Squared-Circle Science: Greatest Wrestling Factions and WrestleMania XXX

In this latest column of Squared-Circle Science, I’ll look at a pair of Blu-rays that were recently released by WWE Home Video. With the advent of the WWE Network this past February, it could have easily signaled the end of the home retail market for WWE DVDs altogether. Unless you are collector, then why bother purchasing a PPV release on DVD when you can stream it in 720 HD? Factor in the thousands of hours of catalog programming World Wrestling Entertainment has in its possession, not to mention the original series produced for the network, then it’s easy to consider a down trend to the quality of future compilations, wrestler profiles and home video releases in general.

When WWE unveiled the single disc title Signature Sounds: The Music of WWE back in March, I figured we were near the end of days. Seriously. Watching the feature with a less than 60-minute run time, I thought someone had slapped a WWE Network special onto a DVD and pushed it as a cheap, bargain bin purchase for the casual WWE fan.

Then the mood subsided with the releases of Ultimate Warrior – The Ultimate Collection (which I covered here) and The Best of RAW: After the Show (also covered). Both are strong titles, especially if you were and remain a fan of the Ultimate Warrior or are just the wee bit curious of what could have possibly transpired when Monday Night Raw went off the air.

We now arrive at a compilation that puts a spotlight on some of the different factions that have stepped into a wrestling ring. Depending on if you go by the cover art or the main menu screen, you are either watching Greatest Wrestling Factions or Wrestling’s Greatest Factions. To the company’s credit WWE forgoes the traditional countdown format when discussing the twenty different factions featured. So if you watch the DVD release, you’ll find that the three greatest factions are spread across the set. D-Generation X is on Disc One; the n.W.o. on Disc Two; and The Four Horsemen on Disc Three.

Those wanting to know the factions’ placement in countdown form, well the WWE Network did its own countdown feature letting the WWE Universe determine the Top 10. Needless to say, The Four Horsemen didn’t place first. Hell, they didn’t even medal, having to settle for fourth behind the New World Order, The Brood (Really?) and D-Generation X.

Perusing the contents, there’s a lot of variety to be found. The greatest ones are discussed, of course, but we also get profiles on some groups that may not have been together long, yet they left quite the impression. This includes CM Punk’s Straight Edge Society, the Oddities, and Right to Censor. The average length devoted to each faction is approximately five minutes and is supported with a bonus match of some kind. Nearly half of the matches featured come from pay-per-view so there are some repeats to be found. The most interesting selection may be of a 1998 match with the Oddities that played on the short-lived Shotgun Saturday Night. Coincidentally, Kurrgan & Golga would square off against Too Much (Brian Christopher and Scott Taylor), who in 1999 would become Too Cool and would gain a third member later that year when the heel duo became fan favorites with Rikishi. Sadly, Too Cool is not one of the factions featured. Though it would be wishful thinking, how cool would it have been for WWE to include the 10-Man tag from the February 2000 Raw with The Rock, Cactus Jack, Too Cool and Rikishi taking on X-Pac, Road Dogg and the Radicalz. One of the hottest crowds I’ve ever heard on a live wrestling telecast.

Getting back to the profiles, each one is littered with reflections from current superstars, legends, and personalities. With no host to guide the viewer, we sort of segue from one group to another with no rhyme or reason or chronology, like moving from ECW’s Triple Threat to Legacy to the Dungeon of Doom (this group is the thing of nightmares, kids). When selecting the factions to include trust me when I say it isn’t an exact science; they dropped the ball by not including the Varsity Club, the New Blood, or Raven’s Nest/Flock. They could have even gone as far as given us Demolition when the Ax and Smash tag team became a trio with the addition of Crush.

