Saturday, 18 February 2017

WWE 'Best PPV Matches 2016' DVD Review By Tim Ricketts.

The Best Pay-per-View Matches compilation is often one of the most worth-while DVD sets to pick up, offering up an interesting selection that chronicles the year, barring Survivor series onwards presumably for production reasons. 

This year's iteration is presented by Lita, and whilst I normally enjoy her role as a talking head on the WWE Network, this one did not suit her talents.  Her reading of an autocue was obvious, with noticeable micro-pauses that left her sounding (and often looking) slightly uncomfortable. Nevertheless, her infrequent interjections add context to this match compilation.

DVD one focuses on the Road to WrestleMania, with the first stop being the time-honoured Royal Rumble and a Last Man Standing Match for the Intercontinental Championship between Dean Ambrose and Kevin Owens.  A perfectly set match for two of the roster's most inventively dangerous brawlers, in which anything available at ringside was used a weapon.  Ambrose retained the championship by sending Owens through a stack of tables, unable to respond to the ten-count. Good match to open the Rumble, and this DVD set.  A highlight package of the PPV follows, including AJ Styles' WWE debut at number 3 in the Rumble match and Triple-H winning the Championship.

AJ Styles Enters The Royal Rumble

Next up are a pair of matches from Fastlane.  Styles' initial feud with Chris Jericho is featured in their bout from this event, a nicely-paced technical exposition from these experienced ring masters, whilst the number-one contender triple-threat main event of Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns sees Reigns meeting 'The Game' at WrestleMania.  I can see why this match was included for narrative continuity, although it isn't really up to the 'best' moniker in my opinion, largely due to the pace and predictability of the conclusion.  Fastlane highlights follow, but the Network-only 'Roadblock' event is understandably omitted from this set.

A hat-trick from the record-shattering WrestleMania XXXII in Arlington, Texas, completes the first disc.  Zack Ryder finally had a pay-off for all his hard work over the years, taking Owen's Intercontinental Championship in a 7-way ladder match.  Every competitor added something acrobatically exciting to this match, and with a couple of continuing or burgeoning feuds in operation there was some good psychology too.  The Triple Threat Match for the newly-forged Women’s Championship was up to its historic importance, Charlotte defeating Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch in the gritty technical style that these revolutionary ladies have become famous for.

The Undertaker Facing Off Against Shane McMahon

 The last match of the disc is the almost nostalgic Hell in a Cell between Shane McMahon and The Undertaker.  Shane-o-Mac rolled back the years to take one of those ultra-high dives that made him so famous, but other than that, these two competitors past their prime proved they can still put on a brutal bout in the WWE's famous steel structure.

The middle DVD starts with a continuation of modern wrestling's most enduring feud.  For those not familiar with Steen versus Generico, thankfully WWE brings Owens versus Zayn with a barnstorming encounter from Payback in May.  Highlights follow, with a subsequent rematch of the Payback main event, this time an Extreme Rules bout from the Extreme Rules event.  Roman retained his championship against the on-fire AJ Styles; but with both having a point to prove about being on the top of the card, what started as a promising anything-goes brawl ended up interference-laden as first The Club, then The Usos appear.

Money in the Bank is up next with its titular Ladder Match: Cesaro vs. Zayn vs. Ambrose vs. Del Rio vs. Owens vs. Jericho.  Ladder Matches with this many competitors are often fast-paced frenetic things and this captured that to a tee, with plenty of early ringside action. The zenith of this match came when all six men were battling atop two ladders, dropping one by one until only Ambrose and Owens were left, the former SHIELD man grabbing the Canadian through the top rungs and smashing him unconscious.  Taking the briefcase and the opportunity, Dean Ambrose also adds a new potential threat to the main event, conveniently next on this DVD.

Action from The Crazy MITB Match
Seth Rollins, back from injury and determined to regain the belt he was stripped of, had Reigns firmly in his sights. Roman had other ideas; even if he had given up trying to win over the still largely hostile WWE Universe, he needed to prove that he actually is 'the Guy' by putting away this particular personal demon.  He started the match with methodical control, making every strike, kick and manoeuvre as hard as possible, Rollins only retaliating occasionally on the counter.  The brutalised Architect finally established himself on to the match with some high-flying action from the turnbuckle to remind his former SHIELD team-mate why he had been champ too. Back in the ring, after some ringside brawling, Roman went for the Spear. Mid-air, the staggered Seth reacted instinctively to turn it into a Pedigree. One repetition on Roman was enough to get the pin, vindication and the Title.  This story wasn't over yet though.  Dean Ambrose's music hit, as did the MitB briefcase with Rollins' head, and all it took for us to have our third WWE Champion of the evening was one sweetly struck Dirty Deeds!

The Brand Split between RAW and SmackDown changed the layout of WWE before the next PPV, Battleground, and so the drafting of Superstars and titles came to the forefront.

The overwhelming sense of anticipation for the next bout lay in Sasha Banks' unknown teammate to face Charlotte and Dana Brooke, so when the music of the un-drafted, former NXT Women's Champion Bayley hit, the pop from the crowd was enormous.  The match itself was an opportunity to advance Charlotte and Banks' feud and introduce Bayley to the wider WWE Universe rather than any great technical exposition, compared to other Women's matches in this set.

