Friday, 11 August 2017

DVD Review: WWE Double Feature: Extreme Rules 2017 & Money In The Bank 2017

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 344 Minutes
Certificate: 12
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: August 14 2017

(Thanks to Fetch Publicity for arranging this review.)

In my previous Double Feature review for the Payback and Backlash set, I noted how the increasing quality of Raw and the declining quality of SmackDown became obvious when watching the Raw and SD PPVs respectively. The same applies to the next Double Feature set, the subject of this review, which covers Extreme Rules and Money In The Bank: ER has several matches of a high quality (and one match which is poorly booked, to be fair), whereas MITB has few notable moments from an in-ring standpoint, and generally feels second-rate.

Extreme Rules opens with an enjoyable if overly-long clash for the Intercontinental Title between Dean Ambrose and The Miz; contrary to the feeling that this was a never-ending feud, this actually marked their first of just two PPV meetings. Next, we get a basic mixed tag team match as Rich Swann and Sasha Banks battle Noam Dar and Alicia Fox; it's okay for what it is, but nothing more.

Next up comes arguably the lowest point of Bayley's main roster tenure as her rematch against Alexa Bliss for the Raw Women's Championship under Kendo Stick On A Pole rules is way too short and makes The Hugger look incredibly weak, culminating several months of questionable booking for Bayley. Better is the Raw Tag Team Championship Steel Cage clash between The Hardyz and the team of Sheamus and Cesaro: what I enjoyed about this feud is that, without sounding like a dated reference, it provides good old-fashioned and simple doubles wrestling, with the cage used effectively both for major spots and for the surprise finish.

Neville vs. Austin Aries under Submission rules for the Cruiserweight Championship is very well-worked, but plays before a seemingly bored crowd, perhaps because the ground-based submission rules negate the need for the high-flying action associated with the cruiserweight division (not that this has happened much since WWE revived the division last year, but that's another story). Finally, the show ends with an awesome Fatal 5 Way Extreme Rules match between Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Samoa Joe, Finn Balor and Bray Wyatt: it lasts nearly 30 minutes and features a ton of action, an unexpected outcome and all with high stakes (a shot at Brock Lesnar's Universal Championship at Great Balls Of Fire).

Money In The Bank, on the other hand, kicks off with a controversial MITB match for the women's division: Becky Lynch, Carmella, Charlotte, Tamina and Natalya. There was a huge outcry that a man (James Ellsworth) would be actively involved in the finish of this first, historic women's MITB bout, but the bigger disappointment for me was the action itself: they clearly grafted but, perhaps due to time, this doesn't come close to matching the pre-MITB expectations.

The Usos vs. The New Day is a really good tag match, albeit with a poor finish, and Naomi vs. Lana feels like filler at best and completely pointless at worst; it certainly does nothing to alter the perception that the SmackDown brand in general had taken a major tumble in quality since the Superstar Shake-Up. Nor does the Jinder Mahal-Randy Orton WWE Title rematch; it's slightly better than their previous bout at Backlash, but the finishes of both Jinder-Randy showdowns are too similar, again making this match feel a bit unnecessary.

Breezango vs. The Ascension is okay, and ticks the comedy box for the show, but still feels a bit out of place on a PPV event. Finally, the men's MITB match between Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler is the best match of the night, but slightly underwhelming overall (this contains the Nakamura-AJ face-off which was enjoyable on the night, but has since been treated as something akin to Jesus reuniting with an old friend upon another resurrection by certain hardcore fans).

The Kick-Off Show matches from both cards form the extras here: Kalisto vs. Apollo Crews, and The Hype Bros vs. The Colons. Both are entertaining enough, but neither bout is worth going out of your way to see in my opinion (sorry Zack Ryder fans).

Overall, then, as a complete package this Double Feature set is probably worth owning, but only if you adjust your expectations accordingly. Extreme Rules has a lot of worthy action, but Money In The Bank suffers from SmackDown's creative malaise which has seemingly crossed over into the ring, preventing some matches from reaching their full potential. The two main events and the Steel Cage bout are the best parts of this two-disc set, so they justify a purchase; however, if you're buying this solely for the Money In The Bank card, you may be disappointed as that show in particular is the weakest MITB PPV to date.

Overall Rating: 6.5/10 - Okay

Friday, 28 July 2017

DVD Review: Kurt Angle - The Essential Collection

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 531 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: July 31 2017

(Thanks to Fetch Publicity for arranging this review.)

Kurt Angle is one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all-time. Mixing his previous outstanding amateur wrestling ability, style and credibility with his desire to learn allowing him to quickly pick up the pro style along with unseen charisma and a great sense of humour, all during one of the hottest periods in wrestling history, Angle quickly established his legacy as one of the very best in record time. His return to WWE in early 2017 was hugely anticipated, and fans immediately gravitated back to the legendary Olympic gold medallist.

Therefore, it was inevitable that a DVD celebrating Angle's big return would be released, and so we have this collection of matches from 1999-2006. You can't really go wrong with a Kurt Angle match compilation, and this is proven to be the case as this is one of the best WWE DVDs that you will see. We also get pre-match comments from Angle who discusses how pivotal specific bouts were to his career, though they do occasionally border on being slightly self-indulgent at times. But more often than not, they're insightful, and a welcome aspect of the feature (this incidentally does not have any bonus material).

