With the sheer volume of pay per view events the folks at World Wrestling Entertainment were putting out for so long, it is a surprise that there had not been (to my knowledge at least) a compilation of matches put out at the end of each year that served as a 'Greatest Hits' of sorts for those who either wished to recall the best and/or most memorable matches of the WWE that did not air on free television.
Spread out over three discs, the set captures some of the special matchups that the company held over the calendar year. There should be a small stipulation made at this point, because the set itself covers pay per matches through October's Hell in a Cell event, and excludes November's Survivor Series (arguably the most recognizable event of the fall schedule) and December's Tables, Ladders and Chairs (or TLC) event. Additionally it omits May's Over the Limit event, though in the case of the latter it was an admittedly forgettable pay per view. The matches listed are as follows:
Edge vs. Dolph Ziggler (World Heavyweight Championship Match - Royal Rumble, January 30, 2011)
Edge vs. Rey Mysterio vs. Wade Barrett vs. Kane vs. Drew McIntyre vs. Big Show (Elimination Chamber - Elimination Chamber, February 20, 2011)
Rey Mysterio vs. Cody Rhodes (WrestleMania XXVII, April 3, 2011)
Undertaker vs. HHH (No Holds Barred - WrestleMania XXVII, April 3, 2011)
Christian vs. Alberto Del Rio (Ladder Match - Extreme Rules, May 1, 2011)
Rey Mysterio vs. CM Punk (Capitol Punishment, June 19, 2011)
Alberto Del Rio vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Evan Bourne vs. Jack Swagger vs. R-Truth vs. The Miz vs. Alex Riley vs. Rey Mysterio (Ladder Match - Money in the Bank, July 17, 2011)
John Cena vs. CM Punk (WWE Championship Match - Money in the Bank, July 17, 2011)
Christian vs. Randy Orton (No Holds Barred - SummerSlam, August 14, 2011)
Randy Orton vs. Mark Henry (World Heavyweight Championship Match Night of Champions, September 19, 2011)
HHH vs. CM Punk (No Disqualification Match Night of Champions, September 19, 2011)
Kelly Kelly vs. Beth Phoenix (Divas Championship Match - Hell in a Cell, October 2, 2011)
John Cena vs. CM Punk vs. Alberto Del Rio ( WWE Championship Match - Hell in a Cell, October 2, 2011)
Big Show vs. Mark Henry ( World Heavyweight Championship Match - Vengeance, October 23, 2011)
At this point I would like to air a grievance that might ruffle a feather or two: I don't like women's matches. They lack a certain degree of athleticism that I personally could buy into, and many of those involved also miss charisma that make them believable, and they are trotted out as pretty faces to edify a largely young male crowd. Making the selection of a match as part of their "Best Matches" of 2011 is a simply baffling choice to me because circling back to it, other matches were excluded in favor of this. But more importantly, what does it say about the final product of dozens of other pay per view matches this year?
With that nit successfully picked, at least those who were putting this compilation together were smart enough to put the Cena-CM Punk match from Money in the Bank on the set. The story was set up decently in the Raw television shows leading up to the event (along with the Capitol Punishment event where Punk beat Mysterio) where Punk stated that his contract would be ending the night of the Money in the Bank event, and he intended to leave the company, and do so with the Championship belt in the process. The card was held in Punk's hometown of Chicago, and the reaction for him and his actions was tremendous. So much so that Cena, supposedly the top babyface (or good guy) for the company was booed with every move and gesture, however innocuous. The scene was surreal; personally I don't recall seeing a crowd flip the script like that since WrestleMania in Toronto a decade ago (when the hated Hulk Hogan received a huge face pop (or reaction) is his match against the Rock). Unlike the WrestleMania match, Cena and Punk had a lengthy and fascinating match, resulting in Punk not only winning the title, but disappearing into the crowd with the belt at the end of the show. An exciting, intriguing, mysterious end to say the least.
Like other gimmicks that have generated a spontaneous reaction, the creative team at WWE seemed to not know what they would do such with such a popular gimmick. Sadly part of it included doing a job (losing) to HHH (who is now portraying the role of COO of the company in a slight parody of his real-life role of being married to Stephanie MacMahon, daughter of real-life owner Vince). Punk was even involved in a minor program with HHH friend Kevin Nash before being brought back to do more matches with Cena, a place that he should never have left to begin with. Punk's white hot summer seemed to have been cooled and with that, the company's matches suffered as a result. Look, when you are doing a Big Show-Mark Henry match, again, as a main event, you know your bench is not as deep as you think it is, or so I think.
All in all, this three-disc seems to be emblematic of the WWE's problems; incomplete, erratic, but when it is on, it does manage to herald back to the salad days of the early 2000s. If you are looking for the best matches of the first ten months of the year, you could not be in better luck.
The matches are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, though one would have to presume as the matches were broadcast in high-definition to begin with (as evidenced by the 'WWE HD' in the upper left corner of all of the matches), why skimp on the standard-definition discs? Oh yeah to make a quick buck, I forgot. Oh well, there is a lot of image noise (which goes with all of the lighting), but it looks as good as can be expected throughout the matches, with no noticeable edge enhancement or image haloing. It's as straightforward a product to be had.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is fine, considering the amount of crowd noise, pyrotechnics and music thrown into the mix. It is adequate and even immersive at times without distortion or mosquito noise in the soundtrack. Dialogue and ring action is clear and consistent throughout the listening experience and the rear channels transmit the subtle noises mentioned above cleanly and without problems. Solid material.
Nothing, and you'll like it.
Honestly, I think the incomplete nature of this set that purports to be the best of 2011 really holds it back from being something worth watching. If you have seen many of the pay per views you could likely put together a better list and set. If you have not been close to pro wrestling for a couple of years, I would definitely check out the Cena-Punk match, but I would also presume you could find that on the internet somewhere and be just as fascinated by it. I would definitely rent this if you could not find it elsewhere.