Growing up I used to watch a lot of wrestling as a kid, and when they trotted out the infamous steel cage to help settle a rivalry or increase the stakes between two (or sometimes more) wrestlers. The walls of chain link fence or sometimes sturdier material helped illustrate to my 11-year old brain an important lesson that I couldn't verbalize until later in life: shit was about to get real, pardon the pun. Coincidentally, it was watching a steel cage that Mick Foley (among other, who went on to become a World Wrestling Entertainment star in his own right, as Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka leapt from a 15 foot high perch atop the cage that launched the imagination of many. And perhaps after a long overdue absence, WWE Home Video has finally released a compilation disc of what are the more memorable steel cage matches in professional wrestling.
The first thing you notice when you look at this title is just how wide-ranging it is. The Greatest Cage Matches of All Time is not one or two, but three discs spanning more than three decades and across multiple territories. The latter is a fruit of the acquisitions the WWE has made through the years, buying video libraries as part of buying World Championship Wrestling for instance. Hosted by WWE announcer Josh Mathews, the matches on this title are as follows:
Bob Backlund vs. Pat Patterson (WWE Championship Match - September 24, 1979)
Bob Backlund vs. Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka) (WWE Championship Match - May 19, 1980)
Bruno Sammartino vs. Larry Zbysko (August 9, 1980)
Ric Flair vs. Kerry Von Erich (NWA Championship Match - December 25, 1982)
Ivan & Nikita Koloff vs. The Rock 'N Roll Express (NWA Tag Team Championship Match - November 28, 1985)
Road Warriors vs. Michael Hayes & Terry Garvin (April 20, 1986)
Abdullah the Butcher vs. Bruiser Brody (October 12, 1986)
Midnight Rockers vs. "Playboy" Buddy Rose & "Pretty Boy" Doug Somers (December 25, 1986)
Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant (July 31, 1988)
Ric Flair vs. Lex Luger (World Heavyweight Championship Match - May 19, 1990)
Ultimate Warrior vs. "Ravishing" Rick Rude (WWE Championship Match - August 27, 1990)
Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage (January 21, 1991)
Shawn Michaels vs. Marty Jannetty (Intercontinental Championship Match - August 17, 1993)
Mankind vs. Hunter Hearst Hemsley (August 3, 1997)
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin vs. Mr. MacMahon (February 14, 1999)
The Rock vs. HHH (WWE Championship Match - October 2, 1999)
Dudley Boyz vs. Hardy Boyz (Tag Team Championship Unification Match - November 18, 2001)
Edge vs. Chris Jericho (July 25, 2002)
Chris Jericho vs. Christian (May 10, 2004)
Randy Orton vs. Ric Flair (October 19, 2004)
Matt Hardy vs. Edge (September 18, 2005)
John Cena vs. Edge (WWE Championship Match - October 2, 2006)
Batista vs. Chris Jericho (World Heavyweight Championship Match - November 3, 2008)
CM Punk vs. Jeff Hardy (World Heavyweight Championship Match - August 28, 2009)
A word of warning: when many of these matches occurred (primarily on the first two discs), because there had been so much animosity that had build up over weeks and in some cases months, the way the wrestlers framed it, the release of this violence towards their foe made for some blood to be spilled. The myth about the steel cage match was such that the normally "civilized" wrestler would rake his opponents head across the cage walls, taking skin with it and turning many of these matches into bloodbaths, and a good portion of them were. For instance, the Abdullah-Brody match had two Hall of Fame bladers (wrestlers willing to bleed) that it was surprising to see that Brody didn't bleed. However, Abdullah bled for both of them, so much so that the referee's white shirt was stained with the plasma in large swatches. And while this Abdullah-Brody fight might not be their best, it's got that going for it. And as a fan of the era, seeing the Snuka-Backlund match on here was a pleasant surprise. Snuka jumped and missed Backlund for the top of the cage (he would connect on a similar leap against Don "Magnificent" Muraco shortly thereafter), but this act and the long-term impact in has in wrestling fans' minds is memorable to be sure.
The act of blading though seemed to be on the outs in recent years, and save for two of the matches on the third disc (three if you count the "blood" from Batista's forehead), there wasn't the same level of brutality that the match showed compared to other years. This could be pointed to several different things: the athleticism improving through the years that other 'gimmick' matches were created that were designed to be more brutal, or even the 'spots' the modern athletes doing in the cage, while breathtaking, seemed to take away from the barbarism of the cage. This isn't to say entirely that when the athletes got better and away from more of the mat-based combat the matches got worse, but perhaps the psychology of working in the cage was lost to some of them. Looking at the CM Punk-Hardy match, it accomplished capturing the tension and psychology of working in the cage while still striking the balance of the spots well, and can be seen why Punk ( currently the nom de choix in sports entertainment these days) is where he is on the landscape right now.
All in all, The Greatest Cage Matches of All Time shows us the road wrestlers undertook back in the day when it came to battling in the cage, and with the Punk-Hardy matchup, what it can be like once again if given the time and patience to do it. And hopefully perhaps they and other pro wrestlers can help inspire some to follow in their footsteps, while giving others a fond chance to look back at the past.
The feature juggles full frame video and 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen rather deftly. There are notable flaws in some of the source material (the Sammartino-Zbysko match being the one with the most visible ones), but as the matches get more recent, the image improves. It looks good without a lot of post-image processing that would be distracting. Flesh tone look accurate and there is some image noise in the recent matches, but these look as good as can be expected on DVD.
All of the matches have Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio, which is nice for the more recent matches, however that is only for one of the three discs. Most of the action occurs in the front channels and there is not too much immersion or mirroring from the rear channels, and the subwoofer stays sleepy throughout all three discs. The commentary for the matches sounds clear as can be expected, and save for one match (Sammartino-Zbysko again), all of the original tracks appear. That said, I wouldn't expect sonic cartwheels from the soundtrack, but a surround option does feel wasted on this title.
Zip, zero, nada.
The Greatest Cage Matches of All Time is long overdue and while the match selection is a little uneven for my tastes, it still covers a variety of the sports biggest and best as they climbed into the ring and into surroundings that helped elevate the sport to what its become. Technically it's decent although lacking on the extras side. Longtime fans and recent newcomers to the WWE will both get a kick out of this set.