Beginning with Angle's televised debut against Shawn Stasiak from Survivor Series 1999 (where fans are booing and chanting "Boring!" within a minute of the bell ringing; how dare two wrestlers actually try to wrestle during the Attitude Era!), we then jump to Angle's first tastes of gold against the surprisingly over Val Venis from SmackDown and Chris Jericho at No Way 2000 for the European and Intercontinental Championships respectively.

Arguably the highlight of the DVD's first hour is the footage of Angle's promos from this time; he was so hilariously dorky, egotistical and entertaining that it almost makes one disappointed when he becomes more serious as the DVD progresses. But he continued rapidly climbing the ladder, evidenced by the next match, the King Of The Ring 2000 tournament final scrap with Rikishi.

By now, Angle was almost at the main event level. A quick three-way against Y2J and Triple H from Raw is followed by Angle's big moment, his WWF Title match against The Rock from No Mercy, which is a vital match in Angle's career and a great one (no pun intended) to boot. Angle's first PPV title defence against The Undertaker from Survivor Series is next. This has a hugely surprising ending, but if you haven't seen this before, I strongly recommend that you skip the segment which precedes this match as it gives away what happens; this happens often during this DVD but in this particular case, it's a bit of a bummer.

We then get a forgotten bout between Angle and Triple H from Royal Rumble 2001. It's good, but the heel vs. heel dynamic hurts it, and it's arguable that the two never had a truly great match against one another (might that change at this year's SummerSlam?). It's a shame that Angle vs. Rock from No Way Out 2001 isn't here, but the first disc does end with a bang via the brutal and bloody Kurt vs. Shane McMahon Street Fight from KOTR 2001.

Disc two opens by looking back at Angle's infamous feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin, which would include cowboy hats and bloodbaths. It's debatable as to whether their WWF Championship clash from Unforgiven 2001 was their best, but the action and story-telling are of a very high standard, and given its outcome, and the location (Angle's hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), it had to be included.

The next few matches capture Angle in his red-hot 2002 form: a Backlash scrap with Edge is brilliant, and a vital step in Edge's ascension up the ranks. Their subsequent Steel Cage battle on SmackDown is another topnotch battle, which ends a crucial rivalry in Edge's career. Angle vs. Hulk Hogan from King Of The Ring is less spectacular but just as entertaining, and an important result for Angle to boot (plus Kurt's hilarious pre-match promo is included too).

We also see John Cena's televised debut days later against Angle, which admittedly feels more like a way to promote Cena than Angle. Next is a truly classic three-way between Angle, Rock and Undertaker from Vengeance 2002, which is my favourite Triple Threat match in WWF/WWE history. The action picks up a rapid pace again via an outstanding SummerSlam showdown with recent debutant Rey Mysterio, who Angle had previously lost to in a six-man tag match (hence the immortal phrase "I just got beat by a freakin' 12-year-old!"). Around this time, Angle entered into a rivalry with Chris Benoit which produced several incredible matches, but it should require no explanation as to why none of those are here.

However, some may be disappointed that there is only one match here involving Brock Lesnar, with their WrestleMania XIX bout only shown in the form of quick clips, and their famous Iron Man match not acknowledged at all. Still, WWE has a tendency to focus on the subject's win-loss record rather than history whenever possible on these DVDs, which is why only their SummerSlam 2003 match is included, and it's still one hell of an effort by both men regardless.

Disc three kicks off by revisiting Angle's history with John Cena. By the time of No Mercy 2003, Cena had shot up the card via his rapping persona, spitting rhymes and insults which would not even be suggested in today's WWE. So it's nice to remember a time when there were fewer rules on risqué material, plus the Angle-Cena match from said show is arguably Cena's best prior to him becoming a main eventer. Moving onto 2004, Angle subtly implies at occasional troubles with Eddie Guerrero (the two had a backstage fight that year), but mostly complements him for his ability and charisma. Their underrated SummerSlam battle is a good one, though a step down from others on this release, whilst a tag match pitting Angle and Luther Reigns against Eddie and Rey Mysterio from the 2004 Troops special is mostly here to emphasise Kurt's admiration for the American forces fighting in Iraq.

Next up is one of my favourite matches of all-time, Angle vs. Shawn Michaels from WrestleMania 21, which is the embodiment of the word "classic". Though it isn't as fondly remembered, their 30-minute Iron Man match from Raw Homecoming is also well worth watching, and a reminder as to how both Angle and Michaels were somewhat taken for granted back in 2005. Shawn pops up in the penultimate match, another great three-way with Angle and John Cena (who by this point was starting to hear the boos and "Cena Sucks!" chants on a worryingly regular basis for a top babyface) from Taboo Tuesday 2005. The final match is a hidden gem from ECW circa 2006 pitting Angle against Rob Van Dam; it's pretty good, but I think Angle's unbelievable bout with The Undertaker from No Way Out 2006 would have ended this collection with more of a bang. We do, however, get footage of Angle returning to WWE earlier this year to end things on a high note.

