Last Year’s offering “The Best of Raw and Smackdown 2011” was sublime. It is without doubt my favourite and most watched WWE Blu-Ray, I dip in and out at least once a month and it never fails to entertain me. So you can imagine my joy when this review disc dropped through my letterbox. Of course, it has a high watermark to meet, but when I saw the content, I was sure it could hold it’s own.
2012 was an extremely strong year for World Wrestling Entertainment, whilst some disagree and prefer to see the past as some paradise and current WWE as John Cena 24/7, I see it in quite another light. Does WWE need to invest in elevating some new talent to the upper card before the current crop of main eventers retire or suffer age related injuries? Yes of course it does, but this was the case ten years ago, and whilst it seems Cena is the only true WWE made top guy, we have a plethora of talented men on this series of discs to show us why we are in fact, very well off for upper card talent.
When people like Chris Jericho can come to work when his tours finish and Brock Lesnar can go months between TV appearances, when The Undertaker can wrestle once a year and never show up on Raw and Smackdown, then it shows that whilst the veterans are still loved and wanted, the current roster is more than holding it’s own on a week-to-week basis. Sure we have nobody to take John Cena’s baton when he inevitably has to pass it, but we had nobody to take Hogan’s or Austin’s, it seemed. Though there were Macho Man, HBKs, Bret Harts, Eddie Guerreros, waiting in the fold and they were the ones that entertained consistently anyway. Nowadays we have a strong talent pool and though it’s unclear who could take the crown as the living mascot of the WWE brand, he will come. They always do. Nobody thought some rapping kid making juvenile jokes on Smackdown in 2003 would be the All-American “Gee Whiz” superhero that Cena has become and we won’t instantly recognise his successor either. Just as has always been the case with WWE, the marquee name’ is the flag-bearer the poster boy, but you pay for the content, not the cover, and it is herein that we find some real delights. This Blu-Ray release is ALL killer, no filler.
Raw celebrated it’s 1000th episode in the summer and that was a turning point for a lot of storylines and characters, namely CM Punk’s heel turn. Brock Lesnar didn’t show up until post-WM Raw, The SHIELD have been a focus as has the meteoric rise of Ryback, so watching the beginning of last year in retrospect seems so long ago. It was quite a different landscape. The thing that jarred me as someone who has watched last year’s offering a number of times is that ADR is missing (due to injury) as he was all over the previous year’s release (he shows up later on) but because he is such a good wrestler and had an enormous push in 2011, it’s weird to have him not there all of a sudden. The other strange thing is the change in Daniel Bryan. One of the first moments on the disc is his interaction with then-Girlfriend AJ Lee (who has also changed dramatically) and although it is sowing the seeds of what is to come, nobody could foresee the overwhelming popularity of his teaming with Kane, even when we see their incredible “Anger Management Class” segments on a later disc. CM Punk, of course, started and ended last year as WWE Champion, though his story took some dramatic twists and turns in and of itself. He began last year a fan favourite and it’s so difficult to remember him being that way.
That’s why these segments and promos are important to intersperse the matches. Raw and Smackdown are predominantly character-driven TV Shows, so to just show the best matches would feel confusing. These are as important as the matches in a lot of cases. So much goes on in 52 weeks that you would never remember who did what and when and why if you didn’t have these memory joggers. The segments are top-quality too, of course.
This release has the hallmarks of a great WWE DVD/BR set. It feels laboured over, it feels like it was compiled by someone who loves the product and knows what was truly good. It shows good WRESTLING, it’s made beautifully. The matches are ones that are either memorable or ones that you watched and thought “Damn, that was a great match” but wouldn’t have available unless you record and keep every episode. These are the types of matches that stop you from channel surfing and the types that make you glad you tuned in. The seemingly ordinary TV bouts, but between two (or more) guys who have pride in their performance, who want to be noticed and remembered, by guys that just had that special chemistry together on that night, when otherwise it could have been a throwaway match. These matches are not necessarily feud or storyline driven, they just came out brilliantly on the night. They are a joy to revisit.
Disc One highlights the return of Y2J and his trolling of the crowd. It has Cena cut a promo on The Rock to build up their Wrestlemania Match. It has The Rock Concert, which is enjoyable despite itself, they are there to lay the groundwork for what was happening at that time, and then the matches around it are just brilliant. A Champion vs Champion match; CM Punk vs Daniel Bryan is great, but everyone recalls it and expected nothing less. However, you get a no DQ match between Randy Orton and Wade Barrett and I didn’t even remember that… but it was excellent. There’s random 6-Man Tags that you could find on any Raw, but they are exceptional and it’s just a joy to rediscover as a fan. I love watching an episode of (more likely Smackdown) and you just get magic between two competitors, this is three discs full of that feeling!
There is of course some stuff on there to make you feel happy, like the ridiculous human being that is Heath Slater, getting ruined by Vader. Slater in that gimmick was so good. My personal favourite Slater meets the legends was Sycho Sid. I would have wept if that had been on here. Others are here to show you how title pictures were shaped, such as a four-way to determine the #1 Contender for the WHC, which isn’t a ‘best’ match, and I’ve a feeling some Divas and Tag Team matches were chucked in for a similar reason. That’s not a bad thing, all the matches are enjoyable on their own merit, just not the ‘Best’ in their category.
We get excellent showings from some of the truly great Superstars that don’t get the admiration they deserve; Cody Rhodes shows up a few times and is consistently excellent, the same can be said for the outstanding Damien Sandow, Wade Barrett. Daniel Bryan is on target and ADR pops up later and is in some absolute beauties, his Falls Count Anywhere match with Randy Orton at the UK Smackdown was my Match of the Year, last year. Then the guys who have always been there, but still dazzle when need be, like Randy Orton, Mark Henry, Rey Mysterio and Kane all show that on the night they still have what it takes. CM Punk is all over this set and deservedly so, last year he wasn’t just the Champ for a record-breaking length of time, he was also on one of the most productive in-ring runs of his career. He may have been overshadowed by WWE but he was never less than a show-stealer when his music hit and that’s when it counts. 2012 was his year.
Whilst “The best PPV matches 2012” DVD was excellent it left a sour taste because it ended far before the end of the year, this one ends in November, which means it did miss off a few good moments around the close of 2012, it’s close enough to not cause me as much issue.
These sets are important, they concisely and wonderfully show what WWE does well in a given year. We know there’s a lot of rubbish as well as these great bits, but this is why we sift through the coal, for these shining diamonds and to have them all there on one pretty little box set is exactly what we need. If you are still watching Raw and Smackdown in 2013, then you must have at least liked 2012, and if you did, you should own this because it will remind you why you spent about 300 hours, or almost a solid fortnight, watching WWE’s programming. You’ve got it bad, kid, now treat yourself to what you love.
The BR extras are more matches, all of a high standard, they don’t feel like they were added on to pad out the set. The audio and video is perfect and I can’t think of any glaring omissions that should have made the grade but didn’t.
This is the level of care that WWE should take on all releases. Suffice to say I can’t wait to see next year’s offering.