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 

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Vader's Time - A Brief Reflection On Wrestling's Masterdon By Steve Fullard


As you'll no doubt have read, Leon White, better known to wrestling fans as Vader, passed away on Monday evening. Vader meant a lot of different things to many different sets of wrestling fans.

He will be remembered without a doubt, as one of Pro Wrestling's best ever Super Heavyweights, with the strength of a Bull Elephant and an agility quite unbelievable for a man of his size.

His fearsome offence and intimidating in ring demeanour left many fans with a real belief that Vader was a man to be feared.

I'll readily admit I'm no authority on Vader's time in Japan, but I consider myself a fan, so I present to you a small cross section of what I feel made Vader so special.

I've picked 5 matches, in no particular order, all of which are available to watch on WWE Network.

5. Vader vs. The Undertaker - In Your House : Canadian Stampede - July 6th 1997


While not exactly a hidden gem, this match plays co-main event to an excellent 10-Man Tag match, which is the match most people remember.

A benefactor of circumstance, Vader stepped into this program in the place of an injured Ahmed Johnson, Vader and The Undertaker went to war in front of one of the hottest crowds you'll ever see.


This match illustrates one of my favourite things about Vader, that being his willingness to take bumps like a man half his size. In this contest he takes a lovely Chokeslam as well as a Tombstone Piledriver and does his very best to make all of The Undertaker's offence look as good as it possibly can. 

They do attempt a Tombstone reversal spot that goes a bit wrong, but in attempting the move, the pair show a desire to put on a good match that would put most of the so-called monsters of the ring to shame.

4. Vader vs. Ric Flair - Starrcade 1993 - December 27th 1993

This match is what many people consider to be Vader's best match, and is probably one of the best WCW main events I have ever seen.

The stipulation for this match was Vader's Title vs Flair's Career, the high stakes add to an already compelling contest. The dynamic for this match is very much Vader's power in opposition to Flair's experience and ring savvy.


Flair takes a lot of big bumps in this match and the end appears to be nigh when Vader attempts his now legendary Moonsault, but after a big miss on Vader's part, Ric Flair comes back with a real vengeance, logically attacking the big man's legs and nullifying his offence.

Harley Race in the corner of Vader is a very entertaining addition to this match and it's not long before he becomes physically involved.

The finish of this match feels real, with the experienced man having just a few more tricks up his sleeve, and taking an opportunity when he see's it.

This match shows Vader's versatility, Ric Flair's regained confidence, and both men working together to put on an outstanding match.

3. Vader vs. Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart vs. The Undertaker - In Your House : Final Four - February 16th 1997

This match was booked somewhat hastily after Shawn Michaels vacated the WWF Championship following the Royal Rumble of that year. The four participants in this match were the last four in the Rumble match, and the winner would become the new WWF Champion.

This match is a four way elimination match, and feels like one of the very first "Attitude Era" style main events, and we get to see Vader as part of a very interesting main event scene, as the last vestiges of the New Generation are moving on, and in a few short months, the wrestling business as we know it would be altered forever.

During this match, Vader is bloodied when The Undertaker manages to kick a chair into his face, and while the match was good until then, it really seems to kick up into another gear once Vader removes his mask to reveal the damage done.




This match shows Vader outperforming and exceeding expectations. At this point in time, his run in the WWF had reached his peak, and after a brief flirtation with the main event scene, he appeared in main event's sporadically. On paper, Vader was the rank outsider in this match, but after watching, I cant imagine this match without him.

2. Sting vs. Vader - Starrcade 1992 - 28th December 1992

Confession time for me, I'm not a fan of Sting. I don't enjoy his matches and I think he's somewhat overrated, that being said, this match with Vader could be one of his very best.

While not as good as Vader's match with Flair one year later, Sting does an excellent job of staying alive after absorbing almost every Vader can throw at him.

This is the second match for both men on this night, and they would go on to be involved in a Battle Royale straight after.


The reason I included this match is because I absolutely adore the finishing sequence, that see's Vader encouraged to go up to the top by Harley Race after connecting on a middle rope splash, only for Sting to catch his top rope attempt in mid air, and turn it into a mammoth Powerslam. This spot was imitated many times after this , but this is probably the best version of it you will ever see.

1. Vader vs. Cactus Jack - Halloween Havoc 1993 - October 24th 1993

Contrary to my previous entry, I am a massive Mick Foley fan, and this match with Vader, to me, is the stuff of legends.