Though some key matches are missing, this is still a fabulous collection of matches which lives up to the hype. Mixed with Angle's insightful if occasionally questionable comments, this becomes a great reflection on Angle's WWF/WWE tenure, and one of the best all-round wrestling DVDs that you are likely to see. Even without a couple of notable bouts (which admittedly prevent this reaching the level of perfection), this is a must-own for new and old fans alike. Oh it's true, it's damn true!

Overall Rating: 9.5/10 - Classic

Friday, 14 July 2017

DVD Review: WWE Double Feature: Payback 2017 & Backlash 2017

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 356 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: July 17 2017

(Thanks to Fetch Publicity for arranging this review.)

Since WrestleMania 33, the fortunes of Raw and SmackDown have changed, mostly due to the Superstar Shake-Up which switched several wrestlers around. Raw has improved with a more star-heavy main event scene, some interesting mid-card feuds and Kurt Angle returning as Raw General Manager. SmackDown, however, has lost much of the shine it had prior to Mania, largely due to the sudden and unpopular ascension of Jinder Mahal from an opening match act to the position of WWE Champion.

It remains to be seen as to whether this will continue (it's possible that these trends will carry on until the next roster switches, which may not be until 2018), but in the meantime both brands served up their first PPV events after Mania, Payback and Backlash respectively. Both cards ultimately followed the same pattern as the television shows, with Payback being pretty good but not truly great, whilst Backlash was a disappointing event which couldn't shake off the B-level tag that SmackDown in general once again has.

Beginning with Payback, then, Kevin Owens vs. Chris Jericho is a fun opener with a surprising ending, considering the rumours that Jericho was about to take another leave of absence from WWE. Neville vs. Austin Aries is another good match, but the finish is a bit of a let-down. Better is the doubles clash between The Hardyz and Cesaro and Sheamus, during which Sheamus legitimately knocks out one of Jeff Hardy's teeth by accident, with a notable post-match angle to boot.

Bayley's defence of the Raw Women's Championship against Alexa Bliss is also entertaining, and arguably the best match that either lady has had since coming to the main roster. Then comes the already-infamous House Of Horrors match between Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt (which lost much of its appeal once Bray's transfer to Raw meant that the WWE Title wouldn't be at stake). A lot of people criticised this match but, whilst I'm not going to suggest it was a great battle by any means, it was an attempt at something different by WWE, a one-off attraction built around Wyatt's gimmick, and isn't that what fans are crying out for these days: unpredictable and unique content?

The House Of Horrors bout was a two-part affair, and in the middle of that we get a pretty good Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe, albeit one which it could be argued didn't quite match high expectations. Finally, it's Roman Reigns against Braun Strowman, which is an enjoyable main event that moves along what, by this point, was the hottest rivalry on Raw. This feud is still ongoing at present, and I predict that many will consider it to be the feud of the year. The question is, will the much-maligned Roman receive any of the credit for this?

So, Payback was a very good show overall from an in-ring standpoint, albeit one with no genuine classic matches. But that's still a lot better than how Backlash turned out, which evoked memories of the dark days of 2004-2005 when the overpushed and average-at-best John Bradshaw Layfield dominated the main event scene, with the crop of major stars or talented performers relegated to insignificant matches or bouts which simply didn't live up to the hype.

Case in point: Shinsuke Nakamura's official main roster debut was promoted as being something truly special, and understandably so. Unfortunately, though, his battle with Dolph Ziggler was just adequate at best, with Ziggler having far more offence than anyone expected, and with Nakamura only demonstrating a sample of his repertoire. Shinsuke's matches haven't set the world on fire since, but whether this is due to Nakamura himself or restrictions placed upon him by WWE is debatable. Would it be controversial for me to suggest that Roman Reigns has had a much better year in the ring so far in 2017 than Shinsuke? (I'm not a massive Roman fan by the way, but Nakamura still receives the royal treatment by fans even though he hasn't had a truly great match in WWE since 2016.)

The Usos vs. Breezango is an amusing doubles match, with Fandango and Tyler Breeze finding their niche as a comedy act with just enough strong material to make them a popular part of the SmackDown brand. Sami Zayn vs. Baron Corbin is a basic yet inoffensive match with a surprising outcome, though little has been done to capitalise on it for the winner since then. The six-women tag match isn't up to much, to be honest; it exists to give the likes of Natalya and Tamina something to do really, but that's all it does, and the match is a big comedown for Charlotte following her high-profile adventures on Raw (her star is currently nowhere near as bright as it had been on the red side).

Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles is the best match of the night, and possibly the top encounter across the two-disc set. Even this feels like a mild disappointment, though, partly due to the finish which was booked to move the feud along, but left a dampener on the night's only genuinely good match. Luke Harper vs. Erick Rowan is filler, due to its lack of real reason to exist. Finally, there's Randy Orton vs. Jinder Mahal for the WWE Title: you probably already know how this ends, so I'll simply say that the booking makes sense on a business level, but considering the lack of any push for Jinder prior to becoming #1 contender for Orton's title here, and his previous status as a low-card jobber, it's completely understandable why fans have been left disillusioned by WWE's decision to go in this direction. This feud remains ongoing at present, which partly explains why SmackDown as a whole feels second-rate at present. Still, the match isn't that bad, which is something I guess.

