Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Legends of Wrestling - Managers

The Panel - JJ Dilon, Jimmy Garvin, Michael Hayes, Jim Ross, Joey Styles

The Good
The WWE series is one of the most noteworthy features of WWE 24/7. It features a handful of people who will seemingly never do extensive shoot interviews elsewhere and people who are great in the shoot interviews and gives them a topic to probe. I've never seen a bad one. They integrate footage from the expansive WWE video library and generally have good discussions. Michael Hayes and JR are regulars and they're always fantastic. I generally enjoy Joey Styles in venues such as these, Jimmy Garvin is always good for a story and a laugh and JJ Dillon is easily one of the best in-depth analysts on the business there is. I've seen the WWE's "Greatest Managers" release and found it enjoyable, although highly limited in its scope. This was excellent because it mentioned people like Bobby Davis, Maw Bass, Gary Hart and some others who never got their due on that release. There were some good stories and overall this was fun one.

The Bad
The panelists on these shows largely draw from their own experiences, which can provide a limited scope. While Gulf Coast wrestling was mentioned, Memphis and its many talented managers (from Saul Weingeroff and J.C. Dykes to Dr. Ken Ramey and Sir Clements) were left out completely! Other legends like Homer O'Dell, Big Bad John, Tarzan Tyler and Lord Alfred Hayes were left out. Although I've grown to expect that, it does mean it's okay. If you can move past the limitations of these discussions, as you typically have to if you want to enjoy WWE's documentaries, then you can certainly enjoy this.

The Rating: ****

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Road Warriors: The Life and Death of the Most Dominant Tag-Team in Wrestling History

Directors: Kevin Dunn
Distributor: WWE Home Video
Released: 6/05

Featured Talent
Arn Anderson, Animal, Eric Bischoff, Booker T., Jerry Brisco, Jim Cornette, Barry Darsow (Smash), Darren "Droz" Drozdov, Edge, Paul Ellering, Ric Flair, Michael Hayes, Steve Keirn, Johnny "Ace" Laurenitis, Jerry Lawler, Steve Lombardi, Jim Ross

The Good
The WWE had not really put a lot into their documentaries, but this was one of the first that was really a step up. This did an excellent job at detailing the career, qualities and successes of the legendary Road Warriors. Animal, proved to be a good storyteller and that really helped this considerably. The barbells and bouncing past of the Roadies was detailed and it built up how they were a jacked up and aggressive pair that when transformed, they just clicked. They were groundbreaking and influential and that aspect was explained here. From their distinct look to their one-of-a-kind promos (which are included on the DVD extras), the Road Warrior package made them a top draw when tag teams were not usually big draws. It covers the many teams they worked, rightly focusing on the Midnight Express and the legendary scaffold match. Not surprisingly, Cornette is excellent in this. Perhaps the most interesting aspect was the role of Paul Ellering, who truly was their manager, helping them learn the ropes, make their shots and manage their money. However, the Road Warrior story wouldn't be complete without the nagging substance abuse and personality of Mike "Hawk" Hegstrand and that component is a focal point through out and essentially their inability to return to prominence again after their `92 break-up is explained. Since the LOD was not known for their workrate, including their best matches was not hard to do. Instead, the focus is on variety and that works well. Seeing them in the AWA, Georgia, Jim Crockett Promotions, the WWF, WCW and even in Japan is what this largely needed.

The Bad
One of the real flaws of WWE documentaries is, like VH1's Behind the Music, they tend to be formulaic in their rise-fall-retribution approach. This has that perhaps more than any documentary since. Instead of digging deeper, Hawk's substance abuse problems are put totally on him and not at all credited to the hellacious schedule, grueling physical demands and personal strain that, one might argue, leads many down this self-destructive path. The WWF's desire to take the edgy and unique Road Warriors and try to WWF-ify them in the early 90s is not touched upon. They changed their name to the Legion of Doom, made their outfits more professional-looking, did not bring in Paul Ellering until later on and even gave them Rocco (remember that dummy?). Although the Roadies were way over in the WWF, the company certainly did not always do the best things for them. They do touch upon the WWF's repacking attempts in the late 90s with LOD 2000, Road Warrior Puke and the Hawk the abuser storyline, but none are really addressed as poor creative decisions. Lastly, there is the issue of Japan. The Road Warriors were huge in Japan in the 1980s and it would have been nice to see Jumbo Tsuruta on a WWF DVD. Secondly, Animal seems to bury Kensuke Sasaki. The fact is by the time he was teaming with Hawk, Sasaki was already well-established as Riki Choshu's protégé. Aside from those small details and broader issues, this documentary and DVD set are among the better ones the WWE has put out.

The Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Greatest Feuds of All-Time - Sting vs. Vader

This is arguably the best feud that WCW ever produced. It started almost as soon as Vader, an international star, was brought into the company. Sting had been the top babyface since WCW was born and it only made since to have these two collide. However Vader was not around full-time and Sting was bouncing from feud to feud. But when they finally met it was instant magic. Vader was at his working prime here and Sting was at his best as well. After being in feuds with people who had no talent or superb talent, Sting was put in their with his ideal opponent: a big man who could work his ass off and elevate Sting's game ten fold. This was a match made in wrestling heaven.

1. Sting vs. Vader (Great American Bash `92)
The beginning and this is a great one. power and mass against speed and smarts - the classic battle. Vader is such a hoss and he can work like a sumabitch. Nice give and take action early. Vader established what he can do, Sting comes back with his stuff. Then it's Vadertime. Methodical offense breaks Sting down. It's such a grueling pace you can't buy that it'll put Sting away, but can he really mount much of an offense. Sting's hopespots are highlighted by cooler than normal moves that Vader makes look great. The layout of the match is excellent and keeps the fans right where they want them before Sting's error sees a climatic finish that is believable and clean. The way to kick off a great series is with a great match.
Rating: ****1/4

2. Sting vs. Vader (Starrcade `92)
The second PPV match between the top face and the top heel in one of the best programs WCW ever put together. At last year's Battlebowl (the first one), Sting won by eliminating Vader, so a year later they meet to determine the King of Cable (another first). Both have already competed in Lethal Lottery matches and won and will meet again in the Battlebowl. Vader starts slowly and brutally, tossing Sting around like a ragdoll. Sting's first offense is unusual and exciting. The heat is awesome as they action goes back and fourth masterfully. Ross really puts over the idea that Vader wants to end Sting's career as the Rocky Mountain Monster beats on his greatest rival. The Stinger's hope spots progress well, until he starts no-selling before coming back strong. Vader gets one more chance thanks to Harley Race, but can't hit his Flying Splash right and Sting is able to catch a second one, turn it into a slam and get the win. Great psychology that shows everyone how a main event level match like this should be done. My only complaint is it was too short (IMO) for the approach they were using with Sting outlasting Vader, but this is kind of a personal qualm more than anything. JR and Ventura put everything over tremendously and made this match that much better.
Rating: ****1/2

3. Sting vs. Big Van Vader (Strap Match)(SuperBrawl III)
This is about a year into it and cheesy vignettes aside, this has particular match has a good background. They use the strap beautifully early on, which makes this actually better than a nice share of strap or even chain matches. We even see Vader bloodied from being whipped, which adds a great effect though the shots weren't loud. The crowd is totally into everything, making this match that much more exciting. Vader's offense is like a punch in their guts as he just abuses their beloved hero with a grinding pace. The crowd is even worn down by the brutality, which leaves Sting's forehead a little bloody and Vader's ear(?). The ending is kind of anticlimatic, but works at extending this great feud. This is as vicious of a match as you'll see in this period of US wrestling. These two really hammered each other and left the crowd worn down. A great match in a great feud, where a stip was thrown in and used way better than they usually are, making this the best strap match I've ever seen.
Rating: ****1/4

4. Sting & British Bulldog vs. Vader & Sid Vicious (Beach Blast `93)
This feud was made interesting by adding WCW #2 babyface (Bulldog) and heel (Vicious). At the previous PPV, Bulldog had taken Vader the distance and Sid offical returned to the company for what was going to be a world title run, but after a scissor-fight in the fall it was all aborted. Sid and Vader work over Davey Boy Smith, the tall man with some pretty lame offense and the fat man with the exact opposite. Finally the hot tag is made and we get classic Sting-Vader, while Sid acts like a goof. The faces keep getting heat on them as the heels dominate. Sting and Sid brawl to the outside allowing Vader to debut the moonsault! Sting breaks it up and the Bulldog is able to cradle Vader for the upset win. Excellent main event tag match. Although I think Sid should've taken the fall for his tean since they weren't building a Bulldog championship run, so why have him beat the champ? Sid looked as bad as you'd expect, but the other three carried his load well. Good heat, psychology, the whole deal.
Rating: ***3/4

5. Sting vs. Vader (Slamboree `94)
The final PPV match between these two and we thought their feud was over. The beginning is excellent with things slow starting before Vader corners Sting before laying in a beating. The Philly fans, chanting "Sting must die!" love it. After Sting does a little damage, Vader is right back on him pounding away and even using some matwork to attack Sting's bad knee. After a few hope spots, a ref bump (that costs Vader), some failed interference by Race and missed Vader Moonsault and Sting gets the win. Another stiff war between these two with a different direction in some respects. Probably too short to put it on the level of the other classics, but a nice aftershock of this awesome feud.
Rating: ***1/2