Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Top 10 wrestling DVDs of 2013

The following is by no means comprehensive. I did not watch every professional wrestling DVD that was produced by the major companies in 2013. I did watch a lot of them, though. And, what follows is a list of my 10 favorite. They are in order from my favorite to 10th favorite. The tally for who made what is as follows: WWE has 7 of 10. Ring of Honor has 2 of 10. And independent wrestler Adam Pearce has one.

1) Legends of Mid-South Wrestling ... Beginning with the acquisition of WCW in 2001, WWE has slowly been buying the tape libraries of past wrestling promotions for the last decade. The one people were looking forward to the most was the library that had been the hardest to get: Mid-South. It took most of the decade, but WWE finally got it and went to work putting out an excellent 3-disk set. Mid-South was run by Bill Watts and was credited with popularizing the idea of an episodic wrestling program, not just matches to get people to buy tickets like was the norm at the time. Mid-South gave several eventual hall of famers their first start: Jim Ross, Ted Dibiase, Jim Duggan, Junkyard Dog, Ernie Ladd, and a host of others. The DVD is a collection of matches, with interviews mixed between. In an interesting twist, for several of the matches, Jim Ross has dubbed over new commentary. WWE has done this in the past with certain matches, but they would make it like present-day, with the commentators talking about the historical context. With this set, JR commentates like the match is happening in present day. It's a refreshing twist. Definitely the best wrestling DVD of the year. I hope WWE does more with the Mid-South library.

2) 7 Levels of Hate ... Independently produced by former NWA World Champion Adam Pearce, this 2-disk set tells the tale of his years-long feud with Colt Cabana and how the NWA brass led to its creative and business undoing. Click here to read a more thorough review I wrote. This set is a great look into how wrestling businessmen can ruin a good piece of wrestling business.

3) ECW Unreleased, Vol. 02 ... Long considered one of the most influential wrestling promotions of all time, Extreme Championship Wrestling took the world by storm in the mid-90s, bring realism and high-energy to a wresting industry that desperately needed it. WWE has released a handful of best-selling ECW DVDs in the mid 2000s and briefly brought ECW back as a third brand. But, corporate wrestling america doesn't know how to recreate the magic that was ECW. The comeback experiment failed, but WWE realized that there was a great nostalgia market for EC-Dub, as they released volume 01 last year and part 02 this year. One would expect a third volume in 2014.

4) Bryan Danielson: World Champion ... The most popular WWE superstar right now lives in Ring of Honor lore as one of their greatest champions of all time. ROH has released several Danielson-themed compilations over the years, but this 2-disk set released a few months ago focuses on his year-plus reign as World Champion. Danielson in ROH was a harder-edged version of the WWE Daniel Bryan. He was no-nonsense, hard-as-nails, rough-as-they-come, [insert extra cliche], etc. But he was also entertaining, usually flipping off the fans when they tried to cheer for him, and loudly exclaiming "I have until 5!" when the referee would begin to count him out for breaking the rules. Long matches are the norm here, as Bryan Danielson exemplified the term Ric Flair famously coined 2 decades ago: "a 60-minute man."

5) The History of WWE: 50 Years of Sports Entertainment ... It seems hard to believe that WWE formed all the way back in 1963. That was when Vincent J. McMahon (the Vince that owns WWE now is his son, Vincent K.) broke away from the NWA governing body and created his World Wide Wrestling Federation. Over the fifty years, it became the World Wrestling Federation, then World Wrestling Entertainment, then WWE (the letters no longer stand for anything). This set is interesting in that it tells a more complete story than I thought it would. The early 90s steroid trial is discussed in detail for the first time, with several prominent wrestlers interviewed openly defending their steroid usage at the time. This set has a great selection of interviews, with nearly every major wrestling name you could imagine. The odd note was that Vince McMahon was not interviewed here. Disk 01 is the documentary, with 02 & 03 containing famous moments and matches from WWE history. 