The extras consist of the Kick-Off Show matches from each event: Enzo Amore and Big Cass vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, and Tye Dillinger vs. Aiden English respectively. There's also a Miz TV segment with Finn Balor, which would be the only involvement that either man had at Payback (Dean Ambrose bizarrely made no appearance whatsoever, months after main eventing SmackDown PPV events in WWE Title bouts).

This is a tough one to recommend. Payback has several matches which are well worth watching, but none of them are truly must-see, and whilst I think that many fans had made their minds up on the House Of Horrors bout before it even happened, it still marked the low point of that show. As for Backlash: the reaction to the main event and KO vs. AJ are worth going out of your way to see, but this isn't enough to support rewatching this card. If Shinsuke Nakamura's match had lived up to his reputation, then things would be different; because this wasn't the case, and with several filler matches padding out the show, Backlash ended up as WWE's weakest PPV of 2017 up to that point.

Arguably, the biggest reason to suggest buying this DVD is to examine how much better Raw is than SmackDown at present. And strangely enough, whilst some put this down to The Miz and Dean Ambrose leaving SD as a weaker show and helping to make Raw stronger, neither man factored into the main card at Payback whatsoever, whilst the Raw show didn't even feature its main champion Brock Lesnar (not that that's a surprise these days). Backlash, meanwhile, features AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Shinsuke Nakamura and others, and yet this PPV was still a let-down. But we'll have the full debate on why Raw is superior to SmackDown again another day; with regards to this DVD, there's a fair few matches that I would suggest watching, but not enough to make this an essential DVD for you to own.

Overall Rating: 6.5/10 - Okay

Friday, 30 June 2017

DVD Review: Fight Owens Fight – The Kevin Owens Story

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 416 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: July 3 2017

(Thanks to Fetch Publicity for arranging this review.)

Depending on who you speak to, Kevin Owens is either the most entertaining wrestler of all-time, one of the best in-ring performers in the world today, or just some out-of-shape guy who would never have been hired in the good old days (cough cough, Vince Russo). In all seriousness, whilst some of the praise that Owens receives occasionally goes a little over-the-top (the man can do no wrong on Twitter, seemingly), there's no denying that he's one of the true highlights of today's WWE product. He's one of the reasons why NXT became such a hot brand, he helped Raw remained bearable during the shaky years of 2015 and 2016, and he's currently doing his bit to convince SmackDown fans to keep tuning in despite Jinder Mahal being the WWE Champion. Add to that his legacy on the independent circuit as Kevin Steen (namely, his legendary feud with El Generico, which came to WWE as Kevin Owens went to war with Sami Zayn), the fact that he still has many years left in the wrestling business, and the charisma and humour which made JeriKO one of the most entertaining WWE acts in years, and you have plenty of evidence to not only support Owens' popularity in spite of his heel status, but also to justify the release of this new DVD on the pioneer of the Pop-Up Powerbomb.

Fight Owens Fight opens with a documentary covering Kevin's life and times, from his extensive time spent on the indies to his NXT/WWE arrival to his key moments and matches since then. I never like to scrutinise a documentary to the nth degree (unless the feature demands it, such as the infamous Rise & Fall Of ECW), since it provides spoilers on revelations and comments which fans would not have known about. Instead, I'll quickly state that while a bit on the short side, the main feature should be very satisfying to KO fans, as it covers his pre-WWE adventures as much as one could expect (including his association with Sami Zayn/El Generico prior to joining WWE, which the announcers often refer to but never truly explain), as well as capturing his high points since coming to WWE in late 2014. Along the way, there are plenty of talking head comments from those who you would expect (Sami Zayn being an obvious example), as well as a few surprises too. And so ends disc one, with a captivating, entertaining and encompassing look at Kevin Owens' history to date.

Disc two includes plenty of bonus segments which weren't included in the documentary (I can't understand why these couldn't have been squeezed onto disc one, but I guess it's more important to have a short first disc these days). I do like that a few teaser segments were included from when KO arrived in NXT, since this was a fondly-remembered goodie that hasn't been used for WWE DVDs in a long time.

Then come the matches, beginning with Owens' NXT debut against CJ Parker from NXT Takeover: R-Evolution. Owens is a huge babyface here, though he would shatter NXT fans' hearts by assaulting new NXT Champion Sami Zayn at the end of the night, in a fantastic angle that capped off one of the best WWE shows of the entire decade (seriously). This led to Owens vs. Zayn for the NXT Title at Takeover: Rival, the second match on this DVD, which effectively makes Owens look strong yet evil while allowing Zayn to shine in defeat (one of Sami's best talents, paradoxically).

We then get two confrontations, one as Owens squares up to Sami during WrestleMania weekend, and the other as KO makes his surprise Raw debut by attacking John Cena, under the false assumption that he was answering the United States Championship Open Challenge. The two did meet thirteen days later at Elimination Chamber in a great match, the next on this DVD, and the finish perfectly puts Owens over in a major way on his official main roster debut (which, admittedly, didn't help when it came to having fans boo Owens, who was and remains a heel). Disc two closes with Owens capturing his first WWE title outside of NXT, as he takes on Ryback in a basic yet fun bout from Night Of Champions 2015.

