Documenting the history of wrestling's Heavyweight Championship title of a pretty mammoth task, daunting even, and one that stretches back the better part of a century. That's what this latest WWE DVD collection attempts, however, and while it's not the definitive retrospect that a lot of people had probably hoped it would be, it's still a pretty interesting release that includes a decent documentary along with some pretty epic matches. Let's start with that documentary...
Long before Vince McMahon bought up every wrestling league he could get his hands on and incorporated it all under the WWE banner, there were regional leagues springing up around the country. In the infancy of professional wrestling, people like Frank Gotch and Ed "The Strangler" Lewis (who didn't actually really ever strangle anyone and was more of a technical grappler) helped the burgeoning sport find an audience as they packed bouts held in large venues around the country like New York City's Madison Square Gardens. As these and other wrestlers grew in popularity, their respective leagues all seemed to have their own belts awarded to their best guys.
As regional leagues got bigger and wrestlers started travelling, the National Wrestling Alliance was formed. Brawlers like Lou Thesz and Buddy Rogers packed auditoriums across the country and the regional leagues were starting to play on a level much closer to a national playing field than what they'd been accustomed to before. Again, as the sport grew, through the sixties and the seventies, those belts, particularly the Heavyweight Championship belt, became increasingly important as way to recognize who the top contenders were and to spur on some healthy and not so healthy rivalries. Men like Dory Funk Jr., Terry Funk and soon after Ric Flair ushered the seventies in by providing more showmanship, more dramatic moves and as the sport reached its peak in the 1980s, and leagues like ECW and WCW were drawing crowds in an attempt to compete with the then WWF, guys like Ricky The Dragon Steamboat, Hulk Hogan and then later The Undertaker, The Rock, Chris Jericho, Triple H and John Cena kept fans rabid for more by bringing in even more showmanship and theatrics to the sport.
At roughly an hour in length, this documentary leaves a lot of ground uncovered and a lot of surviving former champs uninterviewed. What's here is good, however. Interview spots with guys like Ric Flair, Terry Funk and Dory Funk Jr., Pat O'Connor, Diamond Dallas Page, Big Show, Rey Mysterio Jr., Triple H, Chief J. Strongbow, and others along with a nice selection of vintage clips and archival photographs help to flesh things out nicely. The piece is well edited, well put together, and consistently interesting, making it all the more of a shame that it ends before the one hour mark is up.
Thankfully, the documentary isn't all that there is to take in here - there are a LOT of matches included as well. The first disc alone contains some excellent NWA matches from the sixties and seventies, that serve as a welcome time capsule that takes us back to a period in the sport's history that is very different from where it's at today. The matches include on the first disc are:
2 Out Of 3 Falls For The NWA World Heavyweight Championship: Pat O'Connor vs. Buddy Rogers - Chicago, IL 1961
NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match: Gene Kiniski vs. Dory Funk Jr. - Florida, 02/11/69
NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match: Jack Brisco vs. Terry Funk - 12/10/75
NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match: Harley Race vs. Dusty Rhodes - 8/21/79
NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match: AWA SuperClash with Ric Flair vs. Magnum TA - 9/28/85
NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match: The Great American Bash '90 with Ric Flair vs. Sting - 7/7/90
Disc two contains some classic WCW title matches. It's hard not to notice how the sport is changing as the nineties move in on us. There's a lot more flash and flair and showmanship here than there was ten years prior and while in some ways it makes it all a lot more fun, on the flip side of that coin it does hurt the legitimacy of the competition. Just a quick glance the superstar roster contained on this disc lets you know what you're in for - plenty of over the top macho posturing from the likes of Hollywood Hogan, Ric Flair and The Rock, all of whom have the moves and the credibility to back it all up. There's some great stuff on here, even if it doesn't quite have the feeling of authenticity that the matches on disc one have. Regardless, here's what you'll find:
