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INSIDE THE ROPES    
(Relatively) New on DVD

January 31, 2007

by the Canadian Bulldog    
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com

 

I moved into my apartment a good six, seven months ago, but it was only recently I started organizing my massive collection of wrestling videos.
 
There must be anywhere between 75 and 100 videotapes of various pay-per-views, weekly television shows, compilation tapes and events that, at the time, I thought were tape-worthy (for example, a Legion of Doom-Nasty Boys match that took place on the Arsenio Hall Show). I've cleverly managed to stash most of those videos in various kitchen cupboards, instead of storing, say, utensils or plates, 

the way a responsible adult might.  Besides, that’s what the good folks at Domino's Pizza are for.

Then it came time to put away my DVD's (and I was fresh out of cabinets), so I stacked them all nice and neat like on a rack in my living room. It was then I realized I have accumulated, in about six years, more than SIXTY DVD's!!! And most of these aren't even the monthly pay-per-views; I prefer the "best of" compilations from WWE (particularly the ones with biographies) and, basically, anything non-WWE I can get my hands on.

So in an attempt to justify at least some of my insane DVD investments, I thought I'd review five of my most recent additions. Some of them are not brand new, but rather new to me. And one of them in here (you'll see which one) just happens to be the worst wrestling DVD ever!

EVER!!!

The Best of C.M. Punk (in Full Impact Pro)

I joked in a recent column about the existence of a best of C.M. Punk DVD already being out. So I was shocked when I found this disc hidden away at a local music store. Typically, if it’s not WWE or TNA, it’s hard to find in many DVD places here in Toronto.

For the record, I don’t necessarily get what all the hype surrounding C.M. Punk is all about. It’s not that I necessarily dislike him, but I was hoping this DVD might shed some light on the situation.

This was produced by Big Vision Entertainment, who have done great jobs on the “Hardcore Homecoming” and “Forever Hardcore” discs that I reviewed here, not to mention the “Ultimate Insiders” shoot interview I reviewed here. This production focuses on Punk’s 2004 matches in Full Impact Pro, a tiny independent league operating out of sparsely-attended convention centers and nightclubs in Florida.

While some of Punk’s opponents such as Justin Credible and Homicide are certainly capable of putting together decent matches, most of the action is, well, boring. Part of it is the crowd; it’s hard to pull off an enthusiastic effort in front of a few dozen fans. You can often hear Punk talking mid-match (and to his credit, he IS a good talker) because the crowd is so dead. Really, most of the matches look like a glorified sparring session and didn’t hold my interest.

The one exception to this was a falls count anywhere match with Homicide that spills out into an actual strip club! The reaction of the drunken frat boys congratulating the combatants after the match is priceless.

But the bonus features are where the real sizzle is. They show two decent matches from Ring of Honor, against Brian Danielson and then against James “Jamie Noble” Gibson (where the rabid crowd reactions make all the difference), and a long package of highlights from Punk’s tenure in IWA Mid-South Wrestling (a promotion I’d never seen matches from before, but might have to start searching for). We’re treated to brief clips from Punk’s matches against Chris Hero, A.J. Styles, Christopher Daniels, Colt Cabana and a hilarious wrestler named Delirious. Oh, yeah, and there’s A TRIPLE THREAT MATCH INVOLVING C.M. PUNK, EDDIE GUERRERO AND REY MYSTERIO.

I put that last part in all-caps because I wonder (a) why the FUCK wouldn’t Big Vision advertise this fact on the front FUCKING cover? It isn’t even mentioned in the FUCKING match listing inside! And (b) why the FUCK would you only show clips of that match instead of the entire thing? Look, I understand that the people behind this DVD are trying to capitalize on Punk’s cult following. That’s fine. But when you’re able to take that one step further by tying him in with two of the most popular wrestlers of the modern era… DO IT!!!

Overall rating: 3/5. Unless you’re a C.M. Punk completist or enjoy watching matches that spill out into strip clubs, you can skip the main program and enjoy the bonuses instead. And yes, I did gain a better appreciation for Punk and why he gets as much Net luv as he does after watching this DVD. Still, the lack of mat classics here and the fact you have to really search for the good stuff made it hard for me to give this a catch-all recommendation.

Born To Controversy: The Roddy Piper Story

After Mick Foley, Rowdy Roddy Piper is easily my favorite overall wrestler of all time. As I was growing up, he went from the ultimate heel to the ultimate fan favorite (no small task) and on either side of the fence, the reactions he received were among the loudest anywhere. Really, apart from Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock and The Road Warriors, I can’t recall too many who have received pops as big, every single time they’ve come to the ring. Look no further than the crowd reaction after he scraps with Cyndi Lauper in Madison Square Garden – it’s insane!

Like most WWE-produced biographies, they go all-out in telling as complete a biography as possible. True, if you’ve read Piper’s book (wow, I’m all about the plugs this week), you know the basic story about he rose to prominence and the major events of his career. Yet, with a nice montage of AWA, Portland, NWA, WWF and WCW clips and a far-reaching group of people commenting on him (in addition to the standard Jim Ross, Ric Flair, Jerry Lawler and Bobby Heenan DVD interviews, you have Ricky Steamboat, Jimmy Snuka, Jack Brisco, Bob Orton, Paul Orndorff, Hulk Hogan, Greg Valentine, director John Carpenter and others), it provides for a much more balanced account.