Disc three kicks off with Owens battling Dean Ambrose under Last Man Standing rules in an entertaining brawl from Royal Rumble 2016, followed by two unreleased matches: a Main Event clash with Dolph Ziggler shortly after WrestleMania 32, and a house show tag team match ten days later pitting Owens and Triple H against Zayn and Ambrose (apparently, HHH competed on these shows as a replacement for The Undertaker, whose unusual absence from advertised international bookings was never explained). Around this time, the Owens vs. Zayn feud had properly restarted thanks to Sami's official promotion to the main roster, with their best WWE match coming from Battleground, the next bout included on this DVD. This particular match lacks in the selling department at times, but is otherwise a fantastic end to their rivalry, at least at that point.

Funnily enough, there are no matches or segments which see JeriKO teaming up. There is, however, a good focus on KO's singles adventures over the last few months, beginning with his Universal Championship triumph which was shocking enough, but came under the most surprising of circumstances against Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Big Cass in the best Raw main event of 2016, not only for the topnotch action, but for the hugely-unexpected ending (which some critics typically tried to tear down as being an example of a certain someone's ego taking centre stage). Roman would eventually feud with Owens, though no matches are featured here, and Cass hasn't had a title shot since; Seth, however, was Kevin's immediate foe, and the two had their best match inside Hell In A Cell, which is the penultimate clash on this compilation. Finally, we come to WrestleMania 33, where JeriKO imploded in the ring as Owens and Jericho go at it in a pretty good bout for the United States Championship.

There are a lot of Kevin Owens fans, so it's safe to say that this three-disc collection would already be considered a hit regardless of the content (which is a sign of a very real bias towards performers such as Owens - one writer described his Fast Lane battle with Goldberg as "excellent" despite it lasting just 22 seconds - but that's another story for another time). Nevertheless, even for those who may remain on the fence about KO, this is one of the better WWE DVDs you will watch this year. The documentary is very informative, honest and comprehensive, and the round-up of matches from the last two years underline how Owens has become one of the best and most important performers in WWE. Some may be disappointed that there are no matches included from Owens' independent days, but one has to be realistic (I personally thought the running time was a bit disappointing, not even reaching the seven-hour mark across three discs).Summing it up, this three-disc set is as good as one could expect for KO, with an entertaining main feature and plenty of strong matches covering a variety of situations, and I would assume that most Owens fans who see this DVD will feel the same way.

Overall Rating: 8/10 - Very Good

Friday, 2 June 2017

DVD Review: WrestleMania 33

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 569 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: June 5 2017

(Thanks to Fetch Publicity for arranging this review.)

WrestleMania 33 has finally hit DVD. WrestleMania remains the WWE DVD to own each year, regardless of whether the event is good or bad. Fortunately, WM 33 had more to like than to dislike, and while it's not a flawless show by any means, it is an improvement over WM 32 and contains several memorable moments, all of which justify a purchase even before you consider the Hall Of Fame ceremony being included, as is tradition.

The opening video is spectacularly produced in line with the "Ultimate Thrill Ride" theme, and the first match - AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon - is a belter which greatly exceeds expectations. Chris Jericho vs. Kevin Owens for the United States Championship is another enjoyable match, though a shade below being considered a Match Of The Year candidate. The Raw Women's Championship four-way, meanwhile, feels rushed and, whilst a commendable effort by all involved, it's inferior to the Women's Championship three-way from WM 32.

Conversely, the four-team Ladder match for the red brand doubles straps is a huge success, in large part because of the surprise return of the Hardyz to an enormous reaction, which is as surreal as it is shocking and incredibly welcome. The subsequent mixed tag match (John Cena and Nikki Bella vs. The Miz and Maryse) exists solely to set up the post-match proposal by Cena to Nikki. Judged by that criteria, it's a feel-good moment, though it won't be to everyone's tastes.

After that, we get Seth Rollins vs. Triple H. It's a lengthy and often slow match, but it maintains interest and peaks at the finish, so it's better than other HHH Mania matches which have been considered disappointments in the past, though it's still no classic by any means. Mind you, it's still better than Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton which is a complete let-down as a WWE Championship match on a stage like Mania; the intriguing ring projections of creepy creatures aside, the match isn't memorable at all, and feels like a standard TV bout. The result of Wyatt losing the title so quickly doesn't help, and it's all made worse by the fact that the storyline leading into this one (Randy joining the Wyatts to destroy it from within) was booked perfectly and was one of WWE's best plotline in years.

Many were dreading Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship, but it crammed a lot of hard-hitting action into a short span of time (even if it was Spears, suplexes and finishers, and nothing else), and ultimately it was met with positive feedback on the whole, and funnily enough is one of the best matches on the show based on merit. The SmackDown Women's Championship match has a filler feeling to it, but it's not bad by any means and gives Naomi a big hometown title win. (Just realised that I forgot to mention that The New Day were hosts, and so they made occasional appearances throughout the show.)

Finally, Roman Reigns battles The Undertaker in a match which would have been great three or four years earlier, but at this stage Taker is clearly showing the signs that, despite his best efforts, he only has so much left in the tank to give. That is conveyed in the match story, with Reigns doing everything he can to slowly take Taker down and, ultimately, keep him down. Besides one noticeable botch and the slow pace to proceedings, all before an exhausted crowd (who had been there for north of six hours by this point), it's still an enjoyable match, albeit one perhaps not worthy of main event status. But we find out post-match why it went on last, as we get a very well-produced and emotional retirement ceremony for The Undertaker character, which is undoubtedly the most memorable aspect of WM 33. Amazingly, some believe that he will wrestle again, but after watching this, it's impossible to envision that this wasn't his Last Ride, as a Hall Of Fame induction in 2018 seems inevitable.

