2012 was an incredible year for independently-produced wrestling DVD’s, and I think 2013 has continued that trend. While a few of the “indie” companies have had a bit of a down year (I’m looking at you, ROH), there have still been a lot of high quality shows. And much like last year, a number of high profile documentary projects have really delivered. This year, I felt that there were 12 releases that really rose to the top, so I’ve decided to highlight these as a Top 12.
Enough with the preamble though, let’s just get to the list.
Of course, I was not able to check out EVERY single release that came out this year, and some honorable mentions include AIW’s JT Lightning Invitational Night 2, ROH’s Ring of Hardcore, Kayfabe Commentaries’ Timeline: History of WWE 1994 – As Told By Sean Waltman and pretty much every show released by PWG not included in the Top 12. Also, a special note that if it had come out in time, Dragon Gate USA’s Open the Ultimate Gate 2013 absolutely would have made the list, which can be streamed on demand but still is not available on DVD.
12) AAW Day of Defiance
AAW, an independent promotion running out of the Chicago area, has been around for quite a while, but has really built a lot of buzz over the past few years. It reminds me a lot of classic ROH. There are a lot of strong in-ring workers, with some big personalities standing out in the main event scene. For me, Day of Defiance was their coming out party. My initial draw to this show was the idea of Davey Richards being put into a comedy match against Mixed Martial Archie, who bares a striking resemblance to Archibald Peck, and also to Barrister RD Evans, and also to Robert Evans.
This match certainly delivered, but the rest of the show is what really made it stand out. After “fighting” Archie, Davey tagged with his trainee Kyle O’Reilly to take on ACH and Michael Elgin in an awesome tag match. Eddie Kingston made his AAW debut and immediately made a huge impression. And in the main event, Sami Callihan had one of his final indy matches in a great Last Man Standing match with Shane Hollister. If you’ve been longing for the days of old ROH, I would recommend checking out AAW, and this show is a great place to start.
11) Be Phenomenal or Be Forgotten: The ACH Story
Smart Mark Video’s Best on the Indies series has continued to have great installments this year, but the best was dedicated to ACH. ACH has only been wrestling for about 7 years, but he’s already made a pretty big impact. The DVD contains a 3 hour shoot interview about ACH’s career, and is followed up with 8 of his best matches.
Each of the key matches mentioned throughout the interview are among those included. It was interesting to hear from a wrestler who is so new to the industry; he has a different group of peers and influences from those who have been around longer. He also was able to give a nice overview of the state of independent wrestling today, since he has worked for so many of the key promotions over just the past year or two alone. Another highlight was hearing ACH hearing discuss how race still plays a role in wrestling today, which is not addressed very often. The highlight of the bonus matches is a 30-minute Iron Man match against AR Fox from AIW, but each of the matches delivers in its own right.
10) Ultraviolent Roundtable: Inside the Combat Zone
How could you go wrong with a 7 hour shoot interview about the history of CZW? The roundtable consists of Brett Lauderdale, Derek Sabato, Jon Dahmer, and Greg Excellent, who have each had different roles in CZW throughout its history. What you get is a no-holds-barred look at John Zandig, DJ Hyde, Nick Gage, and everyone else who turned CZW into what it is today. The highlights for me were the discussions of some of the crossover angles CZW has run over the years, including those with IWA-MS and ROH, but the whole interview really delivers from start to finish.
This may have placed a little higher on the list if it weren’t the fact that the interview is very “inside baseball”. If you are a big CZW fan, you will absolutely love it for this reason, but this is definitely not for the uninitiated. As a Philadelphia native who has been to many a CZW show, I enjoyed the hell out of it. The choices for who to include on the roundtable were excellent, and they each had fascinating stories to tell.
9) AIW Absolution VIII
You may recall Absolution VII being on my list last year, and it’s only fitting that AIW returns to the list with Absolution VIII. Absolution is the biggest show of the year for AIW, and they pull out all the stops to deliver a big show with some nice storyline payoff.