This match follows on from the amnesia angle that WCW tried to execute when Mick Foley sustained a horrid concussion from a Vader Powerbomb on the arena floor a few months earlier, this was a story so good, it would take a special kind of incompetence to mess it up.

While WCW's creative may not have done this story justice, the two performer's put on a hell of a show, as they beat each other senseless for nearly 16 minutes.

This match is contested under Texas Death Match rules, whereby after a pinfall, and a 30 second rest period, the man who cannot make to his feet at the count of ten is declared the loser.

Both men give as good as they get as they brawl in the ring, on the ramp and meander through the makeshift graveyard erected upon the stage, blood flows and both men throw caution to the wind.


 
This match is here because when I was young, I believed Vader to be exceedingly dangerous, and me and my brother speculated that while wrestling may be a work, here was a guy who took real pleasure in hurting people. Once I had grown up, I knew this of course wasn't the case and in most of these matches I've selected, Vader sacrifices himself willingly for his opponent, and if a ten year old me believed that his moves hurt, well, that was the point, wasn't it?

 
This was by no means an exhaustive run through of Vader's best matches, instead these were just a few that come to mind when I think of him at his very best. Vader's influence can be seen all over pro wrestling in 2018.

When you see Jonah Rock attempt his frog splash, he does so, thanks in part to Vader, who didn't listen when old-timers told him what he should or shouldn't be doing in the ring.

Embracing your abilities, as opposed to giving in to what people expect from you is one of the core elements of modern wrestling, and few did that as well as Vader.

Vader for Hall Of Fame 2019

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Randy Savage 'Unreleased' DVD Review By Richard Edmund

New from WWE, 'Randy Savage Unreleased: The Unseen Matches of the Macho Man' is a three disc DVD set that provides die-hard Macho Man fans with a glimpse at some rare matches never before released on DVD and, in a few cases, matches that have never aired anywhere. Covering the entirety of Macho's run in the WWF from his debut in 1985 to his departure in 1994, the set also touches on his time at rival promotion WCW and in total has over forty matches on offer. These are interspersed with clips from a round-table discussion hosted by Corey Graves (a self-confessed Macho Man fanatic), with guests Bayley, WWE Hall of Famer Diamond Dallas Page and legendary WWF announcer Sean Mooney, providing anecdotes about the Macho Man, as well of context for and remembrances of his legendary career.

The first disc contains some of the most interesting matches on the set, although many are short affairs with the fledgling WWF Superstar Randy Savage mostly facing enhancement talent, but it's an era of the Macho Man's career that is rarely highlighted. It's great to see the Macho Man at this point, already in his prime and being treated as such in his WWF debut against Aldo Marino (a young Ricky Santana) as the WWF's ensemble cast of managers come out mid-match to watch the promotion's newest hot prospect have his hand raised in victory, and to vie for his contract. There's also a short match against perennial jobber Mario Mancini and another against a young Paul Roma, before the set talks about Macho's decision to have Miss Elizabeth as his manager and how that changed the dynamic of the character.
While a lot of fans will have seen Randy playing the bad guy with his cartoonishly unhinged 'Macho King' persona, perhaps they'll be less familiar with the early incarnation of the Macho Man, who cowardly puts Miss Elizabeth in the line of fire and routinely demeans her in public, which drew great ire from crowds at the time. This we see in the next few matches, as Randy faces more enhancement talent such as Scott McGhee and Troy Martin (a young Shane Douglas), teams with Jesse 'The Body' Ventura, puts in a good shift against the up and coming Tony Atlas and defends the WWF Intercontinental Title against Pedro Morales. Next, the set turns to Macho's famous rivalry with Ricky 'The Dragon' Steamboat and we get treated to a never before seen house show version of their fantastic Intercontinental title match from WrestleMania 3. 

The set then fast forwards a year to Macho Man as Undisputed WWF World Heavyweight Champion, defending his newly won title against Ted DiBiase in a steel cage. Savage, now a huge fan favourite, has changed his attitude towards Miss Elizabeth by this point, far more complimentary of her ability as a manager and the role she plays in the Macho Man's success. The next match is a largely forgettable title match against Akeem (who the ring announcer introduces as One Man Gang), that's notable for the fact that it came from the WWF's first ever visit to France. Although broadcast live on Canal+ in France, this is the first time the match has been internationally available and, while not a great match, the crowd are electric and the scale of the celebration for Macho's victory to close out the show is impressive.