Speaking of which, the Hall Of Fame ceremony for 2017 is here. Kurt Angle leads the way for the inductees, the class for which includes Diamond Dallas Page, The Rock 'N' Roll Express, Beth Phoenix, Ravishing Rick Rude, Teddy Long and Eric LeGrande (Warrior Award winner). As with every HOF ceremony in recent years, it runs very long, and there's not as many "stories" as you might expect, but it's still a lot of fun with a fair few memorable moments and one-liners. Jim Cornette appearing to induct Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson is particularly surreal, and hopefully Corny will end up being inducted into the HOF himself in the next few years. Plus, this marks Angle's long-awaited return to WWE after many years away, so it has its place in history for that reason too. Overall, not the best HOF ceremony that you'll have seen, but still a very entertaining presentation at the same time.

The set is rounded off by the Kick-Off Show matches, which Fremantle Media squeezed onto the UK version of the DVD (meaning that US fans didn't get this bonus content). Neville vs. Austin Aries is a great Cruiserweight Championship match, proving that having a bout on the pre-show, where there is potentially more time, can be considered a good thing. Conversely, the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal is the weakest to date, with any attempt at promoting a future star jettisoned for a celebrity moment (involving Rob Gronkowski) that was forgotten before the show had come to an end. The final pre-show match, Dean Ambrose vs. Baron Corbin for the Intercontinental crown, isn't terrible but it does feel phoned-in, and it does nothing to suggest that WWE were wrong to place this match before the main card (incidentally, this spot was meant to go to the SD women's bout, but the online backlash convinced those in charge to make this switch; we only found out moments beforehand on the night that Dean vs. Baron had been relegated to the pre-show, which is darkly comical since fans had originally been up in arms weeks earlier when there were rumours of Ambrose not making the main card).

There have definitely been better WrestleManias, and the sheer length of the card will prove taxing for the viewer (it also means that there are no other extras on the DVD; hey, they only just got to fit in the Kick-Off Show matches). It's also a show which peaks early, with the first half being almost completely enthralling, whilst the second half has more disappointing elements than spectacular ones. Nevertheless, WM 33 has something for everyone and is definitely a fun show to watch. Some of the most memorable Mania moments from recent years occurred at this show, not least the retirement of the legendary Undertaker. Add to that the HOF and the three bonus matches, and WrestleMania 33 is a set well worth owning. I've given a bonus half-point in the score below to reward Fremantle for essentially rewarding fans, since that's what wrestling is all about, right?

Overall Rating: 8.5/10 - Excellent

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Seth Rollins - Building The Architect

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 526 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: May 29 2017

(Thanks to Fetch Publicity for arranging this review.)

WWE's latest match compilation focuses on Seth Rollins, who in less than five years has gone from NXT star to perennial WWE main eventer and one of the company's biggest names. Promisingly, his best days may be yet to come; for the time being, Building The Architect focuses on Rollins' WWE adventures to date, with some candid comments by Seth himself between matches.

The first few matches are from Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW), WWE's developmental territory after OVW (but before the NXT revamp). These bouts include a clash with Hunico in the final match of the Jack Brisco Classic tournament, an FCW 15 title contest with Dean Ambrose, and his FCW title-winning performance against Leo Kruger. The Ambrose match is the best of the three, though all have their moments, and it's fascinating to consider that FCW was the equivalent of NXT during this era, because the thought of FCW ever expanding beyond its studio setting into major arenas worldwide, in the manner that NXT has in recent years, seems unfathomable.

Speaking of NXT, it's revealed through some blink-and-you'll-miss-it footage that Rollins was meant to be a contestant on a season of NXT during its "reality show" days, alongside Big E Langston, Bo Dallas, Hunico, Leo Kruger/Adam Rose and Damien Sandow. As it turned out, this season didn't happen, which has to be considered a good thing given that Rollins, Big E and Sandow all carved out careers on the main roster which wouldn't have been possible had this season actually happened. It's debatable as to whether or not Hunico, Dallas and Kruger would have had a greater chance of succeeding if this version of NXT had occurred.

Rollins did appear on NXT, though, becoming the first NXT Champion after the brand was relaunched from its home base of Full Sail University, taking up the form that we know today. Within a few months, though, Rollins had arrived on the main roster alongside Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose as part of The Shield, the faction which changed the WWE landscape forever and would make main event stars out of all three. Rollins still had to lose the NXT title, though, and that he did in the next match featured here against Big E.

I should mention at this point that most of The Shield's key matches were included on the 2015 DVD The Destruction Of The Shield (as well as Seth's NXT title-winning battle against current WWE Champion Jinder Mahal), so Building The Architect is light on Shield matches. There's a couple to savour, though: their match against John Cena, Sheamus and Ryback is underrated and really helped to make the three members stand out on the roster, as did their first WrestleMania appearance opposite Randy Orton, Sheamus and Big Show at WM 29, which has some great spots. The third and final Shield match comes against Cody Rhodes and Goldust from Battleground 2013, one of the better matches from that year which also features Dusty Rhodes' final significant on-screen appearance. Why the group's Extreme Rules battle against Evolution from ER 2014 is not here, I do not know.

