The Main Event:
For as long as wrestling has been a popular form of entertainment, there have been debates as to who the best in the business really is. Whether it's kids arguing about Rey Mysterio and Batista out on the playgrounds, thirtysomethings debating the merits of Hulk Hogan and Mick Foley over a beer or even their parents talk about the greatness of Bruno Sammartino and Gorilla Monsoon people like to argue about stuff like this. They always have and they always will. Not only do we know this, but the powers that be at WWE's home entertainment division know this as well, and thus was born The Top 50 Superstars Of All Time, a three disc collection containing a two and a half hour feature counting down the all time greats and two discs of bonus matches.
Let's start with the feature:
First off, there's already been a bit of controversy in certain circles about the top picks in this set and for good reason. Some of the obvious contenders for the number one spot rank in the teens and even in the twenties while some admittedly very talented though less important wrestlers rank higher. It's a bit tough to explain without heading into spoiler territory, and we're not going to go there and that really will ruin the surprise and take a lot of the fun out of watching this, but let it suffice to say that you're probably not going to guess who takes first place. Now, with that said, neither the WWE's packaging nor the 'host segment's that help count everything down really elaborates all that much on what the criteria is for the selection choices - all we're really told is that the votes were cast by the current roster of WWE superstars. You could take that to mean that these guys were chosen on skill, or you could take that to mean that they were chosen on influence, or you could take that to mean that they were chosen based on how nice their boots were - we really don't know. Are we basing this on ability? Title count? Athleticism? Wardrobe? Coolest trademark move? Best in ring trash talking skills? All of the above? There's really seemingly no rhyme or reason to this.
With that complaint levied, it's hard to take this as any sort of definitive statement - so don't. Accept this for what it is, which is basically over two hours of input from wrestler's old and new and in between on who they like in the business and why. You want to know what John Cena thinks about... everyone? You'll find out. You want input from Roddy Piper on who was the toughest? He'll tell you. Maybe you want to know what Kofi Kingston thinks about Rick Flair or what Jerry 'The King' Lawler thinks about Gorilla Monsoon? You'll learn that too. This is really just basically a long round table talk or sorts, a collection of excellent clips from throughout the history of 'sports entertainment' showcasing a selection of the best to come out of its ranks. Don't go into this expecting it to be gospel, because you already know you're going to disagree with large portions of it. Go into it expecting a sort of 'greatest hits' package, because that's what you'll get. You do have to wonder, however, if some of the rankings were affected by certain wrestlers' decisions to leave the WWE at different points in their careers.... And really, in a perfect world wouldn't Mick Foley and Terry Funk be tied for first place anyway?
So yeah, you're going to see a lot of the Wrestlemania clips that you've seen replayed countless times on other DVD releases and highlight shows and you're going to get a lot of input from John Cena whether you want it or not but overall this is a fairly well put together segment.
The fifty-one (yep) wrestlers who appear in this documentary are as follows (and this list does not spoil their rankings, as promised):
Mick Foley / Dusty Rhodes / The Undertaker / Steve Austin / Kane / Buddy Rogers / Bret Hart / Terry Funk / Classy Freddie Blassie / Bob Backlund / Harley Race / Junkyard Dog / Ricky Steamboat / The Rock / Rey Mysterio / "Rowdy" Roddy Piper / Triple H / Jack Brisco / Andre the Giant / Fabulous Moolah / Gorgeous George / "Macho Man" Randy Savage / Jake "The Snake" Roberts / Shawn Michaels / Ric Flair / Edge / Jerry "The King" Lawler / Lou Thesz / Dory Funk Jr. / John Cena / Killer Kowalski / Hulk Hogan / Batista / "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig / Bruno Sammartino / Chris Jericho / Ted DiBiase / Randy Orton / Pat Patterson / Eddie Guerrero / The Iron Sheik / Jimmy 'Superfly' Snuka / Kurt Angle / Buddy Rogers / Gorilla Monsoon / "Superstar" Billy Graham / Big Show / Sgt. Slaughter / Nick Bockwinkel / Jeff Hardy / Rick Rude
You can't really argue with the selection, but yeah, you're going to be arguing about the rankings until the cows come home.
