The World Wrestling Federation has undergone many transformations through the years both internally and externally, including changing their name to World Wrestling Entertainment (or WWE for short), growing from a regional operation in the Northeast to the singular mecca for pro wrestlers to go to be recognized nationally and internationally. Yet with all of the merchandise, all of the stock offerings, there are some things that the company retains to continue a tradition for their employees to honor and upload, similar to what other companies may undertake.
For the WWE, it is their frequent shows at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The shows started as the WWE's marquee show for house (non-television) crowds in the 1960s and 1970s, and the company has held iconic events there such as the first WrestleMania, and notable events in the company's history have occurred there as well. It only made sense for the WWE to devote some of their massive video library as a tribute to the venue, and do so by devoting three discs worth of Madison Square Garden hosted WWF/WWE events in the form of a Best-Of compilation.
Hosted by WWE personality (and New York-born) Matt Striker, the discs include a multitude of interviews from past and present WWE superstars as they share their thoughts on how each looked at MSG and what they wanted to do when wrestling in front of the house. The match list is as follows:
Ivan Koloff vs. Pedro Morales (WWE Championship Match - February 7, 1971)
Superstar Billy Graham vs. Bruno Sammartino(WWE Championship Match - June 27, 1977)
Bob Backlund vs. Ken Patera (WWE Championship/Texas Death Match - May 19, 1980)
Bob Backlund vs. Harley Race (World Championship Unification Match - September 22, 1980)
Sgt. Slaughter vs. Iron Sheik (Boot Camp Match - June 16, 1984)
Hulk Hogan & Mr. T vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper & Paul Orndorff (WWE Championship Match - Wrestlemania, March 31, 1985)
Andre The Giant & Paul Orndorff vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper & Bob Orton (August 10, 1985)
Honky Tony Man vs. Ultimate Warrior (Intercontinental Championship Match - Summerslam, August 29, 1988)
Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect (Intercontinental Championship Match - Summerslam, August 26, 1991)
Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon (Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match - Wrestlemania X, March 20, 1994)
Bob Backlund vs. Diesel (WWE Championship Match - November 26, 1994)
Rocky Maivia, Marc Mero, The Stalker & Jake Roberts vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Crush, Goldust & Jerry Lawler (Survivor Series Elimination Match - Survivor Series, November 17, 1996)
Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Cactus Jack (Falls Count Anywhere Match - Raw, September 22, 1997)
Dudley Boyz vs. Hardy Boyz (Tables Match - Royal Rumble, January 23, 2000)
Triple H vs. Kurt Angle vs. Chris Jericho (Triple Threat Match - Raw, August 7, 2000)
Big Show vs. John Cena (United States Championship Match - Wrestlemania XX, March 14, 2004)
Trish Stratus vs. Mickie James (Raw, September 11, 2006)
D-Generation X vs. Jeri-Show vs. John Cena & Undertaker (Triple Threat Match - Raw, November 16, 2009)
The selection of matches is accomplishing a couple of things in the set I think. One is that it covers a lot of the gems of the WWE crown. The Michaels-Ramon ladder match remains superb viewing two decades after the fact, and the Hart-Perfect match is an underrated jewel among a bevy of good matches by each athlete. There are occasional matches that personally underwhelm either because of overbooking or generally poor match quality, but within the pathos of the Garden as an arena, it is forgivable.
Throughout all of the discs and matches, interviews with many of the participants are included, along with some interviews with contemporary stars like The Miz and Daniel Bryan who it should be noted do not appear in any of the matches, but share the perspective of those attempting to extend the devotion to MSG. Interviews with older (and in some case, former) WWE athletes make for nice strolls down memory lane as they recall their era and what they liked about working in the Garden and what made it fun.
With the set, the participants and material can be viewed in one of two ways: either by looking at the limitations of the set because of the center of its devotion, or the fact that it is because of this limited center, there is not a lot of out of the box thinking that the WWE employs on talking about the history of MSG's importance to them. Examining the more salient view of the set, it still manages to not only omit some events in the Garden (Piper's swerve on 80s musician Cyndi Lauper comes to mind), but there is a slight lack from a viewing perspective on what makes the Garden so important to the WWE. Sure, Vince McMahon appears and talks about the company and why it was drawn to the Garden, but it feels like the producers of the set decided to say "well, Vince will explain everything!" without actually putting in much additional work as to emphasizing the explanation. So even when examining the Best-Of set in a limited perspective, it does not engage itself fully and feels incomplete.
The Best of WWE at Madison Square Garden may be a nice set, but feels more of a love note rather than a love letter. We see why the wrestlers like the arena, but that is about all we get from them, as they generally play the same note repeatedly. It is a nice set, but could have been better than what it was.
The discs have a mix of full frame (which encompasses most of the matches) and 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, similar to the recent Mid-South Wrestling set that the WWE recently released. Similar to that set, there is very little to complain about in these discs. The older matches are kept in good quality and while colors are slightly faded, one can still spot the occasional crimson mask, appearing red or in some cases brown because of cut severity. The discs are good viewing to be sure.
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround for all of the discs, with much of the source material possessing mono or stereo mixes that do little to impress over a six-channel tracks. I was not expecting much in the way of the audio and the discs are as is when it comes to sound delivery. Rear channels and subwoofer do not come that close to getting involved until the very end, and the matches are clear-sounding, free of hisses or chirps. Serviceable listening material all the way around.
Save for a bunch of matches, nada.
The three-disc, Best of WWE at Madison Square Garden is a fond look at the aging New York City arena that has seen the best and brightest of the WWF/WWE rivals coming through the curtain over the decades. So long as one understands that it is a look and less an appreciation than they will enjoy checking it out. Technically the matches look great for some that are more than three decades old and is worth examining from any wrestling fan to look at the past.