We do see The Shield implode, though, through a major swerve that saw Rollins smash his Shield "brothers" with a steel chair. Since TDOTS covered much of the fall-out from that break-up, the next match here isn't until Royal Rumble 2015, and an awesome three-way against Brock Lesnar and John Cena. Not only was this probably the best match on the main roster in 2015, but it was also the match which truly made Rollins a singles star, and most likely played a part in his championship success later that year. After we relive Rollins vs. Randy Orton from WrestleMania 31, and that RKO, we jump ahead to the end of that card, where Rollins cashed in Money In The Bank during a Lesnar vs. Reigns match and became the new WWE World Heavyweight Champion. That Seth was a heel was not evident by the massive pop which greeted this moment (largely because it meant Roman hadn't won the title when he "wasn't ready"; over two years later, Reigns is unfortunately still being booed every night), and Rollins had officially hit the jackpot.

The next match is Rollins vs. Ambrose in a Ladder bout from MITB 2015. I've written about how I didn't particularly enjoy this in a few previous reviews, so I won't repeat that here. Instead, I'll go straight to Rollins vs. Neville, which is a fantastic Raw match whereby Neville almost does the unthinkable and so very nearly dethrones Seth. Rollins proved there why he was The Man, and he repeats this against John Cena in a slightly overrated double title match from SummerSlam of that year, which has the stench of a finish involving Jon Stewart that still seems inexplicable in hindsight.

Not many people remember that Rollins and Cena battled again inside a Steel Cage on a live Network special from Madison Square Garden, but we're treated to that match here, and it's a really good clash between the two men who were arguably WWE's best in-ring performers at that time. Sadly for Seth, a devastating knee injury sidelined him weeks later, forcing him to vacate the WWE title. After a brief appearance at the 2015 Slammys to collect his Superstar Of The Year trophy, which is shown here, Rollins would resurface at Extreme Rules 2016 to Pedigree Roman Reigns, and their follow-up match from MITB 2016 here, which along with the post-match shenanigans created the unique distinction of all three former Shield members holding the WWE title within minutes of each other.

The DVD ends with three matches that sees Rollins on the losing side, which perhaps demonstrates how his knee injury reduced his profile somewhat in the company. The first all-Shield three-way on the main roster from Battleground 2016 was overshadowed by the Draft days earlier, but it's still very good. Seth vs. Finn Balor for the Universal Championship from SummerSlam is overshadowed even more by the ridiculously negative crowd reactions to the visual look of the title, and also in hindsight by the torn labrum injury Balor suffered minutes into it; despite these, it's still an exciting match. Finally, Seth's battle with Kevin Owens under No DQ rules from a November 2016 episode of Raw thankfully has nothing to distract the viewer, and it's a strong brawl with a finish that humorously makes a reference to the real-life fight between Chris Jericho and Sin Cara from around that time.

Because so many crucial Shield matches aren't here for understandable reasons, along with a few solo Rollins bouts of note, this DVD isn't the comprehensive collection of The Man that fans may be hoping for. It does, however, contain a lot of great action, and Seth's post-Shield career contains almost all of his singles highlights from the last two years. (This DVD was produced before Seth battled Triple H at WrestleMania 33, meaning this match isn't here, which depending on your point of view is either a good thing or a bad thing.) Seth's pre-match comments add a level of insight and honesty to proceedings, which round off the package nicely. As noted earlier, Rollins will be in WWE for a long time to come, so we'll likely get another DVD at some point in the future; for now, though, fans of the Architect will love this compilation, which provides sufficient evidence that Rollins really is The Man in WWE.

Overall Rating: 8/10 - Very Good

Friday, 28 April 2017

DVD Review: WWE Double Feature: Elimination Chamber 2017 & Fast Lane 2017

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 363 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: May 1 2017

(Thanks to Fetch Publicity for arranging this review.)

WWE are now releasing solo-brand DVDs as part of a twin-disc set, which makes a lot of sense given that we now receive approximately two supershows per month, between the biggies like WrestleMania and SummerSlam. This particular Double Feature set is a cool one as it shows how both brands set the stage for their major matches at WrestleMania 33, although from an in-ring and booking standpoint, there's a lot left to be desired.

Beginning with Elimination Chamber, then, and the best way I can describe this card is that it was a one-match show. That match is, of course, the Elimination Chamber clash for the WWE Championship. It's in the top five Chamber matches of all-time as everybody involved (defending titleholder John Cena, AJ Styles, Bray Wyatt, The Miz, Baron Corbin and Dean Ambrose) gets a chance to shine and puts forth maximum effort, all within a new-look Chamber which allows for more spots, and slightly safer risk-taking, than ever before. This is one of the year's best matches so far, and I can see the participants in the 2018 Chamber match struggling to top this one next year.

Elsewhere, it feels like more like a special episode of SmackDown than an SD-only PPV. Becky Lynch vs. Mickie James is okay but not as good as most people were hoping. The psychology for Dolph Ziggler vs. Kalisto and Apollo Crews is all wrong (I've never worked as a wrestling booker, but I don't think it's unfair to make that claim, as it negates the fairly decent action that we get). The Tag Team Turmoil clash is alright, although it would have been more exciting if one of the teams challenging for American Alpha's titles had been built up enough to come across as a serious threat to the straps.