Now about the matches selected for this home release. A lot of this is stuff I can barely remember or wish to forget. For nostalgia purposes the six-man tag from The Big Event pitting Bobby “The Brain Heenan, King Kong Bundy and Big John Studd against Captain Lou Albano, Big Machine and Super Machine is a hoot, as is seeing the Fabulous Freebirds taking on the Von Erichs in an 8-man tag team elimination match. WWE ups the elimination ante with its pre-Royal Rumble 1999 Corporate Rumble from Monday Night Raw and a 10-man tag team elimination match involving The Nexus (such a bad faction – and maybe I was wrong about having them include WCW’s New Blood instead). We also get two of the worst WarGames matches, from 1995 and 1998, which also saw home releases last year in the WarGames compilation.

Regardless of match quality, the selection in terms of variety (elimination tags, six-man tag matches, a gauntlet and a forgotten battle royal with “rumble” rules) is a good mix overall. The Blu-ray release includes three other factions to bring the total number to twenty-three in all. Two of the three factions I’ll agree are worthy of the label of “greatest.” The other I’m not sure about. Those three factions are the Spirit Squad, the Shield, and the Wyatt Family. The matches used to showcase these groups include the Spirit Squad winning the tag straps the night after WrestleMania 22; the Shield tearing down the Barclays Center in its first official match at the TLC 2012 PPV against Daniel Bryan, Kane, and Ryback; and the Wyatt Family battling Daniel Bryan in a 3-on-1 handicap match from TLC 2013.

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Moving on, we have WrestleMania XXX. The thirtieth annual “Showcase of the Immortals” was held in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana with an attendance of 75,167. This was the first time a WrestleMania was held in New Orleans, coming a little more than a year after Super Bowl XLVII took place in the same venue.

The big storyline going into the event was Daniel Bryan and his potential insertion into the main event program, which saw Randy Orton defending his WWE World Heavyweight Championship against Royal Rumble winner Batista. Only Daniel Bryan had to defeat Triple H, leader of The Authority and founding member of Evolution, a faction that also consisted of Orton and Batista. If Bryan won the main event would become a Triple Threat title match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship with Orton defending his title against both Batista and Bryan. If Triple H won the main event would be Orton against Batista and Triple H.

The deck was clearly stacked against Bryan, who had been embroiled in a program with Randy Orton and Triple H dating as far back as SummerSlam 2013 when he defeated John Cena for the WWE Championship. His reign lasted mere seconds thanks to a Triple H pedigree finisher and Randy Orton cashing in his Money in the Bank contract to win the title. While Bryan would spend much of the fall trying to win back the title from Orton, he was always unsuccessful due to the fact that he was just a “B+ player,” according to Triple H.

Triple H: Burier of Talent (unless your moniker is The Undertaker – more on him later).

WrestleMania XXX was telecast on both pay-per-view and as the first mega-event offered live on the WWE Network. The event kicked off in grand fashion with the hot opener of Daniel Bryan taking on Triple H. Now I have a friend who calls this the greatest opening match he’s seen on a wrestling PPV. Having watched the match on Blu-ray (my friend saw it live in the Superdome), I will say it is in the top five discussion (along with Brian Pillman v. Jushin Liger for the WCW Light Heayweight Championship at SuperBrawl II, Rey Misterio, Jr. v. Psychosis at Bash at the Beach 1996, and The Rockers v. The Orient Express from Royal Rumble 1991), but for my money Bret Hart v. Owen Hart from WrestleMania X is the best opening match on a PPV card. I just loved the back-story more than I did with Bryan and Triple H. Because let’s be honest: Triple H’s Authority is just this era’s version of Vince McMahon’s Corporation, and Bryan is filling Steve Austin’s anti-authority role. With Bret and Owen it was a storyline of sibling rivalry, where Owen was perceived to be in the shadow of big brother Bret. Which is why if you go back and see how the seeds were planted at Survivor Series 1993 and began to sprout at Royal Rumble 1994, the payoff is worth it for both parties at WrestleMania X. Owen wins, but Bret still gets the bigger sendoff, winning the title against Yokozuna. Plus the storyline would continue to evolve through SummerSlam 1994 and with the outcome of Bret’s match with Bob Backlund at Survivor Series 1994.

