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 

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