The major difference between this version of Piper’s history, besides it being WWE-ized, is that Piper seems a little less senile than he did a few years ago. They even get into his 2003 firing (after he appeared on an HBO interview and talked about drug use and deaths in wrestling), kind of a rarity for WWE to acknowledge when it happened so recently.

A large part of Piper’s appeal was that his character was so cartoonish and over-the-top in interviews that it was amazing he actually could back up his actions in the ring, so to speak. If you look at the dozen or so matches featured here after the main program, none of them could be considered boring. As Piper says himself in the DVD: “When you came to see me, you always got your money’s worth”.

Yet the highlight for me wasn’t the main program or the matches (even though I really dug both): it was the entire DVD full of old Piper’s Pits. Sure, you’ve probably seen the Jimmy Snuka coconut one and the Frankie Williams incident, but many of these are rarities. You have in-ring confrontations with people like Junkyard Dog, Mr. T and Salvatore Bellomo that have been largely forgotten. Yet all of them remain hilarious and great storytelling at the same time.

Overall rating: 5/5. Try as I might, I can’t find any fault with this one. I could watch this DVD over and over again, particularly the Piper’s Pit disc. Whether you’re a new fan and don’t understand why Piper was such a big deal, or someone who longs for a decent WWF nostalgia fix, I couldn’t recommend this one enough.

Brian Pillman: Loose Cannon

Brian Pillman is an unusual wrestler for WWE to be profiling in the sense that (a) he never even main-evented a WWE or WCW pay-per-view on his own and (b) he died while working for Vince McMahon. Yet, any story about the Monday Night Wars has to include him as one of the catalysts for the “attitude” era, not to mention one of the hottest free agents during those years. So I was intrigued to see why and how they’d handle this story.

As it turns out, they do a pretty decent job, starting with his throat operations as a child, going through his football and wrestling days in Calgary, spending quite a bit of time on his WCW stint (where he became the promotion’s first light-heavyweight champion, joined the Hollywood Blonds and Four Horsemen, and became the Loose Cannon). There’s also some time spent on his WWF run, but realistically, he spent more time there as an announcer and Hart Foundation enforcer than he did an active competitor, so it was tough for them to dwell on that part of his life.

They speak to Brian’s wife Melanie and his sisters, in addition to Arn Anderson, Mick Foley, Eric Bischoff, Jim Ross, Teddy Long, Paul Heyman, Dusty Rhodes, Steve Austin and others. Most of them openly admit that they couldn’t tell much of the time whether Pillman was working the boys, the fans, or both.

While they don’t make any attempts to hide Pillman’s addiction to painkillers, the documentary leaves the viewer with an impression that he had quit taking pills at the time of his death or something, pointing out that no drugs were found in his system during the autopsy. And JR helpfully explaining that Pillman “died of a broken heart”, while sad to hear because of their known friendship, really is stretching the truth a bit.

The matches range from incredible (his bouts with Jushin Liger, Dean Malenko and, surprisingly, Lex Luger) to mostly fast-forwardable (some tag team efforts involving Tom Zenk, El Gigante, Johnny Gunn and Barry Windham come to mind). Extras include Austin, JR and others recalling memories of their friend, as well as the “gun incident” and “XXX Files” vignettes, both of which remind you why it was hard to tell sometimes whether his gimmick was real or all an act.

Overall rating: 4/5. Not a bad effort at all, and this gives me hope that WWE will perhaps look at some other fallen superstars (Owen Hart, Rick Rude, Curt Hennig) as time goes on.

The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA

My only memories of the AWA were limited to month-old ESPN programs we would get on TSN (The Sports Network) beginning in 1989 or so. The promotion had clearly fizzled out by then, consisting mainly of old-timers who felt loyalty to Verne Gagne and newcomers who hadn’t yet caught a break with the WWF or WCW. I remember one show in particular, where Harley Race had come in to take on then-champion Larry Zybysko, and as Harley walked to the ring, a fan shouted, quite audibly, “Yeah, they took your crown away in the WWF and now you’re nothing!” Yet the AWA never felt the need to edit that stuff out!

This DVD (produced by WWE, natch) attempts to show why the AWA was such a powerful force in wrestling in its heyday. It’s hard to believe, but there was a time where the AWA World Title was higher up on the totem pole than the WWF championship, and that their shows in Minneapolis and St. Paul would be legitimate sellouts.

The story features interviews with people you wouldn’t necessarily expect on a WWE release, namely Verne Gagne, Greg Gagne, Nick Bockwinkel, Jim Brunzell and Baron Von Raschke, as well as WWE’s two DVD go-to guys: Eric Bischoff and Jim Ross. Shockingly, Bischoff isn’t blamed for the downfall of the AWA, though I'll bet they tried hard to pin it on him.

