Thursday, December 12, 2013

DVD Review: #7LevelsOfHate

WRESTLING HISTORY LESSON: if you were a professional wrestler in the 1970s and 1980s, there were three major titles you vied for. There was the World Wrestling Federation Championship, the National Wrestling Alliance Championship, and the American Wrestling Association Championship.

The WWF, the NWA, and the AWA were the "Big 3" of that era. For the sake of this, forget the AWA. They died in the late 80s. They're not important to this story.

Before cable television and the Internet, professional wrestling was a territorial business. The World Wrestling Federation was based out of New York. The AWA was based out of the Minnesota region. There was a Florida territory, Texas, California, etc... and so forth.

The National Wrestling Alliance was more than a title belt. It was a governing body. All of the regional promoters (minus WWE and AWA) were a part of the NWA. These 15 promotions or so all agreed that they would recognize one world champion. One world champion would then travel to all of the territories and defend the title. The most famous of these "traveling world champions" as they were called would be Ric Flair in the 1980s.

Cable television allowed the WWF to reach a global audience and jump to the front of the pack. The various NWA promoters tried to catch up but a lot of them went by the wayside. One promoter, Jim Crockett, managed to also get on cable and put up a valiant fight, but he ultimately lost as well. Crockett would sell his regional promotion to Ted Turner, who renamed it World Championship Wrestling.

Without the luxury of a cable TV show, the prestige of the NWA title started to flounder. The WWF, WCW, and upstart ECW became the new "Big 3" of the 1990s. The NWA was left trying to find a new identity. Or, more accurately, try to find a new Ric Flair. They tried with UFC legend Dan Severn, who held the title for multiple years. He didn't bring the championship title back to prominence, despite appearing on WWF television with the title belt. They tried with Steve Corino in 2001. He was a throwback to that style, but he didn't help raise their profile either. The NWA later struck up a deal with TNA and tried to make Jeff Jarrett into the new Ric Flair. He was entertaining, but it didn't take the NWA where they wanted it to go and they ended their partnership with TNA.

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And now that the history is out of the way, we are up to a few years ago. Adam Pearce was the new traveling world champion of the NWA. A long-time journeyman, Pearce is best known among hardcore fans for a stint as booker of Ring of Honor, which basically means he created the storylines and decided who won. Pearce was also the new kingpin of the assorted NWA promotions.

The NWA was - and still is - a shell of its former self, but there were people who wanted to make it work. Pearce's "home territory," so to speak, was the new NWA Championship Wrestling from Hollywood. They had managed to get a broadcast television spot for their weekly show, something that really doesn't happen in this day and age anymore. They had more visibility than all of the other promotions combined, basically.

One of the most popular indie stars around is Colt Cabana. His best friend is CM Punk. He has the most popular wrestling podcast of all time (although, Steve Austin is giving him competition). And he's an awesome wrestler.

From 2010 through 2012, Cabana and Pearce engaged in one of the most high-profile independent wrestling feuds arguably in decades, which culminated in a best of seven series dubbed "Seven Levels of Hate." The feud and political fallout from the NWA was the impetus for Pearce to self-produce a documentary about the entire thing.



"Seven Levels of Hate: The UNCUT Story of Independent Wrestling's GREATEST Feud" is more than what the title states. It is a story about how poor decision making can ruin great ideas.

If you're a wrestling fan, then you likely know what happened. If you're not, I'll try not to ruin too much of it. In a nutshell, Pearce and Cabana had this great idea that was well-received by the wrestling community and fans. Then there was a series of lawsuits between NWA upper management that led to new owners. Those new owners then decided that they wanted nothing to do with Cabana - who this feud was designed to make the heir apparent to the NWA crown - and then, Pearce, who they asked to simply drop the belt at a meaningless show in West Virginia with no build or notice.

In the documentary, they do a great job of putting over how important Cabana could have been to the NWA. He is the most well-known wrestler to have never had a substantial run in WWE or TNA. Cabana notes that at the time of his first NWA World Championship victory over Pearce, the NWA twitter account had approximately 5000 followers and Cabana himself had over 50,000. There was a legitimate buzz surrounding his title victory. I remember coming home from work and finding out the news on twitter and looking for more information. Cabana was a respected wrestler and real fans were happy for him.

He lost the belt six weeks later to a generic-looking wrestler with a generic-sounding name, The Sheik. I had never heard of this guy before and now his name is sadly linked to Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Sting, and the rest. As Pearce said on the documentary, "It didn't make any sense then and it doesn't make any sense now."

It didn't work and the NWA made the decision to put the belt back on Pearce, in effect hitting the reset button and starting the Pearce/Cabana feud over again. That's what led to "Seven Levels of Hate," as Cabana won the NWA Championship for a second time and Pearce challenged him to a seven-match series to determine who was the best.

It all culminates in a cage match in Australia that the NWA has refused to sanction, as they were already done with both competitors. The match finishes, the Seven Levels of Hate is over, but the controversy is just beginning. Both get on the microphone and renounce the company that renounced them. Pearce hands the belt to Cabana, saying he earned it. Cabana says he doesn't want it and gives it back to Pearce, who says he doesn't want it either. In a symbolic moment, the two grapplers each hold the title belt in the air before dropping it on the ground, effectively ending both of their relationships with the NWA.

The "Seven Levels of Hate" documentary is a great look into the inner workings of wrestling. Disk one is the actual documentary, featuring interviews with Cabana, Pearce, and several of the promoters involved with the seven matches, in addition to other wrestling personalities and journalists. Disk two features all seven matches and some promos.

Given that Pearce made the documentary himself, it had the potential to only tell one side of the story. But, Pearce keeps it as balanced as he can. One problem hurting that was that several of the new owners of the NWA refused to be interviewed. So, there's not really a side saying, "Here's why we were right," but Pearce and a few others at least play devil's advocate and say, "It was their decision and I understand that."

Production-wise, the nearly 2-hour documentary flows nicely. One interview will fade out in the last words and the next will fade in and continue the story. The graphics look awesome, with a lot of flames involved. The soundtrack is composed of original tracks, mostly of the hip hop genre that help further the story. As soon as you put the disk in and the title screen comes up, the song playing instantly paints the picture of what is going on in Pearce's head.

From a technical standpoint, there were only a few flaws. Maybe it was just my television, but there were a couple points where words were on the screen and it extended beyond my screen and I couldn't see everything. During a few of the interviews, it would be hard to hear and I would have to turn the volume up and then turn it back down for the next interview. Just through the nature of collecting the interviews, that is to be expected. There were different microphones involved with some and a few appeared to be recorded over Skype.

In short, if you like wrestling, you have to own this. It is required viewing for wrestling fans. If you don't like wrestling, but want to see how an organization can work toward killing itself with bad decisions, check it out.

Go to sevenlevelsofhate.com to order "Seven Levels of Hate: The UNCUT Story of Independent Wrestling's GREATEST Feud." Follow Adam Pearce on Twitter and Facebook. Follow Colt Cabana on Twitter and check out his Art of Wrestling podcast. 

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