“WWE UNRELEASED 1986-1995” does what it says on the sleeve (actually maybe not, since the box art incorrectly suggested it covers the 1985-1996 time period): this three-disc set brings together a ton of matches spanning from when Hulkamania was at its peak to when the New Generation was in the midst of Diesel’s lengthy reign as WWF Champion.
What makes this DVD particularly unique is that the matches chosen for the collection are not from the likes of Saturday Night’s Main Event, Superstars or Wrestling Challenge. No, these are matches which have only ever been seen by those in attendance and, in many cases, were not even known to have existed until the match listing was confirmed. Consequently, the appeal of this DVD greatly increases, because these are matches you won’t find on WWE Network or on YouTube; they are true rarities, and for longtime fans and die-hard collectors, this has the potential to be a real gem.
The DVD is hosted by Charly Caruso and Sean Mooney; Charly is paying a visit to the WWE Event Center to find rare matches, while the running joke is that Mooney has never left the building since his original WWF tenure and may still be living there. (By the way, Charly provides an introduction before the DVD even begins; here, the DVD menu is used to get the ball rolling, so to speak.)
The links are kept pretty simple, emphasizing the uniqueness of particular match pairings, teams and stipulations. There are also some visual inside gags (like the one seen in the screengrab below), and there is an attempt to separate this from other DVDs which have already released classic matches from the relevant years. One example of this amusingly teases that the WrestleMania X Ladder match between Razor Ramon and Shawn Michaels is about to be shown, only for Charly to interrupt by saying that the match has been released on virtually every WWE DVD ever! Hey, perhaps the scriptwriters for this DVD are regular visitors to this website (wink, wink). So, the links are nothing special, but there are some funny moments here and there.
Anyway, onto the purpose of this review. As there are so many matches (forty-five in all!), I will spotlight ten particular bouts, as well as one segment. I have to say that many of the matches are short (some barely last three minutes, which would please Eric Bischoff circa 2002), and there are an awful lot of disqualification and countout finishes. Even as somebody who understands why these finishes are used to maintain a feud or the credibility of the participants, the number of times that matches are thrown out here gets pretty frustrating. In some cases, the heels walk out and take the loss when the match is just getting going. So, bear this in mind as you’re watching the DVD, because those expecting a plethora of lengthy, classic matches will be disappointed.
As for the production: most of the matches are of a perfectly reasonable quality. The camera moves up and down at a migraine-inducing rate for the first few minutes of the opening match, and the picture occasionally becomes blurry in a handful of bouts later on. There is also the occasional use of a timer on-screen, presumably based on the real time of the show in question, but this shouldn’t spoil one’s enjoyment of the action. Some matches are filmed with one camera from the main, hard camera position, but the majority are filmed from various angles in the manner that viewers would usually expect. There is no commentary for any of the bouts, but since virtually all of these are dark matches held before or after television tapings (there are a small number of house show matches too), this is understandable. Bear in mind that commentary would often be added in post-production during this era, so if certain matches were never planned to be televised, then there would be no need for commentary. Finally, though instances of weapon use and choking are extremely rare, there are moments when edits have clearly been made for this very reason (which is odd because there are other times on this DVD when choking and chairshots to the head are shown).
With all that out of the way, let’s get to the notable matches from this DVD!
The Dingo Warrior vs. Jose Estrada
This is not only intriguing because it features Warrior in a WWF ring before he became Ultimate, but because in the early going of the contest, we see a different side of him from a wrestling standpoint. He executes several armdrags and even breaks out a leapfrog, as well as other moves not associated with Warrior. By the end, he becomes the Warrior that we all expect, but in terms of showcasing his repertoire, he may surprise a few viewers here.
Hulk Hogan & Randy Savage vs. The Honky Tonk Man & The Hart Foundation
It turns out that Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart did square off in a sanctioned WWF match. Granted, it occurred when Bret was still a heel member of the original Hart Foundation, and it happened in a 3-on-2 handicap situation (and this match has arguably the poorest picture quality of the entire set). But it’s still a novelty to see Hogan and Bret trade blows in a WWF ring.
Hillbilly Jim & King Duggan vs. Haku & Andre the Giant
Honestly, because this DVD has so many matches, it’s easy to forget many of them immediately after they happen. This one seemingly stands out for the wrong reasons, as it’s due to a terribly-blown sunset flip spot involving Haku and Duggan, but not necessarily because the move goes awry. It’s because the fans in attendance either don’t notice or don’t care, and continue to cheer on the action as standard. If this happened in a televised WWE match today, the reaction would be very different.
Mr. Perfect & Rick Rude vs. Ultimate Warrior & Texas Tornado
I got a kick out of this doubles match which brought together two matches at the upcoming SummerSlam event from 1990. It features Perfect as his big-bumping best, while he and Rude perfectly utilise heel tactics to build sympathy for the babyfaces. It works, as the crowd goes completely bananas once the faces regain control.
Rick Martel vs. Jake Roberts
This Blindfold test run for their famous WrestleMania VII bout was one of the matches I enjoyed most on this DVD. It’s obviously basic and it’s almost a carbon copy of what went down at ‘Mania, but it’s entertaining nonetheless (by 1991 standards, anyway), and the crowd are well into it. It’s another match which wouldn’t work in the modern WWE, but for the era and for the storyline (Martel blinding Roberts with his Arrogance spray), you can’t help but smile when watching it.
Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair
Taking place shortly before Survivor Series, this clash between Hogan and Flair is okay but nothing special. In addition, it’s clear that Hulkamania had passed its peak by this point; whereas fans were going crazy for Hulk in the earlier matches, by this point, the pops are quieter (not a lot of fans stick around for his post-match posing), and there are even some boos directed at The Hulkster. Perhaps a fear of Hogan being booed is another reason why this match didn’t happen at WrestleMania VIII?