6) Best of WWE At Madison Square Garden ... When wrestling was regional, WWE was the "New York Territory." MSG was their home base. They traveled to smaller towns in the surrounding NY/NJ/Pennsylvania area, but they saved their biggest moments and matches for MSG. Since going national and then global, WWE has continued the tradition of returning to MSG for big events. The 3 disk set breaks the company up into periods. Disk 01 is the 70s and early 80s. Disk 02 mid 80s and 90s. Disk 03 is the rest. The only real complaint with the DVD is that there is a real quality drop off on disk 03. They went to MSG less and less this last decade, and as a result there are less magical moments. If you're a wrestling historian, this set is great mostly for disk 01, which is one of the first times the 70s has been prominently featured on a WWE set. It is also the first DVD (aside from his HOF induction at WM29) that Bruno Sammartino has been interviewed on.

7) CM Punk: Icon ... ROH is the 2000s version of ECW; hard-hitting, rabid fan base, and also a breeding ground for future WWE talent. CM Punk, the fourth longest reigning WWE Champion of all time, got his start in ROH in the early 2000s. He is one of the few personalities this decade who has retained his name and has been largely the same character during his ROH to WWE transition. They have released sets based on Punk's early ROH career and also his famous 2005 "Summer of Punk." This one focuses on the second half of his ROH career between the previously mentioned. An added bonus is Punk's infamous 2006 one-night only return to ROH. Punk had signed with WWE but had yet to debut on television. He was backstage at a show in his hometown visiting. There was a freak snow storm and a large number of wrestlers did not make it. Punk made a series of phone calls to get clearance to wrestle that night and made his one-night-only return. His post-match promo is included as well, with Bryan Danielson ironically telling Punk that if he wants to get out the "entertainment business," he can always come back to the "wrestling business." Punk gets on the mic, says goodbye, then his DVD ends with him going outside and making a snow angel.

8) WrestleMania 29 ... Since its start in 1985, WrestleMania has always been the biggest event on the WWE calendar. For years, they built from one year to the next. In today's world, it's often harder to give something a year-long build, but most years they at least start seriously building toward April's WrestleMania event by December or January. This year's event featured WWE Champion The Rock dropping the strap and passing the torch (although he had already had the torch for the better part of a decade) to John Cena. That match was okay. CM Punk and The Undertaker had the match of the night, with "the deadman" extending his WrestleMania streak to 21-0. Triple H beat Brock Lesnar in a slugfest. The highlight of the WM29 DVD, though, is the full Hall of Fame induction ceremony. This year saw one of the most star-studded lineups ever, as Bruno Sammartino finally made peace with WWE after decades of estrangement and entered the HOF. In addition of Bruno, former WWE Champion Bob Backlund, Mick Foley, Booker T, Trish Stratus, and Donald Trump (in the celebrity wing).

9) For All Mankind - The Life and Career of Mick Foley ... Foley has had a few match compilations released over the years by WWE (and TNA), but this year saw the first retrospective documentary about his long career. Disk 01 features interviews by a nice cast of characters through Foley's career, including Foley himself, Vader, Shane Douglas, Triple H, Terry Funk and more as they talk about his early training, WCW starts and missteps, ECW revolution, WWE career, and also his writing and recent standup comedy career. Their are only two real flaws with this set: if you've read his books, you already have a more thorough idea of his career. The other voices included helps deal with that. The second issue is that the majority of Foley's career was filled with bloody brawls and WWE doesn't really show that anymore. They relaxed their rules for this DVD, airing some of his bloodiest matches, but the actual documentary is lacking a lot of blood, which hurts the final product.

10) Triple H: Thy Kingdom Come ... He started his WWE career as a snooty, aristocratic character going nowhere and over the last 15 years, has morphed into bad-ass midcard act, multiple-time World Champion, veteran locker room leader, and now corporate higher-up. For years, the known plan had been for Triple H and wife Stephanie McMahon to take over WWE after Vince steps down. That plan is now in effect, as they are slowly transitioning more and more power to Triple H. This DVD is a nice look at his career, with a lot of emphasis put on the difficulty he faced when he was simply a wrestler dating the boss' daughter. Mick Foley and Big Show have hilarious stories about their reactions when they found out. In a first (and hopefully not last), The Undertaker breaks character and is openly interviewed regarding his thoughts about Triple H. Since they have previously released a Triple H match-only compilation, his greatest hits are already out there, but disks 02 & 03 of this set have some good contests as well.

That's it for me. There were a lot more great DVD sets released that I haven't had a chance to look at yet. If you've watched any and want to add them to the comments section, either here or on Facebook, feel free.

Here's a list of the upcoming WWE DVD releases scheduled so far for 2014 through March. Looks like the beginning of a good year:

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