With TNA finally getting mass national exposure through their recent Spike TV deal, TNA took the opportunity to release some DVDs to capitalize on their new national presence. And while a lot of long-time TNA followers would probably like a best-of-Christopher Daniels (it’s coming soon) or a best-of-AMW (they did one once, but only through the website), TNA made the right move and went with their marquee stars for their first national distribution deals; Jeff Hardy (although how a best-of Hanky-Boy can even exist is beyond me), a spotlight DVD on the X-Division (a review is forthcoming) and, naturally, AJ Styles. But to showcase the heavyweights … well … as much as they like to book around Jarrett like he’s the axis the planet spins on, everybody knows who the bigger name is in TNA: Raven. Would you prefer a Trytan DVD? Or a David Young set? Didn’t think so.
So, with that, we dive into TNA’s 2-disc set called Nevermore: The Best Of Raven. These are pretty bare bones, mind you: all matches. If there’s build-up, it might be tacked on at the beginning of the match, but that’s only because that’s how it was presented on the TNA PPV. Otherwise, you get the match and that’s it.
Why it’s on here: Um, do I have to cut and paste the above sentence. RAVEN’S DEBUT. As in, the first time he showed up. That’s why it’s on here, ya twit.
What to expect from it: It’s a post-angle match, and a weird one too. Raven interrupts a Jarrett post-title-defense celebration (he was a face at the time). The ring is FULL of people; I mean, quite literally, there’s probably 15 people in the ring including Jarrett, and they book Raven to ambush Jarrett. Yeah, as weird as it sounds.
The watchability: Once, for history’s sake. No need to watch it again.
Match #1: Raven vs. The Sandman, Clockwork Orange House Of Fun match
Why it’s on here: Raven had only been in TNA for a couple months at this point. They brought in The Sandman with the premise of Sandman looking to stop Raven’s “destiny” of winning the NWA Title … and, mostly, to showcase Raven’s barbaric nature to those one or two people watching TNA who, somehow, might’ve missed the past 10 years of Scott Levy’s career.
What to expect from it: The premise of a Clockwork Orange match is absolutely potty … take four tall poles and attach them to the iron posts. From these posts, string chains to and fro. From these chains, hang various weapons (chairs, Singapore canes, garbage cans) and other items (a large 10×10 section of chain link fencing encased in gate piping). The winner is declared when one combatant takes the other up to the balcony and throws them over the railing, through a stack of three tables. Got that? Good, because I don’t, and I watched the damn thing. So, now add Raven (a sick, demented human being) and Sandman (a crazed, drunk human being who, obviously, has been enjoying a few cold ones in his off time), throw in Kevin Sullivan as a special referee (who does no refereeing, and actually helps both guys get down weapons and acts more like a facilitator) and imagine the carnage.
The watchability: It’s kind of funny to watch Sullivan hand weapons to both guys. And Raven and Sandman do beat each other stupid with the implements. But even for a brawl … not that great.
Match #2: Raven vs. AJ Styles, Ladder match
Why it’s on here: Raven was still in pursuit of Jarrett and the NWA Title. But AJ Styles had an equal claim to #1 contendership. The solution? Ladder match, with a contract hanging above for a NWA Title shot to the winner.
What to expect from it: Let’s see … ladder … an acrobatic bump artist … a hardcore bump artist … two guys who know how to tell a story in the ring, and how to sell properly … go f*ck your stylistic mismatch.
The watchability: On paper, Styles/Raven seems like a square peg/round hole problem. But when the wrestlers are two people with an almost obsessive attention for psychology and in-ring storytelling, styles matter not. You won’t see the level of innovation that one might find in the Michaels/Ramon ladder matches, but that doesn’t make the bumps these guys take any less sick (and AJ takes some nasty bumps, don’t you know it). A thoroughly enjoyable match. Too bad it isn’t longer.
Match #3: Raven vs. Jeff Jarrett, NWA World Title match
Why it’s on here: After months of chasing Jarrett, Raven finally had his chance to fulfill his destiny. This was, to this point in time, TNA’s biggest World Title match, with two very prominent wrestlers (their top heel and their top non-X-Division face) fighting over the company’s top prize. At the time, smart money was on Raven to win, but ha-ha-ha, how little did us smarks know.
What to expect from it: Both guys are brawlers and bleeders. Plus, Vince Russo was booking, and was an on-screen character leading his heel Sports Entertainment Xtreme (get it? S.E.X.? That Russo, what a witty bastard) faction, which was a group of younger, hungry wrestlers, against Jarrett and his followers, who represented the “55-year tradition of the National Wrestling Alliance” (so sayeth Mike Tenay). Basically, a rehash of the New Blood vs. Millionaire’s Club feud. So, couple two brawlers and Russo with the pen, and what do you get?
