Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Smarkass Reviews: WWE Greatest Superstars of the 21st Century

This may be the most puzzling WWE DVD I've gotten so far. Normally, I don't buy new DVD sets when they come out, preferring to wait until I can buy them cheaper used at some point, but I really wanted the Kurt Angle/Brock Lesnar Iron Man match. And I was in Detroit and spending American money, so it didn't seem like such an expense. Also, I already have the DVD sets for the '80s and '90s; there was an appeal in completing the set. Instead of doing a disc-by-disc review over three posts, I wanted to discuss the entire set, because never have I wondered more what the fuck they were thinking when putting together a DVD set.

There are 20 superstars chosen for the list (although, for the Divas, they spotlight them all even though it's Trish Status on the cover and in the sole Divas match included... still, they included a Divas match, which is suprising) and, for the most part, I agree with their choices. I tend not to get too bent out of shape over lists like this. The only change I would have made would have been to put CM Punk in Kane's spot. That's less a criticism of Kane and more about how much CM Punk did in the second half of the decade (Kane gets bumped because he's probably the weakest choice for the list; really, everyone else deserves the spot more). Now, the WWE could have kept Punk off the list to not ruin his 'Summer of Punk II' angle, but I doubt it.

The first disc contains a feature on the 20 superstars selected, mostly clips, old interviews, and some new comments from other wrestlers. It's not any different from the one they did for the '90s set and that's fine. It's a pleasant thing to watch. Not amazing, but fun, especially for a more casual fan like my girlfriend. It also gives a decent overview of the decade and some of the wrestlers that aren't in the company currently for whatever reason like Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, Eddie Guerrero, JBL, and Booker T (who is in the company, but not as a wrestler). What the first disc is missing is any bonus features like promo/non-match segments like the first disc of the '90s set included. You get an hour and forty minutes of the main feature and that's it. The lack of that extra material is noticeable and detracts from the set.

From there, we go to the matches and the first thing I noticed was that everyone on the list is represented... except for "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Jeff Hardy. Neither man is featured in any of the matches. That's got to be an oversight, especially in Austin's case. It's kind of funny: both of those guys were popular/good enough to make the top 20 superstars of the past decade, but neither were worth showing in a match? Wow.

The second thing I noticed was that the final match included is from 2007. What about the final two years of the decade? Nothing noteworthy happened there? That's one of the reasons I would have liked to see CM Punk included on the list: they could have put his TLC match with Jeff Hardy from SummerSlam 2009 at the last match. It's a great match and would have gotten Hardy in a match.

The third thing I noticed was that there are a lot of non-PPV matches and this is something I really like. I know the 'big' matches happen on PPV usually, but PPVs are also on DVD already, while a lot of the stuff from Raw and Smackdown is not. Skewing the match selection towards the television stuff is a smart move. Seven out of twelve matches are from TV and that seems like a good ratio, especially for a set like this where they don't NEED to show any specific match. They can choose random throwaway matches that show two of the guys on the list and that's fine, and they seemed to approach the set with that mentality.

Except, that also meant we get some very strange selections like the third disc starting with two JBL WWE Championship defences... from two straight Smackdown-inclusive pay-per-views. Now, there is some logic to that decision since one matches is a Fatal Fourway and the other is Triple Threat with only JBL as the constant, but there's also the fact that all four men from the Fatal Fourway appear in other matches on the set, so it's not NEEDED to show any of them. The third disc is strange like that. Those two JBL matches come from December 2004 and January 2005 and, then, we get a Triple H/Edge match from February 2005. Later, we get two matches from February 2007 followed by one from April 2007. It's weird grouping that really overrepresents some specific periods.

Not a complaint at all, but something I would have liked to see: since the second disc has the Angle/Lesnar Iron Man match from Smackdown, the third disc should have had the hour-long Shawn Michaels/John Cena match from Raw (that match needs to be put on DVD). Right there, including those two matches would have made this set a must buy... although just including one pretty much made it so. EDIT (10/20/11): I just received the first three-disc Shawn Michaels DVD set and it has this match on it. So... uh... ignore me.

So, there were some odd decisions made in putting this set together, but how were the matches? Let's get to them now...

Match #1: WCW Championship Match - Booker T (C) vs. The Rock (SummerSlam, 08.19.01)
This was part of the whole Invasion storyarc and was a decent little match. Even though Kurt Angle had already won the belt for the WWE, the Rock winning it here was meant as a 'big' moment in the story -- and I guess it would be since, from there, only he and Chris Jericho would hold the title before it was unified with the WWE Championship to become the WWE Undisputed Championship. This match kind of blurs together from big spots, brawling on the outside, and attempts at interference. It was overbooked... I think a bigger moment might have been Booker T/Kurt Angle on Smackdown where Angle won the title.
Winner and NEW WCW Champion: The Rock [**3/4]

