Fan-favorite matches for the second-biggest belt in wrestling
Once upon a time, a young Francis Rizzo III was a huge wrestling fan, and the walls of his room were covered with pictures pulled from Pro Wrestling Illustrated. But unlike his friends, Young Francis was an NWA fan, watching megacards like Starrcade and WarGames. But despite his allegiance, he still watched WWF, and was enthralled by many of their wrestlers, staying up late to watch Saturday Night's Main Event (and more often being disappointed to see Saturday Night Live (apparently he was too young for TV Guide).) Then, one day, it all went away. When he lost interest in the squared circle isn't clear, but the posters of guys in tight spandex were replaced by girls in bikinis, so draw your own conclusions.
I've never looked back since that time, never revisiting that "sport," which I hold in the same regard as soap opera, NASCAR and reality TV. It all made sense when I was a kid, watching these cartoony musclemen battle and doublecross each other, as the high theater was like watching comic books come to life. But at some point it all changed, becoming darker, more aggressive and less fun.
But, with this title, I get the chance to look at my childhood favorites with adult eyes, and give the era that defined my negative view of pro wrestling a legitimate shot. The set, which is hosted by WWE commentator Todd Grisham (who introduces and bridges the gaps between each match in a smartass, WWE-appropriate style,) covers the history of the Intercontinental Championship, from its beginning in 1979, to March of 2008, via 27 matches selected by the WWE's fans via their web site. It's neatly divided into three discs, one for the '80s (and one match from 1979), one for the '90s and one for the '00s, so you've got the classic, the contemporary and the in-between.
After getting started with a very old-school Pat Patterson match (against a very young Ted Dibiase), the early belt holders get some spotlight, including a ridiculously macho Don Muraco, underrated early WWF star Tito Santana, and lesser-known champions like Pedro Morales. The remainder of the disc focuses on some of the most memorable cartoonish characters of '80s wrestling, like the Honky Tonk Man (surprisingly the longest-reigning Intercontinental champion), the kinetic madness that was the Ultimate Warrior and the questionable gimmick of Ravishing Rick Rude. When the vast majority of those watching at the time were children, what was the goal of having this guy whose gimmick was being sexy? These later matches are actually pretty good, but they are more about the personalities than the action, while some of them illustrate just how bad the acting was back then. When one wrestler is supposedly down and prone, yet turns himself to be better position for the next move, it just makes you laugh.
The new WWF gets going in a big way as the popular Stone Cold Steve Austin takes on soon-to-be star Rocky Maivia in a brutal match that includes a pick-up truck as part of the action. It also marks the start of some true ridiculousness, courtesy of the Attitude Era. The match between Triple H (of the anti-social team known as D-generation X) and The Rock (of the barely-veiled black-separatist group The Nation) is just awful, thanks to the interjection of each wrestler's posse and a time stipulation that makes the whole affair a let-down. It's just step up over the terrible Good Housekeeping Match that introduces the first female Intercontinental Champion. The whole time period comes off as a pandering, pathetic example of marketing to the lowest-common denominator. It's worth noting that the fans chose far fewer matches from this era than any other.
In some ways, it's a slightly less cartoonish version of the '80s WWF, but with a much higher overall level of athleticism and far better choreographed battles. The Rob Van Dam/Jeff Hardy ladder match is actually pretty amazing in terms of the stunts, including a dive from the top of a ladder that looks incredibly dangerous. Hardy, who is part of four matches on this disc, might be my "favorite" of the bunch, despite his ridiculous goth/club kid look, simply because he sells everything he does with his tremendous skills. Meanwhile, for the bloodthirsty, this disc features a steel cage battle between the legendary (and quite old) Ric Flair and Triple H. With the amount of (fake) brutality displayed and (real) blood spilt, this is a tough one to watch, and is honestly anti-climactic.
Though the matches have improved over time in terms of their believability and athleticism, the fans, possibly attracted by the Attitude Era, have gotten worse. When they aren't chanting "Boring" when matches reach a stalemate, they are busy with their stupid signs, most of which simply have their name and an arrow pointing to themselves. You watch them, and they aren't even paying attention to the match, instead watching the big screens showing the TV feed, waiting to be shown so they can hold up their sign again. I can't imagine what it's like to sit behind one of these geniuses. Also awful are the referees, who are the worst actors in the world, emoting physically with the subtlety of amateur mimes. If you can get away with cheating as long as you stop before they count to five, why bother having referees at all? I know it's fake, but it's still dumb.
The audio is a rather standard television presentation delivered via Dolby Digital 5.0 tracks that are center-balanced, and don't offer much in terms of dynamic sound. Everything sounds pretty nice, including the often ridiculous ringside commentary and the signature entrance music from the modern era matches.
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