The watchability: Crazy bumping, blood aplenty, an ECW reunion, and crazy overbooking. Yup, it’s Russoriffic. But, for once, it’s damn good. It don’t hurt that you got a southern brawler and a classic hardcore specialist who know how to tell a story and work the drama, either. One of the better matches on the DVD, amazingly.
Match #4: Raven vs. Shane Douglas, Hair vs. Hair match
Why it’s on here: Somewhere after Raven failed to fulfill his destiny, he turned face and got into a war with Father James Mitchell and his Disciples Of The New Church. After Raven had dealt with New Church flunkies Sin and Slash, Mitchell turned to bringing in Shane Douglas to eliminate Raven.
What to expect from it: Douglas, on the tail end of his career. Brawling. And vomiting. “Wait,” you’re thinking, “what did Jed just write? Did he write vomiting?” Yes, oh dear reader, VOMITING. As in the forced and unstoppable ejection of digested matter from the digestive tract. Shane Douglas, for some reason I can’t quite nail down, vomits in the middle of the match. This is not a work, nor a dumb joke on my part; this is actual bile and stomach contents, barfed right up on the mat. And amazingly, the match continues. Also worth mentioning is the post-match angle, which has bleeding during a haircut (!), and some of the best commentating I’ve ever heard. One problem? The match is clipped in the middle … there’s a white flash, and it cuts from one moment to another. Why they clipped a PPV match is beyond me.
The watchability: Again, neither man is Chris Benoit, but both men are seasoned ring veterans, and know how to tell and sell, all the while masking their downsides. The WWE Main Event Style wishes it were this good.
Match #5: Raven vs. Vampiro, Gallows Of Retribution match
Why it’s on here: **SPOILER ALERT** Mitchell had employed a masked man to help in the war against Raven. At the end of the Douglas match, the masked man unmasked, and for once, a mystery man angle paid dividends: it was Vampiro. So, obviously, Raven wants a piece of Vampiro, and this is the result.
What to expect from it: This also has a clip in it, so be forewarned. Now then, onto the match … what’s a Gallows Of Retribution match, Jed? Glad you asked, anonymous reader; take a submission match. Now, tie four long chains with dog collars on the end of them to the ropes, one on each side of the ring. Winner is declared by submission, but only when he submits after being hung over the top rope by said collar/chain. Cool, no?
The watchability: Not a great match … Vampiro seems off his mark, and seems to make Raven off his mark, too. But it’s brutal, it’s bloody, and how many matches have a winning condition of HANGING SOMEONE? Worth watching just for that.
Match #6: Raven vs. Father James Mitchell, Last Man Standing match
Why it’s on here: The final piece of the war against Mitchell and his Church was this, a match against Mitchell himself (his wrestling debut).
What to expect from it: Well, for starters, let’s clear this up right off the bat: it ain’t a LMS match. It’s a Texas Deathmatch: pinfall or submission, then a 10-count from the ref. I hate Texas Deathmatches … I don’t get having to do two things to win. It seems redundant. Moving on, what you have here is a manager vs. a wrestler in a garbage match. Do I need to color in the numbers, or can you handle this yourself?
The watchability: Mitchell takes a good asskicking. But this isn’t really a “match” per se. It’s like the Vince/Undertaker Buried Alive match: an excuse to see someone get their ass kicked.
Match #7: Raven vs. Abyss
Why it’s on here: Probably just cause of the two characters. I mean, really: Raven, the twisted, tormented soul vs. Abyss, the tormented, twisted monster. I think this is covered in the fourth chapter of Booking For Dummies.
What to expect from it: You’ve got one of the best brawlers in the universe in Raven, a man who knows how to use psychology and still has some wrestling skills buried back in his brain. And you’ve got Abyss, the best big man in the business, a psychotically adept brawler with severe power and deceptive speed. What do you think?
The watchability: A fine little brawl. Not a world-class Funk/Foley thing, but still high class.
Match #8: Raven vs. Chris Harris vs. Abyss vs. AJ Styles
Why it’s on here: Harris was getting this bizarre singles push. AJ was in the hunt. Abyss was getting his semi-annual main event push. Enter into this Raven, who was obsessed with fulfilling his self-proclaimed destiny of capturing the NWA World Championship; then-Director Of Authority Vince Russo didn’t like Raven or his tactics, and didn’t want to include him in the match, but Raven kept f*cking everyone else out of their shots. So … four people who wanted a shot, and three people who wanted to be the fourth … easy math says put Raven in there.
What to expect from it: Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½ of AMW. Abyss. Styles. Raven. Is there a bad apple in this bunch? You got brawling mayhem, technical mayhem, high-flying mayhem … it’s a buffet of mayhem, it is. And the booking here is balls-out clever; you end up really considering Harris a World Champion contender, which is something WWE would never do. The whole match, the build-up and the payoff, it’s all the kind of edgy booking the WWE can’t even contemplate doing, let alone imitate.
The watchability: Damn high, says I. You just can’t lose with this foursome of competitors. A choice inclusion, for sure.