Match #2: Intercontinental Championship Match - Rob Van Dam (C) vs. Chris Jericho (Raw, 09.16.02)
This match also suffers from interference, which becomes a common theme. It's like, in choosing the matches, simply representing as many people as possible in the matches themselves wasn't enough, you also need lots of interference to give some guys more screen time. Or, it's a sign that the WWE is more like TNA than any of us want to admit. As you'd expect, an RVD/Jericho match is pretty good. Very quickly-paced with some inventive spots. This was back when RVD was capable of doing things you hadn't seen him do before and working with Jericho basically made that a necessity. I swear to god, he must stand backstage and go "Yeah, but we've seen that already..." to half the spots guys come up with when they're going over their match ahead of time. Because RVD was feuding with Triple H over the world title, he had to get involved and help Jericho win. It's weird to see Triple H and Jericho working together since I tend to view them as natural enemies. (It also happened in the first Elimination Chamber match. The girlfriend and I are in the middle of that DVD set, so it just happened that I saw two examples of the two of them working together around the same time.) A somewhat nice twist here is that Triple H only costs RVD the title because he's a distraction -- RVD spends too much time and energy beating on Trips and Jericho sneaks in and gets the Walls of Jericho on him. After the match, Triple H beat the shit out of RVD.
Winner and NEW WWE Intercontinental Champion: Chris Jericho [***]

Match #3: World Heavyweight Championship Match - Triple H (C) vs. Kane (Raw, 06.23.03)
This was the match that led to Kane unmasking, so that's the reason it's included here. Lots of interference from Ric Flair and Randy Orton to help Triple H retain the belt. Nothing really stands out aside from the paradox of Triple H as a heel needing lots of help to win matches, while Triple H as a face can win while withstanding tons of interference. I know, I know, that's all faces/heels; it stands out to me more with Triple H, because he seems so fucking useless as a heel. I couldn't help but laugh when Eric Bischoff came out, commanded Kane to take off his mask, and Evolution decided to just kick the shit out of Kane some more instead of letting him unmask.
Winner and STILL WWE World Heavyweight Champion: Triple H [**]

Match #4: 60-Minute Iron Man Match for the WWE Championship - Kurt Angle (C) vs. Brock Lesnar (Smackdown, 09.18.03)
The reason for me buying this set -- and why you should as well. This is the entire match including everything that happened during commercial breaks. What I loved about watching this match was how it was so obviously geared towards the stipulation. The match that Angle and Lesnar have here couldn't have been had under ANY other stipulation. It was a story unique to the Iron Man match. Whenever a stipulation is used, I try to watch and see if the match could have been done as a regular match or under any other stipulation -- and, if it could, why bother with the stipulation? Lesnar ducking Angle until he just destroyed him with a chair was fantastic. He purposefully dropped one fall to make Angle so weak that he could pick up a few more. I liked how the first four falls were all won through different means: disqualification, pinfall, submission, and countout. That was a smart way to keep the match from not getting too boring/repetitive at the beginning as Lesnar picked up three quick falls on the completely wrecked Angle. Angle's comeback attempt fit the face/heel dynamic and played into Lesnar's arrogance. Once he got that first pin on the beaten Angle, he obviously assumed he'd won the match already. He assumed that simply destroying Angle with a chair would be enough for him to bank falls and win. That it did shows that the strategy paid off, but Angle put it in doubt. Because Angle had to come back from such a large deficit, the match was compelling throughout. I've heard people say that Iron Man matches drag because you can basically skip to the end where the falls matter more; by having Angle down so much, his comeback was spread out over a greater amount of time and kept the internet high. Simply waiting out the final minutes would mean you missed the insanity of him building momentum and making the comeback -- it wouldn't be nearly as sweet. Lesnar winning was the right call, because the comeback was TOO big to make... but Angle looked good in the process. It wasn't that Lesnar was a better wrestler, it was that he used a cheap (and brilliant) strategy to gain an 'unfair' advantage that even Kurt fucking Angle couldn't completely overcome. Fantastic match and well worth buying this set for.
Winner and NEW WWE Champion: Brock Lesnar [****1/2]

Match #5: WWE Championship Match - Eddie Guerrero (C) vs. Rey Mysterio (Smackdown, 03.18.04)
The first disc ends with this nice little match. Guerrero had just won the belt, I guess, and this was a showcase match basically. Him and Rey just going out there and putting on an entertaining match where the crowd loved both of them. Because he's smart, Guerrero leaned into the heel role a bit, allowing Rey to be the babyface (even though Rey Mysterio is a heel and always has been a heel). Very good chemistry; nothing in this match blew me away, but it ran so smoothly that the entire thing just impresses. Post-match, Paul Heyman says racist things, hypes up the upcoming brand draft, and is fed to the Undertaker by Guerrerio and Mysterio. Good time for all.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: Eddie Guerrero [***1/2]