WCW World Heavyweight Championship Match: Clash of Champions XIV with Ric Flair vs. Scott Steiner - 1/30/91
WCW World Heavyweight Championship Match: The Great American Bash '91 with Lex Luger vs. Barry Windham - 7/14/91
WCW World Heavyweight Championship Match: Vader vs. Ron Simmons - Baltimore, MD 8/2/92
Human Cage Match For The WCW World Heavyweight Champtionship: Vader vs. Ricky Steamboat - 10/16/93
Career Vs. Career Steel Cage Match For The WCW World Heavyweight Championship: Halloween Havoc '94 with Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair - 10/23/94
WCW World Heavyweight Championship Match: SuperBrawl VIII with Sting vs. Hollywood Hogan - 2/22/98
WCW World Heavyweight Championship Match: Nitro with Hollywood Hogan vs. Goldberg - 7/6/98
WCW World Heavyweight Championship Match: Bash at the Beach '00 with Jeff Jarrett vs. Booker T - 7/9/00
WCW World Heavyweight Championship Match: No Mercy '01 with The Rock vs. Chris Jericho - 10/21/01
The third and final disc in the set features nothing but WWE matches. Not WWF matches, mind you - WWE matches. Those not in the least bit impressed with the approach that McMahon's franchise has taken over the last ten years or so won't find so much here to groove on as what's on the first two discs but for fans, this is a nice collection and a fine representation of some of the better modern matches in the vaults.
World Heavyweight Championship Match: Unforgiven '02 with Triple H vs. Rob Van Dam - 9/22/02
World Heavyweight Championship Match: Taboo Tuesday '04 with Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels - 10/19/04
World Heavyweight Championship Match: No Way Out '06 with Kurt Angle vs. The Undertaker - 2/19/06
World Heavyweight Championship Match: SmackDown with Rey Mysterio vs. Randy Orton - 4/7/06
Triple Threat Match For the World Heavyweight Championship: Armageddon '07 with Batista vs. Undertaker vs. Edge - 12/16/07
World Heavyweight Championship Match: Survivor Series '08 with John Cena vs. Chris Jericho - 11/23/08
Ladder Match For the World Heavyweight Championship: Extreme Rules '09 with Jeff Hardy vs. Edge - 6/7/ 09
All of the material in this collection is presented fullframe, which is how the matches would have been originally shown, so the format is fitting. The documentary makes use of some old footage going back decades, some of which is in pretty rough shape, though all of the newer material looks just fine. Colors are nice and natural and there are no problems with print damage, dirt or debris. Skin tones look good and there aren't any compression artifacts or edge enhancement issues to note either.
As far as the matches that are included go, well, the seventies era material looks a bit soft and a bit flat but it's perfectly watchable. We move into the eighties and things are more colorful and definitely brighter looking and once we get to the more modern matches, things looks just as good as you'd expect. Much of the earlier material here probably only exists on old tape masters, which is where I'd guess the transfers were sourced from and which are only going to ever look so good. By and large, however, fans should be pleased with the look of this material. None of it is reference quality but it looks pretty good.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is of decent enough quality, though there isn't really all that much to it in terms of channel separation, nor does there need to be. You can hear the interviews and narration on the feature just fine and there is no audible hiss or distortion outside of some of the older archival clips used in the documentary. The matches vary in quality here, just as they do where the video is concerned, meaning that the older ones don't sound quite as clean as the newer ones but there's nothing here to be concerned about, it all sounds fine.
Technically you could probably consider all of the matches included with the documentary to be extras, but they're not marketed that way. So aside from that, you get some... menu screens and match selection options. That's it.
The documentary on the history of the title is pretty interesting stuff, but it easily could have (and should have) been twice as long had more title holders actually been interviewed here about their trials and tribulations on the way to the top. What's here is good, but it definitely leaves you wanting more. The inclusion of quite a few classic matches helps make up for that, however, and it's hard to imagine a wrestling fan who wouldn't want to own this. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.