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That’s not to take anything away from the storytelling of Bryan and Triple H, as H is still a cagey veteran, though his ring psychology has definitely diminished since he was at the apex as a singles competitor (which to me was 2000-2001 where he was involved in programs with Mick Foley, The Rock, Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Steve Austin and The Undertaker for the span of one and one-half years before going down with a leg injury). In the end the right man won, or else it would have been Royal Rumble 2014 all over again – where Bryan was not included in the 30-man over-the-top rumble – and the crowd was fit to riot.

After the exciting opening contest we got what is probably the worst six-man tag match involving The Shield. Their opponents were The Authority’s Kane, Road Dogg and Billy Gunn. (Geez, did we just flashback to 1998?) The match was a squash ending in less than three minutes. Things would pick up in the third match with a 31-man battle royal for the Andre the Giant Memorial Trophy. Battle royals, in general, are perfunctory until the last few competitors.

As a quick aside, I’ve noticed an increase in battle royals in WWE, especially using the provision to decide championships (most recently with Dean Ambrose’s U.S. title and as a way to determine a new intercontinental champion due to “Bad News” Barrett’s injury). I’m not on board with this concept. Instead, you should have the battle royal end with the two men left standing in the ring. Then have a one-on-one match the following week or at a mega card to determine a new champion (think back to the Monday Night Raws in fall 1993 where a battle royal was held to determine the two competitors for Shawn Michaels’ stripped intercontinental championship – in this case it was Razor Ramon and Rick Martel – and they would wrestle each other to determine a new champion the week following). Not only does this follow the directive that a championship can change hands by pinfall or submission (or in this case be awarded) it also starts a feud over said championship. But I digress.

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The Andre the Giant Memorial battle royal did serve a purpose. It put Antonio Cesaro, now just Cesaro, completely over with the crowd. This is despite him being a villain. Though, WWE is at a point now where it’s possible for anyone to be a tweener. Bray Wyatt is a villain yet he has his share of fans. John Cena is the face of the company and he’s booed constantly because they can’t stand his persona or wrestling ability. When Cesaro did a Herculean feat of picking up the Big Show and depositing him over the top rope a star was born. Now the question isn’t if he’ll ever win the top prize it’s a question of when.

The singles match between John Cena and Bray Wyatt seemed like a thrown together pairing, just so both men would have a program on the biggest card of the year. Yet, Wyatt’s brilliant promos and the sizzle package cut to Eminem’s “Legacy” really helped to sell the story.

And that story was to see if Wyatt could drive the “monster” out of Cena. That proved futile in the end, with Cena sticking to his Hustle, Loyalty, Respect self and finishing Wyatt off with an Attitude Adjustment. What I don’t understand is that the two would have rematches at Extreme Rules and Payback with gimmicks that included fighting inside a steel cage and trying to be the last man standing. Both are noted for their brutality, yet with the story being about Wyatt trying to drive Cena to be a monster, these matches seem oxymoronic in their booking.

In an unwise move the company went from Cena/Wyatt to the semi main event of the evening: “The Beast v. The Streak,” Brock Lesnar taking on The Undertaker. You really needed a squash or a quick tag match of some kind in between these matches so the crowd could compose itself. Nevertheless, the Brock/Taker match happened and it was a flaming bag of crap. That’s putting it mildly. It was slow and plodding, and the match felt like it went on forever. Forever was 25 minutes, and it should have only been fifteen. There was a period during The Undertaker’s reign at WrestleMania where it went from just being about his spotless winning record to The Undertaker having the Streak and one of the best matches on the WrestleMania card. Well, both were broken that night in the Superdome. This guy’s expression would launch one thousand memes, even though he isn’t an Undertaker fan. He was shocked just like everyone else.

