Best of WWE Raw 15th Anniversary DVD review

Is wrestling geeky? It probably depends on how into it you are... and Rob's pretty into it

WWE Raw

I have been a wrestling fan for many years, a secret hobby hailing back to childhood, where Dickie Davies used to take us to Wolverhampton Civic Hall for World of Sport to watch overweight middle-aged men such as Big Daddy belly-flopping their way around the ring.

Later I moved on to the glitzy arenas of the World Wrestling Federation (now known as World Wrestling Entertainment after a nasty half-nelson from the World Wildlife Fund). Here over-pumped, orange faced supermen pretended to pound each other within an inch of their lives every week, and I was hooked. This was soap opera for blokes, with goodies and baddies, heroes and villains. They were as near to real life superheroes as I was every going to see on TV.

Having lost interest when women and public houses beckoned, I left the continuity of the WWE for many years, returning once again in 1999 as part of ‘Buffy Night’, a religious Friday-night event at my parents’ house where myself and some friends gathered to watch Buffy and Angel, capping the evening with WWF/WWE Raw. A few beers were usually involved by that stage.

Raw was – and remains – a two-hour wrestling event hosted in huge NEC-like indoor arenas around the US, where wrestling mastermind Vince McMahon stages rock concert-style events complete with pyros and massive video screens, where new, younger ladies and gents of vastly-enlarged physiques battle the bloomin’ heck out of each other, leading to monthly paid gigs such as Wrestlemania, Summerslam and the dubiously named King of the Ring.

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It’s a formula that is hugely successful and generates over a billion pounds a year in profit for the WWE, with Raw a flagship show for the company as well as a cash-cow that has been milked for 15 years. To celebrate this fact, the new 4-disc DVD set has been released, charting the entire history of the show.

As I set out on nearly nine hours of slam-dunking and miscellaneous wrestling antics, my girlfriend rolled her eyes and made a quick exit (even though she took interest when Randy Orton, CM Punk and Jeff Hardy appeared…hmmm) .

It has taken me over two weeks to get through the set as even though the discs are a superb retrospective look over the history of Raw nine hours of wrestling antics is too much even for me.

The first of the discs deals with the beginnings of Raw, which launched in a New York Manhattan Centre Ballroom Theatre (a venue that was later used a lot for rival ECW) back in 1993. Looking back these broadcasts look cheap, amateur and very dated, with a lot of the wrestlers sporting insane and garish gimmicks. Chief among these were the likes of Razor Ramon, the Kid and erm Max Moon, being the big draws at the time. Moving chronologically through the mid to late 90s, this disc shows the rise of legends like Degeneration X, Mick Foley and Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Disc two chronicles the show from 1999-2002, and here we see the huge impact that renaissance wrestling had when Austin, Undertaker and – most importantly – the Rock made their mark on the company. The eventual winner of the ‘Monday Night Wars’ (over rival WCW), Raw became the dominant force in ‘sports entertainment’, with McMahon becoming a caricature, playing an insane power hungry madman who made the wrestlers within his company do all sorts of extravagant things like driving beer trucks, running over cars in monster trucks, getting thrown out of cages, through chairs and even – at times – being buried alive.

The final disc brings us up to date with the formation of Evolution and the introduction of current superstars like Randy Orton, John Cena and Dave Bastista. While the show has lost a lot of over-the- top gimmickry, Raw – along with its sister show Smackdown – has never been so popular.

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The last and final disc is the entire first episode of Raw, which is for the most part unwatchable rubbish, featuring child-like antics from commentators such as Bobby Heenan, whose antics render the entire thing a great curio but ultimately a waste of two hours of your time.

For just under 20 quid this is a wrestling fan’s dream – a well put together ‘best of’ which shows you each and every key moment in the history of the show. While some more sensitive issues are overlooked (such as Road Warrior Hawks’s personal problems and the Owen Hart tragedy), this is a great retrospective look at the show. Highlights for me include ECW’s invasion of Raw, DX gate-crashing WCW, Chris Jericho’s introduction and Mick Foley eventually winning the WWF title.

A superb three-disc set that really is a must have for wrestling fans, let down only by the fourth Raw disc, which is essentially a disposable bonus for what constitutes a well produced and fascinating look into the insane world of ‘Sports Entertainment’.