The biggest moment in professional wrestling in the last decade has not happened in front of the camera.
When WCW and ECW each folded, Vince McMahon and the WWE swept in and bought up the remaining assets. That's not just extra ring ropes or turnbuckles, but also the tape libraries of each federation. Now, the WWE essentially owns the televised history of professional wrestling in America.
That has led to some excellent DVD releases over the past few years, highlighting wrestlers and going through their entire careers in ways heretofore considered impossible. Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan, among others, have seen full retrospective releases.
Killing 15 birds with one stone, the latest WWE release, WWE Greatest Wrestling Stars of the 80s, tries to do the same thing for a host of 1980s grapplers. It ends up not being quite as in depth as individual releases would be, but a good primer on a decade's worth of wrestling in the WWF and, to a lesser extent, the AWA and NWA.
Host Gene Okerlund leads the viewer through 15 different profiles over the course of three DVDs:
Bobby Heenan – An odd segment to start off the show with. Heenan was best known as an announcer or manager, and that's what is in focus here. It's very entertaining, as Heenan was a man who really understood his role as comic relief.
Junkyard Dog – One of the biggest African-American names in professional wrestling, ol' JYD was best known for his headbutts. For those of you not used to wrestling stereotypes, there's been a recurring one throughout time: If you were South Asian or African-American, you had a very hard head. He was one of the more cartoonish characters of the 80s WWF.
Sgt. Slaughter – One of wrestling's favorite storylines has always involved the evil foreigner. But it wasn't until Sgt. Slaughter, a former Marine, that there was a larger-than-life patriotic hero to back. He was a "real American" before Hulk Hogan came to ring to a theme song called "Real American."
Greg Valentine – One of the best mixes of flair and toughness, Valentine was a wrestler that never seem to make it to superstar level, but was a part of some incredible matches in the 80s, especially in the southern territories. The DVD spends equal time on his rivalries with Roddy Piper, Tito Santana and his tag team work.
Roddy Piper – A man that could possibly warrant a DVD release of his own, Piper is a notable star of the 80s for several reasons. He was one of the best at being a bad guy, to the point that his work in his feud with Hulk Hogan may have been what made Hogan such a star. He was one of the first wrestlers to make the transition into film, with a breakout role in They Live. And he was someone who overstayed his welcome, but likely could still get a standing ovation walking into any arena in the country.
Jerry Lawler – The King of Memphis gets his due, including a brief summary of his now-famous feud with Andy Kaufman. The WWE cheats at the end, though, spending three minutes talking about his 90s and 2000s work as an announcer.
Arn Anderson – If Ric Flair was the star of the Four Horsemen, Arn Anderson was the man behind the star. His is much more about his upbringing and really paints a picture of Anderson the man, and not just the Horseman "enforcer." It's the best segment on any of the three discs.
Dusty Rhodes – Another legend that did most of his best work outside of the WWF, Rhodes is also one of the few living wrestlers on the discs that does not participate in his own segment, due to his affiliation with current WWE competition NWA-TNA.
Ricky Steamboat – Fitting for a wrestler known best for his in ring talent rather than his charisma, Steamboat's segment focuses mainly on his incredible matches, including his classic at Wrestlemania III against Randy Savage.
Ric Flair – The disc does a good job of a quick recap, but any fan of 1980s wrestling should already own The Ultimate Ric Flair Collection. Go get it. Right now.
Jimmy Snuka – Another of the hardheaded south Asians, Snuka is known for one defining moment, one that is included both in the program and on the disc extras: The Superfly Splash from the top of the cage in Madison Square Garden.
Bob Orton – Cowboy Bob, best known for having a broken arm (and, therefore, a cast that could be used to beat opponents) for most of the 1980s, gets some surprising love. He wasn't one of the best known of the 80s wrestlers, he did get a nice ten minutes or so here.
Iron Sheik – The only wrestler to get subtitles due to a heavy accent, Iron Sheik may be best known to today's fans as the man Hulk Hogan beat to win the WWF title for the first time. The story behind that match is very interesting; Sheik claims that another promoter offered him $100,000 to legitimately break Hogan's leg.
Paul Orndorff – One of the best "bad guys" of the 1980s. He double-crossed Hulk Hogan so many times that most wrestling fans lost count. He knew his role as the bad guy, too: To make the good guys look even better.
Hulk Hogan – Could there have been another choice to end the disc? A nice little package, but if anyone is actually interested in Hogan, it'd be better to watch Hollywood Hulk Hogan – Hulk Still Rules.
The documentary segments are, as usual, well done, but there isn't a lot of time for depth when three discs have to contain 15 segments, a host of matches and even more interviews. Some of the segments (Rhodes, Steamboat, Piper) scream out for more time.
With so little time, one of the areas that seems a little shortchanged is interviews with today's stars. Hearing from Chris Jericho, Edge and other wrestlers about their influences does not happen enough throughout the discs for my taste.
That being said, the three-disc set does put a tremendous amount of information and footage into one collection. It's a solid document of an era of professional wrestling that saw it transition to the mainstream.
The WWE does its usual excellent job on the documentary interviews. The older footage from matches looks about as you'd expect it to: Some grain, some color bleeding, even a frame flicker or two.
The 5.1 audio track for the documentary sounds fine, even if a 2.0 track is likely all that was truly needed.
The real value of this three-disc set comes in the extras. Let's start with the list:
Disc 1 Matches:
Greg Valentine vs. Roddy Piper (Dog Collar Match) – NWA 1983
Sgt. Slaughter vs. Iron Sheik – WWF 1984
Greg Valentine vs. Tito Santana (Lumberjack Match) – WWF 1985
Junkyard Dog vs. Randy Savage – WWF 1985
Bobby Heenan vs. Ultimate Warror (Weasel Suit Match) – WWF 1988
Disc 2 Matches:
Dusty Rhodes vs. Ric Flair – NWA 1984
Ole and Arn Anderson vs. Wahoo McDaniel/Billy Jack Haynes – NWA 1984
Jerry Lawler vs. Kerry Von Erich – AWA 1988
Ricky Steamboat vs. Ric Flair – NWA 1989
Ric Flair vs. Jay Youngblood – NWA 1982
Disc 3 Matches:
Jimmy Snuka vs. Bob Backlund (Steel Cage Match) – WWF 1980
Iron Sheik vs. Bob Backlund – WWF 1983
Paul Orndorff vs. Salvatore Bellomo – WWF 1984
Iron Sheik vs. Hulk Hogan – WWF 1984
Bob Orton vs. Jimmy Snuka – WWF 1985
Roddy Piper vs. Hulk Hogan – WWF 1985
The best Orndorff match they could come up with was a match again "enhancement talent" (read: Guy who loses all the time)? Otherwise, it is a solid collection of matches.
Other extras on disc one include a very unfortunate musical performance of "Grab Those Cakes" by the Junkyard Dog, two interview clips with Sgt. Slaughter, a Piper's Pit segment and a taste of the "Bobby Heenan Show."
On disc two, extras include televised interviews with Lawler, Rhodes, Anderson and the Four Horsemen, along with more Ricky Steamboat and how Lawler got his worst wrestling injury.
Disc three features more early 80s television segments, including Hogan, Orton and Shiek, along with a PoseDown between Paul Orndorff and Tony Atlas.
There is an incredible amount of footage here, certainly enough to justify the $35 retail price. For a fan of this era of wrestling, WWE Greatest Wrestling Stars of the 80s is a trip back in time worth taking.