During the AWA’s heyday in the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s, the promotion was often a hot ticket in Minneapolis as well as contiguous cities. The stars they produced -- either through Gagne’s training camp or simply by wrestling in the promotion – are a long list of major stars, including Hulk Hogan, Curt Hennig, The Road Warriors, Ken Patera, Larry Zybysko, Nick Bockwinkel, Jesse Ventura, Adrian Adonis, Bobby Heenan, Gene Okerlund, The Fabulous Freebirds, Sgt. Slaughter, Shawn Michaels, Marty Jannetty and many more.

As time goes on, though, the AWA faced two major problems: Gagne refused to keep up with the times as the business changed, and (according to WWE, anyways) Vince McMahon kept taking their decent wrestlers. While Vince eventually says that he didn’t single-handedly kill the AWA, that’s clearly the message he wants you to be left with. That, plus both Gagne men keep bitching about how Vince drove them out of business…

The extras are plentiful: more than a dozen behind-the-scenes stories from Brunzell, Michael Hayes, Greg Gagne, Bischoff and Bockwinkel, plus an entire disc featuring 13 “classic” AWA matches. Only a few of them really held my interest, including a great match between Bockwinkel and Hennig, and The Midnight Rockers against Buddy Rose and Doug Somers. Many others, though, because of numerous restholds, shoddy camera work and a slower pace, prompted me to press the “skip” button on my remote.

Overall rating: 2.5/5. I’ll admit: a lot of my feelings for this disc are marred by the fact that I was never an AWA fan. So it could very well be a “Rise and Fall of ECW” for fans of that era, though it didn’t hit home for me. If you were a fan of the promotion, though, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t want to check it out.

WWE Unauthorized

I knew, just by looking at the DVD cover, that this could be worth a laugh. Turns out, this may very well be the worst wrestling-related video ever –- and I’ve seen “The Jesse Ventura Story” and “Ready To Rumble” before!

From the minute they air a lame “WWE’s lawyers tried to stop us from producing this, but we don’t give a crap” disclaimer (which, really, isn’t far off the mark from their phrasing, although I believe they quote The Rock in theirs), you know that this is going to be a deeply-scandalous look at Vince McMahon’s evil empire and its seedy underbelly…

Only they never really manage to quite accomplish that. Even though the narrator talks in a menacing voice, re-telling the story of Vince McMahon’s early days that you could get from reading the book “Sex, Lies and Headlocks” or the DVD “McMahon” (wow, two plugs in one sentence!), he never really tells us what’s so evil about the guy.

Now, because they don’t have access to the vast WWE tape library, the visuals consist of: (a) two musclebound goofs mugging for the camera, and occasionally spitting out a liquid that looks kind of like whatever Gangrel used to spew, (b) stock footage that any college student might have come across in his or her Documentaries 101 class, and (c) matches from the old American Wrestling Federation (if you don’t remember it, you’re probably not alone) -- none of which has ANYTHING to do with WWE. Oh, and there are also various grunts and screams placed strategically throughout the soundtrack for no apparent reason, other than pissing me off.

They also get several facts wrong, odd considering they even interviewed the author of the co-author of “Sex, Lies and Headlocks” (Shaun Assael), whose book was, by all accounts, accurate and well-crafted. For example, did you know that Bret Hart lost the WWF title via pinfall during the 1997 Montreal Screwjob? Or that WWF changed their name to WWE in 2000? Me neither.

Crystal Entertainment Group, the makers of this documentary, speak to such noted McMahon-bashers as Tito Santana, Vince Russo and former WWF Hardcore Champion Bobcat (um, who?), none of which say anything all that bad about their former boss. All they’d have had to do is track down, say, Shane Douglas and I’m sure they would have had ample Vince-bashing. The only person who really takes a stab at Vinnie Mac is Eric Francis, the Calgary Sun columnist who helped write the book “Broken Harts”.

Shockingly, the death of Owen Hart is the only crime against Vince McMahon these people can justify. That’s strange because, ask virtually any Internet fan and I’m sure they could come up with a list of five to ten legitimate points of their own.

Not that I know WWE’s legal department that well (they’ve only sent me one letter this entire time), but I’d have to imagine that they’d be laughing their asses off if they were to watch this. Not only does the documentary fail to discredit Vince McMahon’s empire (let me put it this way: B.G. and Kip James have been doing a better job at it), but it almost tells the viewer how great McMahon has been at building up his company.

The only things I could imagine they could sue the documentary makers for would be the brief interviews they somehow snagged with Candice Michelle and Chris Masters (it looks like they were done at a personal appearance or something).

Oh, and did I mention there are NO bonuses on this DVD? At less than an hour in length, you’d figure they’d give us something (e.g. an entire interview with Tito Santana, or some of the AWF matches they obviously had access to), but there’s nothing.)

Overall rating: 0/5. As if you had to ask. Avoid this one at all costs!

There you go. If there any DVD's you'd like me to review, drop me a line at bulldog@onlineonslaught.com.  Thanks for reading!

E-MAIL THE BULLDOG    
BROWSE THE ITR ARCHIVES

CANADIAN BULLDOG  is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.


  
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