I mention this segment (which took place a few days after WrestleMania VIII) for one reason. The theme of the segment is liars, and near the start in a throwaway line, Piper says “Half the WWF wrestlers are in a scandal”. If you know your WWF history and you know what was happening off-screen at this time, this is a jaw-dropping line from Hot Rod to say in front of a packed crowd. If this had been televised, Vince McMahon probably would have been furious. But as one fan pointed out to me, this underlines how Piper always said it like it was.
Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog
I loved the WWF product during the Golden Age and New Generation, and still have warm nostalgic feelings about those eras. However, up until this point (and even after it), this DVD containing hidden gems from those years lacks a genuinely great match. Thankfully, Bret and Bulldog are up to the task in this preview of their SummerSlam 1992 bout. It’s not as good as their more famous PPV bouts, but it’s definitely the best match on this DVD.
The Toxic Turtles vs. Tommy Stevenson & Ron Preston
You know how people sometimes called these years the “cartoon era” in the WWF? Be thankful that they never saw this match. The Toxic Turtles – blatant rip-offs of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – competed in just this one match, and fans greet them warmly before the ridiculousness of their gimmick (one turtle ends up on his shell, requiring the other to help him up) leads to them eventually being booed. This feels like a match that was supposed to be televised, but wasn’t because the gimmick bombed. I actually found this match unintentionally hilarious, and the image below sums it up perfectly.
Intercontinental Championship Match
Shawn Michaels vs. Mr. Perfect
As with their later showdown at SummerSlam, this contest – a dream match on paper – doesn’t meet expectations (similar to the recent AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens bouts). This is interesting because it teases that Perfect wins the title but due to a referee mix-up, Michaels is instead disqualified. However, this eventual outcome is never announced (or if it was, it’s not shown here), so technically Perfect may have become a three-time IC Champion here. Hmmm…
Hulk Hogan & Brutus Beefcake vs. Money Inc. (Special Guest Referee: Sgt. Slaughter)
Finally, there’s this match, which took place the day after King of the Ring, where Hogan had his last televised WWF match in the 1990s. This is more pantomime than wrestling (seriously, watch it and you’ll see what I mean), but the crowd are well into it, and are thoroughly entertained by the hammy performances on display. Perhaps a reminder that wrestling really is about entertainment, especially when the Hulkster is involved (who by the way is all over this DVD, another sign that his WWE return may be imminent).
This is an unusual DVD. As I mentioned earlier, if you’re looking for some great matches that you’ve never seen, well you’ll probably be disappointed. Only Bret vs. Bulldog and maybe a couple of the tag bouts can compare to the action on WWF screens at that time (and since in-ring standards were fairly low during the big man era, that’s saying something). Even the Ladder matches towards the end, where Jeff Jarrett faces British Bulldog and Razor Ramon respectively, are clearly a bonus for the live crowd rather than an attempt to provide top-drawer action in their own right (though it’s humorous to see Razor blatantly wrap his leg in the ropes, in a manner which is too obvious to ignore, in the finish of the latter match). Judging it from a strictly in-ring standpoint, this is not a great DVD.
If you’re a longtime WWF fan, however, then you’ll get a real kick out of seeing virtually every memorable performer from the spotlighted years in action. All of the top stars like Hogan, Warrior and Randy Savage are here, along with gimmicks like Big Boss Man and The Million Dollar Man, tag teams such as The Legion Of Doom and Demolition (whose match barely surpasses the one-minute mark, admittedly), and even fondly-remembered wrestlers from the bottom rung of the ladder like Barry Horowitz and The Brooklyn Brawler. There’s also intriguing tag teams (Hogan and Piper, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels), unique firsts (such as what may have been the first Casket match in WWF history between Undertaker and Warrior), one-off showdowns (the aforementioned Hogan-Bret interaction) and situations which would never have been acknowledged on television (Savage wrestling as Mr. Madness to over-rule his retirement stipulation at the time to square off against Jake).
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this DVD are the tryout matches, whereby we see future WWF stars in the bouts which landed them their jobs. These include Brian Adams (the future Crush), Earthquake Evans (no prizes for guessing who he became), Tatanka as War Eagle and The Tazmaniac (who maintained this gimmick in ECW, but obviously became Taz/Tazz later on). Owen Hart is in action too, predating his first stint as The Blue Blazer, and we see The Smoking Gunns before they became Billy and Bart; here, they’re Kip Winchester & Brett Colt. And then there’s the gimmicks which never made it past the dark match stage; I’m looking at you, Toxic Turtles. (By the way, just think that the Turtles didn’t make it to television, but the likes of TL Hopper, Man Mountain Rock, Mantaur, Saba Simba and Duke “The Dumpster” Droese did. Poor Timmy and Tommy Turtle.)
So, to conclude, this is clearly a DVD where you have to adjust your expectations. Go in with the mindset of simply watching these forgotten matches and with the intention of being entertained, occasionally by the ludicrous nature of what you’re seeing, and you’ll probably really enjoy it. It’s unlikely that you’ll watch this collection more than once, but first time around it’s a treat for longtime fans and die-hard collectors. Wrestling purists should steer clear.
As for me… seeing The Toxic Turtles more than justifies a purchase in my eyes.
Grab your copy of the new “WWE UNRELEASED 1986-1995” DVD on…
– UK/Europe: September 4th. Pre-order the Unreleased DVD right now here on Amazon.co.uk.
– United States: September 5th. Pre-order the Unreleased DVD now here on Amazon.com.
– Australia: October 25th. Your chance to pre-order the Unreleased DVD is at Madman.com.au.