Disc two picks up shortly after the implosion of the Mega Powers, Macho Man is once more somewhat reviled by large portions of the crowds and in the first match on this disc he defends the WWF Intercontinental title against a wildly popular new superstar in the Ultimate Warrior from a 1989 house show in Chicago. Next, the set covers the introduction of Sensational Sherri as the Macho Man's new manager and, over the course of the next series of matches, we see the much more direct influence Sherri had in Randy's bouts compared to Elizabeth. Firstly, there's an entertaining WWF title match from Toronto that sees the Macho Man go one on one with Hulk, before a somewhat less exciting match vs Brutus the Barber Beefcake. The Macho King vs Hercules match is surprisingly fun, but is followed by a farcical mixed tag with Macho & Sherri vs Dusty & Sapphire, with Miss Elizabeth.

The set covers Macho Man's feud with Jake 'The Snake' Roberts and subsequent forced retirement, which leads into his campaign to be reinstated by WWF President Jack Tunney. The next match is a never before seen six man tag from December 1991, as Savage teams with Roddy Piper and Hacksaw Jim Duggan against the team of Ric Flair, Jake Roberts and The Undertaker! Then, another never before seen match as the Mega Powers reunite for the first time in two years to take on Jake Roberts and The Bezerker. We jump forward post-WrestleMania VIII to now two-time WWF World Heavyweight Champion Randy Savage teaming with The Undertaker to face Flair and The Berzerker, before heading onto a solid pair of singles matches against Razor Ramon and Terry Taylor to close out disc two.

Disc three starts with the absolutely '90s-riffic 'Gets Your Heart Pumping' music video WWF produced for the Macho Man, as well as some great blue screen outtakes from its production before getting on with the matches. Unfortunately the quality isn't terribly high in this last gasp of Randy's WWF career, after a solid match against Yokozuna there's a plodding singles bout against Lex Luger, an entirely forgettable match against Mr. Hughes, a Macho & Perfect vs Hughes and the awful Giant Gonzalez and a short match from Monday Night RAW with Randy taking on Fatu before the set heads into WCW territory. Randy's WCW work was a mixed bag, and there's not exactly many 'must see' matches in this portion of the collection, but still a few cool bouts here and there such as Randy vs 'Stunning' Steve Austin, or taking on Kurasawa (a young Manabu Nakanishi) or facing off against Sir Robert of Eaton.
Overall, while this set most definitely can't be considered a 'best of', it's a solid accompaniment to the WWE's other Randy Savage DVDs 'The Randy Savage Story' and 'Macho Madness - The Ultimate Randy Savage Collection'. It's great that newer fans can get a taste of the earliest days of the Macho Man in WWF, as well as seeing him at the peak of his abilities and the matches on offer from later in his career provide a few nice highlights and some notable oddities. Also, it's cool to see a bunch of promos and video packages here, including the great 'Macho Lifestyles' segment that saw Mean Gene take a trip to Randy's home for a candid interview. I'm not a huge fan of the round-table format and think a 'talking heads' approach with a greater cast of characters would've been better, although Corey Graves does a good job as host and DDP and Sean Mooney both provide some great insight.

'Randy Savage Unreleased: The Unseen Matches of the Macho Man' is available now on DVD from: https://www.wwedvd.co.uk/

Thursday, 26 April 2018

DVD REVIEW: Twist Of Fate: The Best Of The Hardy Boyz By Richard Edmund

After a lengthy absence from the grandest stage in all of professional wrestling, 2017 saw the return of The Hardy Boyz, Matt & Jeff Hardy, to a WWE ring. One of the most accomplished and innovative tag teams in WWE history, the Hardyz paved the way for a faster paced, high intensity (and high risk) daredevil style which changed the face of tag team wrestling within the WWE. After returning to great acclaim at WrestleMania 33 and winning the WWE RAW Tag Team Titles, WWE have set out to mark Matt and Jeff's homecoming with this 3-disc DVD set 'Twist of Fate: The Best of the Hardy Boyz' featuring over 25 matches and newly recorded interview segments at the Hardy Compound that add some context and behind-the-scenes information to the storied careers on display. 