The main event saw Colin Delaney finally reach the top of the company to challenge Eric Ryan for the Absolute Title in an attempt to take down the #NIXON faction. We also saw Ethan Page and Josh Alexander, two young Canadian talents, fully come into their own. Page had an excellent match with Johnny Gargano (and he’d make his presence known later in the night), while Alexander went toe-to-toe with Michael Elgin in a classic match many are calling one of the best matches of 2013. Finally, we saw the return of Michael Hutter (better known as Derrick Bateman, or maybe Ethan Carter III) to his hometown promotion as he battled Tim Donst in another great match. Again, great work went into the production of this DVD, with some excellent promos and interviews setting up all the big matches. I’m happy to see AIW’s stock continue to rise; I’m sure they’ll be back on the list in 2014.
8) PWG Mystery Vortex
While Mystery Vortex actually occurred in December 2012, it was not released on DVD until late January 2013, so it still qualifies for this list. Going into this show, PWG announced nothing except the main event, and they went on to deliver one of their best shows of the last few years. The main event saw Adam Cole challenge Kevin Steen for the PWG Title in what would become a Guerrilla Warfare match, and Cole firmly planted himself as one of the best heels on the indie scene. Both the Dojo Bros of Eddie Edwards and Roderick Strong and the Super Smash Brothers pulled double-duty on this show, and in total delivered three fantastic matches. We saw the start of a great feud between Drake Younger and Sami Callihan (picking up where they left off in CZW), and saw Joey Ryan say goodbye to PWG (at least for a few months…).
The most impressive thing to say about this show is that every match was great. While this may be true for a lot of PWG shows, it’s really the case here.
7) Timeline: The History of WWE – The Sixties – As Told by Bruno Sammartino
I reviewed this in detail earlier in the week, so I won’t repeat myself too much, but this was Kayfabe Commentaries’ strongest release of the year, and in my opinion may be their best release ever. You have a treasure trove of fascinating information about an era in wrestling rarely discussed, and you have the perfect man as the interview subject to give us that information.
6) Ring of Honor: Year Three
When we remember back to the “glory days” of ROH, 2004 is a big reason why, and that’s the year that gets surveyed on this DVD. ROH went all out to give us the best of what 2004 had to offer from the promotion. Of course, you have one of the classic matches between Samoa Joe and CM Punk. The Second City Saints/Prophecy feud is highlighted, as is the rise of both Generation Next and the Rottweilers. We get a handful of classic Bryan Danielson matches, including those against Jushin Liger, CM Punk, Homicide, and Austin Aries.
My personal favorite is the first ever Survival of the Fittest match, which made a star of Austin Aries and cemented Danielson’s place as one of the best in the company. This 3-disc set runs about 9 hours, and the long runtime allows for the Joe/Punk classic and the 75-minute match between Danielson & Aries to be included. If you’re going to own one DVD from ROH, this is a great choice. It gives a nice highlight of one of the greatest years in the history of the company.
5) Jim Crockett Promotions: The Good Old Days
After the success of the Kickstarter campaign for Dynamite Kid’s documentary, Highspots set up a second fundraiser for a definitive documentary on the history of Jim Crockett Promotions, which would go on to become WCW. They did deliver on that promise. This documentary runs a bit over 2 hours, and interviews a HUGE number of the personalities involved in Jim Crockett Promotions over the years, including members of the Crockett family themselves. They have been somewhat reclusive and resistant to participate in interviews in the past, so it was great to finally get to hear their side of the story.
Highspots also has a large back catalogue of interviews with wrestlers like Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair, so all of the key characters are included in this doc. They even are able to scrounge up some footage that the WWE doesn’t own, and photos are used in place of footage for some of the later big moments. The only real downside to this documentary is that it is about 30 minutes too long and gets a little repetitive, which prevented it from being higher up on the countdown. It does get extra points for very nice packaging and a slew of bonus interview footage included as well.
