Monday 5 December 2016

WWE The True Story Of The Royal Rumble DVD Review By Tim Ricketts

The True Story of The Royal Rumble takes the fan favourite Pay-per-view event, and gives it the same historical documentary treatment as WWE did with their WrestleMania and Starrcade DVDs.  Now approaching it's thirtieth iteration, The Rumble's unique structure means that never fails to be entertaining or controversial. Either way, every year it is must see Wrestling.

This look into the traditional start of the Road to Wrestlemania, consisting of a traditional documentary DVD - with plenty of clips, highlights and vox pops of Legends and SuperStars - and two discs of 'Special Features' and Featured Matches, also delves into the setup and surroundings of Royal Rumble 2016. To start the whole thing in context, the progenitor of the concept - first Intercontinental Champion Pat Patterson - describes how his refinement of the traditional Over-the-top-rope Battle Royale to include timed entrances was presented to NBC TV.  At a time when a star's entrance was a relatively new and effective addition to his gimmick, TV executive Dick Ebersol saw this as the perfect feature for a (then) WWF special for his network.  The concept was refined at House Shows, and the first Televised version was such a success that it became a permanent addition to the 'Big Four' of Pay-per-Views.

With the first few years being treated as their own self-contained tournament in the era of only a handful of annual PPVs, and the majority of subsequent matches rewarding a main-event at Wrestlemania, winning the Royal Rumble has always held a high level of prestige.  More talking-head segments of notable competitors relate this, as well as the challenge and honour of either starting as number 1, 2, or 30 in particular.  All further tweaks and touches that has kept this as quite probably the most popular annual show outside of Wrestlemania.

The Rumble has had it's own fair share of controversies over the years, which is only to be expected from such a long-running concept, and this DVD does not shy away.  The only time the Rumble has settled the Championship prior to this year, Ric Flair's win in '93, came about as the result of contentious matches between Hogan and Undertaker.  Bret Hart and Lex Luger having to share the 'victory' in '94, Shawn Michaels' single foot on the floor prior to his win in 1995, BOTH of The Rock's feet touching in 2000, and the Quad-busting mutual elimination of Cena and Batista, all dally with iffy eliminations.  The fans' reactions to the 2014 & 15 events, and their Daniel Bryan-related disappointments, are covered with revealing backstage footage which paints Reigns in a very sympathetic light.

If there is one single thing in the anticipation of a rumble that builds fan interest, it is the surprise entrants, the Superstars that you don't expect to see.  This year's event has AJ Styles making his debut and the backstage secrecy this involves, whilst seeing the Legends of days gone making a cameo - from The Honky Tonk Man to DDP - gets a great pop from 'the Universe'.  Add to this the stealthy returns from injury over the years, of the likes of Edge or John Cena, and there is always a shock or two amongst the 30 men selected. Although the documentary has a chapter dedicated to this phenomenon, the number of significant inclusions over the years could have seen it expanded somewhat.

The Royal Rumble match itself isn't the only reason to pay attention to this PPV, the Undercard has it's historic gems too. In particular, the Rumble 2000 gets it's due recognition with the first Tag-team Tables match in WWE between the Dudley Boyz and Hardy Boyz, Tazz's début suplex battle with Kurt Angle and Cactus Jack & HHH in hardcore heaven.  A look at Rowdy Roddy Piper's Intercontinental reign that began at the Rumble kicks off a look at that title's storied history at this event, leading right up to this year's brutal slug-fest between Kevin Owens and Dean Ambrose.  In a moment of candid remorse, Scott Hall (Razor Ramon) talks regretfully about his reaction to the homoeroticism in his match with Goldust, 20 years ago.

The format of the Royal Rumble lends itself to the notion of statistical Records, all there to be admired or beaten: from the Shortest time in the ring (Santino Marella, 1sec) to the Longest (Rey Mysterio, entered first & won, 62mins+), Stone Cold holds the record for most wins (with three).  One man stands tall in the record books however, Kane with Most Eliminations (42), Most Rumbles, and had held most eliminations in a single match until he was beaten in 2015 (11-12) by Roman Reigns. Reigns becomes the First to defend the WWE title in the Rumble Match itself, as number one entrant no less.  This segues nicely into the 'Moments' chapter of the DVD as we see the start of the 2016 bout, and Styles vaunted debut at number three.

Dedicating itself to the more esoteric highlights of history, this chapter covers such diverse topics as Too Cool & Rikishi dancing mid match, Tough Enough rookie Maven eliminating Undertaker, Demolition Fighting each other and Andre the Giant being scared of Jake's snake. Chyna, as the first female Royal Rumble entrant gets a significant mention, as does Kofi Kingston's regular rumble acrobatic escapology act. As Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker fight out their huge ending in '07, we get taken forward in time to the ending of this year's as Reign's valiant defence ends and Triple-H eliminates Ambrose to become 14-time Champion at the same time as looking after his boardroom duties.

At only an hour and five minutes long, the Royal Rumble has had plenty of history to provide more flesh to the bones of this documentary, but for it's length it does cover all the important events, even if only briefly. Still a worthy addition to any completists, collectors or fans of the format like I am.  Let's see how the other discs support or complement the documentary.

The 'Special Features' section of disc two would have been a lot of the missing 'flesh' I mentioned.  From interesting anecdotes, the star power of Pamela Anderson in the mid-nineties, to Mae Young winning 'Miss Rumble 2000' and a featurette on significantly less puerile female appearances at the Rumble, this adds some value to the set.  The 'Matches' section starts with the première Royal Rumble match from 1988, which holds up very well for it's age and shows excellent construction and progression throughout.  The Rockers vs The Orient Express is a good tag match and better technically, but Ultimate Warrior vs Sgt. Slaughter - also from 1991 - feels the stronger historic inclusion.

The 1994 'draw' between Bret Hart and Lex Luger is included in it's entirety, whilst the 1997 Championship Match between Sycho Sid and Shawn Michaels, as well as the aforementioned Tazz/Angle match from 2000, round out the disc.  The 2001 Rumble match, notable for the first Celebrity entrant in comedian Drew Carey, the Hardy Boyz fighting each other, the Return of the Honky Tonk Man and as Stone Cold's record breaking third win, starts disc 3. The 2007 iteration ended with an all-out bloody battle between Michaels and Undertaker and is the last full rumble match on the set.  The final two matches are the surprisingly technical bout between The Rock and CM Punk from 2013 that ended Punk's 434 day reign as Champion, and the fiery and contentious Divas' Championship match from this year between Becky Lynch and Charlotte.

Whilst there have been stronger DVD sets from WWE this year, this stands out for it's documentary format, and that the included bonuses and matches really do back up the content of it.  Whilst I'd have been quite happy for the whole of Royal Rumble 2000 to be included as an Extra, the length of the event's long and storied history means that in summarising it, we are always going to be missing something.  A must have for any WWE collector, and despite the length of the first disc, great value for money.

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