The first disc begins, where else, with the WWE debut of Matt and Jeff as a tag team from way back in 1996. Facing off against the short-lived duo of The New Rockers (Marty Jannetty and Leif Cassidy, AKA Al Snow), the young Hardy brothers acquit themselves well while taking a resounding beating. Jeff takes a huge back body drop over the ropes and to the floor, before suffering a doomsday powerbomb to give the Rockers the victory. Fast forward a couple of years and The Hardy Brothers (now both out of high school and able to compete full-time with the WWE) have become The Hardy Boyz, but are still in search of victory as they take on the Kai En Tai team of Funaki & MEN's Teioh. The Hardyz get to display some innovative offense, but their risk taking is almost their undoing as Jeff misses a step-up tope and crashes hard to the floor. But when Kai En Tai's nefarious tactics backfire on them, the young Hardyz take full advantage and pick up their first WWE win in the process.
A VERY young Matt & Jeff Hardy in the WWF
Their first taste of WWE Tag Team gold came in 1999 against The Acolytes of Bradshaw & Farooq. With the help of Michael Hayes as their manager The Hardy Boyz steal a win over their intimidating opponents, thanks to a tombstone on the ring steps Kane delivered to Bradshaw the night before, and a shot to the head from Hayes' cane. Next we're treated to two of the earliest matches in the long-standing rivalry of The Hardy Boyz and Edge & Christian. The first of the two is a fast-paced Tornado Tag match from an episode of Smackdown, while the second is the very first (but most certainly not last) ladder match in which both teams faced off against one another. 

Here we get a glimpse of the inventiveness of The Hardyz and Edge & Christian, the chemistry they had together in the ring and the death-defying lengths they would go to in order to steal the show. Next up is another big first, the first time The Hardy Boyz wrestled each other on WWE television. Forced into the match by Stephanie McMahon, the reluctant Hardyz soon find their competitive spirit and the result is a brief but entertaining singles bout pitting brother against brother. Another tag match vs Edge & Christian follows, this one from No Way Out 2000 is a bit more grounded than the last and notable for The Hardyz manager Terri turning on them. 

The year from WrestleMania 2000 to WrestleMania X-Seven was an important one for The Hardy Boyz and the first disc of the set closes out with four huge bouts that went a long way to cementing their status as one of the most exciting tag teams in the world. First, the 3-way ladder match from WM 2000 introduced the destructive Dudley Boyz to the Hardyz/E&C mix, while SummerSlam a few months latter saw all three teams collide again in the first ever TLC match. At Unforgiven Edge & Christian faced the Hardyz in a memorable cage match, while WM X-7 saw the three-way TLC match return for a second year. These four matches include some of the most memorable moments in the careers of all six men involved, and set the bar for tag team wrestling in the WWE. 

Disc 2 begins with The Hardy Boyz at the very top of the tag team game, having seen it all and done it all as a tag team their increasing popularity grants more and more opportunities for them outside of the tag division and in the main event. Case in point, a huge Monday Night RAW main event match pitting The Hardy Boyz & The Brothers of Destruction vs Stone Cold, Triple H, Edge & Christian. Matt & Jeff talk about what it meant to them to get to work with some of the biggest names in the WWE and how they used the experience to improve their game. Next, old enemy Edge teams with The Hardyz to take on Test & The Dudleys, setting up a unification match between The Hardyz & The Dudleys for the WWF & WCW Tag Team Titles in a steel cage at Survivor Series 2001 that saw a memorable (but disastrous) Swanton Bomb off the cage. 

Over the next year or so Matt & Jeff would branch out more as singles competitors with varying degrees of success. While Matt established himself with his Version 1.0 character, Jeff struggled to find his footing on his own and would end up leaving the WWE in 2003. The matches chosen here reflect that, with Chris Jericho taking on a Jeff Hardy struggling to find his identity in the "solo dimension", as Jeff puts it, and two great matches from a popular feud between Matt Hardy and Rey Mysterio for the Cruiserweight Title. The second of which is an important match in the career of Mysterio, his first singles title in the WWE.
Fast forward to December 2006 and the Hardy Boyz are once again teaming together in a WWE ring for the first time in just under 3 years. The match vs MNM is a bit of a mixed bag, although it drags in places and goes longer than necessary it was the one bright spot of a generally ill-remembered ECWWE PPV, but the crowd were definitely pleased to see The Hardy Boyz teaming again. Next up a solid tag bout pitting the newly minted WWE Tag Team Champions (The Hardys won the belts in a Battle Royale on RAW) against Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch, notable for being the first Hardy defence of the tag titles in six years.