Match #9: Raven vs. Chris Harris vs. AJ Styles vs. Ron “The Truth” Killings, Deadly Draw NWA World Title match
Why it’s on here: This was to “clear up the World Title picture once and for all”, sez Russo; Harris had been screwed by Raven, Killings had been screwed by Raven, and Raven had been f*cking with Styles prior to his winning of the NWA Title and after. This was, ostensibly, the settlement of it.
What to expect from it: The Deadly Draw is a weird concept, like a Royal Rumble-meets-WWE-rules-triple-threat. It starts off with two people (Harris and Styles). If, after 5 minutes no decision is rendered, a third person enters, and so on for three until there are four. If a decision is rendered while there is two, the match “restarts”; if there is a decision rendered while there is three, both the person who is pinned and the person who was not involved with the decision are eliminated and the new person comes out. It’s quite convoluted, but it makes sense when you watch it. Just explaining it is a bitch. Just keep this in mind: Styles. Killings. Harris. Raven. Again, a nice four-way with not a weak link in the chain
The watchability: Dude, you have to ask? Take the previous match and swap the power and brawling of Abyss with the fluidity of Killings. Crazy bumps. All sorts of psychology, both in the technical sense and in the story-telling sense. Without a doubt, one of the best reasons to get this DVD.
Match #10: Raven vs. Sonjay Dutt
Why it’s on here: It’s build-up to the Raven vs. Sabu match. See, Sonjay Dutt is from India, and Sabu is billed as such, so naturally, they must be friends in wrestling logic.
What to expect from it: It’s an angle advancement match, pitting the very small Dutt against the sadistic Raven; i.e., it’s a one-sided ass-whipping. A very protracted ass-whipping, like the Steelers vs. a high-school powder-puff team.
The watchability: Really, it’s totally one-sided, even moreso then the Mitchell match. Dutt has almost no offense whatsoever. Raven beats on him, beats on him, handcuffs him, beats on him. If you have no clue about how the Raven/Sabu match came to pass, watch it once for the post-match showdown. But for those of us who, ya know, know how it came about, the inclusion of this match is a joke. We coulda had the original Monster’s Ball, or Raven’s NWA World Title victory, or virtually anything else instead of this filler.
Match #11: Raven vs. Sabu
Why it’s on here: In all the years Raven and Sabu worked in ECW, they never crossed paths. Ever. TNA seized upon this unique opportunity and booked an ECW fanboy’s dream match, possibly the last ECW dream match left to offer, and gave it a remarkable and truly awesome build-up.
What to expect from it: Neither man are in their ECW fighting prime, so this match gets ECW rules. In other words, it’s a garbage match. Did you expect anything less from them?
Extras on Disc #2
Both the following matches are presented with commentary by Raven (who slips in and out of character the whole time) and the Red Rooster himself, Terry Taylor. The normal commentary is not available. Don’t ask me why.
Match #12: Raven vs. Chris Harris
Why it’s on here: It’s part of the “Road To The Steel Cage” storyline that also includes the first of the two four-way-dances listed above.
What to expect from it: And suddenly, Raven the psychological master comes out of the woodwork. Sure, he was in the other matches, but this is different; Harris comes in with an injured shoulder, and Raven goes after it like a shark that smells blood in the water. And Raven’s commentary on it is hilarious, claiming that every attack Harris makes that involves his shoulder was “planned” by Raven to injure the shoulder further.
The watchability: Oh man, it doesn’t get much better then this. Even ignoring the commentary (which is absolutely awesome), this match f*cking rules six ways to Sunday.
Match #13: Raven vs. AJ Styles
Why it’s on here: More of the drama from that period, as Raven and Styles had some scores to settle, and their paths just happened to converge here.
What to expect from it: Two technical masters going at it full-bore. “Wait a second,” you’re saying, “Styles, sure, we all know he is God in the ring … but Raven ain’t a technical master. Have you been sniffing the airplane glue again?” Oh, no, no, no, paco, go thee and check this out: Raven wrestles a technical match. Fujiwara arm bars and everything, man. It’s like he channeled the Raven from the WCW days when he was feuding for the US Title with Benoit and DDP.
The watchability: This is like THE reason to get this DVD. There are more then a couple awesome matches on this DVD, but this is a thing of beauty. You’ll watch this and feel like you’re in the Twilight Zone, but you’ll love it. Solid f*cking gold, my friend, solid f*cking gold.
And that’s it.
Wait, that’s it? No Raven promos? No mindgames? Yes, that’s it. This DVD, which was produced a little over a couple months ago, manages to totally ignore anything and everything he has done since the fed moved to Florida, which occurred well over a year ago (I’m sure longer, but I don’t remember, and don’t write me to tell me when exactly). So, apparently, all he’s done since then is suck wind. I don’t get it either. But, them’s the breaks. Take what you can get, cause WWE ain’t gonna release a Raven DVD any decade soon.