is Mickie James – her match is the classic with Stratus from WrestleMania 22 where the fans went against the narrative and cheered for the psychopath James over the “fan favourite” Stratus. There is a big hole from this point until the next featured match, which suggests that the period from the late 2000s to the early 2010s which was dominated by the Bella Twins was not one well-regarded. A major surprise in the DVD is that there is no profile of Beth Phoenix, who is someone in good standing with the company, and her best matches took place in that time-period. Disc 1 concludes with two stars from the beginning of the movement towards the style we see in WWE today. 

 
Above: AJ Lee
First up is AJ Lee, who features despite the company’s feelings towards her husband CM Punk – her match with Kaitlyn for the Divas Title from Payback 2013 is one that was a sign that the in-ring product for the women was beginning to be taken more seriously. The final profile on the disc is for the recently retired Paige, and her match with Emma from NXT ArRival shows the promise that was sadly curtailed by injury and other factors in the young Brit’s life.


Disc 2 begins with Natalya, the division’s most reliable performer when it comes to needing to make a new star. Her match is the one that put Charlotte Flair on the map, their title showdown at the first NXT Takeover, with Natalya’s uncle Bret Hart in her corner, and Ric Flair in his daughter’s corner, but the abilities of both women in the ring outshine the presence of their famed relatives. Although the Bella Twins were seen as part of the dark period of the early 2010s, their second run was more well received, and their profile features Brie Bella’s match with Stephanie McMahon at SummerSlam 2014, which stemmed from Brie’s marriage to Daniel Bryan, and led to a poor feud between Brie and her twin sister Nikki, though this match was better than many considered going in.

Above: Sasha Banks & Bayley
The meat of Disc 2 is dedicated to the WWE “Four Horsewomen” – whose success eventually led to all four of the MMA Four Horsewomen being signed to the company. The first to be profiled is Bayley, whose potential to be truly popular among kids and hardcore fans alike ended up being stunted by poor main roster booking, but her Iron Man Match with Sasha Banks from NXT Takeover: Respect showed her at her most popular, telling a great story of the lengths she and Banks went to try and prove who was the better woman, and remains the only women’s match to main event a Takeover special. Charlotte Flair is next up, and her match proved to be a pivotal moment in the rebrand of the division, as it was when the Divas Championship was replaced with the WWE Women’s Championship (eventually becoming the RAW Women’s Championship) – her Triple Threat Match with Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks was arguably the highlight of a poor WrestleMania 32, showing a division determined to prove itself and demand the same respect as the men.

Following the second brand extension in the summer of 2016, SmackDown also gained a women’s championship, and the profile on Becky Lynch shows her becoming the first champion, as she defeated Alexa Bliss, Carmella, Naomi, Natalya and Nikki Bella at Backlash 2016 in a fun scramble which showcases why many people love the Irish Lass Kicker. The final spot on the disc is reserved for Sasha Banks, and her match is the first ever women’s Hell In A Cell match with Charlotte Flair from Hell In A Cell 2016, which although wasn’t the best match in their rivalry, is there mainly for the occasion, a theme continued on Disc 3.

Above: Charlotte Flair
Although “first time ever” is the main theme continued over to Disc 3, Carmella’s match is actually the second ever Women’s Money In The Bank Ladder Match from the June 27th 2017 episode of SmackDown Live, mainly due to James Ellsworth’s involvement in the first one at Money In The Bank 2017. The rematch with Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Natalya and Tamina is everything the first match should have been, with a far more satisfactory finish. A jump back in time leads us to a profile on Mae Young, but this leads to the final of the first Mae Young Classic, where Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler won over a hard-to-please SmackDown crowd in Las Vegas, leading to both competitors becoming staples of the women’s division in NXT.

The first ever Women’s Royal Rumble is shown in full, which was a great encapsulation of the evolution of the division, with many stars of the past returning to interact with today’s stars, including several flashbacks to former rivalries. With no profile of her own, this is as close a showcase as it comes for Asuka, remaining as her standout achievement in the company. Alexa Bliss is featured by way of the first ever Women’s Elimination Chamber match from the 2018 edition of the event, where she attempted to outlast Bayley, Sasha Banks, Mickie James, Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville inside the deadly Elimination Chamber structure. The final match includes new star signing Ronda Rousey, and her standout debut teaming with Kurt Angle against Stephanie McMahon and Triple H from WrestleMania 34, closing out with a hint at things to come from the division.

Above: 'Rowdy' Ronda
The WWE women’s division is in a very different place now to when it was when it was only considered good enough for “bra and panties” titillation, and “Then, Now, Forever” tells the story of how it got from A to B. Some may argue how long it too Stephanie McMahon and WWE to drive the change and the outside factors that influenced it, but this DVD set illustrates how welcome the change has been, and some of the great performances that have come about as a result. Coming in at a shade under 9 hours of action, it’s an essential collection for fans of women’s wrestling.

You can buy this DVD by clicking THIS  link