rivalries

WWE asked for and got fan input to determine the content of “The 25 Greatest Rivalries” Blu-ray and DVD, and, unlike the weekly Twitter/WWE App votes on Raw which most of us net fans suspect are rigged, fan input clearly shows in the final cut. Granted there are classic feuds I personally wish had made the cut, but as a wrestling fan since I was 10, I’m overall very happy and legitimately surprised by not only the feuds that DO appear, but the order they’re in.

A couple years ago when the ‘E released their “50 Greatest Superstars Of All Time” DVD, a lot of us fans in the IWC, (Internet Wrestling Community for the uninitiated), accused the doc of being blatantly skewed to stars who were either currently with the E, or had predominantly been mostly with the E, throwing in a few token guys who weren’t really WWE guys. Vince appears to have actually listened to that criticism. Not only is it obvious that a multitude of hardcore lifelong fans were indeed offered input on the listing, but Vince, or whomever was mostly in charge of this DVD, respected that input.

Aside of the admittedly kind of educational but otherwise odd and out of place framing device focusing on teaching the audience chemistry through Renee Young in a labcoat, (which honestly could’ve been left on the cutting room floor completely and never been missed), the format of the doc is different from all previous docs. Where usually they get soundbites from a bunch of folks and intersperse them throughout, each feud in the list is related by just one person each. And some of those narrators are really surprising, but really make sense. Of all 25 people chosen to relate a rivalry, only the Miz, Big Show, and very surprisingly CM Punk fall flat.

renne young

Miz relates the Rock/Stone Cold rivalry and seems like he’s just reciting the standard company line descriptions of it. Everything he says seems rehearsed and lifeless. Big Show tries to relate how he empathized with Andre and cheered for him while narrating Andre/Hogan, but it feels forced until the very end when he almost sadly laments never having been able to meet Andre. And CM Punk gets to narrate Savage/Hogan, which makes sense given Punk’s love for Savage, but he inexplicably does it in straight-up kayfabe. You’d think Punk kayfabing this would be comedy gold, but he honestly sounds bored as all hell and like he’s fulfilling a contractual obligation as fast as he can so he can just go eat already.

Thankfully, those three narrations and the “Chemistry Lesson” framing device are really the only negatives I can gripe about in this doc. Everything else impresses and sometimes even surprises.

For one, I’m honestly shocked that guys who NEVER worked for Vince got airtime here. Further proof of fan input. Magnum T.A. gets a piece here for his frankly terrifying feud with Tully Blanchard. Though to be fair had his career not been ended by that car crash Magnum likely WOULD have ended up in the WWF/E at some point.  As a lifelong fan whose knowledge of wrestling predates my own lifespan, going back as far as “The Russian Lion” George Haackenschmidt in the late 1800s/early 1900s, I can safely consider myself an expert on Pro Wrestling history. I know a boatload about wrestling, and I still learned things here I actually didn’t know.

As it turns out, Magnum and Tully were a pair who had actual legit hatred for each other backstage. “On Stage” so to speak their feud was over the United States Championship and to a lesser degree fighting over Tully’s then Valet Baby Doll. What was not known to the audience was that backstage Tully legit hated Magnum as Magnum was now married to Tully’s ex-wife and raising Tully’s children. Dusty Rhodes who was relating this rivalry said the promoters and other wrestlers were often legitimately terrified that one or both of them would go into business for themselves in a match and someone would end up legit hurt. The absolutely brutal cage match the two had was one of the most bloody and brutal things ever seen in American wrestling, and had even Dusty jumping out of his seat the whole match.

