Generic Pre-Review Wrestling Disclaimer: Long before my affinity for globetrotting documentaries, Martin Scorsese films and The Criterion Collection, I found a soft spot for professional wrestling. Don't ask me how this happened; it just did. Despite this declaration, I shower daily, all my teeth are accounted for, I have a college degree...and, most importantly, I have a wife with the same merits. I'm not alone, of course. The wrestling fans I know aren't slack-jawed yokels; they simply appreciate the spectacle and illusion that this genuine sport creates, in the same way movie lovers enjoy fast-paced fights and thrilling chase sequences. Long story short: we know this stuff is "fake", but we like it anyway. Give us a break.
Monday Night Raw (later shortened to Raw) has been WWE's flagship program for over 15 years. At first, this one-hour show served as a gateway to further entice casual fans and draw in new viewers, but the show's brief running time was soon doubled as ratings improved. Eventually, one weeknight show wasn't enough...and thanks to The Rock's famous catchphrase, Smackdown was born as the 1990s drew to a close. This Thursday night extravaganza originally ran head-to-head with WCW Thunder (in the same way that Raw competed with WCW Monday Nitro) but recently switched to Friday evenings, since there's no longer any direct competition on Thursdays. After the infamous WWE brand split several years ago, Raw and Smackdown no longer serve as bi-weekly showcases for the entire WWE roster; instead, they're separate entities that don't always see eye-to-eye. Though several pay-per-views in the past have included matches from both camps, Bragging Rights 2009 is the company's first full-fledged civil war...at least with a shiny trophy on the line.
Here's how this event works: three of the card's five bouts are "Bragging Rights" matches, headlined by participants from both Raw and Smackdown...and whoever wins two of these matches gets the gold, glory and gloating priveleges. It's a simple enough concept that works well within the confines of a single event, though the format could use a little tweaking if Bragging Rights turns into a yearly tradition. Two other matches are also included, including a lengthy brawl between two WWE superstars with a history of headlining pay-per-views...and at long last, this was advertised as their final confrontation. Let's take a look at the card, shall we?
Complete Match Listing
(5 matches on 1 single-sided DVD)
John Morrison vs. The Miz [Champion vs. Champion Bragging Rights Match]
Melina, Kelly Kelly & Gail Kim vs. Michelle McCool, Beth Phoenix & Natalya [Divas' Bragging Rights Match]
Undertaker vs. CM Punk vs. Batista vs. Rey Mysterio [4-Way World Heavyweight Championship Match]
Team Raw (DX, The Big Show, Kofi Kingston, Mark Henry, Jack Swagger & Cody Rhodes) vs.
Team Smackdown (Chris Jericho, Kane, Matt Hardy, Finlay, R-Truth & The Hart Dynasty) [7-on-7 Bragging Rights Match]
Randy Orton vs. John Cena ["Anything Goes" Iron Man Match for the WWE Championship]
Despite only having five matches on the card, Bragging Rights 2009 is a relatively satisfying event from start to finish. The "two-out-of-three" stipulation for the Bragging Rights trophy all but ensures that the first two events are won by each team, but the format works well within the confines of a three-hour show; if nothing else, it simply provides a mild sense of continuity. John Morrison and The Miz lead off with a solid match, showcasing both stars' athletic talents and a few little surprises along the way. The Diva's six-woman match is undoubtedly the weak link in the chain...but it's still better than most shriek-a-thons, thanks to everyone except Kelly Kelly and the wildly overrated Michelle McCool. There's a break in the trophy battle for a Fatal Four-Way Match---and though Undertaker and Batista are two of my least favorite WWE main-eventers, this is a short but sweet match with action to spare. The 7-on-7 Bragging Rights Match is another winner despite a chaotic number of participants and a few confusing moments, while a climactic swerve keeps the playing field from staying level.
Then, of course, comes the main event: a one-hour "Iron Man" Match between John Cena and Randy Orton...and though these WWE superstars have brawled countless times before, this massive match-up promised to be their last official encounter. It's also a no-disqualification match, which helps to spice things up a bit: the action spills out of the ring on several occasions, weapons are used and a few questionable actions are left unpunished. Though this bloody brawl doesn't approach some of WWE's past Iron Man classics (namely Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels, which may never be topped), it's a fantastic main event and really ends the show on a high note. Far too often, WWE's pay-per-view main events feel like clever ploys to promote Raw or Smackdown's next installment. This time around, there's a modest portion of closure added to the mix.
On the technical side of things, this DVD is on par with recent WWE releases: production values are decent enough and all matches are apparently free from edits. Unfortunately, only one minor bonus feature has been included. This is bad news for those who already spent $40 on the PPV the first time around, though new viewers probably won't mind as much.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 displays, Bragging Rights 2009 looks to be on par with most current WWE releases...but that's not necessarily a free pass. Notable amounts of pixellation, edge enhancement and compression artifacts can be seen during many entrances and fast-moving sequences, which has been a long-standing problem we've undoubtedly become accustomed to. Colors are generally bold and bright, though reds and purples pop out almost unnaturally at times. Certainly not a five-star presentation overall, but this is probably about as good as we'll get from WWE.
The audio is presented in a robust Dolby 5.1 Surround mix, which does a fine job of recreating the WWE live experience. Crowd noise and play-by-play commentary come through loud and clear, creating a satisfying soundstage overall. A Spanish 2.0 play-by-play track is also available, though it's not quite as dynamic overall. As expected, optional subtitles and Closed Captions have not been provided for any of the content.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the plain-wrap menu designs are basic and easy to navigate. The 169-minute event has been divided into just 7 chapters (one per match and significant "filler" event), while no obvious layer change was detected during playback. Several WWE-related trailers and promos play before the main menu can be accessed; annoyingly enough, some of them are not skippable. This one-disc release is housed in a standard black keepcase and includes a promotional insert.
Only one short extra has been included here, and it's exclusive to this release. "Josh Mathews Interviews Team Smackdown Co-Captain Chris Jericho" (2:15) is a brief chat with the cocky co-leader after his team's showdown with Team Raw. Like the rest of the show, this segment is presented in 16x9 format and does not include captions or subtitles. Unfortunately, the pre-show dark match between Christian and Paul Burchill has not been included here. Why does WWE continue to overlook these?
I wasn't expecting much from WWE Bragging Rights 2009, but this three-hour event holds its fair share of pleasant surprises. Though there are only five matches on the card, all of them meet or exceed their proportional expectations---and if you're still worried about quantity, one of the matches runs for an entire hour. If there's only one drawback to this event's format, however, it's the reminder that the company roster used to have this many participants at every pay-per-view. The DVD itself is roughly on par with most current WWE stand-alone releases, boasting a decent technical presentation and only one minor bonus feature. Overall, it's one of WWE's better "minor" pay-per-views from last year, so casual fans and die-hard collectors should get their money's worth---but if there's one group that shouldn't bother, it's those who saw it already and aren't interested in a second viewing. Otherwise, Bragging Rights 2009 comes Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.