The 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, though interlaced, looks pretty decent. Some of the earlier matches are on the soft side and aren't quite as clean and colorful looking as the later day content is but this is generally quite a respectable looking presentation. The material that was shot fullframe is presented that way, with mattes on the sides, so there are no issues with stretching the footage, thankfully. There are times where the lights over the ring make skin tones look a bit off but this isn't a fault of the transfer or the authoring, it's simply the way the material has always looked. Nothing here really looks worse than when it was broadcast on television, and to some eyes it might even look a little bit better.
The same comments apply to the audio on this release - some of the earlier stuff sounds a bit flat, but most of the newer stuff sounds just fine. Everything comes at you by way of a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track and aside from one or two instances where some of the archival clips have a small amount of audible distortion, there aren't any issues worth complaining about here. There are no subtitles or alternate language options provided.
-NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match with Lou Thesz Versus Argentina Rocca in Buffalo, NY
-NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match with Jack Briscoe Versus Dory Funk Jr. from Championship Wrestling in Florida
-Women's Championship Match with The Fabulous Moolah Versus Susan Green at Madison Square Garden from June 16, 1975
-Gorilla Monsoon Versus Muhammad Ali in Philadelphia, PA from June 2, 1976
-NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match with Harley Race Versus Terry Funk from Championship Wrestling in Florida from February 6, 1977
-Boxing Match with Gorilla Monsoon Versus Andre The Giant in Puerto Rico from September 23, 1977
-WWE Championship Match with "Superstar" Billy Graham Versus "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes at Madison Square Garden from September 26, 1977
-WWE Championship Match with The Iron Sheik Versus Hulk Hogan at Madison Square Garden from December 28, 1984
-Six Man Tag Team Elimination Match with Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, Rowdy Roddy Piper and Junkyard Dog Versus Randy "Macho Man" Savage, "The King" Harley Race and Adrian Adonis at Madison Square Garden from February 23, 1987
-"Ravishing" Rick Rude Versus Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat at Madison Square Garden from December 26, 1987 for the AWA Heavyweight Championship
-Jerry "The King" Lawler Versus "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig from AWA on August 13, 1988
-No Disqualification Match/Virgil Barred from Ringside with Jake "The Snake" Roberts Versus "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase at Madison Square Garden from December 28, 1989
Nature Boy" Ric Flair Versus Bret "Hit Man" Hart from Saskatoon, Canada from October 12, 1992
-The Rock Versus Mankind from Halftime Heat on January 31, 1999
-Fatal 4-Way Match for the WWE Championship with Stone Cold Steve Austin Versus The Rock Versus Undertaker Versus Kurt Angle from Smackdown, December 7, 2000
-Undertaker, Kane, Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy Versus Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, Edge and Christian
from Raw on April 23, 2001
-Edge and Triple H Versus Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho from Smackdown, on May 16, 2002
-Eddie Guerrero Versus Big Show from Smackdown on April 15, 2004
-Triple Threat Match for the World Heavyweight Championship with Kurt Angle Versus Rey Mysterio Versus Randy Orton from WrestleMania 22 on April 2, 2006
-John Cena and Shawn Michaels Versus Undertaker and Batistia from No Way Out on February 18, 2007
-World Heavyweight Championship Match with Edge Versus Undertaker from WrestleMania XXIV on March 30, 2008
These two discs contain a pretty fantastic selection of bonus matches and it's likely this content more than the feature itself that's going to appeal to the hardcore wrestling fans out there. While it would have been nice to see earlier decades represented a little more heavily than they are here, there's still a very strong selection of bouts showcasing the talents of many of the fifty-one featured in the main attraction. Each match here is a classic for a reason and while, like the feature itself, fans will likely debate that 'match A' should have been omitted while 'match X' shouldn't have been left out, it's pretty hard to argue that, as a whole, this isn't a very strong selection.
Say what you will about the rankings and their validity but this is still a fun set with some great clips and interesting information contained inside. Everyone has their favorite wrestler and very few people are going to agree on who the all time best really is, and while there are some rather glaring gaffs here, there are also some very solid choices. The presentation looks about on par with the WWE's other recent collections in that it's all fine if unremarkable, and the collection of two discs worth of classic bonus matches definitely helps round out the set well. Recommended - just be prepared to yell at the screen a few times as you watch this.
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.