The Best of WWE at Madison Square Garden – Blu-ray

The Best of WWE at Madison Square GardenA couple of recent happenings within the world of World Wrestling Entertainment seem to have finally made this collection of matches possible as it seems the name WWF no longer needs to be censored and, more importantly from a pro-wreslting fan standpoint, Bruno Sammartino is back on the good terms with the McMahons and co.

So what we get here are more than 8 hours of matches and memories from the arena that has become WWE’s spiritual home over the last 50 years, New York’s Madison Square Garden.

As an arena it is famed for both sport and music but, for me, it will always be associated with WWE and, after watching this its clear to see why.

With 22 matches (on the Blu-ray edition) we get, essentially, a history of the WWE from the early 1970s until 2011 featuring the likes of Ivan Koloff, Bob Backlund, Harley Race, Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, The Rock, Steve Austin, Triple H and CM Punk (amongst others) and the aforementioned ‘living legend’ Sammartino.

Bruno Sammartino

Bruno Sammartino

As is to be expected the visual quality of the early matches is not as sharp as some and it is clear they were really originally only filmed for CCTV broadcast rather than TV (or HD Blu-ray).

What this gives us, particularly in the opening Koloff vs Pedro Morales world championship match, is a chance to get some insight, through a new commentary track from Jim Ross, who tells the story of the fight and lets us know about the performers in ways some other current pro-wrestling commentators can only dream of.

While the matches on the first half of the disc are generally excellent, either in technical terms (e.g. the Backlund matches) or due to their notoriety (e.g. the main event from Wrestlemania I) the interviews are generally not quite as absorbing as they mostly just toe the line of saying how amazing the atmosphere at MSG always is and how great the WWE’s ‘hometown’ crowd in New York always are, something that comes across from watching the matches.

Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania X

Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania X

The exception is, unsurprisingly, The Iron Sheik who is his usual baffling but candid self and talks about being offered money by another promoter to break Hulk Hogan’s leg and jump ship with the world title in 1984.

For me the first ‘half’ of the set is highlighted by confrontations between Mr Perfect and The Hitman and the incomparable ladder match between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon at Wrestlemania X.

Unfortunately the second disc wavers a bit.

Starting out with what would (and should) be a forgettable Survivor Series match that only really seems to be included as it is the debut of the man now known as The Rock, there are a few more matches here that, while they have potential, are often from TV and too short or are too promo and ‘moment’ heavy.

Triple H and Cactus Jack

Triple H and Cactus Jack

That said we do get a couple of classics, including Cactus Jack’s WWE debut against Triple H in 1997 as well as The Hardy Boyz going up against The Dudley Boyz in the Royal Rumble 2000 tables match, but, despite these the second half doesn’t have the weight of classics of the first.

The Blu-ray comes with a few exclusive extra matches two of which are decent if throw away in the grander scheme of things and one of which that really should have acted as the main feature’s final match as we get CM Punk vs Alberto Del Rio at Survior Series 2011, the start of Punk’s epic 434 day title reign – but then again I’m a super-mark for the Best In The World.

CM Punk and Alberto Del Rio

CM Punk and Alberto Del Rio

In the end this is not quite an essential set but does include some fascinating matches that haven’t been released on DVD/Blu-ray or in fact seen in a long time and it does act as a good chart of the history of the WWWF/WWF/WWE with several performers talking ‘out of character’ in ways we haven’t heard much before.

Certainly this is a must for the devotees but for the more casual fan may have some elements that are hard to grasp, though if they make it through could prove a valuable education in the biggest company in the pro-wrestling game.

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