Match #6: Fatal Fourway for the WWE Championship - JBL (C) vs. the Undertaker vs. Eddie Guerrero vs. Booker T (Armageddon, 12.12.04)
I liked the storytelling of this match. JBL didn't want the match to happen, because his Cabinet was banned from ringside and he figured there was no way he'd win. Guerrero and Booker T decided to work together to take out the other two. The Undertaker is unstoppable and the heavy favourite. Everyone taking turns punching JBL is always good fun as was the Guerrero/Booker alliance falling apart. The Undertaker was built as unstoppable and only lost because of interference from Heidenreich. That allowed JBL to sneak in and retain the title. Not an amazing match from a workrate perspective, but the storytelling was solid. The interference was kind of shitty, though. That's the big weakness in the construction of the match for me. It would have been better for Guerrero and Booker to work together again, take out 'Taker and, then, JBL picks up the pieces of their brawl to determine who will win. Interference is just lazy.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: JBL [**3/4]

Match #7: Triple Threat for the WWE Championship - JBL (C) vs. Kurt Angle vs. the Big Show (Royal Rumble, 01.30.05)
And now a match from the next PPV featuring Smackdown talent! Another JBL title defence where he sneaks out a victory! This match was less entertaining than the previous. The ending was even more stacked with interference and felt anticlimactic. It was weird to see Kurt Angle apparently afraid of the Big Show. I'm not sure I've seen bald Angle afraid of anyone before and it doesn't really work. Some decent spots with the Big Show, but a fairly uninteresting display all around.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: JBL [*1/2]

Match #8: World Heavyweight Championship Match - Triple H (C) vs. Edge (Raw 02.07.05)
This was the first Raw from Tokyo and the Japanese fans definitely give this a different feel. They're a lot quieter during matches -- but their appreciation of technical wrestling seemed to cause Trips and Edge to begin with a few minutes of chain wrestling and holds. It was unexpected and interesting to see (and a reminder that Triple H is better than a lot of people think he is). From there, it became a fairly typical match and ended with a ref bump and interference from Ric Flair and Batista. The post-match celebration continued to build the 'Batista/Triple H for the title at WrestleMania' story as he kept staring at the title until Triple H noticed and backed away.
Winner and STILL WWE World Heavyweight Champion: Triple H [***]

Match #9: Women's Championship Match - Lita (C) vs. Trish Stratus (Unforgiven, 09.17.06)
Trish Stratus's retirement match in Toronto and pretty decent. JR really sold the idea of the history behind this match with Stratus and Lita's past. Some of the spots were a little sloppy, but Lita eventualy gaining dominance and mocking Stratus worked really well. I'm not a fan of Stratus winning the title here since she was leaving. It was a crowd-pleasing moment, but it just meant that the belt was vacated and Lita won it back. Better to have Lita win via cheating and Stratus get the feel good moment after the match.
Winner and NEW WWE Women's Champion: Trish Stratus [**]

Match #10: Triple Threat to Determine WWE Champion John Cena's Opponent at WrestleManania 23 - Shawn Michaels vs. Edge vs. Randy Orton (Raw, 02.05.07)
The original plan for WrestleMania 23 was for Triple H to challenge Cena, but those plans got blown to hell along with Trips' quadricep. So, we're left with his DX partner and the tag team DX has been feuding with. The match had a basic story: Rated RKO doubleteam Michaels until eventually imploding and allowing Michaels to win. It was fine for what it wanted to do, but isn't anything special.
Winner: Shawn Michaels [**1/2]

Match #11: John Cena, Shawn Michaels, Batista & the Undertaker vs. Randy Orton, Edge, MVP & Mr. Kennedy (Raw, 02.15.07)
One of the more puzzling inclusions on the DVD since this isn't a good match. It's not bad either. It's exactly what you'd expect from an eight-man tag where one team are the four men in the two World title matches at WrestleMania. The heels dominate someone, he makes the hot tag, the faces come back, there are some big moves, the faces win. They did change it up a bit with the Undertaker and Batista turning on Michaels and Cena after the match was over. Whatever.
Winners: John Cena, Shawn Michaels, Batista & the Undertaker [**1/4]

Match #12: World Heavyweight Championship Match - Batista (C) vs. the Undertaker (WrestleMania 23, 04.01.07)
My second time seeing this match and it continues to underwhelm me. I just don't get why people like it so much. It seems like it's missing the final third for it to be really great. Batista takes it to the Undertaker, the Undertaker comes back, Batista regains control, the Undertaker makes a big counter and wins. Some spots felt forced and contrived and neither man seemed to get out of second gear. I like how there weren't any slow parts. It was constant action and energy... it still doesn't cohere for a great match.
Winner and NEW WWE World Heavyweight Champion: The Undertaker [***1/2]

And then the DVD is over. Apparently the decade ends at 2007. It's a strange set. It's worth it for the Iron Man match alone and a few others that are a lot of fun -- or for the simple novelty of TV matches not available on DVD. Mostly just a confusing DVD set for some odd decisions by the WWE.