Nikki Bella vs. Natalya is watchable but has a screwy ending, which extends the feud but adds to the B-level nature of the card. Randy Orton vs. Luke Harper is the strongest match on the under-card by a mile, as it makes Harper look great against the selfless Viper, making the most of Orton's free time as he awaited the identity of his WWE Title opponent at Mania. Finally, Alexa Bliss vs. Naomi for the SmackDown Women's Championship could also have been better, partly as the crowd were anticipating the main event by this point, and the finish is a little off which left Naomi with an injury.

Therefore, Elimination Chamber isn't exactly the best WWE card of the year; judged as a whole, it's the weakest SmackDown-only supershow since the second Brand Extension began. Fortunately, the main event saves the day, and makes the event worth watching (although Orton vs. Harper is also a strong showing by both). The first disc also has the Kick-off Show clash between Mojo Rawley and Curt Hawkins as a DVD extra.

As for Fast Lane: wrestling-wise, it's the better of the two cards overall, but booking-wise, it starts well and then slowly declines. Besides the (included) Kick-Off show tag match pitting Akira Tozawa and Rich Swann against The Brian Kendrick and Noam Dar, Samoa Joe vs. Sami Zayn is a strong start to the event, with Sami helping to make Joe look like a million bucks, as the saying goes, in Joe's first PPV match since joining the main roster. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson vs. Enzo Amore and Big Cass is alright; it's not the best doubles match that you'll see this year, but it serves its purpose and has some cool spots. Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax is another David vs. Goliath-style match which works based on the more crowd-pleasing result, so in that respect it's a success.

Something which definitely wasn't a success was the two-bonus-matches-in-one segment, where Jinder Mahal somehow manages to earn a PPV match with Cesaro (little did fans know then that Jinder would get a shot at the WWE World Heavyweight Championship just weeks later, in a match which will happen at Backlash), which is okay but has no drama due to the predictable result, and then a first-class burial by Big Show of the (apparently-injured) Rusev. I hate to use the "b-word", since a lot of fans nowadays throw it around willy-nilly without understanding what it means (John Cena and Roman Reigns apparently "bury" everybody they ever defeat, which is nonsense), but I do feel that the term is applicable to this situation. Frowns turns to smiles with the best Cruiserweight Championship match on the main roster since its revival up to that point, an excellent and brutal Neville vs. Jack Gallagher clash (Gallagher's headbutts look vicious).

Roman Reigns gives Braun Strowman his best match to date in a great big-man battle, and though many fans disapproved of the result, WWE was never going to sacrifice Roman to Strowman right before he would face (and defeat, and ultimately retire) The Undertaker at WM 33, nor should it have. (Incidentally, the aforementioned "b-word" came out again from fans disgusted at Roman giving over, which given the way that this match played out was ridiculous.) The booking goes bonkers with Bayley vs. Charlotte for the Raw Women's Championship: Charlotte had regained her title after losing it to Sasha Banks on Raw so often that WWE probably felt doing that again here, after she lost the title to Bayley on Raw, was counterproductive. However, in putting over Bayley (and Sasha is involved in the finish, so it's not a clean win), everyone is left scratching their heads: why didn't WWE a) save Bayley's first title win for WM, b) make a bigger deal of Charlotte's much-hyped PPV winning streak ending here, c) save Bayley's first title win for here, at Fast Lane, or d) book a Charlotte DQ win would have maintained both Bayley's reign and Charlotte's streak, adding further justification for what would be the four-women match at WM 33 for the title? This isn't Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, but I think that option D would have been the way to go; any of those would have been better than what we received.

And then there's the main event between Kevin Owens and Goldberg for the WWE Universal Championship, which lasts 22 seconds, and features much stalling from Owens before a Chris Jericho distraction leads to a Spear-and-Jackhammer title win for Goldberg (sorry to post a spoiler, but you surely cannot spend money on this DVD if you do so to watch a long title match between Owens and Goldberg). I have to be honest, I didn't mind how this played out because the Goldberg push made sense in its execution, because Goldberg had previously smashed Brock Lesnar in 1:26, and because I find Owens to be slightly overrated (let the Internet come crashing down now!). If Goldberg had beaten Lesnar in a 20-minute epic and then became the champ in 22 seconds, then it would be a different story. Nevertheless, it's still not an ideal way to end a PPV, and this should have happened on Raw where the manner of the main event would have been deemed more tolerable and not resulted in so much (inevitable) outrage from "smarks".

So, if nothing else, it's an eventful twin-disc set. The best match is on disc one, but most of the remaining action is adequate at best. Disc two has more to offer from an in-ring standpoint, but the booking is occasionally very frustrating, and the main event lasts less time than an average trip to a urinal. Considering that you really are getting two DVDs for the price of one with this Double Feature set, I'd recommend it so long as you take everything that you see with a pinch of salt and just enjoy the action for what it is in the better matches, not to mention that the Chamber match is exceptional. Others may wish to save their money for the bigger, and superior, show that these two events set up when it comes to DVD, which of course would be WrestleMania 33.

Overall Rating: 7/10 - Respectable