No championship chronology is perfect, especially when it comes to talking about wrestling – where endings are predetermined and where title reigns become less and less about feuds and more about accumulating gold on your way up the card. Already, the WWE has given us a number of multi-disc compilations of some of its most famous titles. A decade ago (2006) we were presented with the History of the WWE Championship, a three-disc set spanning from 1971 to 2005. That compilation did its best to present historical title changes and memorable encounters, plus emphasize changing eras as the WWF dropped the “F” and rebranded itself as sports entertainment.
While many of the matches included were repeats of matches seen on other superstar compilations, it provided a good overview for the neophyte viewer who had become interested in the sport a few years after John Cena made his ascension to the main event and had yet reached “Cena sucks!” apathy.
Now WWE has given us a history of the United States Championship (a title it inherited with the acquisition of WCW in 2001) in A Legacy of Greatness. History? To a degree. Greatness? Not at all. Rather than give us a 90-minute or two-hour documentary that chronicles forty-odd years of history, we get the dime tour with JBL (John Bradshaw Layfield) as our guide.
JBL’s overviews, where he does his best to fill in the gaps as he bridges from one period to the next, are a complete mess in acknowledging milestones. Even the lineage is questionable as Harley Race is regarded as the first U.S. champion winning a tournament final over Johnny Valentine on New Years Day 1975. Yet there is no video or photographical evidence offered as proof. But who’s going to argue with Race as champ?
Years before Ric Flair would be stylin’ and profilin’ as NWA’s main event star he was swapping the U.S Championship with another young upstart by the name of Ricky Steamboat. On this DVD compilation Flair is recognized with holding the record of U.S. Championship wins with five. Huh? He won six. (Note: WWE.com does not recognize Flair’s fifth reign when he beat Greg Valentine at a Greenville, SC house show back on November 24, 1980.) Only one match involving the Nature Boy made it on the set and it is probably one that not many fans have seen: a September 1978 match between him and Steamboat with Andre the Giant as the special guest referee. Due to filming on videotape instead of film (and videotape was costly back in the day), the match was not captured in full; large chunks are missing and we never find out the winner.
Following in the footsteps of Rocky IV we had a feud that epitomized the climate of the time when we had Magnum T.A. in a best of seven series with the Russian Nightmare Nikita Koloff. This is a feud I remember reading about but had never seen any of the matches. The story is that the Russians sent Koloff over to fight for them while the nation was also sending spies into America to steal secrets. The WWF would do something similar at the height of the Gulf War when Sgt. Slaughter was an Iraqi sympathizer and it was up to Hulk Hogan to save the day.
In what can only be blamed as bad editing there are moments during A Legacy of Greatness where we get a title change only to then have JBL talk about the period of time before it happened. This is one of many sloppy examples of this compilation being slapped together for the benefit of mass consumption or those seeking nostalgia.
Even the selection of matches is sketchy. We get Dusty Rhodes’ first and only United States Championship win and a secondary match with “The American Dream” after a short vignette. Okay, American Dream = U.S. Champion; I get it. Then there’s a Lex Luger/Sting match from December 1989 instead of seeing Luger lose the title to Stan Hansen the following year at Halloween Havoc after his record-setting 523-day reign. Was this even mentioned? It may have been, but my head started hurting after listening to JBL drone on and watching the highlight packages/vignettes, including one where WWE rewrites history again by saying that WCW killed the wrestling territories. Stay classy, Vince.
Here’s a head scratcher for you. Remember that period in WCW where you could be disqualified for coming off the top rope? Apparently you could also win a championship with a count out (as was the case in 1993 when Dustin Rhodes defeated Ricky Steamboat in the finals to determine a new champion after Rick Rude had the vacate the title due to injury).
Looking to acknowledge future WWE legends from their WCW days we get select matches featuring Steve Austin when he was “Stunning,” Eddie Guerrero, and Chris Jericho. Then there’s a random Curt Henning/Giant (Big Show) match that was more about pushing the Crow Sting vs. Hogan/nWo feud than anything else; Goldberg squashing Raven for the gold a night after Raven unseated Diamond Dallas Page from his 112-day reign as champ at Spring Stampede 1998; and more odd title exchanges (including one that was a first round match of the WCW World Heavyweight Title Tournament held in the fall of 1999). Why have the title defended in this circumstance?
Probably the biggest kick in the groin is WWE not acknowledging the historical significance of Booker T’s U.S. Championship win over Rick Steiner at WCW’s March 2001 PPV Greed. Prior to Booker T’s victory, the last African-American to hold the title was Bobo Brazil in 1977.
After the acquisition of WCW an influx of talent (and titles) entered WWE. However as the Invasion angle played out – horribly – the U.S. Championship would be unified with the Intercontinental Championship in a move that would be a death blow for a belt that once had been a secondary title for decades. Even with its resurrection in 2003 (as a means to give the SmackDown show its own secondary championship as part of the brand split) the gold was still taken for granted. When JBL says that the feud that is synonymous for the U.S. Championship in WWE is MVP vs. Matt Hardy you have failed as booker/promotion. John Cena’s first go around with the strap wasn’t a success (who can forget his feud with Carlito? I can!) but it had some life in 2012/2013 when the title reigns of stars Cesaro and Dean Ambrose were long but lacked compelling feuds.
It wasn’t until John Cena’s victory against Rusev at WrestleMania 31 that the title became important again. Cena introduced an Open Challenge and Raw was the platform where he defended the title almost every week. Cena’s first open challenge the night after WrestleMania is included for posterity, and yet WWE washes over the significance of Seth Rollins dethroning Cena at SummerSlam 2015. With the victory Rollins became the first superstar in WWE history to hold both the WWE World Heavyweight and United States Championships simultaneously. Sure, it may not be the Ultimate Warrior as Intercontinental Champion defeating WWF Champion Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI but it is still historical and worth mentioning on a compilation such as this. And yet we get Alberto Del Rio’s return at Hell in a Cell 2015 and beating Cena in like 8 minutes. Seriously, WWE, WTF?!
While there are a few gems in this collection (Austin vs. Muta from Spring Stampede 1994; Edge and Test’s unification match from Survivor Series 2001; and Cesaro defending his belt against Tyson Kidd in NXT) plus many matches that have never made it to a WWE DVD release, A Legacy of Greatness is a mixed bag with missed opportunities. It doesn’t help that we could not see Eddie Guerrero’s championship win at 2003’s Vengeance which brought the title back into WWE (on account of his opponent being Chris Benoit) or Guerrero facing off against Dean Malenko at Uncensored 1997 (which can be found on the Rise and Fall of WCW release). No, WWE does a disservice by not going deep into its archives and presenting the best release possible. Repeats of matches from other sets are minimal, but I think many could have done without Lex Luger and Dusty Rhodes from Starrcade 1987, Barry Windham against the Junk Yard Dog, or any match featuring Bobby Lashley. There are better quality matches out there. As such, this is an average compilation.
Tags: A Legacy of Greatness, John Cena, Lex Luger, Ric Flair, Squared-Circle Science, WWE DVD