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There are those who argue that Brock shouldn’t have gone over. If not him, then who? No one but Brock could withstand that kind of notoriety. If the victory had come at the hands of someone WWE was trying to put over as a future star, then said performer would likely buckle even with the boost. With Brock and the way his work schedule is laid out, it means Paul Heyman can be a “heat-building” machine, constantly referencing about how his client, Brock Lesnar, defeated The Undertaker. Wait until Brock reemerges (beating The Undertaker at WrestleMania makes him an automatic #1 contender for the top championship that he can claim at any time, right?) and tries to get back that victory that John Cena had at Extreme Rules 2012.

With the crowd in awe at what just happened, WWE quickly went with the Vicki Guerrero Invitational, a 14-Diva single-fall match for the WWE Divas Championship. AJ Lee would defy the odds and retain her title. Subsequently, she would lose it the following night on Monday Night Raw against Paige, who was making her television debut.

Finally reaching the main event, by my count the top moments of the evening have included Bryan’s victory against Triple H, Cesaro’s incredible strength in the battle royal and The Undertaker’s streak being broken. Oh, there was also the opening to the show with Hulk Hogan referring to the Superdome as the Silverdome (aka the host location for WrestleMania III) before being joined by Steve Austin and later The Rock. The three would commiserate, do their catchphrases, poses and drink a few beers. What was there no bourbon to be found on Bourbon Street?

Not very many highlights, so things better pick up now that Daniel Bryan is in the main event. Many attempts were made to neutralize Bryan in the match, including interference from Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. The climax of the match would see Bryan carted off on a stretcher after suffering a Batista Bomb and inverted RKO on the Spanish announce table (Ay, caramba!). He would get off the stretcher and crawl back to the ring to continue the match. Despite their best efforts, Randy Orton and Batista couldn’t outlast Bryan and the power of the Yes! Movement. Bryan would make Batista tap out to his Yes! Lock.

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So in the end, the crowd left happy, yet I can’t help be a little disappointed. Not that Daniel Bryan was the victor. What bothers me is that it was Batista that tapped out and not Orton. It basically means that their program during fall 2013 – where they main evented three consecutive PPVs – was all for naught. A championship win is a championship win I guess, but it would have been more impactful if Bryan got his victories over both Triple H and Randy Orton on WWE’s biggest stage, then it would have completed the feuds that began at SummerSlam 2013 in full.

With WrestleMania XXX being a ceremonial events of sorts – the death of the Streak and the culmination of the Yes! Movement – I was expecting the Blu-ray release to have a little oomph in terms of extras. Aside from the pre-show match and the 2014 Hall of Fame Class Induction of Ultimate Warrior, Carlos Colon, Lita, Razor Ramon, the late Paul Bearer, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and Mr. T (which runs three hours and 25 minutes), the rest of the special features is nothing more than electronic press kit material, short featurettes that likely aired on the WWE Network in some capacity. The most insulting is the glossy 19-minute overview of the “Top 30 Greatest WrestleMania Moments.” This quick countdown gives no historical significance of the moments until we reach the top five, which have canned sound bites of reflections taken from previous WWE Home Video releases. And if you spring for the Blu-ray, all you’ll get are two additional extras that probably run at most five minutes: “All That’s Left is The Game” (the promo video of Triple H narrated by Stephanie McMahon – this aired on a few WWE telecasts leading up to WrestleMania XXX), and the unveiling of the Bruno Sammartino statue.

Disappointing extras, but WWE did do something right. There are some packages of the DVD and Blu-ray release that includes a small promo book sampler titled “WrestleMania XXX: 30 Moments for 30 Years.” The 64-page book counts down the 30 best moments, according to WWE, from WrestleMania. Interestingly enough they do not correlate with the special features’ video countdown. And if you don’t like the cover art of the Blu-ray, WWE has included a reversible cover, which I suggest if you are a Daniel Bryan fan. So much better seeing Bryan stare into the rafters, a championship title hanging off each shoulder, as purple and gold confetti rains down in the Superdome. Way to geaux, Bryan!

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