The final match on this portion of the set is a show-stealing ladder match from One Night Stand 2007 that saw The Hardy Boyz defend the World Tag Titles against The World's Greatest Tag Team of Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin. A classic car crash of a bout that illustrates how well matches these two teams were, and what a shame it is they didn't face off again. Shelton has the athleticism and will to put his body on the line like Jeff, Charlie has the skills to handle Matt in the ring, but The Hardys have the experience and the result is a great tag contest that is deservedly highlighted here.

Disc 3 picks up the action in 2009 with the Hardy brothers locked in an embittered feud stemming from Matt's jealousy of Jeff's popularity, and resulting in a memorable storyline where it's revealed Matt burned down Jeff's house (a real life event incorporated into the tale). They face off in a ladder match at WrestleMania XXV that sees both brothers test the extremes to which they'll go in order to gain victory, before the feud is settled at Backlash 2009 in an I Quit match where Jeff finally defeats his brother. 

A few months later Jeff would again leave the WWE, and a year after that Matt followed him. They reunited in TNA and ROH, a period of their career covered here by a ten minute interview segment and a few scant clips courtesy of the Global Wrestling Network. Quickly, however, the set races towards The Hardy Boyz big return to the WWE at WrestleMania 33 in Florida. Fresh off a gruelling ladder match to finish up their time in Ring of Honor, Matt & Jeff were brought back to the WWE in the utmost secrecy and, although their return had been widely speculated upon, the response from the crowd was no less rapturous.

The match itself is a chaotic 4-way ladder match for the RAW Tag Team Championship, pitting The Hardy Boyz against Sheamus & Cesaro, Enzo & Big Cass and Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson. While much of the action inevitably revolves around the other teams in the match, the experience of the Hardyz pays off and they pick their moment perfectly to win the tag titles (as well as reminding everyone that they're still as crazy as ever, Matt with a Twist of Fate off a ladder, and Jeff hitting an insane Swanton to the outside).

The next two matches on the set come from The Hardy Boyz feud with Cesaro & Sheamus over the RAW Tag Team Championship, namely the cage match from Extreme Rules 2017 and the Iron Man Tag Team Match from WWE's Great Balls of Fire PPV. The name of the show being 'Extreme Rules' only highlights how different the modern WWE cage match is from the sort of cage matches Matt & Jeff were innovating nearly two decades prior. That being said, all four guys work hard in this one, as they do in the Iron Man match. Not a rule-set terribly suited to tag wrestling, but they make it work here and after a bit of a rough start the crowd get really into the final third of the match.

Rounding out the set are two singles matches from Monday Night RAW with the Hardy brother in turn trying to wrest the WWE Intercontinental Title away from the hands of The Miz. Compared to the other singles matches on the set these show a different side of the Hardyz, older, a bit wiser and more experienced, but still with a spark of that same energy they possessed when the were in their prime. Afterwards Matt talks about Jeff's recent injury and how that gave him an opportunity to bring his 'Woken' character to the WWE, before the brothers contemplate what the future will bring for their careers to bring the interview to a close.

Overall this is a content-rich set that will please any fan of The Hardy Boyz. While not a definitive collection, the matches have been selected to tell the story of Matt & Jeff's careers from the beginning up to the present day and, to that end, the selection suceeds with only a small number of matches feeling superfluous. The interviews are a welcome addition and provide good context where needed as well as a number of backstage anecdotes, and it was cool to see early footage of the Hardyz as kids and some clips of their time in TNA. 

'Twist of Fate: The Best of the Hardy Boyz' is available on DVD from WWE Home Video UK


Friday, 12 January 2018

DVD Review: WWE Best Pay-Per-View Matches Of 2017 By Tim Ricketts


Once more, WWE release their annual compendium of Pay-per-View matches 'The Best PPV Matches of 2017'. As usual with these type of DVD sets, one should expect samples and highlights of the year's best feuds and championship matches - greatly expanded once again as the two brands establish their own respective titles.