4) CHIKARA Aniversario: Never Compromise (Blu-Ray)
This show featured a number of CHIKARA’s best matches of the year. Pretty much everything on the undercard delivered, and a lot of big storylines had a great blow-off. The Colony and the Devastation Corporation had a crazy brawl and 3.0 and the Pieces of Hate put on an excellent tag match for the Campeones de Parejas, among others. However, this show is all about the controversial ending. CHIKARA did something that was seemingly impossible, and got to crowd to support Icarus in his shot at the Grand Championship. Before the match could end, though, Condor Security ran in, stopped the match, and began tearing down the set.
The match never ended, and the feed to video ends abruptly as we see staff in the backstage area. Since this show (in June of this past year), the company has remained dead, with their future shows all cancelled. Who knows if it will come back, but you have to give CHIKARA credit for staging one of the boldest endings in the history of wrestling. I think it deserves to stand with Money in the Bank 2011, ROH Death Before Dishonor III, and Bash at the Beach 1996 as one of the most memorable endings of all time. Smart Mark Video released this show on Blu-Ray, and it looks great in high definition, a rarity for independent wrestling.
3) PWG Battle of Los Angeles 2013 Night 2
As a whole, this is the greatest wrestling show I saw in any promotion in 2013. From the opening match to the end, the quality is non-stop. You get two legitimate match of the year contenders in ACH Vs. Kyle O’Reilly and The Young Bucks & Adam Cole Vs. AR Fox, Rich Swann, & Candice LeRae.
I mentioned earlier that Mystery Vortex cemented Cole as one of the best heels on the indie scene. This show went even further to back up that claim. The show is very well paced, and each match fits its role in the show very well. Kyle O’Reilly becomes a star in one night (as do ACH and Johnny Gargano), and Candice LeRae, the only woman regularly featured in PWG, becomes a legitimate contender to the PWG World Championship. And this all comes before a memorable ending leading to the formation of a great new faction, the Mount Rushmore of Wrestling. The crowd reactions at the end of the show help make it even better. If you’re only going to see one show this year, this is the one to check out.
2) Seven Levels of Hate
I had a very difficult time choosing between my #1 and #2 rankings. I felt very strongly about each of them, but ultimately, I decided to settle with Seven Levels of Hate as my number two. Seven Levels of Hate highlights the long-running feud between Adam Pearce and Colt Cabana over the NWA Title, which was settled via a Best-of-7 series of matches that have become known as the Seven Levels of Hate. I could listen to Pearce and Cabana talk about anything for two hours, and they have an interesting story to talk about here.
The backstage politics in the modern-day NWA are pretty crazy; I can’t even begin to retell the machinations going on here, but Pearce and Cabana do a great job telling such a complex story. If you’re at all interested in how the NWA works today, or just the politics of independent wrestling in general, this is a must-watch. As a bonus, you also get all seven matches from the series in full, which are simply icing on the cake of a great documentary.
1) Barbed Wire City
Barbed Wire City has been gestating for over 10 years, and fortunately it lived up to the hype. Yes, we’ve had documentaries on ECW in the past, but I feel Barbed Wire City has much loftier goals in its storytelling. With Rise & Fall of ECW and Forever Hardcore, the chief goal was to tell the story of ECW. Both did an excellent job telling this story and look a bit at ECW’s cultural impact, but they don’t really go much deeper.
Barbed Wire City is more interested at looking at how ECW changed wrestling culture, fan culture, and the lives of those involved in the promotion. Since ECW’s history has been recalled so many times by now, not everything is going to be discussed here, and I appreciated the macro approach that was taken. The hardcore promotion has had a huge effect on a lot of the wrestlers involved, and seeing interviews with these wrestlers from both 2001 and 2012 makes for a very interesting dichotomy. Both the positive and negative results of the promotion are looked at, and you will walk out feeling a bit conflicted about some of the things that occurred. I found that this approach makes more a much more interesting film than the ECW documentaries of the past, and makes it an easy pick for wrestling documentary of the year, in addition to topping this list.