Another surprise inclusion is the Nick Bockwinkel/Verne Gagne feud. I had only even just been born when these two started their rivalry, to give you an idea how long ago this feud was, so I’m guessing that a few of the lifelong fans who gave input have had very long lives. As all these except the Punk narration are NOT kayfabe, they get into the behind the scenes of how Verne Gagne owned the AWA full step and decided halfway through a Shea Stadium match with Bockwinkel that Nick was jobbing the belt to him that night. It was also nice to see Mean Gene Okerlund get the nod to narrate that one.

tully feud

The third entry that really surprised me, especially given the PG tone WWE strives for these days, was Abdullah The Butcher and Bruiser Brody. Neither man ever worked for Vince, but it can be said that Vince owes them both a huge debt. Both of these men are legendary for their violence and dedication, and it’s no surprise Mick Foley gets to narrate this one. I know a lot about Brody from years of reading PWI as a kid, but this was the first time I’d ever actually gotten to see him in action, and the influence he’s had on Foley, ECW, and how wrestling as a whole has evolved is obvious. He was a man ahead of his time and a spectacle to behold. It’s also a treat hearing Mick speak so reverently of both men, relating Abdullah’s legendary outside the ring classiness, and how as a young man he used to tell people he was secretly Brody’s son.

Other surprises include the tag feud between the Von Erichs and the Freebirds making the list, AND making the top 5. Ric Flair gets the nod to narrate here, and while it’s great seeing him let his inner fanboy show through talking about it from the point of view of a fan who just loved watching these guys, it’s also sombre when he laments that he can’t enjoy his memories of this feud because of the tragedies that befell the Von Erich family.

Overall I agree with most of the choices, AND their placement on the list. When you consider success, relevance, and the impact each rivalry had, their positions make sense. The only rivalry listed here I vehemently disagree with is HHH/Orton. It was a decent feud, but I would never put it in a top 25 of all time, or even a top 100. I think this one entry is included because as a McMahon now, HHH HAD to be included somewhere. I’d have preferred it be as a narrator, as none of HHH’s feuds except with Foley are Top 25 material. If they HAD to include a HHH feud, it should’ve been THAT one.

angle lesnar

A few surprises include Bret Hart narrating Angle/Lesnar. At first you think “okay why did they pick Bret to narrate here?” Then as you hear him talk about appreciating how two amateur wrestling stars who so successfully transitioned to the very different beast that is Pro Wrestling and wishing he could’ve worked with them both, it makes sense. Another surprise is seeing the Franchise Shane Douglas making his second appearance on a WWE Doc this year. I guess he’s mellowed in his old age and finally made peace with Vince. I had assumed he did the Foley Doc as a personal favour to Mick given how vocal Shane has always been about hating Vince and the WWE, but his appearance here tells me maybe at near 50 he’s finally let go of it and put the negativity behind him, and that’s good to see.

The absolute biggest shock on this doc though has to be seeing Vince effing Russo on a WWE product. Russo is the guy who got the nod to narrate Austin/McMahon. Talk about “No truly burned bridges in wrestling”. I swear I nearly died when I saw him. Though somehow it feels appropriate to have him talk about Austin/McMahon, since he did in fact have a pretty big hand in it.

It IS good to see Flair/Steamboat in the top 3. It was also a very pleasant surprise to me as a longtime fan that retired long-time NWA/WCW referee Tommy Young got the nod to narrate Flair/Steamboat, because honestly, he had the best seat in the house for probably 90% of their matches, who better to tell that story? Tommy seems so legitimately happy to be telling these stories, and his fondness for the memories he has of them really shines through.

All in all I think this is one of the best Docs the WWE has ever made, and certainly the most honest and unfiltered one. Hell I think this is honestly the first time it’s been said OUT of kayfabe on a WWE product that Wrestlemania succeeded mostly because of Roddy Piper. You see, a lot of us older fans believe that while Vince had a lot of the ideas and Hogan gave the fans their hero, none of that first big WWF wrestling boom would’ve worked as well as it did without Piper being the perfect heel to pull it all together, but this is a belief that until now was never acknowledged on a WWE product.

If you’re going to actually give the WWE your hard-earned money for a DVD this year, so far this and the Foley doc are your best bets.

We now return you to pretending you don’t watch Honey Boo Boo so you can feel better about your life.

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This article was first posted on July 23, 2013