Following up on the WWE Championship storyline, we have a No-DQ Triple-Threat match.  If either challenger dethrones SmackDown's Dean Ambrose, the historic title will be heading to RAW instead. The match was fast-paced and balanced, Ambrose brawling well, Rollins stunning with his high-flying athleticism and Reigns, back from a 30-day 'Wellness' suspension, taking out his obvious frustration with explosive power; all demonstrating the complementary styles that made them such a great team.  It was Ambrose however, biding his time whilst recovering ringside, that took advantage of Reigns wiping out Seth with a Spear to employ his own Dirty Deeds and get the 3-count.  Fantastically well executed Triple-threat that delivered a lot of uncertainty and suspense with the fast and brutal action. 

'Big Match John' versus AJ Styles at SummerSlam is probably my main-roster match of the year, so an excellent choice to start Disc three. Both athletes pulled out their extensive arsenals immediately, although each was countered into another then back into yet more.  You can't crack out the big guns early without it taking its toll, but these two kept picking themselves up and increasing the calibre. A springboard Frankensteiner from Styles couldn't keep Cena's shoulders down, but neither could the return Super-AA floor Styles.  It finally took a combination of finishers, a Clash followed by the Phenomenal Forearm to put pay to John Cena, a fair and square pinfall.  Distraught and despondent, Cena left his 'Never Give Up' sweatband on the canvas before following the victorious Styles up the ramp.  In my opinion, the spiralling knife-edge one-upmanship makes this match a modern classic.

Next up we get to see WWE's inaugural Universal title holder. With the necessity of crowning the champion buy either pinfall or submission, it effectively makes the match no disqualification. Finn Balor, the demon king who battled his way past the cream of the RAW roster to earn his opportunity, started aggressively. Seth Rollins, the number one draft pick and automatic Challenger, responded with athletic resilience and powerful offence. A sickening blow to Balor's shoulder from Seth Rollins' bomb to the Barricades slowed him momentarily, and would prove to be significant in the coming days.

Finn Balor vs Seth Rollins From Summer Slam

They traded increasingly powerful manoeuvres, frustration and exhaustion building, until Finn unleashed another volley of feet which culminated in his coup de gras double-foot stomp. Former NXT champion was victory over former WWE champion, to be the first Universal champion.  A suitably great match, where Seth Rollins' agile and usually effective attack was no match for the supernatural resilience and single-mindedness of Finn Balor.  As usual, the highlight packages bookend each PPV.

September's SmackDown Live event, Backlash, is featured with a 6-Pack Challenge Match to crown the inaugural WWE Smackdown Women’s Champion.  Becky Lynch defeated Nikki Bella, Naomi, Natalya, Alexa Bliss and Carmella. While none of the women had excessive amounts of ring-time, each and every one gave enough to show exactly why they deserved to be there. In particular, the more recent NXT graduates were surprising in how aggressively engaging they were with the more experienced roster members.  The elimination stipulation also left the finish nice and clean with Lynch forcing Carmella to submit with the Dis-arm-her.

The clean finish contrasts starkly with that of the next match, the culmination of the Best of Seven Series between Cesaro and Sheamus at Clash of Champions.  Set up as a knife-edge encounter with the series at 3-3, the match itself was a take-no-prisoners brute-fest between two of RAW's rather under-appreciated heavyweights.  Rather than coming to a nice satisfying conclusion, however, the match ended when both men took a spill over the top rope and came crashing down on the floor.  A ringside Doctor declared them unable to continue. A No-Contest.  Whether this was legitimate or not, it was subsequently leveraged to pair these gents into a tag-team.

Another post-draft rivalry had formed on SmackDown, between Dolph Ziggler and intercontinental champion The Miz, culminating in a Career versus Title match at No Mercy.  Ziggler used rope-breaks well, and countered the incessant duplicity of Miz's camp (with wife Maryse and Dolph's former tag partners from the Spirit Squad interfering) to save his career and leave 'The King of Soft Style' humiliated and title-less.  Inspiring resilience from the ever durable Dolph.

The DVD set wraps up with another slice of history, as the RAW Champion Sasha Banks defends her title at Hell in a Cell, taking on Charlotte for the first women's match in the eponymous structure.  The action got started before the cell had descended, Charlotte taking it to Sasha, followed by a very long injury tease as Banks was stretchered away.  Abandoning the medics, the match finally got under-way in the cage.  This was a fully executed hardcore cell match, no halfway measures for such a momentous occasion, and a fantastic conclusion to this year's 'Best of' set.  Charlotte regained her championship, reversing Banks through a table before applying her Natural Selection finisher.

Every year, the 'Best of PPV Matches' DVDs are a fantastic summary of the most significant matches, but the 2016 vintage is a very refined one.  The acquisition of AJ Styles seems to have bought the best out of John Cena in years, the NXT production line is starting to deliver the goods on a consistent basis.  Add the continuing Women's Revolution, the Brand Split that seems to have learned the lessons of last time and a genuine atmosphere of change, and we have a collection of the best matches in years. Long may it continue.

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