When the concept behind the Best of WWE at Madison Square Garden DVD was announced, I was a bit skeptical. It felt like a somewhat arbitrary idea for a set: a bunch of WWE matches that all took place in the same building. Like some others, I assumed this would basically be another thinly veiled “History of WWE” type of collection.
In a way, that is the case. However, the overall packaging helps give the theme some value, and in the end I enjoyed this set a bit more than I expected. Disc 1 of the Blu-ray runs approximately 4 hours, 30 minutes, while Disc 2 runs 2 hours, 45 minutes with 90 minutes of Blu-ray extras. The set is rated TV-14, and Ventura’s commentary has been edited out of the WrestleMania I match.
“The Mecca”: The Concept
As far as match compilations go, this comp grants me one of my top wishes: including an introduction before each match. Not only that, but the interviews are insightful, new (for the most part), and are generally related to the match you are about to watch. Yes, they do get a bit repetitive. There is a lot of “MSG is great, once you’ve worked there you’ve made it”-type sentiment, but it seems genuine. The best interviews, though, tell fun stories about the match you are about to watch. I have to applaud the WWE for the amount of talent they reached out to for interviews here. Not only is this the first DVD released by the WWE to feature an interview with Bruno Sammartino, they reached out to superstars like Bob Backlund, Iron Sheik, Bob Uecker, and others not often seen on WWE features. It was a bit difficut to tell when the bulk of these interviews were filmed. The only ones that clearly were part of other releases were the ones with Bret Hart and The Rock.
One of the biggest debates about this release is whether or not a documentary should have been included instead of the mixed-in interviews. Without question, I think the WWE made the right call here. As I mentioned, the interviews can get a bit repetitive, and this would have been more noticeable in a documentary. There’s no real story to MSG’s role in WWE history either. It’s always been an important venue for them; there aren’t any “ups and downs” necessary to tell some type of story. Placing a bunch of fun interviews throughout the DVD and including even more on the Blu-ray as extras was a very successful method to make the theme of the set important and help string the matches together.
“It’s Like a Demolition Derby”: The Matches
WWE Championship Match: Ivan Koloff Vs. Pedro Morales (MSG, 2/8/71) – **
This match is clearly dated, but taking into account that the match is over 40 years old, it isn’t all that bad. I really enjoyed the ending, and the overall flow of the match is slow, but sensible.
WWE Championship Match: Superstar Billy Graham Vs. Bruno Sammartino (MSG, 6/27/77) – * 1/2
I am willing to acknowledge the slower style of matches of this era, but this match suffers from a bad case of repetition. The moves are all very similar, and it’s not in a way that works from a psychology standpoint. This makes it a bit of a chore to sit through.
WWE Championship Texas Death Match: Bob Backlund Vs. Ken Patera (MSG, 5/19/80) – ** 3/4
This was a pleasant surprise. For a match from 1980, the action moves at a pretty quick pace, and the storytelling is great. The hardcore gimmick helps add to the storytelling as well.
Undisputed Wrestling Heavyweight Championship Match: Bob Backlund Vs. Harley Race (MSG, 9/22/80) – ** 1/4
While this match is well put together, and has some great psychology, it is really slow. I understand everything about how this match was put together, but this match really struggles in translating to today’s audience. It’s just a little plodding.
WWE Championship Match: Iron Sheik Vs. Hulk Hogan (MSG, 1/23/84) – * 3/4
You can easily make the argument that this is most important match in wrestling history. While it isn’t a marvelous match, the crowd makes it fun to watch, and Hulk comes out of the match looking like a big time champ.
Boot Camp Match: Sgt. Slaughter Vs. Iron Sheik (MSG, 6/16/84) – *** 1/4
The emotions behind this match are fantastic. I felt like Slaughter and Sheik really wanted to destroy each other. That helps keep the match really exciting. The match also moves at a nice pace.
Hulk Hogan & Mr T. Vs. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper & Paul Orndorff (WrestleMania, 3/31/85) – ** 1/2
I had forgotten just how crazy the spectacle behind this match was. For that reason alone, this was a necessary inclusion on the set. The match itself isn’t great, but they play off the crowd pretty well and get the many people at ringside involved in a fun way.
Andre the Giant & Paul Orndorff Vs. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper & “Cowboy” Bob Orton (MSG, 8/10/85) – **
This is your standard “old school” tag team match. The pre-match promos that are included were probably my favorite part of this one.
Intercontinental Championship Match: Honky Tonk Man Vs. Ultimate Warrior (SummerSlam, 8/29/88) – N/A
An historic squash match. Nice to see included, even if short.
Intercontinental Championship Match: Bret Hart Vs. Mr. Perfect (8/26/91) – **** 1/2
At one point in this match, Heenan mentions on commentary that is feels like both men keep going back and forth in taking control of the match. This unique pacing makes the match stand out as a classic. It feels like a genuine wrestling encounter (or as genuine as you can get), and the action is non-stop fun. The conclusion to the match is a great sequence as well.
Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match: Shawn Michaels Vs. Razor Ramon (WrestleMania X, 3/20/94) – **** 1/4
There’s not much to say here that hasn’t already been said. I don’t know that the match has aged as well as I would have hoped, but there’s no doubt that this one is a classic.
WWE Championship Match: Bob Backlund Vs. Diesel (MSG, 11/26/94) – N/A
Another historic squash, this one appearing in full on a DVD for the first time. For that reason alone, it’s hard to complain about its inclusion.
Survivor Series Elimination Match: Rocky Maivia, Marc Mero, The Stalker, & Jake “The Snake” Roberts Vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Crush, Goldust, & Jerry “The King” Lawler (Survivor Series, 11/17/96) – **
Up until the last minute or so, this match is pretty painfully dull. I will give credit to Rocky, who pulls out a star-making turn. He doesn’t get much to do until the very end of the match, though.