Disc One, at first glance of the contents list, appropriately appears to be very SmackDown-heavy, considering the critical positivity surrounding the brand going into 2017. First up was the WWE championship bout that saw perennial poster-boy John Cena claim the title from AJ Styles, a refrain of 2016's arguable feud-of-the-year, to tie with the legendary 'Nature Boy' Ric Flair at 16 WWE-recognised world title reigns.  This wasn't the year for the Rumble match itself to get on the 'best-of' list, but second-time winner Randy Orton had his subsequent Elimination Chamber PPV match with Luke Harper included, foreshadowing a feud with the winner of the event's eponymous match. The Elimination Chamber match itself was one of the most coherent of recent times, and provided overdue WWE championship recognition for Bray Wyatt as he surprisingly defeated Cena, Styles, Dean Ambrose, The Miz and Baron Corbin.

Whilst that would have set up the traditional WrestleMania main event, the three examples from this year's 'Superbowl of Wrestling' didn't include Orton's almost inevitable victory. Instead, we get Styles versus 47-year-old boss-man Shane McMahon (which, to be fair, built a slow start into a serviceably entertaining bout). The Cena & Nikki Bella mixed-tag against The Miz & Maryse was turgidly paced, and whilst the ensuing marriage proposal was highlight-worthy, the match itself is hideously misplaced on any 'best-of' list. In contrast, the feud between the phoenix-like Universal champion Goldberg and Brock Lesnar has been denoted by explosively brief, almost terse, matches. Lesnar's WM33 victory here was almost an epic by their standards, and began to approach double-figures in terms of minutes' length... almost as long as Goldberg's entrance down the interminable ramp. The crowd had fun counting the suplexes and spears though.

The second DVD features more RAW, with two post-Superstar-Shakeup matches from Payback opening the disc. Alexa Bliss becomes the first woman to have held both brands' titles when she takes the RAW women's championship from Bayley, whilst the second features the objectively brilliant feud between Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman beginning to peak. A brief sojourn back to SmackDown sees the start of Jinder Mahal's initially unlikely but ultimately productive WWE championship run, taking the belt from Orton at Backlash.

The first of three excellently free-flowing 'Fatal' matches on the set, this one a 5-Way match to determine the number-1 contender for WWE Universal championship, sees Samoa Joe overcome Reigns, Wyatt, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor. The Universal title bout at the rock-n-roll-retro Great Balls of Fire is one of that archetypal 'big fight feel', full of impassioned brawling, but ultimately unsuccessful for Joe. Sandwiched in between was the first ever Women's Money-in-the-Bank ladder match, but the good-to-excellent bout was marred by the thoroughly objectionable finish. Carmella comes away with the case in circumstances shrouded in understandable feminist controversy.

The final fight of the DVD is the tag-team championship match between The Usos and The New Day. New Day gain the SmackDown gold after previously holding their RAW equivalents for so long; Xavier Woods looking particularly dogged, enough to get his first belt-winning pin.

Summer Slam opens the third DVD, and the long-awaited reformation of SHIELD (two-thirds of). Ambrose and Rollins take the RAW tag-titles from Sheamus and Cesaro in a bout that manages to be both brutal and technical. The other match from the 'big-four' PPV is the delightfully outstanding Universal championship Fatal Four-way. Seeing Strowman manhandle Lesnar like a cruiser-weight to demolish consecutive announcement tables is a rare sight, but the champion returned after
 medical attention to retain against a resurgent Reigns.

Bliss underlines her 'Five Feet of Fury' moniker, defeating Bayley, Emma, Nia Jax and Sasha Banks in the final fine 'Fatal' fight to retain her title at No Mercy, which also provided a clash of titans in the form of Cena versus Reigns. No matter which side the perennial detractors fall, this is an exemplar match of WWE's heavyweight Sports-Entertainment style, both technically and narratively.

A casual observer, using this DVD set to stay moderately up-to-date on WWE goings-on, may be forgiven for thinking that Shane McMahon is a top-tier major draw, judging by a second inclusion. The match with Kevin Owens at Hell-in-a-Cell is a worthy addition though, if inevitably a little formulaic. Sami Zayn makes a timely intervention to cement the restoration of his and Owens' friendship, and save his Canadian compatriot from Shane-o-Mac's 20-foot cage-top plunge.

The set concludes with the strongest technical match-up: Styles versus Balor, a veritable exposition of intricacy and almost Indy-level pace, but one, no-matter how you look at it, that missed the gun narratively. As a last-minute replacement match it is mind-blowing, but a year-or-so before it would have been the battle of the Bullet Club (even if they couldn't call it that), or with some build-up it might well have been 2017's pure gold.

