I’m BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACK!!! The call went out and I answered. And while I’m sure conniption fits are inevitable, bottom line is I’ve been a fan since before a good chunk of you could walk, and I’m here to just talk about the business, period. So if we can all play nice and focus on that, this could be frolicking fun for all.
Been awhile since I was on the Pulse as an actual writer, but then it’s been awhile since much happened in wrestling in general that I had more than a paragraph or two worth of anything to say about. Which is why I’m so elated as a lifelong wrestling fan to have been so pleasantly surprised and impressed by WWE’s latest documentary release.
WWE asked for and got fan input to determine the content of “The 25 Greatest Rivalries”, and, unlike the weekly Twitter/WWE App votes on Raw which most of us suspect are rigged, fan input clearly shows in the final cut. Granted there are classic feuds I personally wish had made the cut that didn’t, and at least one I think made it that shouldn’t have, 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 few years ago when the ‘E released their “50 Greatest Superstars Of All Time” DVD, a lot of us, including a couple of the regular Pulse writers, 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 only 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 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. Seriously, she’s wasted as a bookend), the format of the doc is different from all previous docs. Where usually they get soundbites from a bunch of folks and pepper them throughout the entire doc when they have a relevant aside to the subject matter, each feud in the list is related by just one person per feud. 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.
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 size-wise 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 in person. 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 hilarious 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 lunch 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. Contrary to what a couple of my more frequent detractors insist, I am in fact an expert on Pro Wrestling history. I know a boatload about wrestling history, and I happily learned things here I actually didn’t know. (Even if you’re an expert on something, you should still be happy to learn new things about it. )
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 crippled. 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.
The third entry that really surprised me, especially given the PG tone WWE strives for right now, 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 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 Fritz’s boys.
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 disagree with is HHH/Orton. It was a decent feud, but I would never put it in a top 25 of all time. If HHH HAD to jam one of HIS feuds onto the doc, (Because I really can’t see any of his feuds really getting a lot of fan demand to be included here), he ought have gone with Foley. It IS however good to see Flair/Steamboat outrank it by making the top 3.
A few surprises include Bret Hart narrating Angle/Lesnar. At first you think “okay why did they pick Bret for THIS?”. After all By this point Bret was retired from wrestling, and still publicly at odds with Vince. And then as you hear him talk about appreciating how two amateur wrestling stars so successfully transitioned to the very different beast that is Pro Wrestling and wishing he could’ve worked with them both, choosing him makes sense.
Another surprise is seeing the Franchise Shane Douglas making his second appearance on a WWE Doc this year. When he appeared earlier in the year on the Foley doc, I, and I assume a lot of folks, just assumed it was as a favour to Mick, given Shane’s very public hate-on for Vince and his company over the years. And then he appears here, narrating a feud like it’s the most natural thing in the world. I guess he’s mellowed in his old age and finally made peace with Vince? Or at the very least knows when to shut up to take a nice paycheque.
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 shit a horse 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’s still just so….. goddamned surreal to see him here though.
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? And you can see the genuine fondness he has for those memories.
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 the first time it’s been said OUT of kayfabe on a WWE product that Wrestlemania succeeded mostly because of Piper. A lot of us older fans believe that while Vince had the money 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 WWE tv unless it was in kayfabe as Piper claiming it to be true and the faces dismissing it.
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.