Falls Count Anywhere Match: Cactus Jack Vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Raw, 9/22/97) – ***
This is a very famous match that I think helped make both men’s careers in the WWE. It is another great example of elevating the different weapons spots. It is clearly inspired by the types of weapons matches that were going on in ECW at the time, but they make the match work for the nationally televised WWE audience.
Tag Team Tables Match: The Dudley Boyz Vs. The Hardy Boyz (Royal Rumble, 1/23/00) – *** 1/2
One of the many precursors to the TLC match, the action in this match is non-stop, high flying, and exciting. If you enjoyed the other gimmick matches featuring these teams, you’re going to enjoy this match as well. The end of the match is the epitome of a classic MSG moment.
#1 Contender Match: Triple H Vs. Kurt Angle Vs. Chris Jericho (Raw, 8/7/00) – **
The star power is what makes this match fun to watch, but if it were any other wrestlers in this match (and from a different era for that matter), I don’t think anyone would give a second look to this match. This could have been great if it were a little longer. It’s clear this match was included just to get something from the late Attitude Era on the DVD.
US Championship Match: Big Show Vs. John Cena (WrestleMania XX, 3/14/04) – ** 1/4
A star-making moment for Cena here. The match itself is pretty much what you would expect. The pre-match rap from Cena was my favorite part of this.
Trish Stratus Vs. Mickie James (Raw, 9/11/06) – * 3/4
A very good divas match, but way too short. This was Trish’s farewell Raw match, so it is a worthwhile inclusion. Trish & Mickie put on some great matches, and this would have been great had it been a little longer.
Royal Rumble Match (Royal Rumble, 1/27/08) – N/A
As expected, this match is joined in progress as Cena enters at #30. Cena’s return is one of my favorite Rumble moments, but the Rumble match itself isn’t one of the best ever.
D-Generation X Vs. Jeri-Show Vs. John Cena & Undertaker (Raw, 11/16/09) – ** 1/4
Like the triple threat match from Raw I discussed above, this is another match that lives off of its star power. This match is a little bit longer, and does include a few neat multi-man spots, so it is enjoyable. However, it still feels like a somewhat strange inclusion.
Blu-ray Exclusive Matches
Steel Cage Match: Bruno Sammartino & Tito Santana Vs. Randy “Macho Man” Savage &
Adrian Adonis (MSG, 7/12/86) – * 3/4
This is one of those hidden gems that are really cool to see footage of, even if the match is somewhat lacking. This match mainly focused around men simply trying to escape the cage door or over the top, which I find to be pretty dull. It’s hard to argue the inclusion of such a weird, rare match though.
Intercontinental Championship Match: Bret Hart Vs. “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase (MSG, 12/29/91) – ***
If you’ve seen the match these two had on Bret’s DVD, then you should know what you are getting here. Another entertaining encounter that balances scientific wrestling and character stuff very well.
WWE Championship Match: Alberto Del Rio Vs. CM Punk (Survivor Series, 11/20/11) – *** 3/4
I feel like this match has already been somewhat forgotten in the shadow of the infamous Money in the Bank 2011 match. While this is nowhere near as good as the Chicago classic, it still is a very fun match, and has a lot of historical significance. I would have put this on the actual DVD in place of the two triple threat matches from Raw; it would have served as a nice, historic ending for the DVD.
“And He Drops the Big Leg…”: Closing Thoughts
My expectations were pretty low, but I have to admit I did have fun watching this Blu-ray. It’s not going to light the world on fire, but it is an easy watch, and the matches went by quickly. I can’t say my initial reservations were fully overcome, though. This still is a somewhat flimsy theme for an overall release from WWE, but the interviews helped give some overall coherence. If you are thinking about this DVD JUST for the interviews, I wouldn’t recommend spending the money on it. While you get some nice anecdotes, most of the interviews aren’t all that informative. Spacing them out over the course of the DVD helps keep them fresh, but ultimately they are somewhat light on content even if they are entertaining.
Like many recent releases, this DVD gives you a nice balance of hidden gems and classic matches. While there aren’t too many classic matches on here, there’s nothing all that bad either. Your mileage may vary on the early matches; if you aren’t a fan of that era, you are going to be bored by some of these matches. If you are a fan of old school wrestling, though, I think you get some must-see footage on this set. The interviews do a nice job justifying most of the matches on this DVD, and I do agree with a lot of the matches chosen, even if they aren’t great and have been seen before. You just can’t do an MSG DVD without including Hogan’s title win or the WrestleMania X ladder match, even if they are “repeats”. There are also a few segments peppered in throughout the DVD. Most of them have already been seen before, and aren’t anything to go out of your way to see. I can’t see myself rewatching these discs, but it is a nice collection of matches to have on in the background.
If you are interested in the set overall, I would recommend getting the Blu-ray over the DVD. Punk’s win to kick off his epic title run is an important match, and one that is new to compilation DVDs/Blu-rays. The other two bonus matches are also first-time-ever releases, and while they aren’t all-time classics, they still are worth checking out. The bonus stories are much like the stories throughout the DVD, and feature some interesting personalities that we rarely see on WWE DVDs, from Ken Patera to Koko B. Ware to Mr. Fuji. In the end, this will probably end up being one of the weaker releases of 2013 for WWE. While it isn’t bad per se, there isn’t anything that really makes it special outside of some unique interviews, and those aren’t worth the price of admission alone. If you are a big fan of old school wrestling, it may be worth it for some of the classic matches, but otherwise, I’d recommend waiting for a sale on this one. When you watch it, you’ll probably have a good time, but it’s far from an essential release.