The opportunity cost and logistics of getting this set out for the biggest (Christmas) market, means that Survivor Series onward is absent from the set, a grave omission in terms of narrative build for 2018, but commercially understandable. Other than a somewhat weak WrestleMania selection, this represents a great value-for-money coherent anthology of WWE's year, and a solid addition to a fan's
collection.

You can buy this DVD set from our good friends over at WWE DVD UK and give them a follow on twitter @WWEHomeVideoUK

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Jinder Mahal: Someone To Look Up To And Admire By Pete Stevens

 
 
Mahal in his previous incarnation with the WWE
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the pro wrestling business. I’ve been a part of it (10 years) and a fan for a combined 30 years. I’ve taken just lately to writing about my thoughts and feelings on certain subjects and this is another one. 

I recently read online that during a press tour of India to promote WWE’s upcoming show, Kane was quoted as saying that Jinder Mahal is a superstar that should be admired for his change in attitude. Kane makes reference to Mahal’s 2014 release and spoke about the way Mahal conducted himself while being away including becoming a better wrestler and the drastic changes to his physical appearance. I understand that this interview took place in India to promote the forthcoming show which Mahal is due to headline in a match against the COO of the company Triple H however, it got me thinking. 

In the bigger picture, should we all not respect Jinder Mahal for his most recent accomplishments a little bit more than we do? 

I understand that some purists and wrestling die hards were outraged when the company went left field and chose to put the WWE Championship on Jinder and the rise of the ‘Modern Day Maharaja’ began. I admit, I thought it was going to be a transitional champion kind of situation and the company would keep with the safe cards like AJ Styles (champion now) or Randy Orton. A near enough 6 month reign would be the result of it all which even if you appreciated it or not brought fresh new light into the tired and tested main event scene. 

Mahal with his 3MB cohorts heath Slater & Drew McIntyre
In 2014 Jinder Mahal was released from his contract. At the time of his release he was a member of 3MB. Prior to 3MB he had bounced around the mid card with a couple of mediocre winning streaks. He was the runner up to Seth Rollins in the final of the NXT Championship Tournament and was also the on screen brother in law to The Great Khali. Jinder was re-hired by the company along with Curt Hawkins, Rhyno, Shelton Benjamin and a few others to bulk out the rosters during the brand split. Not long into Mahal’s return he begun to make some big changes to his physic and attitude in the ring whilst finding himself in a team with Rusev. Mahal would look like an absolute beast leading intro Wrestlemania where he again came second in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal however, the ground work was already being laid down for him to rise to the top of the Smackdown brand and lead it as it’s champion.

Mahal in more recent times when he was WWE champion
Taking a step back from his accomplishments during all of this I’d like to go back to concentrating on the point Kane was making. Jinder Mahal is a character. Love him or hate him he isn’t real. Yuvraj Singh Dhesi was giving a second chance with a company that doesn’t really give second chances very often (okay goldust being the exception) and he chose to reinvent himself to give himself a fighting chance to survive.

As I said earlier wither you like him or not as a performer it’s immaterial.  Personally I feel he should be admired and ultimately looked up to as someone who took the measures to better himself within his workplace to stand out from the pack instead of just filling the hole in the roster which ultimately he was brought back to do. Take a quick second to look at the rest of the returning stars. Rhyno was Tag Team Champion and got a push on smackdown but has done nothing since the brand switch moved him to Raw. Curt Hawkins gimmick is that he’s lost every match since the start of his career and Shelton Benjamin has been shoved into a 2.0 tag team. You may argue that Mahal has done nothing but alter his appearance and that his level of wrestling skill hasn’t changed at all. Against the skill of the veterans I mentioned above I would strongly argue that if his push was solely based around in ring skill then chances are he would be jobbing to the stars as well and in some way maybe he knows that. Look into his past again for a second. WWE tried multiple times with Jinder to make something of him and nothing happened. When he was Average Mahal you never saw him knocking down doors to get to any championship glory. 

In an industry STILL (WWE at least) dominated by big men with impressive physical appearances Mahal has perfectly played the one card he did have for success and he played it extremely well. 

Changing his physical appearance is the best thing Jinder Mahal has ever done for his career and it says a lot about his personal character and his willingness to want to succeed. He was given a second chance at a dream career where he hadn’t made the best of it the first time round and has hit a home run this time round. 

Surely that’s something to look up to for anyone in any industry. 

I’d call this a dream come true. 

Pete.